Lying to children is never OK. Even about Santa.

Christmas is for children and those with children. Those of us who are too selfish, irresponsible, selfless or responsible to have children just get a bit of time off and an excuse to eat and drink a bit more than usual. Everyone is a winner and Christmas is great. 

As an atheist it’s a bit uncomfortable to see all the Jesus stuff get thrown around but thankfully there is enough crass commercialism and obvious pagan symbolism to balance all of that. There is one elephant in the room that really gets to me though. Santa. 

This is the point where I will lose most parents. “It’s just a bit of fun” or “lighten up, it’s part of the innocence of childhood” they’ll say to me. Innocence, indeed. And that’s the problem. 

Children are essentially hard-wired to believe every word that their parents tell them. This makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective and indeed explains why something as illogical as religion persists into 2017. Children have absolute trust in their parents. This is the crux of the Santa problem. 

If a child grows up believing that their parents will never lie to them and then one day they find out that Santa isn’t real, this has a deep effect on them. The faith that they had in their parents as Oracles of absolute truth is shattered. Suddenly they learn that it’s not just bad people who are dishonest; the people they love and respect the most in the world are capable of bare-faced lies. What does that mean for the adults who develop from these children? 

Perhaps it’s overly dramatic to blame the impending collapse of western civilisation on a seemingly harmless white lie but I’m going to give it a go. If a child learns that it’s normal to lie, even to the people you love the most, the adult will deceive their way through life and everyone will suffer as a result. 

There seems to be an axiom that some lies are necessary. Being polite when people ask awkward questions about whether they look fat etc. but to me truth is incredibly important. It’s the only hope we have as a species. Without truth we only have lies or post-truth which is a stupid way of saying lies. 

So please stop lying to your children about Santa. The other parents will probably hate you but it’s a small price to pay to save humanity. 

I enjoy conspiracy theories but I loathe the alt-right

I’ve entertained most conspiracy theories for a long time. I remember sitting there watching the two towers of the World Trade Center fall just over fifteen years ago and thinking how much it reminded me of the end of the Fight Club. I’d only seen the movie version at that point. It’s no wonder that I found the stories and YouTube videos about 9/11 entertaining. Something about that day seemed off and these stories seemed to explain something that was otherwise unexplainable. 

It wasn’t long before I discovered David Icke with his seemingly outlandish theories about a global elite that was in complete control of the planet and was made up of reptilian beings from another planet, galaxy, or even dimension. It was impossible to take this on board without accepting that small ideas like race and religion were utterly insignificant. I saw people accusing Icke of using the word “reptilian” as a code word for Jewish people. More than a decade later I’m still convinced that he doesn’t use code words, says exactly what he believes and is quite possibly insane. I genuinely think that he believes that Her Majesty The Queen is a reptilian being. I think that he views the tiny differences in the various types of humans as just that; tiny and insignificant. To steal a set up from Bill Hicks, “we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively”. Essentially that sort of thing. 

I was sucked into this vague spiritual mindset for a fair while. It seemed to follow quite logically that if the universe started as a singularly, all the seemingly separate particles, atoms, compounds and beings that resulted from it must be connected in some ethereal sense.

A few weeks’ exposure to Richard Dawkins made this all seem like nonsense. I’ve heard and read a lot of criticism of his work but it all seems to boil down to the fact that he’s a bit of an arrogant dick. I’m not inclined to disagree with the fundamentals of the criticism but it was Dawkins who convinced me that God, gods, spirituality, and indeed anything for which there is no evidence is to be discarded. 

A couple of years of atheism, skepticism (with a k), rational thought, and almost daily exposure to BBC Radio 4 (against my will) had me seriously questioning my world view. Before that I was convinced that the official story of 9/11 was fishy and that some sort of New World Order was in control of things. Now I was coming around to a belief in the official story that nineteen blokes armed with nothing but a copy of the Koran and a Stanley knife had managed to hijack four aeroplanes and fly three of them into some important buildings without being shot down because the US Airforce were busy elsewhere on training exercises. 

Then one day I arrived at work and pretended to make myself busy. My boss of the time is now a dear friend. He could spot a hangover a mile off and never once told me off for my condition. He would occasionally turn up a little worse for wear; never attempting to lie or make an excuse. After just about easing my way into some work I was hit by a lightning bolt. I’ve mentioned that I was regularly subjected to Radio 4 and this was the source of the metaphorical 1.21 Gigawatts. 

“Brown’s New World Order” was the headline. Gordon Brown who was the UK Prime minister of the time had used these words in a recent speech. The global economy was in crisis and this was his solution. We needed to reorder the world in a novel way. It’s very hard to explain why it affected me so much, especially given that Brown’s speech writers had shamelessly lifted the phrase from a speech given by George Bush Senior in 1990. On the 11th of September. It wasn’t even a new phrase back then but that’s not very entertaining. 

And so let’s bring this up to date. I find conspiracy theories entertaining and that’s why I entertain them as ideas. I’ve been a believer, an absolute skeptic, and most things in between but I’ve always found them entertaining. Maybe they are the truth or maybe they are just a good yarn. I’m only interested in evidence and so I suspect that some are true, some are partially true and some are absolute nonsense. 

And so let’s address the alt-right. What does that even mean? I can’t define it exactly but I feel like I just about understand what it means.  

I’m very pro EU. I think it’s corrupt and almost unaccountable but deep down I know that the alternative is worse. I also despise Trump. I don’t like Hillary but she’s more of a kick in the balls than Trump’s baseball bat to the head. 

I’m also deeply concerned about the rise of the right. I am a firm believer in looking after everyone in the human race. It doesn’t matter where they were born or what nonsense they believe or what they look like. If they are a human being then other human beings should look after them. Humans should also look after other types of animals but unfortunately they often tend to be rather tasty. Hopefully 3D flesh printing will alleviate this particular cognitive dissonance. 

I have really tried to avoid the simplistic ideas of left and right politics but it’s very hard when almost everything the people on the right are saying makes no sense and the people on the left feel like my comrades. Put it this way, Corbyn is right about almost everything and the Centrist Blairite types may as well just admit that they are Tories.

And so I have a new first world problem. I still believe that 9/11 and a fair few other events require a lot more explanation than the official reports offer, but I feel like everyone who talks about those kinds of things and makes any sense is basically an alt-right, Trump-supporting Brexiter who is suddenly so far away from me that I feel totally lost. Everyone who wants to stay in the EU seems to scoff at the very idea of any kind of conspiracy theory nonsense.

Maybe I’m a unique snowflake after all. 

London UK Linux/podcaster meet up – Thursday Feb 26th at the Mulberry Bush pub (near Waterloo station)

London UK Linux/podcaster meet up – Thursday Feb 26th at the Mulberry Bush pub near Waterloo station from 6pm

In celebration of Scott’s visit to the UK, we have decided to organise a meet up. Confirmed attendees so far are Scott Newlon (mintCast), me (mintCast/Linux Luddites), jesse (Linux Luddites), Matthew Copperwaite  (The Dick Turpin Road Show) and Alan Pope (Ubuntu Podcast)

The plan is to have a relaxed and informal evening of drinks and conversation. We’ve reserved a booth with a table that should be perfect in a really nice pub on the South Bank, a few minutes from Waterloo Station. Everyone is welcome so please spread the word!

Directions to the Mulberry Bush

Leave Waterloo via the original main entrance in order to head towards the South Bank.  The main entrance is found by turning left after coming through any of the ticket barriers, and is at the far end of the concourse beyond platform 18, on the right next to the lost luggage.  Head through the glass doors and down the stone steps, if you find yourself on a bridge you’ve gone the wrong way, come back and look on your left for the glass doors.

Once down the steps head to your left, cross some zebra crossings and generally follow what is likely to be the main crowd towards the traffic lights to cross York Road.  The aim is to stroll along Sutton Walk, the pedestrian walkway under the blue lattice bridge, towards the South Bank.  Once under the bridge continue straight towards the Royal Festival Hall and you will shortly reach a T-junction with Belvedere road before you actually get to the hall.

Turn right and walk along that road – this is the home straight, except it’s the longest section of the trip!  I’m afraid this part isn’t much to look at, you’ll pass the National Theatre, IBM and ITV and just when you think you’ve gone wrong, the Mulberry Bush will appear on your right hand side.

The route looks like this

The pub looks like this

To find the booth that we have reserved, walk to the end of the bar and look to your left.

Hopefully see you there!

A whole new year.

So here we are and it’s already 2015. People are making Back to the Future 2 jokes but not much else feels that different. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things over the last few nights while I’ve been lying there trying to sleep. This is the time of year when you have loads of great ideas and feel filled with motivation to actually see them through to fruition. Deep down you know it’s probably not going to happen but maybe having some spare time over the festive period, combined with the impending sense of dread that it’s almost time to go back to work blinds you to the harsh realities of life.

Anyway what am I planning then? Well the short answer is that by this time next year I plan to be in a position where I get paid for doing nothing. The slightly longer answer is that I plan to spend more time creating things and less time working hard in the freezing cold (or baking hot) to make other people rich. Some things are more important than money.

First up then I intend to start writing short updates about what I’ve been up to. This seems like as good a place as any to do that. I anticipate some very short posts that are barely longer than a tweet. I’m not aiming to have loads of people following my posts but it will be nice to be able to look back in the future and remember what I was thinking and doing.

I don’t believe in god and I don’t celebrate Christmas but I really love this time of year. It usually amounts to two and a bit weeks of late nights, heavy drinking and very few responsibilities. The way Christmas and new year fell this year meant that I took 16 days off work so it was no exception. For once I was actually able to be productive with the time and that has made me think back to previous new years. I honestly don’t remember very many of them and that’s why I thought it would be a good idea to start documenting my life. No one else will probably care or read this but I think I will really appreciate my own efforts one day when I look back and have some documentary evidence to fill the memory void left by all the drink and drugs that I have done over the years. I mention drugs but only in a historical sense. It must be nearly a decade since I did any illegal drugs, coincidentally around the same period of time since I became extremely fond of the second most socially acceptable drink based drug. I occasionally reap the benefits of caffeine but of course I am talking about alcohol. It’s really nice to be able to walk into a shop and buy my drugs legally, safe in the knowledge that they are regulated, strictly controlled and contain exactly what is printed on the bottle or can.

This new year’s eve was the quietest that I can remember. My soon to be wife had a cold and wasn’t in the mood for a party so we watched some strongman and 2014 Wipe before she got ready and got in bed shortly before the stroke of midnight. After wishing each other a happy new year she dropped off to sleep at about 12.30. Being in no mood to go to sleep myself I went for a short walk to experience the unbelievable number of fireworks that were still echoing around the sky half an hour into the new year before returning to take part in the HPR new year podcast marathon. I only lasted about an hour before I started flagging and called it a night. Good fun nonetheless and it was really cool that some people knew who I was. Just over a year of hard work doing Linux Luddites is starting to pay off.

I managed to take part in 5 podcasts during this festive break. First I recorded and produced Linux Luddites 31, starting the night I finished work for the year. Next was mintCast 215 followed by a surprise return of the Mind Tech Podcast – a show I used to do every week with an Apple fanboy until the 8 hour time difference and work got in the way. I’ve mentioned the HPR new year podcast marathon and I have just finished the initial edit of Linux Luddites 32. I’ve still got a bit of work left to do to it but it will be up by the time I go back to work. It’s nice that my holiday was bookended by two episodes of Linux Luddites because it’s the show I work the hardest to produce. It takes a lot of effort to produce it but it seems to be popular enough to justify that effort. For now.

I also managed to do most of the hard work of mixing The Knievel Dead‘s new album. There’s a fair bit still to do but I’ll write more about it when I can.

Hopefully my next update will come soon and hopefully it will be a lot shorter.

Using get_iplayer to download content from the BBC iPlayer in Linux [(X)ubuntu]

I couldn’t find a really simple guide that explains how to download TV and Radio shows from the iPlayer using get_iplayer so I thought I would write one. get_iplayer can do a lot of things including streaming and PVR style recording and other guides that I have found seem to focus more on that sort of thing. This will be much more basic and concentrate on one simple task.

This guide explains the process in Xubuntu Linux but will work in any other flavour of Ubuntu, for example Kubuntu, Lubuntu or the main Ubuntu version. It will also work in Linux Mint. The process is likely to be very similar in other distros like Debian, Fedora and OpenSUSE but I haven’t tried it.

There is a Windows version of get_iplayer and I would imagine that the commands are the same but again I haven’t tried it.

It is possible to use a proxy with get_iplayer to enable you to download content from the iPlayer from outside the UK. I won’t be covering that.

 

Installation

Open a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install get-iplayer

Please note the dash (get-iplayer) rather than underscore (get_iplayer). Installation is the only time a dash is used. After this it will always be an underscore.

Enter your password and then say yes.

 

Use

TV

First you need to decide where you want to save the file that you will be downloading. If you are happy to save it to your home folder then you just need to open a terminal and run the relevant command. Otherwise you will have to cd to the folder where you want to save it first. Some distros and desktop environments have a right click “open terminal here” option which saves a bit of time. This is among the many reasons that I like Xubuntu.

Once you have the terminal open in the correct folder you need to copy the URL of the programme. The easiest way to do that is to go to the page where you would normally watch the show and copy everything in the address bar. It should look something like this:

 

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bvsw2/David_Attenboroughs_Rise_of_Animals_Triumph_of_the_Vertebrates_Dawn_of_the_Mammals/

 

The only part of it that get_iplayer actually needs is the pid (programme ID). In this case it is b03bvsw2. It makes no difference if you use the whole URL and it is probably easier so I will be doing that in this tutorial.

The command that you need to type into the terminal is the following:

 

get_iplayer --raw --modes=flashhd --pid=www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bvsw2/David_Attenboroughs_Rise_of_Animals_Triumph_of_the_Vertebrates_Dawn_of_the_Mammals/

(To paste things into the terminal you need to either right click paste or Ctrl+Shift+v)

 

The –raw part means that it won’t convert the file that it has downloaded. You will get a file that ends .flv and can be played in VLC (and many other media players including MX Player on Android). My rule is that if VLC will happily play it, there is no need to convert it. Should you want to convert the resulting file, I suggest either Handbrake or VLC.

The –modes=flashhd part is where you specify which stream you will be saving. In order of best quality to worst quality you have the following options: flashhd, flashvhigh, ,flashhigh, flashstd, flashnormal, flashlow. I generally go for flashhd or flashvhigh for programmes that are not available in 720p.

After the –pid= you can either paste the full url or just the pid which in this case would be b03bvsw2.

If you get an error about the pid already being in the cache (most likely because you have downloaded the programme before) then you will need to add –force to the end of the command so it looks like this:


get_iplayer --raw --modes=flashhd --pid=www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bvsw2/David_Attenboroughs_Rise_of_Animals_Triumph_of_the_Vertebrates_Dawn_of_the_Mammals/ --force

 

Sometimes I find that there are interruptions in the download and usually it will just automatically resume but occasionally the file will become corrupted and the download will fail part way through. You will know that this has happened if the downloaded file still ends .partial.flv (it will look like this while it is downloading). If this happens, the easiest thing to do is delete the file and then rerun the command with –force added.

 

Radio

The process is very similar for radio downloads. Again go to the page where you can play the show in question and copy the URL. Open a terminal and type the following:

 

get_iplayer --raw --modes=flashaacstd --pid=www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bfkbg/The_Archers_25_09_2013/



You have a few –modes= options. I’m not that experienced with radio downloads but you can chose from  flashaaclow, flashaacstd, rtspaaclow and rtspaacstd.

 

The resulting .flv file isn’t much use so I suggest using Audacity to convert it to flac, ogg or mp3.