Sunday, January 31, 2010

One Month Down

If January was any indication, 2010 is still going to be rough for me, but there are hopeful signs. I'm seeing more activity among my customers involved in manufacturing. The projects are all very basic automation stuff which does not require someone with my expertise to complete, so they are of no direct benefit to me. However, these kinds of projects are the bread and butter of small automation shops, so it's good to know they won't be going out of business any time soon. Between them and my new contacts, there should be enough work to keep me going.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Final Etch Upgraded

I upgraded my last Debian etch server today. Etch is end-of-life in a little over two weeks so the upgrade is a little late, but I actually first discussed it with the customer last September. I don't have remote access to this server so a normal weekend upgrade would require someone to give up a few hours on a weekend to let me into the building. Scheduling that someone proved impossible.

I finally decided to just do it late on a Friday during normal business hours, and let them deal any disruptions. Since it didn't seem to bother them too much, I won't worry about scheduling the next upgrade for the weekend. Thankfully, major upgrades are an infrequent occurrence with Debian.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Taking The Pip

This bug in pip is really bugging me. The solution offered in the report does not work. Since I've already downloaded the source, I started poking around to see if I could find another solution (apart from removing the assert) but so far it has eluded me. This problem only affects a small number of pip users, so fixing it is not likely to be a priority for the developers either.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I installed a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) daemon for the first time today. This all started because my web hosting service customer has a new client that will be generating a lot of traffic. He has setup MRTG on his Windows web server but the traffic must be monitored on the router/firewall, a Debian Lenny system. MRTG uses SNMP to acquire the remote data so a daemon is needed on the firewall to handle the requests. I installed Net-SNMP from the Debian repositories. The basic configuration wasn't too difficult and hopefully it's enough to get MRTG working.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ACTA Road Show

Another meeting in the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations is under way in Mexico. You know, these people sure get around. Government bureaucrats jet around the world using my tax dollars and yet I'm not allowed know what they are discussing. Here is a great summary of the ACTA time line. Definitely worth a read if you need to catch up on the history.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Upgrade Reality

I was back on Windows again today, working on some updates for the nine year old MS SQL Server 2000 based system. A SQL Server upgrade is being considered - to the 2005, not 2008, edition if you can believe it. Regardless, as usual it was left to me to point out the problems. (Why I'm always the one giving the bad news, I'll never know.)

The system makes extensive use of Data Transformation Services (DTS) packages. (I so regret not fighting harder against using this abomination nine years ago.) In the 2005 edition, DTS has been replaced with a new thing called SQL Server Integration Services (longer name, must be better, right? ^^) so you have to convert your packages. Your old DTS packages still work but the DTS design tool is no longer included and has to be installed separately. In case you missed the hint, Microsoft doesn't want you to use DTS any more.

It looks like enough effort that I would rewrite the DTS packages in a real programming language like Python. Of course, "rewriting" sounds worse to non-technical people so the upgrade is on hold while everyone ponders the predicament we've gotten ourselves into.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paper Work

I spent most of today working through a large pile of paper work. Of course, I'm responsible for letting it pile up so I can't really complain. If I took care of each piece when I get it, it would be so much less tedious and time consuming. It is an example of how procrastination always results in more work later. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of anything that can cure procrastination. And if there was such a cure, I'd probably put off taking it. ^^

Friday, January 22, 2010


Getting specifications out a customer is an art. You may get something so long winded and detailed that it takes days to understand. You may have to coax it out them. Either way, you won't have the complete story. Even the most detailed specification is never going to be complete. Of course, no matter what happens, you are expected to provide a fixed price quote with an exact delivery date. ^_^

Wave Improvements

Wave improvements are sometimes announced but I think most changes are not. In the latter category, earlier this week I noticed that waves are loading significantly faster, perhaps as much as two times faster. When I first started using Wave, one annoyance was that Ctrl-Z (undo) did not work. A while later, I discovered by accident that this feature had been added. I've now subscribed to the blog I linked above, but I wonder if they mention the more subtle changes there. If someone knows of a detailed change log, let me know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dakar 2010 Thoughts

I have just one reason for saying that moving the Dakar Rally to South America is probably the best decision the organizers ever made: the enthusiastic spectators. They are everywhere, even in seemly remote areas, and it gives a subtly different feel to the rally.

I say "seemly remote" because it is not always clear how far away from "civilization" the rally is really taking place. Once this year there was wide shot of the bivouac in the desert and you could see a city in the distance.

And as for how the locals get to these places, I'll remind you of the T2 class which are only slightly modified production vehicles. Never forget the old racing adage, "Winning on Sunday sells on Monday." I don't doubt that many of the locals drive the same vehicles in the T2 class.


At this month's PyGTA meeting Mike Fletcher gave short talk on Tornado, a non-blocking web server. Tornado was recently open sourced by, a social network site.

Mike wrote a simple comment and voting system for talks using Tornado. In the process, he discovered that, while Tornado is OK, he really could not recommend it over Twisted, the traditional Python asynchronous framework. There's nothing seriously wrong with Tornado, but Mike found he was writing a lot of functionality that is already included in Twisted.

As with any software tool, whether Tornado is the right choice for a particular application, must be decided on a case by case basis.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Working Without Working

It looks like the gate control project on which I was consulting is quite close to deploying. That's good news since the project was completely road blocked when I started on it. This marks the first time I've helped out on a project without doing any real work. OK, I did enough work to warrant getting paid, but you know what I mean. ^_^

As per usual, there is one last problem. I suspect that it is a wiring fault since there's nothing that can go wrong with matrix keypads. Oops, did I just say that? ^_^

Windows. Sigh

Sometime I wish hadn't done so much Windows development over the years. The problem is the systems are all getting old. The newest is already nine years old. The oldest is now 16 years old. Thankfully, the latter system has seen some improvements apart from OS upgrades, but all of the core functionality is still original.

The main obstacle is cost of course, even in good times never mind a recession. For me there is a bigger problem, however. These are all Microsoft shops and they'll have not yet seen the light of open source. This is a common in the smaller companies that are my usual clientele. Unfortunately, there not much I do except be there to offer advice when it is needed. I never try and persuade anyone to use open source.

So even if these ageing system are replaced, they will use Windows again. Sigh. If I'm lucky, the replacement systems may use open source databases, programing languages, and other bits, but that is the best that I can expect.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Java IPv6 Weirdness

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that Java applets were broken on my Debian/sid desktop system. I finally found the solution but it is just plain weird.

Debian recently disabled IPv4 traffic over IPv6 connections. (I didn't even know such a thing was possible.) Under the new policy, if you need to do both types of traffic, you have to open separate connections for IPv4 and IPv6. Java apparently expects IPv4 traffic to work over IPv6 connections by default.

Because that last sentence is kind of scary, I'm going to assume that I don't really understand the problem.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Only In Canada, Eh!

Of the countries with similar parliamentary systems to Canada, we have the distinction of being the only one to ever (ever!) prorogue its parliament for the sole reason that the government wanted to avoid scrutiny or a no confidence vote. In fact, it has happened three times in Canada, and two of those were only about a year apart. Now that's democracy, Canadian style!

Dooms Day Clock

The so called Dooms Day Clock has been moved back one minute. All that I can say is, "Huh?" It all seems very arbitrary. In 2007 they moved the Clock forward two minutes because there was an increased threat from nuclear weapons and global warming. Now they moved it back one minute because progress is being made to reduce those threats. Really? In just two years? I find that very hard to believe. Colour me doubtful.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Google ACTA Talk

Here is the video of a Google hosted a talk on ACTA. It's quite lively for a bunch of lawyers sitting around and waffling for almost 90 minutes, so it's worth a look but allow yourself enough time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dakar Coverage

I'm watching the Dakar via torrents of the Eurosport coverage, which is just amazing. It must be an hour long show with commercials. (I don't know for sure since I don't see the commercials!) The best part is they have a crew in the bivouac and actual live post-stage interviews. They still have to use the stock in-stage footage provided by the organizers, but the live stuff really makes a difference. My only quibble is that that they reverse the car and motorbike segments in the stock footage. I find it a little disconcerting because the motorbikes do start before the cars. But it is still the best Dakar coverage I've ever seen. Kudos!

Booting From A Network

At this months GTALUG meeting, Scott Sullivan gave a talk and demonstration on setting up network booting using Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) and then using it to install from the network. He explained that PXE capability exists in all PC BIOSes these days and the server side requires both a DHCP server and a TFTP server. The demo up to this point worked well and we were shown the client booting from the network, but when he booted a Fedora Core 12 installation CD, it refused to recognize the projector, so he had to abandon that part of the demonstration.

Finally, Scott explained how he uses net booting and Kickstart to handle Fedora Core upgrades, which are really reinstalls. Apart from automating the install, Kickstart allows him specify the packages he wants added or removed after the install so that he gets exactly the same software after every reinstall. Net booting isn't necessary for this, but it is useful for netbook computers which do not normally have CD drives.

It was an interesting talk and Scott made a good effort to try and demonstrate PXE.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wave Mysteries

I am totally mystified by Wave's CPU and memory usage. Load a large (over 150 blips) but simple (text only) wave and watch your browser's memory usage soar to 500MB. On my older 2GHz Athlon 64, CPU usage hits 98%! What on earth is Wave doing that needs that much resources just to display lots of text? Since Wave is still alpha software, one hopes that those resource demands will improve, but even a 50% improvement would still be outrageously high.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The family of author Philip K. Dick is suing Google over the name Nexus which he used in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep, which in turn became the basis for the movie Blade Runner. As this article points out, it is quite ironic that Google named their Android-based phone after a line androids that killed its creator. Obviously there are no sci-fi fans in the Google marketing department.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hiding An Elephant

There is a elephant in the room. How do you hide it? Easy! Just don't look at it. This kind of describes the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which depends on secrecy to slip past everyone and create a new copyright world order.

But is getting more difficult to hide the elephant as more questions are being raised in parliaments all around the world. I wonder which government will be the first to crack and reveal all. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to find incentives that will get politicians to ignore certain things, so don't hold your breath on this one.

Friday, January 8, 2010

American Television

I don't watch many American TV shows these days but I got sucked in by FlashForward and Stargate: Universe, and was actually starting to enjoy both shows. So what happens when they get half way through the season? Both go on hiatus until the Spring! I mean what is it with that?

There's a reason I don't watch many American TV shows. Thanks for reminding me what it is. The people who produce the shows are clueless about how to entertain people.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Canadians In The Dakar

Yes, there are a few Canadians in the Dakar. I thought I would mention it here since it is not likely to be mentioned anywhere else. ^_^

Unfortunately, the only car entry driven by Lawrence Hacking, dropped out on the first stage according to the standings on the Dakar site, although there is no indication of what went wrong. It could be just about anything, considering that it was the team's first attempt at a Dakar. Hopefully, they'll try again next year.

Four Canadians on motorcycles started but it appears that only one is still running as of stage six. I must try and find out if any Canadians have ever finished a Dakar.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't You Just hate It...

Got an email from a customer yesterday describing a hanging application, a database client. They were able to replicate the problem on two computers. When I went to investigate today, guess what? Yes of course, the problem has completely vanished and is not reproducible at all. I know something went wrong yesterday because there are errors in the PostgreSQL logs, but there's nothing that leads to the next clue. Dead end.

Don't you just hate it when computer problems mysteriously fix themselves? You just know they are going to come back later.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nexus One

Nexus One is an Android phone. Nothing wrong with that unless you are a programmer who likes to choose the languages in which you code. Last time I checked Java was still the only official choice. Other options were mentioned but it always seemed to require jumping through hoops. If I wanted to learn Java I would have done so years ago. No thanks.

As a programmer, if I were in the market for an expensive gadget, the Nokia N900 is far more appealing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Prorogued Again

So for the second time in a year, the Canadian Parliment has been prorogued. All parlimentary business is suspended until March. Why? Oh, no particular reason other than because the Prime Minister can. Hey, if you got a power, why not abuse it regularly? I fail to see how this will get Mr. Harper that majority government he so desparately wants, come the next election, but the opposition parties are wimps and likely won't force an election anyway.

Politicians! Can we just keel haul the lot of them?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dakar 2010

The 2010 Dakar Rally is under way and I have yet to see any video of it in English. What is curious that two successive Italian broadcasts of the daily highlights have appeared as torrents already. Worse comes to worse, I'll just watch the Italian version so as not to miss the action. It is amazing how much of my entertainment now depends on the generosity of others. ^_^

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Doctor Who: The End Of Time Part 2

Well, that's it! The conclusion of The End Of Time marks the end of the tenth Doctor. The story had a few good twists. The man that knocks four times, which fore tells the Doctor's death, was different than expected. The regeneration process was nicely drawn out to allow the Doctor to collect his "reward" as he reconnects with some of his companions. It was brilliant!

The story filled in more of the fate of the Time Lords whom the Doctor implied were dead in previous stories, but he was dissembling to cover up what he had done. War with the Daleks has changed the Time Lords from the non-interfering, do-gooders portrayed in the original series. I hope we will see more of them in future stories as they make a formidable enemy for the Doctor.

It was all very well done and a fitting conclusion to the tenth incarnation. I'm looking forward to the eleventh Doctor and the new production team.

Friday, January 1, 2010

BZFlag Results

The BZFlag game today needed more players. Three people showed up but considering I invited thirteen, it really wasn't a great turnout. Paul and I started shortly after 3pm and played for two hours before Al joined the game. He only played for maybe 15 minutes before Real Life called him away again. By the that time, both Paul and I were burned out so we packed it in for the day.

Paul and I were using cat and mouse tactics which flat out wouldn't work if we had more players in the melee. With a small number of players, using the automatic team assignment algorithm isn't the best plan. When Al joined he was assigned to my team since I was weaker. Problem was that I wasn't that much worst the Paul, so the balance was way off in a two against one battle. If we had continued playing, it would have been better for Al to manually select his team. Just another thing to consider when I setup the next game, assuming there will be one.

I would rate today's game moderately successful. It was fun but it could have been better.

New Year's Day Incident

By some combination of driving skill and some luck, I escaped what I shall euphemistically refer to as "The New Year's Day Incident." On the one hand, I hope I didn't use up all my luck for 2010 already. On the other hand, the rest of 2010 can only get better now.