More Frost . . .

KBT by Jacqui Ringrose

The photo I culled from Facebook this morning because it is so similar to the views from our windows. It was posted by Mrs Jacqui Ringrose, a very nice lady, who runs the Kirkcudbright Picture framing shop and has done a lot for us in the past. The spire on the left was St Mary’s Church, now flats, and the one on the right is that of the Parish Church still very much in use.

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Frost . . .

Frost at Mossdale, by Barry Russell, Sunday, 11 Dec 2022.

We have now had a whole week of hard frost, with no let up during the day. The nights have been clear so that more dew descends and freezes and the north facing roofs of houses nearby now look as though there has been a snowfall, whereas it is actually the slow build up of hoar frost night by night. The forecast for this area seems to show a slight shift of temperature to the plus side of zero on Thursday and Friday so perhaps the anti cyclone is breaking down and some warmer air beginning to move in. Since we do not go out very much, and indeed have no need to go out, we are not greatly inconvenienced, but I well remember the days when I had to go to work at an early hour and the tricks we got up to, and the devices we used, in order to be able to use the car in the morning without too much delay. Car batteries have improved immensely over the years, as have their electrical systems with the advent of the alternator, but it was quite common for people to put their car battery on a trickle charge overnight so that the pavement was criss crossed by electrical leads coming from the houses and going to the charger somewhere in the car. No one seemed to trip up because of it, but one can imagine the reaction today to such ‘dangerous’ practices.

Yesterday we set to and did all of our Christmas cards (hopefully) because we want to use up our old second class stamps – and today is the last posting date for those. We also learnt that one of our granddaughters is expecting her first baby which was as nice a Christmas present as you could ask for.

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Proportional Representation . . .

The following text is a cut and paste job from a “Guardian” editorial . . .

Proportional representation
The Guardian view on proportional representation: Labour should back it
House of Lords reform is necessary, but not a sufficient constitutional change to mend Britain’s broken politics

Fri 9 Dec 2022 18.12 GMT
Monday marks the third anniversary of the general election that delivered the largest Conservative parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher’s. Labour, meanwhile, dropped to its worst result since the 1930s. Governments are thrown out when voters want a fresh start. What was unusual in 2019 was that voters gave the Tories the task of reversing Tory policies. That perhaps explains why Rishi Sunak heads a government that resembles an opposition in office, pitting itself against actions of its predecessors.

This paradox highlights how close the two-party political system is to breaking point. People who voted Conservative at the last election know they have been had. Instead of getting a government that will fix the economy and the NHS, these voters have found themselves with ministers who are wrecking them. This has led to a widespread feeling of cynicism. Polling for the Compass thinktank shows that even if Labour replaces the Conservatives at the next election, the majority of voters think the political system is incapable of meeting the big challenges of our time – such as climate, wealth inequality and housing.

This despair has its roots in the electoral system. To see why, consider the vexed issue of immigration. Opinion polls show that half of the adult population now say that immigrants enrich society. But because most of the pro-immigration votes are piled up in 25% of parliamentary constituencies, and the anti-immigration vote is spread evenly over the other 75%, politics acts as a drag anchor on progress.

What needs to change is the distorting first-past-the-post voting system. In Britain, seats won at a general election are not shared out proportionally between the parties. But neither of the main political parties backs a fairer mechanism that matches seats to votes. Both benefit by disenfranchising people who back small parties. Defenders of the current system say that it gives voters two broad parties to choose between, and delivers durable, strong governments rather than shaky multiparty ones. Yet Mr Sunak is Britain’s fifth Conservative prime minister in six years.

The Liberal Democrats, and their Liberal forebears, have consistently favoured the adoption of proportional representation; the Conservatives have consistently opposed any reform; and the Labour party has been consistently divided on the issue. Labour is now promising House of Lords reform. This is a necessary but not a sufficient constitutional change to mend Britain’s broken politics. Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, was right to say in a speech last month that the current electoral system “fuels the disillusionment that feeds extremism. Proportional representation can help tackle it … [Labour’s] Lords reform without Commons reform is like changing the tyres when the car’s on fire.”

Labour sees electoral reform as at best a distraction. Yet the current system is stacked against it. Sir Keir Starmer still needs to retain every seat his party holds today, and get a bigger swing than either 1945 or 1997, to gain an unprecedented 120 seats for a one-seat majority at the next election. Sir Keir’s poll lead is shrinking. Voters will probably need to vote tactically to ensure that Labour stands a chance of winning power and that progressive parties, such as the Lib Dems and the Greens, don’t get squeezed out.

Britain has never been associated with just one way of voting. Proportional representation has produced more social democratic politics in Wales and Scotland. It could also be a pathway for extremist politics – as has happened in Europe. But a different UK electoral system would engender cooperation between parties and a more pluralistic political culture, as well as ending the damaging Westminster obsession over marginal voters. For the country’s sake, it’s time to change a voting system built for the benefit of the two main parties.

I feel very strongly about this. Thomas Hare pointed out well over a century ago that the so called “First Past the Post” electoral system did not reflect the actual views of the voters. So, although politicians are wont to prate about the virtues of this magic thing called ‘Democracy’ we haven’t got it yet, and our electoral system prevents its birth. To read about this in more detail one needs to go to the web site of the Electoral Reform Society (spoiler : of which I am a member) and read up both the ‘History‘ section and the section explaining the various possible electoral systems. It is often said that the country was offered a choice for PR a few years ago, but this is a lie. The system offered was the ‘Alternative Vote’ which CAN improve things, but which can also make things worse !

Very few countries now use FPTP, even those to whom we exported it in our colonising days. Proportional Representation using the Single Transferable vote is the only fair system. It may require reorganisation of constituencies, and ideally the rebuilding of the House of Commons chamber to get away from the confrontational layout we have at present. It also requires politicians themselves to change away from the two party dictatorship they (and we) are used to, to a more collegiate style of working. A style which puts the good of the country and its people first, and the childish behaviour we see at present very firmly in last place.

We see this type of layout in the Scottish Parliament, but alas, we also see that the politicians who are not of the Scottish National Party still operate on the principle of smashing the Government down, rather than the use of reasoned argument and possible alternative and better solutions to problems.

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Birthday Boy . . .

89 today. We went out along the A 75 in beautiful sunshine but hard frost – the third day of hard frost too – to the Gem Rock Museum at Creetown. We did not go to see the gems, but to make use of their cafe for lunch. Very good thick cabbage soup, followed by a chicken filled panini, also good. I finished off with a ‘Cream of Galloway‘ vanilla ice and a cappuccino.

By this time the light was fading fast, so we headed straight home. They close on the 18th of this month and remain so, until 1st February 2023. We came home with two things that look like a version of Betty’s ‘Fat Rascals’.

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Old Kirkcudbright . . .

Old Postcard

This was posted on Facebook, presumably be a Kirkcudbright resident to whom I cannot send thanks, but it is lovely old image of the harbour as it was, and the caption below which says that one of the vessels, the “Utopia” was wrecked in November 1898 effectively dates the taking of the original photo at some point before that. It would seem to be a scan of the page of a book of some sort.

The white cottage behind the trees on the left is still there and is now the Harbour Cottage Gallery. And to the right of the the sterns of the vessels, across the river can be seen a house in an area known as “The Stell”.

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The Problem with Creativity us . . .

We creative types have a bit of a job being creative sometimes.

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Pickles . . .

Speaking – (typing) – as a hearing aid user I can say that this is a true and accurate record of the life of such a person !

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Free at last . . .

The last two days have, for us, been momentous. On Monday we went as far as Dumfries, driving ourselves, not going by taxi, to the Heathhall Garden Centre to meet up with relations travelling north. Two of then live in England, but we have not seen them since before the Covid isolation time began, and we hadn’t seen them for a long while before that either. They brought with them another cousin who came to the UK when Covid began to be with his elderly Mother. He has lived with her ever since and she dies recently at the age of 99. He is now free to return to Oz, but there is much to sort out in the way of putting his Mother’s house on the market and dealing with her affairs. We cannot remember when we last saw him before all that, but the last photo I have was taken at Christmas 2003 !

We ate very well, and I think our conversation probably drowned out conversation at nearby tables. Our relations going north set off afterwards, and dropped off the Cousin at Abington services to catch a long distance Megabus to return ultimately to Plymouth via London.

Then yesterday we went to Gatehouse of Fleet to the Podiatrist, and then ate in the Galloway Lodge which also was excellent. So, in two days we have blown apart 3½ years of hermit like isolation. We are still alive, and feel as though we have been set free.

Quote : “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” Martin Luther King. 1958.

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The Morgan Three Wheeler

“Back in the day”, in the post war years (which war was that Daddy ?) we used to go to the motoring events attainable from where we lived. Inevitably therefore, these consisted of the Veteran Car run from London to Brighton, and the Veteran Motorcycle run from Tattenham Corner to Brighton. There were probably others too, but I cannot now remember what they were. These events drew many spectators and people turned up in all sorts of vehicles other than the actual entrants and you would see lovely old Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, sports cars of all sorts, Frazer-Nashs, HRG, Aston-Martin and so on – and always there would be some well wrapped up drivers and passengers in Morgan three wheelers.

I had by this time read and bought a good many books as they became available on veteran and vintage cars so I knew about the cycle cars which came into existence after the First World War as a being cheap, and a way for people to get on the road. The Morgan was one of these and always seemed to me to be the most sensible and practical solution, and many times I have wondered why other manufacturers since have not explored the idea more.. There was also the BSA three wheeler but they didn’t seem to catch on or catch the imagination in quite the same way.

BSA Three Wheeler Advert

For me the Morgan was the epitome of desirability and I would dearly have liked one, but of course by that time the only one still in existence were old, and preserved, and changed hands in frequently at prices way beyond the means of a boy, and later the young man. And from a practical point of view they would need to be stored carefully, under cover, and since I proceeded into the fluid life of a Royal Air Force aircrew person that was really an impossibility. So, I made do with more practical transport and worshipped from afar, and continue to do so.

Should you wish, you can still buy a new Morgan Three Wheeler – the Morgan Super 3 – but you will need to be very well off to do so. Like, you will need well over £40,000 sitting in your spending money account.

Morgan Super Three
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The Mastodon Man . . . Eugene Rochko

Eugen Rochko, Le Monde photo

The Man Behind Mastodon Built It for This Moment

People fleeing Twitter have turned to Eugen Rochko’s alternative. He says social networks can support healthy debate—without any one person in control.

EUGEN ROCHKO LOOKS exhausted. The 29-year-old German programmer is the founder of Mastodon, a distributed alternative to Twitter that has exploded in popularity in recent weeks as Elon Musk’s ownership of the platform has rained chaos on its users.

Rochko began developing Mastodon shortly after leaving university in 2016. He was a fan of Twitter but wanted to create a platform not controlled by any single company or person, reasoning that online communication is too important to be at the whim of commercial interests or CEOs. He believed that the lack of profit motive and canny design could discourage harassment and abuse, and provide users more control.

Instead of creating a single unified platform, the the protocol that Mastodon uses, called ActivityPub, allows anyone to use open-source software to boot up a server that hosts a Twitter-style community with its own rules. Together those servers, and other, non-Mastodon ones, form a collective of interlinked communities dubbed the “Fediverse.” People can join a server that matches their interests and community standards, but also connect with users on other servers, or block all content from a particular server completely.

Mastodon grew slowly after the first code was released in 2017, appealing mostly to free software enthusiasts. Then Elon Musk took control of Twitter for $44 billion. His promises to weaken moderation, deep staff cuts, and chaotic changes to the platform turned many dedicated Twitter users off the platform. In the past few weeks, Rochko says, some 800,000 new Mastodon accounts have been created, overwhelming popular servers and flooding existing users’ timelines with introductions, questions, and complaints from newbies. Last year, donations to the nonprofit that runs Mastodon and where Rochko is CEO totaled 55,000 euros; it spent only 23,000 euros.

Since Musk took over Twitter, Rochko has been working long hours to keep his own server, Mastodon.Social, running, while also preparing a major upgrade to Mastodon, but he took time to videochat with WIRED from his home in Germany. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Will Knight: What have the past couple of weeks been like?

Eugen Rochko: People probably want to hear that it’s been great—all this growth and success—but I would prefer to be watching from the sidelines. There is more work, there are more fires to put out. It’s incredibly stressful. I’m pulling 14-hour workdays, sleeping very little, and eating very little.

The whole story coincides with the process of releasing a new version of the Mastodon software. You have to put a lot of focus into that. And then suddenly, you also have to deal with responding to press inquiries and running social media accounts to take advantage of the opportunity.

Despite the challenges, is it gratifying to see that Mastodon is where people turning away from Twitter have headed?

Yeah, it was good and gratifying at an objective level. I would love to just lean back and just enjoy the fact that so many new people are using Mastodon, like Stephen Fry. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to lean back and enjoy that. There has been an increase in funds due to all the new Patreon donations in the past 10 days, it’s been unprecedented. fun of Mastodon in a recent tweet?

Honestly, it was really a good thing for us. It’s free advertising, and he’s just making a fool of himself. I could barely see the screenshot because the screen was so dirty, but I think he was making fun of somebody having trouble posting after signing up. The thing is, the massive influx of new users obviously puts a lot of strain on this volunteer network. So you should not be surprised that people are struggling with the load. It is just a question of scale. With more Mastodon servers springing up than ever, there are more and more options for people to join.

Although Mastodon has a lot of new users, many are finding it doesn’t have the features they were used to on Twitter. Are you listening to the complaints?

I am listening, but I am not eager to jump on new feature requests. We have our own plans and strategies and our conception of what Mastodon is. All the new feedback is definitely flowing into our impression of what Mastodon is, what it needs, and where it’s going to go. Just not necessarily in an instant way, and maybe not in exactly the same way that somebody would ask for.

Is there anything in particular that you’ve heard that seems like a good idea?

A lot of requests don’t make sense, because people have not yet learned about the platform. Like “Why isn’t Mastodon a single server?” We’re not going to jump on the opportunity to undo all of the decentralization.

By signing up you agree to our User Agreement (including the class action waiver and arbitration provisions), our Privacy Policy & Cookie Statement and to receive marketing and account-related emails from WIRED. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Another feature requested by users is quote tweets. It has been debated for years, and when Twitter introduced them, around the time I left the platform, I wasn’t a fan. Even if it’s not always toxic, it can definitely tempt you to do what people call dunks. That being said, I don’t feel as strongly about that now, as I used to back then, and I’m definitely taking into account how often people ask for this feature. It’s not all set in stone.

Corporate social networks have struggled most when their communities got really large, into the hundreds of millions. Have you seen more toxicity or other problems as more people have joined Mastodon?

There’s a kind of self-selection going on where the people who join Mastodon are maybe more civil. But it should not be discounted that all the different servers, with their rules about hate speech and against harassment, are doing moderation work and acting as gatekeepers against bad actors. When you sign up on a server that has rules against, let’s say, racism, or transphobia, and then somebody else signs up on the server and starts posting something transphobic, then your moderator bans the person, and you don’t have to see them.

As more people join the platform, will it be more difficult for it to remain decentralized?

There are always certain centralization forces at play. It is more cost-efficient to have more users on one server. And people tend to gravitate to servers that are seen as more trustworthy. The choice of the server is often difficult for people—this is the one big difference between something like Twitter and something like Mastodon. How do people choose an email provider? They often go to Gmail because it’s the biggest one out there. But I’m not using Gmail, and I can still use email just fine. It is not an irredeemable situation. And there’s no single Mastodon server with the proportions of Gmail.

Won’t the cost go up significantly for those hosting Mastodon instances as the service gets more popular?

Yeah, the bigger a server grows, the more it costs to host, obviously. And when you are not interested in monetization or profit extraction, growing is actually, like, a negative thing. Now I’m gonna have to scale up and pay more for servers and stuff like that. But Mastodon and the Fediverse provide this ability to just spread the load over multiple different actors. I can just close registrations on my server, and the other servers and network will pick up the people who are trying to sign up right now.

What happens if someone wants to set up a Mastodon server that spews hate?

The administrator of a server can decide “no, I’m not going to receive these messages anymore” and create a block against another server. It usually happens in cases of spam or abuse or harassment.

Do you foresee managing the community becoming more difficult when you have more people joining, all with different opinions? Or is being host to a very wide range of views part of the original vision?

That’s the idea. There is no consensus, there is no single idea of what to moderate and what not to moderate. Some people are going to have different expectations of what they want to see or how strict they want to be about who talks to whom. The Fediverse provides different places where you can go and experience social media the way that you want to experience it. You can have a super safe space with very strict moderation; nobody has required you to compromise on anything whatsoever.

What can people do to help Mastodon if they like your ideas?

I would say contribute to the Patreon for the server that your account is on. These people who are running servers, they’re making it happen, and it’s them who should be receiving people’s support.

What if someone—say an impulsive billionaire—wanted to buy Mastodon or take control of it somehow?

The network is protected from something like that. The code is free, open-source software, and nobody can change the license or take it back retroactively, and all of the different servers are owned by other people. Somebody could buy Mastodon gGmbH [the German nonprofit that maintains the software] and with it the trademark and the servers we run— and—but it wouldn’t affect the Fediverse in any significant way.


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