Archive | May, 2011

I Shall Wear Midnight


Terry Pratchett

Cover of Terry Pratchett

Over a quarter of a century ago I started to read a story.

The story was set in a magical land, where there lived a particular wizard, who subsequently became one of fantastic literature’s favourite wizards, alongside Merlyn, Gandalf and young Mr Potter. It also had an unfortunate tourist, whose Luggage had legs and, apparently a mind of its own.

With four-dimensional distance, not to mention elasticated string, memory seems plays tricks on one.

I was convinced this story first appeared, prior to book publication, in the form of a novella in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. But now, with the benefit of search engines I determined to check my facts before writing that it. And you, know, I can’t verify it.

I can find no trace of any such magazine publication of the first reports of Rincewind and Twoflower when using Google. Does any one know?

Perhaps I bought it in paperback on spec. I  know I didn’t buy hardbacks in those days. (Having, to my surprise just been able to find it without looking, I discover that my slightly foxed copy appears to be a paperback first edition. Wonder if it has any value ….)

All that is of little consequence, of course, because the story was The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett as he then was. And it started a lifelong affection for Discworld and its motley cast.

I read the 38th book in the series yesterday.

Featuring the old-beyond-her-fifteen-summers Tiffany Aching this one has a different quality to it than all the others.

Oh, the characterisation is as delightfully ironic as ever. The (s)wordplay just as sharp. But there is an undercurrent of tristesse. Not sorrow, or even sadness, but a gentle, smiling tolerance of humanity in all its glorious weaknesses and strength. It has an elegiac and hauntingly austere quality about it.

Knowing the practical difficulties that Sir Terry faced in writing his most recent books, this book is even more remarkable for that.

It’s not the last book in the Discworld series. (I suspect that one has already been written and locked away in a safe). And I know that there’s at least one other (Snuff) due to come out this year. And hopefully more to come after that.

But if it had have been the last, it would have been a rare and fitting finish.

This one was very much than the usual clever puns and word-game for the amusement of the alert (you know the sort of thing . . . Medic-i => Vetinar-i).

You never think that at some point there will be no more Rumpole stories to read. The Victorians rose up  when they thought there’d be no more Holmes, so much so that Conan Doyle had to resurrect him until he ended his days growing roses.
(The exception here is Harry Potter. We’ve been Potter-ed into submission, and Rowling ended that tale so definitively that the only new Hogwarts stories could be set in the a generation prior or subsquent.)

But one day there shall be no more new Discworld stories.

I Shall Wear Midnight is one of those rare books which makes you sit back, and wonder at the wisdom and compassion of the mind that created it; which mind is, in real life, suffering from one of the cruellest things that could possibly happen to it, and even more, is so courageous that he proclaims it to the world.

This book is even the more remarkable for that.

Read it.


Microsoft Access 2000 (Office 2000 Professional) with PostgreSQL ODBC link on Wine 1.3 under Linux

These are the steps for installing the 11 year old Microsoft Office 2000 on a standard Linux machine without the need to run it under a virtualised Microsoft Windows installation (e.g. Virtual Box).

No doubt some wag will comment ‘why bother? .. just use LibreOffice‘. (Can you spell ‘l-e-g-a-c-y   a-p-p-l-i-c-a-t-i-o-n‘, sunshine?).

The fact is I did have to do it, and having invested a couple of days of my time in getting it just so, I think it is only good karma that I put this up where other people can find it, since I’ve relied similarly on other people’s work in the past and it’s time to pay it forward.

If this note just saves one person from having to work this out for themselves, or worse still, be unable to migrate from some old Windows version that doesn’t even work on modern hardware, then that will be worth the effort in writing this article alone.

It’s also worth noting, that most of messing around with DLLs etc NOT needed if you are not planning to use Access but just are still in love with say, Word 2000. The good news is that the standard version of Office 2000 seems to install and run reasonably well under the latest v1.3 incarnation of Wine pretty much out of the box. In fact for some odd reason, it seems to be very much faster to start under Linux that it is under its native O/S (W2K or XP) on the same hardware!

It seems to be Access that needs you to go the extra mile when running under Wine.

Prerequisites:  Wine v1.3 or later.

These instructions have been tested with Wine 1.3.20. Try it with earlier versions at your own discretion. Don’t blame me if your cat dies.

For Ubuntu 11.04 this means uninstalling the 1.1 version that supplied with the Natty distro, if installed.

sudo apt-get purge wine1.1

Now add the 1.3 repository

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ubuntu-wine/ppa

Now click here to install Wine 1.3

On the Ubuntu start panel, do Applications-Wine-Configure.

A Windows 98/2000 style dialogue will appear.

Under the Applications tab change the version of Windows from XP to Windows 2000. This may not be strictly necessary, but it seemed to be the right thing to do. (If it works for you without, let me know. If this conflicts with other Wine installed programs that need XP then you may need to create separate wine-prefixes.)



You need the following three Windows DLLs installed. winetricks is a great little script that will pull them from Microsoft’s site, and install them, all in one operation.

(i) MFC42

/usr/bin/winetricks mfc42

(ii) MDAC28

/usr/bin/winetricks mdac28

(iii) JET40

/usr/bin/winetricks jet40


1. Insert the Office 2000 Professional disk in the CDdrive

2. From a terminal window do

sudo mkdir /mnt/cdrom && sudp mount /dev/sr0 /mnt/cdrom -o unhide

3. Open a Places window from the Natty panel (top start bar). You should see 09procd01. Browse it.

4. Double-click SETUP.EXE. This should bring up the familiar Office  2000 installation dialogue.

5. Select Custom Install and remove Outlook, and the obnoxious Office Assistant, adding in any extra converters etc you might think you need (you can always add them later). NB: If you think you need a talking paper clip you need more help than I can give you!

6. Download and install the Postgres-ODBC driver from the Postgres website at

Install psqlodbc.msi by double clicking it.WINE should now start the installation process for the Postgres ODBC drive.

Now test it’s all working by running Access, and doing Get-External-Data, Link Tables, and connect to the remote Postgres database.

That’s it.

Please let me know if this was useful for anyone …


Your UK credit report for pennies (Equifax-Experian)

A little known law in the UK allows you to get your credit report from all three major credit reference agencies for pennies.

Image representing Equifax as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase


The agencies and service resellers have been promoting ‘FREE’ instant access to credit reports. Of course its not free — you have to agree to sign up to a monthly fee which you are stuck with unless you cancel within the trial period, sometimes as short as 10 days. In addition itappears that at least one reseller uses your personal data for unrelated marketing purposes ‘with your consent’ (it’s in the small print).

The Data Protection Act 1998 (and its predecessor, the 1984 Act) has always provided a right of access to personal data held about you.  This is called a Subject Access Request, and you can write to any organisation holding personal data (that is to say, data about living persons) and request a copy of everything they hold on you within 40 days. The Act provides that the data controller or data processor (that is to say, the organistation or person with the data) can charge you.

The law sets a statutory maximum fee. And guess what! It seems that every data controller the law applies to invariably charges the maximum fee allowed, which is ten pounds (just under 12 euros at the time of writing).

There are three major credit reference agencies in the UK. Experian, Equifax and (relative newcomer) CallCredit.

So if you filed a normal Subject Access request with all three, it would cost thirty pounds. And if you did this three or four times a year, it would be a similar cost to paying say ten pounds a month for their paid-for services.

But there’s a little known provision in the law that enables you to get your credit reports for pennies.

Long before the 1984 Act was even thought of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 introduced for the first time in Great Britain, the right of consumers to access their credit file.

At the time the Act was drafted, the credit industry in the UK was very much in its infancy.

VISA and MasterCard as we know them today didn’t exist. The only payment card accepted internationally was American Express (restricted to the sort of people who today have Platinum Amex cards)

Scan of sample original Barclaycard - used in ...

Image via Wikipedia

Before 1972 only one UK bank offered a credit card, which was called ‘Barclaycard’ . Introduced in 1996, it is a brand name which still survives today, but now as one among many VISA cards. It was very cleverly advertised, with cinema ads showing a girl equipped with a bikini and nothing else but her Barclaycard.. (Although there are plenty of other Barclaycard ads on YouTube this one doesn’t appear to have survived). In 1972 the other three of the ‘Big Four’ Banks, launched Access (which became know as ‘your flexible friend’ only to disappear into the MasterCard brand many years later). Prior to this time the only credit available to consumers were expensive ‘overdrafts’ and expensive and onerous ‘hire purchase agreements’.

With all this activity, the UK Government instituted a right to see your credit file at a minimal cost. This was contained in the Consumer Credit Act 1974.and provided that not only could you get to see your credit file for a very small fee, but also that the credit reference agencies must correct it if it was wrong.

When in 1998 the Data Protection Act was updated, this was embedded into the new Act (s.7).

So, to obtain your credit file, simply write to any or all of

  • Equifax Ltd., Credit File Advice Centre, PO Box 1140, BRADFORD BD1 5US
  • Experian Ltd, Consumer Help Service, P O Box 8000, NOTTINGHAM, NG80 7WF
  • CallCredit Ltd, Consumer Services Team, P O Box 491 LEEDS LS3 1WZ

enclosing the statutory fee of two pounds, and stating all addresses you have lived at in the last siz years. They must then provide your full credit file within 7 days.

Sample Cover Letter

Dear Sirs,

I hereby apply for a copy of my credit reference file under the provisions of s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

My current address is 23 Every St LONDON SW1 0AA

My previous addresses within the last 6 years are as follows

1 Other St LONDON W1A 4WW

I enclose the statutory fee of 2.00 and look forward to your reply within the next seven days.

Yours faithfully



Richard Mustermann


Alderney Presidential candidates emerge

The Presidential Election has been officially announced. It

will be on June 11th.

So far, two candidates have publi cly declared themselves.

First out of the gate was former Renewable Energy guru Stuart Trought

Then in last week’s Journal, former RAF Wing-Commander-turned-biographer William G Simpson (not the bloke from Fifteen To One — that’s William G Stewart!).

But the rumourmill has been in full swing since Sir Norman’s official retirement announcement. And people have been falling over themselves to declare themselves as non-candidates, too many to list. (For the record, I haven’t declared I’m not running!).

But recently more names are being suggested might enter the race.

It’s very likely that at least one more late-declaring candidate will appear (nominations close on 30th May) but if even just one of the dark-horse candidates submit papers then there will be an election with four, maybe five candidates. (UPDATE: another suggested name appears to have ruled themselves out).

But if there are four or more candidates, that could almost turn the election into a lottery.

No matter how efficiently the rumour mill works, it seems to me that any late-declaring candidates will have somewhat of an uphill struggle to get their message across, since both Trought and Simpson have been working hard for some time to raise their profiles and show off their merits as potential Presidential material.

It’s all a highly interesting development in what used to be one of the world’s smallest Parliamentary democracies (Sark is smaller, but has only implemented democracy in the last 3 years or so) since last time there was a Presidential Election, there were no other candidates and Sir Norman was elected unopposed.

This time half the Island could be candidates!

It might be more chaotic, but it’s healthy for democracy



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