linux, elephant, penguin

Something Rotten In The State Of Linux

I can’t remember how SunOs 4 startup worked, but it’s certain that I was first exposed to the “System V” system with SunOS 5, marketed as “Solaris” from its release in 1991.

Right from the beginning, I thought it was absurd. I was OK with the concept of “run levels”, representing “single user”, “multiple users”, “graphical interface”, and so on, but each run level was implemented by a set of scripts accessed by symbolic links, the name of which defined its activation and order of execution.

As an example, if I look at this current Linux laptop wot I’m typing on, /etc/rc3.d/S13networking does whatever is needed to get the machine’s network working. But that isn’t a real file, it’s a link to /etc/init.d/network but the init system needs to know to start it before /etc/rc3.d/S15nfs-common (a link to /etc/init.d/nfs-common) because network files can’t work before the network is up.

The same real file /etc/init.d/network is also linked to /etc/rc1.d/S13networking and /etc/rc5.d/S13networking in order to start the network in these different run levels. That means you need to remember that changing the real file to fix something affects all run levels, or changing the prefix because something else needs to run first will have to be done separately for all run levels.

It’s a rats nest, and many people don’t like it, so there have been many ideas for different schemes. But the fact that my Linux machine in 2015 still uses the same system is evidence that none of the replacements was significantly successful.

Until now. An init system called “systemd” is beginning to be implemented in most major varieties of Linux.

And it’s an abomination, worse in many ways than the ancient System V init. All software has bugs, but some software is designed wrong, and systemd is one of those, because the thinking behind it is wrongheaded. A key strength of Unix-style operating systems has always been the loose coupling of functions, encapsulated in the idea that programs should “do one thing, and do it well”.

Systemd tries to do many, many things. From a developer’s perspective, that inevitably makes it big and complex and difficult to maintain. And some of the things it wants to do are actually operating system functions. It’s clear that what the originators of systemd have in mind is an operating system on top of an operating system. Systemd will control users. Systemd will control devices. Systemd will control security.

linux, elephant, penguinThe thing is, a Linux system already has all of those functions. Loose-coupled, with software that “does one thing, and does it well”, so that any bug is localized, and easy(-ish) to isolate and fix.

So why has systemd been widely adopted if it’s obviously not fit for purpose? Well, it’s actually one of its worst flaws which has propelled it to success. The monolithic nature and lack of separation mean that you can’t have just a bit of systemd, you have to eat the whole elephant.

The Gnome project, for example, has adopted the “logind” part of systemd to manage the different users logged in, thus making systemd what developers call a “dependency”: you can’t easily have a recent version of the Gnome desktop unless you have systemd installed. (“Wait a minute,” you may say, “Different users logged in? I have a laptop with one user: me.” Well, exactly. The dependency on systemd is to handle a situation that doesn’t apply to the majority of users, but you still have to have it, or else the whole thing won’t work.)

Another project with a dependency on systemd is udev, the Linux process which looks for hardware changes and makes the device available to other software. For example, plugging in a USB hard drive will allow the folders in it to be accessed. Part of that process is handled by udev.

It’s udev which is bending my brain at the moment. I was lying when I talked about the whole elephant; or, rather, being foresighted. The current version of udev only needs one software library from systemd, but the project development has been merged with systemd, and it looks certain that the whole elephant will return, angrier than ever.

My current Linux systems use udev, and thus are contaminated by systemd, even though I don’t use it as the init system, and never will. The basic graphical interface, xorg, depends on udev to tell it about mice and keyboards (which means you can plug in, say, a second mouse and have it work immediately. But how often do you do that?) but I’ve discovered how to configure xorg to use separate drivers, and that’s working fine.

The other essential thing that isn’t working yet without udev is network devices, ethernet and wifi, which will take more work. And not absolutely essential, but nice, would be the USB drive thing. It would be easy to set it up as a fixed device, but having it appear and disappear will require some programming.

If you found this blog by desperate internet search, wanting to get your Linux system working properly and efficiently, well, I’m only a seeker too. I have no definite answers, but what I do may well incorporate the “mdev” element of busybox, or maybe “eudev” from the Gentoo project. Go search.

Head in the Cloud

plate cameraI’ve just counted, and I have 43,478 digital photos. That’s 112Gb of storage, which isn’t actually a lot these days. Buy a new PC today and it will probably have 500Gb or 1000Gb.

Of course, you’d be crazy to keep your irreplaceable photograps only on your PC, especially if it’s a laptop that can be lost or stolen. And hard drives break. (Sometimes software — even system software — goes beserk and renders the data inacessible but at least you can usually recover it.)

So, like a good nerd, I back up my photos. The master copy is on a home server, but there is a duplicate on an external drive, and another copy on a swappable caddy that slots into my laptop. I also make a DVD copy of the new photos every so often, even though I know that writeable DVDs have a lifetime of only around 10 years.

But I can’t help feeling a bit like the old yokel who keeps cash under the mattress “because he doesn’t trust the banks”. I should be backing up my photos to the “cloud”, or as I prefer to think of it, to someone else’s hard drive.

There are many services available, but the free ones don’t remotely meet my needs for storage space: I’d need to use a paid service. I took a look at CloudMe as an example, and 200Gb (barely enough) costs €14 a month, €168 a year. (I picked CloudMe because their servers are in civilized Sweden and they have good encryption and Linux software.)

Right now, that would buy me a 5Tb drive with USB3, and I imagine that it will be cheaper next year, or I’ll be getting more storage for the same price. Drives don’t last forever, but all I need to do is buy a new one every year, and I’d still be saving money.

There is a risk though. All my data would be in the same physical location; in one house anyway. If my house burned down, or an airliner fell on it, or — I don’t know — one of my neighbours was playing with EMP devices, I’d lose all my photos. I might need to think about this a bit more.

Je Suis C̶h̶a̶r̶l̶i̶e̶ François

In a way, it’s a relief that Pope Francis has come out with an outrageously anti-progressive statement about restricting free speech. I’d been lulled into an idea of him being quite a nice guy — possibly the least evil Pope in the history of the Papacy — but I’m now reminded that he is the dictatorial head of an organisation responsible for ignorance, misery and poverty throughout the world.

If you missed it, Francis said that free speech was OK, except when it comes to mocking religion. In fact, he made the bizarre comparison between mocking religion and cursing his mother, and even indicated that violence was a normal response.

I wonder what he thinks of the case of Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1000 lashes in public flogging for “insulting Islam” in Saudi Arabia. (Since 1000 lashes would kill a person, they’re compassionately giving him 50 a week.) Pope Francis presumably thinks he deserves it.

When I was growing up, it was popularly held that “you should not mock someone’s sincerely-held beliefs”, and at first I didn’t think to challenge that. But I began to think “but what if the sincerely-held beliefs are completely stupid?”. If someone really thinks that Queen Elizabeth is a monstrous lizard, might we not be a little scornful?

If someone believes that there’s a big man in the sky who watches their every move, it’s worth a laugh, surely. If some people sincerely believe that they have the right to regulate who falls in love with whom, they’re setting themselves up for mockery, don’t you think?

If you mock my sincerely-held beliefs (assuming I can think of any) I might shrug. I might even quietly ask myself if the mockery is justified. But I wouldn’t be outraged, because I’ve been educated to have a scientific point of view in which all beliefs are provisional, pending disproof.

The reason that religious people get so angry at mockery is that they invest their whole sense of self in whatever package of ideas they have come to believe. I don’t think mockery can change most of them, but if it exposes the ridiculous side of their “sincerely-held beliefs”, it might nudge others away from falling into the trap.

Hebdo Cover

Paloma Blanca

Miami ViceThe nineteen-eighties is a period sometimes referred to as “the decade without style”, or “the decade with no taste”. Even if you didn’t live through it, you can still snigger at the shoulder pads in re-runs of ‘Dallas’ or ‘Dynasty’ or the rolled-up jacket sleeves in ‘Miami Vice’.

And Crockett’s jacket was usually white. Cars were white. Stilettos were white. Abba dressed in white.

I can’t remember exactly when taste and sanity returned, but nobody wants to go back there, not even the fashion industry, notorious for lack of ideas and recycling old styles.

But over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a return of white cars to the roads. New ones, so clearly deliberately chosen by their proud owners. (If you’re buying second-hand, colour is a less important consideration. I’ve never liked mine much — a very pale metallic bronze.)

In some people’s minds then, a white car is not crass, vulgar and tasteless, as everyone agreed after the eighties. Improbable as it seems, they think it’s cool.

It bugged me. I kept asking myself how a proportion of the population could miss the obvious fact that white is the epitome of tasteless colour choice for a car. Who was to blame?

Eventually, I worked it out. It was Jonathan “Jony” Ive.

He designed the first iPods and iPhones. Yes, they were white, but they looked amazing compared to anything else on the market and were beautifully made. They were far more expensive than the competition, but some people like that. The device becomes a status symbol, and the whiteness a kind of trademark. The accessories were white as well. It can’t be a coincidence that Jony Ive began his career designing toilets.

Of course, iPhones and iPods aren’t necessarily white any more. (In 2008, the last, cut-price batch of the iPhone 3 was BLACK.) But it’s too late. The curse of the nineteen-eighties had been forgotten, by some people at least. They buy white cars.

Precious Life

(I live in Northern Ireland. Today the religious extremist Bernadette Smyth was found guilty of harassment of Dawn Purvis, director of Belfast’s Marie Stopes pregnancy advisory clinic.)

It seems to me that there is one basic core in the intractable differences between those who consider abortion to be acceptable under certain circumstances and those who oppose it unconditionally. That is, that the extreme anti-abortionists believe that at the instant of conception, the fertilised egg is morally equivalent to a human being. It’s a religious belief, based on the soul.

But the idea that the soul enters the fertilised egg at conception has only been generally accepted among Christian believers in relatively modern times. That concept was discussed throughout the history of the Christian church, but the mainstream view was different: that “ensoulment” was a gradual process.

In the main, Christians were following classical Greek thought. The early Christian church used Greek concepts and methods of debate to codify its theology, and the medieval church absorbed literature from the Islamic world, where scholars translated and expanded classical material.

The idea of a gradual ensoulment was described by Aristotle. He believed that a growing embryo started with a “vegetative” soul, acquired an “animal” soul as its body functions and complexity increased, and finally became a “human” soul, capable of thought and moral decision-making. Perhaps biologists today would see the analogies.

The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas followed the Aristotelian concepts, and wrote that although abortion was morally wrong, it was not equivalent to murder. (It seems that Aquinas thought that Aristotle’s “human” soul only arrived at birth.) The Christian church took this view, except for a three-year period from 1588 to 1591, when Pope Sixtus V declared that abortion was a religious and civil crime at any stage of conception. His successor Gregory XIV modified the rules so that they did not apply if the fetus was “unformed” (i.e. early pregnancy).

It was only in our great-gandparents’ time, 1869, that Pope Pius IX stated complete opposition to abortion at any stage of pregnancy, although having read his Bull ‘Apostolicæ Sedis’, I don’t think that it is totally clear that he was actually overthrowing Aristotle and setting “ensoulment” at the instant of conception. However, that’s how it has come to be seen. (Pius was also the Pope who declared himself infallible, a year later, in 1870.)

Even though there was considerable separation in theology between the Roman Catholic Church and other branches of Christianity, you can trace to Pius all current ideas of conception as the exact beginning of full human existence. Fundamentalist Protestants and all.

This new belief is what drives the current gulf between religious people and the rest of society over abortion. Unfortunately, it perverts what should be the real debate. And I think there should be a debate.

The thing is that abortion is not a moral question with a clear-cut answer. Certain instances where religious law has been replaced by civil law are completely clear. Gender discrimination is bad. Hate crimes are punished. Marriage is an option if you like that sort of thing. But abortion is more complicated.

I think the complication is because laws have to be precise, and biology isn’t. Perhaps the end points are definite enough: an unfertilized egg cell (or a sperm) is not a baby, but a newborn baby is a baby (obviously). Flushing the former down the toilet is not a sin (Christians who think that was Onan’s sin should go back and read their Bible). Killing babies is bad though.

But, is a newly-fertilized egg cell a baby, as the more extreme religious believers have been claiming? I would say not. So I don’t regard it as immoral to destroy that cell with the relevant drug, any more than losing a tooth (or a kidney) is a sin. There comes a point though — ah, but where? — when the law has to draw a line. It should probably be more complicated than a simple time limit, but that is what the real, intelligent discussion should be about, not the number of angels on the head of a pin.

commissario montalbano

Sicily 2014

Sicily, September 2014


I don’t know if there’s a concept of “off-peak” discounts in the airport business, but budget flights always seem to either depart very early in the day, or arrive late at night. Well, the latter is the case for the Ryanair flights from Dublin to Comiso in Sicily.

The other factor is that airline delays accumulate during the day, making later flights less punctual, and so it was with ours. We were late. The rental car had been booked with Hertz, Ryanair’s partner, but it turned out that they had no office in the airport. We were collected (along with a couple of German customers) and transported the short distance to their base, between the airport and the town.

Ponte IrminioThere was only one person at the desk, and a queue of renters, meaning more delays. Then when we got “our” car, one of the Hertz personnel stopped us. Wait! The car has no petrol. He took us down the road to an automated filling station and filled the tank, then back to Hertz. At last, we were off.

We’d arranged to meet our property owner, Simona, in Modica, rather than at the apartment itself. (Or rather, she had arranged it. Perhaps she doubted our ability to find the address.) In order to get to Modica, we had to drive across one of the world’s highest motorway viaducts, the Ponte Irminio. I’d been a little nervous about that, but in the dark it was practically a non-event. (It features in the Commissario Montalbano titles.)

After the pick-up in a Modica car park, we followed Simona and her team to the apartment, which was every bit as delightful as we’d hoped from its on-line images. When they left, it was after eleven, and we hadn’t eaten for quite a while, but Simona had very thoughtfully provided spaghetti and tomato. We discovered that the gas stove in the kitchen needed matches to light the rings, but fortunately, the outdoor kichen corner had a two-ring cooker with electric start. We cooked and ate our pasta in the garden before midnight.


Simona had also provided tea, milk, and jam with “toasts” (an Italian abomination, sorry, innovation: crispy, insubstantial bread). I had brought a little coffee and some brioche. Breakfast was sorted, but we’d need more supplies. Marina di Modica has one small food store, but the larger neighbouring town of Pozzallo has supermarkets. I’d done some research and located the Co-op. We explored the seafront and shopping streets of Pozzallo, had lunch in the oddly-named “Squitty” food bar, and then went to the Co-op and bought a few essentials. On impulse, Grace added a prickly pear (or “Indian fig” as it is in Italian) to the basket.

After loading up the refrigerator, we took a walk down to the shore. Marina di Modica has a promenade with gardens, and our 200-metre direct route to the coast put us at the mid point of it. To the left is the core of the village, but we turned right. Stopping only to buy a gelato at Fiore, we walked along the coastal path until the chimney of la Fornace Penna came into view. Grace picked a ripe prickly pear from one of the many fruit-bearing cacti, but found it to be even more prickly than the supermarket version. Their fine barbs easily penetrate the skin and break off.

La Fornace is a piece of industrial archaeology, a large factory ruin from the early 20th-century, but it was built like a cathedral. Striking as the ruin is though, my real reason for wanting to see it was for its role in the Montalbano films. It plays the part of the “Mànnara” a focus for alfresco prostitution. With the sun getting low and golden and the sky dark behind the structure, I got some good photos.

We had dinner in one of Marina di Modica’s pizzerie. Excellent, and ridiculously cheap.


BeachAfter a lazy start, we went down to the beach, had a paddle, and then a stroll around the village. But having had a good Italian lunch of bread, cheese and tomatoes, we took to the car for a trip to Ragusa. There’s free parking in Piazza della Libertà (right in front of the Fascist-era offices of the Guardia di Finanzia) which is only 500 metres from the baroque cathedral, San Giovanni Battista, of “new” (i.e. post-1693) Ragusa.

Some more walking took us to the edge. Ragusa is separated from Ibla, the older part of town, by a steep valley. Motorists have to do sweeping hairpins, but pedestrians like us could go down and up the many flights of stairs. Well, we stopped at the lowest point for a beer, before taking the upward climb again.

At Ragusa’s other cathedral, San Giorgio, there was a wedding in progress, or at least immanent, waiting for the bride. The wedding car was parked at the bottom of the steps, a tiny, red Fiat 500. The church and piazza often feature as background to Montalbano, as does the nearby Circolo di Conversazione. At the far end of Ragusa Ibla, there’s a pretty public garden, with various baroque buildings, and eventually, a view over the valley.


We had dinner and then began the vertically-challenging walk back to the car, attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to capture the fantastic night panoramas of the two parts of the city spilling down their hillsides. There were three different newly-wedded couples having photographs taken against the nightscapes.

Circolo di Conversazione Circolo di Conversazione
Ragusa Ibla Ragusa Ragusa


Sunday being a day of rest, it was decided that we’d go to the beach. It’s great to have a beach within walking distance. I’m not the world’s most enthusuastic sea bather, but I was persuaded, and we went for a swim. Twice! Then a beer at the beachfront bar, which was better. We went back to the apartment for lunch and then back to the beach for the afternoon.

bar Sud, Marina di ModicaMarina di ModicaMarina di Modica

As we walked along the prom towards Fiore for a gelato, we saw that there was a market in progress. I bought sandals! Then gelato. After the ice-cream, Grace inadvertently bought a coffee “con panna”, rather than “con latte”, but enjoyed it enormously. It was mostly whipped cream.


SiracusaThe plan was to take a trip to Siracusa. The plan could have done with more detail than that, to be honest, but we drove to the city and then drove around a bit looking for parking. We found a place near the bridges to Siracusa’s older part, the island of Ortigia. It turned out to be rather expensive in the end, but not worth worrying too much about. And there were toilets.

SiracusaWe took lunch at pretty much the first place we came to, since it was past two o’clock, and then explored Ortigia. The winding lanes of the medieval street plan are quirky and interesting, but the open plaza in front of the cathedral is the most impressive baroque space we saw on the whole trip.

The cathedral itself is one of those recycled religious spaces. Originally a Greek temple to Athena, under Roman rule it was dedicated to Minerva, and then the Byzantines made it a church, until the Arabs converted it to a mosque. Then the Normans made it a church again. In the eighteenth century, it was built up with the current baroque façade and portico, although in the early 20th century some of the baroque walls were stripped to reveal Athena’s massive Doric columns.

It cost us €2 to get into the cathedral, but it was pointed out that we then got discount on a visit to either of the two catacombs on mainland Siracusa. We toured the rest of Ortigia, and then set out for Santa Lucia and her catacombs, being the nearest.

Fonte AretusaAfter a brief detour into Lucia’s church, we realised that the catacombs were accessed from an octagonal oratory opposite. This was erected over the saint’s tomb in the baroque period, and its construction involved destruction of some of the upper layers of the catacombs. But those were just the graves of ordinary Christians, so they didn’t matter.

The irony of it all is that when the building was put up, Lucy’s tomb was already empty. Her remains were stolen by the Longobard Duke of Spoleto in the 700s and then had an itinerant and badly-doumented history, from Abruzzo to Byzantium to Bourges to Venice. In 1981, the Venice bones, supposedly of Santa Lucia, were stolen but recovered. Siracusa still wants them back.

The tomb tour took us past half-past-five, which, puzzlingly, is the time that antiquities close in Siracusa. It meant we were too late to get in to see the famous Greek theatre, but we walked that way anyway, hoping to see at least something, even by peering through a fence, but no, we saw nuthin’. (Well, hardly nuthin’. You could just see the quarries of the Latomie.)

It had been a long walk across a hot and dusty modern city and I felt like leaving. We drove home, and went out to one of the other pizza places in Marina di Modica. This proved to be as good as their competitor across the street, and the staff were very friendly. We got free limoncello.

    Siracusa Siracusa


Lunch at home, before setting out for nearby Punta Secca, or “Marinella” as it pretends to be in Commissario Montalbano. The Commissario’s house (normally a B&B when not in action for filming) had removals men working. I wondered if they were preparing it for a new series.

Casa Montalbano Punta Secca

Enzo's Montalbano
A short walk along the promenade led us to the Commissario’s lunch-time restaurant, Enzo’s, but it was closed. A menu on the wall showed that “L’Antipasto del Commissario” was a steep €20. I think they’re milking it. A couple of beers by the sea wall, a walk on Montalbano’s beach, and some photos of the lighthouse, and we had sampled all of Punta Secca’s delights. We moved on, to Scicli.
Selfie at Montalbano's
It looks a bit like “Sicily” but it’s pronounced “Sheekly”, and it’s another regular set for filming Montalbano. The town hall is the front door of police headquarters (with the obvious “Municipio” cropped out), and the mostly-dry river courses have featured too. We found the latter to be full of cats. It is my theory that you’ll have either cats or water, but not both.

Scicli Movie set

ScicliI liked the scale and mixed baroque-medieval ambience of Scicli, especially as the sun began to go down and become golden. When we completed our tour, we decided that it was essential to sample real Sicilian cannoli. It was puzzling that we had never seen any displayed in pasticcerie, and didn’t see any here, so we went in and asked. “Avete cannoli?” “Certo.” Of course. Are you mad? We certainly sell cannoli. But they are not on display. They must be made fresh.

We sat down in the piazza to eat them. Delicious, but rich, and larger than I expected.

 Scicli ScicliScicli

la Grotta, ScicliWe’d seen “La Grotta”, a restaurant in a cave, on our tour of the town, and decided to try it for dinner. Our timing was perfect, in that we got an unreserved table just before the place filled up. It really is in a cave. Grace had fish soup with couscous, including an entire giant prawn, while I had pork.


For our last full day, we decided not to do too much travelling. We drove the short distance to Pozzallo, and took a look at their main shopping street, without finding anything to buy. At “Tropical Sandwich” we sampled the other Sicilian foodstuff we’d heard about, the arancini. Although there were several varieties on the menu, they only had the basic type with ragu inside, but those were good.

PozzalloWith stuff in the fridge to use up, we thought dinner at home would be the best idea, and Grace suggested buying some fresh fish. We were in Sicily, after all, although there would be a slight compromise, since I’m not a fish person (e.g. giant prawns). In a pescheria, we first asked after tuna, but there was none. Our similar options were salmon and swordfish, and I asked innocently for two swordfish steaks. Well, the swordfish torso that the fishmonger brought out was a large as a human’s, and he cut two generous slices, over 750g in all. That came to a handsome €19, but what the hell, we bought it and drove home.

A swim (for Grace), a final walk around the village, and purchasing a nice white wine for our fish took us home just as the sun was setting. Since we had no real idea about the best way to cook swordfish steaks, Grace opted for frying in olive oil (they barely fitted in our pan) while I did a tomato and pancetta sauce.

The fish was delicious, but between us, we could only consume about three-quarters. Rather than bin the remainder, I put it on a plate and we went out into the quiet streets to find some cats. They loved us. “Friends for life” said Grace, but then she doesn’t know cats like I do.

One of the other remnants in the fridge was a pair of mini bottles of prosecco. At midnight, we took them down to the shore and toasted our holiday. Cin-cin!

  Marina di Modica Marina di Modica


Our landlady was due before ten to check us out of the apartment (the bottle of wine, prosecco and finishing off our limoncello the night before may not have been wise). But we were ready to go on schedule and the apartment was presentable. “‘Til the next time,” said Simona. I’d go back in an instant.

ModicaModica is another of the UNESCO-listed baroque towns, and we’d only glimpsed the modern outskirts as we’d arrived the previous Thursday. It was also on the way to the airport, although our deadline (returning the hire car) wasn’t until six. With no real idea of the geography of the town, I simply drove towards “Centro” and then looked for parking. It wasn’t a perfect strategy, but we struck lucky and came upon free parking at Viale Medaglie D’Oro, with another of the high motorway bridges almost above our heads.

ModicaIt was only a short walk to Corso Umberto I, the main street of the old town. That is the “low” old town, because there is also a “Modica Alta”. We went into the cathedral and when we came out, the terrace outside was being used to film… something. There was a group of dancers, some pretend musicians with plastic trumpets, two girls with hula hoops, and two traditional mafiosi. I’d already seen from the tourist tat that there must be an image of the old mafiosi as lovable rogues with moustaches, red scarves, berets and sawn-off shotguns. That’s what these two were like. No mention of drugs, bombs or murder.

The next step was to visit Modica Alta. Or rather, lots of steps. Lots and lots. But it’s worth it for the views and the architecture. At the base of the long flight of steps up to San Giovanni Evangelista, there was a pizzeria where we had full-sized pizzas for lunch, before descending (mainly by road this time) to the lower town.

I noticed that visitors could go into the cloisters of the town hall. There was a little art exhibition too, which kept us amused for a few minutes andthen we prepared to leave. But what was that noise? A sudden thunderstorm, torrential. The courtyard quickly became a pond, put we were under cover under the arches. We waited it out, and when the rain eased, went for a coffee.


It was still raining a little when we finished, and we walked briskly to the refuge of the car. We dried off with the car’s heater and then I programmed the sat-nav to get us back to Hertz. It did choose an idiosyncratic route, cross-country along some dirt tracks, but I can’t complain, since we emerged exactly at the right point. The Hertz people took us the few kilometres to the airport.

Modica Modica
Modica Modica


There shouldn’t really have been a “Friday” on this blog, but out flight was late arriving at Dublin by about an hour, making it one in the morning by the time we’d disembarked. (Our outward flight had also been late, by about 20 minutes.)

We got on the shuttle bus for the Blue car park, and it took us right up to our parking spot. The car keyfob disarmed the alarm and sprung the doors as expected and we loaded the luggage and took our places for the trip home. But disaster! Opening the doors was the last gasp of the depleted battery. The engine would not start. By this time, it was after one-thirty.

I’d seen that the kiosk at the gates to the car park had been manned with a live person, and I set off to seek help (several hundred metres away). But before I’d gone far, I saw a tow truck approach, and watched as it pulled in. There was another driver suffering from a flat battery! The tow truck man said “Sure, no bother,” when I told him I needed help too, and he came over right away and jump-started us.

After that, it was plain sailing, although I was paranoid about stalling before the battery was recharged. I took Grace to her house first, and then I came home to mine. I went straight to bed. It was 04:10.

Man Walks In Front Of Car With Flag

This is a blog I published on the 8th of May 2008, or roughly six and a half years ago. It notes the ridiculousness of sticking bits of paper to your car windscreen. Well, as of this month, British drivers no longer need to display a tax disc, but in Northern Ireland there’s still a requirement to show the “MOT” or roadworthyness disc. NI civil servants still stuck in the Victorian age? Hardly surprising.

It’s not unreasonable that older cars should be subject to annual roadworthiness testing. In Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, we have a scheme that’s far superior to the one in Great Britain. There, the testing is devolved to the motor trade, where the garage which tests your car is also allowed to do any repairs. That’s a recipe for conflict of interest.

In Ireland, it’s a government agency that does the testing. Completely impartial.
For a few years, the Northern Ireland test certificate has included a perforated disc that you could tear out and stick to your window alongside the tax disc. But as of the start of this month, displaying the disc has become compulsory.

That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. How long would it take me to edit and print a fake one on my computer? “Ah,” says the civil servant who thought of the idea, “But the police have a computer in their car and can look up your registration to see if you are legal.”

Exactly! Whether or not I’m displaying a disc is completely immaterial. The real record of my test is in the government agency’s computers, not in a piece of paper. For the same reason, it’s equally ridiculous that the car has to display a tax disc anyway. In fact, the police have a camera system that can read car registrations automatically, and check that your tax is current, and send you a court summons in the post, all  without human intervention.

But you still have to stick a piece of paper to the windscreen, or face a £200 fine. Fine.