random thoughts to oil the mind

Month: April 2007

Will Anyone say ‘No’ to the ‘No Smoking’ Ban?

No smoking sign

No smoking

They all roll over. What else can they do in the dictatocracy? Smoking is bad for you. It kills! And according to recent adverts on British television, passive smoking is even worse, since the smoke comes from the ‘bad’ end of the cigarette. Is it any wonder the state becomes nanny when society acts so wimpish?

But society’s seemingly burgeoning fear of death isn’t the issue here, at least not to me. That issue is freedom of choice. The ban on smoking in public places perhaps has a right to be enforced; there is no choice about which train or bus station you use, after all. But when it comes down to banning smoking in all bars, pubs and restaurants, one has to ask why we are no longer allowed to choose. Are we so incapable of rational thought? For a long time now, many restaurants have had exclusive smoking sections, and many bars too have proven capable of sectioning off areas for different clientele. One might question therefore, the need for a blanket ban.

Spine Reading

Book spines

Ever wondered why the spines on your books and DVDs aren’t all oriented the same way? Why some read top-to-bottom and others read bottom-to-top? Admittedly, this phenomenon is rare with books printed in the Anglophone world, where the top-to-bottom approach is preferable, but take a look at a bookshelf in continental Europe and you’ll probably find the titles read the other way (or both, according to Wikipedia).

The two traditions arose at different times, states Art Lebedev, with book binders starting trends which gradually became standards in their respective regions:

The tradition to write on the spine top-to-bottom is older; its roots can be traced back to the time when books were few. The reasoning was that if a book is lying on the table (or in a small stack) face-up, reading its title should be easy.

The tradition to write on the spine bottom-to-top is younger; it’s more concerned with how easy it is for the bookshelf owner to handle the book. Reading bottom-to-top is easier, because this direction is more in keeping with the European left-to-right writing tradition, which is especially apparent when there are several lines of text on the spine (an urge to read the lines left-to-right is only natural).

The same rules apply to DVDs and presumably audio CDs, though in my experience the latter are more haphazardly labelled. As someone once noted, however, that when it comes to learning, those in the West tilt their heads to the right, and those in the East tilt theirs to the left. But whichever way you tilt your head, it’s worth remembering:

Good and evil appear to be joined in every culture at the spine.

Flannery O’Connor

[Photo courtesy of CalEvans]

Problem Installing Altiris SVS

After reading a review over at freewaregenius.com, I thought I’d check out this neat little program, free for personal use. It offers a way to install programs as a ‘layer’ on your system, transparently noting all changes and additions made in the installation, and enabling you to turn this layer on or off, or seamlessly delete it without worry. Although not limited to creating layers for installations, this would seem the perfect solution for people who wish to try out different versions of a software package without them interfering with one another, or simply test out some software without the hastle of worrying if its installer left anything behind.

However, I came across a problem during the installation that seems, ironically, to be caused by things being left behind. The installer would fail and blurt:

There are file operations pending on this machine. The machine should be restarted, and setup can be run again.

Whilst a reboot should fix the problem, this was not the case for me. Your natural recourse to a problem like this might be to delete everything in your C:\Documents and Settings\your username\Local Settings\Temp folder, as detailed here (in Chinese), however this brought no joy. Instead, some erroneous registry entry was to blame. ((Note that these entries are probably only erroneous if they are still present after restarting Windows. Ensure this is the case.)) The solution is to delete the entries and restart, thus:

  1. Click Start > Run… and then type regedit.
  2. Find the following branch in the registry HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager.
  3. Double-click the PendingFileRenameOperations entry.
  4. Delete any entries and click OK.
  5. Close the registry editor and restart the computer.
  6. Run the installer again.

If this does not work, another solution would be to export the above registry branch, delete the PendingFileRenameOperations registry entry altogether, run the installer, and then reimport the saved file.

Telescreens Hit the Streets



As if holding the title for most spied upon nation weren’t enough, CCTV cameras in England are to be updated to add something of a bark, according to the BBC. Arguing the new cameras remonstrating with petty offenders will help to prevent problems before they really start and reduce bureaucracy (by magic presumably), Home Secretary John Reid also mentioned that competitions would be run in schools in local areas to provide a voice for the cameras, which if it is true would presumably mean that the ‘talking’ ability would be limited to a choice of pre-set phrases. We can only hope that whilst these competitions are being carried out, it will be noticed how effectively such vocal coercion works in the classroom, without even a whiff of potential punishment to follow it up. After all, is that not where the problems of anti-social behaviour which these measures are designed to counteract originate?

Of course the opposition, whose main argument against such measures at the moment is that it avoids the principle totem of getting ‘more bobbies on the beat’, should well bear in mind that the ‘Peelers’ were no more popularly received on their inception either. Now they want more of them.

But wait—can anyone else hear something?

Smith! 6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! That’s better, comrade.

Airport Security

Airport Security

If there’s one thing that makes travelling by airplane an ordeal, it’s airport security. The fact that this is as oxymoronic as ‘British Intelligence’ is only half of the story, for that part of your journey which entails walking through the little arch that goes “bing” largely accounts for all the rest of the misery surrounding airports.

Now I can of course only pretend that this is a real ‘pet hate’—for starters, it is a pretty universal sentiment—since it serves its purpose pretty well. That of protecting innocent people? Oh no, there is no security at the airport per se! If you want to set off a bomb or open a phial of some contagious disease, in an area as crowded as the city centre, feel free. There are even bins provided for your convenience. But to make everyone feel safer about boarding the big bricks with wings, and of course for the protection of those big bricks with wings, passengers must arrive early, hand up their luggage for inspection, and file through security like cattle. Oh, and these days, of course you should throw away anything over 100ml!

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