Now that the result is known, some thoughts about the Scottish independence referendum:

1. I consider myself a friend of Scotland. I go there at least one a year, to walk and backpack in its beautiful landscape, and as a nation it feels to me like a better place than England. Going there is not like “going home”, because it isn’t my home, but it has something of that quality about it. This probably shows how easily Scotland is romanticised, but its also how I feel about the place.

2. I was, and still am, broadly in favour of Independence for Scotland. Which puts me in the company of just over one and a half million Scots – a place I’m happy to be. Independence would likely have been a tough ride, economically, for a decade or so. But the referendum was a decision for centuries, not the near future, and I think it would have turned out well in the end.

3. But we are where we are, and politics continues because it never goes away. Around half of the adult population of Scotland, and four percent of the population of the UK, felt and still feel that the UK is no longer their home. Something has to change. A significant proportion of those voting no did so because the Prime Minister promised further constitutional change. Without it, it seems fairly clear to me, the result would have been yes. Constitutional change has to happen, and it is going to have to be a bit more than-who-gets-to-vote-for-what in the London parliament. If serious change doesn’t happen, the UK government loses its legitimacy and authority over Scotland. Totally.

4. There will be a UK parliamentary election in on 7th May 2015. The legislative programme is no doubt already full of measures to charm the voters, and Tory MPs are pushing back against the Prime Minister’s promises. Combine this with the fact that many Scottish Labour supporters will have voted yes and may be feeling rather let down by Labour’s opposition to independence, and we could be seeing a lot more SNP MPs in the Westminster parliament next year. Making Alex Salmond a potential kingmaker in the (likely) event that no party has an overall majority.

5. Anecdotal evidence suggests that younger people made up a large part of of the Yes vote. For some, particularly sixteen and seventeen year-olds, it will have been the first time that they voted. Many have been politicised to some degree by the intense and emotional nature of the campaign. I don’t know how they are feeling this morning, but I suspect that a large number feel let-down not only by politicians but also the older generation – who they may feel voted No out of fear. Whether they turn to anger, political activism, or apathy is too early to say. But the Westminster political system has become optimised for a largely apathetic population, and it will not welcome change.


On Oracle

Bryan Cantrill on Oracle:

As you know people, as you learn about things, you realize that these generalizations we have are, virtually to a generalization, false. Well, except for this one, as it turns out. What you think of Oracle, is even truer than you think it is. There has been no entity in human history with less complexity or nuance to it than Oracle. And I gotta say, as someone who has seen that complexity for my entire life, it’s very hard to get used to that idea. It’s like, ‘surely this is more complicated!’ but it’s like: Wow, this is really simple! This company is very straightforward, in its defense. This company is about one man, his alter-ego, and what he wants to inflict upon humanity — that’s it! …Ship mediocrity, inflict misery, lie our asses off, screw our customers, and make a whole shitload of money. Yeah… you talk to Oracle, it’s like, ‘no, we don’t fucking make dreams happen — we make money!’ …You need to think of Larry Ellison the way you think of a lawnmower. You don’t anthropomorphize your lawnmower, the lawnmower just mows the lawn, you stick your hand in there and it’ll chop it off, the end. You don’t think ‘oh, the lawnmower hates me’ — lawnmower doesn’t give a shit about you, lawnmower can’t hate you. Don’t anthropomorphize the lawnmower. Don’t fall into that trap about Oracle.


That is all.


Ten years

Just over ten years ago, on 31st July 2002, I hit the publish button on the first post for this blog. Lots of things have changed in that time, but I still find it amazing that I can put some words onto a screen and make it potentially readable by a large proportion of the population of the planet. I wonder what the next ten years will bring.


A weekend in the Lakes

Late last night I got back from three days backpacking in the Eastern Lake District. This was my first trip out this year, and anticipating decent weather I had planned a fairly ambitious four-day route. This didn’t survive contact with the actual conditions on the hills though.

My intention was to follow the High Street roman road to Kidstey Pike and camp at Angle Tarn above Patterdale. From there I’d follow Grisedale to Grisedale Tarn, down into Grasmere, and camp in Easedale. From there to Greenup Edge, High Raise, Rosset Pike, and down camp at Wasdale Head. On the final day I intended to take the magnificent path over Eskdale Fell to Boot in Eskdale.

Due to public transport delays I didn’t leave Pooley Bridge until nearly 1pm. It was very hot, but by the time I got onto high street the mist had come down, the wind was blowing hard, and it was raining intermittently. This was the start of five hours of walking into the wind, either on a compass bearing or following walls, with visibility that was (at best) about 50 feet. Basically, it was like this:

On High Street in poor weather

On High Street in poor weather

Camping on exposed ground at Angle Tarn seemed a bit riskly, so in the end I descended to Hayeswater and camped near the dam. It was very wet and blustery. Despite pitching behind a rise to shield me from the wind, about every fifteen minutes an enormous gist would hit the tent and I’d have to sit up and grab the tent’s single hoop to stop it being flattened. By morning I was pretty tired, and although the wind had dropped it was raining steadily.

Feeling somewhat dejected I plodded down to the valley and walked to Patterdale arriving at about midday. After some food at the pub I decided to walk down Grisedale as planned, and camp at the end of the valley.

Grisedale was lovely. My first visit, but not the last. There was a reasonable amount flat-ish land at the end of the valley.

Camp at the end of Grisedale

Camp at the end of Grisedale

The next day was sunny and breezy, and I climbed up to Grisedale tarn and then descended to Grasmere. Due to the Jubilee celebrations it was swarming with people. At this point to decided to finish the walk. There wasn’t time to continue with my planned route, and the weather forecast for the next day included phrases like “heavy showers”. This seemed like an ending, so I tllk the easy path around the lakes to Rydel to meet the bus to Windermere train station and home.

So. Not really what I’d planned, but a nice three days fully used in some wonderful countryside. And a reminder that plans sometimes have to be changed.

New gear on this trip was a North Face venture jacket and a pair of Salomon Exit Peak Mid boots. Both were very light and performed well. I also took a firesteel for lighting my stove, but this proved to be almost impossible in even a light breeze so I used a cheap butane lighted instead.

All the photos are here.



Three things

reading the newspaper this polling day, three things caught my eye:

1. Guardian Letters: The scourge of our wealth divide:

The annual Sunday Times Rich List yields four very important conclusions for the governance of Britain (Report, Weekend, 28 April). It shows that the richest 1,000 persons, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth over the last three years by £155bn. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare.

Michael Meacher MP

2. Privately run NHS hospital ‘will need to make eyewatering cuts’

In a deal signed off by the government in February, Circle takes the first £2m of any year’s profits at the hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. After that it gets a quarter of surpluses between £2m and £6m, and a third of surpluses between £6m and £10m. The terms mean that in any year Hinchingbrooke makes less than a £6m surplus, more than half will go to Circle.

In the past decade the hospital has never made an annual surplus of more than £600,000, suggesting large cuts would be needed to meet targets. This year the hospital is on course to lose £10m.

Circle’s 10-year management franchise is seen as a potential model for other hospitals.

3. Rover workers get £3 redundancy pay compensation after seven-year battle

News of the tiny payouts was announced to campaigners at a meeting on Monday and has led to calls for personal donations to the workers’ compensation fund from the so-called Phoenix Four – John Towers, Nick Stephenson, John Edwards and Peter Beale – the businessmen whobought the company for £10 in 2000 and then paid themselves and managing director Kevin Howe a total of £42m.

Carl Chinn, a trustee of the former employees’ fund, said: “I hope they will search their conscience to see if they can find the goodwill to help those who have lost so much. But as they have been ignoring my calls for four or five years, I’m not holding out much hope.”

Chinn said a request for contributions had been put to representatives of the quartet, who last May were disqualified from working as company directors in Britain for a total of 19 years.

A spokesman for the four said: “All we would want to say is that the request has been noted.”

So, yes, I voted today.



A couple of weeks ago I moved this blog from its old home on a Windows-based virtual server at EasyCGI to a dedicated Linux server running as a “micro instance” on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform. Herein some notes on the move.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the move. The EasyCGI hosting was cheap but painfully slow and seemingly getting slower. Although I have no illusions that many people read this blog (although it does get some incoming traffic from Google) I do object to paying for a poor service.  I also needed an excuse to play with AWS.

Since I have never used AWS before, and haven’t used Unix in any significant way for about fifteen years, I needed some help. I started with this tutorial [1]; which is a good idiot’s guide to signing-up for AWS, creating an EC2 micro instance, and installing WordPress and its dependencies. The article is a year old, though, and is out of date in several respects. The most important is that AWS no longer provides Fedora-based machine images. They do offer something called Amazon Linux, which did the job for me. There are some minor differences between this and the tutorial, but noting serious.

Signing up for AWS was as smooth as I expected – kind of like an extended Amazon checkout process.

After I had an instance built and launched, the first problem I encountered was that the default Amazon Linux EC2 image does not allow root user login. This is explained here [2]. The effect of this is that you login as “ec2-user” and is you want to use any privileged commands then you have to use the sudo command. At this point I discovered this [3] tutorial, which is a bit more up to date. Despite the title it is not specific to Apple Macs.

Installing Apache and MySQL was easy: just a few simple ‘sudo yum install’ commands. I still carry the scars of installing software in SunOS and Solaris back in the early nineties (only if you have to, plenty of coffee, allow a whole day), and this yum stuff impressed me a lot. (Must take a look at NuGet when I have the time). You can’t install phpMyAdmin using yum because its not in Amazon’s yum repository, but the tutorial [3] explains how to do this. There’s also an informative SuperUser Q&A about it here [4].

I installed a fresh copy of WordPress as described in the tutorials, then copied over the various config files and a database backup from my old site to the new one (via http using wget). No surprises there, but there are some instructions here [5] that might be useful (or at least reassuring). Make sure you have backups! Since I had installed WordPress in a subdirectory below /var/www/html I had to put a php redirection script in that directory. There is an example of how to do this here [6]. I found this [7] cheat-sheet useful throughout when driving the vim text editor.

Finally, I assigned a public “elastic IP address” to the instance and changed the DNS for the andrewjohnson.me.uk domain to point to it.

And that’s it really. It didn’t take long, I enjoyed it, and I learned some things. My thanks to those who took the time to write the various tutorials – it would have been much harder without them.


[1] http://www.2bit-coder.com/2010/9/wordpress-in-the-cloud-amazon-ec2

[2] http://imperialwicket.com/aws-default-root-password

[3] http://calebogden.com/wordpress-on-linux-in-the-amazon-cloud-with-mac/

[4] http://superuser.com/questions/291230/how-to-install-phpmyadmin-on-linux-ec2-instance

[5] http://codex.wordpress.org/Moving_WordPress#Moving_WordPress_to_a_New_Server

[6] http://php.about.com/od/learnphp/ht/phpredirection.htm

[7] http://www.cs.colostate.edu/helpdocs/vi.html



Some time ago, while explaining the concept of virtual memory to a work colleague, I remembered something I’d seen about twenty years earlier…

Between July 1988 and September 1989 I worked at an IBM research lab in Winchester, Hampshire. This was the industrial placement part of my four-year computer science degree. I was about 20 at the time. The industrial trainees inhabited a basement room with small, ceiling-level windows that were at pavement height in the street outside. High up on one wall, near the ceiling, someone had blu-tacked a piece of paper that (from memory) read:

If it’s there, and you can see it, then it’s real.

If it’s not there, and you can see it, then it’s virtual.

If it’s there, and you can’t see it, then it’s transparent.

If it’s not there, and you can’t see it then it’s gone!

Someone had crossed-out the ‘ne’ part of ‘gone’ and written a ‘d’ above it. I never felt the slightest inclination to correct this.


The paper seems to have been a home-made version of an 70’s-era IBM poster explaining virtual memory. The lab was the IBM UK Scientific Centre, a really fun place to work, and which seems to have closed in the early 1990s when IBM was having financial problems. While the world thinks that these global problems were the responsibility of the then-CEO John Akers, I can exclusively reveal that they were entirely caused by UKSC management allowing induistrial trainees unrestricted access to the stationary cupboard. I still have a stapler.


Installing 64 bit itunes on 64 bit Windows 7

This has been driving me mad for the past couple of days, and I wanted to give the solution a little Google-juice in case someone else encounters the same problem.

If you’re trying to install the 64 bit version of itunes on the 64 bit version of Windows 7 and you’re finding that the installer just won’t run, even if you’re running it as administrator, then try downloading it using something other than Firefox. I don’t know why, but if I download the installer in Firefox then it just silently exits immediately after I run it. If I download it using ie8 then it works fine. Weird.