Saturday, 10 January 2015

blogger layout mysteries

I have been slowly getting to grips with the idiosyncrasies of the way Blogger organises it's page layouts. When you set up your page, you have a number of different options to suit your own taste. They are quite limited though and for those of us who have had some experience of using desktop publishing programs like Pagemaker, setting up you page in Blogger can be a frustrating exercise.

Then, if you decide later that you want to change the layout, it has a knock on effect on everything you have ever published. If you have set text to line up with photographs for instance, it can throw the whole layout out of alignment.

Fortunately, help is at hand as a quick search on Google with a brief description of what you want will generally produce a solution. It has to do with the fact that you are able to fine tune your page using the web page language HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language).

Unfortunately, I don't do HTML so when I find a solution to my problem, I am given a set of instructions that I don't understand. To get round this problem, I simply copy the HTML code used in the suggestion offered on the web and paste in into my page. This doesn't always give me the result I want. 

What I am trying to say is, don't be surprised if my blog starts to look a bit strange over the next few weeks as I experiment with my page. The good part however, is that with using HTML, I can modify everything past where I insert the code so it doesn't bugger up all my previous entries.


I was trawling through the internet looking for a cartoon to decorate another piece I was writing for this blog when I happened upon some work by Gerard Hoffnung.

His is an interesting story. Beginning with his escape from Nazi Germany to the UK as a small child, he later gained fame as a cartoonist, musician (he played the Tuba) and later as a broadcaster and public speaker. He died aged only 34 from a cerebral haeomorrhage.

This chance discovery led me on to a recording of a famous speech he gave to the Oxford Union in 1958. Entitled "The Bricklayers' Lament", it's an absolutely hilarious account of the story of an unfortunate bricklayer. The tale itself has uncertain origins, probably dating back to the Music Hall traditions of the 1920s but his was considered to be the definitive version.

It would be a good idea at this point to listen to the recording. You may well have heard some version of it either spoken or set to music but this one is the real thing. You can carry on reading when you stop laughing.

Sadly, you don't get to hear much about Hoffnung today which is a shame.

In any case, the tale was turned into a song called "The Sick Note" by Irish singer/songwriter Pat Cooksey. 
This song was then taken up and in some cases, recorded by other artists and resulted in a number of copyright issues eventually resolved by the Performing Rights Society London.

One of the musicians to record this song under the title "Murphy and the Bricks" was another Irish singer/songwriter called Noel Murphy. According to his Wikipedia entry, this record actually made it into the UK singles chart although  I haven't been able to find any other reference to this.

By co-incidence, I was having another trawl this week, this time through an enormous folder of old scanned negatives and while doing so, happened to come across some pictures I had taken at the 5th Cambridge Folk Festival back in 1969.

Folk music goes in and out of fashion and when out of fashion, as it rather is now, it's quite easy to forget how influential it actually is. In the 60s it was hugely popular and a number of famous people in the music business started out there. One of the artists at the 1st Cambridge Folk Festival was a young Paul Simon playing his song "Homeward Bound", written on Widnes Railway Station.

In 1969, I was serving as a Photographic Technician at RAF Wyton (home to most of the Royal Air Force UK photographic reconnaissance capability), situated between Huntingdon and St Ives in Cambridgeshire. The base had a very popular folk club with all the famous acts of the day performing there. One of those acts included Noel Murphy who brought with him a Scottish banjo player he introduced as "Shaggis". Noel Murphy had appeared at the RAF Wyton Folk Club before and said he always liked coming back because he could never remember leaving. We had a cheap bar.

Noel Murphy and Shaggis in 1969
Anyway, Noel Murphy and his sidekick "Shaggis" also appeared at the 5th Cambridge Folk Festival which is where I managed to get some pictures of them performing. Some of the sharper eyed of you will recognise "Shaggis" as being Davey Johnstone the guitarist who went on to find fame with Magna Carta and the Elton John Band who he still plays with today.

If you click on the link below, you can listen to a live recording of the Noel Murphy (without Shaggis) version of the The Bricklayer's Lament which he called "Murphy and the Bricks".

lack of connections

I tend to go on a lot about the idiots who share the obviously fake stories about Romanian immigrants kidnapping children from ASDA supermarkets (link here) or local authorities/schools banning Christmas in case it offends Muslims, etc., etc. (link here)

A similar problem exists with the equally daft, gullible idiots who send you those Facebook pages offering to show "shocking" images of fairground accidents/people being eaten by sharks, etc., etc. 

What actually happens is that if you do click the link, you are taken to another site where you have to register using your personal details. You will then be asked to fill in a questionnaire with the offer of a prize if you do. There is no prize of course, just another questionnaire. The result is you and anyone unfortunate enough to be your friend then gets bombarded with spam. Unless you are a champion idiot, then you will have given them your bank details as well so they can pay your "prize" into your account.

A good example of the stupidity of people was the DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack on games platforms over the Christmas period by an organisation calling itself the Lizard Squad. In order to carry out this type of attack you have to have control of a large number of computers. So how do they get control of large numbers of computers? 

Easy, all you need is lots and lots of idiots; you know the ones, they are the people who sent you the post about how a Wiltshire Church was being turned into a Mosque and all the bodies were going to be dug up out of the graveyard. Yes, those ones.

They are the sort of idiot who will go on line without having proper anti-virus software on their computer or device. They are the sort of idiot who will download pirated games and records from websites run by criminal gangs and then seem all surprised when they discover that they have been hacked. They are the sort of idiot who will open an attachment running a script which gives the details of how to claim your 8.5 million dollar prize from the Microsoft/Google/Facebook Lottery you never entered.

If you think that there aren't than many idiots, think again. To run a DDoS attack, you need to have control of tens or even hundreds of thousands of computers. The Amy Hamilton kidnap hoax was shared by over 250,000 people.

Here are a few simple rules to help keep you safe and also prevent the web being cluttered up with rubbish.

1. If it looks too good to be true, it is.

2. Never share a Facebook post which asks you to share it before Googling it first to see if it is genuine; there are a number of websites which regularly publish details of hoaxes and it's very easy to sign up to them. They will give you regular updates of recent scams and advice on how to avoid them. Most of the examples I have given in this piece come from Hoax Slayer. If you join their Facebook page, they will send you regular updates of the most popular scams to watch out for. Snopes is also worth visiting.

3. Install anti-virus software. If you are a real cheapskate, there are even some free ones about. They won't offer the kind of protection a paid version will but they are a whole lot better than nothing.

Free AV utilities include AVG and Comodo.

If you do think that your security is worth paying for, the only one to consider is ESET. I don't get paid for saying this. You can buy multi licences if you are running a number of devices and works on all platforms except Apple (there's a surprise). There is even a version for Linux if you are a serious belt and braces type person.

Flower power

A butterfly flew past me on Friday as I was tidying up the garden. It went past too quickly for me to identify it but it is a symptom of the exceptionally mild weather we have been having of late. Our Lavender is still in flower as is a Hebe hedge and we still have pots of flowering Lilies.

The BBC is reporting the results of a survey of plants still in flower on New Year's Day, in it they claim that instead of the usual 20 or 30, there are a record 368.

The latest weather forecast suggests that it may all be coming to an end soon so make the most of it while you can.

the jobcentre is looking for dossers

No, really. The BBC has reported that the huge and impossibly complex CMS computer payment and management system used by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is going to have a makeover. 

Unfortunately, the whole system still runs on MS DOS and it seems that nobody knows how it works anymore. They have decided to try and recruit someone who is still familiar with this old system. 

There are probably few people working in IT today who will ever have used it, or if they did, remember how it worked. I used to be able to do some limited programming in DOS once upon a time but would struggle to cope with it now and I could never take on a project this size. 

I know from personal experience while working for Jobcenter Plus that the bit of the system we used to process Jobseeker's Allowance claims (the Jobseeker's Allowance Payment System, or JSAPS for short) was amazingly complicated to use and that was just a small part of it.

Whoever takes this on is going to be very busy and the consequences of it going completely wrong 
are too terrifying to consider.

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