Colin's Journal

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

June 27th, 2004

Vintage festival

Coffin in a hearse.Today we stumbled across a vintage festival on Queen street west. The festival was small, consisting of one band, one fashion show, some vintage cars, and several stalls selling “vintage” (old) items.

The selection of old cars and the fashion show provided a good opportunity for some photography. The sun was high and bright, which meant sharp shadows and difficult exposure metering. The hearse, complete with coffin, was the most interesting car to photograph. The scene it presented was a challenge. Bright sun was shining down on the end of the coffin, and the inside of the car was very dark. The open doors created both visual frames, which could be useful, and obstructions that tended to break up the picture.

I think this shot works. It would have been good to get more of the car in shot, but the doors were extremely distracting.

June 24th, 2004

Football, TV, and Mailing Lists

Dancing in the street.Watching Euro 2004 has been a challenge because of the time difference. Most games take place while I’m at work, finishing before I even head home. The ability to view TV on my mobile phone would therefore have been a useful (although I’m sure expensive) feature. As it is I caught the 2nd half today, saw England go out on penalties, and then came home to Little Portugal where a large celebration was underway.

On the techy side of things I have setup a mailing list for SimpleTAL. At the moment this list sets the gold standard in low traffic volumes: it has one subscriber (me) and no messages. If you’re looking for a place to discuss SimpleTAL and related subjects (PubTal, etc) then please subscribe.

The picture on the right was taken during the Taste Of Little Italy festival last weekend. Despite the festival being about Italy, most of the music was South American. Of the bands that I heard my favourite was a Jazz band called Project Phoenix.

June 20th, 2004

Constitution agreed

The big news this weekend, outside of the football results, was the agreement on the EU constitution. The final fudge on the voting system for the Council of Ministers came to a complex mix of rules, although there is still some logic left to them:

A qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65% of the population of the Union.

A blocking minority must include at least four Council members, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained.

I preferred the original suggestion of 50% of Members representing 60% of the population, but it is at least an improvement over the Nice rules.

The difficult part will now to be to ratify this treaty in all member states. The UK referendum campaign is going to be difficult. I still think that a yes vote can be achieved, but it is going to take a lot more work than I had originally expected.

White flowers.The arguments being put forward for rejecting the constitution have so far been fairly weak on detail, but very strong on emotion. There seems to be a significant force trying to turn the UK referendum on the constitution into one on membership of the EU. The downsides of leaving the EU are significant, and the benefits mostly nonexistent. Access to the common market (essential to the UK economy) requires non-member countries to implement most EU laws anyway, but only membership allows significant influence over those laws.

Those campaigning to reject the constitution, and yet retain membership of the EU, are also ignoring the downsides and over stating the benefits. The constitution contains many good elements that would be lost with a rejection. The areas of EU legislation that the parliament can examine and change is greatly expanded in the constitution. The use of qualified majority voting (QMV) across more areas will make getting agreement on issues easier.

Rejection would leave the EU functioning as it does today. The issues that are currently not subject to QMV (such as Asylum and Immigration) would still need to be tackled, but the results would take longer to achieve. Democratic control of the EU would be as weak as it is now, and while the constitution isn’t exactly light reading, it is still easier to understand than the current set of treaties.

June 16th, 2004

The great disapearing act

The news that around 3000 blogs hosted on have been taken off the ‘net is causing much consternation. The reason for the outage is not entirely clear. The transcript of an audio post made by Dave Winer explains that Userland used to host the site. Changes in management meant that they were no longer willing to do this, and Dave offered to host on his own servers.

Dew covered feather on the grass.Up to this point it makes sense. It seems however that Dave didn’t inform the users of that there was going to be a server migration. He also didn’t perform any operational readiness testing on the new server to see whether it could handle the load of hosting This is understandable to some degree – Dave after all was not doing this on a commercial basis.

The strange part is what happened next. Normally when a server migration such as this fails you revert back to the old server, in this case run by Userland. The end users could then have been given a couple of months to locate new hosting and take backups of their sites. Why didn’t Userland do this? Why, after four years of offering this free service, was it not possible to extend service by a couple of months?

It pays to be wary of trusting your data to hosted services. A year ago my dad’s ISP offered a web-based diary application on their portal. It seemed like a neat way of maintaining a diary while travelling. The snag was that the diary had no export function. You could maintain your diary for as long as you were a subscriber to the ISP, and after that your data would be lost.

If you value your hosted data then take backups. Even on well run services such as LiveJournal there is always the possibility of logging in one day to find all of your posts have vanished.

June 13th, 2004

EU election results

Prior to the European elections it was expected that turnout in the UK would be the lowest ever. In practise the actual turnout was the highest ever at 39%. Meanwhile across Europe as a whole the turnout fell to an all time low of 45%.

Metal Venetian bridgeThe large turnout in the UK, not surprisingly, corresponded with the UK Independence Party marginally beating the Liberal Democrats to third place.

The news certainly isn’t good for those who, like myself, want to see the UK retain membership of the EU. The best I can hope for is that the success of the UKIP may provide a wakeup call to pro-EU politicians.

As I’ve noted before, governments are keen to blame unpopular but necessary legislation on the EU, despite those same governments being the ones that approve them at the EU level. Conversely EU legislation and initiatives that many people would agree with are played down or badly presented.

June 7th, 2004

Minor updates.

I’ve not achieved a great deal in the last week. There’s been socialisation, movie watching, and over the weekend some photography. Nothing earth shattering (you’d have noticed).

Accordion PlayerI bought a couple of books on photography: “National Geographic Photography Field Guide” and John Hedgecoe’s “The new manual of Photography”. I’m only part way through through the first of these, and so far its been an interesting read.

I had some prints developed on Thursday/Friday from a small shop called Korner Color. They managed to print half of them as is, but unfortunately they stretched the contrast on the others. This resulted in, for example, my Salute photo coming back with a white sky.

On a recommendation from Becky I’m going to try Toronto Image Works for some more prints. Hopefully their “uncorrected” prints include conversion from sRGB to their printer’s colour space and no more.

The weekend photography consisted of a couple of trips to Trinity Bellwoods Park, and the 11th Annual Foklore Festival that makes up part of Portugal Week. The challenge was trying to determine the correct exposure, with late afternoon sun against brilliant white and black costumes.

I’ve updated my weblog links, removing those I no longer read, and adding some that might be of interest to others. I particularly recommend Sensitive Light for some excellent photographs.

June 1st, 2004

Leaks and fixes

The Register is carrying an article in which as analyst argues that the Symbian operating system is a danger to carriers’ revenue streams. This argument is played out frequently in the mobile industry, usually as a precursor to pitching a “solution” for this perceived problem.

Marble column in a church.Mobile carriers are trying to maintain their high margins by offering more services. Those services can, however, be offered through a myriad of alternative vendors running over a commodity IP network.

Take for example SMS. The typical carrier will charge 10p per message, where each message consists of 140 bytes (160 chars of 7 bit ASCII), or approximately £749/MB. GPRS pricing is typically in the range of £1.34/MB. If an alternative vendor can provide an SMS application, which runs on your smart-phone using GPRS as its transport, the result is a significant competitor to the carrier.

This same logic applies to lots of the services that a carrier offers, and carriers are acutely aware of this. The carriers are using multiple different approaches to try and curtail this competition. They can act as a gateway on new applications by insisting that they are “certified” on handsets prior to them being used on their network. Walled gardens have mostly failed, but users can be encouraged to use their carrier’s own portal through a combination of pricing and phone configuration.

My hope is that eventually carriers will be split into two components. There will be the network infrastructure operations, competing on coverage, bandwidth and above all price. And there will be the service operations that sit on top of the networks, potentially even spanning multiple physical networks.

This will only benefit the consumer, and isn’t necessarily to the detriment of the mobile carriers’ long term profitability. The prevalence of competing physical networks, separate from service providers, will also be the start of ubiquitous always-on wireless networking.

I’ve released a bug fix version of TimeFormat. The bugs stopped the library working on Windows (which has an incomplete locale module implementation), and screwed up timezones east of UTC. I’ve also put out a corresponding fix for PubTal which addresses the same problem.

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at