Tuesday, March 31, 2009


When trade agreements are negotiated in secret we should all be worried. ACTA is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and it is most definitely cause for concern. Micheal Geist has written a timeline summary for those of us who haven't followed all the details to date. Details? Therein lies the problem. Getting details on what the agreement will cover, seems to be impossible. The U.S. has even gone as far as invoking national security concerns to block freedom of information requests. Huh? For a trade agreement?

If that doesn't send shivers up your spine, you must be living in China or some place where government secrecy is perfectly normal.

Monday, March 30, 2009

F1 Australia

The 2009 Formula 1 season started this weekend. I am hoping to watch the race on Monday evening rather than wait until the following weekend like I did last year.

With all the sweeping changes to the regulations this year, it would have been anti-climatic if the same old teams still held the top positions. In qualifying the rule changes have definitely had an impact. The grid was almost turned upside down compare to 2008 and with less than .5 seconds separating the top 10 positions, it was the closest qualifying I've ever seen.

Unfortunately, the race itself was not as exciting. The aerodynamic rules are suppose to enable more passing but I didn't see much improvement in that area. F1 has always had the problem that so few teams are able to get the package right. In order to have close racing and more passing, there have to be more cars in same performance range, otherwise they become spread out around the track and are not really racing each other. The new rules have not changed this problem as far as I can tell. The only real surprise was the names of the teams who got it so badly wrong.

But it was only the first race so it will be interesting to watch the bigger teams improve over the season. Most of the big teams performed so abysmally in Australia that any improvements will be quite obvious.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Linux Kernel

I upgraded the Linux kernel to 2.6.29 on two systems this week, and ran into completely separate problems on each upgrade. I haven't had any kernel troubles for a while, so I guess I was due.

I'm using the Debian packaged kernels which has for some time been separating the binary only firmware from the kernel, but this was the first time it actually affected me. The binary blobs that ship with the stock kernel, are a long standing issue for Debian because the blobs are not free software according to the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). The upgrade to 2.6.29 removed the firmware for my old ATI Radeon 9250 card. The strange thing is I didn't even notice!

The card still worked in 2D, so I assume that the firmware only affects 3D applications, which I don't run very often. I may have had a problem while watching a movie that had an unusual audio/video sync loss. It was unusual because the sync loss occurred at random intervals but corrected itself back to perfect sync. My experience with perceptible A/V sync loss is that it usually never recovers.

I only discovered the microcode was missing by accident while skimming through the list of new Debian packages this morning. I noticed a package called firmware-linux and in the description it listed the microcode for the my graphics card. A error message in the kernel log confirmed that the firmware was indeed not available any more. After installing the firmware-linux package, it was back to normal. This was a trivial problem that might have gone unnoticed for a long time if I hadn't checked the new package list.

The problem on the other system was much more severe but it manifested very soon after booting the new kernel. After only few minutes the network stack locked up completely. I couldn't even ping the lo interface! Some poking on Google turns up this thread on the Linux Kernel Mailing List. A patch reverts the change that is causing the lock up, but I decided to just remove the 2.6.29 kernel and downgrade to .28, rather than recompile the kernel. I have no urgent need for the upgrade so I'll wait for the updated Debian kernel. And yes folks, this is why you should never run Debian unstable on a server.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour

I turned off the computers for Earth Hour today even though I can't really see the point in these symbolic gestures. Its easy to reduce your electricity usage for an hour, but we are fooling ourselves if we think it actually matters. During the blackout in 2003, I was without electricity for about 3 days which was about average for most of the Greater Toronto Area. Three days was tolerable but I was starting to miss the computer by that point. Am I completely dependent on electricity? Hell, yes! We all are.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tax Time Again

I started doing my taxes today. :-) I didn't get very far before I lost interest. :-(

I'm fortunate that my business isn't very complicated so I am able to do my own taxes. However, I only ever tried filling out the tax form by hand once in 1991. I made so many simple mistakes, like transposing digits when copying numbers, that I gave up and immediately looked for a software package. I was still using the Amiga back then so I was highly doubtful that Amiga software for Canadian taxes returns existed, but to my surprised, there was a package and the local Amiga dealer had a copy in stock. It speaks volumes of the strength of the Amiga market in the early 1990s that someone actually found it worth while to produced a Canadian tax program.

Of course, by the mid 90s, it was a different story. I had to switch to Windows tax software in 1996 and doing my taxes became really annoying. Windows 95 turned me off Microsoft for good and had no computers with Windows installed, so I borrowed a laptop from a friend. Once I started using Linux for my primary deskstop system, I tried to run the Windows tax software with WINE but the installers failed abysmally in early versions of WINE. Later versions faired much better with the installers, but it was surprising how poorly the tax software worked in WINE. It wasn't WINE's fault. Seemingly simple tax software apparently used more Windows functionality than many of the games that WINE could run. Go figure!

Borrowing a Windows laptop to do my taxes continued until 2004, when I started using online tax software. I'd heard about the online software for a few years before that of course, but I waited to see who was going to stick around for the long term. Since I only ever did one return, the online software was much cheaper for me, because you paid per return. Some companies even have free returns for low income people.

My sister Jean started using Windows software for her taxes this year. For many years she had used a tax preparer, but the cost had become riduculously expensive for her simple tax return. The software was much cheaper and you could do more than one return, so I suspect she is doing her son's taxes as well.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Harmonised Sale Tax

The Ontario budget was released today and it begins the process of blending the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) with the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST). The Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) would be 13%, the sum of the PST and GST. This HST thing not new. Three other provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador) belnded their sales tax a long time ago.

Since the PST only applied to the sale of goods, never to services, and some goods were exempt from GST, the new HST means that people will be paying more for almost everything. Yes, this HST is going to be so popular among Ontario voters. :-7

It won't affect retail businesses much since they already collect both PST and GST, and in fact, their paper work will probably get easier. As a service business, I only had to collect GST and the paper work for that is straight forward, so I hope the HST doesn't make it worse. Yeah, right, I'm hoping. The HST goes into effect July 1, 2010.

Completely unrelated to the HST, the budget also introduces a 100% write off for computer purchases. I'll have to dig into this some more to see what is really covered.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Viper's Creed

Viper's Creed is an anime series that started in January 2009. The series is set in the future after a devastating world war. Global warming caused the oceans to rise and flood the coastal cities. It is not clear if the war hasten the global warming. The cities have adapted and continue to thrive, but there are terrorists who attack the cities using robotic weapons. Private police forces use transforming mecha to protect the cities from the robotic weapons. The police are just mercenaries and don't really care about the city they are protecting. They get paid by the kill and are free to withdraw if the risks are too high, although one named Saiki seems to be willing go above and beyond. All of that from episode 1, which was mainly one long, running gun battle anyway. Phew!

Things calm down a little bit in episode 2 as more of the plot emerges. The immediate questions are, who are these so called terrorists, and, why are they attacking the cities? The robots they use are found in the deepest parts of the city, which suggests the terrorists must be inside the city. The city's leadership does not have the full approval of all the citizens, it seems. Haruki, the son of one of the leaders, joins the police because he disagrees with his father's methods for protecting the city. Haruki is completely dedicated to protecting his city, an attitude which has already putting him at odds with the other mercenaries.

There is a lot going on in this story, even though it is primarily an action series.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Finale

Wow! The final episode of BSG will be my second favourite final episode of all time. The story pacing was just right. As with all good endings, it left one feeling a little sad. Many story arcs had a proper conclusion, but some mysteries remain. I'm actually glad they didn't try to explain everything. That would have spoiled it, I think. 'Nuff said.

Monday, March 23, 2009

War Stories

My father never did any military service. He was very young (around 5 or 6) when WWI started and was too old for front line service in WWII, but he did volunteer for a type of home guard in Cape Town. The city had a strict blackout policy at night since it would be a navigational aid for enemy submarines. One duty of the home guard was making sure that the blackout was being observed. If they discovered a house which was leaking light, they had to inform the occupants. After fixing the blackout, the patrol was supposed to report the occupants. Everyone knew that breaking blackout was serious trouble, so the occupants would bend over backwards to avoid being reported. If the patrol members were acquainted with the occupants of the house, a sip of brandy was often enough to avoid going on report.

My parents never spoke about WWII, and this was the only story my mother ever told me about that time, and for that reason it has stuck in my memory. Sometimes I wish I has asked them more about that time in their lives, but my feeling is that they preferred not to talk about it. Even though the fighting was far away from Cape Town, it was still a difficult and uncertain time for everybody.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I saw Watchmen today and thoroughly enjoyed it. I must admit that I was apprehensive before seeing the film. Watchmen is one of the most highly regarded comic books ever produced and Hollywood's ability to mess up comic adaptations should never be under estimated. The Watchmen film is a faithful, almost panel by panel, adaption of the comic, which is the same technique director Zack Snyder used for 300.

However, cramming that much detail into a film is difficult. The Watchmen film is longer than usual at 162 minutes but it is still extremely dense with plot and character development, and could easily be made longer. I can't remember another action movie that has so much dialog. There is so much detail crammed into almost every frame that, when the film comes out on DVD, people will be examining it frame by frame, looking for easter eggs.

There are no major stars in the film although there are several familiar Canadian faces. The acting was average but believable. For a change the effects supported the story, rather than showcasing how clever the digital effects wizards have become. That is as it should be. The film will not be an Oscar contender, but it will almost certainly be a cult classic in few years.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Games In Python

I have an several ideas for games that I want to write in Python, and until recently, the pygame library seemed like it provided the best foundation to 2D games in Python. I've only played with pygame a little so I'm by no means an expert, but it seemed to work quiet well. My game ideas require a hexagonal grid engine, and today I found PGU, a pygame library which includes a hex tile engine. PGU appears to be quite old and yet I never noticed it until today. The release date's indicate it was orphaned for while, so maybe that is why I missed it before.

As I said, until recently pygame was the only game in town, if you'll pardon the pun. Another library that is becoming very popular, is pyglet, which uses OpenGL to do all the drawing. pygame depends on the Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL) library. SDL is cross platform, but it is not commonly used on Windows and the Mac, which makes life difficult for developers who wish to target those platforms.

Right now, I'm going to play with PGU first. If the hex tile engine provides what I need, then pygame will still be first choice for me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

When Will It End?

Canada lost another four soldiers Afghanistan today. There is nothing more I can say.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

WRC Cyprus

At the beginning of the season I was worried that with so few competitors, the racing might not be very exciting. This race dispelled any such concerns.

Cyprus was a mixed surface event with day 1 on tarmac. But, in order to reduce costs, the teams were required run gravel tires, brakes, and shocks, which made day 1 really difficult for most drivers. The one exception was Loeb who used worn tires on the front wheels. This proved to be a canny choice and he was impossible to catch. Even after the other drivers followed his example, Loeb was still impossible to catch! With what was basically a gravel setup on asphalt, Loeb was able to out drive everyone else. The guy really is in a class of his own.

Petter Solberg was amazing! He managed a podium after driving like there was no tomorrow. This might be the most fun he has had in a WRC car for a long time. I really didn't think he had much chance driving a three old car, but he did great job. It is worth noting that, although the older car is down on power, it does has more advanced technology like active differentials, so I wonder how much of an advantage that would give him. Petter's biggest advantage is that there are no team orders and he doesn't have to worry about manufacturer points. I'm sure Sordo would have tried to regain the place if he was allowed to race Solberg. I hope Petter's sponsorship holds up so that he can participate in the remaining races. His presence is badly needed to keep this season interesting.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Linking And Copyright

isoHunt decided to take the question of whether linking to copyright material on the World Wide Web is breaking copyright law. While it is good to see them going on the offense like this, I hope isoHunt has the wherewithal to pursue it to the end. They were already fighting the MPAA in a US court. Starting another case against the CRIA in a British Columbia court, sounds like it will be financially draining. Both the CRIA and MPAA have the backing of several multi-billion dollar companies, and their lawyer's are so very good a dragging out the proceedings. On the other hand, losing means isoHunt goes out of business anyway, so they really have no choice.

Unlike The Pirate Bay, isoHunt does not operate a tracker and only links to other tracker sites. In effect isoHunt is highly a specialized search engine. Very similar results can be found on Google with a filetype:torrent search filter. To a technical person such as myself, it seems improbable that isoHunt could lose, but the courts are more unpredictable places than I am accustomed to. The World Wide Web doesn't exist without linking. Just try to imagine that!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The presentation at this month's PyGTA meeting was about the changes that have occurred in the OpenGL API. The speaker was Mike Fletcher, who is the maintainer of PyOpenGL, the Python bindings for OpenGL, so he is intimately familiar with its specifications. The changes essentially bring OpenGL into line with Direct3D and were made due to pressure from the graphics hardware manufacturers and game developers. The old API was very different from how modern GPUs work, so the OpenGL drivers required a complex conversion layer to match the hardware. The game developers complained that OpenGL lacked the performance of Direct3D.

However, the new API is completely incompatible with the old one so any software the uses OpenGL would have to be rewritten. This has serious implications for open source projects where developers are always in short supply. Many games could be abandoned altogether when the developers realize how much work is involved. More useful applications should fair better if the user community is well established. Since the OpenGL API is from now on allowed to change and follow new hardware trends, most open source developers will likely abandon direct use of OpenGL and switch to a 3D abstraction library. Time will tell how this plays out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Persona Trinity Soul

Persona -trinity soul- is an anime I started watching in January 2008. The fansub group dropped it after 6 episodes. As is my usual practice, I started over with another group in April 2008. This group disappeared after completing 16-17 episodes. That's too far along to start over again so I just left the series unfinished and went on to watch other shows. It was a good thing I waited, since only one group out of about 6-7 total, actually finished the series, which is an unusually low completion rate.

I obviously liked the anime which is why I've started watching it again. But, many who knew the game on which the anime was based, were very disappointed which probably explains the low completion rate. The story stands on its own merits as far as I'm concerned, so it was unfortunate that so many people couldn't separate the anime from the game. It must have been a great game!

The story is about certain people who have mental abilities which manifests as an entity that emerges from their body. The entities are just projections of the psionic powers, so when the entities fight, it is really a mental struggle that has been made visible. This is such a cool idea and is what hooked me on the series in the first place.

The power diminishes with age, but there is a drug which enables older people to continue using their power, but at a cost to their health. Of course, there are those who see the potential military applications for such a drug, and those who see it as being too dangerous and would like to destroy it. The conflict swirls around the characters in the early part of the story even though most of them are unaware of the drug, but eventually all of them are drawn into the center of the struggle.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Playing With Verilog

I got bored with work today (yeah, yeah, I should just get on with it, blahblah, yadayada :-)) so I played with Verilog. I learn faster from code I can actually run, so having a way to execute the Verilog programs was an essential first step. I used Icarus Verilog, a free Verilog compiler and simulator that I found a while ago. Icarus is available as a Debian package so installation was just a "sudo aptitude install verilog" away. Why the package is named verilog instead of icarus, I'll never know. I verified that the installation worked using the sample programs on the Icarus wiki site.

With a working Verilog simulator at hand, I dove into a tutorial to learn more about the language. The tutorial is good but sometimes uses language features before they have been taught, which is a bit naughty. All the example code can be downloaded which saves much time when trying the many examples. Unfortunately, I didn't get through the whole tutorial as it is quite long.

Today was an extremely quick introduction to Verilog so I still have much to learn before I could tackle something more serious. Problem is, I don't have any projects in mind where I might actually need Verilog, so it might a while before I get the urge to spend more time on it. And ultimately, without real hardware to play with, there is a limit to how interesting Verilog can be.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

WRC Norway

I finally watched round 2 of the WRC season, exactly a month after the event. The third round is almost completed already, so I'm really behind.

This rally was Hirvonen's best and perhaps only chance for 10 points this season, so finishing second on day 1 was not the best situation no matter how much he tried to spin it afterward. Both Mikko and Sebastian drove at the limit in every stage on days 2 and 3, and when taking that many risks, Loeb has always had the edge. Even so, this was only the second win on snow for Loeb so it was an impressive victory for someone as accomplished as he is.

It was great to see Petter Solberg back in a car and in his own team no less. He is my favourite driver of the current generation but he never seemed to have the best luck. He struggled for years in the previous generation Subaru which was never competitive. I often wondered if he still had the "stuff" and in Norway he dispelled any doubts.

Petter drove a 3 year old Citroen Xsara into the points in great style. It was only in the high speed stages where the older car seemed to lack the power to keep up. That may be a problem for him in rest of the season where conditions will not be an equalizer. Anyway, it was good to see Petter smiling and happy which was rare during the Subaru days. Maybe this is Petter's chance to restart his career.

Some of the stages in Norway were bloody fast, at over 200k/h on snow covered roads! Talk about driving beyond the conditions. It is this fantastic display of driving skill that makes WRC so wonderful to watch. I hope the sport is able to recover after the recession.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Usage Based Billing

Bell wants to start billing the independent ISPs for the bandwidth that their customers use when their data passes over Bell's network. Huh? I thought the independents already pay Bell for that bandwidth. If those fees are not enough, why not just request a change to the existing tariff?

The independent ISP are a thorny problem for Bell because they are real competition. Even though they depend on Bell of that last mile, they differentiate themselves quite well with better customer service, higher caps, and even unlimited accounts. Bell have been bleeding customers to the independents ever since Bell eliminated its unlimited service. When Bell started throttling their own users, the bleeding became a gaping chest wound. Bell decided to throttle the independent ISPs as well but that didn't help, since some companies offered ways to by pass the throttling. UBB would most definitely hurt the independent ISPs since Bell would be imposing caps on all of them. Unlimited accounts would be history everywhere in Bell territory. Even Teksavvy's 200GB account would be gone or become very expensive. The offerings of the independents would eventually look the same as Bell's, which is the goal, I think.

ISPs that have their own DSLAMs in the Central Offices will be unaffected, since their data would not pass over Bell's network. Unfortunately, very few of the independents have the wherewithal needed to make those kinds of infrastructure investments. Bell hasn't exactly made it easy either and have actively resisted allowing other companies into the COs. Only some of the other large telcos like Telus have managed to do it, but even they are not in every CO.

I would be surprised if the CRTC does not approve UBB, after a show of public consultation of course. Yes, I've become quite cynical of the CRTC, which I believe has forgotten that its true purpose is to serve the public interest, not the large corporation's. Bell's application hasn't appeared on the CRTC site yet, but this is the notice that Bell sent to the independent ISPs to inform them of the pending application.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just Work

Today I experimented with using rdiff-backup to pull the data for the backup. I was curious to see if this method offered any advantages over pushing the data to the backup server. I was using a recipe so the setup wasn't difficult, but in the end I couldn't see any benefit and decided that pulling actually has some disadvantages.

The backup server will need root access on the system to be backed in order to preserve file permissions correctly. The ssh forced command in the authorized key makes this safer but allowing remote root login goes against my normal practice. The recipe didn't cover recovery at all even though the procedure actually becomes convoluted and counter intuitive. The simplest way is to use root on the system needing recovery, and login to the backup server as the user that runs the backup jobs, so the restore pulls files from the backup server. But, this is same as doing a recovery with the push backup method! The final nail was that I have a mix of Windows and Linux systems which require backup, so the pull method would require a ssh daemon on Windows. A daemon exists in Cygwin but I've never run any servers under Cygwin, so there are a few unknowns down that road.

I'm sure using rdiff-backup to pull data makes sense in some circumstances, just not for mine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another Time Waster

Just what I need, another distraction and time waster. In the pub after the TLUG meeting last night, I talked with two enthusiastic players of Ikariam. Ikariam is a browser based massively multi-player real-time strategy game similar to Civilization and Age of Empires. Although I am not overly fond of strategy games, I decided to check it out today. Bad mistake. Yes, it is addictive.

Fortunately the game truly is real-time, i.e., game time and clock time pass at the same rate. If it a building takes 6 hours to construct, you might as well logout and come back 6 hours later when it is done. So, while the game is definitely a distraction, it can at least be pushed aside, while you wait for something to finish.

I did have the misfortune of starting on a very crowded island. A couple of the other towns are already high level and could swat me like fly, if they were so inclined. I hope the neighbours are not too aggressive.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Games On Linux

The topic at this month's TLUG meeting was games on Linux. It was a introductory talk so it covered a lot ground, from simple pickup games to the commercial 3D first person shooters that are available for Linux. For the retro game enthusiast there are emulators like MAME which enable one to play classic arcade and console games, and open source interpreters for the text adventure games like Zork. The console and arcade games are copied from the ROMs and are not modified at all, so for example, the arcade games still require coins to be inserted, which is simulated with a key press.

The talk didn't cover any open source games that I have not played. This might be because the good games are quite well known and bound to be popular. The presenter enjoys Battle for Wesnoth and gave a good demonstration. He obviously plays it a lot, because he had all the keyboard short cuts memorized. After the talk, someone suggested asking each person in the audience which games they played. I mentioned BZFlag since that was the most recent one I've played, but I've also played Wesnoth, Crossfire, Extreme Tux Racer (formerly Tux Racer), and others depending on my mood.

There are lot of games available for Linux and only the truly hard core gamer would have difficulty finding something interesting. The Linux Game Tome is a good place to start.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Central Office Locations

While browsing TekSavvy's DSLReports forum, I found a post that mentioned telcodata.us, a site which locates the Central Office for a given area code and exchange prefix. For example, my line connects to this CO, and the address appears in the detailed switch info link. You even get a map, although the one shown in that link is wrong. It looks like they are using the lat/long data which is incorrect for that address. If you search Google Maps for the address, the location is shown near Midland and Finch, which matches what I already knew. I've always wanted a way to get this information and once again the saying "You can find anything on the Internet" is proven correct. :) But, why would I want to know the locations of the COs?

I'm still hunting for an apartment and one of my requirements is reasonable DSL speed. DSL speed is dependent on the distance from the CO. So, if you can estimate the distance, you can get an idea of the speed that might be achieved from that apartment. This is by no means accurate since telephone lines are usually laid along the cheapest route, which may not be the shortest, but it is better than nothing.

Even so, the usefulness of the idea has other limits. For one, the apartment must be in the same building has the phone number in the ad, so basement apartments in single family houses are a good bet. But even then, sometimes the advert gives a cell number, or the owner might not occupy the same house, which is revealed when the CO for the number is on the other side of the city!

The real benefit is that it will open up areas of the city that I hadn't considered before because I was too uncertain which CO serviced the area. Having more information is never a bad thing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Daylight Savings Time Again

I forgot about the time change last night. I got up at 8:15am and only remembered to change the clocks about 2 hours later. Technically, then, I actually got up at 9:15 so I had really slept in for an hour. Usually when I sleep in, the day feels really cramped for time. Don't get me wrong, I like sleeping in, but I usually pay for it later in the day. Today was no different. I felt I like had to rush through everything to get it done.

Normally, I prefer to change the clocks when I go to bed, so that the time I get up in the morning is the correct time. It just feels right. Also, my method negates the idea of gaining or loosing an hour of sleep. At least, I think does... I try not to think about it too much. Makes my head hurt.

I wish we didn't have to change the clocks at all. There is no measurable benefit as far as I am concerned. Is there anyone out there who actually finds daylight saving time useful?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ride Back 4

Wow, the story just turned serious. The sudden military action was a shock compared with the peacefulness of the first three episodes. Perhaps that was the writer's intent. Our heroin, Ogata Rin, responds to these events with unexpected courage and foolhardiness. I guess it takes both to be a hero. Her skill on the Ride Back is just breath taking and she really goes all out in this episode. She is still learning about the Ride Back's characteristics so she is not even at her full potential yet. I can't wait...

There will be consequences from the events in this episode. Rin and her Ride Back were shown clearly on live TV so there's no way the authorities can ignore her. Not to mention the fact that she drove rings around their military forces, and the military do not like being embarrassed by civilians. And did I mention that the military is the government? Oh yes, the situation couldn't be any worse.

One important item I missed in first episode, was that the military used Ride Backs when they seized power, but the units were mysteriously disbanded. I wonder why? The military still has Ride Back units but I have a feeling that they are nothing like the ones that were used during the coup. Rin is using a civilian Ride Back so it will interesting to how it compares with the current military models. That showdown is inevitable.

Damn, 12 episodes is too short for this series. Here's hoping for a second season.

Friday, March 6, 2009

It's Called Sid

I've been using Debian sid, or unstable, on my desktop systems for a long time, at least 12 years. Despite the "unstable" moniker, it is quite usable. However, Debian 5.0, AKA stable, AKA lenny, was released a few weeks ago. Experience has taught me that for a month or two after the release, sid sometimes becomes a little, um, unstable.

Tonight, when I tried to watch an anime, I get no sound. No, actually, I can hear something but it is very faint and distant. After a minute or two, I realized the sound has somehow been diverted to the internal speaker! After trying to figure out what went wrong for almost half an hour, I decided to just blacklist the snd_pcsp module and reboot. It's an ugly hack but it worked. I just want to watch the anime, dammit!

Thankfully this is just small problem, but unstable has lived up to its name. I still remember when the bash package broke, leaving the system without a working shell. That was fun! As a result, the bash package is now the only one that is allowed to have binaries for the package management scripts. This happened more than 10 years ago and was the worst breakage I've experienced in sid. It depends on what you run on the system too. For people who run complex desktops like Gnome or KDE, it can get really nasty.

Why does this happen after a release? While preparing for the release, all of Debian is frozen and only packages with critical bug fixes may enter sid. This state can last a long time so all the newest versions of packages go to the experimental distribution. Very few people use experimental, so the packages do not get much testing. After the release, these packages are allowed to enter sid, and the fun begins!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cutie Honey

When first started watching fansubbed anime in 2007, I found this old series from 1973 called Cutie Honey. The episodes were a bit repetitive but I was hooked and really wanted to see how the story ended. Unfortunately there is no complete English fansub so I've only seen 14 episodes. Even though Cutie was a TV series, it featured what I would call "Barbie doll" nudity, which seemed very risque for a TV show from the 1970's.

Shortly after I started watching the anime, the same fansub group released Cutie Honey the Live, a live action TV series that started in October 2007. The story of the live action series is quite different, but is nonetheless very enjoyable. One thing they did keep was the "Barbie doll" nudity which is done with the actress in a body suit and some cheap effects. It works but I think the original anime was actually more revealing, which tells us something about how attitudes have regressed. Cutie Honey the Live is also the first non-anime fansub I watched, and made me realized how just how limited regular TV has become.

But it is not over yet! There is also a movie made in 2004 called Cutie Honey - Live Action. The movie is licensed in North America, but there is a fansubbed version around, although I haven't watched it. But wait, there's more! The movie was adapted back into anime, a 3 episode OVA called Re: Cutie Honey which I finished watching today. An OVA is a direct to video release which is less restrictive, so the producers went all out with the nudity and mature themes, but the story and character's are still excellent. Re: Cutie Honey is by far the best of all the Cutie Honey remakes I've seen.

There a couple of other remakes around and hopefully I'll get around to watching them some day. It is almost certain that there will be more remakes in the future. Just a feeling I have.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

PLC Programming Dilemma

I was at a customer today fixing a database problem, and they asked if I would help with some PLC programming. They know I can do so it is not a completely of the wall request. Now I need the work so I will probably end up taking the job, but I really dislike PLC programming.

One reason is that most of the programming techniques I take for granted must be thrown out. Take unit testing, for example. You simple can't unit test a PLC program without buying very expensive simulators. Well, if you run big bucks corporation, maybe it doesn't look expensive, but for my customer who is struggling at the other end of the scale, the pricing is out of the question. The problem is that, of all the PLC programmers they might use from time to time, I'm the only one who would actually use the simulator. Even the best PLC programmer I have ever known, had never even heard of unit testing. Testing? Just do it on the robot.

Another reason is that Ladder Diagram (LD) programming sucks. To me, it is just glorified assembly language and who uses assembler for complex systems any more? There are 4 other languages one could use. The graphical language called Structured Function Chart (SFC) is the most interesting. The Structured Text (ST) language looks a lot like Pascal. I've never had the opportunity to use any of them because LD is so entrenched in the automation industry that using LD will never be questioned. It is the risk free choice because you can guarantee that there be someone in the plant who knows LD well enough to tweak a machine. (OK, they might have some trouble with my non-standard programming style, but that's another story.) Fact is, very few maintenance staff will know the other languages.

Finally there is the plethora of different programming interfaces, one from each PLC manufacturer. Sometimes, I think they intentionally go out of their way to make the user interfaces as different from the competitor's as humanly possible. If you use them everyday, I'm sure you get use to it, but for occasional users like me, it is just a pain.

I will stop ranting now. I could go on about this all night. :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Canada Falling Behind

A report called Measuring the Information Society indicates that Canada's information age infrastructure is declining rapidly compared to other countries. In fact it is declining faster in Canada than anywhere else. When DSL was first deployed the the late 1990s, Canada was near the top of the list. This is such typically Canadian problem. There was a time when Toronto's transit system was held as model of how it should be done. Now the TTC is an embarrassment. Remember the Avro Arrow?

The main problem is that the big employers like natural resources and manufacturing get all the attention. The information age economy is barely blip on the charts so why bother with it? A good start would be to reign in the telecom monopolies who are becoming increasingly evil and are not acting in the best interest of the public. Sadly, even something as simple as that seems beyond our abilities.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The End Gets Closer

I worked on the DNS server today and made good progress. It is at the stage where it makes sense to install it and finish it remotely. The server was much closer to this point than my notes had indicated, and I'm not sure why. I missed something somewhere. The unit will be installed later this week, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

The LAMP server might also have the first user site running later this week. This is the Symfony developer so I can't predict how smoothly it will go, since I don't know the developer's experience level. Anyway, I have direct contact with him which will make resolving problems a little easier. Communication is so much simpler when there is no middle man.

I also spent some time talking to my contacts to see if they have any work for April, but it is looking grim at moment. There is so little good news on the economy lately, which naturally makes people nervous about committing to long term projects.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Skype After MPlayer

Since I started using Skype, it has always had a problem with video after running MPlayer. I managed to hit the right search terms today and finally found the answer. It seems MPlayer changes a XVideo attribute and then does not restore it before MPlayer terminates. Skype is not the only program that expects the XV_AUTOPAINT_COLORKEY attribute to be 1. After using the command
to set the attribute back to 1, Skype video works.

MPlayer should restore configuration variables to the same state that it found it. It is just good behaviour. On the other hand, programs shouldn't expect that a user configurable attribute is always going have the correct value. I'm going to call it a draw and blame the bad programming on everyone. I was hoping it would be Skype's fault so I could blame the closed source program.