Daily Archives: Sunday, 30th Dec 2007

Talking of Torchwood

As promised, here are a couple more Torchwood-related pictures. I spotted this building from the train as I arrived in Cardiff, and I knew I’d have to get a picture of it, which I did when I came back from the Bay.

Jack's Perch

Jack's Perch

Torchwood fans may recall seeing Captain Jack standing on top of this building...
Jack's Perch - up close

Jack's Perch - up close

A quite spectacular place for watching over the city...

Torchwood fans will recall the nifty helicopter shot of Captain Jack standing on the structure at the top of this distinctive building.

Torchwood is coming….

Now that the Doctor Who Christmas Special and Robin Hood are behind us, TV is once again in danger of becoming unbearably tedious. But what’s this? Could it be? Is it? Yes!! The long-awaited second series of Torchwood is coming soon! It’s been nearly a year since the first series ended, and we have at least seen Captain Jack unwind a bit while having fun with the Doctor. But now he has to settle back into his role as Defender of the Earth and leader of the slightly deranged Torchwood Cardiff crew[1]. Will he be the more relaxed, easy going and fun guy he is when he’s with the Doctor, or will he go back to his altogether darker side that we saw so much of in series one? And how will Martha get on with the Torchwood crew when she appears?

Whatever happens, it should be a lot of fun. And it’ll stop this time of year being a dire TV wasteland while we wait for Doctor Who to return.

[1] Which reminds me – I’ve got another Torchwood related picture to post…

Robin Hood – A Good Day to Die/We Are Robin Hood

And so the second series of the generally quite bonkers arrows and anachronisms show came to an end with the last two episodes run together without a break. I’m not quite sure where the join was, so I’ll treat this as one extra long episode.

The fun starts when Much arranges a surprise birthday party for Robin in a village barn. It’s when Much notices that the villagers are conspicuous by their absence that it becomes clear that the Sheriff has arranged a nice surprise for Robin’s birthday as well – one hundred extras mercenaries led by a charming man called Ellingham, who lets the gang know that his men are there to kill them. Not quite what I’d want for my birthday, but all in a day’s work for your busy outlaw, I guess.

At the castle, Guy’s being all moody again. He tells Marian that he has to go away, but can’t tell her where. And he makes her promise that she really, really, really has stopped the Night Watchman routine. Soon enough, we learn that the Sheriff is taking Guy and Alan to Portsmouth. Marian, being a little quicker on the uptake than Alan, realises that they must be planning to kill King Richard, so she pops out to the forest to find Robin. But as Robin is a bit busy being barricaded in a barn waiting for the mercenaries to kill him, he’s not around. So Marian pops back to the castle and confronts Alan. He (naturally) denies all knowledge of the Sheriff’s plans, so Marian knocks him out and borrows his sword, then goes to see the Sheriff, with the intention of killing him. He sees her coming and overpowers her before Guy and the embarrassed Alan turn up. After a bit of the usual shouting, Guy admits that he knew Marian was the Night Watchman, and that it was Alan who did the running away routine in the last episode. The Sheriff gets a bit cross about that, but rather than doing something sensible like chaining them all up in a convenient dungeon, or killing them, he decides that they’re all going to travel together. Not just to Portsmouth, but to the Holy Land, where they will kill the King. And so they set off, travelling at such remarkable speed that they only have one overnight stop on the way from Nottingham to Portsmouth, a distance of around 185 miles on modern roads. They stop at an inn on the Portsmouth Road, where Marian, having learned of Robin’s plight, begs Alan to help him.

Back at the barn, the gang agree that they’ll go out fighting at first light. And as they’re all going to die anyway, Djaq persuades them all to do a bit of soul-bearing. It’s some kind of tradition with her people, or so she says. She goes first, and after saying how she loves the whole gang, she finally gets round to declaring that she’s in love with Will, who immediately tells her that he feels the same way. Well, they’ve been making puppydog eyes at each other for ages, so it was about time.

John reluctantly goes next, and after a bit of ranting and raving, finally explains his Klingon tendency to keep suggesting that it’s a good day to die. He hates himself for abandoning his wife and son, and says that he wants to die.

Much lets all of his simmering resentment out – why doesn’t Robin treat him as a friend, rather than a servant?

And after much (not Much) persuasion, Robin admits what’s on his mind. He’s tormented by the horrors he saw in battle in the Holy Land, which is why he so desperately wants to avoid killing[1]. He gets a bit whiny, really…

While all this is going on, Alan finally realises that he’d rather be one of the god guys and rides from the inn to help Robin. And he makes good time, because he arrives at the barn just before the gang are about to make their final stand. He bluffs Ellingham that the Sheriff wants Robin and Co alive after all. He goes into the barn and persuades everyone that he’s on their side and that he’s really sorry and all that kind of thing. And so he leads them out, apparently tied together. Unfortunately, one of Ellingham’s men has been to the castle, and lets him know about the Sheriff’s departure. So they have to do a bit of fighting after all. Somehow they manage to get to some horses and ride off. Realising that there’s no time to lose, they go after the Sheriff.

With no apparent lapse of time, the Sheriff, Guy and Marian reach Acre, where they meet some of the Sheriff’s co-conspirators. They have a Fiendish Plan. A messenger, purporting to be from Saladin, and bearing Saladin’s (presumably stolen) seal, will go to meet the King, and tell him that Saladin wants peace, and will meet Richard alone, face-to-face, man-to-man, and all that. The King will then be met by a large assassin. Marian tries one more time to persuade Guy to do the right thing and save the King by killing the Sheriff. Believing Robin to be dead, she tells him that if he does, she will willingly marry him. He appears to think about it before telling the Sheriff all about it. And tells him that when they return to England, he will take her by force. Nice chap…

Robin and the gang obviously caught the next boat[2], because they arrive in Acre soon after the Sheriff. They go to the house of Djaq’s old friend Bassam, keeper of messenger pigeons. He agrees to lead them to the King’s camp.

A spy informs the Sheriff that Robin is not only not dead, but in the locality. The Sheriff is only mildly distressed by this and decides to add a little something to the fake message from Saladin – he aims to get King Richard to kill Robin (presumably before his assassin kills Richard). Nicely fiendish.

Sure enough, Richard meets the fake messenger, and agrees to meet Saladin alone in the desert. As a sign of trust (or so he says), the messenger warns Richard that someone is coming to kill him, someone he would normally trust, someone who will offer to protect him. That should be a big enough hint, then.

Robin and the gang arrive at the King’s camp, where they meet our old friend Carter, and indeed the King, who greets Robin warmly. Everything goes well until Robin tells Richard that he should let Robin protect him. Richard believes that Robin has changed sides and orders that the gang should be executed. After some dithering, Richard does the traditional “don’t kill the hero quickly” routine[3]. Rather than do something simple like cutting their heads off, he resolves to “let the desert decide” their fate, and has them tied to stakes in the sand.

Back in town, the Sheriff taunts Marian. He tells her that Robin is alive, and that he’ll arrange for them to die together. They ride out to the desert, led by one of Richard’s men, who turns out to be in with the Black Knights. Marian is tied up behind Robin. As they’re going to die, they start to exchange remarkably modern-sounding marriage vows. They don’t quite finish the job, as Carter arrives and releases them. They ride to find the King.

The fake Saladin rides towards a lone figure in the desert. He jumps from his horse, pulls out his sword and declares that he isn’t Saladin after all. The lone figure removes his cloak and reveals that he isn’t King Richard, either. Yes, it’s Robin. They fight for a while before the gang, accompanied by Richard and Carter, decide to join in. “Saladin” flees, joined by the Sheriff and Guy.

And just for once, the good guys are chasing the bad guys into a nearby deserted town. In town, the Sheriff manages to shoot an arrow at the King, and to kill Carter. The King rides on a short distance before falling from his horse.

Guy approaches with drawn sword, ready to finish off the wounded King. Marian gets between them and tells him he’ll have to kill her first. She also tells him that she loves Robin, and intends to marry him. This is all a bit too much for Guy’s fragile little mind and he runs her through with his sword.

As Marian falls to the ground, the rest of the gang arrive. The Sheriff and Guy flee. Marian is not at all well. She asks Robin to remove the sword that’s deep inside her, but Djaq indicates that this wouldn’t be a good idea. Marian, not being entirely stupid, realises that she’s going to die, and that pulling the sword out will just speed matters up. She makes Robin promise to keep fighting, and they complete their wedding vows, complete with a ring provided by the King. Having sorted that little matter out, she pulls the sword out herself. And dies. No, really dies. I know they tried killing her towards the end of the last series, but that was just a bit of misdirection. This time she’s deader than a very dead thing indeed, and even gets buried, just to make sure that she won’t be making a surprise return. Well, not unless the show turns into a ghost story.

The King, however, is fine. The wound was a minor one, and he’ll make a full recovery.

Djaq and Will decide to stay together in the Holy Land. Is that permanent? Have they left the gang for good, or is this one of those misdirection thingies? We’ll find out in the next series, presumably.

The King sends Robin, Much, John and the now completely forgiven Alan back to England as his representatives. And off they go…

After the extreme silliness of much of the series, it made a change for things to get a little more serious at the end. Having Guy kill Marian is going to have interesting consequences for the future – Robin’s not going to be at all pleased to see Guy, and Guy’s probably not going to be happy with what he’s done. Knowing Guy, he’ll probably blame Robin, so there should be some fighting there…

And Robin has lost the woman he loves. Again. Will he go to pieces again, or will he fight on with even more vigour? Will he find some more convenient outlaws to replace the missing members of his gang? Will everyone keep teasing Alan about being a twit? Will the Sheriff get even nastier? Will we ever meet the delightful Prince John?

All these questions may be answered in the next series, which apparently will be the last one to star Jonas Armstrong, who plans to go on to other projects now that people know who he is.

[1] Except in odd episodes where the writers forgot about that little detail :laugh:
[2] Is there a daily service?
[3] See James Bond, the 1960s Batman TV series, etc…

Weight Report – 30 December 2007

Hmmm. I seem to be oscillating wildly[1]. Well, I’m not oscillating as such, but my weight is. Today’s weight is back up to Friday’s level. Still, it’s not a bad weight variation for a weekend, so I won’t make a fuss about it.

Tomorrow, I’ll let you have the last weight report of 2007[2][3], the now traditional[4] end of month round-up, and as a special treat, an exclusive end of year round up! Now there’s something to look forward to. Or not.

[1] Smiths reference :grin:
[2] Now there’s a surprise :laugh:
[3] And the day after, by an odd coincidence, I’ll offer the first weight report of 2008!
[4] Hey, I’ve done it twice in a row, that’s enough for a tradition, innit?

Custom WordPress database error page

WordPress[1] relies on a database to perform all its magic. This is a good way of doing things, as it means that all the posts are stored as database records, with the pages you see being created on the fly rather than there being many thousands of prebuilt HTML files. Having all those files wouldn’t be a space problem, but they’d need to be rebuilt every time I made the slightest change to the design or layout of the site, which would make the server quite unhappy. However, it does mean that there’s one more thing to go wrong, and occasionally it does just that. Sometimes it’s the database server having a bad day, being rebooted or whatever, and just occasionally it’s a problem with my site that’s making the database unhappy. Either way, if WordPress can’t see its database, it can’t do anything other than throw up its hands and say “it’s broken”.

Until the release of WordPress 2.3.2, an error page similar to this was displayed.

Old Error Page

Old Error Page

Now there are a number of problems with this. It presents information that is only of use to the person running the site – it babbles on about the wp-config.php file, it suggests that the database server might have gone for a walk and suggests a visit to the WordPress support forums. Now if it’s your site that’s broken, that’s good advice. But if you’re trying to visit a site and you see that, it’s not really useful information. Indeed, as it mentions the name of the database server, it’s the kind of thing that is considered to be a bit of a security no-no. It’s not generally considered a good idea to give the naughty people any more information than you absolutely need to.

Another problem with the message is that it says “WordPress” on it in large friendly letters, and doesn’t identify the actual site that has the problem. So what happens is that a site becomes unexpectedly popular (maybe it gets a mention on Digg or some such place), the little database server can’t take the load and falls over, and lots of people see a message telling them that WordPress is broken. And as lots of people don’t always think things through, they get the idea that this means that the hosted Matt had chosen a different name for the hosted service, but it’s a bit late for that now…

So, in response to these problems, WordPress now presents this much more sensible error message. It’s short and to the point, doesn’t reveal any potentially dangerous details, and doesn’t suggest that WordPress itself is borked.

New Database Error Message

New Database Error Message

What’s that? You don’t like it? You think it’s maybe a little too terse? Well, there’s some good news for you. Previously, if you wanted to replace the standard error page, you had to edit core WordPress files. Now that’s not all that hard (other people have done it and documented the process), but it’s a bit annoying to have to redo your work every time there’s a WordPress update. Some of my own tweaks used to require a little similar tweaking, and I had to keep a changelog file so I knew what to redo every time. As WordPress and its plugins developed, I was able to abandon such unsavoury activities, and I’m much happier for it. Anyway, all you have to do now is create a text file called db-error.php and save it in the wp-content directory on your server. Then, if your database server gets upset, your visitors will see your error page rather than a generic WordPress one. People will know that they’ve reached the right place, nobody will see any information they don’t need to see, WordPress won’t get the blame for your broken database server, and everyone will be happy. Or as happy as you can be when your database isn’t talking to you.

I’ve created a custom page which matches the current look of the site. It won’t automagically change if I change the layout, but as it uses the same stylesheet as the live site, it will keep up with changes to the colour scheme.

Custom Error Page

Custom Error Page

Rather than creating this from scratch, I based it on the page that appears when a visitor tries to go to a page that doesn’t exist on the site. I brought up that page, then using Firefox, I right-clicked and told it to display the page source in my favourite text editor (TextPad on Windows. Not sure about Macs yet). I then chopped out the bits I didn’t want, like the sidebar, tons of JavaScript and other bits that are needed for normal pages, and put some suitable text in the middle of the page. I saved it as db-error.php and uploaded it.

I gave it a quick test by uploading a slightly edited version of my wp-config.php file, and it works!

While WordPress point releases are normally just bug fixes and security updates, this one actually adds a useful feature. Nice work!

[1] That’s the software I use to run Losing it[1] for those who haven’t been paying attention, or who aren’t usually bothered by such irrelevant geeky details
[2] And lots of support forum confusion

WordPress 2.3.2 is out

Well, it’s been just over two months since the last update, so it had to be time for another security release of WordPress. This one fixes some security issues (not really of the OMG!!! We’re all going to die!! variety, but of enough concern to make updating worthwhile. It also (at last!!) allows for a custom error page to be used when WordPress can’t connect to its database, rather than the general “WordPress” error that has lead to much confusion over the last few years.

Basic information on the WordPress Development Blog, gory details available from Westi on WordPress, download it from the usual place, and mind-bogglingly quick and easy updates with Bryan Layman’s EasyWPUpdate script.

Version 2.4 with some new features and bits and bobs is due out in a month or so, but don’t wait until then – get your security updating done now.