Just a quick note to parents and other users of the brilliant AnyWayUp cups (“the world’s only totally non-spill cup”): don’t use them with fizzy drinks.

The cups rely on a slight pressure imbalance to keep the liquid from leaking out. You take a few sucks, the pressure inside the cup drops, and this is enough to keep the rubber valve nicely closed. But as soon as you put a carbonated beverage in the cup, the CO2 escaping from the drink creates an overpressure in the cup. If you hold it upside-down, this overpressure is enough to force liquid out through the valve, and also out through the rim of the cup. Messy.

Apple juice, yes. Appletise, no.

War on line 2, please hold

New batch of “Get Your War On” cartoons here. (This is the anniversary edition of this occasional cartoon series. Compare the first two cartoons of this batch with the first two of the first lot.

After last week’s international furore following the publication of the new National Socialist Security Strategy, and the British government’s posturing over their dossier of “evidence” against Iraq, we seem to have entered a few days of relative quiet. At least on the surface.

Beneath the surface, the Bush regime is drafting a new resolution to be put before the UN security council. UN Weapons Inspectors are getting prepared, and will be meeting with the Iraqi government in Vienna tomorrow. The big demonstration against war took place in London yesterday without any massive incident.

In Britain, it’s political party conference season. The Liberal Democrats are opposed to war without a UN mandate. The Labour Party is, too–or at least its members are. Regrettably , this hasn’t stopped Tony Blair from asserting that Britain still reserved the right to act unilaterally against Iraq.

The spin doctors seem to be using this quiet time to hunt around for more ways to make the war acceptable to Britain. In an interview with Channel 4 News this evening, Helen Liddell (the current Secretary of State for Scotland)raised the issue of Saddam Hussein’s cruelty to his own people. As if we didn’t know already.

They tried using Iraq’s link in the terrorist chain as a reason to go to war. That didn’t work. Then the buzzword became “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. That was better, but it still didn’t get a majority on board. So now they’re going to use Saddam’s cruelty towards the people in Iraq as their latest rationale?

This is policy by evolution. Devise a series of stances, and then see which ones play best with the public. When you find one that gives you better poll results, you latch onto it until a better one comes along to replace it. Principles? You think that party policy should be based on principles? How quaint.

This is the behaviour of a party (and a leader) determined to hold on to power, no matter what principles they have to sacrifice to keep it. It is greedy, dishonest, and reckless. It undermines the political process, and the public’s faith in that process. After all, what point is there in voting for a party that represents your views if that party is determined to ditch those views whenever they become inconvenient?

Martin Sixsmith, the former civil servant (and former Moscow correspondent for the BBC) who was messily ditched by the Labour Party in the Jo Moore/Stephen Byers “Good day to bury bad news” mess at the Transport department earlier this year, presented a documentary on Channel 4 yesterday evening. In it, he mostly succeeded in refraining from using the programme as an outlet for his frustration over that affair. What he mostly talked about was how the Labour Party is putting pressure on the Civil Service to actively support their policy instead of just implementing it.

It adds up to a Labour party that has forgotten its socialist roots, and has decided to use capitalist principles instead. If your product isn’t good enough to survive in the marketplace, you change your product so that it is more appealing. Companies use this strategy in order to make more money from the consuming public. In politics, the public rewards parties with votes rather than money.

In the marketplace, a company dies when no-one is willing to buy its products any more. In politics, it used to be the case that a party would dwindle when the people no longer wanted its policies. But because the public could only “buy” those policies at election time, once every four or five years, it would take time for those policies to lose traction in the marketplace of power. So I suppose you can argue that a party that is willing to change its policies in mid-term represents a more dynamic form of democratic capitalism. It is able to respond to “market forces” immediately, without having to wait for an election to replace it with a government that represents the new will of the people. And isn’t it the purpose of government to represent that will?

But…there’s something not quite right there. It makes me uneasy for two reasons. First of all, it’s a mechanism that favours flexible morality. The people who are most willing to blow with the prevailing wind will gain the most votes, and stay in power longer. It’s glib. It’s dishonest. Personally, I would prefer men and women of principle to be in charge.

Secondly, it allows government policy to move too fast. Humans, by nature, are fickle and selfish. Economic theory tends to be based on “rational” consumers, but time and again boom/bust cycles in the stock market prove that humans are not rational–we are short-sighted, and out for the greatest immediate gain.

Stability and prosperity comes from long-term thinking, and policies that look five, ten, fifty years into the future. Like the Kyoto protocol. With a political process that forces governments to be as fickle and selfish as its citizens, you end up with a society that embodies selfishness, and that favours quick wins over long-term benefits that may not kick in until after the next election.

This is, regrettably, the Western world in which we live. It’s the demented offspring of Democracy and Capitalism, and it combines the worst traits of both. Does this mean that there is a good twin, locked away in an attic somewhere? A world where people trust politicians and the media? Where fair trade with other countries is more rewarding to corporations than exploitative practices are? Where everyone has access to clean water and proper sanitation?

I’d like to think so. But the key to that attic is buried deep in the dung heap of selfishness.

Next steps

Martin's Annual Linux Experience 2002 So I downloaded SuSE 8.0, and managed to get it up and running in a Virtual Machine. I had been planning to use this as a testbed for seeing how much work I need to do to to make it into a comfortable working environment, before rebuilding my machine with SuSE 8.1 when it arrives in a week or two.

Impatient little me.

I had intended to buy a small additional hard disk (8Gb or so), and do the install on that. But drives this small are actually quite hard to come by these days. On Ebay they tend to go for somewhere between £25 and £30. And when you can buy a brand new 80Gb drive for under £75, it seemed like a false economy to go for the smaller one.

So earlier this week I bought one of those big suckers. It now sits in the USB external drive enclosure we have, and acts (effectively) as Nearline storage. The external enclosure means we can easily swap it back and forth between Abi’s machine and mine, and means we’ll be more likely to take regular backups of our data. That’s pretty cool.

I’m keeping Windows XP on my 12Gb disk for now. In the 40Gb drive, which used to just hold data, I have now carved out a 10Gb partition for Linux. I had to whittle down the amount of junk data I was holding on the drive to do so (mostly downloaded software), but the Nearline means that I can offload it all very easily, but still have it quickly available. (I suppose I could just burn the lot off to CDs, but I’m finding CD burning to be quite tedious these days. Unfortunately DVD writers are still quite expensive. And sticking the big drive in our server would work as well, but a USB connection is faster than our wireless LAN.)

So if bringing up SuSE in a VM went OK, you’d think that installing it onto a real machine would be a doddle, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t. At least, it isn’t if you’re trying to install it from your own hard disk after downloading the whole 5Gb whack from one of the SuSE mirrors. Burning a CD image to boot from is simple. Getting through the next step is a little bit harder: you have to manoeuver through a fairly primitive menu system to tell the installer where to find the install packages on your hard drive. If you have the stuff on an NTFS partition, you have to make sure to load up the NTFS filesystem module as well. Not impossible, but somewhat less than 100% intuitive.

When you get through this part, you get into YAST (the SuSE graphical setup tool) proper. At this point, YAST knows where the installation packages are on your hard disk, and will happily allow you to select which of them you want to install. But if you want to proceed from that, it doesn’t work: “Could not mount the source medium.” This seems to be because in order to read the list of packages, it had to mount your hard drive, and when it tries to perform the install it wants to mount the drive again.

There seems to be a workaround available, but it involves coming out of the main install process, creating a boot floppy, mucking around with the partition tables and hacking several different config files. And I just can’t be bothered.

I know that the SuSE install process is relatively simple–provided that you’re using the pre-packaged CDs or DVDs. To comply with the GPL, SuSE has to make the source code for their distribution publicly available, but they are under no obligation to make the publicly available stuff easy to install. They don’t have to provide .ISO images on their FTP servers. They make their money off of the “free” software by charging for the packaging and convenient distribution media. This is the bst of both worlds, really: we get free and open software, and the software developer still gets rewarded.

Given that the entire distribution is available from their FTP servers and mirrors, I had been wondering whether to buy the packaged disks, or to just burn some broadband. Now, I think I’m pretty well decided that I’ll go for the package. The personal edition (3 CDs) is only £30 or so. Anything that’s not on the personal edition CDs I can download from the net. Overall, that sounds like a pretty good deal.

(Still…It would have been nice to have had something fired up this weekend already!)