Monthly Archives: February 2007

Salt and heart disease

The UK chattering classes, including reputable medical opinion, seem obsessed by the idea that we eat too much salt, and it’s a major contributor to heart disease.

So, here’s a puzzle. Italians eat vastly more salt than us: even after years in Italy, I found the saltiness of their food often quite overwhelming (just as most Italians seem to find a bit of chilli too much for them). Yet Italy has less of a problem with heart disease than we do.

How does that work?

Phantom books?

If you go to one of the usual online booksellers (like Amazon or Barnes&Noble) and search for “Apache Modules”, you’ll get two results, both of which are expected if you know the subject.  You might get an extra result or two from general Apache books that mention modules.

Out of interest, I just tried the same search at Waterstones, one of the most likely UK high street booksellers to have such books on the shelf.  And there I got not two but four results.  The other two are titles I am also aware of, but which were both long-since abandoned by their authors and/or publishers.

These books never existed, beyond their ISBNs and optimistic publicity.  Yet you can buy them online, in exactly the same way you buy a real book!  Entering the ISBNs at Amazon, I can buy them there too, though at least an innocent search there doesn’t lead me to them.

What happens to your order for such a phantom book?

Getting paid from the US

The book is out, but I still have a hurdle to clear before I can see any royalties. This one is the US Government, which requires me to wade through a mountain of obscure documents (thanks to my publisher for helping steer me there) and complete a form (ditto) in order to be paid royalties. Comes of having an american publisher:-(

Specifically, the publisher needs a US taxpayer number to pay me. But I’m not a US taxpayer. I’m not even eligible to be a US taxpayer. So instead, I need something called an ITIN, which involves filling a form W-7. And that form has a subtext:

You’re a scumbag perpetrating a fraud on us. We know you’re really just a stooge for someone who wants to hide money from us (though you don’t have permission to live or work in America). Taxation treaty? What taxation treaty? All your money are belong to us!

Anyway, I need to submit my passport with the form. The original [shudder], or a notarised copy.

Notarised? Yep, that means going to a Notary Public, who then signs that he’s seen me with the original passport, and it’s genuine, and it’s me. Today I went to a notary for that. Seems the underlying premise is that Notary == someone we grudgingly trust, because there’s no way we trust a scumbag like you. Yeah, great. A nice little earner for the Notary, and a PITA for anyone needing to use one.

Once upon a time, any professional person might normally have seen as trustworthy: it was the natural authority of those in the educated classes. Interesting that a country seen as having so much less of a class system than us should nevertheless have classism so ferociously enshrined into its law.

In fairness, the notary told me that notaries are ten-a-penny in America, so finding and going to one doesn’t seem such a big deal to an American.


I’ve been through the main body of the book, and made a list of corrections to appear in the second printing. That’s using the “folded and gathered sheets” sent by the publisher with my first copy.

Here is the list of errata in brief.

Iraq: a resounding success

I can’t find a link for it yet, but todays news on the radio is a very healthy profit at BAe, which is by far Britain’s biggest armaments company.  A successful bottom line to the long series of wars we’ve started since the end of the Cold War, avoiding the risk of such a vital part of the economy going into meltdown.

Todays other news is of course the first stage of cut-and-run.  That’s inevitable: so long as there’s a native population and an occupying force, there will be resistance.  Historically, a Final Solution to that problem hasn’t worked for a very long time.

[UPDATED] In the thick of it, yet again

For some time, the building works across the road have been relatively quiet. Last week there were some signs of renewed activity creating nuisance here, and now it’s truly arrived.

It’s all obscured by clouds of dust rising from the works, and forcing me to close the windows (at least it’s no longer our hottest July on record). My best guess from what I can see and hear is that they’re using a chainsaw to cut up concrete paving slabs, for the area that’s destined to be communal garden.

The noise isn’t as bad as it’s been in the past, nor as the yobs home, though it’s loud, amplified by the wall of the building, and much nearer than the yobs. But the dust is as bad as anything from there since the week of bonfires in autumn 2005.

[UPDATE] There’s now a low wall of concrete/breezeblock in that garden area. I daresay the next step will be to clad it in something a little prettier.

Road pricing: the wrong debate

Today’s news: 1.8 million signatures on a petition against a road pricing proposal. A new, online e-petition.

OK, it’s easy to see how it reaches that number of signatures. It’s had massive publicity from the mainstream meeja (like the newspapers and BBC). It’s online, so it’s no effort to sign it. And not least, it’s wide open to being stuffed by automated bots posting bogus signatures.

And it’s a proposal with a lot to oppose in it:

    • The purpose is to provide incentives to avoid the busiest roads and times, to reduce congestion. That will inevitably leave far more of our nicer country lanes crawling with cars, and unpleasant for everyone.
    • It relies on a big government computer system, which inevitably implies a fiasco.
    • It relies on tracking technology fitted in vehicles. When the proposal comes from the present government, who can blame people for being suspicious about that? And we can surely expect the devices to be tampered with, probably on a large scale.
    • It’s presented as a new charge: pay more, get [???] back for it. Yeah, just what everyone wants.

      Besides that, some of the propagandists have been concocting altogether more outrageous scare stories.

      The second part of this story is a BBC survey, which suggests that people would be much happier to pay if the money were given back to them in some other form, or ringfenced for better transport.

      Right. So, just reintroduce John Major’s fuel price escalator, but this time tie it to a systematic equal reduction in tax elsewhere. Cost linked directly to pollution. No disastrous technology project. No unwelcome surveillence. And we can start right now!

      When I went on my first peace march, I had to overcome feelings of revulsion at being associated with a bunch of lefties, and a cause seen by some as one of theirs. I have yet to overcome my revulsion at the road lobby – which lacks even the left’s redeeming feature of a Good (if misguided) Cause. Otherwise I might’ve been tempted to sign this one myself.

      Apache – what next?

      The Apache web server has recently created a new branch to play with ideas for a major new release, which may be labelled 3.0.  Different people within the developers have different ideas: no doubt some but not all of them will prevail.

      How about the users?  What do you want in a new Apache release?

      I think I might make an El Reg article out of this.  Only for that I’ll flesh out the question with some of the topics under discussion (or potentially under discussion).  Get your comments in quick, and I might even feature your ideas!

      An ugly shade of green

      I took the bus to Tesco this morning, for a big shop. It’s quite a long time since I last went there, as the Tavistock shops are now so convenient. But there are a few things Tesco has that I can’t find locally.

      Since I last went, they’ve introduced “green points”, based on things they deem to be “green” (by what criteria I can only speculate). My big backpack apparently qualified me for several, presumably on the basis of not using carrier bags.

      So far so good, even if the value of the points is mere tokenism.

      The problem is, these are just clubcard points. Tesco’s clubcard is not a consumer-friendly scheme like, for example, the Coop’s. It’s a card that, at best, earns you discounts on selected items (their selection, not mine, and I’ve yet to see anything I want to buy discounted). And worse, the means of delivery is by utterly wasteful and anti-green junk mail arriving in your letterbox.

      So, you have to be anti-green to qualify for green points. Jolly good. I ditched my clubcard years ago. A rather greener action, I think, than saving carrier bags (which I always keep for re-use anyway).

      BTW, don’t get me wrong. I don’t subscribe to the “Tescos are evil” view peddled by some of the meeja (and politicians in search of a scapegoat). On the contrary, I thoroughly approve of what they’ve done to bring quality and value to consumers. And of what they’ve done to make themselves accessible to everyone (today’s bus, provided by Tesco, being just one example of that). When you’re as poor as I was around 2002/2003, you really appreciate the value of pasta at 12p for a 500g packet, and pulses at 80p for a full week’s worth of protein.

      “Web 2.0” with substance?

      I often have the radio on in background. And so it was that I got to hear the BBC’s “click on“. It’s a “pop-web” magazine program, and the presenter (inevitably) introduced some “blogging pioneer and web 2.0 expert” to talk about “Web 2.0”. Yeah right. More hot air.

      Well, blow me down if this interviewee didn’t say the first sensible thing I think I’ve ever heard1 about Web 2.0. Namely, that it’s not new: it’s returning to what the Web started out as in the early to mid ’90s, before vacuous brochureware became dominant. Corollary: it’s been there all the time, thank you for starting to notice.

      [1] Not just on mainstream meeja.  That includes the High Priest of “web 2.0” hot air, who I saw last year at OSCON with many of his acolytes.