Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Speed Matching

Yesterday the CRTC issued a ruling that requires Bell and other ILECs to offer wholesale ADSL speed matching to the independent ISPs. On the face of it, it looks like a big win for consumers, but I not convinced.

Although the higher speeds are great, the main problem is the independent ISPs would still be using the ILEC's Gateway Access Service (GAS), the aggregation infrastructure that connects wholesale ISPs to their customers. That means the connections are subject to throttling, deep pack inspection, usage based billing, and anything else that the ILEC can dream up. That actually makes it harder for the independent ISPs to differentiate themselves from the ILEC's Internet services. That's not good for consumers.

Some ISPs were asking for a new service (dubbed ADSL-CO) that would allow them to install their own DSLAMs into Central Offices, but the CRTC has ruled against this option, at least for now. This service couldn't offer the full range of speeds which would be limited by the customer's distance to the CO. There's no doubt that there are significant technical challenges for installing ISP equipment in COs. In addition, each CO needs a non-ILEC network back haul, which would have delayed wide spread deployment. The CRTC likely took these factors into consideration in its decision. But in the long term, it would have been good for consumers.

The ILECs would definitely have lost revenue with ADSL-CO since GAS would no longer be required. The CRTC has mandated that wholesale ISPs will pay a 10% surcharge on the tariffs for the higher speed to compensate the ILECs for the investments that they've made. So the ILECs are actually making more money with this decision! What a sweet deal! Not only that, the ILECs remain firmly in control of the ADSL market.

To me, it looks like the real winners are the ILECs, not the consumers.

Monday, August 30, 2010

F1 Belgium 2010

It was another Spa classic. There was some great wheel to wheel racing. The usual variable weather made conditions very unpredictable. There were lots of racing incidents to keep us entertained. It was a thoroughly enjoyable race.

Webber worked around a wet qualifying session to get poll position, with Hamilton in second and a surprising Kubica in third. Webber had a terrible start though and dropped six places before the first corner, but still managed to finish second, mainly because he kept his head while others were losing theirs.

Vettel was involved in more incidents than any other driver. I still don't understand how Vettel managed to spin nose first into the side of Button. What makes the collision even more strange is that, according to Button, the braking zone going into the second last corner was completely dry. That makes it a driver error, plain and simple. In my view Vettel hasn't shown himself to be a worthy championship contender. He is undoubtedly very talented but needs a few more years to mature.

There were interesting opportunities to compare factory versus customer teams. First was Renault and the Redbull which uses Renault engines. Even though the Redbull is widely acknowledged as the best car, the Renault faired very well I thought. Next was Ferrari versus BMW Sauber which oddly uses Ferrari power. I expected the Ferrari to blow by the Sauber which is a struggling middle-pack team, but the Sauber actually put up a credible fight.

Finally there was Mercedes versus Force India with Mercedes engines. On the one hand, I'll concede the Force India car is a mature design. On the other hand, I'm sure the Mercedes team have more resources, if not a bigger budget, than Force India so it is still a little embarrassing to be beaten by the customer team.

Best wheel-to-wheel moment was Alonso trying to pass Sutil's Force India. From Alonso's in-car camera view, Sutil slowly falls back at first. When he almost out of view, the Force India suddenly surges forward as they approach the braking zone. I'm sure Alonso must have thought, "Oh crap!" in Spanish, considering that Sutil had the racing line. The truly impressive part is, Sutil still managed to slow down and take the corner, which speaks volumes about Sutil's confidence in the handling of his car. Great moment!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Streaming Video

YouTube is getting serious about expanding it's streaming video rental catalogue to compete with other existing services. I'm not very enthusiastic about streaming video. I find Internet connections are too unreliable in general to guarantee trouble free viewing. Streaming is fine for short videos, but a whole two hour movie is inviting something to go wrong. I'm not that lucky. I assume that the streaming video services must handle a lost of connection gracefully, and don't log the video as watched unless you've seen the whole thing.

And then there is the question of whether the digital right management works in Linux or not. It usually doesn't, unfortunately. That's point that torrents suddenly look a whole lot more convenient.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

WRC Germany 2010

You'd be a fool to bet against Loeb winning Rally Germany. He has been the only winner of the event since it first appeared on the WRC calender in 2002. This year was no exception and gives him a remarkable WRC record of eight (there was no rally in 2009) consecutive win for a single event.

The thing is, there's a good chance Loeb will extent that record as none of the other drivers came close to matching his performance. The only way Loeb's streak in Germany will be broken, is if he makes a big mistake (he made two small ones this time, proving he is human!) or the Citreon has a technical problem, which very rarely happens.

Citroen dominated the rally with a top three finish. Ford improved over the last asphalt event in Bulgaria, but not enough the match the Citroens. Mechanical failures in the Ford cost Hirvonen a possible podium finish. It really is not very exciting when there are only two manufacturers participating, and one of them is struggling while the other dominates.

So it's good news that BMW's Mini will return to the WRC next year, but it will take at least a season to sort them selves out. I don't expect Mini to be competitive in their first year, so 2011 will still be only two established teams. Hopefully, the change in the formula will shake things up a little.

Petter Solberg has the worst luck! He had two(!) tire changes on separate stages on day one, which may have cost him a chance to fight for a third place podium finish. Still, he managed to finish fifth which wasn't too bad.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Owning Ideas

The recent spate of intellectual property law suits reminds me of a Goon Show episode in which one of the characters copyrights the word help. As usual, the classic "He's fallen in the water!" happens. When he shouts for for help, the copyright holder graciously pulls the victim out, charges him for using the word help, and promptly throws the sucker back! Of course, the victim shouts for help again, and the whole gag repeats. If that sounds like it was completely insane, it's no more insane than the possibility of someone owning an idea.

Now, if only I could remember in which episode that happened...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Private Torrent Sites

I find private torrent sites very annoying. What's the point?

Usually, the private site will have rules that encourage sharing. But, the number of potential peers is smaller because it's limited to the registered users of the site, which doesn't sound like an advantage to me. The other supposed benefit is that there's less chance that one of the peers is a spy monitoring the torrent swarm. I have doubts about this benefit. I can't imagine a site is going to ask for more than an email address from anybody who registers.

Actually, I think the point of private torrent sites is just elitism, plain and simple. It's like belonging to a private club. It makes people feel special.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eve No Jikan

Eve no Jikan is a sci-fi anime series that draws its inspiration from Asimov's Robot novels and Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The story examines the relationship between humans and machines that think and feel. The latter is normally suppressed by some control circuit. The androids are so lifelike that they are required to project a halo above their heads, in order to distinguish them from a humans.

There are secret cafés where the androids can turn off the halos. In these places they can behave like, and interact with, humans as equals. The main character Rikuo, and his friend Masaki, stumble upon one of these cafés called the Time of Eve (Eve no Jikan). What is most surprising how difficult it is for them to accept that they have to treat all other the customers as equals, whether android or human. The androids don't seem to have this problem.

The story doesn't draw any conclusions but I felt uneasy watching it. If we create an intelligent, artificial life form, I wouldn't be comfortable treating it like a mere machine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Paying For Actual Speed

Every ISP wants users to pay for actual usage. Fair enough, but how many mention paying for actual speed you are getting? It's ridiculous that I should pay the same for a DSL connection whether I'm 1 km or 3 km from the Central Office. The difference in maximum possible speed is significant between those distances. The ISPs never mention this difference at all, except as a vague "up to" references in the advertising.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stalled Project

I thought one of my projects was getting very near the finish line. Today, the end user delivered a bomb. They won't be making the part that my project is supposed to verify. Ouch!

The good news is they still want the verifier but it has to work for a different part which uses a 2D barcode. The bad news is the part uses a 2D barcode, so until a new scanner is sourced, the project is stalled. A stalled project means nobody is getting paid for a while. /_;

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Clearing Paperwork

I spent most of today running errands and clearing away a large stack of paperwork. I sure let things pile up sometimes, but I'll usually tackle it once it is getting in my way. It's a good thing there's a limit to how much mess I will tolerate when it becomes a nuisance. On the other hand if the mess it is not in my way on a daily basis, I could ignore it forever, which is very, very bad. ^_^

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Driving And Mobile Phones

In Ontario, for almost a year now, it's been illegal to drive and use your mobile phone unless it's a hands free device. You'd never know such a law even exists, judging by how many people I see ignoring it. The problem is that it's impossible to enforce such a law. The police simply can't watch every driver in every car all the time.

It's typical of how laws are made. From a politician's point of view, a problem disappears once it is governed by a law. Are the roads any safer? Of course not! But we got a law now, so we can pretend that they are.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I'm finally getting serious about learning Twisted, the mother of all Python networking frameworks. I have a project in mind which is perfectly suited to Twisted, but the project is kind of complicated for my first Twisted app. I'm making some progress on the learning curve but it's slow going. Hopefully, I don't run out of steam before I've learned enough to start on my project.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Bad Old Days

Remember the bad old days when every PC adaptor card had jumpers for configuration settings? Today, I spent a few hours in that world again because the most common hardware bus used on embedded PCs is still PC/104 which, it so happens, is just the old PC ISA bus on a stackable connector.

I was configuring a PC/104 8 port serial board which required 64 consecutive I/O ports. I took more than a couple of hours to find that many consecutive ports on the particular SBC I was using. Sheesh!

I tried disabling some devices in the BIOS to free up some ports BIOS. Hahahaha! On this SBC, that trick doesn't actually disable the device physically, so you still get a port conflict. This SBC also used a number of undocumented ports for something or another.

I should point out that this is a 10 year old SBC which was not using its PCI bus correctly. The SBC used port mapped I/O instead of memory mapped I/O for the PCI devices like USB and sound. That poor design choice made the I/O map very cluttered, which of course, is one reason why port mapped I/O is deprecated for PCI devices.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Debian Developers

In this study of where Debian developers come from, Canada only ranked fourteenth. Australia did better at tenth but it slipped a little. But at least we beat the yanks who only ranked twenty-first. Yay!

There's a lot of countries on that list so it's safe to say Debian developers come from everywhere.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fun With Python

Strangely, you can have just as much fun with Python even when you don't mention it much at a PyGTA meeting. It was another enjoyable evening with no fixed topic or presentation. Oh, and Python programming did come up several times, so I'm sure it was a PyGTA meeting and not some group of pet snake owners that I stumbled upon. ^_^

Monday, August 16, 2010


I learnt a new word today. ^_^

Daguerreotype was the first successful (according to Wikipedia, anyway) photographic process. The detailed captured is just incredible as can be seen in these digital restorations of plates taken around the Cinninnati area in the mid 1800s.

The development process was nasty, though. You passed the exposed plates over heated mercury! What risks won't people take to get the perfect shot...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Old School Gaming

When I returned to playing Dungeons & Dragons last year, I heard about "old school gaming" for the first time. The term is explained in a booklet called Quick Primer for Old School Gaming and tries to explain the difference in playing style (not rules) between earlier editions (original, Basic, and Advanced) of D&D and the later third and fourth editions. It's a good read even if you are not interested in role playing games, because it's an insight into how these games are played.

I lurked in a few fourth edition games in Wave. I really should play in a game some time just to get a better idea of how the fourth edition system works. From what I've observed, it has very little resemblance to AD&D, the edition I'm most familiar with. The game play was more like a text description of video game action, complete with flashy special abilities, even with low level characters.

I assume that Wizards of the Coast, the current owners of the D&D game, decided that the game had to appeal to people in a video game age. And the simple fact is, it has worked wonderfully from a marketing stand point. But it probably caused a reaction with the older players because old school gaming is still very popular on the Internet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Wave Server Madness

I finally decided to disable the unit tests on the Google FedOne wave server so that I can get it to build. Disabling unit tests seems so icky. ^_^

Anyway, now on to the next problem. There's always a next problem. The server builds but it still won't start. For some reason it can't read my CACert signed certificate. More digging. It's good thing I'm doing this for fun. ^_^

Angel Beats!

Angel Beats! takes place at a high school in the after life and all the main characters are dead. Somehow, the creators turn that premise into an awesome anime. The story starts as a basic action/comedy anime, then turns a little depressing as the characters' histories are told, but finally becomes uplifting once the true purpose of the school is revealed.

Otonashi Yuzuru is the latest arrival and is immediately recruited by Yuri. She has organised a group called the Shinda Sekai Sensen (SSS), which is rebelling against the god who gave her such a sad life and then dumped her in this after life school. Her opponent is Tenshi, the chair of the student council which naturally wants to keep order in the school. The nature of Tenshi's super powers cause the other characters to mistakenly assume she is an angel ("tenshi" in Japanese) sent by the god to control the rebellion. Yuri hatches a plan to oust Tenshi off the student council. The plan works but the vice-chair, Naoi Ayato, turns out to be much worse, and so the rebellion continues.

When Yuzuru arrives, he has no memories of his life. Yuri tells him this is normal but everyone eventually remembers. In between the action, some characters tell their history to Yuzuru. Although the events all different, it's clear there is a common theme: they all had unfulfilled lives, even Tenshi who is turns out to be human. When Yuzuru recalls parts of is own life, the memories suggest he is the same as everyone else. Later, however, he remembers that he died while saving the lives of others, which aligns with his goal to become a doctor.

This revelation is a turning point in the story as Yuzuru decides to help the others achieve their goals. The characters actually avoid reaching their goals because, once satisfied, the character just disappears, which is frightening since this is the only way characters can permanently "die." Yuzuru realizes that the true purpose of the school is to give someone a last chance to achieve something they never had while alive. Fighting against it, as Yuri's rebellion does, means you are stuck at the school forever.

There's an interesting aspect of the story that I wish could have been explored further, namely, that there is technology behind everything at the school. There are computer controlled "non-player characters" that fill out the student body. Tenshi's powers are a computer program that she wrote herself. The SSS makes all its weapons in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, the series is too short to delve into a side story about the origin of the school. It might make a good second season, though.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Light Pollution

There are times when living in a city can be annoying. Light pollution makes enjoying spectacles like the Perseids, which peaks around this time of the year, and the Leonids, all but impossible in the city. Oh well, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WRC Finland 2010

The organizers of Rally Finland took advantage of the relaxed regulations and ran the same number of stages over two days instead of the usual three. It probably made more of a difference for the drivers and spectators than for people like me watching it on a half hour TV highlight program.

Hirvonen was building a good lead until stage four when this terrifying crash at 140 km/h shredded most of the car's body work, even as its safety cell did its job. I've watched that a few times and it's really not obvious what went wrong. Hirvonen knows the corner very well (it's his favourite!) so it's more likely some kind of mechanical failure when he landed after the jump. Finland's fast flowing roads makes for spectacular rallying but the margin for error becomes so small that any failure or a tiny mistake, results in huge crashes.

With Hirvonen out, Petter Solberg found himself in the lead of the rally but it only lasted until stage seven when Latvala passed him. Solberg fell back steadily after that and on day two he was passed by both Ogier and Loeb. Solberg's 2009 Citroen just doesn't have the speed to keep up with the works teams on the fast Finnish roads. I suspect he wisely decided to drive for the points rather than try to push the car beyond its limits.

Latvala's driving can be a bit erratic sometimes but when he is on form, he is very impressive. Despite Ogier's and Loeb's charge on day two, Latval maintained his lead to score another well deserved win by a solid 10 seconds over Ogier. With Hirvonen out, Loeb drove for the points and didn't try very hard to catch Ogier.

I think Hirvonen's championship fight is over. An eighty point deficit is going require Loeb to not finish or score very little points over the remaining events. I just don't see that happening. On the other hand, Loeb did have a disastrous second half of the season last year, so it is not completely impossible. Just highly improbable.

Finally, Henning Solberg might be considering a career as a lumberjack. Seriously though, he was lucky that was a small tree, otherwise this could have been a lot worse.

Street Hacking?

With a topic title of Linux Urban Street Hacking, I wasn't really sure what to expect. William Porquet turned the important but dry subject of security into an interesting talk with his personal "war stories" about his experiences with broken security systems. At the same time he offered sound, simple advice for keeping yourself reasonably secure on line. Many on these things may seem obvious but are worth repeating nonetheless.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Loyal Fans

Apple sure has loyal fans, all lining up to buy the latest gadget. It's kind of creepy to see so many people lined up just to buy a phone. How does Apple do it? Perhaps their devices emit some kind of mind control signal. Once you buy you first Apple gadget, they got you for life. I'm fairly certain the Apple II never had such devices included since Apple gave you the schematics.

Anyway Apple fans enjoy your iPhone 4. At least, until the next iPhone. There's always going to be another one...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wave Replacement

Google's decision to discontinue Wave caught a lot of people by surprise and left many looking to alternatives. Google intended from the start that it would not be the only provider for Wave so federation was designed into the protocol at an early stage. However most of the alternatives are not quite ready for production use yet.

Novell Pulse may be the best option for enterprise users. For the casual user, there is supposed to be an free version but it is not clear when that will be available. Another option is WaveLook. And no, I'm not referring to the Outlook based client. ^^ They are working on a browser based version but it is not clear if this is just a client or a full web service, or even if it will be free.

In theory it should be possible to run one's own server and still access the federated Wave network. I'm aware of three open source servers but they are all far from complete.

FedOne, Google's reference server, is the most advanced but it still lacks support for bots and persistent storage is not built in. You have to add it yourself and since this is written in Java, that won't be so easy for me. I haven't even been able to build this server yet.

PyGoWave is another open source Wave server. It is written in Python so I could hack on it more easily but the roadblock is that it requires MySQL. Since I already have PostgreSQL running, I really don't want to run another database server. So I would need to modify PyGoWave before I can even try to get it running.

The third option is RubyOnSails. I haven't investigated this one yet, so I can't say any more about it for now. For all I know, it may be the best of the bunch.

And even if I get a Wave server running, there's still the not so minor problem of a Wave client... We live in interesting times, indeed.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Building From Source

Building from source written in a language with which you are not deeply familiar, almost guarantees that the build will fail. Usually in an obscure way. Trust me on this. ^^

Now when this happens, you should ask your self, do I a) figure this out or b) just download an older prebuilt binary, even if it may not be up to date? If you picked a) then you are as crazy as I am. Nice to meet you. ^^

The sane people can leave now.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Public Infrastructure

Public infrastructure exists to benefit the public and yet there is a general trend to change how people use the resources created with their tax dollars. An example is the smart meters being installed on homes which is intended to shift people's usage to off peak hours and reduce the strain on the system. But, why is the system under strain? With advanced planning, why has the infrastructure not kept up with the demand? Wouldn't that be in the best interests of the public?

I believe the answer lies in the fact that so much public infrastructure is not longer maintained by the public. In the last couple of decades, governments have been privatizing everything in the belief that companies will provide the service more efficiently. Unfortunately, businesses only care about the bottom line and will not invest in improvements of the infrastructure. They won't act in the best interests on the public.

The telcos are a good example of this problem. They were granted rights of way and a monopoly in their region, in exchange for maintaining basic telephone service, a public infrastructure. They've done this for over a hundred years in some places. But now the telcos act as if they built all that infrastructure without any public assistance, even as they use their granted rights of way to lay fibre on public land.

The telcos complain that the paying customers are using to much of the bandwidth during peak times and want usage based billing to modify the customers behaviour. They will gladly sell you a 20Mb/s connection but will impose a ridiculously low limit on how much data you can transfer. It's exactly the same rationale the electricity company uses to control power usage. But it is really just a way to hide the fact that they haven't been investing in the infrastructure to support the demands being placed on it.

The real question is how does a modern economy flourish with such artificial limits imposed upon it? The answer is, it can't. When your public infrastructure is unable to support the economy, it will fail eventually.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Google Cancels Wave

Yesterday, Google announced that it has cancelled Wave development. As one of the few people who found Wave useful, even if it was only for role playing games, I'm quite disappointed. For the vast majority of people, though, Wave was simply a disappointing enigma.

Google has released some Wave code and published the protocol, so it is possible that an open source project may emerge. The question is whether the community is large enough to support such a project. At this point, only time will tell.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Another Useless Poll

Apparently, Canadians swear more than Americans and Britons according another useless poll. Who knew? Torontoist's response was rather appropriate. But why was the poll limited to just those three nationalities? What about the Australians? I highly doubt they are more well behaved than we Canucks. Perhaps this was an attempt to disprove the Canadian reputation for being polite. I wonder who commissioned Angus-Reid to do the poll, as the first rule of understanding any poll or study is, "Follow the money."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


OpenStreetMap is getting noticed by the big boys. More importantly, they are integrating OSM into their products. Both MapQuest and Microsoft have added OSM layers to their maps. I found that Microsoft would be interested in OSM quite surprising but I suppose they are reacting to the competition. Surprisingly, Google Maps isn't multilayer so it may be a while before Google can jump on the OSM bandwagon.

Long time OSM supporters must find this recognition very gratifying although I'm sure a donation would be appreciated as well. ^^

Monday, August 2, 2010

F1 Hungary 2010

On a track that suited their car, the Red Bulls completely dominated with another lockout of the front row, with Vettel on pole and Webber struggling a little match his team mate. The Ferraris took the second row with Alonso in third. The Maclarens are definitely falling behind in their development with Hamilton carrying the car to fifth but almost two seconds off Vettel's time. Button, who needs a more balanced car to deliver his best, only managed to qualify eleventh!

Vettel's conversion rate from pole to win is terrible and this race was no different. Vettel led comfortably until a safety car was deployed. He pitted and rejoined in second placed behind Webber and the safety car. For some reason, Vettel dropped back behind Webber just before the safety car returned to the pits. The rules require drivers maintain a minimum distance behind the safety car and Vettel was given a drive through penalty for his lapse of concentration.

That dropped Vettel to third behind Alonso. As expected Vettel caught Alonso fairly easily but, as the old saying goes, passing was another matter. Vettel was clearly upset by the penalty, and if he had been able to calm down, he would have had a good chance of finding a way around Alonso. Although the Ferrari was faster in a straight line, the Redbull is much better overall, but Vettel's mental state made the attack all but impossible.

Webber's win was critical to his championship hopes, but with only 25 points separating the top 5 contenders, there is still a lot of work to do. The championship fight is still wide open.

As is usual under a safety car, everyone dives into the pits looking for a tactical advantage. The chaos in the pit lane was some of the most dangerous I've seen in a while. First Rosberg's right rear wheel was not properly attached and it came loose as he exits the pit box. The wheel rolled through two crowded pit boxes and can be seen bouncing up into the air as it hit something! It was finally arrested by a Williams mechanic who got some bruises for his trouble. I shudder to think if that wheel had hit someone...

In the second incident, the Renault lollipop man failed to recognise that one of the cars approaching in the pit lane was a Force India about to enter the next pit box. He released Kubica who immediately collided with Sutil as they crossed paths. It was just lucky that the accident wasn't much worse than it was. The pit lane speed limit is still 100 km/h so if the cars had hit each other just a little differently...

Schumacher has sunk to an new low for his tactics with Barrichello. I'll concede that the view from inside an F1 car is very limited, so maybe Schumacher didn't know how close he came to running Barrichello into the wall. But surely, after watching the replays where it's obvious how dangerous the manoeuvre was, the sporting thing to do would be to apologize, even if it was insincere. Instead, he blames Barrichello for taking the wrong line! That's just crass!

Well, Schumacher did apologize later, but only after the stewards handed him a penalty for unnecessarily impeding Barrichello. Schumacher looses ten places on the grid at the next race. Given how poorly he has been qualifying, that could put him last on the grid, or very close to it. He deserves to be there.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Relaxing Holiday Weekend

I'm enjoying a relaxing holiday weekend. Getting up late, doing as little work as possible, and generally making the most of it. I wish I had absolutely nothing to do, but that's impossible. There's always some work you can't escape. I went out for a long walk this afternoon to enjoy the wonderful sunshine. It was a little humid but still pleasant. Nothing like we had a few weeks ago. Perfect long weekend weather.