Days: it’s a blog thing

Since August, 2001. Surely it can’t last…

Saturday, February 02, 2002 ↓


I’m guessing that Matt Wright’s FormMail (available from Matt’s Script Archive) is the most widely used form processor on the Web. ISPs and web hosting companies regularly supply it as one of the stock, pre-installed scripts you can use when you sign up for their services. But as a wise man once said, popularity is no measure of quality, and there have been a number of security holes in FormMail (permitting spammers to hijack forms on web sites to carry out their evil deeds) which have been steadily, if slowly, plugged over the years since it was written. That said, with careful and proper use, I think few folks will experience any real problems with FormMail, and I use it myself. In fact, in odd moments I’ve been patching together a tutorial on how to use and customise it, with the intention of publishing it on these pages.

But there are alternatives to FormMail, and I’ve recently discovered one at nms, an interesting project whose participants are building up a collection of replacements for Matt’s Script Archive. Why? Because, as they put it somewhat bluntly on the site, Matt’s scripts “aren’t very good” and “are known … to be badly written, buggy and insecure.” So far I’ve taken a quick look at their replacement for FormMail, and though I’m light years from being a Perl expert, the program does appear to be more thoughtfully and carefully constructed than Matt Wright’s original. All of the nms programs are available under the GNU Public or Artistic licences.

If you use Matt Wright’s FormMail, you might be perfectly happy with it and feel no need to explore other possibilities. But… if you’re using any version lower than 1.9, I strongly recommend you head on over to Matt’s Script Archive and get the latest version right now. Read the README carefully, and install it ASAP.

Are you forming the impression that this has recently become significant to me? Yes, well… {embarrassed blush} whilst I had taken great care with forms on my clients’ sites, I had rather quickly thrown together the contact form on this site and allowed an “automatic” installation of an older version of FormMail, which I had intended to update, but hadn’t quite got around to it. And then some smartarse exploited one of the more exotic security flaws in said FormMail to send spam out through my server. Needless to say, I’ve fixed it now — but words like “closing the stable door” and “horse has bolted” are ringing around in my head.

Posted at 2:47 PM


Yesterday morning I was thinking about writing a letter to KLM, composing it in my head, when I thought, “I haven’t picked up my mail yet.”

So I retrieved the usual collection of bills and junk mail from my letter box, and found an envelope from KLM. Inside was a letter apologising for my inconvenience last Sunday, and a cheque for £50.

This is a clever ploy, of course. Immediately sending me some unsolicited compensation is doubtless designed to deflect a written complaint from me before I’ve even had time to think about it. And it might just work — because now I’m thinking that it takes time to put it all down on paper, do I really want to expend the effort… maybe I should just stick the fifty quid in my pocket and forget about it.

I was talking about this to my friend Kenny (never one to tolerate corporations screwing the little guy, especially if the little guy is himself). He reminded me that the significant point was not that KLM had bumped somebody off the flight, but that they had bumped off a frequent flyer who has spent a lot of cash with them — and potentially will spend a lot more — and that’s something they ought to care about. He asked me what I would like to get out of KLM. I don’t really know, but frankly, I don’t think that £50 is it. With frequent flyer points and the like, they have a lot of scope for making a gesture that acknowledges my loyalty to the airline. Ideally, of course, I’d just like to know that it won’t happen again, but that’s perhaps unrealistic. But they could be more selective in future.

So do I write my letter as intended, or not? I still haven’t made up my mind.

Posted at 2:42 PM


It’s hardly news now, but when I was in Gothenburg earlier this week, Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author of children’s books, died at the age of ninety-four. I only mention it because it was remarkable to see the effect in the media — Swedish television interrupted its normal schedules to show special programmes on Astrid, all sorts of people were being interviewed about her, and even the breakfast news programmes the next morning were all about Astrid Lindgren. The newspapers gave over a lot of space to the story and to obituaries; if King Carl Gustav himself had died, I don’t think he’d have got more coverage.

I knew of Pippi Longstocking, and I think I’d vaguely heard of Ronja the Robber’s Daughter and The Brothers Lionheart (by the way, don’t the names sound better in Swedish? Pippi Långstrump, Ronja Rövardotter, Bröderna Lejonhjärta…). But some of my Swedish colleagues talked on Tuesday with great affection about other characters like Emil, or Karlsson på taket (Karlsson on the Roof), a rotund, ungrateful, mean-spirited individual with a propeller attached to his back that allows him to fly around the rooftops. It seems that all Swedish children are brought up on a diet of Lindgren’s books, and she has enjoyed such fame in Sweden that if you simply say “Astrid”, everyone knows you mean Astrid Lindgren. There was even a movement to have her nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I guess children’s book aren’t a serious enough subject for the Academy.

I got the distinct feeling that a part of Sweden had died with Astrid Lindgren on Monday. In a television interview, Inger Nilsson, an actress who played Pippi in four Swedish films made around 1970, said, “Pippi was Astrid, and Astrid was Pippi.”

Posted at 2:38 PM

Thursday, January 31, 2002 ↓


So there I am, Sunday morning, at the KLM check-in desks at Edinburgh airport. I’ve waited behind a whole bunch of people each with an extraordinary amount of luggage, including a group of musicians with instrument cases as well as suitcases. Eventually, a desk becomes free and I step up to it. I’m momentarily disconcerted by the fact that the girl manning the desk completely ignores me, but just as I’m beginning to think about that, a uniformed man sidles up to me, as if he’s just been waiting for the right moment to pounce.

“Are you on the 11 o’clock to Amsterdam?” he asks. (Like, why else would I be standing at a desk under a screen proclaiming KL2076 Amsterdam 11:00?)

“Yes...” I reply, suspicion mounting.

“I’m sorry, but we can’t board you on this flight. It’s overbooked.”

Now airlines have tried to bump me off flights before, and it hasn’t worked. I’ve found that cool but firm persistence pays.

“I’m sorry, but that’s hardly my problem. I booked this ticket more than a week ago, because I want to get to Gothenburg by this evening.”

“But there simply aren’t any seats on the plane to Amsterdam. Would you come with me please, and I’ll see if I can make other arrangements for you?”

“Look,” I said, standing firmly by the check-in desk (a lesson I learned before: never leave the check-in desk unless or until you know your fate), “I understand you’re overbooked, and you need to bump somebody off the flight. Just choose somebody else — it doesn’t have to be me.”

“But you’re not checked in yet.”

“Again, hardly my fault. I was here in plenty of time for check-in. I’ve waited behind a few large groups of people who seem to be taking everything including the kitchen sink on this flight; in fact, I’m surprised there’s room for any passengers. And,” looking at the clock on the screen above, “there are still ten minutes to go before check-in is scheduled to close.”

“Sir, if I can draw your attention to the conditions on your ticket…” flicking through to the page of small print.

“You don’t have to; I know that it says it doesn’t guarantee me a flight. But let’s think about this. You’re not trying to make alternative arrangements for me because the flight has been cancelled. Nor because it’s been delayed so that I would miss my onward connection. Not even because you’ve had a technical problem and had to switch to a smaller plane. You’re trying to bump me simply because KLM has overbooked, which as I said before, isn’t my problem. Now, I booked my ticket well in advance of travel. I’ve paid for it. I turned up at the airport in plenty of time. I’ve kept my end of the bargain; I simply want to travel on the flight that I booked and for which KLM was happy to take my money.”

“I’m sure we can get you there through Heathrow or Paris…”

“I’m sorry, but those are both longer routes. If I had wanted to go through London or Paris, I would have booked flights that way. I’m getting on this flight and going by the route I chose.”

“But the flight is full, sir.”

“I understand that. But if you want to throw somebody off the flight, think on this: I fly this route, by Business Class, every few weeks. In fact, I fly everywhere that I possibly can by KLM. I’m a Flying Dutchman Silver Wing member. I’ve lost count of how many thousands of pounds I’ve paid to KLM in the last year alone. How many other people travelling to Amsterdam this morning could say the same? It seems to me that being bumped off the flight is a pretty poor reward for my loyalty to KLM…”

“I know it doesn’t seem fair, sir.”

“No, it isn’t. And for passengers who are stopping at Amsterdam, there are other flights today that would get them there just a few hours late. But there’s only one flight that will get me to Amsterdam in time for my connection to Gothenburg.” While I can be damned awkward when I like, I’m not unreasonable, so I let him off the hook a bit. “Look, I’m not going via Heathrow or Paris. But I’ll make you an offer. I know that British Airways flies to Gothenburg from Birmingham, but I’ve no idea what their schedule is like on Sundays. If you can get me there via Birmingham, arriving no later than I would have with KLM, then I’ll go. Otherwise, you need to get me on this flight so I can catch my onward connection to Gothenburg. So I’ll just wait here until you check it out.”

And off he went, slightly but not entirely relieved. A few minutes later, he came back to tell me that British Airways could indeed get me through Birmingham to Gothenburg, arriving at almost exactly the same time as my original booking. So this time, I let them win. And ultimately, they did win, in the sense that only when I was boarding the plane from Birmingham did I find out it was a teeny little Canadair Jet 200, in contrast with the wider-bodied Boeing 737 that I would have been on between Amsterdam and Gothenburg. Sure, I was in Club Class, but the seats are a damn site smaller than on a 737, so the second leg of my journey was less comfortable (and longer) than I’m used to. I feel a letter to KLM coming on…

(Am I a cantankerous sod? Erm… no need to respond!)

Posted at 1:59 AM

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