Colin's Journal

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

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.

May 29th, 2003

A good DRM

DRM is usually taken to mean Digital Rights Management, an often derided concept that entails restrictions as to what can be done with digital media. I’ve just learnt about another meaning for DRM: Digital Radio Mondiale.

This version of DRM is a digital radio standard for existing AM band radio stations (frequencies less than 30MHz, including short, medium and long wave). The broadcasts are to start on the 16th of June this year, and the standard is ratified for most of the world (Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia/New Zealand), with the notable exception of North and South America. The quality is claimed to be similar to that of existing FM services, but not as good as the main digital radio standard DAB.

I doubt I’ll be hearing any DRM broadcasts soon because the current generation of digital radios only seem to be supporting DAB (based on higher frequencies and useful over shorter distances than DRM). I can’t imagine how the marketing for DRM will work given the name clash with a disliked technology, and the phrase ‘digital radio’ being so closely associated with DAB.

May 27th, 2003

A recommendation of beer

Recommending beer in general is a fairly pointless exercise, it is after all generally regarded fairly highly by most. In this case however I’m recommending a particular brand of beer.

Chimay is readily available, even in the government run wasteland of the LCBO, and is an excellent beer. It’s a Belgian Trappist beer that I was first introduced to after a colleague of mine named a server after it. Be warned however that it is on the fairly strong side, with the red label version running at 7%.

To make matters more interesting it only seems to be sold in 750ml bottles in Toronto.

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.

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at