30th June 2005: EHostPros

Until recently this site was run by eHostPros. When I transferred over to WQH, I cancelled my eHostPros account, of course. Then, on 6th June, I was told that I'd be billed for another year's service the following day. I completed their (complex) cancellation form, and received an email confirming my cancellation. Today, I received an email confirming that they had billed my credit card for another year's worth of hosting. I opened a support ticket against the billing department, and got a bog-standard reply telling me that if I cancel the account then I'd get a confirmation email. I had (of course) quoted the confirmation in the ticket.
I added this info to the ticket, marked the reply as not helpful, and found that the ticket had been deleted. I opened a new ticket, and have now received a reply to my original ticket (how can that happen? It doesn't exist!) saying that I will be refunded. Let's see if it actually happens.
Don't get me wrong - I had no problems with eHostPro's hosting services, but if you want to move away, make very sure that they don't keep billing you. Ideally, use a credit card with less than one year validity.

30th June 2005: Open Solaris

Did I miss something? apparently so. After all the fuss about OpenSolaris, no actual code seemed to appear. It now seems that on 14th June 2005, with no fanfare that I noticed, the www.opensolaris.org website actually contains Solaris code. There's an archive of the opening blogs, and a Source Browser. You can trawl through the source tree, or enter (say), "IPMP" into the "Full Search" box to search for particular features.
This is suddenly a Big Thing, to me. As a Sun worker, I've had access to the source for six years now, by knowing which systems to log in to, and where to look (of course, I've never had any write-access to the source; even those employed as Solaris developers have to go through a stringent ARC process to get changes committed to the tree), but to have it available on the internet, just there, as if it's no big thing, well that is, in itself, a Big Thing.
The license isn't GPL or BSD, of course, it's CDDL. But simply being able to read the source is a huge benefit to Sun customers (and probably even some Sun employees!). Doubts about how IPMP actually works? You don't have to be a C or OS guru to understand (web-searchable, at that) aspects of the code - understanding the whole thing is a big undertaking, of course, but a decent coder should be able to get useful information by reading the source. This is the kind of thing that customers have previously paid megabucks for (and, in the case of Microsoft customers, still do).
The ability to create "SteveSolaris" under the CDDL is a very minor issue (what the slashdot crowd seem to always insist on - if it's not GPL or BSD, then it's not 'Right'). I'm not a lawyer, and I've not hired one, so what the CDDL actually allows me to do with the source, beyond reading it, I'm not sure of, but to me, the ability to read the source of Solaris is a Big Thing.
It seems that Schillix and genunix.org have read the license, so stuff is already happening.
I can't believe I missed this!
Maybe what's up there still isn't the full source, I don't know - I do know that there have been a lot of issues with all the sub-licensed software in there (Solaris ships with all sorts of third-party software and drivers - indeed, if you download Solaris 10, you seem to get StarOffice (not OpenOffice.org) bundled with it, and that, in itself, has a whole load of sublicenses (hence the difference between StarOffice and OpenOffice.org in the first place.
I don't bump into Sun Legal at the water cooler, so I can't confirm what exactly is in there, and what (if anything) is missing, nor indeed what of those missing parts are scheduled.
The core OS is certainly there, for the world to read. That's a big enough thing to be marked as a Big Thing.

27th June 2005: The Microsoft definition of 'Open'

Due to the success of OpenOffice.org, which is Free Software (which means that it's zero cost to the user, and that the code which makes it work is also available to download, read, edit, and even republish), and saves files in XML format (a text format which can be read/written by any application (I've even written an application myself which creates OpenOffice.org files), Microsoft have been under a certain amount of pressure over their closed-format Microsoft Office software. They now claim that the next version of Microsoft Office will also use the open XML file format. Office 2003 XML Reference Schema Patent License ... well, the last two words of the title tell you all you need to know. To use the Microsoft format, you have to pay Microsoft for a patent license. This does not fit any sensible definition of 'open'.
Do not believe the hype. Microsoft do not intend to use an open standard for their Office suite.

27th June 2005: More Bad Grammar / Spelling

Cigarette Buts Illegal Traders

The first of these labelled an ashtray; the second, about two metres awway, in case you can't read it, says:

Unlawful and prohibited salesmen may try to sell goods to you in this car park. They are not connected in any way with Welcome Break Group Limited.
It is possible that goods offered to you may be stolen or counterfeit or overpriced. In your own interests we urge you not to buy goods from these people.
Apart from the assumption that "these people" are all male, the use of the word "or" has some interesting implications. In Logic, the word is treated as an "inclusive-or": The code:
if (a == 1) or (b == 2) {
will do something if either a==1, or b==2. If both are true, that's fine - it will still do something. Only if neither are true will something not be done.
In English, the word is treated as an "exclusive-or" The phrase:
For lunch I'll have a sandwich, or a packet of crisps
is exclusive - the speaker would not have both items for lunch.
So the phrase It is possible that goods offered to you may be stolen or counterfeit or overpriced. implies that if the goods are stolen, they are neither counterfeit nor overpriced; similarly if they are counterfeit, then they are neither stolen nor overpriced, but if they are overpriced, they are neither stolen nor counterfeit.
It seems remarkable that the service station know all these things about traders who are not connected in any way with them.

19th June 2005: A sad day for Formula One

What can I say? For those who weren't following the F1 event at Indianapolis, Michelin found during Friday testing that the basic structure of their tyre (and therefore all variants of that tyre) had a serious flaw, and would only last about 10-15 laps of the 73-lap race. The problem was shown in the left-rear tyre, which took all the pressure on a clockwise circuit, particularly as the circuit had been resurfaced with a 'diamond-cut' to allow the Indy cars (which have nothing like the downforce of a F1 car) to get friction with the track, and stay on the road. The Indy circuit is not one of the testing circuits, and Michelin do not participate in the Indy 500 series (the other tyre supplier, Bridgestone, had recently competed on the track with the new surface, and had data to help them design a tyre to cope with the new surface). Friction is a good thing - it helps the tyre (and therefore the car) stay in contact with the road, but it also means that the rubber of the tyre is worked far harder in the corners. The extra traction helps the light, low-downforce Indy cars, but for F1 cars, which have a downforce greater than their weight (theoretically meaning that an F1 car could drive on the ceiling without falling down), the benefits are low, and the cost is high in tyre wear.
New rules say that a team can only compete with a single tyre spec over the whole weekend, so they could not change to a known-good tyre (from the Barcelona race) which Michelin could have provided.
This rule was introduced to cut the costs, with the intention to ensure that all ten teams could afford to turn up and race, because without the ten teams, there is no spectacle. The FIA rule has backfired, and will cost the sport dearly - not just in the refunds which the spectators certainly deserve, the lost advertising revenue, and the incredible cost of all the teams arriving in America to compete in the first place, but in its credibility in the USA, with all the repercussions that will have on advertising money and manufacturers investment in the sport.
Michelin apparently did not accept a compomise whereby they could change the tyres but face penalties after the race, but did propose that if a chicane was added prior to the final corner, turn 13, all cars would be slowed down, and the Michelin as well as the Bridgestone runners would be able to safely finish the race.
You can see the FIA/Michelin correspondance on the FIA's website, and a just-about-legible GIF scan.
This was put to the vote by the ten teams; Nine (including Jordan and Minardi, two of the three Bridgestone runners) agreed to the change, but Ferrari (the third Bridgestone runner) did not agree to the change, so the FIA did not agree to this change to the circuit.
Seven of the ten teams use Michelin tyres, each team putting forward two cars. Simple maths will then tell you that only six cars had reliable tyres.
As Michelin had advised their customers that they could not guarantee their tyre, after two Toyotas had crashed during practice, and nine other tyres had also been found to have developed faults within a few laps (Williams' and Renault's tyres had not shown problems, but all teams had done very few laps on these tyres) so it was not an issue specific to the combination of Michelin tyre and Toyota design and resultant tyre wear, the Michelin teams would have been crazy to ask their drivers to go out and race with a known-unsafe set of tyres.
They were, presumably, contractually obliged to start the race, so they did - and the fourteen Michelin cars retired after the formation lap, having technically started the race, and retiring at the first opportunity.
So six cars continued beyond lap 1 of 73. Both Ferraris, and two other teams.
Although nine of the ten teams had agreed to race with and only with the chicane, Jordan and Minardi, the two minnows of the formula, also raced. These two teams have a strong battle between themselves, so if one raced, the other was obliged to... whilst we all knew that the Ferraris would take P1 and P2, P3 is still worth six points, which are incredibly valuable to these two teams who hope to get one point in from a race meeting, if they are lucky.
Minardi claim that Jordan forced their hand; Jordan claim the opposite. Whichever way around, I cannot blame either of these two teams for going back on their agreement not to race given the situation that the other team had decided to race. It would have been more honourable for them both to refuse to race, but that's the way it was.
So six cars drove around the circuit for 73 laps.
It can not be called a race, in any real terms. Congratulations go to Jordan's Montiero for beating his team-mate and the two Minardis; maybe in a genuine F1 race meeting, he would have gained a point anyway?
Adding the chicane would give problems to all the teams; the drivers would learn the braking points within a few laps, and the teams would soon get data on the tyre wear, fuel usage, and any other issues introduced by the change to the circuit. Bridgestone runners would also face this additional hurdle, through no fault of their own, but it would still be an equal race, with all teams facing the same conditions, which is surely the sporting principle.
We all want to know who's at fault... An awful lot of incredibly intelligent, experienced adults were involved in this fiasco, surprising as it may seem. None of them have shown their brilliance this weekend. The FIA call themselves the Governing Body of this so-called sport; the buck must stop with them.
Just look at the results:

2.  BARRICHELLO    Ferrari   +1.5s
3.  MONTEIRO       Jordan    + 1 lap
4.  KARTHIKEYAN    Jordan    + 1 lap
5.  ALBERS         Minardi   + 2 laps
6.  FRIESACHER     Minardi   + 2 laps
R.  TRULLI         Toyota    +73 laps
R.  RAIKKONEN      McLaren   +73 laps
R.  BUTTON         BAR       +73 laps
R.  FISICHELLA     Renault   +73 laps
R.  ALONSO         Renault   +73 laps
R.  SATO           BAR       +73 laps
R.  WEBBER         Williams  +73 laps
R.  MASSA          Sauber    +73 laps
R.  MONTOYA        McLaren   +73 laps
R.  VILLENEUVE     Sauber    +73 laps
R.  ZONTA          Toyota    +73 laps
R.  KLIEN          Red Bull  +73 laps
R.  HEIDFELD       Williams  +73 laps
R.  COULTHARD      Red Bull  +73 laps
It is telling that ITV, who broadcast programmes based on the advertising revenue they are expected to generate, cut the midnight "highlights" from 60 to 30 minutes, and felt that the other 30 minutes would be more profitably used rerunning an ancient generic sporting highlights programme.
Articles from the formula1.com site:
Michelin blame the FIA
Press Release from the Michelin teams
Discuss on the forum

19th June 2005: Grammar

It's a well-documented fact that English grammar and spelling are falling, but surely it's in the best interests of a business to actually say what they mean; on my recent holiday, I saw these two signs at the same, apparently successful, local business:
THIS IS NOT A PICNIC AREA FOR RESTAURANT USE ONLY Children laying in this area are their parents responsibilit
Which is the worst of these two? I cannot decide. The first one is a simple lack of a full-stop where (presumably) one was intended. The effect is that the statement is negated. This is a picnic area, and it is not solely for restaurant use. I assume that the proprietor intended the opposite statement.
The second sign is simply confusing; remove the word "laying" (what might they be laying? eggs?) and we end up with a tautology - admittedly, one which parents cannot harm from being reminded of, but as this was in a play area, is has only just occurred to me that there may be a "P" missing from the start of the word "laying". The use of ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and the centralised justification does not help with such an assumption. Guessing the final "Y" is much easier from the context.

4th June 2005: Apple - Sun in 1997?

Are Apple now where Sun were in 1997? They've got a small server (XServe), though, to be fair, Sun had far bigger servers in 1997. They've got their own OS based on UNIX (specifically, BSD; Sun had controversially moved from BSD to AT&T UNIX by 1997). Sun got a huge boost from the dot-com boom. There is no similar boom looming to propel Apple to such heights. Are Apple just repeating Sun, but 8 years too late?

2nd June 2005: Piracy - Part III

I've been trying to find out about the 30-day limit on keeping recordings of TV broadcasts ("Time-Shifting").
Since this query (see piracy2 and piracy3) is initially about recording UK TV broadcasts, I thought I'd try the BBC. The best result there seems to be GCSE BiteSize. Which discusses software copyright law, in a grand total of 8 bullet-points.
The Labour party did get back to me, with a link: http://www.direct.gov.uk/QuickFind/SubjectDirectory/InformationAndCommunication/fs/en ... which was down 24h ago, and now redirects you back to www.direct.gov.uk. Useful. Luckily, Google still have a cache of the old site, which I've taken the liberty of replicating here, as the cache will presumably be updated soon. Not terribly useful for the question at hand, especially as most of the links also go to the direct.gov.uk homepage ... currently, they all get a page saying:
Technical difficulties to direct.gov.uk
We are currently experiencing technical difficulties with the DirectGov website. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused. We expect normal service to be restored very shortly.
So, do I need to hire a solicitor to find out how long I can keep a copy of "EastEnders" (assuming I wished to do such a thing!)?
I realise that nobody's likely to bang down my door at 3am for such an infringement (if it is illegal), but it's nice to know that I am staying within the law, and the implications for other broadcast media are increasing daily, with P2P networks, DVDs, CDs, etc, which (other than the EUCD) current legislation presumably never envisaged.
I love the BBC's broadcasts of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for example, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to keep the recordings on a compilation CD. I've submitted a query to the BBC about this, asking if they can provide any links to actual legislation, but (naturally, due the number of emails they must receive) they don't guarantee a reply, let alone a full response.
It's clear that I'm not allowed to, say, kill someone, or drive at 90mph. It's also clear that the dumb blonde in front of me last night was allowed to drive at 23mph whilst I was in a hurry and had no safe opportunity to pass her. I don't expect the Government to take out 30s adverts on prime-time TV to tell us the URL to find our copyright rights and responsiblities, but I do expect it to be locatable.

Random blog - June 2005
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