Dulce et Decorum

Today is the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, a horrific slaughter of youth from across the world in the name of politics, alliances and patriotism.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owens writing from the front.

Lest we forget..

First Australians

Just wrote an email to an old friend in the UK and this is what I wrote about the SBS docco “First Australians” that has just finished. If you’ve not watched it already please go and watch it on the SBS website or pick up the DVD when it hits the SBS shop in December.

There’s been a really good series on TV here called “First Australians“, it gives the indigenous point of view of their history since the British landed and it’s been pretty heavy stuff. Whilst I knew a bit about the colonisation, killings, poisonings, repression, racism and the Stolen Generation the sheer scale of what was done is still shocking. Donna has been telling me that in school they were never taught at all about the sort of things that happened, just really skipped over the whole issue.

This is really the first time it’s been so publicly presented and I think it’s shocked a lot of people about what has been done by non-indigenous Australia. To their credit SBS (which is sort of like Channel 4 back there) has put it up on the ‘net and allows people to comment on it and it’s interesting, inspiring and depressing to see the various reactions it has had from disbelief and sadness through to denial, revisionism and anger.

I’ve ended up with tears in my eyes after most shows, it’s really quite affected me as I have to acknowledge that I come from the country that was responsible for this. There are stories of resilience, strength, solidarity, courage and dignity in it and also some rare examples of colonists who have seen indigenous people as people and who have stood besides them in mutual respect.

Hmm, that’s all a bit heavy, sorry! That’s because we’ve just watched the final episode about Mabo vs Queensland, the case that finally extinguished the doctrine of Terra Nullis – the myth that Australia was unpopulated before the English arrived because the indigenous people didn’t count and laid the way for indigenous land rights claims. That was only in 1992 when we were both in Aberystwyth! It’s crazy, they were only allowed to vote in federal elections in 1962 and were only really counted as citizens in 1967 after a referendum to change the constitution.. ๐Ÿ™

Here is what my wife, Donna, wrote about this series.

The Good Old Days: Networking in UK Academia 25 Years Ago

For those of us who were lucky enough to be around in the UK academic community in the late 80’s and early 90’s there’s a nice reminder of just how, well, interesting things were in the paper “The Good Old Days: Networking in UK Academia 25 Years Ago” by Jim Reid (who was at Strathclyde then) from the 7th UK Network Operators’ Forum in 2007.

Those were the days when we had to think about obtaining RFC’s by email rather than FTP (no, there was no WWW in 1988) and waiting until 2am to play MIST at Essex, hoping not to get disconnected from JANET 15 minutes later because of the Aberystwyth Ethergate of Death. ๐Ÿ™‚


00 00 Call Disconnected

Bletchley Park in Cash Trouble ?

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading “Codebreakers“, a collection of memoirs and essays by former staff at Bletchley Park, aka the Government Code and Cipher School (GCCS) War Station-X, Room 47 Foreign Office, etc. which worked throughout the war breaking enemy ciphers such as the German Enigma machine, the decrypts of which were called “Ultra“.

But today, via Bruce Scheiers blog, I’ve learnt that the trust that now runs BP has is facing financial problems as they receive no external funding and need cash to help preserve the buildings and the exhibits they restored after taking over the site in the 1990s.

The Bletchley Park Trust receives no external funding. It has been deemed ineligible for funding by the National Lottery, and turned down by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation because the Microsoft founder will only fund internet-based technology projects.

For the site that hosted the organisation that arguably saved the day in World War 2, not to mention being the birthplace of the first real computer, Colossus (( yes, I know it wasn’t Turing complete! )), it’s a sad predicament. ๐Ÿ™

Quote for the day

In 1969 Bob Wilson (later the first director of Fermilab) was called before a hearing of the US Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy to answer questions about particle accelerators. In it Senator John Pastore demanded to know how such a device improved the security of America and Bob Wilsons response of “nothing at all” didn’t go down to well, and so he was prodded further.

His obituary from Cornell in January 2000 puts it like this:

“It has only to do,” Wilson told the lawmakers, “with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”

I have to concur.

Timewatch Excavation of Stonehenge

Beaker Pottery found at Stonehenge - (c) BBC 2008

The BBC Timewatch programme is covering the first excavation of Stonehenge since 1964 which started on March 31st and runs until April 11th. Their website has details of the background to the excavation, the experts that have organised it and daily video reports from the trenches (ahem).

For the first few days they’ve been going through the spoil from previous excavations which has been worthwhile in its own right, finding a hammer stone and a piece of beaker pottery that was missed before.

But now they’ve moved onto undisturbed layers so keep an eye on the site, it could get rather interesting!


I’ve not been able to get to blog for the last week, so I thought my first post would be in support of the Federal Governments apology (flash video) for their treatment of the indigenous peoples of Australia (the text of the motion is here).

So whilst I am a (very) new Australian I recognise the fact that the people who came from the same island that gave me life were responsible for many of the wrongs visited upon indigenous people here, and for that I say sorry.

As a footnote, if you haven’t yet seen the complete footage of the “Welcome to Country” ceremony that preceded the opening of Parliament I suggest you do so soon, it appears it will expire from the ABC News website on the 11th March. ๐Ÿ™

Library of Congress photos on Flickr

On a similar theme to Google offering to host open source scientific data, the US Library of Congress has announced on its blog (( which is impressive in its own right, and appears to use WordPress too )) a project that has published over 3,000 photos from the LoC archives and seems to be going down a storm with Flickr users!

This is a pilot for what seems to be a larger Flickr initiative, which the LoC describes thus:

Weโ€™re also very excited that, as part of this pilot, Flickr has created a new publication model for publicly held photographic collections called โ€œThe Commons.โ€ Flickr hopesโ€”as do weโ€”that the project will eventually capture the imagination and involvement of other public institutions, as well.

The LoC is also pretty sharp about the potential power of this, and how it may benefit themselves (and future generations), saying:

The real magic comes when the power of the Flickr community takes over. We want people to tag, comment and make notes on the images, just like any other Flickr photo, which will benefit not only the community but also the collections themselves. For instance, many photos are missing key caption information such as where the photo was taken and who is pictured. If such information is collected via Flickr members, it can potentially enhance the quality of the bibliographic records for the images.

This potential is foreshadowed by the discovery of 3 previously misidentified images of Abraham Lincoln’s second commemoration by a user of their traditional archive!

A user of our Prints and Photographs Online Catalog raised questions about the images, which sent Library of Congress curator Carol Marie Johnson sleuthing. Careful comparisons to the only other two known images from that event and meticulous combing through records led her to this discovery. My point is that if we can uncover those kinds of treasures, thanks in part to our discerning Web users, imagine what might happen after setting loose hoards of eager photo fans at Flickr.

This is why preserving our information for future generations is such an important activity, and why projects such as the National Archives of Australia push to develop open source Digital Preservation software tools is vital to ensure that our descendants have a rich picture of their history as we have of our ancestors.