Heather Gold has written a fantastic piece about what coming out is really about:

“Coming out is not just about the gender of the people you desire. It’s about being your whole self, in public. It’s about honesty. It’s about transparency. It’s about difference and togetherness. It’s about self-acceptance, not waiting for the acceptance of others. It’s about integration. It’s about the whole cookie. I wish it, in all aspects of life, for you.”

This is the most brilliant explanation of why coming out is important I have ever seen. And it’s not just relevant for the LGB community either. It speaks to why it’s important for ALL aspects of diversity to be acknowledged, given head-space, entertained, celebrated. As Stonewall say, “People perform better when they can be themselves”.

I wrote an article a while ago for the FFLAG newsletter. Since I wrote it as a representative of my company and I prefer to keep my work and my blog separate, I won’t re-publish it here, but I’ll re-make the most salient point:

People talk about our society becoming more and more tolerant. Tolerance is not something to aim for, though. It’s the absolute baseline. Being tolerated just means not being killed. It means someone putting up with your existence. Sometimes in a very passive-aggressive way, but in more progressive countries it’s probably more like the way people tolerate visits to the dentist — not the way they’d prefer to spend an afternoon, but something that has to be done.

In my personal opinion what we should be aiming for is so much more than tolerance. It’s about celebrating diversity — the different experiences, histories, cultures, customs, memories, practices, viewpoints, attitudes. Everything from respecting the right of a devout Muslim woman to wear whatever veil she feels appropriate, to that of a gay man to wear leather hotpants and a pink feather boa if that’s what makes him feel comfortable.

As Heather would put it, it’s about the whole cookie.

Dear Members of the Public,

Please stop sleeping with politicians. Right now. From today, you may only sleep with a politician that you are married to. Rent boys and girls, I’m afraid this includes you. I’m sure that you’ll find other sources of income.

Maybe this way we might actually have a set of elections where it is possible to work out what the parties stand for!

Thank you kindly


Dear O2,

Strangely, the reason that I do not use your picture messaging service is that it is hideously overpriced, not that I am too stupid to work out how to do so. In any case, sending me a full colour leaflet with accompanying cheerleading letter is hardly going to incite me to picture message my life. I have a much better service for that — it’s called Flickr.

And, frankly, if I were stupid enough that I couldn’t work out how to send a picture message, sending the offending instructions in a plastic envelope that could withstand nuclear fallout is likely to keep myself and other such muppets in the dark.

Why don’t YOU “see what you can do”?

Annoyed Customer No 3000124578


Originally uploaded by meriwilliams.

These leaflets arrived this week. They’re individually addressed — one for each registered voter in the house. Each with postage paid as well. So what’s the problem? Well, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that they’d cut back on waste in government, does it?

As if this wasn’t enough to completely irritate me, the muppet campaign crew driving up and down every street in our neighbourhood with a megaphone shouting that we should vote Conservative that woke me up this morning definitely was.

As if I’d vote for the party whose current leader championed Section 28.

I don’t think I’ve already mentioned that Elly and Simon and I are all going to be attending SXSW Interactive this year. We’ll be in Austin from Friday until the following Saturday, with much fun, tech and guns in between times (with any luck!).

But firstly, let’s diverge into a mild rant. My (UK) passport is valid until May this year. Since we’re only going for 10 days, all of which are thoroughly contained within the month of March, it did not occur to me that my passport expiring 2 months after we return could possibly be an issue. I was, however, mistaken. In order to visit the USA your passport has to be valid for 6 months after you are due to return. Why, I do not know (if anyone does, please fill me in!).

So now I have 4 days to get myself a new passport. Given the (bureaucratic) state of most government services in the UK, I thought this meant that my trip was cancelled. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was in fact a fastrack application method and for the princely sum of 89 pounds and the hassle of going to Newport (of all places!) I should find myself in possession of a new passport by the end of Wednesday.

For anyone else in the same situation, I hope that you get yourself sorted in time too! Incidentally, are any of you going to make it to Austin for the conference?

So I finally decided to take the plunge and install Linux. To be honest I wasn’t particularly phased by the thought — when I started using computers as an 8 year old, it was all about the DOS command line and I missed that a lot when Windows rocked up. Windows seemed very limiting and the interface always annoyed me … and as you might have picked up by now, I’m no fan of Micro$oft. So I backed up all my data, put together a Linux box and wiped the old 10GB hard drive that I’d put inside it.

I’d been told that you needed to make sure you had another machine with net access alongside the one you were installing on, to look things up, create rescue disks if everything went pear-shaped etc. On this machine I had a look at the various distributions, chose to install Debian, partly because I’d heard good things about it, but mostly because my housemate runs it (and our home LAN) and I figured he’d be happiest helping troubleshooting his favourite distro if it all went wrong. (Me? Predict disaster? Never)

I had a read through of the installation manual and chose to make a minimal bootable CD and install the rest over the net. I chose the LordSutch.com version and burnt a bootable CD with no problems at all once it had downloaded.

On the destined-to-be-Linux box, it booted fine and went straight into the installer. Although this required some fairly detailed info, it was hardly brain surgery and quite well structured. So base system installed, I then just had to try and get the rest off the net.

Ah, right, the net. Whoops.

So we have a home network, yeah? My (extremely technically able) housemate runs it and its rather complex really. So it didn’t really shock me that my fledgling Deb box didn’t want to play with the home network … or that the network wouldn’t talk to it. I went through the usual routine : check the cables, check it’s plugged into the right part of the network, check the little flashy lights, trying pinging a Google server, try traceroute anything.

No dice. OK, call in the sysadmin of the house. No problem, he reckons, just manually configure the network using ifconfig. OK fine and it works, for a while. So I run tasksel and get the basics that I want to start out with: desktop environment, C, LaTex and the other cool useful-to-a-computer-scientist things that were my reason for finally getting the whole Linux shebang going.

So it should all work now, right? WRONG.

Now, the first thing to mention here is that although this seems very compact and 1, 2, 3 steppish when I write it here, what I describe above took about 3-4 weeks. Since I live in London in the week for work and only get back to Bath at weekends (I’ll refrain from explaining just how fun 6 hours a week commuting on British railway transport can be for now) … given that I usually work for at least a day out of every weekend and I have to spend as much time with Elly as her course permits, there’s really not a massive amount of time left for the Debian box. Add to this that the sysadmin of the house is a largely nocturnal animal and we have something of a timetabling issue. But I digress.

Where was I? Oh yes, so now I have a basic system installed and tasksel has somehow managed to get the essentials of the Linux experience that I want. Or so I thought. When I booted up, apart from the little Tux picture going a bit haywire, everything seemed fine. Except that the X server didn’t work properly and although the installer was very helpful and even showed me the (blanK) output from the process init, I had no idea what was wrong with it.

So what did I do? I searched on the error messages:

/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/xinit/xserverrc: /usr/bin/X11/x: No such file or directory
/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/xinit/xserverrc: exec: /usr/bin/X11/X: cannot execute: No such file or directory giving up.
xinit: No such file or directory (errno 2): unable to connect to X server
xinit: No such process (errno 3): Server error.

Now, the reason that I’m posting this here is that it took me a while to wade through the support forums and find a solution, so I thought I’d post a simple analysis of the problem and solution here.
Problem: X is not actually installed
Solution: Install X by typing apt-get install xserver-xfree86

Basically, the Debian installer appears to assume that you will install X yourself, but when tasksel gets you a desktop environment, it assumes you already have X. Which I had assumed as well, which was why it took me another 2 weekends to work out what the hell was wrong. Unfortunately by the time I had realised what was wrong and how to fix it, it was the middle of the Easter vacation uni-wise, so sysadmin housemate had gone home for the holidays and the network had fallen over. Only he can fix it, so we had unplugged all the machines from the normal house network, put them into a different switch, used my XP box to connect to our broadband service and shared the connection (everyone else runs XP too). Worked fine … until I tried to get the Debian box to connect to the internet through the XP connection. I’m sure it’s possible to get a Linux box connected to the net through ICS in XP, but I couldn’t get it to work in less than 5 hours, so I just gave up and waited the couple of weeks for the normal network to be restored.

Right, so net restored I install xserver-xfree86 and use dpkg-reconfigure to configure it to something vaguely resembling my set up. X starts and I can even log in to Gnome or KDE (both are installed with Debian). Unfortunately my mouse doesn’t work for jack, which is fine in a console environment, but not great with a choice of two desktop environments I don’t know and my shortcut keys are wildly inaccurate for. Also it takes me a while to realise that my assumption that my keyboard want to be configured as ‘br’ (for BRitish) when the installer wouldn’t accept ‘uk’ was completely wrong … I have a Brazilian keyboard layout until I ask the sysadmin housemate, who helpfully reckons it might be ‘gb’, which of course it is.

So what’s wrong with the mouse? For a start, it’s a USB mouse connected through a PS/2 adapter to a KVM switch that then connects to the relevant USB ports on the Deb box itself. I’d had similar problems with the mouse-KVM combination when using my laptop previously — I had always assumed the problem was due to the KVM, since when I positioned it just so, it would stop making the mouse race to the top right hand corner (you know, where all the app close icons are in Windows) and double-click violently. However trial and error and a lot of frustration seem to indicate that the problem is not the KVM but the adapters — both the USB–>PS/2 that connected the mouse to the KVM and the keyboard-mouse splitter that goes into the single PS/2 input on my laptop.

So I have a working Debian box, complete with X and desktop environments, but with a mouse that can’t do much but double-click in the top right hand corner of the screen. Brilliant. The mouse is a Logitech Optical Netscroll, so I mess around using GPM as a repeater, as was suggested on some forums, varying the message protocol from PS/2 to ImPS/2 to Netscroll PS/2 (logical, no?) and a variety of options in between. No chance, top right hand corner is the only place the pointer wanted to be.

So how did I resolve it? Well, I haven’t managed to yet — I had to give in and just connect a normal PS/2 mouse to the box direct and mess about with the settings. So now it works, although scroll wheel events only seem to be handled properly in KDE, and I have something resembling a Debian box, a lot of experience in reading and researching error messages, a pretty shitty looking desktop (I have still to work out how to get better, prettier fonts) and a deep conviction that Linux is staying a niche market as long as things are this frustrating. When I compare to installing XP (which took 1 hour, total), for once I have to give Micro$oft credit — they may build shite that is unstable as all get out, but at least it installs itself and autodetects your hardware pretty well.

Warning: This is a little heavy, a little morbid and definitely not the healthy tech fare that you might be accustomed to on this blog.

Found this excellent article on prison rape when following one of Jason’s links to an article about condemned prisoners last meals. The latter is interesting, particularly some insight on how your last meal on earth can be budgeted into something resembling a badly done McDonalds burger. The former is downright disturbing and makes a number of salient points, particularly about how society doesn’t seem to regard prison rape as anything out of the ordinary and nowhere near as taboo as “normal” rape.

I started to think about how death penalties and prison rape really are connected these days. With the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, particularly amongst those with lower education levels (statistically more likely to end up in jail, however bad that is), there are many sentences which these days amount to death sentences. My cousin got done for drunk driving in South Africa a few months ago — he managed to escape a custodial sentence, but afterwards his lawyer basically said to him “I hope that knocked some sense into you — if you’d been sent to prison you’d have been raped within 5 minutes and you’d have HIV now … for what, a few beers?”

Good point. Downright horrifying thought, but a good point. There was a similar storyline on ER a couple of weeks ago, when a young Hispanic man had been sent to prison for breaking into his stepfather’s house when he locked him out. He’d been repeatedly gang raped and his HIV had already developed into AIDS.

It amazes me that this is not a political issue. That more people have not realised that sending someone to jail on a minor charge, to somewhere with overcrowding and sexual abuse, basically amounts to the death penalty. In fact, with the length of time so many seem to spend on death row in those places it is still legal, many of those condemned to death probably live _longer_ than those send in on a misdemeanour and infected.

Perhaps this isn’t a political issue because prisoners don’t vote. But I think it should be. If we’re sending people to their deaths for minor crimes, how much respect for human rights can we be showing?