Best Usenet Sig

I don’t know how I can across it (probably following a link from uk.rec.walking) but this guy has has a really great usenet signature:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Barbeques on fire by the chalets past the castle headland
I watched the gift shops glitter in the darkness off the Newborough gate
All these moments will be lost in time,  like icecream on the beach
Time for tea.

If that doesn’t mean anything to you then you should probably check-out this clip. Better still, watch the whole film.



Well, this post has been a long time coming. Back in November ’05 I really didn’t know whether I wanted to bother with this blog. A young family and work commitments meant that I had very little time to write the kind of longer posts that I tried after previous hiatus. Really, I found myself with little to say. So I posted a rather melancholic post entitled ‘Loser‘ and left the thing to go to seed.

One problem with this is that I kind of blocks your options for resuming posting – and the longer you leave it the harder it gets. Hence the year of silence.

Over Christmas I moved the content from Community Server to the suddenly fashionable WordPress. Writing the code to link the two systems Metaweblog API endpoints together was an interesting exercise, and I also got a passing familiarity with MySQL. It didn’t actually produce any posts, though.

Well, last week my partner, Debra, gave birth to our second child, Ben. I’ve been on paternity leave and we’ve been re-aquainting ourselves with deep fatigue and sleep deprivation. A wonderful time, though, and an opportunity to get some perspective on life. Since I return to work tomorrow (albeit telecommuting from home for most of the rest of the week), I thought that I might not get another chance to post here. So I have.

Maybe this will break the block I’d put on myself.

Mother and baby are doing well, btw. He has grey eyes, and we’re wating to see which colour they finally become.

Some other things I’ve done since the ‘Loser‘ post:

  • Spent a wonderful week with my family camping in a tipi in Cornwall.
  • At work, amongst other things, I transitioned our main smart client from a J2SE-based applet to a .NET 2.0 click-once application. This was a lot of fun, and I learned a few things about .NET that I didn’t know. Maybe a future post about this.
  • I read some awesome non-fiction books: Worldchanging, Hostile Habitats, the Pickaxe book, and a lot more that I can’t remember.
  • I read some good fiction books with disappointing endings: Quantico, The Execution Channel, Air (which just went on for too damn long), The Steep Approach to Garbadale and quite a few more. I don’t know why, but almost every fiction book I read seems to run out of steam just before the end. Maybe I’m reading the wrong authors.

I really can’t say how often this blog will be updated. I don’t feel much drive to do it, but I feel that for the writing practice alone its worth persevering with. We’ll see.

Religion as a bad influence

George Monbiot writes in todays Guardian about some facinating research into correlations between the prevelence of religious belief in societies and various undesirable social outcomes. The research he cites looked at looked at eighteen democracies with similar levels of economic development, but having different levels of religious belief. It concluded:

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion … None of the strongly secularised, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction.” Within the US, “the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and midwest” have “markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the north-east where … secularisation, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms”.

The research was conducted by Gregory S Paul and published as Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies in the Journal of Religion & Society. The journal appears to be a fairly small, web-based publication that has been around for about six years. The article doesn’t give any biographical information about Gregory S Paul except to say he is from Baltimore, Maryland. While this is quite unusual for an academic journal, it is at least possible the the author is concerned about unwanted ‘attention’ from some sections of US society. The Times has an article with some quotes from Mr. Paul, whom they describe as a Social Scientist, that indicate that they actually interviewed him.

Of course, the research points to correlations: which is very different from saying that religion causes murder and sexually-transmitted diseases. Personally, though, I’m not too surprised by the results: religion has never seemed to me to be a very positive force in society. what is facinating is that, until fairly recently, this kind of research would be almost impossible to carry-out. Firstly, trans-national statistical data-sets that can be meaningfully compared are a fairly recent development; and secondly, the idea that empirical methods could even in principle be applied to such subjects would have been very difficult for a significant proportion of the population to accept. I see at this as a positive sign, and look forward to more comprehensive studies in the future.

Damn Small and Damn Cool

USB ‘thumb’ (or ‘pen’) drives are one of those low-profile technological developments that you mostly don’t give much thought to; but when you do you realise just how amazing they are. Back in 1989 I bought my first 20GB hard-drive for my first PC  The drive was big (perhaps a bit bigger than a video-cassette box), heavy and relatively fragile (if you were going to move the PC you had to remember to manually park the drive heads before powering-down). It cost over ?200. Today I can pay ?25 for a 500MB thumb drive that weighs essentially nothing and can live quite happily in the hostile environment of my work bag. Pretty maazing, when you think about it. Which I usually don’t.

A few days ago, while on the train home from work, I was reading an article about how to install Linux on a thumb drive: the idea being that you can carry around a fully-configured system in your pocket for those inconvenient times when you don’t have access to your usual PC. Just find any old PC, plug-in the thumb drive, reboot, and (assuming the bios can handle it) the system boots the OS on the thumb drive rather than the one on the hard drive. I thought that this was moderately interesting but nothing that special. As it happened, I’d spent a large part of the day (the part I get paid for) running tests on a client-server system where the clients and server were each running on virtual machines using VMware. VMWare is another piece of technology that I keep forgetting to remember is deeply impressive. It essentially allows you to run multiple copies of Windows (or Linux) on the same machine at the same time. Each ‘guest’ machine thinks it is a real PC, and can access network resources via the real host PC.

So I thought, booting from thumb drives is all very well, but what I really want is something like WMware that lets me run a guest OS from a thumb drive without rebooting. That way I don’t have to disturb the guest PC (which, in say a cyber-cafe, may be locked-down to prevent reboots). At first i thought one of the ‘live cd‘ Linux distributions might do this, but it turned-out they all require a reboot.

Then I found something remarkable: the Embedded version of Damn Small Linux. DSL is a small-footprint (50MB max) Linux distro that can boot from CD, and very good it is too. But the magic is in the Embedded version. This is essentially a pre-configured copy of DSL that runs in an open-source, VMware-like virtualisation system called Qemu. Unzip DSL Embedded onto a thumb drive (or a hard-drive folder), run a batch file (no installation needed), and Damn Small Linux boots-up inside its own window. After a bit of grinding an X11-based desktop appears. If the host PC is on a DHCP-enabled hetwork then the Linux machine acquires its own IP address and you can access the net using the pre-installed browser (Firefox), email and ftp apps. Clients for vnc and terminal services are included, and I easily logged-into my home server.

This, my friends, is very, very cool. And since it is also very, very free, I urge you to try it. I couldn’t find the Embedded version on the DSL download page, but you can get it from ibiblio here (53MB).

I’m going to play with this and see what it can do. First-up is to get Open VPN working so that I can tunnel into my home network. Watch this space!

How to redirect an RSS feed

One thing you’ll want to do if you change the location of your blog is to have your subscribers automatically pick-up the new location of your RSS feed. This post just documents a trick that I used recently to do this.

If you are lucky enough to using an blogging tool then it is fairly easy. You’ll probably have a .aspx file that emits rss/xml. Most aggregators will interpret an HTTP 301 response to a request for this file as an instruction to automatically change the feed subscription location. To generate this response, simply replace the contents of the feed-generating file with something like the following:

<%@ Page language=”c#” %>
<%@ Import Namespace=”System.Web” %>

Context.Response.StatusCode = 301;
Context.Response.AddHeader(“Location”, “”);

Replace the URL with the URL of your new feed, and thats it. Then sit back and monitor the traffic on your old and new sites until nobody is hitting the old feed and everyone is seeing the new feed. Then delete the old site.

Live from New Orleans

Interdictor blogging live from central New Orleans. The guy is the crisis manager for an ISP, and they have a generator and a fat pipe out to the net. The also have a police radio scanner and a webcam, and they’re reporting looting in the streets and rescue helicopters coming under fire. I really don’t know what I think of this yet.

New Orleans

New Orleans Times-Picayune is publishing breaking news in weblog format. It makes for a pretty disturbing read: destruction and death and misery. A lot of people have had their lives wrecked, and are going to be living like refugees for years to come.

Why were so many people apparently too poor to be able to get transport out of the city, and/or un-informed about the likely consequences?

(Via Dave Winer)

Update (14.10): If you believe this, then its all too clear why so many people stayed in the city: the state givernment assumed that people would use private transport to evacuate. I’m not sure whether cities in the US have standing plans for total evacuation, but everyone knew that the hurricaine was coming at least 24 hourse before it hit the coast. Surely someone must have thought “what about the people who don’t have cars?” If the comment is correct, and even 10% is the city population was left without an escape option then 48,000 people were just abandoned.

I wonder if, in general, evacuation plans exist for cities in the UK? Manchester (where I live) has had an evacuation plan for the city-centre for some years, and google knows about similar plans for other cities, but nothing that seems to cover an entire city. Is this something that can be adequately planned for?