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Gordy's Discourse

The Drake Equation and the Search for ET

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1245 words, 5 minute read time.
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The Drake Equation, which estimates the number of planets currently inhabited by intelligent life in our galaxy, can vary greatly depending on the numbers you plug into it. The thing is, there isn't a lot of agreement about what those numbers should be. It makes the whole thing rather pointless and I have serious reservations about the usefulness of this equation but, just for fun, I plug my own numbers into it.


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Tech Companies Should Have More Email Support

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625 words, 3 minute read time.
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I have recently had a fair amount of communication with Apple regarding a support issue and this has reminded me how many tech companies shun email support. I think this is a bad idea because it's the most efficient and convenient method of support in a lot of cases. This is a particular issue with me because I'm partially deaf and being forced to use telephone support makes things quite difficult. Technology companies in general need to offer more email support.


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External link icon. How Did Google Get So Big?

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114 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Steve Croft on CBS News.

A CBS News article by Steve Kroft in which Gary Reback, an anti-trust lawyer, is interviewed about Google’s search and search advertising monopoly.

The thing is, Google’s job is to become dominant and maximise it’s profits and shareholder value. That’s what businesses do. You can’t expect them to voluntarily do anything that might damage their own earnings.

Government regulation is the only way you’ll ever tackle this sort of thing. The EU seems fairly keen on this sort of regulation and has already hit big tech with a number of fines. The US, however, doesn’t seem to have the stomach to take on the big tech companies.

The Importance of Backing Up Your Computer

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1162 words, 4 minute read time.

As someone who worked in IT for 35 years I often get asked to help out with the computer problems my friends and relatives have. One common thing I get asked is if I can get back some data that has been deleted. I then ask if they have a backup and the answer is often a disappointing no. It is essential you take backups because you'll most likely need them at least once. This article just gives the basics of how I think you should backup your computer and what data you should back up. I'm going to point all my friends to it.


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External link icon. Google Chrome to Flag Insecure Websites

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171 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Peter Bright on ArsTechnica.

Chrome currently specifically flags secure (https) websites but it’s going to be changed so that it specifically flags insecure (http) websites instead.

The trouble with this is it’s a blunt instrument. Take this site, for example. It’s statically generated and has no forms through which to submit personal data, so the http protocol is fine. There are no relevant security issues.

This site does, as it happens, support https and I encourage the use of it as a basic principle. Indeed, this site redirects to https automatically.

So I shouldn’t really have an issue with this but I’m not keen on Google becoming the sole arbiter of what’s secure and what isn’t. I’m particularly not keen on the use of the https protocol as the only security factor under consideration because a lot of sites are certainly not insecure when accessed via http. It’s just not true and by incorrectly flagging sites as insecure, Google could be damaging their business without justification.

What Does a Bona Vacantia Freehold Mean for Leaseholders?

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774 words, 3 minute read time.

I live in a complicated situation at the moment. I bought my flat from a company in receivership and the receivership process has been running all the while I've been here (over two years now). The freehold recently went bona vacantia, which means it's now owned by the Crown, and in this article I pass on what I know about this situation.


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External link icon. Medium Demonstrates Why You Should Publish Independently

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111 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by John Russell on TechCrunch.

An article by Jon Russell at TechCrunch reports that:

Medium has abruptly pulled a feature that allowed publishers to operate paywalls on its platform, leaving some independent media scrambling for alternative options to maintain a crucial source of revenue.

This highlights something I’ve mentioned before. If you hand your content over to a third-party publisher you’re entirely at the whim of their policies, and they can change those policies whenever they choose.

I maintain that it’s always better to publish your own content via your own website. Use third parties to market that content by all means but link back to your own internet property.

External link icon. Is It Illegal to Do Something Someone Might 'Take Offence' To?

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269 words, less than 1 minute read time.

I know the world went mad in the early 90s but sometimes it still astonishes me.

In the above article a Staffordshire police spokesman said:

We've received no complaints about signage outside J W Ash and Son butchers in Leek. However, the local chief inspector did advise the owner to give careful consideration to what was written on the boards in case anyone took offence.

There are a few problems here. If nobody complained, why are the police involved? Why, regardless, is a chief inspector involved in something so trivial? Why can’t the police see the context of this; that it is just light-hearted humour?

The big one, though, is when did it become illegal to offend someone?

If it’s now illegal to say or write something that someone might take offence to, we’re finished as a society. There will be no more discussion.

People should be free to say or write potentially offensive things and likewise people are free to take offence and respond as they see fit, but we can't go around silencing people just because what they say might be offensive to someone somewhere.

There is of course sometimes a fine line between ‘offensive’ and ‘illegal’ but context always needs to be considered in such cases and common sense should prevail (erring on the side of permissiveness in my opinion).

If however it is now illegal to give offence, then we can get rid of the Kardashians, Kayne West, Donald Trump and about a billion other people whose very existence I find offensive. Perhaps a chief inspector would look into that for me.

Yohann iPad Stand Review

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856 words, 3 minute read time.
4 star rating 4 star rating 4 star rating 4 star rating 4 star rating
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I initially struggled to find iPad stands that suit me for my 12.9 inch Pro. I always wanted two - one for use on my desk and one for use on my coffee table. In this article I review the Yohann iPad Stand I've chosen for my coffee table although, at the time of writing, it's the only stand I have and it's being used on my desk too.


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External link icon. Amazon Review System Rigged

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298 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Dan Box and Sachin Croker on the BBC.

It’s nothing new. Once businesses saw the benefits of a bunch of five star reviews, an industry to game the review systems was bound to spring up.

It’s not just Amazon — Trustpilot is also mentioned in the article — but Amazon’s system has been set up for rigging for a long time now. Not only can a company buy a review, but then Amazon’s platform allows them to up-vote their own fake reviews and down-vote everyone else’s proper reviews via the “Was this review helpful to you” buttons?.

In fact, it has the look of a system that was specifically designed to allow review fraud.

The trouble with anything like this is automation. Amazon want a self-moderating system but that leaves it open to both fraud and stupidity. There’s the fraudsters we’ve already mentioned but there are also the stupid, where people up or down-vote a review based on whether or not they agree with it rather than whether or not it’s a good review.

A good review stands alone, whether you agree with it or not. It will be analytical, truthful and it will justify what it says. That would make for a good review even if my own opinions and experiences of the product were the complete opposite. Honestly, you see five star reviews being up-voted where the only thing a person has said in the review is “fine”.

The only way they’ll prevent review fraud is to remove the voting buttons and use humans to moderate all reviews, but they won’t do that because they simply won’t pay for the manpower.

So I think we’re stuck with it, which is a shame because good, honest personal reviews are really helpful when making product choices.

External link icon. Facebook Profits and Revenues Up Despite Privacy Scandal

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161 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Sheera Frenkel and Kevin Roose on The New York Times.

Watching some of Zuckerberg's testimony about the privacy issues, I got the impression he was only concerned about it to the extent it might affect his income. It seemed that privacy in and of itself didn't interest him, which is understandable from a financial perspective because Facebook's whole business model is based upon invading privacy.

But I'm convinced this is far from the end of things. It has served to highlight privacy issues with the general public but there's more to come. We largely ignored these things when social media took a hold but I believe there are many more privacy breaches and scandals to come and, slowly, we'll demand more control of our personal data. This in turn will (again slowly) lead to more legislation to protect us and that'll be a big problem for a lot of the internet giants.

I could be wrong of course. I was wrong once back in 1976 when I swore I'd always wear flares.

External link icon. A Monkey Can’t Sue. Surprised?

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110 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Cyrus Farivar on ArsTechnica.

How does something like this ever even get to court? Well of course somebody somewhere has to be trying to get some money out of it and in this case that was PETA. They claimed to be the monkey’s friend and as such, no doubt, the people who should get the monkey’s copyright fees.

That anyone should think a monkey is entitled to copyright casts doubt on which is the most intelligent species after all. It’s certainly not lawyers.

I know the world went mad somewhere in the late 80s or early 90s but this sort of thing beggars belief.

Props to the monkey though — great selfie.

There’s Too Much Pointless Fuss About Politics

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1139 words, 4 minute read time.

I'm not a massive fan of talking about politics. I find the partisan-based decisions people make about the subject to be irrational and illogical. But in this article I point out that I don't believe politics at the level we usually talk about it is a valid route to real change anyway.


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External link icon. Zuckerberg Wants Good Privacy for Facebook, as Long as It Doesn’t Affect Profits

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203 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article on the BBC.

Astonishing, really. Giving people more control over their privacy is undoubtedly a good thing, yet Zuckerberg is going to try and exclude as many users as possible from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

He’s essentially saying that he’ll only comply with good privacy regulations where he absolutely has to, otherwise he’ll sell your data on to all and sundry, without your permission, as he sees fit.

It further demonstrates he is really only paying lip service to the scrutiny he’s under following the Cambridge Analytica debacle.

Privacy’s a nice idea ... as long as it doesn’t interfere with profits.

It’s just greed because it’s perfectly possibly to have privacy and profits. Give users the control they deserve and then tempt them to hand over their data voluntarily. There’ll still be millions of takers and it can all be done in a transparent and morally justifiable way.

Regulation can be a double-edged sword that often creates more problems than it solves, but we need to regulate the shit out of a lot of these internet giants that surreptitiously abuse our privacy. If that’s their only business model then they deserve to fail.

External link icon. How to Actually Get Work Done on an iPad

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192 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Whitson Gordon on Endgadget.

This article is interesting but when Whitson Gordon at Endgadget says:

It won't totally replace a laptop, but it can come surprisingly close.

I disagree. I’ve almost transitioned from a MacBook Pro to an iPad Pro in a little less than a month. The only thing I need my MacBook for is an app I wrote myself and it’s entirely my fault I didn’t create an iOS version of it. I can now go many days without powering up my MacBook and even then it’s usually to use the aforementioned app or to take a Time Machine backup.

Of course it depends what you do. There’s no xCode on iOS, for example, so if you’re a developer and that’s your environment of choice you’re going to need something with MacOS. That’s probably true for other bits of software too. And of course that are evil app developers who think iOS should have a cut down versions of MacOS software.

In principle, though, iOS should be able to handle pretty much everything and I think for most people it can indeed replace a laptop.

External link icon. Why Zuckerberg's 14-Year Apology Tour Hasn't Fixed Facebook

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175 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Zeynep Tufekci on Wired.

A really good overview of how Facebook has abused users’ privacy over the years. They’re finally being called to task over some of this stuff, but how much difference will it really make when it has all blown over?

I suspect privacy issues will crop up more and more in the future and eventually it’ll be subject to much heavier regulation. Maybe the day will come when we own our own data and can trade it as a commodity, taking a payment for providing these companies with our location, our hobbies and interests or whatever. Maybe we’ll get our cut of the pie.

Currently they harvest our data for free and then make a profit on the back of it. In return they allegedly provide a service for us that we desperately need or want. They are reluctant to stop doing that and instead charge a fee for the use of their services because they know people would probably soon find out they could quite easily live without the service after all.

Owner-Occupiers in an RTM Management Company

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1148 words, 4 minute read time.
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In a diversion from my normal sorts of article, this one looks at the rights of owner-occupiers v landlords in a building management company set up under Right To Manage (RTM) legislation. It's something I've been heavily involved in over the last few years as an owner-occupier myself.


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Apple iPad Pro 12.9 Inch - Unboxing and First Impressions

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1141 words, 4 minute read time.

My first impressions after unboxing a new 12.9 inch iPad Pro and accessories. I also describe how I've gone about setting things up as part of my project to see if I can effectively use an iPad Pro as my main computer instead of a MacBook. There's more to do here, so this article just describes the beginning of the process.


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Reconfiguring Jekyll Processes for iOS

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753 words, 3 minute read time.

The software that drives this blog is Jekyll and when a MacBook Pro running MacOS was my main computer, I could install Jekyll locally and do all my builds on MacOS. However, there is no version of Jekyll for iOS and I needed to rethink my blog maintenance procedures. This article describes how I reconfigured my Jekyll processes for iOS.


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Switching From a MacBook Pro to an iPad Pro

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1334 words, 5 minute read time.
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I have been thinking about switching from using a MacBook Pro to using an iPad Pro as my main computer for some time now. After six months of research and indecision I decided to take the plunge today. In this article I explain why I'm making this switch and how I assessed my requirements. I then ordered the hardware.


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