Monthly Archives: August 2014

  • Welcome LibreItalia!

    Earlier today the birth was announced of LibreItalia, which has been founded by Italian members of The Document Foundation and has the objective of bringing together all the Italian users of the free and open source LibreOffice productivity suite to speed up the adoption and promotion of the suite that is designed as a free individual productivity and office automation tool capable of closing the digital divide and breaking down the barriers to information technology for the poorest in society.

    LibreItalia logo

    In addition, LibreItalia will promote the ODF/Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300) standard for official documents, which was recently adopted by the UK government (posts passim) as a template for all content, together with PDF/A.

    The initial Board of Directors, which will be in post for two years, consists of seven members, five of whom are directly involved in the LibreUmbria project (which was originally established to promote the use of LibreOffice in public sector organisations in the Umbria region. Ed.): Sonia Montegiove, Chair; Marina Latini, Vice-Chair and Chief Technical Officer; Giordano Alborghetti, Treasurer; and Andrea Castellani, Alfredo Parisi, Gabriele Ponzo and Italo Vignoli, directors.

    All the new association’s news about LibreOffice is featured on the LibreItalia website. To become a member of LibreItalia, you’ll need to fill in an application using the relevant form after reading the site’s About us and Articles of Association pages. The membership fee for ordinary members is a mere €10.00 (reduced to €5.00 for students) and entitles members to a mailbox.

    Becoming a member of LibreItalia means supporting the values of transparency, sharing and working together, the same values which characterise the original LibreUmbria project.

    For more information, email info (at)

  • Calibre 2.0 e-book manager released

    Heise reports that the major change in version from 1.48 to the newly released version 2.0 of the Calibre e-book management software are not apparent in its interface or feature list. However, on the inside the developers have converted the code to the Qt 5 GUI library and thus eliminated quite a few errors which were due to the Qt 4 library previously used. In particular, errors in text display should therefore be a thing of the past. Nevertheless, Calibre 2.0 no longer supports Windows XP and OS X versions prior to 10.7 (Lion). Anyone using these dated operating systems would be better off sticking with Calibre 1.48.

    screenshot of Calibre

    However, the developers of version 2.0 have still added some new features. The software can now also synchronise e-books under OS X with MTP mobile devices (Android phones and tablets). There is a new Mark Books tool that can be used to mark books temporarily. The mark appears as a little pushpin icon next to the book and all marks are automatically cleared by restarting calibre. A detailed version history can be seen in the changelog.

  • Testicle legs?

    siblings together
    Siblings at Bury Ditches picnic area. Picture by Hilary Midgley.
    Each year one of my great delights is to go walking in Shropshire with my sister Hilary for a couple of days (posts passim). This year’s annual sibling saunter did indeed take place last week, but with one important change: our brother Andrew was able to join us for the first time on Thursday evening (after Hilary and I had done our inaugural afternoon walk) and take part in Friday’s walk.

    After meeting up in the late morning in Craven Arms and some light refreshment, Hilary and myself set out on a 6 miles circular walk to Flounders’ Folly on Callow Hill and back, following an excellent route provided by the AA. The folly was built in 1838 by Benjamin Flounders – a prominent English Quaker and local businessman originally from Yorkshire – and fell into disrepair in the 20th century, but was restored in 2004-5 by the Flounders’ Folly Trust with aid from the National Lottery. It’s now open to the public one day per month so people can climb to the viewing platform at the top of the 78 stairs and enjoy wonderful views of the Malverns, the Black Mountains, Cader Idris and much more. The route up to the folly consisted of a steep climb through active forestry workings, but the view from the top was well worthwhile.

    image of my sister at Flounders' Folly
    Flounders’ Folly

    The route back from the folly was through pasture along the Quinny Brook and the River Onny. Our return to Craven Arms was perfectly timed; we’d just arrived back when the rain started. πŸ™‚

    As with last year, we stayed at Clun Youth Hostel, a converted water mill with most of the mill machinery still intact. The remains of the millpond can still be seen just up the road by the Memorial Hall and there are rumours that it is to be restored. The volunteer wardens at the hostel were most helpful and hospitable, whilst fellow hostellers didn’t snore too much!

    The following morning after breakfast we set out from the hostel to visit the motte and bailey at Lower Down and the Iron Age hill fort at Bury Ditches on a circular route measuring somewhat over 8 miles. The route out to Lower Down meandered through farmland, including a couple of sunken lanes reputed to have been used by monks, and woodland. Towards Lower Down, some splendid views were had of the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill, high point of one of last year’s walks.

    Lower Down’s motte and bailey can be viewed by going through the kissing gate next to the telephone box and pillar box. The field in which they are sited is also reputed to contain medieval settlement remains.

    plan of Bury Ditches hill fort
    Plan of Bury Ditches hill fort on the toposphere
    After Lower Down there followed a long climb (during which the rain commenced. Ed.) up to the Bury Ditches picnic area where lunch was taken, followed by the long, gradual ascent up to the hill fort itself. The entry into the hill fort is from the north east through 3 sets of concentric earth bank defences. When the fort was originally constructed about 2,500 years ago, these earth banks would have been surmounted by wooden palisades. In the steady drizzle, we wandered up to the toposphere in the centre of the fort to admire the views and get our bearings as we had to leave hill fort via its south west entrance/exit. As we approached the exit, the rain eased off and out came the cameras to record our visit.

    image of Andrew admiring the 3 defensive banks at the SW entrance to Bury Ditches
    Andrew admires the defensive banks at Bury Ditches

    Descending from Bury Ditches, we then dropped down through woodland a giant sequoia to skirt Steppleknoll to return across the fields (where red kites were seen) to Clun and a welcome couple of pints in The Sun Inn. We can recommend the restorative properties of the Three Tuns Brewery’s beer, as we all sampled the Porter and found it excellent, whilst your correspondent also savoured the very hoppy IPA.

    Both days’ walks included a ford too, although neither was particularly deep, as shown by the one through the Quinny Brook on the Callow Hill walk.

    image of author standing in Quinny Brook ford
    The author testing the depth of the ford. Picture courtesy of Hilary Midgley.

    Planning has already started for next year for a visit to another hill fort near Craven Arms and returning via Stokesay Castle, as well as an exploration of Offa’s Dyke south of Newcastle on Clun.

    By now, you are probably asking what all this has to do with the testicle legs in the title. Well, the title of this post originates from a snatch of conversation when we were negotiating some rough, muddy ground. I remarked that one needed ‘festival legs‘ to cope. When I repeated my remark since it hadn’t been heard clearly, back came the reply: “I thought you said testicle legs!”

    Happy days! πŸ™‚

  • China to launch a sovereign OS to counter Windows

    According to the official Xinhua news agency, China is hoping to launch a sovereign operating system in October in order to “wean” itself off operating systems developed abroad such as Windows, Le Monde Informatique reports. The Chinese OS, which still has no official name according to Xinhua, will be offered initially for desktop PCs, before being rolled out subsequently for smartphones. It will probably be a Linux distribution that has been revised and fixed by the Chinese security agencies and will be named China Operating System (COS). Xinhua quoted a report by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technologies (MIIT), the organisation entrusted inter alia with the regulation and development of the software sector in China. “We are hoping to launch a desktop PC operating system in October to support [local] app stores,” said Ni Guangnan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Mr Ni heads up the alliance for the development of the official operating system created last March in the People’s Republic of China.

    China Operating System image

    According to the MIIT, Mr Ni cites the end of support for Windows XP and the ban on Windows 8 on Chinese government computers as an opportunity for the launch of a domestic OS. Earlier this year the Chinese authorities banned the use of Windows 8 on government computers, a move triggered following the end of support for Windows XP in April. Prior to that the authorities denounced Microsoft regarding the ending of security updates for the 13 year-old operating system. China was historically a bastion of Windows XP, largely due to the large-scale pirating of Microsoft software. Another reason for China’s discontent is thought to be the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

    China has long disagreed with foreign technology companies, particularly Microsoft and Google – but also sometimes with Apple – as regards their impact and influence in the country. However, the animosity increased considerably last month when the Chinese anti-trust authorities raided several Microsoft offices, seizing computers and documents within the scope of their investigation. This investigation was launched following complaints made in July 2013 into the manner in which Microsoft Windows and Office are linked and the compatibility between Windows and Office.

    A Red Flag base for the sovereign Chinese OS?

    Screenshot of Red Flag Linux
    Screenshot of Red Flag Linux. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
    China has been working on its own operating system for nearly fifteen years. Launched in August 1999, the Red Flag Linux distribution was partly financed by the government’s Information Ministry. The same year Red Flag was recommended as the replacement for Windows 2000 on all government PCs. The tensions at that time between the Chinese government and Microsoft were the origin for this directive. However, this local Linux distribution never took off and Red Flag Software, the company behind this local Chinese OS, closed down this year. However, the Red Flag OS is going to be revived.

    A report published by the MIIT on 20th August states that the assets of Red Flag Software have been acquired by Penta Wan Jing Information Technology Industry Group for RMB 38.62 mn. This sudden new development was also officially recorded by Mr Ni, who approved Penta Wan Jing’s acquisition and stated that a revitalised Red Flag distribution could contribute to the project to create a sovereign operating system.

  • Happy birthday, Linux

    Tux - the Linux kernel mascotThe operating system based on the Linux kernel (sometimes also called GNU/Linux. Ed.), in all its myriad forms, is 23 years old today.

    It all began with an email by a young Helsinki University student called Linus Torvalds to the comp.os.minix newsgroup.

    Linus’ original email is reproduced below.

    Hello everybody out there using minix –

    I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

    I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them πŸ™‚

    Linus (

    PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT portable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

    I love Linus’ modest assertion that his creation wouldn’t be big and professional like GNU! πŸ™‚

  • Bristol invents the bup

    Bristol likes to regard itself as a place of innovation.

    Bearing this inventive spirit in mind, contractors working in Old Market Street for Bristol City Council have invented a new public conveyance vehicle – the bup.

    image of bus stop featuring words Bup Stop

    A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: “We take the misspelling of road marking very seriously and will soon be appointing an expensive CONsultant to advise us of the best possible solution.” (That quotation was made up, wasn’t it? Ed.)

    Hat tip: Bristol Post.

    Update 27/08/14: the orthographical gaffe was corrected yesterday, according to the Bristol Post.

  • Belgian PM has laptop stolen

    image of Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di RupoRTBF.BE reported on Friday that Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo had a laptop and working notes stolen on Monday last from his official car. The public prosecutor’s office has launched an inquiry. No suspect has yet been identified and the public prosecutor’s office does not want to comment any more on the case at this stage.

    According to a spokesperson for the Belgian PM, the thieves didn’t steal any secret state document or other classified information. In addition, the PM’s laptop was safeguarded by a password (shouldn’t it have been encrypted as well? Ed.).

    The theft was carried out while Elio Di Rupo went to a Brussels gym in the avenue des Arts at the end of the working day after leaving the headquarters of the European Commission. His chauffeur had left the car to go to a nearby bookshop. The thieves forced open a door and broke windows to carry off the contents of the car’s boot.

    Elio Di Rupo and his driver both gave statements to the police.

  • A confusing spell in Red(e)cliff(e)

    One of the oldest districts of Bristol is Redcliffe (or Redcliff. Ed.).

    According to its Wikipedia entry, Redcliffe – the more common spelling – was once part of the manor of Bedminster before its absorption into the city of Bristol in the 13th century.

    However, the spelling of Redcliff(e) has long caused controversy.

    Richard Ricart, a town clerk of Bristol, in his The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar, written between 1480 and 1508 and recording the history of Bristol since the 12th century, refers throughout to Redcliff, although there is also an occasional unusual reference to Redecliff. Both appear in this extract documenting the digging of St. Augustine’s Trench (later renamed St. Augustine’s Reach. Ed.) in 1240:

    This yere was the Trenche y-made and y-caste of the ryvere, fro the Gybbe Tailloure unto the key, by the maanovre of alle the Cominalte, as wele of Redcliff warde as of the Towne of Bristowe. And the same tyme thenhabitaunts of Redecliff were combyned and corporatid with the Town of Bristowe. And as for the grounde of Seynt Austyn’s side of the forseid ryver hit was yeve and grauntid to the Cominaltee of the seid Towne by Sir William a Bradstone then Abbot of Seynt Austyns for certeyn money therfore to hym paide by the seide Cominaltee. As appereth by olde writyng therof made bitwene the forseid Maire and Cominaltee and the seid Abbot and Covent.

    Redcliff these days tends to appear mostly in street names, such as Redcliff Street – the ancient road leading from Bristol Bridge to the former Redcliffe Gate in the city’s medieval walls – whilst Redcliffe is the more common version.

    A couple of quick text searches via Google of Bristol City Council’s website for Redcliff and Redcliffe gives the following results.

    • Redcliff: 1,120 results
    • Redcliffe: 4,020 results

    However, confusion as the spelling of Redcliff(e) has a long history. This is amply illustrated by the painting below by James Johnson entitled Redcliffe Street. It was painted around 1825 and hangs in Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery.

    image of   James Johnson's picture of Redcliffe Street, c. 1825
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, has now stepped into this confusing orthographic and municipal muddle via the following tweet dated August 21st.

    Before boundary changes preceding the 2010 election, Redcliff(e) was part of Kerry’s Bristol East constituency.

    It has to be conceded that there is plenty of merit in Kerry’s suggestion, although she maintains she was only ‘moaning in Twitter’.

    Bristol is nevertheless one of those places which changes at a glacial pace and place names in Bristol are frequently named after long-vanished owners/occupiers. For instance, most older inhabitants of the city still refer to the local authority’s headquarters as the Council House (pronounced Counts Louse locally. Ed.), even though one of the first acts of elected Mayor George Ferguson was to rename it with the American-sounding City Hall in a cosmetic exercise.

    Does Kerry’s campaign have any chance of success? Your views are welcome in the comments below.

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