Monthly Archives: September 2010

The retro farce

Today we will finally see an end to the Miliblair and Milibrown show.  Or rather, to the first act thereof.  And I think I’ve decided which of the candidates I’d vote for, if anyone asked me.

There are two considerations: who is the best (or least bad) candidate in policy terms, and who will do the best job of keeping the current government on its toes.  For if our recent history teaches us anything, it’s that absence of opposition is a Bad Thing.  That may or may not be less critical when the government is itself a coalition, but I suspect that if Labour fall apart, there’s less pressure on the awkward squads of both governing parties, and more risk of it all falling apart.

Let’s start by eliminating the most unspeakable.  Balls’s newly-discovered debt denial shows either a mindblowing level of economic illiteracy, or a cynical opportunism to make Macchiavelli blush.  I suspect the latter: he’s positioning himself to do maximum damage to the country while not in power, and to try again for the leadership when the leader currently being elected falls.  Soundbite Miliblair has yet to demonstrate the level of corruption of his Guru and Master, but he sounds every bit the devoted disciple, and his behaviour in government was deeply scary.

His little brother seems to be concentrating on catching the mood of the union militants, a direction that threatens a repeat of the lack-of-opposition of the 1980s.  I wouldn’t rule out his using that platform more constructively once elected, but neither would I rule out his taking a path of maximum damage, albeit less blatently than Balls.

Ms Abbott and Mr Burnham seem to me the more interesting candidates: the ones who speak their minds.  Honesty may be problematic in a politician, but I respect it even when I don’t agree with them, and those two seem to show more than their rivals.  Abbott is a mix of certifiable loony and sometimes-interesting, and her strongest point is that she’s not Ms Harfwit.  Burnham too is a mix, but in his case the ideas could perhaps make a real contribution to the national debate.  Specifically, he’s putting forward (albeit timidly) an option that’s neither pure denial nor ever more tax on our already-grossly-overtaxed hard-earned to reduce public-sector cuts.  His tax ideas, with which I partially agree, deserve to enter mainstream debate.

So I think I’d be inclined to vote Burnham as a most-interesting wildcard choice.  With serious reservations about his track record, but less than Miliblair.  Failing that, Milibrown, then just hope like **** he uses his union platform constructively.  Just as well I don’t get a vote, perhaps – though if I had that responsibility, I’d’ve done a bit more research into the candidates.

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Pimp my business

Just had another spam ‘phone call to ask whether I’m considering selling the business.

This is clearly not someone who knows anything about the business, let alone wants to buy.  They’re just working through a list of registered businesses.  It has all the tell-tale signs of a junk call: a bored voice with a strong Indian accent reading from a script, the noise of the call centre making it very hard to distinguish a word of what he’s trying to say.  Oh, and an 08** number, which I wouldn’t answer at all if it came through on the landline[1], but do take on the mobile as they’re still relatively rare there and because it’s a number used for legitimate incoming work calls.

When I started writing this, I was going to ask what the **** they hoped to sell me if I’d said yes, I was considering selling the business.  But I guess that’s not so hard: if my business had fitted into some regular category they deal with, they’d have introduced me to some relevant broker and taken a commission.  Or perhaps they’d have done that anyway, and left the broker to flounder on assets they can’t make anything of.

Or maybe the right broker could: “SEO” is nowadays an asset with monetary value, and the googlerank of my webpages might still be worth quite a lot to someone prepared to abuse it.  Maybe they could even make something of my existing software/online services and turn that into revenue (yeah, right, dream on – that’s where I originally saw WebThing going before it became clear that my consultancy time was the only thing people wanted to pay for).  Though whatever value any of those things might have is certainly faded over the years they’ve been collecting dust: Site Valet would at least want updating before I could seriously recommend it for the ‘net of 2010, and older stuff is pretty-much completely lost/obsoleted.

Anyway, that’s hardly relevant to an annoying spam call.  Suppose I had been wanting to sell my business, and had more conventional assets: for example a high street presence and a loyal customer base, or a laboratory or factory.  How might I go about realising the value of my assets?  Surely not by struggling to understand a word of what someone from a noisy call centre is trying to say?

[1] As they do most days, sometimes several in a day, despite my having supposedly opted out.

One million commits

By the time you read this, the commit count in Apache’s main repository will have ticked over the million.  I won’t be doing the deed, but someone from Apache’s couple of hundred projects (including podlings) and thousands of active developers will.

The fact that it’s all running smoothly and not bothered in the least by so much activity is a testament both to subversion (a mature project but a recent incomer to the Apache fold) and to the ASF’s infrastructure folks.  Congratulations to them all!

Secular Values

The pope warns against secular values.  What does he mean?  I just heard a discussion on the wireless, in which three participants pleaded ignorance, while a fourth interpreted it as materialism.  Erm … a warning against materialism, coming from someone so fabulously rich the Vatican’s treasures make Harrods look like a 99p shop?  Yeah, right.

He has every reason to be upset.  Secular values are doing big damage to his Church through most of the developed world.  Specifically the central secular values of open information and enquiry, combined with that of child protection, are displacing the centuries-old deference to God’s Ministers.  What’s worse, having determined that we no longer automatically accept that the Father is right in whatever he does, the nasty secular world is backdating it a generation and blaming the church for ancient practice and custom.  I guess that’s the evil inherent in having a now-adult generation grown up with the late-20th-century secular values of Human Rights.

Pope and Archbishop embrace

What a bore! These secular values mean I can only play with the mature chaps.

(Image from the Telegraph.  Sorry I only have the image URL, not the page it’s in, so I don’t even know if they published a caption with it).

Oh, and in another story of possibly-secular values, two men just got convicted for selling sperm over the ‘net.  Hats off to them: I really can’t imagine performing into a modem myself!

A straw in the wind?

An ex-minister faces a legal challenge to his reelection, on grounds of a level of alleged dishonesty in his campaign that not only affected the election outcome, but should disqualify him outright from public office (shouldn’t most of them be thrown out on that basis)?  His winning margin over his libdem rival was ultra-small.

If the challenge is successful, it raises an interesting question.  There will be a by-election in which labour will find a new candidate, and the libdem candidate will presumably stand again, as will a bunch of fringe candidates.  But what about the Tories?  Will they field a candidate in this (presumably unwinnable) seat, or stand aside in favour of their coalition partner?

Fielding a candidate would push the coalition partners into what could become a divisive battle, as even a token candidate will come under intense media scrutiny and they’ll be looking for signs of division.  It will also of course split the pro-government vote, thus gifting the election arithmetic to Labour.  But if they don’t, it’ll set a precedent that some may find very uncomfortable, notably among those who are already less than enthusiastic about the coalition.

For what it’s worth, the proposed Alternative Voting system could alleviate the dilemma, by allowing a token Tory candidate to stand in the expectation of his/her partisan supporters giving their second-preference votes to their libdem coalition partner, and not wasting the vote.

Furthering the interests of Free Software?

Or not.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has gone public with a statement on the Oracle vs Google litigation.  The FSF is of course free to do so, and since it’s also a campaigning organisation we should not be surprised when they do.  But does the statement itself stand up to scrutiny?

Before going any further, I should make it clear: this is a comment on the FSF’s position statement.  No matter where this appears aggregated, I don’t represent anyone or anything other than myself.  Any views I may have on the FSF itself, on Oracle or Google, on Java implementations, Android/Dalvik, on patents (software or otherwise) or on anyone/anything else, fall outside the scope of this posting.  Nor should this be taken as comment on the FSF beyond this single document: as it happens, I am in general terms an admirer of the FSF.

The introduction is clear enough:

As you likely heard on any number of news sites, Oracle has filed suit against Google, claiming that Android infringes some of its Java-related copyrights and patents. Too little information is available about the copyright infringement claim to say much about it yet; we expect we’ll learn more as the case proceeds. But nobody deserves to be the victim of software patent aggression, and Oracle is wrong to use its patents to attack Android.

That’s fair: the FSF’s position against software patents is rational and consistent.  Oracle vs Google is one of many patent cases currently in the courts throughout the rapidly-growing mobile devices space: some other household names that spring to mind include Apple, Nokia, HTC, and of course the victim of the biggest injustice, Blackberry-maker RIM.  But it’s also fair to say Oracle vs Google may have more far-reaching repercussions than the others, insofar as it may affect Free Software in the Android ecosystem.

The second paragraph is more problematic:

Though it took longer than we would’ve liked, Sun Microsystems ultimately did the right thing by the free software community when it released Java under the GPL in 2006. […]

That’s fair as far as it goes, but it’s becoming a partisan statement within FOSS when you implicitly dismiss the ongoing controversy over licensing a TCK.  The third paragraph goes on to say:

Now Oracle’s lawsuit threatens to undo all the good will that has been built up in the years since. Programmers will justifiably steer clear of Java when they stand to be sued if they use it in some way that Oracle doesn’t like. […]

Hang on!  How is that new?  The entire TCK issue is about field-of-use restrictions that are problematic for free software!  At the same time, let’s not forget that Java was hugely popular among Free Software developers even before 2006: these controversies matter only to an activist minority.

If the above is nitpicking, paragraph 4 is altogether more suspect.  Let’s quote it in full:

Unfortunately, Google didn’t seem particularly concerned about this problem until after the suit was filed. The company still has not taken any clear position or action against software patents. And they could have avoided all this by building Android on top of IcedTea, a GPL-covered Java implementation based on Sun’s original code, instead of an independent implementation under the Apache License. The GPL is designed to protect everyone’s freedom—from each individual user up to the largest corporations—and it could’ve provided a strong defense against Oracle’s attacks. It’s sad to see that Google apparently shunned those protections in order to make proprietary software development easier on Android.

Erm, this really is an attack on Apache!  How would IcedTea have helped here?  The only valid argument that it might have done is that rights were granted with Sun’s original code.  I don’t think it’s clear to anyone outside the Oracle and Google legal teams whether and to what extent such ‘grandfather’ rights might affect the litigation.  As far as licenses are concerned, the Apache License is a lot stronger on protection against patent litigation than the GPLv2 under which IcedTea is licensed.  Indeed, in separate news, Mozilla (another major player in Free Software) is updating its MPL license, and says of its update:

The highlight of this release is new patent language, modeled on Apache’s. We believe that this language should give better protection to MPL-using communities, make it possible for MPL-licensed projects to use Apache code, and be simpler to understand.

Well, Mozilla is coming from a startingpoint closer to the GPL than Apache.  It seems I’m not alone in supposing the Apache license offers the better patent protection, contrary to the FSF’s implication!

Finally the tone[1] of the FSF statement, as expressed for example in the final paragraph, makes me uneasy:

Oracle once claimed that it only sought software patents for defensive purposes. Now it is using them to proactively attack free software.

Hmmm, attacking Android/Dalvik is proactively attacking free software?  While it’s a supportable position it’s also (to say the least) ambiguous, and you haven’t made a case to convince a sceptic.  Or a judge.

[1] Not to mention the grammar, up on which some readers of this blog will undoubtedly pick.

Polled!

Pollsters called me this morning.  Reputable ones (for what that’s worth): Ipsos Mori.  Just in case it’s feeding into anything that matters, I agreed to answer their questions.

She started by asking about walking: have I walked anywhere for at least five minutes in the past four weeks?  Good grief, how can you possibly not do that, unless you’re stuck in a wheelchair!  Thirty minutes?  Yes, of course.  How often?  Every day!  For the first time, a question where a different answer is at least thinkable.

Then she moved on to cycling (yes I do, though not every day).  Leisure or utility?  Well, tends to be leisure these days, since I work from home and shop on foot.  Any other sporting activities?  Yes, swimming.  Where?  Our local rivers.

Do I take part in any organised events – no.  Have I had or given any tuition – no.  Am I satisfied with facilities in my local area?  Hmmm, how can I not be satisfied when I have no expectations of them?  I choose to live in an area with open moorland, big hills and nice rivers precisely because it has those things!  Yeah OK I’m satisfied (with reservations about how that answer might be spun if Vested Interests are involved).

Further questions about cultural interests: have I visited a museum, gallery or exhibition in the past year (well, er, yes, a year is a long time to go without).  A library?  Probably not: I use the ‘net these days.  Theatre, Concerts, performance events?  Yes, well, I sing every week, and enjoy other people’s performances.

Finally some demographic questions about me, and she revealed this was a survey commissioned by Sport England.  OK, there’s the vested interest: someone wants to justify their own existence and jobs.  Dammit, no matter what the results, they’ll spin it: “all those people love sports, give us lots of money”, or “we need lots of money to get all those couch potatoes up and doing something”.  Hmmm …

A quick google reveals the survey is here, and is a big, multi-year event.  This Sport England isn’t someone reacting to the prospect of austerity: they’ve been engaged in self-justification since at least 2006, as revealed in their pages about it.

This quango sounds like a very good target for a 100% cut.

Vouchers

I have some vouchers for £5 off shopping at the new Tescos in Callington.  Went today to see it (and spent one of them), leaving three more which I’m unlikely to use.  Free to a good home if any local reader could use one.

The shop itself is a decent-size but not huge supermarket.  Strongly in its favour were freedom from muzak, and decent trolleys.  Against it, prices at the till that didn’t always match those advertised on the shelves, and staff who hadn’t a clue what to do about it.

Memoirs

I’m flabbergasted!

Not that The Liar has published memoirs: we knew they were coming.  Nor the mindboggling arrogance of those memoirs (at least as reported): again that’s as expected.  But the chattering classes once again seem to give them credence.  Or at least, to believe that he believes them.  I mean, good grief, haven’t we learned from all those years of bitter experience?

I’d sooner take the Prince of Darkness’s word on the history of New Labour.  Obviously not at face value, but Mandelson seems the more interesting and less megalomaniac(!!!) of the two.  Perhaps more to the point, Mandelson has some presence in the real world as opposed to his own pure fantasyland.  Or for a spot of plain speaking, reconstruct fragments from the working-class mascot John Prescott: he’s not articulate enough to lie Blair-style, and what he says (where sufficiently coherent) is at least likely to be what he means.  Prescott has already rubbished what Blair says about Brown: I guess he’s too honest to let that pass when the meeja asked him.

Interesting historic question: could Brown have made a competent leader, if he hadn’t been driven (quite literally) mad by being number two to The Liar?  I mean, back in the 1990s: it was clear by about the time of the second Labour term (2001) that Brown’s grasp was failing in some matters, and in retrospect he was evidently already quite mad.