Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

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February 27th, 2003

Chicago

I finally saw Chicago tonight, after looking forward to seeing it for some time. It’s an entertaining, fun movie with some good dance numbers and a nice flow. It’s also a little disappointing.

I was hoping for something on a par with Moulin Rouge, and while Chicago is a good watch, it isn’t that good. I think part of the problem for me was having no sympathy for the main characters. I wanted to know how it ended, but didn’t really care one way or the other.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is superb, a great performance and a good presence on the screen, but RenĂ©e Zellweger was disappointing. The rest of the cast did a fairly good job. It’s possible that a second viewing, where the story would distract less from the musical elements, may improve my rating of the film.

February 26th, 2003

Closer and closer to the METAL

I’m nearly done with METAL. It’s all working, but I need to package it up, maybe write a few more tests, and certainly update the documentation on how to use it. I might even put together an example or something!

Overall then it’s going to be later this week, maybe Friday or weekend before it gets released to the world.

February 24th, 2003

An example of why copyright should expire

I’m starting this post with a diversion: take the name of the BBCs book reading activity “Book Group”. It can’t be a “Book Club” because the good name of book clubs is now tied too closely to those horrendous enterprises where you sign up to buy overpriced books, for the rest of your natural life.

Neatly passing the diversion onto the main topic, this years candidates for the BBCs Book Group are all old enough to be out of copyright, and available for free off Project Gutenberg. This is a good example of why copyright should expire after an adequate amount of time has elapsed to allow an author to benefit from their labours. I may even make time to read the chosen book, although I really should finish off the other three I’m half way through first (two are collections of short stories, and so shouldn’t really count).

February 22nd, 2003

The future of SimpleTAL

On a slightly less political note than my last post, work is once again underway on SimpleTAL. This time it’s thanks to an enquiry by Kevin Smith regarding support for METAL in SimpleTAL. METAL is a macro language that can co-exist with TAL, and which provides a way of copying parts of a document tree into a template and customising the part that was copied.

I’ve got an initial implementation working, but there is much to do before it is ready for release. I need to make sure that SimpleTAL implements the Zope behaviour for METAL, and that the existing TAL functionality integrates well with it. If all goes to plan however, I should have METAL support released within a few days.

February 22nd, 2003

The future of NATO

There’s an interesting article in the FT by the prime minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt. In it he tackles two different, but interrelated subjects: the current transatlantic gap and the future of NATO. The opinion provided on the first subject is not a surprise, and essentially comes down to lack of evidence to justify a war:

As long as we Europeans feel threatened, the use of war and weapons can more or less be justified. However, without this sentiment, a transatlantic gulf has opened up.

The second part of the article is more interesting however, it tries to explain how a European defence force would help rather than hurt NATO. The argument seems to come down to the current lack of balance in NATO: one country with a huge armed forces, and 18 with small ineffective armed forces. This certainly distorts decision making in the organisation, and reduces the effectiveness of NATO as a mutual defence organisation.

That the armed forces of Europe and north America should be able to work together, and that they should be made available to each other in times of crisis seems like a self evident good. The defence of Europe should, however, be in the hands of Europeans. It simply doesn’t make sense for Europe, a group of countries that can easily afford the required armed forces, to be dependent on a single other country for it’s defence. The development of a European defence force should not lead to any less co-operation between Europe and north America, our mutual security is still of paramount importance to both peoples. It will however make NATO more effective in that the forces provided by Europe would be properly equipped and trained, something that is certainly lacking today.

There have been tentative steps toward a European defence force, and with the recent agreement by Blair and Chirac, it’s possible that we may even see a mutual defence clause in the EU constitution. Despite the difficult politics of the situation I’m hopeful that over time we will continue to see further moves in this direction.

February 20th, 2003

A more serious approach to surviving nuclear blasts

An update to my last post: someone has put together a more serious and useful guide to surviving nuclear blasts. In fact they have good, practical advise on all of the least-likely to happen types of attacks a country could suffer from. Two of my favourites:

If deadly radiation knocks on your door, do not answer.

Don’t get so preoccupied with biological weapons that you forget to put on deodorant.

(via Electrolite)

February 20th, 2003

Notes from around the web

It looks like Live Journal is having some difficulties with a distributed denial of service attack. We can’t hit any of the LJ servers, except the status page which explains what is going on.

Now for something completely different (I couldn’t think of a better way of introducing this): How to survive a nuclear blast. I’m not entirely sure how anyone could have put up this site and kept a straight face while doing it. It even looks like it really is a genuine US government website, so some poor sod takes this seriously.

For the click impaired, here’s a quick summary:

  • Hide behind a door
  • Don’t be next to the bomb when it goes off
  • Don’t hang around the nuclear blast site for long

(via Matthew Yglesias)

February 19th, 2003

Upgrade/downgrade

There is now a back-port of Gnome 2.2 for Woody. The first challenge of this post is going to be explaining the first sentence, before going on to describe my experience of using this back-port.

Gnome is my desktop of choice for Linux, simply because my experience with KDE was long ago when KDE crashed rather more than I cared for. Woody is the name of the current stable release of Debian, a completely free distribution of Linux. For Debian stable tends to mean no new features, and there only tends to be a stable release once every decade (OK so more like every 2 years, but it feels like it’s a decade if you’re waiting for the next release). To help people who would like to run the stable version of Debian, with all the security updates that go with it, but would also like to use a more updated version of the Gnome desktop, a back-port from an unstable version of Debian has been produced.

I went ahead and installed it, following the instructions for once. The result was that when I tried to bring the desktop back to life, it failed with GDM presenting me with a perpetually blinking dialogue box. I found that there were lots of packages waiting to be upgraded that hadn’t been, so I tried running “apt-get upgrade” a few times, which downloaded and installed a load more stuff. Still the blinking dialogue box though. I tried installing extra packages that are included in the back-port, but which are not strictly required, and still the blinking dialogue. Having read the background “how the port was done” notes I tried a hunch – maybe I needed a newer version of X?

So I added the back-port of XFree86 4.2.1 to my sources and upgraded X. The first attempt only upgraded the server its self and the fonts, not the supporting libraries. A round of “apt-get install” on the held back packages brought in the rest of the libraries, and suddenly the blinking dialogue blinked no more! I’m still not entirely convinced that it was the version of X that was the problem, but I can’t think of what else I changed that would have resolved the problem like that.

A word of warning to anyone trying to move to Gnome 2 for the first time from 1.4: it’s very different. Expect to loose all your favourite panel applets, all your cunning key combos, and some tear off menus. When first logging in you will be offered the option of discarding your existing configuration, or trying to convert it. Just discard it, there is so little kept that it’s not worth the effort. If you do try and convert your configuration expect everything to be screwed up and much fiddling to have to be done.

February 19th, 2003

Where does this stuff come from?

Apparently the “Lords of the Rhymes” has been around for a few months, but it’s only recently that they’ve added a video. To give you an idea of just what you’re letting yourself in for if you follow the links, I quote:

The video, directed by famed hip-hop director Curufin the Crafty (aka Morgan Barnard)
features a bevy of Middle-Earthian characters, including hobbits, dwarves, ents, elves,
Nazgul, and even a cameo appearance by the Dark Lord Sauron himself.

” There was no half-steppin’ on this one,” said Quickbeam in a statement released yesterday,
” We knew we had to turn it out large and we did.”

I have to thank, once again, Why Do They Call Me Mr Happy for this one. I’ve no idea where Iain finds this stuff, but it’s truly a wonderful way to waist a few moments of the day.

February 18th, 2003

Bits and bobs

So everyone (or a fairly close approximation to that number) knows that Google bought Pyra, the makers of blogger. On numerous different weblogs you can read educated, and otherwise, guesses as to what the future holds and why Google though it was a good idea. You can even read the initial reaction, in a weblog of course, of the guy who started the company and sealed the deal.

Despite all this however, no one seems to have yet commented on the fact that the news made the front page of the BBC this morning (EST morning that is). Consider that:

  1. The BBC doesn’t tend to put companies buying each other out on the front page
  2. Pyra only employed 6 people

Surely this should warrant some kind of record. The challenge now must be for someone to get a company news worthy enough it gets (however briefly) the front page, but with only 5 employees.

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Copyright 2009 Colin Stewart

Email: colin@owlfish.com