I must admit, I am proud to have gotten a free ride from a London Cabbie.
My first visit to London, or indeed anywhere in Europe, was in July 2005 when I got to spend a day there on my way to Helsinki. Just time for once round the Eye, a quick glance around Piccadilly and a half-day meeting with the good people from the Open University.
I was in a hurry, of course, and I fully believed that I was arriving in a developed nation where things would be fairly normal. I was even prepared for them to be more advanced than we are here, in some ways. What I was completely unprepared for was the generally low level of acceptance of credit cards.
I first encountered a credit card in 1979, when my parents used their new VISA to buy me a bunch of furniture to get me into my first flat. I think I got my own card a couple of years later, and these days I use it for pretty much everything from buying the weekly groceries to buying those air tickets to Helsinki.
So when I got off the plane at Heathrow, I immediately headed for the cabs. That's what I've done every time I arrived anywhere in Asia-Pacific, and it's worked just fine. Several times I've been to Australia for a week without handling any cash at all.
Then I got in a London Cab, assuming these guys would take credit cards. You can't choose a cab at Heathrow - you have to take the assigned one - and the whole procedure appears to be so much trouble that you don't want to inconvenience them by requesting one that takes credit cards. Not that the though of doing so even entered my mind. Surely they're supposed to be the most with-it cabbies in the world aren't they? If the propaganda is to be believed they practically need a degree to be allowed to drive, so surely they'll be doing it all with the latest technology! Well no. These 'famous' London Cabbies aren't a patch on Corporate Cabs for quality of service, although they no doubt exceed them on price.
Once I got into the cab, we started to negotiate the destination, but the cabbie appeared never to have heard of Teddington and at about that point I also noticed the distinct lack of credit card company logos and tendered the question about credit cards.
Since he appeared never to have heard of these things either, and he wanted not a bean of any of the other currencies that I did have floating about in my wallet, this was clearly not a match made in heaven. He dropped me off near an ATM a few minutes drive away, possibly wondering if all New Zealanders were barmy, wanting to use a plastic card instead of carting fuckwads of mugger bait around with them. How odd.
I have been reminded of this strange cultural difference in the UK recently a couple of times. Firstly because I went to the UK Moodle Moot in Milton Keynes recently and was once more forced to fill my wallet with more cash than I normally see in a year.
More recently though, I've been trying to buy a Nokia 770. Apparently Nokia think that "New Zealand" is somewhere in Europe, because that link definitely redirects to europe.nokia.com. On the other hand they must be pretty sure it isn't, because it's not one of the countries listed when I click on the "Buy Online" button - that only shows a bunch of countries that really are in Europe. And the US of A, of course.
None of those sites will let me ship the darned thing to New Zealand though. Of course I knew this, and I thought I'd try and buy one in Los Angeles when I went through there earlier in the year. I was only there for seven hours though, which is barely enough time to get through customs and check your baggage in for the next flight in these paranoid times.
My next chance was a trip to London. This time I even planned ahead a little! I found a retailer in the UK who was selling the Nokia 770 over the web. I worked out their physical address and plotted myself a little map so I would know how to get there and then I e-mailed them to ask if I could buy one and pick it up while I was there?
Well sure I could. I just had to fax them a copy of my grandmother's birth certificate or something first. They accept credit cards, but it seems that somewhere in their office they make the paper that they turn into credit card slips, each one lovingly hand-inked and beautifully crafted in gold leaf. They couldn't accept credit cards, even if I visited in person and signed the slip in front of them. Those US of A paranoids have got nothing on these guys. They're so distrustful that I find myself starting to distrust them! Clearly they also don't have computers, or dial-up connections to the bank, or they would be able to validate all of the credit card can-the-bastard-pay stuff while I was there, and before I ducked out the door with the merchandise.
OK, I'm stupid. I should have ordered them the day before I left, to arrive at my hotel. Duh. I've never actually got something shipped to a hotel and I must confess to being somewhat disorganised from time to time (if you've read this far you are probably wondering how I ever manage to get out of bed in the mornings). Of course once I thought of this it was too late - I wasn't going to be at the hotel for long enough for that to work.
And anyway: I was going to be in London. Surely there would be some shop in London that would have one on a shelf somewhere that I could just pick up and carry out? Well, no, actually. It seems that these devices are so well marketed by Nokia that nobody has actually heard of them. Nobody (barring wierdos like me) wants to own one, and nobody in their right mind would be seen dead trying to purchase one in the Nokia store in London. Or in one of those electronics places down Tottenham Court Road.
So, I returned to New Zealand Nokia-less again.
We still want one of these things though. In fact we want four of them, so I return to my original website where they will sell them on-line. Albeit, to people from third world countries like New Zealand they will only sell them one at a time on credit card. I no longer trust these guys, because they don't trust me, but I decide to have another attempt to get them to ship the thing to me directly. So far my first order has been screwed up because my shipping address has to match my credit card address, which has to be the credit card billing address, and their website forced me to choose a different credit card at the end, from what it had said was acceptable at the beginning. It took a few days to work that one out.
Who knows, maybe my second order will work? In a couple more days, when they've had a cuppa or two and telephoned the bloke at the bank to find out if my card is real, maybe they'll get back to me and ask me to send them an autographed picture of myself or something.
Meanwhile, I just realised while writing this that we have someone visiting England for a conference at the moment. I realised it because I was chatting with him on IRC, so I can order them through the Nokia website, so long as the credit card address of "New Zealand, England, NewZealand, United Kingdom" is valid enough to scrape by.
So now we have MPhone:1, Nokia:2. I'll be disappointed if the ones ordered through the Nokia website get to me first though because that conference hasn't even started yet. Maybe I should find a non-paranoid USAian and see if I can get one shipped from there as well.
I'll give the London chaps another day to run their atomic force microscope over my credit card details, I think, and if I don't get any action from them I'll get my auntie onto the job from Pennsylvania.
Hopefully they'll take AMEX on the Nokia on-line store in the US of A.
Updated 2007-04-10: This post was written in August, 2006 and has been superseded. Here are some pre-built eAccelerator packages for Ubuntu, you could also build your own from my Debian source for eAccelerator or you could use my pre-built eAccelerator packages for Debian Etch.
... back to the original post...
PHP script caching has been flavour of the week for me here. First I tried out APC (the APC docs are here), because it seems it is The Coming Thingtm (somewhat belying it's name as the "Alternative PHP Cache"). Unfortunately at present APC does not cope with Gallery2 although it is just fine and dandy with Drupal.
No doubt that will be fixed in due course, and I will probably switch to it, but in the meantime I am using eAccelerator which works just fine with both Drupal, Gallery2 and as much of my own code as I have tried. I'm now running it on my development environment, so I guess everything will work with it eventually, even if it doesn't at the moment :-)
As a result, I now have packages of eAccelerator for i386 / PHP5 / Apache2 / Ubuntu Dapper and for i386 / PHP5 / Apache2 / Debian Sid, and it is time to share the love.
While these aren't exactly raw packages (e.g. they add the line to your php.ini file) they aren't polished either. At this point they don't build php4-eaccelerator packages, and I haven't tried to build them against apache 1.3.
The Deb for Sid should verify thusly:
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE----- Hash: SHA1 Format: 1.0 Source: eaccelerator Version: 0.9.5-rc1-1 Binary: eaccelerator Maintainer: root
Architecture: any Standards-Version: 3.7.2 Build-Depends: debhelper (>= 5) Files: 6234c7a3f463c9a982e89a038841a04f 154119 eaccelerator_0.9.5-rc1.orig.tar.gz a472af17d7992012c5eee077579c858a 3807 eaccelerator_0.9.5-rc1-1.diff.gz -----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE----- Version: GnuPG v1.4.5 (GNU/Linux) iD8DBQFE4vQgjJA0f48GgBIRAjp1AKCWwOTgQKZZ2cxqAuBRWFmU5I9yBACePDbW gslWRtUeasGAhu1YmLgoUxg= =OFZL -----END PGP SIGNATURE-----
Assuming you munge the name the way I have.
If you want more, send me a request and I'll see if I can build them in other environments (like Sarge, AMD64, PHP4 with Apache 1.3), or add stuff to them to support that. Unfortunately I believe there are licensing issues somewhere in the dark past of eAccelerator, so I probably can't upload them to Debian.
Attachments removed since they are no longer current
This weekend we visited Karori Cemetery. It was a beautiful morning, and a most enjoyable walk around a park, trying to compose photos to give some idea of the beauty and scale of the place. With so much vegetation around it was often difficult to get an appropriate vantage point, but I think it worked.
I was so reminded of Dave Dobbyn's lyrics about having "a father buried on the hill, with the best view in town" (Shaky Island). I don't have any relatives buried there, but I find it a much nicer place than the considerably more famous cemetery "La Recoleta" which I visited in Buenos Aires. It seemed quite a lot larger too, although possibly less populous - apparently 80,000 people have been interred within the nearly 40 hectares.
All this peace and beauty must really be for the living though. A dead person is, surely, dead, and doesn't really need a mausoleum, a tree-lined path. Surely a peaceful nonexistence means nothing to them. We call it "respect for the dead", but the only people who visit are very much alive, and the place is clearly a park. It is a shame that the pressure on space is making them less and less interesting. When once you could have an imposing mausoleum to remind everyone of your antecedent's existence, nowadays it seems you often have to settle for the more budget burial. Of course even burying your predecessors on a budget will cost you a bundle. At Karori Cemetery you can apparently be interred in an existing grave (with appropriate consent), but it will set you back a good few thousand to do so and if I have to recommend burial then Makara Cemetery is cheaper, although a lot less parklike. A mass-produced interment, rather than a craftsman-produced one - following an ongoing trend we all see in everyday life.
I like the park, I think, but not so much the concrete and marble. When I die, if my own feelings are to be considered relevant to the matter (and they probably should not be), I would prefer my mortal remains to be more usefully disposed of. While turning them to ash is less waste of space (and money!) it still seems a gross waste of good biological material. Perhaps I could be ground up into a good sack of blood and bone and sold off for a small sum at the local garden centre.
No doubt such a non-standard approach would be more expensive, and the cheapest useful way to 'get rid of the body' would be to 'donate' it for medical purposes. In which case, science it should be!
Do we really need another UI?
In order to have Pizza tonight, it seems I have to deal with the Pizza UI. Again. I wouldn't mind so much if it worked, but tonight it doesn't. I could put up with (stupid) little daemons wandering around my screen for a short while in order to be able to buy some food. It's OK that I've seen it many many times before, and it's really not that difficult to deal with the same stale annoyances.
Well, of course, on some occasions I've had to do it using a web browser running on another computer. Then all those bats whizzing (well, f-l-i-c-k-e-r-i-n-g, on those occasions actually) really do start to give me a 'bad user experience'.
The reason I've had to use a web browser on another computer is because the Pizza UI is written using what is effectively a proprietary application, and the program which they force me to use to access the site is not tested for all of it's operating environments - most especially that software combination of my computer and that hellish website which also coincidentally has shockingly bad accessibility.
When marketing is more important than product
When I first started to experience problems with the Pizza UI about six months ago, I sent them an e-mail telling them that Macromedia® Flashtm crashes whenever I browse their website. They quickly ascertained that this only happens for some percentage of those people using Linux. They then proceeded to wonder if it might just be easier for all Linux users to be directed to the PDF menu, so that they could phone their order. I don't know if they were serious or not but if they were then I guess they are more wedded to the annoying features of their website than they are to it's ability to allow customers to purchase Pizza. You kind of have to wonder where a business that thinks that way is going, don't you?
And anyway, is a crashed browser important?
Can't you cope? Well, no. I usually have around 20-50 web pages open at any one time, which can be quite annoying. Heather would typically have around 150-200 pages open, so when she has to restart her web browser after an attempt to visit the Pizza UI I would not be suprised to find they could hear the screams down at the local franchise. Although I am clearly in a minority with this particular problem there is not a single computer of the seven in this house that can successfully work around it.
But wait! There's worse!
Of course that's not the only sucky website that I can use for ordering Pizza. It seems that if I want to order Pizza over the in-tar-web I don't have a choice but to use Macromedia® Flashtm. Normally I prefer not to install this because it is the application of choice to run advertising content, so why would I want to? In the course of a normal day, it seems that the only time I need Macromedia® Flashtm installed is to run advertisements, or to order Pizza.
In fact the crappy Pizza Hut website sucks even more than the annoying Hell Pizza website sucks. At least with the Pizza UI in hell it is only really the designed in annoyances that annoy. The Pizza UI at Pizza Hut has decreed that when pressing the <TAB> key you will be transported to a random field - a particularly exciting trip when you are moving from (e.g.) the credit card number field to the credit card expiry field. Not that I can actually get to the credit card fields on a regular basis. Restaurant Brands New Zealand Limited seem to have some pretty crappy kind of back end for their operation, because the normal response to an attempt to log on to their Pizza UI is the useful and informative message that "There is a problem with the server please try again later". Right, of course I'll do that, won't I?
Use the Damn Phone, Stoopid!
People ask me why I care? Why don't I just download the (damn) PDF and use the (damn) telephone to order a Pizza. In fact my son asked me that tonight because he was getting as frustrated with me as I was with these (damned stupid) braindead websites. I think he might have been hungry as well,and I suppose that my own evening rant might be fuelled by low blood sugar too.
Strange as it may seem, Pizza-ordering in my house involves being repeatedly yelled at with orders until you can acknowledge each one with the fact that their dinner will be here in 40 minutes. This is not a nice experience when you are trying to speak politely to a harrassed and underpaid person in a noisy environment at the other end of the phone. That way lies madness! As a theoretical alternative, a web-based "shopping cart" site such as I use for ordering computers or buying CDs seems like a (potential) breath of fresh air. Those sites work for me because they have chosen standard technology over battiness. Strangely, I actually find them easier to use because they didn't care to invent a computer ordering UI or a CD purchasing UI. There's no need: after a lot of refinement of these models over the last few years we've all agreed on something that actually provides a fairly straightforward path from consumer to purchase, without any stupid fucking bats getting in the way.
Never attribute to stupidity, that which could be blamed on a conspiracy
So, of course, it must be a conspiracy. Some of my favourite conspiracy candidates would be:
- Pizza delivery companies are actually run by phone companies, and will still use the PSTN even when everyone else is VoIP, so you will still need a Real Phonetm to order Pizza.
- The website is designed to discourage Pizza ordering, because they are worried that they couldn't keep up with the demand if everyone logged on at 6:00pm to order a Pizza.
- Pizza companies get marketing websites built to give people the idea that a Pizza would be really nice, and one day you'll be able to order them over the internet, but they're waiting for smell-o-vision and figure it will be implemented in Macromedia® Flashtm first.
- Pizza delivery companies are actually owned by advertising companies, in order to ensure that Macromedia® Flashtm is installed even on the PCs of hardened Linux geeks like myself.
I think I like the last one the most. Conspiracies always seem best, somehow, when they actively persecute minority groups that include yourself.
Right. Now that I've got that six months of annoyance off my chest it's time to complain that my Pizza, which I eventually ordered over the phone after crashing my wife's web browser and three different web browsers on my own computer, arrived 10 minutes late.
So, after finding free wifi in Melbourne International terminal, Sydney was a complete downer. I knew that already because I seem to go through there every month or two: $17/hour from Optus or $18/hour from Telstra. Fortunately we were able to (ab)use the wired connections to the machines in the business area of the Qantas Club and get some real connectivity.
Singapore was the same as on previous visits, with basically no useful Wifi that I could get. My phone also didn't work (unsurprisingly there is no CDMA network in Singapore). A similar solution to Sydney worked, however, so we managed to get on the net there too.
At Milton Keynes the hotel charged a ridiculous price for Wifi (£16/day) but they charged a ridiculous price for everything, so that was to be expected. We used the Wifi at the Open University, once we got user IDs and passwords issued, although they blocked UDP port 1194, so my VPN wouldn't work.
In London we had good luck at a "Costa" cafe in Edgeware Road, although possibly that was a neighbour, rather than a cafe-supported network... :-) The hotel we were at there also wanted £16/day, so we didn't bother with that.
Unfortunately we didn't get any time in Heathrow to see if the situation had changed, but last year there was nothing there at a reasonable price.
Things were much nicer at Bangkok, however, with a free open AP called 'QANTAS' available in the Qantas Club lounge, and probably for some distance around it. Excellent. That is the way things should be, and I guess that is the way that things will be eventually.
After that lightning review, I think I would now like to set up some sort of captive portal on my home connection so that I can offer friendly people the opportunity to use my connectivity without abusing it. I know I would appreciate that sort of thing when I am travelling, so I think I should try and offer it unilaterally. Of course I'm not in the sort of location that will be very useful to people, but there may be some, and at the very least it will make it available to our own visitors and our neighbours, in a limited form.
Well, for starters, they have a free wireless LAN in their international terminal...
Coming through Melbourne from Adelaide last night I opened my laptop up and replied to an e-mail and then I thought "hang on, I just sent that, and didn't get anything to say I couldn't...". So I checked the logs, and it had all connected and sent just fine.
I looked further, and for once my scripts had worked perfectly. I was connected to a public, open WLAN called "MH LOUNGE", and my VPN to the office was up and running. At this point Heather must have seen my eyes light up because she suddenly remembered she needed to do some on-line banking. And check her latest strip was up. And check her webmail...
Well, eventually I got my laptop back anyway :-)
But for the future, I am probably going to book more flights through Melbourne. Wireless in Sydney costs a fortune, and in Wellington / Auckland it appears almost non-existent (although I can at least use my 3G card there). It would be nice if my 3G card worked in those places where my phone worked too. Is that too much to ask?
Why can't telecommunications companies facilitate telecommunications, rather than getting in it's way. Trying to provide 'services' and 'features' when all I want is 'please move these bytes from here to there'.
As it is, the consumer loses.
What the telecommunications company doesn't seem to realise is that in the long term they also lose, through slower uptake of broadband applications and (consequently) of broadband itself. Of course in the short term they appear to do better because they are being more successful measured against their unable-to-be competitors.
Anyway, it's nice to be back in Wellington for a couple of days.
And so, of course, my next flights are through Sydney, but maybe Bangkok or Hong Kong have free wireless too - I guess I'll be finding out this week :-)
Tonight, in the process of setting up this blog, I've had some very different software experiences...
Firstly, I used an internally developed application, written in PHP against a PostgreSQL database. It looked OK, and it worked sort of OK (I filed a couple of bugs) but one particular feature of it's operation really pissed me off: it went all bouncy and redirect-ish on me whenever I submitted a page.
I think that the point of the redirect was to be able to display something to the user before returning them to the page they originally came from. While that may be a noble objective there are a couple of flaws with doing it that way:
- It's too slow
- It's too fast
It's too fast because you can't go back and see what it said if you slipped into that momentary zone that I often do when I click submit, and I think I know what's going to happen. Or any of the million or so distractions around me do happen.
It's too slow because when you are awake and watching you know what it's going to say and you want the next page so you can click on. Now. Dammit!
It is bad usability design and I also think it would be very bad from an accessibility viewpoint.
How would a screen reader cope with that? I don't know. I suspect it would sometimes catch them out, but to be honest this sort of crap is all over "teh intarwebs" and they've probably written them to cope.
So tonight I was installing some software so I could write a blog because someone at work decided that work blogs would be a good idea. I wasn't originally going to blog about why redirects suck, but that application miscue got me riled.
I then had to install Drupal. People have been mentioning Drupal to me a lot recently, so I downloaded it and installed it. Disappointingly the Debian package is version 4.5.8, but the only apparently stable versions of Drupal are 4.6.2 and 4.7.2, and 4.5.8 wanted me to uninstall PHP5. Oh well, I can rip open .tar.gz files with my bare hands, fly faster than an RFC1149 packet and so forth, so I downloaded 4.7.2 and installed it.
This is a beautiful install experience. The bits that aren't working are very quietly and clearly presented as not working. When something needs to be tested to see if it works, the option is greyed out until I test it and prove it does work. Slick. Very slick.
And when I change a setting and submit the page, I get a nice box near the top of my page that is bordered in green when it all worked, and in red when it failed.
Super slick. And way better than a redirect.
Looking at the list of categories on Eduforge.Org I think there are a few others that would be reasonable as well: "Real Life" and "Moodle" both seemed to be missing, so I've added them. "Debian" is conspicuous by it's presence in the list, and no doubt I will be using that one in due course...
In fact why not talk about Debian now. And Ubuntu. And how the two projects are having interesting effects on each other. At Debconf5 recently Mark Shuttleworth gave an interesting talk where he tried to present his view of the interaction between the two projects.
There are interactions happening between the two projects on a number of levels though, and I don't think Mark was covering all of them (there wasn't time - even with the talk going over time we still had many other non-recorded sessions at Debconf where the interactions were discussed). Some other things that I find interesting are really obvious things: Debian can be a great system, but the effort to polish it for naive users can sometimes be unexpectedly haphazard. I installed Ubuntu "Hoary" onto an old laptop for my wife yesterday and I could see the extra polish on things. The street appeal that Ubuntu adds to Debian is really powerful, and I think that it must concern RedHat to see the reverse of their Fedora approach sneaking up. Debian has always been a great server OS, and for some things (like the really superb upgrade-in-place capabilities) have really benefited from being a distribution crafted from the ground up by an organisation comprising many experienced systems administrators.
Fedora's community has had a somewhat rocky road to gain credibility, with people necessarily finding reason's to mistrust Red Hat's motives and to be uncertain as to whether there really is separation between Fedora and Red Hat. Of course in Debian "There Is No Cabal" and even if there were, they wouldn't all be Canonical employees, would they? It's nice that Mark has indicated that Canonical will never employ the Debian Project Leader, although I imagine that SPI will eventually have to. The project is only going to increase in scope, if it's success is to continue, and it will need to move to have full-time staff - fairly soon, I should think, if it isn't already the de-facto situation, with the DPL's employer effectively paying the salary with only limited control over what that person is achieving during their term of office.
It's nice to see the Ubuntu Foundation launched, although it is interesting to see a comment on the press release that suggests that Canonical's focus is "commercial support and certification programs". Does this warrant paranoia? Mark is undoubtedly an astute businessman, and certification programs will be useful to the future of both Debian and Ubuntu (I can't see how one that would apply to one would not apply to the other, either).
Commercial support is also an interesting proposition to me. Of course many people (me included) provide "commercial support" to Debian (and Ubuntu), but few have the resources behind them that Canonical does, which could mean there is a significant concentration of the people who really do power Debian employed full-time by Canonical, and necessarily the goals of Canonical will affect Debian's direction.
In the end I don't think this matters though. Debian has got where it has through the personal energy and leadership of some very driven individuals who have provided a framework of standards and policies which guide people in the right paths (is it any wonder that most of them seem to violently disagree with each other?). Combine this with the strong (if unusual) society of Debian and the consequent normative effects, and I can only believe that Debian will be strengthened by these things.
Just as it is hard, sometimes, to give away the fruits of your labours, giving away significant amounts of money without retaining substantive control over its use is also hard. This means that Ubuntu is very well funded (at least USD$10 million) compared with Debian (SPI holds around USD$60 thousand or so). I imagine that this has been thought through in a lot of detail though, and it is hard to see in what way Mark could successfully donate to Debian through normal channels. If he gave SPI even USD$100k it would overbalance the pot completely, and would probably only really mean that something which Debian currently gets donated would begin to get paid for. Not a desirable side-effect.
When all is said and done though, and as Mark so forcibly points out in his talk: Ubuntu could not have come into existence without Debian, and neither can it continue without it. Debian will need to stand on it's own, and will in some circles be eclipsed by this shiny public-facing edifice, but early reports of it's impending demise are greatly exaggerated.