Monthly Archives: November 2014

ApacheCon 2014

I’ve already posted from ApacheCon about my favourable first impression.  I’m happy to say my comments about the fantastic city and hotel have survived the week intact: I was as impressed at the end of the week as at the start.  Even the weather improved through the week, so in the second half – when the conference schedule was less intense – I could go out without getting wet.

The main conference sessions were Monday to Wednesday, with all-day schedules and social events in the evening.  Thursday was all-day BarCamp, though I skipped the morning in favour of a bit of touristing in the best weather of the week.  Thursday and Friday were also the related Cloudstack event.  I’m not going to give a detailed account of my week.  I attended a mix of talks: a couple on familiar subjects to support and heckle speakers, new and unfamiliar material to educate myself on topics of interest, and – not least – inspirational talks from Apache’s gurus such as Bertrand.

Socially it had a very good feel: as ever I’ve renewed acquaintance with old friends, met new friends, and put faces to names hitherto seen only online.  The social scene was no doubt helped not just by the three social evenings laid on, but also by the fact that all meals were provided encouraging us to stay around the hotel, and that the weather discouraged going elsewhere for the first half of the week.  The one thing missing was a keysigning party.  Note to self: organise it myself for future conferences if noone else gets there first!

I’ve returned home much refreshed and with some ideas relevant to my work, and an intention to revitalise my Apache work – where I need to cut my involvement down to my three core projects and then give those the time&effort they deserve but which have been sadly lacking of late.  Also grossly overfed and bloated.  Now I just have to sustain that high, against the adversity of the darkest time of year and temperatures that encourage staying in bed. 😮

Huge thanks to DrBacchus and the team for making it all happen!

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They could have told us!

A report into the killing of a soldier outside his barracks points the finger of blame at an unnamed foreign Internet company, where one of the killers had apparently made comments about wanting to kill a British soldier.  The BBC tells us it’s Facebook, so let’s go with that, though really the identity of the company in question is neither here nor there.

The implication that Facebook should have told the security services and are to blame for not doing so is just too bizarre to be credible.  The authorities would of course be deluged with millions of notifications every day of threats of violence from whatever automatic tools might analyse Facebook posts, and of course spammers have proved (if proof were ever needed) that all such tools have a significant failure rate.  Of course 100.00% (to the nearest 0.01%) of those threats could be dismissed as completely non-serious given a bit of context, but digging up that context would be far from straightforward, even given all of today’s state-of-the-art Big Data and NLP tools and a layer of sci-fi on top.

Wouldn’t it be good to kill a politician by burning at the stake?  Now, WordPress, you’d better report my death threat to the spooks.  What, you mean you don’t read my every post?  How remiss!  Perhaps Google might also get blamed for failing to report it.  At least this one should be easy to analyse: it doesn’t need cross-referencing to any wider discussion to get the context!

So what’s it really about?  The report coincides with another Orwellian surveillance bill[1] coming from the government.  Or rather, as the report’s authors point out, the 1984 bill coincides with the long-scheduled publication of the report.  Yes, how jolly convenient.  Dammit, have I admitted yet in this blog how comprehensively wrong I was when I thought the current government would roll back some of Blair’s police state, or even just halt the advance of it?

But I’m uneasy about even that explanation.  This particular finger of blame is just too absurd to stick.  The meeja, of all political persuasions, will surely tear it to shreds once someone gives it a moment’s thought (the techie media already have).  The government’s case based on this – if such it be – is surely too weak to be credible even with supporters of a surveillance state.  How could anyone suppose otherwise?

So what’s really afoot?  What are we being distracted from?  I fear I don’t know that.  I may have missed some clues whilst at ApacheCon.  I may pick up some clues as this plays out.  Hopefully at least someone in the mainstream meeja will take an interest and not be too intimidated by Leveson.  Or maybe it really is nothing, and they just misinterpreted whatever they may have known or expected of the report?  Or maybe the reports to date are just misleading?

On the subject of this soldier’s killing, it’s not just Orwellian surveillance at issue.  We also have a heavy dose of Orwellian Newspeak, with two words being corrupted: terrorist and murder.

Terrorist?  Back in the days of the IRA, that word implied a threat to innocent civilians.  Yet the killers in this case went to great lengths to make it clear that they were absolutely no threat to civilians, including those who looked on in horror and went to the aid of the dying soldier.  If the IRA had committed no worse atrocity than that, they might just have enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – widespread support amongst their community and respect outside it.  An act of War, but not of Terror.

And murder?  That’s at least supportable, but if killing a soldier is murder then it’s not just many of “our” soldiers who are murderers, it’s also those heroic but now very old men who defeated Hitler back in an era when we stood for Freedom.  The right word for the crime – executed with precision against the arm of the State – is surely Treason.

[1] Lest it be thought mine is a knee-jerk libertarian reaction, let me add that I think it entirely plausible that there is a valid case for updating police powers, of which the Home Secretary and her department obviously know far more than I ever will.  And the current bill isn’t really about surveillance so much as Blaming Facebook or the above post might suggest.  It’s just that the coincidence with the “Blame Facebook” report suggests it might be yet more sinister when it claims to be too weak on the subject of Internet surveillance!

Concert

Now that I’m back to normal after ApacheCon, I need to catch up on backlogs including blogging.  I’ve got lots more to say about AC and Budapest when I get a round tuit.

Meanwhile, a quickie note here just to mention our forthcoming concert.  We’re performing Haydn’s Seasons at the Guildhall, Plymouth, this Sunday Nov.30th.

The Seasons is Haydn’s “other” big oratorio, along with the more famous Creation.  Having sung the Creation many times (it’s core repertoire in the choral-orchestral space), I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Seasons.  Although the works are from the same stable, this is not at all just more of the same.  There really is a lot more to it, with much that’s not just lovely music but also tremendous fun.  It’s been a delight to rehearse!  I can recommend it as a great evening out to anyone in the area next weekend.

A great venue

It’s lunchtime on the first day of Apachecon.  Too soon to assess the event as a whole, but I’ve formed a view on the venue.

Of all the ApacheCon venues I’ve been to, I think this week’s seems the best.  The Corinthia Hotel is about as good as any I’ve encountered, and we’re in a nice area of the great historic city of Budapest.  Amsterdam is the only past-Apachecon city that can really rival Budapest, but that was let down by a bad conference hotel.  And conversely, where I’ve encountered decent hotels, they’ve been in some altogether less pleasant or interesting locations.  At worst we’ve had poor hotels in poor locations.

Come to think of it, that’s not just Apachecon, it’s conferences of any kind, even stretching back to my days in academia.

Of course, my perception may be coloured by individual circumstances too.  I’m not doing anything stressful like giving a talk or tutorial this time.  And I may have been fortunate to have been allocated an ideal hotel room, overlooking a quiet quadrangle where I can open the window wide for fresh air without being disturbed either by outside traffic or hotel noise.

Just a couple of flies in the ointment.  The weather in bleak November isn’t entirely conducive to getting the most from Budapest.  And there are not sufficient power outlets to wield the laptop everywhere around the conference.  Even if that’s (arguably) a good thing when in a presentation, the shortage of power points applies even to the designated hacker area, which is itself not a strong point of the event.

OK, time to get back to conferring!

Rocket Science vs the Real World

I’ve been listening to the story of the comet mission with mild interest, and mild bemusement.  Slightly surprised the comet has sufficient gravity to put a satellite into (presumably very slow) orbit around it or to land a craft.

Anyway, my past life working at ESA was completely unrelated to any of this, and I’m observing this story as a member of the general public.  Like the rest of the world I can watch with awe the engineering triumph of getting to the comet.  I can get mildly excited by the cliffhanger story of whether the landing would be successful.  I can take a layman’s interest in scientific results from the mission.

I can even learn a lesson from it: if sending a scientific vehicle into space where it might end up in persistent shadow, the marginal extra cost (and, I imagine, weight) of equipping it with nuclear power is probably well spent.  A technology that’s been standard in submarines since about 1950 is, after all, not exactly rocket science!

But it seems I’ve completely missed the real point of this mission.  Indeed, I never even heard of it until it became top “news” story (in my defence, not having a telly I never even saw him).  Who cares about a stupendous engineering feat and any scientific insights we might get, when some errant scientist appears on telly wearing a politically-incorrect shirt?  Obviously that’s all that really matters: else why should it provoke such a storm in the meeja, and why should the scientist (like Galileo before him) be pushed into a grovelling apology to the Inquisition of his time?

BTW, anyone know where I could get a shirt like that?  Wonder if it was given to him by a woman, as my three most outrageous shirts were?

Talking of the sartorial police, it’s not just the Strict Taliban wing of feminism that’s in the ascendant.  In another recent story, the so-called Naked Rambler Stephen Gough has lost an appeal against being locked up.  Whilst I have no wish to see Mr Gough doing his thing, I hope the powers-that-be who’ve arrested and locked him up over the years are not so hypocritical as to apply double-standards to other cultures, for example by criticising Saudi or Taliban dress codes for women.  If (as I do) you support a woman’s right to dress as she chooses, how can you not support extending the same rights to Mr Gough?  Or to a scientist who must’ve missed the Thought Police element of his media training?