Monthly Archives: October 2011

Stealth Republic?

The institution of the monarchy has long been in decline.  Yet almost all the powers that be at least pay lip-service to it.

Yet while claiming to support it, they’re dismantling it by stealth.  Blair killed off royal behaviour, now Cameron changes how we select them.  Clearly royal traditions have no value, so what’s left?  Apart from the Queen herself, who is from a different generation to our modern ringmasters.  It’s obviously a joke, but I don’t think I get it.

How many more changes before we can nominate someone like Abdul Arain for the job of monarch?

Noise pollution

Tunes like the Londonderry Air or Simon&Garfunkel numbers may be inoffensive enough at first hearing.  Even enjoyable in a sufficiently fine rendition.  But when they’re muzaked to buggery and repeated hour after hour it becomes torture.

The amplified buskers appeared in town yesterday, inflicting exactly that on a wide area.  As a consequence the day was a write-off, and I’m attempting to catch up on my work today instead.  Worse, unlike a predictable nuisance like the yobs club it’s not something I can plan for ahead of time (for yesterday evening I had a ticket to see our local musical society’s production of Oliver, timed for Friday evening precisely because that’s always a good time to be out of the house).

About lunchtime I finally snapped and called Environmental Health.  They told me they’d had a word with this busker last time he was in town, but weren’t going to take any more action.  Also said that they’d had trouble talking to the offensive busker, because he didn’t seem to speak English!

For my part, I’m happy to see an honest busker down in town, but when they use electronic amplification to inflict themselves on a wide area it crosses beyond the boundary of acceptability.  Would it be too much to have and enforce a no-amplification rule?  It would have the side-effect of helping select for those buskers with at least sufficient talent to work without electronic aids: not a high bar, but much better than nothing!

Is there anything I as an individual can do when TPTB say too much work?

Modules move home

When I first released some Apache modules, I was not yet part of the core development team.  I released modules based at my own site, for whomsoever was interested.  More recently, most new modules I’ve developed have gone straight into the core distribution from  I’ve discussed the issue of in or out in this blog before, and this post could be considered a case in point.

One of those earlier modules, mod_proxy_html, turned out to be the solution to a big latent need, and rapidly became my most popular single module.  Since first release in 2003 it’s seen a number of significant improvements, including one for which I had direct sponsorship.  More recently, the advanced internationalisation support that had developed over the years was separated out into a new module mod_xml2enc, so that the same code could be shared with other markup-processing modules without having to duplicate it and maintain multiple copies.

These modules were released as open-source, but without the infrastructure for substantial collaborative development.  At first there wasn’t even a change control repository, though that was introduced fairly early.  There was no bugs database, no general developer forum.  Anyone wanting to participate had the choice of mailing me (which various people have done – sometimes with valuable contributions) or ignoring me and forking their own project (as in mod_proxy_content).

That’s imperfect.  In ideological terms it falls short of an open development model: someone wanting to make more than a minor contribution would have to work with me taking a lead role (hire me?  dream on) or fork.     A bug report or enhancement request would usually but not necessarily get my attention, and if it related to a scenario I couldn’t reproduce, that could present difficulties.  Whoops!  Bottom line: it’s a fine model for a one-man project and somewhat workable as it grows, but lacks infrastructure support for the community that drives major open projects like Apache’s successes.


I can now announce that I’ve donated mod_xml2enc and mod_proxy_html to Apache.  They will feature as standard in webserver releases from the forthcoming 2.4.0.

This gives them a platform to grow and flourish, even if I take a back seat – as inevitably happens from time to time when interest has passed a certain point.  It also has some further implications for developers and users:

  1. Both modules are now relicensed under the Apache License.  They continue to exist under the GPL (or, in the case of mod_xml2enc, dual-licensed) at webthing, so third-party developers and distributors have a choice.
  2. However, there is no guarantee, nor even expectation, that the two versions will remain in step.  It is likely now that the version at apache will be the more up-to-date in future.  That’s where it’ll get the tender loving care of a broad developer community.  My own further work may happen in both places, but is more certain to happen at Apache than WebThing (unless in the unlikely event that a paying Client dictates otherwise).

Libxml2 Dependency

This may be of particular interest to packagers.  Most obviously it relieves them of the need to distribute mod_proxy_html as a separate package, but with one proviso.  If these modules are packaged in a standard Apache/HTTPD distribution then libxml2 becomes a dependency of that.

Not a big deal for anything-mainstream (though in the distant past it was considered a reason not to accept mod_proxy_html into the core product), but it invites another change.  If you switch from expat to libxml2 for APR’s parser (as described here) you can eliminate expat, and standardise on libxml2 for all markup parsing needs.  One might consider this a good move in any case, as libxml2 is not just more powerful, but also has the more active development community of the two.  The downside then is that you’ve introduced a bigger dependency for any APR users who have no use for HTTPD or libxml2.

That leaves the expat-based module mod_xmlns somewhat orphaned.  I’ll probably get around to switching that one to use libxml2: it’s pretty-much a drop-in replacement.  Or maybe I’ll drop it altogether in favour of Joachim Zobel’s mod_xml2, which was (I understand) originally inspired by mod_xmlns but offers an alternative and probably superior platform for XML applications.

Selling a soul

With the news in of Lord Sainsbury’s election as chancellor of my Alma Mater, the phrase Faustian Pact sprung to mind. But only fleetingly: Faust sold his soul not for gold but for (according to variants of the legend) knowledge, experience,  youth, and a bit of totty. Sainsbury is unambiguous: £127 million so far to the University (Wikipedia), and many eyes doubtless focussed whence that came.

The Chancellor is a purely ceremonial role, with the chief executive post being that of Vice Chancellor.  So it is, one might reasonably argue, well-suited to a man born to the highest privilege with the effortless self-assurance that brings, and accustomed to habitual ceremony.   Sainsbury’s predecessor (who was Chancellor in my time there) was the very embodiment of that role: he is of course married to the Queen.  But whereas the Duke of Edinburgh was a neutral/inoffensive choice for the post, Sainsbury is anything but neutral.  He is famous for having bankrolled the most blatantly corrupt UK government in modern history, which awarded him a peerage and a post as Science Minister.  Before that, his chairmanship of Sainsbury’s supermarkets saw its decline from our undisputed biggest and most successful grocer to a shrinking third place.

Call me a sentimental old fool, but I still care enough about the old place to find this mildly upsetting.

What was, in a sense, more interesting about this event is that it was a contested election.  The story is that a local grocer popular among some university folks was first nominated to stand against Sainsbury: I can only presume that his supporters feel as I do about ones soul.  I know nothing about Abdul Arain, though the quotes from him that have appeared in the national press sound like a splendid fellow!  His left-field candidacy drew in two other high-profile candidates, both of them well-qualified for a top ceremonial role by virtue of their careers in public performance: Brian Blessed as a splendid actor, and Michael Mansfield as a top QC.  If Arain was no more than a stalking-horse then Blessed was surely the most acceptable candidate.

What am I drinking?

Yesterday evening our water supply failed.  Turn the tap on and nothing comes out.  Ouch, where’s my cuppa?  I recollect that a little while back the flow had seemed inexplicably weak when I’d used some water to cook my supper.  Quite glad I’d drunk fruit juice and not the glass of wine I’d contemplated with that meal, and that I do have bottled water available for emergencies.

Nothing in the bathroom, either.  Going out into the street, I see no friendly lights in my neighbours’ windows: everyone’s out, or maybe even abed.  It’s a little late to go ‘phoning someone without at least checking the lights are on in their living room rather than bedroom.  So I can’t check with someone whether it’s area-wide or just me.  But visiting South West Water’s website finds a 24-hour phone number, and ringing it gets me a recorded message about a cutoff affecting quite a wide area.  OK, so it’s them, not me.

An hour or so later it’s back, at full pressure and looking fine.  So no great problem.  Enjoy my customary pint of tea at bedtime, and again this morning.

Then it comes back to me.  Yesterday afternoon I had run the washing machine, and when I came to empty it there was a faint but distinct smell as if of burning rubber.  I had wondered about that: cleaned out what gunk I could find without finding anything smelly, checked pockets for anything that shouldn’t be washed – no, they were empty.  Could there have been something unwholesome in that water ahead of the cutoff?

Guess I’d better see what the local paper has to say this week.  Hmmm.