Monthly Archives: March 2016

  • Happy Document Freedom Day

    Today, 30th March, is Document Freedom Day, an annual celebration of the benefits of using open standards and open formats for the production and exchange of documents.

    DFD dove

    Open standards are essential for interoperability and freedom of choice based on the merits of different software applications. They provide freedom from data lock-in and the associated vendor lock-in. This makes open standards essential for governments, the public sector, companies, organisations and individual users of information technology.

    What is an open standard?

    An open standard is defined as a format or protocol that is:

    1. Subject to full public assessment and use without constraints in a manner equally available to all parties;
    2. Without any components or extensions that have dependencies on formats or protocols that do not meet the definition of an Open Standard themselves;
    3. Free from legal or technical clauses that limit its utilisation by any party or in any business model;
    4. Managed and further developed independently of any single supplier in a process open to the equal participation of competitors and third parties;
    5. Available in multiple complete implementations by competing suppliers or as a complete implementation equally available to all parties.

    Examples of open formats include Open Document Format (ODF) and plain text (.txt).

    Examples of open protocols include the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), which together as TCP/IP help determine how the internet works.

    What do open standards mean for you?

    Open standards ensure that you can:

    • Collaborate and communicate with others, regardless of which software they are using;
    • Upgrade or replace your applications and still be able to open and edit your old files;
    • Choose which device – (smartphone, tablet, computer) you want to use without worrying about compatibility;

    What do open standards mean for society?

    Open standards ensure that society has:

    • More competitive software and technology products;
    • More efficient government systems and services;
    • More accessible high-end software for innovation and experimentation.
  • Variation on a theme

    Eggs have long been associated with Easter since for Christians the Easter egg is a symbol of Christ’s empty tomb.

    The custom of the Easter egg originated in the early Christian community of Mesopotamia, which stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion.

    This practice still survives in Greece where hard-boiled eggs are dyed bright red to symbolise the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life. They are also cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.

    In more recent times since those of the early Christians of Mesopotamia egg hunts have become a fixture of the Easter events calendar.

    However, here’s one event from recent years from Lakewood Springs in Illinois that sounded a little too intimate for comfort…

    image of board advertising anal egg hunt

    Happy Easter! 🙂

  • Fresh instructions = filthier streets

    Since your correspondent starting campaigning seriously on litter and fly-tipping some 2 years ago, he’s become quite well known to the crews of the dustcarts and the local street sweepers.

    Both these bodies of men (and they are all men. Ed.) quite often stop me in the street to exchange a few words and from them I’ve gleaned much valuable information, such as e.g. how there’s only one 5 tonne truck assigned to patrolling the streets of Bristol and collecting the fly-tipping that’s reported – a textbook example of woeful under-resourcing.

    From these gentlemen I’ve received more reliable and concise information in a few minutes about the state of play in Bristol’s waste management arrangements than I’ve received in interminable hours of meetings with the council officers set over them who fly desks to earn their crust.

    A short while ago while I was heading down the Stapleton Road, the dustcart pulled up beside me and the driver told me that he and his colleagues had received fresh instructions. They were not to pick up fly-tipping such as black plastic refuse sacks that had been dumped alongside the area’s notorious communal bins (posts passim), but this was to be left in situ for collection and examination for enforcement purposes. However, this might be a fruitless exercise, as the city council has admitted in meetings that only 3% of the fly-tipping collected off the streets comprises any evidence that might point to the criminal who dumped it.

    Both the dustcart crews and I could see the result of these new orders: any fly-tipping not cleared as per the previous arrangement by dustcart crews would be left on the street for longer, making the place look grottier, as well as constituting a health risk, e.g. if it had sharp edges or was a hazardous substance; and if the fly-tipping contained food waste this would also be a health risk, as well as attracting vermin such as gulls and rats.

    The result of this new policy can be seen in the photograph below, which was taken on Lawrence Hill on Tuesday after the communal bin had been emptied by the chaps from Bristol Waste.

    waste left by communal bin after collection
    Bristol City Council endorses institutional squalor for east Bristol. Note the added grot factor provided by the tagging and fly-posting on the communal bin.

    There are times when I wonder if I’m wasting my time fighting litter and fly-tipping in east Bristol, particularly when it seems I and my fellow campaigners are also having to fight the idiocies emanating city council and Bristol Waste, its arms-length, wholly-owned waste management company as well.

  • US government wants to commit to open source

    The US government wants to save taxpayers’ money with reusable software and open source. To this end the White House’s “Office of Management & Budget” (OMB) presented a draft “Source Code Policy” (PDF) at the end of last week, German IT news site heise reports. According to this draft policy, computer programs developed especially with public financial resources are to be used in principled throughout the entire administration, i.e. not just in the commissioning authority. Part at least of the source code produced shall also be made available to the public as open source software. Standard programs such as office packages are excluded from this policy.

    White House logo

    During a pilot programme the authorities involved are initially to release 20% of the source code under an open source licence if outside programmers are involved in development. Software which administration officials write within the scope of their official duties will have to be released in its entirety although there will be exceptions for source code for systems developed for the purposes of national security.

    Regard for national security

    Tony Scott, the US government’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), believes that the project will promote innovation and collaboration and reduce costs. It should also be possible for experts to be able to examine and improve the source code. Only this will ensure that programs work more securely and reliably. According to Scott the initiative also fits into the administration’s plans for technological neutrality and new economic development models. The draft policy is out for consultation until 11th April, after which it will be decided and implemented.

    Update 21/03/2016: The policy is under version control on Github; that’s a lovely detailed touch! 🙂

    Reposted from the Bristol Wireless blog.

  • West of England devolution: I write to my MP

    For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I’ve listened to budget speeches with a mixture of incredulity and a sinking heart. This is usually because Chancellors of the Exchequer have more often than not made drinking beer – one of life’s pleasures – more expensive.

    Fortunately that didn’t happen this time round.

    However, Wednesday’s offering from Gideon Oliver Osborne (aka George or Gidiot. Ed.), prompted me to write to my MP, Thangam Debbonaire, on the devolution deal for the West of England (PDF).

    Dear Thangam

    I trust you’ve fully recovered from your illness.

    I write on the above subject to express my concerns in the wake of yesterday’s budget.

    Whilst I would welcome increased public money for the area, I do feel that the manner in which this will be accomplished needs lots to be desired.

    I have downloaded and read the final draft of the deal agreed between central government and the 4 local authorities and this has increased my concern.

    I feel very much that this devolution deal is being done to us rather than for us residents. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that there has been little or no public consultation to the best of my knowledge, nor will the public have any say on the final outcome. It’s a prime example of top-down imposition.

    When this matter was tabled by Easton ward councillor Anna McMullen at the last Ashley, Easton & Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership, there was condemnation of the lack of consultation and the short amount of time remaining before this devolution deal was imposed.

    At that meeting I expressed my concern that this could be regarded the reinstatement of the little-loved Avon County Council via the backdoor. In yesterday’s Bristol Post, Liam Fox MP is quoted in the Bristol Post as saying

    “I will be making it very clear to all my councillors that I’m very opposed and I hope they will reject this.

    “It is the recreation of the Avon and the agreement would be for a metro mayor that voter have never given their assent for.

    “It is another layer of bureaucracy and it is undemocratic. It recreates the very organisation that we fought so hard to get rid of.”


    It is not very often I find myself coming out with similar sentiments to that particular gentleman.

    I really feel that we, those who will be affected by this devolution measure should be firstly consulted on it and secondly have the chance to vote on both the deal itself and the creation of the office of metro mayor. However, I am not very encouraged that we shall have the chance to do so as I was notified via Twitter yesterday by a contact in Manchester that their metro mayor was imposed with no public input whatsoever.

    Reading today’s Bristol Post, I note that Pat Rooney in S. Gloucs. wants to see a referendum held on any metro mayor. I fully support this move.


    Given the concerns of many active citizens both in the city and surrounding areas is there anything that can be done to ensure proper public input to the devolution process, which I feel is destructive of local democracy, piecemeal and ultimately bound to end in a real dog’s dinner.

    Yours etc.

    In the two days since the Budget, a petition has also been organised to reject the devolution deal that was concocted in secret by a bunch of middle-aged white men (who always think they know what’s best of us. Ed.).

    The petition’s text reads:

    The Chancellor of The Exchequer announced on March 16th a scheme to devolve powers to a Metro Mayor in Bristol, Bath and surrounding areas. Given that B&NES rejected an elected Mayoral model one week earlier, this new announcement seems to be at variance with the electorate’s preferences.

  • Election special: language Luddites ban purdah

    On 5th May elections will be held in England for local councils, local police and crime commissioners and in Bristol the elected Mayor.

    As part of the election process, there’s a period before the announcement of the election and the final election results in which central – in the case of general elections – and local government is prevented from making announcements about any new or controversial government initiatives (such as modernisation initiatives or administrative and legislative changes) which could be seen to be advantageous to any candidates or parties in the forthcoming election.

    This period has traditionally been called “purdah” after the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain. “Purdah” itself originates from Urdu and Persian “parda“, meaning a “veil” or “curtain“.

    Bristol City Council logo with sinking shipEarlier this month I attended the quarterly meeting of Bristol’s Ashley, Easton & Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership. At this meeting attendees were clearly told by the officer serving the partnership that “purdah” was no longer an acceptable term and that the time in question should be referred to as the “pre-election period“.

    This occurred after “purdah” had already been used a few times by elected councillors and makes your correspondent wonder if colourless, unaccountable, unelected council officers (whose wages we pay. Ed.) should be allowed to dictate the vocabulary which is used in meetings.

    I don’t think they should.

    Do you agree or disagree with my conclusion? Please comment below.

  • A salacious street name

    Last Thursday I was in Shrewsbury, county town of the county of my birth. Shrewsbury is steeped in a wealth of medieval history, including plenty of ancient street names, amongst them the intriguingly titled Grope Lane.

    Grope Lane sign
    Grope Lane street sign
    A look back down Grope Lane towards High Street
    A look back down Grope Lane towards High Street

    Grope Lane in Shrewsbury is a narrow alley connecting High Street and Fish Street in the heart of the old medieval town, as shown on the location map below.

    Location of Grope Lane in Shrewsbury
    Location of Grope Lane in Shrewsbury. Image courtesy of OpenStreetMap. Click on image for full-sized version

    As with many towns in the Middle Ages, Shrewsbury’s Fish Street (and nearby Butcher Row. Ed.) are named after the trades that occupied them. However, Grope Lane is also reputed to be linked to trade – this time the pleasures of the flesh.

    Wikipedia has an excellent page on this street name in its unsanitised version.

    Gropec*nt Lane, says Wikipedia, was a street name found in English towns and cities during the Middle Ages, believed to be a reference to the prostitution centred on those areas… Gropec*nt, the earliest known use of which is in about 1230, appears to have been derived as a compound of the words grope and c*nt (our medieval forebears were less sensitive and more earthy in their use of language than their modern descendants, as anyone who had read Chaucer in the original Middle English can testify. Ed.). Streets with that name were often in the busiest parts of medieval towns and cities.

    Towns and cities with active quays or ports often had an adjacent Grope(c*nt) Lane, as in the case of Bristol, although that street name recorded in the reign of Edward III (1312-1377), was subsequently changed to Hauliers Lane and has since been changed again (see below).

    Although the name was once common throughout England, changes in attitude resulted in its replacement by more innocuous versions such as Grape Lane. A variation of Gropec*nt was last recorded as a street name in 1561.

    In Shrewsbury a street called Grope Countelane existed as recently as 1561 and connected the town’s two principal marketplaces. At some unspecified date the street was renamed Grope Lane, which it has retained to the present day. In Thomas Phillips’ History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury (1799) the author is explicit in his understanding of the origin of the name as a place of “scandalous lewdness and venery”, but Archdeacon Hugh Owen’s Some account of the ancient and present state of Shrewsbury (1808) describes it as “called Grope, or the Dark Lane”. As a result of these differing accounts, some local tour guides attribute the name to “feeling one’s way along a dark and narrow thoroughfare”.

    Other towns and cities in England also had their own local Grope(c*nt) Lane including the following:

    • London (several examples);
    • Bristol (now called Nelson Street);
    • York;
    • Newcastle upon Tyne;
    • Worcester;
    • Hereford;
    • Oxford (now Magpie Lane);
    • Norwich (now Opie Street);
    • Banbury (now Parsons Street);
    • Glastonbury (now St Benedicts Court); and
    • Wells.
  • LibreOffice 5.1.1 released

    Three days ago, The Document Foundation (TDF) announced the release of LibreOffice 5.1.1, the latest release of the LibreOffice 5.1 family.

    LibreOffice 5.1.1 offers a long awaited feature in Writer – the first request for which dates back to 2002 – as it allows hiding the white space between pages to provide a continuous flow of text. This feature will be extremely useful on laptops.

    LibreOffice 5.1.1 is targeted at technology enthusiasts, early adopters and power users. For more conservative users and enterprise deployments, TDF suggests the “still” version: LibreOffice 5.0.5. For enterprise deployments, The Document Foundation recommends engaging certified professional support.

    People interested in technical details about the release can see the bugs fixed in Release Candidate 1 and RC3. There was no intervening RC2.

    LibreOffice 5 series screenshot
    LibreOffice 5 series screenshot

    Download LibreOffice

    LibreOffice 5.1.1 is immediately available for download.

    Besides the “fresh” and “still” versions of LibreOffice, those who want to be at the bleeding edge or assist in development can also download development versions, nightly builds and the source code. Your correspondent is currently using a pre-release version, 5.1.3*.

    Finally LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members can support The Document Foundation with a donation.

    * = When initially upgraded, the installation process reported data corruption in the Calc spreadsheet component. This was resolved by downloading the package again and re-installing the relevant spreadsheet packages.