Monthly Archives: November 2008

Eternal Light

Tonight was our last evening singing for the Rambert Dance Company. It’s been a lot of fun, but also a lot of hard work, particularly in the rehearsal on Monday, when the musical director gave us a gruelling but instructive hard time.

I’ve enjoyed singing Goodall’s music. Alas, from down in the pit we see nothing of the ballet above, and comments from the audience suggest it was worth going to. But on the first night (Wednesday), we got complimentary tickets for the other two pieces on the programme. Their rendition of Saint-Seans’s Carnival of the Animals didn’t do very much for me, though I guess that’s my ignorance of ballet showing through. The final piece was an electronic score with the merest hint of Stockhausen but also of his more easy-going followers from the pop world.  If you strip away the fact that it’s built from electronic noises, musically it was a very gradual atomic transformation that could be traced back a lot further: the way Bruckner slowly builds a symphony from tiny fragments springs to mind. It had no musicians, only a tape, and a disturbing somewhat nightmare-ish theme. I did find that fascinating, and enjoyed the work.

Yesterday night we got the additional highlight of an after-show meal at the Positano restaurant. It firmly reconfirms my view of Positanos as one of Plymouth’s best restaurants. The other evenings we’ve had just a drink or a basic meal afterwards.

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They don’t want my money!

I recently tried opening another bank account: an internet deposit account offering a good rate of interest on cash.  This was about a week before the 1.5% interest rate cut.  The bank was Egg, who offered a competitive rate and what appeared to be a sane online banking system.

A few days later, I got a letter from them.  They asked for proof of identity: 2 * household bill, bank statement, or similar.  I hunted down a recent ‘phone bill and a recent electricity bill, and sent them off.

They rejected them!  Not good enough!  Well, bugrthat!  I guess it’s back to the best-buy tables to find someone else who’ll take my money.

Last time I opened such an account was October 2006, and I had no such problems.  That time it was with a small building society (Saffron Walden), who was offering a competitive interest rate.  OK, it was well short of Icesave, but I wasn’t going to rely on a taxpayer-funded bailout for the greedy (more fool me).  Trouble now is that account’s interest rate no longer looks so competitive for the greater part of my cash 😦

Getting paid

WebThing has pretty-much always owed me money. That’s fine by me: it’s mostly my choice. At first (and for too long) it had too little income and survived on my money. Recently[1] the majority of the company’s income has been in US$, which we were reluctant to convert to UK£ at $2 to £1, so WebThing held the funds in dollars.

Now at last with the fall of the pound, we’ve transferred sufficient dollars to pay what I was owed. With the latest transfer to me today, the amount outstanding drops to something trivial. So if I attend the forthcoming property auction on 4th December and bid on the house I looked at on Saturday, I have something approaching funds for purchase, though alas not for the extensive renovation required.

And if I sink the money into property, it makes it harder for the government to rob me of it by printing new money, Zimbabwe-style.

Of course in reality it’s a dream. The crowds attending the open day (one of several) to view that house were huge, and it’s clearly a place that’ll fetch above its guide price even in today’s rapidly-falling market. Ho hum.

[1] For values of “recently” up to the beginning of this year, after which I joined Sun and ceased taking on paying work with WebThing.

Forthcoming Music

As recently noted, I’m trying to get organised enough to blog music I’m involved in ahead of time. I guess getting around to it today is better than last time. So here goes:

Next week from Wednesday to Saturday (November 26-29), we’re singing in Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light, with the Rambert Dance Company in the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. This is just one of three items on the Rambert’s programme for the evening, which should be well worth a visit.

The following Saturday (December 6), we’re performing Händel’s Messiah at Plymouth’s main city centre church, St. Andrews.  If you haven’t already heard Messiah enough times for one lifetime, and if you’re not an early music zealot who rejects big-choir Messiah performances (and dammit, Händel himself loved big forces), then you’ll enjoy it.

netbooks to run cool!

The agreement between Canonical and ARM to support Linux on ARM is one of the most exciting in the tech industry.  Canonical is the company behind Ubuntu, the Linux distro providing the best out-of-the-box desktop experience, and clearly has expertise in that classic geek blind spot: providing for the resolutely dumb consumer.  And ARM has the processor with the single most important advantage today: power consumption an order of magnitude better than Intel and other rivals.

Supported Ubuntu on ARM is, I understand, aimed at ARM’s existing market in ultra-portable devices.  But in principle it could also pave the way for a laptop and even a desktop that’ll run cool.  And in the laptop’s case, the choice of much-improved battery life or a significant weight-saving.  Amongst existing netbook devices, the ARM-driven Nokia N810, at less than half the weight of an Intel-powered Eee PC or its imitators, could be a forerunner of a whole family of better things.

For myself, I’ve long looked for lower power consumption in all my computing.  A big thank you to ARM and Canonical for bringing the prospect closer!

p.s. Yes, I know linux is already supported on ARM, but I understand it’s something quite limited.  And it hasn’t caught the market the way the Eee-family has, and that the Canonical deal may lead to.

Word of the Day

Thromise: That of which is asked “Is that a threat or a promise?”

p.s. turned the wireless on, getting the news, I need a phrase of the day too:

Fiscal Stimulus: getting several new creditcards to meet the mortgage payments.  Buys a few months, before you move on to the bankruptcy court.

Separating Virtual Hosts: mod_privileges

A longstanding issue with web hosting on Apache is the problem of lack of separation of virtual hosts.  Users of a system had better trust each other, because if they have privilege to deploy non-trivial applications, they’re likely also to have privilege to crack each other’s apps.  Of course the level of vulnerability depends on local factors – mostly the competence of the sysop – but it’s always a worry for security-minded users.

A complete solution to this is full virtualisation, including an entire apache instance per user.  But that’s expensive.  A range of partial solutions exist: generally these involve separate processes such as suexec and fastcgi (both for CGI).  The perchild MPM promised full privilege separation, but was abandoned.

I have today uploaded a new module mod_privileges to Apache svn, under modules/arch/unix.  This is a module for Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris, that uses Solaris privileges to enhance webserver security.  Specifically, it enables both privileges and Unix user&group to be specified per virtual host.  Like the perchild MPM, each virtual host can run as a different system user, and it will also (by default) run in a more secure mode than “normal”, by removing privileges rarely used by a webserver.  A BIG_SECURITY_HOLE compile-time option lets you shoot yourself in the foot by running with your choice of privileges.

mod_privileges is currently in /trunk/, and won’t be in any released version of Apache for a while.  It will require further work – including of course security audit – before it can be recommended for operational use.

And it has a major limitation: it won’t run with a threaded MPM.  But neither will mod_php (at least not in a sane setup), so PHP users have nothing to lose.  It’s also useful for other in-process scripting environments such as mod_perl, mod_python or mod_ruby.  And therein lies its major target market: hosting companies offering scripting should find this meets a long-standing need!

Music tonight

I keep meaning to blog in advance about things like this. Not good with the round tuits at the right time.

This evening at 7.30, we’re performing Haydn’s Creation at the Guildhall in Plymouth. Very familiar of course, but it’s still lovely music, and should be well worthwhile to anyone in the area.

Two-way nightmare

Everyone is talking about today’s big question.  So let’s join them.

Whether Obama or McCain is the next US president is not my concern.  I don’t get a vote.  I’m pretty sure that either of them will be an improvement on the present incumbent, but that’s scarcely a vote of confidence.  I shall judge the winner by his actions in office.

One note: I think if Obama wins, he’ll be a disappointment in a couple of years.  That’s not a reflection on him: rather it’s about the weight of expectations amongst his supporters.  McCain carries no such burden of inflated expectations, and could therefore be less of a rollercoaster.

What frightens me is that both candidates carry a nightmare scenario.  In McCain’s case it’s painfully obvious: at his age, there must be an above-average risk he doesn’t manage the full four years, and that woman [shudder] in the top job really doesn’t bear thinking about.

Obama’s nightmare is surprisingly similar.  His age isn’t an issue, but the US has more than its fair share of both nutcases and guns.  One nutcase with a gun who sees a n***** in the top job as the ultimate outrage gets lucky, and … .  Someone joked that the reason he picked Biden as a running mate must’ve been to scare would-be assassins off, but wouldn’t that imply a level of rationality?  Well, maybe Dubya survived because the alternative was worse.

We should know the winner tonight.  But no matter who wins, a nightmare will be lurking.