Sunday, 8 December 2013

Hey! I'm out to my co-workers!

Tonight, I officially came out as transgender to my co-workers, at the works christmas party.  I went as Julie, not ${BOYNAME}, and was accepted thus by everyone.

Think my boss must have suspcted for awhile; because if he's been looking at my out-of-hours activities like any decent hacker would then he must have spotted "Julie Montoya" signing some code that was embarrassingly similar in style to ${BOYNAME}'s code  (he writes like a girl anyway, in a girlie language).

I love you all <3 <3 <3

Sunday, 25 August 2013

R.I.P Shelley Cat

Shelley Cat passed away this morning at 11:00.
Almost exactly one year ago -- on the stormy Saturday night before the August bank holiday -- my next door neighbours, who knew I already had a cat, brought me a stray cat that they had found in the street, asking if I could look after it.  I accepted, thinking that it would only be a few days until an owner was located.

The poor little thing was in a terrible state; half drowned and half starved.  I soon discovered that it was a she  (at least, she did not object to the female pronoun)  and she responded well to being towelled down, warmed in front of the woodburner and fed what seemed to be pack after pack of cat food.  I took her to the vet's to see if she was microchipped, but she was not.  I took a photograph of her and printed out leaflets, four to a page, asking "IS THIS YOUR CAT?" and giving my phone number; which I posted through letterboxes, and gave the local shops full-page versions to display in their windows.

But nobody seemed to want the little cat back.  I received just two phone calls; one from a person who had lost a cat but the description did not match; and one explaining how a cat looking like my picture had belonged to a woman whose boyfriend moved in with her, but the boyfriend had been horrible to the cat, kicked her, and one night "accidentally" left the back door open and she escaped

Realising that she might be with me for some time, I decided she needed a name.  So I called her Shelley because her mostly-black fur had brown, tortoiseshell-like patches.

Shelley suffered with hyperthyroidism; which meant that she could eat and eat food but just never put on any weight.  She was given medication for this, which allowed her to put on some weight and her general condition to improve.    I also had her microchipped, to proclaim to the whole world that THIS CAT BELONGS TO: JULIE MONTOYA, c/o MONTOYA MANSIONS. Tel. XXXXXXXXXXX. 

Then, about 6 weeks ago, she suddenly seemed to have lost her appetite, and would not eat the piece of ham in which I had concealed her Vidalta  (thyroid pill).  She seemed to want it, just not to be able to take it, and I rushed her to the vet's.  There was an abscess in her mouth and ulcers all over her tongue.  She was given an injection of a long-term antibiotic and prescribed Metacam to relieve the pain and enable her to eat again.

After about 2 weeks, Shelley seemed much better; but this turned out to be short-lived.  She was soon back to the vet's, where she was prescribed Nisamox  (amoxycillin -- artificial penicillin -- and clavulanic acid)  and also Vetergesic  (buprenorphine -- an opiate, prescribed to humans as Subutex), to be followed by more Metacam when the vetergesic ran out. 

One week ago, she was due to give a blood sample to measure her thyroid hormone level and make sure the Vidalta dosage was still doing its work; and they also ran some additional tests.  Shelley tested positive for feline calicivirus.  This is highly contagious.  Younger, fitter cats may well be asymptomatic; but if the patient's immune system is in any way compromised, then the cat is rendered vulnerable to secondary infection.  This is obviously what was happening to Shelley.

Yesterday, Shelley took another turn for the worse.  My partner and I made the decision that Shelley had suffered enough already.  She was already due to go to the vet's today anyway.  This time, it was to be a one way journey.  I signed the consent form. We stood there, gently stroking Shelley, and she purred as the fluid went in; then she became silent and fell asleep. Her breathing slowed, she fell down softly onto the table, and that was the end.

Goodbye, Shelley.  Rest in Peace.  I will miss her funny little mannerisms.  Her damaged back legs made her movements awkward, but she used to drag herself up onto the sofa or my bed using her front paws.  She used to meow loudly when she wanted to be fed.  And even although she had lived outdoors as a stray, she still preferred to go indoors to use a litter tray.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Who Does Software Piracy Really Hurt?

It's often said that software piracy damages business.  It does, but not for who you think it does.

When someone uses a pirate copy of Microsoft Office to write letters, do their household finances and keep track of their CD collection, this does no harm to Microsoft; because they would never have paid £500 for a copy of Microsoft Office anyway, even if they could not have obtained a pirate copy free.  Rather, they would have searched for a less expensive office suite offering the functionality they needed -- or even stuck to good old-fashioned notebook and pencil.

Now supposing someone decides to release a basic office suite, with sufficient functionality for the needs of most users, and sell it for £50.  A user with a brand new computer has a choice:  Pay £500 for Microsoft Office, pay £50 for Cheap and Cheerful Office 2013 and save £450, take a pirate copy of Microsoft Office and save £500 or take a pirate copy of Cheap and Cheerful Office 2013 and save £50.  Paying for CaCO13 actually makes better economic sense * than not paying for it, but the pirate copy of Microsoft Office is the clear winner.

When, not if, the vendors of CaCO13 go out of business, it will be because of software piracy -- even although no-one need ever make a single pirate copy of Cheap and Cheerful Office 2013.

And it isn't just Microsoft Office, of course.  There's also Adobe Photoshop  (for holiday snaps)  and Dreamweaver  (for creating web sites),  and AutoCAD  (for drawing diagrams, dressmaking patterns and so forth).

Microsoft, Adobe and others tolerating rampant piracy is a deliberate tactic to eliminate competition, by saturating the market with freely available software.  They have nothing to lose from it anyway, since the pirates would most probably have bought a competitor's product.  What is more, this creates a huge pool of self-taught users of the major players' software.  If an amateur photographic artist, who already uses an illegal copy of Adobe Photoshop for their art, gets a job editing photographs, then it makes sense for their new employers to purchase the tool with which they are already most familiar.  Had they used some hypothetical inexpensive alternative software instead, they might have suggested it to their new employers, who might again have purchased the tool with which the employee was most familiar -- this time, from the small, independent software vendor, to Adobe's detriment.

Another loser from pirated software is the business that uses only legitimate, fully paid-up software.  When faced with an unusually large order, a business might have to take on additional staff, and so pay more for additional software licences for them.  This will create an additional cost for the job, which will have to be reflected in the price offered and could only be offset against guaranteed future purchases.  (In this economic climate?  YMBK.)  A rival business using pirated software would have no such increased overhead cost when taking on extra staff, and could undercut the competitor.

Although the big software vendors focus their attention on businesses and prosecute offenders heavily, and to much publicity, there are still far too many firms getting away with software piracy.

And lastly, but certainly not leastly, pirated software harms the Open Source movement.

Freedoms Zero  (the freedom to enjoy the use the software)  and Two  (the freedom to share the software)  can be taken by force if necessary  (this, if nothing else, is what piracy is).  Most people are not programmers, and cannot fully appreciate the value of Freedoms One  (the freedom to study the workings of the software)  and Three  (the freedom to adapt the software to one's needs)  -- freedoms in the practical exercise of which the Source Code, something jealously guarded by proprietary software vendors, is highly desirable.  This, in turn, is perhaps something that programmers cannot fully appreciate, if their worldview is that of a programmer ever seeking to improve software incrementally towards perfection.  Nonetheless, the fact that a particular freedom has perceived importance only to a minority should never be an excuse to permit it to become abridged -- to do so would simply be discrimination.  (And those who perceive Freedoms One and Three as important, perceive them as fundamental.)  To the majority, Freedoms 0 and 2 are sufficient; this may be unfair, but we have to work with it for now.

Open Source software competes fairly with pirated software on price; and has traditionally been behind in features but has now overtaken proprietary software in some areas.  This has come about because of both stagnation in the proprietary camp, and continued progress in the Open Source camp -- accelerating with the growth in user numbers, for even a complaint can lead to an improvement.  Nonetheless, a perception remains that it must be somehow ... unsophisticated, if people feel the need to give it away.  It is also disadvantaged by businesses continuing to use proprietary software  (because most of the workforce are also using pirate copies of the same software).

The reality is, every pirate copy of Microsoft Office is a lost "sale" of LibreOffice, OpenOfficeOrg, Calligra Suite, Trinity Office, or any number of other lesser-known Open Source projects -- a missed opportunity to educate someone in the use of an alternative product, who might go on to influence others to use it.  In the case where a lesser-known project is chosen, it can actually influence the project positively by providing feedback, creating interest and tempting other users to try it and maybe keep it.  And every pirate copy of a newer version of Windows than was originally installed on a machine  (a tactic which is often unsuccessful, due to the tendency of proprietary software to increase its demands to match improvements in hardware as proprietary developers are given the latest, fastest workstations; therefore, proprietary software is sub-optimal on older, slower hardware with less RAM and disk space.  Some Open Source developers are forced to work with less than the newest hardware, and make a deliberate effort to improve performance on slower hardware and limit memory requirements)  is a lost "sale" of a complete Linux distribution.

We should not take violations of proprietary end-user licence agreements any less seriously than we take violations  of the GPL.  Copyright law is ultimately what keeps the Source open; and this is what Microsoft, Adobe, AutoDesk et al are subverting when they subvert copyright law to their own ends by enforcing it selectively.  If users do not wish to pay for software, that is their choice:  but they should accept the gift of Open Source software, and not make unfair of proprietary software.  For it is unfair:  unfair to the legitimate users who pay, and unfair to the competitors whose work is spurned for something that its users should not even have.

* The fallacy is: You actually save a full £500 by not paying for Cheap Office, if you aren't paying for MS Office either.

Saturday, 6 July 2013


My Asterisk server packed up two weeks ago and I've only just got round to installing its replacement.  (By the way, telephonistas: If you install a version of Dahdi that is too new for your Asterisk version, you'll need to rebuild Asterisk.  The clue is to rerun ./configure and make menuselect.  If chan_dahdi is XXX'ed out, you need a new Asterisk.)  Of course, it did more than Asterisk; it also published the telemetry data from my solar panels, so I've been unsure of how much I've been generating at any given time for a fortnight.  The generation meter next to the fusebox has still been clocking up the units, of course, but I've been too slack to read that.

This is actually low-carbon cooking!  The small burner uses 850 watts.  At the time of cooking, the inverter output was of the order of 1.5 kW.  All the electricity needed to run the hotplate was coming from the sun; therefore, the process of cooking generated no CO2.  Using the gas cooker would have generated some CO2, but less than generating electricity plus waste heat in a power station, then sending it over a lossy transmission network to heat the electric hotplate.

But also while the sun has been shining, my thoughts have been turning to .....  POWER!  While I'm doing nine to life, selling my brain to The Company, I'm doing nothing with several kilowatt-hours of energy.  Now, I get paid for them; but, due to the way the installation is carried out, I would still get paid for them even if I used them myself instead of electricity I was paying for.  Which is equivalent to getting paid double!

What I am on the lookout for now, is a 3 kVA UPS  (the biggest thing it has to be able to run is the washing machine, which asks for 2.2 kW when heating the water.  I can do laundry in the dark if I have to)  and four nice big leisure batteries  (this size UPS takes a 48 volt battery pack), plus a suitable charging arrangement.  Now here it gets interesting.  A small leisure battery is 50 Ah.  At 48 volts, that's 2400 Wh.  Even with a conversion efficiency of just 85%, which is almost certainly a pessmistic estimate, that's still just over 2 kWh.  Enough for 2 loads of laundry on the trot, anyway.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Disclosure: Whose Business Is It Anyway?

O.K.  Your turn to be judge, jury and -- if you so wish -- executioner in some made-up-cases.

A, a "devout and committed" vegan who boasts that they would never have sex with anyone who was not also a vegan, meets B in a vegan restaurant.  A chemistry soon develops between the couple and, after several meetings either on neutral territory or A's home, they have intimate relations.  Some time later, A discovers that B is not a vegan.

Has B committed a sexual offence by failing to disclose their omnivorous diet, which -- had A known of it in advance -- would have been grounds for withdrawal of consent?
Side question, no extra marks, just something to ponder:  Would it make any difference who did what to whom?  (B was acting at all times in good faith that A was consenting and a willing participant.)
C, a supporter of Celtic Football Club, meets D; who, unbeknownst to C, is a supporter of Glasgow Rangers F.C.  Stepping into the light following a knee-tremble in the bushes outside, C spots a "Rangers FC" tattoo on D's body; which was previously covered by D's coat, and was not noticeable in the gloom before the sexual encounter proper.

Has D committed a sexual offence by failing to disclose their sporting allegiance, which -- had C known in advance -- would have been grounds for withdrawal of consent?
And another one:
E, who has a severe phobia of insects, encounters F.  A relationship eventually develops, and leads to sex.  E discovers that F is a lecturer in entomology at a local college, and subsequently claims to feel as though beetles are crawling all over their skin whenever they think of F.

Did F commit any sexual offence by not mentioning, before the event, the potentially-phobia-triggering fact that they worked with insects?
Well, analogously to this court ruling, they would have.  Well, at least they would have if the plaintiff was transphobic and the defendant was transsexual.  Because the rules are just different for us  :(

O.K., so you probably shouldn't jump into bed without first establishing that there are no potential deal-breakers lurking under the surface.  But in those sorts of cases, surely it's up to the fussy person to ask the other person if they might have some non-obvious grounds for denial of consent?  "Wait -- are you a vegan, too?  Because I could never f**k someone who gorged themself on the rotting flesh of animal corpses." is surely a lot more reasonable than "I didn't know it was rape until I saw B in McDonalds".

And if a partner was man or woman enough for you at the time, and you only later feel a sense of revulsion after discovering that they were transsexual, well, you should have asked first.  Because you are the one with the problem  (refusal to sleep with a subset of people sharing some certain non-obvious or low-obviety characteristic, and feeling icky afterwards if you discovered that you had inadvertently done so).  And if you are embarrassed at the thought of having to ask a potential partner "Have you always been like that down there?", maybe you're actually transphobic and embarrassed by that.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

This is a song about a famous train wreck .....

.....  Co-incidentally, it was about a famous train wreck before I changed the words.

Oh, they gave her her orders at Guardian Headquarters
Saying "Burch, we're way behind
"We've been losing readers since 1997
"You must whip 'em to a frenzy this time!"

Julie Burchill turned across to her spoilt, paying intern
And said, "Shovel on a little more hate
"And then when we get out there and the presses are a-rollin'
"We can watch those tr*nnies disintegrate!"

She was writing out bull$#!t, making ninety words a minute
When they heard a piercing scream
'Cause the ink in her fountain pen had overheated
And she vanished in a cloud of blue steam!

When the money from the advertising slowed to a trickle
They said, "Sorry -- that article stank!"
If you print harsh words about a minority
You can eat crow all the way to the bank!

Now all I need is a time machine, and then I can go back to when it was actually topical  :)

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

I'm on a train!

I'm posting this from a train, using tethering to my Android phone.  Ubuntu just recognised it.

I'm on a train returning from sorting out a crisis for my Partner In Crime.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Thatcher is dead .....

.....  So what?

Has Britain's manufacturing industry been rebuilt?
Have the privatised utilities been renationalised?
Have the shipyards reopened?
Have the coal mines reopened, and the rifts within the mining communities been healed?
Do schoolkids get free milk again now?

A frail old lady has passed away.  Well, wake me up when something interesting happens.  (And I don't mean rioting, looting, damaging property and arson.  I fully expect all that.)

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Sun almost get it right!

After a whole bunch of transphobic screeds in the media, this article is actually pretty benign by the standards of The Sun:  (Yes, The Sun. You have been warned.)

They at least refer to Nicole as a woman throughout the article.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Nicole is conventionally beautiful and very "passable".

This being The Sun, of course, they manage to turn her into an object, using gratuitous underwear shots to "prove" how feminine she is.  But at least they are objectifying her fully as a woman, rather than presenting her as some kind of freak.  And some would say points should be docked for the gratuitous inclusion of boypix and boyname; but some people are more comfortable than others with mention of their previous lives, and for all I know, maybe Nicole is cool with this.

So, yes, the article is misogynistic -- but it's not particularly transphobic, compared to how it could have been written.  She is only being beaten with one stick, instead of two.  I would love to think this is a sign, however dim, that we should hope for better.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

It's the Big Day!

My solar installation team have arrived and now they are getting stuff ready.

(I should have posted this just after 09:00 yesterday, but events sort of conspired against me.)

Anyway, all was up and running by 16:00; and the last couple of hours of daylight produced 0.45 kWh of electricity.

I have also learned that the human eye is utterly lousy for measuring light intensity. But I guess that's why cameras have exposure meters .....

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Solar Payback Calculator

The "important solar calculation" below has been turned into a handy online calculator.  You can access it here.

Once you have had your site survey, you will receive a quotation for the installation and an estimated annual generation figure.  The brochures for your panels will include figures for degradation in performance due to ageing.  With these figures, you can determine the system output over its lifetime; and thence the equivalent cost per kWh treating the purchase of the generating system as a single bulk purchase of electricity.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Latest Developments on Solar Project

I now have my Energy Performance Certificate.  Montoya Mansions has earned a "D", 59 points.  Things like "energy saving light bulbs throughout"  (since 1996, for the record -- Ed.)  and "biomass secondary heating"  (my gorgeous log burner in the living room)  helped.  Solid walls, and only 100 mm. of loft insulation under the boards, did not.  Also, not having a room thermostat  (which I could leave cranked up to 30 all the time anyway)  on the  (non-condensing, but pilotless)  combi boiler counts against me, despite there being no suitable location for a room thermostat and all radiators having thermostatic valves -- but this is what happens when you prioritise box-ticking above thinking.

I also have my application forms for the feed-in tariff  (which I will need to send off as soon as I have the installation certificate),  a confirmed installation date for the solar panels, and a mini-statement from the cash machine shows that the cheque with which I paid the deposit has been cashed.  Things are moving forward .....

Solar Power: The Important Calculations

When deciding whether installing solar panels is worth it financially, you need to consider the system as a bulk purchase of electricity:  for the up-front price of the system, you are effectively getting all the electricity that it will generate over its lifetime.

The panels are reckoned to last for 25 years; after which time they will still be producing 0.8 of their rated capacity.  The inverter has no moving parts, so that should also last the 25 years.  Meaning, I will have paid just £5049 for all the electricity I am going to be producing over those 25 years.

Is that going to be worth it, compared to the price of electricity from my supplier?

My installer's  (pessimistic)  estimate is for 1400 kWh per year -- it probably will be more than that, in real life.  So over 25 years, that is a total of 35 000 kWh.  For £5049.  That works out at £0.144257143 = 14.43 p per kWh, which is less than I'm paying right now.  (I could do the calculation accounting for reduction in output, but I know that the installers' estimates are on the low side anyway.  Oh, all right.  At 25 years, the output will be 0.8 of what it is now; 1120 kWh/year.  £5049/25 for 1120 units is £0.180321429 = 18.03 p per kWh.  Due to the way this is decreasing, the most accurate average is the geometric mean -- the square root of the product.  So 16.12p.)

Even if the price of electricity doesn't go up, I am still going to come off better out of this deal :)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Montoya Mansions is going Solar Powered

Montoya Mansions is to become solar-powered!

I've had a very reasonable quotation to install solar panels on my roof.  They will be able to fit a 2kW system  (eight 250W panels)  in the clear space available  (the space immediately next to the chimney is unusable, as it would be in shadow in the afternoon; and the chimney is very much in use, for disposal of combustion products from my wood-burning stove).

Although the amount I am going to be able to generate is  (I hate to admit)  rather less than the amount I use, it is still worth it.  Electricity isn't getting any cheaper.  Even if the price per kilowatt-hour stays the same, the system should have paid for itself within 11 years.  And sooner if it goes up; since I'm effectively paying in advance for as much electricity as can I generate.  Whatever I generate and use, I won't have to pay for.

And if I can somehow reduce my consumption to the level of what I can generate, then I'm going to be up on the deal, since the rebate is paid on the assumption that you use half yourself and export the rest.

Anyway, having paid my deposit, there is now a statutory cooling-off period of 7 working days before they are allowed to begin the installation work; during which time, I am free to change my mind and ask for my money back.  The clock is already beginning to seem to take a long time between ticks .....

Watch this space for news.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Yes, actually: *Do* sweat the small stuff

There's an idea going around that we shouldn't be bothered about small things because there are bigger things going on elsewhere in the world that should be of greater concern.  Why should someone care about a nightclub refusing entry to someone wearing the wrong sort of shoes, when there is institutionalised racism, sexism, homophobia, you name it?  Why should someone care about Britain reducing its CO2 emissions, when China is bringing so many coal-fired plants online?

Unfortunately, that is exactly the wrong way to think.

Because the thing is:  well, actually, it's twofold.

Firstly, the "small stuff" is precisely what keeps the "big stuff" going.  It gives your enemies a convenient excuse to carry on with what they are doing, knowing that somebody else in the world is getting away with a less-serious version of the same thing.  After all, what is a flood, other than a lot of little drops of water?  Hell, in China, they probably are using the excuse that London is ten centimetres deep in discarded sweet wrappers as justification for continuing to build more coal-fired power stations.

And secondly, the "small stuff" is by definition, exactly what we are most likely to be in a position actually to be able to do something about right now.  I can also tell you that having successfully convinced even a desperate and failing nightclub to change their door policy will make you feel like .....  well, just pick your favourite character from the history of the struggle against inequality, I wouldn't want to annoy anybody with inappropriate comparisons involving their hero(ine)?.  You will be stoked up with your success, and feel ready and able to take on all the institutionalised discrimination in the world.

If we don't start doing something right now, we'll end up simply accepting "small stuff" as normal.  And all that will achieve will be to make the "big stuff" look proportionately smaller.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Comment is Free -- and this comment is overpriced

Julie Burchill has written a nasty, transphobic screed in Comment is Free in today's Observer.

The piece can be found here: WARNING: Sick bag recommended.

Background:  Suzanne Moore -- who is a personal friend of Burchill -- made a thoughtless remark that society's ideal shape for a woman's body is that of a Brazilian transsexual.  When it was pointed out to her that this was insensitive and why, instead of apologising and moving on like an adult, Moore doubled down.

Today, Burchill uses her position of privilege to vomit a piece of cliché-ridden bile not so much in support of her friend, but simply against trans women.  Her thesis being that we are somehow inferior to "natural-born women".  Sorry, but with friends using phrases like "dicks in chicks' clothing" and "bed-wetters in bad wigs", who needs enemies?

I was more accepted as a woman by a bunch of builders shouting "Show us your tits, love!" from the safety of their scaffolding, than by this Julie Burchill.

I will be complaining to the authorities about this.  (Read how to complain here -- thanks to the F word UK)  The article is quite evidently illegal hate speech.  It would also be nice to see a court order that any advertising revenues earned from printing this filth be forfeit.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Casualties of Prohibition

Six people are in hospital, and one remains in a critical condition after taking what was supposed to be the drug 2CB  (but could have been anything -- they bought it over the Internet -- Julie.)  in Jesmond, Tyne and Wear:

Make no mistake, these people are casualties of prohibition.  By which I mean that their situation is attributable to the illegality of 2CB.  This whole situation would never have happened, if recreational drugs were legal.

They did not know what they were taking, or how much, because it was illegal. Which is a recipe for an overdose.  It's no more illegal to sell mislabelled or adulterated drugs than properly-labelled, clean  drugs, so there is absolutely no incentive for quality control.   And people who are having a bad experience with illegal drugs tend to hold off from involving the authorities for as long as possible, for fear of incriminating themselves and their friends and family; sometimes, they leave it too late.

A chocolate bar will have an ingredients list and a nutritional breakdown, showing how much fat and sugar it contains.  If there is a likelihood that it may contain trace amounts of allergens, this also will be displayed on the packaging.  Someone needing hospital treatment for a severe allergic reaction to a trace of hazelnut in a chocolate bar is not going to be given the third degree about where they bought the chocolate, and threatened with a prison sentence if they do not inform on the shopkeeper who sold it to them.

Prohibition kills.  It really is that simple.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013