It’s my first weekend properly in the new place (last weekend having been spent mostly away). Gradually getting to grips with the place, and that view really is as good as the piccie I posted. Perhaps even better, as it’s forever changing with the weather and tide, and there’s more on the trees!
Not everything is that great. The best thing about it is that view; the worst is the six-lane dual carriageway running along the side of the estuary but cleverly not visible in the photo (the steep slope and 30m elevation makes the water appear closer than it really is). There’s also the railway line!
On the plus side is the extra space and what it enables. A separate dining room means the table doesn’t have to be squeezed into a corner of the living room (which is just as well, given that the living room is smaller – though the big bay window and opening into the dining room give a feeling of more space). Upstairs I have two decent-sized rooms, one as bedroom and the other as office, and a third so-called bedroom so small it would only just fit a regular single bed without obstructing the door. That room’s currently full of junk, but might eventually become a guest room if I take advantage of extra space including the attic and outdoor covered area to reorganise.
On the practical side, the kitchen and bathroom are elegant, but some of the fittings are horribly impractical. I’ve bought a dishwasher to relieve myself of one more chore, but some things have had to move out of the kitchen due to having less cupboard space than the old one. I’ve got a garage to keep bikes in. And having a second (outside) loo is a definite luxury: no need to worry who else might need it if one has company and someone wants a long soak in the oversized bath!
Hmmm, what else? BT’s ADSL checker told me their service would be pretty useless here, but cable is available from Virgin so I signed up with them. Now I see BT’s checker may have been out of date, as they appear to have installed fiber. Still, it’s too late now to revisit that choice: I’m committed to Virgin for my ‘net, and have signed up with sipgate for a landline ‘phone number via VOIP.
The final urgent thing was my bed search. My old bed-grade futon was falling apart, so it went to the tip, and I’m temporarily on the lower-grade futon that serves as a convertible seat/guest bed. Not, alas, a comfy platform for more than a night or two! I now have a new bed on order from one of the five local furniture shops I tried, and I look forward to sleeping in comfort again when it arrives.
Lower-priority things I’ve yet to order are a new sideboard/dresser to keep crockery in the dining room (I’ve temporarily pressed a tall bookcase into use for that), and new chairs for several places.
As the days lengthen and the weather seems to be reverting to something more normal after the ultra-wet months and previous semi-drought, I’ve seen something rather encouraging on a couple of occasions. Bunches of very small but keen kiddies being taught map and navigational skills.
This is not a one-off: I’ve seen different adults focusing on different aspects of navigation with their respective pupils. On one occasion at the top of the hill, a man getting his charges to figure out from the map whether they had a line-of-sight to a landmark, and identify it in the distance. On another occasion a woman encouraging her charges to use the maps to navigate somewhere in town. Both these leaders were doing a great job of making it interesting.
Both groups of kids are far too young to be on a national curriculum, but were doing similar things at the same time of year. I wonder if this is some particularly inspired primary school, or whether this is more widespread? Either way, what a splendid bit of education for them.
On another seasonal note, we have the first foraging of the year as the wild garlic is nicely in season: picked and ate my first this week. On the other hand, nettles are either unusually late or disappointing this year: they should now be plentiful but young and tender, but I have yet to collect any.
I’ve finally signed on the dotted line and parted with money. I’m moving house, just as soon as I can arrange the logistics.
I’ve been wanting to move for a long time: the present place is far too noisy, and also a little on the small side (particularly since there’s nowhere sensible to keep bikes without bringing them inside). The new place is somewhat bigger, and in a much more tranquil location, which should mean a big improvement in my quality of life. I’ll even have a spare bedroom!
Oh, and there’s a view from the front, and nice big windows to take full advantage. It looks even better when the agent has (I suspect) touched up the blue colour of the water
It’s also a move into Plymouth, though a couple of miles out from the centre. I shall miss some things, like having the moors right on my doorstep, and some of our local shops. On the other hand I’ll have very easy access to the coast (including coast path), and all the city life should be no more than 10-15 minutes on the bike. Even the moors are still easy cycling distance via the Plym Valley Trail. It’s been years since I’ve lived in any city, and I’m wondering if I’ll still enjoy it.
The move will invalidate my postal address, my .co.uk email addresses (I need to switch provider to cable, because ADSL is hopeless at the new address), and possibly my landline phone number. Readers who have those details will know alternatives you can use if I forget to tell you personally. Other readers can continue to use the .com or .org email addresses and the cellphone number.
What headline fits the announcement of Mrs Thatcher’s death? Maybe that best-known misquote.
Thatcher was the only prime minister in my lifetime, and (along with Attlee) one of just two in living memory to have done anything substantial and positive for the country. Like Attlee before her, she came to a country in deep crisis, and took decisive and necessary action to confront the most pressing problems of her time.
For readers too young to remember, Britain in 1979 was in the depths of a crisis not entirely unlike Greece today (imagine yourself a Greek prime minister now)! Post-war reconstruction had morphed into chronic profligacy, taxes (on everyone who worked) were astronomical, and government spending was mired in corruption. Yes, an element of that has returned today, but not on a remotely comparable scale (well, except for that deficit). Digging us out from that mess was never going to be pretty, but against all expectations she had the guts to take on that herculean task.
Her defining characteristic that resonated with my generation and social circle was meritocracy. Born a grocer’s daughter and brought up above the shop, she rose through life on her own merits. She had no truck with unearned privilege, and that made her many enemies amongst those with power and influence. Nor with the politics of envy that would arbitrarily “level down”. She neither supported nor attacked privilege itself, but came down hard on the abuse of privilege. An ideal role model for my cohort at Cambridge when we voted to disaffiliate from the (then-)loony-left National Union of Students and even elected a paid-up Young Conservative as president of our own students union. By her time the bastions of privilege included the trade union movement (whose leadership were of a generation brought up in a very different world and still fighting the battles of the pre-1939 era) and the institutions of the post-war state that had become corruption-magnets. Such an overprivileged leader as Blair or Cameron trying to take them on would’ve been a sitting duck for class warfare.
OK, she had the advantages of her generation: an adult life in the wake of total war, meaning lots of reconstruction work to generate productive economic activity, and the demographics of “dead mens shoes” opening exceptional opportunities for a man (or more rarely a woman) of merit to rise rapidly through the corporate ladder or other walks of life. By the 1980s that window of widespread opportunity had closed to a tiny crack as a generation that hadn’t had to fight in total war were in the positions above us. She instead pushed an entrepreneurial culture, which was not easy to get to grips with for those of us who’d been brought up in a culture where a popular word for entrepreneur was ‘spiv’, and emphatically NOT something to aspire to.
She led us out of the disaster of the 1970s, but did she also lay the foundations for today’s troubles? In part I think she did. Hers is the culture (reinforced by her successors) that blames the EU for so many troubles, yet could be relied on to veto or sabotage any serious attempt to improve its institutions and practices. Housing in the 1980s was a disaster, though to be fair the worst of that was a legacy of earlier policy coming home to roost. She did (belatedly) lay the seeds for improvement and the ‘golden age’ of the mid-late 1990s, but also for the greed and profligacy that followed it (though not for the disastrous outcome).
What about the central accusation, that deregulation of the city led directly to the Blair/Brown bust? I’d say she’s guilty of that only in the sense that Attlee was guilty of the 1970s bust: a failure to anticipate that the institutions shaped in her time would grow into monsters in the hands of incompetents. The credit bubble of the 2000s that led to the bust was the very antithesis of monetarism, as is clear from a graph of money supply growth shooting up into double-digit real inflation (albeit masked by the rise of cheap manufactured imports in a meaningless price index, and creating “feelgood” by flattering GDP and other measures of national wealth).
I need to wrap this little piece up at some point. So let’s finish with a quote from the words of wisdom from which my title is misquoted:
… I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation …
 Excluding Churchill, whose greatness (such as it was) was thrust upon him by circumstance of war.
 Albeit with serious blind spots: she continued to pour taxpayers’ money into the bottomless pit of the car industry known at various times as British Leyland, Austin, Rover, MG, Jaguar as it came back to the taxpayer for more bailouts every few years just as it had done since the 1960s. That was indeed obvious at the time, and I can see no explanation for not letting the market work.
 Not that either of those disasters would’ve had the guts.
I was less than overjoyed when Co-op took over Somerfield, leaving us two Co-ops. Not good for choice when both in-town supermarkets stock identical ranges.
But Co-op’s mini-monopoly is about to be eclipsed. I just passed the recently-closed Stead and Simpson, hitherto our big(-ish) shoe shop, and one of the biggest shops on the high street. It’s being refurbished, and proclaims itself about to re-open as a St Luke’s Hospice shop.
Hang on! We already have not one but two St Luke’s in town! How the **** do they justify three shops (two of them large) within one minute’s walk of each other in a small market town’s high street? This is clearly an organisation with more money than it can spend. I shall have to try and make a point of avoiding events that contribute further to that excess!
Our next concert is overdue a mention here. Sunday March 17th at the Guildhall, Plymouth. Programme is one of french romantic music: Fauré’s Requiem and Gounod’s Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile.
The Fauré is of course very familiar: it’s a regular in any choral singer’s repertoire, and on the radio and in concert programmes for those who just listen. The Gounod is less familiar (it’s new to me) but a lovely piece. It’s also very, very simple, and really only calls for a single rehearsal to prepare it. Should be a good concert for readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.
A tale of fail
There is a longer tale behind this concert, which I’ve been meaning to blog about for a long time. A bizarre and rather sorry tale that has evolved even since I first should have blogged. So here goes ….
The Gounod is a last-minute substitution. We should have been performing a newly-commissioned work alongside the Fauré. Indeed, I assume the choice of such a familiar work was not least to give us plenty of rehearsal time for something new and perhaps challenging.
It started about two years ago, when a competition for the commission was announced. This caught my interest: I’ve composed a few trivial little pieces, and writing something substantial has been a pipe-dream since my teens. So I spent a good chunk of the summer of 2011 planning a masterwork, selecting poems as text, and composing an entry for the competition. In addition to the creative process, that involved organisation and due diligence: for example, checking copyright on the poems I planned to set (and dropping one of them), and checking the orchestral requirements for the Fauré to minimise the additional resources my work would demand.
The submission date was early autumn of 2011. I submitted my entry, including three completed movements (13 minutes music) of eleven planned. I did it for my own pleasure, with no expectation of actually winning the commission – which had been widely advertised in mainstream music fora nationally and internationally. I’d have been surprised and delighted to get it, but also very happy to find myself singing someone else’s work. May the best man or woman win!
Instead I was surprised and disappointed by what happened. Not only was I unsuccessful, so was everyone else. The goalposts moved, and instead of awarding the commission to one of the 54 entries, they instead commissioned an up-and-coming composer on the basis of his having won prestigious national awards. That was late autumn of 2011, with nearly a year from then to complete the work (as per the original timetable), and it was on hearing the competition result that I had originally intended to go public in this blog.
Fast-forward to November last year and the work duly arrives. Followed by another change of plan and another disappointment: the powers that be consider this work unsuitable, and we’re not going to perform it. Nor even see it, so I can’t offer any comment on whether I’d like it and/or consider it suitable.
Hence the Gounod, a substitution dictated by practical considerations like availability of scores at short notice more than for musical reasons. A lovely piece, but what a disappointment – twice!
I just received “urgent” mail. Not the usual spam (the word “urgent” in the subject line might easily upset my spam filter), but mail on a team list. A colleague-of-a-colleague had been sent an aggressive notice clearly intended to intimidate:
I certify under penalty of perjury, that I am an agent authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the intellectual property rights and that the information contained in this notice is accurate.
I have a good faith belief that the page or material listed below is not authorized by law for use by the individual(s) associated with the identified page listed below or their agents and therefore infringes the copyright owner’s rights.
THE INFRINGING PAGE/MATERIAL IS INDEXED AND PRESENT IN YOUR SEARCH ENGINE AND I HEREBY DEMAND THAT YOU ACT EXPEDITIOUSLY TO REMOVE THE PAGE FROM YOUR INDEX.
This notice is sent pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the European Union’s Directive on the Harmonisation of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society (2001/29/EC), and/or other laws and regulations relevant in European Union member states or other jurisdictions.
OK, you’re a sysop in an eastern European country, one of the EU’s post-communist members. You’re not a native English speaker, but you’ve heard of the DMCA, and you know that defying a takedown notice could mean serious trouble. You’ve probably heard of claims for millions. The ‘infringing’ page is in Italian, which you probably don’t speak at all. What do you do?
The recipient of the above contacted my colleague, who in turn posted it to the team list. Yours truly having absorbed a bit of Italian culture recognised the title “I promessi sposi” as a classic, so checked wikipedia and found an original publication date of 1827. The ‘infringing’ page is offering a download of the 1840 edition, which wikipedia tells us was rewritten in the Florentine dialect that was emerging with the Risorgimento as a canonical language, now modern Italian.
Well, if that infringes, we’d better take Gutenberg down double-quick!
How well can open source transcend cultural and language barriers?
A few days ago I posted to the ironbee-devel list about the experimental nginx module for Ironbee. It cannot be incorporated into Ironbee’s normal build/test processes in the manner of the Apache HTTPD and Traffic Server modules, because nginx doesn’t support loadable modules, so the libraries have to be installed so they can be linked when the nginx module is built. This, along with a much more limited API, is presumably one of the design decisions the nginx team made when they focussed firmly on performance over extensibility.
In response to my post, someone drew my attention to an nginx fork called tengine. The key point of tengine is that it addresses precisely the issue of loadable modules. And not just that: it supports input filters, opening up the possibility of overcoming another shortcoming of the nginx module – the need to read and buffer an entire request body before scanning it. Interesting.
I’ve now downloaded tengine, and tried building the nginx-ironbee module for it. It appears to be fully API-compatible, and the only source change needed arose from their only having forked nginx 1.2.6 (the stable version), whereas I had developed the ironbee module using nginx 1.3.x. All I need to add is a preprocessor directive to detect nginx version and work around the missing API, and the two are (or appear to be) fully interchangeable (well, until I take advantage of input filtering to improve it further). This is seriously useful!
Tengine has been a collaborative open source effort for two years now (that’s almost as long as TrafficServer), yet this is the first I’d heard of it! Perhaps one reason for that is that Tengine is made-in-China. Just as TrafficServer originated from a single major site (Yahoo) before being open-sourced, so Tengine originates with Taobao and a Chinese developer community. They have English-language resources including a decent-enough website. But as a developer I want the mailinglist: there is an English-language list, but just looking at archive sizes tells me all the traffic takes place on the corresponding chinese-language list.
How much of a barrier is language? I’ve written about that before, and now it’s my turn to find myself the wrong side of a language barrier. Actually that applies to nginx too: the Russian-born web server has a core community whose language I don’t speak. Developing the nginx-ironbee module gave me an opportunity to test a barrier from the outside, and I’m happy to report I got some helpful responses and productive technical discussion on nginx’s English-language developer list. A welcoming community and no language barrier to what I was doing.
Like other major open source projects, nginx has achieved a critical mass of interest that makes it not merely possible but inevitable that it crosses language barriers. Not all nginx’s Russian core team participate in English-language lists (nor should they!), but all it takes is one or two insiders with fluent English as points of contact to bridge the divide. I’ve no idea if I’ll get a good experience on tengine’s english-language list, but I expect I’ll find out now that I’ve heard of tengine and find it meets a need.
Corollary: there is still a language barrier. Of course! With Apache I started out developing applications (some of them modules) before making the transition to the core developer team. With nginx or tengine I know I can’t make that transition – at least not fully. And because I know that, I’m unlikely to let my work take me in that direction. The same kind of consideration may or may not have led the tengine team to fork rather try and work directly with nginx.
It’s the end of an era!
For the first time in many months I’ve had the confidence to go out (further than the local shops) on the bike without carrying any form of rain protection “just in case”. It’s mild, sunny, and blowing a vigorous breeze. I feel much better for a ride!
In another sign of spring, fresh rhubarb arrived in the shops several weeks ago (though I suspect it was grown by some not entirely natural process to be with us quite so early). Happy to see the season of good dessert ingredients brought forward.
 Possibly since last May, if you allow “rather get wet than wear waterproofs when its warm” as a form of rain protection in the summer months.
You wait years for one, then they all come at once. That is, stories with a dubious or tenuous equine link. Or in other words, we now know what happened to Richard III’s horse, and your humble scribe once again wishes he had the artistic ability to express it in a cartoon!
I’ll leave it to people with something interesting to say to comment on the haplessly horseless monarch. But the horsemeat story is crying out for an angle that seems to have eluded the Chattering Classes, and I’m faintly wondering if it might even have a very local aspect.
OK, to recap for posterity where we’re at. Horsemeat has been discovered in processed food products supposed to be beef. Nor is it a one-off: it’s widespread! Big scandal: how has this been allowed to happen? And a food scare: if this can be allowed to happen, what else could be in our food? Horses (which are, after all, abused in a very athletic context) get pumped full of hormones we don’t want in human food. The story is shining a spotlight on long and complex food chains, and everyone implicated is pointing fingers of blame at someone else.
And why haven’t the retailers who sell food to the public protected us? Well, in that most relevant question the evidence is clear: they do protect us. When was the last breakout of salmonella or e-coli attributable to supermarket ready meals? Whatever processes they have are working perfectly well to protect consumers from contamination.
But hang on! It’s not food poisoning or BSE we’re worrying about, it’s horse hormones! How do we know those aren’t in the food chain? Well, speaking from complete ignorance of food processing and testing but a little insight into basic science, I’ll stick my neck out and say I don’t believe that happened. Why not? Because with today’s rigorous levels of testing, such chemical contamination would surely not have passed undetected!
You should be glad that those who run your food chain focus their testing where it matters, and aren’t devoting disproportionate time and effort to testing things irrelevant to your wellbeing. At least hitherto: I suppose they’ll now have to add another cost to your food.
Meanwhile, when vox pop consumers are asked their reactions, most of them give the perfectly rational reaction: if they’re prepared to eat cow then why not horse? If they’re happy with the taste then what’s the difference?
Oh, and yes, I did say a very local angle in the second paragraph above. How so? Well, Dartmoor is famous for our ponies, some of which are usually to be found about 15 minutes walk from my front door. Do they feature in some yet-to-be-discovered branch of this food chain? And if the fallout from this deprives someone of profit from them, how many will be allowed to remain a few years hence?
 I discovered that blog while googling for an image I could snarf for this post. I gave up on the picture, but enjoyed the blog so much I just had to share.
 Excluding myself and others who are unaffected by virtue of not eating meat.