Polite Discourse

So today was the day that I was called a “sack of shit” by one of the UK’s most popular political bloggers.

It was all pretty silly really. I didn’t even really disagree with what he had written. I just pointed out that his blog entry had two completely unattributed quotations.

It’s Iain’s blog, of course, so it’s completely up to him whether or not he wants to publish unattributed quotations. My point was that not to do so might lead people to wonder where they came from. It’s so easy to link to sources on the web that if you don’t you run the risk of arousing suspicion.

I found a reference for one of the quotes (it was a parliamentary Early Day Motion – they aren’t hard to find), but Google came up blank for the other. I had assumed that it came from a blog post, but that no longer looked likely. I asked Iain if he had made it up. I didn’t believe for a second that he had invented it (although, of course, he has previous in this area), I was just demonstrating the conclusions that it was possible to reach from the information he had made available.

And that’s when he might have overreacted just a touch in his reply. A suspicious person might wonder why that touched such a nerve, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt (I’m sure he’d do the same for me). I pointed to his reply on Twitter and he responded:

@davorg Next time don’t make groundless allegations. if you can’t stand the heat, and all that…

I made no allegation, let alone a groundless one.

Bizarrely, even though he took such obvious umbrage at my question, he followed my advice and edited his blog post so that it included a link to the EDM. He also stated in his reply that the other quotation came from a private email. So I got all the answers I wanted. Which was nice.

When you’re blogging you can choose the amount of reference material that you show to your readers. I like to link to any articles that I’m quoting and generally throw in as many links as possible to my sources so that my readers can make up their own minds about my interpretations of what I’m writing about. Other people deal in scurrilous rumour or unsubstantiated gossip. You wouldn’t expect them to link to their sources. That’s their choice. It’s their blog. They can follow their own rules. Whatever makes them comfortable.

In my opinion, showing your sources is treating your readers as adults. It’s trusting them to draw their conclusions about what you’re writing. It’s showing your working for extra credit. Giving your readers no information about your sources is treating them like idiots. It’s a tabloid style of blogging and whenever I come across that style of blogging it makes me wonder what they are hiding.

In my mind, showing your sources equates to quality blogging. Not doing so is suspect.

I don’t expect  everyone to agree with me. I do, however, expect to be able to make these suggestions on one of the UK’s most read political blogs without the blog author calling me a sack of shit.

That’s just rude.


Review of 2009: Favourite Posts

Following on from my earlier list of the most popular posts on this site over the last year, here is a list of my favourite posts. As last year, I’ve chosen one from each month.

  • Hope
    Not many posts to choose from in January so I’ve chosen one where I tried to sum up the hope I felt following Barack Obama’s inauguration.
  • Creationist Idiocy in the UK
    My reactions to the depressing findings of a poll which showed that creationism is on the rise in the UK.
  • Internet Genealogy
    A post summarising the changes that the internet has brought to the world of genealogy.
  • Overcomplicating Matters
    An attempt to understand why so many MPs’ web sites and blogs get the simplest of things horribly wrong.
  • Defending Homeopathy (Or Not)
    A post telling the story of how Neal’s Yard’s Remedies scored a spectacular publicity own goal by failing to engage with the Guardian’s readership.
  • Who Is To Blame?
    In June we had European elections. And the BNP won two seats. This made a large number of rational people very angry. In this post I tried to understand what had caused people to vote for such poisonous representatives.
  • A Life Well Documented
    In July I wrote about a couple of projects that were helping me to document my life.
  • Support from the Internet
    In August I alomost didn’t get to a conference because I couldn’t find my passport. I found it in the end and just made it to the airport in time. This post tells the story and talks about the incredible support I was getting from my friends on Twitter and Facebook whilst the saga was unfolding.
  • Building Web Sites is Easy
    Returning to an earlier theme, I looked at why so many organisations spend too much money on web sites and end up with unmaintainable monstrosities, when the open source solution is often better.
  • Nadnomics
    Nadine Dorries gave me a lot of material this year. In this post I attempted to teach her the basics of statistics.
  • He Blinded Me with Science
    Following the sacking of David Nutt, in early November AN Wilson wrote the most ridiculous pile of anti-scientific nonsense that I’ve ever read. In this post I pointed out some of his most obvious errors. This post was also featured on Mailwatch where it received rather more comment.
  • I Can’t Hear You La La La La
    One thing that really wound me up in 2009 was the number of people who used blogs and Twitter to broadcast their opinions rather than as a tool for interaction. This post has some examples from that well-known internet expert Nadine Dorries.
  • Thanks for reading. Happy New Year.


Review of 2009: Most Popular Posts

Last year I experimented with writing a couple of posts that summarised the year on davblog. It was interesting (if only because it gave me some useful perspective on what I’d been doing over the year) so I’m going to do the same for 2009. In this post I’ll look at the ten most read articles that I posted this year and in another post I’ll list some of my favourite posts.

So here are the ten most read articles from this site that were written during 2009.

  1. Thunderbird and Exchange
    I’m surprised to see this at the top to be honest. It’s a pretty standard piece summarising my experiments in sharing calendars between Thunderbird and Exchange. It was published in June but for some reason it had a huge spike in visits early in December.
  2. The Power of Social Media
    This is what I expected to see at the top. In October, social media had a particularly interesting week when it was behind three successful campaigns. I summarised the week in this post. This post had a huge boost in popularity when Graham Linehan mentioned it on Twitter.
  3. Headphones on the G1 I think that many people were experiencing the same problems as I did with the headphones on my G1. I hope this post helped them.
  4. Good Drugs vs Bad Drugs
    Very happy to see this in the top ten as it’s a piece I’m particularly proud of. following on from the sacking of David Nutt, this piece covers some of the points about drugs that the mainstream press don’t seem to be interested in covering.
  5. Simpler Facebook URLs
    Something I knocked out quickly when I got annoyed with Facebook’s ridiculous URL structure and saw a simple way to improve it. Later in the year, Facebook introduced a simpler URL structure which renders these ideas obsolete.
  6. There’s Probably No Bus
    A silly post containing a picture based on the Athiest Bus Campaign.
  7. Freedom is in Peril
    No idea why this was so popular. Another post that contains pretty much nother other than a picture. Good poster though. And I expect it nicely captured the mood of the time.
  8. Simon Singh vs The British Chiropractic Association
    Lots of people wrote far more eloquently than I did about the British Chiropractic Association suing Simon Singh for libel, so I’m glad that some people found my article interesting enough to read. It’s still an important case and nicely illustrates the idiocy of the UK libel laws. One good result of this high profile case was the setting up of the Libel Reform Campaign.
  9. Watching the Watchmen
    A pretty obvious title for my review of the Watchmen film.
  10. Please Don’t Label Me
    A post covering the launch of the “Please Don’t Label Me” campaign from the same people who brought us the Atheist Bus Campaign. This campaign addressed the issue of children being labelled with the religion of their parents before they have a chance to make up their own mind.

So there it is. I think that’s a pretty good cross-section of kinds of things that I’ve been writing about over the last year. Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to find this site interesting over the next twelve months.


Review of 2008: Favourite Posts

As promised a couple of days ago, here are my favourite posts from this year. I’ve chosen one from each month and they are listed chronologically.

Colossal Caving Adventure
A piece about my experiences trying out “adventure caving” in Cheddar Gorge. I really didn’t enjoy it very much.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
I enjoyed the film “This Film is Not Yet Rated”, but I thought that some of the participants were a bit naive and that it missed the real problem with the US cinema rating system.

Nadine Dorries is Confused Again
Nadine Dorries is always a ripe seam to mine for nonsense. In March she presented as fact a well-known (and completely debunked) story about a foetus interacting with a surgeon during an operation.

Apple Shopping
Probably my favourite post of the year. In this entry I described exactly why I dislike shopping in the Apple Shop so much.

Pointless Battles for Geeks
Explaining why geeks shouldn’t waste time complaining when people top-post or sent HTML mail. Yes, it’s annoying; yes, it’s stupid. But it’s the way that most people expect email to work. Complaining is just a waste of time and energy.

Food Chain
A description of our cat’s attempts to work out his position in the local food chain. I think he’s worked it out now and he continues to bring us dead mice and (occasionally) pigeons. Not sure if he’s given up on rats or whether he’s killed all the local population.

James Cross, Lifeboatman
Something a bit more personal than is usual for this blog. This was a post about my great, great grandfather, James Cross, who drowned whilst involved in a rescue on the Clacton Life Boat. This post was indicative of my revived interest in my family history.

Why Corporates Hate Perl
Only a small entry on this blog, but it was a pointer to a longer article on my O’Reilly blog. It seems that this piece struck a chord with a lot of people. It generated the most email of everything that I’ve written this year.

Their Own Worst Enemy
A post about why the GNU project’s insistance on staying away from de-facto standards like Flash video means that most people won’t see their videos. Over at the Digital Citizen, J.B. Nicholson-Owens objected quite strongly to my post (but he didn’t bother to actually tell me about his response – I just found it through Google’s blogsearch).

Non-Magic Bus
A description of the astonishing (and very heartening) success of the Atheist Bus Campaign.

“Selling” Photos
I was trying to think through the best way to license the photos which I upload to Flickr in order to maximise the exposure they get but without allowing just anyone to use them without paying me.

Twitter and Passwords
I’ve wirtten a number ot articles over the last few years about the cavalier approach that most people have towards their passwords. In this post, I tried to explain exactly why it’s a bad idea to give your password to third-party Twitter utilities like Twitterfeed.

There you have it. The best of davblog for 2008, in my opinion. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the last year and I hope you continue to read it next year.

Happy New Year everyone.


Review of 2008: Most Popular Posts

This blog has been running for over six years and I’ve never done a review of the year before – so this is all very experimental. Today I’m going to list the ten most popular entries from this year (as measured by number of views) and tomorrow I’ll list my ten favourite entries.

So here are the ten most read entries. If nothing else, the list certainly demonstrates how much of my traffic is driven by getting high placings in Google.

1/ The BBC’s Merlin
My rant about the BBC’s terrible recent new version of the Arthurian Legend is incredibly high on Google. The entry was only published in September but but it has almost twice the number of hits of the next entry.

2/ Pub Quiz
3/ Derren Brown – The System
A couple of entries about Derren Brown took second and third places. In February I wrote about his TV programme, The System, and in April I wrote a description of a night I spent being an unwitting part of another Derren Brown show.

4/ Quantum of Solace
In January, the title of the new James Bond film was announced and I used that as an excuse to write about my dislike of Bond films and my opinion that the they’d be better if they followed the books more closely. It picked up a lot of Googlejuice early on but, of course, now the film is out it has been pushed out by sites with far bigger SEO budgets.

5/ Is Sarah Palin a Wiccan?
A Guardian office joke gets turned into a blog post. I can understand why it’s the first Google result for phrases like “sarah palin wiccan” (there aren’t very many sites containing that phrase), but what puzzles me is why so many people a searching for the phrase.

6/ Baby Bible Bashers
Something a bit more serious (at last). Channel 4 broadcast a documentary about some children whose parents had encouraged them to get involved with christianity at an obscenely young age. It was a deeply troubling programme.

7/ Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
A post about the massively backfiring publicity campaign for the creationist propaganda film. I’ve seen the film since and keep meaning to write about it – but it’s hard to find the right words.

8/ Proof of Residence
A pretty standard rant about my local council preventing me from doing something pretty simple.

9/ Recording TV Revisited
A follow-up to a 2005 post talking about the combination of technologies that we use in my house to ensure that we never miss a TV programme that we want to watch.

10/ Combining Google Accounts
A post which made it into the top 10 despite only being published in November. If I had treid to combine my Google accounts earlier in the year, this post would almost certainly have been much higher.

So those are the posts that you’ve been reading over the last year. Thanks for showing some interest in my witterings. Tomorrow I’ll list the ten articles that I like the most (and which, for some reason, weren’t popular enough to make this list).



I had a little bit of an accident over the weekend when I accidentally started to restore an old back-up of the database that runs this blog. I noticed what I what I was doing pretty quickly and stopped it before too much damage was done.

But I lost the last few days entries and comments. Luckily I hadn’t rebuilt the site, so I still had the missing stuff in the HTML files. I’ve restored the entries and I’ve got copies of the comments which I’ll put back when I have command-line access to the database this evening.

Sorry about that.


Blog Fixed (Hopefully)

Regular readers will know that this blog has experienced some problems over the last few months. Since I last moved to new hardware this blog has been running really slowly and more often than not any attempt to publish content (whether a blog entry or a comment) has ended with a server error. This has made me less likely to write here and has made you far less likely to comment. Which is sad.

When the problem first arose I prodded at it a bit, but nothing I did made any difference. So I decided to ignore the problem in the hope that a Movable Type upgrade would fix it at some point in the future.

Over the last couple of weeks, that strategy has been causing me large amounts of grief. The problem is that any of the programs that publish content to this site are taking such a long time to complete that the connection times out. So what should take a few seconds is actually taking two or three minutes. Over the last few weeks the amount of comment spam I get has risen to new levels. And even though none of that spam ever gets published, each request runs the MT comment program. For about two or three minutes.

As a result, when I come under a comment spam attack (which is happening several times a day) I get dozens of copies of the comment program running simultaneously (because they aren’t finishing quickly enough). The load
on the server goes right up and all of the sites on this server stop responding. I’ve been having to reboot the server on an almost daily basis. Sorry if you’ve experienced problems with any of my sites being unresponsive.

On a separate front, I decided to move hardware (again). This was prompted by the fact that the people who I rent my
colo box from have started to support Centos as well as Fedora (they have Ubuntu too, but I’m far happier in rpm-world). Centos is a far better distribution for servers than Fedora so I’m in the process of moving.

Last night I started to move my blog on the hope that the new hardware and new operating system might somehow fix the performance problems. As part of the process I needed to dump the database that runs the blog on the old server. Some way into the dump process, MySQL told me that it couldn’t dump the mt_log table as it was corrupt. I logged in to the database server and ran “fix table mt_log”. The dump then ran successfully.

Then it struck me. Any time you publish content on an MT site, you write to the mt_log table.  And the symptom I was seeing was that a process would complete all of its work
and then hang. And presumably all of the logging goes on at the end of the process.

So, hopefully fixing the mt_log table has fixed the performance problems. I was able to successfully rebuild the whole site in thirty minutes last night. Previously it would have taken hours and had a good chance of failing somewhere along the line.

We’re running on the new hardware and operating system too, Which, all in all, should mean that the performance problems are no more. I’ll start blogging a bit more and hopefully you’ll start commenting a bit more too.

And here’s a good tip for fixing MT performance problems.
Use the MySQL “check table” and “fix table” commands regularly. I’ll certainly be looking to schedule an automatic job to do that.

Sorry for any inconvenience. Regular service has (hopefully) been restored.


More Blog Progress

Made some progress on restoring the old blog entries yesterday. I managed to get the old web server working long enough to export the blog data and I’ve successfully imported it into this installation. Over the next few hours I’ll try to get the pages rebuilt.

At the same time (never let it be said that I’m not ambitious) I’ve upgraded to the latest version of Movable Type and switched to using the new Open Source version. All of which means that there might be a few issues to iron out over the next few days (James has already spotted one).

I’ve also spotted that my usage of categories, keywords and tags has been… er… inconsistent over the five years or so that I’ve been writing this blog with the result that the tag cloud and list of categories on the front page have both become unmanageable. So I need to do some tidying there.

But, all in all, it’s looking good. Nice to have the old entries back.


Top 100 British Blogs

These kinds of things are always very dubious, but top 100 lists are always fun to discuss. Blogstorm have published a list of the top 100 British blogs. The list is calculated from some combination of Technorati and Alexa ratings.

Good to see a few friends and colleagues on there.


Temporary Bloggerheads

Bloggerheads will return soon, but in the meantime Tim Ireland has set up a temporary blog in order to talk about what happened at the end of last week.

As you may have heard, the response by UK bloggers to this issue has been amazing. Over 250 blogs are now following the story. Here’s the current list (which is almost certainly out of date by the time you read this).

Curious Hamster, Pickled Politics, Harry’s Place, Tim Worstall, Dizzy, Iain Dale, Ten Percent, Blairwatch, Davide Simonetti, Earthquake Cove, Turbulent Cleric (who suggests dropping a line to the FA about Mr Usmanov), Mike Power, Jailhouse Lawyer, Suesam, Devil’s Kitchen, The Cartoonist, Falco, Casualty Monitor, Forever Expat, Arseblog, Drink-soaked Trots (and another), Pitch Invasion, Wonko’s World, Roll A Monkey, Caroline Hunt, Westminster Wisdom, Chris K, Anorak, Mediawatchwatch, Norfolk Blogger, Chris Paul, Indymedia (with a list of Craig Murray’s articles that are currently unavailable), Obsolete, Tom Watson, Cynical Chatter, Reactionary Snob, Mr Eugenides, Matthew Sinclair, The Select Society, Liberal England, Davblog, Peter Gasston Pitch Perfect, Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, Lunartalks, Tygerland, The Crossed Pond, Our Kingdom, Big Daddy Merk, Daily Mail Watch, Graeme’s, Random Thoughts, Nosemonkey, Matt Wardman, Politics in the Zeros, Love and Garbage, The Huntsman, Conservative Party Reptile, Ellee Seymour, Sabretache, Not A Sheep, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, The People’s Republic Of Newport, Life, the Universe & Everything, Arsenal Transfer Rumour Mill, The Green Ribbon, Blood & Treasure, The Last Ditch, Areopagitica, Football in Finland, An Englishman’s Castle, Freeborn John, Eursoc, The Back Four, Rebellion Suck!, Ministry of Truth, ModernityBlog, Beau Bo D’Or, Scots and Independent, The Splund, Bill Cameron, Podnosh, Dodgeblogium, Moving Target, Serious Golmal, Goonerholic, The Spine, Zero Point Nine, Lenin’s Tomb, The Durruti Column, The Bristol Blogger, ArseNews, David Lindsay, Quaequam Blog!, On A Quiet Day…, Kathz’s Blog, England Expects, Theo Spark, Duncan Borrowman, Senn’s Blog, Katykins, Jewcy, Kevin Maguire, Stumbling and Mumbling, Famous for 15 megapixels, Ordovicius, Tom Morris, AOL Fanhouse, Doctor Vee, The Curmudgeonly, The Poor Mouth, 1820, Hangbitch, Crooked Timber, ArseNole, Identity Unknown, Liberty Alone, Amused Cynicism, Clairwil, The Lone Voice, Tampon Teabag, Unoriginalname38, Special/Blown It, The Remittance Man, 18 Doughty Street, Laban Tall, Martin Bright, Spy Blog The Exile, poons, Jangliss, Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From?, Imagined Community, A Pint of Unionist Lite, Poldraw, Disillusioned And Bored, Error Gorilla, Indigo Jo, Swiss Metablog, Kate Garnwen Truemors, Asn14, D-Notice, The Judge, Political Penguin, Miserable Old Fart, Jottings, fridgemagnet, Blah Blah Flowers, J. Arthur MacNumpty, Tony Hatfield, Grendel, Charlie Whitaker, Matt Buck, The Waendel Journal, Marginalized Action Dinosaur, SoccerLens, Toblog, John Brissenden East Lower, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Peter Black AM, Boing Boing, BLTP, Gunnerblog, LFB UK, Liberal Revolution, Wombles, Focus on Sodbury…, Follow The Money, Freedom and Whisky, Melting Man, PoliticalHackUK, Simon Says…, Daily EM, From The Barrel of a Gun, The Fourth Place, The Armchair News Blog, Journalist und Optimist, Bristol Indymedia, Dave Weeden, Up North John, Gizmonaut, Spin and Spinners, Marginalia, Arnique, Heather Yaxley, The Whiskey Priest, On The Beat, Paul Canning, Martin Stabe, Mat Bowles, Pigdogfucker, Rachel North, B3TA board, Naqniq, Yorkshire Ranter, The Home Of Football, UFO Breakfast Recipients, Moninski , Kerching, e-clectig, Mediocracy, Sicily Scene, Samizdata, I blog, they blog, weblog, Colcam, Some Random Thoughts, Bel is thinking, Vino S, Simply Jews, Atlantic Free Press, Registan, Filasteen, Britblog Roundup #136, Scientific Misconduct Blog, Adam Bowie, Duncan at Abcol, Camera Anguish, A Very British Dude, Whatever, Central News, Green Gathering, Leighton Cooke (224), , Skuds’ Sister’s Brother, Contrast News, Poliblog Perspective, Parish Pump, El Gales, Noodle, Curly’s Corner Shop, Freunde der offenen Gesellschaft, otromundoesposible, Richard Stacy, Looking For A Voice, News Dissector, Kateshomeblog, Writes Like She Talks, Extra! Extra!, Committee To Protect Bloggers, Liberty’s Requiem, American Samizdat, The Thunder Dragon, Cybersoc, Achievable Life, Paperholic, Creative-i, Raedwald, Nobody’s Friend, Lobster Blogster, Panchromatica (251).