Rainbow Chard

An assortment of indigestible things

On ‘Freemen’, common law, and unintended consequences

A man sitting at a desk looking frustratedI’ve written about self-styled ‘sovereign citizens’ and ‘freemen on the land’ before: products of selective reading through a Vaseline-smeared lens, they believe that the right combination of arcane language and red ink casts a spell over the legal landscape that opens a portal through which they can escape the effects of the law. They throw around high-minded principles of democracy and government, but the law they’re actually trying to evade is invariably one of taxation or debt. Funny that.

Just take my money and walk away

Some coinsJust before Christmas, I made a modest donation to a large UK charity in response to an online campaign. The charity does remarkable and important work, and I intended to make a one-off contribution at a critical time of year for them. Donation made, thank-you email received, a few warm fuzzies experienced, and then I got on with my life. Sadly, the charity didn’t do what it’s supposed to do: just take my money and walk away.

Are you hitting MaxClients without even knowing it?

640px-Brick_WallUnless you run a busy website, Apache‘s MaxClients setting probably isn’t something you think about very often. If not, then look in your Apache 2.2 config and you’ll find a block like this1

    StartServers              5
    MinSpareServers          10
    MaxSpareServers          30
    MaxClients              150
    MaxRequestsPerChild   10000

This setting, along with ServerLimit, controls the number of simultaneous connections that Apache can handle. Above this limit, connections are queued until slots become free. Apache will tell you about this with a message in its error log that looks like—

[Sun Dec 21 01:35:59 2014] [error] server reached MaxClients setting, consider raising the MaxClients setting

Upgrading to SHA-256? Some XP users will think your site is down

broken-httpsIt’s several weeks now since Google announced that they are phasing out support for certificates signed with the SHA-1 algorithm. The end result will be that, starting in Q1 2015, SHA-1 certificates with long expiry times will be treated as completely invalid by Chrome.

Unfortunately, upgrading to SHA-256 certificates will break Internet Explorer on pre-SP3 versions of XP in a horrible way. Users will get the IE Generic Page of Awfulness, making it look like your site is down.

The draft Scottish constitution: an amateur law nerd’s analysis

Scottish Parliament debating chamber

Scottish Parliament debating chamber

On 16th June 2014, the Scottish Government finally released a draft copy of the Scottish Independence Bill. The Bill contains a copy of the transitional constitution for an independent Scotland, which is full of interesting stuff. I’ll try to pick out what I think are the most important bits of the Bill and comment on each one. I’ve abbreviated some extracts where the content is technical or just not very interesting. Despite that, this is a very long post. Don’t feel like you have to read the whole thing!

For the impatient, here’s what I found most interesting:

  • ‘The people are sovereign’—sounds great, but doesn’t mean much
  • Parliament’s power to legislate is ‘subject to the constitution’—but it’s not clear what happens when it does something unconstitutional
  • Parliament is required to try and get nuclear weapons out of Scotland
  • In a fight between domestic and EU law, the EU always wins
  • Scots law which isn’t compatible with the ECHR is automatically ineffective
  • Most notably: there’s no indication as to how the constitution can be changed (other than by the people that are writing the permanent one)

Of course, fundamentally this document is all about votes: the referendum isn’t far away, and there are clearly clauses here that are designed to secure votes from particular people. I’ve tried to stay away from the politics as much as possible to concentrate on the law.

This is why I love teaching piano

A couple of years ago I started teaching piano to an eight-year-old girl who could barely play a note.

Yesterday her mother posted this video of her playing and singing ‘Someone like you’ by Adele, which I transcribed for her a couple of weeks ago.

Watch and enjoy. This is why I love teaching piano.

App Store randomly opening? An advertising network is doing it

How DARE you interrupt my kitten viewing!

How DARE you interrupt my kitten viewing!

Recently I’ve noticed that, every so often, my iPhone spontaneously opens the app store page for some stupid game or other. It’s usually when I’m reading a blog with advertising on it, or looking at pictures of kittens. Sometimes it happens from Safari, and sometimes from apps serving their own content. It seems that I’m not alone in finding this annoying, and it looks like it may affect Android devices too. Worried (as others are) that this might be some novel strain of malware, I decided to do a bit of digging, which revealed that one of the embedded advertising networks is being an arsehole.

Is it possible to do a law degree in your spare time?

This year's coursebooks

This year’s coursebooks

I’ve always had a latent interest in the law. Ever since my political awakening I’ve been fascinated by the invisible tendrils of a strange and powerful system that reaches into every aspect of life. It seems bizarre that only in recent years have its layers of rules, procedures and decisions been open to easy inspection. As a layperson I was attracted by the apparent cold logic of it all: every situation gets reduced to a result that is absolutely and provably correct and consistent (of course this is wrong, but more of that later).

Sovereigns and freemen do their worst

An assIt’s been almost two years since I wrote my ranty debunk of the British ‘sovereign citizen’ / ‘freeman-on-the-land’ movement. I’m relieved to say that, in that time, the craziness has subsided a little: no more videos of ordinary citizens making twats of themselves in court; nothing in particular from ‘commonly known as Dom’ and his ilk; no exponential rise in peddlers of half-baked ‘legal’ advice; zero UK media coverage. The post itself now sees 5-10 visitors per day.

For your amusement and, well, further amusement, I present a selection of feedback I’ve received on my little diatribe. Some are extracts from published comments, while others are drawn from those that fell below my very low standards for approval (mainly where a fake or invalid email address was given). Although I can’t claim to receive hate mail that ranks high on the Dawkins scale of fuckwittery, I hope this little selection makes for a smile or two.

Please feel free to imply [sic] wherever needed.

This really happened to someone!

Will you be ready?Has this ever happened to you?

I just wanted to warn all of my friends about something that has been occuring more and more lately, all through out the country. Groups of teenagers have been caught, in alarming numbers, playing a new and dangerous game called Spunkball. Spunkball consists of a group of teens in a car pulling up to a stop light, and looking around for a car stopped near by with an open window. When one is spotted, the teens shout, “Spunkball”, and throw a gasoline soaked rag that has been wrapped in aluminum foil threw the open window. On the outside of the foil is attatched a small fire cracker, with the fuse lit. When the fire cracker explodes, it shreds the foil, and the rag is ignited, causing a large flame that may catch the interior of the car on fire. Spunkball playing has already claimed two lives, caused uncountable injuries due to burns, and caused thousands of dollars in damage to automobiles. The best defense, say authorities, is to keep all windows rolled up when stopped at traffic lights, as only cars with windows down are being targeted.

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