Friday, 30 March 2012


GNOME 3.4 has been released -  At one time, a new release of GNOME would have been something to interest me, though not so much now.

The problem with user interfaces now, and GNOME is no exception, is that they consume a lot of resources.  I started as a KDE user, on Mandrake Linux, as it was then.  Later, via Red Hat, SuSE, Ubuntu and Linux Mint Debian, I became a GNOME user.  Over the past year, I have switched to XFCE on a Debian Squeeze base and, finally, to LXDE on a Debian Wheezy base.

You will notice that I have gradually moved towards more minimal and resource friendly environments, and it's not because I have an old computer, or one that is lacking in specification.  Even on my dual core machine with 3GB of RAM (enough for almost any Linux environment), the difference in responsiveness can be felt.

My problem with the increasing hardware demands of operating systems is that computers are being replaced while they are still usable, because they are no longer powerful enough to run the latest user environment.  The unfortunate by product of this is that many people, not being financially able to keep up with perpetual upgrades, are being priced out of the information age.  If my suspicion that GNOME 3, Unity and the upcoming Windows 8 are optimised towards touch screen computing is true, then the problem will get even worse.

Clearly, the old model of how a computer works is in the process of being made obsolete, and the internet tablet/smartphone interface is replacing the traditional desktop experience.  I hope it doesn't happen.  While the decision to develop an ARM version of Windows 8 is obviously good for the British economy, it suggests an intention to move computing towards being increasingly mobile.

What is worrying is that these devices have a built in obsolescence - they are not upgradeable, and consumers are encouraged to purchase the latest iteration of their chosen device when the old one is no longer supported.  In contrast, I could buy an old Pentium 4 PC for less cost than an internet tablet, install Debian with LXDE and have the same work environment I currently use.  In short, there is no need to replace a computer until it breaks!  The businesses which throw their computers into skips, for transportation to landfill sites, should consider donating them to charities, who may keep that old version of Windows or install a light Linux variant.

I'm glad that GNOME is out there as a choice.  For those who want to follow the current trend, it will at least provide an easy transition into Linux and open source.  My worry is that we are heading towards the path of inbuilt obsolescence and a two-tier society, from a technological standpoint.

News from the Philippines

As stated previously, I don't read my newsfeeds often.  I have an interest in what's going on in the Philippines, however, because I know quite a few people there.

Some news stories from the Philippines which caught my eye...

The Russian foreign minister wants his country and the Philippines to work together more -

A Filipino producer of educational materials is working with Microsoft to bring classrooms in the Philippines into the digital age -  As an advocate of open source solutions, I take this as largely good news which could have been better.  There are a few Filipino Linux distributions, and the Philippines is still a relatively poor country, with its own language and culture.  My concern is that Microsoft has an agenda of creating a dependence on Microsoft technologies, which is clearly not in the interests of a country like the Philippines, or any country on Earth, to be honest.  There are better solutions, but Microsoft has the power to implement this scheme and maybe it will not close the door to other solutions being investigated later.

A Japanese firm has been contracted to finish the third terminal at NAIA airport -  There is a touch of irony to this, as KLM (one of the largest European airways) has recently withdrawn its flights to Manila.

There is ongoing debate about the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill.  Supporters of the bill point to the high rate of teenage pregnancy in the Philippines - and say that it does not go against the teachings of the Catholic church or the state constitution -  As I am not native to the Philippines, I shouldn't really step into this particular battle, but I will say that the RH Bill, as I understand it, has the sole intention of educating young people about their sexual health.

By blocking the bill, the church is effectively saying that its congregation can not be trusted with their own free will, so any information which contradicts the teachings of the church must be withheld from them.  Whether knowledge of, and access to, contraception will create an environment within which promiscuity is the norm is clearly not the point.  The high rate of teen pregnancy shows that teenagers are already sexually active, and the population of the Philippines continues to grow at an exponential rate.  While sexually transmitted infections are still comparatively rare, they are on the rise.  Is the Catholic church being irresponsible in its opposition to the RH Bill?  I'll leave that question open.

On a more positive note, it has been suggested that the country's economy is poised to improve immensely - and that it may become a popular destination for those facing retirement -

So, those are the stories about the Philippines that caught my eye.  I'm not sure if this will be a regular feature, but I do love the country.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The news

I don't often have the time to read my collection of RSS and Atom feeds, but today was one of those days when I had the time.

The first story that caught my eye was Linus Torvalds having rejected a job at Apple (,15082.html#xtor=RSS-181).  This was about ten years ago, so we are told.  I can certainly understand why Apple would do this - Linux was, and still is, on its way to being a major threat in the market for operating systems.  Apple was also in the process of rebuilding Mac OS on top of a Unix foundation, and clearly didn't want to build a Unix environment from scratch.  As it turned out, OS-X was eventually built on top of a Mach microkernel/FreeBSD foundation.

At the risk of upsetting a few people, if they were to offer Linus the same opportunity right now, I would urge him to jump at it.  I fully understand that Apple wanted him to relinquish his interest in Linux, but let's consider what difference that would make right now.  The kernel development team has grown to a point where Linus' job as maintainer could feasibly be done by a lot of people.  We can't underestimate his importance in creating the Linux kernel in the first place, but it has now developed a life of its own.

While I can understand his reluctance to give up his creation to someone else, it will always be his creation.  My argument is that a new figurehead might not be a bad thing.  Over the years, I have seen Linus express certain opinions which have alienated large numbers of Linux users.  His views on which desktop environment or Linux distribution are the best are interesting, but he has sometimes come over as something of a control freak, wanting us all to fall in line with how he wants things done.  Linux is all about choice, and dictating how users should use their computers is a bit too far down the Microsoft or Apple road for me.  I am sure that many would disagree with my views, and I am in no way trying to lessen his contribution, but I'm saying it would not be the end of the world if he jumped ship at this point.

Someone who HAS fallen on his sword is Charlie Kravetz, project leader of the Xubuntu project (  Some may question why this is important.  Well, many were dismayed, and still are, by Ubuntu's choice of Unity as a desktop environment.  I would say that many switched to Kubuntu as an alternative but, to be honest, KDE's huge memory footprint is a drawback.  For those wanting a more traditional desktop environment, XFCE is becoming increasingly important.  Xubuntu has XFCE as its desktop environment, but also has the entire Ubuntu software repository at its disposal.  At the time of writing, it could still be considered a minority distribution (though as someone running LXDE on Debian Wheezy, I realise the irony in that assertion).  It will get bigger, though, I am guessing.  Those who still find it a resource hog can check out Lubuntu (, which runs particularly well on old hardware.

As noted above, I think that sometimes a change of leadership can breathe new life into a project, and unquestionably a change of perspective.

It was a surprise to discover that five Far Eastern stock exchanges run on Red Hat Linux ( but, thinking about it, I don't know why I was surprised.  Here in the West, our governments don't seem to have realised the benefits of open source but, elsewhere in the world, the advantages it brings to government institutions in terms of cost savings a reliability are well known.  If our leaders would stop dragging their feet on this, maybe we would recover from our current financial slump more quickly and move towards a more sustainable model of governance.  It would be a start, anyway.

After years of singing the praises of traditional headphones and avoiding in-ear devices, I finally gave in to temptation and ordered some AKG in-ear phones.  Then, I saw this - - so I will be using the AKGs as a spare pair, I think, and going back to traditional headband phones.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Wing Chun on YouTube

If you do a search for Wing Chun on YouTube, you will see countless videos of Wing Chun "experts" pitted against other combat arts in a full contact environment.  Often, you will see the Wing Chun practitioner easily defeated by someone who practises another fighting system.  It would seem to indicate that Wing Chun is useless as a fighting art, but let's consider what you are actually watching on YouTube.

Like many martial arts, Wing Chun has its fair share of charlatans.  I'm not going to tell you which branches of Wing Chun belong under that description, but you will have to trust me that some Wing Chun is more genuine than others.  The unfortunate thing is that those who feel they have something to prove are the ones who choose to do it on YouTube.

Let's also consider the relative experience of each fighter.  I was angered by a series of videos I found on YouTube, where "Moy Yat Wing Chun" was pitted against other fighting arts in the environment of a boxing ring.  Genuine Moy Yat Wing Chun is, I can inform you, one of the better examples of the art.  Even with the disadvantages brought by fighting in a sporting environment (which I will come to later), I would expect the Moy Yat fighters to have won a fair proportion of the fights featured.  What I saw, however, was Moy Yat fighters totally outclassed by various other martial arts.

The fighters who were said to represent Moy Yat Wing Chun seemed woefully uncoordinated, their Wing Chun was sloppy.  Actually, their Wing Chun looked suspiciously like that of someone who had only learnt it by watching DVDs, not actually attended formal training in the style.  I draw the conclusion that someone just has some problem with Moy Yat, or Wing Chun.  It was rather telling that the ability to post comments on the videos had been blocked.

As I'm on the subject of comments, we have to consider these too.  Obviously, videos showing Wing Chun being defeated cause quite a stir, and provoke a lot of negative comments about the style.  More disturbingly, some of the great masters of Wing Chun have posted videos demonstrating how to perform the training correctly, and these have also attracted negative comments.  There is no doubt that a lot of these comments come from spotty teenagers, who have only seen martial arts on Hollywood films or video games, who are fed on a diet of junk food and fizzy drinks.  To them, the UFC is where it all begins and ends.  Anything outside of their experience is to be regarded as a target for ridicule.  They are unlikely to ever attend a martial arts class.

I laugh when I see comparisons between Wing Chun and the mixed martial arts in the UFC.  Are they even comparable?  No.  I learn martial arts because I don't like the thought of ending a night in an ambulance because of some idiot taking a dislike to me; I have no interest in fighting to win trophies or other prizes.  For those reasons, I chose Wing Chun.  As soon as I step into a ring or an octagon, or put on a pair of gloves, I am at a disadvantage.  A large percentage of what I have trained is no longer allowable, and it is understandable.  Cage fighting is a sport, and the object is not to permanently damage an opponent.  Certainly, the crowd want to get value for money, so a quick incapacitation is also not ideal.  Wing Chun is a style which came from the field of battle, so to speak, and imposing rules upon it takes away a lot of its effectiveness.  It is not safe and predictable; it is not a sport; it is, put simply, a deadly weapon.  With the rules of competition in place, it is no longer Wing Chun; it is a diluted version of Wing Chun.

The YouTube videos of Wing Chun, if not in a ring or octagon, are of friendly sparring matches.  Even if the Wing Chun guy is experienced enough to give a good account of his style, the environment limits him to what is safe.

What about bringing the mixed martial arts of the octagon to the street?  To be fair, it might work, certainly against untrained fighters.  A seasoned street fighter?  Hmm.  A practitioner of a traditional art or something like Jeet Kune Do or Krav Maga?  Hmm.  Someone with a knife?  Hmm.  I have obviously never witnessed a cage fighter dealing with those issues but, from my own perspective, I would trust an art geared towards self defence over one geared towards gaining a submission to win a prize.

A final thought on this: Wing Chun has proved effective for a period of more than five hundred years.  If it was not effective, it would not have survived.  Will YouTube survive for that amount of time?  Will the UFC survive for that amount of time?  I'm happy that the brainless morons on YouTube and the wholly biased MMA forums think it is useless, because the last thing we need is them taking an interest in Wing Chun - that would be bad for Wing Chun, and bad for the world in general.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Philippines

I recently saw a video on YouTube.  I'm not going to post a link or tell you the title of the offending video, because I don't want to give it a wider audience.  What I want to do, however, is comment on what I saw and how it compares to my own experience.  It was a video posted by an American who has spent some time living in the Philippines, and his message was that many things about the country irritate him.  Actually, his language was pretty graphic, which always makes me question the intelligence of the speaker, but let's move on from that.

I can't remember every point he raised.  To be honest, I've tried not to waste too much time thinking about it, but he said something that I found really offensive.  He was in a bar, being served drinks by transvestites/transsexuals, and he questioned why all the attractive women in the Philippines are actually men.  Any way you look at that comment, it is offensive.  He sidesteps the obvious charge of racism by finding the men (posing as women) attractive, but says that a whole country of women does nothing for him.  I can just imagine the Filipinas of the Philippines and elsewhere collectively thinking that this is a good thing, because he's not the kind of man whose attention they would seek.  Maybe that's his real problem with the women of the Philippines.

Let's get to the real issue here.  Filipino women are not unattractive.  Saying that a race of women are inherently unattractive, or that one race is more beautiful than another, is a waste of time.  The woman in my life happens to be Filipino, and to me she is the most beautiful woman in the world, but I am also aware that not everyone has the same idea of beauty as I do.  The man in the YouTube video uses the example of transgender/transvestite prostitutes to extol the virtues of Filipino males, as opposed to their female counterparts.  First of all, it would be interesting to know if he is just comparing prostitutes.  After all, that would tie in with my feeling that he feels bad towards the Philippines because he can't get a woman there.  If that's his problem, a personality transplant might help.

Secondly, he should have thought it through before he expressed a preference for men to so many viewers.  I won't condemn anyone for homosexual tendencies, I am not homophobic, but perhaps the internet is not the best forum for expressing it.  I shouldn't really need to spell this out.  If, as a man, he knowingly finds men more attractive than women, he is either homosexual or bisexual.  Saying that they look like women does not change it.  I don't know why he chose to live in the Philippines, but I am aware of a history of Western men flying to Asia to explore their sexuality, because it is a safe distance from their everyday life, meaning they potentially feel less shame about their feelings - certainly, he wouldn't be the first.  It would be better, of course, if no one was compelled to feel ashamed of their homosexual feelings, but Western civilisation has not yet reached that point.  He said that he is more attracted to men than women, so that is why the women of the Philippines do nothing for him.

A more serious issue is how he blatantly insults people within their range of hearing.  Maybe he doesn't know that the vast majority of Filipino people speak very good English and, unlike him, they don't usually feel the need to fill every sentence with obscenities.  Actually, it speaks well of the people that they didn't react, and gives a very poor impression of him, as a man who lacks the basic social skills and is thoroughly unpleasant.  At one point, he criticised security guards for smiling.  He would prefer them to be sullen and ill-tempered?  They carry guns.  For me, that smile tells me that there is a reduced risk of me getting shot and, as such, is very reassuring.  He also questions why they are needed, showing his ignorance of the problems in Southern Mindanao and the threat of terrorism (which is, thankfully, relatively minor).

Oh, but wait.  Western governments were very eager to overstate the threat of terrorism in the Philippines, so it is likely, especially as a resident, that he knows too well why those security guards are present.  Did Western governments overstate the threat because they are concerned by the rise in Asian economies and seek to slow the progress of growth of investment in Asia?  Maybe we're getting close to the reason why the video was posted in the first place.  Just a thought.

If the people of the Philippines were unfriendly, I am sure he would have been the first to complain.

All of his other criticisms were frankly ridiculous.  The Philippines is a third world country.  I haven't been to the place he featured in his video, but I would bet that he deliberately looked for the worst aspects of that place, and that is all that he presented to the viewing public.  He's American, apparently.  Imagine if I went to the US and posted a video solely about the negative aspects of his home country.  Would the list of complaints be any lesser than that he presented?  If he were to examine the US in such minute detail, I am sure that the Philippines would not look so bad to him.  Maybe he is lamenting the fact that it is not like the US.  Well, I for one am eternally grateful for that.  The Philippines has its own distinct character, and that should be what makes travel to foreign countries so exciting.

Only a fool would say the Philippines, or any other country on the planet, was perfect.  Certainly, the recent advertising campaign suggesting that everything is more fun in the Philippines has provoked parodies and criticism, but it has also created interest in the country.  My worry is not that the Philippines will suffer as a result of this video being posted, or any of the other critical essays posted on the internet.  I live in the UK and, though the Philippines is still not seen by many as a choice for a holiday destination, I am aware that the number of UK citizens visiting the country is still on the rise.  My worry is that one man has given a very bad impression of Westerners in general.  The vast majority of Filipinos will have the intelligence to know that he is not representative of the Western world, but I fear that a small minority will see his behaviour as a reason to feel animosity towards visitors to their land.

For what it's worth, I love my fiancee, and I love the Philippines.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Good defence

For the longest time, I have regarded the study of martial arts as the equivalent of wearing a seatbelt when I drive.  I hope that it will never be needed, but I want it to be there if the worst happens.  After years of examining various styles and weighing up their effectiveness, I chose Wing Chun, but I believe the principles, or mindset, behind an art are arguably more important than the choice of art.

Over the years, I have seen many masters of various fighting styles perform, and I have a good idea of which are the most effective styles for self protection.  I have noticed a common thread, and it ties in with my own experience of using traditional martial arts in violent confrontations.  In most martial arts classes, the first thing they will teach you is how to hit.  The skill of the masters, and a quality present in all the most effective arts for self protection, is the ability to avoid being hit.

There's something known as the "sledgehammer" theory of martial arts.  This translates to hitting an attacker as hard as possible, and not worrying about being too accurate.  My own approach would be to hit hard enough to stun, so that the heavy artillery can follow.  An overly hard first strike will compromise my balance, and it is the strike which is most likely to be intercepted by a block or nullified by a slip or duck.  If my first punch hits, then that is fine - I can follow it with more.  If it misses or is blocked, however, and all my effort has gone into that first strike, I am compromised.

I also believe that movements should be trained with as little muscular tension as possible.  I deliberately slow down and soften my movements during training.  To some this would seem like madness, but I would remind you of a factor which arises during a fight - adrenaline.  The natural tendency during a fight is to stiffen, use our strength and move more quickly than we thought possible.  This is made possible by our heart pumping blood around our bodies more quickly, our lungs drawing more air into them and other physiological differences brought on by the stress of the situation.  Unfortunately, our fine motor skills can suffer too.  So, we may stiffen and our fine motor skills may suffer.  I have found that the best way to counter this is to train in a relaxed manner, so that a response of relative calm and fluidity of movement is programmed into us.

There is also much argument about whether grappling styles are effective for self protection.  It is widely accepted that fighting on the ground is something that should be avoided, if possible, as it entails creating a vulnerability to other attackers.  The attacker who works alone is a rare beast, unfortunately.  My own position on this is that grappling has its place, but my preference is for those movements to be fleeting, transitional movements to another strike.  If I ever get brought to the ground, my life will probably depend on me getting up off the floor as quickly as possible.

My main point, however, is the importance of defence.  The vast majority of attacks will be ambushes - totally unexpected by the intended victim.  The likelihood is that stopping that attack reaching its target will be the first priority, and this requires training of blocks, parries, deflections and evasive manoeuvres.  This is what I have seen from the true masters.  Their defences are impenetrable.  A punch is a punch, a kick is just a kick and a head butt, elbow or knee strike are the same, regardless of the level of mastery.  The master can, however, fire these attacks at will, because he has trained his defensive skills to the point where they require no thought.  All of his conscious effort is directed to firing an attack through a gap in his opponent's defences, because his own defences are like a solid wall.

I will not tell you that one style is better than another.  Let's leave that to the kids who fill the internet with that kind of nonsense and have probably not had exposure to any art, or too few to make an informed decision.  How you train your style, and the quality of your tuition, is much more important.  Saying that one is better than another is foolish at best, and irresponsible at worst.  If, however, you find that your instructor places too much emphasis on attack, take the time to concentrate on defensive movements in your time away from the class.