Saturday, March 11, 2006

Jibber jabber

I was talking online recently with George Q, as we are wont to do. He was helping me test file transfer over MSN with my client and asked me about my choice of client. This got me pondering. I use an IM network called Jabber, rather than MSN, and George was asking why I used this. I have only a handful of contacts that use Jabber, and all of them have MSN accounts anyway, so why stick with this thing? It's not the feature set, since MSN has several features still missing from the Jabber protocol (eg VoIP for voice chatting) and it's not that the majority of my friends are using it, quite the reverse, as I mention above. The main reason, to be honest, is because the entire protocol is open source.

I do have an ideological thing about open source (although I still haven't made the switch to an open-source operating system) and that's what got me interested in Jabber. One (techy) thing that I like about Jabber is that it's entirely distributed. Rather than having a single (group of) servers concentrated in one place, anybody can run their own Jabber server and a user registers with one server. When they want to talk to someone who's registered on a different server, the client asks its server to get in touch with the contact's server and establishes a link between the two servers. This (theoretically) also makes Jabber a more robust protocol than something like MSN, since although a Bad Person could take out an individual server, the network would survive.

Also, because the protocol is open, anybody can write a server and client based on that protocol, and, indeed, there are several Jabber servers and clients available. I use Psi as my client and have set up my own private Jabber server using ejabberd.

So, I got into Jabber because I'm ideological and I'm sticking with it because I'm a stubborn old bugger :-).

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Jabber allows special server-plugins called transports which allow the server to see another (proprietary) network as if it was a Jabber server, which is how I'm able to talk to people on MSN.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Debate? That's soooo last century, my dear

Following on from Dave and others, the following was sent (in duplicate – to both constituency and Parliamentary addresses) to the (Dis)Honourable John Robertson MP.

Dear Mr Robertson,
I am writing to protest against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill currently passing through Parliament. All that I have read and heard indicates that this bill will have sweeping, and very dangerous, constitutional implications. The Bill gives ministers power to alter any law passed by Parliament, limited only by those crimes that carry a prison sentence of greater than two years and tax-raising legislation. However, in its current form, the Bill applies even to itself so it could be used to alter itself to remove those paltry restrictions without any Parliamentary approval.

Although this Bill will make ministers' lives easier by cutting out debates in which they have to answer awkward questions, I would urge you to look long and hard before removing a vital part of the democratic process. This Bill will make a mockery of Parliament, neutering the (already too limited) oversight role that it has over the Executive. Parliament should be there to examine proposed legislation and to improve it so that badly thought laws cannot be passed. The Commons is already failing in this role, and only the (ironically unelected) House of Lords is standing between the Executive and its insatiable desire to gather power to itself. And this Bill could depose the Lords, since their power is granted by Acts of Parliament.

The Government claims that the Bill would not be used for controversial matters, but there is nothing in the Bill to enforce this, and, frankly, I have no trust in any individual minister of state to limit themselves when applying this. Only the full machinery of Parliament, with all its checks and balances can do this. To quote James Madison in The Federalist Papers, we should remember when handing out political power that “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm”.

So I urge you once again to vote against the Bill when it comes before the Commons, or, at the very least, ensure that its powers are severely reduced.

Yours Sincerely,
Rajnish Bhaskar.

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