Monthly Archives: March 2009

ApacheCon fun

Well, I’ve left booking apachecon far too late this year.  Results: mixed, somewhat interesting.

Travel is a pain: I was unable to book my usual dutchflyer journey (inclusive train+ferry ticket for a pleasant journey at a fantastic price).  So I’ve done a very bad thing, and booked a single flight out (13:30 from Exeter – and it seems I have to take a taxi to get there in time for it).  For the homeward journey I was fortunately still able to book a dutch dutchflyer-equivalent single journey by ‘phoning Stena Line’s dutch booking number.

Booking ApacheCon was slightly irritating, because it insisted that my ASF-members discount code wasn’t valid.  So I declined to pay online, and will argue that point with them before they get my creditcard.

Most interesting was the hotel booking.  I booked the Moevenpick – the conference hotel – as a line of least resistance, despite my very bad experience with them two years ago.  Following the apachecon link to booking at the apachecon price, it told me nothing was available.  But it did give me a price for general booking, that was €242 cheaper for five days!  It’s still 50% more than I paid for the vastly nicer Renaissance hotel in Brussels for FOSDEM last month, but a worthwhile saving on apachecon’s rates, or the last three years ApacheCon hotel prices (both Dublin and Amsterdam being hideously overpriced).

Expect some apache-focussed blog entries over the next week 🙂

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Official: UK Inflation tops 20%

Today’s M4 money supply announcement: 18.8% year on year.  That’s a huge increase in money sloshing around.

The real figure for inflation is the difference between money supply growth and growth in the real economy.  But the latter is negative: -2.8% projected by IMF.  That makes the annual rate of inflation 21.6%.

With politically-distorted interest rates around 20% lower than that (-20% real interest), it’s no wonder noone wants to lend money!

Apache, PHP, MySQL Library Versions

There’s a problem that’s being discussed on techie lists, but could probably use the marginal extra exposure of a blog entry here.

Symptom: An Apache+MySQL application works.  An Apache+PHP+MySQL application works.  But try to run them both on the same server, and it segfaults.

Diagnosis: PHP’s native MySQL support links the libmysqlclient.so client library, but Apache’s DBD (apr-dbd, part of the apr-util library that manages a dynamic connection pool) links the libmysqlclient_r.so client library.  Linking both libraries in the same executable creates a conflict, causing a crash.

The difference between the two libraries is that libmysqlclient_r.so is thread-safe and reentrant, whereas libmysqlclient.so only supports simple apps.  Since APR and Apache use threads, they must use the former version.  In PHP’s case, there is (AFAIK) no difference, so it could equally well use either version.  That leads us to

Solution 1: Rebuild PHP to use libmysqlclient_r.so.  Alternative (at your own risk) build apr-util with libmysqlclient.so.  The alternative will probably be fine with Apache if you use the prefork MPM (which you’re almost certainly already doing if you use PHP), but could screw up other APR applications that rely on thread-safety.

Could the same conflict reappear elsewhere?  I don’t know of any cases, but I wouldn’t rule it out.  So here’s a solution that’ll fix it once and all.  Globally!

Solution 2: Remove libmysqlclient.so and substitute a symlink to libmysqlclient_r.so.

I don’t know if there’s a downside to either of those solutions: don’t do anything irrevocable until you’ve tested! I guess libmysqlclient_r.so might have a bigger memory footprint than libmysqlclient.so in apps where either would work.  If any more serious issues come to my attention, I’ll document them here.

Revaluing a debased currency

Recent news: Cambridge university to require higher A-level grades, including a newly-minted A* grade.  Politically-correct establishment (“mediocrity for all”) protests feebly about discriminating against pupils from state schools.

Speaking as someone who went from a big state school[1] straight to Cambridge, I feel slightly qualified to pontificate on this subject.  My schooling made me unambiguously an unprivileged child, and I assumed my acceptance at Cambridge was based on merit.  That’s exactly what the Politically Correct want to see more of.  Isn’t it?

So what enabled me to make that jump?  It was two things: one economic (student grants), the other academic (entrance exams).  The latter was crucial, because the general exams taken by everyone at 18 were wholly inadequate: anyone with half-serious aspirations to Cambridge or other well-regarded universities could expect to get 96-100%, in exams where a shameful 65% would get you the top grades.  If you base entrance on A-levels, it’s a lottery tending towards Mao’s China.

That was 30 years ago.  Since then it’s got worse, as evidenced by the ever-rising numbers of top grades awarded[2].  I’d certainly have welcomed a less-devalued top grade, and I’m sure the current generation of Cambridge candidates at comprehensive schools do likewise.  Even if some who purport to speak on their behalf don’t agree.

I took the Cambridge entrance exam in (IIRC) January of my final year at school.  In sharp contrast to the A-levels, I found it genuinely challenging and was not certain of success.  Later at Cambridge, I recollect a conversation with a contemporary who found even that exam far too easy, and who attributed that to the Cambridge-focussed coaching he’d had at his (fee-paying) school.  If he was right, then the PC whingers may have a genuine point, that the exams were an unfair advantage to some privileged candidates.  So what should – or can – the University[3] do about it?

Well, I happen to know someone who is in his final year at school and is a candidate for Cambridge this year.  Like every bright youngster, he too finds the A-levels far too easy.  But he too is taking an entrance exam.  Just one crucial change from my day: the exam has moved from January to July, after the end of the school year.  Before it, the candidates get an intensive couple of weeks coaching at Cambridge, so they’re all prepared for it!

It’s hard to see what more anyone could do to level the playing field.  I guess the PC whingers are just unhappy that it could be levelled upwards based on academic criteria, rather than downwards to a lottery.  Let me commend The Gondoliers to them: WS Gilbert in 1889 saw the absurdity of levelling society by decree!  Come to think of it, that’d make good reading for today’s economists and bankers too.

[1] A “comprehensive” – an invention of the socialist agenda of the 1960s that replaced selection at 11 based on IQ, and survives to this day.  Most children go to comprehensive schools from age 11 to 16 or 18, but aspirational parents look down on them and try very hard to avoid them.

[2] No, I’m not saying it’s got easier since my time (I’ve no idea if it has).  Just that its abject failure to distinguish the sheep from the goats has got ever worse.

[3] Or rather the colleges, who each manage their own admissions.

Phone Headset

Dear Lazyweb, I need a (wired) headset for a mobile phone?

For the most part, I love my new mobile phone.  But there are a few issues.  By far the worst is the headset supplied by Nokia, which is basically not usable.  So I want a new one.

I tried locally.  The mobile phone shops have nothing; the general electrical shop has headphones that might or might not be compatible, given an appropriate adapter for the jack.  Neither I nor the shopkeeper know how to find out.

It’s got to be wired, as it serves as arial for FM radio reception.  If it includes microphone capability that’s a small bonus, but not important: I really only want it to listen to the radio: I’m perfectly happy to use the phone in the old-fashioned manner to speak.

I can’t just use any-old-headset: the plug is a lot smaller than the conventional 3.5mm jack, and has an extra (microphone) channel.  Also I expect the right impedance matters to radio reception, and power consumption may also matter.  Nokia’s website lists compatible headsets, but it’s really the kind of thing I’d rather buy in a shop having seen them than online.

So what I really need is an idea of what to look out for and where to look.  If I see a headset with the right jack, how near am I to being confident it’ll work with the phone?

Deflation: friend or foe?

Our powers-that-be have invoked deflation as a kind of ultimate economic bogeyman.  Prices fall, so people don’t spend, but wait to buy cheaper.  Economy grinds to a halt.

Can we find any evidence to test that theory?  Actually, it’s very easy.  Look anywhere in electronics.  WebThing’s first desktop computer cost about £2000.  About 10 years later, its current replacement was in the region of £200, not to mention more powerful by a yet bigger margin.  Computers have been falling in price for 30 years.  Other electronics, such as phones or home entertainment kit, show similar patterns.

So which electronic industries have been choked by this “deflation”?  Apple?  Nokia?  Sony?  But you don’t need me to list a whole bunch of global giants.

And in recent years, we’ve had lots of other price falls due to globalisation and cheap imports: the rapid rise of Asian countries, most recently China.  Clothes, for example, are cheaper than a few years ago not only because we have Primark, but also in staid and conservative M&S.

The problem they’re scared of isn’t falling prices, it’s falling consumption.  Or in an economy reliant on growth, even static consumption.  So we must consume ever more.  Consumption grows above income, so we have to borrow.  Over time, the borrowing grows into a bubble that can never be repaid, leaving the lenders to take heavy losses.  But we can’t stop borrowing ever more against illusory future income, because then we stop spending, and that’s the bogeyman deflation.

That’s where we are now.  And there’s no way out.

Printing money won’t help: you haven’t added anything to the real economy, you’ve just debased it.  More borrowing won’t help, when the only people who want to borrow are those who’ll never repay.  More lending won’t help in a saturated market.

We have deflation, because a bubble is deflating.  At the same time we have inflation, which the government is desperately trying to raise higher.  And we have the bottom line: even when we’ve push inflation up to 1970s crisis levels (above 20%), we’ll still have the deflation.  Because it’s not, nor ever was, about consumer prices!

Someone should explain biflation to our powers-that-be.

The pound in your bank account

… is today worth 96p (yesterday’s value).  Note: not the pound in your pocket: in the absence of a gold standard or similar, that’s just a convenient token.

The Bank of England has just officially magicked £75 billion into existence.  That’s money the banks loaned into existence over the past years, and today’s “Quantitative Easing” is an admission that 75 billion of it will never be repaid.

That’s nearly 4% of current M4 money supply: hence the devaluation of the pound.  Everyone with sterling-denominated assets has just been robbed of 4% of our fortunes.  Though in reality, this is just an admission of past inflation, and only those of us who didn’t own property through the boom have been robbed of more than we were previously gifted.  At least, for the time being.

It’s also an admission that we’re not a working capitalist society.  When money is loaned, it must be paid back (which is non-inflationary), not printed into existence (raw inflation).  That implies someone has to earn the money through productive activity: bring something to the value of the money into existence.

The interesting question now is, who will buy in to sterling-denominated assets when they’re being systematically devalued?  So long as interest rates remain ridiculously low, the only willing buyer is the government itself.  Since government itself needs to borrow huge amounts which the markets are already shying away from lending, the only possible outcome of continuing low interest rates is inflation rising to Zimbabwe-like levels!

Could Sainsburys be coming to town?

It’s just been announced: Sainsburys to buy 24 stores from the Coop.  22 of those to be former Somerfield supermarkets (Coop is taking over Somerfield).

We have two in-town supermarkets: a Coop and a Somerfield (the one small, the other middling sized).  And a very healthy footfall in the town centre, with a thriving market and a bunch of other shops (though also some closures – a Woolworths, and several estate agents).  So we should be a prime target for the Coop to want to dispose of one of the two stores, and for AN Other (like Sainsburys) to be interested in buying.

We already know Sainsburys is interested in Tavistock: they’ve been poking around and AIUI put in a planning application for an out-of-town superstore that would be in competition with Morrisons.  But AFAIK nothing came of that[1], and one of the in-town stores – ideally the existing Somerfield – could be a good alternative.

I just hope that if they take it on, they’ll revert it to muzak-free.  The current Somerfield was a nice shop, as well as really convenient, before they inflicted muzak on us.

On a related note, I thought the old Woolworths building would do nicely for a smaller supermarket shop – maybe something to fill a niche between Somerfield and Crebers (the latter being small and very upmarket).  But if Somerfield gets rid of the muzak, that would become unnecessary.

[1] John’ll know if I’m wrong 😉