42 Day Detention

June 11, 2008

Today there is a vote in The House of Commons to change the law to allow the police to hold suspects for 42 days without charge.  If you are reading this I urge you to spread the word of opposition to this massive curtailment of human rights by signing this petition http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/notadaylonger.  Here is a press release from Amnesty International:

Backbench MPs have received an impassioned plea from Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen ahead of today’s debate on plans to extend pre-charge detention limits to 42 days in terrorism cases.

Describing the vote as ‘A watershed moment for human rights in the UK,’ Kate Allen urges MPs to oppose any further extension of pre-charge detention. By doing so, MPs ‘have an opportunity this week to defend the values that underpin civil liberties in this country.’ The letter has been sent to potential rebel MPs whose votes will be pivotal to whether the Counter-terrorism Bill becomes law. It concludes:

‘I urge you to stand in support of principles that lie at the heart of our society, principles such as justice and liberty.

‘The alternative is to succumb to the climate of fear that terrorists seek to breed among us.

‘I urge you to oppose any further extension of pre-charge detention.’

Kate Allen states that the proposal to extend pre-charge detention ‘flies in the face of principles of justice’ and argues that she is ‘not reassured by the Government’s recent ‘concessions’.’  Amnesty believes that the Bill still lacks proper judicial safeguards and that parliamentary scrutiny will be meaningless because of the risk of prejudicing future trials. There is also serious concern that the definition of the ‘grave and exceptional threat’, that would trigger the Home Secretary’s decision to seek extended pre-charge detention, is too broad.

Amnesty accepts that the government has a duty to protect the public but argues strongly that this should only be done in a way that respects their rights. Allen’s letter argues:

‘All states have an obligation to act to protect people from terrorism. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks must be brought to justice. But unless governments respond to the threat of international terrorism with measures that are fully grounded in respect for human rights, they risk undermining the values they seek to protect and defend.’

Amnesty International members have been campaigning against extending pre-charge detention limits since the idea was first proposed. Over 7,000 people have signed its ‘Not a Day Longer’ petition at the Number Ten website http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/notadaylonger

We cannot as a sensible and evolved country allow human rights to be curtailed further.  The United Kingdom should be a leader in the pro-human rights struggle and a hindrance to them.

The line must be drawn here.

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The Climate Change Myth

May 28, 2008

This myth has been doing the rounds since the first time global warming surfaced as a possibility.  People who believe that the human race has nothing to do with the climate change or, even more unbelievably, that climate change is a myth altogether, can often spout an array of ‘facts’, ‘figures’ and studies to back up this insistence.

There are plenty of reasons why these misguided and misused facts and figures surface to be used by the naive.  A huge reason these misguided people have this ammunition is companies with a vested interest in the further proliferation of fossil fuel usage plow cash into ‘scientific’ studies to protect their interests.

The oil giant ExxonMobil has admitted that its support for lobby groups that question the science of climate change may have hindered action to tackle global warming…

…shareholders including the Rockefeller family will urge ExxonMobil to take the problem of climate change more seriously. Green campaigners accuse the company of funding a “climate denial industry” over the last decade, with $23m (£11.5m) handed over to groups that play down the risks of burning fossil fuels…

…A survey carried out by the UK’s Royal Society found that in 2005 ExxonMobil distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society said “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”.

Source: The Guardian

The reality is crystal clear I think.


When I was 12

April 10, 2008

Large rocks, severed heads, and flaming pots of oil rained down on Baghdad, capital of the vast Islamic Empire, as its weary defenders scrambled to reinforce gates, ditches, and the massive stone walls surrounding the fortress city’s many brick and teak palaces. Giant wooden manjaniq catapults bombarded distant structures while the smaller, more precise arradah catapult guns pelted individuals with grapefruit-sized rocks. Arrows flew thickly and elite horsemen assaulted footmen with swords and spears. “The horses . . . trample the livers of courageous young men,” lamented the poet al-Khuraymi, “and their hooves split their skulls.” Outside the circular city’s main wall—100 feet high, 145 feet thick, and six miles in circumference—soldiers pressed forward with battering rams while other squads choked off supply lines of food and reinforcements. Amid sinking boats and burning rafts, bodies drifted down the Tigris River.

The impenetrable “City of Peace” was crumbling. In the fifty years since its creation in A.D. 762, young Baghdad had rivaled Constantinople and Rome in its prestige and influence. It was a wildly fertile axis of art, science, and religion, and a bustling commercial hub for trade routes reaching deep into Central Asia, Africa, and Europe. But by the late summer of A.D. 813, after nearly two years of civil war (between brothers, no less), the enlightened Islamic capital was a smoldering, starving, bloody heap.

In the face of disorder, any human being desperately needs order—some way to manage, if not the material world, at least one’s understanding of the world. In that light, perhaps it’s no real surprise that, as the stones and arrows and horses’ hooves thundered down on Baghdad, the protected core of the city hosted a different sort of battle. Within the round city’s imperial inner sanctum, secure behind three thick, circular walls and many layers of gate and guard, under the luminescent green dome of the Golden Gate Palace, Muhammad al-Amin, the sixth caliph of the Abbasid Empire, spiritual descendant of (and distant blood relation to) the Prophet Muhammad, sovereign of one of the largest dominions in the history of the world, was playing chess against his favorite eunuch Kauthar.

A trusted messenger burst into the royal apartment with urgently bad news. More inglorious defeats in and around the city were to be reported to the caliph. In fact, his own safety was now in jeopardy.

But al-Amin would not hear of it. He waved off his panicked emissary.

“O Commander of the faithful,” implored the messenger, according to the medieval Islamic historian Jirjis al-Makin. “This is not the time to play. Pray arise and attend to matters of more serious moment.”

It was no use. The caliph was absorbed in the board. A chess game in progress is—as every chess spouse quickly learns—a cosmos unto itself, fully insulated from an infant’s cry, an erotic invitation, or war. The board may have only thirty-two pieces and sixty-four squares, but within that confined space the game has near-infinite depth and possibility. An outsider looking on casually might find the intensity incomprehensible. But anyone who has played the game a few times understands how it can be engrossing in the extreme. Quite often, in the middle of an interesting game, it’s almost as if reality has been flipped inside out: the chess game in motion seems to be the only matter of substance, while any hint of the outside world feels like an annoying irrelevance.

The messier the external world, the more powerful this inverted dynamic can be. Perhaps that is why Caliph al-Amin, who sensed that his hours were numbered, preferred to soak in the details of his chess battlefield rather than reports of the calamitous siege of his city. On the board he could see the whole action. On the board he could neatly make sense of significant past events and carefully plan his future. On the board he still might win.

“Patience my friend,” the caliph calmly replied to his messenger standing only a few feet away and yet a world apart. “I see that in a few moves I shall give Kauthar checkmate.”

Not long after this, al-Amin and his men were captured. The sixth Abbasid caliph, victor in his final chess game, was swiftly beheaded.

Chess lived on. The game had been a prominent court fixture of Caliph al-Amin’s predecessor, and would voraciously consume the attention of his successor—and the caliph after that, and the caliph after that. Several centuries before it infected feudal Christian Europe, chess was already an indelible part of the landscape adjoining the Tigris and Euphrates. This simple game, imbued with a universe of complexity and character, demanded from peasants, soldiers, philosophers, and sovereigns an endless amount of time and energy. In return it offered unique insights into the human endeavor.

And so, against all odds, it lasted. Games, as a general rule, do not last. They come and go. In the eighth century, the Irish loved a board game called fidchell. Long before that, in the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians played a backgammonlike race game called senet. The Romans were drawn to duodecim scripta, played with three knucklebone dice and stacks of discs. The Vikings were obsessed with a game called hnefatafl in the tenth century, in which a protagonist King attempted to escape through a ring of enemies to any edge of the board. The ancient Greeks had petteia and kubeia. These and hundreds of other once popular games are all now long gone. They caught the public imagination of their time and place, and then for whatever reason lost steam. Generations died off, taking their habits with them; or conquering cultures imposed new ideas and pastimes; or people just got bored and wanted something new. Many of the games fell into such total oblivion that they couldn’t even make a coherent mark in the historical record. Try as they might, determined historians still cannot uncover the basic rules of play for a large graveyard of yesterday’s games.

Contrast this with chess, a game that could not be contained by religious edict, nor ocean, nor war, nor language barrier. Not even the merciless accumulation of time, which eventually washes over and dissolves most everything, could so much as tug lightly at chess’s ferocious momentum. “It has, for numberless ages,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1786, “been the amusement of all the civilized nations of Asia, the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. Europe has had it above 1000 years; the Spaniards have spread it over their part of America, and it begins lately to make its appearance in these States.”

The game would eventually pass into every city in the world and along more than 1,500 years of continuous history—a common thread of Pawn chains, Knight forks, and humiliating checkmates that would run through the lives of Karl Marx, Pope Leo XIII, Arnold Schwarzenegger, King Edward I, George Bernard Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Ivan the Terrible, Voltaire, King Montezuma, Rabbi Ibn Ezra, William the Conqueror, Jorge Luis Borges, Willie Nelson, Napoleon, Samuel Beckett, Woody Allen, and Norman Schwarzkopf. From Baghdad’s Golden Gate Palace to London’s Windsor Castle to today’s lakeside tables at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach, chess would tie history together in a surprising and compelling way.

How could a game last so long, and appeal so broadly across vast spans of time, geography, language, and culture? Endurance is not, of course, a magnificent accomplishment in itself, but a compelling sign that something profound is going on, a catalytic connection between this “game” and the human brain. Another sign is that chess was not just played but also integrated into the creative and professional lives of artists, linguists, psychologists, economists, mathematicians, politicians, theologians, computer scientists, and generals. It became a popular and pliable metaphor for abstract ideas and complex systems, and an effective tool through which scientists could better understand the human mind.

The remarkable scope of this game began to infect my own brain after a visit from an old family ghost in the fall of 2002. My mother had sent on some faded newspaper clippings about her great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, a diminutive Polish Jew named Samuel Rosenthal who immigrated to France in 1864 and became one of its legendary chess masters. Family lore had it that Rosenthal had impressed and/or somehow secured the gratitude of one of the Napoleons, and had been awarded a magnificent, jewel-encrusted pocket watch. No one in the family seemed to have actually seen this watch, but they’d all heard about it. Four generations down the line, this story, retold to a boy from the Ohio suburbs, was just exotic enough, and just hazy enough, to set the mind racing. I had begged Mom for years to tell me more about the great S. Rosenthal and his lost watch.

As I combed through the records on my mother’s mother’s father’s father’s achievements, wondering what spectacular (if still hidden) intelligences had filtered down through the generations, I also became reacquainted with the game itself, which I had not played since high school (and then only a handful of times). Stumbling through a few dozen games with friends at home and with strangers over the Internet, I found that I was just as ambivalent about chess as I’d been twenty years earlier—charmed by its elegance and intrigued by its depth, but also put off by the high gates of entry to even moderately serious play. Graduating from patzer to mere competence would require untold hundreds of hours of not just playing but studying volumes of opening theory, endgame problems, and strategy. Years of obsessive attention to the game might—might—eventually gain me entry into reasonably serious tournaments, where I would no doubt be quickly dispatched by an acid-tongued, self-assured ten-year-old. Chess is an ultimately indomitable peak that gets steeper and steeper with every step.

I was also repelled, frankly, by the forbidding atmosphere of unforgiving rules, insider jargon, and the general aggressiveness and unpleasantness that seemed to accompany even reasonably casual play. I recalled one of Bobby Fischer’s declarations: “Chess is war over the board,” he proclaimed. “The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.” Fischer was not alone in his lusty embrace of chess’s brutality. The game is often as much about demolishing your opponent’s will and self-esteem as it is about implementing a superior strategy. No blood is drawn (ordinarily), but the injury can be real. The historical link between top chess play and mental instability stands as yet another intriguing feature about the game and its power. “Here is nothing less,” writes recovering chess master Alfred Kreymborg, “than a silent duel between two human engines using and abusing all the faculties of the mind. . . . It is warfare in the most mysterious jungles of the human character.”

Still, much to my wife’s dismay, I got hooked. It is an intoxicating game that, though often grueling, never grows tiresome. The exquisite interplay of the simple and the complex is hypnotic: the pieces and moves are elementary enough for any five-year-old to quickly soak up, but the board combinations are so vast that all the possible chess games could never be played—or even known—by a single person. Other parlor games sufficiently amuse, entertain, challenge, distract; chess seizes. It does not merely engage the mind; it takes hold of the mind in a way that suggests a primal, hardwired connection.

Even more powerfully, though, I became transported by chess’s rich history. It seemed to have been present in every place and time, and to have been utilized in every sort of activity. Kings cajoled and threatened with it; philosophers told stories with it; poets analogized with it; moralists preached with it. Its origins are wrapped up in some of the earliest discussions of fate versus free will. It sparked and settled feuds, facilitated and sabotaged romances, and fertilized literature from Dante to Nabokov. A thirteenth-century book using chess as a guide to social morality may have been the second-most popular text in the Middle Ages, after the Bible. In the twentieth century, chess enabled computer scientists to create intelligent machines. Chess has also, in modern times, been used to study memory, language, math, and logic, and has recently emerged as a powerful learning tool in elementary and secondary schools.

The more I learned about chess’s peculiarly strong cultural relevance in century after century, the more it seemed that chess’s endurance was no historical accident. As with the Bible and Shakespeare, there was something particular about the game that made it continually accessible to generation after generation. It served a genuine function—perhaps not vital, but often far more than merely useful. I often found myself wondering how particular events or lives would have unfolded in chess’s absence—a condition, I learned, that many chess haters had ardently sought. Perhaps the most vivid measure of chess’s potency, in fact, is the determination of its orthodox enemies to stamp it out—as long ago as a ruling in 655 by Caliph Ali Ben Abu-Talib (the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law), and as recently as decrees by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1981, the Taliban in 1996, and the Iraqi clergy in post-Saddam Iraq. In between, chess was tamped down:

in 780 by Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur
in 1005 by Egypt’s al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah
in 1061 by Cardinal Damiani of Ostia
in 1093 by the Eastern Orthodox Church
in 1128 by St. Bernard
in 1195 by Rabbi Maimonides
in 1197 by the Abbot of Persigny
in 1208 by the Bishop of Paris
in 1240 by religious leaders of Worcester, England
in 1254 by King Louis IX of France (St. Louis)
in 1291 by the Archbishop of Canterbury
in 1310 by the Council of Trier (Germany)
in 1322 by Rabbi Kalonymos Ben Kalonymos
in 1375 by France’s Charles V
in 1380 by Oxford University’s founder William of Wickham
in 1549 by the Protohierarch Sylvester of Russia
and in 1649 by Tsar Alexei

But like the Talmud, like the theory of natural selection, like any organized thought paradigm that humans have found irresistibly compelling, chess refused to go away. Why were sixty-four squares and a handful of generic war figurines so hard to erase from the human imagination? What was it about chess that drew simultaneous devotion and disgust, and sparked so many powerful ideas and observations over many centuries?

This is what I set out to understand, through a close survey of chess’s history and a fresh look at the game.

Excerpted from The Immortal Game by David Shenk Copyright © 2006 by David Shenk.

Well it starts earlier than aged 12 for me really.

When I was in Primary School I had a fascination with Chess, I was indeed Chess champion back then.

Then I went off to Secondary School where peer pressure and trying to fit in made me lose my love of the game.  However I found out soon after starting there that my skills had not been totally lost.

I went to Germany with school as part of my German class and stayed with a family there for a week.  During that time the father of the household asked me if I would play with him.  The best of three as it turns out.  I lost the first, but won both of the next, much to the fathers displeasure I might add, proving to myself, as most kids that age think, that I was master of the universe.

I have lost any proper knowledge I had of the game from back then, even to the point of being afraid to really sit and think about playing someone who knows a little of the game. But being settled and content as I am with my life now, I think it is time to renew the love affair with the game.  So here I am writing this blog having placed a book about the history of Chess next to me and I am about to delve back into my childhood and much further into the human mind apparently.


Sometimes

February 28, 2008

Sometimes I wonder why it is computers and computing mean so much to me.  I know how interesting I find almost every aspect of them and that I am proud to be a nerd / geek.  Any, they do, and because of that I have another blog post based almost solely on my habit.

In brief.  I have moved my big desktop downstairs, it runs Hardy Heron and is now the family pc.  My new laptop runs Gutsy Gibbon, not Hardy, simply because it doesn’t like some laptop features yet.  My laptop that my mum was having, she doesn’t want anymore, so that is my tester with HH on.  (xp fell off in a partitioning mishap, meaning it is no longer dual boot.)  The eee remains installed with a customized Ubuntu install.

So the long and the short of it is that mainly I run Ubuntu, but still with Slackware and Debian thrown in.  The rest of the family are Vista users still, except on the main family PC which I insist remains Ubuntu, although Vista is on there as well, shhhh.  I think they should get used to as many OS’ as possible anyway, especially as I heard a rumour that Scotland could be going Linux in schools and that could well mean that England won’t be far behind.

Java?  Well I have missed a couple of days due to being generally under the weather.  However I am getting back to it, well, now.

Oh, and in case you noticed, or didn’t, I have added a gallery on the site and will hopefully be adding it to the rework of CJ’s site in the not too distant future.


Dell Laptop

February 17, 2008

Decided it was time for a new laptop as I am starting to learn to program, and although my ASUS EEE is an excellent machine, I really needed something a little bit bigger with more get up and go.  This is where Dell come in:

Base
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor T7250 (2.00 GHz, 2 MB L2 cache, 800 MHz FSB)

Memory
2048MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM [2×1024]

Keyboard
Internal Lightweight Keyboard – UK/Irish (QWERTY)

Video Card
128MB nVidia® GeForce® 8400M GS

Hard Drive
160GB (5400RPM) SATA Hard Drive

Modem
No Modem

Optical Devices
Fixed 8x DVD+/-RW Slim Slot Load Drive, including SW

Wireless Networking
Intel® Next-Gen Wireless-N Mini-Card – Europe – Core 2 Duo Processors

Power Supply
65W AC Adapter

Bluetooth
Dell™ TrueMobile 355 internal Bluetooth Module – European

Primary Battery
Primary 6-cell Lithium-Ion Battery (56 WHr)

Biometric Identification
Biometric Fingerprint Reader

Colour Choice
Midnight Blue & 2.0 mega pixel Camera for CCFL Display

LCD
13.3″ UltraSharp™ WXGA (1280×800) CCFL Display (220nits) with TrueLife™

This should be delivered next week.  Why did I choose this model specifically?  Well I was listening to Lug Radio‘s recent podcast and it swayed me.

So, in the mean time while I wait it’s time to brush up on some C++ that I started a while back and prepare for the arrival.  I’m also thinking of doing a ‘diary’ of how I progress with my chosen language here when I start.  Again, we’ll see.


Tarnation (2003)

January 29, 2008

[spoiler]

Director:
Jonathan Caouette

Writer:
Jonathan Caouette (written by)

Release Date:
22 April 2005 (UK)

Genre:
Documentary

Plot Outline:
Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette’s documentary on growing up with his schizophrenic mother — a mixture of snapshots, Super-8, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, and more — culled from 19 years of his life.

Cast
(Cast overview, first billed only)
Renee Leblanc    …     Herself
Jonathan Caouette    …     Himself
Adolph Davis    …     Himself
Rosemary Davis    …     Herself
David Sanin Paz    …     Himself
Joshua Williams    …     Himself
Michael Cox    …     Guy cussing in short film
David Leblanc    …     Himself
Stacey Mowery    …     Herself
Michael Mouton    …     Himself
Greg Ayres    …     Himself (as Bam-Bam)
Vanda Stovall    …     Herself
Dagon James    …     Himself

Vivian Kalinov    …     Herself (as Girl in Student Film)
Steve Caouette    …     Himself

[/spoiler]

Tarnation is a documentary made on an Apple Mac for think it was $200,000.

It’s a testament to the filmmaking of this independent filmmaker, that not only did he manage to make this film he managed to get it distributed.  As to the film itself, it’s a rather depressing affair, which follows the life of the protagonist from birth. Up until the present day, which was 2003. The film focuses on the relationship between the filmmaker, and his mother and their experiences with mental illness.

I had been wanting to watch this film for long-time and it did not disappoint with its frightening take on reality. I wouldn’t say this film is for everyone, because of the depressing nature of the material. However, if you do want to touch of reality, and some excellent independent filmmaking, this is the film for you.


Black Snake Moan (2006)

January 29, 2008

[spoiler]

Director:
Craig Brewer

Writer (WGA):
Craig Brewer (written by)

Release Date:
18 May 2007 (UK)

Genre:
Comedy / Drama / Music

Plot Outline:
A God-fearing bluesman (Jackson) takes to a wild young woman (Ricci) who, as a victim of childhood sexual abuse, looks everywhere for love, never quite finding it.

Cast
(Cast overview, first billed only)

Samuel L. Jackson    …     Lazarus

Christina Ricci    …     Rae

Justin Timberlake    …     Ronnie
S. Epatha Merkerson    …     Angela

John Cothran Jr.    …     Reverend R. L.
David Banner    …     Tehronne

Michael Raymond-James    …     Gill
Adriane Lenox    …     Rose Woods
Kim Richards    …     Sandy
Neimus K. Williams    …     Lincoln
Leonard L. Thomas    …     Deke Woods
Ruby Wilson    …     Mayella
Claude Phillips    …     Bojo
Amy Lavere    …     Jesse

Clare Grant    …     Kell

[/spoiler]

The reason I came to watch this film is simply because I heard a review on a Podcast I listened to regularly. After having seen it and the actors who are cast. I did remember seeing a trailer or two, for it, simply because Justin Timberlake has a role.

Let’s get the unpleasantries out of the way first, Justin Timberlake is Justin Timberlake, and nothing can change that. I don’t know why he wanted to appear in a film, but he shouldn’t have.

The female lead is played by Christina Ricci, who I didn’t recognize that first. She has come a long way since the Adams family and truly is a decent actress. The male lead is played by Samuel L. Jackson, and he is always puts in a excellent performance story itself is an interesting one, which I won’t go into here, because I don’t want to spoil the storyline itself. What I will say is that the story moves from being believable to unbelievable. With each twist and turn, and this is to its advantage, as it creates something innately watchable. That holds your attention.

I was pleasantly surprised with his film as a whole.  The soundtrack only adds to what is already a half decent film. If you do happen to watch this film, don’t expect a roller coaster ride of excellence. It is simply light entertainment.