Alex Hudson

Thoughts on Technology, Product, & Strategy

Category: misc (Page 2 of 2)

Come on, Facebook – re-instate Tom Brake MP

Now, I’m not a huge one for using web applications as a means civic communication – I tend to believe that communicating with your representatives is much better done in a public space rather than a private one like Facebook. However, this story (on the face of it) is quite disturbing.

Transport for London recently announced the removal of the N213 night bus service between Croydon and Sutton. For many people, particularly young people going out of a night in Croydon, although this service wasn’t overcrowded it was important. A number of people on Facebook started a group to protest this, and took to the streets of Wallington last night.

Our local MP, Tom Brake, has been a Facebook user for years now and has tended to be pretty good about using it intelligently: joining good local causes, using it as another way of letting people know what he’s up to, and that kind of thing. So, he also joined the “Save the N213” group and posted various letters that he’d sent to the Mayor / TFL.

Now, however, Facebook has suspended his account: it’s like he doesn’t exist on the site any more. No comments, no profile, unceremoniously de-listed from the various groups.

Fine upstanding local residents

Fine upstanding local residents

Why has this happened? Well, according to LibDem Voice, “his account was automatically suspended when their system detected an unusually large amount of traffic to and from his account“. That is to say, the protest against the N213 – which Tom was participating in, not really organising – was too successful, and Facebook assumed something bad was happening.

MPs need to be easily accessible by their constituents. On issues like public transport, children and young adults are particularly important because they don’t have the option driving. Representing them effectively means, realistically, being able to contact the local community via Facebook (and services like it) because that’s what these people use in the same way older generations write letters to the local newspaper.

It’s difficult to know what to do about this. It’s difficult to see how a kind of public service obligation could be imposed on something like Facebook; equally, setting up something genuinely public and civic-minded is unlikely to attract the demographic we’re talking about.

Mono and the MCP

It has been interesting watching the debate around Mono over the past few months. As essentially an independent observer – albeit one who has used Mono and can almost code C# – I couldn’t help the sneaking feeling that somehow, some of this was being orchestrated behind the scenes.

Particularly on the “anti-Mono” side, it has been pretty clear that an agenda of agitation has been in effect, with various distributions being prodded into making statements either way and various “users” kicking up stink on mailing lists – not least a certain infamous blog writer being caught red-handed whilst goading people on to write angry letters. I don’t know if speeches like Stallman’s were co-ordinated – I suspect more likely happenstance – but it all seemed very well timed.

And now it seems that Novell have been leading Microsoft into giving a Community Promise surrounding patent claims that cover the “standard” parts of Mono. I predict this is going to have a surprisingly negative effect within the community, however. It validates the arguments of people worried about Mono, and this proposed split of Mono into “Standard bits covered by MCP” and “Other bits not covered by MCP” is actually going to fuel the flames: inevitably, people will assume the non-MCP bits are a total patent mine-field, no matter what is actually in that area. Parts that people are quite happily shipping right now – such as – will be targetted next by people “anti” Mono. And for the parts covered by MCP; well, I expect not much to change: certainly, it’s not likely to convert many people to Mono.

In this scenario, I would actually suggest this is a step backwards. People will read the MCP news as an admission that Mono is at risk from Microsoft patents, and it certainly will not unite the community in any fashion.

Personally, though, I think this move signals that Mono is now basically big-time. I don’t know how many will agree, but the smoke-signals have been in the air for a while: major products such as Sims 3 by EA shipping with Mono, for example. It’s big enough that Microsoft is having to sit up and take notice; it cannot be long now before Microsoft starts shipping either parts of Mono or its own implementations of key Mono tools and libraries.

I don’t think “the Mono issue” is going to be resolved in the Linux community any time soon. However, as I’ve said before – I don’t think that matters. The community of people using Mono, and the community for whom Mono is an attractive proposition, is an extremely large and probably not (for a large part) particularly Linux users.

Like Firefox before it, Mono is becoming a break-out technology which appeals to an entirely different set of developers. In Firefox’s case, it became the web developer tool par excellence due to its vastly better debugging, inspection and developer tools. Mono isn’t comparable with MS’ development tools yet, but already has a strong appeal to people wanting to use .net development tools in non-Windows environments. You can use Mono to develop for Microsoft’s own Xbox 360 – as far as I’m aware, you can’t do that with Microsoft’s own .net yet.

It will be interesting to see where the Linux community moves to on this issue over the next couple of years. Whether or not Mono gets used much doesn’t really matter any more though; Mono is now an entirely successful project in its own right and it’s going to be here whether we like it or not.

Windows Vista lameness (for future reference)

I’ve hit across this problem a couple of times and always end up having to look up the magic incantations, so I’m going to store it here for posterity and in the hopes it may also aid other people.

Problem: Windows Vista / XP machine on a wireless network behaving extremely oddly. You can often browse to Google, for example, but basically nowhere else – it’s like other websites just time out.

Issue: For some reason, the MTU discovery doesn’t seem to work – the OS ends up sending packets which are too big and things stop working. This is probably an issue with one of the wireless routers involved I would imagine, rather than windows itself.


You’ll need an Administrator shell. Find the ‘Command Prompt’ in the Start Menu, and right-click to select ‘Run as Administrator’. Then, use this command to find the name of the interfaces on the machine:

netsh interface ipv4 show subinterfaces

Using the name we found above, do:

netsh interface ipv4 set subinterface "Name We Just Found In Quotes" mtu=1400 store=persistent

It’s a complete hack, but it works, and since I use Windows about once a year I really don’t care 😀

Want to tell UK Govt. to keep their hands off the ‘net?

apComms is an all-party group interested in various technological issues, and they’ve just announced that they’re starting an enquiry effectively into ‘net neutrality. I would link to something useful if I could, but surprisingly(?) their website is well out of date. Paraphrasing the specific questions they’re asking, though:

  1. When should ISPs be filtering/blocking traffic?
  2. Should Govt. intervene over Phorm-like services?
  3. Do we need new initiatives to protect privacy online?
  4. Is the global approach to kiddie porn working?
  5. Who should pay for traffic, and should Net Neutrality be enshrined in law?

If you want to respond, you need to write not more than four pages and submit it via email to the admin user at the domain – you have until the 22nd May 2009. I’d be interested in people blogging on this topic, particularly their responses.

This is an important topic. Just this Monday there were questions from various well-briefed Tories – including a Tory whip who, and I mean no offence to Mrs Watkinson, I’m pretty sure didn’t know about “throttling bandwidth” before she was given that phrase. It’s pretty clear where the wind is blowing on this issue.

IBM vs. Sun – spoken too soon?

So, probably as I was posting my little blog piece yesterday on IBM taking over Sun, it seems that the IBM and Sun deal was falling apart – seemingly a quabble over the pricing, but I suspect a little more must have been to it than that.

Again, I’m reminded somewhat of Microsoft – when Yahoo! refused their take-over offer, which at $31 represented an extremely generous premium over their then ticker-price of about 62%, with a total deal worth $44.6 billions. Such a rich deal that even Microsoft would have been forced into debt (though doubtless they’re thanking themselves for walking away now – the timing would have been awful). When we look today, it’s around $13 and has been as low as $9. Shareholders were rightly steaming.

At $9.50 for JAVA stock, IBM would have been paying an almost 90% premium over the sub-$5 price pre-takeover talks. What’s going to happen to Sun in trading today? I suspect the market will punish them, hard – they appear to be the ones walking away from the deal, not IBM, and people will be well aware of that before trading starts later. They’re now going to talk to HP and Cisco about a merger – I’m not sure either of those deals makes sense, particularly Cisco, but HP haven’t long ago swallowed Compaq and are still making sense of that.

In many ways this is Sun all over, but the management will have a lot of explaining to do at this point if another deal doesn’t come together quite quickly. If it falls apart and the stock value starts sinking, we may see IBM come back in a bit later and pick them up even more cheaply…

Sun vs. IBM

If we’re to believe what we’re told in the press, sometime tomorrow – or perhaps later in the week – IBM and Sun will announce some kind of merger. I’m not sure anyone is under any illusion that this would effectively mean the end of Sun in time, being absorbed into IBM, although there is a lot of speculation over what would happen to various projects. Some, like NetBeans, seem pretty certainly done for, and the amount of life left in the SPARC architecture post-merger seems limited.

It doesn’t seem to me that MySQL will be affected much. IBM may or may not continue interest in it – I suggest they would – but Sun appear to have made such a complete balls-up of that acquisition that it doesn’t seem like it would matter any more. Sun’s argument was that they would make MySQL enterprise-ready – but then they released 5.0, which scared the horses and that $1 billion value looks to be rapidly eroding. Similarly, OpenSolaris would probably continue in some half-hearted effort, but again there appears to be a touch of “Well, why bother?” about it.

No-one much seems to have talked about The community side of OOo, in terms of code, is really pretty limited and most interesting stuff happens in Go-OO. Sun are basically OOo, and the ODF TC at OASIS is heavily Sun/IBM. Presumably a merger would weaken their current combined grip on ODF by some small amount, but what of OOo? IBM are currently off in the weeds with Lotus Symphony, which has an outstanding user interface (compared to OOo anyway) but is based on some relatively ancient version of OOo. It would be nice to think that some grand merger of OOo and Symphony would happen, but any such scheme would likely completely alienate what OOo developer community there is because it would take time and be an extremely exclusive process.

I’ve always thought Sun had significant problems with their attitude to free software / open source. They talk about it a lot, it seems like their heart is in the right place, but fundamentally they don’t appear to get it. The difference between “controlling what we do” and “controlling what other people do” appears to be lost on them, and when they giveth with one hand opening up previously proprietary code-bases, they take away with another with licensing restrictions or limitations on contributions. However, IBM are an entirely different beast: they fundamentally do get it. Sadly, though, they get it and decide not to participate: hence Lotus Symphony, hence AIX, hence WebSphere, hence DB2, etc. etc. They contribute widely, but selectively and judiciously. Their participation in stuff like ODF is as much tactical anti-Microsoft activity as anything else.

Based on that approach to free software: very smart, very thoughtful application of development resource to projects which directly benefit IBM reminds me a lot of Microsoft. Fundamentally, their approach is identical – we’ll put effort into a few things where it suits us and we’re not going to be competed with, but everything else we’ll do proprietary thank you. Even where the pain of that proprietary cost is high – e.g., Symphony – they have the resource and the ability to do it.

It will be interesting to see what happens post-IBM. The job cuts are surely going to be the start, rather than the end, and some significant projects will stop – possibly abruptly. Things that will continue will quickly become IBM-branded. In many ways, it will be entirely illustrative of where Sun has gone wrong: IBM will not be putting effort into things which don’t generate return. They’re not going to be wowed by buzzwords about “cloud computing”. IBM are sharp, and the culture clash will be huge.

News of the Screws cack-handed “the Stig revealed!”

The news of the world “newspaper” did a “reveal” of Top Gear’s “The Stig” character – so many quotes, but Stig is just a name, they didn’t actually reveal who it was, and I’m not sure they’re really a newspaper 😉

At least. They say that they didn’t reveal who it was, but if you go to the story you’ll see they have a picture of “the Stig” showing just his eyes – apparently giving a clue to the readers. If you don’t want to know who they think the Stig is, don’t click “More”.

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Brand new old blog.

You may have noticed that I’ve been very quiet on my blog over the past couple of months. This has been for a couple of reasons: primarily, I’ve been really busy, but also because I’ve been sort-of locked out of it while my laptop was out of commission. I was a Blosxom user, which is a lovely piece of software and very simple, and I chose it because it’s very easy to integrate into another site – however, that has now bitten the dust.

At some point, for some unknown reason, all my historic blog entries ended up getting dated to September. Blosxom takes the dates from the file stamps, and there’s no other information I seem to have available – so, basically, my blog history is now entirely buggered.

Anyway. I’ve used this as an excuse to move to WordPress 2.7 – the release that just came out. I’ve always been a bit against WordPress, mainly because it needs an SQL database, but also because it seemed so complex and difficult to work into my existing site. However, I did it earlier today, and it probably took literally an hour – the hard part was making the mod_rewrite rules actually work for the permalinks.

I found DeWitt Clinton’s blog post on moving from Blosxom, and with a bit of light editing to the script he provided, I managed to import all my old data – thanks, DeWitt 🙂 All my old posts are back – minus the correct dates and permalinks, of course – which is nice.

Basically, it all seems the same from the front – albeit it I can now take pings, comments, and all that new lovely stuff. Plus, I can access my blog from whereever now, and hopefully that will mean I can blog more easily / more often. Let me know if you find anything broken!

This is how we cool it.

Recently, I decided I needed to move my server downstairs, but in order to do that I had to reduce the noise substantially – it’s going in our living room for now. It had the standard AMD fan kit on it, and a pretty awful power supply.

This is how it looks now:

Big heatsink

I don’t think it’s going to overheat any time soon, and it’s really quite unnoticeable in terms of sound now – I can just hear the hard drive, and that’s it.

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