MJR's slef-reflection

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To contact me, email mjr AT dsl dot pipex dot com.

UEA: University of Environment Abuse?

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Spotted this post to indymedia which says that UEA Norwich will build a multi-story car park after all. I remember this being a hot topic for most of the time I was at UEA. The car park was in a terrible state, with potholes, ice, poor lights, overcrowding, frequent minor shunts, slushy fields used as overflow and so on. A small "users only" car park was built with the new sports centre which eased the situation, but The Powers came out with a bizarre and short-sighted transport plan about the same time.

When I lived near to campus (within 3 miles), I cycled in all the time. I understand that Andrew still does. Like him, I accepted the occasional cold spell in exchange for faster journeys (15min vs 20min by car (cycle-only route)) and spectacular views around the river valley (they weren't usually this wet).

With a university like UEA in a sparsely-populated area and a bus company that varies between shambolic and overpriced (they're not called FEC for nothing), it's never going to be possible to avoid car use. I had thought that new "park and ride" sites on the bypass at Hethersett and Costessey would serve UEA, but it looks like they don't. What is Norfolk playing at?

(You may remember I've never had a good trip to the P&R, but they did refund expenses incurred in full last time so maybe I'll try again.)

If you're around Norwich or otherwise linked to it, go help STAG. They look like good people, with people I respect from various parts of the university. A uni with a reputation for ground-breaking environmental science should be leading the way on solving the car crisis, not trashing their local environment.


750 Plants At Harding's Pits

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

The Hardings Pits Community Assocation (HPCA) has planted 750 trees of various sizes on the site of a former dump just to the south of the mouth of the River Nar in King's Lynn.

While other parks in the town are under threat, the Countryside Agency (New Opportunities Fund) funded the creation of this new doorstep green, with assistance from the Borough Council and the Nar-Ouse Regeneration Area (NORA) partners. It's within easy reach of the Friars and South Lynn areas of the town, accessible from the cycleway between Saddlebow Road and The Friars.

The Mayor and Dep Mayor stomp in a newly-planted tree The space includes native woodland planting, wildflower meadow areas and a central mount which gives panoramic views over the river and nearby town, from the line of the old town wall which defended King's Lynn during the civil war.

The Scheme has been coordinated by HPCA and both secretary Roger Turff and project manager Richard Morrish answered some questions. Various local notables turned out to help plant the larger trees, including councillors Brandon, Benefer and Manley, Dr Paul Richards and Fr Paul Kinsey. Those planted included two oaks, an acer, chestnut and a liquid amber. Now the challenge is for the community to manage this area for the next 25 years and the message from HPCA is clear: Please look after this important new open space in central King's Lynn!

HPCA plan signs and sculptures to tell the story of the site, from early riverside industry, through brick pits, to today. Anyone who would like to be involved with the site should contact HPCA on 01553 764422.


Not grammatically perfect

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

The Council put in planning application 04/02500/F on 25 November, during National Tree Week. It was described as "Construction of park management building/kiosk, new pedestrian bridge, new steps to bandstand, re-opening of entrance to Redmount Chapel and associated works"

Those "associated works" include felling 221 trees from the park, with two avenues entirely cleared and replanted with squitty little trees. They say they have considerable support for the plans, but there's massive opposition as far as we can tell and their attempt to get the felling application through over the holidays suggests they know it.

I wrote more on indymedia and on usenet. There's always latest news on the WAG site. If you're nearby, you have until 28 December to comment on the plans, which I suspect means until 24 December because the council closes for Christmas. If you're further away and have any hints on working with English planning applications, email me.


Walks: Council unanswered?

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Went along last week to the full meeting of the Council and asked two questions. Very long rambly replies, but I don't think they were actually answers to the questions. I need to see what we get in writing from them.

I wrote a restrained summary and a personal view about it. Again, there are people calling for direct action. Can that work? Why must it come to that? Why won't our representatives represent?


FFII-UK and the DTI Software Patent Meeting

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

If you're going, please fill out the questionnaire from FFII-UK to help them plan.


EDP: Bid to save 100 old trees

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

One of my comments on the surveys about The Walks appear in a small article in today's EDP. Not sure if it's all editions or only the West and Fens one.

Still trying to hear the BBC Radio Norfolk interviews from Tuesday morning. I really want to know what Cllr Nockolds (head of the project) said before tonight's meeting.


On the middle of a desert

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Last week, I needed to get a fairly simple part for my car. It seems that wiper arms are a "main dealer part" only available from main dealers. There isn't a main dealer for my car in this town at the moment (but apparently there will be one next year) so that means an hour's journey to fetch the part, or a couple of days wait for a delivery.

In winter, a broken wiper arm makes a car pretty unusable here for most of the time and I might need to travel at any time, so I resigned myself to an hour's journey in the next good weather. Once you do that, this town actually gives you a pretty good choice: 5 main dealers to choose from, all about the same journey time. Found one in stock and headed there.

Of course, the journey took longer. Even the small roads here are getting busier and busier. "Rush hour" is now 0730-0930 and 1500-1800... madness.


Doing the legwork

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Today, in pursuit of The Walks campaign, I have walked into town for meetings twice and cycled around three villages and two estates delivering leaflets. Now, that's what I call legwork!

(Pass the ointment. I think the right one is about to fall off.)


Tree! Tree! Tree!

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Did most of the data entry for the Walks survey. This is the latest action in trying to save the trees that line the Walks from being felled from next year. The local council is bidding for money from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will pay for it and they're supposed to demonstrate community support for the plans. I don't think there's any community support for tree-felling.

Though we suspected some of the results, we tried to make the survey as impartial and neutral as we could. Even so, the results are surprisingly overwhelming: less than 2% of those interviewed want the trees replaced all at once. The full report is still being prepared, but this is amazing. How can the Council have misjudged it so badly?

The Council says "a majority consensus in support of the approach has been achieved" (Stage 2 bid section 2.11).

Our survey says: uh-uh. Over 70% of interviewees want trees replaced only when they die. Fewer than 2% support your approach. Also, we have nearly 200 other comments from people opposed to tree clearances. The council had only 13 comments on the stage two bid but none of them supported tree felling.

Submitted a question to the Council about the accuracy of the adverts. Dave submitted one about the headline survey result. If you're near King's Lynn, come along to the Ouse Sailing Club, Ferry Lane, about 5.30pm on Thursday and we'll wander from there to the meeting.


swpat - whoops apocalypse?

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

The story so far: European commission proposed, European parliament amended (mostly well), council of ministers ignored and readopted original proposal (more or less), now we're waiting for a second parliament vote.

You may remember, the Irish presidency (sponsored by Microsoft amongst others) didn't quite behave clearly when taking the swpat vote in the council, as mentioned by Alex. This seems to have upset Poland in particular, who are talking about withdrawing from various things in protest.

The last three entries from Axel H Horns's blog make interesting reading. The role of the "liberal" MEPs (which includes the UK's Liberal Democrats) in trying to force through this expansion of protectionism is disgusting. Why aren't they standing up for creative freedom, like some of their MPs do at UK level?


Smoking ban? Camera phone ban too please!

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

I was a bit ambivalent about the suggested smoking ban, as although I can't stand smoke, most bars are pretty good about extracting it and most smokers are pretty considerate these days about keeping their smoke to themselves.

I went to a gig last night. The bands were fine (more about that later perhaps) but at one point I was almost floored by a complete moron standing holding a lit cigarette in the air about half a metre from their head and producing really thick smoke in the draught. I know this is the worst time of year for my asthma and other things are making it a bit worse right now, but if you are going to smoke a cig, smoke the flaming thing! Don't stand there letting it burn freely, over a foot away from your face. If the rest of those around you wanted to smoke, we'd light up ourselves. And don't you bloody give me the evil eye when I start wheezing and struggling to stand. At what point does it become acceptable to knock someone down?

The other thing that I found depressing was the number of sad cases who went to the gig and spend most of it playing with their mobile phones. Some seemed to be trying to call friends (because a gig will sound oh-so-good down a mobile phone), others recording songs to use as ringtones but most were trying to take pictures. Those I saw over the shoulders were laughably poor: it was too far for their puny flashes to work, so either too dark to get an image or too bright to get anything besides "man in blizzard". Meanwhile, all the flashes and idiots trying to hold phones up above their heads (and consequent elbow strikes on others) were a nuisance. Let's ban camera phones from music venues as well as cigs.

Despite all that, it was still a good gig. Well done to Thirteen Senses and Embrace.

Update: Just spotted John's similar blog


Nochex Konqueror problems

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

The UK's Association For Free Software uses the Nochex system for accepting credit and debit card payments, for AFFS subscriptions and donations to FSF Europe (to reduce bank charges for some UK donations). I'm acting as AFFS treasurer at the minute.

Recently, I've had reports from some Konqueror users that the site hasn't accepted their donations. I've asked about this and should have some news within two days. Until then, Konqueror users can still pay by bank transfer or cheque. Email frontdesk at affs.org.uk with any questions.


GPL, "Open Source", patents and Guardian

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Nick Kew published his reply to this Guardian article which fell for some about the patent "risk" of adopting free software (assuming that's what they mean by "Open Source").


koha 2.0.2 released

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>
I finally finished the koha-2.0.2 release cycle today. You can get the latest version of this GPL'd web-based library catalogue at sourceforge and mirrors. It includes a much-wanted fix for borrower name searching (thank Owen) and other fixes for bibliographic and catalogue handling. I'm now moving on to help with 2.2.0, but I will keep fixing this 2.0 branch for a few months yet. Follow the link for info on koha.

Blog spam solution sought

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Rarely a week goes by without another blog I read having its comments disabled. I never bothered added comments to my blog - if you want to tell me somehing, then email me - if it's interesting, I'll update my blog entry with it. I will add trackback support Real Soon Now.

Even so, the wikis I farm have had spam problems. I've tried various solutions and other admins have done the same. Sometimes they've worked, sometimes they've not. Often they've obstructed genuine users a little bit. There must be a better way.

Anyway, a couple of people have mentioned CAPTCHA as a possible solution. It doesn't seem that different to the "numbers with static" graphics I've had trouble with before, but maybe this works better? Anyone using it yet?

In related news, I got sick of hunting a wiki and wrote my own. SQWiki (the Scheme Quick Wiki) will be uploaded soon, or sooner if anyone emails me to say they want it.


Calling UNESCO to publish terms

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

It seems that UNESCO is conducting some deal with Microsoft. Not sure exactly what, but it seems that no-one is sure exactly what yet, as the terms are being kept secret. This seems a worrying development, because the UNESCO Free Software Portal and the UNESCO/FSF Directory are two useful sites, although I wish the directory was on all GNU mirrors.

A group letter asking to know the terms has been created.


GNUstep Configuration Guide

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Dennis Leeuw has added a configuration guide to his GNUstep Library page.


Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS)

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>
Should a new international convention ensure protection of cultural commons, or expand corporate ownership of culture? CRIS is calling for it not to be subordinate to trade agreements, for it to protect diversity and rights of all peoples, and for it to balance "IPR" with "cultural commons" or remove references to "IPR" all together. If you would like to sign on, follow this item's link before 15 Nov.

Gambling in the UK

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

The UK government is currently proposing a new gambling bill which will open England, Wales and Scotland to "supercasinos" among other things and establish an independent Gambling Commission.

At the recent Labour party conference, Sun International sponsored a debate about it which seemed to upset many people. Among the MPs online, Shaun Woodward reports a mixed reaction but Richard Allan is tired of being spammed by gambling sites.

I've a very mixed reaction to this myself. I'm not very interested in gambling and I can't see what good it will do, but there does seem to be demand for it and it doesn't seem to do much harm in moderation. The decider for me is that I don't feel government regulation has been very effective in other fields, so I expect it will run out of control and Gamblers Anonymous will become much busier. The zeal with which gambling firms are supporting the bill makes me suspect that too.


Flash problems are bad programmers - Macromedia

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Like many, I got this through the email, about Macromedia's local sales manager claiming the problems were due to incompetent programmers and Flash (or Flex) is the new Java. Apparently, ActionScript is ECMA-262 (is that JavaScript?) too.

If you can add more info, help write notes on Flash and free software.


New Enclosures At Work

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Yesterday, I wrote about the government rejection of supporting Open Access publishing. Is it as dark as it seems? Stevan Harnad doesn't seem to think so.

Meanwhile, Microsoft claims they patented Internet Protocol. If you ever doubted that patents work for the largest, this is a great example to look at. Please go add your argument against software patents to Protect Innovation if you are in the UK, or find your similar local site. [Thanks to UPD for the links.]


While you were out

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Been to the pub for two-and-a-bit days. Nice.


Spam Attack

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Just tracked down Yet Another spam attack. I've never enjoyed this, but they seem to be a lot less frequent than they used to be. I guess there are more and more insecure systems to use, so I see them less often. This time, they came in through a customer's phpnuke webmail. Old version. *sigh*

I did notice that all of the User-Agent strings today contained the magic word FunWebProducts. That seems to be a piece of scumware, so even if it's not the cause, it's pretty highly correlated with an insecure system. There are some obscure instructions on how to remove it. I read more about it at webmasterworld.


Celebrate Bush's Victory!

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Post the president a packet of pretzels today! (Warning: may be considered an assassination attempt.)

Update: The USA is being run with help from Clippy!


Ofcom: FTA satellite homes don't exist

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

"homes with a digital satellite set-top box but without a current Sky subscription can receive BBC channels but not ITV1, Channel 4 and Five. Ofcom no longer considers such homes to be digital households." - from Driving Digital Switchover, Ofcom

With that one piece of handwaving, Ofcom erased the million homes with non-Sky satellite systems from the statistics at the end of 2003.

Looking further, this Digital Television Update says: "The only additional free-to-view satellite households in future will be those who churn-off Sky's subscription service." To be counted as a non-Sky satellite user, one must first subscribe to Sky. When Sky change viewing cards, the counter will be reset to zero unless there is a new scheme to sell viewing cards. Free-to-air viewers simply don't count.

They do exist, though. Sky is not the only choice for satellite TV.


America, US of: CON HOLD

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

Mi ne skribis multe pri la usona baloto kaj mi ne skribos multe nun. Mi leĝis ĉi tie skribaĵo de Aleks kaj mi samopinas unusence: Pri la plej grandaj tutmondaj zorgoj - WTO, Irako kaj Kioto - Keri estas kun Buŝ aŭ pli malbone. Ili ambaŭ estas brita "konservativ"-o.

I haven't written much about the US election and I am not going to write much now. I read this piece of Alex's writing and I agree in one way: About the biggest global concerns - WTO, Iraq and Kyoto - Kerry is with Bush or worse. Both of them are British Conservatives.


New Adventures in DNS Land

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

I've been bitten for a while by a subtle bug in one DNS server which can't handle serial numbers being too low. There are also some tools which complain bitterly about it. Fortunately, I found this RIPE document today, followed its recommendation (making the database default for mydns the integer of to_char(now(),'YYYYMMDD01')) and all seems to be well. Now to check how far upstream the fix needs to go...


Syndication Tools - what's out there?

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>
This is a link to a page I added to the ALUG Wiki about tools for synidcation. Most of the ones I know about can use RSS as the interchange format. What do you use and is it linked, dear reader? What other reviews are out there?

About fixing broken windows

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>
Link to the wiki article about fixing broken windows. If only certain projects didn't make you walk over hot coals to get the glass.

kwiki 0.18 to 0.33 and how to wreck a nice application

MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com>

One site I work on seemed to need a wiki. After a look around, I selected kwiki because it's

  1. in perl, which is already used by the site
  2. in debian
  3. easy to install
  4. a fairly clean design
  5. supported by a fairly active user community
  6. has a newsgroup

First annoyance was that it uses QUERY_STRING (the bit after the ?) instead of PATH_INFO (the bit after the / after the CGI script name, before the ?) to select pages. This makes it more difficult to model a sectioned site and needs rewrite or redirects to translate old URLs.

The clean design I mentioned came to my aid. I managed to subclass a couple of the core modules (Formatter and CGI) which solved 80% of this. Another few modules (Privacy and Edit) had to be hacked to do the last 20% (see the 80-20 rule).

So far so good.

Then I spotted bug 257246, which mentioned the new version 0.33. I tried the obvious upgrade path: apply the diff.gz from the old deb to the new sources and edit a few files in debian/. The package seemed to build, but it doesn't work. There are some dependencies, which only seem to be documented in Makefile.PL (is this good behaviour in the CPAN community?). One of them, Spoon, has its own dependency on Spiffy. It also depends on IO::All. Of course, none of these are in debian, although there is a contributed archive which I found later. CPAN is a mess and it's not what I want to learn today. dh-make-perl started segfaulting on Spiffy.

Argh! I'm in dependency hell!

Within a few small versions, kwiki has lost two of the key features that made it attractive to me: in debian and easy to install. 0.18 wasn't easy to install just because it was in debian. It really was easy to install and use.

Now it's not. Does kwiki really need all these extra CPAN modules or has another good app fallen to feeping creaturism?


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