Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's Just A Game

I started playing role playing games in 1981 with the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game. (So I'm a geek. Get over it.) I enjoyed RPGs as games, nothing more. Since returning to RPGs on Google Wave last year, I've discovered that I'm definitely in the minority as far as treating it like a game. Many other players, mostly younger that I, describe RPGs with phrases such as "collaborative story telling," which I suppose is an attempt elevate RPGs to something more meaningful. Why bother? It's just a game. Enjoy it for what it is. Why is that so hard?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Selective Memory

I've mentioned more than once that this year was the first time all my siblings have met in Canada. That's false. Somehow it slipped my memory that in fact we came together for two funerals in Canada, in 1988 and 1998. I suppose it might be selective memory blotting out an unpleasant experience but I doubt it, as remember far less pleasant things than funerals! I believe there's a simpler explanation: I'm becoming forgetful in my old age. ^_^

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nutritional Facts

I've always found it ironic that a "nutritional facts" label appears on edible products (I hesitate to call them "food" products) when they have little or no nutritional value. Unless a fatty, sugar rush counts as nutrition and nobody told me. It doesn't, does it? Just checking.

The problems with these labels is that they are too technical. In addition to the grams and percentages, there should a overall numeric rating. A zero means, "You will die very happy within an hour," a five means, "It's good for you unless you over do it, then you will die very happy within an hour," and a ten means, "It's good for you, eat as much as you want." For the humour impaired, I'm being very silly but that doesn't make it a bad idea.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Demand

I was in demand today. Every one wanted my attention for something or another. From production problems to sysadmin requests, it was cornucopia of customer calls, but the one that I really wanted to hear, was missing. "The project is approved." *sigh*

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Problem Solving

I solved a strange problem today. If you asked me how I solved it, the honest answer is, "I guessed."

I setup a replacement industrial PC for an automation system recently. After the PC was installed into system, the user found an odd behaviour on one screen. When one of the arrows on a scrollbar was pressed using the mouse, the list box would start to scroll continuously, as if in an endless loop. I hadn't tested that particular action so I could not say for sure that it worked before the PC was shipped.

Of course, the fact that they were using the mouse when they were supposed to be using a touchscreen, was very confusing. Apparently, all the touchscreens (there's more than one system) broke a long time ago and they bothered to replace them. Users. *rolls eyes*

At this point I got a break. The user wanted a backup replacement PC. After setting it up, I was able to duplicate the the problem. Yay, duplicating a problem is always good. But what the frak was going on, I had not the foggiest clue.

At first I suspected there was some bug in the GUI software that appeared because of the newer versions of Tk on the new PC. After another few hours of messing about, I had to conclude that couldn't possibly be the problem. Tk changes so little between versions, it's almost kind of sad.

I started poking around again, looking for anything that might give me direction. The 3M touchscreen installer updates the X configuration file. I noticed that the driver used an option SendCoreEvents. Hmm, what's that do? Reading the man page (yes, I read documentation. ^^) lead me to two other options CoreKeyboard and CorePointer, which, if ommitted, would default to the first keyboard and pointer. Except there were now two pointers (mouse and touchscreen) in the system.

I added the CoreKeyboard and CorePointer options to the keyboard and pointer configuration respectively, just to see what would happen. Lo and behold! The problem was fixed! My customer was very happy but found my answer to the question of how I solved it, somewhat perplexing. I'm sure people who solve strange problems regularly, would find guessing perfectly normal.

Monday, July 26, 2010

F1 Germany 2010

Ferrari was surprisingly fast and came very, very close to a Alonso-Massa one-two in the grid. Vettel spoiled the party, however, with a sensational qualifying lap that was only 0.002 seconds faster than Alonso. Webber blew his qualifying lap but still managed fourth on the grid, ahead of the Maclarens who were having difficulties.

Vettel's start was sloppy. He fixated on Alonso, almost forcing him into the wall, which allowed Massa to waltz into lead. Alonso held his line and kept his second place while Vettel fell back to third. Did I mention his start was very sloppy?

The race kind of settled down after the first lap, and it looked like an easy one-two finish for Ferrari, except that the wrong driver was going to win. Then Massa received message on his radio and a few turns later slowed down and Alonso passed to take the lead. Now, the message did not explicitly tell Massa to let Alonso pass, but the intent was clear. In other words, it was a team order that altered the out come of the race, which is clearly against the regulations.

I was miffed. We were deprived of seeing some interesting racing. If Alonso was indeed faster, he had more than enough laps to prove it and try to pass Massa. A win for Massa would have been particularly poignant as it was one year since his accident. The worst part was the team orders overshadowed Ferrari's wonderful race performance. Anyway, the stewards agreed that it was team orders and sanctioned Ferrari with a fine, although the result was allowed stand. It was all very ugly.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

No More Time Paradoxes?

It seems that quantum mechanics may solved the whole time paradox problem of time travel, by a theory known as postselection. Yay! Just what we need. More quantum mechanics to enrich our lives. ^^

The classic paradox is where you travel back in time and kill your grandfather. Under postselection, some alternative reason would appear out of nowhere to explain your existence. For example, suddenly you father was illegitimate and your grandmother marries your real grandfather after you kill her husband. And if you kill your real grandfather, it turns out you grandmother lied about who your father's real father was and marries your real, real grandfather. And so on, and so on, and so on...

I'm sure all of this will make building that first quantum based time machine so much easier. Of course, my time machine doesn't work that way all. Oops, did I really write that I have a time machine? I better erase it. Why won't it erase? Damn those quantum mechanic time travellers and their alternate technologies. ^^

Saturday, July 24, 2010

WRC Bulgaria 2010

It was a tarmac event. Sebastian Loeb won. Needless to say his faultless drive was not the most interesting part of the rally.

On the other hand, the fight for second between Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg, was very enjoyable. Solberg got to within four seconds of Sordo, but he was really throwing the car around and had several close calls on the penultimate stage, while trying to catch Sordo. Solber was mindful of how he threw away a second place finish in New Zealand, I think he may have back off a little and settled for third on the final stage.

On the penultimate stage, Sordo hit 216 km/h on one "straightish" section in his fight with Solberg. Even though this was a tarmac event, the roads were very uneven so that speed was still scary fast. If one bump had caught Sordo out... By comparison, Solberg hit 205 km/h on the same stage.

Even though Solberg is doing very well this season, one must not forget that he is only a privateer driving a 2009 car against well funded works teams. To make up for that difference he has to push harder and take more risks. It's a testament to his skill that he doesn't make more mistakes like the one in New Zealand.

Solberg's long time co-driver, Phil Mills, has retired. Solberg admitted he was nervous going into the rally with new co-driver Chris Patterson, but it only took one stage for them to gel. I've always found it curious that Petter chooses English speaking co-drivers.

The Fords were way off the pace which allowed Citroen to lock out the top four places. Henning Solberg drove a S2000 Ford Fiesta in the event. He likes it. He likes it a lot, even suggesting it handles better than the current WRC Ford Focus. Since the 2011 WRC chassis will be the same as the S2000 chassis, this is good news for Ford who have no answer for the Citroens this year.

Friday, July 23, 2010

You Needed A Study?

So another study shows that most of the stuff shared on BitTorrent, is illegal. Well, duh! You needed a study to know that? Of course, studies are important when you are demanding "three strikes" and other draconian legislation to solve this problem. Sorry guys but a few studies won't help you put the file sharing genie back in the bottle. Instead of stomping on Napster, if you'd looked upon this new distribution model as an opportunity, you'd be making money from file sharing by now. But you lost your chance and it's too late to do anything about it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Old Friends

Last week my sister Jean mentioned that she had lost contact with a friend who had moved away from Cape Town. A couple of days ago I get an email from the friend, saying she has lost contact with Jean. How's that for a great coincidence!

I used the opportunity to ask the friend to pass my email address to her brothers, who were good friends of mine. I've been looking for them on the Internet for a while now, without any success.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ATI 3D On Linux

According to this article, the open source 3D drivers for the older ATI R300-R500 graphics processors are much more mature than the newer generation R600/R700. I suspect that this indicates the age of the hardware that most developers own, but I could be wrong. I wish that I had known this before I bought an R600 based card. ^^

Not that it really matters, as cards using the earlier generation processors are quite difficult to find, unless you go the Ebay route. I'm still leery of buying electronics on Ebay. Call me paranoid...

PyGTA Free Chat

It was a very enjoyable PyGTA meeting, even though there was no scheduled topic or speaker. I was surprised that quite a few people showed up. I doubt that would happen in most user groups. We basically let the conversation flow freely, sometimes very far away from Python but it was always very interesting.

Monday, July 19, 2010

He Is Not Leaving

Well, I hope not anyway. I really like Matt Smith as The Doctor so when I read this, I almost shouted, "Noooooooooooooo!" Then I found this and all was right again. But there's no smoke with without fire, so it is a little worrying when these Internet rumours start. C'mon Matt, it's too soon to leave yet. You've got years left to do other things.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Canada And ACTA

The latest draft of the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was leaked last week. One of Micheal Geist's students analysed Canada's position in the negotiations. For the most part Canada has tried to get more balance into the agreement, which can be seen as a positive thing. However, in my opinion, Canada should not be participating at all. No amount of rewording can turn ACTA into a good agreement for ordinary Canadians.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

New Fighters

Canada plans to buy the the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to replace the CF-18. Since this will be a single source purchase there are obviously serious misgivings about the choice. Canada has contributed to the development of the F-35 which may explain the decision, but that doesn't mean it's the right one.

In an an open bid, what are the competitors? This article mentions the F-18 Silent Eagle, the F-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the Dassault Rafale which was developed when France dropped out of the Eurofighter program. If only Canada had an aerospace industry that would allow us to develop our own fighter, but I'll refrain for make obvious references. *cough*Avro Arrow*cough*

Compared to the other options, the F-35 is a good choice, so it is likely that bidding process would picked it anyway, but we'll never know now.

Friday, July 16, 2010


My brother and his wife fly out tomorrow so I spent a few hours with them and other members of my family. My father used to say, "Everything that can be said, has been said," (or words to that effect), so I decided not to go to the airport and said my farewells tonight. It was great fun having them here, but I was the only one who wasn't on vacation, so it was kind of hectic. Normally scheduled programming will resume shortly. ^_^

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Copyright Vs Privacy

OK, this is just ridiculous. Micheal Geist reports that The Canadian Publishers Council is complaining that privacy laws make it too difficult to pursue copyright infringers. Um, guess what guys. Privacy is a natural right. Copyright is a granted privilege. Natural rights must always trump granted privileges. If that ever changed, we would no longer be living in a free society. Copyright advocates need to get a reality check.


I'm pleasantly surprised that Blogger is usable on dialup. Why the heck am I on dialup? I'm using my backup account because TekSavvy is dealing an ARP DDOS attack as I write this, so the service is basically useless until they sort out the problem. Yes, that's a nineteen page (and counting) thread about the outage! That thread tells you everything about the type of customer TekSavvy has, i.e., lots of geeks. The fact that TekSavvy's CEO is posting in the thread at this hour tells you everything you need to know about the company.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


At this month's GTALUG meeting, Myles Braithwaite gave an informative talk on some of the more interesting tags in the HTML5 specification. Myles avoided going to deeply into the technical details which kept the talk moving at a good pace. The examples were easy to understand but using syntax highlighting made them a bit difficult to read at times. Myles occasionally offered an opinion on the merits of the some of the tags which was quite entertaining.

I liked his "take no prisoners" approach to the usual interruptions that occur at a GTALUG meeting. ^_^

Monday, July 12, 2010

F1 Great Britain 2010

Redbull once again locked out the front row of the grid but they just can't seem to avoid stirring up controversy. A late decision to move a front wing assembly to Vettel's car, left Webber visibly angry and frustrated. Watch his body language in the official post qualifying interview. Webber actually checks his watch while Vettel is answering a question! Ouch!

Vettel made a poor start which allowed Webber to pull along side. They probably would have raced for the lead on the first lap, but Vettel had a puncture which sent him to the back of the field. Vettel seemed to have given up until a safety car bunched the cars together again. He found new motivation and was very entertaining as he fought his was back through the field to finish seventh. Webber drove a fantastic race and made no errors, which was really the only way he could have lost the race. In typical Webber fashion, he rubbed the noses of the team bosses in his victory. "Not bad for the number two driver!"

Mclaren tested a blown diffuser on Friday but heating caused big problems. They went back to the old diffuser, which meant they were essentially starting over on Saturday. Hamilton basically carried the car to fourth on the grid. Button qualified in fourteenth which reflected the car's true pace. Still, Button drove brilliantly to finish fourth which, together with Hamilton's second place finish, was a great surprise for everyone, including the team itself.

There was a lot of passing in the race which was very surprising. It's not that passing suddenly got easier, but that drivers were willing to use the marginal opportunities that the changes in the track offered them. It required a measured amount of daring to pull of a pass which is what makes for great racing.

I'm glad the F1 powers-that-be finally came to their senses and recognised that the sport needs historic circuits such as Silverstone, which will host the British Grand Prix for at least ten years. I hope similar deals are being considered for other historic tracks, which would enable them to plan upgrades in same way that Silverstone is doing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Military Service

When my grand nephew Steven graduated from high school in June 2009, he decided he wanted to join the Armed Forces. He was only seventeen at the time so he needed a parent to sign the application. They refused. So he waited until he turned eighteen and applied anyway. At this point we got a idea of how serious he was about this. But that wasn't the end of it.

The medical examination revealed a possible complication which required further tests. The results took about six months to come back and during that time Steven's commitment never wavered. The tests were negative and the final hurdle was cleared, and his application was accepted. Steven's patience to see it though to the end, blew away any lingering doubt about how much he wanted to do this.

Steven departed yesterday to begin basic training. Ultimately he will be trained as an aircraft technician. I have no doubt he will work hard to succeed at his chosen career. No one in my family has ever seen any military service, so this is a big deal for all of us.

Family BBQ 2010

This year's annual family BBQ was extra special as all my siblings joined us for the first time. I had a great time but for some strange reason the we divided into two groups and it required extra effort to mingle. Not sure what was going on. Humour at these gatherings tends to be rather earthy and perhaps the group consisting of the "regulars" were worried about offending the visitors. That's impossible to do as far as I'm concerned. People did mingle, so the separation wasn't a problem, just kind of odd.

My sister from the UK enjoyed sitting outside long after sunset because the temperature was still comfortable, unlike in the UK were it cools down very quickly. It it wasn't for the mosquitoes which were eating her alive, we would have stayed outside until much latter.

We were missing two of the regulars. My nephew Max was out town, working for his street photo surveying job (not for Google Streetview). My grand nephew Steven had to report for the start his of military training today. That's a great story that deserves a separate post.

The entire batch of my koeksisters was devoured. That's always a good sign!

Friday, July 9, 2010


I took the day off today and worked harder than ever. Since it is the family BBQ tomorrow, I needed to take care of things that I would normally have to do on Saturday. It wouldn't have been a problem, except I decided to bake some koeksisters for tomorrow. One of my sisters also requested that I bring koeksisters to the get together, so there was no way to back out it. I got everything done but I'm now completely exhausted. I was too tired to go out and see the visitors tonight, but I'll make up for it by going over to the BBQ earlier.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More Wandering Families

My sisters Jean and Marie, and her friend Jan, returned from their three day trip to Montreal and Ottawa. The was quite a hectic schedule so they all looked a little tired. If Marie and Jan think they are going get any rest before they return to the UK on Sunday, they are sadly mistaken. The grand finale of this reunion happens on Saturday when we have our annual family BBQ. It's been moved up a couple of weeks this year to accommodate Marie's schedule. This is going to the best gathering ever. ^_^

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ISPs Are Not Broadcasters

While it may be obvious to anyone who understands how the Internet works, it wasn't obvious to the CRTC who asked the courts to decide. It's always worrying when lawyers have to decide these things as there no assurance that their interpretation of the law will match the technical reality. Thankfully, they got it right this time, but there was an stipulation that ISPs must be content neutral for the ruling to apply. The obvious question is: is throttling enough to turn an ISP into a broadcaster and subject to a different set of regulations?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reading Habits

It's a sad fact that I don't read much fiction any more. I was a voracious reader when I was younger, finishing three or four novels a week. These days I'll start a novel, get a third to two-thirds through, then my schedule will change and I'll forget that I was in the middle of reading something. I must try harder to fix this condition.

Monday, July 5, 2010


My brother is slowly having his pre-digital negatives scanned. He has thousands going back to the 1950s so it will take some time to complete them all, but tonight we spent some time looking at what has already been done. It was a few hours of hilarious hairdos, psychedelic coloured shirts, and wonderful memories. In addition, there were many that I'd never seen before, such as scenes from my parent's visit to Australia in 1987. My father died the following year so I found those pictures quite interesting. I'm glad my brother is scanning these old photographs, but it will take considerable effort to organised such a large collection, which is a little daunting.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

South Simcoe Railway

My sister Marie is travelling with a friend, Jan, who is a dedicated rail and steam engine enthusiast. We decided to take her to South Simcoe Railway (SSR) which operates the only steam locomotive close to Toronto. The locomotive a magnificent beast built way back in the 1880s. Unfortunately, once we got to Tottenham, we discovered the locomotive is out of service. It has been undergoing maintenance for the past three years, with no estimated time for completion. Oh no!

SSR is an all volunteer organisation with about 40 members, which unfortunately, pretty much represents the entire rail and steam locomotive enthusiast community in Canada. And the number of volunteers is decreasing as there is little interest among younger engineers. One problem with having such a small group of volunteers, is that they likely do not have all the expertise needed maintain the steam locomotive. That means they must hire people to do the work, and when the money runs out, the work stops. Hence the lack of a estimated time for completion.

Currently the scheduled train service is running with a diesel locomotive from the 1940s, but I suspect that the steam engine draws more passengers. When I last rode the SSR in 2003 and the steam engine was operational, all three coaches were full. Today, they filled only one coach. If this doesn't improve, we may lose this small part of Ontario history altogether.

The best solution is finding people with technical expertise who can volunteer their time to maintenance the steam locomotive. The next best possibility is that a patron appears to support the organisation. However, if someone was interested, he or she would have stepped forward by now. The remaining option is to keep the train running in order to generate income.

This is where regular folks can help by getting the word out about this little piece of history. If you like steam engines, trains, or just history in general, I highly recommend visiting Tottenham to ride the SSR.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I just had the first reunion with my brother and three sisters since 2002. It was hilarious. We reminisced about life in Cape Town, although being the youngest, some the tales were a little before my time. We looked at my mother's old photo albums trying to piece things together and put names to the faces of people we knew in South Africa.

We started a drawing a family tree but it quickly became apparent the extended family (aunts and uncles, their children, etc) would be much too big to be done on paper. One surprise is that my youngest sister has contacted several family members on Facebook so she is slowly reconnecting with the family back in Cape Town.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Another Speed Bump

I'm a little perplexed tonight. The project to build a replacement controller PC hit yet another speed bump today. It was looking very promising but testing revealed an oddity that the customer wants to confirm is not going to cause problems on production. As usual, these things always show up on Friday evening! I decided to think about the problem on the weekend and return with a fresh mind on Monday. Now what was I saying about juggling my schedule...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Wandering Family

My brother John, eldest sister Pat, and their spouses returned from their three week East coast road trip yesterday. John with be returning to Australia in about two weeks. My middle sister Marie who lives in the UK, is arriving tomorrow night for a ten day stay. It has been a few years since all my siblings have been together and this is the first time we have congregated in Canada. The two previous reunions (1999 and 2002) were in the UK.

I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone together again but it looks like work commitments are going curtail the amount of time can spend with them. I was hoping to have completed one of my projects to free up some time, but complications prevented that from happening. Anyway, I intend on spending as much time with my family as possible but it will require juggling my schedule more than usual.