July 2007 Archives

2007-07-30 20:00:23

UDC wants a safer Switzerland

Today, I received an information sheet from the UDC party, which asks me to sing something for a safer Switzerland. Opening the document and looking at its inside, it becomes clear what one is supposed to sign: it's a petition for an initiative aiming at provisions that allow the police to expel foreigners that «committed crimes».

Being a legal analyst, let's have a quick look at the paper.

The first part talks about modifications to the constitution(!), and demands Art. 121 to be ammended with 4 new alineae:

3 Ils (les étrangers) sont privés de leur titre de séjour, indépendamment de leur statut, et de tous leur droits à séjourner en Suisse:

a. s'ils ont été condamnés par un jugement entré en force pour meutre, viol, ou tout autre délit sexuel grave, pour un acte de violence d'une autre nature tel que le brigandage, la traite d'êtres humains, le trafic de drogue ou l'effraction; ou

b. s'ils ont perçu abusivement des prestations des assurances sociales ou de l'aide sociale.

However, alinea 2 already clearly states that foreigners who pose a threat to the security of the state can be expelled. This undoubtedly also includes murder, rape and slave trade.

Also, it is a pretty good question why burglary is actually part of this list. As we will see later, the provisions imposed by this paragraph are 5 to 15 years of being banned from entering Switzerland. This would appear to be quite a hard punishment for burglary.

Also, the «permis de séjour» doesn't entitle people to take advantage of any social support, so this section is mostly nonsense.

Another problem with these formulations is that «any other severe sexual delict» is also subject to these provisions. There is no concise definition of a «severe sexual delict». For example, pedophilia is widely abused nowadays as an accusation, while it is not outlined in this paragraph whether or not it would be subject to the paragraph.

4 Le législateur précise les faits constitutifs des infractions visées à l'al. 3. Il peut les compléter par d'autres faits constitutifs.

This makes the legislation even more blurred. In fact, this ammended article would be an universal tool to expell foreigners, as a constitutional right of the authorities of the country. It appears somewhat unfitting to implement such legislation in the constitution.

5 Les étrangers qui, en vertu des al. 3 et 4, sont privés de leur titre de séjour et de tous leur droits à séjourner en Suisse dovient être expulsés du pays par les autorités compétentes et frappés d'une interdiction d'entrer sur le territoire allant de 5 à 15 ans. En cas de récidive, l'interdiction d'entrer sur le territoire sera fixée à 20 ans.

This constitutes basically a specialized version of alinea 2. However, the formulation doesn't give a judge any choice in the case of e.g. a burglar to decide on a reduced punishment of, say, 6 months of being expelled, or not being expelled at all. In cases where the foreigner really constitutes a threat to the security of the state, Alinea 2 is effective anyway.

6 Les étrangers qui contreviennent à l'interdiction d'entrer sur le territoire ou qui y entrent illégalement de quelque manière que ce soit sont punissables. Le législateur édicte les dispositions correspondantes.

This goes straight against the sans-papiers discussion. It appears wrong to prevent any solution to this problem before the discussion has come to a public conclusion. Also, the current situation with the sans-papiers is actually caused by the fact that the provisions that this proposal tries to establish already exist.

It appears that one of the main purposes of this documents is to establish more strict punishments for sans-papiers, and that the fear of the people from the «evil raping and murdering horde of foreigners» is being exploited to reach this aim. Also, the proposal isn't very clear on how to trigger these legal provisions, so it appears that, while it claims to make Switzerland a safer place, it actually reduces legal security for foreigners. Thus, it actually achieve the opposite of what it was originally meant to do.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: news, politics

2007-07-27 22:03:53

United Nations Development Program on ODF and OOXML

The UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme has released a technical whitepaper on the distinctions between ODF and OOXML.

In this paper, the UNDP joins the Japanese argumentation, stating that OOXML is highly suboptimal as a standard. Starting from page 27 of the PDF, the document analyzes the errors and contradictions in the specification very thoroughly. It also mentions the external contradictions, i.e. those with existing ISO standards. Finally, it complains about the references to closed, patented or proprietary formats which are found a lot in the OOXML specification.

The most important part to note about this document is that it is not politically inspired, but focuses on the facts, i.e. the strict technical constraints. This view isn't frequently taken on the pro-OOXML side, and clarifies that from a purely technical point of view, this standard is not admissible, from the point of view of an international organization.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: standards

2007-07-27 17:14:19

EU enters the OOXML ring

The commission on competition of the European Union has also entered the ring around OOXML with their plan not to drop the antitrust case even though Microsoft has released something called an Open Standard.

In their statement, the EU commission says that they want to find ways to prove that OOXML is not an open standard, and that Microsoft would have to provide more information in order to get their head out of the springe in the antitrust case.

The entire story can be found on http://www.bloomberg.com/...?sid=aR9bHOp5bm3A.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: standards

2007-07-27 16:57:22

ECMAs great ratio

Some people got interested in the ratio of approved standards vs. rejected standards of the ECMA. This is particularly due to the fact that ECMA proposals have up to now been taken on fast-track adoption by ISO. On the other hand, it has been argued a lot that ECMA is a pay-by-standard organization.

In fact, ECMA 376 «Office Open XML» is the 376th standard proposal handed in at ECMA, and the 376th standard. So apparently, the ratio is 100% – every single standard proposed at ECMA has been adapted.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: standards

2007-07-26 15:12:08

Microsoft: 4 companies per document

Microsoft has claimed that 1'700 companies are demanding the standardization of OOXML urgently. Despite the fact that they haven't been able to produce any of these 1'700 companies in an ISO committee, there's one thing that makes me think:

A small Google search for OOXML files returns about 900 results. Looking closer at it, there are also things like a Wikipedia article on .docx files in the results, so after sorting it out you get about 700 OOXML documents.

Another Google search returns that roughly 200 of these documents actually come from Microsoft themselves. This means that these 1'700 documents can have authored about 500 public OOXML files.

How is that? Did ever 4 of them co-author one document?

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: standards

2007-07-26 13:52:20

Microsoft failed to fool andalusia

The Andalisian government has reported an attempt to manipulate the decision of the technical committee 71 of AENOR, responsible for the standardization of OOXML. Microsoft had claimed officially that the standardization body had demanded the standardization, as well as several other spanish public entities.

This turned out as misinformation, though. The Andalusian government has demanded immediate steps to find out how this misinformation could have emerged.

With this escapade, Microsoft might actually have spoiled their chances to get a «Yes» or «Abstain» in Andalusia.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: standards

2007-07-26 13:47:12

"No" with comments in Japan

The technical committee of the japanese standardization body decided this monday to vote for «No with comments». Another thorn in Microsoft's side on their way to standardization.

In only a couple of weeks, all standardization bodies will have cast their vote. The result is going to be rather interesting.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: standards

2007-07-22 16:50:20

Recently in Brussels

Recently in Brussels:

Customer: Can you also help us with infrastructure and hardware problems?

IT specialist: Of course! What's it?

Customer: We need help upgrading to Vista and Office 2007.

IT specialist: Ooops...

Customer: Is there a problem?

IT specialist: Well, you currently run Windows XP and Office 2003. Honestly, that's everything you need. In fact, I would only recommend you to have a look at OpenOffice.org version 2.2 if you want to upgrade, since that supports the latest standards in document formats. So do you want me to help you migrate to that?

Customer: We cannot use OpenOffice.org or Office 2003 because we want to read and edit Office 2007 DOCX files.

IT specialist: Why? Noone in this world uses this format, except Microsoft.

Customer: Every day, we receive documents in the DOCX format from the European Commission. We also participate in a lot of groups in Brussels, and they all send out informations and forms as DOCX.

IT specialist: So tell them t convert it to the old DOC format or even the new standard ODF format. There are probably hundreds of other interest groups out there that receive these files and cannot read them, and don't want to spend thousands of Euros for buying Office 2007.

Customer: No, everyone else in Brussels uses Office 2007 already, and they will not send the documents in a different format than DOCX. We already asked them and got that answer.

IT specialist: But why did they all upgrade to Office 2007 all of a sudden?!

Customer: The Commission's administrative staff got the licenses from Microsoft - for free.


And so Microsoft gained another market share in an important sector.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: politics, standards, recently_in_brussels

2007-07-20 23:06:13

Evaluation of RSS feed readers

Today, I looked at a couple of console based RSS readers. My criteria were that

  1. Of course, it would have to advertise new entries and not advertise old ones.
  2. Since my network at home is IPv6-only, it would have to be IPv6 capable.
  3. It has to work with curses or some familiar interface, when SSHing in from any type of system.

The first candidate is the most prominent one: snownews. Adding an URL of an IPv6-only site gives the result that the name does not get resolved. Opening the entry is not possible. However, with IPv4 records, everything works fine.

Conclusion: not IPv6 compatible.

The second candidate is Raggle. Here, the lists stay at (0/0) all the time too, so apparently Raggle doesn't work either.

Conclusion: not IPv6 compatible.

The third candidate in the list was Olive. However, when adding a feed, it responds:
500 Can't connect to blog.pas-un-geek-en-tant-que-tel.ch:80 (connect: No route to host)

Conclusion: not IPv6 compatible.

wnews and newsbeuter are yet untested, however, better results are not expected either...

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: general

2007-07-20 20:36:56

Evaluation of compression algorithms

The task was clear: we needed a compression program that was capable of compressing a large amount of data into a small piece. In particular, an SQL dump had to be compressed which was rapidly growing every day, and transmitted over a relatively slow line.

The original file:
959M edispo.sql

Running the algorithms

The first guess: bzip2. bzip2 has a fairly small memory footprint, but the compression operation took 8 minutes on a dual core AMD Opteron. Decompression took 27 seconds. The resulting file:
35M edispo.sql.bz2

This was way too large. Within a couple of weeks, the file would cross the 100MB boundary. So we tried another candidate: rzip. rzip uses a vast amount of memory for its dictionaries, but after only 1 minute(!), the end result is quite impressive. The decompression took 33 seconds, slightly longer than with bzip2. The resulting file:
4.3M edispo.sql.rz

After this impressive result, we tried another competitor: lzma. With lzma, we had to wait a very long time again: 14.5 minutes. At all of that time, the memory of the machine was almost exhausted. Decompression however went almost without used memory, and after 50 seconds, the file was decompressed. The resulting file:
3.7M edispo.sql.lzma

The rest of the compression algorithms were well above that number. However, as it turned out, rzip was not all that useful on smaller files. However, there is a combined algorithm called lrzip, which uses lzma as a function in the rzip algorithm, which is said to have even better compression on large files, while still being useful on smaller ones. However, lrzip was not in pkgsrc.


Algorithm File size Compression Decompression Memory use
cp 959M 0 min 34 sec 0 min 34 sec 0%
bzip2 35M 8 min 42 sec 0 min 27 sec 2%
rzip 4.3M 1 min 3 sec 0 min 33 sec 20%
lzma 3.7M 14 min 32 sec 0 min 50 sec 90%


The favorite algoritm in this pack here is certainly rzip. While lzma still features a slightly better compression ratio, it is very intensive in terms of time and memory in doing so. If the most important constraint is really space, one should most likely go for lzma. However, when it comes to normal-life tasks, rzip will most likely do the job just as well.

The only problem with the rzip algorithm is that it is impossible to pipe it. Thus, it is impossible to use it as an intermediate algorithm in data processing, nor could it be used as a link-layer compression for some protocol. However, for compression of large files, it is most likely the best algorithm you can get.

For those people who wonder why copying the file takes longer actually than to decompress it, the answer is pretty simple: it is easy to load a compressed 3.7M file into memory and only write the 959M output file once, than to seek on the disk between input and output file. If the file is copied, cp fills its buffers with data from the input file and writes it to the output file. For this purpose, a pretty large buffer is needed, otherwise the hard drive has to seek between the two files all the time. This takes a lot of time.

As a proof: copying the file with a 256M buffer takes only 24 seconds, while copying the file with a 64k buffer takes the full 33 seconds.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: programming

2007-07-20 20:14:58

Bush removes 5th ammendment

In an executive order, Bush has put the fifth ammendment to the US constitution out of order.

While the fifth ammendment states that no person shall be held responsible for a crime unless he or she has been convicted by a Grand Jury, it also states that exceptions may take place in times of war or public danger. Bush now found that these times have arrived, and passed an executive order to consider people criminals without prior conviction if they threaten the stabilization process in Iraq.

It would thereby of course be a decision of the executive forces to decide whether or not someone constitutes a threat to the stabilization process. Since this is clearly causing more injuries, and is clearly going to destabilize the situation in Iraq further, Bush has possibly incriminated himself with this law. It appears to be just another helpless attempt of a firm believer in law and order to get back control over the situation in Iraq, in order to look better on the day of deauguration. Bush does not do anything else to do other than to reinforce the executive, so that is what he does. As the saying goes, if all you know is a hammer, everything starts to look like nails.

Bush was recently described in the austrian newspaper »Der Standard» as a man who just jumped off the roof of a high building and while still falling asks the spectators not to judge his situation too early.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: news, politics

2007-07-19 20:17:44

Teaching psi IPv6

Today, I attempted to find out why my favorite Jabber client doesn't work in my new IPv6-only environment at home. The answer was simple: psi attempted to find a route to the IPv4 address of the foreign host and found out that there was no such thing as an IPv4 route.

I found quickly a thread on a web forum where someone talked about the same problem. Apparently, psi calls gethostbyname() manually instead of using getaddrinfo(). The fix which was committed in version 0.9.2 but not activated by default was to pass the unresolved hostname to the qt library rather than to do the resolution oneself.

The rest of the code doesn't have any problems with IPv6 compatibility. Psi doesn't use sockets at all, it uses the QSocket interface of qt. This interface supports IPv6 «automagically» since qt 3.3, so once the DNS resolution is disabled, psi does IPv6 flawlessly.

One has to wonder why this flag was not active by default, since it doesn't do any harm. But it's nice to see that the fix is so easy this time.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: programming

2007-07-19 06:05:47

ANSI: Abstention with comments?

According to Doug Mahugh, the V1 committee in the USA is very likely to vote for Abstention with Comments.

Even after 14 firmly Pro-OOXML entities entered the V1 commttee a couple of days before the decision, their voices were not strong enough to overturn it. This actually means that Microsoft's home country will be missing from the list of promoters of OOXML, since they neglected to follow Microsoft's voting recommendation, which is «Yes, with comments».

However, this is a sane decision. There are over 200 errors in the OOXML specification, and if it is accepted as-is, this means that there is absolutely no reason to fix these problems. As such, an international standard should only be adopted if no severe problems are known which would have to fixed in order for it to be implementable.

Also, the question remains whether or not the standard should be adopted at all, since no justification has yet been given to why OOXML has been drafted in ignorance of existing standards, which cover most if not all of its specification. As such, the standard should be redrafted entirely and reformulated as a set of extensions to ISO/IEC 26300 (Open Document Format), unless reasoning can be provided for the standard.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: news, standards

2007-07-17 03:34:09

OOXML astroturfing campaign of the month: V4I

Voices for Innovation is Microsoft's latest astroturfing campaign in favor of Microsoft's Office Open XML format. The purpose of the campaign is to simulate a great interest of small, innovative companies in the standardization of the format.

The principle is about as old as the name. During the software patent debate in the European Parliament, the Campaign for Creativity, a collection of Microsoft Gold Partners and spin-off companies from former Microsoft employees, tried to imitate a grassroot lobbying movement, strongly voicing the opinion that small companies can only be innovative if they get the power of software patents.

Wikipedia has a definition of astroturfing.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: news, standards

2007-07-17 03:18:47

Portugese standardization organization says there is no space for Sun and IBM

The chairman of the portugese standardization organization said that there was no place in the working group on ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (OOXML). Using this reasoning, IBM and Sun Microsystems were refused seats in the technical committee.

Both IBM and Sun are big and important players in the information technology sector. Their importance for the market is about comparable to that of Microsoft. However, both Sun and IBM are currently pushing for the existing ISO standard 26300 (Open Document Format), which is used in a lot of free software products, such as OpenOffice.org, Star Office, KOffice and related suites.

The committee however is now crowded with Microsoft (3 seats) and Microsoft Gold Partners.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: news, standards