Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finding an alternative to Starbucks in Edinburgh

After many years, my relationship with Starbucks has faltered. A recent 6% increase in the price of a cappuccino was the last straw. £2.45 was a lot, but £2.60 was a step too far. So I have been trying out other local coffee places. It took a couple of weeks to go through all the options within walking distance of my office, but here is how it went.

Pret-A-Manger £2.25

Very fast service. Accepted my contactless American Express card. Coffee different to Starbucks but of similar quality. Not labelled as Fairtrade so probably isn't.

Greggs £1.80

Very fast service. Did not accept my American Express card, but offered me a cake for 20p extra. Coffee is OK, but not as good as Starbucks. Definitely Fairtrade though.

Costa £2.35

Very fast service, good coffee. Accepted my American Express contactless card. Not clear if Fairtrade.


Social Bite £2.10

Pretty slow service, but the coffee was good. No contactless card option and coffee not Fairtrade as far as I could tell.


I am not sure which one is the best option. The best compromise is probably Costa.









Monday, September 11, 2017

Is Blogger.com on it's way out?

With the recent news that blogs hosted, on a paying basis, at wordpress.com will be able to use plugins I think we may be about to see the demise of Blogger.com.

If you look at the recent history of the Blogger platform it seems that it is gradually being abandoned by Google. There have been few updates to it recently, the mobile app was withdrawn and the amount of spam comments getting through the filters is increasing. Blogger is now so far behind the curve it is hard to see how it fits into Google's current strategy.

The key to this for Google will be how much ad revenue Blogger.com pages produce vs the cost of running the service. It may be that policing a free blogging service is just too much hassle.

There are a few possible scenarios for the future of Blogger:


  1. The service gets a major overhaul to bring it into line with what Wordpress.com is doing in terms of functionality and usability.
  2. The creation of new blogs gets suspended while old ones continue to be viewable or usable for a while. There will then be an announcement of closure and a campaign to retain all of the content.
  3. Things just continue as they are, but I can't see that happening while so few people are actually using Blogger as a proper blogging platform. Serious bloggers switched to Wordpress a long time ago and Blogger seems full of spammy sites.












Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Comparative historical prices of Amateur Radio equipment

I quite often hear radio hams complaining about the "rip off" prices charged for amateur radio equipment, but if you look at the historical prices for transceivers then they have never been cheaper. I got my amateur radio licence in 1982. Here is how some prices from around that period compare to todays prices. The comparisons were calculated using the Bank of England inflation calculator.

HF Transceiver

In 1982 the cheapest HF transceiver was the Yaesu FT77 at £459. In today's money this is £1486. Today the Yaesu FT450D is Yaesu's cheapest radio of similar size and costs only £589 - less than half the price.

2m Handheld

In 1981 the Icom IC2E was £159 or £559 in today's money. Today the Yaesu FT-25E is £80 - less than a fifth of the price.

CB Radios

In 1984 I was working in Dixons and we still sold CB radios. The Harrier CB was £49 (£144 in today's money) and the CBX £79 (£233 in today's money). Today a basic CB radio like the Midland-M Mini is £60 - less than half the price.

In 1980 SSB CB radios sold for around £150 (£590 in today's money). Today a Superstar 3900, with very similar features, is £170 - around a third of the 1980 price.

Other consumer electronics

For comparison the cheapest VHS video recorder you could buy in 1984 was £349, or £1029 in today's money. A Sony Betamax machine would have set you back £660, or a massive £2043 in today's money.


The evidence shows that radio prices are cheaper now than they were back in the early eighties which is probably why people change equipment more often.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

How does Christianity spread?



"There is something curious about the Christian impulses! Intellectuality, knowledge, learning appear not to have been present during the spreading of these impulses.One could say that Christianity spread regardless of what people thought for or against it, so much so that it seems to have found its antithesis in modern materialism.

What is it then that spreads? Not Christian ideas, not the science of Christianity.

One could still say that the moral feelings which are planted through Christianity are spread. One has only to observe the rule of morality in these times and one will find much justification for the anger of the representatives of Christianity against real or alleged enemies of Christianity. Also the morals which could reign in the souls of the less educated do not impress us much when we observe to what extent they are Christian.

What is it then which spreads? What is so curious? What is it which marches through the world like a victorious procession? What worked in the people who brought Christianity to the Germanic, to the foreign world? What works in modern natural science, where the teaching is still veiled? What works in all these souls, if it isn't intellectual, not even moral impulses? What is it?

It is Christ himself, who goes from heart to heart, soul to soul, who traverses the world over the centuries, whether or not people understand him!"

Rudolf Steiner, Oslo, October 1st 1913 (GA148)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Cubot Cheetah 2 Review

After nearly two years my Motorola Moto X Play developed a fault, not recognising micro SD cards and draining the battery quickly. Because the SD card had been combined into the system memory this caused a number of issues with apps and other functions so I decided to go looking for a new phone. As my son had had good recent experience with a Cubot Dinosaur I decided to give the Cheetah 2 a go.

Both phones run almost stock Android 6 and I was able to restore from the old phone to the new phone using the Google account transfer function. Here is how they compared over the first four days.

Screen and general appearance

Both phones have 5.5 inch screens that are indistinguishable in quality. The Cubot case is longer than the Motorola because it has physical buttons rather than soft buttons. Both phones are in the same weight range. The Cubot is slightly heavier.

Camera

The Cubot has a Samsung 16mp camera on the back and a Sony 4mp on the front. The picture quality is good but nowhere near as good as the Motorola, which shared the same camera as the Google Nexus 6 (which was considered exceptional). The Cubot feels like some of the HTC cameras I have used. Turning off the “facial beauty “ feature does improve the colour and the HDR function also improves things. Where the Cubot beats the Motorola is in close focus shots. The Cubot can focus closely and the focus does not wander. The video camera does not identify HD or SD but the default setting is 1080p and works well.

These are full frame photos from the Cubot Cheetah 2 camera:






Sound

Surprisingly the output from the earphone socket on the Cubot is much more powerful than the Motorola, and drives external amplifiers better than the Motorola with less distortion. But the Cubot’s internal speaker is not nearly as good.

Battery

The Motorola could run for two days of reasonable use. The Cubot requires daily charge. It does not charge quickly either. This becomes apparent in the car where Spotify, Satnav and Bluetooth is a sufficient drain to stop the phone charging at all from on a good quality charger. In some cases the phone has ended a journey a few percent lower than it started! This was while using the charging lead supplied with the phone and it might be that a better quality lead improves charge rates. I was unable to try this as it is USB type C but I will try another lead when I can get one.

Processor speed

The Cubot loads apps more quickly. In side by side tests it is about 20% faster but I can't tell if this is due to the memory mess my Motorola is in. The Cubot has 3GB RAM for running the apps in compared to the Motorola 2GB.

Memory

The Cubot has 32GB compared to the Motorola 16GB. The operating system takes up less room too so I have not needed to fit an SD card. You could add a card and set your videos and photos to store to it if you wished. I synch all my photos on Google Photos and just clear the phone regularly so I don't need lots of memory in the phone.

Other

The Cubot does not display the mobile network name in the status bar. This is standard with Android 6 unless it has been tweaked by the manufacturer, which Cubot haven’t on this phone, but have on the Dinosaur. I am jot sure how you would know which network you were on if you had two SIM cards installed.

The Cubot is dual SIM which could be very handy for foreign travel, especially to places like the Caribbean that are outside most cheap roaming deals.

The fingerprint scanner is as reliable as my wife’s iPhone 7. No worries about failure either as it always presents the PIN option.

The supplied charger is European fitting. The seller supplied a pound shop type  British one. I discarded both and used an existing high capacity charger.

Conclusion

The Motorola cost £270 two years ago. The Cubot was £125. Even so, the Cubot holds up well against the Moto X Play. The screen is particularly good. It's just a pity the battery charging was not faster, but I know from Micro USB charging that the lead can make a big difference and I will be trying a better quality USB-C lead.

If this phone lasts me two years it will have cost £5 per month. With my unlimited data SIM at £16 per month this is a good smart phone set up for less than half the price of most iPhone packages. Longevity is currently unknown and is the gamble, but my son’s Cubot Dinosaur is holding up well so I have similar expectations of the Cheetah 2.




Monday, April 24, 2017

How is it possible to be a Christian and a Socialist? The answer may surprise you.

I have been thinking about writing this article for some time, as I get asked this question a lot. I get it asked both ways round, with scepticism on the part of Christians and Socialists in equal number. For that reason I am going to answer the question twice.

You are a Christian. How can you possibly be a Socialist?

This question gets asked by my evangelical Christian friends because evangelical Christianity in Britain is generally to the right of centre politically. There has been a gradual move over the past thirty years towards making right wing political thinking synonymous with evangelical Christianity. The change in the gospel to a more individualist, self help, one sits easier with the extrinsic values of political Conservatism.

We used to keep moral and political agendas separate, but the influence of American thinking has led us to believe that we can alter the nations morals by political action. You see this with both evangelical and liberal Christian groups trying to influence government policy. There is a general belief that faith on its own is insufficient. It needs the power and influence of the state to bring it into the physical realm.

But it has not always been this way.  There was a time when evangelical Christians thought of faith as a personal matter, not something to be delivered by state education or enforced by theocracy. Christianity was about loving and helping our neighbour and building a society based on intrinsic values of community, peace and justice for all. This is why the early trade union and cooperative movements were full of Christians, especially Methodists. 

It is those basic values that we find in Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) not in Margaret Thatcher's Sermon on the Mound. We also find it in the Baptist tradition of the complete separation of Church and State; the approach to God being as an individual, but being re-born into a family (the church fellowship) as symbolised by baptism.

Where I differ from Liberal Christian Socialists is that I don't think Jesus was a socialist. I do not see anything of what we understand as modern socialism in the life or teachings of Jesus Christ. His earthly ministry was in a world far removed from ours in time and complexity. When he talks about sharing goods or doing things in common he is reflecting how life already was in that pre industrial society, but which was under threat from Roman and other influence. What I see in the teachings of Jesus are principals about love, peace, justice and community that are best reflected in socialist thought and are compatible with left wing politics. Christians who are more individualistic may disagree. They are entitled to, but this is why I am a Socialist.

You are a Socialist. How can you possibly be a Christian?

This is the other side of that question and usually centres on two issues.

Firstly, Marxism sets itself up as a scientifically reasoned explanation of economics and how society can develop. Religion of any kind has no scientific basis and is superstition which will prevent development towards socialism.

Secondly, Lenin argued that Christianity was an agent of imperialism designed, and used, to keep the proletariat from taking power over their own means of production.

The first of these views the world as being entirely material. A purely physical world that we can see and that we can investigate with science. Marxism, and consequently most modern Socialism relies on some version of dialectical materialism. I don't have time here to go into this complex area of philosophy, but I will make one point. For some Christians there is little difference between this materialistic world view and their dualistic view of a  physical world that we can see and investigate and a spiritual world which we can not. This type of Christian are practical materialists. I would argue that the division between spiritual and physical is unnatural and that there is only one world which we live in, are stewards of and are responsible for each other in. For this reason I do not find any personal contradiction between dialectical materialism and the Christian faith, except that it is  normally restricted to a narrow range of subjects where Christianity is all encompassing.

The second of these issues is more easily addressed. Lenin was arguing against the church, not against Christianity. The church of his day, in Russia, was strongly linked to the imperial state and was part of the oppression. This reflects badly on the church, but not on Christianity. I think that Christianity must be separate from the state, be about the individual approaching God in repentance and following the teachings of Jesus as much as is possible. I find this to be quite compatible with Socialism.


Conclusion

I am not sure that this answers my original question as well as I had hoped, but it might help others to understand my puzzling dual philosophies. I don't see any incompatibility, but I am sure American readers will!



Friday, March 17, 2017

The bible is getting more loving as time goes on.

Here is the number of times the word "love" appears in different English translations of the bible along with their publication dates:

1611 Authorised Version (KJV) 310
1963 New American Standard Bible 348
1978 New International Version 551
1989 New Revised Standard Version 538
2002 The Message 585

It seems we are getting more loving as time goes on!






Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reply to Louis.... @louiskinsey

In reply to this tweet.

I can't speak for anyone else, but my personal reasons for not going to church are quite complex. I was brought up in the Church of Scotland but joined a Baptist church when I was a Divinity undergraduate at Edinburgh. I was a very active lay preacher and heavily involved in church life, but have not been for some years.

Here are the main reasons:

1. I have suffered from mental health issues in the past and these had been partly driven by what I was hearing in church. There is nothing better at lowering your self esteem than a good dose of "total depravity".

2. I don't get very much out of sitting in rows in a room. Might sound harsh, but I can do that on a bus. It doesn't have any biblical basis either.

3. I don't feel able to contribute. Its a combination of feeling that as a relatively young (49 - still the young end of most churches)  and able person I might get landed with doing things that I don't have the mental capacity to do. Even if I told the church leaders and they understood, others would think I was being lazy or aloof.

4. I may have had just enough church at work to immunise me. I do visit churches, of all denominations, in my work. What I see is universally depressing. At 49 I am, more often than not, the youngest there, and one of the few men. This is the same in small baptist, large Church of Scotland, or the average Catholic Parish.

5. In addition to #1 I was diagnosed with a neurological condition which explains why I have get stressed in social situations and don't really get relationships - including the idea of a relationship with God /worship.

6. I am divorced and remarried. Not a situation that is easily tolerated in Baptist circles. My current wife is a Roman Catholic and not comfortable with Protestant worship.

7. When my kids were still kids and I was a divorced Dad I only got to see them on Sundays which made church attendance difficult. I was picking them up at noon, so you can see the problem.

I told you it was complicated! Too complicated for 140 characters.

I am most comfortable in liturgical churches where there are no surprises, and least comfortable in charismatic churches. But my theology is more towards the happy clappy end of things. That is another problem. I never really feel like I fit in.

I see the "everyone welcome" sign outside most churches and wonder if they really, really mean that. Can they really accept people as they are? I don't know the answer to that.





Friday, January 27, 2017

Why Scotland will not vote for independence in a second referendum


The independence cause is now synonymous with the SNP. To a great degree it always was, but during the last referendum campaign they were joined by the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and lots of other organisations representing different sections of Scottish society. But these were always minor players and the aftermath of the 2014 referendum saw most of this rainbow coalition for independence collapse into the SNP. Membership grew to over 100,000. With this sort of movement you would expect support for independence to have increased, but according to the latest opinion polls the Yes vote is currently on about 40%. Even during all the upheaval over Brexit it only got to over 50% in one poll. 

By the time that any second independence referendum takes place the SNP Scottish Government will be deeply unpopular. This is the standard unpopularity of incumbent governments after a time, but that dissatisfaction with the SNP will spill over into the referendum campaign. Add to this continuing depressed oil revenue and the, still unresolved, currency issue and you have a toxic mix. It will be exceedingly difficult to get a majority for Yes second time around. Even now there are a significant group of Yes voters who have switched to No. As many as have switched the other way according to some polling organisations. It is possible that Yes would only achieve around 40% in a referendum rerun. Current polls seem to suggest this.

The problem with discussing this is that everyone seems to have their fingers in their ears while going "la-la-la I am not listening".  When I suggested this scenario on social media I got jumped on by people for whom the independence cause is a religion which cannot be questioned. They are the fundamentalists of the Scottish cause. Strong supporters of the SNP for whom independence is more important than workers rights; more important than environmental protection and, yes, more important than beating the Conservatives. Because their enemy is the Labour Party, particularly "municipal" Labour, with whom they fought many hard local election campaigns. There is no love lost between them and many in the SNP relish killing off labour as much as they do independence itself. Yet as Labour has moved to the left, the SNP has been left as the last guardians of Blairite economics, with a strong focus on private industry and profit as the key to Scotland's future, and content to be better managers of the existing system rather than trying to change it. This is something the independence fundamentalists are unable to recognise. And while the say they want to win a second referendum they are quite happy to cannibalise their own vote by refusing to engage with anyone who is sceptical because they are obviously not "true believers". Exactly the people they need to persuade in order to win a Yes vote.

Of course, this all supposes that the UK government agrees to hold a second referendum on independence. How likely is this? Well, the most likely way I can see this happening would be if the SNP gained enough seats at the next Westminster election to make a coalition with Labour the only way to keep out the Conservatives. Even if that happened would Labour be willing to make a deal? Locked in a fight to the death with the SNP in Scotland, Labour might be willing to sacrifice restricted power in Westminster in order to kill off the independence cause. In other words: don't hold your breath.

Another scenario would be if falling oil revenues stoked demands from back-bench Conservatives for the government to scrap the Barnett formula. If that was combined with greater autonomy for English regions then there may be a section of the conservative party who want to get rid of the Scottish "problem". This would be uncharted territory and might lead to a referendum with a successful Yes vote.

Alternatively, the May Conservative Government might just decide to call a referendum to call the SNP's bluff: dangerous though, given how the Brexit vote went. I can't see them really taking that risk.

The upshot of all this is that with Scottish independence looking very unlikely we need to find other ways to protect worker's rights, the environment, food standards and all the other things that are under threat from the shift to the right in British politics. This is where our energies should be rather than wishing for another referendum.


Postscript

No - I don't think Scotland is "too wee", "too poor", or "too stupid" to survive on it's own. I just don't think our future should be reliant on a referendum that is unlikely to take place and which is even less likely to be won, even though I voted Yes last time.

As always, this is an opinion piece. Please leave a comment below as I have trouble keeping track of social media.