Net Neutrality Wins!

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog

Good news if you believe in a free and open Internet!

Tom Wheeler the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States announced yesterday that, “I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC, these enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services.”

In the US Internet access (broadband) is dominated by a few powerful companies, such as A&T, Verizon and Comcast. These Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had wanted to introduce a dual tier Internet service, where they could charge more for faster access. Their argument being that large content providers such as Netflix use disproportinate amount of bandwith and should therfore pay more.

Not unreasonable you may feel…. However, the worry for net neutrality advocates was that this was just the first step in what could prove a slippery slope and the end result would have been an Internet where only the wealthy would benefit from the faster services.

How does this affect the UK, if at all? Difficult to say as we have a more open and competitive service in this country. But, you can bet that if this had gone ahead in the US, our own ISPs would have been keen to see if they could also introduce a similar system to the UK. At least that is what I (and I’m sure others) feared.

It isn’t over yet, as the American ISPs are a rich and powerful group, who will not go down without a fight, but it is at least a step in the right direction!

Extinguishers in the home

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Fire talk

Do you have a fire extinguisher in your home? If not, why not?

This is a story from the Safelincs website:

“Last night I was sitting working at the kitchen table, when I heard a ‘fizz’ sound followed by a ‘pop’ – almost like the sound of a small balloon popping. I continued working, thinking that it must have been one of my daughter’s toys. But my mind was still trying to decipher the sound that I’d heard… I thought it was particularly strange because I’d heard the ‘fizz’ before the ‘pop’ - whereas if a balloon had burst or something similar, it would usually be the other way around!”

“Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I had to go and see what had made this strange sound. Well, thank goodness I went to look, because what I found was yellow flames coming from underneath our electric night storage heater. Fortunately my brain switched into ‘crisis mode’ and I quickly moved anything flammable away from the storage heater, and switched off the electricity supply to that heater.”

“I then dashed to the cupboard in our kitchen where we store our 1kg powder fire extinguisher and fire blanket. While racing back to the fire, I pulled the pin out of the extinguisher, and then I took aim and blasted powder at the fire. Within three blasts from the extinguisher the fire had completely gone out! My wife and daughter came rushing through to see what all the commotion was about, and I explained what had happened.”

“It was shocking how quickly the fire spread, and I was so grateful that I knew exactly where the extinguisher was and how to use it without thinking!”

“This experience really caused us to re-think our fire protection — especially with a young child in the house. Within hours I’d re-located all our extinguishers to make sure they were easily accessible from key locations around the home. And I made sure that my wife also knew exactly how to use the extinguishers so that she could also react quickly in the event of a fire.”

“It really was a terrifying ordeal, but as a result we have become much more diligent about extinguisher locations and making sure that we are all fully familiar with how to use each type of extinguisher — and the types of fire on which they can be used.”

This is just one of many similar stories about real people in real situations and how being able to tackle the fire quickly and safely saved them from what could have become a major catastrophe.

What do you need?
The room with the greatest risk of fire is usually the kitchen, simply because it tends to have several sources of ignition such as the cooker, hob and electrical appliances. The kitchen is also well stocked with materials that burn relatively easily; fats, oils, tea-towels and wooden cupboards. But, it is not the only room where there are risks. Any room containing electrical goods can be at risk (as the above story illustrates). Behind the television in many living rooms is often a rat’s nest of wiring and multiple sockets.

A versatile fire extinguisher for the home is the Dry Powder fire extinguisher, although care must be taken to avoid breathing in the powder itself during use. These can be used on electrical fires, wood, paper, textiles, etc as well as flammable liquid and gaseous fires. You don’t need a hulking great fire extinguisher spoiling the decor in your home either, as they are available in smaller sizes, such as 1kg or 2kg, for under £15.

In addition to a fire extinguisher we would recommend a fire blanket for the kitchen as this can sometimes be easier to use and more effective on a pan fire. These can be found for around £10.

How many do you need? That will depend on the size and layout of your home of course, but even if you start with just the one fire extinguisher and fire blanket in the kitchen, it is better than nothing at all. Many companies sell kits such as this one for under £30 which include an extinguisher, fire blanket and smoke detector.

Once you have the equipment make sure that everyone, of a suitable age, is aware of where they are located and how to use them in an emergency. It may not be possible to actually ‘set-off’ the extinguisher, as it would then need servicing, but get everyone to handle it so they can feel the weight, see where the controls are located and be shown how they should direct it at a fire.

Teach the acronym PASS:
Pull the pin out of the fire extinguisher, so it is ready for use
Aim at the base of the fire (not at the flames)
Squeeze the top handle or lever
Sweep from side to side until the fire is extinguished

Of course you should only tackle a fire if it is safe to do so. If in doubt, it is better to get yourself and everyone else out of the home, and then call 999.

For comprehensive fire safety information, including professional Fire Risk Assessments, visit the Safety Management (UK) website or telephone +44 (0)1524 784356

Will you wake up if there is a fire?

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Fire talk

Do you need smoke alarms in your home? Or, can you rely upon your own senses to alert you to the dangers of a fire? It is a good question and not one with an easy answer…

There has been some research into this, but not as much as you might expect. One issue researchers have to contend with as far as fires go is that they are not able to test with ‘real’ smoke, as it is a poisonous cocktail that kills people! So they can only use a simulated smoke smell.

Research carried out on behalf of the Irondale Fire and Rescue Service in 1997 found that of the ten subjects tested only two of them woke up. Research by Brown University in 2004 concluded, “While sound can disrupt sleep, scents cannot. People cannot rely on their sense of smell to awaken them to the danger of fire…” Rachel Herz, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University, believes strongly that people do not have a sense of smell whilst sleeping. “You cannot smell while you are asleep,” she says. “You don’t smell the coffee and wake up; rather you wake up and then smell the coffee.”

Why is this important?

The chances are that if a fire starts in your home, the smoke from the fire will reach family member’s bedrooms much sooner than the actual flames and if you are sleeping the chances are you will not wake up. Smoke can contain, in various proportions; carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride and others.

These chemicals interfere with the supply of oxygen to the body, cause disorientation, swelling of the delicate lining of the airways and can numb your senses resulting in a deeper sleep rather than waking up. And of course death!

What to do?

Having established that you are unlikely to be woken up by the smell of smoke, make sure you have working and regularly tested fire alarms located in the right places in your home. If they are not mains powered, change the batteries every year as a matter of course. Fire alarms do not last forever and, as they are fairly cheap to buy these days, change them for new ones if they are over ten years old.

Have a plan for the whole family, so everyone knows what to do if they hear a smoke alarm sounding. Worried about your children thinking you are a boring old so and so? Who cares? You may just save their lives one day!

If there is a fire, get out of the house as soon as possible and stay out.

Desk – Blogging Tool

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Software

Desk – Blogging Tool

New, and really rather good, text editor. Desk (available on the App Store for a few pence over £20).

Like others of the same ilk it allows you to concentrate on the text only, removing all other distractions from the screen, until they are needed.

What I like are the simple things it does so well.

  • It had a Day and Night (or light and dark) mode which is easily toggled. I like the Night mode, even during the day, which is light text on a dark background, as I find this less distracting.
  • Nothing but the text appears on the screen until you move the cursor. Then a narrow toolbar appears on the right of the screen with a few publishing options. A character and word count appear at the foot of the screen.
  • Whilst Desk supports Markdown, it also you to use keyboard shortcuts and/or when some text is selected a small pop-up dialog appears above the text with some formatting options.

One of the main features is the way it connects and interacts with blogging software, such as WordPress. Once setup it makes writing a blog post very easy and straightforward. For instance this article was written and published to my blog within a few minutes (you don’t say…). Adding and manipulating images is straightforward. Just drag and drop into the article then drag to where you want it, resize using corner handles if required.

Candles: friend or foe?

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Fire talk

There is little doubt that in centuries past the candle was an essential tool for providing light, particularly before the advent of gas lights and subsequently electric lights. Indeed some people still keep candles for emergencies. However, with battery powered (and indeed wind-up), torches you have to ask if that is really necessary any longer?

Candles are almost always used simply for decorative purposes or because they smell nice these days. Whether that is in the form of tea-lights in a ceramic jar or a nicely scented candle, or even a pack of candles on a cake to mark a certain age, they are not strictly speaking a necessity any longer.

Whatever the reason for using candles it is important to be aware of the fire risk involved. A candle is after all a naked flame and as such an extremely good source of ignition. It is fair to say that a lit candle and readily combustible materials such as cloth, paper and (certain) plastics are not a good mix and can lead to dire consequences.

According to government statistics covering April 2012 to March 2013 (the latest published) candles were the source of ignition in over 1,000 accidental fires that year.

This is not helped by the situations in which candles are often used; be that a birthday party or other celebration, there is often alcohol being consumed so people don’t always make the best decisions about where to place the candles and may not be as observant when things start to go wrong.

For example the London Fire Brigade reported an incident in February 2012; a woman suffered burns in a game that involved making ‘wedding dresses’ out of toilet roll, at a hen party in a central London pub. One of the hens, wrapped in toilet roll, noticed that some paper on a table had been ignited by a tea light candle.  She leant over to put the fire out and the paper she was wrapped in caught fire. She threw herself to the ground and managed to put the flames out, but sustained burns to her chest and hand in the process.

The Daily Mail reported how in August this year a girl’s boyfriend managed to burn their bedroom down and do considerable damage to the rest of the house when he tried to make a romantic tribute to her using tea-light candles. Intended as a romantic gesture to welcome her home, he laid the candles out in a heart shape on the bedroom floor with some champagne and flowers. Unfortunately, the candles set light to the floor covering and rapidly spread involving the whole room in fire and the rest of the property in smoke.

The Dangers

  • The base of tea-light candles can get extremely hot. The metallic container containing the wax will conduct the heat from the melted wax very effectively. If placed on surfaces like carpet (as in the above example) or for instance on top of a plastic TV, the heat generated is sufficient to melt and ignite the surface eventually.

  • Similarly creative use of tea-lights as part of a decoration, where they are mounted inside a wreath at Christmas for example, is asking for trouble.

  • Another common mistake is placing candles on a windowsill. Due to the location the candle will often be subject to a breeze, fanning the flame higher, feeding it with oxygen. Above the candle will often be a ready source of fuel for a fire in the form of curtains and/or blinds. It is a mistake to think that a flame has to actually touch combustible material to ignite it; the heat from a flame can be significant for quite some distance above the visible flame.

  • Those wonderfully scented candles, such as the Yankee candle range. Inherently you would assume they are less of a danger as they are enclosed in a glass jar? And to a certain extent they are. But remember that if left on for a while the glass jar can get extremely hot, if you forget this and try to pick it up to extinguish or move it you could get a nasty burn and drop the candle. Also, as above, be careful when placed beneath ignitable materials such as curtains.

  • Whatever you do, please do not put candles on or under Christmas trees. Hopefully this is an obvious one, but artificial trees and even real ones as they age, can be highly combustible.

  • Another popular use of candles, particularly amongst the ladies, is at bath time.  A few tea-lights or scented candles around the edge of the bath tub, a large glass of wine and some music may sound like heaven to you. But be aware, as mentioned above, tea-lights in particular can get very hot and many modern bath tubs are made from plastic. It would be a shame to mark you nice bath. The other danger, even in a bathroom, is combustible materials in the form of bath mats, dressing gowns or towels on the floor. It only takes knocked over candle falling on top of a dressing gown to quickly start a fire.

So, What to Do?

Does this mean you should never use candles? In an ideal world, yes, as they are by their very nature (a naked flame) potentially dangerous. There are these days many alternatives that use low voltage batteries and are far less of a fire hazard. If however, only the flicker of a real flame will do, then be sensible and take precautions.

  • If using candles make sure they are in an appropriate container designed for the purpose. Something that insulates and protects from the heat produced by the metal tea-light container for instance.

  • Be very careful where you place the candle; make sure there are no ignitable materials nearby, particularly above the flame.

  • Ensure the location is somewhere the candle cannot be knocked over, either by people or pets and particularly out of reach of children.

  • Be aware that as the candle burns down the ‘balance’ of the decoration may change and become less stable so, again, make sure it is in a good location and on a firm and fire-proof base,

  • Finally, never ever, leave candles unattended. When you go to bed or if you are ‘popping out for a short time’ ensure candles are properly extinguished.

For information regarding fire safety see the BlueWatch and Safety Management (UK) websites.