Bridget Jones Diary: Edge of Reason

Despite having, against my will, actually quite enjoyed the first Bridget Jones film, based on the trailer, and given the usual problems of sequels, I approached this film with some trepidation.

Things did not start well, with possibly the longest and most interminably dull set of adverts I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to sit through in the cinema — most of them seemed to be for perfume and they were a triumph of the school of self-congratulatory style over substance. The trailers were rather excellent though: House of Flying Daggers looks very cool and it was the first time I’ve seen the Episode III teaser-trailer on the big screen.

So, onto the main event itself. Overall it reminded me more of Love Actually than the first Bridget Jones film, a sort of collection of playful jibes at, and parodies of, relationship-stereotypes and experiences with which we are all familiar, rendering the rather unoriginal plot thankfully irrelevant. The expected cringe-inducing scenes were short and, due to the zippy-pace, rapidly forgotten, and the only really irritating character you found yourself wishing would hurry up and get off screen was Bridget herself. The supporting cast and characters of this film were the real gems, whilst poor Bridget was just far too over-the-top and clichéd to be plausible, and after a while, even funny.

So overall certainly not a disagreeable experience, but I shall not be disappointed if I never see Miss Jones on the big screen again — the rest of them are very welcome to come back any time though.

Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) 2005

I’ve felt for sometime that the biggest obstacle to securing computer systems that have to be used by ordinary users is the human-computer interface, and this was one of the key aspects of our paper Trust for transparent, ubiquitous collaboration. Security is often in direct conflict with usability as by definition “security” means denying a class of people the ability to perform some action. Microsoft Windows is the most common source of examples of this — Microsoft’s aim to make their OS as usable as possible has lead to it being highly vulnerable in its default configuration.

Anyway, the good news is that a new Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security has just been announced, taking place in Pittsburgh, USA in July 2005 to address these problems. It’s sure to be an interesting interdisciplinary event.

WordPress 1.2 and the SRCF

Using the letter “é” in my previous post caused considerable problems for my blogging setup. Firstly I noticed that while I’ve configured WordPress to use UTF-8, pages were still being sent as iso-8859-1. This is a known problem with the majority of apache configurations.

Unfortunately the two suggested solutions in the bug report will not work for me. AddDefaultCharset utf-8 only works for text/html pages, not php and php_value default_charset "utf-8" doesn’t get passed through the srcf-cgi-handler, a known bug with this otherwise rather useful setup.

Solutions

Although I can’t see where this is documented, copying /etc/php4/cgi/php.ini to your wordpress directory allows you to locally change the php4 settings for php files in that directory. Sadly this mechanism is not as flexible as .htaccess so you also need to copy (or symlink) the file into the wordpress/wp-admin directory to make the changes apply to the admin interface too. Once you have done this it is then possible to set: default_charset = "utf-8" and all your php pages will now use utf-8 encoding.

RSS Feeds

At this point my feed reader no longer gave errors for my RSS feed but Feed Validator still complained that my feeds weren’t 100% proper. This was fixed with some very minor editing of the wp-rss2.php and wp-rss.php files, changing the line:
header('Content-type: text/xml', true);
to
header('Content-type: text/xml; charset=utf-8', true);

While hacking this file I noticed another problem with RSS feeds which is specific to the srcf-cgi-handler. Often when the feed hadn’t changed I was getting a “500: Internal Server Error” instead of the expected “304: Not Changed”. This turned out to be because PHP is running in “CGI mode” and sending raw HTTP headers is not permitted. Further hacking of wp-rss2.php as described in the SRCF FAQ seems to have solved the problem. Fortunately this is only a problem with the version of PHP4 in Debian woody so will go away once sarge is released.

“Exposé” for Gnome/X11

Trying to locate a particular window that has got buried under all the other windows that invariably fill my desktop is always a pain in the neck, but the latest version of Mac OS X has a very cool feature called “exposé” which shows snapshots of all your current windows at one time, and allows you to switch between them.

Unfortunately I’m yet to be completely converted to the Mac world, but now there is skippy, an implementation of the feature for any Gnome or NetWM compliant X11 window manager. The author hasn’t released a .deb, but I found one at: http://www.debian.org.hk/~glee/deb/skippy/ — unfortunately currently down so I’ve mirrored it. It’s rather slow, especially when taking the initial snapshot of all your windows, but most definitely cool. Performance is rumoured to be much improved if you are using FreeDesktop.org‘s Xserver.

Funny goings-on in the world of print-media?

It’s been a bit of a funny weekend in the newspaper world. First is the shocking news that the venerable Times is going fully-tabloid from Monday!

While I’m hoping the content of The Times won’t make a similar shift from broadsheet to tabloid, this week’s NTK highlighted that The Guardian, of all newspapers, has recently been advocating the traditionally Neo-Conservative policy of regime change. Alas, the Americans seem less than keen on Guardian-style regime change.

Upcoming Seminars

I’ve grown rather sceptical about attending seminars lately as often about half way through I find myself thinking that the time might be better spent reading the associated paper instead! However I am rather tempted to attend the following:

Freshers’ Week in review

Another year, and another freshers’ week (well, fortnight for us grads 🙂 ) gone by… This was the first year I haven’t been involved in organising things — starting in January meant my first freshers’ week was also the first year I was on the GradSoc committee and seeing it from the other side was very interesting. Undoubtedly the best bit was that I got to enjoy it to the full — being able to just turn up and enjoy events without having to set up, clear up, serve drinks, etc was very nice!
Continue reading “Freshers’ Week in review”

GMail Atom Feed

This is cool — liferea (Linux Feed Reader) news says that Google provides Atom feeds with a list of new messages in your gmail account! https://gmail.google.com./gmail/feed/atom

Unfortunately https:// can’t be accessed directly by liferea, but you can use an external tool such as wget or curl to grab the feed — liferea supports this directly, or you could download it via a cronjob if your favourite feed reader does not.

“Ultimate” Hangover Cure

A lot of Jesus grads (me included!) were wandering around yesterday looking slightly…. “tired” after Friday night’s GradHall. While I’m normally quite a cynic when it comes to “miracle cures” Ed made me this fantastic drink which really did make me feel substantially better after a whole pint of it! Cheers, mate!

The rest of that site is pretty interesting too. Obviously this being the Internet one can’t take it as being 100% true and accurate, but the stuff on buying a computer isn’t bad (although quite dated now). And the drink was very good! 🙂

Open season on hard disks?

In the last month hard disks in three of the machines I use regularly have had hard disk failures — the SRCF, my lab machine and now my laptop. Whilst worrying from a data integrity point of view, it is interesting that all three machines are approximately 2.5 years old, and running pretty much 24 hours a day (even my laptop generally gets left on over night). An indication that hard drives with three year warranties are an excellent investment perhaps? It has also been a well-timed reminder of the importance of backups!

Round a about | Metafilter

A few days ago, MetaFilter carried a stroy about the incredibly bizarre “Magic Roundabout” in Swindon. Having driven around this a couple days a week a few summers ago (albeit, taking the first left exit each time!!) I can assure people it’s not nearly as bad as it looks!

A few of the comments on that story are about other slightly strange local-driving regulations. My own favourite was the roundabout just outside Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Google tells me its correct name is the Armdale Rotary.) The first problem is that the entrace to the roundabout is controlled by a traffic light which has both the red and green lights illuminated. Fortunately there are about a million signs telling you that this means, “yield and proceed”, although apparently making this clear came at the cost of having any navigational signs to tell the already confused driver which exit they want… Thankfully for me, there was already a car on the roundabout so I thought I would have at least a few seconds to solve this second puzzle, but no! I had failed to account for the incredible niceness of Canadians (and Haligonians in particular were incredibly friendly) and the car stopped to let me in.

I survived to tell the tale, but apparently this is quite usual behaviour for this bizarre traffic junction, as the Halifax Herald explains:

It’s not just the contradictory traffic signals – red light, green arrow – that will furrow your brow, but the driving habits of Haligonians. Motorists who are already on the traffic circle will actually stop to let you in. You don’t know if they are just being overly polite – further evidence of quaintness, perhaps? – or if they are ignorant of the rules of the road.

While on the subject of Swindon, I’ve recently been introduced to the excellent and very funny books by Jasper Fforde which are set in Swindon (well, sort-of… You’ll understand when you read them!).

New domain name — toobusyto.org.uk

It’s taken me quite a long time, but I have finally bitten the bullet and decided to part with some cash to secure myself a permanent home in cyberspace. So, from yesterday you can now access this site at: http://www.toobusyto.org.uk. All the old links should continue to work — many thanks to Kyle for helping me to debug the transition.

You can also send me mail using nathan at this domain (drop the leading www), although all my existing e-mail addresses will also continue to work.