Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PHP Timezones In Lenny

When I previously talked about having PHP timezone problems in Debian Lenny, I thought that I might have to compile a custom version PHP without the patch which created this mess. Thankfully, I found another solution.

When I got a chance to examine the patch, I discovered that it actually loaded the PHP timezone database from the OS database in /usr/shared/zoneinfo. The user chroots on the shared LAMP server are stripped of (usually) unnecessary files such as the ones found in /usr/shared/zoneinfo. I copied those files into the chroot and the PHP timezone database worked again! There was much rejoicing!

I'm glad I found another way to fix this as I was not looking forward to maintaining a custom PHP package until the next Debian release, which would be at least a year away. No thanks, I have better things to do than compile PHP every time there is a security update.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Easynews Search

Oh no, Easynews got a fancy new home page! Well, it is nowhere near as garish as some of their competition's. Hopefully they won't ever go that far. Easynews is the epitome of minimalist and I hope that never changes.

When my friend Paul recommended them in 2007, he had already been using them since around 1998 which is pretty strong endorsement. When I found that I wasn't using the service that much, I cancelled it in May 2008. At the time I was informed that if I re-activated the account within a year, I could get my username and unused Gigabytes back. I sign up again 15 months later and still got my username and unused Gigabytes back! I guess they forgot to delete me. I had accumulated ~240GB, so this was a really nice surprise.

It took a while to get used the search engine, which actually takes regular expressions in the search terms. How geeky! I know my regex-fu isn't that strong, but I was getting some odd results. I re-read the very terse help page and realized the search terms could also be key words, which were of course separated by spaces. So if you want to match a space in the regex, you have to enclose the entire expression in quotes. Intuitive, yes?

The search results have a lot of links to tools with no explanation of what they do. Today I found out the "parViewer" link is actually very useful. It shows a page which indicates if you need the parity files to reconstruct the file. On a big file this can save a lot unnecessary downloading. This doesn't work for .nzb files, though, but that makes sense as they are less reliable.

Yes, Easynews is the epitome of minimalist but is a useful minimalist. ^_^

Monday, September 28, 2009

F1 Singapore

Street circuits are all about the location but it is difficult to build an exciting race track on city streets. Singapore at night is certainly a spectacular location, but the race itself was one of the most boring I've seen all season.

Hamilton and McLaren were untouchable. They qualified on poll, had a perfect strategy, and ran a faultless race for the win. Meanwhile, everyone else floundered. The Redbulls looked threatening in qualifying but then couldn't make the same impression in the race for various reasons. Rosberg also looked like he might challenge Hamilton at one point but a drive through penalty sent him to the back of the field. The Brawn GP team did not qualify well, but got lucky in the race and scored some points as other teams had their problems.

Button put in a few great laps to pass Barrichello in the pits. This means Button actually increased his championship lead, which will boost his confidence nicely. I'm still hoping Barrichello wins the championship as it would be a perfect fairy tale ending for this amazing season. But, unless Button has problems, Barrichello's chance slipped further way after this race.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Late Night Creativity

I've been staying up way too late for the last few nights. I resolved to be in bed at a reasonable hour tonight. Now if I can just define "reasonable." ^_^

The problem is my creativity increases later in the day, so by the time midnight strikes I am on a roll and not paying much attention to the clock. It is very easy for a few hours to fly by and suddenly it is 4AM. I'm actually getting a lot done but in the long run, I know it is not a healthy lifestyle.

And, I not a spring chicken any more, you know! -_^

Saturday, September 26, 2009

MPlayer And Mkv Linked Chapters VII

Mad Fish The One tried using this post to compile mplayer with Matroska linked chapter support and found that the compile failed. After some investigation I realized that I had already discovered that problem in July, which was also the last time I compiled mplayer. Unfortunately, I neglected to tell anyone else about it! Bad me! (-_-;

Development on the mplayer git repository has moved off the master branch, perhaps prompted by a bunch of yahoos suddenly taking an interest in the work... Anyway, the mplayer master branch hasn't changed at all since early July while the ffmpeg master branch is changing very rapidly, with result that mplayer no longer compiles against a recent ffmpeg checkout.

Mad Fish posted another solution here. The disadvantage of this one is that it depends on a third party patch, but it uses a newer ffmpeg which is a huge plus compared to what I did.

My solution back in July was to compile against a specific version (svn r19395) of ffmpeg. That version is now very old so it may be missing bugs fixes and other improvements. I've been using the same mplayer I compiled in July and I haven't noticed any problems. YMMV
git clone git://
cd mplayer.git
git clone git://
cd ffmpeg
git checkout 4477ec66b # git commit matching svn r19395
cd ..
I tried building the mplayer git development branch and I haven't gotten past the configure step yet. There have been many changes and it is not clear to me how it is detecting ffmpeg any more.

Finally, what is the official name of this Matroska feature anyway? I perused the Matroska site and it is not at all obvious what the spec calls it. I've been using "linked chapters", but others use "linked segments" and "order chapters." None of these strings appear anywhere in the spec.

Friday, September 25, 2009

HellaNZB No Longer Developed!

While investigating why an error in my hellanzb logs, I discovered this ticket that declares hellanzb is no longer being developed. Damn! I really liked this program. There is a long list of other applications (mainly GUI front ends) that depend on hellanzb, so hopefully someone will resume development.

Yeah, yeah, it is open source so why don't I take up the challenge? That is an option but I suspect that there are a few people who are already more familiar with the code base than I.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

CRTC Really Riles People

The latest effort to counter the CRTC's brain damaged decisions is which managed to get 20,000(!) emails sent on their first day of operation. The goal of is 10,000 signatures on a petition to be delivered to the Industry Minister. The number of signatures has been increasing steadily.

Those numbers are significant enough that some politicians will actually take notice, but getting them to act is another matter. In any event, Canadians have become too complacent about their Internet access, so it good to see these kinds on grass roots efforts gathering momentum.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dymaxion Car

I never associated cars with the name R. Buckminster Fuller. But that was before I learned about the Dymaxion Car, which is a interesting bit of trivia for the historical car enthusiast.

Only three working prototypes were produced and each was actually driven by several owners. The cars were even involved a two accidents, one of which resulted in a fatality. Although no fault was found with the car, the negative publicity put the brakes on any further development.

There is a project underway to fully restore the only remaining example, which on display at a museum. A lack of accurate engineering information appears to be the main stumbling block.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Walk Across Toronto

I accidentally found an old series of articles by reporter Peter Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post as he walks through Toronto's suburbs. It offers a different perspective on Toronto that you won't find in the travel brochures. The series also reaffirms that the only way to explore a city is on foot.

It is a long read so allow yourself about 20 minutes for the whole series. Oh, and the link points to the end of the series. The first article is at the end of the second page of the list.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Renault Sanctioned

In a season of highs and lows for F1, thankfully the latest scandal was resolved quickly. I'm still dumbstruck that someone could actually instruct a driver to crash on purpose, and that any driver would agree to that level of insanity. That is just way beyond being told to let your team mate pass.

Given that Renault is contemplating leaving F1 anyway, suspending Renault's disqualification until the end of the 2011 season, is not that harsh given the severity of what occurred. I suspect that this guarantees that Renault will leave F1 at end of the 2009 season. There just isn't any compelling reason for them to stay any more.

And you know what? If Nelson Piguet Jr hadn't been fired, none of this might ever have come to light. Which makes me wonder, has anything this severe ever happened before? We may never know. Until now, I never thought anyone in F1 could stoop this low.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hand Writing On The Wall

Does cursive hand writing matter any more? I just wrote a few words in cursive and, while it was still legible, it is definitely not as good as it once was. It would never get past the strict teachers that I had back in primary school!

But in these days of electronic communication, hand writing is being used less and less as an everyday skill. As a consequence some school districts are putting less emphasis on hand writing skills. There are similar stories here and here. Is this a good thing?

I really don't know. And I doubt anyone will have an answer until a few generations have gone without hand writing skills.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I was using to post to Twitter and Identica simultaneously. worked most of the time but occasionally it would suddenly became very unreliable for a few days. I decided that it was time to try a command line utility call Twidge, which has been on my play-with-this-cool-toy list for a while.

Twidge can post to both Twitter and Identica but can't do it with a single invocation. That's easily solved with a simple three line shell script taken from the Twidge web site. Or you can use the slightly more fancy script which gives a text length marker so you don't exceed the 140 character limit.

Of course, it was hard to resist "improving" things. ^_^ Here is my current script:
trap "rm ${tmpfile}" EXIT
vim ${tmpfile}
if [ ! -s "${tmpfile}" ]; then
echo "No text, aborting update."
exit 1
text=$(cat "${tmpfile}")
twidge -c "$HOME/.twidge/identica" update "${text}"
text=$(echo "${text}"|sed 's/\(^\| \)!\([[:alnum:]]\)/\1#\2/g')
twidge -c "$HOME/.twidge/twitter" update "${text}"
There basically two additions over the original script. First, the text for the post is created in the vim editor, which is a more comfortable writing enviroment and, more importantly, has a spell checker! The second addition is to convert Identica groups, which are specified as "!tag", into a Twitter "#tag", since Twitter doesn't have groups.

Hah, I hear you say! Why did my script become so complicated? But it is not really complicated once you realize these scripts are able to duplicate the basic functionality of, a complex web service, in a few lines of shell code. And so far, the script has proven to be more reliable that The script is only as complicated as it needs to be, but no more.

Long live the command line!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kemono no Souja Erin - 29

The anime series Kemono no Souja Erin keeps getting better. The mature story telling in this series continues to impress as Erin faced a number of crises since I last mention the series.

Her foster father, Jone, died and she had a difficult time dealing with it. Erin never knew her real father so Jone easily filled that role after her mother died. But it was only after Jone passed away that Erin realized she actually thought of him has her father. The regret that she had never told him this, made his passing all the more difficult.

Erin was also forced to question her beliefs about the relationship between animals and humans. She has become unbelievably close to Lilan, the Beastlord that she looks after. While brushing Lilan, Erin accidentally brushes the wrong way and causes Lilan to react and attack her. It was an extremely painful reminder of the risk she is taking in getting so close a powerful animal, and it was not easy for Erin to continue the work she has started with Lilan.

When Erin learned that Lilan was a gift to the Queen and would never be returned to the wild, Erin became very depressed. It was a surprising change for her normally upbeat character. Erin works through problems by drawing upon the wisdom of her mother, Soyon, and Jone, the two most significant influences in her life. However, this means she is dealing with problems alone, when she could ask others for help.

The series has been licensed and can be streamed from The SD video doesn't require a sign up as far as I can tell but I don't know if is available outside the US and Canada, and you have to put up with advertisements.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Generation Gyrations

Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y: these terms are so wonderfully vague that nobody can actually pin down who belongs in each group. It allows a sort of shell game to shuffle age groups around for convenience, especially for the Gen-X and -Y groups.

I started thinking about this after reading this press release which gives different age ranges for the three groups than I am familiar with, and even states that Generation X are the parents of Generation Y. I always assumed the following ranges: Boomers - 1947 to 1967, Generation X - 1967 to 1977, and Generation Y - 1977 to 1987. I also assumed that the Boomers are the parents of both Gen X and Gen Y.

But what do I know? After reading the Wikipedia pages for Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Y, it is far more confusing than I ever thought possible. And now, I notice that there is even a Generation Z! We sure like making up labels for everything, don't we?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

PHP In Lenny

The Debian PHP maintainers included a patch in the package for Lenny which is causing me some grief. This guy is a lot less restrained in showing his annoyance. ^_^

The patch makes a default timezone "System/Localtime" which, when it is detected, forces PHP to use the OS configured timezone. That part is OK. The problem is the patch also prevents you from getting the real timezone from PHP. The PHP timezone always looks like the hard coded default.

Now this probably won't affect many PHP scripts but I'm not that lucky. A developer using the shared hosting server that I admin, unfortunately does need the the real timezone for his application. Marvelous!

The obvious solution is to compile the Debian PHP package without the patch and I plan to do that tomorrow. Oh Joy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Concurrency In Python

The topic at this month's PyGTA meeting was Parallelization in Python: Code Samples, Experiences and Advocacy. It was a round table discussion which I usually enjoy more than a presentation, but this subject is too broad. There are so many options for concurrency in Python that I started to feel overloaded after a while.

None of my own Python code uses any concurrency, so I decided to mention MyHDL which applies the same principles that I've used in various C embedded projects. The technique is known by various names in Python circles: green-threads, continuations, coroutines, and a few others. It is essentially co-operative multitasking. Although this doesn't always have positive connotations, I found it to be very effect for writing machine control software.

I had hoped that MyHDL would be something new to the group, but two people had already heard of it. Darn! But I should have expected it of course. Some of these guys have invested a lot more into Python than I have.

Monday, September 14, 2009

F1 Italy

It was a good race but it was won on strategy, so there was not much on track action. Both Barrichello and Button delivered on their end by driving faultlessly. Hamilton made an error which cost him third place. I get that he is a racer but did he really think that he had a chance to catch and pass Button? Force India qualified second which once again showed how good their car is, but again ended up stuck behind a Ferrari to much of the race, much like what happened at Spa.

Redbull had a terrible weekend which has all but killed Vettel's and Webber's championship aspirations. Redbull still have a mathematical chance of winning the constructor's title but only if Brawn GP scores no points, which is not very likely. Ross Brawn is feeling confident enough that he is willing to let Button and Barrichello have a straight fight for the driver's championship.

The bad news for Barrichello is that Button seems to be back on form. Barrichello has a mathematical chance to win the championship, but that requires Button to have problems in the final races. Barrichello is going to need some luck to pull this off.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I seriously need to get back to my personal projects. I haven't touched any of them in a long while. It is always annoying when that happens. An even greater annoyance is deciding which project to resume. Do you return to the one that is the most advanced or the one that is most interesting? I usually go with the latter since it offers greater motivation to get started. Of course, the worst case is something completely new has come along in the mean time and I jump on that because simply because it is new and shiny.

Having hobbies is both a blessing and a curse. ^_^

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Sarah Jane Adventures

I just finished watching the second series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, another Doctor Who spin off. Although The Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA) is targeted at a younger audience, I enjoyed it very much. Sarah Jane is easily my favourite companion, even though she travelled with the Doctor for only a short time.

A few stories in the SJA series are connected to events in the current Doctor Who series but most stories are original and separate. My favourite from series two was The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith which showed that she is not without weaknesses.

There is a third series airing in the Autumn and David Tennant will appear as the Doctor in one story. Awesome! There no air date yet so I'll definitely have to keep an eye on that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Vampire Knight Guilty

Vampire Knight Guilty is the sequel to Vampire Knight and as such you need to watch both to understand the story. Now, it is a great story, but there is so much angst, introspection, and hand wringing, it feels like a classic Swedish film at times.

The story centers on Cross Yuki, a student at Cross Academy, a boarding school run by her adopted father. The school is unusual because it has special night classes for a group of vampire students. The school is an experiment to see if vampires and humans can coexist. Yuki is a guardian and is supposed to keep the day class and night class from interacting but this isn't so easy. The vampires have that supernatural charm which the day students find irresistible. ^_^

Yuki has no memory before ten years ago when she attacked by a vampire. She was saved by another vampire, Kaname Kuran, who brought her to Cross Academy. Yuki is troubled by the memory loss and always feels that there some dark secret in her past. She is right. But the truth was such a complete surprise to me that it made the whole series worthwhile.

Interwoven with Yuki's story is a complex back story about the vampire hierarchy and an organization of vampire hunters. All of this comes crashing together in a mostly satisfying ending. I say "mostly" because there is at least one major loose end, which suggests a possible third season.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Veteran's Stories

There is new web site, The Memory Project, which will maintain an audio archive of Canadian WWII veterans' stories. This is important as that time fades further into history. I only wish this effort had started earlier so that it could have captured some the memories of the WWI veterans, who are now almost all gone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

WRC Australia

If I ignore Citroen's technical irregularities, this was a really good rally. Loeb was was definitely back on form and Sordo seemed to be driving better than Hirvonen. Wait, that doesn't sound right.

Several times during the rally, I wondered how come Hirvonen was suddenly fighting with Sordo for second place. And he was working really hard for it too, with several scary moments which, I must say, he recovered in an almost Loeb-esque style.

While the Citroen insist that the different part had no effect on the performance, it might explain how Sordo could suddenly becoming Hirvonen's equal. However, I doubt that they would have done it intentionally and then expected it to pass the scrutineers. So it was more likely a mistake but one that could very well cost Loeb the championship. At the beginning of the season, I predicted Loeb would run away with it. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Henning Solberg was asked, how difficult is it driving without a windscreen? It's easier with the windscreen, he deadpans. But at least there was no snow this time. It's the third time he has lost the windscreen this season, so he has been getting a lot of practice driving without one.

And finally, Petter Solberg is back for the final two rallies in a 2008 C4! This is going to be great!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Software Maintenance

The full title of David Collier-Brown's talk at this month's GTALUG meeting is "You don't know jack about Software Maintenance." To the typical manager (aka PHB) software maintenance is something you do after the project is in production. As any experienced programmer will tell you, this is completely and utterly false. Maintenance starts during development. The XP crowd even explicitly say that development is maintenance.

David shared some of his experience of how you design your software to be maintainable from the beginning. He used a real world example of a versioned structure from when he was developing Multics. Yes, he goes back that far. ^_^ David's final piece of advice was: don't tell the PHB that you are doing maintenance during development.

It was interesting have a programming oriented talk at GTALUG for a change.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Surprise Family Visits

Well, I didn't go to the Air Show. That required some effort from me, like getting up earlier to have enough time to get to the CNE grounds. ^_^

But I needed to get out for a while so I decided to drop in unexpectedly on both my sisters. To my surprise they were both home! So I had a pleasant afternoon catching up with the family stuff. Thankfully, there's not much to report. In our family, no news really is good news.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labour Day Weekend

Its a long weekend and I worked today. I was upgrading a customer Debian server to Debian 5.0 Lenny. I scheduled the upgrade a few weeks ago and is the last of five servers for this customer. When I set up the schedule I didn't actually pay any attention to the holidays that might intervene. I've been self employed too long, I think.

I was considering going to see the Canadian International Air Show tomorrow, but I'm still not sure. I haven't been in a few years so there is an urge, but I'll need to get up earlier, which may be a problem. I'll just wing it, I guess.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Shigofumi is a fantasy anime series from 2008. A shigofumi is a letter from beyond the grave and is grated to a few as their final communication with the living. The letter is hand delivered by a postal worker from beyond. This story is about one such shigofumi postal worker, Fumika.

The first few episodes deal with the fairly routine task of delivering shigofumi until Fumika encounters someone who knew when she was alive. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent the Fumika is as much a mystery to her fellow postal workers. Although all postal workers are of course dead, Fumika is aging. Ultimately her past and present collide is a rather touching ending to the series.

There are no scenes of the after life except for those of the off duty postal workers. The point of view of the series is that of the living and how individuals cope with death. It is actually refreshing to see the subject handled in such a realistic manner, and makes the fantasy aspects of the story much more interesting.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Here is a BBC article describing how the the IMF's forecasts got the downturn all wrong. What I'm wondering is if they examined their forecasting models to see if they can be improved.

Somehow I doubt it. More likely everyone just threw up their hands and said "Oops, we goofed," and just continued with same assumptions as before. Economics isn't a scientific or technical field so there is no need to prove your ideas are correct. You only have to convince enough people to follow you. Sounds more like religion, actually,

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tom Baker Returns As The Doctor

No, no, not on television! Tom Baker is reprising his role as the fourth Doctor in a new Doctor Who audio drama. The first episode was released today. If you even for a moment thought Baker could do it on TV, you obviously haven't seen him recently.

To many in North America, Baker's portrayal is the Doctor, even though it was already the fourth incarnation. David Tennant is now my favourite Doctor but it took many incarnations to replace Baker.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Corporation

A few years ago I saw a documentary called the The Corporation which exposes the dark side of the corporation. The movie is available on YouTube in 23 parts but the producers take donations on their web site and also sell a DVD. Well worth watching.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Commercial Space Flight

Aircraft technology was developed because a handful of entrepreneurs saw opportunities to make money. The early years of space flight was completely different. The governments of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R were the only groups developing space flight. It was really just a pissing contest with no long term goals or commercial interests.

SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, and Virgin Galactic are hoping to change all of that, but so much time has been lost. Aircraft went from crude prototypes to production combat models in under fifteen years. What would have been accomplished in the fifty odd years since the first satellite if that had been achieved as a commercial venture?

My imagination runs wild thinking about it.