Monthly Archives: August 2007

Bursting Bubbles

Has Uncle Sam just conned the world?

There’s been an element of the pyramid scheme in stock markets for as long as there’s been a stock market. From time to time a pyramid grows into a big bubble, and bursts.

Right now the bubble that’s bursting is US housing, and money lent on it is being written off (even as the dodgy lenders are sending ever more spam). But who is paying? Markets in Europe and Asia appear to be suffering proportionally more than American markets. Does that mean the rest of the world is writing off a (big chunk of now privatised) US national debt?

And why are central banks bailing out their financial industries with huge amounts of public money? If I get into trouble, the best I can hope for is social security, and I’m not even eligible for that while I have a business. But for financial institutions, an altogether different story. Isn’t it massively inflationary to pour in billions of public money like that?

Something here smells of Keynesian intervention. But it’s being applied as an uncontrolled panic measure, a sticking plaster over the symptoms (not the cause) of the underlying problem. Can any good come of that, or is it pouring good money after bad?

Americans have a long history of being smarter investors than the rest of the world. That’s what gives them their big success stories, such as all the biggest names on the ‘net. And it’s probably also why their markets are faring less badly than others right now. But it has an ugly side, and when Uncle Sam unloads dodgy debt while continuing to accrue ever more of it, he’s no better than a con-man. The world is full of suckers.

Autumn fruits

You know Autumn is here when the blackberries are ripe on the bramble.  This year, like last, autumn has come early, and this morning I picked my first blackberries of the year.  The ripe ones are still relatively few and far between, but I managed to collect just over two litres of them, mostly from on and around the old viaduct.

I fear it will not be a good season for them, mostly because it’s too wet.  The last time we had a season with no prolonged dry periods was 2004, when it became a challenge to find berries that were ripe without being also rotten.  There are definite signs of that happening again this year, unless we get a change to more settled weather over the next couple of months.

I started on the canal towpath (very little fruit there yet), before going up to the viaduct.  On the footpath along the Callington Road, some ghastly old bat emerged from a house on the far side of the road and asserted her rights to the blackberries there.  Not that she’d have been physically capable of picking them.  Contrasts sharply to one occasion last year, when I was picking them along the road out to Mount House School, and a very nice lady hailed me and asked if I’d like to collect a few cooking apples from her ample surplus (several big trees) to go with them.

ITIN at last!

Just three months after my second application, which I travelled to make in person, I finally have an ITIN. That is, a US Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. So finally my publisher can pay royalties on the book. That is, assuming there are no further hurdles in the way.

I must email them soon. It would be nice to hear how sales are going, too. Shame the dollar has lost half its value while I was waiting 😦


I really should use this post to pass on the Executive Summary and Recommendation to anyone else needing an ITIN from the US government:

  • Don’t send them the forms.
  • Do go in person to the nearest embassy, no matter how inconvenient.

Or failing that, pay one of the agents listed on their webpages to do the whole job. In retrospect, I’d probably have been better off stumping up some utterly exorbitant fee to have KPMG (who are an accredited agent and have an office in Plymouth) do it for me.

Serious Errata

Under firm instructions from the publisher, I compiled a list of errata for the book as soon as I received it.  These were all trivial matters: typos, and layout of code examples.

Now I’ve had a question from a reader that led to detecting a much more serious error: a broken code example on Page 141 (I won’t repeat the details here, but I’ve posted the fix on the errata page).  My correspondent posted his code, I found an error in it, and traced the error back to mine.

What’s puzzling is how it got there in the first place.  After verifying that there is indeed an error, I followed the link from the book’s companion page, and checked the module I’d drawn the example from.    The module itself is correct.  So where did the erroneous version come from, and why did neither I nor my reviewers pick up on it?  I guess I must’ve been simplifying for the book, and it was an unfortunate chance that noone noticed.

Certainly in the latter part of the publishing process, including when compiling that first errata list under pressure, I wouldn’t have been looking for anything like that: I was just trying to limit the damage done in copyediting and typesetting.

Ouch 😦

Server Upgrade

I just upgraded and to Apache 2.2.5 today, after basic testing over the weekend. No change or recompilation required for any of the libraries, nor to my own or third-party modules.

Browsers for Mac

Dear Lazyweb, is there a web browser for Mac OS X that lets me view images but disable image animations?

Let me clarify. I know they all have configuration options to do that, but I want one that works!

My normal desktop platform is Linux, but I have a Mac laptop. It’s one of the first generation of Mac/Intel boxes, and it’s the cheapest (13 inch) model.

On Linux (and other *X), Konqueror has long let me browse in a rich graphical environment but nevertheless disable image animation crap. Other browsers have configuration settings to disable animations, but they simply don’t work. When the Mac was new, I struggled and failed to find a working browser. That included installings addons like SafariStand that supposedly get rid of the crap, as well as a range of different browsers.

When Firefox 2.0 was released, it finally worked. On both platforms, and even Windoze. Great, a browser I could use anywhere I want from the Mac.

A week or two ago, with the latest security update, Firefox started animating images on me (as version 1.5 had done). Disabling it just stopped working. So now I am without a web browser I can use away from safe sites on the Mac.

Grrrr …

Untying business?

Today’s news: the Tories want to cut regulation on business. Details not reported anywhere I’ve seen (not that I’ve been looking).

Good: less hassle and red tape.

Bad: making it easier for crooks.

On balance, they’re probably right. The history of red tape is that it ties up the honest, leaves ample loopholes for the serious crooks, and perhaps does some good in a grey area between the two.

On the other hand, the author is John Redwood. That fails to inspire confidence. Guess I’ll have to wait for details.

Half-owned housing again

Well, speak of the devil!

No sooner have I posted a rant about housing here, than another letter arrives in my mailbox, about “shared ownership”.

This one is a different scheme to last time[1], and the terms are less generous.  Specifically, pay 50%, own 50%, rent the other half.  It is a good deal, insofar as the rental part is equivalent to a 2.7% interest rate on a mortgage for half the property’s value.  That is, if the notional values they’re using are realistic market values: in the open market, one would expect to make an offer well below the asking price.

As for other terms, such as restrictions on your rights, no details of that are provided.  But there is once again a lot of paperwork to fill, and disqualify those of us who fail on Political Correctness tests.

[1] Followup to last time?  I sent in the forms, and tried phoning several times.  No response whatsoever.

Groklaw: Novell owns the UNIX Copyrights.

If, like me, you are a lapsed groklaw reader, now could be a good time to revisit. Her latest news is that we have a big ruling: Novell, not SCO, owns the Unix and Unixware copyrights.

As I understand it, Novell only had to demonstrate that they had a reasonable belief that they owned the copyrights, so a declaration that the ownership was unclear would have sufficed for them to defeat SCO’s central case against them. But of course after years, and millions of dollars of lawyer, there’s more to it than that.

This also impacts on all the other cases:

  • IBM: SCO tried to tell them to cease and desist their UNIX business because of alleged breaches of contract. Novell said that was nonsense and IBM was fine to continue. The judge has just ruled than Novell was entitled to do that. So yet more of **the** SCO case falls.
  • Redhat: the whole case looks even more moot.
  • The Linux end-user cases: well, does anyone remember or care about them? Even the one that wasn’t already thrown out of court.

The Wild West

The Lords Science and Technology Committee have apparently concluded the ‘net is a “wild west”, where people cannot be expected to look after themselves and need to be protected.

The first reports started saying consumers should be able to demand compensation from ISPs if they were defrauded online. I wonder how much that would add to the cost of getting online, from whatever ISPs survive and can get insured against it? And whether any of them might offer discounts to non-windoze users. Maybe business connections could end up cheaper than home-user ones.

A little later, the report had morphed a little, and they interviewed committee chairman Lord Broers on the radio. He seemed more sane than the original journalist, and spoke of liability falling on ISPs of attackers (subject of course to jurisdiction). Which is almost the eminently sensible position of legislating for ISPs to cut off infected users so they can’t spread further damage.

Also mentioned: legal liability for damage due to defective hardware or software. Hey, that’s what we should have had ten years ago, to make Microsoft responsible for deliberately breaking MIME (RFCs 1341 and 1521, of 1992 and 1993 respectively) and thus unleashing a tidal wave of email viruses while rendering simple and easy filtering ineffective.

In today’s market, MS is still going to bear the biggest liability for broken software (if they can’t out-lawyer the relevant authorities), but it could in principle hit much harder at those without their financial resources. That includes open source.