Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Aru Majutsu no Index

To Aru Majutsu no Index is a highly entertaining anime series from the Fall 2008 season. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it. In the series, ESP powers and magic are real, except that ESP is accepted by science, while magic is in the realm of religion and the occult. It is a strange distinction for what are effectively the same powers. In fact, the separation goes even further because people with ESP powers cannot use magic and those use magic have no ESP power. Or so we were told in beginning of the series, but now we have discovered that it is possible for some people to use both abilities. Sounds fishy, doesn't it?

The main character is Kamijou Touma a very low powered ESPer. Touma succeeds mostly by pushing himself way past his limits, and occasionally by out thinking his opponents. He always gets the shit beat of him. He wakes up in hospital rather frequently and has even lost his memory while saving Index, the title character. He has a great line, "Such misfortune!", and is a likable and genuinely heroic character.

Touma's power is that his right hand negates any ESP or magic power that it touches. That's right, it works on both types. That is too much of a coincidence and is why I've concluded that the two powers are not different at all. The distinction exists only in how the user has been educated or indoctrinated. I hope this becomes more clear later.

In one episode there is one of the best techno babble explanations of how ESP works, that I have ever heard. I'm going to have to watch it again to see if I can actually understand it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Some Success

I created the test sites and the customer will try them over the weekend. The site using Symfony ran into a snag. Symfony doesn't automatically initialize that database which is common on other frameworks. It does generate an SQL script that you must execute on the server. Our service does not provide shell access so my plan was to use phpMyAdmin to upload the script and execute it. That idea ran aground when I did a test upload. I don't know why yet.

It might be a good thing if the upload idea doesn't work. I'm not happy with allowing users access to phpMyAdmin, so it would be good to have another plan. I'm thinking of writing a PHP script which will initialize the database. The script would available to the users if they cannot write one on their own. The main problem with this idea is that I am not very good with PHP, so it would take me too long to write even such a simple script.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Break Through

I'm getting really close to deploying the LAMP server, assuming nothing else goes wrong. I'm going to set up some test sites to see what breaks. The problem is the users are can install anything they want so I doubt that I can find all the things that do not work. I'll have to cross that bridge when I get to it.

I was building another DNS server which was half complete when it got interrupted by the work in on the LAMP sever. The DNS server is for the same customer so it is not a problem. But I am mulling whether to upgrade the new DNS server to Debian 5.0 before installing it on site. It is the safest one to try an upgrade on since it is not in production or close to it like the LAMP server is.

Debian upgrades usually go well compared to some distributions, but you better follow the recommended procedure. A time long ago you could just change sources.list, "apt-get update" and "apt-get dist-upgrade". The system has become so much more complex that you have to be careful to upgrade things in the right order. I'm not complaining. Linux has improved so much in the 15 years that I've been using it, while the other OS has been languishing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coding To Relax

I actually did some coding on Tom's TV Utility for a few hours over the last couple of days. It was strangely relaxing. I wonder if coding uses a different part of the brain than solving sysadmin problems. I doubt it but it was nice to work on something and see some progress after a few hours effort. I am writing functional tests for the command line interface, so it certainly wasn't difficult. I'm sure as I get deeper into the design it will become frustrating as well. At least there is no outside pressure so that will help.

I'm using a new testing framework for command line scripts that I found in the Paste project. It works well so far but I haven't really tried everything yet. I write a lot of command line programs and having a helper which hides the sub process calls makes the tests a lot easier to read.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Munto TV

Munto TV is an another anime series I just started watching. After only three episodes, the series is already enjoyable but it is not too subtle with the messages about responsibility and duty. The character Yumemi has already accepted some responsibility and taken action to help save the future, but the consequences of her actions are not clear yet. The title character, Munto, is also doing his duty to save his world but he does seem overly concerned with being addressed correctly, which makes him look a little arrogant. Hopefully, he will lighten up if he succeeds in saving his world. The story is moving slowly even though it is only a one season series according to ANN. I hope that is wrong because the characters really need more development.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Net Neutrality

Today was the deadline for submissions to the CRTC concerning the Internet neutrality hearings in a few months. Two submissions filed today are worth noting. First there is a report (PDF) which examines how the CRTC bungled the decision to allow Bell to continue throttling bandwidth. The other document (PDF) comes from the Canadian privacy commissioner and details the ramifications of deep packet inspection as it relates to user privacy. Both reports are interesting reads and would be persuasive if the CRTC were impartial. Unfortunately, few people believe that the commission is truly impartial on neutrality as the chairman has worked for both Bell and Rogers.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Silver Dart

February 23rd marks the 100th aniversary of the first powered flight in Canada. A few enterprising people have built a replica of the Silver Dart to commemorate the achievement. The replica actually flies, but so far it has done less than the original. I can understand the reluctance to push their luck with their hard work, but the replica is a fantastic accomplishment.

I disliked history as it was taught in school but I became fascinated with the subject once I started learning about the things that interested me. One thing that strikes me, is how easily technological achievements changed the world a 100 years ago. Sometimes it seems like that doesn't happen as much anymore. Or, maybe we just don't notice the changes because we are living in it. The benefit of history is that it makes everything look obvious. ;-)

Here is the story from the CBC.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Getting Out

Today I spent a few hours with Jean. I needed a change of scenery. When you work from home, it can get a little monotonous. We had supper and watched a DVD, Live Free Or Die Hard. It was OK but I'm glad I never paid money to see it in the theater.

Jean fell at work a couple of weeks ago and sprained her ankle, and it gets swollen when she spends too much time on her feet. She needs to take more time off work to let it heal but she has already used all her sick days. Hope it works out for her.

Anyway, back to the routine tomorrow as I have lots of work to do.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Casshern Sins

This anime is just awesome. Casshern Sins takes place on a world where robots are the dominant "life" form. Humans are still around but we rarely see them. The world is dying and Casshern, the title character, apparently started the catastrophe when he killed Lunar, the one person who could have saved the world. Casshern doesn't remember much about what he did, but he is does see the result all around him and it weighs heavily on his conscience. Casshern is also immortal. While the other robots are decaying, Casshern remains pristine and actually regenerates damage. How or why this is so, is still to be revealed, although some hints have been given.

Casshern Sins is a series that I would give to someone who asks, "Why do you like anime?"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Internet Is Not Broadcast

It seems that someone is always thinking you can regulate the Internet. Will this idea never die? The CRTC is conducting hearing into "new media" and the presentations by various interest groups that want to ensure that their cash cows continue to produce, are quite laughable. According them the Internet is no different than broadcasting, therefor CRTC should regulate it as such.

Sorry guys but broadcast media and the Internet are polar opposites. Broadcasting is pushing the content to the end user. On the Internet, the end user pulls the content. If these organisations are really that ignorant of how the technology works, they and the people they represent, are doomed to fail.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kemono no Souja Erin

Some people may be surprised by the anime that I watch. Kemono no Souja Erin (The Beast Player Erin) is clearly aimed at a younger audience and the broadcaster, NHK, is well known for shows that are totally inoffensive and always teach life lessons. Sounds boring doesn't it? Not true!

What makes them watchable is that the stories are never dumbed down. Kemono no Souja Erin has already established that the country is at war, so it is likely that the our young protagonist is going to be drawn into that somehow. You don't draw attention to things like that unless they are important later in the story.

After two episodes, the title character, Erin, has already been shown to be both intelligent and observant. Of course she is only 10 and likes to goof off too, which keeps the character believable. This series is long (50 episodes) so there is a lot of story to be told.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

BSG Episode 14

Things sure are moving fast in Battlestar Galactica, but I'm glad they didn't draw out the rebellion/coup sub plot too much. It exposed the hatred that most humans feel toward the Cyclons as a deep festering wound, and the leadership needed to overcome that hatred will be tested.

One question has been on my mind lately. If Earth was inhabited by the Cylons, where did the Humans come from? I hope that gets answered at some point.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Only In Canada, Eh!

Only Canadians would complain about getting a holiday. In 2008, Ontario added a new long weekend to the calender in February and we are still whining about Family Day a year later. The workers complain that there is nothing to do in February so Family Day would have been better in the summer. The employers complain that is the lost productivity costs them money. Small business owners complain about the lost income. There is confusion because Federal civil servants have to work because it is a provincial holiday, so we still got mail delivered today. The holiday even caused conflicts between union and management because the contract specified the number holidays employees were getting.

Yes folks, Canadians are biggest complainers in the world. Now, if only they would complain about serious issues, we might actually get somewhere...

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Seeing is believing and perception is reality is the premise behind the anime series Chaos;Head. There is an implication that, if you can manipulate people's perception, you can influence their reality. To a certain extent, this is what advertising and marketing try to do. Chaos;Head takes this to a whole new level when a become possible to manipulate a person's perception through technological means. There are a few people who can do this naturally, and the story centers on of them, Nishijou Takumi.

Takumi is one of the most annoying characters I've ever seen, but that is intentional. He is a an otaku, or geek, and we all know how annoying people with those personality traits can be. ;-) In the end he does what needs to be done, as all heroes must, but his character develops significantly along the way. Overall, the series is an enjoyable story.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I enjoyed the anime series Kurozoka although the ending is a little confusing. The overall story is well done but the audience is left to piece some of it together. There's enough information in the story to do that but it leaves many things open to interpretation. Perhaps the producer's intent was to get the audience thinking about the story, rather than just make it obvious and bland. Or, maybe they really needed two seasons to tell the story and were only given one. *Shrugs* Nevertheless, it is a good series.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Do Not Call List

By now most people will have heard that Canada's Do Not Call List is a disaster. I'm glad I didn't bother with it. Everyone that registered, is getting more calls than ever before, because apparently anyone is able to buy the list from the CRTC for a small fee. Needless to say, the list is now in the hands of the wrong people. But even I have noticed an increase in calls even though I am not on the list.

After I cancelled my cable TV subscription about 18 months ago, there was a sharp drop in the number of calls, which indicates that Rogers Cable sells their subscriber list. The sudden increase suggests that now another company is selling a subscriber list with my number on it. The first name that comes to mind is Bell, with the credit card companies a close second.

Thankfully, I have the caller id feature on my line so I simply ignore calls from numbers I don't recognise. It works better than any registry. Now if only I could make the telephone not ring at all for an unrecognised number.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In the on going quest for ways to manage my Internet TV data, I signed up at The site specializes in anime only but that covers most of what I watch, so the site is worth checking out. The site has a public API for accessing the database and the user's My List data which is used to track what the user is watching. The system can notify you when new files becomes available based on your My List. I've only played with site for about 30 minutes, so I'll have to explore some more before I can say for sure if it will do what I want. Several clients for the API are available and several are written in Python, so that's a good start.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Its Never Easy

I had another one of those days. I was making good progress for a while then ran into a wall again. I'm getting quite frustrated with these road blocks that are taking way too much time to work around. I have all the pieces in place for the LAMP server but getting everything working is another story.

One of the myths of using off-the-shelf components is that everything just works. I've always argued that if it takes a certain amount of effort to complete a project, that effort will still be expended no matter what tools, components, languages, etc., that you use. If you find some tool that lets you develop quickly, you will find that the projects become proportionately more complex. If you have a bunch of components, you will spend that effort making them work together.

I noticed this when I first used Developer Studio some some 15 years ago. Although it made make GUI design easier, I found that people nitpicked a lot more, so you wasted a lot of time tweaking the layouts, instead of writing the actual code. And Developer Studio was quite primitive compared to today's tools.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


This month's TLUG meeting had a presentation on OpenStreetMap. The talk was very long but covered everything from the projects early history, to GPS data collection, to editing the map. The real benefit of user contributed data is the project is that it is often more up to date than the commercial offerings. There is T-intersection in a Toronto neighbourhood that Google Maps shows as a normal intersection. However, traffic calming measures has closed the intersection to vehicle traffic and some one had taken the time to fix it on OpenStreetMap. Most the streets in my neighbourhood are still missing name tags, so I'll have sign up and try some editing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Remembrance

One place I would like to visit is the Canadian Vimy Memorial in France. Now it will be just a little bit harder to get there. The site is some distance from the nearest train station but an old man would wait at the station everyday, ready to take any visitors to the site in his personal car. Today I saw a report from the CBC that Georges Devloo has died.

He was not paid to drive people to the Memorial site nor did he ask anything from the visitors. He was simply a man who remember what it cost to get we are today and was giving a little bit back. This is type of selfless dedication is very rare in younger generations. I wonder if anyone else will step forward to take Mr. Devloo's place.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The work on the LAMP is getting to me. As much as I enjoy doing this stuff, the stress and pressure eventually turns everything into work, and I just want to get away from it all. But you know you got it bad when all you do on your break is think about the problem. The best part is when you make a break through, even a small one. At least you are dealing with a new problem. Trust me, there's always a new problem...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

MPlayer Soft Subtitles

While I can now watch some 720p soft subbed anime releases, I still have difficulties with most of them. After some experimenting, I discovered it is the fancy special effects that are being applied the subtitles. Without the effects, the maximum CPU usage for a 720p H.264/AAC video is in the low 90% range. The subtitle effects adds about another 10% so MPlayer is simply running out of CPU processing power.

Disabling the SSA/ASS effects allows me to watch the video but the subtitles look very bland, as I've become use to the special effects on standard definition videos. So what to do now?

Obviously, a faster CPU is the simplest solution. My finances will not permit a new system, but I am keeping an eye open for a used unit. In the mean time I might compile MPlayer from source. I am using a MPlayer package from the Debian multimedia repository, which is based on a SVN snapshot from July 2008. It is quite possible that the developers have found improvements which will wring a few more cycles out the CPU.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Time Flies

On the work front it doesn't feel like I accomplished much this week but I still feel burned out, which makes it worse. Its not so bad if you pushed yourself and have something to show for it at the end.

This week I made more progress on my personal projects with much less effort and time expended. I'm fighting the urge to just dive in and start writing Tom's TV Utility, even though the need for a program becomes more urgent everyday. I remind myself that the problem is more complicated than can be solved with some unplanned hacking. So far it seems to be working.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

WRC Returns

The first rally of the WRC season was held in Ireland, not in Monaco as has been the tradition for as long as I can remember. The current economic problem has reduced the field to only four teams but there are only two manufacturers, Ford and Citroen. Subaru and Suzuki have withdrawn completely. Petter Solberg was no where to be seen and, while Chris Atkinson did race, he does not have a regular drive for the rest of season. This could be a mighty boring season.

The C4 is the best car. Loeb is the best driver. With so little competition around, I predict he will win every rally, even the gravel ones. But rallying is so unpredictable and even Loeb makes mistakes, so I'll watch the rest of the season because rallying is still a fantastic display of driving skill.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Needed A Break

Today, I decided I needed a break from the the LAMP server project. Its an important project since it might be the only income I generate this month, but I was burying myself in the work, to the point that I was forgetting to eat! Last Monday, I heated my supper around 7pm while I ate a salad. The next morning I found my supper still in the microwave! Never even noticed I missed eating the meal, but it did explain why I was feeling so run down at bed time.

Although I took it easy, it wasn't a holiday. I still had work to do. I caught up with some paper work and went to the bank to make some deposits. In the afternoon, I worked on some personal projects.

I finished the changes on Tom's Project Utility, which enables it to create and remove the Bazaar source code repository. In its current form the utility is at a dead end. The next functions I want add, all require root privileges which makes everything more complicated, especially unit testing. I need to rethink the design before any new development can occur.

With the new functionality in place, I created a new project called Tom's TV Utility, which will eventually manage my Internet TV download tasks. I created a Trac wiki page which describes the manual process. From those notes I hope to find simple jobs that can be automated immediately. Very much in the early stages, but it is a start.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Like all types of entertainment, anime has formulas which creators reuse regularly. Anime creators always seem to find interesting twists on every formula so it is not an indicator of how interesting a series might be. One common formula is a teen age boy who lives alone and a teen girl who shows up out of nowhere, and has to move in, which results in lots of opportunities for comedic innuendo. Akikan! follows that basic premise, but the girl is... a can of melon soda!?

The can becomes a girl when someone drinks from it and reverts to being a can when the tab on her ear is pulled. I have no idea where these wacky ideas come from, but the first episode was hilarious so I'm hooked. One of the cool things about anime is that even the most insane shows will usually have some story to explain it all. The first episode established that the government is involved... OK, that's another formula. :-)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Greed Is Good?

Read an interesting story from the BBC about the founder of the the Bank Of America. The economic disaster that was created from a "greed is good" mentality, must have him spinning in his grave. Greed has been around as long as the concept of personal property has existed, but it became a cultural phenomenon in the US, which, like a lot US "culture", has been exported to the rest of the world. I hope that some lessons have been learned but I don't have that much faith in human nature.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

One Of Those Days

Today was strangely productive and frustrating at the same time. My plans for using the Symfony tutorial project for testing my LAMP server configuration just did not work out. Parts of it worked but other parts would not, so it was hard to determine if the cause was my server configuration or the half done tutorial. I decided to proceed step by step rather than depend an uncertain shortcut. Today I created a base Symfony project which I will only extend to test specific things on the server. It will take longer and I'll end up learning more Symfony than I ever intended, but this should produce a better result.