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. ^_^