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May 072017

I have been reading a book on chivalry and knights recently, and every so often wanted to shout at the historian writing it, but as he isn’t listening to me I guess I’ll just have to shout at you instead.

The main irritating claim was that the equipment of knights put entry out of the reach of ordinary ‘soldiers’. It is true that the need to provide a highly trained and specially bred horse or two, did significantly increase the cost of entry into the ranks.  But this is an overly simplistic analysis.

For a start, if we look at the fighting men of the Anglo-Saxon forces facing the Normans in 1066, many (perhaps even most) would have been equipped with just a spear and shield. But a wealthy core would have been much better equipped with costly mail armour, swords, etc. Many within this core would have quite easily afforded the additional cost of a destrier or two.

In addition, many of those ‘core’ soldiers would have been members of the royal household guards, or similar groups for other magnates. And it is likely that some or all of their equipment would have been provided by their lord. For example, look at William Marshall who whilst he was born into a privileged family certainly did not have the resources to pay for his own equipment; whilst his climb to become regent was exceptional and he was undoubtedly both exceptionally talented and exceptionally lucky, he would have almost certainly had to rely on being gifted his first destrier.

Yes this is after the Anglo-Saxon era (although right at the beginning of the chivalric era), although there is no reason to suppose that similar arrangements could not also take place in the Anglo-Saxon period. It is simply common-sense – an earl would want to impress his king with the number of followers he could provide, and a well-equipped follower is better than a poorly equipped one.

Onto chivalry itself: It’s a bit of a myth. Knights were generally expected to behave in a certain way with other knights and others of similar or higher rank, but lower ranks? The ordinary people? They were not so lucky; the standard way of making war consisted of sieges of fortified towns (resistance would usually result in extensive looting, killing, and raping of the inhabitants), open battles, and ravaging the landscape – burning crops, buildings, and generally making a nuisance – this later was intended to have an effect on the wealth of the lords of the territory, but the effect on the common people is predictable – death, rape, and impoverishment.

And impoverishment generally led to famine. As an example, during the Thirty Years War, overall 25-40% of the population of German fell victim to famine.  Whilst other wars and battles may not have caused such widespread famines, there was undoubtedly a huge death toll in payment for the entertainment of kings and knights.

And knights did not always act “knightly” towards their high-born prisoners either. Once a king (or other leader in battle) raised the dragon banner, no prisoners were taken including prisoners who would otherwise be worth a considerable amount in ransom.

So the much vaunted “chivalry” was a conditional code of honour that could be discarded according to circumstances.

On the other hand, the myth of chivalry did have some use – it fed the inclination leading to the laws of war and conventions on warfare such as the Geneva Convention(s). If anything the myth was more real than the reality of chivalry.

May 012017

With an election coming up it is time to try and persuade those who do not vote to get out there and vote. One of the main reasons people give for not voting is because none of the candidates are inspiring enough. Well it is all very well waiting for a candidate that inspires you, but you could well be waiting for a very long time.

Probably the second biggest reason for not voting is that with the first past the post system, there are places where voting for anyone other than the leading candidate is seen as a wasted vote. Nothing could be further from the truth! In almost every “safe” seat, if everyone who didn’t vote for the leading candidate all voted for an agreed alternative, then the seat could easily go to that alternative candidate. For example, the Arundel and South Downs constituency was won with 32 thousand votes in a constituency of nearly 100,000 – easily enough to overturn the Tory majority.

As to tactical voting: It can be summed up by selecting the candidate you would most like to lose (such as the Tory candidate), and picking the candidate most likely to defeat them.

Anyone can find out the last few election results (and a whole lot more) at Just look at the last few elections and vote for the second placed candidate (providing that’s not a Tory or a UKIP candidate of course!). And don’t keep punishing the Liberals for breaking their promises; they don’t break their promises any more than the others.

Of course this may mean you are not voting for the candidate you want, but under the present voting system it makes more sense to vote against the candidate you dislike the most. Yes this is crazy, but so is using a voting system first used in the medieval era!

Apr 302017

Short answer: NO!

One of the infuriating things I come across is the notion that final salary pension schemes are generous; it seems that a generation of Tory propaganda has persuaded people that such schemes were wildly over-generous and completely affordable. Of course many of those doing the persuading are taking advantage of those “generous” pension schemes.

What it is easy to forget is that many of those final salary pension schemes collapsed because successive governments turned a blind eye to the private sector looting pension scheme surpluses and panicking when the surpluses turned into deficits. In other words when pensions were profitable they were affordable, but whenever a company suddenly had to contribute more than it expected they were suddenly too expensive.

Now don’t get me wrong – with increasing life expectancy there are problems with funding pension schemes, and we can decide that they are too expensive, or not. But if a pension scheme was perfectly reasonable in the 1970s, it doesn’t suddenly become overly generous in the 21st century.

As it is, we have “decided” that rather than share wealth out amongst the working-class, it should be kept in the hands of the already wealthy.

Of course we could always decide to revisit that decision and spend more time thinking about it.

Apr 302017

Despite how long I have been running Windows in virtual machines (as far back as Vmware Workstation 1.0), I have never gotten around to looking at the virtio network interface – except for naïvely turning it on once, finding it didn’t work, and turning it off – so I decided to have a look at it. I was prompted to do this by a suggestion that emulating the NIC hardware as opposed to simply using a virtual communications channel to the host would hurt network performance. Good job I chose a long weekend because I ran into a few issues :-

  • Getting appropriate test tools took a while because most of the tools I know of are very old; I ended up using iperf2 on both the Linux main host and the Windows 10 guest (within the “Windows
  • The “stable” virtio drivers (also called “NetKVM”) drivers didn’t work. Specifically they could send packets but not receive them (judging from the DORA conversation that was more of a DODO). I installed the “latest” drivers from Note to late readers: this was as of 2017-04-30; different versions may offer different results.
  • Upgrading my ancient Debian Jessie kernel to 4.9 on the off-chance it was a kernel bug turned into a bit of an exercise what with ZFS disappearing after the upgrade, and sorting out the package dependencies to get it re-installed was “interesting” (for small values of course). No data loss though.

I ran two tests :-

  1. sudo nping –tcp -p 445 –count 200 –data-len 1280 ${ip of windows guest) – to judge how reliable the network connection was.
  2. On the Linux host: sudo iperf -p 50001 
  3. On the Windows guest (from within the Ubuntu-based environment): sudo iperf -p 50001 -c ${ip of Linux host}
Device nping result iperf result
Windows guest (virtual Intel Pro 1000 MT Desktop 1 lost 416 Mbits/sec
Windows guest (virtio) 0 lost 164 Mbits/sec
CuBox running ARM Linux n/a 425 Mbits/sec

Which is not the result I was expecting. And yes I did repeat the tests a number of times (I’ve cheated and chosen the best numbers for the above table), and no I did not confuse which NIC was configured at the time of the tests nor did I get the tests mixed up. And to those who claim that the use of the Ubuntu environment screwed things up, that appears not to be the case – I repeated the test with a Windows compiled version of iperf with much the same results.

So it seems despite common sense indicating that a NIC “hardware” custom designed for a virtual environment should perform better than an emulation of a hardware NIC, the actual result in this case was the other way around. Except for the nping result which shows the loss of a single packet with the emulated hardware NIC.

Apr 222017

May continue to cut public sector salaries year on year.

May continue to pillage the public services we all use to pay for the bankers mistakes.

May continue to make tax cuts for the rich.

May continue to cut welfare payments to the poorest families in our society causing a huge increase in child poverty.

May continue to stumble and fumble around during the Brexit negotiations in all likelihood resulting in a poor deal for Britain.

May continue to antagonise the non-English countries of the union increasing the likelihood of a break-up.

May continue to add powers to the secret policemen until we’re living in a police state (hint: it’s not that far off).

Time to look past May to June and choosing anyone other than May.

Apr 202017

Today I pointed out that persuading teenagers to stop thinking “filthy” thoughts is roughly comparable to the task of emptying the ocean with a teaspoon, and someone retorted that the later was possible. Well perhaps, but until we’ve worked out a rough calculation we don’t really know do we?

And yes I am weird enough to have gone ahead and worked it out.



Swirling Sea

According to the wonder that is Wikipedia, the average teaspoon can contain approximately 5ml of liquid – not often ocean but the type of liquid is irrelevant.

According to a handy table, there are approximately 1.3 billion square kilometres of water in the world’s oceans. And according to a handy units calculator this equates to 1.3e21 litres of water. Dividing this figure by the volume of our teaspoon, we get the value 2.6e+23 teaspoons of water in the ocean.

Assuming that it takes 10s (we could argue about how accurate that is, but trust me it doesn’t make too much of a difference to the final conclusion) to move a teaspoon of seawater into a truly ginormous container that magically appears to contain it all, it will take approximately 2.6e+24 seconds to empty the oceans.

Now you could work on this non-stop, but I’m no Victorian factory owner, so I will be assuming an 8-hour working day, and a 5 day working week. Admittedly no paid holiday (you want pay for this? I don’t think so).

So dividing the stupendously large number of seconds by 60 (to get minutes) by 60 (to get hours) by 8 (to get days) by 5 (to get weeks) by 52 (to get years) we get approximately 3.5e+17 years. Good! We’ve reduced the E numbers somewhat!

Now if we divide this number of years by the expected lifetime of the sun (10 billion years – and ignoring the fact that we’re approximately half-way through the sun’s lifetime), we get a much more manageable figure of 34,722,222 sun lifetimes.

However it is not unreasonable to assume that something will happen to the oceans before we get anywhere near completing this little task.

Apr 182017

BBC Breakfast had a story this morning covering Prince William’s struggle with mental health, together with an interview with a counsellor and a mental health patient (both women – and this becomes relevant shortly). All very interesting and worthwhile – those with problems should be encouraged to seek assistance.

Yet what was missing?

The fact that William went public about his need for counselling in support of CALM which is an organisation trying to do something useful about the level of suicide amongst young men.

Whilst generalising the short piece to encourage everyone who needs help to seek it, it seems odd that the mysteriously high rate of suicide amongst young men and CALMs efforts to tackle it should really have gotten a mention.


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