Aug 302007

The XML 2007 talk submission deadline is looming; there’s only one this year (and it’s this Friday, August 31st!), so if you miss it, you miss out. I’m one of the reviewers. If you want a high grade if I’m assigned your paper to review, read these hints on writing good abstracts first.

Since the talk submissions are blind-reviewed, the only thing I have to go on is the quality of the abstract. Here’s the check-list I go through.

  • Is the abstract long enough? Abstracts that are too short don’t give enough information for me to judge the quality properly. Remember, I don’t know who you are when I read the abstract.
  • Does the abstract say why the subject is important, as well as what the talk will cover? Both of these are necessary to let people know why they should bother going to the talk.
  • Are technical terms and acronyms used correctly? If these are wrong, I will tend to assume you don’t know what you’re talking about and grade appropriately.
  • Is the grammar and spelling correct? I appreciate a well-crafted, grammatically correct abstract and will tend to assume someone who can write a good abstract can also write a good talk.
  • Who’s the expected audience? The abstract should make it clear who is expected to benefit most from hearing the talk, whether that’s novice or expert, techie or manager.
  • Does this look like a product pitch? If so, it’s probably not suitable.
Aug 292007

I use apache to serve a few sites from the firewall box in the basement and for some reason it kept dying on a regular basis. This started fairly recently, some time after I set up separate access log files for each of the sites.

The error logs showed entries like

[Sun Jun 10 06:28:03 2007] [warn] child process 16516 still 
did not exit, sending a SIGTERM

which seemed bizarre and weren’t being spawned by anything obvious in the access logs. I eventually remembered that I had set up log rotation for each of the virtual hosts, and went searching through the error logs to see if it was related. Sure enough, the shut-down was happening at the same time, and so the log rotation was likely to be related to the cause. But what could be the real cause? Surely not just rotating logs…

A bit of poking around the web found that other people have had this problem. I went down a bunch of dead ends (virtual hosts? apache2ctl restart vs apache2ctl start?) and eventually just turned error reporting up to the maximum. The next week, after the server went dead again, I found the following email in my sysadmin inbox.

(98)Address already in use: make_sock: could not bind to 
no listening sockets available, shutting down
Unable to open logs
error: error running shared postrotate script for 
run-parts: /etc/cron.daily/logrotate exited with return 
code 1

Hunting around more on the web, I found a recommendation to explicitly set the TMPDIR environment variable before running logrotate. Apache has now been up for a few weeks without falling over, problem solved! I’m still not sure why this only started to happen after setting up separate log files for the separate virtual hosts, or even if that was more than a proximate coincidence.

Aug 272007

Eve’s XML and knitting analogy got me thinking.

You can think of a written knitting pattern as being the schema, with a set of instructions, just like the schema’s content model. Then each knitted item you make that conforms to that knitting pattern is like the document instance that conforms to the schema. Schemas can be restrictive or allow lots of instance structure variations, as can knitting patterns. And, to tie it into my previous post on knitting and copyright, a schema can be copyrighted (and often is). The analogy does have a few problems when you start trying to figure out the relationship of the set of tags in a document instance and the content within those tags; if you think of the knit and purl stitches as being the elements, then the yarn would be the content. Except for, yarn can’t really be original in the same way as the content in an XML document can be. Some people may disagree when it comes to hand-painted yarns, of course.

Aug 162007

The bookclub discussed Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Reading this was a reminder that one reason I go to bookclub is to be encouraged to read books I otherwise wouldn’t, and to get more out of them than I can on my own.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wikipedia review) is the story of a beautiful young man who becomes evil and debauched after he views his portrait and realizes how much he wishes to stay looking young and beautiful. His wish is granted; his outer form stays young and vigorous while the painting shows the effects of his lifestyle; he keeps the painting hidden from the world as long as possible. The book played a role in Oscar Wilde’s trial and probably influenced his being convicted.

I had a hard time getting through the book and skimmed many of the more boring passages. While we were discussing the book, it became obvious that part of the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others did was because I got a version without footnotes or an explanatory introduction. Knowing something of the literary allusions makes a big difference. Those boring passages, for example, were supposedly intended to illustrate the tedium of parts of Dorian Gray’s life. Not that anyone at bookclub read them in detail.

The second edition has a lot of changes from the first edition; new characters, passages designed to tone down the homoeroticism, and we had some fun trying to figure out how the Victorian-era audience would have seen the novel, compared to the way it would be understood today. This is where those footnotes (which the others in bookclub had in their editions) came in handy.

It’s probably an important book to have read, given its historical significance; I doubt that I’ll read it again in the near future but if I did, I’d get another, annotated, version.

Aug 152007

Spams carrying viruses aren’t anything new but every now and again something comes into my email box that is a bit different. Like this one.

Dear user of, mail system administrator of would like to let you know the following.

We have detected that your account was used to send a 
huge amount of spam during this week.
Obviously, your computer was infected and now contains a 
trojan proxy server.

We recommend that you follow our instructions in the 
attachment in order to keep your computer safe.

Virtually yours, support team.

Since the email wasn’t from my ISP, and if there’s a “mail system adminstrator” that isn’t my ISP, it would be me, it’s obvious that this is spam. Even without those clues, the email is suspicious. The worrying thought is that it has perhaps just enough personalization to dupe some people into opening the attachment.

Aug 142007

Today was my turn to take the boy to his soccer camp; it also turned out to be the day after the police shot someone on a main street. The aforesaid street was completely closed down for a block which caused a certain amount of traffic havoc. I got a close-up look at the deserted street while inching past the yellow “Police – do not cross” tape (it’s on the usual route to the camp). When I got to the camp, I found more chaos in the parking lot, since two-thirds of the lot was blocked off for shooting some film (a common occurrence in Vancouver). I finally made it back home again, only to find the cat in the back yard playing with an almost-dead rat. With the current strike in Vancouver including the garbage pick-up services, the rat population has exploded, so I don’t actually object to the cats catching rats, but I don’t really want to have to watch.

Summer in the city, I guess.

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