Monthly Archives: March 2014

  • Call for proposals to improve major LibreOffice/OpenOffice features

    The Office Interoperability Working Group of the Open Source Business Alliance has called for proposals to improve major features in LibreOffice and OpenOffice suites.

    OSB logoAs announced in September 2013, the OSB Alliance’s Office Interoperability Working Group has held a requirements engineering workshop in Stuttgart. OSB Alliance members Munich city council, Leipzig city council, Jena city council, the Swiss Federal Court, and the Swiss Federal IT Steering Unit FITSU defined commonly required improvements for the open source LibreOffice and OpenOffice suites. Other public authorities will providing supporting funding.

    A new specification entitled “Major Feature Improvements for LibreOffice/Apache OpenOffice” (PDF) has been developed recently on the basis of the Stuttgart workshop. It proposes six major improvements, as follows:

    1. Improve mail merge in Writer;
    2. Improve paragraph handling in Writer;
    3. Implement styles in all content elements of Writer;
    4. Add chart styles in Calc;
    5. Make more functions available in shared spreadsheets in Calc;
    6. Develop a change tracking specification for the ODF standard.

    ODF file iconOne important feature of today’s office suites is change tracking within documents: both LibreOffice and OpenOffice offer change tracking in ODF files. However, Microsoft Office has not implemented change tracking for ODF, stating that the current change tracking specification within the ODF standard is insufficiently defined. The last of the above requirements therefore covers the exact specification of change tracking within the ODF standard to enable Microsoft to implement it in future versions of Microsoft Office.

    Open source providers are now invited to submit offers to cover one or more of these requirements. The detailed requirements, general conditions and tendering procedure are described in the specification document. All proposals need to be submitted until 30 April 2014 to the working group’s spokesman, Dr. Matthias Stürmer (email: stuermer (at)

  • A lost Bristol street re-emerges

    Avon Archaeology is currently conducting a dig on a site at the junction of Wade Street and Little Ann Street in St Judes that is going to be redeveloped for housing; it was most recently used as a secure car park.

    Yesterday I managed to get a couple of pictures through the fencing around the site.

    image of archaelogical dig in St Judes

    The red brickwork in the centre foreground is the remains of a collapsed vault, suggesting there was a cellar beneath the building.

    image of archaeological dig in St Judes

    The cobbled and accompanying paved footways are one of Bristol’s lost streets seeing daylight again.

    The street itself was known as Pratten’s Court and can be seen on the following screenshot from the excellent Know Your Place website (posts passim) showing the 1880 Ordnance Survey map layer.

    Screenshot showing Pratten's Court on 1880s OS map

    The housing around Pratten’s Court was originally developed in the 18th century and demolished some time in the first half of the 20th century. It does not show up on the 1946 aerial photographs layer on Know Your Place.

    Avon Archaeological Unit carried out an assessment of the Wade Street area in 2000 which concluded as follows:

    An archaeological desk-based assessment of sites on the north and south sides of the junction of Wade Street and Little Ann Street was carried out by Andrew Smith for the Avon Archaeological Unit in April 2000. The likely survival of palaeo-environmental evidence for the formation of the floodplain of the river Frome, for Romano-British activity and for the development of the area as artisanal housing in the early-eighteenth century was noted.

    Further down Wade Street crosses the River Frome. Somewhere in this area a Roman Road, the Via Julia, which went from London to South Wales via Portus Abonae (now better known as Sea Mills. Ed.) crossed the Frome. In 1865 2 Roman lead pigs were discovered near the river. This find was reported in Part 23 of the Archaeological Journal in 1866. Know Your Place records this find as follows:

    In 1865, during commercial excavations in Wade Street possibly associated with the construction of a stone revetment wall for the river Frome, two lead ingots of Roman date (one weighing 76 pounds and the other 89 pounds) were found. Both carried inscriptions with identical damage, which was taken to suggest that the ingots had been cast from the same mould. The inscription read “IMP’ CAES’ A[NTON]INI’ AUG’ PII P’ P”. One (89 pounds) passed into the possession of a Mr. Edkins and the other was taken to Sheldon, Bush shot works on Redcliff Hill. Mr. Arthur Bush subsequently donated this ingot to the British Museum (Anon. 1866). Elkington (in Branigan & Fowler, 1976 195) implies that the ingots were almost certainly produced by the Mendip lead-mining industry and points out that flaws on the Wade Street ingots establish that they were cast in the same mould as two of the four ingots found at Rookery Farm, Green Ore, near Wells in 1956 (Anon. 1957, 230-231). However, sampling of the ingot held by Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 2001 by Vincent Gardiner as part of his postgraduate research into the technology and distribution of Romano-British lead pigs found that the isotopes present suggested an origin in the Bristol/Frome/Weston-super-Mare area.

  • Crash course in language

    Have you ever noticed the language used when road traffic incidents are reported?

    As a typical example, look at this story from Wednesday’s Bristol Post.

    The headline reads:

    Man taken to hospital after his car collided with road sign in Avonmouth

    The first sentence outlines how the incident occurred:

    A man in his 40s had to be removed on a spinal board after his car collided with a road sign in Avonmouth.

    Note how the car’s occupant – presumably its driver – plays a passive role; the car apparently collided with a road sign of its own volition without any human intervention. One would almost think that cars and other motor vehicles are so capricious and flighty that conscious action by human beings is imperative to stop the public highway becoming a large linear scrapyard in next to no time and remaining such permanently.

    Perhaps a more accurate headline would have been Man taken to hospital after driving into road sign.

    Similar examples of this use of English can be found in any local paper in the country.

    However, such language is not confined to the print media. An similar example from inside the BBC in Bristol was posted on Twitter this morning (screenshot below).

    tweet screenshot

    Note the absence of any human involvement in the incident: a horse was killed by a fast car. Was it an unoccupied, autonomous vehicle? A more accurate rendition would be that a horse was killed by a fast driver.

    Then there’s the way large swathes of the media report collisions using the noun accident to describe them. In the vast majority of cases, there’s nothing accidental about them. According to RoSPA, 95% of all road ‘accidents’ involve some human error, whilst a human is solely to blame in 76% of road ‘accidents’.

    According to the Collins English Dictionary, accident has the following definitions:

    an unforeseen event or one without an apparent cause
    anything that occurs unintentionally or by chance; chance; fortune
    a misfortune or mishap, esp one causing injury or death

    It would seem that the third definition is the one relied upon by the media. Interestingly, the British police stopped using the term Road Traffic Accident (RTA) some years ago; the police now refer to a Road Traffic Incident (RTI) instead.

    Perhaps the media should follow the example of the police if they wish to retain their alleged reputation for truth and accuracy.

  • Today is DFD 2014

    logo for Document Freedom Day 2014Today is Document Freedom Day (DFD) 2014. DFD is an annual celebration of and opportunity to promote the use of open formats and standards for digital documents and takes place on the last Wednesday in March each year.

    Document freedom means documents that are free can be used in any way that the author intends. They can be read, transmitted, edited, and transformed using a variety of tools.

    Open standards are formats which everybody can use free of charge and restriction. They come with compatibility “built-in” – the way they work is shared publicly and any organisation or person can use them in their products and services without asking for permission. Open Standards are the foundation of co-operation and modern society.

    However, don’t just take my word for it.

    Below are some testimonials for open standards and document freedom from people with a bit more influence than your ‘umble scribe.

    Neelie Kroes, Vice-President, European Commission

    I know a smart business decision when I see one – choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed.

    Stephen Fry, actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter and film director

    Open standards make sense. What makes no sense is that large companies in the field still do not understand this. It is time once and for all to end the pointless nonsense of one document sent on one platform being incomprehensible to the user of another.

    Chris DiBona, Open Source Manager, Google

    Over time, files that have been saved in closed formats tend to be less and less accessible to their creators. We prefer people to use modern and truly open formats like ODF whenever possible to ensure that they can continue to access and enjoy their work today and into the far future.

    Happy DFD 2014!

  • Canary Islands government to adopt OpenOffice

    The autonomous government of Spain’s Canary Islands has announced in a press release (Spanish) that the Directorate General of Telecommunications and New Technologies has proposed that the free and open source OpenOffice 4.0 office suite be adopted by the government of the islands as its corporate office productivity software.

    screenshot of OpenOffice splash screen

    At the same time it also announced a standard for web site content management systems to be preferred by all Canary Islands government departments. It decided on “Portal web Tipo”, a package built in-house as part of the islands’ Platino e-government services platform. Platino and its components are being made available as open source to other Spanish public sector organisations via the CTT (Centro de Transferencia de Tecnología – Technology Transfer Centre) software repository.

  • 5 decades on

    Last week I paid a brief visit for the day to Market Drayton in Shropshire, my home town. In the forty years since I left it has changed gradually but inexorably. For instance, its current population is now nearly 12,000, compared with 7,000 when I left the town for university in the early 1970s.

    Going through the family photograph albums, I came across this 1965 photograph of Market Drayton’s Salisbury Road, where the family used to live. We actually spent 10 years there in total and my youngest sibling Andrew was born at home at 87 Salisbury Road.

    picture of Salisbury Road, Market Drayton in the mid-1960s
    Salisbury Road, Market Drayton, in the mid-1960s. Click on the image for a larger version.

    You’ll see 2 boys standing by the lamppost outside no. 87; of these I’m the one on the right. I believe the other lad is Adrian Clarke who used to live round the corner. Note the complete absence of motor cars. A minority of working class people living in council houses (for that is what they were/are. Ed.) owned motor vehicles in those days, or seemed to. I believe at the time the picture was taken my late father had only recently acquired a moped to travel to work, having hung up his bicycle clips. The row of council houses shown was relatively new when the above photograph was taken, only having been built some 5 years earlier; I can recall the back gardens being levelled by bulldozer when we first moved in in 1960. Some of these houses are now privately owned and are currently changing hands for well over £100,000 as Drayton is a popular place for people to live while commuting to work in Shrewsbury, Telford or the Potteries.

    Now here’s a picture of the same road from roughly the same spot 5 decades on.

    image of Salisbury Road, Market Drayton, in 2014.
    Salisbury Road, Market Drayton, in 2014. Click on the image for a larger version.

    Note the increase in the number of motor vehicles evident – 8 in all – and the increased number of lampposts – from 1 in the 1960s to 3 now.

    Did you live in Salisbury Road or Market Drayton in the 1960s? Perhaps you still live there. Anyway, leave your memories in the comments below.

  • Debian Installer Jessie Alpha 1 release

    Debian logoThe first alpha of the installation media for Debian 8 (codenamed Jessie) GNU/Linux comes with the lightweight Xfce desktop as standard. The reloading of firmware is not working in this initial version.

    The Debian installer team has released an initial alpha for Debian 8 (Jessie). The standard images for testing the Jessie installation are supplied with the Xfce desktop as standard. However, it is currently uncertain whether this will be retain for the actual Debian 8 release as the developers want to discuss the standard desktop once more in August. If necessary, the decision taken then will be considered once again, which is possible since the main development phase doesn’t end until 5th November; this “freeze” is typically followed by a stabilisation phase lasting several months before the distribution is finally released.

    However, some of the features introduced with the alpha might not be altered any further. Thus there is no alpha version for Itanium (IA-64) processors because the Debian Project will not be supporting this processor architecture in future. In addition, the IBM S390 architecture has been replaced with the S390x architecture.

    The AMD64 edition of the first alpha of Jessie takes up three DVDs and uses a kernel which is based on Linux 3.13. Amongst this releases known problems is a bug that missing firmware files cannot be reloaded.

    I’m already running Jessie on one of my machines, but did an upgrade on an existing machine, rather than a fresh install, and am finding it very reliable and stable. Read about my experience.

  • Virtute et Industrial

    The motto of the city of Bristol is Virtute et Industria (Virtue and Industry).

    However, one feature of Bristol’s local dialect is the addition of a final, intrusive ‘L’ – a so-called terminal L – to words ending in a vowel.

    Consequently, area, say, becomes ‘areal‘, whilst Clifton’s Princess Victoria Street mutates into Princess Victorial Street, so Industria naturally becomes Industrial.

    The terminal L is beautifully illustrated in Virtute et Industrial, a song written by Adge Cutler (posts passim), and sung here by the late Fred Wedlock.

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