Not beyond the doormat

A bit of coincidence and cockiness probably saved me from an undesirable scenario recently and I want to share it if it can help other Londoners (or indeed people from anywhere in the world).

Somebody rang my doorbell in the day and I ignored it, like I usually do, because I wasn’t expecting anybody. It’s usually people who have got the wrong number or nuisances like leaflet droppers and questioners from charities.

The person rang again and I considered answering the door because they might indeed need some help (as has happened a few times) and no one else seems to be attending to them.

Then I heard loud rapping on my door window and a hand through my letterbox with a voice asking for attention. The first subconscious thought was that this seemed a bit desperate and something told me to hold off answering.

Then the knocking and calling appeared at another window. I hesitated then decided to go there. There was a man in a hi-vis jacket who waved when he saw me. I waved back then proceeded to my front door where the man then re-appeared.

I opened my door with the chain lock on:

“Hello. I’ve gotta come in to read your meter!”
“But I submitted my meter readings a few days ago.” (a lucky truth)
“Well, we have to check them again anyway.”

I noticed he had no insignia of any energy company on his clothing. His ID looked very dubious too – lacking the name of any company or a sufficiently big picture. I went into red alert:

“Can you give me your ID so I can call my energy company to confirm that you’ve been sent out?”
“I can’t do that… Look, just have a look at my ID through the window.” [presses it against window]
“So you’re not going to give me your ID? Right, well that’s understood then.” [a kind of cockiness enters my voice]

You can see a look of hunter-looking-hunted in his eyes as I close the door. He doesn’t ring again, disappears, and no other ‘meter reader’ turns up again. Another reason for suspicion was that this wasn’t the first time I came across a dubious ringer but I had shoo’d such people away before a conversation even developed (you get used to this from nuisance phone callers).

There were a few other things in hindsight that came to mind:

  • He didn’t ring my intercom button, meaning someone else had let him in, perhaps with an excuse such as needing to come to leave a package with an absent household.
  • The guy didn’t even tell me what company he was from or ask for my name – I should’ve said “what’s the name of the customer you’re looking for?”
  • He didn’t have the electronic device to record meter readings on – in fact he had nothing.
  • Lastly, access to my property is a waste of time. My meters can be read by anybody via viewing windows beside the door. Also, no meter reader has been desperate to knock in such a way.

I called 101 (non-emergency) to register this very obvious dodginess (I hedge it was an attempt of distraction theft, based on recent memory of news) but I was miffed at how unarsed the person was. I later read that the Met Police regard 101 as a waste of time. But you can’t call 999 for a crime that didn’t happen.

A friend of mine has a smart meter installed (which I’ve learned is not free as its cost is spread across your energy bills) and he still requires meter reading visits because it’s company policy to do so for a few years to verify the new device’s accuracy. So I guess it’s this fact and that people don’t submit their own readings immediately that helps give these con artists a narrative.

In short, keep a look out. Here’s tips bullet-pointed:

  • If you experience anything like this, let your neighbours know (particularly if they’re elderly/vulnerable) – you have to look out for each other. Inform your local Safer Neighbourhoods team too.
  • If you have an intercom system and that’s not rung, see that as a yellow alert. The intercom is the first vetting point.
  • Ask any caller what customer they’re looking for, maybe be cunning: “Are you here for Mr. Smith’s meters?” “Yes.” “I’m not Mr. Smith.”
  • Ask what company they’re from if not obvious… “Ah, my meters, you’re from Brand X energy company, right?” “Yes.” “I’m not with Brand X, never have been.”
  • Ask for their ID, they must hand it to you. Don’t call any number on it. Find your supplier’s number online or on a bill. Don’t bluff that you’ll call ‘their company’, actually do it for peace of mind. Still not convinced? Then still don’t let them in!
  • If you have manual meters, submit them online as soon as your supplier asks for them. It takes 30 seconds and removes doubts when anyone does come.

Con artists I don’t think are synonymous with break-in-ers (I’m not doing good with finding the right words here), that’s why they’ll act friendly to get in. But if things do get more messy, just call 999. Break-ins are higher risk to criminals now because of the noise alerting the street and mobile video evidence is easy to create via passers-by.

Up to this point I had been a bit cavalier about utility visitors because I never had a dubious experience despite being aware of the possibility. Most people are good but because a few aren’t you have to be careful. I will continue to be.



The Orange Goblin

I watch the news, you watch the news, so, we know that the new POTUS has banned entry from 7 predominantly Muslim countries, temporarily, for alleged safety reasons. Notably excluding Saudi Arabia who are the global growers of Islamist terror and who, you know, have the deepest connection to 9/11. They’re also tied to Trump’s business interests.

Sure, it isn’t a blanket Muslim ban since not all Muslims are banned, but the move from measured screening of suspicious individuals is not only resource intensive but also very broadly discriminatory, which has produced justifiable global outrage. Not only does this give feed to Islamists it’s also bizarre on the grounds that the 7 countries are not historical US terror exporters. Although given the ‘favours’ bestowed on them you would not be surprised if they were. Also the funny thing is that the ban covers Muslim-heritage atheists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and of course the vast majority of Muslims who hate fundamentalists as much as Christians do the KKK.

Given that most violent deaths in the US happen by gun-toting white males maybe all countries should ban them? Sounds ludicrous too, doesn’t it?

But let’s be clear, Trump has only been POTUS for a fortnight and while he is obviously an imbecile who would be extremely lucky to have another term, his predecessors (both Obama and Bush) form a contiguity. They have bombed Muslim-majority countries on alarmingly erroneous pretexts and banning is a rather tamer event than killing (but you can bet there will be a Trump war, though he’s not obviously as war-hungry as Hillary). It gets the news headlines because it affects events on US soil and not the camera-barren east.

It was easy to dislike Bush because he was a gormless Republican. It’s easy to dislike Trump because it’s hard to see a redeeming feature (unless you’re a redneck). But I find it easy to dislike Obama too because he didn’t exactly veer between his predecessor and successor, and I admit I was a huge flag-waver of his up until just before second re-election time.

Sure, it was momentous that we had a black president given the history of the US and then a Democrat after 8 years. And while he has done some good things (Obamacare, trying to ban guns) and is clearly highly-educated and statesman-like, he has as much blood on his hands. He gets an easy ride because he comes off likeable and is on a party allied strongly with morality (or was), but beneath the surface he’s just the same. Drone killings and wars that do nothing but fan the fires. He also banned Iraqis in 2011 temporarily but didn’t make the mistake of parading his signature to the cameras like the orange goblin did.

I made it clear that Trump and Hillary are not very different to me. Yes, the latter is smarter but she would do odious things too without looking like a pantomime villain. I actually still dislike her more.

The only good thing about all this is that it should hopefully get the Democrats to wake up for 2020 and for Americans in general to realise that the genie that they’ve unleashed isn’t going to ‘Make America Great Again’.

Were I a US citizen I would’ve voted Jill Stein following Bernie Sanders’ defeat. A wasted vote perhaps, but one I could really sleep at night with.


….And Mexico isn’t going to be paying for any wall.

Also, Brexit isn’t automatically equivocal with Trumpism. Yes, it could all become shambolic but that’s not guaranteed. Certainly not many horrors have arisen yet.

The Trump card

2016 definitely seems to have been a weird year. We’ve had an above average number of celebrity deaths and topsy-turviness in world events.

The ‘sequel’ to Brexit seems to have been the election of Donald Trump as the next POTUS. If I were an American I’d have voted the Green’s Jill Stein in order to shake up the ongoing Democrat-Republican power saga. More ideally I’d have liked Bernie Sanders to have been the Democratic candidate as his ideas are, well, really idealistically Democrat and he would have undisputedly beaten Trump.

While it would have been welcome to have a first female POTUS after the first black one, most correctly see Hillary as self-serving and with a taste for overseas conflict. Trump, I believe, will end up being an unremarkable Republican, not able to deliver on almost all of his outlandish plans (he’s already backtracked on many) and will likely only last one term. Hillary would’ve offered the same false hope as Obama with a little bit more blood on her hands. 2020 will hopefully be the year where US politics reconfigures and people have better and saner choices.

I think, like with Brexit (and I’m an open Brexiteer and I still have no regret yet as it’s yet to happen and the EU’s in danger of collapse or necessary remodelling) most Trump ‘fans’ are actually just Hillary-dislikers. All racists voted for Trump, but not all who voted for him are racist. All racists voted for Brexit but not all Brexiteers are racist. The convergence is in wanting to bang a fist at the standard path. I don’t think the USA is going to have a KKK administration and I don’t think we’re going to see a new Hitler in Europe. When things get awry economically this pattern is predictable but I’d like to think that we remember the lessons of the past and curb excesses and not walk blindly into things.

It’s not a dawn of chaos ahead but a little din before we work things out for the better. However, I’m not a seer, just an optimist.

I also hope to blog a bit more in 2017. I did good enough for half of this year.

I voted Leave

To many people (maybe most) around the world, the act of ‘Brexit’ looked liked severing off a limb to fall from a mountain to death rather than just perishing at the rock-face. It probably is true because I think there are perils either way, which is why the UK was so evenly split on whether to leave or exit.

I voted to leave, which is a move that bucked the trend of the capital and almost everyone I know who shared their voting aims with me. Why did I ‘shoot myself’ in the foot?

It’s important to remember that EU membership is not a left or right-wing thing. Although the referendum looked like a debate between factions of the Tory party, there was also the Labour Leave group and hostility to the EU has been cross-party for decades. Even Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn was anti-EU, only being pro-EU now in that he preferred reform.

There are of course racists who supported Brexit but that does not mean all Brexiteers are racist (indeed, you’ll find plenty of brown and black Leavers). UKIP gave too much focus on immigration which is but one facet of the EU debate, and instead of talking about the danger of unmanaged numbers, thereby stressing public resources and disserving both migrants and the existing population, we heard swipes at the Polish and the Turks. Anti-racists bought Brexit on either left or right-wing principles and only a few far rightists thought of it as some romantic purging of immigrants. While far-right parties elsewhere are also clamouring for exit, it is ironically EU austerity and unrestricted movement that has helped rather than killed these parties. Labour avoids the immigration debate entirely, and who does that feed?

I understand the benefits of the EU and I didn’t vote with extreme confidence (probably 51% of me!). But I don’t believe the EU would reform (Juncker said so) and I also think the EU project is going to end by the hand of other countries, so we might as well get a head start in diving through the troubles, which I believe are not long-term. Market horrors are due to uncertainty, the markets want certainty, believing only negativity from surprise. We haven’t triggered Article 50 yet and I think by the time we do and have fully exited we’ll have fixed the deals we still want to keep, so it’s like changing to a better phone network. Leavers are by and large anti-EU, not anti-Europe. In fact you get to be open to the world outside the EU too.

While the EU has some benevolent aims (at least in the formation) I’m not comfortable about the inevitability of joining the failed Euro currency, the unconfirmed idea of an EU army (you don’t need a continental army for defence, so it must only be for offence, to aim to be as powerful as the US as an aggressor, bringing terrorism to more European countries), and increasing decentralisation which effectively mutes democracy and benefits elites (who benefits from austerity and who triggered the financial collapse?)

Maybe I voted wrong but I made an informed choice that I’m sticking by. Nothing else we can do unless there’s an overturning of the referendum, but what kind of democracy do we have if we must overturn democratic decisions?

Sure,.there’s also a risk of breaking up the UK too (I don’t want that), but I’m not sure if it’s logical for Scottish independence in order to have the EU, a weaker country like that could become Greece 2. But they deserve another referendum as the terms have changed. Yet the UK is a logical construct for local landmasses, whereas the EU is not even about European countries anymore; the bigger it gets the worse it is.

Irish unity? I think Northern Ireland is too entrenched as a UK territory (though it should never have been taken) for that to happen. I don’t understand why the EU is given too much credit for the peace process.

Finally, TTIP was a bullet that the EU was certainly going to fire at the NHS. I’d rather have a few years of Tory bruising on it than a complete dismantling.

My prediction is that in a few years we’ll be okay, but Brexiteers look like the baddies today. Just have to hope I’m right.


I remember my first mobile phone. 1999, an nk402 on the Orange PAYG network. A year before that I had a MiniCall pager – messages to that were 50p each!

I had been loyal to Orange up to late 2011 (Text Saver kept me keen), at which point they had merged with T-Mobile to form EE. I left Orange for a few reasons: the tariffs were now uncompetitive, the signal had suffered since the merge, and I was about to get my first smartphone and it seemed inevitable that I needed a contract to avoid getting fleeced.

I didn’t need a contract, turns out. I ported my number over to the ultra-cheap O2 network-leacher, giffgaff, and it was my network for three unlocked Windows Phones until a couple of days ago as they were starting to seem uncompetitive. The funny thing is that I have returned to my old network, now fully known as EE.

EE doesn’t have a reputation as the cheapest but they are known for having the best and most reliable 4G coverage. Turns out though, that, with a bit of research, they can also compete head-on with Three, who offer 1p/mb data and 3p and 2p UK calls and texts respectively. Vodafone and O2 were off my radar because they seem stuck in the 00s.

I actually tested Three and EE PAYG SIMs before making the leap. I found that I had a strangely-usable 0-bar signal on Three indoors and internet speed was on average H+, even out. EE’s signal was a tad lower than giffgaff’s but it was visible and I’ve never had anything less than 4G data connection.

It’s not very evident without a bit of digging that EE offers a 100mb/10mins/10txts pack for £1 week; this is enough for me because most of my surfing is at home and I can find free WiFi in most places, partly because BT broadband allows me free access to their very large WiFi network. I could visualise it as this: I pay £1 for 100mb of data (1p/mb, like Three, but data only comes as part of a pack/add-on on PAYG EE) and I get 10 free calls and 10 texts on top as a bonus. I class those as a bonus because data is all I really need; nearly everyone I know has WhatsApp and you can call and text through that.

At £4 per month it’s a quid cheaper than the most cheapest contract and you get free boosts of data/calls/texts after a certain number of packs are bought, thereby adding more value over Three in the long-run. Being able to tether, unlike on Three, for no extra fee, can also be handy on some occasions, and calls to voicemail can be from allowance calls.

True that off-pack rates on EE are much higher than on Three and giffgaff but I don’t anticipate going out of bundle often and I can buy add-ons for when I prematurely use up pack allowance (which will assuredly be rare). There’s no free EU roaming like on Three (with an All-in-One add-on), but a MiFi dongle and a local SIM card are still often better value.

EE, like its competitors, also offer free Virgin WiFi on London Tube stops, but this isn’t a big deal as O2 gives free WiFi to everyone there regardless, and it’s pretty decent.

So, if you’re looking at a good balance between quality and price on PAYG, I’m shocked to say that EE are a good choice. It’s nice to be back after a 5yr hiatus.

…For how long, though?

Xubuntu 16.04 LTS on black MacBook (2008)

I have a MacBook now.

Granted, it’s a almost obsolete as it’s 8yrs old and has an un-updateable version of Mac OS X, but I have one. And it’s one of the rarer black models from early 2008. A bit of spit and polish has made it almost as good as new. It also has extra value in being from a famous friend, who now has a gorgeous MacBook Air.

The battery doesn’t last quite as long as it must’ve but it’s been fun to tinker with OS X on my own, and it’s not hard for a nearly-25yr Windows veteran to get to grips with. But to really make this more usable I decided to mess with its metaphorical brain. I partitioned the disk and put Linux on it. Which is a bit sacrilegious to some.

I first used Ubuntu 10 years ago and last used it 4 years ago, the last iteration being the very lightweight Lubuntu for my sold-off netbook. I decided to put Xubuntu on this MacBook as it’s capable of running heavier than Lubuntu, but classic Ubuntu with the Unity GUI might be pushing it.

After a bit of reading, installation was pretty painless. I burnt a Xubuntu CD, got the MacBook to boot it up to test all was good (it was, apart from WiFi which needed a proprietary driver that was acquired on installing), told it to install to the free space from partitioning, and I was good to go. So as well as respectfully keeping OS X on there I can (with the aid of rEFInd) now boot in to a modern OS with modern applications. And it looks better than the OS X which was last updated in 2009!

I’m not whooping too much though as I know that a machine approaching a decade is unlikely to last too long on the hardware side, but hey, it was free. I didn’t have a laptop. I didn’t have an Apple, and I didn’t have Linux. I have it all in one now. Let me enjoy my parade.


Nearly 3 weeks ago an Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper was murdered by a fanatical Muslim who claimed that the man, Asad Shah, had “disrespected Islam”. Mr Shah was known to wish Christian customers well on events and sometimes handed out gifts, and this was reasonably connected to the murderer’s motive. And today “Kill Ahmadi” leaflets were found in a London mosque. It goes without saying that killing over any sort of any sort of political or spiritual disagreement is stupid and barbaric, but I want to play the Devil’s advocate on an issue: Are Ahmadis Muslim? (For disclosure, I’m a religious heretic so I’m not on any side, fanatics would have my head cleaved too).

The premise of being a Muslim is based clearly on the statement that you believe in one god (Allah) and that Mohammed is his messenger, and that he is the seal of the prophets; that is, there can be no more.
Although Ahmadis are Muslim in that they put Mohammed as the primary prophet, therefore accepting the Qu’ran and Hadith (sayings), they put the Indian-born Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a secondary/returning prophet, and it’s Ahmad’s added influence that sets apart Ahmadis from Sunni and Shia Muslims. Though there is a dispute between the latter two it is not over the prophet but who should succeed in leadership.

The problem for Ahmadis is quite obvious (but, to repeat, not any justification for intolerance or violence). If being a Muslim requires you to believe that Mohammed is the final messenger of God, then believing a subsequent different-looking prophet makes you non-Muslim from the perspective of those who follow the majority orthodox pre-Ahmadi teachings. You can make an analogy: If a Christian says he believes in God and that Jesus is his prophet (or son), but adds on that he also believes in Mohammed, he cannot be a ‘Mohammedan Christian’; actually, you could say that, but pre-Mohammed Christians would not except that heresy. It would be easier if Mirza Ghulam Ahmad designated a new religious name, but then again his idea was to keep within the framework of Islam.

There’s an analogy with open-source software. We call derivatives of an original work forks, and it might be easier to think of Ahmadism as a fork of Islam. It maintains links with Islam but is a separate product even though it maintains much of the same belief and practice. It’s easier to respect upstream than downstream. Islam itself could be thought of as a fork of Christianity which was a fork of Judaism, and derivatives of each are what leads to sectarian clashes. With this in mind it is not irrational for Ahmadis not to be accepted as Muslims, in the same way that Jesuit Jews and Mohammedan Christians is a logic error for the other Abrahamic religions. Can you be a monotheistic Hindu? But disagreement’s not a good reason for discriminatory and violent behaviour (in fact, there’s no good reason for that); why dirty your hands with blood when your creator can sort that out later? We even see many women who cannot relate to or support men who have had a sex change. (“I’m a born-female, you’re not.”), but they’re not killed.

From the other perspective – leaving Devil’s advocacy – if Ahmadis want to call themselves Muslim that really is nobody else’s business. If there is a divine creator, only they know who is truly Muslim and self-definition is of little worth. You may call yourself Muslim and do little or nothing worthy, but your saviour, you believe, is that you were born under (or accepted) non-Ahmadism. I think it’s easy to see who wins between a murderer and an innocent.

There’s an easy truce. Sunnis and Shias don’t have to accept Ahmadis on an intellectual-spiritual level but they should treat them like human beings because that’s one thing we all are. Ahmadis, for their part, should probably abandon ever being wholeheartedly accepted by the majority as valid Muslims. I hold that thought with sadness. The pessimism is warranted because fanatics of totally different faiths don’t make life easy either.