Monthly Archives: July 2007

mod_proxy_html 3.0

WebThing Ltd is pleased to announce Version 3.0 of mod_proxy_html.  This is the first major update in three years to WebThing’s most popular module for Apache httpd 2.x.

mod_proxy_html is a filter module to rewrite the links in an  HTML page on-the-fly.  It is an essential component of a reverse proxy, where pages coming from the backend server may contain links that are valid only within a private network, and would be unresolvable to users of the proxy.

mod_proxy_html was first published in 2003.  In July 2004, Version 2 added support for links in scripts and stylesheets, basic internationalisation, regular expressions, <META> parsing, and verbose logging for debugging/diagnostic help.

A development version of a major update destined to be Version 3 was first published in December 2006.  Initially this had problems, but since the most recent fixes made in June 2007, reports have indicated it working well.  Today it has been packaged and released as Version 3.0.0 at http://apache.webthing.com/mod_proxy_html/

The principal changes in Version 3 include:

  • Much improved internationalisation/charset support.
  • Configurable to support proprietary HTML variants (defaulting to standard HTML).
  • Flexible configuration with environment variable interpolation and conditional rules.
  • Improved robustness against malformed HTML, and partial validation and correction.

All new features are documented, but some new topic-guides still need to be written to expand and ultimately replace the Technical Guide.

As ever, feedback, bug reports and feature requests are encouraged.

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Saturday Concert

I’ve been tardy in writing up Saturday’s final Exon Singers concert, which was the best of the week. A programme of English music from the late 19th century to the present day. Some bombast: the concert started with Parry’s I was glad and ended with Elgar’s pomp and circumstance. Between those were new works by Skempton – which I found much more exciting than the composer’s own recital, Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia, some pieces by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, and some more Elgar.

The high points were the Britten and the Skempton, the latter because it’s new (and exciting), and the Britten because it’s simply wonderful. But the evening was full of pleasant surprises. The exuberance of the Parry overcame its potential naffness. And Wesley was a complete revelation: it’s a name one associates with the utter tedium of the hymn, but this Wesley, despite being from the famous church family, was evidently a real composer, and Saturday’s pieces were well worth it.

As on Wednesday, my critical faculties were at their sharpest in the piece I know best. On Wednesday it was the Vivaldi, on Saturday the Britten, where I was most aware of imperfection, though both were in fact beautifully performed.

After the concert I was able to grab a word with the musical director, Matthew Owens. After congratulating him, I had the cheek to ask whether they ever hold public auditions. The answer was (sadly but unsurprisingly) no. So no question of my making an idiot of myself there. I also spoke briefly to Skempton, who seemed pleased to hear about Cantores (where I was one of two basses, later the only bass) having sung some of his other pieces in Plymouth.

I shall certainly look out for the Exon Singers next time they’re in the area. A must-see.

What a ripoff!

Tavistock “food and drink festival” is on this weekend. It’s in the Wharf carpark, which is pleasantly-situated between the river, the wharf theatre, swimming pool, and town centre, as well as being the biggest open/flat/hardstanding area in town. They’ve closed the whole area off, including (on-foot) access from the path along the river, which makes the thing seem bloomin’ unfriendly.

This morning I tried going to it, expecting to look around and sample some goodies. Now it becomes clear why everything is blocked off. There’s just one official entrance, and they charge four quid entry! Good grief!

Well, I’m perfectly happy to spend four quid at a stall whose food and/or drink impresses me. In fact I was hoping to find enough to delight me that I’d spend a good deal more than that: indeed, it was in anticipation of this that I didn’t go food shopping on Friday. But a hefty charge just for entrance, ferchrissake? What a bloody ripoff!

Guess it’s longlife food for this evening, then. Might do something interesting with quinoa and fruit&nuts. Or find something in the freezer that’ll go on pasta.

Classic!

The BBC’s World Business Review just discussed the ‘net, with reference to social networking sites, online privacy, and identity. Several guests from the industry, and a better than average discussion.

Quote of the day: Microsoft were due to join this discussion, but their own equipment failed.

The BBC seem to have their own problems too: at the time of writing, the link still gives you an earlier edition, on the unrelated subject of Zimbabwe.

Unusual recital

Tonight’s concert was basically a recital by Howard Skempton of his own works.  All the works were very short miniatures, and it must be quite a challenge to compile a complete concert from them.  That is, as opposed to including a smaller number of Skempton’s works in a mixed concert, as we have done in the past.

I find his music quite hard to place.  The most famous influences  he spoke of include Britten (who encouraged the young Skempton in the 1970s) and Cage, but neither of them seems to have been more than a minor influence on the musical style.  The flavour overall was quite spartan, and put me in mind of Philip Glass minimalism, for which I don’t much care.  Webern also sprang to mind in the context of such miniatures.  But some of the pieces were also quite fascinating, and overall it was an interesting evening.

One overriding criticism: the church was an utterly unsuitable venue for such a concert.  A formal setting is not what it needed, and horribly uncomfortable pews only make it worse.  It works well for more conventional concerts such as Wednesday’s and tomorrow’s, but not for this.  Skempton’s evening would have been ideally set in a piano bar.  Or, here in Tavistock, in the big ballroom of the old town hall, which is available for such functions.  Then we, the audience, could have sat around tables with glasses of wine while Skempton performed for us, for a really great evening.

As on Wednesday, I went there alone.  But today I wasn’t amongst strangers; Harold (formerly of Opera SouthWest) was already there, so I sat down and started to natter with him.  Then John joined us (sans Helena, who was working).  And after the concert, John and I adjourned to the Market Inn for a couple of pints.

A useful scapegoat

By developed-world standards, and particularly for a country with such a benign climate, the recent flooding has caused hardship on quite a large scale.

At the same time, some people will inevitably benefit from it. Most of that is entirely legitimate: builders and repairers, suppliers of food and goods to replace what’s been damaged/lost, etc – all indirect beneficiaries whose markets suddenly grew.

Will there also be direct beneficiaries? Well, there’s financial and political capital to be had. There’s damage and dilapidations, both preexisting and caused by the flood. Large figures are floating around: estimates for total damage, insurance payouts, uninsured losses, and state help (taxpayer payouts). The latter is the most controversial, with politicians and other representatives of the affected areas staking out their claims.

First up was about a month ago when Yorkshire caught the brunt of the first round of flooding. The prime minister announced help for the afflicted areas, and someone from Hull (Mayor? Council leader?) complained bitterly that it was utterly inadequate. That’s reasonable: it’s his business to get the best deal he can for his city, and he’d be failing in that if he sounded satisfied when he judged he could hope for more. Today we had a councillor for Gloucestershire telling us road repairs alone would cost £25M in her county. Same story: she wants the best she can get for her area.  And they all want to stake out positions.

All of which begs the question: what is insurance supposed to be for, if the taxpayer is going to fork up when a disaster happens? And why is a victim of flooding more deserving of being bailed out than a victim of vandalism, burglary or fire? Could it be because it’s a public/media event, and politicians need to be seen to do something? What, me, cynical?

Well, if I were from the insurance industry, I’d be looking at policies with explicit exclusions for large-scale natural disasters, on the grounds that there’s public money to cover them. Save a fortune!

Where there’s public money, corruption inevitably follows. The representatives of Hull, Gloucestershire and other affected areas have legitimate needs, but how could they resist the temptation to absorb at least some general backlogs in repairs and maintenance into the cleanup budgets? Shortfalls in funding – real or manufactured – may then become a convenient scapegoat for general failings.

And if there’s a hardship fund for uninsured individuals, the same applies. The insurance industry has ways (albeit imperfect) to detect and deter fraud. Taxpayer-funded schemes lack the expertise and manpower to detect either fraud or real hardship, so it’ll be the professional con-men who stand to benefit most from public money.

That at least could be alleviated if distribution of the public funds was outsourced to the insurance industry. Except of course, they’re already working flat out to deal with their own business.

A week of music

The Exon Singers are in Tavistock for the week, with a programme of themed concerts, recitals, and services.  Today’s concert (baroque) is the first of three I plan to see.  Tonight’s choir was about 20 singers with organ accompaniment.

I was in two minds about going: the programme included Zadok the Priest and the Vivaldi Gloria, both of which I tend to think I’ve sung or seen enough times for one lifetime.  Are they insulting us (“country hicks need to be fed pop”), or is it because they don’t have the rehearsal time to prepare anything more exciting?  But there was also the Buxtehude Magnificat, which I’ve sung but never seen, and some Bach I wasn’t familiar with.  As ever, Bach stands head and shoulders above the other music.

I’m glad I went.  The standard of singing was excellent: they’re trained voices, and followed the conductor accurately.  Tempos were generally brisk and lively, and they gave it all the expression and light&shade to bring the music to life.  Some pieces more than others: the Handel (which opened the concert) could have used a bigger choir.  The Vivaldi was just a little less polished than the rest; probably they didn’t have time to rehearse.  But then, so long as they give it life, and are far better than the average school or church choir murdering it, who cares?

The most interesting to me was the Buxtehude.  We performed it a couple of years back with six singers + instrumental ensemble and continuo; they were 20 singers + organ.  The bigger choir gave us a real distinction between solo and chorus passages, which added a good deal to it compared to our performance.  And doing it with just organ was fine.

I’m looking forward to Friday (Howard Skempton – their composer in residence, and someone whose music leaves me wanting to hear more), and to Saturday (“Festival concert”, including Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia, another piece I’ve sung but never heard).

Where do I go to audition?

Aaargh!

Tavistock is not bad for day-to-day shopping. In fact it’s pretty good, with a market, an in-town supermarket, and a range of small shops.

That is, hitherto.

Now the supermarket (Somerfield) has taken to playing muzak. And it’s a nastier strain even than DIY-store-mindless. Nor was it a one-off: I’ve walked in and been driven out three times in less than a week.

That means we no longer have an in-town source for a wide range of everyday staples. I get bread, fruit&veg, and wholefoods in the small shops and market, but other food, as well as household stuff, comes mostly from the supermarket.

In the morning, I’m going to have to traipse off further afield. My options are Morrisons, a mile or so further away but not very nice either, or Tescos, which means an extra ten miles (each way) across Dartmoor. I expect I’ll be using both of them rather more in future.

Bah, Humbug.

Summer Rain

For the second time this season, parts of England have got floods. This time the southwestern Midlands, including our biggest river the Severn, is at the heart of it, and some of the pictures are quite impressive.

Here in West Devon, our weather has been more moderate. On a narrow peninsula surrounded by the warm waters of the gulf stream, it’s always moderate. We have neither hot summers nor cold winters. Normal rainfall is above average for the country, but Dartmoor has ample capacity to soak it up. Our rivers are too small to build up big floods.

The biggest river locally is the Tamar, which marks the cornish border. It actually did flood a few years ago (this century:-), though the floods were not on a large scale by national, let alone world standards. At the nearest point, Gunnislake, it runs through a deep and steep wooded valley, and can rise quite a long way in exceptional conditions.

And there are old cottages along the river, that are flood-prone. Indeed, they’re built for it, with things like flagstone floors downstairs, as well as stone walls. The original occupants will have taken occasional flooding for granted, and expected to deal with it.

What should we learn from history? We have a lot of houses built in flood-prone areas: that’s not about to change, though some of them may benefit from new flood-defences. But they fall into two categories: those built to deal with it (the older ones), and those build with no regard to their surroundings (those from the past century or so).

What can owners of unfit houses do to minimise the impact of flooding on their homes? I don’t know, but it’s a question we should be asking.

One useful thing that could go into “Home Information Packs” would be not just a flood risk figure, but also an assessment of a house’s fitness to withstand flooding. That would tend to put some kind of market pressure on builders to do a better job, as well as informing buyers.

The old cynic was right. Up to a point.

Shock horror: competitions on the BBC and other national media are rigged!

I was born in the 1960s.  My earliest memories are from the 1960s.  And they include wanting to enter my answers in national competitions (many of which were trivially easy, just as they are today).  My father, the old cynic[1,2], explained that such competitions were rigged, and I as an outsider would never stand a chance.  The explanation made sense, and I’ve gone through life shunning all such things.  This feels like a “told you so” moment for what I learned as a very small child.

So I’ve spent a lifetime not being conned in such trivial matters (or, very rarely, being self-consciously and awkwardly silly).  But what else?  Being cynical is not such a blessing when it equates with being risk-averse  and lacking the self-confidence to “go for it” in so many matters.

[1] He complained of being an old man, even back then.

[2] Actually, thinking about it, it could have been my mother.  Or more likely both of them.  Writing about it makes me suddenly unsure.