Archive for February, 2008

Background Checks For Our Corporate Citizens


Before people are employed it is routine to do some sort background check on them. Most employers would check a candidate’s references before going ahead and employing. Some jobs (or perhaps employers) have more involvd background checks than others. Applicants to be local government positions, for example, are required to disclose any previous convictions. Jobs that involve working with children require a CRB check.

I think we should extend this background checking principle to corporations that we contract with. For example, when a school contracts with a caterer it should check that the caterer has not been convicted of pushing alcohol at kids; when government buys software perhaps it could check and see whether the vendor has been convicted of running an illegal monopoly in multiple countries.

I’m looking at you Microsoft.

The GNU GPL is not an EULA!


MPlayer’s OS X pkg displays the GNU GPL in the license section of the installer. The installer then requires that I click a button laballed “Agree” in order to continue. This is all fine and normal practice for the EULAs that are attached to software. MPlayer is not the only one that does this, quite a lot of open source software packaged for the Mac does it.

But the GPL is not an EULA!

The GPL is not a license to use the software. I can use the software without agreeing to the GPL. It says so, right there, clause 0: “The act of running the Program is not restricted”. The GPL is a license to distribute the software, if I don’t do any distribution I don’t need the license.

This is an important point about the GPL that is not understood by enough people. The GPL is not like (most) other software licenses, because it does not restrict my use. Unlike a tradition EULA which attempts to prevent me from doing something which I might otherwise be able to do, the GPL only licenses me to do something that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, namely distribute it. If I don’t want to distribute the software (and I’m certainly not obliged to), then I don’t need to agree to the GPL.

I think the GPL is very cunning in this regard.

So to summarise: The license section of the OS X packager is for EULAs, and I never want to see the GPL in that section again. Okay?

Abuses of Lambda, by Design


Again and again I see the Greek capital letter lambda, Λ, standing in for the English (latin) letter capital A. You know, in trendy logos for film studios, web consultants and the like.

This is a sin against typography and it must stop!

When I’m reading, it just trips me up to see a capital lambda in the middle of English text. Yeah yeah, it looks cute and it introduces all sorts of amusing design possibilities, but it’s just bad writing.

I feel a tiny bit guilty about this rant because the most recent example I observed was Transitive:

who just happen to be one of the sponsors for the UKUUG Spring Conference at Birmingham where I am giving a talk. On guess what? Lambda.

Ooh I just found another one (I knew there was a good reason to delay publishing this article):

Navarre logo

and they commit the additional sin of using a Greek capital letter xi. Is there no end to this madness!

[A couple of month’s later Dyalog send me an e-mail inviting me to their corporate headquarters]

Dyalog logo

The perils of going to Canada


I went to Canada and Jeremy Beadle died! Oh My Gosh! I only just found out, why did no-one tell me?

Obligatory XKCD cartoon.

Canadian foetal gender


According to the in-flight magazine, in Canada it is illegal for a doctor to disclose the gender of a foetus (to the woman bearing it, or anyone else) until the foetus is 24 weeks into term. Naturally there are walk-in clinics in California and Washington that are prepared to do the ultrasound gender determination for a reasonable fee.

Will they make it illegal to travel to another country in order to access medical facilities that are unavailable indigenously? And illegal to own and operate an OB ultrasound machine (Tom Cruise did it, but then there was a bill before senate to make it illegal; I got bored of following the trail)?

The ultrasound operator knows the gender. How is it ethical to withhold this information from the patient?

The other thing I learned on the plane is that people used to terminate pregnancies using slippery elm bark. Slippery elm bark cannot be sold in the UK.

I find myself wholly unequipped (quite possibly in a physical as well as a mental sense) to think about these issues.