Wikipedia is just fine the way it is thanks

According to Livewire, Wikipedia is a among the top 10 websites for number of hits worldwide. In fact it is consistently in the top 10, battling with tech giants like Google, Yahoo, YouTube, and various social media platforms.

Yet Wikipedia is unlike any of the other websites in the top 10.

For a start it doesn’t have a similar business model. It sole reason for existing is to provide a free resource for any internet user. Content is freely available, and can be edited by anyone, provided they stick to a few guidelines. In essence it rigidly maintains the ethos that the internet should be free to use, and open to all. It doesn’t rely on advertising, with all its operating costs covered by voluntary donations.

Admittedly Wikipedia isn’t perfect, but what is? With anyone able to edit a page, mistakes and falsehoods do creep in occasionally. Many a young aspiring journalist has fallen into the trap of accepting everything on it as gospel. But considering the sheer volume of data, it’s astonishing that the level of accuracy is so high. In fact that’s the very reason why it’s the go to online resource.

So the next time you Google something and see the first result is a Wikipedia page, take a moment to consider what it takes to run the service. Oh and if you can, give a little to maintain this wonderful resource in the way it was intended.

https://donate.wikipedia.org

What’s a few more bytes among friends?

Users of the internet generate on average 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, according to recent research by Domo. That’s a lot of zeros. Their report came up with this statistic having analysed publicly available data from a range of sources, including web measurement services like Internet Live Stats and news outlets like BuzzFeed.

Among the key insights were that on average, every minute:

  • The Weather Channel receives 18 million forecast requests.
  • YouTube users watch 4.1 million videos.
  • Google delivers results for 3.6 million searches.
  • Wikipedia users publish 600 new edits.

What’s more, it’s estimated that 90% of all online data was created in the last two years.

That’s a lot of data. So here’s a few more bytes to maintain the daily average.

Sometimes a “staycation” is the way to go

The demise of the British seaside resort and the rise in cheap air travel abroad, has seen most Brits jet off to sunnier climbs for their summer break. You can’t blame them really, as virtually guaranteed sunshine is hard to find at home. However we shouldn’t, no mustn’t, consider a foreign holiday as a first option. There is so much on offer in the UK, and if you’re lucky you’ll get the weather too.

This year my wife and I decided to head to the Lake District. It’s an area I know a little, but my wife didn’t know at all. Situated just south of the England Scotland border, it’s an area with dramatic mountain landscapes interspersed with some of the largest lakes in the UK. It’s a mecca for walkers and cyclists, although we choose the more sedate option of driving.

Bakewell

SignWe’d tried to make it to the Lake District last June, but had to call a halt to our holiday after two days after a family emergency. This time we aimed a driving to Bakewell in the Peak District, before heading up to Bowness-on-Windermere. We’d stayed in nearby Matlock in June and had briefly visited Bakewell, after visiting Chatsworth House. We liked what we saw, so we decided to stay there on the way up this time.

Bakewell is home of the Bakewell Pudding, an oddity not to be confused with the Bakewell Tart that you’ll find in just about every UK supermarket and cafe. Our hotel claimed to be the place where the recipe was first conceived, but then so did at least three other establishments in the town! The hotel was also the first place I’ve cone across where they disallowed mobile devices in the restaurant, a policy that is sure to devide opinion.

We spent the day wondering around the market town, and along the banks River Wye thanks to some thoughtfully landscaped paths. Before returning to our hotel, we stopped off at a pub with outside seating overlooking the river. Ordering drinks was an experience, as you had to stand on a glass panel with the stream that originally fed the water wheel running beneath your feet. It was just about warm enough to sit outside in shirtsleeves, so two very quaffable pints later we returned to the hotel for dinner.

The Lake District

From the moment we stepped from the car and checked into our hotel, we knew we’d made a good decision coming here. I mean, just check out the view from our room!

IMG_E0387

It got better. Lake Windermere, the ten mile long lake that acts as a magnet for all visitors was little more than ten minutes walk away. From there we made good use of the ferries to Ambleside at the north end of the lake, and Lakeside in the south.

Windermere Lake
View from Bowness north towards Ambleside

Ambleside and Lakeside were VERY different. Ambleside is a busy town full of climbers, walkers, and outdoor types. It is at the heart of the Lake District, with many good walks around it. Lakeside in comparison is a small sleepy village that most people don’t even know is there. Instead they pass it by on the road towards Broughton-in-Furness. That’s a real shame, as it has stunning views and some very peaceful hotels right on the lake’s banks.

Whilst Lake Windermere acts as the major tourist draw to the area, the other lakes do their bit too. Among them are:

  • Coniston Water where Donald Campbell broke the water speed record. It is also near the Old Man of Coniston, arguably the highest peak in the Lake District.
  • Ullswater situated in the east is a popular sailing destination, and has a 20 mile walking trail nearby.
  • Derwent Water south of Keswick in the north. Keswick’s a smaller version of Ambleside, but without the charm. It does have the lack on it’s doorstep though, and that’s reason enough to visit it.

Other places that should be on your list to visit are:

  • The beautiful village of Grasmere, described by William Wordsworth as, “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found. That probably explains why he set up home there at Dove Cottage. If you’re there and fancy a meal in a Michelin Star restaurant, I’d thoroughly recommend The Dining Room at the Oak Bank Hotel.
  • The Honiston Pass, a narrow road just south of Keswick that goes through the highest point in the Lake District. It’s a road best tackled on foot or two wheels, unless you’re happy with numerous sharp bends, blind crescents, and nothing to stop you dropping a couple of hundred foot down the mountain if you’re not paying attention! It is a stunning drive, even if the weather isn’t great.

Before we left the Lake District, there was just enough time to soak in the views from the hill overlooking Lake Windermere. It was a view neither of us wanted to leave, but the journey south beckoned.

Shrewsbury

On our way home, we stopped off in Telford. Our idea was to visit the Ironbridge Gorge Bridge, but it was undergoing repairs and was completely under plastic sheets. So instead we went to nearby Shrewsbury on the banks of the River Severn.

The first thing you notice about Shrewsbury is it’s history. There are Tudor buildings everywhere and some quaint alleys and courtyards that are well worth exploring.

Shrewsbury
An example of Shrewsbury’s Tudor buildings

 

Hindsight: the Photoshop of history

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It provides colour and clarity to what at the time seemed colourful and clear, but was in fact sepia toned and fuzzy. Think of it as the Photoshop of history. Knowing all the facts allows you to edit out all the blemishes to deliver an accurate statement of fact.

In my last post I described my athlethic annus horribilis.  In it I described my “Strike Three”, which saw me suffering what I though were side effects of taking antihistamine tablets I’d been suffering from shortness of breath and a stiff calf muscle.

t turns out they were fine and I was suffering from another more serious illness. As the calf muscle got stiffer, I sought medical advice. Straight away my GP told me to go to hospital where I spent a whole week after being admitted.

The stiff calf and breathlessness had been caused by a blood clot in my leg, some of which had broken off and made its way to my lungs. Thankfully the clot hadn’t made it into one of my pulmonary arteries, or else I may not be typing this today! Instead it was a case of resting and taking anti-coagulation drugs for awhile.

As to what caused the clots, they can’t say. It was probably connected to the broken pelvis I described in “Strike One”, but they can’t be sure. So it goes down as as idiopathic deep vein thrombosis. Cue lots of idiotic gags!

Marital strife of my brother in law’s making

I’ve a bone to pick with my brother in law. My wife and I met up with him and my sister for a meal the other day. During the course of the evening, my bearded brother in law described a recent visit to get his hair cut. It’s a frequent bone of contention, with my sister making increasing levels of threats in order to get him to go.

So why am I thinking ill of my brother in law?

He was describing how the barber asked if he wanted his eyebrows trimmed. “No thank you.” he replied. “They annoy my wife.” The barber laughed and responded with his own reposte, “Ah but a happy wife, is a happy life.”

After the laughter died down, I’d never have thought that my wife would store that in her memory bank. Within the next 24 hours it’s only been used about eight times! For example:

My wife: “Can you take the rubbish out?”

Me: Yes in a minute.

My wife: OK but remember a happy wife is a happy life.

I’m going to need your help to come up with a suitable response. Answers on a postcard please!

Holiday Day 2: Chatsworth House and Bakewell

We received a lovely surprise at our breakfast table this morning with these beautiful flowers placed on each table. It wasn’t expected from a hotel like this. It’s a smallish family run affair, but has excellent friendly staff. The breakfast was OK if not outstanding. My wife had an oatcake with poached eggs. It was a bit dry, and the eggs were a little overdone. I had the Full English complete with real black pudding and fried bread. It was the sort of breakfast I’d have thought nothing of eating 25 years ago, but now felt guilty eating.

After breakfast we drove the short distance to Chatsworth House, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire for 16 generations. It is regularly used as a film set, with Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightley a prime example. Set in stunning gardens, the house has changed a lot since the first Duke bought the house in the mid 1700s. There’s a stunning collection of art and antiques through the ages. The staff are all very knowledgable too, and are always available to offer insights into life of past residents.

Having gone around the house, we sat in the garden with an ice cream. Then it was time to wonder around the extensive gardens. To be honest we didn’t see most of them, largely because we were feeling tired. The good news is that the fairly priced entry ticket allows you to return within six months with a hefty discount. Not that we’ll be back anytime soon.

If you’re visiting with little ankle biters, the adjoining farmyard is well worth a visit. Apart from the usual rabbits, guinea pigs, and goats, there are cows complete with regular milking displays, a large adventure playground, and a loads of hens. It will keep youngsters amused for awhile.

Leaving Chatsworth, we headed for nearby Bakewell, a lovely market town. We spent a couple of hours wondering the streets and sitting by the river. We even found a Viennese Sausage cafe, unfortunately just as it was closing.

Tomorrow we have to head home, due to a family member falling seriously ill. Cutting short our holiday wasn’t an easy decision, but it is for the best. So we won’t be going to Buxton, and will have to wait to visit the Lake District for another day.

Holiday Day 1: Surrey to Matlock

This year we decided on a “staycation” for our holiday. We’ll probably go aboard later in the summer, but for now the weather is pretty good and England has so much to offer. We decided on a road trip around the north western side on England, taking in the glorious countryside of the Peak District, Lake District, and Yorkshire Dales.

Setting off for the 170 mile trip to Matlock, the weather was a mixture of cloud with occasional bursts of sunlight. Pretty good driving conditions, as I hate driving in the rain. The M25 behaved itself for once as we made it past Heathrow airport inside 50 minutes, and onto the M1 in one hour ten minutes. Admittedly it was a Sunday morning, but apart from the usual slow spots it was an OK journey.

We stopped off at the Newport Pagnell services for a comfort break and a bite to eat. You’re never short of a service station on the M1, especially in the southern section, with one roughly every 25 miles. I always find motorway services pretty soul destroying. They’re full of fast foot outlets and shops selling 1980s compilation CDs. Newport Pagnell isn’t an exception. Bizarrely everyone has heard of Newport Pagnell, but only because of the service station. Before the M1 opened, it was just a mere pin prick on the Buckinghamshire map. How many folk even realise it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book as they zoom past at 70mph?

As the distances between the motorway exits increased, so the weather deteriorated. Occasional short bouts of drizzle broke up the monotony of driving. We’d stopped off in Kegworth, Derbyshire. Why? Purely for nostalgic reasons. Back in the 1980s I used to have to come here for work. Back then it was a fairly sleepy town snuggled between the East Midlands Airport and the M1. I used to stay at the Yew Lodge Hotel at the top of the town, which was a fairly standard 3 star hotel. Now the place has become gentrified, with a large extension and a Marco Pierre White restaurant. The town still has a few nice pubs and some smart looking shops and cafes. Unfortunately it looks like the tiny (in every sense of the word) pub we used to drink in has gone. Probably for health and safety reasons, as with more than six people in it playing darts by the bar was a risky strategy. Not that it stopped us back in the day.

From Kegworth we decided to avoid the motorway and head through Derby on the A6 before heading on to Matlock. We did drive through Derby, but didn’t stop. Perhaps we should have, but we were got a bit fed up with the ring road. These abominations are the scourge of post war town planners. They may have thought they were a clever idea, but no one else has since. If you see signs saying “Ring Road West” and “Ring Road East” and nothing else, how the hell are you supposed to know which way to go?

Our hotel for the next few nights is a delightful little place in Cromford, about three miles south of Matlock. It used to be Sir Richard Arkwright’s home whilst he was building nearby Willersley Castle. Set in a peaceful valley yet just off the A6, the hotel is a lovely place with good facilities. They obviously cater for lots of weddings judging but the large gazebo and arboretum in the garden.

In the evening we drove into Matlock for dinner. As it was a Sunday, Cromford was largely shut, with only a couple or large pubs open which we didn’t fancy. Matlock wasn’t much different, but we did find a nice looking Italian. However we chose a place called the Herd Steakhouse just around the corner from the bridge. There’s a bar downstairs, and a restaurant upstairs with some wonderful views over the River Derwent. We chose a seat by the floor to ceiling window to get the full benefit of the wonderful vista. The food was OK if not spectacular, but then we didn’t go for their speciality steaks or meat skewers.

Returning the our hotel, we got speaking to the night manager. He said that Sir Richard Arkwright built the place as his family home, but as he became more wealthy decided to build himself Willersley Castle. Unfortunately it burnt down before it was finished. He started rebuilding it, but died before completion. An unfortunate happening, as the building itself is an imposing and stunning example of Georgian architecture. It’s now a hotel run by a Methodist charity.

Tomorrow we’re off to Chatsworth House near Bakewell, the home of the tart!

Could you be fooled by a phishing email?

Online safety should be at the forefront of all our minds. It only takes one momentary slip up to make the most secure environment go belly up. So what action would you take if you received the following email?

Spoof Email

Looking at the example above, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks like a legitimate internal message. It asks you to do something you may be expected to do occasionally (e.g. sign-off a policy). It even gives you advice about an application (e.g. Centrify) used to do this. So it must be legit.

Except in this case it wasn’t. It’s a test message created by our company’s security team to test we are paying attention to our online security. Thankfully quite a few of us asked our security team if this was a phishing scam before doing anything.

Email is a popular method of gaining access to personal or business data. Here are some key points to help you identify suspicious messages:

  • Check the sender’s email address. Look carefully to make sure the domain is correct. Hackers are smart and use lookalike domains.
  • Your gateway may be configured to block messages coming from the internet but using your domain. If so, if you can see it is a legitimate internal address, you know it has come from an account on your domain.
  • The steps above are highly effective, but fail if the sender’s account has been compromised. Don’t blindly trust that internal messages are always legitimate. The same advice applies for messages received via business or personal chat applications, especially those like Skype. You may have got the message because your friend or family member’s account is compromised, and you’re one click away from being compromised yourself.
  • To guard against a compromised account, check the message and any links in the message. Ask yourself, does the message make sense? Is it expected? Is the grammar correct? Do the links look suspicious? Use the Virustotal website to check if they are known bad links.
  • If in any doubt, ask your manager or phone the person who “sent” the message. Don’t use email / chat to ask if they meant to send it. If the account is compromised the hacker will reply!

Remember once you click it’s too late to think!

Think before you click
Think before you click

Adverbs make no sense

Has your partner ever asked you to clarify what you mean when you say, “I’ll do that LATER”? If so, help has arrived in the form of a crack team of language experts. They’re lobbying the UK Parliament to eradicate words that cannot be accurately quantified. They argue that words like SOON, QUICKLY, VERY, MORE, and AWHILE, add little information that isn’t already known, and paint an inaccurate picture that is open to interpretation.

For example, if my wife asks me when I’m going to cut the grass and I say, “I’ll cut it later”, she only knows I will cut it, but not when. In my mind that could mean after meeting Bill and Terry for a beer this afternoon, or maybe even later in the week? If I’d said, “I’ll start immediately after the football ends on the TV”, at least we’d have a sound basis for the start of negotiations!

Apart from restoring marital harmony, having to accurately quantify information has other uses. For example:

  • Saying Montreal is REALLY cold in the winter is not only obvious to most of us, but inaccurate if you’re from Siberia.
  • If I say, “I’ve a LOT of vinyl records”, just how many do I have, and it is “a lot” to you?”
  • If a company announces it is CLOSE to releasing their new product”, you can tell their press release has been written by their Marketing team.
  • If you’re asked if you can complete a task quickly, and you respond “Yes”, what are the expectations of both parties of when the task will be completed?

It’s a minefield. I just wish they’d start eradicating words and phrases like “24/7” and “dude” first.

What can we learn from religious fasts?

Depending on where you are in the world, the Islamic month of Ramadan has either started or is about to start. It’s a serious fast for someone like me, with no food or drink to be taken between sunrise and sunset.

Fasting is only one side of Ramadan. Another is ensuring you get enough sleep. In the UK the sun rises at around 5am at this time of year, and sets around 9pm. Throw in the pre-dawn prayers, and it means having to finish eating at around 3:30am. Assuming you break the fast around 9:30pm, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for eating and sleeping.

As an Irishman, I was brought up in the Catholic faith. Growing up I had little or no exposure to non-Catholics. Even when the family moved to London, I went to a Catholic school and mixed in Catholic circles. In short, I was a perfect example of how not to integrate.

We Catholics love a bit of fasting. When I was very young, it was always no meat on Fridays. That changed to being allowed fish. If you went back a generation or two, it was a complete Friday abstinence. Even now the “fasting rule” on Friday differs depending on where you are in the world.

Then there’s the “no eating an hour before mass” rule, which changed to an hour before communion. I never quite understood this change, as you could eat directly before leaving for mass and in most cases still make that pre-communion deadline, as this was received shortly before you left the church.

Our major fast is Lent covering the 40 days before Easter, although it isn’t really a fast. It’s more an opportunity to give something up. Like most young impressionable scallies, I was encouraged to give something up for the duration when I was young. Predictably most of us gave up sweets, knowing full well we wouldn’t last a week.

As an adult with a much deeper appreciation of various religions, it is clear just how different they are when it comes to fasting. Most fast at some time or other, but for quite different reasons. The one exception I’ve found is Sikhism.

Quite a few have short period fasts, and have different rules. For example Judaism, Buddhism, and Hindu have fasts around feast days or periods of reflection. Buddhism allows milk during fasts, whilst Judaism doesn’t allow any liquids. Hinduism’s rules vary based on local customs.

In the Christian faith even Lent has different durations. The Syrian Orthodox Church has it at 50 days, and the Coptics 56 days. Even then, one look of the wikipedia page on religious fasts, demonstrates how Christians are hopelessly split between the eastern and western traditions. And within those different churches from various geographical regions, that have different rules.

I’m tempted to try a sunrise to sunset fast for a day. I won’t do it for any theological reason, just to see what it feels like. I’ve gone without meals before, but hardly ever out of choice. To do so for 40 days, and to deal with the lack of sleep and logistical nightmare of food preparation, is something I don’t aspire to.

If I do, I’ll report back on my findings. Not today though.