alan little’s weblog archive for september 2003


30th September 2003 permanent link

I'm a subject area moderator for a pretty active yoga discussion forum on ezboard. It's not a particularly onerous job - the folks there are generally intelligent, articulate and polite, and my bit is one of the quieter corners. I've only actually had to do anything twice: once to move something that was a bit off-topic to a different area, and once to delete something completely irrelevant. And last week I learned a valuable lesson about continuing to be as hands-off as possible.

Somebody - apparently a newcomer - posted something very critical of a highly respected yoga teacher - in fact, of the senior teacher in the world of the style of yoga that the discussion forum is about, saying among other things that what he teaches isn't genuine yoga at all. Having spent four months in India studying with the teacher in question, I disagree with this rather strongly; and in a forum that's about this school of yoga, I'm not likely to be alone in that view. Equally clearly, it's a valid opinion and disagreeing with somebody's opinion is not a good reason in itself to exercise moderator powers. But I also found the tone of the message rude - not out-and-out abusive, but bordering on unacceptable, and seriously considered deleting it for that reason.

Initally I posted a comment about the tone of the message and left it at that. Then I thought about it some more, and eventually ended up posting a couple more rather long and rambling responses. Other people came up with some things that were more to the point, and it ended up being one of the more lively and constructive discussions we've had for a while in "my" little corner of the forum.

Lesson for moderators: if in doubt, don't.

related entries: Yoga

your blog's got mail

25th September 2003 permanent link

One of the things coming in a future version of AYAWT will be weblogging by mail. I think I would sometimes find email more more convenient than a web interface; what I don't want, obviously, is things being published on my weblog that aren't actually by me. (I'm sure there are hordes of people out there just waiting to pass their deluded opinions off as mine).

So, how to combine convenience with a reasonable level of security? Whitelisting the addresses that are allowed to post by mail will clearly help a bit, but is far from adequate because it's too easy to forge mail headers. I think I'm probably going to go for whitelist plus challenge-and-response - that way, the system is as secure as access to my mail accounts, which is good enough.

The process would look like this:

  1. I mail a weblog entry to the address that the AYAWT is watching (e.g. weblog [at] alanlittle {dot} org)
  2. AYAWT checks that the mail appears to be from an approved (whitelisted) address
  3. if so, it parses the message into my standard weblog entry format (including automatically extracting any external links for use as sidebar links, if a configuration settng tells it do do so)
  4. it adds some kind of not-too-easy-to-forge magic number - I'm thinking something like an MD5 hash of part but not all of the message
  5. then it mails the formatted entry, with magic number, out to the weblog editor email address (me)
  6. I get the message, possibly edit it, and send it back with something to indicate approval, still with the magic number attached
  7. AYAWT receives the approval message, checks the magic number, and if it's ok publishes the entry

No security-through-obscurity here. No real security at all, I'm sure anybody who knows anything about these things would say, but I think it will do for my little obscure weblog.

I notice Dave Winer is touting mail-to-weblog as a big deal new feature in Manila. It looks easy enough to me - probably because I haven't actually tried to build it yet. Their security mechanism - whitelist plus a password embedded in the subject line - looks easier to use than mine but even less secure.

In related weblog tool development news, I notice that Kimbro Staken, who emailed me in response to one one of my earlier comments about python on OS X, is also building a python-xml content management system and is further on with his than I am with mine. Russell Beattie has also been thinking out loud about something similar in Java. Everybody's doing it. Russ and Kimbro both seem to be focused on Big Thoughts about Architecture; whereas my one hour a day (max) of available development time forces me to be adopt the latest hot software engineering practices. I don't have time to do anything except The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work; I definitely Never Add Functionality Early. You won't find any Premature Optimization in my code either, thank you very much.

related entries: Programming


18th September 2003 permanent link

Lepcha (Róng-Ríng)

Anybody who has any interest at all in languages or typography needs to look at Simon Ager's beautiful and fascinating website,

The font above is Lepcha, a script related to Tibetan and used in India's north eastern states, Nepal and Bhutan. This one is Balinese:


(Link courtesy of Ronaldo at reflective surface)

related entries: Language

aryans in india - genetic evidence

18th September 2003 permanent link

More on the origins of sanskrit speakers and the Rig Veda in India, and why the previously very speculative and questionable “Aryan Invasion Theory” is looking convincing after all.

Strong support for the idea that the upper castes in India were, at some point, invaders related to European populations comes from a 2001 article in Genome Research by a group of researchers led by Michael Bamshad: Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste Populations. I’m not a geneticist or a statistician, but these guys look convincing to me. They’re absolutely explicit about their methods and approach; they state their findings without drawing any sweeping conclusions; and they’re in a serious peer-reviewed journal.

The article is very technical, but the broad outline and implication of what they’re saying is clear. There is a major genetic difference between the upper and lower castes in India, with the upper castes having more in common with European populations and the lower castes more Asian. The European affinity is possibly most pronounced among kshatriyas, although the authors point out that their sample is too small to be really clear on this point. The difference is greater in genes that are passed down in the male than in the female line.

This would be absolutely consistent with a takeover of the upper echelons of Indian society by a foreign warrior aristocracy, and so appears to support a version of the now-controversial “Aryan Invasion Theory” - although not with the “Aryans” as a migrating barbarian horde as fantasised by nineteenth century European nationalists. It is also exactly the kind of scenario Robert Drews envisages for Indo-European conquests in the Middle East and Greece. There are also plenty of obvious historical examples of similar takeovers - England in 1066, the Magyar invasion of Hungary, the Mongol conquests in central Asia to name just a few.

This study was done with a mostly Dravidian-speaking sample from Andhra Pradesh in central India, but they also briefly compare with another study of north Indian Hindi speakers, where the results were not greatly different.

They say nothing about when the predominantly male European population who took over or became the upper castes might have arrived. Although, as I’ve already discussed at length, I believe that chariots give us a firm “not much earlier than” date of around 1500BC.

Discussion ...

related entries: Yoga

more downtime

10th September 2003 permanent link

Flying to England tomorrow to visit my parents - you can get some remarkably cheap flights by travelling on September 11th. This will only be the second time my parents have met their grandson, so they're pretty excited. It will also be only their grandson's second time sleeping away from home since he was born - will be interesting to see how he deals with that. (Before he was born, on the other hand, he was in Russia, Germany, England, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. His mother doesn't believe in letting little things like pregnancy cramp her style)

Here's a generational difference. I was thirty the first time I flew anywhere (had been out of the UK before that, but always by ships, trains or hitch-hiking). Jack is three and a half months.

This probably means another week of not publishing anything. I'm beginning to realise that weblogging whilst actually having a job and a life is a non-trivial commitment


10th September 2003 permanent link

Alan’s Weblog is now brought to you by version 0.1 of Alan’s Yet Another Weblog Tool (which needs a better name). It’s written in python using xml files as the data store (haven’t had the time or mental energy to return to the struggle to get the python-mysql connector to work on the Mac). I’m enjoying python, and I’m impressed that I’ve been able to produce a non-trivial working application in the course of three weeks’ train journeys to & from work - say about ten to fifteen hours work in total - using a language I had previously only played with for a few hours. (This also explains the long writing hiatus - I can spend my time on the train writing or coding, but not both.) If I’d used java I don’t think I would even had time to type the code in this amount of time, much less get it to compile and actually work.

There are still one or two quirks - the odd non-English character might come out looking a bit, well, odd. This is due to the standard python xml libraries choking on perfectly valid html-encoded characters even when clearly told that they are looking at an xhtml document. Haven’t had time to decide what to do about that yet.

UPDATE 4th October: it turned out that ’what to do about that’ was, change my default character set in BBEdit from ’Mac-Roman’ (whatever kind of quaint retro-look relic of the 20th century that might be) to ’utf-8’. Which was nice and easy - I thought I was going to have to write some kind of Tim Bray-style utf-to-html-and-back conversion routine.

It also occured to me that, for what version 0.1 does - basically, take bits of xml and stitch various permutations of them together to make xhtml pages - I hardly needed to use a programming language at all. I could have achieved the same effect with some combination of something like ant or make with a command-line xslt processor. (Or even ant or make without an xslt processor, just supposing I didn’t care about alienating readers who don’t have xslt-capable browsers). Of course, that approach might lack a bit in the scaleability department, wouldn’t be expandable to do all the marvellous and clever things my python program will (might) be expanded to do in the future, and would have involved spending my precious time learning xslt (not fun) instead of python (fun).

related entries: Programming

kathakali photos

3rd September 2003 permanent link

Weblog software still-nearly-ready + having to drive to Düsseldorf and back at the weekend + photo submission deadline for a magazine = no writing for almost two weeks, but some new photos added to my Indian kathakali dance page

Kathakali dancer

related entries: Photography

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