Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Best Java

I'm migrating a Java, Tomcat based application to a new server and all I've achieved is record levels of frustration. Ah well, it is a solid reminder of why I avoided Java and everything to do with it. Unfortunately, the rest of the world didn't. Honestly, I just don't understand the appeal. Everything feels so clunky and obfuscated. Look at how you set up a database resource in Tomcat and note that it requires a declaration in two different configuration files. The best java is the drinkable variety (cream, no sugar), thank you very much.

Wuppertal Monorail

The Wuppertal monorail system is almost 110 years old and still operational. I'll admit I was quite surprised when I read the article but it is a reminder that there are very few original ideas around. The monorail survived World War II and has an impressive safety record with only incident in 1999 resulting in fatalities. There was another, much less tragic, incident in 1950 involving a pachyderm.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

F1 Australia 2010

It was sooooo boring!

I'm joking! ^_^ With all the hand ringing over how boring Bahrain was, Australia should keep everyone quiet at least for short while.

Vettel's qualifying lap was absolutely stunning and is worth rewatching but once again reliability robbed him of the victory, after a mechanical failure caused him to crash. Webber had an embarrassing race and managed only ninth place. This was not the expected outcome after Redbull locked out the front row of the grid. On the other hand, the Redbull is undoubtedly very fast, and solving reliability issues is preferable to finding more speed.

The difference between Button and Hamilton was very evident in this race. Button displayed an impressively cool head when he called for a risky change to slicks. Hamilton on the other hand was obviously upset with the team's decision to make a second tire change. It may tell us something about why Martin Wittmarsh brought Button into the team, since it balances the teams opportunities during a race weekend.

Even though the race was very exciting, the very real problem of passing was clearly evident when the performance of the cars is very close. The number being mentioned is 3 seconds a lap, which is how much faster you need to be in order to pass. 3 seconds a lap in an F1 car is an enormous difference and is clearly immpossible when the top cars are so evenly matched.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I decided to try burning DVD+R DL disks and made a few round-to-its (AKA coasters) before giving up. I tried two different burning programs and both failed at around the 80% mark. I assumed it that it would just work and nothing I've read suggests otherwise. I suspect a drive problem. Perhaps updating the drive's firmware might help but that requires Windows. Grrr. Dumb hardware manufacturers.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Note To Self

Note 1: Next time I'm tempted to take on two projects at the same time because they look easy, give myself a swift kick the pants. I should know by now that those "easy looking" projects are the most risky for getting bogged down.

Note 2: Installing software from source for production use is a pain. Avoid it if at all possible. Remember, you have to manage security updates for the software as well. Prepackaged binaries is one big reason I use Linux, damn it!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kernel Mode Setting

It looks like Kernel Mode Setting (KMS) for ATI chipsets has arrived on my Debian sid desktop system. As usual, I only realized this was happening after mplayer started complaining about the system being to slow. Errors in the X server logs revealed that indeed the Direct Rendering Infrastructure (DRI) was not working. Without DRI hardware acceleration, mplayer is definitely going to have trouble playing 720p video with soft subtitles.

This article indicated that the X server version was OK but I needed the latest Debian kernel package (2.6.32-10), which did indeed fix the DRI error and made mplayer much happier. However, it is not perfect. There are now artifacts appearing in the video during fast pan or tilt scenes. Even in an xterm, rapid scrolling results in noticable discontinuities.

The article mentions needing new microcode for the graphics chip. I haven't yet discovered if such microcode actually exists for the ancient R280 chipset on my ATI 9250 card. Or the problem may lie elsewhere. More digging is required. ^_^

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Summer Wars

Summer Wars is an anime movie that is definitely worth looking for in your local anime video shop. The animation is awesome but more than that, the movie combines a very common sci-fi theme with some wonderful characters to produce a truly entertaining and engaging story. This movie goes on my list of "why I like anime" titles.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Robotic Sailboats

Although I'm a dedicated land lubber, the technology in this robotic sailboat is interesting because the control system runs Linux. I assume (being a land lubber ^^) that controlling a sailboat isn't quite as easy as a powered boat, so it's impressive in that regard as well. A little bit of Googling turns up a few other examples (IBoat, Pinta, SPIN) and there is even organized competition.

Trolling On The Wave

It's rather sad how quickly the Internet trolls force everyone to circle the wagons and become defensive. Wave is no exception. A moderated wave had to setup after a someone trashed the index wave for all the role playing games. I guess this a problem we are never going to out run as long as there is someone who doesn't want to share the commons.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Watch Your Back Up

My preferred backup solution is rdiff-backup. Today I discovered a quirk which is a reminder to check the backups more often. Due to a scripting error on my part, the backup filesystem became full. Unfortunately rdiff-backup refuses to start with a full backup filesystem because it insists on creating a temporary file, probably to test if it has write access to the filesystem. Since you cannot run the rdiff-backup commands to cleanup the stale incremental backups, you must resort to more traditional brute force methods (rm ^^) to free some space on the filesystem.

Here's the quirk. Someone patched rdiff-backup to not create the file when running the cleanup commands. He discovered that rdiff-backup's cleanup command works perfectly without the temporary file, which is kind of a head scratcher. I understand why rdiff-backup creates the temporary file, but a flag to override the behaviour would be useful for cases where the user knows the filesystem is writable but is full.

Working Weekend

I'm retrofitting openvz on one of my customer's servers this weekend. Retrofitting had a few wrinkles that I wasn't expecting but setting up openvz wasn't too much trouble. But I'm not done yet. The first virtual server is already booked so I still have to migrate an end user's existing server to the new one. Yep, it's a busy working weekend for me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Recession Tales

Imagine finally getting your dream job and then having it fall apart when the economy collapses. Unfortunately that is exactly what happen to a mechanical engineer that I was chatting with today. On the other hand, his previous job was in the automotive industry, so he might not have been any safer there. 2009 is a year that many of us would like to forget.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Naming Of Apps

Here's an interesting dilemma. The program '/usr/bin/pip' exists in three Debian packages: pip, python-pip, and rt-tests. What to do about it, is being discussed in this bug report. The third package has already resolved the conflict. The first which is the oldest, is written in Perl, while the second is in Python (obviously). Curiously, both are installation programs for their respective languages. I can hear Myles muttering, "Just dump the Perl one!" ^_^

It goes to show you how careful one must be when naming an application. The obvious names are all taken so it take more effort to come up with something cool. But I'm lazy, so I just started using names that start with "toms", like tomstv, even if I have no plans to release the software. It's kind of silly but I've never Googled a clash yet. Except that Google isn't much help if the pre-existing program's rating is so low, that it doesn't show up in a search. Which was exactly how the creator of Python pip, Ian Bicking, missed Perl pip when doing his research.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Computers In Cars

A few days ago I read this great commentary about the over use of embedded systems in cars, which I thought was spot on. Today I see this article and it makes me want to cry. The thing that the really bugs me, is the "will make driving safer and easier" part.

First, driving is hard. For most people the most challenging part of their day is the drive to and from work. Second, using technology to make driving easier does not, and cannot, make it safer. The only thing that makes driving safer is better driving skills.

What this type of head-up display will do, is distract drivers into looking at the wrong thing at the wrong time. I predict collisions would be more likely in cars equipped with these systems. But what do I know? If people at GM think a HUD system like this will sell more cars, you can bet it will appear in some models.

Coding Dojo Again

So we tried another coding dojo at PyGTA this month. The goal was to write a command application in Python which is trivial to do using only the standard library. However, a coding dojo is an opportunity to learn new techniques so I suggested we use ScriptTest and argparse, although we never got very far with the latter.

This is the second coding dojo we've done at PyGTA so that's the only benchmark I have to judge how well it worked. There was definitely more frustration evident this time which is an indication we are doing something wrong. I like the coding dojo format but we will need to figure out how to run them better before trying it again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

F1 2010 Bahrain

The first race of the 2010 season is in the record books. Redbull Racing picked up where they left off last year with an outstanding qualifying performance by Vettel. Unfortunately, they seem to have kept the gremlins from last year as well, and Vettel was barely able to hang on to fourth place. With all the technology that goes into a F1 car, it's amazing a low tech exhaust problem can still destroy your race.

Even if Vettel had not had his problems, it's doubtful that the Ferrari's would have been able a make fight of it, as they had problems with over heating, which of course meant they couldn't really follow to closely. Which in turn makes passing difficult. Maclaren's aerodynamic problems were a surprise as this car has been in development since the middle of last season. None of the top teams have the perfect package yet, so we can expect to see lots of improvements as the season progresses.

The new rule that forces the top 10 qualifiers to start the race on the same tires as they used in qualifing, is going to take the strategists a few races to figure out. In most cases the best qualifying tire is not the best race tire, so if you want pole you are going to hurt for the first few laps of the race. I wonder who will be the first to give up on pole just to start on the optimum tire. It's not an unreasonable strategy.

There are lots of new teams and drivers this year. Some of the drivers hadn't even sat in the car before Friday practice. That's cutting it close! But Lotus definitely deserves applause for having both cars finish the race. That's quite a feat for any new team.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

ACTA: The Extremes

Last week the European Parliament passed a resolution which shoots down the entire process in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations. On the other side of the Atlantic, President Obama throws his unreserved support behind ACTA. This is about as extreme an opposing view can possibly get. Each nation in the negotiations has a veto over what information can be released, so as long as the U.S. takes this position any transparency on ACTA is impossible.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

WRC 2010 Mexico

The strange thing about WRC Mexico was that, while Fords dominated the leader board, it was only from fourth place and lower. Citroen owned first through third for the entire rally. Ford's poor performance is baffling. It may (even Ford isn't sure) have been the car setup as they decided to copy Henning Solberg's on day two. Just to be clear: the works team used a customer team's setup. Like I said, very strange.

Loeb was seriously back on form and dominated the rally as the Ford team failed Hirvonen, who actually showed pace once the team copied the setup but it was too late. The real excitement came from the fight for second between Petter Solberg and Ogier. This battle was so close it came down to winning the last stage, a short super special. Super specials are always tricky things, epecially when you using the wrong tire! In the end it was Ogier who made a small mistake while Solberg kept it neat and tidy to snatch second. It was very exciting!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Nabari No Ou

Nabari no Ou is a martial arts anime with a difference. Sure, there's lots of good fighting action, but the story is really about having a great power and deciding what to do with it. (Hmm, sounds familiar. ^^) Now imagine the power is somehow sentient and wants to be used, so it tempts you whenever it gets the chance. The biggest surprise is the choices the main characters make in the end. Honestly, I did not expect it. If you like your martial arts yarns to have a big final battle that settle everything, don't watch this anime. You'll be disappointed. On the other hand the series proves that a cerebral martial arts story is possible, if you try hard enough.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oh Canada Movie

I just watched Oh Canada! Our Bought and Sold Out Land, a satirical movie that examines the economy, explains why it is intentionally broken, and who benefits from having it that way. It was funny watching politicians squirm when asked questions which would never get asked by the main stream media. The solution to fixing the economic system is actually very simple but would never happen because it would require governments to actually serve the people as they are supposed to do. The movie is two hours long so give yourself sometime if you decide to watch it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Millimeter Wave Scanner

Here's something I've been pondering about the millimeter wave scanners that are the new hotness for security paranoids everywhere. Since the scanner apparently doesn't penetrate too deeply into the tissue, what if a device is surgically implanted? I mean, we are dealing with fanatics here, so this doesn't strike me as being beyond the bounds of possibility. I'm just saying, is all. ^-^;


Rajith Attapattu presented Qpid at this month's GTALUG meeting. Qpid is an implementation of AMQP, an open data communications protocol which has among its users large financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs. These days stock trading happens at ridiculous speeds and the protocols previously used to transmit these transactions were all proprietary and extremely expensive. AMQP is free and open while retaining the same reliability. It's interesting how free can look so good when large sums of money are involved.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Classic Lotus Porn

With the Lotus name returning to Formula One, and for the benefit of those lucky enough (you know who you are ^^) to have owned a Lotus, here is some classic Lotus porn. However, what strikes me is how small the old F1 cars were. Use the driver's head for scale and compare with a modern F1 car. Those old cars were like scary 300 km/h go-karts. And the driver was about as exposed, too.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Feast Or Famine

It looks like I'm going to be very busy the next few weeks as I switch from a project famine to a project feast. It's not a very tasty feast, though. These projects are not very long and not very exciting. And one of them isn't very well managed either, with a ridiculously tight deadline. It's the usual story: you are supposed start working on the project before it gets approved. Yeah, right. Oh well, work is work.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Myles found this new site,, about some hardware hackers using cell phones as controllers for their robots. The interface to the electronics is done with the Arduino board which I mentioned here previously. While their work is definitely interesting, I'd like to point out two things.

First, I don't consider a cell phone inexpensive when you want features like WiFi and Bluetooth. Second, these hackers are not exactly average hobbyists. I mean, how many of us just happen to have laser cutting equipment sitting around? ^^

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spy Traing Camp

Until I saw this Toronto Star article recently, I was not aware that there was a World War II spy training camp in the area. It was called Camp X appropriately enough. Ian Fleming is supposed to have trained at Camp X but the Wikipedia article debunks the story. Apparently the camp was considered the best of its kind. Nothing remains of the original camp except a monument.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Wow, the Canadian Government flip-flopped on the changing the anthem really quickly. The cynics (waves hand ^_^) can't help but think that it was just an attempt to distract everyone the other issues. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, that's just our Prime Minister pulling the strings.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Political Distractions

So our lazy, good for nothing Members of Parliment are back at work after our Prime Minister arranged a nice Winter holiday for them back in December. So let us see, what pressing matters are on the agenda? I know! Let's change the Canadian national anthem to be more gender neutral! Politicians are really good at distracting people with stupid junk. Do they take courses for that or is it a natural talent?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wimpy Canadians

This would be funny if it were so darned serious. Compare the Canadian ACTA delegation's concerns to New Zealand's concerns. It looks like the wimpy Canadians were just checking grammar and spelling. Well, thankfully they had more to say than the Australians. ^_^

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hybrid Sportscars

Traditionally automotive technology flowed from the race trace, to high performance road cars, and finally to regular cars. Over the years that path has eroded. One example is anti-lock brakes, but that is a minor system compared to hybrid power trains, which is almost going in the reverse direction.

Formula 1's KERS wasn't as beneficial as expected but that hasn't stopped others from trying it in longer races where hybrid power might actually be more useful. Gumpert and Porsche have built hybrid entries for the 24 hours of Nurburgring.

And let us not forget the hybrid sport cars. Ferrari has a concept car and Porsche has a supercar ready sale. See, now hybrid cars are getting interesting.

Monday, March 1, 2010

ACTA Deniers

Another recent ACTA leak tell us which countries support and oppose transparency in the talks. If you are a citizen of one of the denier countries, get some answers before it's too late.