Monthly Archives: November 2006

noodl: good luck

noodl: we’re missing you on IRC. Hope to see you back soon, from your new abode (country, continent, etc).

pctony just spoke of sending you a good luck email. Being a little tipsy, I thought a public blog entry would serve instead:-) All the best, wherever you are right now!

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Proofs of the book

It’s my last look at the book before it hits the shelves (except the index).  They’ve sent me proofs of the whole thing, all at once.

Some of the introductory stuff has moved (as agreed) from chapter 1 to a preface; other than that it looks pretty much as expected.  Well, as far as I’ve looked, which isn’t much yet, as I’ve only just downloaded it.

Looks like their 560 pages estimate was not far off: it’s 30 pages of front matter, 530 pages of body, plus Index TBD.  350 pages are my work; 188 are appendixes (mostly the HTTP spec), and the remainder are the Table of Contents, publisher’s boilerplate, DrBacchus’s foreword, etc.

Looking forward to seeing it in print:-)

One man, one vote: have you met him?

On the news today: our main political parties are hopelessly in debt.

I have absolutely no sympathy. They have only themselves to blame for spending beyond their means. And their Big Spending is totally indefensible: at its least corrupt, it’s heavy advertising. If they can’t run a party, they certainly shouldn’t put themselves forward to run a country.

Now all commentators seem to think the long-suffering taxpayer will have to bail them out, on the bogus excuse of “necessary for democracy”. Pure humbug, of course: it’s based on the monstrously false premise that our current system has some merit worth preserving.

So what do we have? A government elected on just over 30% of those who voted, and less than 20% of those eligible to vote?

Nope, it’s worse than that. What we really have is a Prime Minister elected by twentysomethingthousand voters in a small area of NorthEast England, and a bunch of craven yes-men. The other 99.8% of voters get no chance to vote either for or against the all-powerful Liar. Yeah, right.

But it’s even worse. The Liar has an ultra-safe constituency, packed with voters who would have no hesitation in electing Lucifer himself if he appeared as a labour party candidate. Both main parties have substantial numbers of such constituencies. So all that matters is a modest subset of areas where the electorate is more divided. And even then, it’s a minority of key swing voters within those areas: the rest of us can go to ****. So that’s a tail that wags the dog of both main parties! No wonder they sing from the same hymn sheet.

Wait a minute! Who holds the tail that wags the dogs? A few people within the mainstream media. Most journalists follow the herd, so it only takes one or two to set an agenda. The people who dictate both Blair’s and Cameron’s agendas are a mediocracy (government of the media, leading at best to mediocrity), comprising probably fewer people whose voices count than their numbers of MPs.

But it’s worse. The Liar may have his position rubber-stamped by a few thousand voters in North East England. But in practice, in order to be an MP, you have to live and work in London. So that systematically excludes anyone who cares enough about a non-London (or commuter) area to want to live there. We don’t have representatives, we have abominable yes-men, and they’re all London-centric.

The only party funding reform we need is a law requiring parties to spend within their means, like the rest of us. Spare us the massive advertising crap. And if (ha!) any of the present debts were incurred under false pretences or corrupt promises, personally charge those responsible!

Bottom line: they have no money, because nobody wants them. Deservedly so.

fsck!

Since the old desktop box is definitely dead, I just got around to sticking its memory into its replacement.  So now I have my biggest ever desktop, with a full gig.

It works.  But somehow, the hardware change upset linux’s (ACPI) hibernated state.  That’s a full power-down with save-state-to-disc, not the kind of semi-suspend that’ll wake on things like keyboard or LAN.  Not only did it not do a rapid boot to the same state I had before; it went and fscked everything!

WTF???

Anyway, it all works fine now:-)

When the line goes down

I think I have a renewed insight into the frustration felt by the luser when systems don’t work.

As a hack working at the ‘bleeding edge’, I regularly encounter things that don’t work, at one level or another. That leaves me the choice. If I care about it I’ll start hacking at it, with the aid of the usual toolset (logs, TFM, google, etc). If not, I’ll probably just ignore it.

But when the fault is “no ADSL”, suddenly I’m just another luser. I know nothing about ADSL troubleshooting, or the internals of my router. I’ve tried the options the router offers me, including rebooting it, all to no avail. And without connectivity, I can’t even RTFM. Aaargh ….

So, I dial my ISP’s number. A couple of menu options later, I’m treated to upwards of half an hour of the most mind-numbing muzak, putting me firmly in the frame of mind of a luser ready to curse anyone and everything. Grrrr ….

And here’s the irony. This pain is what open source liberates you from. Yet FUD leads people to expect the opposite.

p.s. Yes it’s fixed now; that’s how I’m here blogging. About two and a half hours without connectivity altogether.

Rehearsing new works

Just come back from rehearsing for this Sunday’s concert with the orchestra. Of course, having them makes a huge difference to the music.

Performing contemporary works is relatively unusual for a classical choir and orchestra, and these are very modern works: John Rutter’s Magnificat, and Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man.

Rutter is of course known for various arrangements and collections, and lightweight pieces like his christmas carols (the first Rutter I ever sang in, back at school, was the Shepherd’s Pipe Carol – possibly his best-known piece). This Magnificat, whilst recognisably from the same stable, is a more substantial work. One would scarcely describe Rutter’s as great music, but it’s very, very good. Lightweight yes, but in much the same sense as Schubert was a lightweight, with a lot more to it than just a pleasant, tuneful sound. As befits a contemporary composer, Rutter uses plenty of dissonance and complex rhythms, yet his music is always beautiful and ravishingly tuneful. And he’s a master of making the music a natural fit to the words. I’m very happy to be singing in this piece.

The Jenkins is harder to describe. It is described as “a mass for peace”, so naturally I was inclined to expect something in the tradition of the War Requiem and Child of our Time. People familiar with the work described it as closer to Carmina Burana. Having rehearsed it, it’s none of those things: it’s not remotely in the same league as Britten’s and Tippett’s masterpieces, and the resemblence to Orff’s work lies in its repetitive building on simple themes, but it lacks the driving energy that brings Carmina Burana to life.

It does draw on a lot of traditions. The opening movement, which gives the work its title, is the mediaeval French “l’homme armée”. It uses what appears to be an original mediaeval melody, which it builds into an ironic march with echoes of Mahler. Later movements include one of plainsong, and one described (by the composer) as like Palestrina. Alas, the comparison to Mahler or Palestrina is like the comparison of Salieri to Mozart, as presented in Shafer’s Amadeus.

In choir rehearsals I found this piece very insubstantial and more than a little boring. The orchestra is heavy and exciting and brings it to life.  It gives us some very big sounds, and I am put in mind of the transition music between scenes 2 and 3 of Das Rheingold (descent into Nibelheim). And that gives me a soundbite summary: it clings to the coattails of great music. But too much of it is pop-ish: four-square and harmonically *very* conservative, except for some isolated and self-conscious use of dissonance.

This is also an unusual concert in that we have only one professional soloist: a soprano. She will sing the soprano solo part in the Rutter, which has just the one soloist. The Jenkins has so very little solo in it that instead of hiring a quartet, our soprano is joined by three choir soloists to sing the other parts. Yours Truly is honoured to be the Bass.

Humbug at more public expense

For maybe a week now, the town centre has been infested with coloured lights.  Of course, the excuse is christmas, though this kind of tackiness can hardly be very uplifting even if you’re a christian simpleton or small child.

But of course it’s not christmas anyway, and whatever the arguments for having decorations, having them up for nearly two months is just obscene: it devalues what could be a nice little midwinter festival.  I recollect in Italy (where I lived for six years) seeing a couple of weeks rather than months of core festivities: that gives them something a bit special!

Now, guess who has to pay for this infernal humbug?  And when we’re supposed to care about energy consumption, they’re wasting more on lighting this small town alone than I use in the entire year.  Can I hold anyone accountable?

Web 2.x?

OK, who else has had more than enough “Web 2.0” hype, telling us how marvellous and new the things we were doing more than ten years ago are?

Time to move on, perhaps?

Web 2.2 Enabled!

(Yes, that’s deliberately vulgar and ugly. Yes, it’s an off-the-shelf GIMP script-fu thing; I wasn’t about to waste time on anything more exciting).

Making mod_proxy_html smarter

I’ve just had a good hacking session on mod_proxy_html (version 3.0-dev of course; 2.x isn’t getting major new features).

I had contemplated adding DTD support using the code from mod_publisher.  But that’s OTT for a specifically-HTML module.  Instead, I’ve added the capability to check HTML conformance to HTML4/XHTML1, using the HTML knowledge built into libxml2.  And in doing so, I recollect hacking up that little bit of libxml2 myself back when I was developing AccessValet:-)

So now a server admin can enable checking either to current or legacy (X)HTML standards (the difference being that the legacy – aka transitional – DTD allows deprecated markup).  If checking is enabled, then any bogus crap will be dumped.  This will be logged at loglevel DEBUG.  It’ll also complain if an HTML element is missing a REQUIRED attribute (e.g. ALT on an image), though of course it can’t fix that.

I’m contemplating also supporting context checking, so it’ll fix up elements that are valid, but appear in a context where they’re not valid.  That’s something libxml2 can fix (up to a point) as well as log.  But that’s rather more overhead to implement, because it means saving state over the SAX callbacks.

Free speech, please

As in other countries, there’s a xenophobic fringe to politics in the UK. We have two well-known parties: the “British National Party”, and the “UK Independence Party”. The former is working-class and is routinely denounced as racist thugs in the mainstream press; the latter is middle-class, and gets – broadly speaking – a good press.

[aside: Interesting that they both focus on an uneasy union of four nations as the subject of their allegiance. In the UK today, Scotland and Wales each has their own nationalist parties and some measure of independence, and Northern Ireland presents an ongoing problem, yet the xenophobic fringe parties bundle them together with England in their vision of a nation]

[aside2: There are elements of similar xenophobia in the main parties but, reassuringly, when William Hague’s Tories made it a major part of their platform, they went down to their biggest ever election defeat]

Anyway, back to the story. Radio 4 just had a discussion about Free Speech vs protecting peoples sensibilities. Among the witnesses questioned were the BNP leader Nick Griffin, so unusually we (the public) had the opportunity to hear from that party, as opposed to the usual filtered reporting of them. He argued strongly for free speech, and came across as hugely more reasonable than the frenzied portrayal of a demonic party we usually get.

And therein lies one strong reason why we need free speech. If Griffin and his party are reasonable people, then why do the media generally deny them a platform? And if they are demonic thugs, let’s hear them and they’ll surely condemn themselves from their own mouths. My best guess is that they fall somewhere between those descriptions, but that’s not a judgement I can make based only on secondhand media reports.

Religions thrive on repression: they become a focus for justified resentment and anger. The bible is full of epic stories; the seeds of christianity grew under persecution in Rome; Islamic extremism today is fed by monstrous injustices and blatent double-standards in the Middle East. If we repress the BNP, they too may thrive on it.

The R4 debate had another interesting contributor: a catholic lady writer whose name escapes me but who (like Griffin) has been attacked for highly controversial views. Of course, the catholic church is traditionally a bastion of intolerance, yet she too made a favourable impression on me, arguing in favour of free speech. The only speaker who conformed to stereotype was a 1970s-style anti-fascist whose knee-jerk reaction was that anything the BNP say should automatically be outlawed.

The sad thing is the speed with which our freedom is being taken away, attacked on the dual fronts of Security and Political Correctness, both massively abused. Freedom of speech has been much eroded, not only on the dubious fringes inhabited (allegedly) by the BNP, but also in such cases as Brian Haw, the peace protestor whose extraordinary persecution must be deeply disturbing to any Brit who would prefer not to live in a totalitarian state (whether you agree with him or not is, of course, immaterial). At the same time, they’re rapidly eroding the legal protection we formerly took for granted against political imprisonment. Add a quarter of a century to Orwell’s famous dystopia, and you have it.