Monthly Archives: January 2011

FOSDEM, and new PGP key

I’ve booked my travel and hotel for FOSDEM.  Arriving Friday early evening, leaving Monday after lunch, so I have a few hours beyond the core event.  Hope to meet some of my readers in person next weekend in Brussels!

In preparation for FOSDEM, I uploaded my PGP key to FOSDEM’s server for the keysigning – assuming I make it this year!  And in doing so, I found a spare round tuit to generate a new 4096-bit key in anticipation of a time when Moore’s law overtakes my existing 1024-bit key.  My new key has number B87F79A9 and fingerprint
3CE3 BAC2 EB7B BC62 4D1D  22D8 F3B9 D88C B87F 79A9
and should by now be propagating its way around the keyservers, along with my signature with the old key.

This year I’ll be actively looking at the jobs desk, for anyone whose needs might fit my expertise and aspirations.

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Barriers to free trade

I have a 19″ monitor that’s surplus to requirement.  It’s a great big CRT, and was last used four years ago.  But it was a top-end monitor in its time, and might still be of interest to a CRT fan.

I’ve just looked at putting it on freecycle (again – been through this loop before).  Happy to donate it to a good home: no charge if you collect!

But it turns out that I can only advertise on freecycle if I sign up to them.  Which in turn means signing up to Yahoo, a procedure that requires an annoyingly extensive form and an eyesight test (with silent “audio” alternative).  I am reminded why I’ve never signed up for bloody freecycle. 😦

If anyone reading this is subscribed to Tavistock/West Devon Freecycle, please post: OFFER: 19″ Monitor, Iiyama Visionmaster Pro 450, with a pointer to this blog entry.  Or if you can use it yourself and collect from here (Tavistock), just let me know.

Dear Boris

As merely an occasional reader of your words of wisdom, it is serendipitous that I happened to spend the last few days in a household that takes the Telegraph on paper, and that I read your column commenting on the nature of certain elements of the blogosphere.  Not to put too fine a point on it, Here be rather unpleasant nutjobs (and that’s good).

Returning today to my own desk and ‘puter, I revisited your column online.  I see it has attracted (to date) 414 comments, which I confess to not having read.  Neither have I contributed thereunto: indeed, I have excluded myself from commenting on any Telegraph column since they introduced the requirement to create an account, on the grounds that I found their first data protection question too disgracefully ambiguous (do I tick the box to opt in to or out of their spamservices, products and promotions)?

So instead of commenting on your column where there might be some likelihood of at least some junior intern actually reading it and even bringing it to your attention, I’m writing on my own blog.  With a readership thousands of times smaller than yours and no visibility in the mainstream media, I am of course fully cognizant of the futility of so doing.  Outside my areas of professional interest my writing is its own reward: it seeks neither fame nor obscurity, respect nor ridicule; it’ll take what comes.  Such is indeed the human condition (if I may be so pretentious).

Of course you, unlike perhaps one or two duller-witted journalists, don’t need me to tell you that the nutjob elements of which you write represent but a small part of your readership.  Indeed, I am sure that if I were to read those 414 comments I should find among them wit and wisdom aplenty, alongside the nutjobs, and a deadweight of old, oft-repeated arguments.  I might even find among them the very point I should by now have made, had I come to this letter in the frame of mind I found myself in on first reading your column.

The point then is this.  Whereas you rightly welcome the ability of nutjobs to have their say along with everyone else, and recognise that one man’s nutjob is another’s prophet, there is a darker side that may be lost on you.  I don’t mean that the problem has never occurred to you, but rather that you might be a stranger to its full significance.  A man with the effortless self-assurance of an Eton alumnus, the thick skin of a senior politician, and the name-recognition of a major public figure is not a man to let himself be bullied, intimidated, and scared off by the baying of a lunatic fringe (correct me if I’m wrong).

However, your felicitous state is by no means universal, and in other fora it can be all too easy for the lunatics to take over the asylum (excuse my cliché).  I’m not talking about extremist fora such as islamists looking to turn the UK into a caliphate, or nationalists looking to send anyone with a pigmentation “back home”.  Better such people (insofar as they exist outside of strawman arguments) are out in the open than driven underground and given genuine grievances to nourish.  Setting aside the kind of rabble-rousing exemplified by the Daily Mail, what saddens me is to see moderate, mainstream fora taken over to the point where sensible members are driven away.

For example, in a site concerned with very legitimate economic concerns (going back long before “the credit crunch”) I have witnessed such diverse issues as anti-scientific nonsense becoming a ‘party line’ that looks mainstream, and female posters driven away by a misogynous element.  The latter is of course bound up with mainstream reaction against politically correct nonsense (exemplified by Ms Harman) that draws sensible, non-misogynistic posters (of both sexes) to react against certain wimmins issues and leads to a continuum between regular commonsense and the outrageous.

Now of course I wouldn’t for one moment suggest that you can or should seek to silence xenophobes, racists, islamists, misogynists, denialists, creationists, anti-capitalists, or any (other) kind of, shall we say, fringe.  Indeed, I welcome the current government’s efforts towards halting the rapid expansion of its predecessor’s police state.  But I would argue your piece tends towards complacency in essentially dismissing the effect nutjobs can have in excluding contrary, moderate opinion.

We are concerned when one group, whether it be drug dealers, gangs, or merely drunken youth, takes over areas of a city to the exclusion of others.  We should not dismiss similar concerns online!

Don’t they want my business?

How hard can it be to buy a train ticket?

I’ve been trying to buy in advance, to take advantage of cheaper advance fares.

First attempt: go to nationalrail.co.uk, enter details of my journey, select my trains.  It gives me a price, and I click to buy.  It offers a couple of options (forward or backward, window or aisle seat etc, no commitment on their part).

So far so good.  But then it takes me from nationalrail’s site to firstgreatwestern.co.uk for the actual purchase.  Except, FGW shows me the timetable for my selections, but tells me the journey I selected doesn’t exist!  Huh?  OK, click on my selected trains on the timetable, nothing happens.

Try again, same thing.

Try a different tack: start from the beginning on FGW site.  This time it takes me through to a point where it invites me to log in or register.  There is no option for what I want to do – just buy an effing ticket for the journey I’ve just selected, if you please!  Grrr … OK, let’s play along.

By the time I can log in, it’s telling me my journey doesn’t exist.  Again!

OK, google for other sites that’ll sell me a ticket (hope I don’t stumble on a fraud site).  thetrainline.com gives me the same journey and then the same effing login/registration crap: bugger that.  Raileasy and Railsaver both timeout trying to show me a timetable.

Finally I get to a site called mytrainticket.co.uk, which appears to work and after some annoying crap it presents my options rather nicely.  Only by now, the cost of my ticket has just doubled, and is no longer any cheaper than an open ticket.  It’s doubled at nationalrail, too – I guess all my queries have told their system this journey is in lots of demand 😦

At some point in all this I also tried ‘phoning FGW.  Even the bloomin’ ‘phone cut me off after I selected the “buy a ticket” option.  Is this managed by the same people as the website?

Grrr ….

On a separate note, I also had a look at travel to Brussels for FOSDEM.  I asked for a ticket from Plymouth through to Brussels, which was OK.  But then I also tried to see if it would let me book a package inclusive of hotel, after checking the place I’ve stayed in recent years and been less than enthused by this year’s price.  Eurostar’s site tells me it’s not possible to book a hotel because my journey starts in Plymouth!

Yeah, right.  If I’m travelling to Brussels on the Friday and returning to Plymouth on the Monday I must be wanting a hotel for three nights in [guess where]?  Here’s a clue: it’s the same as if my starting point had been London.  Evidently that guess is too difficult for Eurostar’s developer.

Bah, Humbug.

TrafficServer on ARM

I’ve returned to my slightly unusual hacking activity to build Apache TrafficServer on the Maemo (ARM linux) platform.

It’s a slow process, partly because of the slow platform (NFS-mounted disc for everything, just the processor from the phone) and the very large C++ code (which g++ builds slowly on any platform), but also crucially because of the number of fixes that only become apparent when the build trips up.  The worst cases have been where a header file has to be fixed: there are no explicit dependencies in the Makefiles, so it implies a huge amount of largely-unnecessary recompilation.

When I started on this, zwoop told me it was never going to be much of a performer on ARM, because it relies on 64-bit Intel-only atomics that have to be emulated at a heavy cost on ARM.  I found the atomics were not emulated, and their absence caused a link error.  Emulation code appears to be written, but evidently the build scripts incorrectly detected maemo as having the Intel atomics.  Oops!

Other fixes that have proved necessary:

  1. char on ARM appears to be unsigned, so I had to substitute bitwise tests for sign tests, and typecast values like EOF in comparisons.
  2. The build scripts failed to fix up my library path when I used –with-foo configure options.  Specifically a –with-tcl option, as maemo’s  Tcl package is missing tclconfig (required by trafficserver) so I had had to build a separate Tcl from source.

Not too much really: the atomics are the most complex hack.  But I fear this exercise is of purely academic interest, if the atomics prove to be a show-stopper for decent performance on ARM.

Bug me if I drop the ball on documenting this exercise in three bug reports!

Planning permission

What are the criteria for consulting local people over planning applications?

When there were major works to build a new apartment block (9 apartments) just across the road, we were not even notified, let alone consulted.  On other occasions they’ve gone through the motions but avoided the risk of getting real feedback from the public.  On other occasions, they’ve just pinned up a little notice.

Today I got a real, physical letter from the council.  I’m being consulted, and there’s nothing in there that smells of evasion!

So what is the subject of this consultation?  It’s an application from next-door-but-one to install a dormer window.  About as trivial a change as anyone could ask for!  Perhaps it’s just the major works they avoid asking us about?

Anyway, if the neighbours want a dormer window, that’s fine by me.  I might put in a polite request that their builders not inflict a ghetto-blaster on the neighbourhood, but I think that’s better done by a friendly word with the neighbour than through a bureaucratic planning process.

I had an idea the current government was talking about relaxing some of the red tape on planning.  I hope this kind of nonsense is what they mean!