Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The pricing on books gets kind of ludicrous sometimes. In the old days, it used to be simple: hard cover books were more expensive than paperback ones. I never could fathom the reason behind this. But now, it seems that ebooks are sometimes the most expensive edition, as the example in this article shows. This makes even less sense since there is zero cost to reproducing an ebook. However, it probably makes sense to the publisher who is trying to protect its printing business.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Military Intelligence

You want your military personnel to be able to share important information securely? Here's how you do it.

First, you create a very secure military network. Make sure it has a long name that needs an acronym like SIPRNet, for example. Second, give millions of your most trusted military personnel access to the secure network. There's no top secret information on the network so you are still fairly safe having so many people with access to it.

Finally, in a stroke of genius, give your diplomats access to the secure military network and encourage them to share information on it. Here is where your problems start. Some of this diplomatic information is politically embarrassing and therefore potentially more dangerous than the top secret variety. And you've just shared it with millions of military personnel that you wouldn't trust with the top secret stuff.

Yeah, a leak was never, ever, going to happen. Military intelligence. It always was, and forever shall be, a contradiction of terms.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


It's official. Telstra is no longer a monopoly. One day I hope to say those words about Bell but I ain't gonna hold my breath. The question is, can the Australian government manage the National Broadband Network well enough so they don't squander this once-in-a-century opportunity. It would be a shame if it was wasted, but the only thing worse than a private sector monopoly, is a government owned monopoly. I'll be watching this with interest.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Long Hard War

The U.S. continues the long slide down the slippery slope as the Department of Homeland Security "seized" several domains (full list) for alleged copyright violations. Apart from the obvious question of what does copyright have to with U.S. security, what does the DHS think they've actually "seized"?

A domain is just an address in a database, nothing more. It costs a few dollars the register another one. Guess what? Most of the owners of the seized domains probably already have new domains. Once again the people at the top demonstrate that they have little understanding of how the Internet works.

And that my friends is why we will win in the end. However, make no mistake: it's going to be a long hard war. What's next? Wikileaks?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Zombie Projects

Gotta love those hurry-up-and-wait projects. This is a project which stalls for weeks, even months for whatever reason (use your imagination), then suddenly comes back to life and has to be completed now, now, now! And of course, it always resurrects when you are are in the middle of ten other things. Watch out for the zombie projects, no matter how fast you run, they always catch up with you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bad News

I got some bad news today but it was from an unofficial source, so I can't get into the details yet. The news wasn't a surprise as I suspected something was up for a few months now. All I can say for now, is that this is definitely going to have a negative impact on my business.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

About Face

After being the most vocal in its doubts about the ACTA negotiations, the EU parliament suddenly supports the treaty now. That's quite an about face. Bloody politicians. Time to start sharpening those guillotines. OK, so it's not that bad yet. It's only a resolution that permits the process to continue, but it was their first opportunity to shut down ACTA in Europe, so why not take it?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Copyright Is A Contradiction

As these articles point out, ACTA may have the completely unintended consequence of actually weakening copyright law, because it was a back room treaty. It's hard for anyone to respect intellectual property laws when compared to criminal laws. The latter clearly benefit everybody by ensuring a just and civil society. IP laws only serve corporate interests.

Some may point out that open source licences are the exception. However, if copyright did not exist, you wouldn't need an open source license, because everything you publish is automatically in the public domain. Everyone is free to use your work as they please. The only way to prevent that would be to keep it private. Copyright law allows you to publish but exert control over the work as if you had kept it private. Copyright is a contradiction.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The 10 Commandments

The 10 Commandments of Globalisation and Corporate Rule, that is. It is too chillingly real to be mistaken as humour. It turned up on p2pnet.net today although the original site hasn't been updates since 1999. Back then the concern was over the MAI, which fell apart after France bailed out. Obviously, the powers-that-be have learned their lessons and now negotiate these agreements in secret. See ACTA.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little Wars

In the category of you-learn-something-new-every-day, I discovered that H.G. Wells is considered to be the father of table top war gaming. His book Little Wars, published in 1913, contains the basic rules for a game with toy soldiers. The book is available on Project Gutenberg. The full title is just great! It's so nineteenth century and oh so politically incorrect. ^_^

Saturday, November 20, 2010

WRC Great Britain 2010

Petter Solberg drove his best rally of the season and came close to winning his first rally since 2005. Solberg was able to pressure Loeb into a couple of rare, but small, mistakes, which prompted Loeb to remind everyone that Solberg is still a very fast driver.

But in the end, Loeb had the advantage of a factory team car while Solberg was really pushing the limits and his luck. After Solberg slid of the road and had to drive in a ditch for 50 meters on day three, he backed of and settled for second behind Loeb.

Had Solberg won, he would have finished second in the drivers' championship, but third place was an impressive result for a privateer team with almost no budget. Solberg's 2011 season is uncertain as he has not secured enough sponsorship yet.

The fact that Loeb was pressured into mistakes, only underlines how dominant he and Citroen has been this year, which was great for them but no so interesting for the fans. Frankly, in terms of competition, it's been the dullest season in the ten years since I started following WRC.

I'm hoping the changes in the regulations next year shakes things up a bit and attracts more manufacturers back to the sport. Perhaps we might see a WRC Subaru Justy...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Security Theatre

I wonder if the increasingly vocal backlash against the security theatre at airports will gather enough support to effect any change. I suspect it will take a lot more than what we have now before it will have any effect. It doesn't help that the politicians bypass the porn scanners and the "junk" groping, at least in the U.S., but I assume the same applies here in Canada.

What really bugs me is that this truly is security theatre. There are so many gaping holes in the security that it is inevitable that someone will get through. The worst part is that airport security is an old problem that the Israeli's solved a long time ago. Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport is considered to be the most secure airport in the world, and has been for well over thirty years. And they manage to do this without unduly inconveniencing passengers.

Why can't we learn from the experts?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

80/20 Rule

Ran into a great example of the 80/20 rule today. My customer and I finally got to install the replacement server I mentioned a while ago. It was the second attempt. The first attempt last Monday was stymied by Windows driver problems for an HP printer. Yeah, that still happens on Windows, but that's another story.

We got everything set up and the tests at the first workstation were perfect. The tests at the second were less than stellar. It was a printer driver again, except this time it had nothing to do with Windows. The system uses LabelView to print the shipping labels on a Zebra thermal printer. LabelView is a nice label design tool but it feels a bit dated and clunky. I don't know about newer versions but version 6 still required a dongle!

The LabelView drivers for the Zebra printer are much faster than the Windows drivers which allow for ridiculous things on the labels, like True Type fonts. Not something one cares about in an industrial setting.

Label view runs on the server and prints to the workstation printers over the network. If it works on one station, there's no logical reason it should not work on the other. And yet, that's exactly what happens.

As a work around, we configured the system to print the second station's labels to the first station's printer. It's a crappy solution as the operators have to "sneaker net" the labels to the second station, so it's a lot of extra work. But with 80% of the system working, reverting to the old server was a big step backwards.

So it's a classic 80/20 problem. After the upgrade about 80% of the system works and the remaining 20% will probably take 80% of the total time to figure out. I know very little about LabelView so the best I can do is offer advice. According to my customer, hacking is the only way to solve the problem. No thanks. Hacking on Windows software is not my idea of fun.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Intangible Cultural Heritage

The U.N. maintains a List of Intangible Cultural Heritage which essentially itemizes the contributions to global culture of various nations. I don't know how they research this list but this tongue-in-cheek article observed that Canada is not on the list. After a moment of indignation, I felt a little better after I found that the U.S and Australia are not on the list either.

A generous interpretation of their absence is that their cultures are very young and haven't developed anything worth mentioning yet. A negative interpretation is that modern Western culture is just banal and not worth preserving. Or perhaps the three countries are just developing boring cultures and will never be on the list. I kind of lean towards that last possibility. ^_^

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Freedom Is Fragile

Freedom is fragile and can be taken away with the simple passing of a law. Micheal Geist examines three proposed bills that would drastically reduce freedom in Canada and would directly contravene of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The stupid thing is that, if these laws were passed, they wouldn't accomplish anything except to take away our freedom. The laws would force encryption into the mainstream, and once everyone is encrypting everything, the deep packet inspection becomes almost useless and the chance of detecting any criminal activity drops to zero.

Once again we have an example of how the people who make laws have no understanding of how the real world works.

Monday, November 15, 2010

F1 Abu Dhabi 2010

At 23, Vettel is the youngest F1 champion ever and he totally deserves it. He proved he is the real deal in the last few races. His commitment never wavered following the disappointing engine failure in Korea. Sure, there's been a few times this season that I've doubted that he was ready to be world champion, but he scored the points when it counted at the end of the season.

In contrast, Webber has been off balance since his mistake in Korea. He was always my favourite to the win title. He is an old school driver who built his career without the help of driver development programs and other support systems. But the job of driving a race car is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. There's no doubt that he has the driving skill to be a champion but he needs to work on his mindset before it will happen. His mindset will be crucial next season when he has a world champion for a team mate. Webber's feeling that he is being treated unequally, will only grow stronger, unless he is mentally prepared to deal with Vettel.

Race strategy played an important role in the final race and possibly cost Alonso the title. While this may seem unfair to people unfamiliar with the sport, the fact is motor racing is a team sport. The decisions made by the race engineers on the pit wall, by the race strategists at the team's HQ, by the car designer, all play a part in the outcome. There are so many options and permutations that the real surprise they get the strategy right most of the time, not that they got it wrong this time.

Alonso's title hopes might have been saved if it was easier to pass in F1. Considering he was stuck behind a midfield Renault that was driven by the rookie Petrov, the more experienced Alonso should have been able to find a way past. The track layout is partly to blame (why are drivers not consulted about the track design?) but the main problem is that following another F1 car closely is extremely difficult. Next year, we'll see if KERS and a driver controlled rear wing will change anything.

Petrov deserves kudos for driving a faultless race even while under extreme pressure from Alonso. Petrov is driving to keep his ride at Renault next year and he has certainly stepped up to prove he is worthy. I wonder if it was enough to impress the bosses at Renault.

And so ends the best Formula 1 season in my memory. In some ways, I'm sad that it's over but I take solace in the fact it starts all over again in less than sixteen weeks. It will be hard to top this season, though.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Little Smug

Way back around 1998 or so when I was first deciding on which open source database to use, I choose PostgreSQL on technical merit. Later, as the ramifications of MySQL's dual licensed business model became apparent, I realize that PostgeSQL was a good choice for other non-technical reasons as well.

Also in the late 90s, I first played with Java on Linux. At the time Java on Linux sucked, as Sun did not officially support Linux, and was one big reason I was turn off by Java. My search for a new programming language led me to discover Python around 2000 or so. Again, the choice was influenced by non-technical reasons.

I've never been a fan large application suites because they are the Windows way of doing things. I came to Linux directly from the Amiga where such suites never existed. Consequently I never used OpenOffice and chose individual applications for each function instead. As before, this was not a technical choice but one based on my existing experience.

All the open source software that I avoided in the last decade or so, is now owned by Oracle after they acquired Sun. Oracle seems hell bent on destroying all the goodwill that they acquired along with software. Of course, the open source software will continue without Oracle, but you'll pardon me for feeling a little smug that I avoided this debacle (even if it was mostly by luck ^_^).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

World Wide Web

The World Wide Web was first formally proposed twenty years ago yesterday. While there's no doubt that much has been accomplished since that time, nagging problems remain. The Web was never designed to be a multimedia content delivery system. Sound and video were simply links to files which the browser handed to external applications. Most of the Web today has to be processed by a programming language before it can be viewed. In some ways the present World Wide Web has become the problem that it was originally intended to solve, namely that information should be easily accessible with a simple interface.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin (Occult Academy) is quite a clever comedic anime that combines sci-fi and supernatural elements. The sci-fi part includes one of my favourite science fiction plot devices: time travel. The world of 2012 is a mess after an alien invasion in 1999 and a group of survivors sends back several agents to try and prevent the invasion. OK, so the plot isn't exactly original but it works because it is supposed to be humorous.

Uchida Fumiaki, the time agent from the future, is an annoying, but likeable, wimp for the most of the series, right until the final episode. The female lead, Kumashiro Maya, is the strong character in the series and is a classic tsundere. While the characters appear to be stereotypical, the story does take the time to explain the character's personalities, which elevates the series above the ordinary.

The series isn't for the sci-fi purist as there is a lot magic, monsters, and other supernatural elements mixed into the story. For everyone else, the series is worth checking out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Harm's Way

Having a family member serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, makes Remembrance Day all the more important. My grand nephew has barely begun his training as an aircraft technician so he isn't likely to be sent anywhere dangerous in the near future. While I sincerely wish that he has a completely boring and uneventful military career, the reality is that all soldiers may be placed in harm's way at some point. For this simple reason, we must always remember and respect those who have chosen to enter military service.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Short Term

It looks like I'll busy for the next two or three weeks because of some on-site work I just picked up. Obviously it's not a big project but it will keep the wolves at bay for a little longer. The commuting for on-site work wears me out fairly quickly so it's better that the work is short term.

Q & A

This months's GTALUG speaker had to cancel so the meeting was turned into a Q & A session. The variety of topics that come up in these sessions is quite astonishing. GTALUG is a pretty diverse group.

Monday, November 8, 2010

F1 Brazil 2010

Young Hulkenberg performance was very impressive. He turned the wet qualifying conditions into an advantage to put the midfield Williams on pole position, something the team hasn't achieved in a long time. In the race Hulkenberg demonstrated he has the skills to hold off the likes of Alonso and Hamilton. Considering Williams is thinking about replacing Hulkenberg for next season, he did a great job raising his profile in the best possible way.

It's interesting to compare the relative performance of the Redbull, Ferrari, and Mclaren by looking at the how long it took for each to pass Hulkenberg's Williams. Vettel passed in the first corner. Webber managed on the first lap. Alonso was stuck behind Hulkenberrg for several laps, but eventually made the pass. Hamilton had the hardest time getting past Hulkenberg and is an indication of just how bad Mclaren has been this season.

For Redbull to win a constructors' title after just six seasons in F1, against the established names of Ferrari and Maclaren, is a notable achievement. Redbull have had the best car by a huge margin all season, and if it were not a few mechanical glitches and driver errors, the team probably would have clinched the title a long time ago. However, they persevered through the bad moments and never lost sight of the prize. The only other result in recent memory that stands above Redbull's achievement is Brawn Racing, who won the contructors' title in their rookie season last year.

And then there were four. Drivers that is. Well, Hamilton only has a mathematical chance now, so realistically there are only three contenders for the drivers' title. I hope they get the chance to actually race each other for the title in Abu Dhabi. That would be the perfect ending to the best season ever.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Work Around

I found a work around for the joystick problem by force loading the joydev module. I still have no idea why this module loads automatically with a 32 bit kernel but not a 64 bit kernel, even though the 32 bit user space is identical. My Google-fu has not found anything yet.

First oddity I encountered with a working joystick attached to the system, was that MPlayer assumed the joystick was some sort of remote control. It wouldn't be a problem if MPlayer did not automatically disabled the keyboard control, when it detects a joystick. Digging through the MPlayer man page, an "-input js-dev=none" argument solved the problem.

The joystick works with Extreme Tux Racer, BZFlag, and TORCS, which is heaps of fun. Flightgear, which is the reason I got the joystick, isn't running properly for some reason, which is a bit annoying.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Quiet Evening

I spend a quiet evening with my sister Jean. We had a tasty curry and rice dinner. I really should learn how to prepare simple curry dishes. It's one of my favourites but I have no clue about making it.

My nephew was travelling for his job as usual, but he was actually the reason I was invited over. It seems he has become interested in buying a house and he is looking for partners. The sad part is neither Jean nor I currently have the resources to get involved in such a deal.

It's a case of really bad timing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

This Is Not Good

I visited one of my long time customers today and they were deathly quiet. It was scary. There was not a single new project being assembled. The only thing they were working on, was an old project that's been stalled since the spring, and which they desperately need to finish so they can get paid. They are hearing the same story as I am: nobody has money to invest in new projects. It looks like we are all in the same boat. This is not good.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Corporate Gears

In late spring, a customer informed me that a shipping management system I developed in 2000, would be replaced with an in-house system that was being developed by the parent corporation, a very large multinational. At the time, no specific roll out date was given, but having been involved in numerous projects, it wasn't difficult to estimate some time frame, assuming I was working it.

This week, the customer contacts me because they they are upgrading the server and they wanted my help to get it setup. Naturally, I was a little confused as I thought the system is being replaced. Well, it is, but only in August of next year. As a small Canadian subsidiary of a multinational, my customer will be the last to get the replacement system. The corporate gears, they do turn slowly.

August 2011 sounds like it's a long time away, but as we know so well, the chances of that deadline being met, are slim to none. So my customer is being prudent and simply going through their normal 5 year upgrade cycle, to ensure the existing system works reliably until the replacement is delivered.

The last time I had one of my systems replaced by the in-house corporate developers, the system took over five years to be delivered. The corporate gears, they do turn inefficiently.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WRC Spain 2010

Even with the driver championship already won, Loeb showed no sign of backing off, a fact which left Petter Solberg jokingly begging for some mercy from Loeb. The fight for second between Solberg and Sordo was very interesting, considering that neither were challenging for the position after day one.

Day one consisted of mixed surfaces and everyone, except Loeb of course, struggled with setups that were not quite right for the conditions. At the end of day one Solberg was in fourth place and Sordo was in a disappointing sixth place, not the performance he hoped for at his home rally.

Days two and three were back on full asphalt. On day two Solberg went on a charge and soon took third place away from Latvala, who is not entirely comfortable on asphalt. Then Ogier made a mistake and gifted Solberg with second place. Meanwhile, Sordo had finally found some speed and charged up to third place by the end of day two. Solberg and Sordo continued their tussle on day three, but Solberg held on to claim his fourth second place this season, with a margin of just under six seconds.

That's a pretty big margin when you consider the following. Sordo is driving for a factory team while Solberg is a privateer driving a 2009 car. Sordo's car should be much faster and yet he was not able to make full use of that advantage. Solberg was probably carrying his car to keep ahead of Sordo. It shows the relative difference in experience between Solberg, who has won a driver title, and Sordo, who is still chasing his first win.

Raikkonen is not endearing himself to anyone by rolling the car in the shakedown. The roll cage was so badly damaged that he wasn't allowed to participate in the rally. That's two retirements in a row which I hope isn't the start of a trend. He has finished as high a sixth in his first full season, which isn't too bad. Of course, the detractors point to the fact that he has gone off the road more often than he scored any points.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Automated Revenue Generator

Automated speed trap systems increase revenue because they avoid the costly overhead of paying a real policeman to write tickets. And since revenue generation is the whole point of speeding enforcement, such automated systems are an easy sell with police forces and politicians.

They are are so eager to implement these systems, they must not test them very thoroughly, as is this story from Australia demonstrates. One would think that a flaw in an automated speed trap system, would be grounds for automatic refunds for all the tickets issued by the system, but apparently it is not. After all, that's a lot of revenue to give up.

I wonder if my brother was caught by this system. He has been known to drive briskly on the odd occasion. ^__^

Monday, November 1, 2010

Linux Mystery

I bought a joystick for use with Flight Gear. It's just an average joystick judging by the reviews but it is known to work with Flight Gear, and it was on sale. Believe it or not, this is the first joystick I've ever used on Linux.

The kernel recognised the joystick immediately but the udev daemon failed to create a device node in /dev. The kernel was 2.6.36 from Debian experimental. When I rebooted into the 2.6.32 kernel from sid, everything worked correctly. But, the kernels were different in one other respect. The one from experimental was 64 bit while the one from sid was 32 bit.

In order to be sure, I compared a 64 bit 2.6.32 from sid and a 32 bit 2.6.36 from experimental. (It's really great to able to swap kernels so easily.) After the test, it was clear the joystick only had a problem in the 64 bit kernels, regardless of version. Note that it's perfectly normal to run a 64 bit kernel with a 32 bit user space.

Despite narrowing down the problem a little, Google did not turn up anything useful. While it is possible that it's an undiscovered problem, it is much more probable that it is specific to my system. As to what the problem might be, I still have no idea yet. It's another Linux mystery. ^_^