Comprehensive Uncle TechTip Simulator

Around 1988–1991 there was a weekly computer magazine in the UK called New Computer Express. This period coincided roughly with the time I was a freelance writer in the same field.

For childish reasons now lost to time, a group of us freelancers had a major hate-on for  NCE’s advice columnist. Writing under the name Uncle TechTip, this columnist seemed to answer most questions with something like “Hmm, I don’t know anything about _____. Maybe a reader can help?” Almost without fail, he’d have readers write in answers for next week’s issue.

Not realizing that Uncle TT’s economy of response was a sly precursor to crowdsourcing websites, the neophyte journo brigade were incensed by his lack of knowledge. One of us wrote an Uncle TechTip Simulator in BASIC, which I recreate from memory for your enjoyment:

10 CLS
15 PRINT " *** Uncle TechTip Simulator ***"
20 PRINT
25 INPUT "What is your question for Uncle TechTip";a$
30 PRINT
35 PRINT "Uncle TechTip's Answer: "
40 PRINT
45 PRINT "Hmm, I don't know anything about"
50 PRINT " ";a$;" ..."
55 PRINT "Maybe a reader can help?"

Why Scotland should leave the UK

A Saturday morning queue for emigration ID photos on the Kirkintilloch High Street made me realise that Scotland wasn’t meeting the employment needs of its people. People in line were happily swapping stories of what they’d do after they’d had their photo taken, and departed for Canada, New Zealand, Australia or the USA. Although I was one of the happy band, it made me realize that Scotland was a country that people were lining up to leave. If the country you’re born in can’t offer you the best opportunities, it’s just not being run properly.

Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, not really by design, but by the coincidence of geography and 300+ year old expediency. Having provided England with a source of reliably non-Catholic monarchs the century before, Scotland of the early eighteenth century was dirt-poor from an ill-advised foray into Central American colonialism. Of course a union made sense in that time of empire building. It worked as a union for at least a couple of centuries, but like any marriage where the parties grow apart, grow unequal, or grow contemptuous, it’s a union that clearly has a time limit.

Part of the problem of being a minority partner in any endeavour is representation. Even though the union is one of nominal equals, when one is only 10% of the whole there can be little chance of the smaller party’s needs being met. In my technical sphere, 10% is typically considered rounding error; you can conventionally ignore that small part and still assume the whole of the system is included in your results. With different social priorities than the rest of the union, Scotland – sometimes a great nation in terms of its aspirations – can’t meet the needs of the people who live there without local control and responsibility. No-one wishes to spend their life as rounding error.

Viewing the independence discussion from afar is an odd situation for me. Abstracted from the daily local squabbles, I can appear to be detached. I must also guard against having an overly fierce opinion of something that isn’t going to greatly affect my life in Canada, while those in Scotland will have to live through it. What is clear, however, is the strange imbalance in the campaigns: Yes is all fired up, with positivity and community support by the truckload. No seems curiously muted; no grassroots, all cold reason and no heart. To see the energy even in National Collective‘s online presence reminds me of Barrie’s rather sly compliment to his countryfolk: “There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scot[…] on the make.

Old JMB might have had less altruistic intentions with his words, but there is a great beauty in the energy of the pro-independence creatives making the idea of a new country. I just hope they’re backed with enough practical nous to get voters to the polls on the day, for that’s all that counts in a referendum.

The No arguments are leaden in comparison: Vote No Because That Bloke on the Telly Says So (remember, actors say the lines that people pay them to say); Vote No Because We [the UK] Love You, Please Stay (apart from sounding a bit creepy, haven’t they ever heard of “if you love someone, set them free” …?); Vote No Because You Won’t Get Access to London’s Lovely Jobs if You Leave (um, this appears not even to be a thing for all the Canadians who live and work in the US – a border is not a barrier). There just doesn’t seem to be a positive way of saying No.

Not all of the Yes proposals are entirely advisable, though. The issue of oil is a huge distraction. It may turn out to be of more value to leave it there unexploited, as a source of long-term carbon store revenue. Many people also bridle at Alex Salmond’s bluff facility, and of his standing as a statesman, I’m not a fan. Where he does shine, however, in his ability to be a canny negotiator. Scotland’s going to need a ferocious advocate to fight its corner in any independence talks, and Salmond is just the right kind of bastard to lead this. I would not be too keen if he stuck around as El Presidente for any great time afterwards, though.

To say No seems to me to defer the inevitable, at a time when the ruling party of the Divided Queendom could turn vindictive if Scotland sticks around. A referendum would come around again and again, each time the arguments becoming increasingly more abject. Best to do it now, and not defer the hard work of taking responsibility for Scotland’s future. Would you prefer to shirk as if you’re stuck in the latter days of a bitter nation, or rather take on the role of building the country you want?

Toast (Trad., Scot.) feat. Maynard K
Toast (Trad., Scot.) feat. Maynard K

Actually, I don’t think that the Notional Past was being ironic

It’s hard to call anything “breakaway” when the combined current ages of the proponents would put them born in the same week as Lord  Rayleigh. The major schism would be over who had the more outlandish hat: radar station vs lampshade.

RIP Michael Foot

We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of their initiative, I would answer ‘To hell with them.’ The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.

— Michael Foot, 1983

i wonder if these are as bad as i remember?

Ladies and germs, I give you … pickled onion Monster Munch. Let me get back to you on how they taste.


… deep fried barf is the best I can come up with. Crispy, yet vile. By the end of the bag, my tastebuds gave in, leaving me to lever the compressed corn pulp from my molars. It feels like I’ve ScotchGarded the inside of my mouth. Just as I remember them, then.

Energy Saving Trust’s field trial of domestic wind turbines

The Energy Saving Trust field trial of domestic wind turbines pretty much calls time on rooftop wind on the UK. Paul Gipe is less than impressed with the content and findings of the report.

shock! this just in …

Research by the National House Building Council foundation (who represent more than 90% of plain ordinary non-ecohome McMansions built in the UK, unlike these guys) shows that buyers are not interested in ecohomes. Well I never!

this is moronic

British, Irish pints prevail over EU’s imperial ban

The exceptions include pint bottles for milk and pints of draught beer and cider, miles for road signs and speed markers and the troy ounce for precious metals.

In its public consultations on the question, the EU said consumers and teachers were largely in favour of the metric system. It found industry groups, companies and national governments feared metric-only labels in part because they would disrupt trade with the United States, which does not allow such labels.

Let’s think about this: the only measure you’re likely to sell to the US is  the pint. The market for items sold by the mile is somewhat smaller. The totally, utterly stupid thing about this is that UK pints are a different size than US pints (568ml vs 473ml), so they’d have to use different labels anyway. No one under 40 in the UK was taught imperial units, so who is pushing this agenda, and why aren’t they dead yet?

the reluctant rockstar of climate change

I was at Nicholas Stern‘s presentation to the Economic Club of Toronto today (as was Bob, David, Deb, Glenn, Paul, and about 490 others). He was very low-key; not sure if his dry sense of humour got the response he expected. The CBC covered it.

a bit better than before

I just ran the fuel numbers for our recent grand trip to Missouri. For 4380km in a Honda Civic DX, we used about 292 litres of fuel. That works out to be 6.7l/100km (or 42.3 / 35.3 UK / US mpg). That’s not quite as good as I’d hoped; I’ll put it down to driving a little fast on very chunky snow tyres.

At least it’s better than last time

Amazon.com: Uncle: Books: J.P. Martin,Quentin Blake

w00t! New edition of Uncle, by J.P. Martin to be published June 2007!

(Thanks to Mike for bringing this to liontower.)

see, I told you ages ago

Trendy roof turbines are not as green as they look says The Observer. <smugness/>
Paul Gipe has some thoughts on this:

The last one has a couple of pictures I took when we were in Scotland.