Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Doctor Who Series 5

I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Doctor Who series, especially the final episode which had some great time travel paradoxes. It was funny watching The Doctor unravel the paradoxes to avoid messing up his own time line. One can see why he usually avoids creating paradoxes. I liked the way The Doctor orchestrated his own rescue by simply depending on Amy to remember that he existed. This incarnation take his companions much more seriously that previous Doctors might done.

I hope the River Song story gets told soon. If they build it up too much, it might not live up to the expectation. Someone very powerful took control of the Tardis in the penultimate episode. I suspect that only the Timelords are capable of doing that to a Tardis, but I didn't notice any clues that they might be behind it. It's going to be a long wait for the Christmas special and the next series.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Whenever I work on some electronics or other hardware related project at a customer, I get home feeling very achy. For this type of work I'm either on my feet in front of a work bench or hunched over someone else's desk to get a closer at the problem. Either way it, it is not the most comfortable way to work. This activity never used to bother me as much, which I take as a sign that I'm getting older. No way! Really? ^_^

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Letter G

This post is brought to you by the letter "G". "G" is for: G8, G20, Good bye, Good riddance, and GTFO! I'm thankful the city made it through the weekend relatively unscathed (trust me, it could have been much worse) but there are many questions that will remain forever unanswered.

Why do they insist on having these meetings in the middle of a city? It's not like the politicians actually use anything in the city they visit. They show up, cower behind a big fence, chit-chat for a day, accomplish nothing, and leave. The meetings could be held in a remote resort which would be easier to secure. Or have the meeting on a military base where the security is already in place.

Of course, we are talking about politicians, who can't resist wasting tax dollars. Harper uses the riot on Saturday to justify why the security costs so much money. He conveniently ignores that the money was spent to protect the politicians inside their private fenced area, not to protect the city or its people.

And then there was the shameful suspension of basic human rights. First McGuinty secretly passed a law that required anyone with 5 meters of the fence to show identification. "Hello comrade, papers please." Apparently the law was passed so late that it won't be officially published until after the period that the law was in effect.

Ah yes, and let's not forget the police behaviour on Sunday where they used the kettling tactic, which smells of police practices more commonly found in totalitarian societies. The police were likely embarrassed by how they lost control of the events on Saturday and wanted to show 'em who's boss. Unfortunately, all the police showed is that they can be thugs just like the Black Bloc hooligans.

I was involved in the 1976 anti-Apartheid protests in South Africa where it was essentially no-holds-barred, do-what-ever-it-takes, open warfare between police/soldiers and protesters. If the police were facing such a situation, their behaviour might be justified. But they were not and we should expect better from our police. What is really troubling is how the police leadership and the politicians all condone for this kind of behaviour. It pushes us just a little closer to becoming a police state.

Speaking of which, what were most of these groups protesting anyway? There were so many different groups taking the opportunity to promote their causes, that their messages were just a jumble. The lame scream, er, mainstream media doesn't care about the message protesters are trying to deliver. The media are just hoping there will a riot because it sells more copy. And how about one more for the road.

Now will they hurry up and get the damned fence down. You can't even get a straight answer as to how long it will take. And do you know something? There aren't enough swear words beginning with "G".

Sunday, June 27, 2010

F1 2010 Europe

It was a surprisingly exciting race at a circuit that is usually somewhat pedestrian. Vettel was back on form and put in an unbeatable qualifying lap. The difference this time was that he converted that pole position into a race win for the first time this season.

Webber qualified in second place but for some reason went backwards through the field on the first lap. The reason for loosing so many places was never explained but it put Webber out of position and racing Kovalainen's Lotus on lap eight, which led to this horrific crash. There's nothing scarier than seeing a race car flying through the air at over 300 km/h. Thankfully, an F1 car is incredibly strong which allowed Webber to walk away.

It was the first time Webber had to pass a Lotus for position and he completely misjudged how early the Lotus brakes compared to the Redbull. I think everyone learned an important lesson about how to race against the slower cars from the new teams. You can't ask the slower teams not to race for position and the top teams need to be a little more cautious when racing the slower cars.

The driver of the day was Kobayashi. He was in third place after the safety car returned to the pits and was only two seconds off the pace of Vettel, while also looking after his first set of tires for almost the entire race. But the the rules requires a tire change which he did with only four laps remaining. The fresh rubber enabled him to pass both Alonso and Buemi. The latter pass was a classic last corner, do-or-die, manoeuvre. Awesome! Kobayashi demonstrated he drives with his head as well as his right foot.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


After the first serious day of "protests" (and I use the word loosely) the score is: police - 130 arrests; hooligans - 2 police cars and lots of collateral damage. And we have another two days of this chaos. Torontoist has been reporting from the thick of it.

The Star has an article on the so-called Black Bloc tactics where anarchists use the protests as cover for their own purposes. Hiding in a crowd so you can escape the consequences of you actions is quite cowardly in my opinion.

Friday, June 25, 2010


The only thing worse than telling the customer the project isn't ready, is when you tell him it isn't ready and he can't tell that there is something wrong. In other words, if there is a problem, make damn sure the customer tries the parts that will fail. If you don't do this, you are sowing seeds of doubt, even if he completely trust you. Being forthright about what problems need to be solved, is always the best policy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Didn't Feel Thing

I was driving to a customer yesterday when the earthquake struck. I didn't feel a thing. ^_^ A quake would have to be really strong, really close, or both, to feel it while in a moving vehicle. I prefer to not feel it, thank you.

I was back at the same customer today and asked who had felt the quake, because no one mentioned it yesterday. It wasn't surprising that the people in plant did not notice as there is usually so much noise and vibration in the manufacturing area. I expected more of the office staff to have noticed but only one person had, which was odd.

In 1969, I experienced a serious earthquake. Even though we quite far from the epicentre, Cape Town was shaken very hard. Like Eastern Canada, quakes in South Africa are not usually not that strong, thank goodness. My family had friends in Ceres, one of the towns that was badly damaged, but luckily they were unharmed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pioneer One

Just watched the pilot of Pioneer One, an experimental series that will depend on donations to keep going. The first episode is worth a look but be warned the open scene is very awkward. It gets better once the plot kicks in. Considering the pilot was completed on a tiny budget of about $6000, they did quite well. It'll be interesting to see if there's enough viewer interest to raise the money for the rest of the first season.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3M Touch Screens

I had to configure a 3M touch screen on Debian 5.0 (lenny) for the embedded PC rebuild project. The short story is that the touch screen works. The long story is that it is kind of quirky.

The download is a .zip file. When you unzip it, you get a .bin file. When you run the the .bin file, you get the EULA. When you accept the EULA, you get a .tar.gz file. Feels like a Matryoshka doll! Why not just have the EULA on the web site when you request the download?

Why is it necessary to modify the the xorg.conf file? The file is changed not just once, but every time the system boots, and on every shutdown. I could forgive this odd requirement if the modified configuration file actually worked! Although the modified xorg.conf file is syntactically correct, the X server won't use the touch input unless you add the device to the ServerLayout section.

While I appreciate 3M's effort to provide a Linux driver, it feels like it wasn't designed by someone with a lot of Linux experience.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bell Would Fight

Wow! Telstra, Australia's largest telco, has agreed to switch its customers to the government run fibre network, when it becomes available. How did they do that? Actually, as this article indicates, it likely wasn't a difficult decision, which suggests Telstra might have people resembling businessmen running it. I wonder how Bell would react under similar circumstances? Somehow I have a feeling Bell would fight, rather than co-operate.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

YouTube Unblocks My ISP

YouTube has lifted the restrictions on my ISP's IP 206.248.*.* block and I can watch videos without an annoying CAPTCHA request every time. So how did this get fixed? It seems that one way to get your complaint heard at YouTube, is to contact an employee directly. And just how do you do that? Apparently, the best way to contact YouTube support is via their Twitter accounts. That's right, you contact employees of Google, the world's biggest Internet company, via a back channel on a rival social networking service. That's just lame.

On the other hand, it got results and you can't argue with that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is Chromium Becoming Bloated?

Whoever thought it was a good idea to embed document and multimedia viewers in the web browser, should be drawn-and-quartered, keel hauled, and shot, not necessarily in that order. Unfortunately, this madness will never end.

Google Chrome (and Chromium presumably) will soon get a built in PDF viewer, in addition to the built in Flash player. Suddenly this lightweight web browser is becoming a little bit portly.

Friday, June 18, 2010

She Can't Take Much More, Captain

This has been a tiring week. I'm have two projects which require on site work and shuttling between them is getting to me. One project is a rebuild of an embedded PC for an automated labelling system I helped to develop in 2004. This is a production system so getting them running quite is urgent.

Getting an exact replacement SBC was impossible of course, as it was discontinued a long time ago and none of the distributors has any stock left. The replacement was chosen based on availability as much as for technical compatibility. In 2004, we were forced to use Red Hat Linux 9 because of proprietary drivers for a touch screen which only worked on that distribution. RHL 9 worked about as well as could expected on the replacement SBC, i.e., the kernel crashed as soon as it started!

After discussing it with my customer, we decided to forget RHL 9 and start from scratch. In 2007, I worked on a similar system which used Debian etch, so the OS doesn't really matter and the 2004 application can be recompiled no matter what. This direction has a much better chance of success, but it will still take some time to complete.

Needless to say the end user was not happy when they were given the bad news. They are getting ready to ship the games for a new product line that they recently announced. So yeah, to say that they were not happy, is putting it mildly.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

To The Morons Running YouTube

Why has YouTube suddenly started asking me to enter a CAPTCHA before I can see a video? Not just once. Every. Single. Time. And it's not just me.

As you will note from that last one, the most common explanation is that it occurs for people behind a proxy. Well, I'm not behind a proxy. I am behind a NAT firewall but I am also the only person making requests from this IP address. Even basic traffic analysis would reveal that there's only one computer making the request. It shouldn't look like a proxy at all. None on this makes any sense so I'm concluding the people who run YouTube are morons. They solve problems by nuking it from orbit.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

F1 Canada 2010

It was great race! There were incidents galore, wheel to wheel to racing, and some real honest to goodness passing. Surprisingly, there was no safety car which was very unusual for the Canadian Grand Prix. Credit for the great racing goes to the tires which were marginal for the track conditions.

For the moment Maclaren have gained the upper hand over Redbull. Hamilton put in an amazing qualifying lap which finally broke Rebull's stranglehold on poll position. Webber and Vettel had to settle for second and third place on the grid. Button who only managed to qualify fifth, acknowledged that Hamilton's qualifying lap was untouchable.

Redbull's Achilles heel as always, was reliability. Webber required a gearbox change which cost a five place grid penalty. Vettel also had a gearbox problem,during the race and had to nurse the car to a fourth place finish.

Neither the prime (hard) nor the option (soft) tire were very durable on the resurfaced track, which made tire choice very difficult. For the first time this season, there was a split in tire strategy, with Maclaren choosing to qualify and start on the option tire. The problem was the option tire lasted only about six laps, instead of the expected ten.

Redbull's decision to put their cars an opposite tire strategy after the first pit stop, might have worked if they had reversed which car got the soft tire. Vettel received soft tires but his mechanical problems prevented him from taking advantage the tires. Webber needed the soft tire when he was leading the race to build up a cushion. Hindsight and all that...

Hamilton and Alonso almost collided in pits when Maclaren released Hamilton a little too early. They actually raced side-by-side down the pit exit until Hamilton finally conceded to Alonso. I was very surprised that the incident escaped investigation by the stewards.

Schumacher has a very scruffy weekend. He only qualified thirteenth. In the race, he had several close calls with a number of other drivers. It's obvious that Schumacher hasn't lost his killer instinct but it also looked unnecessarily aggressive. Frankly, I'm surprised that only the incident with Massa was investigated, which was the lesser incident compare to the one with Kubica in my opinion.

And The Topic Was...

This month's PyGTA meeting was supposed to be a round table discussion on background jobs. I suppose that was a little bit vague, so it's not surprising that the discussion drifted into areas like job scheduling and distributed processing. What was surprising, is that even with a poorly defined topic, the discussion was still lively and interesting. It's an indication of the type of people PyGTA attracts to the meetings.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chromium And Firefox Plugins

I needed a Java plugin for the Chromium browser and was very surprised when I found that it can use the Firefox Java plugin. On Debian sid, when I start Chromium like this:
LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/lib/xulrunner-1.9.1/ chromium-browser
it automagically detected the icedtea plugin for Firefox. Obviously you need to have the xulrunner package installed as well.

I wonder if any other Firefox plugins will work?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Warning Signs

Big music is doomed to die a slow, inexorable death. The numbers say it more clearly than any words ever could. The decision to suppress digital distribute by suing Napster, instead of embracing the new distribution opportunies, was the beginning of the end. Suing music fans for file sharing was just another step down the same path.

But will anyone else heed the warning signs of fighting digital distribution? Unfortunately, the answer is, no. The lawyers at the US Copyright Group have convinced the producers of the Hurt locker to sue 14,000 ordinary people for file sharing the movie. No, the lesson has most definitely not been learned.

We can assume that the lawyers who spearhead these sue-'em-all campaigns, always get paid, even as the businesses they supposedly represent, are failing. Once you allow your business decisions to be made by a lawyer, you are so screwed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Blocking Skype

While my brother was in the U.K., he found that Skype on the N900 was blocked on every wifi hotspot that he tried. Not just a few hotspots blocked Skype, but every single one, even in his hotel. It's very strange because the nothing in my research that indicates that anyone in the U.K. blocks Skype on wifi hotspots. It's supposed to work.

On the other hand, in Canada and the U.S., Skype hasn't been blocked at any wifi hotspot, the exact opposite condition as in the U.K. Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Billion-Dollar Software Companies

This article is a very realistic assessment of Redhat's growth potential. In order for Redhat to become $5 billion, it needs to displace $50 billion dollars in existing software sale. In other words the software market will actually shrink because open source saves people money. This is good thing and only the opponents of open source could see it as a negative.

Repeat after me, helping people to save money on software is a good thing.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Xorg Radeon Status

For those keeping score, has a table which describes the status of the major features in the radeon driver. Needless to say I'll be keeping a close eye on this page, looking for improvements in the R600, which is the GPU family used on 3650 cards.

There is an alternate driver, called radeonhd, but it appears to be slightly behind the radeon variant, especially for 3D features. I might try the radeonhd driver anyway, just for the heck of it. Hey, I have the hardware, so I might as well experiment.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Little Too Optimistic

My expectations of the open source support for more recent ATI GPUs was a little too optimistic. I bought a card based on the Radeon 3650 GPU which is released in 2008. I had no problem with basic 2D support. The first sign of trouble was when mplayer stumbled rather badly. The X server does not have Xv Video Overlay support for the 3650, which might be the problem.

3D support was much worse. I couldn't get a single 3D application or game to run properly. I was so hopeful that the ATI support was getting better, but it looks like it has some ways to go yet.

There may be tweaks one can use to get it working better, but I ran out time today. Since I depend on mplayer to work properly, I put the old graphics card back for now. I try the new card again after the next X server upgrade.

Distributed Databases

The presentation at this month's GTALUG meeting was an overview of distributed databases and some of the of the concepts around them. The subject inevitably wandered into the debate between RDBMS which are accessed using SQL, and the so-called NoSQL databases, which essentially store key-value pairs. Chris Browne, the presenter, is deeply involved with the PostgreSQL, so he left no doubt as to which side of the debate he sits. This debate would fill an entire presentation and Chris deftly managed to avoid letting it derail his presentation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Old And Slow

I started playing with with 3D modelling software (Blender, Wings 3D, and MakeHuman) and was graphically (pun intended) shown just how old and slow my ATI 9250 graphics card really is. The older GPU has are several problems which are individually tolerable, but, when taken together, you've basically hit a wall.

I'm shopping around for a replacement card. I have three basic constraints: I'm on a very tight budget, I want an ATI GPU, and it must be an AGP card. AGP?! Yup, I'm not replacing the motherboard yet (see constraint #1) so that's the way it has to be. An older design such as this ATI 3650 should be adequate.

Nvidia may offer better performance but that really only matters to serious gamers. Nvidia's closed source Linux drivers are actually very good, but since AMD released the programming documentation for ATI GPUs, the open source drivers for have been improving slowly but steadily. They are far from perfect yet but with proper documentation available, it's only a matter of time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


What surprised me about FlashForward was that I kept watching it. The first few episodes were not promising. The series felt too much like a soap opera and had too many gun battles, almost one per episode. The proof that I was hooked came when I resumed following the series after it returned from a three month hiatus.

I was in the minority. A steady decline in ratings ensured that the series would not be renewed. I've been wondering why the show was not able to hold the viewers. It certainly wasn't a terrible series and it catered to the prime time crowd more than the scifi enthusiast.

Perhaps the series reminded too many people of Lost, which seemed to have disappointed many of the loyal viewers who stuck with it for six seasons. There's very little in the first season of FlashForward to indicate that its creators had a long term plan for the series.

Except for the final episode, that is. There's another backout and this time we see flashes as far into the future as 2015. That does suggest there is a long term story arc, but we'll never know now. The folks who gave up on the series, were right as they were spared the cliffhanger ending of an unfinished series.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ookami Kakushi

Ookami Kakushi is a great mystery anime series. The first episode is just everyday happenings and yet is one of the creepiest I've ever seen. You are left feeling that something is not right. It is one of the few times I've been completely hooked on a series after only the first episode. I won't spoil the mystery but it is completely resolved by the end of the series. However, there are more story possibilities which suggests there may a second season anyway.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Kobato is a wonderful anime series but going into too much detail would ruin the story. The title character is a lovable ditz with a heart of gold and unstoppable tenacity. The story has a fairy tale ending but any other ending would have ruined the story. Watch this anime with your girlfriend, or your wife and family, and keep the Kleenex handy because you are going to need it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bill C-32

Bill C-32 is the latest attempt to change Canadian copyright law. The U.S. copyright lobbyists should be mighty pleased with the result since it gives them everything they could ever want. The Bill makes breaking a digital lock illegal and that provision trumps everything else in proposed legislation. What good is expanded fair dealing if a digital lock prevents you from exercising your rights.

The Bill distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial infringement but only to the extent that the penalties are greatly reduced for non-commercial infringement. I wonder whether this encourage or discourage suites against file sharers in Canada. It could go either way, since the difference between the minimum and maximum penalty is quite large ($100-5000). It seems tailor made for outfits like the US Copyright Group who have turned copyright law suits into a business model.

The Bill may make web sites like isoHunt illegal if they are deemed to have no other purpose other than to facilitate infringement. Note how this conveniently lets mainstream search engines off the hook. I smell a rat.

Bill C-32 is bad. Michael Geist thinks it can be fixed if we make enough noise. The problem is, we made lots of noise during the copyright consultation last year, and if C-32 is any indication, we were completely ignored.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

WRC Portugal 2010

Obviously, nobody told Ogier that road sweeping slows you down! He took over the lead on stage four and never relinquished it, despite having the disadvantage of sweeping the road. Even the mighty Loeb wasn't able to chase Ogier down and Loeb had to settle for second. The fact that Ogier didn't succumb to the pressure, confirms that he is a world champion in the making.

The fight for third became equally intense on day three with Sordo, Petter Solberg, and Hirvonen all in contention for the last podium position. In the end, Sordo was quickest while Solberg had some bad luck and fell back to fifth.

Day three was a real nail biter much like New Zealand was. When so many drivers are pushing themselves to the limit, there's a greater chance of it all going wrong. Unlike New Zealand, Portugal was a straight fight to the finish and Ogier won the rally on merit alone.

What's going on with Hirvonen this year? He started the season in good form with a win in Sweden, but has since faded away, never finishing higher than third. Although there is excellent competition this year, they are only squabbling over second place in the championship. If Hirvonen doesn't up his game soon, he is going to hand Loeb a seventh drivers' title on a silver platter.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Colourful Log Entries

With No. 19 Squadron routinely engaging German aircraft, I was surprised by how much detail was in the log entries. Here are two examples. I did not expect such colourful descriptions of the combat manoeuvres. This only makes sense if the reports are straight summaries of the debriefing sessions where the pilots might have recounted how they attacked the enemy an aircraft. I wonder if it was common practice to those details into the squadron logs. It certainly makes for much more dramatic reading.