Mermaid Ballast Wagon Kickstarter

Mermaid Kickstarter

County Rolling Stock are running a Kickstarter for a Mermaid Ballast Wagon in N Gauge. This will be a ready-to-run model, to be manufactured as a special commision by Dapol.

Crowdfunding started in the niche music scene, and has spread across many creative hobbies including the gaming world. Revolution Trains, ironically born out of a Kickstarter campaign that fell tantalisingly short of its very ambitious target has popularised crowdfunding in the British N gauge scene.

They and others could potentially transform how models are commissioned and sold. It’s a logical extension of the special commisions by major retailers and the N Gauge Society, except that rather than businesses and societies taking the financial risk, it’s up to the customers to prove the demand is there by pledging their money.

I wonder if Marillion realised what they were starting when they launched their pre-order campaign for “Anoraknophobia” some 15 years ago. And as I write this, I’m listening to “Essence” by Panic Room, another album funded by a successful kickstarter.

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PiL, Reading Sub89

PiLIt’s always a good thing to get out of your musical comfort zone. PiL playing a gig at Reading’s Sub89 provided an opportunity to see the post-punk legends featuring the artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten in action. A few clips from their 2013 Glastonbury set, and a hilariously funny new single were enough to suggest they were worth seeing.

They opened with that single, with sweary lyrics about broken toilets and having to get the plumber in. If you only know John Lydon (as he now calls himself) from the days when he was Johnny Rotten, PiL are a very different beast. Instead of three-chord primal rock’n'roll it’s dub-reggae tinged bass riffs and intricate guitar textures. Lu Edmonds with his overgrown beard and slightly disturbing stare is what Rasputin might have looked like had he been a rock musician, swapping between guitar and electric bağlama, sometimes making some very Robert Fripp-like sounds. The amazingly tight rhythm section provided the foundation of the music giving Edmonds the space to weave textures and colours around the grooves.

As for Lydon himself, the standard refrain that he can’t sing was never really accurate. He does have a highly unconventional and individual vocal style, and you can still hear the influence of Peter Hammill in the way he uses his voice as much as a lead instrument than as a vehicle for the lyrics. He’s still got a definite rock star charisma, and his voice is still in remarkably good shape compared with some of his peers. His atonal howling could be compelling, though you often found yourself listening as much to the infectious bass grooves or the inventive guitar lines.

“Death Disco” was a particular highlight, with Lu Edmonds alternately riffing and repeating the motif from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, which in combination with the circular bassline came over like a muscular version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. The main set ended with a dark and theatrical polemic against religion, culminating in the repeated chant of “Turn Up The Bass”, which was indeed turned up to levels where you felt the low frequencies in your guts rather than your ears. After all that, the more conventional pop of the encores, ending in “Rise” was just a coda to the evening.

Even for someone who normally listens to metal and progressive rock, this was a great gig. Lydon has still got it, is currently on great form, and the other three musicians form a very tight and inventive band. And if you stop and think about it, the combination of a guitarist who sometimes sound like Robert Fripp and a singer whose major influence is Peter Hammill is actually a bit Prog.

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This Royal Throne of Feels: Popehat on Bahar Mustapha

Bahar MustafaI am seeing some schadenfreude from some of the more libertarian-minded people in my social media feeds over the news that Goldsmith’s College Student Welfare and Diversity Officer Bahar Mustapha has been charged with malicious online communication and is to appear in court.

But while it may amuse some to see a “Social Justice Warrior” (I still hate that term) hoist on their own petard, there are much more important principles at stake, and anyone who considers themselves any form of liberal ought to understand.

The best words on the subject come from a lawyer from the land of the First Amendment, Ken White of Popehat:

The hashtag “#killallwhitemen” is an in-joke, an example of somewhat belabored signalling and irony with a dash of trolling. It’s meant in part to ridicule overblown rhetoric directed at people like Mustafa. It’s not a true threat (no men are specified, no time or place is specified, no means are specified, and it’s obviously not meant to be taken literally) nor a genuine exhortation to violence (ditto). In a sensible legal system it shouldn’t generate anything more than an eye-roll. But in a feels-based legal system, it’s actionable.

And it teaches a few lessons.

First, you censorious Guardians of Feels on the Left: if you thought that the norms you created wouldn’t be used against your “own side,” you’re fools. It is apparently your theory that the law is sexist, racist, and every other -ist, driven by privilege and wealth, and that free speech norms serve to protect rich white guys — yet somehow exceptions to free speech norm will be imposed in an egalitarian, progressive way. That is almost indescribably moronic. Go sit in the corner and think about what you have done.

I have very little time for the speech-policing identity politics driven by postmodernist critical theory that’s taken root in parts of academia and the media; it’s profoundly illiberal. But if freedom of speech is to mean anything at all, it means the right to speak ill-informed complete cobblers that others may find offensive. And the right to ridicule that ill-informed complete cobblers without mercy.

Sustained targetted harassement and direct threats of violence are another issue entirely, but I have yet to see any suggestions that Bahar Mustapha has engaged in anything beyond playground-level name-calling. The law is a very blunt instrument for dealing with such things. Prosecution sets a dangerous precedent.

Even if Bahar Mustapha takes advantage of freedoms she would seek to take away from others, that’s still not the point. If they come after her, who will be next? Will you risk jail time for calling George Osborne a bellend?

Update: There are suggestions on Twitter that the court summons isn’t in connection with any of those controversial tweets from months ago, but much more recent tweets that could be interpreted as a direct incitement to violence in connection to the Tory conference in Manchester.

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Quote of the Day

In a lengthy post entitled “Ethics” is advertising about western Buddhism and its relationship with socio-political tribes, David Chapman comes up with this gem:

In the ’60s and ’70s, hair length was a reliable badge. If you were a guy with long hair, you definitely liked tofu (or pretended to), and if you had a crew cut, you hated it (or were careful never to try it because that’s sissy food). This was highly efficient and a Good Thing. Then, in the ’80s, rural working-class heavy metal fans grew long hair, and that screwed everything up for everyone else.

Yes, blame metal for everything, won’t you?

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When we were kids we used to make up imaginary Parliaments made up from the family pets. We had one guinea pig with a brown patch over one eye that always looked like Denis Healy’s eyebrows. So she was always Chancellor of the Exchequer in the cabinet.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Peeple: App or Poe?

PeepleEveryone you know will be able to rate you on the terrifying ‘Yelp for people’ — whether you want them to or not, which up this horrifying app. Twitter is melting down again with outrage, such that the founders of Peeple ironically ended up protecting their Twitter account at one point.

This makes me wonder if Poes Law now applies not just to extremist ideologues, but to social media applications as well. It’s actually very difficult to tell if Peeple is a real but dangerously ill-conceieved application waiting to be launched, or if the whole thing is a very clever hoax, perhaps viral marketing for something quite different.

Fortunately, if it is real, its core functionality appears to violate UK and EU data protection and privacy laws, so there’s no way an applicaiton which can so obviously be used as a bullying platform could legally launch here in Britain.

Also, if it’s real, it raises the question of tester ethics again. As a responsible ethical tester, can you fail and entire application as not fit for purpose and potentially dangerous at a fundamental business requirement level?

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Touchstone announce stage times for farewell show.

Touchstone at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Touchstone have announced the stage times for their farewell gig in Leamington Spa on the 21st of November, which is going to be filmed.

16.30: Doors
16.50: Lonely Robot
17.35: Changeover
18.10: Magenta
20.00: Changeover
20.50: Touchstone
22.30: Curfew, followed by after-show event (til Midnight)

Information on tickets for the aftershow will be announced shortly.

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The Volkswagen emissions scandal

Great blog post by James Christie on the implications of the Volkswagen emissions scandal for the software testing profession.

What interests me about this is that the defeat device is integral to the control system (ECM); the switch has to operate as part of the normal running of the car. The software is constantly checking the car’s behaviour to establish whether it is taking part in a federal emissions test or just running about normally. The testing of this switch would therefore have been part of the testing of the ECM. There’s no question of some separate piece of kit or software over-riding the ECM.

This means the software testers were presumably complicit in the conspiracy. If they were not complicit then that would mean that they were unaware of the existence of the different dyno and road calibrations of the ECM. They would have been so isolated from the development and the functionality of the ECM that they couldn’t have been performing any responsible, professional testing at all.

I’ve always maintained that a good tester needs to be able to speak truth to power, and any tester who simply says whatever the project manager wants to hear is not a worthwhile tester. But Christie follows that to its obvious conclusion, and raises some very important questions on the testing profession’s moral and ethical responsibilities. This is something the testing community doesn’t talk enough about.

Posted in Testing & Software | Tagged | 1 Comment

The water on is actually the ‘tears of a lonely robot’, NASA confirms. Is this John Mitchell‘s doing?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Why tank stories make great tech myths

Interesting guest post on Charlie Stross’ blog by M. Harold Page “Why tank stories make great tech myths“, comparing the history of tank warfare with software development.

However, you’re a sophisticated lot, so call the above “A word from our sponsor” and let me tell you why I think tank stories make great tech myths.

First some examples…

We all know the one about the Panther and the T34. The Panther is the better tank, when the Russian mud hasn’t knocked it out, when it doesn’t need shipping to Czechoslovakia for repair, when it’s not being spammed by cheap and cheerful T34s.

That’s a story that ought to be taught to engineers and software developers. Sometimes perfect means “delivered now”. It’s reputedly the Duke Nukem Forever story, but that’s just the most anecdotal example of chasing perfection at the expense of practicality. I’m sure you guys have others.

He doesn’t develop the metaphor quite as much as I’d have liked, preferring to talk about actual tanks. But it’s still an interesting read,

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