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.

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 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. ^_^

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Long Live Desktop Computing

Even as people are declaring that Linux on desktop is dead, Linux still runs fine on my desktop computer system. Of course, now some people are saying that it doesn't matter that Linux isn't taking over on the desktop, because desktop computing itself is dead.

Supposedly, people will be using their tiny little hand held computers to access their computers in the cloud, where they will do all the same things they did on their desks systems. On their tiny little hand held devices? Seems a bit optimistic to me.

Anyway, there should choices. And I choose to stick with a my archaic desktop computer, thank you very much. Now get off my lawn!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Not Enough Sci?

It must be a sign of the Apocalypse: my brother is commenting on my blog! ^__^

I don't agree that there is not enough sci in the sci-fi in the Caprica series. Most of the technology seems to be extrapolations of what is presently available or under development. For example, the computer sheet seen in the show, might be based on electronic paper.

I was more worried about the story which meandered too much, and some of the acting was not very good. Overall, the social themes presented in the series were very interesting. Good sci-fi is an opportunity for social commentary, and isn't necessarily just about technology. Unfortunately, TV sci-fi generally goes for the latter and rarely does the former well.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Hate U.S. TV

It's time for the "I hate U.S. TV" rant again.

I just started watching Caprica even though the series started in January. The first season went on hiatus after nine episodes and just returned as season 1.5 this month. Unfortunately, the ratings were too low for the execs at the Syfy channel so they cancelled the show!

Let me get this straight. You put a show on hiatus for more than six months and you expect the ratings to just magically bounce back when the series returns? Well, it just shows that TV executives are a lot dumber that I thought they were. Of course this is the Syfy channel. They probably needed to free up the schedule for more wrestling.

I am enjoying the series but I'm debating whether to continue watching, since it's basically pointless now. Decisions, decisions.

That wasn't much of a rant, was it?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bell Says Jump, CRTC Jumps

The CRTC is such an obedient little corporate lap dog. When Bell says jump, the CRTC jumps. Usage based billing was a approved several months ago but the CRTC stipulated that UBB could only begin once Bell had eliminated all its unlimited accounts. Bell asked the CRTC to reconsider this requirement. The CRTC jumped.

Now, accounts created before 1 January, 2007, will be grandfathered. On Bell's retail side this means they won't have to eliminate many unlimited accounts since they stopped offering that option in 2007. On the wholesale ISP side, accounts created before 2007 will not be subject to UBB. Unfortunately, I signed up with TekSavvy in October 2007, so I'm going to be UBBed, starting in 90 days.

Considering I use about 60 to 100GB per month and the UBB cap is only 60GB, my paltry 3 Mb/s Internet access is about to become very, very expensive. To cover the cost, I'm going to cancel all the features on my land line and reduce it to the basic phone service, which is needed for the DSL. Effectively, Bell is not making any more money from me than it did before UBB. I'll be sure to tell the Bell CSR exactly why I'm cancelling the services.

Nobody at Bell will care why I'm reducing my services. Bell's goal is to eradicate the wholesale ISP competition and UBB is a big step towards that result. One of the mandates of the CRTC is that it must foster competition in the telecom market, which is directly at odds with Bell's goal. Sooner or later, the CRTC is going to have to answer for being Bell's obedient corporate lap dog.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Free Speech Costs Exactly $105

Welcome to the latest copyright scam in the U.S. In order to be protected under the DMCA safe harbour law, a web site must register with the U.S Copyright Office. Not all web site owners are even aware that they have to register to be protected. A copyright troll called Righthaven is already taking advantage of this ignorance. Well, at least now we know that free speech costs exactly $105.

This is just so unbelievably broken. Why is there a requirement to register anything in the first place? Apparently, this was done so that the rights holder can find the contact information of the person who handles DMCA requests without too much work. This could have been satisfied a far simpler solution: require that the contact information to be available on a well know URL (e.g. /dmca-contact) for the site to be compliant. But of course, the lawyers making the laws would have no idea that would even be technically possible.

This kind of stupidity just increases my belief that copyright is hopelessly broken and cannot be fixed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Twitter OAuth Stupidity

To borrow from Douglas Adams, Twitter is run by "a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes."

Twitter uses the OAuth consumer key to identify client applications. Now they've gone a step further, and are revoking the consumer keys of open source clients that fail to adequately obfuscate the key in the source code. Twidge was disabled yesterday. It was fixed a day later after the developer modified the source to comply with Twitter's requirements. So far, I haven't heard of any other open source clients having problems.

I don't know what Twitter hopes to accomplish with this ridiculous obfuscation requirement. Even if the key is hidden in the source code, it's still available to any one who examines the code. Does the requirement apply to closed source clients? In the above article, the author extracted the consumer key from the binary of the official Twitter Android client. Anyone want to bet it hasn't been fixed?

Monday, October 25, 2010


Sony has discontinued the Walkman portable cassette player, at least in Japan. It came as a complete surprise that they were still making the 30 year old gadget. Apparently there is a market for the Walkman in the developing world and Sony will continue production of the cassette Walkman in China.

I never owned a Walkman as the idea of listening to music on the go never really appealed to me. That attitude hasn't changed and I still don't own any kind of digital music player. When I travel on public transportation, I'm in the minority as one of the few people without headphones. The portable music player became a way to control your personal space in public. With your head phones on, you effectively mute the crowd around you and reduce your interaction with them. People might as well be sitting in a private car; it's almost the same level of isolation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

F1 Korea 2010

It have may taken a while for the action to get started, but for its debut race, Korea delivered a stonker. Qualifying was nothing special as Redbull took their usual positions of the front row of the grid with Vettel on pole. Race day was very, very different, however.

Rain on race day turned the barely two week old track surface into a pond. The race started behind the safety car, but was red flagged after only four laps. After a long delay, the race restarted under the safety car again and it wasn't until lap 17 that the real racing got under way. It was excruciatingly boring, but safety comes first. The hard part for the officials was deciding that the conditions were good enough for racing, especially as the track conditions did not improve very much while the safety car was out.

In old school F1, the race would have started in the rain and the drivers were expected to just deal with it as best they could. These days the drivers have more of a say, but their feedback is often contradictory. Hamilton thought the conditions were extreme but tolerable while other drivers felt it was just too dangerous. In hindsight, the safety car should have been brought in a few laps earlier, according to Button. As it was, the race ended after sunset which was not ideal either.

Redbull had their worst race of the season. A seemly small error got away from Webber, put him into the wall, and for good measure took out Rosberg who was minding his own business. While Webber's DNF was self inflicted, Vettel's problem was another mechanical failure. It's been a long time since I've seen a F1 engine actually blow its guts out the bottom of the car so spectacularly.

Redbull's troubles basically gifted Alonso with the win, but that's motor racing. The reverse could easily happen in the remaining two races. Hamilton had a very good race with a second place finish but Button has an appalling day as he struggled with grip to finish a twelfth. Schumacher showed some of his old talent for driving in the rain to finish in fifth place, his best showing this season. I wonder if he will be able to keep it up in the remaining races, or was this just due to conditions.

Alonso now leads the drivers' championship but what is unbelievable, is that there are still five contenders with a mathematical chance to win the title. Button has the least realistic chance as it depends on other contenders getting DNFs, but as Redbull's result just demonstrated, that's not completely impossible.

Many drivers took advantage of the several passing opportunities the track offers, but the poor conditions meant that it required great skill and bravery to make a pass work. A dry race at this track is going to be awesome. However, since the construction was delayed by 51 days of continuous rain, I have a feeling that most of the races at this circuit will be wet races.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


It's unusual for my whole family to have a get together twice in one month. My sister, who recently had surgery, is in party mood and wanted to celebrate her anniversary and her husband's birthday which are actually on the same day. (This was a pre-celebration. The actual date is next week.) My sister is not fully recovered yet so I hope she is not over doing it. On the other hand, it's not like we could stop her anyway. ^_^

It was one of the loudest gathering we've ever had. I should record a get together some time. Years ago in Cape Town, someone (my father or brother) recorded the family in the kitchen while they were washing the dishes after Christmas dinner. Nobody realized just how much noise we were making until we heard the playback. Not that it made us any quieter! If anything, it just started a new round of fun and merriment.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at Christmas!

Friday, October 22, 2010


I've been getting my feet wet with Blender using the Blender 3D: Noob to Pro wiki book. All I'm going say is that it's been frustrating and painful. In other words, it's a typical newbie reaction to learning something very complicated.

The wiki book is adequate but it is occasionally almost as annoying as Blender's UI. There are sometimes multiple hot key combinations that might be used and the book sometimes unnecessarily mentions all of the combinations. This not something that a newbie really needs to know. It's good that it is a wiki book so it can be improved over time.

It is also the only way for any book to keep up with the UI changes in Blender. I peeked at a beta version available in Debian experimental and the next version looks like a completely different application!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Streisand Effect

In the pre-Internet days, if you wanted to prevent some information from being reported or distributed, you simply sued or threatened to sue. It worked almost all the time. In the age of Internet instant communication however, it almost always has the opposite effect. This is known as the Streisand Effect.

Perhaps in fifty years, people will stop suing to suppress information on the Internet because they will know that it doesn't work. However, I doubt that will happen. The problem is that lawyers get paid no matter what the outcome, and as long as this is true, no lawyer is going to advise a client against suing. Which basically ensures the Streisand Effect meme will be around forever.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Rip Is Wrong, Damn It!

GET LAMP, a documentary film about text adventure games, was released under the Creative Commons licence and is therefore freely distributable. Of course, it wasn't long before a rip of the DVD showed up on the file sharing sites. The rip includes some flattering comments about the past accomplishments of Jason Scott, the film's creator.

Jason's response to the rip was equally classy and very humorous. He basically tells the ripper group that the rip is wrong and then explains how to fix it. His worry was that the rip made the movie look bad! Now that's taking pride in your work.

I'll have to find some time to watch this. It's a great subject.

Python For System Administration

At this month's PyGTA meeting we discussed Python for system administration tasks. The discussion centered on when it would be appropriate to abandon a shell script in favour of Python. Mostly it came down to complexity. For example, if there is much data manipulation required, it is probably time to consider Python. We agreed that shell scripts were still better suited for tasks that could be done with basic commands.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Linux, KMS, 3D, ATI, Oh My!

Yesterday I realized that accelerated 3D rendering no longer worked on my ancient ATI R200 based card. After some experimentation, I discovered that ATI accelerated 3D graphics now requires Kernel Mode Setting (KMS) to be enabled. This was a huge problem because Xv, the X accelerated video rendering system, has diagonal "lightning strike" tearing when used with KMS. I really wanted 3D back, though, so what to do?

Today, I was bored with work, so I decided to play with the ATI R600 based card which I bought way back in the spring. Initially it was very disappointing. The X server crashed almost immediately which was a regression from earlier tests: not a good sign!

Examining the system logs indicated that the problem appeared to be in the kernel, not the X server. I've been running a 2.6.34 kernel from Debian experimental and it so happens that a 2.6.36-rc6 kernel was available. Installing the newer version fixed the X server crash! Yay!

Accelerated 3D rendering now works on the R600 card but what about the tearing in Xv? Frankly, it was a bigger concern than 3D. If Xv didn't work, I would have to go back to the R200 card, which still supported an Xv mode that worked without KMS, and all this effort would have been for naught. So it was a great relief to discover that the Xv tearing problem has been fixed on the R600 card. Double Yay!

It's not often that one accomplishes anything while avoiding work, so I'm quite pleased with today's efforts. It's been a good day!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Hobbit

Yay! After 15 years of legal wrangling over rights, The Hobbit film will finally begin shooting next year. More than anything else, it is a damning example of how copyright impedes creativity. It also shows how petty the film business really is.

The Hobbit is going to be shot in 3D but thankfully, Jackson will be directing so there won't be too many gimmicky 3D scenes. I hope. Especially since I won't be seeing it in 3D.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

List Of Shame

Canada is number one on another list of shame. Apparently we have the most expensive mobile phone plans on the world. The U.S. is second. This isn't surprising as both countries have very little competition in the telecommunications sector. And in both countries, the incumbents fight tooth and nail to maintain their monopolies.

Friday, October 15, 2010


After Canada was snubbed in the elections for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, one might expect some humility from Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister Cannon. Instead they point fingers, hint at conspiracies by lobbyists, complain of backstabbing by allies, and even blame the voting system. With such a classy response, is it any surprise that Canada lost the seat? The world is sending a message that Canada has lost the respect that it once had on the international stage. Our glorious leaders are too full of themselves to accept that it was their policies that cost us the seat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Early Adopters

So, there's no mad rush of early adopters for stereoscopic (aka 3D) TVs. Hardly surprising as there is almost no content, the glasses are very expensive, and the viewing experience is not very comfortable. There was a time when companies could count on the early adopters for initial sales of new products, but you still have to give them a reason to buy. Not to mention that glasses-free stereoscopic TVs are just around the corner, but even those have problems as the viewer position is still important.

The average consumer will decide in the end whether stereoscopic TVs are a gimmick worth buying. I've already decided it's not.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WRC France 2010

The only real excitement in the rally was the three way fight for second and third between Ogier, Sordo, and Petter Solberg. Sordo and Ogier had a definite advantage in their factory Citroens and after day one it looked like Solberg would have to settle for fourth. On day two, Ogier survived an off-road excursion into the trees but later clipped a rock which wrecked the right front suspension. Solberg moved into third and, per his usual style, set his sights on the second place Sordo. Solberg as a very scary moment on day three which could have ended in disaster. With one stage cancelled on an already short day three, Solberg simply ran out of road and had to settle for third, which was still very impressive.

With Loeb and Citroen clinching the drivers' title and manufacturers' title respectively, the remaining two events will be somewhat anticlimactic. The sad fact is neither Loeb nor Citroen were seriously challenged this year.

Loeb is in class of his own. I almost wish he would retire but that would deprive us of the chance to see him beaten, although by whom, I'm not sure. Certainly none of the younger drivers are good enough yet. Solberg might have a chance if he had a competitive car. Just look at what he has achieved driving a 2009 car!

Ford's lack lustre performance this year was shocking and essentially gifted Citroen with the title. I hope the reason for the poor showing is that Ford decided to put all their effort into next year's car, which will use the same chassis as the SWRC cars but with a 1.6l turbo instead of the 2l normally apsirated engine (which sound awesome, by the way). While there were several Ford Fiestas contesting the SWRC, there were no Citroens at all. Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amazon EC2

The presenter at this month's GTALUG meeting was Fabio Neves (FZero), who gave a brief, but informative, introduction to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Even though I know more about EC2 now, I still can't think of a single thing where I might need it, which is kind of sad. Oh well, you never know...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Useless Statistics

So, apparently only 29% of Twitter posts get any responses. What a useless statistic. Of course, if you are looking at Twitter as a marketing platform then I'm sure these kinds of statistics are very important to you. But always remember that lies and statistics go hand in hand. It's extremely easy for an unscrupulous agency to game the system on Twitter making it look like your advertising is reaching a huge number of people. Fake accounts, anyone?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

F1 Japan 2010

Heavy rain over Suzuka cancelled Saturday qualifying which was moved to Sunday morning under the rules. Ironically, the last time this rule was invoked, was at Suzuka in 2004! I think it was more of a problem for the television broadcasters than for the teams and drivers.

Drivers love the Suzuka circuit. David Coulthard says it's an old school circuit designed in the 1960s. It's narrow, twisty, and very technical. Suzuka is a true driver's challenge but it's simply not possible for the driver to carry a crappy car around the circuit. Martin Brundle says it separates the men from the boys and that Suzuka terrified him when he drove it in the turbo era cars. It's impressive when driver's describe a track like that.

As expected, Redbull dominated the weekend again locking out the front row of the grid with Vettel on pole. Hamilton impressively qualified in third but had to take a five place penalty for changing a gearbox. This moved Kubica into third on the grid which was a great surprise.

Kubica's position made hime a potential wild card in the race and he demonstrated it by getting a better start to grab second from Webber. The start was a mess with two massive collisions before the first corner. While behind the safety car, a wheel separated from Kubica's car which deprived us of some excitement from the leaders of the race. It was a disaster for Renault as Petrov was one of those involved in the dust up at the start.

The race was exciting but none of it came from the race leaders, Vettel, Webber, and Alonso. The best racing came from Kobayashi who made more passes than any one else. He owned the turn 11 hair pin where he made every pass. Except for the first pass, which was basically out of control, the others were aggressive but very fair. I'm almost sure he passed some drivers twice because he drop back so far after his pit stop.

Schumacher and Rosberg had a nice little fight which demonstrated two points. First, Schumacher is still a capable driver even if we haven't seen much of it this season. Second, Rosberg is more than capable of racing against Schumacher off in a fair fight.

Hamilton has a terrible weekend. He lost third gear and limped to the finish using only fourth through seventh gears to avoid further damage. Somehow he still managed to finish in fifth place which was quite a feat under the conditions. And remember, that was a new gearbox. Some questions are going to be asked.

Webber is still in the lead of the drivers' championship but finishing second or lower is simply not going to win him the drivers' title. His points lead is not enough, so he needs to win one more race or his rivals will a DNF. While the former isn't going to be easy, the latter is just gambling on others having failures in my opinion. Webber's going to have to earn the title and that's the way it should be.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Some of us sat outside and enjoyed the warm sunny weather: kind of unusual for Thanksgiving. We were even bugged by some wasps and were entertained when a large spider, which had built its web up in the canopy, snared one of the wasps. Something about small things amusing small minds... ^_^

Richard and his fiancé, Terry, are having Thanksgiving dinner with her family tomorrow and Richard happened to mention that it will be a lot quieter. Uh, Oh! Hopefully they won't find us too annoying when the two families eventually meet. I pointed out that at least we are sober and noisy as opposed to being drunk and noisy. It makes a huge difference.

I was surprised that my grand nephew Steven was able to join us since the military don't follow public holidays. It was just a fluke as he was getting leave every other weekend anyway. He is completing basic next week and then starts his aircraft technical training at CFB Borden.

The party was over by 8:30 pm. It seems these things are breaking up earlier and earlier as we get older. Sigh.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Preparations

My family's Thanksgiving get together is a little bit bit different this year. My sister Pat is still hosting but, since she is recovering from surgery, everyone is preparing a dish or two so she can take it easy. The dinner, which is usually on Sunday, has been moved to Saturday because my nephew Richard is having Thanksgiving dinner with his fiancé's family on Sunday.

Because of the cooking commitment and the schedule change, I wasn't going to bake anything this time. I changed my mind a few days ago so I had to scramble a little to get all the ingredients. Ever notice how things are always sold out when you really, really need it now?

Anyway, that's the baking done. I still have to cook in the morning, so it will be another early start. Gee, I hope I have enough energy left for the get together!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Play Nice

It amuses me when nations don't play nice for the sake globalization. For example everybody wants the Chinese to let their currency float freely on the open market. So far they have resisted because keeping their currency artificially weak is good for their economy which depends on exports. And other countries are taking the same action. And why shouldn't they? A government's first responsibility is to it's own country, is it not?

The governments of certain Western nations have been drinking the globalization Kool-Aid for too long. Globalization only benefits large multinational corporations while it hurts national economies. It seems some governments are finally realizing this and are taking appropriate action. The global economy might suffer while national economies flourish as they did in the past. I don't have a problem with this.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

C-32 Now Tougher Than ACTA

Micheal Geist notes that the U.S. is caving on several areas of ACTA and goes so far as to call it ACTA Ultra-Lite. The downside is that it becomes much more likely that an agreement will be reached. The Europeans are still not very happy with anything about ACTA but is it enough to skuttle the deal?

As Geist points out, Bill C-32, Canada's copyright "modernization" bill, is now tougher than ACTA in some areas. Now, unless C-32 is amended to align with ACTA, it would be easy to conclude that C-32 is the result of some back room dealing between Canada and the U.S. Perhaps ACTA was just a bit of misdirection while the real negotiations happened out of the public eye.

If you think I'm being paranoid, consider that France now has the HADOPI law and the U.K. has the Digital Economy Act, both of which are far, far stronger than the latest ACTA draft release. While C-32 doesn't propose any three strikes laws, it is very tough on things like circumventing digital locks.

Remember, just because you are paranoid does not mean that someone isn't out to get you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Geeks love puzzles. Even when there isn't one! ^_^

The coat of arms of the new Governor General of Canada contains a string of binary digits. Naturally lots of geeks everywhere assumed that the number must be some special meaning. In fact, the digits are symbolic of "a flow of information, digital communication and modern media," and nothing more. The sequence of digits was choosen because it was a pleasing arrangement.

When I first looked at the coat of arms, I saw a row of spears and shields, not ones and zeros. Which, I suppose, proves I'm not much of a geek. ^_^

Monday, October 4, 2010


Manufacturers are all over this 3D TV thing like a bad smell. Now Toshiba has announced a model that doesn't requires glasses. Wow! Sorry, that's as excited as I can get. While I suppose it's interesting from a technical standpoint, I have a hard time taking 3D seriously. My problem is that 3D always seemed to be a gimmick and I just can't get past that.

The film industry uses 3D as way to increase profits with the premium pricing for 3D screenings. Which does nothing to change my opinion that 3D is just a gimmick.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Open Source 3D Tools

Sintel is the latest movie from the Blender Foundation and it clearly shows the capabilities of open source 3D tools in the hands of talented people. My only complaint is that the story is a bit cliché but I guess that wasn't the point of the demonstration. Kind of like Avatar... ^_^

Now if only I could run Blender. (/_;) It behaves very badly on my ancient ATI r200 card. I have a slightly less ancient ATI r600 card sitting here on my desk but the cards needs a bleeding edge X server, which hasn't shown up in Debian sid yet. Probably due to the Debian developers focusing on getting squeeze ready for release or something. Grumble.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Definite Improvement

I visited my recovering sister today and there's been a definite improvement since a week ago. She had a noticeable spring to her step and she is almost back to her old self. She looks much more comfortable now that the sutures and tubes have been taken out. Although there still some pain, she stopped taking the heavy duty prescription pain killers and switched to regular over the counter stuff. I think is the main reason she was more lively than before; the prescription medication really knocked her out. The best part is she's back on solid foods so she'll be able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with the whole family in a week.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Head Scratching

Gee, with most of my work being so boring lately, I jumped at the chance for an away mission, even though it was on very short notice. My customer was informed late yesterday that the robot at the metalworks factory was not in production today. She requested my attendance. Any excuse to get out of the office for a bit.

The network problem on the data acquisition PC was so completely in-your-face today that I was able to isolate it. The NIC on the DAQ PC is busted. I think. Maybe. I can't be sure until I swap the SBC which is not exactly conveniently located on the robot. We have a spare SBC but I decided I should test it first, as it has been booted in a few years.

I should clarify that this network problem doesn't affect production at all, which why I'm being rather blasé about it. The network on the DAQ PC makes the software maintenance more convenient, nothing more. Without the network, a keyboard and monitor must be attached to the DAQ PC, and software updates must be copied directly onto a compact flash. As some one the people performing the software maintenance, my interest in fixing the problem is strictly self serving. ^_^

In order to understand why the software for the new sensor does not work, my customer gathered sample data from the old and new sensor for comparison. The samples are captured using a Python script which is talking directly to the DAQ hardware via a SWIG wrapped library provided by the hardware manufacture.

Unfortunately the data indicates there's some really weird stuff happening which left us with a lot of head scratching. The users want to start using the new sensor soon but it was difficult to commit to a time frame, given all the head scratching.

Head scratching notwithstanding, it was good to get out of the office for a few hours. I had enjoyed watching the plant's maintenance staff retooling a huge hydraulic press next to the robot I was working on, but just as they were getting to the interesting part, my customer and I had to leave. Nuts! My customer couldn't figure why I found it so interesting. ^_^

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conversion To IPv6

Will the conversion to IPv6 hurt? Yes. Yes, it will. And it is going hurt a lot. If you want all the gory details, I suggest you read this very long, detailed Arstechnica article, which is appropriately titled: There Is No Plan B.

While there may an entrepreneurial opportunity here, it will only materialize after the proverbial shit hits the fan. Most businesses are so focused on quarterly results, they simply won't care about converting to IPv6 until it causes them to lose income. Just as with with the Y2K bug, some consultants are going make a killing with the conversion to IPv6.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Corporations Have Rights

The very idea that corporations have rights is distasteful. The worse part is that they have much fewer responsibilities than real people. If a corporation commits murder, there is no equivalent punishment to imprisonment for the corporation. On the other hand, a lesser crime such as large scale fraud could actually shut down a corporation. This is one seriously wacky system we've created for ourselves.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Holy crap! The things people are doing in Minecraft is... is... is... Oh, never mind, just watch some videos. Some people have way too much time on their hands. ^_^

Monday, September 27, 2010

F1 Singapore 2010

Redbull may have the best car in Formula 1 but it takes more than that to get the best results. Vettel really should have been on poll but traffic on his first run and a mistake on his second isn't how it's done. Webber couldn't deliver more than fifth on the grid. There's no doubt that Ferrari are much closer to Redbull but it was Alonso's brilliant qualifying lap that got them poll position.

If not for their scruffy qualifying performance, Redbull could have won this race, assuming everything else remained equal. Vettel and Alonso were very evenly matched in the race and traded fastest laps multiple times. Who ever was in the lead was going to win the race. That honour went to Alonso this time but it could so easily have been the other way around.

This circuit doesn't offer many passing opportunities so it was a pleasant surprise how much passing occurred in the race. Webber was amazing! He picked off several cars after he settled in with the hard tires, but he came very close to stuffing it in the wall while chasing down Barrichello. Considering how close the driver's championship fight is, it was great to see him taking such chances. The extra points he earned in this race crucially kept him in the lead of the championship.

Kubica was another passing demon. He had to change tires late in the race due to a slow puncture and the fresh rubber gave him an significant advantage. He went on the attack and passed several drivers, including his team mate, Petrov, to finish seventh. Even with advantage of fresh tires, it's just not that easy to pass on this circuit, so Kubica worked hard for every place he gained. It was another excellent drive from Kubica. He has done a great job this entire season.

Hamilton's attempted pass on Webber was a classic Hamilton manoeuvre. He saw an opportunity and just went for it. It didn't work this time but it would be a sad day when Hamilton decides to play it safe. Webber was very lucky to escape that incident as the right front wheel was badly damaged. I have no idea how the tire maintained pressure after being pushed so far off the rim.

Four races to go and there's still five contenders in the drivers' championship. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


This article makes excellent points about the importance of file sharing to a healthy culture. Unfortunately the law makers are so thoroughly brain washed by the content industry's lobbyists, that I fear it may very well take a hundred years before the copyright laws recognise the legitimacy of non-commercial file sharing. In the meantime the laws will become even more draconian, if ACTA represents the future.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Recovering Sister

I visited my recovering sister again today. She's definitely improved since a week ago but she is still feeling very achy and uncomfortable. The stitches are scheduled to come out on September 30 which hopefully will ease some of her discomfort. She is allowed to go out and she's done that twice, but found it very tiring. My sister doesn't enjoy sitting around the house so this long recovery is very frustrating for her. I encouraged her to call our overseas siblings even if its only for a minute or two, just for the variety of talking someone else. Hopefully, she'll be feeling better for Thanksgiving which is in two weeks time.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Tim Westergren of Pandora squarely blames the exorbitant royalty rates in Canada as the reason Pandora and similar services are reluctant to enter the Canadian market. Graham Henderson of the Canadian Recording Industry Association blames piracy. Wow! With such a stark contradiction, whom should you believe?

I know who I believe. Hint: it's not the guy representing a greedy industry clinging to old business models.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Canada On Another List

So Canada is on another list. We are the worlds' fifth fattest nation. Damn it, the U.S. beat us again. Oh, wait... Yeah, you probably do not want to be number one on this list.

Of course the usual advice is to eat healthier, exercise more, and live better. They make it sound so easy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Keep One's Humour

I spent a wonderful day in a hot, noisy, greasy, metal stamping plant. The last time I was in that factory, it was much quieter. Too quiet. It was January 2009 and they were shut down for the winter, as the recession was just beginning to ravage the auto industry. The 2009 visit installed a new distance sensor and an additional A/D board for the sensor. In this post I mentioned that we would be back in a few weeks to install the software upgrades. Well, here we are, a few weeks later... ^_^

Actually, my customer had tested the new software extensively in 2009 without needing my help. Today, she was merely enabling the software upgrades. But first, I was supposed to figure why network connectivity to the data acquisition PC had suddenly become finicky. It's so finicky that it suddenly started working while I was diagnosing the problem. Lovely. ^_^

Anyway, we decided to enable the upgrades since it is much simpler when you have a working network (swapping compact flash cards is so much more difficult ^_^). By the way, did I mention that my customer had tested the software extensively way back in 2009? Yes. Yes, I did.

Now we all know that it doesn't matter how much you test the software, until a user actually accepts it, it's not actually correct. And as I discovered today, even experienced programmers might forget this little detail. You guessed it; one of the users immediately noticed that the results from the new sensor was wrong. Uh oh!

Unfortunately, there are enough variables to juggle that it quickly became clear, we were not going to solve this one today. The sensor is a sophisticated beast that can measure distances of a few 10s of millimeters accurately to less than a µm under ideal conditions. You don't mess with its configuration lightly. This project was shelved for the day as we reverted back to the original software.

And the punchline to this thoroughly dismal day, is that the finicky network problem came back. Of course it would. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a finicky problem, now would it? ^_^

It helps to keep one's humour intact on days like today. ^__^

Hanging Out At PyGTA

It was an interesting PyGTA meeting even though there was no preplanned topic. We somehow managed to weave (slither?) Python into the discussion just enough to keep the meeting on topic... barely. ^_^

A few Python libraries were mentioned: tablib, xlwt (one of tablib's dependencies), and tweepy. It always handy to know what libraries are available as they can save a lot time in a project.

We may have found a "source" of topics for future meetings so we'll see how that works out. Finding speakers is a bigger problem for which there are no quick fix answers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Goodbye Gwibber

Yesterday, I played with Gwibber 2.31.94 from the Debian experimental repository, and found that it uses the GNOME keyring to store authentication data. Since I don't use GNOME (or any desktop environment, for that matter), it's goodbye Gwibber for me. I downgraded to the version in Debian sid while I look for an alternative.

To be fair, I didn't investigate whether Gwibber can use some other means to store user data, but frankly, I have better things to do. Digging into an open source application can be fun, but it is also a tar pit in which you will waste a lot of time, possibly with no results.

This kind of thing makes me feel like a grumpy old codger who doesn't quite understand why we need everything to be so complicated. ^__^

Sunday, September 19, 2010


My sister Pat is recovering from surgery she had about about a month ago. There were complications so it didn't so a smoothly as expected, but she's been home for a week and is doing quite well. When I saw her last Thursday, she was very upbeat and in good spirits. However, when I saw her today, she was feeling very tired and achy, and a little depressed by this unexpected regression. It shouldn't be unexpected, if you think about what surgery involves.

Surgery is physically traumatic. A friend of the family who had serious surgery, described it as being trampled by an elephant. Of course, you don't feel this bad until your body had burned off the drugs. Depending on what kind of pain killers you were given, you may actually feel really great for a while.

The drugs take their toll as well. Because of the complications, my sister went under general anaesthetic three times within a week. Then she was given heavy duty pain killers. That's a lot of drugs for the body to process and purge. As with any detox, there'll be withdrawal-like symptoms.

With those conditions, my sister's current state doesn't unusual at all. Since these ought to be common problems, if doctors prepared patients a little, they might handle it better. Unfortunately, doctors generally suck at explaining things to patients. Is it a personality trait, something in the training, or what?