Monthly Archives: March 2008

Expression parser for Apache

Over the past few days I’ve got a long-awaited round tuit, and given Apache a general-purpose expression parser, ap_expr. That’s in trunk/2.3, and is unlikely to be stable enough for a 2.2.x (release) version for a while.

What I haven’t done this time is write a new expression parser. I’ve done that before, e.g. when I hacked up an ESI parser in 2003, but it’s necessarily an exercise in reinventing the wheel. So this time I’ve just adapted an existing parser: the one used by mod_include. That basically meant removing mod_include-specific stuff from its expression parser, and generalising somewhat. The first stage was complete when mod_include itself was adapted to use ap_expr, and passed all tests with it.

The second module I’ve just now adapted is mod_filter, where the expression parser replaces the ad-hoc dispatch criteria in the FilterProvider directive. The advantage of this is that the updated mod_filter can dispatch on multiple criteria. For example, a user wants a filter to apply if and only if the Content Type is text/html AND the response is not compressed. That’s now easy, and no longer requires hackish workarounds:

FilterProvider myname myprovider "($resp{Content-Encoding} != gzip) && ($Content-Type == /text\/html/i)"

In the medium term, this could be used to enhance a number of different apache functions, and provide a more consistent expression syntax across different modules. Notable potential benefits include a far simpler and more logical configuration syntax for some of the more complex tasks undertaken with mod_rewrite.

ApacheCon for Brits

Following my exceptionally pleasant journey last year, I’m once again booked to travel to Amsterdam by train+ferry for ApacheCon the week after next.

What was best about last year’s travel? The return journey, overnight in a very nice cabin on a luxurious modern (and huge!) ferry.

What was worst? The sleeper train to London, which fell woefully short of decent standards of comfort.

So this year, I’m travelling overnight on the ferry in both directions, and doing the train journey by day. Best of both worlds!

For any other Brits who have yet to book travel, I can strongly recommend the deal offered by dutchflyer, which bundles train travel with the Harwich-Hook of Holland ferry. For those living further north, I note there are other ferry options including Hull-Rotterdam and Newcastle-Amsterdam. I can’t speak for those routes, but I’d certainly be interested in trying them if they were geographically right for me. Come to think of it, we have a good direct train service Plymouth-Newcastle, so maybe that’s an option worth looking at for a bit of variety!

BTW, I’m booked into the Park Plaza Victoria hotel this year (the conference hotel wasn’t an option – it’s fully booked). Anyone else there for ApacheCon, feel free to drop me a line!

Turkish Apache!

Thanks to a recent contribution from a handful of Turkish volunteers with roots in Linux, we have a shiny new Turkish translation of the apache webserver documentation.  I guess that’s one up for Turkish sysops and webmasters.  Thanks, folks!

If you follow the apache link above, you’ll get the language selected in your browser preferences (if we have it)!  But you can also select a language manually from the little row of links, where Turkish is the latest addition.

Let’s be clear: The Apache Software Foundation has no position on OOXML.

Microsoft’s OOXML, and in particular the way its going about trying to create a standard of it, is one of the big controversies in IT today. Lots of people have strong views on it.

The ASF doesn’t.

Some of us would prefer it if partisan commentators respected our non-combatent status[1], and didn’t try to hint at an ASF stance on the issue.

The ASF has no reason to hold an official position, for or against OOXML, nor for or against Microsoft’s standardisation efforts. We haven’t even discussed it in the members forum.

Of course, individual members will hold their own views, and it may be relevant to some ASF projects. But even in the vanishingly unlikely event of a view being unanimous across the entire membership and all the projects, that doesn’t make an ASF position.

OK, so why am I writing about a nonexistent position?

Yesterday, the ASF was mentioned in the groklaw feed. So I followed it to the article, and it turns out that on March 19th, a senior IBM employee blogged on the subject. He doesn’t tell any outright lies, but his use of language implicitly enlists the ASF into IBM’s position in opposition to Microsoft. That pisses me off.

Following up on that, I discovered that Microsoft Italy published a press release on March 18th, in which forthcoming support for OOXML in an Apache project is announced[2]. Now at least one Microsoft blogger in english has been spotted spinning “Apache will support OOXML”. Oh dear.

So within two days, that’s both sides dragging the Apache name into their dispute, albeit with a measure of plausible deniability. Wouldn’t it be good if both Microsoft’s and IBM’s official channels could issue statements disowning their respective bloggers’ use of the Apache name?

Oh, and how much here is pure coincidence? The IBM blogger starts by saying noone has claimed ASF support for OOXML yet. That’s the day after the Microsoft press release!

[1] I was going to say “neutrality”, but even that could be seen as a position.

[2] AIUI it’s really more limited: MS and SourceSense entered an agreement to do some work in that direction. Of course I have no inside information on the deal.

thinking about catching up …

Can one, these days, get a mortgage on something like the following terms?  Since I’ve lost the tax-flexibility of self-employment, I need to find some way to avoid getting the worst of all worlds.

  • Regular payments of interest only.
  • Tax-efficient saving to repay, using a self-invested personal pension (augmented by my company pension if necessary).
  • Repayment on taking my pension, using the tax-free lump sum.
  • Offset account to enable early partial payments on a flexible basis.
  • Offset amount to include, or at least account for, existing ISA savings.
  • Flexible final repayment date.

Not, of course, that I want a mortgage in a falling market.  Except … property available to rent in the UK leaves something to be desired, and I’m not getting any younger.

(I expect the “M” word will collect spambots to this article, like flies to a corpse.  So any comment that shows no sign of having read my words will not be given the benefit of the doubt).

More red tape

Sarah was round here this afternoon.  Wanted me to countersign a passport renewal application.  Called on me ‘cos I was in the right place at the right time.

OK, not a problem.  I’ve known her since 1998, I know her address, I know her parents, and I’ve met other family members.  I can vouch for her being who she says she is with as much confidence as pretty much anyone.  So far, all perfectly reasonable.  That is, if we accept the need for anyone to countersign a perfectly routine renewal application, where the old passport is available and expires later this month.

The form itself is ridiculously confusing.  Not the main part, but the section where I sign.  It asks for information about me, but it bundles several questions into a single answer field.  My occupation and professional qualifications on one line.  My employer’s name and my home address. WTF?  OK, shove it all in; I’ve got nothing to hide.

The burning question is: am I eligible to sign such a thing?  The forms ask for a professional person, or someone with standing in the community (I don’t recollect the exact words, but it’s a fairly common type of formulation in the UK).  Examples cited are people like a doctor, lawyer, or minister of religion.  Well, I’m certainly not a person of standing in the community, nor is it clear to me whether a software engineer counts as a professional person in this class-ridden society.

I’ve ranted before about the ‘merkin obsession with notaries.  But this is the kind of case where having a notary to countersign would seem to make much more sense than some vague handwaving class-based criteria for eligibility[1].  Except … what if you don’t happen to know a notary (maybe you recently moved to a different region of the country)?  But in the UK, that could be a problem too: you come from a solid working-class background, you may struggle to think of a professional person among your friends, and have to try and pluck up courage to go to someone you don’t really know.  Does that make today’s form class discrimination?

[1] and if we used notaries for this kind of thing, there would be a lot more notaries, and competition would ensure their services were much cheaper and more readily available.  As is the case in the USA.

Sun and Apache

A belated blog post on a subject that’s now a week old …

It seems I’m not the only ASF member to have just joined Sun. Ted Leung has just joined – albeit in a different area of $bigco (and with different main interests at ASF).

We join a select band of folks with both the two hats, including Dave Johnson, Craig Russell, and Craig McClanahan. There may be others, but if so they’re not talking about it.

With the quota rising from three to five, it seems fair to say Sun is no longer underrepresented at Apache for a company of its size, position and importance. OTOH, I believe we still fall short of some other $bigcos such as IBM and Google, and indeed far smaller companies like Joost. But that’s just an impression: I haven’t collected the data to back it up.

As for what I’ll be doing over the coming weeks and months … well, we’ve identified areas of interest that should be of benefit to everyone (Sun, Apache, the wider community, and myself). Watch this space!

Why is food like humour?

For my last night in sunny California (and yes, it’s been sunny and fine throughout my time here), I went to the posh italian-flavoured restaurant next door to the hotel. It’s the only one in the area that looks and feels like a restaurant (as opposed to a café), and it’s twice the price of the others, so I went in with high hopes.

Distinctly underwhelmed. It was adequate, but no way was it worth the premium over the other local eateries.

Overall, I’ve encountered a variety of food here, ranging from excellent to distinctly mediocre. That’s much the same as back home. The difference is that back home I can usually make a reasonable judgement before committing to eating somewhere, while here I’m struggling. So the best restaurant meal I’ve had was with my colleagues in a thai place they know and love, while probably the worst was the one I had on Saturday in San Francisco, also in a thai place, but one I found for myself.

Thinking about it, when I first lived in Italy I encountered more bad food than you’d believe of that country, but my experience improved with time. I guess it really is about experience, of a kind that doesn’t travel very well between cultures.

Like that famously-bad traveller, the sense of humour, perhaps?

the ‘merkin hot topic

Since my visit to the US coincides with a somewhat interesting time in US politics, perhaps I should join half the rest of the world in commenting on it.  Like everyone else, I speak from ignorance on the subject.

The US, in common with most other countries, has a political system that ensures that only a crook can attain high office. But some of them are clearly worse than others. And among the current crop may be a glimmer of hope that 20 years of near-unmitigated evil might change. An evil that contrasts strangely with a country that produces so many great people, not to mention corporations that have behaved – on average – significantly better than their European counterparts, in terms of treating me fairly through my years of IT contract work.

Who will win? Who can say, but McCain is looking good. The republicans have selected their (obviously) most electable candidate: one who is not a religious loony or moral fundamentalist, but who appears to have a clue about the economy and environment. By contrast, the democrats appear to have shot themselves in the foot. Not because they still have two candidates – that’s just how things are. But disenfranchising some states must surely be seen as a slap in the face to those states. If Florida democrats can’t get motivated to vote, then McCain surely won’t need any voting irregularities or hanging/pregnant chavs (or whatever they were called) to win there.

Do I care for the democrat candidates? Not very much, though I know too little to pass informed comment. Clinton rides her husband’s relative popularity, but Bill Clinton’s years were .. well, the best one can really say is Not Bush. His was the time of unprecedented economic imperialism, the rise of the patent troll, and record growth of state-sanctioned piracy. While he didn’t invade Iraq, he did maintain a steady amount of bombing on them, and on whomsoever else he took against. It was he who turned a blind eye when Netanyahu tore up the 1993 middle-east peace agreement. And he set the stage for Dubya’s open abandonment of his country’s international treaties, and the notion of international law being determined by anything other than raw power.

As for Obama? All I know about him is that he has great charisma and rhetoric, which makes him potentially the most dangerous of all. If Dubya could, at a stroke, abolish the 20th century’s Land of the Free and attract widespread support for doing so, a man with Obama’s charisma could – if he chooses – command wide support for worldwide atrocities on a scale to make events like the Holocaust and the Inquisition look like childs play. I’m not suggesting that he will do any such thing, but the precedents are worrying.

Could any of them become a great leader, and tackle very necessary things that involve taking an economic hit? In particular, winding down America’s pollution and armaments exports, and taking an international lead there? A recipe for, erm, saving the world, might include Obama’s charisma with McCain’s establishment credentials, along with qualities that would rule a candidate out of any chance of getting nominated. I expect we’ll see incremental improvements, but anything substantial would take real courage and leadership.

Well, I don’t get to make that choice. But on the positive side, it may not be such a clear and dismal case of none-of-the-above as in recent US elections. Or indeed UK ones.

San Francisco

Yesterday I made it in to the big city.

I left the hotel at 8 a.m. and jumped on the caltrain to San Francisco. That was a much longer journey than I’d realised: it was  after nine when I got on a train, half past ten when it arrived, and still more before I’d found the “interesting” parts of the city. Clearly what I should’ve done is to spend Friday and Saturday nights in a San Francisco hotel, to relax and enjoy the city without the hassle of travel.

I did get to see, albeit superficially, the famous highlights. The waterfront and bay, historic ships, and golden gate bridge. The steep hills and “cable car” (looks more like a mini-tram – I didn’t take a ride ‘cos they were all far too crowded, and besides, I prefer to walk). The city certainly has a beautiful setting!

I also saw the downtown centre: civic buildings, museum, concert hall, theatre. Not so impressive for a city of the size, but that was only from outside. With a bit more time, I might’ve enjoyed something there.

The downside (apart from travel time) was lunch. I managed to pick a rather bad restaurant. Shook my faith a bit: I’m generally a great fan of asian cuisines, and this was the first time I’ve eaten Thai food anywhere in the world and not found it delicious.