Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Childer Award

On Monday Jaime received his school's "Childer Award" (basically a Student of the Year award). Each school in the local education authority nominates a student to receive the award and yesterday was Meanwood's turn ... and Jaime had been selected to receive the award.  The scheme is sponsored by the Round Table.  I asked Meanwood Primary School to also present Kezia with something ... otherwise ... well, if you're a parent you'd understand ... which they did.  The school was shown Ken's photos from Capella Primary School here in Sao Tome where Jaime attended  first and second class and which was presented with a Meanwood International Teddy Bear last week. As Ken kindly accompanied me to Capella Primrary School last week to present the Meanwood Bear and a big jar of Voice of America sweets, we sent an article to the VOA blog yesterday and it was immediately published. Below some photos and the Meanwood school director's speech:

"For me, this is one of the best days of the school year because it is an opportunity to focus exclusively on something positive. Every year, when it’s time to select our Rochdale Childer Award winner – I am delighted by the stories that it uncovers.

This year’s winner has been a unanimous choice by all those involved because his achievements and personality deserve recognition and reward. It is a wonderful story of courage and perseverance which I am thrilled to say has a happy ending.

In November 2006 a little boy joined our school in Year 3. He came from a small African country, where the weather had been very warm, his school had been very different from ours and everybody spoke Portuguese. Imagine how frightened he must have been, finding himself in a strange cold land where everybody is speaking a language you can’t understand!!

He came to England with his Mum, Dad and little sister. Dad is from England and speaks both Portuguese and English so was able to help the family to settle in. Mum spoke very little English and must have found everything just as confusing and frightening as did her son, particularly when Dad had to return to work in Africa leaving the family behind.

As if this wasn’t enough to cope with, the family had returned to England to access treatment for the little girl who had been diagnosed with Leukaemia.

Throughout all these trials and tribulations our winner kept working hard and most remarkably kept smiling. He is a truly lovely boy who is an exemplary pupil and a joy to have around.

His determination and commitment to hard work have earned him the respect, admiration and affection of all with whom he comes into contact. He has made amazing progress with all his learning and now speaks English fluently and all achieved in 2 and a half years!!!

The good news is that his sister’s treatment has been successful and she is recovering well. The bad news, for us, is that the family now feel that the time is right to return to Africa. Whilst we shall be tremendously sorry to say goodbye to them, we must be content that the story has a happy ending.

Our winner today, if you haven’t already guessed, is Jaimie Lima.

We mustn’t of course forget his sister Kezia, who also has greeted every difficulty and barrier with a smile. These are two very remarkable children who we have been privileged to have as members of our Meanwood Family.

In June they go to a reception at the Town Hall.

I am an immensely proud father!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Where do these doors go? C. S. Lewis wrote the marvellous series of moral fantastic stories for children generally known as the Narnia series whereby a group of children discover a door in the back of a wardbrobe that leads to the world of Narnia where they experience a series of adventures involving wicked witches, cenataurs etc.

So where do these doors go?

To Narnia?

Or do you get drunk on a weekend, walk out for a piss and ...

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay is a political party in Sweden that is fielding 20 candidataes for the forthcoming Euro-Parliament elections. Its principal, perhaps only, platform is the reform of copyright and patent law to allow us punters, open source developers, the scientific community etc open-access to information.

Although what catches media attention are music, TV and film downloads that infringe copyright legislation, over the last three years I have found it frustrating to have restricted access to scientific research in medical journals concerning Kezia's leukaemia. To download a paper will often cost c. USD 40 a time which I just cannot afford.

Last week a Swedish court, presided over by a judge with affiliations to the Swedish Copyright Association and the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property
(so not without interests) convicted four members of Pirate Bay for copyright infringement imprisoning them for a year and imposing a USD 4.5 million fine on behalf of the international music/film industry.

Pirate Bay does not host copyrighted material on its servers. It points users to client users to BitTorrent users who make coprighted material available. So Pirate Bay is not hosting copyrighted material - just providing links.

BitTorrent has not been prosecuted - it is an innocent file transfer protocol over the Internet. How users use it is up to them. Pirate Bay points users to other users who are hosting copyrighted material - it is not responsible for the material being transferred.

On the basis of the Swedish judge's decision, by providing my readers with instructions on how to use Tor with Privoxy/FoxProxy to view BBC television content via their iPlayer internet application which restricts internet TV viewing to UK residents I also could be on arrival at Heathrow and prosecuted . The owners of UK Tor exitnodes could also be prosecuted.

But the BBC, Voice of America, etc rely on such technologies, and the "volunteers" who run their computers as Tor exitnodes, to allow Internet users in countries that filter access to Internet content, to permit access to their websites.

Tor was originally developed by the US Department of Defense. That Tor, proxies and file transfer technologies are being used for purposes that go against the purposes of governments and big business is only their own fault as they have their own reasons for developing these technologies.

You cannot have your cake and eat it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The International Bear arrives at its new home

The Meanwood Primary School International Bear arrived at its final destination, Jaime's old school, Capella Primary School yesterday. Capella is a village in the centre of São Tomé and myself and my boss Ken (the photographer!) went up to present the bear and Jaime and Kezia's framed photo to the school yesterday afternoon. The teachers (including Jaime's 2nd year teacher) lined up the afternoon students (they run a double-shift system) at the entrance to the school. I gave a little speech and presented the head teacher with the photo and bear. Some of the students in the 4th class remembered Jaime as, although Jaime is now in 5th class, they have a repeating system here so having failed 4th class first time round, are now repeating it. I also mentioned that Jaime has been voted Student of the Year at Meanwood. The head teacher gave a small speech holding up Jaime as an example of what a Santomense/Capella student can achieve.and Ken presented the school with a big jar of sweets. The head teacher then invited a student to say a few words but they were all too shy - but sang us a song instead followed by a long round of applause.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Skype and PBXs

I don't have a fixed landline at home (the local telecommunications monopoly claims they don't have the capacity in my area!) and our mobile network is not Internet-enabled so I am forced to use Skype to speak to Nanda in my work lunch hour.

When there is a crisis back in the UK which I have to sort out from afar and our Internet connection (via satellite back to the US) slows down due to bad weather or some other form of network congestion (I ping our servers back in the US before even before trying to use Skype - a return packet rate of anything over 600 ms just won't work), I then have to ask the boss to use work's landline (reimbursable of course).

I have also found that skyping through a UK PBX proves problematic. The touchtones ("press 2 and then #") work fine but once I get through to a person the call breaks up in both directions. Hence last week and this week I have to beg my boss to use work's landline for my bank problems.

So can any of my readers explain this to me?

Whilst on the subject of Skype, tariffs to landlines make interesting reading. It costs me 0.017 Euros per minute to call our UK landline from Africa and not much more to call a UK mobile. However, to skype a fixed line here costs USD 1.195 a minute. Looking at Skype's tariff information three of the eight countries to which to call a fixed line cost more than USD 1.00 a minute are lusophone countries (East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe) where Portugal Telecom have/had a majority shareholding in the local telecomms monopoly.

The most expensive Skype-to-landline rate is to the UK overseas territiory Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, an arquipelago from which the UK evicted all residents when it rented it to the US as a military base and which has been used extensively in the two Iraq and Afghan wars.

I cannot imagine the token UK administration or the US military have much need for fixed landlines.

Back to Nanssen drifting through the ice ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


When we first arrived with Kezia in the UK, it quickly became obvious that I would have to find some way of getting money to Nanda and the easiest way seemed to convert my bank account into a joint account so that Nanda would have her own Visa card to use in ATMs, go shopping etc.

My own Visa card was to expire at the end of March so envisaging Visa would send a new card to our UK address (given as a correspondence address for the account even though the account is actually held offshore th the Channel Islands), given postal delays, airport strikes etc. I asked to be issued a new card when I last visited the UK at Christmas last year. Promptly received before I returned here.

I continued to use the old one until the beginning of last week (still March) when I thought "Let's try the new one". It worked. So I had two valid cards.

On 2 April I try and withdraw some more money. The old card has obviously expired so use the card issued at Christmas and valid until 09/10 ... only for it to be rejected!


I ring Nanda on Friday morning first thing ... "oh yes a new card arrived for you here two weeks ago!"


Rang the bank and sorted it out.

So Visa issued me a card in December, issue another card for 1 April to the UK address and cancelled the card issued in December ... and left me high, dry and broke on the Equator!

And as a P.S. Nanda received a letter from the bank's fraud unit on Friday asking us to call them which I duly did (thanks again Ken). Everything ok - seems we are not money-laundering for al-Qaeda or African drug-runners.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Elonex Call Centre

Last year I bought Jaime and Kezia one of the first "sub-notebooks" specially designed for young children and only £100.

The philosophy for such computers originated with Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project at the Massachusett's Institute of Technology (MIT) which aims to produce a USD 100 computer for children in the developing world that can be wound-up or solar-powered.

OLPC hasn't quite achieved its aim of USD 100 (exchange rates last year, current economic crisis etc etc) but is getting there. MIT are not the world's greatest commercial operators in comparison with outfits such as Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Dell etc but as OLPC began to take off they began to see the potential off in the educational market of the developing world, huge markets (just imagine Brazil or India for such technology) and have started to promote their own sub-notebooks.

OLPC woke up to the interest of such notebooks to the children and their parents in the "developed world". The developed world also has poverty, although most often not as extreme as that found in the developing world. So, in response the corporate IT giants are responding to the MIT OLPC project by producing sub-notebooks aimed at both adult and child markets in both worlds. IBM, with its corporate might much greater than than that of MITs, has begun trying it "bribe" developing world governments to use their equivalent (with MS? check) as a better product to OLPC.

In the face of such competition OLPC has launched its own counter-marketing compaign - aimed at "socially-aware" developed-world parents "Buy one for your child and we'll finance one for a child in the developing world."

They use a Linux operating system (which immediately got my sympathy).

Then the French-based company Elonex, through its UK subsidiary, launched the child-focussed Elonex One series of sub-notebooks for around £100. I leapt at it!

Again a Linux OS (although proprietary preventing hacking parents from messing around and the machine has no BIOS setup allowing me to boot from a USB drive), it is truely a marvellous machine). But as with all machines designed by adults for children, they are never 100% child-proof. So Jaime, Kezia or Elonex managed to bust it.

My brother tried an OS reload and a hardware reset in accordance wth website instructions but to no avail. The power and disk lights remained red. So he phoned technical support on a national rate (not a premium commercial) phone number ...

... and was put through to Justin in Cape Town, South Africa.

After Justin had gone through his checklist (to which my brother responded "Done that, done that ...") , Justin instructed him to send it back to the factory.

A week later a new machine with a new version of the OS arrives.

I'm impressed!

... and today I saw the whole staff of Christies

Hello dear & lovely friends,

More from Castle Lugosi... & at last, today I got dates & details!

Yes - after being left in a broom cupboard & having a consultation with a startled car park attendant last Thursday, this week I saw the entire staff of Christie's and got more info than you can shake a stick at.

Here comes the science... I start chemo on May 5th - I'm having 3 cycles. So that means: one week in hospital having the stuff through a drip, then 2 weeks at home. Then cycle 2 is one week in hospital having the stuff through a drip, then 2 weeks at home. And Cycle three is - yes, you got the idea. 9 weeks in total.

Then I start radiotherapy (with chemo as well) on July 6th, for 6 weeks. Then there's '6 weeks recovery' (no sh*t), then they scan me & find out whether or not I need surgery on my neck & throat. The hope is that the chemo & radiotherapy will have got rid of the tumours. My hope too!

So, it looks like they are blasting me with the heavy-end stuff first off. Works for me. Get the bad news out of the way first.

So, Ms Lugosi is going to be taking a bit of a break. But thank goddess - I already have a box full of unfeasibly glamorous purple wig & sari fabric turbans to choose from.

Could you all keep the vibes a comin' ? And those flexible body parts crossed?
Yes, I thought you could.

If anyone wants to come & see me do my last gigs for a while, I'm hosting the Slippery Belle Burlesque in Manchester tomorrow (friday) & the Grand Theatre Blackpool on Monday 4th May. I might be squeezing a couple more in too (matron).

I'm also having a big party weekend at the Whitby Goff Weekend next weekend, so I shall raise a foaming glass of eyeliner to you all.

love to you all,

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rosie - more updates

7 April

Hello lovely friends,

Right! Latest health gubbins from my hospital trip today, and the news is looking good.

First up, it doesn't look like the cancer has spread. That's the good news I was hoping for.

So, I have 3 squamous (a new adjective for you) cell tumours: the primary (small) one inside my throat. And two secondary tumours on my neck (the larger ones). My first appointment with the oncologist is Thursday, & that's when I'll get the definitive word on the timetable for treatment. The idea is to start treatment in the next 3-4 weeks.

Again, I'll find out for sure on Thursday, but it looks like they'll zap me with a cocktail of radiotherapy & chemo. And do surgery on the neck lumps, but possibly not the throat tumour.

As always, my lovelies, news as I get it.

I'm getting my ups & downs & going with both - but I want to thank you for ALL the fabulous finger / toe / frankly quite athletic body part crossings you've been doing for me. Not to mention the amazing love & good vibes I've been getting loud & clear. It is all clearly WORKING.

talk again soon,

all love

Rosie xxxxxxxxx

9 April

Hello my gorgeous friends,

More health news from Castle Lugosi - mostly to say that there isn't really any more news... bum!

I was meant to see my oncologist for the first time today - but it appeared that everyone at Christie's had gone off on their easter break a day early.

So I saw a very nice - if a little startled - man who proceeded to repeat what I was told on Tuesday, and ask me for the nth time if I am a smoker (maybe they think if they ask me enough times I'll slap my forehead with my palm and go 'oh, you mean a SMOKER! Yes, of course.') They seem to be struggling with the fact that I'm NOT.

So, now I wait till next Thursday to get a timetable of treatment. But still probably starting early May. Till then I am eating steak and buns and chocolate & lots of it, as it looks like I am going to be on baby food for a while after...

So, a frustrating day, and not my best.

toodle pip, and big universal love & delight to you all,

Rosie xxxx

Fridjoft Nansen

Polar explorers, Dr Fridjoft Nansen and Lieutenant Hjalmar Johansen, are much less famous than their corresponding South Pole explorers Amundsen, Scott and Schackleton.

I have lent my current boss, Ken, several books since his arrival some two years ago and have never had such an "intellectual" boss since I started work for my employer back in 1992. And in October last year when he went on leave, he was temporarily substituted by another highly intelligent colleague, Dave, now working in the Philippines. (Ken and Dave - I hope you read this praise!).

Anyway, Ken, for the first time, lent me a book a couple of weeks ago - Norwegian Fridjoft Nansen's account of their trip to the North Pole in the 1890s, the first to make it (well, he far as 4 degrees from the pole but then they didn't have GPS and the international WGS 84 datum standard (fuck it my office is 600 metres further east and our 100-odd metre antenna towers in the sea using the local Portuguese early last-century datum that was used my employer's contractor to build my workplace back in the early '90s).

Fridjoft Nansen clearly surpasses the minimal achievements of myself, Ken and Dave as he went onto to discover the phenomenon of dead water and become the Norwegian delegate/diplomat to the post-WW1 precursor of the United Nations, the ultimately ineffective League of Nations.

The book is highly readable - even the technical details of ship construction and navigational details -and I haven't even halfway finished the book yet (on p. 134 of pp. 678 of a very small font).

Unfortunately, it is without maps and my Times Atlas of the World transliterates the Russian names for Siberian islands from Russian Cyrillic to English rather than 19th century Norwegian names to English - but I have finally found a couple of localities where the name has remained the same in English so I can more or less locate his "current" location - blimey, he still has a long way to go!

Now onto p.141 - Nansen has fever and confiness himself to cabin but is content that the pack ice in which they are enclosed most of the time (it is October) is drifting north-east towards their destination rather than south-west towards their point of origin.

To be continued.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Christie Hospital

The Christie Hospital in southern Manchester is the foremost treatment centre of adult and late "teenage" (sorry, Lucia) cancer in the north-west of England. My sister-in-law received treatment there and now my friend Rosie is being seen to there.

The hospital recently lost £6.1 million in the Icelandic banking system collapse. Most of this sum came from charitable donations. The government has set up a compensation scheme for those effected by the collapse, considering each application on a case-by-case basis. It has refused the Christie Hospital application.
See the Christie Hospital press release here.

Although two planned "out-station" radiotherapy units in Salford and Oldham are not threatened, several important cancer research projects are unlikely to proceed.

There is an online petition on the Prime Minister's 10 Downing Street website protesting this decision. If you are a UK citizen, please sign it. Two parliamentary Early Day Motions (1037 and 1043) have been tabled about this. I note the Liberal Member of Parliament for my constituency has lent his support to the Christie campaign.

There is also Downing Street petition about the UK Bone Marrow Registry (sign up before April 6). Given the support Secretaries of State for Health, and for Children, Education and Families, as well as the Prime Minister's, for the late Adrian Sudbury's campaign for bone marrow donor education in schools and the DoH's cancer reform strategy, I am (not-) surprised at their negative attitude to the Christie Hospital application for compensation.

Unconnected Afterword: as a longtime (and still) socialist, I am rather impressed by my Liberal MP. As well as responding positively to my requesting he sign EDMs 754 and 900 regarding cancer, I am cynical that his delay in signing EDM 900 was due to his attendance at a UN meeting in Geneva on human rights in Kashmir. My cynicism? Many of his constituents are of Kashmiri-origin and his support of the Palestinian cause because they are Muslim. Anyway, I am happy that he has made cancer one of his "causes" (can I claim credit for that?).

The London Ambulance Service and IT

Tom Reynolds works as an Emergency Medical Technician in the London Ambulance Service (LAS) and writes the blog Random Acts of Reality. He has often complained about the Computer-Aided Dispatch system used to communicate between the ambulance control centre and ambulance crews in their cabs.

The system was first deployed in 1992, predating the NHS Connecting for Health IT project. It has experienced problems on a number of occasions - in 2006 the system crashed nine times in two weeks! There was another crash in August last year. It is claimed that upto 30 lives have been lost due to response delays caused by system failures.

The last failure was on the night of Saturday 21 March for almost two hours. A Saturday night shift is not well-liked by the staff of the ambulance service, hospital A & E departments, the police etc. The media claims that 25 people suffered from ambulance delays due to this most recent delay.

Of course, the LAS denies this saying that reversion to the "tried and tested" pen and paper recording systems with radio communications to ambulance crews. Knowing a little bit about radio communication, I expect the ambulance service uses VHF FM radios which in a built-up area such as London will have "black-spots" where radio contact with control or A&E is not possible. If you have ever passed under a bridge on the motorway with your car radio on, you will know what I mean. Pass through the Blackwall tunnel under the River Thames, the same.

Tom tells me that this happens more often than is reported:
"Oh... But that happens *all the time* - we end up going back to 'pen and paper' and it seems to work just fine. (Some might say *better* without upper management checking their computer screens all the time)"

It seems that a new system is being developed by Northop Gumman - see press releases
here and here.