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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Dr Plokta's LiveJournal:

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    Saturday, December 20th, 2014
    8:51 pm
    Re-reading Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Miles Vorkosigan has just purchased as gifts ear-ring-sized replicas of a few planets, which are apparently "displayed under various levels of magnification, where they proved to be perfectly-mapped replicas of the worlds they represented, right down to the one-metre scale.” A quick calculation suggests that if they're 2cm across, then those one-metre scale objects are less than 2 nanometres across. Never mind "magnification", it would need a high-power electron microscope to see them, which it seems unlikely that the recipients of gifts will have available (although I suppose that in this case one of the recipients is the Emperor of Barrayar, and can presumably get as many electron microscopes as he wants).
    Friday, December 19th, 2014
    11:17 am
    For the benefit of the EU, here's how taxing things that are both sold and delivered over the Internet works.

    Can we tax them based on the location of the vendor? No, because vendors will simply relocate to a jurisdiction that doesn't tax such transactions (e.g. Amazon in Luxembourg).

    Can we tax them based on the location of the purchaser? No, because we never discover the purchaser's location during the process of sale and delivery.

    Can we tax them based on the location of the purchaser's IP address? No, because the purchaser can choose to use a proxy or VPN in a jurisdiction that doesn't tax such transactions.

    Can we tax them based on the location of the purchaser's payment account? No, because the purchaser can open an account in a jurisdiction that doesn't tax such transactions.

    Can we tax them based on the purchaser's self-declared location? No, because the purchaser can lie.

    Is there any other way to determine the purchaser's location? Not as far as I know.

    Can we harmonise tax rates for any of the above across 194 different countries? Ha ha ha ha ha.

    Therefore, such transactions can't be taxed at all, and the EU should simply give up trying, and only tax things that can be unambiguously located within a single taxation jurisdiction.
    Friday, November 28th, 2014
    12:48 pm
    So does the VATMOSS craziness mean that while I'm on one of my occasional tax-avoidance day-trips to buy cigarettes and wine in Belgium and France respectively, I can also pop over the border into Luxembourg, connect to a local wireless data network, and stock up on ebooks at 3% VAT instead of 20%? Even while still using my UK credit card and PayPal account? If not then why not -- it will be my right to pay the Luxembourg rate of VAT when buying ebooks in Luxembourg, and will be the retailer's duty to charge me that rate and no more. But if so then what's to stop me from getting an account with a Luxembourgeois VPN provider and doing the same without bothering to go to the effort of actually visiting Luxembourg?

    It's high time that we had global agreement that electronic sales work like physical sales, with the regulations and tax rates of the country where the retailer is based applying to the sale, and with territorial rights based only on the retailer's location. Because in fact it's impossible to know where the customer is physically located at the time of the sale. Yes, this gives lots of oppurtunities for tax avoidance, which suggests that perhaps we should just give up trying to levy sales taxes on electronically delivered goods altogether, and replace them with taxes on things that can be unambiguously located geographically.
    Sunday, October 12th, 2014
    1:37 pm
    Natural Language
    Everyone is trying to sell "natural language" calendar programs, that let you enter new appointments and reminders more naturally. And that's great, but all the examples they use to sell them are completely noddy ones like "10am next Monday", because doing it properly is very, very difficult. If you want to sell me your program, show me it can cope with these (most of which are real-life examples, not especially made up to be awkward):

    • Every month on the Wednesday after the second Monday that's not a bank holiday, but a week earlier in December

    • On the first Thursday of every month, and also on the last Thursday before Christmas Eve

    • On the Saturday before the first Sunday in December

    • On the Saturday closest to the spring equinox

    • Two weeks before the clocks go forward

    • On the Saturday of the August bank holiday weekend

    • Forty-seven days before the Sunday after the first ecclesiastical (western rite) full moon after the 21st of March (that one is Ash Wednesday, in case you were wondering)

    • Ten working days before Mary's birthday

    • Ten Irish working days before Declan's birthday

    • Three days before the HMRC self assessment deadline

    • On the last working day of the month

    • On the first and third Thursdays of the month, and also on the fifth Thursday if there is one

    • A week before the last posting date for Christmas for Australia

    In other words, don't just do the easy bit and leave me to do the hard stuff -- that's not what software is supposed to be for.
    Sunday, October 5th, 2014
    5:24 pm
    On The Beach
    We took Jodie to the beach this afternoon, since it was nice and sunny, low tide, and after the closed season for dogs on (some of) the beach.

    Cut for a video, and big photosCollapse )
    Monday, September 22nd, 2014
    8:16 pm
    You Can See Our House From Here
    Here's a panorama taken from Milo's field, with our house in the middle.

    Cut for excessively wide photoCollapse )
    Saturday, September 20th, 2014
    9:16 pm
    Slow-Motion Jodie
    Thanks to my new iPhone 6, here's a slow-motion video of Jodie in action. Note the wildly flapping tongue and ears.

    Thursday, September 11th, 2014
    7:05 pm
    Parliament Without Scotland
    Interestingly, a UK Parliament without Scottish MPs since 1997 would have looked rather more liberal-minded than the one we ended up with in this timeline: https://www.mysociety.org/2014/09/10/parliament-without-scottish-mps-how-would-it-have-looked-different-since-1997/

    I suspect this is mostly because there would have been smaller Labour majorities without Scotland, and so Labour backbench rebellions between 1997 and 2010 would have been more likely to succeed.
    Monday, August 11th, 2014
    9:59 am
    House Prices
    This is the best graph ever produced of first-time buyer mortgage affordability in the UK. The only thing lacking would be some indication of how the average first-time buyer mortgage compares to the average house price.
    Friday, August 1st, 2014
    4:34 pm
    One Year On
    A year ago yesterday we completed on the purchase of the new house. A year ago tomorrow we moved in. On the day in between, I came down for the day to sort a few things out and receive some deliveries. And I took some photos. Today, at the same time of day with the same lenses on the same camera and in similar weather, I took some more photos from the same angles (as far as I could reproduce them).

    Cut for 20 large photosCollapse )
    Friday, July 11th, 2014
    4:59 pm
    A New Philosophy of Life
    I have decided that any day where turning your horse out in the morning ends with you rolling around on the wet grass clutching your groin while the horse runs off into the field on his own is a bad day.

    (Jonnie got a bit frisky and decided to jump in the air and kick his feet out in all directions. Luckily, he only caught me a glancing blow a few inches too high to be really painful.)
    Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
    7:46 am
    Potato Salad
    You've probably seen the potato salad Kickstarter already. But he seems to have a bit of a problem, which is an object lesson in why you should pick your crowdfunding rewards carefully. 720 people have now contributed enough to have the right to each pick an additional (appropriate) ingredient for the potato salad, which is thus going to be the most complicated single recipe ever cooked.
    Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
    9:39 pm
    Late Update
    I've not added any more species for a while, so here goes. Subtracting one, because I see I've counted Green Woodpecker twice:

    41. House Martin
    42. Jay
    43. Large White
    44. Green-Veined White*
    45. Common Blue
    46. Wall (the butterfly, not the structure)
    47. Speckled Wood
    48. Meadow Brown
    49. Common Toad
    50. Common Lizard*
    51. Yellowhammer*
    52. Fox (took a surprisingly long time to see one of those)
    53. Collared Dove*
    Monday, May 12th, 2014
    4:16 pm
    Species Update
    Been a while since I updated, so here goes (mostly corvids):

    36. Swallow (one swallow doesn't make a summer, but we have two)
    37. Red Admiral
    38. Jackdaw*
    39. Rook* (there are two of them on the patio right now, going for the peanuts in the bird feeder)
    40. Carrion crow
    41. Skylark
    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
    10:25 am
    Heartbleed Followup
    Now that lots of people are revoking potentially compromised SSL certificates, it's quite important to check that your web browser is picking up certificate revocations. Try loading this URL: https://www.cloudflarechallenge.com/heartbleed

    If you don't get a warning about the certificate being revoked or invalid, you should Google for your browser's name and "enable certificate revocation" and look for instructions on enabling it.
    Monday, April 14th, 2014
    9:37 pm
    Full Moon
    Full Moon tonight, with Mars in opposition just above it. Here they are rising through the treeline on the opposite side of the valley.

    Cut for a big pictureCollapse )
    Tuesday, April 8th, 2014
    8:16 am
    Imminent Death of the Net
    The "Heartbleed" SSL vunerability released last night (UK time) is a bad one, to the extent that I recommend being careful when accessing sensitive websites (webmail, online banking, etc.) for the next month or so, especially when you're on an untrusted network (e.g. someone else's wifi). If you know how, it's worth checking the SSL certificate details and being suspicious of any certificate issued before today's date.


    Sunday, April 6th, 2014
    8:13 pm
    But first, an overdue species update.

    31. Painted Lady
    32. Brimstone
    33. Grey Heron (trying to eat our goldfish, I expect)
    34. Grey Partridge* (on our front lawn)
    35. Orange Tip*

    Also saw a Mute Swan and Coot between Bishopsbourne and Bridge, but that's a bit too far from home to count as walking distance unless I actually walk there from home.

    And now some photosCollapse )
    Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
    4:18 pm
    How an electric fence tester works
    1. Stick the earth spike in the ground
    2. Loop the metal bit over the fence
    3. Squint at the LED in the bright sunlight
    4. Put your hand over the LED to shade it enough to see if it's flashing
    5. Get your hand zapped with 3,000 volts
    6. The fence is working
    Thursday, March 13th, 2014
    6:40 am
    A few more species
    26. Herring gull
    27. Small tortoiseshell
    28. Peacock* (the butterfly, not the bird, though in fact there are peacock birds near here (but they're not wild))
    29. Green woodpecker
    30. Tawny owl* (been hearing them ever since we moved in, but I finally saw one flying across the road while driving home from an evening out)
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