Your next computer but one will look a bit like this (I need to widen this template…):

That’s a smartphone in a dock.

Combine that idea with this research:

Apple share falls less quickly as Google operating system [Android] takes over – but Windows Phone has barely sold half of the 2m handsets shipped, say new figures

And it becomes less insane than you’d think to suggest that Microsoft is in the process of experiencing the fastest and deepest collapse of market share in history, wars and catastrophes aside.

See also esr’s analysis.

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Gore Warning: don’t read on if you’re likely to be upset by the description of an injury!

So one of my cats lost its tail this morning. Completely. Not just the tail, but the first couple of vertebrae from the spine, ripped forcibly out leaving just a hole you could look into. No other damage. The high street vet I took her to was mystified. An accident with machinery, perhaps?

This afternoon I phoned my old mate John, a farm vet in his early sixties. Vehicle, he said. Tail trapped under a tyre as she ran across the road.

I went out and looked: there in the middle of the road almost in front of the house was the tail.

Nothing beats a bit of experience.

(The cat might be OK, might not, it depends on the extent of the nerve damage. I’ll know tomorrow morning.)

UPDATE: She’s not looking good, but we’ll give it a couple of days.

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Worth noting that Google was founded using not one, but two successive code bases that were very poor, first in Java(!) then in Python (which together with a Django-like application development framework remains the language for the Google Apps platform).

Moral: implementing an idea with quick and dirty code is fine – if the idea is good, you can polish or re-write later, if it isn’t you’ve saved time.

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I’ve only once failed to speak the host language when travelling or living abroad, in the Netherlands where everyone, even the street cleaners, seemed to speak English almost like a native. In some ways I felt robbed. My attempts to speak in Dutch were generally met with smiles and answers in English, so I made much less headway with the language than I’d have liked.

But what a difference it makes to try to speak in language of one’s hosts. Even in a small way, like in the pub in Nth Wales that was full of Welsh speakers and not very welcoming until I said “Diolch” (thank you) to the barmaid – and the sun came out! Just that small gesture of respect, that small acknowledgement of the Welsh language, was enough to make everyone in the pub our friends that afternoon.

The prize in St Petersburg was far greater. A courteous word in Russian to one of the formidable Babushkas who guard the aisles of The Hermitage led to a whole room being opened for us. The contents – the oldest of the ice burials from prehistoric Siberia, mummified horses with tattooing visible on their skin, a huge felt tapestry from Persia – were too delicate to be illuminated permanently. We had a guided tour for two, then were left there alone for a few minutes to take it in at our own pace, before the smiling woman turned off the lights and closed the doors again.

Then there are the afternoons in bars and cafes throughout France where the only language I speak really conversationally, French, has brought hours of debate, conversation, sharing of local specialities. In Spain and Portugal, travelling away from the tourist trails, a little language gets you taken in by the  whole community.

This is contrast to the loathing felt, with justification, for the arrogance of the stereotypical British expat, refusing to speak the language, eat the food or acknowledge in any way their host country in what seems like a huge, extended, studied and deliberate insult.

If I were to actually move to a country where a language other than English were spoken, it wouldn’t occur to me to try to get by in English. Without the language you can’t experience or participate in the country you live in. The arrogance of those gold-chained, melanoma-tanned chipeaters in Spain, for example, really is repugnant.

Norm thinks it’s the other way round, that “treating inability to speak English [in England] as a matter for blame [..] is repugnant.” Indeed: “legislating about what language must be spoken or learned would be an act of gross illiberalism.”

Not if it’s the host language.

There is nothing liberal about agitating for circumstances in which – invariably – women are trapped, excluded, quite deliberately, in dress and language, by men who feel they own them as chattels. There’s nothing liberal about exclusion from social and political life. There is a genuine problem with these thing at the moment in Europe generally, not just in Britain.

To take a case where liberties are conflicting, and uphold the liberty of the oppressors, is not liberalism at all.

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When I vote, none of the parties reflects my opinions at all well. I don’t actively want any of them to win. But I can arrange them in a hierarchy of preference. In that sense AV reflects my reality much better than FPTP.

Under AV I’d be more inclined to vote for a small party if it were the best match for my views, because I’d know that even if they get very few votes my own vote will still affect the outcome of the contest. The first count under AV would be a better reflection of voter opinion than under FPTP, when we tend to vote for major parties in order that our votes count. This artificially reduces the apparent support for small parties and artificially inflates the major party votes.

Under FPTP, major parties can delude themselves into thinking (or try to persuade us) that their mandates are bigger than they really are, or they can collude or bully each other into ignoring issues that are important to substantial majorities of the population, such as immigration and the EU.

That’s why party hacks like FPTP.

The common accusation that AV is unfair seems to be generally based on the idea that if I vote for any candidate except the one with the largest share of first preferences, my vote would then be counted twice – and that’s true, it would be. But everyone’s vote would be counted twice, or however many times the votes get redistributed. It’s the same for everyone: all votes are counted, the bottom candidate is eliminated, all votes are counted again (taking the highest available preference for a candidate still in the running for every ballot paper), the bottom candidate is eliminated, and so on.

If democracy includes in its scope the attempt to express most faithfully the views of the population, then AV is better than FPTP. I’ll be voting for it.

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My father, Bill, died in the small hours of Wednesday morning, UK time, in a nursing home in Tasmania with June, his wife, and Ann, his daughter, by his bedside. It was as though he’d waited for Ann to arrive from Sydney. Half an hour after she sat by his bed, he gave his last laboured breath and was at peace.

It had been a gruelling few weeks. By the end, he hadn’t been able to swallow for almost a fortnight and the low-intervention approach meant no tube feeding, just morphine. It’s hard to concentrate on work when your father’s starving to death.

By the end, he’d lost the ability to speak. The world had become a thing of confusion and pain and little else. While this was going on, there were a couple of news reports about elderly people taking their own lives to avoid such a death. I don’t blame them.

I can’t make the funeral, which is tonight, British time. Instead, a message from me will be read out at the determinedly secular service – even as dementia set in he was certain in his disbelief. Indeed, what use would it be to seek consolation in a system of belief you do not share?

Anyway, here’s the message for his funeral. It wont be of much interest to many people, but it’s here for other members of my family to read, those who can’t make the funeral either. What is true of him, though, is that he once had the best job in the world: Kodak paid him to take year-long trips, taking photographs and lecturing. He drove down the whole length of Africa and all round Australia, for example, taking some wonderful black and white photos. He gave it up to provide more security for his family and the boredom destroyed him.

The funeral message:

It was hard not being there during Bill’s illness, but there is one advantage which I’d like to share with you all now.

The picture I have of him in my mind is not of an ill, thin man in a nursing home but instead of a younger, handsome man – younger than Ann is now.

I remember magical nights lying in a bed improvised in the back of that old estate car while our parents drove through the night – there were fewer street lights then so we could look up at the stars through the rear window, lulled into sleepiness by the motion and the murmur of the wheels on the tarmac. There was the day when he suddenly decided to take us all to Blackpool to see the lights – impulsive, spur of the moment – and we children had never seen anything like them.

I remember wrestling with him, Mark and I, on the floor of the lounge in Brentwood, a ritual that went on until we were big enough to win – which wasn’t half as much fun as losing, wrapped up together in a tangle of grunts and limbs and laughter.

These were times not of endings, but of beginnings, of hope and optimism and future. The first time we went to view that house, June stood on the stairs and looked back at him. I can’t recall her exact words but she knew it was right. And there in Brentwood our parents gave us the best years of their lives. There were pets, more than a hundred every time the stick insects bred. Two cats were flown in from the Isle of Man, timid, scared little scraps of fur peering out from a wooden cage large enough for a young lion. The scallops – remember those? Two huge cases of them, also from the Isle of Man. June only knew three ways to cook them and there were so many it seems, in memory, we ate them for breakfast lunch and dinner. Three ways to cook them, three meals a day.

Of course, it wasn’t really like that, they were frozen and took months to eat. But that was the joke: Bill’s huge enthusiasm, something that stayed with him into old age. Back then, you knew that he could come home with anything, a complete set of Private Eye magazine, huge rolls of plastic sheeting, a case of live geese –  and whatever it was, it would be large, generous and open-handed.

The cats and the scallops came from the Isle of Man because he had made friends there during a decade of visits to photograph the TT Races. Bill was a fine photographer and, in many ways, an adventurer. He loved to tell the story of bartering his way out of trouble with a packet of biscuits during a drive from Morocco to South Africa in the late 1950s. Was it true? Did he really do that? Does it matter? Like many adventurous, travelled people he liked, as the Irish say, to tell the tale. We are rarely heroes to our own children and we children were not always generous in our appraisals of such stories. But Bill was, after all, half Irish and for him a story was measured more by its social value than its truthfulness. He could have been a character in a Flann O’Brien novel.

When I won a guitar amplifier in a magazine contest and a tattered old stained thing arrived, he phoned them pretending to be a journalist, then cleverly turned the conversation on its head. A brand new amp, as promised by the competition, duly arrived a couple of days later.

I think he hated the routine of PR work for Ilford Films. Blagging a magazine into honouring its promise was far more fun than office politics. But he took it on to provide his family with security. Was that the biggest sacrifice he made for us? June would have a better idea than I, but I suspect it might have been.

So, today, let’s remember the Bill who adopted and adored Australia, the man photographed with the huge tray of Yabbies in the garden he loved in Mildura.

Let’s remember the father who wrestled, drove through the night, brought home surprises for his family.

Let’s remember, too, the Bill who fought his own demons in later years, and didn’t always win.

But let’s also remember, even remind ourselves if necessary, of the smiling, slim young man in khaki shorts standing grinning beside a Land Rover in Africa in the late 1950s. Let’s remember the artist, the photographer whose eye framed and captured some of the finest, most beautiful images I have ever seen.

The man who loved his family even if he wasn’t always able to show it, who gave everything he could for us, who gave us, his children, life itself.

Sleep peacefully, Bill Risdon. And thank you, Dad.

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