A Victorian temple

The weather on Friday evening was gorgeous, so after tea James and I went for a wander along Valehouse and Rhodeswood reservoirs in the Longdendale valley. This valley used to be known as the Cheshire Panhandle - a thin ribbon of land that joined Cheshire to Yorkshire, although it is now part of Derbyshire. Since Roman times (and probably even before that) there was a trade in salt from Cheshire to Yorkshire, and this thin strip meant that there was one fewer sets of tolls and taxes to be paid on the way, as the two counties connected directly.

Bramah Edge

The view above is across Valehouse reservoir towards Nell's Pike and Bramah Edge, and the little valley on the far right of the picture is called Devil's Elbow. There is a legend as to how it got this name, but I'm less romantic and suspect it's because the road round it has a sharp hairpin, and the name probably refers to the difficulty people had in negotiating it.

Valehouse Reservoir

The Longdendale valley used to have the River Etherow flowing along it, but in 1848 John Frederick La Trobe Bateman began building the chain of five reservoirs that still provide a large proportion of Manchester's water - a task that was to take 29 years to complete. The picture above is of Valehouse reservoir, with Rhodeswood dam in the distance.

Valehouse collie

Along the banks of the reservoirs are a series of houses built by the Manchester Water Board to house the reservoir keepers. Most are now private houses, but this one is still owned by United Utilities and lived in by the reservoir keeper, who has a most friendly Collie who insisted that we throw his entire stick collection for him to fetch :-)

Rhodeswood hydro

It is an amazing testament to Victorian engineering that the works associated with the reservoirs are largely unchanged from when they were built 150 years ago. This is the overflow weir for Rhodeswood reservoir. The building on the right is a new addition - a small hydroelectric power station. In conjunction with similar stations on Torside and Bottoms reservoirs it will supply enough electricity for about 800 houses. This isn't the first such station in the valley - in 1904 one was built at Bottoms reservoir to supply electricity for the small-gauge railway that ran along the north side of the reservoir chain, although this was abandoned in 1938, and the railway was dismantled in 1968. Just above this dam there was a major landslip - the shanty town of New Yarmouth that was built on it moved 8 inches downhill in the course of one night. Bateman brought in two of the best engineers of the day, Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel as consultants to help him come up with a fix, as he notes in his journal:

31st March 1852

The best measures for adoption under these circumstances are now under consideration in connection with Mr Stephenson and Mr Brunel whose advice the Water Committee have allowed me to obtain.

On Saturday I accompanied Mr Stephenson and Mr Brunel over the works describing every part and directing their particular attention to the land-slips. I am to meet them this week in London for the purposes of further consultation.

The solution that was proposed and accepted was to tunnel underneath the landslip and route the watercourse underneath. This was to take an additional 15 months to complete, so the Victorians were just as familiar with unforecast project slippage as we are today!

Valve house

The Victorians built even the most prosaic of buildings with style and attention to detail - this temple-like structure is the valve house for Rhodeswood reservoir, one of several along the valley. The one at Bottoms reservoir has a rather splendid granite plaque commemorating all the Victorian worthies who were associated with the building of the reservoirs.

Categories : Peak District

Pandeiro = pain


Dspite what you may think from the picture above I've not suddenly got old time religion and taken to bashing a Tambourine and shouting "Hallelujah brother!" at passers by, it's a Pandeiro, not a Tambourine. I've been playing Surdo in my local community Samba (1) band for a while now, and I fancied trying my hand at something different. Unlike the Surdo I play which is 22" wide by 60" deep and requires that you attach yourself to the drum with a harness that wouldn't look out of place at a fetish convention, the Pandiero is a mere 11" across, and as well as being far lighter is also considerably quieter than the Surdo - an important factor for maintaining marital as well as musical harmony. Unlike a Tambourine a Pandeiro only has one row of jingles, and they face inwards and have a third plate between them, like this (|) whereas a Tambourine's jingles flare outwards, more like this }{ (2). The result is a drier sound, more akin to a snare drum. The head is also tunable, unlike a Tambourine which usually has the head tacked on to the frame.

Believe it or not the Pandeiro is one of the more difficult Samba instruments to play. Those devilish Brazilians are far too devious just to play anything by just banging it. There are 4 main strokes - thumb, tips of fingers, heel of hand and slap, and these may be modified by damping the head with the fingers and thumb of the hand you use to hold the Pandeiro. On top of that there are other variations such as finger rolls, grace notes etc, and all played at 120+ beats per minute. I've been told by Laszlo who teaches us that it will take at least a year of playing obsessively to become even vaguely competent. The instrument weighs about 600 grams which doesn't sound much, but after playing for no more than about 5 minutes your hands and wrists are on fire. By the time I'm done I should have wrists and forearms that would make a Bulgarian lady shot-putter proud!

(1) That's Samba as in Brazilian carnival music, not Samba as in a dance requiring a bouffant hairdo and sequins. And no, it's not the same thing as Salsa either.

(2) ASCII art courtesy of Bob Bemer, who sadly died this week.

Categories : Drumming

A birthday bash

Yesterday it was my friend Sylvia's 60th birthday, so a number of us from the two Samba bands that Sylvia plays in (Ruidogrande and Zambura), met round at a friends house for a surprise birthday party. The cover story was that Sylvia was being taken out by her daughters for a meal, and they were popping in to say hello to an old family friend on the way. We all hid in the garden round the back of the house and as she came through the gate kicked off with a Samba Reggae. Sylvia's a pretty composed lady, and the look of utter surprise on her face was priceless. We ate, drank and jammed until eventually one of the neighbours asked us to shut up. A great evening and one I'll remember for a long time, many thanks to Rosemary for allowing us to use her house and annoy her neighbours :-)

Also on the Samba front, I went with Laszlo to see Esquilo Atomico play on Sunday evening in Manchester. The band is made up of people who have just completed Dudu Tucci's Roots of Brazil course. They were extremely good. Laszlo (who teaches us) is on the course at the moment. I recognised some of the stuff we've been learning recently, although I think it will take us some time to reach the same standard!

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Categories : Drumming

Perl 5.8.4 lands in Solaris 10

*********  This mail is automatically generated  *******

Your putback for the following fix(es) is complete:

    5040539 Perl 5.8.4 should be integrated into S10
    4915255 perl tries to force -xc99=%none on embed clients
    5059815 Perl should have perlgcc out-of-the-box

These fixes will be in release:


The gatekeeper will mark these bugids "fixed" and "integrated" in bugtraq
as soon as the gate has been delivered to the WOS.  However, you can mark
them "fixed" (but not "integrated") now if you wish.

        Your Friendly Gatekeepers


As part of the day job I look after the version of Perl which is included in Solaris, and as Perl 5.8.4 came out fairly recently I thought I'd better do an update - the text above is from an email sent by the automated system that monitors integrations into the Solaris source repository or 'gate' . Several hundred people have checked in changes to Solaris 10 so far ('putback' in SolarisSpeak), so the Linux model where everything funnels through Linus just wouldn't work for us. Also, contrary to common mis-perceptions we don't 'port' Solaris to x86 after doing the Sparc version, both are developed in parallel and there is one common source tree, so we have to develop, debug and test on both platforms before integration. In fact my workstation at home is a Sparc box, and the one at work is an Opteron, so like all Solaris developers I have a foot firmly in both camps.

Putting pack changes into Solaris can be quite a daunting experience, as everyone who works on Solaris receives a copy of the putback notification, and if your changes don't stick, a copy of the followup notification as they are backed out of the gate. The source repository or 'gate' machines (one sparc, one x86) run last night's build of the OS, so if you screw up and break the gate machines it means that all those people also know about it, and nobody can integrate until it is fixed - which concentrates the mind wonderfully when you come to integrate your stuff ;-) Every 2 weeks we glue together all the bits we ship - Solaris, X11, Gnome, CDE, Java and so on into the WOS ('Wad Of Stuff') and put it all through a series of test suites, then we do the whole thing over again two weeks later. It's one of these fortnightly builds that is periodically released as the Software Express for Solaris builds, or 'SX' for short, and we run them internally on lots of systems - for example Solaris developers run them on their desktops, and the main 2000+ user NFS server that holds the engineers home directories runs the numbered builds as well.

As far as the Perl 5.8.4 integration goes, I'd like to thank Nick Clark and Rafael Garcia-Suarez for their help (they are the people currently coordinating the Perl 5.8.x release series). We spent a morning on IRC discussing which additional patches to Perl would be advisable over and above stock 5.8.4 - Rafael is the Mandrake Perl maintainer to boot, so the Solaris and Mandrake patch lists are remarkably similar ;-) I found a couple of minor Perl warts on the way through and they have made it back into the Perl perforce repository for 5.8.5.

In addition, I've integrated a version of PerlGcc into Solaris 10. This allows you to use gcc to build modules from CPAN, the Perl module archive. As Perl is built as part of Solaris, it uses the same compilers as the OS, the Forte ones. Because Perl stores the details of the compiler it was built with for use when building modules, you normally need to build any add-on modules with the same compiler as you used to build Perl in the first place. PerlGcc provides a drop-in replacement for the appropriate config files, configured to used gcc instead of the Forte compilers. (You can grab a prebuilt copy of gcc from here). For those of you who still on Solaris 8 and 9, you can get a version of PerlGcc from here on CPAN. Unfortunately there is one slight wrinkle, if you've updated ExtUtils::MakeMaker it probably won't work. I had to make some changes to MakeMaker to get PerlGcc to work, and these are specific to the version of MakeMaker that was shipped in Solaris. I have come up with a generic way of doing this, and although the necessary changes have been submitted and will be in the next version of MakeMaker to be released, they aren't available yet. I'm hoping to release an update to the PerlGcc on CPAN over the next couple of weeks or so to work around this - check back here for announcements.

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Categories : Solaris, Perl, Work

Boy, times have really changed

Further to my last but one post, I've just read this on the Guardian news website:

A group of lawyers in the Bush administration argued in a paper last year that the president has supreme authority over the questioning of terrorist suspects, and can legally order interrogators to torture or commit other crimes against them. ... "In order to respect the President's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign, ... (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority", the paper says. Another, termed necessity, is that hurting or even killing one person to save two lives is justified. The third concept, self-defense, says the harsh interrogation of a prisoner believed to have information on an imminent terrorist attack is the same as shooting someone pointing a gun at you.

The full article is here. The original story is from the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), although the story has been widely reported elsewhere as well.

I'm genuinely lost for words. What are they thinking of?

Times have changed

I've just been reading the experiences of a UK journalist detained at LA airport, courtesy of a link from Alec's blog. She was visiting the US and didn't realise that she couldn't do so on under the normal visa waiver scheme. I can easily understand how it happened, I've filled in a fair number of the green forms myself and I can't ever recollect seeing any questions about being a journalist - and I've always wondered what 'moral turpitude' was.

My own experience reflects hers on a thankfully far less extreme level. Pre 9/11 the immigration guys at SFO were always polite - at the top of the internet boom one of them even asked me for stock tips when he learned I worked for Sun. On my last trip I got a slightly unpleasant grilling from the officer, despite the fact that my passport has a whole crop of SFO stamps in it. At one point he even asked me "So why did you have to come to the US? Couldn't you have used the phone instead?". I'm not exactly sure at which point the US immigration service started having a say in Sun travel policy, but it's obvious that they now feel they do.

It seems that paranoia about the rest of the world is fast becoming one of the defining US national characteristics. That's a dangerous state of mind to be in, as it rapidly leads to the assumption that you can justify doing whatever it takes to defend your interests - witness Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Ironically over the weekend the TV here in the UK has been dominated by the D-Day 60th anniversary. Hey guys, we are on your side, remember? Or at least we used to be...

Tags :

Ooof, I've been TimBrayed...

Tim Bray mentioned my post with the pictures of the bluebells over on his blog, and my number of visitors have shot through the roof, more than twice what I normally get and the day isn't even finished yet - a kind of one-man slashdot effect :-)

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Categories : Tech, Work

And now we return to our scheduled programming...

After wittering on about work and/or IT related stuff for the last few posts, I thought I'd better put something up about the Peak District, lest my enormous regular readership decided to go elsewhere, so here you are :-)

A couple of weeks ago Gary, Simon and myself went for a walk to see the Meteor wrecks on Sliddens Moss that I've previously written about - they'd seen the post and wanted to go see for themselves. After a slightly inauspicious start (Gary couldn't find the car park at Crowden) the weather gods were kind, unlike my previous walk with Gary. We walked up Crowden Little Brook to the waterfall at Meadow Clough, then up to the wrecks. We saw a common lizard on the way up, despite the name they aren't all that common on the moors. After visiting the wreck we wandered over to Crowden Castles for lunch, then down the Pennine Way to Laddow, across to Chew Reservoir before crossing over Mount Skip to Lads Leap, and thence back to the car park at Crowden.

Gary in front of various bits of one of the engines, including the turbine. I suspect these bits have been moved - people have been coming up and carting bits away for years. It's pretty astonishing just how far the wreckage spread, and there's still a huge gouge in the moor where they hit, even though it is 50 years on. In the grough you can see part of one of the engine cowlings. Simon with what is left of the tailplane. I believe that years ago this was far more complete, but people still come up and cut hunks off as souvenirs. Holme Moss radio mast is in the background, 740 ft high.
The view down Great Crowden Brook from Crowden Castles - despite the name an entirely natural feature. In the middle distance are Laddow Rocks, the Pennine Way passes over the top and then drops down into Crowden.    

Categories : Peak District, Friends

Wild Britain in Bloom

In a vain attempt to prevent my already degenerate carcass from degenerating still further, I've once again taken to trotting around Mossy Lea, a pretty little valley just round the corner from the house. It's not that far - about 4k, but with a reasonable amount of climbing - 360ft or so. I'd noticed the unusual amount of wild-flowers that seemed to be around this year, so I took my camera on one of my circumnavigations last week - the fact that it also gave me a convenient excuse to keep stopping to take photos had nothing to do with it ;-)

Shire Hill Rhododendron ponticum Native Bluebell
Looking down from Shire Hill over Old Glossop. My house is in amongst those on the left of the picture. This 130ft, 20% climb is right the start . My legs are aching just thinking about it. At dusk this is a good place to see the Pipistrelle bats that I've mentioned earlier. Rhododendron ponticum in full bloom. Although this looks pretty when it is in flower, it is an introduced species and has a pernicious impact on native fauna and flora - in fact active efforts are being made to eradicate it from Shire Hill. This on the other hand is a native species, Hyacinthoides non scripta or the Native Bluebell, dappled shade under deciduous trees being a favoured habitat.
Native Bluebell Yellowslacks Hawthorn
The Native Bluebell is also under threat from the introduced Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica with which it freely hybridises. These however are the real McCoy. The high point of the round, 790ft ASL. The valley in the distance is Yellowslacks, with Mossy Lea Farm in the valley below. The hillside above the wall on the right is Shelf Benches, an abandoned quarry that has been entirely reclaimed by nature. The valley contains quite a number of Hawthorn trees, Crataegus monogyna. I've never seen them carrying this much blossom before - the smell as you pass them is quite overpowering, especially on a warm day.
Mossy Lea Hawthorn Broom
Looking down Mossy Lea towards Glossop, with Shire Hill on the left. Edge Plantation, the hillside on the right hand side of the valley with the track curving up it has just been planted with native broadleaved trees - something to benefit future generations. This Hawthorn tree is one of my kid's favourites due to the odd lean that it has. Hawthorn is very common in the UK - nearly all of the hedges that are such a key feature of the countryside are Hawthorn. Another common native plant, Cytisus scoparius or Broom, so named because that's what its twigs and branches used to be used for. (Elaine, if your broomstick is looking a little bare I can send you some ;-)

Categories : Peak District

Dead man walking

I've been following with interest the various conversations on the meanings of 'open' and 'free' as applied to software, following on from a posting on Groklaw, and spilling over onto Simon Phipps's and Geoff Arnold's blogs. The original trigger for all this kerfuffle was a slightly dubious article on EWeek, which according to Simon Phipps was largely fabricated to make it look contentious. The Groklaw thread contains the usual quota of Linux conspiracy theorist rantings, as evinced by the following fairly representative snippet:

The intent is to get everyone to develop in C# or Java and then to use that lock-in to gain massive control over the market. Then, they can do things like pull Java support from Linux and sink Linux because all these Java apps will no longer run on it. Or... they can rake in the bucks by making the JVM cost money for "other platforms" (other than Solaris and Windows) and at the same time drive people toward those platforms. MS may have realized that everyone does not want Windows. So, they are making an alliance with Sun. The intent is to create an oligopoly whereby both companies conspire to herd the industry toward their products and above all *away from open source*.

I've expressed my opinion of these paranoid individuals in an earlier post, so I don't propose to rehash that again, I'll merely state that in any ecosystem monocultures are a bad idea, be it a Microsoft, Sun, IBM or even (Gasp!) Linux monoculture.

What I would like to say is that the increasing popularity and consequential commercialisation of Open Source is very much focused on the rights of those consuming OSS and not those producing it, and this has largely removed the attractiveness of contributing. Even the GNU philosophy statement is clearly slanted towards the interests of the consumer and not the contributor - as it says in only the third paragraph (the italics are mine):

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

A commonly repeated Open Source myth is that it is all 'Free', be that 'free as in beer' or 'free as in speech'. Well it isn't. The GNU GPL certainly doesn't fit my definition of 'free' as in 'completely unencumbered', it places some significant constraints on what I can and can't do with GPL software. I'm not saying that the restrictions are unreasonable, but to pretend that GPL == Free is disingenuous at best. It's also indisputable that the GNU crowd are pushing a political agenda, which may have been appropriate at one time when the Open Source movement was starting up but I'm far from persuaded that it is still appropriate. However like many radicals who have defined themselves by the presentation of their argument rather than it's content and goals, they seem unable to recognise that things have changed and they should therefore do the same. The other myth is that Open Source is zero-cost. Again, this is palpable nonsense. Most people who develop Open Source software are either doing it with the tacit agreement of their employers, or are doing it in their own time - neither of these are 'free' in my book, and that follows right the way through the entire Open Source food chain. Open Source is a bit like the UK National Health Service - it's free at the point of delivery, but one way or another we all have to pay for it in the end.

When the Free Software/Open Source communities first began to evolve there was an important attractor to them that seems now to be mostly ignored - not only was the software free, but individuals were free to contribute, and the community was open to all. Generally people joined an Open Source community because they couldn't scratch their particular itch any other way - either because their employers didn't provide them an environment in which they could contribute in the way they wanted to, or to get access to a peer group that would have otherwise been inaccessible to them. I remember when I began to contribute to the perl community - at the time I was in a job where I didn't have the opportunity to write code, and I got a real kick out of working with a group of peers, and in fact I still do. However the fact that large amounts of money are now washing around the Open Source world means that I for one would think very long and hard about becoming involved in anything else, when the Venture Capitalists might appear around the corner at any time - witness the MovableType fiasco that I've discussed in earlier posts. I don't think I'm alone in this, I've heard similar sentiments from my friends. Even the perl community has it's share of 'professional pundits' who see it as a quick and easy way to make a name for themselves, but by and large their opinions are only valued by those outside the community - we all know who they are, and how much they really contribute. Nobody minds people who have put a large investment getting something back, but people who take and don't give are generally treated with the scorn they deserve.

One example of the way the old 'grass roots' spirit is fast disappearing is the O'Reilly Open Source Conference. This actually started as the Perl Conference, but over the last few years it has become nothing more than a huge PR vehicle for the various Open Source pundits to read out a stream of press releases to the adoring Open Source wannabees. Rather than being a a chance for grass-roots folks to get together, the whole thing has become completely dominated by the various big-business backed agendas. The last one I went to in San Diego had the not-very-edifying spectacle of RedHat handing out fedoras to everyone who was going in to one of the conference sessions that Microsoft was holding - pretty pathetic really. And if I look at the list of featured speakers for this year's conference it is dominated by CTOs, VPs and managers - people who by and large are only capable of talking about Open Source rather than doing. Several of the people I know in the perl community now don't bother with OSCON, unless someone is paying for their ticket. In fact some of my colleagues went to OSCON last year, and when they came back I was asked in all seriousness if perl was dying, as there were so few perl people there. The answer is no, we've all gone elsewhere, for example the most excellent YAPC (Yet Another Perl Conference) series of self-organised grass-roots conferences. I went to YAPC/EU last year both to do the perl-related stuff and to hang out with my friends, and I'll be going to the conference in Belfast again this year for the same reasons - I certainly won't be going to OSCON if I can avoid it.

The current Open Source boom grew out of an unique set of circumstances, however I'm not sure that they actually exist any longer. Oh for sure the software that it has already given birth to will continue, but I just wonder how many of the quiet folks in the background who have put in the herculean efforts necessary to give Open Source life will be prepared to contribute to the new projects which must follow if Open Source is to survive. Big business has latched on big time, and I doubt that corporations with shareholders on their backs are going to be happy in the long run trusting their corporate family jewels to a load of scruffy geeks. It's quite amusing to see people scrambling over each other trying to be the 'Acceptable corporate face of Open Source', but by and large the people doing this aren't actually the ones who are producing the aforementioned Open Source - and if I'm the kind of person who has the skills to contribute and who enjoys working with others and doing cool stuff, why on earth would I be interested in helping out the leeches who just want to make a name for themselves off of my efforts? Any organism that carries too high a parasite burden will eventually succumb, and I fear the Open Source movement is rapidly reaching that point - a dead man walking.

Open Source is dead, long live Open Source.

Categories : Tech