Monthly Archives: October 2008

Help – new sandals!

I have some trouble buying sandals.  If the straps over the feet come up too high, I get back pain from them.  Many otherwise-comfortable sandals are useless to me for exactly that reason.  For example, in the past I’ve found Clarks (a well-reputed UK brand) very good, but in the past four or five years (at a guess) they’ve been unwearable.  Most of the sandals (at any price) I can wear tend to be cheapos, and are good for a few weeks but fall apart rapidly.

Now my best sandals, which have lasted me several years of demanding use, are falling apart.  I have no other pair that’s suitable for winter conditions and that stands any chance of lasting the winter[1].  So I need a new pair at a time when many shops think they’re out of season.  Can anyone help with sourcing them?

FWIW, I’d be very happy to replace the newly-broken ones with an identical pair.  They describe themselves as “Timberland outdoor performance”.  Unfortunately, googling that turns up nothing similar.

[1] OK, I have one remaining pair that’s robust and in good nick (though alas less than comfortable), but they absorb too much water if exposed to anything more than moderate rain and slightly-wet ground.

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Spanish Translation

Got a package from my publisher today. “DESARROLLO DE MÓDULOS Y APLICACIONES CON APACHE”. Yep, author copies of the spanish translation of the Apache Modules Book. I knew about this from having received the royalty, but this is physical copies!

Since I don’t myself speak spanish, I have no use for this. Can send to someone who has a use for it, for the cost of postage if you’re someone I consider a friend and/or can demonstrate opensource credentials. And for these purposes, you may count as a “friend” on a pretty tenuous link: for example, if I’ve ever commented on your blog, it seems likely you’re someone I consider worth my time and effort!

ApacheCon Submissions

I consider it too far to go from here to New Orleans for the forthcoming US ApacheCon, unless my employers were not only to pay but also to insist.

But I’ve got around to submitting two proposals for Amsterdam next March:

  • Virtualising the Webserver
  • mod_rewrite is obsolete

Dunno if either or both will be accepted, but I think they should be worthwhile topics. Both involve presenting thoroughly up-to-date and topical work: the first addresses a longstanding unfulfilled need for hosting companies, while the second is about developments that simplify Apache configuration, and could look like moving from editing a sendmail.cf by hand to a modern easy MTA like postfix.

One I thought about but didn’t put in was the Sun web stack[1]. As a topic it feels rather too commercial to me, and I suspect also to other Apache folks. And I wouldn’t be the right person to talk on that: it wants someone with far better presentation skills. I also omitted the modules tutorial I’ve given in some previous years: that was always too much of an organisational nightmare, requiring a minimum number of signups, which was commonly reached only after the notional closing date for signing up …. you get the picture.

[1] I should stress that none of my colleagues suggested I should speak on the subject: it was purely my own bad idea for being a corporate type.  Fortunately, bad ideas are only a problem if you hold on to them to the point of acting on them.

Pears

Autumn is the tail end of the season of fresh, local fruit.  Self-picked blackberries and bought apples and plums are among the last local delights before moving to a more spartan (though still delicious) range of root vegetables for the winter.

But hang on!  Whatever happened to that other autumn regular, the pear?  In my childhood it was apples and pears that were the regulars, with other fruits being a bit of a treat.  Yet now, all the pears you see in the shops tend to be rock-hard.  If you buy them and leave them to soften, they’ll be grotty as soon as they’re ripe.  I expect that’s because, as with many fruits nowadays, they’re picked prematurely and expected to ripen thereafter.  Only pears don’t ripen so well off the tree.

Not wishing to lose out on this delicious taste, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing is to cook them.  Last week I bought four good-looking William pears.  Today they were on the point of going soft, so I chopped them up, stewed them briefly with a little ginger and dark brown sugar, and then folded them into whipped cream in the liquidiser.  Turns out Pear Fool has a gorgeous taste: perhaps not quite so special as gooseberry or blueberry, but I think nicer than second-rank fool fruits like apricot or rhubarb.  Yum!

Still, I’d love to eat fresh pears again, ripe but not grotty.  Why can’t our producers and retailers get their act together and supply something decent, as of old?

Online tax returns^Werrors

Having recently struggled through my personal tax return, it appears the situation for small business tax returns is worse.  John went through the business of submitting WebThing’s return (for 2007), only to receive email a day later.  Anyone else seen this or similar, or have a clue about it?

This message has been generated in response to the company details
submitted to the Companies House Web-Filing Service on 21/10/2008.

Company number: 03427454
Company name: WEBTHING LIMITED

The annual accounts for the above company was rejected for the following reason(s):

INVALID STYLESHEET URL
XBRL.CORE.DTS.UNRESOLVABLEREFERENCEERROR: THE DOCUMENT AT ‘HTTP://WWW.COMPANIESHOUSE.GOV.UK/EF/XBRL/UK/FR/GAAP/PT/2004-12-01/UK-GAAP-PT-2004-12-01.XSD‘ WAS REFERENCED BY IMPORT ELEMENT WITH LITERAL VALUE ‘HTTP://WWW.XBRL.ORG/UK/FR/GAAP/PT/2004-12-01[../../PT/2004-12-01/UK-GAAP-PT-2004-12-01.XSD]’, BUT COULD NOT BE OBTAINED.
XBRL.CORE.DTS.UNRESOLVABLEREFERENCEERROR: THE DOCUMENT AT ‘HTTP://WWW.COMPANIESHOUSE.GOV.UK/EF/XBRL/UK/FR/GAAP/PT/2004-12-01/UK-GAAP-PT-2004-12-01-LABELS.XML‘ WAS REFERENCED BY LOC ELEMENT WITH LITERAL VALUE ‘../../PT/2004-12-01/UK-GAAP-PT-2004-12-01-LABELS.XML#UK-GAAP-PT_SHARESDIRECTOROREXECUTIVE_LBL_0’, BUT COULD NOT BE OBTAINED.
An attached XBRL account document contains pre-validation errors.
The accounts were originally received in Companies House within the period allowed.  The Registrar will not collect a civil penalty if the amended accounts arereceived in Companies House no later than 05/11/2008 and they are accepted for filing.

Examiner contact details – 029 2038 0929

The filing reference number is ******. Please quote this reference in any communication with Companies House concerning this transaction.

Thank you for visiting the Companies House Web site.

Service desk tel: 0870 333 3636 or e-mail:
enquiries@companieshouse.gov.uk

Yeah, right.  I´m techie enough to know what an .XSD is likely to be, and guess that it means something is malformed.  And that the error is internal to their system.  But what could be triggering it, in the context of a PDF where all John did was to fill some numbers and very simple text fields, I have no idea.  Neither, I suspect, has your typical small business beancounter submitting accounts online (as the government strongly encourage us to do).

I can speculate over possible causes of an error.  For example:

  • Does their system rely on some Windows quirk or bug, and choke on something like non-Windows line-ends?  Can´t see how that would arise in PDF, though, even if they have something dumb like bogus homebrew preprocessing.
  • Maybe it´s an error introduced by VAT?  Since I joined Sun in February, it´s clear that WebThing´s turnover for 2008 and the forseeable future will fall far below the VAT threshold, so we deregistered to save red tape.  But of course we were registered in 2007, so the tax return included it.  Could it be triggering inclusion of inconsistent templates?
  • Nothing so subtle – the system is just plain broken.
  • …. ?

No matter what the problem is, there´s absolutely no excuse to expose end-users to this kind of development error message beyond, at the worst, a beta test programme.  I wonder what bunch of overpaid incompetents were responsible for this one?  The Usual Culprits for public sector fuckups (EDS,  Accenture, …)?  AN Other?  WebThing could of course have done a better job for them, if contracts were awarded on technical competence rather than sharp suits and bullshit.

Hard work gets tax refund!

It’s that time of year again, and I’ve been struggling with HMRC’s idea of a website to fill my tax return.  Actually I first went there and did the easy bits several weeks ago, and have returned a couple of times, but doing it out of office hours just left me unable to chase missing information.  So today I returned at a time when I expected them to be at work.

In previous years, I’ve found it fairly straightforward.  At least, to the extent that everything I had to tell them fell neatly into their defined categories.  This year, things were different.  Having had a couple of royalty payments from a foreign publisher, I ticked the box for having foreign income.  Then I looked around the foreign income section of the tax return, which is where it got difficult.  Nothing for royalties!  I selected “other” from the box, and it duly displayed a page for “other” foreign income.  But that was just some fixed ideas about payments from a foreign trust – nothing remotely relevant there either.

To make it worse, there was no means to contact them.  The “ask a question” facility just tells me the service is unavailable – even today during working hours.  Some of their help documents are just plain illegible: I guess they’re using some obscure font I don’t have.  And finally, the “Contact us” menu option doesn’t get me any contact details, it just logs me out of the service.  Aaargh!!!

Finally I found a feedback option, and used it to have a moan and ask the question.  I submitted that, and it appeared to work.  More usefully, the “thank you, we’ll reply within 48 hours” page actually gave me a phone number.  So I phoned it.

The second person I spoke to was able to help.  The royalties should be entered under the heading of foreign pensions and benefits(!), and I could just deduct the costs of it (notary’s fee and travel to the US embassy) from the sum I entered.  It’s even OK to enter the actual £ sums from my bank statement, rather than give the US$ amounts.  Result!

Just waiting to confirm one of the figures before submitting.  But it won’t affect the amount payable, since it’s only a savings account with tax paid at source.  And here’s the good news.  Unlike last year when they decided I owed them a trivial amount, this year I’m due a substantial four-figure tax refund! I was aware there could be a significant adjustment: both WebThing and Sun had overpaid PAYE (my fault, not theirs – stemming from the transition between the two), but I thought tax due on the royalty would offset much of that.  So I’m happy to see it’s substantially in my favour.  I wonder if they pay interest on it?

Next year I should be due a bigger credit again.  But that’s because I’m actively optimising my tax this year.

Concert

Went to a concert tonight.  The West Devon Chorale, appearing in Tavistock.

A fine small choir (between 20 and 30 voices), and a really good programme.  Unlike so many of the otherwise-good groups who perform here, they didn’t take the line “country bumpkins, need some pop stuff”.  So no messiah excerpts, pomp&circumstance, or other such boring hack stuff.  Just a programme packed with some really good music.  In order: Holst, Tavener, Messian, Vaughan Williams, Vierne, and Widor.  To me the highlight of the evening was the Vierne mass: truly superb music from a composer about whom I know absolutely nothing.  Must seek out some more.

Afterwards Sarah and I went for a meal at the Birds Nest, the Chinese restaurant that serves the best meals in Tavistock.  Feeling jolly merry after a full bottle of hot, spicy rice wine between two of us.  Food was nice too.  Mmmm 🙂

Apache 2.2.10

Just in case my blog is a primary source for anyone, Apache HTTPD 2.2.10 is now an official release.  This is primarily a bugfix release, with a number of fixes to proxy esoterica among other things.

One change that isn’t a bugfix is that Apache now supports running chroot as a core feature.  This means the third-party mod_chroot is likely to be obsolete for most users, with possible exceptions amongst those who already use it and rely on its exact behaviour.

Shorting Bank Shares

Who says you can’t short bank shares?

Back in August, I invested in a small shareholding in Lloyds TSB, a bank that’s suffered but remained sufficiently prudent not to be a total basketcase. Commonly described as boring. For me, holding banking shares is a hedge against any recovery in house prices: so longer as houses are crashing, I’m quids in, no matter what happens to the value of my shares. And that’s on top of a generous dividend.

Come September. Lloyds TSB to bail out the basketcase HBOS – an albatross around its neck. Share price plummets. But then the shorting ban, and for a few hours the price soared. I caught it and sold up at a small profit, with a view to re-establishing my position at a price not more than half what I sold for.

Today I’ve done exactly that. I now own twice as many LloydsTSB shares as before. And I’m still sitting on a cash profit that’s over 10% of what I paid. Guess I just successfully closed my first virtual short position, just where it was supposed to be banned 🙂 The dividend may be shattered, but it’s still a gamble on longer-term prospects, and a hedge on housing.

FreeBSD port of mod_proxy_html is broken

I’ve just submitted a bug report at freebsd.org.

Seems they’re shipping mod_proxy_html 3, but failing to install proxy_html.conf for their users.  That means it ships configured to do nothing, where mod_proxy_html 2.x would’ve done its job with W3C HTML or XHTML.  In other words, use it as a drop-in replacement for the previous version, and it stops working.

Add to that, they’re shipping version 3.0.0, which has a bug (fixed in 3.0.1) that segfaults in the absence of any ProxyHTMLLinks directive, and thus as-shipped with FreeBSD.

Any users wanting to fix this problem: all you have to do is grab the default proxy_html.conf and Include it into your httpd.conf, and mod_proxy_html is 3.x back to being a drop-in replacement for 2.x, but with new capabilities.