Monday, January 25, 2010

Conmen and unsolicited callers

I have a shameful secret. Months and months ago, we were given a new fridge. The old one was moved into the back garden, and for a while was used for storing various things. My daughter drew over it in indelible pen, her trademark footballers and young men.

After a few weeks, we agreed we should get the council to come and take it away. The fridge migrated to the front garden and my son tried to sign up for collection through the council website... but their form was broken. Time passed.

As long as I don't actually have to scale a mountain of discarded fridges to get to my computer, I don't much notice stuff. The fridge was hidden behind our people carrier, and it was only occasionally that I thought, gosh, must phone the council. The trouble is, it would go right out of my mind as soon as I crossed the threshold, or it would be out of hours or whatever. There's no real excuse, it was lazy and unnecessary - although if the online form had been working, we would hae done it straight away.

It wasn't until I heard someone say, in a stand up act, last weekend "you don't want to be sent to live in the sort of council estate where the neighbours have a fridge in the garden" that I realised that what I had done or not done might be annoying the neighours. Despite this, I still didn't call the council, because I forgot again, after the weekend, being focussed on all the stuff I have to do, and my tax return.

Then, there was a knock at the door. It was a charming young man with an Irish accent, who asked if I wanted the fridge disposed of. I said no, the council would come and get it, I'd just not contacted them. He said that for £20 he would take it away to the dump, and it would be gone, no need to wait. I hesitated, because nowadays £20 is not a small amount of money, and I knew I could get it done for nothing by the council. Bu I was feeling so guilty for not having done anything about it before... I said yes, they shifted it into their van, and I handed over the £20.

Last night, my husband came home from the pub with the news that the flats down the road had suddenly acquired a new decoration. A rather recognisable fridge, with very recognisable decoration had appeared in the car park. All the neighbours are wondering if we had moved our fridge from our garden to theirs, to get rid of it. The nice Irish boys had moved it 50 yards down the road before dumping it out again.

What with that, and the fact that a new large dog somewhere in the road is barking incessantly at night, which I am sure our neighbours will think is our dog, as I have more than once mistaken the other dog's bark for Toby... we're beginning to look like the problem family of the neighbourhood. They already think we're nuts for home educating.

The moral of this story, is not to procrastinate and not to accept kind offers from charming callers at the door. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Blog

I've been blogging for 12 years, off and on. I started my first blog within a few weeks of going online, in 1998, and I blogged nearly every day for the next six months. It was like a diary and yet not a diary and I was feeling my way around the newness of it all... one of only a handful of UK blogs at a time when the majority of websites and online journals were American.

A few years ago, I realised that the subjects I blogged about fell under certain headings, reflecting my interests... home education, genealogy, Second Life, Quakers. I realised that the people I knew in home education would probably not be interested in my Second Life material, and those who were genealogists were probably not interested in Quakers etc. So I split my blogging between different blogs, one for each subject.

The trouble is, I'm busy doing all those things plus trying to earn money, and so I don't have that much time to write for my own enjoyment, and so I tended only to blog once every few days. That meant that all my blogs looked sluggish and uncared for, and it was an effort to maintain them and to maintain a train of thought with any coherence. So a few weeks ago I decided to maintain this blog as my main blog, and to blog about whatever took my fancy.

I've been wavering about my decision ever since for the good reasons that I feel that my interests are quite separate... but I am continuing with it for the time being. I've decided to try to label my posts more systematically, so that it will (hopefully) be possible for someone to subscribe and see at once whether the current post will be of any interest to them.

I don't often get feedback except in Japanese or Chinese... and I tend to delete those comments because I don't know what they say.

Life has been a bit stressful and difficult over the past few weeks, and I have wanted to blog about things, but I always bear in mind that when I blog, it isn't just my life I am blogging, but the lives of those nearest and dearest to me. I'm in a bit of a bind, because to blog the way I'd like to blog, I would share things about other people and what they do, which I can only do safely if I anonymise the blog... but if I did that, set one up so that I could talk freely without breaking out details of other people's lives, I would have to keep off the unique collection of interests that I blog about, or be fairly quickly recognisable.

So. I've decided that I'll continue with this random blog for three months and see where it takes me. Feedback welcome.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anti-science, pro-homeopathy

I don't really read BoingBoing any more, except when I mosey on over to make a suggestion for an item, but I spotted the article about the 10:23 event in Boots, and it made me very cross.

The group describe themselves as pro-science, anti-homeopathy as though those two things go together hand-in-hand. The reason I feel cross about it, is that I have personal experience of homeopathy which leads me to think it has a discernible effect, even though convetional medicine cannot tell me what it is. Conventional medicine can't explain the effect in acupuncture either.

It is the arrogance of people who say they are pro-science, believing that they can use logic to decide whether or not homeopathy is effective, rather than science, even though they profess to be pro-science. You can't. A lot of things which don't seem to make sense are scientifically proven, not least the behaviour of water, which is central to homeopathic method.

There are so many complex things tied up in my response to this protest. Firstly, no-one is forcing them to use or take homeopathic medicines... but that's not good enough for them, they want to prevent other people from using them. Even if the effect in homeopathy is solely part of the placebo effect - and I don't think it is, personally - there are no side effects or drawbacks to homeopathic medicine, which is more than can be said for most allopathic medicines.

And finally... they may be mistaken. New Scientist reported last year that experiments in Belfast designed to prove once and for all that there could be nothing in homeopathy in fact proved the opposite - that there may be an effect which is not understood by science. It seems to me that there may be something very important to be learned about the way that substances interact with water, which could be scientifically established.

Unfortunately, this group are too busy trying to impose their views on you and me to actually look at the science. It's very useful to have a group of people who can tell without experimentation, without experience, without any specialist knowledge, what will work and what won't. It doesn't seem terrifically scientific though.

I hate arrogance, and I hate people who profess one point of view while living another. And I don't like being told what I can and can't do. In any case, as I pointed out on the BoingBoing comment thread, 180,000 people were apparently killed by their stay in hospital last year. It is possible for a person to kill themselves by discontinuing needed medication and only taking homeopathy, but I really don't think homeopathic treatment will have killed anyone. That alone is reason enough to demand the choice of using it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aid Haitus

It's been painful to look at the news over the past week, since the earthquake in Haiti. It's too easy to imagine how many people must be trapped there by very small amounts of concrete or debris... I saw film of a sweet little girl of two, who was able to walk out of the building she had been trapped in once a little bit of the structure was moved.

Often when these things happen, I tend to do what I can, donating money if I can afford it, and then I stop reading the news, because I think it can simply make one depressed, without any prospect of being able to change things.

One thing made me very angry though. Some people broke into the remains of a supermarket, and it appeared that either the UN peacekeepers (!) or local police, were firing at them for that.

If you have been caught in the middle of a disaster of the scale of Haiti - or Katrina before that - I do not think that looting food from a destroyed supermarket should be illegal and prevented. It makes no sense to me that humanitarian aid should be inhumane. If there were foodstuffs and water available in the wrecked supermarket, and people who required foodstuffs and water still not reached by the aid which is flooding to Haiti, then they should have been allowed to take and distribute it. It's different if they are looting TVs and people's possessions. Or trying to make a fast buck out of the food.

I can't understand why the surviving members of Haiti's government and local government aren't organising what can be organised, and that's one of the things that could be organised: commandeering the water and foodstuffs that are available in the ruins.

America has promised help and aid, and although we may be suspicious of their motives, there is no doubting that they are sending massive numbers of people and equipment. What America has proved over and over is that they are a lumbering administration which takes a long time to take decisions, with a massive hierarchy. The length of time it took them to respond to the effects of hurricane Katrina in their own country showed that they take a long time to get their act together. It seemed that journalists from other countries around the word were achieving more in terms of on-the-ground help initially than the army and officials who were there.

It is frustrating that, once again, news teams seemed able to respond, get to the area in question with their equipment and supplies far faster than any government could get aid to the same area. That the UN were concentrating on trying to rescue their own personnel was understandable... but when they progressed to policing the area rather than trying to help the people who are stuck there without food and water and medical help, it made me angry.

I hope that the delay in getting aid to the people who need it is purely logistical, and there aren't people from agencies and governments around arguing the toss about who should be in charge of what. Unfortunately, due to sheer numbers and firepower, it seems likely the Americans will be in charge. I hope that works out well for Haiti and not badly. I hope America has pure motives and not the usual power-, land-, oil-, and money-grabbing motives which seem to be behind nearly everything they have done in the past few years, when they have marched into other countries. I used to have the same faith in Obama that the Americans had, but the fact that Guantanamo is still open has undermined that trust.

In the end, in this sort of situation, it should be people and not things or assets, which are important. For many people, trapped in their homes, time has already run out. For many thousands of others, their health and continued existence depends on the people who arebringing aid, defeating the logistical challenges, getting the right stuff to the right people, and doing it quickly. I pray that they will.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I was contacted on Facebook earlier today by a couple of people asking to be my friends, which started me thinking about the subject in general. I don't know these people, they are friends of friends, and Facebook had suggested that they might like to friend me.

Friend means different things in different places, and has different implications. I would never add someone to my MSN list unless I felt I knoew them fairly well, although I have added people I have only met in SL, and not in real life. When I joined Kaneva I found that people regarded friending as simply a way of building up a profile, and at the beginning everyone would fall on a newbie and friend them.

In Second Life, most of my friends are people I know pretty well, because I purge my list after a month or so... if I have allowed someone to befriend me and they haven't talked to me since, then I will purge them from my list.

Facebook has always been a mixture of friends, family and people I know a bit in different places. I wrote to the people asking to befriend me and asked if I actually knew them - I knew their names but I didn't know them personally. I've been a bit alarmed by the changes in privacy policy, realising that I post pictures of my children, and they post things too, which I wouldn't necessarily want just anyone to be able to see. I'm beginning to realise that I haen't been as protective of my privacy as I ought to have been.

I did something I have been meaning to do for some time - I removed the people from my friend's list that I simply knew by repute or because we had inhabited the same mailing lists etc, and pared my friends list down to people I feel I know really well. Then I felt less mean about refusing the friendship requests I had this morning.

My feeling is that I have quite a lot of public places where people can contact me - on twitter, by email, in Second Life. I don't need to invite them into my facebook in order for them to contact me if they wish to do so. Sorry if I purged you.