Colin's Journal

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

June 15th, 2003

Another note

On a completely separate note from the wonderful world of web pages, we have mini-poppadums, bought during this weekends “taste of little Italy”. They are pretty tasty, and indeed very small.

The “taste of little Italy” is tiny compared to “the taste of the Danforth” and involved a lot less food. There were a comparatively larger number of bands playing, including Jazz, a Brazilian drumming/dancing group, and yes even someone singing in Italian.

Overall a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

June 15th, 2003

PubTal released!

Dinner was good, so it’s time to let the world know about PubTal, my latest creation. I’ve been using a fair mixture of different ways to keep my web pages up-to date over the years, from straight HTML pages through to XML transformations using XSLT.

I had hoped that XSLT would become the way for me to manage all my site, but it turned out that both writing the templates and more importantly the content, was too error prone and painful.

A few weeks back I decided to have another go at solving the problem of managing this site, and came up with PubTal. The content for PubTal is written in plain text with minimal HTML markup, which makes editing and creating pages extremely easy. I can even use the spell checker that comes with my text editor, because the content is mostly just plain text.

Templates for PubTal are written in TAL (hence the name) which I find far easier to understand and use than XSLT. XSLT can do a lot more, that’s most of the problem, but for a small site like this you don’t need much from a templating system, and TAL gives all the power you do need.

If you maintain your own web pages then please take the time to have a look at PubTal. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s made my web maintenance easier, and so it should be useful to others as well.

June 14th, 2003

SimpleTAL 3.3 released

SimpleTAL3.3 has been released. As well as some new features and bug fixes I’ve also moved all the code to a BSD style license. This should make it clear who can use SimpleTAL (everyone) and what their responsibilities are (minimal).

The major new feature that I’ve added is the capability for functions to receive paths (see the API documentation on PathFunctionVariable for details). This is required for my web site publishing system (tentatively named PubTal) which will be released soon. I need to finish off some more documentation and examples before it’ll be ready to be called version 1.

June 12th, 2003

Declining birth rate

Yet another article deriding European culture as being “dead” because of the low birth rate across the continent. While the current low birth rate is a concern, and will have significant impact on pensions and immigration policy, to paint this as a European problem is misleading.

If you look at the birth rate across all of the OECD countries you find that 29 of the 30 have a birth rate less than the typical replacement rate of 2.1 to 2.2. Any comment to the effect that a low birth rate is somehow a result of European culture rather ignores the likes of Australia, South Korea, Canada, and Japan which have rates lower than some European countries (e.g. Ireland) and higher than others (e.g. Spain).

The truth is that all OECD countries (bar Mexico) now have a lower birth rate than replacement rate, and so any religious or cultural explanation of this is deeply flawed.

June 10th, 2003

NASA Mars Launch

Mars Express Taking Off Following on from the successful ESA Mars Express launch last week we have the first of a pair of NASA launches to the red planet.

The launch video is almost entirely from the outboard camera, and lasts long enough to see all the way through the various stages. From seeing the ground recede, with roads and buildings clearly visible, to watching the first and second stage separate it’s an great way to spend 6 minutes.

June 10th, 2003

Weekend update

The weekend was dominated by a combination of food, plants and sun. On Saturday morning we had some particularly good French toast, and in the afternoon we gained some more plants from our landlady. We now have mostly full containers of growing green vegetation on our deck. The weather was nice and warm, and in the evening we went to a friends party .

Sunday was recovery from the aforementioned party, with brunch out, and sitting around in the sun at the Portugal week celebrations. The result of the two days was a touch more sun than is probably recommended for a blond Brit, but not as bad as I’ve had in the past.

In an attempt to make the weekend sound longer than it was we also saw a couple of movies on Friday and Monday night. Friday was Die Another Day, followed by Bend It Like Beckham last night. Both movies are British (sort of), formulaic (definitely), and worth seeing (although BILB is probably the better of the two).

June 6th, 2003

Implementing our own values

The relative importance, in a political versus an artistic case, of the right to freedom of expression is discussed in this short article in Lawyer News. In case you are wondering, no I don’t read Lawyer News, this link was brought to my attention by Junius. I don’t have anything to add to this interesting article, but it did get me thinking about one of the more appealing aspects of the EU.

The European Convention on Human Rights was ratified by the UK back in 1951, with private citizens being able to take cases to the European Court in Strasbourg from 1966 onward. In October 2000 the convention was finally brought into UK law (confusingly in the Human Rights Act 1998), against half-hearted opposition from the Conservatives, so allowing far easier access to redress for those who’s rights were violated.

The UK of course promotes the cause for human rights to be respected at the international level, including within the EU framework. It’s telling however that it’s only once an international agreement like the European Convention on Human Rights is agreed to that the UK actually addresses the issue domestically. Another example would be the promotion of free trade and competition, something the UK government is very keen on, except of course when it applies to postal services.

It seems that the EU has become a way of forcing ourselves to do what we think is right, but would otherwise be politically difficult to do domestically. The same thing can also be seen in the countries due to accede to the union, as demonstrated by this article in The Scotsman (via Europunditry). A choice quote:

Yet the social and economic costs of qualifying for membership have been heavy, from privatising energy to paying for water quality to be brought up to EU standards. “We are at the end of a very painful and difficult road to accession,” says Jiri Skalicky.

There is more pain to come. Outside Prague, in regions with high unemployment, people are fearful of change and competition from other countries. On the border with Germany, 3,000 customs officers stand to lose their jobs. That pensioner in Telc was right to be concerned: welfare reform is inevitable if the Czechs are to meet the Maastricht criteria to join the euro.

The Maastricht criteria means no unsustainable debt, energy privatisation reduces costs (see the UK market for a good example), and it’s hard to argue about water quality being a bad thing. All of these things are being introduced as part of the cost of joining the EU, and yet they are things that would have to be tackled eventually anyway.

June 5th, 2003

Web site update underway

Do you remember when the web first started to take off? Back then everyone who was anyone had a website, and everyone had the words “Under Construction” proudly displayed.

This is the modern, weblog enabled, equivalent. I’m transitioning from an XSLT based content system to an easier to use TAL based approach. I’m about half way through the files I intend to fully convert, so as a result parts of the site have the new look, and part the old look (and in some cases the old, old look).

If the site doesn’t work in your favourite browser please let me know, I’m only testing in Mozilla and occasionally IE 5.5.

May 31st, 2003

SimpleTAL 3.2 released

SimpleTAL 3.2 is now available. Notable changes from previous versions:

New features

  • The ‘python:’ path can now be used.
  • simpleTALUtils now contains a template caching class (TemplateCache) that can be used to cache compiled templates, automatically invalidating the cache if the template file has changed.
  • The string module is no longer used, replaced by string methods.

Bug fixes

  • Nested repeat variables with the same name are now scoped correctly.
  • If logging is available all error messages are now suppressed during testing.

Thanks to Wichert Akkerman for the initial implementation of the ‘python:’ path, the move to string methods, and for finding the repeat variable scope problem.

May 30th, 2003

More on the proposed EU constitution

This posting on Gallowglass provides an interesting insight into one of the changes that the proposed constitution introduces. It seems that the number of areas covered (both in theory and in practise) by the co-decision procedure will be increased. Co-decision is where the Council and the Parliament both have to agree on something for it to be adopted, essentially ensuring the the will of the Parliament has to be respected.

Given that the European Parliament is the only democratic element of the EU institutions I’m not sure why Matthew Yglesias thinks this is a bad idea. The major reason that no-one cares about the European elections is because it’s clear that the Parliament doesn’t have any significant power. Ensuring that a majority of the elected representatives and a qualified majority of member states are in agreement seems like a good way of enacting EU legislation to me.

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at