Asian Raspberry Pi

English: Extract from Raspberry Pi board at Tr...
Raspberry Pi - almost actual size. Image via Wikipedia

For those not aware, Raspberry Pi is an initiative to supply incredibly low-cost, tiny little computers for school children to use. They retail at $25 for a standalone model and $35 for one with a network port soldered on. They’re also being distributed by a non-profit charity. A wonderful idea and I’ll be buying one once they go into full production.

Even better – from a pride point of view – is that it’s a British company doing this. The aim was to make it as British as possible including the manufacture. Sadly, this hasn’t been possible.

To keep the price point low, the actual building of the board has had to be done in the Far East. Partly this is down to manufacturing costs and availability of plants wherein the work could be done. What really stinks, though, is that even the closest British plants in price ended up being non-viable due to a ridiculous policy on import duty.

You see, if you have something like this manufactured abroad and imported in then the finished product incurs zero tax. However, if you import in the individual components these themselves do attract duty. Hence importing the bits to have the system built in the UK is more expensive than paying a factory in China (or wherever) to build them and then just shipping in the finished products.

And we wonder why we have no sizeable electronics industry in this country any more.

Full marks to the Raspberry Pi people for their openness and honesty. Minus several million to the idiots at the Inland Revenue for a somewhat inexplicable policy.

[BBC article which prompted this post]

UPDATE: Someone’s started a government-targeted e-petition regarding the issue.

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The Scottish Question

Welcome to Scotland
Soon to be accompanied by border guards and customs if Salmond has his way

I originally wrote the following as a comment on this BBC News article regarding the current tiff between Holyrood and Westminster over a referendum for Scottish Independence. Unfortunately, the BBC don’t make it clear there’s a (fairly short) limit on the number of words/characters in comments so I thought I’d shove it up here instead.

I’m English born of Scots and Welsh parents. I grew up predominantly in England (Newcastle and Bradford) with a short stint in Scotland and now live and work in Glasgow where I reckon I’ll be settling for the very long term.

I also dislike the Tories and the current UK government. However, I dislike Salmond and his hyperbolic rhetoric even more. I find myself amazed to say this but I fully support Westminster – and the Conservatives – on this matter.

While part of me does see a future for 16/17 year olds getting the vote in general elections they – as yet – cannot. As such they should not vote in any referendum. The simple reason for Salmond wanting them to do so is that they are, at that age, very reactionary and nationalistic. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your country but I can’t accept that this would allow them to help make an informed choice in such a vote. It would, however, help Salmond’s cause.

I also seriously doubt the maths which “prove” that Scotland could survive financial independence. I am prepared to be corrected, but have these figures been published and confirmed by an independent body?

By all means have the referendum, but Salmond must be prepared to do it within the existing rules. He can’t go making his own up until/unless they win – and even then, they have stated, it will only be taken as an advisory vote as to the opinion of the country. Not, as people seem to be thinking, the immediate departure of Scotland from the UK.

We are a United Kingdom. Our strength comes from that unity. Much as there is rivalry amongst the countries and separate national identities we’ve worked wonders as a nation combined. I also agree with other viewpoints that the departure of Scotland from the UK shouldn’t be a decision for Scotland alone. It would affect the other three nations every bit as much and they should have a say – based on the results of the referendum – as well.

It has the potential to be a hugely historic move. But would it be a good one? I wholeheartedly doubt it.


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An open letter to Mike Russell

Curious to see if I get a reply:

Mr Russell,

I would be glad if you would clarify your statement on STV this evening that, I quote, “‘The actions of the Government and Local Government along with the new deal with teachers will ensure there are more jobs next year.”

I ask as your own figures state that there will be a drop of 1057 jobs this year. Far be it from from me, as a Computing teacher, to tread on the toes of the Maths or English departments to argue numbers or semantics, but I usually associate a “drop” with a lessening, i.e. resulting in a lower number. Not an increase, as the word “more” implies.

Or, dare I say it, are you just lying to the public in a bid to gain support while you destroy our education system?

Many thanks, (etc.)

If you want to ask him yourself, he’s available at

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Isn’t this a bit racist?

Professional Footballers' Association
Image via Wikipedia

Annoyingly (and bizarrely) I can’t find reference to the story I heard on BBC 5 Live on their website anywhere. Partly because the search facility on the BBC News website is complete crap.

Anyway… the story in question. Apparently there is talk about forcing through some kind of legislation to make football league clubs interview at least a handful of black candidates when the position of manager becomes available. This announcement comes from the PFA who are a little peeved that there are only two “home-grown” black managers working anywhere in the football league.

While I’m 100% for equality, isn’t this a pointless exercise? There are many reasons why black players may not progress into management when they finish their playing careers, but is employer racism really one of them? And is forcing clubs to interview them really going to help when there’s nothing forcing them to employ a black manager anyway? Surely if they’ve decided on one or two candidates (who may happen to be white), interviewing a third who they’ve already decided isn’t in the running is a waste of everyone’s time.

I don’t have figures to hand, but at any one point in time how many players are employed in the football league? And of them how many – regardless of race, nationality, colour, whatever – go into management? I’m thinking a tiny percentage. Now it may be that 25% of players (number off the top of my head) are black, so some would expect that 25% of managers would also be black. But any player is just a human being with their own aspirations and preferences.

A large number of ex-players don’t go into management because they don’t want to. Simple as that. There are other things out there for them. Punditry is one, or simply retiring and enjoying life with their families now they have the time. Management is hugely stressful so surely isn’t going to suit everyone.

As a Newcastle supporter, we’ve had two black managers in fairly recent years. Ruud Gullit didn’t make any friends, but not because of his colour. On the other hand, we went mental when the board flung Chris Hughton out on his ear and hired one of the club owner’s little toadies in his place. Nobody cared about their background, just on the results they could give us.

Simply, I want my club to hire the best man for the job. I’m sure every fan wants the same, regardless of what team they follow. Why should we be aiming for a certain percentage of people of different colour in the role, when it’s completely irrelevant. Experience, drive, education, ability to lead… these are individual qualities all completely unrelated to skin colour.

By forcing clubs to interview black candidates, the PFA would surely be breaking discrimination law by showing favouritism? If there is racism endemic in the hiring process, then by all means lets tackle it. But this isn’t going to do it. A candidate for a job has to sell themselves and a sensible employer will look at what is best for their business. If a candidate is in the interview seat because someone told the boss that they had to interview them (and not because of an impressive CV), then they’re hardly likely to be given the job.

In the worst case, this kind of thing inflames racism. It gives the “white power” numpties more ammunition to use by claiming that favouritism is being shown to the people they want to cause problems for. If a black manager gets appointed, questions will immediately be raised – is he the best for the job, or did they just hire him to bring the number of black managers up in line with what the PFA want?

Stupid idea, stupid policy.

Remember, the aim is for equality. I just, personally, don’t see how that can be achieved by giving anyone an unfair advantage.

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ACS:Law and other dodgy organisations

Stories are reaching the mainstream news outlets now about the incredibly dodgy workings of ACS:Law. Their name is well known online amongst the geekier members of their community due to their shady tactics of trying to extort money from people for alleged illegal downloads. It has taken the crashing of their website and release of their unprotected email archives to expose exactly how underhanded and (to a large extent) illegal their operation is.

Judging from several reports, they could be facing a fine of around £500,000 for possibly the most serious breach of the Data Protection Act ever seen since the Act was put into force. BT are also in line for a kick in the teeth on that one.

What really got my goat, though, was the contents of the mail archives. They detailed numerous cases where the legal team attempted to force money out of people who they had absolutely no evidence against them. The letters were very much along the lines of the ones I was getting from ParkingEye (which I realise I’ve not detailed on here… that’ll be up soon).

Essentially, the letters stated that the person who paid for the internet connection was liable for illegal downloads on that connection which had taken place. And that if they coughed up £495 chosen as it was below the psychological £500 barrier), further action would not be taken. Otherwise there were threats of possible legal action, courts and so on.

This was, of course, bullshit.

One of the stories highlighted that ACS:Law were only targeting, in the first instance, people they reckoned had downloaded one particular music track, or porn. Any porn. So going for the embarrassment tactic, then.

Has anyone seen Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? There’s a story given in a monologue that I’d heard of before the film and essentially it is this – to get a lot of cash, advertise something in the dirty magazines. Let’s say, huge double-ended sex toys for men. They’re twenty quid. You don’t have any – you just wait for people to pay you and hold the cash for a bit. Then you send out apologies (“sorry, our supplier let us down” or similar), and a cheque for £20. But the company the cheque is from is called “HUGE SEX TOYS FOR MEN WITH TINY PENISES plc” or something.

Most people will be too embarrassed to cash the cheque and will just write off the £20.

This is the tactic, I feel, that ACS:Law were using. Hit people with a “you or someone in your home was downloading copyrighted filth” charge and a lot of people may well have just blushed, lumped it and coughed up. Indeed, a lot did. Courtesy of the hideous lack of security on ACS:Law’s servers, the credit cards details, addresses and so forth of hundreds of these victims is up for grabs on the internet.

What ACS:Law have done is a mixture of incredible naivete (believing that it’s so easy to link an IP address to an individual) and bare-faced cheek. Reading the emails is, frankly, stomach-churning as you see just how disparagingly they treat their victims.

The whole tone is simply “can we get money out of these people?”. In so far as being a system of punishment, their methods are no better than speed cameras. You’re “guilty” until you can prove yourself innocent by incriminating someone else.

A complete and utter shambles, kicked off by a terrible system that allowed them to jump onto this money-making bandwagon in the first place. It’s only a terrible shame for those who’s details have been leaked that it took such a breach of their privacy for these disgusting tactics to be revealed to the general public.

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