Monthly Archives: April 2009
Google Book Search Settlement
I’ve just received email about the “google book settlement”, and I honestly can’t tell whether it’s somewhat-genuine or a scam.
On the plus side, it’s addressed to me, and is from someone at a reputable agency with whom I have communicated (about 3 years ago), studiob. That is, if it’s not merely forged as being from there. On the suspect side is a “please read” pretend-attachment which is in fact a link to a site I’ve never heard of, and an honest link to http://www.googlebooksettlement.com (whozat?). Furthermore the “attachment” is a complex .cfm URL containing what might be individualised tracking information.
Googling the subject, I find reference to the settlement, and it talks of “orphaned” books. Meaning books whose authors/copyright holders can’t be contacted. Well, that doesn’t apply to me: my publisher and I are both alive and well, and neither of us is hiding! Other references just talk of a one-off payment to groups purporting to speak for copyright holders, which presumably does include me and/or my publisher.
Well, if Google is going to pay good money for the privilege of making my work available, that’s fine by me. Not that I’m going to lose too much sleep about the risk of missing out on it. But shouldn’t I expect to hear from them or (more likely) from my publisher rather than some third-party with only the most tenuous connection?
Dear lazyweb, is this something I should take the trouble to find out about?
Dear Lazyweb (UK), can anyone tell me how near I can come to relying on a provisional yes from BT’s broadband availability checker?
I’ve just seen a very nice cottage I’m interested in taking. But it’s in a small and rather remote (by UK standards) village. The current occupier has no broadband, and the agent is clearly ignorant (thought Sky – which the current occupier does have – was broadband). BT’s checker returns a noncommittal:
Your exchange is ADSL enabled, and our initial check on your postcode indicates that your line should be able to have an ADSL broadband service that provides a fixed line rate up to 512Kbps. However, due to the length of your line, an engineer visit may be required, who will, where possible, supply the broadband service.
Our check also indicates that your line currently supports a potential ADSL Max broadband line rate of 1Mbps or greater.
If you decide to place an order, a further test will be performed to confirm if your line is suitable for the service you wish to purchase.
Thank you for your interest.
That’s fine if I can rely on it! But obviously, losing broadband loses me my ability to perform my job, or do other business for which I’m qualified effectively. BT won’t give me anything more definite until the ‘phone line is mine and I’ve ordered ADSL, and this is not a risk I can even insure against! To cap it all, the village is in a valley and has no mobile signal, so mobile broadband isn’t an option either.
A Budget for Denial
Today’s budget: no major surprises, tax increases, pork-barrel spending for selected lobby groups. And another stage of denial of the mess they’ve got us into through basing the economy on property (and other) speculation.
Borrowing now officially to go over £600 billion. That’s many times higher than the limits they assured us wouldn’t be breached, even after Northern Rock had blown the first hole in the pyramid economy. Bond markets propped up only by the BoE printing money. And all that borrowing to be paid back in classic subprime fashion, by blind optimism – rapid recovery starting later this year (yeah, right).
Tax rises on high earners, from a 54% to a 65%74% maximum rate on earned income, will probably net little or nothing. For the rich, property and capital gains still attract little or no tax, and inheritance remains the only way to get rich quick without the government taking it. In other words, the policy of penalising the productive and rewarding the wealthy is strengthened.
Huge new complexity in pensions. There’s a “sweet spot” for those earning between £40k and £100k per year, but above that a horribly complex tax regime, and below it no benefit. It was only in 2006 that they simplified pension rules to the point where I could take advantage of them without excessive pain.
Extra help for lame-duck industries will help crowd out the productive and innovative, and smother any prospective recovery. But that’s already gone so far that some of those ducks would probably be waddling along quite happily if they hadn’t been smothered by the bad money that’s driven out good over the years of house price bubble. The chain reaction towards national bankruptcy.
Small “green” measures, alongside much bigger rhetoric and fat concessions to major polluters. But amongst that, some points of interest: a commitment to reduce pollution (that’ll fall to future governments to meet, with whatever creative accounting they deem necessary). And apparently some smoke-and-mirrors that’ll at least reduce the value of the car scrappage nice-little-earner over its headline value.
Oh, and one thing that’s genuinely good (and green) if it actually happens: a long-overdue pledge for universal broadband. No longer will moving house imply an uninsurable gamble that I might lose my livelihood.
Looks like we may remain in denial until after the next general election (which is due within a year). After that will presumably be the austerity faced by Iceland and Ireland. We’re a long way behind them.
 The 10% was announced today; the extra 1% is from memory and could be wrong: I have an idea another NI increase was already in the pipeline.
 Unless you’re incapable of saving without it. Or unless you play the benefits system and aren’t rich enough to hide your assets in property.
 POSTSCRIPT: Turns out 65% was wrong: there’s a 74% band on earnings between £100k and £113k, above which it drops down again.
This is for his human family, who asked me for a copy of the image I sometimes have as background on my phone. Bud is hard to capture: he moves far too fast, but I’m sure the rescue home and readers of their newsletter will be happy to see this effort.
This is a cut-down version here. Click it to see the full image.
He told us so!
Anyone who works in or with software knows the danger of a product/project being orphaned: left unsupported, and its users in limbo, facing forced migration to something else. It is a strong argument in favour of open source: if you have the source, then if the worst happens and your supplier/support organisation disappears, or is bought up by someone hostile to it, you can hire someone else to maintain it.
My Apache colleague Gianugo Rabellino (one of the most interesting thinkers and inspiring speakers anywhere in the FOSS world) has argued for years that open source alone is necessary but not really sufficient, and for a product, you need open development. This evening he’s one of the many bloggers to comment on the Oracle acquisition of Sun, and argues there is now a danger of MySQL being orphaned and its users left in limbo despite MySQL being open source (GPL)! His thesis (here) is that if Oracle wants to stifle MySQL, they can make it very unrewarding for anyone else to pick up development.
I don’t think his point completely stands. If enough of the original/current MySQL team were to leave Oracle en masse, they could pick up development, and make a support business of it on the basis of their reputation, in spite of not owning the IP. But that’s not a nice scenario, compared to MySQL as an independent or within Sun. Or of course within a supportive Oracle.
On the subject of MySQL itself, I’m more optimistic (albeit through the perspective of benefit of the doubt – I want this to be good). While acknowledging the danger, I’m sure Oracle can see the business case for maintaining a healthy MySQL product and community. LAMP and other FOSS users are not short of credible alternatives: obvious candidates include PostgreSQL for serious applications or SQLite for lightweight php-ish stuff, and if MySQL loses its bloom, they’ll migrate. Surely better for Oracle to keep them on-side, make tiny margins on LAMP business and support, but gain a serious market from those who grow big and might be sold a smooth upgrade to a top-end platform where Solaris and Oracle replace Linux and MySQL.
 Even Government seems to have got the basic message!
 What’s MySQL’s current market share? Is it more than all other SQL databases combined?
Sun and Oracle
A couple of weeks ago, the rumour was IBM to buy Sun. Now it’s not IBM but Oracle, and not a rumour but a press release and conference call.
In pure business terms, it feels like a potentially better fit. IBM and Sun are direct competitors in so many lines of business, and I’d expect competition authorities to be concerned about such areas as top-end servers and storage, where they are two players in a very small field. Oracle and Sun have long been technology partners where the businesses complement each other, but have relatively little overlap. Worryingly, one area where there is substantial overlap is Glassfish/Webstack vs WebLogic (née BEA).
Another question must be over corporate culture: Sun the laid-back techie hive of innovation, vs pinstriped, business-focussed Oracle. I hope Oracle will preserve and build on Sun’s committment to open source in the projects it will inherit, but it doesn’t have IBM’s (let alone Sun’s) track-record of playing nicely with FOSS. Oracle’s conference call was very clear about its committment to core software assets – particularly Solaris and Java – which is encouraging, though to be expected.
At this point I started writing about some of those areas I know and care about more directly than the above generalities. But I guess I shouldn’t be jumping the gun there, so I’ll shut up.
The bottom line of the conference call makes a lot of sense: Oracle is now positioned to be a one-shop provider of all computing and consulting needs to the enterprise. There’s only one competitor who can make a comparable claim – and that’s IBM.
Where did they get that?
A slightly disturbing tale of (lack of) data protection.
I live in a flat: one of four in a converted house. Naturally, with just four flats everyone knows who’s who, so the flat numbers don’t really matter when receiving mail. Similarly, we occasionally get callers selecting the wrong doorbell, and that’s (normally) fine.
But yesterday I had a phone call. It reached me on my mobile, but was routed from my fixed line (got that from 1471 – the caller was 02089513823 – I’m publishing that in case it’s familiar to anyone). Was I Flat 1? (Nope). Someone was trying to deliver a parcel. To whom? The man notionally in Flat 3. And when I say notionally, I mean just that: I think it’s well over a year since I’ve seen him. The agent tells me he had to move in with his mother who is ill and needs care, but I guess that’s none of my business.
What bothers me is: how the **** did someone delivering to my neighbour get my phone number? I’m not in the phone book: a vain attempt to reduce the amount of phone spam I get. They had very patchy information: the address “Flat 1” and the name of the man who rents Flat 3. Did they get it from some database, searching for any residents of the building? Isn’t the Data Protection Act supposed to make that sort of thing illegal?
Or was this someone phishing for information to construct an identity theft? And if so, what can I do about it? The call may’ve confirmed information they had about me, and I told them more than I should’ve done about the man they claimed to be delivering to 😦
Bank holiday misery
Well, since you ask, we didn’t actually suffer misery. But that’s because we cancelled plans to head to the coast as soon as we saw the ridiculous crowds heading along the roads in the same direction. Clearly that was to be expected on the first day (Friday), but it seemed less obvious on the Sunday.
I think this reinforces my longstanding view that the only sensible thing to do with a bank holiday is to stay at home and work, or at most to go out locally and on foot. Trouble is, sensible arrangements that work nicely for me are less useful when the schedule has to fit in with a girlfriend whose work gives her much more rigidly-defined holidays. Bah, Humbug.
In fact, we did get in a very pleasant walk from Gunnislake to Calstock, taking in some of the spectacular scenery and industrial archaeology of that stretch of the Tamar Valley (gorge!). That at least was off the main tourist circuit, except for the picturesque centre of Calstock.
Tomorrow I have to travel a few miles to a pub for lunch. But that’s obscure local roads, off the tourist radar, so I hope it won’t be too bad.
When a natural disaster happens somewhere you know, it seems to affect you more than somewhere anonymous. And I lived over five years in central Italy.
I never lived in the Abruzzi mountains. But I had a fine view of them from my bedroom window whilst in Monteporzio Catone, where I lived for close to three years. And they were a regular weekend stomping ground. I found them more challenging than other mountains: maps were poor compared to anything I’m used to, and – more problematically – water could be hard to find: with so much limestone, it all goes underground.
L’Aquila (“The Eagle”), the town devastated by the recent earthquake, was (is) the gateway to the highest mountains in central Italy: the Gran Sasso (“Great Stone“) range, and Corno Grande (“Great Horn“), the highest peak. The area holds some of my best Italian memories: from breathtaking summer sunsets and magical nights, to the winter night when I got up in the morning to find the tracks of a bear in the snow passing by the tent (the track wasn’t new, but I hadn’t seen it in the dark when I selected the spot). Also some less happy days, including twice getting caught out in the summer heat with insufficient water and getting seriously dehydrated – the second time after finding no less than two “springs” marked on the CAI (Club Alpinismo Italiano) map that turned out to be dry before a third one finally yielded water.
So the pictures of devastation are … kind of an old friend, and my best wishes are with the people as they come to terms with their loss, and rebuild their homes. At least they have some advantages. They’re a developed country with modern equipment and – at best – a fine tradition of civil engineering. And there’s quite a lot of community culture, so mutual help should come naturally to them.
Well, at times like this, …
 The links in this sentence are a random selection googled for having some nice pics.
Sun and IBM
No, I’m not going to talk about recent reports. Even if I knew something you didn’t (which I don’t), I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable writing it here.
But I just have to point my readers to a lovely comparison by Jeff Kesselman (spotted via Sam Ruby’s blog). Written four years ago, so no risk of being influenced by current events, yet those who are watching may find it strangely familiar! Jeff has experience of both companies, and his preference seems to show through his slightly-tongue-in-cheek piece.
Oh, maybe there is a serious comparison that deserves mention at this point. Someone remind me: when was it IBM made one of the biggest stonking losses in corporate history, before reinventing itself as primarily a services company? It feels as if Sun might be at a comparable, though less extreme, point in its life.