Monthly Archives: December 2008

The indeterminate year

I’ve just[1] had a new year greeting from my brother and sister-in-law in NZ.  Not quite the island of the day before, but silly games with the timezone make for a seasonal pastime, and the kiwis are onto a winner!

Apart from that, I like this season for another reason: the worst of the winter gloom is past, and daylight hours are getting perceptibly longer.  Helped this year by a sustained spell of fine, sunny weather.

[1] Actually a couple of hours ago, but just saw it.

OpenSolaris 2008.11

This is my first post from OpenSolaris 2008.11.

First impressions: I like it.  A smoother, easier experience than 2008.05, and more up-to-date goodies than SXCE.  But I expect I may have a gremlin or two yet to come: time will tell.

I have SXCE still on the other half of my hard disc in the Sun box.  Using old-fashioned partitions is probably a mistake, but it gives me clean dual-boot – or will do, once I’ve figured out the Grub magic.  Grub documentation tends to be Linux-oriented, so I have to figure out the Solaris equivalents for device and kernel names.  Even on Linux (and multi-boot systems) I’ve always used LILO in the past.

That installer is for the most part very smooth and easy: the only questions I had to answer concerned my language, keyboard layout, and timezone, and setting up an account and passwords.  But in one glaring respect it’s still a royal pain: there’s no decent fdisk facility, and it’ll wipe any existing Solaris partitions you have (that’s actually why I’ve put off installing it so long).  Oh, and it doesn’t offer any control over installing the bootloader (Grub).  Before installing 2008.11, I had to mark the SXCE partition as Linux in the partition table (that makes no difference to the data on the partition, but just tells the OpenSolaris installer to leave it alone).  Actually I guess anything non-Solaris would’ve sufficed, and maybe the installer would’ve set up dual-boot for me if I’d marked it as NTFS ….

Anyway, if all goes well I’ll look forward to migrating my day-to-day work to this platform.

Behind you!

Non-brits: I’m not going to try to describe our strange seasonal tradition of pantomime.  Suffice it to say, it’s traditional fairy-tale stories staged in the theatre, primarily for (small) children, and carries a whole raft of strange conventions and set-piece jokes.  They tend to work at multiple levels too, with double-entendres aimed firmly at the adults present (oo-er missus).

I tagged along to one today: the (reward|penalty)[1] of having a girlfriend with young nephews/nieces.  Lunchtime performance of Cinderella, at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth.  It must be quite a few years since I’ve been to one, and I confess to being underwhelmed.  It was more big glitzy westend/broadway style numbers than anything else, and a lot of it sounded pretty familiar: for example, greased lightning made a couple of appearances.  Humour and audience participation were there, but secondary.  The best bit was the ugly sisters’ costumes, which were not just amazing, but different in every scene!

But worse, they debased it.  The all-important fairy godmother had become a ghastly old cynic.  Now that’s great for adults and older kids: for example, Terry Pratchett does an infinitely better job of re-moulding the Cinderella story in Witches Abroad.  But small kiddies seeing it for the first time surely deserve the enchantment of a much straighter rendition of such a central plank of the story!

Anyway, some of the kiddies seemed to like it: the 4 – 7 year-olds in our party were of course right in the middle of the age range, and I think two of the three of ’em loved it.  I guess that’s what counts.

On getting home, I was flat out for several hours.  I guess that’s the remnants of my recent lurgy catching up with me.  Bah, humbug 😦

[1] delete according to mood.

Off the critical list

For the first time since last Wednesday, I’m sitting at the computer and feeling comfortable with it, as opposed to desperately wishing to be in bed, or at least in a hot bath. I hope that means I’m on the road to recovery.

I’m not sure how to describe this bout of the lurgy. It started last Thursday as a seemingly-mild cold, which I tried to sleep off. It worsened over the weekend, and by Sunday afternoon I was feeling seriously ill. But it’s been different from classic bad-lurgy symptoms: in particular, none of the crippling headaches that would preclude any kind of computing. What’s been uniquely alarming this time is the feeling of half-drowning, and a need for excessive and violent coughing to clear the lungs/airways, mostly at night. Sunday night was scary, and Monday was better only because the other symptoms had improved (no longer shivering).

Is it an inevitable part of getting older that symptoms of a lurgy get more alarming? I guess that’s why they give ‘flu jabs to pensioners, but it begs difficult questions about the years between now and my eligibility for NHS care. Or whatever it’s become by then under the weight of demographics.


Just been househunting (Friday). Went to view three properties, with a view to finding somewhere better than the current hole[1].  Wasn’t sure if I’d make it, having spent Thursday flat out in bed with a cold, but getting out of the place and drinking lots and lots of fluids sustained me pretty well, and it was only on the homeward journey I felt like collapsing.

The first viewing was at Bovisand Bay: a flat comprising the upper floor (of two) plus attic in a substantial and attractive older house. This is an exceptional location, set on the steep hillside rising straight out of the sea and right on the southwest coast path, and with fantastic sea/cliff views from two rooms. Opening the windows, one can also hear the roar of the sea.

Entering the flat is a little disappointing: there’s a hint of shabbiness in the entrance hall and stairwell, and space to keep bikes is limited (I’d be hard-pressed to accommodate more than one full-size bike, unless the occupant of the other flat is happy for my to keep it in the shared entrance).

Inside is again a mix of very nice and slightly shabby. The best room is the kitchen-diner-livingroom, with a very substantial and nicely-fitted kitchen, a good breakfast bar, and decent living area with sea view. The worst feature is the uninspiring laminate floor, which is shared by the entrance hall and back bedroom. The back bedroom would, I think, have to become my office, which is a little suboptimal because it’s also the room with en-suite shower room. The other front room is very nice, with a pleasant fitted carpet and the very best sea view. It would be great to have as a sitting room, but would, I think have to serve as main bedroom because of the biggest disappointment: the attic room. Though a decent size, it has only a velux window, no view, and fails to inspire me as a candidate for main bedroom. Also in the attic is an uninspired but presumably practical main bathroom.

The flat is generally well-modernised, with a condensing gas boiler, fully double-glazed windows in good nick, etc. All in all, interesting, but not quite what I’d hoped from the brochure.

The second viewing was a cottage in Brixton. Not such an exciting location: more a conventional cottage in a village. It’s advertised as “furnished or unfurnished – landlord is flexible”, and I could be tempted to retain some of the landlord’s furniture – particularly the lovely bed, wardrobe and other stuff in the main bedroom. It also has the advantage of small/basic shops and a pleasant pub (I went in for a cuppa tea and – more urgently – to use their gents) within the village, so no need to jump on the bike just ‘cos I’ve run out of milk for my tea.

It’s hard to know what to say about the cottage. There’s a lot to like: like the flat it’s well-modernised, yet retains bags of character, like the beamed ceiling in the main room, the latched doors, and lots of nooks and crannies. The kitchen is good, though smaller than the other place. And there’s a separate utility room and a good garage with bags of space for bikes and other things. The three bedrooms are unsurprising: at the front a main bedroom and a small bedroom (well, OK, they’re all rather small, but YKWIM), and another (which I guess would have to become the office) at the back. And a decent bathroom.

But against this, some serious drawbacks. The front is directly on a semi-main road, and all the back windows are tiny. That’s not so bad downstairs, but it leaves too bedrooms that tend to be too noisy, and a third with inadequate window. And the main room itself felt inordinately gloomy: one really shouldn’t have to turn the light on at 2pm, even in December!

The third place was the most unusual: a flat in a genuine Stately Home, owned by the National Trust. Saltram House is set in its own grounds on the east side of the Plym estuary, and the distant roar of some of Plymouth’s biggest roads was all around. Unlike the others, this is (long) walking distance of some of the big shops, and it’s a far shorter bike ride than the others to the city centre.

Entering the flat, it quickly became clear that the inside is a class above the others: the theme is space and elegance. From the generous entrance area (ideal for bikes and other things that want storing), up the stairs to the long L-shaped corridor that links all the rooms. A big and elegant lounge, three bedrooms of which two are very attractive while the third is less exciting (high window, no great view) but still perfectly adequate, and any of them could serve as office. Even the bathroom is incredibly spacious, though alas it’s only equipped with the very basics (bath with shower over, basin, loo). I was less keen on the kitchen: the ample space is not so well used as in either of the other places, and there’s no space for my upright fridge-freezer. But it’s still perfectly adequate.

But this is a seriously high-maintenance house. There’s no gas, only electricity supply, and everything about the place screams inefficient usage. From the big, single-glazed sash windows, to the builtin cooker with ceramic hob (yuk), to the huge water tank with immersion heater supplying the bath, to the night-storage heaters (if I should ever use them). Add to that the quirks of the NT whereby I’d have to pay for existing carpets(!), and the fact I’d need more furniture in all that space (not to mention new worktop-height fridge and freezer), and all that elegance doesn’t come cheap!

[1] not such a bad flat in itself, but far, far too noisy, and in this season filled with soot and carbon monoxide from someone’s defective coal fire.

Investing in obsolescence

20-30 years ago, Mrs Thatcher dragged us kicking and screaming out of our last chronic slump.  An important element of Thatcherism was the idea that it’s not a good idea for industry to produce things noone wants to buy.  Against huge opposition, she stopped pouring taxpayers money into a number of obsolete lame-duck industries.

But there was one suicidally inconsistent exception: she threw taxpayers money into lame-duck motor industries.  Thus she perpetuated an industry that’s gone bust and (as predicted at the time) been back for more taxpayer billions every few years for as long as I can remember.  More recently it’s been made just a little more subtle, morphing into things like sweeteners for a takeover by management, alchemy, BMW, or Tata, but it’s never changed from pouring good money after bad.

Now there’s pressure for a bailout of Jaguar-Landrover, as our lame-duck-in-chief calls itself these days.

The argument for a bailout is unchanged from the one that ruined us before Thatcher: jobs.  Those directly employed are the tip of an iceberg, with far more in the supply chain.  If rebranded-BL goes bust, so do lots of suppliers.

But many (most?) of those suppliers have put substantial investment into their capability to supply specialist widgets.  So long as the bailouts continue, we’re perpetuating a false market for suppliers.  Some of them will inevitably be pouring their own money into further investment in this zombie of a market.  It’s not just the jobs that are the tip of an iceberg: it’s also the money poured in.  This is a huge fraud perpetrated on all those suppliers!  But for Mrs T’s bailout, they’d’ve been spared nearly 30 years investing in failure!

If there was ever a clear case for correcting Thatcher’s inconsistency, this is it.  Put the lame duck out of its misery, and draw a line under the fraud perpetrated on the supply chain.  At the same time, seek to help the latter re-gear to real markets: produce things that someone actually wants to buy!

One suggestion: help that huge industrial capacity re-gear to energy-efficiency projects and production of clean energy!  Not by selecting projects, but by stimulating that market.  But that’s another rant.

Apache HTTPD 2.2.11

The latest and greatest release of the Apache webserver is now available for download. Thanks to Rüdiger for rolling it.

Version 2.2.11 is a minor update on its predecessor 2.2.10.  There are no new security fixes.  There are some very minor new features that will be of interest to a minority of users.  For developers, the mod_rewrite API is made official: this effectively corrects an oversight in earlier versions.  But mostly, it fixes a moderate number of bugs.

If you’re responsible for an Apache server, and use Apache’s own sources rather than a third-party package, you should at least visit the website and take a look at the change log, so you can make an informed decision whether you need the upgrade.

Making a fuss

You’re at the supermarket.  You get to the checkout, and pay.  You look at your bill and find you’ve been overcharged, by some trivial amount.  Do you let it pass, or stand on a point of principle?

Related questions: do you take advantage of regular offers, such as buy several of something and get a discount?  Do you buy some items purely on price, because you don’t see the difference between different brands?  If you answered yes to either of those, you need to stand on principle when the discrepancy at the checkout wipes out your saving.

Today it was beer.  I only occasionally buy beer to drink at home, but when I do, I usually go for a four bottles for a fiver offer.  That gives me mix-and-match from a good selection of premium ales.  But they must be the £1.49 bottles: don’t get caught out by similar beers at other prices, whether higher or indeed lower.  I carefully selected four bottles at £1.49: three that I know and like, and one unknown.

Checking my till receipt, there was no reduction for the offer.  Checking more carefully, one of the bottles was shown as £1.59, invalidating the whole thing.  So I’ve overpaid by a trivial £1.06.  But more critically, there goes my offer, and my whole incentive to buy participating brands.  Bah, Humbug.

Being something of an obstreperous fool (and seeing no queue there), I marched up to customer services and complained.  The lady accompanied me to the beer shelf with my receipt, and we verified that the beer in question was indeed marked at £1.49.  As was everything else on the same shelf for some way around, including one of the other bottles I’d picked up.  The lady spent some time determining that the labelling was indeed wrong, and agreed to refund me the difference.  But no sign of relabelling it so as not to catch out other shoppers: she removed the wrong label, leaving it surrounded by other £1.49 labels.

I think this is actually happening quite a lot.  The only part of the bill I’d notice it on are those where I’ve taken advantage of a multibuy or similar offer, or bought purely on price, and that’s by no means unusual (last time it was tinned tomatos, which I’d selected on price).  Trivial amounts, but they add up, and if lots of shoppers do the same, it could materially affect the producers of competing products.

What happens when someone from Trading Standards gets the same?  Or are they off-duty when shopping, and can’t be arsed to do or say anything?

Much ado about … what?

Heard on the wireless this morning, some latter-day Mary Whitehouse calling itself the Internet Watch Foundation has decreed that a Wikipedia page should be banned.  It seems the page in question includes a picture of a (child) girl in a state of undress, bringing it into witch-hunt territory.  It’s about what turns out to be some old (1976 ferchrissake) pop record, and the picture is of the album cover and is on sale perfectly legally in the shops.  But I didn’t know any of that until I found the wikipedia page in question via MJR’s blog.

What matters here is not some tacky picture (and I can’t see how anyone could consider it erotic – she’s pretty thoroughly unsexed in it).  But the IWF is claiming that they’ve persuaded UK ISPs to block the page, in a coup Mrs Whitehouse could only have dreamed of.  Trying it for myself, I could see the page (good).  But later in response to another comment I clicked on the image, only to find that had indeed been blocked (ouch).  Routing round the block, there’s another page with just a slightly larger version of the picture, again having no merit other than that of having provoked Big Brother.

That’s disturbing.  I couldn’t give a damn about some pop group or tasteless picture, but if this is allowed to stand it’s the not-so-thin end of a wedge to things that matter a lot.  And when I go to a page that does matter, I want to read that page.  In other words, I want to choose Shakespeare over Bowdler, let alone some anonymous nobody without even the latter’s modest talents.

First they came for the trash, and …
… I got p***ed off enough to rant about it, because I have read Niemöller, Miller and Orwell.

Dear Lazyweb, can anyone tell me what UK ISPs will stand up to vain and stupid censorship?

(Lots of Wikipedia links in honour of their role in this story.  One more link: a transcript posted by the author of this wikipedia entry of this morning’s piece).

Escaping the festive season

Dear Lazyweb, any recommendations for a relaxing break over the so-called festive season? Ideally somewhere local to southwest England, to avoid excessive travel misery. Should be free of humbuggery such as piped muzak, tinsel and lights, cut-down or artificial trees, or fat men in red and white.

I had contemplated taking the ferry from Plymouth to Spain or (second choice) France. But they’re not even running over an extended silly season, so that’s a non-starter. Bah, humbug.