Monthly Archives: January 2007

ApacheCon 2007

So, my talk on securing Apache got scheduled for Wednesday, May 2nd. Now I’ll have to prepare it. Specifically, it’s about harnessing the security features of Apache itself and a Unix-family operating system to protect it from problems within Apache itself, but more importantly from bugs in applications (such as PHP scripts) running under Apache.

I got the idea when I reviewed the Apache security books (here). There were some things they cover very well, and others they didn’t. I found some of the latter rather disturbing, and put it on my to-do list to write an article or two on the subject.

Anyway, assuming the books represent “conventional wisdom” on the subject, I’ll introduce that, and then fill in those gaps. In the meantime, I’d better write those articles! Probably two of them between now and ApacheCon.

Low-cost housing

In early 2005 I had to move house, when my then-landlady decided she wanted to sell the place and gave me notice to quit. Flat-hunting under pressure of time is a very bad idea, and the place I found has turned out to be miserable due to noise from all around.

At that point I put myself on the council’s list for social housing. Not with any expectation of getting it (I lack “politically correct” points to give me priority), but more to make my little contribution to their statistics. Being a rural area, the actual numbers are low enough for another one person to make a significant difference.

Anyway, I’ve just got a letter and application form for what they call “shared equity” housing. It means you get to buy a share – like half – of a property, with the other half being owned by the social housing people. In effect it’s a large interest-free loan. And it’s transferable to a future owner.

Now, in part it’s like real ownership. You get a share of house price changes. You’re allowed to do the place up as you want it. But there are strings attached. You can’t let it out if, for example, you go away for a few months or a year (so that’ll be more empty properties and pressure on housing – though only marginally). You can’t sell your stake in the open market: if you want to sell, they set the value, and they find a buyer. Worst, you don’t get a ‘normal’ choice of where to live: these properties are all on a dreary new estate. Housing in the UK built in the past 100 years is worth avoiding.

The main attraction: it probably will be quite a lot quieter than the present place. That’s really worthwhile. And at a price that’ll enable me to survive a bad year. Against that is the location, soullessness, and being tied to an institutionalised set of expectations about one’s lifestyle. For instance, I don’t expect they’d let me convert the inevitable parking space into something useful like a secure bike shed and a vegetable patch.

And I expect the question is academic, anyway. I have an application form to fill in, and a bunch of questions that’ll disqualify me. So I can just go on paying taxes and getting nothing back as usual.

Encouraging News

El Reg today has a couple of encouraging stories.

First, it reports what looks like a groundbreaking ruling by a tribunal on accessibility. A blind candidate for a professional qualification was unreasonably denied use of the assistive software she uses in her regular job (among other things). There was an issue of jurisdiction: the qualifications body in question is based outside the UK, so the tribunal had to rule that the fact that it’s providing the service in question within the UK was sufficient.

Second, there’s a different take on something not a million miles from my recent Alice story.

Paperless banking

Not sure how long they’ve had it, but I only just noticed my bank offers the option of online-only statements, dispensing with the traditional ritual of wasting paper on identity theft magnets.  Splendid!  I immediately opted out of paper for both my current account and credit card statements.

If you’re still getting the paper versions, check now whether your bank gives you the option!

A crime against humanity

John is doing “jury service” this week. Two days so far sitting in a waiting room, then being dismissed at lunchtime because nothing was happening. What a splendidly productive use of a busy man’s time, not to mention the taxpayer’s money! John is at least fortunate that his day job is with an organisation big enough to take the loss.

Jury service, like tax, is the state taking from its citizens without the option. Unlike taxes, it doesn’t pay for anything productive: rather you’re being coopted to listen to grossly overpaid actors (aka barristers) performing, without the benefit of a show you would want to see. OK, which barrister convinced you? That’ll be the one working for the biggest crook, who knows how to Play the System. If you ever believed The Liar, you’re likely to be convinced by the biggest liar in court, too.

And you’re deprived of your liberty and normal life for an indefinite period: unlike convicted criminals, jurors don’t get time off for good behaviour. Self-employed, or a crucial person in a small business? Tough – just go under, as you cannot service your contracts, and if you’re lucky you can start again before you lose your house at least. A teacher? That’s 30 kids with their education disrupted, unless the school happens to have quite a lot of slack.

This whole jury system is a crime against humanity. So what can one do about it? If you Play the Game and pronounce a verdict based on the show you’ve just seen, you’re letting yourself become complicit in that crime. If you refuse to go when summoned, you commit a criminal offence (though the penalties for it might be less trouble than the service itself). There’s no satisfactory solution.

To cap it all, if you get a real gangster, you and your loved ones might be at significant personal risk if you find against them. And of course they’ll then get any adverse verdict overturned by a higher court without the encumbrance of a jury, on the time-honoured principle of innocent until proven broke.

It seems to me that, so long as the loss of time is bearable, the least bad outcomeis non-cooperation within the law. That means going through the motions, but discounting everything presented to you by those overpaid spin-doctors in court. You have (by law) to give a verdict, and there’s only one verdict in a criminal case:

  • If the accused didn’t do it, they are Not Guilty.
  • If the accused did do it, they are still Not Guilty. That’s the lesser of two evils: it’s an injustice, but one that has to be set against complicity in the far bigger crime of the jury system.

Any exceptions to that? Certainly not when trying a private individual: not even someone like Ian Huntley or Fred and Rosemary West. For a public figure whose crimes are on a global scale? Well, if I were on the jury for The Liar himself, it would be a tough call.

Hacking on mod_line_edit

I’ve spent the past couple of days hacking on mod_line_edit (my second most popular module at webthing). First, I have a Client asking for some fancy customisation (this is unlikely to go public, as it’s not really of general interest).

More interestingly, I’ve been hacking it to work also in the input chain. I started out with the idea of a companion module, but there’s so much in common between the input and output filters that it makes sense to combine them, with a little refactoring.

Stay tuned!


Just followed this link from a cycling forum, for a rather good laugh.

Beer Festival (Tavistock style)

Just been to the “Beer Festival” at the Trout and Tickle pub, with John and Helena. It was really just a bit of a publicity event for the low season, featuring five different beers from Otter Brewery. Anyway, we indulged ourselves in a three course meal with generous amounts of beer.

The pub itself is reasonable but not distinguished, and I’d say the same for the food and beer. It’s a little out of town, but still easy walking distance. It’s rather more pleasant than our (disappointing) in-town pubs, but no match for some of the nicer rural pubs further out. I also consider it overpriced for what it is.

For an evening meal in the area, if you definitely want a pub rather than (say) a chinese restaurant, and if you lack the mobility to get to, for example, the Royal Inn, the Elephant’s Nest, or the Plume of Feathers, then it’s a reasonable choice. But that’s more “if”s than are likely to happen very often.

No longer W3C

As of today I’m formally no longer an Invited Expert with the Worldwide Web Consortium. Specifically the WAI/ER team, though my (ex-) position with QA-DEV is rather similar.

This is a little sad, but inevitable: it’s about a year since I made any contribution to merit the status. I was finding the committment a chore, doing less and less (== nothing at all of late). I had gone through a round of talking about resigning, being persuaded not to, but then still not taking an active part.

I’m not going out in a blaze of glory as Björn Höhrmann did, though I do agree with much of his criticism of the W3C. The teams I’ve worked with there are good people, and I wish them the best of luck in their efforts (as, to be fair, did Björn). If I have anything more to contribute to their work, I shall do so from the outside, but there’s no current prospect of that.

Thanks Shadi and the other WAI folks for my time there, and sorry I haven’t kept it up.

Bottom line: good to have served, good to be out.

A timely shot

China shoots down its own satellite (thus demonstrating its technological capability to do so). Others huff and puff about it.

From a UK perspective, this looks timely. It comes within a week of our megalomaniac warmongering liar of a prime minister’s latest speech about the virtues of war everywhere (a speech that finally led me to the frightening conclusion that the best thing our army could do for us right now is to execute a coup against him). It’s comforting that there is another power that neither The Liar nor his Master can expect to bully or bomb into submission. Especially when there’s no reason to suppose that power threatens any legitimate british interest.

Someone in Taiwan might legitimately feel different about this news. Time will tell the negative aspects of China’s rise, but this at least is positive in terms of the very necessary checks and balances it’s bringing to the world. And China is not (AFAICS) pursuing the kind of ideological imperialism that characterised both sides in the Cold War.