Colin's Journal

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

May 27th, 2003

RSyncBackup Python Module

I’ve finally got around to uploading my backup scripts, now named RSyncBackup. There are two scripts: RSyncBackup a Python module that provides a convenient interface to rsync, and an example script that demonstrates how to use RSyncBackup.

The RSyncBackup module is the same version that I have running on my machine, and so far I’ve not discovered any bugs with it. If you aren’t familiar with rsync take things slowly with this, otherwise you could end-up with less data than you started with.

If anyone uses this please let me know.

May 26th, 2003

EU Constitution: Draft – Part One

Another draft of the first part of the EU constitution were published today. Most of it seems fairly good to my untrained eyes, but I do take issue with the amount of space that has been given to the development of a common foreign and security policy (Article I-39). Take for example:

Member States shall consult one another within the Council and the European Council on any foreign and security policy issue which is of general interest in order to determine a common approach. Before undertaking any action on the international scene or any commitment which could affect the Union’s interests, each Member State shall consult the others within the Council or the European Council. Member States shall ensure, through the convergence of their actions, that the Union is able to assert its interests and values on the international scene. Member States shall show mutual solidarity.

By having a clause like this (which carries no real weight) the whole constitution is going to be taken less seriously. It would have been better to state, in the preamble, that a common foreign policy is an aspiration, and then issued a constitutional amendment at some point in the future when such a policy is more realistic.

Mean while the Tories don’t like it, claiming it’s a step on the road to an EU state, without actually letting us know which bit they don’t like. Presumably under a Conservative government we would just fail to ratify the constitution and get kicked out of the EU. The reporting the BBC is doing seems to be fairly well balanced politically, but inaccurate as far as actual content is concerned.

For example in the linked article they state that the constitution calls for an elected EU president and foreign minister. This is accurate, but gives the impression that the they would be elected by the people, whereas the constitution states that the European Council will elect the president by qualified majority. The BBC also states that The new EU president would be a serving or former prime minister of an EU country elected by the leaders of member states., whereas the constitution specifically states that: The President of the European Council may not be a member of another European institution or hold a national mandate.

May 24th, 2003

Nil points

Eurovision has just finished (yes I watched it on-line, terrible isn’t it?) with Turkey winning (good song) and the UK as the only country to get no points! This will mean that we have to go through a qualifying round next year before we can even take part in the final. Still we certainly deserved it.

Russia’s entry (Tatu) turned out a very poor song, and despite the hype came in third. A very close call at the end with the final vote determining the winner – you can’t get better than that.

My vote was split between several different countries: Turkey, Belgium, Sweden and Germany (yes it’s cheesy, but it’s fun!).

May 23rd, 2003

A long short week

It’s been a long week this week, despite only starting on Tuesday. I’ve been on training at work, and so of course this week was when all the conference calls had to happen. This meant 8am calls, 6pm calls, and interrupted training for most of the week, although things were calmer today.

It’s a peculiar aspect of the work that I do that I have never met some of the people I work most closely with. With most work taking place via email and conference call there just hasn’t been a reason to meet up with them, and I fully expect to complete one of my current projects without ever meeting the people involved.

On another note our email/web host went offline yesterday for several hours. As a result we have certainly lost email, so if anyone has sent me anything in the last 24 hours please send it again.

May 19th, 2003

Notes from a long weekend

Victoria day is upon us! An extra day of weekend is greatly appreciated, here’s some notes on how it’s been spent and how it will be spent:

  • Went to Anime North the local Anime convention. Pretty enjoyable overall, and I was particularly impressed by the Artists Alley.
  • After brunch yesterday we picked up a saw and some plants. We now have some wood of suitable size for burning in our chiminea, and hopefully we’ll get some greenery on our deck soon.
  • Re-jigged my backup scripts to utilise another spare partition. I’ll probably release these scripts once I know for sure that they work.
  • Discovered that Virgin Radio is available via a 128Kbit MP3 stream. I’m not a huge fan of Virgin, but the more commercial radio stations that make their broadcasts available over MP3 (or ogg!) the better. For some reason their shoutcast listing rates them as “Adult Pop Rock”.
  • My weblog validates once again. I hadn’t realised that you needed to have paragraphs inside blockquotes.
  • Skating this afternoon if all goes to plan!
  • Fireworks tonight?

The call for a referendum on the UK’s ratification of the EU Constitution seems to be gathering steam. I suspect that it won’t happen, simply because the Constitution is mostly a (long overdue) paper work exercise. There are some changes to the demarcation of powers between states and EU level, but with the potential exception of a president for the European Council there’s not that much change from the status quo.

Given this it’s hard to see what a referendum question would be on. If the question was on the adoption or rejection of the constitution, what would happen with a rejection? If there was a particular part of the proposed constitution (and note that it’s not even finished yet!) that was controversial for the British public then a rejection could lead to re-negotiation, but at the moment I can’t see which particular aspect could be singled out like that.

May 14th, 2003

Competition in the handheld console market

It looks like we are finally going to see some serious competition in the handheld game console market, after years of domination by Nintendo. The two most serious contenders are Sony with a PlayStation handheld, and Nokia with the N-Gage console/phone combo. There’s also some movement on a PalmOS based games console, but with this coming from a startup we are less likely to see this being a big player in the market.

With these new entrants we are also seeing some innovation that goes beyond what has been essentially the same format for the handheld console. Sony is basing their console on a 1.8GB optical disk format, protected in a plastic case, with better graphical capabilities than the PSone, and up to two hours of full screen video being available. They will have connectivity via USB 2.0, and memory stick support.

The biggest question is going to be on battery life – spinning an optical disk takes a lot of power compared to reading data out of a memory cartridge. If Sony can get a good life span out of it then it could become an essential travel gadget, especially if the latest DVD releases also become available for it. The competition is tough though – Nintendo is claiming the Gameboy Advance SP has ten hours of battery life with the light on, and eighteen hours with the built in light switched off! The importance of battery life in a handheld console should not be underestimated.

The combination of a game console with a phone is in itself a major innovation, but how many people will be willing to have a phone that is so obviously a game device? A less spectacular innovation, but still interesting, is the use of bluetooth to enable wireless head to head gaming. It will certainly be more convenient than messing around with cables, but I doubt it’ll become a killer feature.

May 13th, 2003

Immature voters

Apparently EU voters are not “mature” enough for an EU wide referendum to be held. The evidence for this: that given an undisclosed list of people to vote for, a sample of French voters picked the only Frenchman on the list, the rather famous Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

As Europunditry points out, in what way does this research show that an EU wide vote on adopting the constitution would be invalid? Even if we accept the hypothesis that people will generally vote for someone from their own country, how does this invalidate an EU wide vote for adopting or rejecting a constitution?

If an EU president was elected by vote (not something that’s being considered at the moment) this research might be of some interest. The major point that is raised for me however is not that the European public is not mature enough to vote in an election of a president, rather that the voting method used is of critical importance. If a single transferable vote method was used, or multiple rounds of voting (probably impractical), you could very quickly get the electorate interested in candidates that aren’t from their own country.

May 10th, 2003

TALAggregator & MySQL

I’ve released version 0.4 of TALAggregator, my RSS aggregation software. This release fixes a problem where some feeds would not be successfully parsed because of the interaction between MySQL and Python when handling Unicode strings.

The source of the bug is that the MySQL interface in Python can do automatic conversion to and from Unicode for VARCHAR columns. Unfortunately it doesn’t perform this magic for LONGTEXT columns, leading to all sorts of confusion on my part. It’s should be solved now – I’ve disabled the automatic conversion and do it all myself.

May 10th, 2003

Skating in Etienne Brule Park

Finding near by paths suitable for in-line skating is difficult in Toronto. If you are a good in-line skater who doesn’t mind the odd hill, gravel road, or tram tracks there’s plenty of choice. With my skill level however I’ve found it best on the beaches and out on the islands, both of which take a considerable time to get there.

I decided to try my luck at Etienne Brule Park this afternoon, and it seems like a good place. In theory you can follow the trail all the way up to Lawrence, but I found that the path deteriorated in quality by Dundas West. Maybe once I’ve got back into the swing of things I’ll try going further up.

From the Old Mill subway station it’s just a short walk to the park where the path starts. There’s a separate brick path for pedestrians, and a paved path for cyclists and bladers both of which generally follow the path of the river upstream. The surface quality is mixed but generally good, with the inclines being shallow enough for me to cope with. The path does climb slowly as you work up river, which means that coming back is much more fun. It’s a shame that it’s not a little longer, but I may yet give the path into Lambton Woods another go to try and extend the run.

May 8th, 2003

BitTorrent getting noticed

It seems that BitTorrent is finally getting some mainstream press, inevitably because of it’s use to download material that’s under copyright. The BBC has an article describing how that latest episodes of US TV shows are being made available for download.

The two take away points from this article seem to be that the “problem” is at this point rather small (not many people doing it), and also hard to disrupt. I’m sure that TV companies will try to shut down sites assisting in the distribution of TV shows in this fashion despite the difficulties of doing so. Other actions that they are less likely to take, but which might also have an impact:

  • Simultaneous world-wide release of shows. Movies are starting to do this now, it’s not that difficult, and reduces demand for copies.
  • Provide torrents of shows with in-line advertising, perhaps at a reduced quality. This provides a way of clawing back some revenue that might be otherwise lost. It also makes it harder to find other versions because everyone will link to your versions.

If downloading TV shows becomes really popular it could even become just another channel of distribution. If it’s easy to find an official version (with adverts) most people are not going to bother hunting down a hard to find version which has had the adverts stripped out. Bandwidth costs can be contained through the use of the peer-to-peer network, although multiple versions would have to be provided so that the advertising is targeted to the correct audience.

I suspect the biggest challenge would be that people can skip through the adverts, which reduces the amount of income derived from them. If they are kept short enough however it might work, it takes time to skip ahead and then backtrack to the point where the advert finishes and the show resumes…

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at