Monthly Archives: July 2005

The Ring Hits Gold

South Australia's State Opera put on a stunning performance of Wagner's Der Ring des Niebelungen (Ring Cycle) late last year (2004), which I was priviliged to watch.

I am delighted to see that the operas have been nominated for 11 Helpmann Awards (whatever they are). I especially concur with the nominations of John Wegner and Lisa Gasteen, playing Alberich and Brunnhilde – they really were marvellous.

Well done, all.

Footnote: in at the deep end as usual, this was my first experience of live opera – all 13 hours of it.

De-Spamming WordPress Comments

Update: patch now available for WordPress 2.x

Over the last week, I have had a few attempts to post spam comments against Smiffy's Place articles: all links to gambling sites. For those in countries where the ISPs might be obliging, I have filed abuse reports. Now that they are coming from Africa and Russia, I have decided to take alternative measures.

All comments on Smiffy's Place posts must be accompanied by a valid e-mail address (set under Options/Discussion); however, the WordPress function is_email() works on fairly loose constraints; an address such as foo@bar.baz appears to be a valid form. As all of the gambling site spams received have had e-mail addresses at bogus domains, I have applied a simple fix: the is_email() function now does a DNS lookup of the domain. The lookup actually goes for an A record – I don't use an MX record lookup as I would be violating RFC2821.

My hack is available as this patch; please note – the DNS lookup function used is not implemented on Windows platforms; my apologies, but Gates' Army will have to find their own workaround if they want to do this. (Hint: read the checkdnsrr page.)

SciSalvage

Still investigating content management systems, I have now installed MediaWiki on my server. (10 out of 10 for ease of installation!) This is the same engine that powers the awesome Wikipedia online encyclopoedia.

In order to put it to the test, I assigned it the task of running my SciSalvage project – one that I started last year, writing my own software; it got shelved when I got ill.

So far, I haven't done much on assessing accessibility, but I am very please at how easy it is to manage.

A Bit on SciSalvage

SciSalvage is a site designed to form a knowledgebase of information on how various bits of junk can be recycled for scientific (amateur or otherwise) purposes. When I first announced the idea last year, a good dozen people registered interest; let's hope that it now proves to be a useful resource. At least I know the technology is good – it must be to support something the size of Wikipedia.

Update: I have managed to submit an entry to the wiki using Lynx (a text browser) – this bodes well for getting the system accessible.

Testing: PostNuke

In a previous article, I started looking at Plone, in my continuing search for an accessible Content Management System (CMS) – or at least, one that I could make accessible. This failed my " install and makes sense in under 1 hour" test; a comment on my original post says "Plone has the burden of Zope" – too right. As I have no plans to learn Python anyway, I decided to move on. I will re-visit only if someone who is paying me requests Plone/Zope specifically.

As I am comfortable around PHP (although I still prefer Perl), I am having a look at PostNuke.

First impressions – not too good; the official site is hard to navigate, although I am assessing it from an accessibility/usability viewpoint, which tends to make me rather fussy. It took me two goes to find the software download and considerable time to find the installation documentation (I wish they'd put it all on SourceForge). Still, this is down to the styling and design of the site (content), not the CMS, in which I'm interested.

I am currently mired down in the installation process; the documentation (when I eventually found it) tells me that I only need a couple of file permissions to get working; wrong-o! I've posted to the support forum, so have stopped the clock on the " install and makes sense in under 1 hour" test for now.

I will edit this post later to pass on my conclusions; I still have Drupal, PHPWebsite and CMSimple to look at (after that I write my own).

Update: support forum reply post got a quick reply, suggested corrupted download. Tried again, although nearly gave up just trying to find the download link through Lynx – navigation of the PostNuke site is very poor – still can't install.

Conclusion: I will not be testing or reviewing PostNuke. It may be a good system, but poor usability of the web site, sketchy documentation, coupled with the fact that the software doesn't work "out of the box" – unlike other quality, Open Source, PHP software like WordPress and Serendipity – means I will not be investing further time on it.

Deep Impact

All those involved at NASA are to be congratulated on the success of the Deep Impact probe, which struck comet Tempel 1 on July 4.

Whilst everyone else was enjoying some very special Fourth of July fireworks, the mission has not been without its opponents. A Russian astrologist is now trying to sue NASA for "altering her horoscope" through the impact. I think we have here a classic case of "Spot the Loony".

The Jagged Orbit

Jagged Orbit: book cover

I was slightly surprised to find this book still in print – my copy is about 30 years old and in remarkably good condition for a paperback. Extrapolating from the state of the world in the late 1960s, Brunner paints a picture of a paranoid world, fomented by weapons manufacturers, the Mafia-like Gottschalks, forever trying to increase sales.

Without trying to give away too much of the plot, unlike some of Brunner's darker works (The Sheep Look Up), this book has a relatively happy ending and left me feeling good, despite tensions from current events in my personal world.

For those with an interest in Artificial Intelligence, Brunner's concept of the "Desketary" draws to my mind Alicebot. One can speculate that Brunner was thinking of theEliza which, created in 1966, would have been around when he was writing this story. (I was playing around with Alicebot last year when thinking about software interfaces useable by people with learning disabilities; if I had a lot of time and nothing better to do, I might even try to create a "Desketary" interface.)

Conclusion: a classic piece of early-1970s British SciFi, or possibly ScoFi (social fiction) and a good introduction to Brunner before tackling larger, darker works like The Sheep Look Up.

July Celebrations

It must have been about ten years ago that I, in whimsical mood, set pen to paper and produced (what I thought was) some humorous verse:

Fourth of July!
The fireworks fly
And go off with a ruddy gurt bang in the sky.
Independence Day, Independence Day,
The day the British went away
'Cause they'd got fed up and would rather fight the French
Who lived much closer.
Juillet Quatorze
You'd best stay indoors
Or risk getting guillotined down by the poor.
Show them cold steel!
Storm the Bastille!
Put 'em on the creaking tumbril!
Vive la République!
Play loud music!
And knit all their names in to a nice wooly scarf
That you can give to cousin Jasper
At Christmas.

Notes de l'auteur:

  • "ruddy gurt" is dialect (South West England) and may be interpreted as "big".
  • In my original version, the British decided to fight the Germans, which was a bit of an historical inaccuracy; the US Declaration of Independence was in 1776 – Britain didn't go to war with Germany until 1914. Fighting the French is also an historical inaccuracy – the Napoleonic Wars weren't to start for another 24 years, but I claim a) what's 24 years between friends? b) poetic license and c) failing history 'O' level at school.
  • Le Quatorze (14th) Juillet is Bastille Day in France – see this Wikipedia article for details.
  • "Guillotined down" is poetic license – the guillotine wasn't a portable weapon to be wielded as might be implied from this line.
  • Storm the Bastille – if you don't know what this is, you didn't read the Wikipedia article above.
  • Tumbril: a type of cart used to convey executees to the guillotine.
  • Knitting: refers to Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities", who sat by the guillotine knitting the names of all those who died in the name of the Republic into her needlework.
  • Notes de l'auteur: French for author's notes.

Happy 4th July to all my American readers.

Water

Last night, I finished a weeks sample of our rainwater consumption, which I am taking to be the mean. Here are a few facts and figures for your delight and delectation:

  • Our rainwater consumption in one week is 1.86 kilolitres (cubic metres).
  • We harvest 1.86 kilolitres for every millimetre of rain that falls.
  • Even if we assumed two kilolitres of water consumed every week, this only equates to 104 kilolitres per year.
  • 104 kilolitres equates to 186 millimetres of rain harvested.
  • We have had approximately 150 millimetres of rain this year, equating to a harvest of about 84 kilolitres, or approximately 80% of our annual consumption, based on two kilolitres a week.
  • Rainwater is used for everything apart from:
    • Horse troughs
    • Toilet flushing
    • Outside taps
    • Lawn irrigation
  • All water used in the house is re-used for irrigation after passing through an aerobic wastewater system.

This isn't a perfect situation, but I am pleased; our rainwater system is virtually self-sustaining, even with a below-average rainfall.