Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Day

The last day of another crappy year. Two in a row is too many, me thinks. It is also the the last day of a dismal decade, but who is counting.

The year seemed to just fly by. When I mention this to people, most agree that it was just a blur, but they cannot explain the feeling. According to the saying, time flies when you are having fun, but I certainly wasn't having much fun. The only highlight was having all my siblings together in one place since 2002. The rest of the time was spent ducking for cover and figuring out how to survive the next week. It was like being on a battle field, crawling from foxhole to foxhole, hoping the next bullet doesn't have your name on it. It definitely was not fun.

The future? Who knows? All I can do is keep going. What else is there to do?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Skype Post-Mortem

The official Skype post-mortem of the outage was posted yesterday. It's an interesting read because there is more detail than you usually get from large companies, who generally prefer not to air their laundry in public. Here is some commentary on the report. The US$1 credit was a nice gesture, too.

I wish events such as these would encourage people to seek alternatives to Skype, but there are two reasons why that won't happen. First, Skype is deeply entrenched and it will take much more than a 24 hour outage to rip Skype from everyone's psyche. Skype would have to be totally non-functional before my family would switch. Second, most of the alternatives suck in the client department. Find me a usable SIP client for Linux, please. Anyone? Didn't think so.

As much as I dislike the proprietary nature of Skype, it's one of those deals with the devil I've learned to accept. I'm going to hell anyway, so what difference does it make? ^_^

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gramps Web App

I've been trying to set up the Gramps web app but it's not very promising. The first problem is that Gramps doesn't follow Python common practices. I was surprised to find Gramps uses autoconf and make instead setuptools. The Gramp web app uses Django but if you run the usual command python runserver, it doesn't work unless you also set the PYTHONPATH environment variable to point into the source tree. Granted, the correct command is executed when you do make run, but why obfuscate things for someone who knows Django?

Anyway I did get the web app to run, but only after I modified the hard coded default locale setting, since I don't have en_US.UTF8 installed on the system. However I still can't login because the Django cross site scripting code complains that the cookie has not been set.

At this point, I gave up for the time being. My impression is that the Gramps web app is not quite ready for prime time. I was going to suggest you look at the web app demo site, but it was down at the time I wrote this.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Round To It Project

I'm experiencing some really odd corruption on one of the file systems on my desktop system, where I store my video files. I fairly certain it is not a hardware failure since the drive tests show no errors. The tests is not conclusive of course, but coupled with the fact that the corruption occurs in only one of three partitions of the drive, and that it is a RAID1 system which should detect errors between the drives, a hardware failure looks less likely. I have a strong suspicion of what the source of the problem might be, but I'll talk about that another time after I've investigated a bit further.

Anyway, since I need to move the video files elsewhere, I decide to build a server to house my media files. It's one of those "round to it" projects that has been on the back burner for a couple of years already. I have an old CPU box but I need to add some drives. Given my tight budget, I tossed a few ideas around but it all came down to the cost of the drives (I want a RAID) so the full server was the best long term solution.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grumpy Old Fart

I must be getting old. It took a day and a half to recover from the Christmas festivities. What is really annoying is I know that I actually indulged less than usual. If this trend continues, I won't be able to enjoy myself at all. I'll become a grumpy old fart yelling at everyone to get off my lawn. I have seen the future and it is not pretty. ^_^

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is the first Doctor Who Christmas special from the new creative team and it was excellent. I especially appreciated that the story did not involve saving the Earth on Christmas again. The story was a wonderful retelling of the Dickens classic, with a few Doctor Who, er, enhancements. Who needs ghosts when you can time travel. Loved the flying shark. More spoilers.

Previous stories have pointed out that bad things can happen if you touch an older or younger instance of yourself. And yet that is exactly happens in this story. On the other hand, it made a powerful scene that was the turning point in the story. Which is precisely why I enjoy Doctor Who: the stories are consistently inconsistent. ^_^

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Another Fine Christmas

That's another fine Christmas under the belt. Literally. Ah well, I only feel this stuffed two or three times a year, so it not so bad. Good food. Great company. What's not to like? And yes, it was loud. ^_^

My grand nephew, Steven, is now in the proper air force training program at CFB Trenton. It is intense as they cram one year university level courses (he mentioned math and electronics) into a few months. Trenton is close enough that he come home every weekend. When he was at CFB Borden previously, he was literally getting paid to watch videos, as he had to wait for the technical training to start after he graduated from basic. This is only amusing if you are not a Canadian tax payer. ^_^

Friday, December 24, 2010

An Ordinary Christmas Eve

So after slaving over a hot stove for several hours, Christmas Eve ended like... every other Friday. After the big clean up I watched some anime. How ordinary. Not that there's anything wrong with ordinary. In fact ordinary can be good. Wishing for some excitement, may just get you more than you wanted.

Tomorrow will definitely be exciting. And loud. ^_^

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Feels Like Christmas

Most of tomorrow will be taken with my Christmas baking, so I had to clear the decks, so to speak, to allow for the extra work. Sort of like preparing for the preparations or pre-preparations, or something like that. ^_^ Yep, it definitely feels like Christmas is just two sleeps away.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Skype Outage

It figures. Within days of deciding to pay for some Skype services, they have a massive outage. I haven't been able to connect for more than a minute before I'm kicked off again. The official explanation doesn't have much details and the even though their Twitter feed says service is returning to normal, it hasn't for me yet.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More F1 Rule Changes

There are way more F1 rule changes for the 2013 season than just the engine specifications. The chassis will have a major overhaul as well. The most noticeable difference will be the smaller wings which are will reduce drag and improve efficiency. The rules will allow for a venturi under the car to compensate for the loss of down force. A side effect of these changes is that passing should be easier as the cars can follow much more closely without losing down force. This is going to be very interesting.

I'm very impressed with the way the FIA is handling all these rule changes. It's brilliant to have two top designers to develop a theoretical car that meets the FIA requirements, and then turn that design into the rules. There's definitely been a change in how F1 management works with the teams, which bodes well for the future of the sport.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shopping Season

I had to do a lot of running around today and one of my errands caused me to be in Parkway Mall for the second time in less than a week. Both times the mall was packed. Yeah, yeah, I know it's Christmas shopping season but both times was around 2pm on a week day. Hardly prime shopping hour for most people. Oh well, perhaps I'm reading too much into this.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Alien Prequel

Yep, that's right, there's an Alien prequel in the works. First the good news. Both Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger are going to be involved. Now the bad news... OK, none yet, but I'm sure there will be. Making a moving is expensive and complicated, and even with Scott directing, other forces could still derail his efforts.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


The DC-3 turned 75 this week. It's hard to believe that there are still many (an estimated 400) of the venerable old birds still flying worldwide, such as with Buffalo Airways in the North West Territories. Every single one of those aircraft were build during an eleven year production run between 1935 and 1946. That means the youngest of the operational airframes is already 64 years old. Incredible! They just don't make them like that any more.

Friday, December 17, 2010

SGU Cancelled

And another scifi series goes down in flames. SyFy has cancelled Stargate Universe. Supposedly, the remaining episodes of season two will be shown but why bother? I suspect the episodes were already completed so it will just be a cliffhanger ending, unless SyFy lets them reshoot, which is highly unlikely.

Reading people's comments about the series, it's obvious a large segment of the Stargate fans absolutely hated SGU. Seriously, SGU was not that bad. It's a very different show than SG-1 and Atlantis but there's nothing wrong with that. I found this attitude surprising because one generally expects scifi fans to be a little more open minded. I guess that's a myth.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Speed Matching

Want to see an unregulated monopoly in action? Bell filed its proposed tariffs for speed matching for wholesale ISPs. Bell's idea of speed matching is... 6Mb/s! That's a whopping 1Mb/s more than what wholesale ISP can get now. But wait, there's more!

Bell's proposed wholesale rate for this "speed matching" is just $0.74 below Bell's retail price for the same speed. Bell must use a different definition for wholesale than the one I'm familiar with. But wait, there's more!

The proposed tariff lowers the UBB cap from 60G to 25G, which coincidently matches Bell's retail 6Mb/s package, and increases the overage charge to $2/GB. A 25G cap is nothing if you watch video on the Internet. Say good bye to Netflix. And it's obvious now that in Bell's dictionary, the definition for "wholesale" says "see retail".

And that, boys and girls, is what a (de facto) unregulated monopoly looks like. It's an ugly fat cow with a Bell on it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Copyright Levies

Copyright collectives love levies (taxes). Here in Canada, we pay a small but significant amount on blank audio tape and recordable CDs. Of course, who buys blank audio tape and and recordable CDs any more? As such, these collectives naturally want to extend the levies (taxes) to other media and devices. To show how ridiculous copyright levies (taxes) could become, read this article. I wish this were a joke. Are the people behind these levies (taxes) insane?

The Industry Minister Clement and Heritage Minister Moore rightly oppose such outrageous levies (taxes). But, before we heap any praise on those two, remember that they are behind equally outrageous Bill C-32, with its strict protection for digital locks. How can they get it right and wrong at the same time? Basically the collectives don't have as much influence as the U.S. government.

Dynamic Languages Smack Down

Despite its title, this month's GTALUG meeting was very civilized. The Dynamic Languages Smack Down was a whirlwind comparison of several programming languages, presented in a moderated panel format. The inclusion of less popular languages such as Smalltalk, Lisp and Erlang was a definite plus. The panelist had to discuss both the strengths and the weaknesses of each language, so it was a balanced presentation. It became clear very quickly was most of the panalists used at least one of the other languages being presented, so comparing them was easier. All-in-all it was an informative and entertaining evening.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Canadian Tire Money

Back in the 1980s, I used to have wads of Canadian Tire money and every so often actually made purchases using only CTM. This no longer happens, unfortunately. Back then, you got a whopping 5% back in CTM on every purchase, so it added up fairly quickly. These days you only get a paltry 0.4%. I guess the value of a loyal customer isn't what it used to be. The name may still be Canadian Tire but in reality it's just another big box store now.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Katanagatari is superficially a martial arts anime, but there's actually more dialog than action, the characters are complex, and the story is just awesome. The action, when it happens, is some of the best animated fight scenes you are likely to see anywhere, but the action rarely lasts more than a minute out of a fifty minute episode. So yeah, "superficially", seems appropriate. Except in the last episode.

The main character, Yasuri Shichika, is instructed not to damage the swords that he and Togame, the female lead character, are collecting. So throughout the entire series, whenever Shichika has to fight someone wielding one of the swords, he has to hold back. Except in the last episode. Wow!

Even if you dislike martial arts anime, this one is worth a look. You'll be surprised.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shuttle Launch Porn

Videos made during the launch of any space craft primarily serve an engineering purpose, but there is a incredible beauty in the images as well. Here is over 40 minutes worth of shuttle launch porn, with links to more the page. Sit back and enjoy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rule Changes In F1

Lots of rule changes coming to Formula 1 next year and through to 2013. I'm glad they dropped the "no team orders" rule. Teams orders have been an integral part of motor sport since before Formula 1 began. It was just senseless to pretend that it wasn't. However, it's good that the rule about maintaining the integrity of the sport were retained, to ensure some balance against the abuse of team orders, which we've seen in recent years.

The movable wings to be introduced next year, sound kind of complicated to me. The problem the rule makers are trying to avoid, is that the movable wing must not make the passing too easy and eliminate the driver's skill. Of course, this is all new territory for everyone so whether it will actually work on track remains to seen.

The turbocharged four cylinder returns in 2013, but it won't have the monstrous 1000+ horse power it had back in the 1980s. That wouldn't be very "green" now would it? Still 750hp is pretty respectable output for a tiny 1.6l engine even with a red line of "only" 12000rpm. The shorter and lighter four bangers should improve the cars balance as well, assuming they have the same weight and dimensions as current cars.

It's good to see the governing body and the teams working together on the rules for a change, but I bet they didn't ask for input from the drivers... Drivers? Wait, there are drivers in F1? Really? ^_^

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stargate Universe Season 2

Stargate Universe season two is on mid season haitus and won't be back until the spring. Sigh. I should be used it but hiatuses really annoy me. Judging how season one was structured, the SGU producers seem to compensate for the split season by saving the best stories for the second half. I hoping this pattern repeats as it will make the wait worthwhile. The series continues to grow on me and the fact that it is very different from its predecessors, is actually a good thing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Primeval Series 3

Primeval is an average sci-fi series that keeps sucking me back in for reasons that I haven't completely figured out yet.

For the most part, the series is just a monster-of-the-week show. The characters are actually intelligent but the writers tend to ignore this fact in every episode for dramatic purposes. Or they use an even cheaper trick like having the clumsy geek trip over something. You will groan at least once each episode, trust me. Nitpickers should not watch this!

Despite all that, the basic premise of the series is interesting (although hardly original) and the background behind the anomalies is being developed, albeit very slowly. My instincts tell me that the writers have no idea where the anomalies come from but I keep watching just in case. Oh look, there's already a fourth and fifth series... ^_^

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Oh, the irony of it all. While trying to squash WikiLeaks like an annoying bug, today the U.S. proudly announced that it is hosting the World Press Freedom Day next year. I would find this hilarious if U.S. actions against WikiLeaks were not so damned infuriating.

As of today WikiLeaks has over a 1000 mirror sites. While this number is impressive, it is by no means certain that WikiLeaks can withstand the mounting difficulties it faces, especially now that Assange is in custody in the U.K. for an alleged crime in Sweden. Its seems that the WikiLeaks organization is much more centralized than we've given them credit for, which is also somewhat ironic.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Cleverbox is an interesting tool for managing multiple Trac instances. It works as advertised but I was frustrated with the hard coded features, which prevented Cleverbox from being an off-the-shelf solution.

First, Cleverbox automatically creates a Subversion repository for the project. You get a repository whether you like it or not. I haven't used Subversion on a new project in ages so this capability is of no use to me at all.

Second, Cleverbox only supports the SQLite database when creating a Trac environment. This choice is understandable as the SQLite data file is created automatically when Trac initializes database. A PostgreSQL database needs to be created before Trac can load the schema and initial data.

Finally, there are several hard coded data paths in Cleverbox. This effectively prevents one from running it in virtualenv, which is fairly common practice these days.

Despite these frustrations, Cleverbox is very close to what I need so I'm going to hack the code to make it work the way I want. It won't be fancy; just replacing the author's hard coding with my own hard coding. ^_^

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Three Button Optical Mouse

My quest for a three button optical mouse is finally over. Since three button mice are very common, you are probably wondering what the heck I'm blathering about. Read this. It explains the problem very clearly.

The HP DY651A mentioned in the article is not a common item found at your local computer hardware emporium. I also found that they are reluctant to special order small items like this as the margin is too small to make it worthwhile.

The mouse is available at several online mail order shops for around CD$25. "Available" is bit misleading since there is usually a 3-5 day wait because the item isn't actually in stock. I could live with the wait but the shipping charges at most places I checked where around CD$15 which basically turned me off the whole deal. Yes, I'm cheap. ^_^

NCIX, a B.C. mail order operation, recently opened a warehouse and two stores in Toronto. Unlike most Canadian mail order stores, NCIX offers pick up as a shipping option, which is ideal for cheap buggers like me. As expected, the mouse was a special order item and took about three days to arrive at the store that I chose for pickup. Curiously, the mouse is no longer listed on the NCIX web site. I suppose they decided it's not worth the trouble.

I'm glad I was able to retire my old mechanical three button mouse before it broke. I'm not sure exactly how old it was since I never bought it myself. I found it on a shelf at a customer about eight years ago and they said it was bought sometime in the mid 90s, so it's at least 15 years old. They let me have it since it was just junk to them anyway. I cleaned it up and it's been rock solid, but it was never going to last for ever.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kill The Messenger

Killing the messenger is rarely a useful tactic but that seemed to be the goal against WikiLeaks this past week. First Amazon kicked WikiLeaks off the S3 service. Then EveryDNS killed the WikiLeaks DNS service. Lastly, PayPal terminated the WikiLeaks donation account. These are all U.S. companies responding to pressure from elements in the U.S govenment. Of course, no one at the companies has the guts to admit that they censoring WikiLeaks. Instead they offer plausible, hand wavy explanations, coincidence be damned. All this backlash over some diplomats' gossip, most of which should never have been kept secret in the first place.

Of course, trying to kill the messenger on the Internet is like trying to trap a fly with a fishing net. Since the attacks against it have become too severe, WikiLeaks is finally mirroring the site on multiple servers, something many believe they ought to have done from the beginning.

[Updated 2010-12-06. Should be EveryDNS, not EasyDNS.]

Friday, December 3, 2010

Late Addition

I got an email late yesterday evening, requesting assistance for a rush update for the zombie project that would be shipping on Monday, according to what I was told earlier in the week. My customer had brought their customer in yesterday afternoon to inspect the system, and the end user asked for two additional relay outputs to indicate accept and reject conditions. While this wasn't a complicated addition at this late date (I've seen far worse), if anything can go wrong, it usually does, so I arranged my day accordingly, expecting to working late tonight.

In the end, it actually went a lot smoother than I expected and was home by 19:30. Most of the time for the additional wiring was spent figuring out the simplest way to do it. The software changes were simple but they triggered an discovered bug, which had me scratching my head for awhile, but it wasn't too difficult to fix. Wish that were true more often.

My customer was surprised when I suggested we buffer the outputs with real relays instead of directly using the digital output. The output is rated to 2A but it is a current source, not dry contact which is what most automation people expect. Also, 2A may sound reasonable but in the industrial automation world it's actually puny. I've seen a simple indicator lamp draw more current than that (yeah, it was bright ^_^). Better safe than sorry.

And so ends another busy week. None of the work involves any long term projects so it won't last much longer, unfortunately.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Centralized Vs Decentralized

Heavily centralized organizations (governments or businesses) don't deal with decentralized opposition very well, whether it be file sharers, whistle blowers, or terrorists. These two Techdirt articles (here and here) examine how the decentralized opponent can exploit this weakness with very little effort. When examined this way, it all seems very obvious, and yet the very nature of a centralized organization precludes avoiding the trap. I'm sure there's an appropriate Sun Tzu quote that covers this exact situation.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fun Times

If Rob Ford's first day on the job is any indication, we are in for some fun times. The packets of gravy from the out going mayor's staff, were a nice touch. Um, Ford locked himself in his office on his first day? Fun times indeed. ^_^

One thing is already clear. Ford actually thinks that the Mayor has power, judging by his announcement that we are going to build a subway instead of a surface LRT, which he incorrectly called street cars. In the highly unlikely event that Ford somehow convinces the provincial and federal governments to support his projects, that support can be withdrawn at any time, effectively killing the project.

Of course, this may be Ford's plan so he can simply blame the other levels of government when a project fails to get off the ground.