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Archive for January, 2010

NHS dental care is a crock of shit

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Here’s a complaint I just sent to the Brighton and Hove primary care trust about the North Laines Dental Practice and my dentist Ilias Triantafyllou:

Dear Sir/Madam,
I’d like to make a complaint about the North Laines Dental Practice in general and Ilias Triantafyllou in particular. I’ve been a patient of this practice since an early age and throughout this time I’ve found it to be a generally very rude and stressful experience – not because of the dental work but because of the attitudes of the staff.

There is one receptionist in particular who is always very abrupt and sarcastic – I don’t know her name but she has been there for as long as I can remember. I understand that they’re probably under stress themselves, but surely the primary function of a receptionist is to make the patients feel welcome? Over the years I’ve gradually started to dread having to make the the phone call to book an appointment, for fear of being scolded for taking too long to decide on an appointment time or stumbling over my words and receiving a sarcastic and rude response.

I’d also like to make a specific complaint about Ilias Triantafyllou, who has been my dentist for the last couple of years. As a dentist he seems very competent, but his attitude and language is rude in the extreme – not just to me as a patient, but I’ve also witnessed him be incredibly rude and abrupt to his assistant. Unsurprisingly he seems to go through assistants at a rapid speed because presumably they get tired of being spoken-to so rudely and leave.

Furthermore, a few months ago I suffered from a tooth abscess which has required a number of visits, each time a temporary filling being put in until the tooth was ready for the final treatment. However, due to a failure of my mobile phone (and consequently the calendar on it), I wasn’t reminded of an appointment and consequently missed it. This was an honest and simple mistake and I haven’t missed any other appointments for the last couple of years at least (if not longer), upon phoning the surgery I was told that Ilias had “struck you off”, and that I would have to find another dentist. I explained that I was half way through a major treatment and asked if there was anything I could do to get them to finish it, and I was basically told that I could try writing to Ilias and requesting that he re-register me (by the same rude receptionist mentioned previously). I decided that I’d thoroughly had-it with this dental practice and decided to register at another one instead.

I’ve now waited a month for an assessment at The Albion Street Dental Practice, whilst still having a temporary filling in one of my teeth. Upon arriving for that assessment I explained that I was half way through a treatment and the dentist I saw there asked me why I’d left the previous dentist – I explained that I’d been “struck off” by Ilias for missing an appointment, and the dentist at the Albion Street surgery explained that they couldn’t strike me off for missing a single appointment in the middle of a treatment and that the Albion Street surgery were low on their quota of treatments so I’d have to wait a couple more months before anything would be done by them, and that I’d be better off going back to The North Laines surgery and having them finish the treatment there.

When comparing the Albion Street surgery with the North Laines Dental Practice the difference is stark – in the Albion Street practice the receptionists are friendly and polite, the dentist I saw was helpful. It even goes as far as the signs on the wall in the waiting room – in the North Laines practice the signs all warn you of things like “If you’re rude to our receptionists, we’ll strike you off”, “If you deface our property we’ll strike you off” etc, in comparison, at the Albion Street practice the signs are about making you feel welcome.

I’ve been unable to speak to the North Laines practice today because it was after 5pm by the time I got home from Albion Street, but I will be calling them first thing on Monday to make an appointment and complain directly to them about having been unfairly struck-off mid-treatment – I’m going to ask to see a dentist other than Ilias and hopefully get the treatment finished at the North Laines practice – I don’t wish to see Ilias again after having been struck off by him. After finishing the treatment at the North Laines practice I would like to move to the Albion Street practice as they have a much friendlier atmosphere.

I’m really writing this complaint after having seen what a dental practice should be like at Albion Street, I really feel that the North Laines practice needs some intervention to change the attitudes there and stop it being such a horrible place to visit.

For your information I am also publishing this complaint to my blog (URL in signature), and I may publish any response from you there as well unless you specifically request that I do not do so.

I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,

~Kieran Simkin


Why I already know the iPad is shit

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Is your kid a bit 'special'? Get her an iPad in case she pisses herself!

Is your kid a bit 'special'? Get her an iPad in case she pisses herself!


List copied from a WebProNews article:

  1. The name – Don’t give two completely different products very similar names, and don’t pick a name that is the same as a sanitary towel.
  2. Lack of multi-tasking – You mean I can’t browse the web and listen to music at the same time?! Backwards.
  3. No camera – Why the fuck not?
  4. Stupid connectors – Unsurprising but still lame, Apple have always done this – see connector conspiracy.
  5. Same shitty touchscreen keyboard as the iPhone – read my lips T-A-C-T-I-L-E F-E-E-D-B-A-C-K!
  6. No Macromedia Flash support – How can you make a web device that doesn’t work properly with the web? Stupid.

Congratulations Apple, you’ve made another Newton. I will go and fetch you some nice crayons.


Environmentalism on Facebook

Monday, January 18th, 2010

I’m getting increasingly annoyed at the prevalence of pseudo-environmentalism on Facebook, and more specifically the fact that many of my friends are joining these groups without any understanding of the science behind their claims.

It seems to me that pseudo-environmentalism has become the new religion – a doctrine that people blindly follow without really engaging their own minds. Blind faith is often dangerous, and just because something is being sold to you on the basis of being “environmentally friendly” does not mean that is necessarily true. In some cases your efforts may have no effect, in others they may actually be doing more harm than good. If you do not understand the implications of your actions, it is better to take no action at all than take an action which could potentially be harmful.

Let’s have a look at one completely laughable example: 10 Ways to Be an Energy-Efficient Facebook User, I wouldn’t really encourage you to click on that link because you’ll only be increasing advertiser revenue which is clearly what the entire article is aimed at doing – drawing traffic for the purpose of advertising. I’ll condense it all into one sentence for you: “Spend less time on Facebook”.

I’ll just give you one example of the absolute stupidity in that article:

“Hosting photos and video consumes energy, and most times the photos we upload to most services aren’t exactly works of art. It’s not that we shouldn’t share moments with our friends, but before uploading we should ask ourselves: is it worth it? Do we really need ten different versions of just our face? Do we need the minute-by-minute of a party or could we choose about the ten best pics? So share, but share with care.”

No, hosting photos and video consumes hard disk space, sitting there with your computer on deciding whether you really need to upload each photo consumes energy. If you want to conserve power whilst using your computer, follow this one simple rule: USE IT LESS!

Here’s another example, feel free to click on this link as it’s not generating anyone any advertising revenue (other than Facebook) – Blackout Facebook – this is a group aimed at convincing Facebook to change to a black background on the premise that it will reduce power consumption. There’s also a black version of Google called Blackle.

I would say that I have a pretty good understanding of how modern computer monitors work and I’m pretty confident that it doesn’t make any difference to power consumption what’s on the screen – the main part of the screen that consumes power in the vast majority of modern screens is the backlight, this will be on no matter what’s on the screen, the only way to reduce power consumption is to reduce the brightness of the backlight and this is not something that can be done by a website. In other words, on a normal TFT screen having a black background uses no less power than a white one.

Only on Plasma, OLED and old-fashioned CRT screens will the colour of the screen make any difference to the power consumption. Screens based on liquid crystal technology (like the vast majority of current TFTs) will have no measurable difference in power consumption.

Here’s one news article disputing the claim and here’s a a Youtube video conclusively proving there’s no difference.

I know these ideas (and Facebook groups) are relatively harmless, but the fact that people are blindly joining them without understanding the science is not a good thing. When the fate of the world is at stake and one false move could spell disaster, we wanna be absolutely sure that any changes we do make are actually going to help and not make things worse. Scientists have told us that global warming is a risk to our planet, and instead of taking a careful, considered and scientific approach to the problem, most people just seem to be flailing their arms around wildly. Doing this will not help and it’s liable to make the situation worse.

Seriously guys, I’m starting to lose respect for my friends when I see them joining these kinds of groups on Facebook. I’m actually starting to think I’m going to have to close my Facebook account because I can’t stand to lose respect for any more of my friends. It’s become fashionable to claim you’re “green”, and people see themselves as asserting their ‘caring’ nature by signing up to anything claiming to be helping the environment. I’ve got a piece of news that may come as a shock to you – just because something is claiming to help the environment does not mean it necessarily is, either because the person pushing it to you doesn’t fully understand the concepts, or in some more cynical cases, they’re actually just trying to sell you a product on the basis of it being branded as “green”.

Wearing your ‘green’ credentials on your sleeve does not necessarily make people think what a caring person you are, especially when you haven’t properly researched whether the thing you’re supporting is actually good for the environment. If you declare your support for something which is clearly technically incorrect (like Blackle), those more tech-savvy of your friends aren’t going to interpret that as you asserting your caring side, they’re going to interpret that as you behaving like a sheep, and a bit of an idiot. Sadly more and more of my friends are putting themselves into this category.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care for the environment – I’m just saying that you better be damn sure that what you’re supporting is actually good for the environment before you declare your support for it. “Because it says so” isn’t a valid reason, many things claim to be good for the environment, a good proportion of them simply are not.

The reason a lot of this misinformation is about is because global warming and the environment has only recently entered the public consciousness, and in some cases scientists genuinely haven’t figured out what the most effective things we can do to help are yet. In some cases it’s not as black and white as you might think it is.

I will argue passionately against wind farms, and it’s not because someone’s threatening to erect one in my back garden, or even anywhere near me. I actually just believe that they do more harm to the environment than they do good, and this comes from a pretty solid understanding of the science and the maths, not some kind of abstract idea of being “environmentally friendly”. Just because some people are telling you that wind farms are the solution to the energy problem does not necessarily mean they are correct – it is okay to question people when they claim to be helping the environment – they may be wrong!

Sadly, the vitriol that comes from the pseudo-environmentalist hurd when you question one of their ‘beliefs’ is really quite sickening. I consider myself a scientist, and as such I’m always open to being proven wrong, if somebody comes to me with a well thought-out and considered argument against my position, I will always hear them out and I will never simply dismiss their belief without making some effort to rationally and logically disprove it. If they can provide a convincing proof that I am wrong, I will (eventually) accept that, I may argue passionately for my point of view right up until the very last minute, but when there is overwhelming evidence against me, I will admit defeat.

When presenting my opinions about wind farms, I’ve been met pretty much exclusively with anger, in most cases with dismissal, and in some cases with personal insult. I’ve had my argument called ‘utter crap’, and I personally have been called various names, all for daring to express a point of view that differs from the established pseudo-environmentalist dogma. And that’s what it’s starting to become, a dogma, a set of beliefs that its followers will not allow to be disputed. This is a seriously dangerous state of affairs, because what happens if that dogma makes some mistakes about the best course of action, and 20 years later we find ourselves in an even more worrying situation?

The only way we’re going to solve global warming and the energy crisis is with science, and that means you have to be open to hearing other people’s ideas – this is the very basis of science.

So what are my beliefs? Well, primarily I believe that nuclear power is the only real workable solution to the energy problem – it’s the only solution that will allow us to continue economic growth without completely fucking up the environment. Furthermore, as a landscape photographer, I don’t particularly want the landscapes I photograph to be peppered with wind turbines, particularly when I do not see them as a necessary form of electricity generation. When you can generate 500MW+ from a nuclear power station without causing any carbon footprint, why would you want to cover the landscape with hundreds of massive eye-sores that only generate a tiny fraction of that energy? To me, it’s as simple as that.

I’ve even done the maths:

UK’s current power consumption = 348,700,000 MWh/year.
Typical average output from one very large land-based wind turbine – 1MW.
8765 hours in a year, consequently one wind turbine outputs 8765MWh/year.
It would require 39,783 massive wind turbines to meet the UK’s current power requirements.
Consequently, if we were to replace all of our current power generating capacity with wind farms, and we were to assume that 50% of our 245000km2 landmass was suitable for wind farm construction (probably a very optimistic estimate) we’d end up with a massive wind turbine every 3km2 – in other words, wherever you are in the country, whatever direction you looked, all you’d be able to see is wind turbines, unless you were fortunate enough to live somewhere where there was no wind! Fuck that shit!

Building them off-shore would keep me happier as a photographer, but I don’t think it would particularly do the environment much good – think of all that concrete you have to sink to the sea bed just to support the things, surely that can’t be good for wildlife?

So I thought I’d create a Facebook group expressing these opinions, to see whether anyone actually agreed with me, and what response I would get from my own friends. I also wrote a long essay in the hope that I might be able to convince some of them to think twice before clicking the “Join Group” button on anything claiming to be ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’.

I didn’t expect many of my friends to join – nobody wants to be seen to stray from the flock, and I’m sure most of them didn’t even bother to read what I’d written, none of them have commented on it. So far 22 people have joined and about half of them are people I don’t even know. The sad truth is, hideously ugly environmentally dubious wind farms are infinitely more palatable to people than nuclear power, which they’re still fundamentally afraid of, partly because they simply don’t understand it. I hoped to convince a few people to question their assumptions about wind and nuclear power, but apparently it’s an uphill struggle even to get them to read what I have to say.

You can read the essay below and join the Facebook group here. Even if you disagree with me, for god’s sake have an opinion of your own and express it, don’t just blindly join any group claiming to be eco-friendly!

This group is dedicated to those (like me) who believe that nuclear power is the only viable and sensible solution to global warming and the energy crisis.

In order to match the power output currently provided by coal and gas power stations, we would literally have to carpet pretty much the entire surface of the planet with wind turbines and photovoltaic (solar) cells ‐ don’t believe me? do the maths yourself, it’s not hard.

The majority of renewable energy sources essentially depend on the sun to drive them ‐ either directly in the case of solar cells, or indirectly via convection currents in the case of wind turbines. One figure pseudo-environmentalists like to quote is the number of watt-hours of energy falling on our planet’s surface from the sun ‐ indeed it is a very high number. The problem is in conversion efficiency ‐ current solar cells are highly inefficient, turning only a few percent of the sun’s energy into usable electricity.

Wind turbines are even more inefficient because the energy from the sun first has to heat the atmosphere, then the temperature differential between warmer and colder parts of the planet has to cause a convection current which we call ‘wind’, and this wind then has to drive around blades which then drive a generator. Energy is lost at every stage of this process. I’m just trying to explain why, although a lot of energy falls on our planet from the sun, it’s not possible to harness even a tiny fraction of it using current technology.

The truth is, current renewable energy sources are hideously wasteful of the energy that comes to us from the sun. Well, ‘what we lose in inefficiency, we can make up for in scale ‐ after all, the energy’s free’, I hear you say. The problem with this is that the inefficiencies are so large, the scales have to be absolutely massive to compensate ‐ renewables, particularly wind and solar power are tremendously wasteful of land ‐ one of the UK’s most precious natural resources.

When we’re talking about wind turbines, they have to be both very large and very numerous. In order to generate the kind of energy we need, you’re talking about erecting structures the size of large buildings, everywhere ‐ particularly in the countryside. If we’re talking about solar cells, in order to get the kind of power we need, we’re going to need to cover pretty much every available inch of land with them. If we’re planning on replacing coal and oil, these renewable energy sources are probably going to need to cover what’s left of our unused land and eat into our farming land as well.. that’s the land that provides us with food. Some countries have lots of spare infertile land, the UK is not one of them.

Now you can argue that it’s a price we have to pay to save the world. The thing is, you’re talking about destroying what’s left of our open spaces, our remaining natural beauty and the last of our countryside, for what? To save nature? You’re talking about destroying nature to save it. Here’s the dark secret that nobody wants to admit; when we talk about building massive large scale wind farms, we’re not trying to save nature, we’re trying to save ourselves from running out of oil. We’re talking about continuing to abuse the natural world for the sake of producing energy to fuel the growth of human civilisation. You call that environmentalism? I call it the continued rape of our natural world.

In truth the only types of large-scale wind farms that are likely to get agreement in the UK are the off-shore kind. Now these may avoid the problem of spoiling our view of the countryside, but instead we’re talking about sinking massive slabs of concrete onto the seabed. I’m not a marine biologist, but I would think this would have even more of an impact on the environment than hillside wind farms.

But there’s more to it even than that; building these massive wind turbines requires a lot of resources ‐ lots of concrete and steel for their physical construction, copper for the windings of their generators and lots of energy to move all those resources to the construction site and assemble them into a turbine. Creating photovoltaic cells requires baking silicon at a few thousand degrees for several days, in some cases requires the use of toxic heavy metals like cadmium. And all of this costs money, lots and lots of money. Building these renewable power sources is not free environmentally ‐ we’re using a lot of natural resources, a lot of energy and a lot of money to produce them, and like all power stations, they have a limited lifetime.

I’m not arguing that harnessing the sun’s power to produce energy is in itself a bad idea, of course I’m not. Harnessing the sun’s power is one of the most important goals for scientists today. What I’m arguing is that none of the current technologies allow us to do it effectively enough to be worth wasting lots of our dwindling natural resources and limited budgets on building, not to mention ruining our countryside with row upon row of ugly wind turbines in the process.

I’d be willing to bet that the most viable source of power from the sun is a yet-to-be-invented organic chemical process not dissimilar to photosynthesis ‐ in other words the solar cells of the future will be ‘grown’, or synthesised in a lab from just hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. Plants have figured out a bloody good way to harness energy from the sun without all of the terrible drawbacks of current solar cells ‐ we’re pretty darn close to learning their secrets, and when we do, by all means plaster as much land as you want with the new solar cells. The point is, they’ll be so much more efficient that you won’t need nearly such a large surface area, and you won’t need to waste so many natural resources creating them because they’ll simply grow themselves out of our most abundant natural elements.

You might call that wishful thinking, but I would suggest that you read some of the most recent developments in the area of genetic engineering and quantum biology.

Of course biological solar cells aren’t the only promising future energy source. My bet is on nuclear fusion being the technology that allows mankind to grow beyond the limits of fossil fuel technology.

Let’s just have a quick explanation of Nuclear Fusion for those who don’t know:

Nuclear energy comes in two types ‐ Nuclear *Fission* and Nuclear *Fusion*. All current nuclear power stations are fission reactors ‐ nuclear fission takes a very heavy element (normally Uranium-235) and splits each atom into two lighter ones, giving off some energy in process. ‘Fission’ literally means splitting ‐ nuclear fission is the process of deriving energy from the splitting of an atom.

Nuclear fusion is the opposite ‐ you take two very light atoms (normally Deuterium and Tritium, both isotopes of hydrogen) and join them together into one heavier one (Helium). Nuclear fusion is the process of deriving energy from the joining together of two atoms. Fusion is the process that powers our sun ‐ not only that, but pretty much every atom in your body was once created inside the giant fusion reactor of a star ‐ fusion is the process by which all the heavier elements were created from Hydrogen.

There’s a number of problems with nuclear fission ‐ Uranium-235 is a rare isotope of an already rare element ‐ extracting Uranium from the ground is a risky business due to the obvious health risks, purifying it to extract the 0.72% that consists of the 235 isotope is a laborious and difficult process. Ultimately switching to nuclear fission would only buy us a limited amount of time after depleting the world’s oil resources before we depleted the world’s uranium resources ‐ however, this time is probably measured in hundreds of years (think how much uranium is currently in the thousands of warheads held by the US and Russia).

Any risk of nuclear disaster is pretty much eliminated with modern reactor design ‐ the problems that resulted in the Chernobyl disaster were down to very bad reactor design and the corner-cutting of the Soviet regime. In a modern reactor in a western country the potential for disaster is basically zero ‐ as designs are continually improved and refined, the tiny risk of catastrophe is getting smaller and smaller. However, to argue that it didn’t exist at all would be a lie ‐ it is merely an acceptable risk when faced with the alternatives.

And then we come to the problem of nuclear waste ‐ of course if we were comparing nuclear fission to the perfect green energy source, then this nuclear waste is a pretty significant negative in the nuclear column. However, the point is there is no green energy source that can even hope to generate the same power levels as coal, oil and gas ‐ nuclear is the only zero-carbon technology that even competes in the same scale.

Here’s the motherfucking crux of it ‐ no amount of windmills or solar panels will ever generate enough energy to fill the increasing demand. Right now we’re faced with the choice between fossil fuels and nuclear, renewables don’t even come into it. When we run out of fossil fuels, that choice is going to disappear and our only remaining option will be nuclear.

But let’s just compare nuclear (fission) and fossil fuels for a minute ‐ both depend on limited natural resources, one of which (uranium) is still in plentiful supply. Both generate highly dangerous waste ‐ if you’d like to argue that radioactive waste is worse than combustion products then I’d like to remind you that the pseudo-environmentalists are prophesying that global warming will cause the end of civilisation as we know it ‐ if that’s not equally dangerous as radioactive waste then I don’t know what is.

Then we have the fact that the waste produced from burning fossil fuels is a gas ‐ a gas that we are still continuing to just release into the atmosphere willy-nilly. It is true scientists are developing ‘carbon capture’ technologies, but doing this is difficult, it requires energy and it requires somewhere to put vast volumes of waste gasses. The problem is that the waste products are a gas by default ‐ this is in contrast to nuclear power ‐ the waste products are solid and when compared to the gases produced from combustion, they pale in insignificance.

To any pseudo-environmentalist who argues against nuclear power, I put this simple question: Where would you rather have your highly toxic waste products, in a box that you can bury in a hole, or floating around in the atmosphere?

And let’s just have a little look at the problem of energy demand and how it is that nuclear is the only power source that can hope to compete with coal:

One particularly worrying trend among pseudo-environmentalists is the suggestion that we should try to reduce our energy consumption. Let me explain why I think this is dangerous ‐ energy, more specifically the energy derived from fossil fuels has been the driving force in the technological revolution (and prior to that, the industrial revolution) ‐ mankind is currently enjoying a new renaissance ‐ a period in which technology is curing many diseases, lifetimes are extended, arts and culture are flourishing, quality of life and living standards are gradually increasing across the board, life is better now than it has ever been ‐ it is the cheap energy from fossil fuels that has driven all of these advances.

To suggest that we should reduce our energy consumption is like suggesting that we should return to the dark ages, that we should deliberately regress our culture and give up all of these advances we’ve made. Pseudo-environmentalists call this desire for continued economic growth ‘greed’, but it is not greedy to want to continue our current renaissance ‐ to continue to improve life expectancy, to continue to gradually eliminate poverty. Growth is one of the most basic attributes of all life, even single-celled organisms. If you watch a bacteria growing in a Petri dish it will continue to grow until it consumes all of its resources, and then it will die ‐ this basic behaviour is true of every life form ‐ it is absolutely fundamental to all life. To argue that we should somehow attempt to curb economic growth is like saying we should give up part of what makes us ‘alive’.

What we need to do is ensure our growth doesn’t risk tipping the natural balance of the world ‐ the reason so many plant and animal species are able to continue to co-exist is because there is a delicate balance between the growth of one species against the growth of another. Pollution as a result of fossil fuels risks upsetting that balance so we do need to do something about it, but that solution does not necessarily mean regressing our society to the point before the pollution began.

Reducing our energy usage is simply not necessary ‐ in a world where every megawatt consumed requires another square acre of land to be turned over to wind farms or solar cells then yes, reducing energy consumption is a priority. Not only is your ‘green’ energy going to destroy our environment, it’s also going to cause a regression to the dark ages, is that really what you want? Mankind has an ability to overcome its environmental limitations ‐ to jump out of the Petri dish and find new ways to grow and feed ourselves ‐ this ability isn’t unique to mankind, bacteria and viruses for example are constantly mutating to find new ways to survive in different environments.

Science has already provided us with a way to jump out of the Petri dish of fossil fuels ‐ we have a solution to the dwindling supply of oil, a tried and tested solution that is already available today ‐ the solution is nuclear power. It is nuclear power that will allow us to continue economic growth and extend this renaissance long into the future, and do it without having to turn over vast swathes of land to wind farms or solar cells. Nuclear power is by far the most environmentally friendly way of meeting our increasing demand for energy. Nuclear power is not simply an economic imperative, it’s a moral and social imperative too.

Now let’s explain how nuclear power is able to compete with, and potentially generate even more power than fossil fuels which are one of the most dense energy stores known to man. It actually starts with Einstein’s equation:

E=mc2

While the theory of relativity is pretty difficult to explain, the equation above is actually very easy to explain. What it says is that energy and mass (i.e. stuff, like atoms) are essentially the same thing and are interchangeable. You can convert stuff directly into energy, and you can convert energy directly into stuff ‐ if you think about it that’s a pretty powerful idea. But it gets even better:

The ‘E’ stands for energy, ‘m’ stands for mass (or weight) and ‘c’ represents the speed of light. Now if you were listening in high school physics, you’ll know that light travels pretty damn fast, in fact it travels the fastest it is possible to travel. 299,792,458 metres per second to be exact. So what Einstein’s equation is saying is that energy is equal to mass multiplied by the speed of light (which is a very big number) squared. In effect, for a tiny amount of mass, you can get a very large amount of energy.

And that’s how nuclear power works ‐ mass is being directly converted into energy, and that process produces a very large amount of energy for a very small amount of mass. So much so that the amount of nuclear fuel required is tiny compared to the amount of coal that is constantly poured into a coal-fired power plant, even though only a tiny fraction of the Uranium-235 fuel is converted directly to energy, the speed of light is so large, only a tiny amount of it needs to be. This is how nuclear bombs manage to be so powerful whilst still being small and light enough to go on a plane or submarine.

And now let’s revisit nuclear fusion ‐ you’ll remember that I mentioned that all current nuclear reactor are fission reactors, and that this has a number of drawbacks including scarcity of fuel, a tiny risk of catastrophic disaster and the main one ‐ lots of nasty long-lived nuclear waste. Some of the waste products from nuclear fission stay radioactive for thousands of years (although that is actually only a small portion of the total waste).

However, nuclear fusion promises to solve all of these problems. Fusion reactions are very difficult to get going and keep going, so there’s absolutely no risk of a run-away reaction causing a disaster, the main fuel is deuterium which is found abundantly in seawater and the volume of radioactive waste produced is much smaller than with fission, and more importantly, only stays radioactive for a couple of hundreds years instead of thousands.

What I’m trying to say here is that nuclear fusion is the power of the future, I can say this with a high degree of certainty. It has all the potential to generate massive amounts of energy without any of the drawbacks of current nuclear technology. Put your bloody windmills away and stop ruining the countryside, nuclear fusion will save us all.

That’s not to say there aren’t massive technical hurdles to overcome before it can be made to work on a large enough scale to actually generate power ‐ with nuclear fusion what you’re effectively trying to do is bottle the sun, but you have to bottle it in a container that doesn’t touch it at all ‐ if you touch it, the reaction will fizzle out ‐ this is why it’s inherently safe. The only way to contain the reaction like this is with giant superconducting magnets ‐ the most effective shape seems to be a doughnut or tokamak.

An international collaboration called ITER is currently under-way to build the last step before attempting a working power-generating fusion reactor. There’s a clearly defined roadmap to the commercialisation of fusion reactors but unfortunately it’s a slow process ‐ ITER won’t see ‘lights-on’ until 2018, and ITER is only there to provide data on how to build DEMO. DEMO will be the first power-generating fusion reactor ‐ once we reach that stage it’ll be full steam ahead towards rolling out fusion power generation worldwide.

We’re probably talking about at least 30 or 40 years before fusion power is a workable reality, so we’ve got an energy gap that we need to fill. I’m afraid that nuclear fission is the only way to do it ‐ it may be dirty but it’s a hell of a lot better than causing a run-away greenhouse effect.

Even filling the gap with nuclear fission is going to be a problem in the UK ‐ it takes time to build new reactors and many of our older reactors are reaching the end of their lifetimes, if we’re to decommission them whilst also reducing our carbon emissions we’re going to struggle to bring new nuclear power stations online quick enough to fill the gap. We should really have started building them towards the end of Tony Blair’s rein, as it is we’re still only in the early planning stages and progress is slow ‐ we’re at real risk of serious brownouts and power cuts, increased energy prices, energy rationing or perhaps even energy curfews if something isn’t done soon.

I’d just like to say one final thing on the name of this group ‐ a scientist would never call somebody who disagrees with them an idiot. The name of this group is a reaction to the group “Put a wind farm in my backyard if you like, because I’m not an idiot.” ‐ to me this group displays exactly the kind of pseudo-environmentalist mentality that we could really do without ‐ if you’re just going to join the flock of everyone else who’s saying the same thing without really understanding the issues yourself, and then call everyone who disagrees with you an idiot ‐ that’s simply not scientific, it’s dogmatic ‐ much like a religion ‐ you’re abdicating your own judgement and following group-think, and you’re doing it in a slightly arrogant and pompous way. Being an eco-mentalist doesn’t make you better than other people and it certainly doesn’t give you the right to look down upon people who disagree with you. Some may be idiots, but there are plenty who are not, I hope in this essay I’ve proven that you don’t have to be an idiot to disagree with wind farms, and that your own pseudo-environmentalism may in fact be doing more harm than good.

I care about the environment and global warming just as much as you, we just disagree on what should be done about it.


My experience with BBC South East Today

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

On the 15th of October I received the following e-mail from Siobhan Stirling at BBC South East Today – the BBCs local news programme covering the Eastbourne and Seaford area (and Brighton too, although most people can’t actually receive it here):

Kieran I am a producer for BBC South East. I came across your website when I was planning a walk in Cuckmere Haven with my family last weekend. We love the photographic gallery you are keeping of the changing coastline and would love to feature it on BBC South East.

Typically, at this time my mobile phone was completely buggered and it took about a week before I was actually able to successfully have a conversation with Siobhan on the phone. During this call Siobhan explained that they’d like to do a short feature on my project and film me up at at Cuckmere Haven actually doing some photography. Of course I was very enthusiastic about this because it’s great free publicity for my website.

Siobhan also explained why it is that the news we can actually receive in Brighton is so focused on Portsmouth and Southampton. Brighton actually marks the border between the BBC South and the BBC South East areas. I knew that BBC South’s studio was in Southampton, but it turns out they’ve only got one reporter in Brighton, in comparison to BBC South East’s two reporters – that’s right, the news show that we can’t even watch have more reporters in Brighton than the one we can watch.

This is one of my (many) pet peeves – it’s not just that BBC South Today are too Southampton-centric, I believe the producers actually take a rather disdainful attitude towards Brighton. Whenever Brighton’s featured – which happens quite rarely, it’s pretty much always some kind of story about drug addicts or homeless people. I get the impression the Southampton producers think that Brighton’s full of hippys, gays and druggies. Okay, it is.. but that’s a good thing! Nobody in Brighton gives a fuck about the latest big boat to have been launched in the Solent – I will actually heckle the TV when there’s a news story about some fucking boat. Brighton actually does have a lot of general-interest events happening in it, but they never get any coverage from BBC South.

Anyway, enough ranting about BBC South – thankfully it was actually BBC South East Today that wanted to feature me and I don’t have any rants about them because I’ve never actually seen it. In fact, I have nothing but positive words to say about BBC South East because everyone I dealt with there was very friendly and likable.

After having spoken to Siobhan and agreed to the filming, we were hit with over a month of solid rain, it would’ve been virtually impossible to film. Eventually it did let up and I got a call to arrange filming on December 15th. Shortly after I knackered my car driving to Bristol and back with no oil in it! I was a little bit worried at the time that my car was going to give out on me and I was going to get stuck half way there and end up late. Anyway, the car was fine (as it has been ever since) and I got there on time.

Upon arriving at the Hill Barn car park which is where I’d arranged to meet Robin Gibson the reporter and the Ben Leete the cameraman (who I would later find out goes by ‘Ben the geek‘ – obviously anybody who introduces themselves as a geek is gonna go down well with me).

Robin Gibson and Ben the geek

Robin Gibson and Ben the geek

I was expecting a bit more of an entourage to be honest, more people, a van, anything, but it was just the two of them – I think Ben turned up in a Vauxhall Astra hire car, I didn’t see what Robin was driving but it was definitely a car – I guess this is how news reporting works, it needs to be lightweight in order to keep up with the news. Naturally the first thing I was looking at was their mode of transport, wheels are important yes! Apparently they would normally have had an editing suite in a van, but that van had broken down and was still in Brighton, hence the hire car.

On the way from the car park down to the coastguard cottages I tried to brief Robin with as much information about my project as possible so that he would be able to ask the right kinds of questions (and not catch me out of things I hadn’t prepared for). One of the things I was curious to try to see was whether he seemed happy with his job – let me explain that: Basically I knew my project would be the “human interest” story, or, to put it another way, the “and finally..” item (although it didn’t actually come at the end of the programme). I’ve noticed in TV news that sometimes you can detect an ever-so-slight hint of resentment in the reporter giving the “and finally..” piece, sometimes you can tell that they feel stupid reporting on these trivial stories and they’d rather be doing hard-nosed political reporting or something.

Well, I’m pleased to report that it was immediately obvious that Robin didn’t take that attitude (or if he does, his professionalism hides it bloody well). He seems to actually revel in the absurdity of some of the stories he covers. This made him instantly likable and very easy to chat to. I had watched the previous day’s episode of South East Today on the BBC website in which Robin’s report was on a bunch of nutters from Hampshire who like to dress up as some kind of demented horse and then hit it with a stick. Sorta like a life-sized piñata but instead of candy inside you’ve got the village idiot and when you hit it nothing comes out except perhaps some blood – looked to me like a thinly veiled excuse to beat a retarded man with a stick. I wish I could remember what it was called now so I could provide a link. It was actually Robin who mentioned this story in passing and without even the slightest hint of sarcasm of disdain! Jesus christ, I thought, this guy really does love interviewing crazy weirdos. Hats off to him and hats off to the Beeb for finding the right man for the job.

To be fair, they probably could’ve edited my interview to make me look like a crazy weirdo. After all, I kinda am one. I did say one pretty risqué thing on camera – Robin directly asked me if I was an environmentalist, to which I replied “No, quite the opposite, I don’t like to be told I shouldn’t drive my car” – I wouldn’t have minded too much if they had included that because it’s both controversial and true, although I’m aware it makes me look like a bit of a selfish cock – only to environmentalists though so I’m not worried about that. I think I might also have said that Cuckmere Haven was created by the victorians for the enjoyment of city folk – I’m kinda glad they didn’t include that because it also makes me look like a bit of a cock – an assertion like that requires a small history lesson to back it up which obviously I didn’t have time to give on camera.

Being in front of the camera is weird for me, I’m used to being behind the camera – I’m quite good behind a camera, I know what to say to make people relax and get the best photos, I’m also quite good at taking people by surprise and getting great action shots. In front of a camera however, I’m like a fish out of water.

Ben the geek

Ben the geek

Actually the hardest part, and the part that I hadn’t really anticipated was that when you’re being filmed like this you’re constantly in conflict with your brain’s own “don’t repeat yourself” mechanism. What I mean by that is that I was trying to give Robin as much information about my project off-camera so that he could actually compile the report, that when I came to talk about it on-camera, I was fighting my brain’s own built-in mechanism not to repeat everything I’d just said. Of course then you have to do repeated re-takes and the same conversations from different angles with and without mics, it’s very easy to screw up the delivery on things and forget to mention things that you wanted to mention. I think one of the key skills needed to be a TV personality is the ability to erase your brain’s buffer of what you’ve just said and start at the beginning again, replaying the same conversation over and over until you get it right.

I did have few soundbites prepared in my head that I wanted to give on camera, but unfortunately due to the repeating-yourself problem I screwed up the delivery on my favourite one and it got edited out. Oh well, it’s not Cuckmere Haven-specific so I’m gonna save it for my next TV interview – I’d rather give it and get the delivery perfect than have it broadcast with me stuttering because it’s basically an explanation of my entire reason for doing photography in a couple of sentences. I’m not gonna say what it is, you’ll just have to wait until the next time someone asks me to do an interview. I did manage to get a couple of good soundbites out and I was happy with the final edit that got broadcast. And here it is:

The thing is, to me, this is a step on the ladder towards my final goal. Ultimately my goal is to get my images seen, not by thousands of people, but by millions of people, not for the sake of making money, but simply for the sake of getting my images seen. What’s the point in me risking my life driving up to Cuckmere Haven in the snow if nobody sees my images? My sights are set high – I’m aiming for thousands, even tens of thousands of visitors to my website per day, on this scale the BBC are actually a relatively small success. I want my images to be seen all over the world. I want to be the next Ansel Adams.

The Coastguard Cottages

The Coastguard Cottages

Part of the task is to just get progressively better and better at the art of photography itself – I’m constantly working to improve the photos that I take and improve my website so that it displays them in the most effective manner, but an equal part of the problem is marketing – actually getting the website seen. I actually have a relatively strong internet marketing background, the majority of the companies I’ve worked for in the last 5 years have had a marketing slant. In some ways that’s part of the purpose of this website; I want to understand internet marketing and prove to myself that I can make it work on a large scale.

I’ve been doing lots of traditional internet marketing – this is primarily focused around building inbound links, writing content and basically getting people talking about my website. The most important thing really is getting people to link to you – this is necessary both in terms of building Google Pagerank and actually getting people to click on those links and visit your site. It’s really just a case of contacting the right people and asking them for links. I’m pretty good at traditional internet marketing like this, and I worked hard to get my website onto the first page of results for the term “Cuckmere Haven”, and it’s this that bought me the interest from the BBC.

The thing is, I know that traditional internet marketing will only take me so far – to achieve the level of success that I’m aiming for, what I need is viral marketing. This is a relatively new practice but I’ve already glimpsed at the awesome exposure it can bring and I’m now determined to get it right and catapult my website into the big league. Viral marketing is new because it relies upon the social element to many new websites like Youtube and Facebook that allow a person, upon seeing something that amuses or interests them to pass that thing along to their friends – when this process is repeated over and over again, it can reach a point of criticality – an ignition temperature if you like, a point at which the reaction continues under its own steam and thousands of new people are exposed to it every day. This is when you see the exponential growth curve that gives you the potential to reach basically everyone on the internet.

In the graph below you can see a very clear example of the power of viral marketing. This graph shows the number of my visitors to my website per week since I really started trying to market it back in April:

Visitors per week since April

Visitors per week since April

Notice that there are two major peaks, the first peak in the last week of June actually represents a minor internet hit that I had on the social bookmarking sites with my timelapse videos. The second set of peaks at the end of the year represent the traffic I got from having my website mentioned on TV. Notice how the viral effect of a hit on the social bookmarking sites actually resulted in a higher spike in traffic than a TV appearance! The funny thing is, those timelapse videos were really only my experimentations with the medium, in preparation for a proper timelapse video that I intend to take at Cuckmere Haven in the summer – I never intended them to be seen by so many people!

Of course, there’s a little more to it than that – the hits I got from the timelapse event were mostly one-off visitors, I did gain some return visitors from this event but the vast majority of those 1000 visitors simply came to my site, watched my timelapse videos and then went away again, never to return. Furthermore, the fact that the timelapse videos caused a bigger spike on the graph is in part due to the resolution of the graph itself – the visitors to my timelapse page all came within a few days of each other, but during that time the number of hits started out low, gradually increased to a maximum point and then gradually fell off, returning almost back to its original level after 3 days. This is why you see one big spike on the graph – pretty much the entire sum of the traffic came within one week period, so they all fall within the same segment on the graph. This is in contrast to the traffic which I received as a result of the TV appearance – this followed a rather different curve. As the news broadcast went out my site experienced a sudden and rapid spike in traffic – this was people who had seen the report and then immediately decided to look at my site. The spike was so rapid that at its peak it was causing a noticable load on the server. This spike then gradually trailed off over the course of the evening as people went to bed. However, the increased traffic continued for many days after the event (and continues to this day) as people presumably recalled seeing the report and Googled for me whilst killing time at work. The BBC were also kind enough to provide a link to me from their website which resulted in many more clicks through to my site.

The other important thing to note is the relative value of these visitors – the timelapse visitors had no idea what my site was about, they were simply here to watch my timelapse videos, in contast; the visitors from the TV appearance had already been given a 2 minute introduction to my Cuckmere Haven project and had gone out of their way to look me up. This makes them significantly more valuable to me because they’re likely to spend longer browsing and come back at a later date to check for updates.

That said, even though viral traffic is less valuable than more targetted traffic, it has the potential for much greater exposure. Also, crucially, it’s within the reach of even a very small player like myself – you do not need a massive marketing team or budget to make viral work. Like all marketing however, it’s insanely unpredictable. I had absolutely no idea the timelapse videos were going to be a success, and the things I think have a good chance of being a viral success haven’t done nearly so well. In short, the only real approach to successful viral marketing is to throw lots of shit and hope that some of it sticks.


Macs are not more secure than PCs!

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

It really annoys me when Mac users argue that their lame computer is in some way more secure than mine. Let’s just get this clear:

Mac users like to say that PC users are vulnerable to problems like viruses and malware. Actually on Windows you’re only vulnerable to these things if you behave like an idiot and click on anything that says “Free Smileys Here *wink* *wink*” (works on kids) or “Free Porn Here *wink* *wink*” (works on adults).

I don’t run any anti-virus software, anti-spyware or even a firewall (other than that provided by my NAT router) – these products are sold on the fear of getting fucked by some mythical “hacker” that probably doesn’t exist, they slow down your computer and you only need them if you’re an idiot. In reality it’s your own stupidity that will fuck you. That’s right, if I install anti-virus on your computer, it means I think you’re an idiot – normally because you have already proven that you are an idiot by getting infected with some form of malware.

My protection is not being an idiot and not clicking on things that are clearly evil. That protection has been enough to mean I’ve never been infected with malware, not in 17 years of using Windows. Actually that’s a lie, it did happen once, but that was because I was looking at a virus to see how it worked and I accidentally did a double-click when I meant to do a single-click, and that had the effect of installing the malware on my computer instead of inspecting its code – in other words it was down to my own stupidity.

The only reason Windows is more vulnerable to this stuff is because Windows is more commonly used than all other operating systems, so all the malware is written to run on Windows. If you click on the “Free Porn Here” link on a mac, the malware simply doesn’t work on your computer – you’re safe, but you’re still an idiot.

What Mac users really mean to say when they critisize Windows machines on security is “When I use a PC, I behave like an idiot and consequently get infected with all sorts of crap, Apple protect me from that crap by being incompatible with it.” – I wouldn’t really call that a decent security model to be honest.

I will go and get you some nice crayons.


Remember, things could be far worse

Sunday, January 10th, 2010
David Cameron + Maggot

David Cameron + Maggot

Saw this little photoshop jobbie as the cover image on the “I bet I can find a million people who DON’T want David Cameron as our PM” Facebook group and it made me smile.

The thing is, Gordon Brown is now so fucking embarassing that I’m beginning to believe that a Tory government might actually be what we need to sort our country out. I mean I don’t agree with any of their politics and I think Cameron’s a smarmy git, but if it’s a choice between Labour and the Conservatives, maybe the Tories will do a better job? I feel dirty saying it, but let’s just recap the things that Labour have done to fuck me off:

  • Illegal war without public support
  • Attempt to bring-in ID cards
  • Increase police powers and numbers
  • Erosions of our freedom of speech and democracy
  • Dynastic succession of Gordon, the most uncharismatic leader in living history
  • The return of Peter Mandelson, another person who has not been elected.

That’s just what I could be bothered to write down in 30 seconds – these are all exactly the kinds of things you’d expect of the Tories, except they took us by surprise because they came from Labour. At least you know what you’re getting with the Tories. Right now I’m wondering how exactly can they possibly be worse than Gordon?! .. I suppose they could declare war on Argentina…

The illegal war alone is enough to mean I won’t be voting for Labour for the forseeable future – not without a serious re-invention akin to ‘New Labour’, except they’d do better to resurrect old Labour heh. I’m well aware that the omission of a vote for Labour is effectively a vote for the Tories, but what choice do I have? I simply can’t vote for Labour after the illegal war. I won’t actually vote for the Tories either, I’m thinking at this stage I’m either not going to vote at all or I’m going to vote Liberal. What kind of democracy is this where every choice you have makes you feel physically sick?

In truth none of them can be trusted – they’re either evil, incompetent or both and I’ve completely lost any confidence in the current political system to sort it out. Nothing short of a revolution will rid us of these fucks.

Inspired by the image above, I wondered what would happen if you cross one melty-faced unelected dictator with another. Here’s my own playful little 5 minute photoshop jobbie:

I don't give a fuck about Israel, my face is melting!

I don't give a fuck about Israel, my face is melting!

Could be worse :)

And while I was at it, I figured I might as well put the Dark Lord Mandelson in a hoodie. Seriously, I don’t think I’m the only one who finds this guy fucking sinister.

The Dark Lord Mandy

The Dark Lord Mandy

And here’s what I think of Tony Blair and David Cameron:

Tony Blair / David Cameron - Same Difference

Tony Blair / David Cameron - Same Difference


Cuckmere Haven and driving in the snow

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

We’ve had another bout of heavy snow, and this time I was prepared – as soon as I noticed snow had started falling, I moved my car onto flat ground so that I’d be able to get it out easily, because last time it snowed I was parked facing uphill on a steep incline and there was simply no way I could safely get my car out. Well, moving it worked and I was able to get out no problem.

Whilst driving around I was very surprised to see that a lot of people don’t seem to have any idea how to drive in slippery conditions. While I don’t profess to be any kind of driving expert, I do know the correct way to drive under these conditions. The BBC aren’t particularly helping by repeatedly warning everyone not to go out and not providing particularly useful advice for when you do go out.

I don’t agree with the current trend of “Severe weather warnings” on the news pretty much every day; if it’s not snow it’s floods, or strong winds. In summer they issue a “Severe weather warning” for what we used to call “a lovely summer’s day” – it’s getting stupid, to quote Clarkson: “I know when I am hot!”. It’s just another way to make us afraid of being alive. It reminds me of the Mitchell and Webb sketch of a post-apocalyptic gameshow where the viewers are constantly reminded not to go outside due to some undisclosed danger. Watching the weather report these days, they might as well just say “It’s fuckin’ scary out there, don’t leave your house!” and be done with it. Get some fucking balls people!

In my opinion, particularly during snow and ice, we should be encouraged to go outside, because if more people were to go outside; that’s more people shoveling ice off the road, more tyres wearing the ice off, more cars generating heat and more people around to help dig you out if you get stuck etc. It would generally result in much safer conditions for all. If everybody’s locked in their homes, the roads really will be dangerous for the few brave souls who do venture out.

Have a read of the BBC’s advice for drivers – they bang on about checking your car to make sure there’s enough fuel and that everything’s working, but these are the kinds of checks that you should do every time you get in the car anyway. They might as well be saying duck and cover. The two most important pieces of advice are obscured down the bottom and aren’t explained clearly. Let me clarify this for any of you who do not know:

SELECT A HIGHER GEAR THAN YOU WOULD NORMALLY AND KEEP ENGINE REVS LOW – PULLING AWAY IN 2ND GEAR IS OFTEN A GOOD IDEA – IT IS BETTER TO STALL THAN SPIN YOUR WHEELS

BE VERY GENTLE WITH ALL THE CONTROLS, PARTICULARLY THE BRAKE AND ACCELERATOR – SMALL GENTLE MOVEMENTS ARE KEY

MAINTAIN A STEADY SPEED, DO NOT CRAWL ALONG AT 5 MILES AN HOUR, BUT KEEP YOUR SPEED DOWN AND ALLOW PLENTY OF STOPPING DISTANCE

Judging by the number of people I watched spinning their wheels and revving their engines in 1st, it’s amazing how many people aren’t aware of these very basic tips. Of course you should bring a shovel and plenty of supplies as well, I also took a couple of old pieces of carpet to help me get out if I got stuck, but your goal should be not to get stuck in the first place and avoid making other people get stuck at all costs! The BBC’s entire section on “Before you leave” should be condensed into “check your car over paying particular attention to the tyres, bring lots of supplies (including fuel), warm clothes and a shovel to help get out if you get stuck” – to be honest this should be common sense. The most important advice that may not be common sense to a lot of people; ie, ‘use high gears’ is buried right the way down at the bottom of the page. No good!

I also had the opportunity to try out a tip that I picked up from the Arctic special of top gear – if you’re stuck, particularly on a hill facing upwards; try gently rocking backwards and forwards on the clutch (keeping engine revs low). It works, very well in fact; so well that once I’d got my car out from its parking space by clearing the snow with a shovel, I was able to drive around quite happily even on some quite treacherous roads without having to get out of the car and use the shovel even once.

It will make me very angry if you’re in front of me going uphill and driving very slowly – in order to keep traction going uphill you need to maintain a certain amount of speed and momentum; while you may feel safer driving very slowly, I will be seriously pissed off if I lose traction because of your over-paranoid driving. It is much safer and easier to go up a hill at 25mph in 4th or 5th than it is at 5mph in 2nd.

And while we’re on the subject of bad drivers – I know that driving in the snow is hard and requires a lot of concentration, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to stop indicating, in fact it makes indication all the more important because you have to start slowing down so far in advance of the turns. Several times yesterday drivers in front of me slowed down with no warning – in normal conditions I’ll let this slide, but in the snow doing so will provoke an angry honk of my horn. If you are not capable of driving without endangering the safety of other road users, you should not be on the road.

Before I move on to talking about my actual trip to Cuckmere Haven, I’d like to add one final tip of my own; If you find yourself gradually sliding backwards down a hill as I did when I moved my car onto flatter ground prior to the really heavy snowfall; remember that in most front-wheel drive cars the foot brake only brakes the front wheels and the hand brake only brakes the rear wheels – you can therefore double the amount of braking traction that you have by applying both the foot brake and the hand brake, in effect giving you four-wheel braking. This should only be attempted if you have already lost traction and are unable to regain it by lifting and re-applying the foot brake (or, if you have ABS and you can feel the ABS trying to work but failing). Using both brakes together like this saved me from bumping the neighbors car so I’m very thankful that I thought of it in time.

The UK's 'Big Freeze'

The UK's 'Big Freeze'

Since the start of what people seem to be calling ‘The big freeze’ (we’ve had snow on and off since the new year and there’s been a layer of snow on the ground pretty much constantly since then); I’ve been itching to get out to Cuckmere Haven and take some photographs of the snow – it’s not an opportunity you get very often so I want to take advantage of it. The first time it snowed unfortunately I’d left my car parked facing uphill on my road (which is actually a very steep gradient), I tried three days running and there was simply no way I could safely get it out until the snow melted. I was pretty disappointed because snow in England is normally a once-a-year event so I figured I’d missed it. Nevertheless, I decided that from now on in winter I always park facing downhill.

Fortunately we did get a 2 day gap in the snow long enough for it to melt and me to turn my car around. Then when I noticed it starting to snow again I immediately got in my car and moved it on to flat ground – at this point it had been snowing less than an hour and there was only a centimeter or so of snow on the ground. I figured it would be safe to drive up my road – not so, this is when I ended up sliding backwards down a hill. I now know that even in the slightest amount of snow or ice; my road is completely impassable to a 2-wheel-drive car, in the uphill direction at least – I think I probably would’ve been able to safely slide down it.

So anyway, I managed to get my car onto flat ground and parked safely. I was on double-yellows, but I figure when it’s snowing so badly you can’t see the lines and the place you would normally park is completely impassable, all parking nazi rules are off and you park wherever it is safe to do so. Apparently everyone else agrees with me because when I returned to my car every space on the double-yellows around me was full too and there was no ticket on my car.

I knew that the most dangerous parts of the journey to Cuckmere Haven would be the beginning and the very end. I decided that the safest route to take would be the coast road (the A259) – while it’s a lesser road than the A27 and I would normally go via the A27, taking the A27 route requires either using a small country road to get from the A27 to the coast (which normally I thoroughly enjoy driving on, but probably would’ve been impassable, or at least very dangerous in the snow), or the safer option: driving past Cuckmere Haven all the way to Eastbourne, then all the way through Eastbourne to the coast, and then back the other way again on the coast road. I figured the prospect of getting stuck somewhere in Eastbourne probably outweighed the prospect of getting stuck somewhere along the coast road, so it was safer and easier to just to straight to Cuckmere Haven on the A259.

Normally I avoid the A259 because it goes via Newhaven and I hate Newhaven for many reasons. The main one being that it causes a severe bottleneck every time a boat goes past – there’s a moving bridge that seems to spend more time closed to traffic than open. Why they can’t just build a proper permanent bridge that’s high enough for boats to go under, I don’t understand. However, this time the problem caused by newhaven was nothing to do with bridges or boats, it was the idiot drivers.

On the A259 just before you enter Newhaven from the Brighton direction there’s a gentle uphill gradient with a 40mph speed limit which then levels off and goes into a slightly steeper downhill gradient as you enter Newhaven town heading towards the docks. For some reason everyone in Newhaven felt the need to drive around at 5mph. This isn’t such a problem when you’re going downhill, but when the pussies going really slowly down the downhill bit of the road is causing a tailback that stretches into the uphill bit, then it is a problem. At 5mph you have virtually no momentum and it’s consequently very easy to lose traction. That kept happening, not only to me but to pretty much everyone in a 2-wheel drive car, when you add to that the fact that people don’t know how to do hill starts in slippery conditions (ie, use second gear) traffic was moving very slowly. The people in 4WDs were understandably quite pissed off and I saw at least two people going on to the wrong side of the road to go around the long line of 2-wheel-drive cars struggling to get up the hill. This is dangerous, and it’s caused by people going too slowly. If you don’t have the balls to maintain a decent speed in the snow, do us all a favour and stay off the roads before you cause a fucking accident. If you’re going at less than half the speed limit, that is probably dangerously slow, even in ice.

Anyway, when I came out the other side of Newhaven the idiocy mostly subsided and I had a very pleasurable drive the rest of the way to Cuckmere Haven. I was right about the beginning and the end being the most dangerous bits – getting from where I’d parked to the one-way system was a little slippery (although I’d deliberately parked on a main road not far from the centre of town), once on the one-way system conditions were fine and I felt confident driving around at my normal speed (allowing slightly greater stopping distances). Similarly, the conditions on the coast road were perfectly safe, and I felt confident at, or slightly below the speed limit. I resisted the temptation to exceed the speed limit in certain places as I would normally do, even though I think it would have been safe to do so – there’s no point taking undue risks.

When I got to Cuckmere Haven there were a couple of cars in the visitor centre car park, but they had obviously been there since before the snow fell. I was the only one to have driven there in the snow, it looked like a couple of cars had pulled into the car park to turn around but not stopped, or if they had stopped they’d gone by the time I’d got there. My automatic reaction was to drive over to my normal spot on the far side of the car park, but upon parking there I changed my mind and decided it was probably unwise to put a few hundred yards of untouched snow between myself and the main road. I therefore decided to move my car to the closest I could reasonably leave it to the car park entrance without actually blocking it. I also parked under a tree where the snow was thinnest so that if I did get stuck, I hopefully wouldn’t have to do too much shovelling.

My car in the visitor centre car park

My car in the visitor centre car park

The way I feel about my car now is like the guys on Top Gear describe after one of their road-trips in shit cars. I know my car’s a pile of junk: it didn’t cost much, it’s got a puny engine, doesn’t have any features like power steering, central locking, airbags or ABS and now it won’t start unless you know the correct technique, there’s a hole where the glove box used to be and what little power it did have is gone. But even so, you can sense that it just wants to keep going. Despite all its faults, it’s never let me down when I’ve needed it – the only time I’ve ever had to call out the AA was when Lisa locked the bloody key in it, the only time it’s failed to start completely was when I left the light on and ran the battery down, the car itself has never let me down and for that I love it.

I attribute most of that reliability to the fact that I made a very wise choice about which car to buy – Volkswagen are known for their reliability, and I bought exactly the right model for my price range. I couldn’t have made a better choice and I’m very smug about it :) – I should probably attribute at least some of this choice to Jezz – it was him that helped me pick the car and drove me to pick it up – some of the thanks should probably also go to Jezz’s dad who’s been a VW man all his life and probably indirectly influenced my choice to buy a Polo. I’ve been very happy with my Polo and will definitely buy a Volkswagen again, I’d quite like to upgrade to a Golf, and that may in fact be my next car.

I’ve always really loved and enjoyed driving, but it wasn’t until my trip to Cuckmere Haven in the snow that I realised I actually love my car as well. At first I found it hard to feel any attachment to a car which I know to not be particularly good, but after driving it for a year I’m definitely very attached. I know that its reliability is going to come to an end pretty soon and I’m going to be forced to replace it and I’m going to be sad to see the back of this car.

Here’s a picture of MOF all on its own at the Hill Barn car park. Notice the 4 tyre tracks in the snow rather than the usual 2. That’s because I was in a controlled 4-wheel drift when I parked, so each wheel was leaving its own track. It’s not often you get the opportunity to pull off stunts like that in public places without it being dangerous. Fun stuff :D

My car in the Hill Barn car park

My car in the Hill Barn car park

I had planned to leave the car in the visitor centre car park and go to each location on foot, but after walking to the Foxhole campsite and taking the photos I wanted there, it would’ve been something like 3 or 4 miles walking in heavy snow to get to the coastguard cottages where I wanted to take the next set of photos. I was already starting to get a headache from the cold so I decided that was probably unwise and that I’d be better off risking the drive.

I knew it would be quite a risky drive up to the Hill Barn car park – the visitor centre car park is literally just off the A259 so even if I’d got stuck there it wouldn’t have taken too much work to clear the snow with my shovel and regain traction using the bits of carpet I’d bought. The Hill Barn car park is a completely different matter however, it’s tucked away up the back of Seaford, and there’s quite a steep track made of concrete slabs up to the car park itself which I knew wouldn’t have had many cars pass over it since the snow, there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to get up there at all and would get properly stuck in the process of trying.

Driving up that track there was a rather scary moment when I thought I was gonna lose it, I was in 4th and could feel the car loosing speed and beginning to splutter because 4th is really too high for my car to get up that hill with the engine as fucked as it is, but I knew that changing down to third there was a good chance of spinning the wheels and going sliding back down the hill – it was a delicate balancing act between not stalling the car, not losing traction and maintaining enough speed to actually get up the hill. I think I shifted down to 3rd at exactly the right time – I could literally feel that I was right at the edge of the capabilities of my car – if I’d downshifted any earlier I’d have spun the wheels, any later and I’d have stalled, neither of which would’ve been good at this particular moment. I was so happy when I got to the top that I had to execute a little drift manouver to celebrate.

The walk from Hill Barn down to the coastguard cottages was absolutely bleak – up on the top of the cliff the winds were much stronger and the snow was being driven towards me. A lot of the time the snow was coming down at close to 90 degrees – you can see this in the photos because the snow is settled on the side of things rather than the top, this is particularly apparent on benches and signposts. At Cuckmere Haven it’s not just the trees that are sideways, the snow is too!

The rescue helecopter went past and hovered literally a couple of meters away from me for a minute or so, probably wondering what the fuck I was doing and whether I was trying to kill myself heh. Annoyingly, just as I was about to take a photo of them, they flew away – just like fucking birds.

That reminds me, I was also gonna mention that I nearly got an amazing photo of a robin sitting in a snow-covered tree, except for the fact that I had my wide-angle lens on (as I always do) and needed to change to the telephoto in order to make the picture. This keeps happening – I never use the telephoto, except for when I see an animal that I want to photograph, at which point I struggle to switch lenses as quickly and quietly as possible, and by the time I’ve put the camera to my eye, I’m just quick enough to catch a glimpse of the damned animal scampering or flying away. I therefore conclude that a telephoto lens is basically useless to a landscape photographer unless you can afford to have two camera bodies and carry them both around with you the whole time. Annoying!

Anyway, by the time I got down to the coastguard cottages, the cold was really starting to bite, fortunately the Thermos of tea I’d bought with me was still hot despite having been dropped in the snow. I snapped the pictures I wanted as quickly as possible and hurridly returned to the car. I was going to go via Hope Gap, but decided there was a real chance this might’ve finished me off – Hope Gap is the best location for taking pictures of the full set of Seven Sisters, but the snow was so heavy that you could only barely make out Haven Brow let alone the rest of the Seven Sisters, the snowy cliff pictures will have to wait for another time.

Getting back down the track from Hill Barn was a lot easier than getting up it, although the amount of speed that I built-up was rather alarming. I didn’t dare try going down in 3rd or braking very heavily for risk losing front-wheel traction, and I managed to maintain good traction all the way down, but I must’ve been doing a good 45mph by the time I got to the bottom which was really quite scary. I suppose the other approach I could’ve tried would have been to crawl down as slowly as possible in 2nd, but that’s not really my style and I don’t really think it would’ve been much safer, I’d rather be going quickly and have a good degree of control over the car than be going slowly and sliding all over the place. However, one false move and that could’ve ended quite badly.

While I would encourage people to go out and drive during the snow, I wouldn’t really encourage the same level of brazen disregard for the risks of getting stuck in a snow drift that I have myself. Stick to main roads and don’t put yourself in any unnecessary danger. Do as I say, not as I do ;)

I do consider myself a fairly safe and accomplished driver (considering I’ve only had my license for 1 year). I failed my test 3 times because I get very nervous under test conditions and that affects my ability to drive quite significantly – I was good enough to pass on the first attempt, I just didn’t. I’ve consequently had a lot more professional tuition than most people, and more than I really needed. I’ve also done a hell of a lot of driving since passing my test, as much as I can afford to do really – I just love driving. I’ve also had some low-friction tuition and driven a pretty wide variety of cars including front, rear and 4-wheel drive which has enabled me to be pretty confident driving in the snow. Once you have that confidence, driving in snow is actually bloody fun :) I had a great time sliding around.

Here you can see a selection of my Cuckmere Haven snow images:

Fence into frozen lake

Fence into frozen lake

Hill Barn

Hill Barn

Bench and the coastguard cottages

Bench and the coastguard cottages


Human Computer Interaction

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

It’s not often I’ll admit to getting it wrong on issues of technology, but a couple of years ago I would have argued fairly vehemently that HD (high-definition) was a marketing tactic aimed mainly at extracting more money from the idiots who think that having a big TV is an effective form of penis enlargement. My argument used to be that TV was perfectly watchable as-is, and the only real benefit to HD was for football fans to enable them to more easily tell the players apart and see the ball.

After watching the BBC’s new wildlife documentary series ‘Life’ at 1080p, I’m going to have to change my mind. The photography in the series is stunning at standard definition, but at 1080p; it’s absolutely breathtaking. I’m now completely sold on it, and if a TV set were something I actually owned, I’d go out and buy a new one immediately so as to take advantage of it. Of course, TVs themselves are now obsolete anyway and I already own a very good quality computer monitor, so I won’t actually be buying any new hardware.

L1760TR Black

L1760TR Black

Speaking of my monitor; it’s worth saying a bit more about it – I bought an LG Flatron L1760TR and it’s probably my favourite IT purchase of the last 5 years. In my years of experience with computers, I’ve learned that your monitor is probably the most long-lived part of your computer – the lifetime of a monitor can easily be 10 years, whereas I’ll start itching to get a new computer after 1 or 2 (as I am right now). Your monitor is also something you spend a bloody long time staring at – it’s one of the most important interfaces between you and your computer. On this logic, I figured it was worth getting a bloody good monitor.

I picked the Flatron because it had a very high contrast ratio – the best available at the time (without resorting to ‘dynamic contrast’, which I don’t trust) and a decent resolution, it also has a fairly quick response rate which is useful for watching films and playing games. It’s a standard 4:3 aspect ratio – I don’t like the current tendancy towards wide-screen aspect ratios in computer monitors – while this may be more appropriate for watching films; for software development, photo manipulation and web browsing, to me at least, a more square aspect ratio is clearly a better choice. I’m also not fond of huge screens on a PC – I like to sit fairly close to my screen, between 2 and 3 feet away. Having a larger screen requires that you either move further away, or physically move your head in order to look to the corners (or move your eyeballs outside of their comfortable range). For these reasons I think that 17″ is the correct size for a PC screen.

After having had my Flatron for a couple of years I can say that I’m very happy with it – it was well worth every penny I spent on it (and there’s actually relatively few high-value purchases I could say that about). Compared to a cheaper monitor of the same size, the difference is drastic – at the last company I worked for I was given a laptop with a very poor quality screen and I would have found it completely unusuable for anything other than reading and writing text (fortunately that’s all I was ever required to do). I would encourage anyone buying a new PC to do as I have done and really splash out on their monitor – the rest of the computer is basically disposable, but a decent monitor is for keeps.

Just to give you an idea of how highly I’m praising my monitor I’ll compare it to my other most prized posession – my camera. I paid £500 for my current camera second-hand, if I’d bought it new I would’ve paid closer to £1000, and at that price I actually would have felt a little cheated – let me explain why.. I used to have the Canon 400D, which is basically Canon’s consumer-level SLR – when I bought mine (new) they were retailing for something like £450 – What I have now is the 40D, it’s like the 400D’s bigger brother; it’s basically the same camera except that it’s slightly larger, slightly heavier, more of it is made out of metal (rather than plastic) and it has an extra dial to allow you to control two variables at once instead of one. In terms of image quality, they’re basically the same. The point is, the 40D is almost twice the price of the 400D, but it’s only a ~20% better camera – that’s why I’d have felt cheated if I’d paid the full retail price. This is the case with many electronics products – as you spend more money, the return you get in terms of a better product are diminished. That’s why I’m so happy with my monitor – I could have had a 17″ monitor for half what I paid for mine, in other words I paid twice as much as I could’ve done, but unlike with my camera, with the monitor I actually got a monitor that was twice as good as one that’s half the price, in fact I’d say it’s more than that – maybe even three times as good.

While I’m on the topic of human-computer-interface – I place a lot of importance on the two other interfaces – the keyboard and mouse. My preference is for a “clicky” keyboard – this probably sets me apart from a lot of people because clicky keyboards are very much out of fashion at the moment and getting hold of one was problematic for me. The most well-known example of a clicky keyboard is the IBM Model M – in my opinion this is The One True Keyboard, every modern keyboard is shit in comparison. Sadly, you can’t seem to buy a new Model M anymore – they are apparently still made by a company called Unicomp, but when I attempted to buy one from them they never returned my e-mails. I ended up paying quite a lot of money to have an old one imported from clickykeyboards.com in the US – it’s dated 1996 and was still in its original packaging unopened and unused. Apparently a pallet of them had been found at the back of a warehouse somewhere – that’s a bloody long time for stock to go completely unnoticed in a warehouse!

IBM Model M - US Layout

IBM Model M - US Layout

This is exactly how my keyboard looks – it’s a US keyboard layout and it lacks the Windows keys. I don’t mind the US layout too much although the lack of a pound key is sometimes a little annoying – most of the time I’m typing £ instead of £ anyway. If I’m chatting to you online and you wonder why I keep saying ‘quid’ when referring to money, it’s because I don’t have a pound key. The only other minor annoyance is the lack of a Windows key, but the only thing I actually regularly use that for is Windows+D to hide all open windows, I do very occasionally use Windows+R to open the run dialog but I don’t really mind opening the start menu for that. I have an icon in my quicklaunch to minimise all windows so I’ve got used to the lack of a windows key now. I would’ve preferred a UK keyboard layout with a backwards-L shaped enter key and the Windows keys like the ones apparently sold by Unicomp, but Unicomp don’t seem to actually be in business anymore.

The technical name for the mechanism that causes the click is a “Buckling spring” – basically what it means is that there is a physical change in the amount of return pressure you feel from each key at exactly the point at which the key press is registered – if you gradually depress a key, the key becomes progressively harder to move until the point at which the key press is registered, at which point it immediately travels to the bottom of its movement and an audible click is heard (hence the name ‘clicky keyboard’). It also clicks again at the same point when you lift your finger, so for each key press you actually hear two clicks which makes it sound like you’re typing at twice the speed you actually are.

Actually the clicking is a mostly unwanted side-effect of the tactile feedback that you feel each time you press a key. Ideally the clicking would be a quite a lot quieter than it actually is – I simply wouldn’t be able to use this keyboard in a quiet office environment, it would piss too many people off. Similarly, using it at night in a house full of people who are sleeping can cause problems. However, to me tactile feedback is a very important part of human-computer interface design – I want to be able to feel whether I’ve successfully pressed a key or not – having that feeling allows me to type quicker. I’m a very fast typist even on a cheap keyboard, but on a clicky keyboard my typing speed is pretty close to the maximum achievable speed. I don’t doubt that the buckling spring technology could have been refined to make it quieter and more suitable for an office environment if it had remained in fashion. I’m hoping one day it will come back in, perhaps when IBM’s original patent expires. The Steampunk Keyboard might help with that (by the way, if anyone wants me to love them forever, buy me one of these).

HTC TyTn II

HTC TyTn II

It’s the lack of tactile feedback that makes me so dead-set against iPhones – I hate them. In my opinion typing is something that should be done with physical buttons, not on a touchscreen – touchscreens are a decent replacement for a mouse on a mobile phone but they’re not a decent replacement for a keyboard. iPhone users claim that you ‘get used to it’, but I suspect that they are simply slow typers who are content with the fiddly practice of jabbing at tiny letters on a touchscreen. That’s not good enough for me, and that’s why I have an HTC TyTn II – it still has a large touchscreen like the iPhone, but it also has a proper QWERTY keyboard with actual real buttons that move when you press them.

I’m equally fussy with my mouse – while I don’t require one specific model, I do believe that there is one correct shape for a mouse and all other mouse shapes are wrong. Obviously a laser mouse is an absolute requirement – I couldn’t believe ball mice are still being made given the obvious advantages of optical technology, but surprisingly my dad’s PC came with one! That went straight in the bin. My mouse has buttons on the side for web browser forwards and backwards which I very rarely use, and it’s also possible to scroll left and right by pushing the mouse wheel with the side of your finger – I absolutely never do that and think it’s a pointless feature. However, another area where tactile feedback is necessary is the wheel – it should gently click as you roll it up and down.

The buttons on a mouse should click at exactly the point at which the mouse click is registered – obviously most mice do this, but that is because each button has a standard microswitch under it – funnily enough the mechanism inside the microswitch in a mouse is actually remarkably similar to the mechanism inside each key of an IBM Model M keyboard – in a mouse it was judged necessary to have that ‘clicky’ tactile feedback in the buttons – so necessary in fact that it entered the terminology as “clicking on something”. I really don’t understand why the clickyness was deemed necessary in mice but dropped in keyboards in favour of cheap and nasty ‘rubber dome’ technology, actually I do.. it’s because it’s possible to manufacture rubber dome keyboards so cheaply that they can retail for less than £2, a buckling spring keyboard will never be that cheap.

Logitech M400

Logitech M400

Above you see the correct shape for a mouse, unless you actually have no right hand (in which case you probably want a mouse that is the exact mirror image of this one). Even as a left-handed person (which I am), it is incorrect to attempt to use a mouse with your left hand, even if you reverse the order of the buttons; for the simple reason that you’re breaking the de-facto standard and will consequently struggle to use anybody else’s computer.

I don’t believe in cordless mice or keyboards because I don’t like it when they run out, which they do, a lot. Either you have to replace batteries, or you have to dump the thing onto some kind of charging station, both of which interrupt you from whatever it is you’re doing. I do not like to be interrupted when I’m in the middle of a train of thought, in fact it’s a surefire way to put me in a very irritable mood. I won’t have a wireless keyboard or mouse until someone invents a power source that never runs out, or at least has a lifetime measured in years rather than days.


Holiday house rentals

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

A friend of mine Will Broughton-Tompkins and his brother Jake have requested my help marketing their new internet business holidayhouserentals.co.uk. Obviously the first and easiest thing I can do to help is mention and link to them from my website, so that’s the purpose of this blog entry. Their new website is all about bringing a personal touch to holiday rentals, and I can tell you first-hand that I know their family well and while I’ve never holidayed with them; I can be sure they’d be a great bunch of people to deal with. They’re my friends after all!

If you’re looking for holiday house rentals with a personal touch, this is the place to go.


And to prove my own point…

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

In my previous entry I complained that opensource developers write the software that they want, which isn’t necessarily the same as the software that the users want.

I interpreted the responses to my change request as “We don’t agree with you enough to make the change”, where as what they actually meant was “We don’t agree with you strongly enough to be bothered to make the change ourselves” – the upshot of this being that when I went ahead and hacked the code myself to remove the annoying double-dash separator, the response I got was; “Could you finish the job and make this into a patch that can actually be merged back into the codebase?”. In other words, I got roped into fixing the problem properly.

In my previous entry I posted a patch that would allow you to remove the double-dash signature separator from Thunderbird if you were willing to recompile it from source yourself. I’ve now patched it properly so that there’s a new configuration option to allow anyone to change this setting at runtime – in other words I’ve done myself what I was trying to get the Thunderbird development team to do. My patch is now awaiting review and will hopefully be merged into the Thunderbird codebase in time to make the next major release (version 3).

I, as a developer, have added a feature to Thunderbird that I wanted, a feature that plenty of other people also wanted, but because no other developer had taken it upon himself to implement this feature; those who wanted it have been waiting 9 years! The point being, as a user, you only get the features you want if you’re also a developer, or if a developer happens to agree with you.

The change is actually pretty trivial – the default behaviour remains completely unchanged, and if you create a signature in Thunderbird it will still automatically add the double-dash separator before the signature. However, as a result of my patch, it will soon be possible to disable this irritating behaviour by manually setting a special configuration preference using Thunderbird’s built-in config editor. This is the preference you need to use (where ? is a number between 1 and the total number of identities you have set up) – it’s a boolean field, set it to true to disable the behaviour:

mail.identity.id?.suppress_signature_separator

And for the sake of completeness, below you’ll find the patch that I’ve submitted for inclusion in the next release of Thunderbird. Hopefully you won’t actually need to use this because it will be merged into the Thunderbird codebase.

diff -r 20c2d9e8e9b4 mailnews/base/public/nsIMsgIdentity.idl
--- a/mailnews/base/public/nsIMsgIdentity.idl	Thu Dec 31 13:43:40 2009 +0530
+++ b/mailnews/base/public/nsIMsgIdentity.idl	Sat Jan 02 20:00:55 2010 +0000
@@ -135,16 +135,21 @@ interface nsIMsgIdentity : nsISupports {
   attribute AString htmlSigText;

   /**
    * Does htmlSigText contain HTML? Use plain text if false.
    */
   attribute boolean htmlSigFormat;

   /**
+   * Suppress the double-dash signature separator
+   */
+  attribute boolean suppressSigSep;
+
+  /**
    * The encoded string representing the vcard.
    */
   attribute ACString escapedVCard;

   attribute boolean doFcc;
   /// URI for the fcc (Sent) folder
   attribute ACString fccFolder;
   attribute boolean fccReplyFollowsParent;
diff -r 20c2d9e8e9b4 mailnews/base/util/nsMsgIdentity.cpp
--- a/mailnews/base/util/nsMsgIdentity.cpp	Thu Dec 31 13:43:40 2009 +0530
+++ b/mailnews/base/util/nsMsgIdentity.cpp	Sat Jan 02 20:00:55 2010 +0000
@@ -193,16 +193,18 @@ NS_IMPL_IDPREF_BOOL(FccReplyFollowsParen
 NS_IMPL_IDPREF_STR(DraftsFolderPickerMode, "drafts_folder_picker_mode")
 NS_IMPL_IDPREF_STR(ArchivesFolderPickerMode, "archives_folder_picker_mode")
 NS_IMPL_IDPREF_STR(TmplFolderPickerMode, "tmpl_folder_picker_mode")

 NS_IMPL_IDPREF_BOOL(BccSelf, "bcc_self")
 NS_IMPL_IDPREF_BOOL(BccOthers, "bcc_other")
 NS_IMPL_IDPREF_STR (BccList, "bcc_other_list")

+NS_IMPL_IDPREF_BOOL(SuppressSigSep, "suppress_signature_separator")
+
 NS_IMETHODIMP
 nsMsgIdentity::GetDoBcc(PRBool *aValue)
 {
   nsresult rv = mPrefBranch->GetBoolPref("doBcc", aValue);
   if (NS_SUCCEEDED(rv))
     return rv;

   PRBool bccSelf = PR_FALSE;
@@ -571,16 +573,17 @@ nsMsgIdentity::Copy(nsIMsgIdentity *iden
     COPY_IDENTITY_INT_VALUE(identity,GetReplyOnTop,SetReplyOnTop)
     COPY_IDENTITY_BOOL_VALUE(identity,GetSigBottom,SetSigBottom)
     COPY_IDENTITY_BOOL_VALUE(identity,GetSigOnForward,SetSigOnForward)
     COPY_IDENTITY_BOOL_VALUE(identity,GetSigOnReply,SetSigOnReply)
     COPY_IDENTITY_INT_VALUE(identity,GetSignatureDate,SetSignatureDate)
     COPY_IDENTITY_BOOL_VALUE(identity,GetAttachVCard,SetAttachVCard)
     COPY_IDENTITY_STR_VALUE(identity,GetEscapedVCard,SetEscapedVCard)
     COPY_IDENTITY_STR_VALUE(identity,GetSmtpServerKey,SetSmtpServerKey)
+    COPY_IDENTITY_BOOL_VALUE(identity,GetSuppressSigSep,SetSuppressSigSep)
     return NS_OK;
 }

 NS_IMETHODIMP
 nsMsgIdentity::GetRequestReturnReceipt(PRBool *aVal)
 {
   NS_ENSURE_ARG_POINTER(aVal);

diff -r 20c2d9e8e9b4 mailnews/compose/src/nsMsgCompose.cpp
--- a/mailnews/compose/src/nsMsgCompose.cpp	Thu Dec 31 13:43:40 2009 +0530
+++ b/mailnews/compose/src/nsMsgCompose.cpp	Sat Jan 02 20:00:55 2010 +0000
@@ -4040,25 +4040,28 @@ nsMsgCompose::ProcessSignature(nsIMsgIde
   PRBool        attachFile = PR_FALSE;
   PRBool        useSigFile = PR_FALSE;
   PRBool        htmlSig = PR_FALSE;
   PRBool        imageSig = PR_FALSE;
   nsAutoString  sigData;
   nsAutoString sigOutput;
   PRInt32      reply_on_top = 0;
   PRBool       sig_bottom = PR_TRUE;
+  PRBool        suppressSigSep = PR_FALSE;

   nsCOMPtr sigFile;
   if (identity)
   {
     if (!CheckIncludeSignaturePrefs(identity))
       return NS_OK;

     identity->GetReplyOnTop(&reply_on_top);
     identity->GetSigBottom(&sig_bottom);
+    identity->GetSuppressSigSep(&suppressSigSep);
+
     rv = identity->GetAttachSignature(&attachFile);
     if (NS_SUCCEEDED(rv) && attachFile)
     {
       rv = identity->GetSignature(getter_AddRefs(sigFile));
       if (NS_SUCCEEDED(rv) && sigFile) {
         rv = sigFile->GetNativePath(sigNativePath);
         if (NS_SUCCEEDED(rv) && !sigNativePath.IsEmpty()) {
           PRBool exists = PR_FALSE;
@@ -4118,17 +4121,17 @@ nsMsgCompose::ProcessSignature(nsIMsgIde
   if (imageSig)
   {
     // We have an image signature. If we're using the in HTML composer, we
     // should put in the appropriate HTML for inclusion, otherwise, do nothing.
     if (m_composeHTML)
     {
       sigOutput.AppendLiteral(htmlBreak);
       sigOutput.AppendLiteral(htmlsigopen);
-      if (reply_on_top != 1 || sig_bottom || !aQuoted)
+      if (!suppressSigSep && reply_on_top != 1 || sig_bottom || !aQuoted)
         sigOutput.AppendLiteral(dashes);
       sigOutput.AppendLiteral(htmlBreak);
       sigOutput.AppendLiteral("");
@@ -4205,17 +4208,17 @@ nsMsgCompose::ProcessSignature(nsIMsgIde

     if ((reply_on_top != 1 || sig_bottom || !aQuoted) &&
         sigData.Find("\r-- \r", PR_TRUE) < 0 &&
         sigData.Find("\n-- \n", PR_TRUE) < 0 &&
         sigData.Find("\n-- \r", PR_TRUE) < 0)
     {
       nsDependentSubstring firstFourChars(sigData, 0, 4);

-      if (!(firstFourChars.EqualsLiteral("-- \n") ||
+      if (!suppressSigSep && !(firstFourChars.EqualsLiteral("-- \n") ||
             firstFourChars.EqualsLiteral("-- \r")))
       {
         sigOutput.AppendLiteral(dashes);

         if (!m_composeHTML || !htmlSig)
           sigOutput.AppendLiteral(CRLF);
         else if (m_composeHTML)
           sigOutput.AppendLiteral(htmlBreak);