Friday, October 28, 2011


Steins;Gate is damn good scifi. It is thought provoking, has a great story, and has several interesting characters. And, to top it off, it uses my favourite scifi plot hook: time travel!

Unlike most time travel stories, Steins;Gate deals with the consequences (and moral dilemmas) of messing with time, even if it seems like the change is small. There is very little action and the plot is almost entirely dialogue driven.

I honestly disliked the main character, Okabe Rintarou, at the beginning of the series. The initial impression is one of a loud, maladjusted, and slightly obnoxious geek. However, as the story progressed and his true personality was revealed, I found myself liking the character more and more. It is great to see a geek in the role of the hero. We don't see that often enough in scifi, unfortunately.

But then again, the whole story exudes geekiness. A group of hackers (in the "maker" sense) led by Okabe stumble upon a method of non-physical time travel while working in their "lab", an apartment above a TV shop in Akihabara. As basic plot ideas go, it cannot get more geeky than that, can it?

Physical time travel does exist in the story, but is invented outside the scope of the series. This part of story draws heavily on the John Titor Internet meme from the early 2000s, just to complete the geek-out factor.

Watch this series. You won't regret it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hey Buddy, Got Any Spare Luck?

Thanks to the illegal activities of a certain scumbag landlord, I'm dealing with the biggest crises of my life. More details when I get things calmed down a bit. If you have any luck to spare, I could use some right now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I decided to use the Flask microframework for the web interface on the Linux embedded system project I am working on. The UI is very simple (it ran in a PIC microcontroller before) so Flask looks like the right choice for this project. There's no database required (not yet anyway...) but the web UI does access the digital I/O. There are no special timing requirements so the I/O can be done directly from the POST handler, unless something unforeseen comes up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

This Is Popular?

Huh? Google is calling my blog "popular" and is suddenly pushing AdSense like it never has before. They must be using a definition of popular that I have not seen before.

Considering this is a personal blog that has just one post per day, has only seven followers, and has zero RSS subscribers, I don't see it would even register on the AdSense radar.

Maybe Google is getting desperate for new customers. Is it early signs of market saturation?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beginning Of The End

First cheque from a new customer always feels good, but I'm not jumping for joy just yet. I have a long way to go before I can breath a little easier and too many things can go wrong in between. Some car repairs are already looming. Paraphrasing Churchill, this is not the end, but is perhaps the beginning of the end. Knock on wood. *taps forehead*

Monday, August 15, 2011

Royal Canadian Again

After 43 years, the Air Command and Maritime Command of the Canadian Armed Forces, will once again be the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy. The Royal designation was dropped in 1968 when the military was structured into a unified service. Coverage is here and here.

The part of me that respects the heritage, applauds having the Royal names restored. I will have a family member in the Royal Canadian Air Force. How cool is that?

The cynic in me thinks this is a Harper ploy to get votes from veterans who have petitioned for the old names to be restored for many years. The fact that I think a politician might be so calculating, makes me kind of sad.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's A Feature, Jim

If you use the Chromium browser, you may have noticed an "Other Bookmarks" folder on the right side of the bookmarks toolbar. Have you ever tried to delete it? Guess what? You can't.

Neither can you move it, rename it, hide it, or otherwise make it vanish from your sight. If you think this is stupid, don't worry, you are not alone. It has been reported (here and here) but Google considers it a "feature" and refuses to change the behaviour. Lovely.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Double Standards

If it was wrong for Egypt, Libya, and others to cut off Internet access, why would it be OK for Britain to do something similar? It is incredible how easily politicians are willing to curtail the freedom of the very people that elected them. Who the hell do they think they are?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Too Many Lawyers

Was there a sudden increase in the number lawyers during the 2000s?

These days it seems that lawyers have overrun the corporate world to the point where companies are spending more time suing each other, rather than competing via innovation. Copyright, patents, and intellectual property are the domain of lawyers, not entrepreneurs. Patent and copyright trolling is a business model that only lawyers would create.

It is curious that the only economy that is growing (perhaps even overheating) in these uncertain times, has very little of this lawyering going on. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is This Infringement?

Most web sites have an explicit copyright notice. I have never seen a site with an explicit license that allows me to copy the content and view it in my web browser. Without such a licence, the basic act of viewing the site is copyright infringement, is it not?

I am surprised that a copyright troll has not used this angle to sue the visitors of a web site yet. Is there something in copyright law which prevents such a suit? Or is it that the lawyers just do not understand how a web browser works?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Unrest Is Spreading

The day before things went to hell in London, I had a conversation with my sister Marie in the UK. We predicated that the unrest in North Africa, the Middle East, and some European countries like Greece, would continue to spread around the world. Why? The underlying cause of the unrest is economic, not political.

A dictator's power depends on keeping the population content. Dictators make sure the trains are always on time. They keep the cost of food low, because once the people are going hungry, they have nothing left to lose. That is a breeding ground for revolution.

Democratic governments keep the population content by spending money on it. Government belt-tightening always affects the population negatively. If you cut enough social programs, you will eventually have a lot of bored youth. If you have high unemployment, you have a lot of bored youth with no money. This is not a good combination.

The conditions that created these hooligans, are only going to get worse, so I do not see the unrest in the UK magically resolving itself any time soon, just as it continues in Egypt and elsewhere. And as it has happened elsewhere, eventually the military will be sent in. Even in the UK.

Because, once the population is no longer content, suppression is the final option for all governments.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Linux And Ham Radio

At this month's GTALUG meeting, Steward Russell gave a brief introduction to the Amateur Radio Service and some of the software he uses in his Linux-based set up. Very few amateur radio operators use Linux, although Steward did not give any actual numbers.

The primary software for general communication is fldigi, which is free software and runs on Linux. However, Wine was mentioned several times, as the vast majority of software used by ham radio operators is Windows only, which is annoying but hardly surprising. The Industry Canada software used to take the license test, is one such example.

Steward also mentioned "software defined radio" (a phrase I first heard a few years ago from my brother, another ham radio geek) as the possible future of amateur radio but not everyone in the community is convinced. The amateur radio hobby is over a hundred years old and there are many curmudgeons who prefer the tried and tested over new fangled gadgets.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tribute To Ayrton Senna

Although Ayrton Senna was brilliantly talented, I was never a big fan because I found his all-or-nothing driving style to be very irritating at times. In this excellent Top Gear tribute to Senna, Martin Brundle explains the psychology of that driving style on the other drivers.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


C tries to explain the current economic malaise using a fantasy story set in a world very similar to ours. It is actually a interesting concept and the series is very well done, but the subject is way too complex for only a single 11 episode season. The story is simply too rushed and its full potential is never achieved.

However, it is still worth watching, but expect a little confusion along the way.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


X-Men is the third of the Marvel Anime adapations and is without doubt the best so far by a wide margin. The fourth series, Blade, will have to be very special to improve upon X-Men, which has a nearly perfect trifecta of story, character design, and animation.

It is rare that an action series gets all three just right. For example, compare Wolverine's character design in his own series with the one from X-Men and draw your own conclusions.

But the story is where X-Men really outshines the preceding two series. The story seems like it is actually written for a 12 episode series with just the right balance between action and plot development.

I highly recommend this series for both anime and X-Men fans alike.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ano Hana

The full title of this anime is Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (We Still Don`t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day.) but for obvious reasons, it often goes by the short name of Ano Hana.

Except for Honma Meiko (nicknamed "Menma") being a ghost, the story deal with the real life issue of coming to terms with the loss of a family member or a friend. Or rather, the story shows the potentially debilitating problems of not completing the grieving process, for both adults and children.

Ano Hana is easily one of the best series I have seen in recent years and is now on my list when answering, "Why do you like anime?", or "What anime do you recommend?" Curiously, there is no scifi or fantasy anime on that list at the moment. ^_^

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Gosick starts out as a light detective story but gradually turns into a dark political thriller.

The main character, Victorique de Blois, is Holmes-like in her ability to solve mysteries from mere "fragments of chaos" as she calls it. Kujou Kazuya, a Japanese foreign student attending the same school, is a perfect Watson: bumbling, not too smart, but good natured to a fault.

As the story reveals more of Victorique's background it becomes apparent that she is connected to dark political forces that are using her abilities for their own ends. It's a compelling story with one flaw: a somewhat muddled ending which has a fairy tale "happily ever after" quality to it.

Inspite of the caveats about the ending, the anime is entertaining and well worth the time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

F1 Hungary 2011

Vettel's qualifying form returned and netted poll position but for once that did not convert into a race win. Changeable weather on race day played into the hands of Button who has demonstrated his skills under those conditions in previous races. All-in-all, it was very entertaining race with a combination of wheel-to-wheel action and complex strategy.

Light rain forced everyone to start on the intermediate wet tires. Even so, the track conditions were treacherous and everyone struggled with a lack of grip and traction in the first few laps, with numerous drivers having incidents. Surprisingly, despite the high number of underwear-changing moments, the drivers all managed to recover and continue, in a very impressive display of car control. I was amazed that there was no obvious contact in the first lap given the difficult conditions.

Despite the tricky conditions, drivers eventually found the confidence to start attacking for positions. Hamilton and Vettel had a great fight for the lead until lap five when Hamilton finally got the better of Vettel. It was clear that Redbull was struggling and that they were not going to have it their own way this time.

The first shake up was the decision to switch to dry tires. In a surprising move, a few drivers switched to the soft prime tire while most went onto the faster super-soft option tire. The former strategy, if it worked, would eliminate one tire stop. The diverging strategies made the race completely unpredictable at that point. Ultimately, the prime tire was the right strategy which enabled Button to earn another win.

But before that happened, it started to rain again which caused the second shake up. A few drivers, Hamilton and Webber among them, switched back to the intermediate tires. This was a costly mistake as the rain stopped almost immediately, forcing those drivers back into the pits after only a couple of laps. It was this decision that cost Hamilton a chance for the win. The drive-through penalty for forcing di Resta off the road, relegated Hamilton to a third place finish, which was actually still respectable all things considered.

It was clear that McLaren made significant improvements to the car which were able to deliver back-to-back wins. Redbull were definitely struggling as the upgrades they brought to Hungary were reverted to the previous configuration. Since the work required getting the FIA to waive the "6 hour rest rule", which a team can only request a limited number of times per season, tells us it was a major mechanical upgrade. And it did not work. Not good. Not good at all.

Whether this marks a turn in the fortunes of Redbull, frankly, I doubt it. At this point only DNFs could affect the outcome of the championship: Vettel for the drivers'; both he and Webber for the constructors'. I just don't see that happening. But I hope I am wrong. ^_^

And finally, we had a Renault catch fire and explode in a most spectacular manner. What ever the team is doing around their fancy exhaust system, it has caused two fires this season, although the first did not produce such fireworks. If it happens again, I suspect the FIA will be taking a closer look.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Free Trade

I hate it when my stuff gets stuck at the border. It is usually caused by a pending HST payment. For people like me who don't import frequently, the process seems torturous, as it involves a lot of waiting for things to happen which I have no control over. And they call this free trade. Pfft!

Takes a deep breath. Must. Exercise. Patience. Damn it!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Today Was A Holiday

Um. Yeah. Today was a holiday, wasn't it? By the time I realized this, it was already 10:30am and I was well into my normal first Monday of the month routine (sending invoices, nothing exciting). Well, it is an optional Ontario holiday.

I did get out for a bit and the empty roads had that post-apocalypse feeling. I expected to see zombie hordes, but it was just a holiday. ^_^

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Printed Aircraft?

The world's first printed aircraft has flown. No, it was not a paper aeroplane. Using an industrial 3D printer, some engineers manufactured the complete airframe of a UAV.

I wonder if how long before someone tries this on a hobbyist 3D printer. The future of small scale manufacturing is already here and it can only get better, cheaper, and easier. Looking around the EOS website, the P 730 mentioned in the article is already a previous generation model.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Politicians Are Stupid

If encryption were to be banned, wouldn't that kill e-commerce dead in its tracks? Would anyone be willing transmit their credit card information of a public network in the clear? Well, I suppose a few uninformed folks might do it once. I doubt they would do it a second time, after their information has been abused by some nefarious types.

And yet Pakistani government seems intent on banning encryption so that they can more easily snoop Internet traffic. What they apparently fail to realize is that this allows everyone to snoop the Internet traffic. Politicians are really stupid aren't they?

Friday, July 29, 2011

The New Dictators

The new totalitarian regimes (or wannabes) do not use jack boots to step on their citizens. That's so last century. The modern dictators (or wannabes) pass laws which require the corporations to do the dirty work for the government. The U.S. government is definitely a wannabe (totalitarians in training, if you like). They have just passed such a law which uses the old child pornography bogey man again. The Canadian government is also a wannabe and is desperate to catch up with our neighbours. Our version of this law is expected in the fall. All hail to the new dictators!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I have lost more than an inch from my waist. (Sorry, 2.5 centimeters just doesn't sound right.) I lost around 6, maybe 7, pounds, which is not that much really. Losing inches is a better gauge of improvement.

The main reason is regular, albeit fairly moderate exercise. I'm not dieting but I am eating less due to being on a budget. The snacks were the first to go. I miss my snacks. ;_;

Still, I'm way too stressed to really feel the benefits of this. In fact, the exercise may be the only thing that is preventing me from becoming a total basket case.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feast Or Famine

My life as a peculiarity that I call feast or famine mode. There's either too much or too little of everything. Too much work or too little work. Too much fun or too little fun. Get the idea?

Now the last few months have been period of way too little of everything. So, once once things start improving, my expectation is I will be have way too much of everything. Work, fun, everything. And there are hints the reversal has already started. Oh, joy!

One thing I have never figured out is: do I bring this cycle upon myself by my choices and actions? Or is it the Universe having a bit of fun with me?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Herd Instinct

Google's new policy of requiring real names in profiles clearly shows what direction Google is headed. While it is still possible to use a fake name (it's not like Google is demanding to see your ID. Yet.), the new policy is a problem for people who have legitimate reasons to use an obviously invalid name.

So, will this new policy slow down the migration to Google+? Of course not. The success of Facebook has already proven that people are willing to give up their privacy to be where everyone else is hanging out. Call it herd instinct.

For those that do not follow the herd, I provide a list of all distributed social network systems currently under development. For future reference.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Accessing a Windows system from Linux via the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is easier than it sounds, thanks to rdesktop. Today I had to reconfigure a reinstalled VMWare Server running on a Windows Server 2008 host and rdesktop made the job painless. That was a definite bonus considering this was the first time I needed to access a remote Windows system from Linux. Windows always makes me apprehensive: too many bad memories.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

F1 Germany 2011

It was yet another great race that was completely unpredictable until the last few laps. Are we becoming spoiled by all this great action? ^_^

It started with an incredible qualifying lap from Webber which put him on poll ahead of Hamilton, but converting poll into a win remains a problem for Webber.

For the first time this season Vettel was not on the front row, which was big surprise. He was unable find a good set up, but both Redbull's struggled on race day, with Webber and Vettel only finishing third and fourth respectively. Vettel also made his first unforced error of the season when he drifted onto the damp grass and spun. Vettel had an uncharacteristically bad weekend.

Hamilton truly earned the win with terrific manoeuvres on Webber and Alonso, and some great heads up strategy by the team. It was expected that the medium compound prime tire would be very slow. McLaren were the first to notice that the cars on a two stop strategy were going very well on the prime tire. The team switched Hamilton onto the primes long before the other the front runners.

It was the kind of race where you had to get everything just right: car setup, start, strategy, pit stops, and a great drive. Miss one and victory was impossible. Note I did not mention poll position. ^_^

McLaren and Ferrari definitely had the upper hand in the race but once again it was difficult to draw conclusions. Was it the unusually cool temperatures that hurt Redbull more than the others? Or was it due to actual McLaren and Ferrari improvements. Neither team admitted to bring any major upgrades, but then they never reveal everything. We won't know for sure how much they have improved until we have a race with ideal conditions.

Alonso pointed out in the post race interviews that, if Vettel keeps finishing fourth or higher, he has the drivers' championship in the bag. It will take the combined efforts of Webber and both drivers from Ferrari and McLaren, to all finish ahead of Vettel in order to starve him of points. Of course, implicit in Alonso's comment was that he would be the winner in every case. Never let it be said that F1 drivers are not motivated by self interest. ^_^

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Big Surprise

I had a great time at the BBQ today: first to arrive and the last to leave! Yay! The young'uns can't handle it any more. ^_^ They were all gone by 9:30 while I chatted with my sister and brother-in-law until 11. What ever happened to the days when we went until 2am? (Yeah, I know. We are getting older.)

A late afternoon shower sent everyone indoors but it lasted less than half an hour, and cooled things down a little. My sister's air conditioner had failed so it was better outside anyway.

A few members of the extended family actually showed up this year so there was over 20 twenty people at one point. Sadly I was the only one representing the Low-Shang side of the family, thanks to my other sister being MIA, and one of my nephews (unintentionally) not getting the invite.

The big surprise is that I am going to be a great-granduncle. I suddenly feel very, very old. ^_^

Friday, July 22, 2011

All Fired Up

I'm all fired up (figuratively, but in this heat almost literally! ^_^) for the family BBQ tomorrow. There is rain forecast for tonight but it is supposed to clear by morning. Forecasts, pfft! We shall see. (We need rain; it's been the driest July on record so far.)

I already know one person won't be at the BBQ. It is always in July so I don't understand how my sister Jean managed to schedule something else. Ah well, we'll fun without her anyway. Loser! *Blows raspberry.* ^_^

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Is NASA Still Relevant?

Well, that's that. The shuttle program is no more. More importantly, NASA is now without any functional launch vehicle capable of achieving orbit. NASA will rely on the Russians to get U.S. astronauts to the ISS. There is a certain irony in this. NASA will also use the capabilities of private companies once these system are mature enough. NASA's own launch system is still being studied. I have doubts that even this scaled back system will never be built, given how easily the U.S. government cuts NASA's budget. The U.S. seems determined to make itself irrelevant in future space exploration.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Any Crash You Walk Away From

During the recent Flying Legends air show at Duxford, England, one pilot got it horribly wrong during a formation flying manoeuvre, and collided with the formation leader. But what follows is some of the best flying I have ever seen, as both pilots regained enough control to save themselves, with the total loss of only one aircraft. Here is the story and video at More video from different angles is here and here. The destroyed aircraft was one fine looking machine. It's a great loss, but the old saying, "Any crash you walk away from...," is always true.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Imagine an actual working, jet powered Batmobile like the version in the 1989 Batman movie. Why imagine? Why not build it? This article has photos and a few technical details. Here are a few videos (which are kind of short, though). The best part is that the car is street legal!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hangout? Apparently Not.

I was hoping to try Google Hangout with a small group of people (four or five) this evening. What do you know? Nobody showed. Sigh. Some friends I got. Mutter. Mutter.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunny And Hot!

It was a scorcher in Toronto today with a high of 35° at Pearson Airport. And that was real temperature! With the humidity, it was supposed to feel like 42°. I almost skipped going out for my run but a breeze (albeit a warm one) actually made conditions more tolerable than the numbers suggested. Hot but not muggy. The annual family BBQ is next Saturday. The forecast is sunny and hot. Here's hoping that holds up!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Trick Question

TekSavvy posted their interim rates for ADSL2+ service this week. The rates themselves are reasonable but the $99 activation fee is a shock. The fee applies even if you are already a TekSavvy customer!

As usual, it's Bell's fault. They asked for the fee in the interim tariff and the CRTC approved it. For this fee, you get two Bell service calls. One connects you up to the remote DSLAM. The other installs a dedicated jack for the service. Stated this way, the fee sounds reasonable. And, Bell is on the hook for any wiring faults.

All very reasonable, until you discover the fee is about three times what Bell charges its own customers for the same services. So, does this look like a competitive market to anyone? (By the way, that was the trick question.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Not Counting Chickens

There are interesting developments afoot. I won't say more now, in case this goes nowhere (not count chickens, yada, yada) but keeping fingers and toes crossed, on both sides. ^_^

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Low Brow Humour

Warning! Low brow hot gas humour ahead!

F1 manages a collective fart. Oh, what a relief it is.

The off-throttle blown diffuser bruhaha is settled and the rules have reverted to that the European Grand Prix, accept the teams may not change engine maps between qualifying and the race. The technology will be banned in 2012, which is basically what the FIA should have done in the first place. Sometimes, I think they pretend to make mistakes like this on purpose, just for the publicity.

Yeah, right. Who am I kidding? ^_^

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vettel On Top Gear

This video of Sebastian Vettel on Top Gear reveals a few things about his character. He is a genuine nice guy. He has a good sense of humour. He does not take himself too seriously.

The video also reveals what is important to Vettel. The presenter draws attention to it, even though it is so obvious. More than anything else, the video shows why he is a worthy World Champion, and explains why he is so well liked by fans, and everyone in the F1 paddock.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Unexpected English Lesson

In an on-line environment, it is easy to forget that you may be conversing with a non-English speaking person. However, if you are not careful, you may unexpectedly find yourself giving an English lesson. In a recent conversation, I used the word "exotic" without thinking and suddenly found myself having to define it. After explaining what it meant in the context the conversation, I offered examples of other uses. I really should have stopped before I got to "exotic dancer". ^_^

Monday, July 11, 2011

F1 Britain 2011

I keep thinking F1 can't get any better this season, but it continues to prove me wrong. Silverstone delivered some brilliant racing in the changing conditions.

The first few laps were tricky on a half wet and half dry track. After it dried enough for slicks, things got very interesting. Passing (and there was lots of it!) required venturing off the safe, dry racing line. Several drivers attempted some supremely brave overtakes. Sometimes it was pure poetry; sometimes it was a smash up derby. All this action culminated in a classic final lap, with Webber chasing Vettel for second place, and Hamilton banging wheels with Massa over fourth place, right into the last corner. It was fantastic, absolutely incredible! ^_^

But F1 would not be F1 without some controversy.

Although team orders are legal now, it is still an ugly subject. I have no problem with Redbull instructing Webber to maintain position, as that is their perogative as a team. However, I feel a driver has the right to ignore the orders, just as Webber did, because the driver also has a responsibility to himself to maximize his championship points whenever possible. If drivers are totally subservient to team orders, what is the point of the drivers' championship? Why not just return to the pre-F1 days when there was only a constructors' trophy?

What really bugs me is that, with such a healthy points lead, Redbull could comfortably have let Vettel and Webber race each other. If they crash, they crash. That's racing.

The bigger controversy was the driver-off-throttle-but-computer-on-throttle-blown-diffuser. @_@ Never mind. I'll just call it the thingamajig. It's all about hot exhaust gases (and almost as stinky as other tail pipe emissions).

Typically, the FIA changes the rules after the end of a season. For some reason, they decided to ban thingamajigs mid-season this time. It was a huge mistake. The technical issues are very complex because of how different engine manufacturers use the drive-by-wire throttle. Although the thingamajig was banned for this race, I am still not sure about the rest of the season.

So what effect did the ban have on track? McLaren depended heavily on the thingamajig and appeared to suffer a huge loss of performance in qualifying, but their race pace was much better. Result: inconclusive.

Ferrari do not use the thingamajig and appeared to benefit (they won), but maybe it was their upgrades that made the difference. Result: inconclusive.

Redbull also depended on the thingamjig and should have lost performance, but they still locked out the front row in qualifying, and still finished second and third, which was more the result of bad pit stops than anything else. Result: inconclusive.

So, it seems that all the fuss over hot exhaust gases produced... nothing, except more hot air. I love Formula 1! ^_^

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Image Problem

TTC staff are not doing much to improve their image. It started with this last year. Last week this happened. And now this story has surfaced. Is it getting worse, or was it always just this bad, but it just never became public? To me, these are just warning signs of deeper problems in city.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

NAT Is Not Security

At best, Network Address Translation is security by obscurity. In other words, NAT is not security. Where did this idea come from? Even worse, it comes up regularly when discussing IPv6, which does not have NAT, a condition that that is seen as a huge negative of IPv6.

Of course, a properly configured stateful firewall will have exactly the same effect as NAT. I suppose the problem is the "properly configured" part. People expect things to just work without requiring any knowledge or skills.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Google+ First Impressions

Google+ made a good first impression. It was definitely better than some of the other alpha release social networking systems I have tried recently. Usability was very good. The were a few quirks (such as posts not sorting properly), but crashes or outrageous memory consumption were not evident.

The four initial circles (groups in plain English), Family, Friends, Acquaintances, and Following, offers enough control to differentiate contacts based on how well you know someone. It is easy to create new circles but I have not figured out if you can make a private circle yet.

Of course, I am talking about privacy between users: Google sees and knows all. Only time will tell if they are any better than Facebook in terms of user privacy.

The Hangout voice/video chat feature is very cool and surprised me by working out of the box on Debian sid. Hangout could easily replace Skype but that depends on convincing my family to switch, which would not be so easy. D&D geeks are going to love the group chat capabilities of Hangout although I cannot say how well that works, since I only tried a simple one-on-one chat. And the mind boggles at the more, er, promiscuous possibilities of Hangout. ^_^

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tabloid Press

How much lower will the tabloid press sink? And no, I don't think they've reached the bottom yet. Not even close. The problem is that people continue to buy the crap they publish. As long as there's money to be made, the tabloids will continue their race to the bottom. You can bet the other tabloids are playing the same dirty tricks. News of the World (could a name be any less fitting?) were just unlucky enough to be caught.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Authors (especially would-be authors) who self-publish may be the first artists to fully realized the potential of the Internet.

It makes sense for a few reasons. Writing is a solitary art-form. Authors are writing on computers anyway. Internet access is (almost) unbiquitous. Publishing text on-line has no special requirements (just start a blog). There are no barriers to an aspiring author.

If self-publishing takes off, readers will be the ultimate winners. They get to try before they buy and will have more choices, instead of the ones the gatekeeper publishers consider sales worthy.

Here is a short but growing list of some early adventurers into the world of self-publishing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Merlin Engine

A few days ago, I mentioned Bud Wolfe, the U.S. pilot who crashed in Southern Ireland while flying for the RAF. Several pieces of Wolfe's Spitfire have been excavated from the peat bog in which has rested since 1941. The most impressive find so far has been the Merlin engine, which is damaged but largely intact. And no, it is too badly damaged to ever run again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Paying The Price

Today, I paid the price for being a lazy bum on the weekend, as I had to catch up on all the things that I should have done. In other words, I worked harder after goofing off, which is pretty normal after coming back from a vacation, even if it was only three days. It is one reality of working life that applies to employed and self-employed alike. Actually, I think it is worse for self-employed, but obviously I am biased.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Plans? What Plans?

Well, that's that for the 2011 Canada Day holiday weekend. I ended up sleeping in everyday which killed most of my plans for the weekend. Never underestimate my capacity of being lazy. ^_^

Saturday, July 2, 2011

WRC Greece 2011

It has been two years since the WRC circus last visited Greece. It is a classic event on the WRC calender and is traditionally a car breaker, although it has become much tamer in recent years according to the old hands. Still, the rough roads of the Acropolis Rally are unforgiving of mistakes. Just ask Loeb who in 2009, had the biggest crash of his career in Greece.

This year's rally was exciting but road position tactics over shadowed the action. On day one, Petter Solberg went on a tear and thanks to the others slowing down for tactics, he had a 50s lead at the end of the day. While that sounds like a lot, he became the road sweeper on day two and it only took a few stages before he was passed. Solberg did not help his cause by missing a junction, which cost him 8s, but mostly he lost the lead due to being first on the road.

With road position being so critical, there was little doubt that Ogier and Loeb, who were first and second, would again play tactics on the day two's final stage, a rare night run. What surprised me was that the Citroen team allowed Ogier to slow and fall back into second. Loeb is the championship leader so I expected the team to support him. The decision obviously frustrated Loeb as well, but apparently the team has internal rules about who gets to choose the road order.

Being first on the road is a huge liability at most gravel events, which is why everyone uses tactics to manipulated their road position. Next year the FIA is changing the road order rules at gravel rallies which hopefully will eliminate these kinds of shenanigans.

Chris Patterson, Petter Solberg's very experienced co-driver, got lost in the pace notes on day two's night stage. It can happen to the best of them but I wonder if part of the problem is that night stages are very rare in WRC these days. Maybe the skills are not being used often enough to keep them sharp.

It is great news that Rally Monte Carlo returns next year as the traditional season opener. Hope Monte Carlo gets snow next Winter!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Importance Of A

"Today, Canada is gross."

"Today, Canada is a gross."

See how important that "a" is? Of course, a true Canadian would say, "Today, Canada is a gross, eh."

For any non-Canadians who may be wondering what I am blathering about: Canada is 144 years old. Which is a gross. Just be careful with those a's, eh.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Well, we are halfway through the year and the high hopes I had for turning things around this year have not been realized. If the rest of the year continues in the same manner, this will be my worst year ever. Much, much worse than last year. I've done everything I could think of to drum up some new projects, but I'm now getting the message, "Eject! Eject! Eject!" Porkins went out in a blaze of glory. Ivanona only got a few bruises. Think I'll follow the B5 character instead. Only problem is, life doesn't have an ejection seat. ;_;

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Unusual War Story

War stories can be strange. This one is about a World War II American POW named Bud Wolfe who was held in... Southern Ireland! At the time Southern Ireland (now the Republic of Ireland) was neutral and interned any German or Allied servicemen who accidentally landed within their borders. Read about Wolfe here. It is quite an unusual war story. The best part is that he escaped but his superiors sent him back!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


So Google is taking another stab at social networking, with Google+. My first thought was, does it have a federation protocol? Frankly, without federation, Google+ is so... last decade.

Of course, expecting federation in a Google product is kind of ridiculous. Federation gets in the way of what Google does best: mine data. Enabling a distributed system would not be in Google's best interest.

Which is unfortunate because it means Google has lost the perfect opportunity to create a next generation social networking system. Instead, they gave us Facebook with round corners and bevelled edges.

Monday, June 27, 2011

F1 Europe 2011

The Valencia track has never produced exciting racing and this one was no exception. During the early stages of the race, Vettel, Webber, Alonso were close to each other, which offered tantalizing possibilities of good racing to come, but that never materialized. There was some action lower down the field but nothing at the sharp end of the racing order. Thanks to the Pirelli tires, DRS, and Kers, the race was better than previous years but it was not a barn burner by any stretch.

In fact, it was very much a return to regularly scheduled programming as Vettel and Redbull dominated both qualifying and race day. Vettel's win looked quite serene. Second place was like a win for Ferrari who were reasonably competitive but were still not capable of challenging Redbull for a win. Webber had a good race, but lost the chance for a second place finish when he changed to the prime tire too early, and then had to nurse an ailing gearbox to the finish. Mclaren was way off the pace and were quite disappointing with Hamilton and Button finishing fourth and sixth respectively.

The next few races are critical for Ferrari and McLaren if they have any hope of challenging Redbull this season. Both teams must deliver upgrades that will enable their drivers to race for wins, because second or worse is not going to be enough any more. The season is not lost yet but the point where conceding this season and focusing on next year's car is not far away.

I am still hopeful that Webber can challenge Vettel but it depends on Webber getting a better feel for the Pirelli tires. Webber has acknowleged that this is one reason he has been out performed by Vettel this season, even though they are driving identical cars.

The bottom line is someone needs to start chipping away Vettel's points lead. And soon.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Fish Stinks

The Canadian Broadcast Act exists to protect the Canadian broadcast industry (Bell, Rogers, Quebecor, et al) which is why the CRTC treats non-broadcast entities, such as consumer groups, like they do not matter. Those same companies are also the largest Canadian ISPs, who appear to be perfectly OK with the government's upcoming lawful access legislation.

Now ask yourself, why would the government change the Broadcast Act (or Telecommunications Act) to improve consumer choice or to enforce net neutrality, when the companies covered by those laws are happy to do the government's dirty work by spying on Canadians? The fish stinks from the head down.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Beware Of Backlash

Meanwhile, the Netherlands is going in the opposite direction to everyone else by becoming the first nation to pass an Internet neutrality law. It started when the ISPs tried to filter access to filter Internet access, which triggered a public backlash.

The Dutch ISPs must not have as much clout with the government their US or Canadian counterparts. As this Techdirt article notes, it is hard to imagine a law like this being passed in the US or Canada without getting watered down to nothing by the telco lobbyists.

However, the fact that the law in the Netherlands came about because of a public backlash, is a warning to ISPs everywhere of what can happen if you push the users too far.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Internet Censorship

It looks like the Australian government is trying to censor the Internet. Again! The largest ISPs are on board this time so I wonder what they got in return. Were they not opposed the last time?

The really sad part is that I can see this happening in Canada. We have just been lucky to avoid it. The Conservative Party has quite a few Reform Party crackpots left from when the parties merged and they would be the ones to contemplated censoring the Internet, "for the good of the people".

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stop Online Spying

Even though the Conservative government delayed its lawful access legislation until the Fall, it is a dangerous idea that would turn Canada into a surveillance state. Lets try to nip this in the bud before it goes too far. Please sign the petition if you are a Canadian. Unfortunately, with a majority government, it will be easy for them to ignore a petition unless it has a significant number of signatures. Get the word out to as many people as you can.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika

Do not be fooled by the cute, happy characters in the Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika promotional image. The story is dark and oppressive, and is definitely not intended for kids.

An emotionless alien race discovered that emotions are a huge source of energy, with the darkest emotions being the most powerful. These dark emotions occur in strange entities called "witches" that prey on an unsuspecting population. When a witch is destroyed, it leaves behind a "grieve seed", which contains the energy.

An alien, Kyuubee, recruits young teenage girls (which is quite disturbing all by itself) who are granted one wish in exchange for becoming a mahou shoujo (magical girl) with the power to fight the witches. The girl is given a small gem which is supposed to be the source of her power. The gem accumulates impurities which can be transferred to a grieve seed, before Kyuubee, er, "eats" it, which is how the aliens collect the energy. Don't ask; it is never explained.

The story follows Kyuubee's attempts to recruit the title character, Kaname Madoka, while a time travelling mahou shoujo, Akemi Homura, desperately tries to convince Madoka not to accept. It quickly becomes clear that Homura knows much more than she is telling.

Wishes always have unexpected consequences and in this story there are two huge ones. What exactly happens when one is changed into a magic girl? Where do the witches come from? Knowing the answers to those questions, no person would accept the deal.

Which is why Kyuubee lies by omission, unless asked a direct question. Its answers are often cruel and heartless because, as an emotionless alien, Kyuubee has no understanding of humans at all. Kyuubee may be a cuddly looking creature but it is definitely on my list of least likeable anime characters.

Given the nature of the series, a happy ending was never an option, but it was reasonably satisfying nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Real Experience

Now that I'm actually using Django on a real project, albeit a non-paying one, I'm finally getting some useful experience with the framework. It is always the case that, until you use the tools in anger on a project, the knowledge gained is not very deep. I quickly abandoned any pretence that my previous playing around with Django was worth anything, and went back to first principles. It should be worth the trouble later.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Remember The Chroot

Today I forgot that Postfix runs in a chroot by default on Debian. If you change files like /etc/resolv.conf or /etc/hosts, it has no effect on Postfix, unless you refresh the corresponding files in the chroot. Wasted quite a few minutes before the clue bat descended and gave me bruised ego. Stopping and starting Postfix (with postfix stop and postfix start respectively) provided the clue as the start command helpfully reminds you that the chroot is out of date.

It's good thing that this was on my own server so there was no customer watching me chase a problem caused by forgetfulness. Must be getting old. ^_^

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This Should Never Work

PhpGedView seems to have a problem with invalid arguments being passed to the database. I have found three of these already but only one was reported by someone else, which is a little troubling. I much prefer it when lots of people are seeing the same bugs as me. I mean, using a string against an integer database column should never work, should it?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Was It Worth The Effort?

Was it really worth all the considerable effort that went into developing KDE, GNOME, and the other less well known desktops environments?

Considering that Linux desktop usage has grown very slowly despite all the desktop environments becoming reasonably useable, it does seem likely that it is not the DE that is the problem. No matter how good the Linux desktop becomes, they are never going to be as familiar as Windows.

There are probably more people using Linux on mobile devices (without even realizing it) than there are Linux desktop users. Which only strengthens the question: why waste valuable developer resources on desktop environments?

Since I don't use any desktop environment, you may take my opinion with a liberal amount of salt.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Behind The Times

I got a call from my oldest customer (15+ years!) today. No, it wasn't about work unfortunately. I had made suggestion on her LinkedIn profile which prompted her to see how I was doing. It definitely wasn't a cheerful conversation. Business is very bad for a lot of people.

But that's not what this post is about. We also talked about using social networking as a marketing tool. Of all the people I have worked with in the industrial automation business, she is the only one on LinkedIn. Think about that for a second. Now, if I say that most people in the automation business are hopelessly behind the times, do you think that is a total exaggeration?

(And yes, I'm well aware that I would probably find more of them on Facebook but I have to overcome the Facebook-creeps-me-out factor before I can sign up there.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011


IBM is 100 years old if you include the time when it was called the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. The named changed to IBM in 1924. Here is an interesting video that IBM made to celebrate the centennial. It is a little sad though because the company clearly isn't run with the same entrepreneurial spirit of its early years. These days share price matters more than being an innovator.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Faster Wholesale DSL

It looks like the wholesale ISPs are a little closer to getting faster DSL speeds now that the CRTC has ordered the ILECs to post interim tariffs. The tariffs will likely not be competitive but it was the only way to overcome the incumbent's stonewalling according TekSavvy's CEO, Rocky Gaudrault, who, I should add, is supposed to be on sabbatical and should not really be paying attention these matters. ^_^

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

F1 Canada 2011

It is a testament to the talent in Formula 1 that, even after a deathly dull two hour rain delay, it still produced what was easily the most exciting race of the season to date.

Button's win was a thing of beauty. He had been through the pit lane six times for five stops stops and one penalty. One of those stops put him in last place. His speed in the last few laps, on a drying track, was just stunning.

Button is known to be a very precise driver which enabled him to avoid the damp patches and go faster and faster each lap. He pushed Vettel very hard until the latter went off the racing line and almost spun. It's the first time this season Vettel has actually been pressured into making a mistake.

Granted, it was a small one. Vettel still finished second. He and Redbull still have a commanding lead in the points. However, it reminds us that there are better drivers than Vettel. What the other drivers lack is a car that can compete with the Redbull under normal conditions. Lets not kid ourselves: the rain definitely played a part in the outcome this time.

If Ferrari or McLaren can get ahead in the development race, Vettel and Redbull's lead in the points will not last long.

Monday, June 13, 2011

No More Industrial Automation

I am declaring the industrial automation side of my business is dead. It has been true for a while now but it is time to make it official. All of my contacts in the industry have gone silent and without them I have no way forward. There were some memorable projects but it is time to move on.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I've been playing with cocos2d, a game framework built on top of pyglet, the pure Python OpenGL interface. The cocos2d tile map engine supports hex grids, which is the feature that interests me the most. Hex map libraries for computer games are not very common. But it is just my luck that the test/demo for that feature does not seem to work. It was quite a let down. I'm deciding whether to waste any more time on this.

cocos2d has been ported to the iPhone, and there are two Android (1, 2) versions in the works. It is a little annoying that the Python version is only 0.4, even though it was first, while the iPhone version is already at 1.0. Damn those appealing big markets. ^_^

Saturday, June 11, 2011

WRC Argentina 2011

Rally Argentina was a story of changing fortunes, which were occasionally self inflicted.

Loeb was first on the road, which was bad enough, but he accidentally arrived at the afternoon check-in too early and was given a one minute time penalty. At the end of day one, Loeb had dropped to fifth place, which was not too bad in itself, except he was now 1m30s behind the leader. A win was long shot. Or was it?

This year the rally was a mixed surface event with about 5% of the distance run on paved roads using the gravel tires and set up. Even Loeb, who is a sealed surface master, complained that the paved sections were too fast for the setup. But Hirvonen, who never does well on seal surfaces, was unable to cope and ended day one in fourth, 43s off the leader. The mixed surfaces really hurt Hirvonen's chance for a win.

Latvala started day one in fourth but finished in the lead, taking full advantage of his road position, as driver's ahead of him cleaned the road. Petter Solberg, who started fifth, also made hay and ended day one in second place, with a win being a strong possibility.

Both Latvala and Solberg would have reversal of fortune on day two. Latvala managed to maintain his lead despite being first on the road but a suspension failure forced him to retire. Ogier passed Solberg to take second place early on day two, but Solberg was always within striking distance. After Latvala retired, Solberg was back in second and a win again became a possibility. Then, on the last stage of day two, Solberg's power steering broke. Petter never hides his emotions but it's rare to see him that angry. The guy has attrocious luck.

Day three started with Ogier leading Hirvonen and Loeb. But with Hirvonen 43s behind, Ogier was almost assured of the win. Almost. On the first stage of day three, an error in Ogier's pace notes caused him to cut a corner that he should not have. He clipped something which flipped the car into a roll. Although the car was badly damaged, he continued the rally. He even maintained his lead although it was greatly reduced, and victory was no longer assured.

And the benefactor of Ogier's misfortune was... Loeb! He had passed Hirvonen on the first stage of day three and had now been handed a chance for a win. Despite Ogier's reduced pace, the following stages were very short and Loeb would not gain the lead, and the win, until final stage. Talk about a reversal of fortune.

What a dramatic rally that was. Each day had a surprising turn of events and the winner was only decided in the last stage. It doesn't get any better that.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gilles Villeneuve

It was thirty years ago that Gilles Villeneuve drove his last Canadian Grand Prix. In 1982 he would be killed in a horrific qualifying accident at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Villeneuve was a gifted driver. He was renowned for his ability to carry a poorly handling car (Gilles called the 1981 Ferrari 126C a "big red Cadillac"). His car control was unparalleled, possibly because in his early career he raced snowmobiles where controlling a sideways slide was essential. He would have been world champion if his F1 career had not been cut short.

I highly recommend the biography written by Gerald Donaldson. It is not a rose coloured view of Villeneuve's life. The Villeneuve Museum in Berthierville, Quebec, looks worth a visit someday. Here are some photos taken inside the museum.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Doctor Who Series 6

Woo hoo! Now that's how you write a cliffhanger for a mid-season break. This season of Doctor Who has been one most enjoyable ever. There's not a single bad episode in the lot. I can't wait for the conclusion in September, but at least we know who River Song is, which concludes what must be the longest story arc in Doctor Who history.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

FIA Embarrasses Itself

I was surprised when the FIA restored the Bahrain Grand Prix onto the calender. The political situation in the country is anything but stable. It is just not making the headlines.

An even bigger surprise was that the FIA did it without consulting the teams, which goes against its own sporting code. Apparently, even the Ferrari team boss, Stefano Domenicali, who sits on the FIA world council, voted to restore the race. Why would they make such a glaring mistake?

Perhaps the "mistake" was intentional. The world council knew that the teams would protest and, given the decision was invalid, would be under no obligation to compete in the event. Effectively, the race has been removed from the calender but the FIA can still say to the Bahraini race organizers, "Hey, we tried."

Of course, if it was intentional, it was an embarrassingly ham-fisted plan. What were they thinking?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Apple Copying Now?

Judging by the comments about how much Apple's iOS 5 copies from others, I assume that this is unusual. If that is the case, then I have to wonder what has changed. My theory is that, because Job's has been on sick leave, he effectively is no longer running Apple. However, I don't follow what Apple does all that closely so I am just blowing smoke. Hopefully, the more knowledgeable Apple pundits will have a better explanation.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lost Train Stations

This BlogTO post reminds us that there was a time when train travel was the norm in Toronto. But, as the photo of Moore Park Station shows, even in 1909 some of the rail lines had already falled into disuse. What's with the turrets? Don Station has one too; maybe it was the same architect.

Of the stations from the early 1900s, Don Station is one of only two that were saved. It has been restored at the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre (the web site could use an update). The other station is the North Toronto CPR Station which is now an LCBO outlet and is the largest liquor store in Canada.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


The folks at CERN have trapped anti-hydrogen for a whopping 16 minutes and change. The mind boggles. We are finally moving in the twenty-first century. Read the whole story here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Toaru Majutsu no Index II

The second season of Toaru Majutsu no Index is for the most part a build-up for an ongoing story. Season two ends abruptly so there is little doubt another season is planned. Whether it gets made is another matter.

Season two focuses on Kamijou Touma's encounters with the Catholic Church, which is not portrayed in a flattering way. To put it bluntly, they are a bunch of anti-science lunatics and thugs. Other Churches in the series, such as the Church of England, are moderate by comparison, although not above devious acts. In case you think this is a statement against religion, the leaders of Academy City, the supposed centre of scientific study, are no paragons of virtue either, as they are clearly manipulating Touma.

Touma, whose bad luck always puts him in the wrong place anyway, upsets a number of the Catholic Church's dastardly plans. Seeking revenge, the Church accelerates its plans against Academy City itself which is the natural enemy of the science hating Catholic Church. The Church launches two attacks which are both thwarted, but such openly hostile action is effectively a declaration of war between the Catholic Church and Academy City.

And just as it starts to get really interesting, that, annoyingly, is where season two ends! It's a great set up for the action to come; hopefully the story will be continued.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Internet Access Is A Human Right

The United Nations released a report (PDF) which recognizes that Internet access has become an essential component for freedom of speech and should be considered a human right. The report is critical of ACTA, notice-and-take-down laws that are easily abused, and three strikes laws which cut off Internet access over mere accusations of copyright infringement.

While a U.N. report is not going to sway politicians in the countries where such laws already exist, it is important that the U.N. recognises that these are actually human rights violations. It is completely ridiculous that basic rights are being eroded for the sake of protecting intellectual property.

More in depth analysis can be found here, here, and here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Django Again

I am playing with Django again after a very long absence. Needless to say, I'm a little bit rusty beyond the basics, especially since I never really considered myself a Django expert to begin with. Hopefully, it won't take me too long to get back up to speed. The little grey cells are not as young as they use to be, you know. ^_^

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I am spending way too much time on marketing these days. It has to be done but it is definitely not the most interesting part of being self employed. Plus, it seems to give me a headache.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Class Act

Lewis Hamilton showed he is a class act by apologizing for his tirade after the Monaco Grand Prix. I suspect he probably had a facepalm moment when to watched the video of himself later.

Monday, May 30, 2011

F1 Monaco 2011

Without exception, the drivers enjoy Monaco because it is such a dangerous and difficult circuit, which requires precision to achieve a good lap time. Mistakes, even small ones, are punished with a quick trip to the scene of the accident.

Both McLaren and Redbull had made huge errors in the race. When Glock retired with a suspension failure, McLaren somehow misunderstood where he had stopped on track and assumed that it was a safety car situation. It was not, but McLaren immediately brought in Button, which cost him the race lead and the chance for an easier win. Button fought back into second place but still needed a third stop to satisfy the "use both tire compounds rule". Button rejoined in third place and demonstrated the benefit of fresh tires as he rapidly caught Alonso. It was some impressive driving.

Due a miscommunication, the Redbull mechanics mounted hard prime tires instead of soft option tires on Vettel's car in his first stop. Since the tire compound rule was satisfied, Redbull boldly switched to a one stop strategy, but it would require Vettel to eke out 61 laps from the prime tire which was only expected to last 45 laps! This set up a fantastic three way fight for the win between Vettel on old tires, Alonso on slightly fresher tires, and Button with the newest tires.

The race's final major incident, involving Alguersuari and Petrov, red flagged the race which allowed everyone to change tires under the suspended conditions. The equal tires nullified Button's advantage and deprived us of an epic finish.

Hamilton had a torrid weekend. When Perez crashed in the third qualifying session, it was red flagged while the track crew reposition the barrier he had displaced. At this point Hamilton had not set a competitive time yet. When the session restarted, he managed to qualify seventh, only to have the time deleted because he cut the chicane. Using his Q2 time, he qualified ninth.

Hamilton's frustration showed on Sunday as he barged around the track, incurring two penalties for causing avoidable accidents. The saddest one involved Maldonado, who was having an excellent race and looked set to score good points for Williams.

Barrichello scored Williams' first points of the season which demonstrates how a good driver can carry a car around this track, and why the drivers love the circuit so much. I doubt that the Williams improved that much since the previous race.

Tires, KERS, and DRS all contributed in some way to more passing than is usually seen in Monaco, a notoriously difficult track on which to pass. And yet the passing still required obvious skill and daring. The new rules worked very well in Monaco.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Linux Kernel Versions

In the old days (^_^) kernel versions went like this: even minor versions (e.g., 2.0, 2.2, 2.4) were stable kernels; odd minor versions (2.1, 2.3, 2.5) were development kernels. The patch level, a third component of the version, indicated a bug fix release in the stable kernel, or a testing release in the development kernel.

All that changed in 2.6 when the kernel developers switched to distributed version control, first propriety BitKeeper, and then git. Everyone developed asynchronously on their own copy of the kernel source. Linus pulled changes from these distributed sources into his own tree and made release which were numbered 2.6.1, 2.6.2, 2.6.3, etc,.

Bug fix releases add a fourth number: That always looked silly to me because the development and maintenance process hadn't changed that much to warrant extending the version number.

Today, 2.6.39 became the last 2.6 kernel because Linus released 3.0-rc1, in preparation for a 3.0 stable kernel. Future stable releases will be numbered 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, etc., and maintenance releases will be 3.0.1, 3.0.2, etc. I suppose there will even be a 4.0 at some point.

Linus was adamant that there would never be a 2.7 kernel. He was right. But something had to done about the version numbering. It was just silly.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

PhpGedView Update

I've been tweaking PhpGedView's configuration and I am generally much happier with it.

I disabled the autocompletion for location names so editing is much smoother. It seemed to query the server on every keystroke which was ridiculously slow, even when accessing the server on a LAN.

I configured the site as "family only" since every family has a few skeletons in the closet. ^_^ The default setting was reasonably private but anyone could browse site, which might make some members of the family uncomfortable.

There were a few other changes, but actually finding these configuration settings took more digging than I expected. The UI really is not very well designed. But it is usable which is all that matters for now.

PhpGedView still has some annoyances that cannot be magically reconfigured out of the way. One issue is the amount of network traffic it generates. It really is quite astonishing given what the application does.

Now comes the hard part. First is convincing my family to try it. Second is teaching them how to use it. What have I gotten myself into?!

Friday, May 27, 2011


Skype's advantage was convenience; it was a one stop VoIP solution. Of course, it was always a deal with the devil and it looks like he is getting ready to collect. Windows users have nothing to worry about: they are using the devil's OS already. ^_^

The free (as in speech) option offers choices. Lots and lots of them. First you have to choose a SIP provider from dozens and dozens. If you only want VoIP, comparing them is not too hard. If you want to call POTS numbers, it becomes more complicated because then you have to compare pricing and the fine print. If you want an incoming number (DID), it's yet another level.

And then you still have to find a soft phone you like. Or how about a hardware solution, instead?

Having choices is great. Sorting through them is not, but freedom isn't free. SIP provider recommendations are most welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Viper's Creed

Viper's Creed is an action scifi anime series that I started watching way back in 2009. Such are the vagaries of fansubbed anime. ^_^

The action is the frenetic and very well choreographed, and is the main reason to watch this series. The story, while interesting and above average, does tend to take a back seat most of the time.

Initially the members of the Viper's Creed team are portrayed as mere mercenaries who have no interest in the city they are paid to protect. About half of the series is spent on de-constructing that image until it is impossible not to like them. Around this point, the real plot kicks in and turns the main characters into fugitives. Perfect timing!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Level E

Level E is a very funny scifi anime about aliens secretly living among us. The main character, Baka Ki El Dogra, has a name with an obvious pun (baka means fool), is the eldest prince of the planet Dogura, and is a genius that delights in tormenting people of lesser intelligence. He is a notorious prankster with an interstellar reputation.

He is on Earth because he has been assigned to annoy, er, I mean, study humans. Lucky us. There are several short story arcs in which he puts various people into hilarious situations. However, the best part of the series is the ending, which has the most unexpected twist that I have seen in a long time. Baka finally meets his match.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

F1 Spain 2011

So Vettel won again but Hamilton mounted a credible challenge in the closing stages of the race. Both were on equally worn tires, but relative car performance and pit stops were very important. The Redbull still has KERS problems but it has more grip in the high speed corners, which allowed Vettel to open the gap to Hamilton, effectively negating his KERS and DRS advantage. The McLaren is better on a lighter fuel load which enabled Hamilton close in on Vettel in the slower corners. It was a classic see-saw battle where neither driver could afford a single mistake.

Qualifying is no longer as dramatic as it was in recent years. The nature of the Pirelli tires means that teams are saving new sets for the race by running as few qualifying laps as possible. DRS creates more opportunities for passing which diminishes the need for a good grid position. Consequently, it has become common for the leading teams such as Redbull and Mclaren to set a fast time early in each qualifying session and then only go out again if it is absolutely necessary. For the last couple of races, the poll sitter was out of his car long before the final session was over. I doubt they will be doing this in Monaco, though, where grid position is still important as passing is all but impossible.

I'm still hoping Webber can challenge Vettel but it's looking more difficult with each passing race as Vettel is driving superbly. Webber is third in the standings which is not too bad, until you realize he has a little over half the points that Vettel has. Webber is qualifying better than he did earlier in the season, but I wonder if he should be focusing on race strategy instead of getting poll position.

It is sad but the once mighty Williams team is looking like they will be the first be beaten by one of the new teams, probably Lotus. Williams is the only established team to have scored no points so far this year, a status they share with Lotus, Virgin, and Hispania. I wonder how much longer Williams can survive as team.

The DRS zone was poorly positioned again, but this time it rendered the system completely ineffective so we got very little passing using DRS. The activation line was positioned about a quarter of the way down the main straight. Unfortunately, the entry to the straight is a high speed corner which allowed the leading car to pull away as the following car struggled for grip in the dirty air behind the leading car. The DRS enabled the following car to close in again but not enough to make the pass. This seems like an obvious problem so I wonder how the race officials actually decide where to place the DRS zone. It seems a little haphazard to me.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I finally got around to installing a private instance of PhpGedView 4.2.4 for testing. Usage is definitely not intuitive, but I got going by reading a little of the manual. While the learning curve is not huge, it will prevent most members of my family from getting started without significant hand-holding.

As the name implies, PhpGedView uses GEDCOM files and in fact you must have one in order for the system function correctly. Fortunately, PhpGedView can create one for you if you are just starting out, but this step was not obvious without reading the manual. This process creates an initial, nameless, individual which I struggled to modify initially before getting it to work.

PhpGedView uses a RDBMS for main storage and only updates the GEDCOM file automatically for certain trusted users. An administrator must accept and push the changes of other users. The administrator can also import and export the file easily, which allows the database to be maintained in a completely separate application.

The PhpGedView UI has a few annoyances, such as opening input forms in a separate window. I hate it when web apps do that. The JavaScript input validation on some fields appears to work on keystrokes which causes lots calls to the server. Needless to say this is extremely slow in a CGI setup. Even worse, the validation pops up meaningless database error messages. On one form, the JavaScript causes the you to jump around the entry fields in a most illogical sequence.

However, despite these annoyances, PhpGedView is quite usable and satisfies my immediate requirement of having a common place to record the family history, which is haphazardly written on bits of paper scatted across different continents now. More importantly, the fact that the data is portable means we are not locked into PhpGedView if we find something better in the future.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wasted Time

Holiday weekends are supposed to be for relaxing, so why do I feel a bit guilty about having goofed off all day? I'm not even talking about work. I have a list of personal projects, any one of which would be perfect for times like these. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in the dark recesses of the grey lump pretending to be my brain. Er, or maybe some things are better left unexplored. ^_^

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Post Apocalyse

This morning my desktop computer, which runs Debian unstable, wouldn't boot. After a couple of hours, I tracked the problem down to a misbehaving udev package (version 169-1). Downgrading to version 168-2 solved the problem.

Just for once, I wish there would be an actual global apocalypse, then I wouldn't have to worry about fixing my computer just because I need to do some work. But I'm not that lucky. ^_^

Friday, May 20, 2011


Fractale is an enjoyable scifi anime that could have been truly great, if not for a weak and confusing ending. When an anime ends abruptly, it usually means the creators ran out of money rather than a poorly conceived story. So while the series overall is definitely worth watching, be prepared for some head scratching when it's over.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Toronto's Past

If you are intested in Toronto's past, this is interesting to play with on a rainy day. If the weather is nice, this iPhone app might be more useful for people on the go.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sonne Out On Bail

Byron Sonne is finally out on bail (The Star, CBC). The conditions are very strict but some are a little strange. For example, I don't understand why there is a prohibition on contact with his ex-wife, when it has nothing to do with the charges and there's no history of domestic violence. Why prohibit contact with groups with which Sonne has never associated? We won't know why the prosecution required these strange conditions until after the publication ban is lifted, but to me it seems that the prosecution is looking very hard for things that are not there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Annoying Defaults

In the category of annoying defaults, I discovered that Postfix queries the DNS server directly and ignores /etc/hosts. Add the following to your /etc/postfix/ to use the system defined look up order (in /etc/nsswitch.conf on Linux).

smtp_host_lookup = native

I discovered this because my new mail server has to relay mail to my old mail server while I migrate to the new one. The old server is on a private IP but is receiving mail for a sub-domain which resolves to a public IP. The simplest solution was to add the domain to /etc/hosts temporarily. Well, it would have been the simplest, if it had worked immediately. ^_^

Monday, May 16, 2011

Changing Routines

I generally dislike being in a rut so I've made a big change to my daily routine by moving my exercise period into the evening. I needed something to separate working time from relaxing time. For people with a regular job, this delineation is obvious. It is even worse when the work and the relaxing both involve using a computer, so the distinction between the two isn't always obvious. In the worst case, I'd just keep working and end up with a only a couple of hours to relax before bed time, which isn't good for the mental health.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tegami Bachi Reverse

Tegami Bachi Reverse is the second season to Tegami Bachi (discussed here) and continues exactly where the first season ends with Lag Seeing's cliff-hanger encounter with Gauche Suede/Noir. Whereas the first season focused on character development and plot background, the second season has more action and is a better story, so is actually more enjoyable than first season overall.

The main plot in season two concerns Reverse, an organization introduced in season one that is plotting to overthrow the government of Amberground. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Reverse's grievances are justified (sinister stuff is definitely happening in the capital) but their actions are fuelled purely by hatred, which is never a basis for good judgement so it's hard to understand how their plans would help anyone.

Reverse's members are all the result of failed experiments conducted by the capital, which caused them to "lose their heart". Some experiments even produced human-animal hybrids. It's easy to see why they might hate the capital, which turns them into misguided rebels rather than stereotypical bad guys.

A minor sub-plot explains Niche's origin as a "child of Maka" in great detail, complete with an actual Maka. The best part is Niche becomes smarter and gets an awesome power up after learning about her past, turning her into a seriously powerful dingo.

The major sub-plot explains why Gauche Suede the postman turned into the Noir the marauder, but tantalizingly, omits details of exactly how he "lost his heart" in the capital. However, Noir's story is more concerned with how he finds, with Lag's help, another purpose in life, beyond his simple hatred towards the capital. Although "losing one's heart" is never actually explained, the effect is that you lose your personality and most of your memories, leaving you a shadow of your former self.

The second season leaves a boat load more mysteries than the first season did. What exactly is going on in the capital? Something is happening there. What exactly is the artificial sun? It's definitely not a mechanical construct, that's for sure. Who or what is Lag Seeing really? It's clear from the final episode that he is much more than he appears to be.

I don't mind having some mysteries in a story, but this is bit too much, which suggests there may be a third season. However, with the main plot neatly tied up in a satisfactory conclusion, the producers have obviously not committed to continuing the story.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

WRC Italy 2011

Mini made an auspicious debut in Italy. The car is obviously very fast albeit a bit unreliable, but that is the right way to do it. You can always make a fast car more reliable, but making an unreliable car go faster is almost impossible. The best news is that Volkswagon has committed to enter the WRC in 2013. The competion is looking to be in good shape for the future.

Not only is Loeb a brilliantly fast driver, but he is also annoyingly lucky at times. Loeb spent the entire weekend as road sweeper and yet it did not seem to slow him down at all, an incredible feat. While Loeb was in perfect form, he was helped by the fact all of his main rivals had problems.

On day one, Latvala's co-driver misread a pace note which caused them to entered a corner too fast, rolling the car. It was not too badly damaged and Latvala restarted on day two in forty-fifth place. Even though he was out of contention, he cranked out a series of stage wins which showed what he could have achieved at the front of the pack.

Also on day one, a very racy looking Hirvonen briefly lead the rally until a slow puncture finished his charge. Hirvonen fought back valiantly, even winning the power stage, and clearly demonstrated he had the pace for a rally win, but he simply ran out of stages, finishing only 11s behind Loeb.

Petter Solberg also looked like a possible contender for a win but a turbo problem on day one and a puncture on day two, put any chance of a victory to rest. Still, he managed to salvage third place, his first podium finish of the season, so it was still a good rally for him.

Ogier took himself out of contention when he played tactics and slowed on the last stage of day one. Unfortunately for him, none of his rivals were in the mood for tactics so they all went flat-out, leaving Ogier a whopping 1m31s behind the rally leader. Ouch! Ironically, this was the reverse of what happened in Jordan where Ogier was the one who kept his foot down.

Italy reiterated what is required to beat Loeb: drive flat-out, make no mistakes, have no mechanical failures, and do not bother with tactics. Sounds easy, doesn't it? ^_^

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kate Bush

For those too young to remember Kate Bush, this is the song that started it all. Don't be surprised if you don't like it. Kate doesn't make pop music and thus is not to everyone's taste. For proof of that, she has only had one gold record in the US.

For those who remember Kate, most (if not all) of her videos from her earlier songs are on her YouTube channel, for a convenient walk down memory lane.

What started this nostalgia trip is that Kate is releasing a new album, Director's Cut. Sadly, it is not new material, but updated versions of old songs. Alan Cross from previewed the new album.

I'm not sure that I like the new version of "Deeper Understanding" but it's clear that Kate still has an incredible voice which it has lost little of its power, despite perhaps not have the vocal range she once had.

And yes, I'd be lying if I said her voice was the only thing I liked about her. ^__^

Blogger Outage

Blogger was out yesterday for most of the day. Blogs were still visible during the outage, but nobody was able to post. Blogger was back today but my post from May 11 was missing. As this post explains, the recovery involved a rollback to May 10, then restoring the missing posts. My May 11 post appeared a few hours ago but the tags were mangled, so the restore was not completely clean.

The curious thing is: most of the Internet apparently never noticed that Blogger was out! I follow numerous technical blogs (that are not on Blogger) and the outage was not mentioned once. It shows how irrelevant Blogger is these days.

And, of course, I must make the obligatory snarky comment about cloud computing... but can't think of one! Damn! Never a snark around when you need one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

F1 Turkey 2011

Wow! Considering I almost didn't get to see the race, it was worth the wait. With the exception of Vettel, who basically led the race from start to finish, there was great wheel-to-wheel (and wheel-banging) action all the way down the field. For the second race in a row, Webber demonstrated great race craft by passing Alonso when it counted. Most memorable pass was Button going around the outside of Rosberg in turn fourteen, which is not the usual tactic in that corner. Unfortunately Button opted for a three stop strategy which did not work well for him.

Ferrari made a noticable step forward which allowed Alonso to get the team's first podium of the season. MacLaren seemed to a have slipped back a little which is not good news as Redbull had a few major improvements. The development race is just beginning in earnest now, so nobody can afford to slip back too much.

Kobayashi continues to impress after starting dead last in twenty third and finishing tenth. Not as big a jump as Webber in China, but Kobayashi was driving a Sauber, not a Redbull! Kobayashi is rapidly becoming my favourite of the new drivers. Watching him make a passing manoeuvre is pure delight. His driving style suits the new regulation this year which makes passing an important skill again.

The DRS zone in this race was not well placed which made the passing much too easy. The FIA is still learning where the DRS zone should be placed so it's hard to be too critical, but I wish they would consult the drivers more on the DRS location. Curiously, due the nature of the circuit, there was as much passing happening outside the DRS zone, so perhaps not having one should be a option.

The burning question is who will be the next driver to beat Vettel? Driving an identical car, Webber has the best chance but Vettel qualified 0.4s faster than Webber. He will need to dig deep to find that much more speed within himself. Or try a radical strategy. But the other drivers can try that too, so it is not as good as driving faster.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Microsoft Acquires Skype

Microsoft is paying over US$8 billion for Skype. First question: are they nuts? Yes, they are most definitely nuts paying that much for a company that is basically on life support. Their reasons for acquiring Skype are a mystery.

But the more important question is: how long before they kill the the Linux client? Of course, Microsoft is promising to continue supporting Skype on non-Windows platforms, but I'm not convinced. Linux being a competing OS has nothing to with it. The Skype Linux team will likely fall with the employee cuts that are SOP when you acquire another company.

I will be looking more seriously at other options. Perhaps this will be the wake up call that provides the impetus to develop a good free VOIP client. I can only hope.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trivial Web Site

I completed the on-line 2011 census questionnaire today but was surprised that I had to switch to Iceweasel to access the site. It would not work with Chromium at all. When I entered the access code, the server returned an invalid page.

I am not sure if it was a browser problem or a poorly designed site, but it was kind of shocking that such a trivial web site would have problems. The worst part is it probably cost a bundle to create, too.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dead Projects

It's quite annoying when you find a nifty open source project only to realize that, upon closer inspection, the project is quite dead.

The first example is OpenRPG. I like that one can create character record sheets which can be cross referenced in dice rolls. OpenRPG's server is a separate component and there are actually many public servers available, which indicates people are still using OpenRPG, even though the project is deader than a parrot in a Monty Python sketch. Some people are using Traipse, a fork that is attempting revive the project, but it may just be nailing the parrot to the perch. I have to play with it a bit more before drawing any conclusions.

The second example is AutoRealm, which I found just today. It looks like a very useful tool for creating maps for role playing games. Not only is the project dead, it was Windows only and written in Pascal, hardly a common language for open source projects. Well, AutoRealm was originally closed source which may explain the unusual choice. A precompiled Windows binary is available which may run in Wine, but I haven't played with Wine in years and wasn't in the mood for that today. Someone started rewriting AutoRealm in Python, but the UI is non functional and the last check in was two years ago. Not a good sign.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Although it is obvious to anyone who has tried to use the open source drivers for the AMD R600-based devices, these Phoronix benchmarks show just how bad things are. And those tests were performed with the most absolute blending edge pre-release versions of all the software involved. In other words, it going to be a long, long time before any improvements show up in a release version. Patience, have you must.

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's Just Entertaiment

It really annoys me when people take entertainment too seriously (which is actually a contradiction in terms). Don't get me wrong. I enjoy a good nitpicking session as much as the next geek. But I tend to lose interest in the discussion when it becomes too heavy. My opinions will never be that strong about something which isn't supposed to be taken seriously. It's just entertainment.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

And Then There Were None

The last known combat veteran of World War I has died. Claude Choules was 110. Watching this video interview with Choules, it looks like he was comfortable talking about his experiences, so we can hope his stories were handed down. He witnessed some momentous events of the Great War such as the surrender, and later scuttling, of the German fleet. He is also to last veteran to have served in both WWI amd WWII. A remarkable person from a remarkable generation.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Conspiracy Theories 101

Conspiracy theories exist for two reasons: paranoid crazy people and stories that don't add up. There is nothing you can do about the first reason. There are two ways to avoid the second reason: by giving the all facts or by getting your story straight. Unfortunately, people in the intelligence business always dissemble, so you are left with method two. If you fail badly at getting your story straight, you will actually spawn a counter conspiracy theory which states that you are intentionally trying to create a conspiracy theory.

And yes, I am a paranoid crazy person. ^__^

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Political Prisoner

Read this article about Canada's G20 political prisoner, Byron Sonne. Now ask yourself if you feel safer that he has been in custody for almost a year. In fact, the whole fiasco makes me even more uneasy because it suggests the security establishment is unable to distinguish real threats from false ones. That scares me because they used Sonne as a way to justify the security theatre by catching someone whether he represented a danger or not.

The more recent charge of "counselling to commit mischief not committed" is equally disturbing because, essentially, it turned the basic freedom of speech into a crime. When this charge was laid earlier this year, this happened in Zimbabwe. If one excludes the torture, which thankfully is not standard procedure in Canada (I'm sure some police wish it was), the rationale of the security forces is disturbingly similar. I did not refer to Sonne as a "political prisoner" for the sake of hyperbole.

Monday, May 2, 2011

And The Winner Is...

A Conservative majority. Damn, we got the worst case.

The first New Democratic Party opposition? It's a pyrrhic victory in my opinion.

The Liberal Party decimated. They are still paying for their arrogance.

The Bloc Quebecois routed. This may actually fuel separatism.

And... the Green Party wins its first seat!?

We live in interesting times, my friends. Perhaps a little too interesting. The good news is no Federal elections until 2015. The bad news is this could be a very long four years.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

WRC Jordan 2011

The political strife around the Middle East (including Jordan itself) put the Jordan Rally in doubt, but the organisers decided to have the event go ahead anyway. It was not the best idea.

The problems started when everything had to rerouted around Syria when it became unsafe for travel. After establishing a new route, the organisers cancelled the first day's stages to allow time for scrutineering and shakedown, but even that schedule was in doubt when engine trouble on the transport ship caused even further delays.

Everything arrived in the middle of the night with only a few hours before scrutineering. In that short time, the teams had to accomplish tasks that they normally have three days to complete, such as assembling the service area and setting up the cars. It was quite an impressive feat that they were all ready in time. And thanks to their incredible effort, it turned out to be one the best rallies ever!

Loeb got off to a blistering start but he was second on the road and still sweeping somewhat. As expected, after two stages he had dropped to third overall. He held that position until the final stage of the day, where he slowed down in the middle of the stage, a very unusual tactic. Latvala and Petter Solberg both slowed as well in order to remain behind Loeb.

But Ogier, who was in the lead but had a much better road position, kept his foot in it and stormed to a 31s lead over Loeb, who again found himself in second place overall, which meant on day three he would again be second on the road, identical to the situation on day two. In fact he was worse off because from that position, 31s was a lot of time to make up. His tactic had failed completely.

Loeb tried very hard on day three, forcing him into several uncharacteristic errors. This was not the first time that Loeb has buckled under pressure this season and I suspect it will not be the last. It wasn't long before he lost second place to Latvala who, thanks to better road position, soon passed Ogier for the lead.

But, going into the final stage, Latvala's lead was a mere 0.5s which set up a real thriller of a stage. With such a small margin, every mistake mattered. Unfortunately, Latvala had a few too many wild moments while Ogier had very tidy run, which earned him a well deserved win by only 0.2s. It was the narrowest victory in WRC history.

Phew! Now to catch my breath before the next rally. ^_^