Colin's Journal

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

March 4th, 2003

Flipping pancake

We actually remembered Pancake Tuesday this year, and made some excellent pancakes. Lots of lemon juice and sugar topped them off nicely, and the tossing went well enough that there none of them ended up on the walls, floor or ceiling.

March 4th, 2003

The future of the NHS?

There’s a bunch (although more than one hundred probably counts as more than a bunch) of labour MPs that are opposing the introduction of foundation hospitals. A foundation hospital is one that is not run by the government, but rather run as an independent not for profit organisation. They are, at the same time, still part of the NHS and “monitored” by stakeholder councils.

Obviously the effectiveness of the scheme will depend a great deal on the amount of control that remains with central government and the monitoring council. Too many targets and diktats from the government will eliminate the independence of the foundation hospitals, forcing them to ignore local concerns, and losing the opportunity to experiment and innovate on how provision is made. There is also the potential for abuse, especially in areas where there is no real choice as to which hospital NHS patients are sent to, and this presumably is what the monitoring councils are meant to stop.

Whether any of this will work is very open to question, but it is hard to see it being poorer than the centralised system that is in place today. The reasons given for opposition tend to focus on the fact that only qualifying hospitals will be given this independence, so leading to a “two-tier” hospital system where the independent hospitals can set their own wages and, the presumption is made, deliver better care. The obvious answer would be to make all hospitals independent, and while the government claims to have this aim, it seems unlikely to happen quickly. The opposing MPs however are against any differentiation in the service, still holding the ridiculous belief that all hospitals across the board can be brought up to the same level. This has never been achieved in the private sector (even when the product is identical, like the telephony market, there is still differentiation), and I can’t think of a public sector service that is of uniform quality across the board.

While MPs waking up to their responsibility of questioning the government is to be welcomed, it seems to me that they have picked a poor subject to do this over. Hopefully this new assertiveness will also be applied to those issues where the government is truly heading in a poor direction.

(Inspired by Why Do They Call Me My Happy?)

March 3rd, 2003

Distiled SimpleTAL

Thanks to the efforts of Michael Twomey the next release of SimpleTAL will be packaged in a more python friendly way with distutil support. Installation will be as simple as ‘python install’.

The timing of the next release will depend on the presence of any bug reports…

March 1st, 2003

SimpleTAL version 3.0 released

Version 3.0 of SimpleTAL is now available! The major new feature in this release is support for METAL. METAL is an HTML/XML macro language that augments TAL. It allows a sub-tree of a document to be associated with a macro name, and additionally for customisation points (slots) within that sub-tree to be defined. Once a macro has been defined in this way you can then graft the sub-tree into a (potentially different) document and optionally customise the macro by passing in another sub-tree (i.e. filling the slot).

While METAL is pretty nifty, it’s also very hard to explain without an example. So if you are unsure what it is and why you might want to use it, take a look at this example.

February 27th, 2003


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)

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

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