Robert Hampton

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April 2013

1st April 2013

Day of shame
Posted by at 10.40am | In the News | No responses

Today the real April fools are those who voted Tory or Lib-Dem at the last general election (and that includes myself :()

Under the pretext of reducing the government deficit, the coalition government has been systematically reforming significant portions of the welfare system. Shamefully, those hardest hit will be the poor and vulnerable, who will see protections and support they have relied on for decades reduced or stripped away entirely.

The Guardian has an excellent summary of the changes, but the short version is: if you’re poor, disabled or otherwise need help from the Government to live a dignified life, you are screwed.

The changes include the introduction of the bedroom tax, which will see many people in social housing penalised for the crime of having a spare room. They will have to either pay , or leave homes that they have had for years to downsize to smaller accomodation (even though, in some cases, they are unable to move as housing is not available). Local victims of this policy include A woman who lost her teenage son at Hillsborough and a disabled woman whose spare room is now a lift shaft, but still counts as a spare room for bedroom tax purposes.

Major changes have been made to the Legal Aid system. Many categories of legal work are no longer eligible for legal aid and the means testing criteria have been changed, meaning that access to justice will now only be possible in many cases if people are prepared to pay solicitors privately – costs that, in many cases, they will be unable to afford.

The benefits system is being altered, with various benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance and Disability Living Allowance being gradually phased out from today and replaced by the new “Universal Credit”. This will, we are told, “simplify” the system. However, there are concerns that the new online system, which new claimants will use, is not ready. Still, anyone who has trouble will be dismissed as a lazy, skiving benefit fraud in the eyes of this government, so don’t expect any sympathy from Iain Duncan Smith.

Perhaps worst of all are the big changes that are coming to the NHS. As Owen Jones points out in his column for the Independent, this has not received the coverage that it should have:

The Health and Social Care Act is more than three times longer than the legislation that established the NHS in the first place. When I asked journalists adamantly opposed to the Tory plans why they had failed to adequately cover this travesty, they sheepishly responded it was too complicated: it went over their heads.

It is very complicated, but the biggest change is that large parts of the NHS will become open to competition, with private companies bidding to provide healthcare services. It’s a bit like how the railways were privatised. Remember old inefficient British Rail and how the private companies improved services and drove costs down? Oh…

The NHS’s own web page confidently states: “Healthcare will remain free at the point of use, funded from taxation, and based on need and not the ability to pay.” We shall see.

The Daily Mirror, alone amongst the tabloids in that it occasionally does stand up for the poor and oppressed, has an even more succinct summary:

Mirror April 1st

SHAMEFUL is absolutely right. We will not be able to toss this uncaring Government out of office until May 2015. I just hope that it won’t be too late by then.

2nd April 2013

Gimme Shelter
Posted by at 8.06pm | Trains | 1 response

I never thought that Aigburth station – a small, genteel station towards the southern end of Merseyrail’s Northern Line – would be at the centre of controversy.

I have used the station on a near-daily basis for the past nine years and during that time I have seen several welcome improvements, including the installation of a new toilet, the provision of automatic doors and the introduction of an electronic customer information system.

At the beginning of March I was pleased to see a notice appear in the booking hall (click to embiggen), promising another upgrade:

Aigburth Station Customer Information

It’s true – Network Rail have decided that Aigburth station is worthy of further investment, and we are getting some lovely new facilities. The waiting room on the Liverpool-bound platform (which has been boarded up with weeds growing out of the roof for as long as I can remember) is being brought back into use and fitted with new heating and lighting. Lovely stuff, especially if next winter brings weather conditions as harsh as those we’ve experienced in the past few weeks.

Imagine the HORROR, therefore, when people turned up to catch their train to work a couple of weeks ago and saw this:

Aigburth station canopy partly removed

Read the rest of this post »

4th April 2013

The Argonauts fight a Troll
Posted by at 7.59pm | In the News, Web | No responses

I’ve been on the Internet since August 1997. When I first got online I had an Acorn computer running RISC OS. Setting up Internet connections on these machines was a long-winded affair – you either forked out for the professionally-developed ANT Internet Suite (which cost in excess of £100) or cobbled together a solution with the freeware apps available. After much fiddling with settings, you might (if you were lucky) find yourself with a working connection. It was doable, but an onerous task for a networking newbie.

An enterprising company called VTi spotted a gap in the market and created a package called ArgoNet – a complete internet access solution, including a modem and pre-configured software, all bundled up in an AOL-style, user friendly package called Voyager. Simply install the software from the four 3.5″ floppy discs, plug in your 33.6 kbps modem and go.

I still have the software discs – I came across them recently while having a clear out. ArgoNet is long gone (as are floppy disc drives) so I don’t think this will be very useful:

ArgoNet Voyager Software

Read the rest of this post »

5th April 2013

Glass half-empty

Google co-founder Sergey Brin feels “emasculated” by smartphones. You hear that, all the millions of people using Android phones? The head of the company who designed the software thinks they make you weak and feeble. People may act impressed when you show off your new Galaxy S4 to them, but behind your back they’re laughing at your pathetic nature.

Of course not. This is all just marketing talk – Brin is trying to sell Google’s next great creation to the world: Google Glass, a new device, worn like a pair of glasses, which provides an augmented reality display right into the user’s eyes. You can have your e-mails, texts and Twitter feed superimposed onto your view like a picture-in-picture display on a TV set. Holding a phone in your hand and looking at a screen? That is so 2012.

Google clearly believe that this is the next big thing. I think they’re right – it could be a leap forward in technology comparable to the introduction of the personal home microcomputer back in the late 1970s. But has anyone stopped to think of the wider implications of this new device? An always-on mobile phone with built in camera, constantly monitoring everything the user and those around him do? Does nobody see how that could be a problem?

On the Reluctant Habits blog, Edward Champion has misgivings:

Contrary to Mr. Brin’s suggestions, his device will not “free” us. It will quite possibly destroy several vital qualities of life we now take for granted, preying upon kind and decent and hardworking people who are still playing pickup from an economic blitzkrieg in which they had no power, little hope, and no control. One would think that a man born in Moscow under Brezhnev would grasp the cruel irony of being directly responsible for an entirely new set of encroachments upon freedom and human possibility.

Champion goes on to identify Thirty-Five Arguments Against Google Glass. The arguments are very convincing, and conjure up a terrifying world where any remaining notion of privacy and personal space is forgotten.

It looks like we’re heading for a future where everyone walks around looking like an extra from the TNG episode The Game. I am not happy about this.

6th April 2013

Are the Philpotts a “Vile Product of Welfare UK”, as reported by the Mail?
Posted by at 7.19pm | In the News | No responses


If you need a more detailed explanation, Owen Jones’s article on the subject (written before the headline was printed), is worth a read.

Zoe Williams of the Guardian, meanwhile, has a simple request to all those outraged by the Mail’s front page: “Don’t get mad, get even”.

The right wants to divide and conquer, using the politics of envy and hate so it can get away with its outrageous campaign against the poor. Don’t let it happen.

(hat tip to zone_styx on Twitter who created the Vile Product image)

7th April 2013

Vlog With A Cog

The original and best ARM operating system, RISC OS, is back on the Raspberry Pi. Here is a quick test run of the new system, along with a quick demo of Draw, Paint and BBC BASIC.

For more info go to my new RISC OS Pi page.

8th April 2013

Thatch Dispatched
Posted by at 11.59pm | In the News | No responses

Margaret Thatcher has died. She was a greengrocer’s daughter who rose to become the most powerful person in the country. Ironically, such a feat would be much more difficult today, thanks to the policies she encacted, which widened the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in society.

Tonight, an impromptu celebration took place on the steps of Lime Street station. I find it rather distasteful, but I can understand the sentiment. I was only eight when she left office, but looking back I can remember clearly seeing the effects of her reign all around the City of Liverpool in 1990: the empty shops, the derelict factories, the miles of abandoned docks left to silt up – oh, and the bus service my family relied on was withdrawn shortly after deregulation.

Thatcher shifted the country from state-subsidised industries to a free-market economy. But in doing so she ripped the beating heart out of the areas that relied on those industries. The North East coal mining communities that were ravaged by the Miner’s Strike have never fully recovered. It was nearly two decades before Liverpool’s fortunes finally started looking up again – just in time for another Tory government to arrive and mess it all up again.

While the City of London and its associated service industries grew fat under Thatcherism, the North was shrivelling and dying.

Her government introduced Section 28, the hated law that prevented children from being taught anything positive about gay people. She told the Tory Party conference in 1987: “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.”

She described Nelson Mandela’s ANC as a “terrorist organisation”.

There will be no celebrating nor dancing on proverbial graves from me, but I will not shed any tears. However, her place in history is assured, as a leader who stuck to her principles without compromise, pushed though drastic changes she believed in despite opposition, and left the political landscape permanently changed. What we need now, desperately, is a strong left-wing leader to do something similar, and save this country from the mess it’s in.

Further reading:
SevenStreets: Why Liverpool Won’t Mourn Margaret Thatcher
The Guardian: The lady and the land she leaves behind
Margaret Thatcher: Her role in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster

15th April 2013

Posted by at 11.31pm | Politics | No responses

I was completely bored of Margaret Thatcher news by about 3pm on Monday afternoon, and subsequent events have not cheered me up. A “ceremonial” funeral costing in excess of £10 million? Turning off Big Ben? A massive militaristic procession through London? Bah humbug.

Watching Tory politicians falling over themselves to offer fulsome tributes was a bit nauseating. Amidst all the whitewashing of Thatcher’s legacy (Falklands and “sick man of Europe” talked up, miners, gay people and the unemployed overlooked), Glenda Jackson’s heartfelt tribute came as something of a breath of fresh air. I love how the Tory hecklers fail to knock her off her stride.

That said, the “campaign” to try and get Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead to Number 1 annoyed me too. As it is, all the campaign achieved was to put the BBC in an awkward position: the right-wing press attacked it for “disrespect” for even countenancing the playing of the song, then the corporation was accused by the left of “censorship” when it decided not to play it. I know it was just a bit of fun, but I can’t help but think that the energy would have been better directed elsewhere.

The rows over the funeral, the tributes and the song have demonstrated that the old divisions of the 1980s have resurfaced (if they ever truly went away). As the Guardian points out, the tabloid press is again ranting about “lefties”. A lot of the battles of the 80s are still being fought today.

Hopefully, after Wednesday, this extended Conservative Party Political Broadcast will finally be over.

17th April 2013

Woo! Zealand
Posted by at 8.13pm | Gay | No responses

Amazing scenes in New Zealand’s Parliament, which voted to legalise same-sex marriage today, with marriages becoming legal within the next four months. New Zealand is the 13th country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Maurice Williamson, an MP for the centre-right National Party, gave a brilliant, humorous speech in support of marriage equality:

The truly amazing scene though, came after the result of the vote was announced:

They started SINGING.

25th April 2013

Adobe-lieve it

This is a really strange advert for Adobe Photoshop, and I’m not talking about the terrible English dubbing:

The advert shows off some of the editing functions available in Photoshop, by way of a woman trying to arrange her family in a photo. It starts off with her doing some minor adjustments, but then it goes on to rearranging the composition, changing the lighting, removing Dad’s walking stick, and even adding a “Happy Birthday” banner that wasn’t there.

Are we really at the stage where people need to edit and touch-up family snapshots to look good? Is Dad’s disability really such a source of shame that the family need to remove evidence of it? Surely family snapshots should be a real, accurate of the event as it happened?

Why not go the whole hog and insert Justin Bieber into the photo? I’m sure Emma would have appreciated having him at her birthday party. While we’re at it, let’s change the background completely and pretend that the party took place on the Moon.

I disapprove, but I suppose for family photos this kind of image doctoring is harmless enough. Newspapers, on the other hand, should know better. The New York Daily News was heavily criticised last week for editing an image of Boston bombing victims to make their injuries look less gory (WARNING: images at that link show the graphic, unedited photos).