Monday, February 28, 2011

Google Roulette

So... Google deleted about 150000 user accounts today. Welcome to the cloud suckers. That's a lot of accounts to fat finger in one go but 150000 is estimated to be only about 0.08% of Google's users, so it's not that many in percentage terms. Unless, of course, you were one of the unlucky few. Google roulette, anyone?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reznor In The Mainstream

Holy crap! I never thought I'd see the day when Trent Reznor would break into the mainstream. First a Grammy and now an Oscar for his sound track on that, um, er, Facebook movie, you know the one. ^__^ It's taken 20 years but it's great to see him finally getting some recognition beyond his loyal fan base.

And no, I did not watch the Oscars. Are you nuts?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

WRC Sweden 2011

The 2011 WRC season opener was a nail biter with five drivers in contention for the win at the start of day three. This was Hirvonen's first win since Sweden 2010 so I earnestly hope that he fares better this season. The Ford team swept the podium positions in a truly impressive performance. However I wouldn't read too much into this yet, as the Citroens fell behind due to driver error and bad luck, not a lack of pace.

Loeb lost a lot of time on day one as the road sweeper. This usually isn't a problem for him as the better road position on days two and three, allows him to charge back through the field and take the win. This time he had a puncture on both day two and three, which effectively put him out of contention. I'm sure Loeb will be back to his annoyingly winning ways in the next event.

Petter Solberg was caught speeding in one of the road section on day one. The penalty, which was only given late on day two, suspended his racing licence so he couldn't drive part of day three. Co-driver Chris Patterson, finished the rally in the driver seat. While this is within the regulations, Patterson wasn't driving anywhere near normal racing speeds, which meant that Solberg lost his chance for a third, possibly even second, place finish. Up until that point, Solberg's pace was excellent and was the best indicator of the Citroen's true performance, as he out drove the factory team's drivers. Solberg's chances for a win this season are very high indeed.

The new power stage, which is broadcast live worldwide, hasn't grabbed me yet, probably because I can't watch it live anyway. And also I haven't watched the full hour long show yet. Perhaps that might change my mind. Anyway, it's a great way to promote the sport which has never had live broadcasts as far as I know.

The new cars are very small and nimble and are very exciting to watch. Of course, from the driver's point of view, this translates into "twitchy" and many drivers were having very close encounters with the snowbanks. Henning Solberg's was the worst when his car was flipped into a high speed rollover that sent him flying about 20m down the load. Very nasty.

With most of the electronic driver aids banned, the cars are definitely more difficult to drive but it also means that WRC has become a true driver's challenge again. This is a good thing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

So You Want A Revolution?

Watching some these in-progress revolutions happening in North Africa and the Middle, it's fascinating how easy it is to shine a light into the dark places today. I dislike the term "facebook revolution" because it demeans the people who are willing to take a stand against tyranny. People, not technology, cause revolutions. Technology is merely an enabler. It speeds up communication, often bypassing the traditional media altogether. How long did it take for news of the 1976 riots in South Africa to spread around the world? A day or two at least. Now it would happen in minutes. This is why the Internet is so valuable and why it needs to remain open.

Sadly the attacks on the Internet's openness are coming from authoritarian regimes as well as the supposedly free countries, such as the U.S. Anti-wikileaks campaigns. Domain seizures. This is how it starts. This is the thin edge of the wedge. Freedom is easy to lose. It's hard to win it back. Just ask anyone in any country in the midst of revolution right now.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It Doesn't Work!

I just love problem reports that say nothing more than, "it doesn't work." That is essentially what I was told last week after the folks in Seattle installed the rebuilt controller. Had the darned thing even powered up properly?

Due to their production schedule, today was the first day they had free to examine the problem further. My customer here in Toronto asked my to come in, in case my help was needed on the phone. When I got there around 1pm, the problem was already solved. It was just an incorrectly attached connector. From this we can conclude that "it doesn't work" covers everything from catastrophic failure (worse case) to human error (best case), which narrows down the problem significantly. ^_^

Oh, and in case you think I got paid for doing nothing today, no such luck. My customer had been sitting on a few other small problems, just waiting for the next time I came in. Money for nothing? Not a chance!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

F1 2011

Cancelling the Bahrain Grand Prix was the right, and only, thing to do. It shows that common sense can still prevail over powerful business interests. Still, the decision took much longer than it should have, so I was worried that the big business of F1 would somehow take priority. You never know. Dumber things have happened.

The F1 season will start at the traditional opening venue in Melbourne which is as it should be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

UBB In The Spotlight

Usage based billing is still in the spotlight which indicates it is not going to be easy for the CRTC to dodge the issue, or for the government ignore the problem later. Sadly, it is very clear the CRTC just doesn't get it.

This article debunks the myths that UBB supporters typically use in their arguments. Even the comments are good... well most of them anyway.

These folks raised enough money from donations take out print media adverts and are hoping to repeat the exercise with another round of donations. Are they using old fashioned methods to make a point about a modern problem? Well, price gouging really isn't a modern problem, is it?

Apparently, about 1% of the Canadian population signed the (above) petition. That's definitely not a small sample, statistically speaking.

Monday, February 21, 2011

BZFlag Robots

It was a holiday today so I goofed off playing solo matches on BZFlag. I enjoy the game but I stink at it, so I need to practice regularly. It's embarrassing that I get my butt kicked by the crappy robots in the solo game.

Between games I poked around the web and stumbled upon a Python version of the tool, a command line utility that displays information about the server, teams, and players. is included in the BZFlag source but the Debian package only includes the Perl version. has a couple of improvements. First, it prints the correct content type if it detects that it was called via CGI. Handy if you need a quick and dirty way to display the server status as a web page. Second, cab be used as a module by other Python programs, enabling them to communicate with the server without dealing with the protocol directly. While the module is very useful for getting basic information such as the player scores, the module doesn't include code for more complex tasks like writing a robot tank in Python.

But wait! There's more! BZFlag 3.0 will have a proper robot API and Python will be one of the supported languages. I think I'll write a robot that plays worse than I do!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family Day

It's the Family Day weekend, an Ontario only holiday. Appropriately, I visited my sister Jean for lunch. We were joined by my other sister Pat and her husband, which surprised me as I expected them to be visiting their grand kids, but it seems everyone had other plans. So the four of us spent a nice quiet afternoon together, a change from our usual raucous family gatherings. ^_^

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chromium Crash

Oh lovely. I actually had chromium browser (Debian package 9.0.597.98~r74359-1) crash the system today. I down graded to the previous package and it seems to be OK. It's very curious because chromium was upgraded two days ago. Why did it take so long for trouble to show up? And there no bug reports yet, so it's not a common problem. Now that is really worrying. The crashy version was a security update too, so now I'm running a version with known exploits. Oh yes, this just gets better and better.

It's so rare for a user application to take down the whole system on Linux. According the logs, the kernel's out-of-memory killer shut down chromium several times. The browser's multiprocess design probably made that harder if all the processes were leaking memory simultaneously, like an OOM wack-a-mole. After the reboot but before the down grade, chromium's behaviour was completely erratic. The plugins kept crashing and disabling them didn't help at tall. I even got the "Aw, snap" error message on the Google search page, which was kind of ironic coming from the Google browser.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Four Wheel Drive Amusement

The last few days may have been warm enough to melt the snow banks, but the huge ones that the snow plows created in the parking lots, still have a solid ice base under them. I discovered this today when I tried to skirt around the edge of such a snow bank. The part I aimed for was less a foot high and, using the proper "one wheel over the obstacle" technique, I assumed that the melting snow would just collapse under the tire. It did, but as soon as the rear tire hit the sold ice underneath, I was going nowhere. Engaging four wheel drive got me out of course, but it was mildly annoying that I needed it on a very bright sunny day in a bloody grocery store parking lot! At times like this, I really miss the limited slip rear differential I had in my previous truck. Oh well, at least I entertained the store employee who was gathering buggies. He found my excursion highly amusing for some reason. ^_^

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ugliest Season

Is the surprising warm weather a teaser for an early spring or is mother nature rubbing our noses in the fact it is still the middle of winter? I wish I could have enjoyed the mild conditions but as usual I had to work. The good news is the snow banks have shrunk significantly. Yay! The bad news is we get to see what was buried under them. Eeew! This is one of the reasons I don't like spring: it's the ugliest season of all, in my opinion.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

RFI Actual Play Podcasts

If you've never played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (perhaps it exceeds your geek out factor ^_^), the folks at Roll For Initiative have recorded the sessions of two campaigns that were played online via Skype. One of the campaigns, Barons of Hogsend, is no longer active unfortunately, but the other, Quest for the Book of Sorrows, is going strong despite having replaced most of the original players. I finally caught up with all the Book of Sorrows episodes this week.

Listening to an AD&D game is like listening to a radio program in which you hear the actors as they play their characters, and the writers as they discuss what the characters are going to do. It's hard to tell which is which since the actors and writers are the same people! In addition, there is very little explanation of the game mechanics as the players are all experienced. As such, if you decide to give these podcasts a try, don't be surprised if you find them slightly confusing at first, especially if you are unfamiliar with the rules.

I recommend listening to the Book of Sorrows series first as it has much faster pace compared to the Barons series. This is largely due to difference in the Dungeon Master's style and isn't really an indication of one being better than the other. And just so you know, there is occasional swearing, although it's surprisingly restrained. ^_^


This month's PyGTA meeting featured Chris Browne, who talked about PostgreSQL which he uses extensively. He did manage to mention Python a few times, since it is one of the languages available in PostgreSQL for writing store procedures, but the talk focused on the changes in version 9. Sadly, the new features are nothing I am likely to use or need in the near future. As much as I like PostgreSQL, I have to admit I use only a very tiny portion of it's capabilities.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Regular Expressions

One of my download post processing scripts uses regular expressions heavily. Every time I have to use regular expressions beyond the basics, I am forced to read the documentation of the application or programming language. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll never be an expert. Of course, it doesn't help that grep, vim, Python, etc, each have a slightly different flavour in their regex syntax, which basically ensures you can never know them all. Sigh.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Just Laziness

Damn! My personal projects have stalled badly since early January. I'm not sure why as I'm not very busy with paying working. Just laziness, I guess.

I made good progress this weekend on scripts to automate a couple of annoying, repetitive tasks for post-processing downloads. The benefits of having the download software on an always-on server, are paying off. Of course, I have to write the programs so there is an up front effort but it will be worth it in the end.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

N900: Last Of The Breed?

With Nokia now partnered with Microsoft, I wonder if the N900 will be the last of the breed of truly open Linux based phones. This Nokia QT blog post indicates that a MeeGo device will ship this year, and that Nokia will continue to work on the MeeGo open source project, which is certainly encouraging. We can only hope that the deal with Microsoft doesn't preclude future Linux based devices. Time will tell.

Friday, February 11, 2011

UBB Cancelled

The folks at TekSavvy celebrated that the 1 March implementation of UBB is cancelled, by raising the monthly caps from 200GB to 300GB. They credit the increase to the cost savings they obtained from their non-Bell providers. I found this distinction mildly humourous. The larger cap is bound to attract subscribers away from Bell even if the speeds that TekSavvy can offer are likely to be much lower, at least for now.

Whether UBB is completely dead, remains to be seen. The Industry Minister has promised to overturn anything that resembles UBB after the CRTC completes its 60 day review. When politicians make promises, I only believe them when they actually follow through, and not a moment before. So yes, I'm skeptical.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

ParlVU Site

Who the heck designed the ParlVU site? I wanted to listen to the UBB hearings and had to jump through ridiculous hoops to do it. I don't know if it was Linux, the Chromium browser, or the combination of the two, but I could not get anything to play automatically. While this was annoying, it got worse.

I looked for the URLs of the audio files in the page source. Nope. They are hidden behind a mess of Javascript code. I eventually realized that Chromium was showing the URL in an error dialog, but I had to manually copy the URL into a terminal window, because I couldn't even copy and paste the text from the dialog. Once I had the URL, mplayer played it without any trouble whatsoever.

Good grief! Who the heck designed this site? With my tax dollars, even! And I have no doubt that it works perfectly in Windows, of course. Grrr.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tracking Usage

Oh, this is rich. Right in the midst of the wholesale UBB debacle, Bell admits that it found errors tracking the usage of its retail customers. Talk about adding fuel to fire. Of course, they insist that it has only happened to a small number of their customers. I believe them. Many wouldn't. :-]

Yeah, right. More likely, these are just the people who were paying attention to their bills.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Random Discussion

The scheduled speaker at the GTALUG meeting was incapacitated by illness so we had a random discussion type of meeting, which coincidently resembled the format of the pub gathering after the meeting, sans beer of course. Actually, the hour and a half meeting passed by before I noticed and nobody got bored and left early, so I would call it a success. Probably wouldn't want it to be a regular thing, but it makes an interesting stand by solution when the speaker bails suddenly.

Monday, February 7, 2011

On The Road

I had quite a busy day but it wasn't hugely productive, as most of it was spent on the road. Normally I avoid having multiple commitments that require driving hither and thither, but sometimes it cannot be helped. Thankfully, the weather cooperated with only some snow flurries. Even better, I was home by 4pm and so escaped the worse of the traffic congestion, except for a nasty snarl up around one school. It was not a bad day at all.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Debian 6.0

Debian 6.0 "squeeze" was released today. This is both good news and bad news for those of us who run Debian "sid", and don't really care about the release.

It's good news because the flow of new software will return to normal. The flow slows to a trickle as the release gets closer, which is kind of annoying if you happen to be waiting for certain software. In my case, this would be the 2.6.38 kernel and the latest radeon driver, which together are supposed to bring a significant improvement in performance to several AMD chipsets.

It's bad news because the first week after the release, the flow turns into a flood. This is usually when "sid" is most unstable and you really have to keep your wits about you, otherwise you can easily end up with a broken system. Thankfully, I've been through this many times before, so I'm quite used to it. Strangely, "testing" is often less stable than "sid" during this time.

The code name for the next Debian release is "wheezy", and no there is no release date for that. Debian doesn't work that way. ^_^

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Shiki is a classic vampire story with a few twists. The story takes place in a remote mountain village. A group of vampires moves in and starts feeding on and changing the villagers into more vampires. That's fairly classic vampire stuff.

Vampires are not portrayed as being inherently evil. They kill in order to feed, nothing more. However, the vampires also retain the personalities they had when they were alive. So a nasty person may actually enjoy the killing. An idiot is still an idiot. A good person may refuse to kill, effectively starving themselves. Very few of the characters that class.

For a vampire story, it is surprisingly bloodless, at least until the remaining humans start fighting back. Then it gets very, very messy. In fact, I found the last third of the series the most disturbing of all. The ruthless, almost casual, violence of the remaining villagers, easily surpasses anything the vampires committed.

The final twist is that leader of the vampires is a young girl who was killed hundreds of years ago. She's done some terrible things in that time and it weights heavily on her mind. Essentially, she is a child struggling to understand the morality of being a vampire. Intelligent vampire pathos is not a common approach to the genre.

In short this is a thinking man's vampire story.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pointless Fights

It seems that I'm not the only one who feels the CRTC's 60 day moratorium on UBB, is not going to accomplish much. Micheal Geist explains clearly why he believes this isn't going work. (The post also has an excellent rebuttal of the idea that bandwidth should billed like water and gas, and is worth reading just for that.) If Geist is correct, the CRTC will reach the same conclusion because it will start with the same faulty premise that the bandwidth hogs are a problem that must be controlled.

Fine, if that happens the Industry Minister will just overturn the decision, so it doesn't matter, right? Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Remember the Globalive business back in 2009? The CRTC ruled that Globalive did not meet the foreign ownership rules, which was legally correct, and the the Minister overruled that decision because increasing competition was more important. Well, the courts overruled the Minister today, almost two years after Globalive's Wind Mobile started operations in Canada.

As long as the CRTC simply stays within the boundaries of the current Telecommunications Act, the courts will always support their decisions, and this is no different with the UBB decision. It may be wrong but it's legal. The obvious solution is to change the law so that it aligns with the goals of Industry Canada. So why hasn't the government done that yet? Instead we get these pointless fights between the the goverment and one of its own agencies.

Welcome to Canada. Water flows uphill here you know...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CRTC Back Peddles But...

The CRTC has back paddled on the UBB decision... by merely delaying the implementation for 60 days so they can study it further. For goodness sake, they've been studying it since the autumn of 2009. If they don't understand the consequences of UBB by now what difference is another 60 days going to make? I smell a rat. My bet is, they (and Bell, who is pushing UBB) are hoping that the attention will die down in 60 days, then it will be back to business as usual.

The CRTC chairman dissembled extensively before his political masters today. For example, when asked why Bell's IPTV is exempt from their retail UBB, he replied that IPTV is not an Internet service. However, this is Bell's definition of IPTV. I'm sure Netflix would disagree. Another example, the chairman indicated that UBB is a common pricing structure. That might be true for retail customers but it definitely not the norm for wholesale customers. Do you see why I don't trust the CRTC?

On the positive side, the Industry Minister has stated that, if the CRTC comes back with the same decision in 60 days, the government will definitely over turn it. OK, but how much does the decision have to change? If the 15% discount on the 40GB usage blocks is increased, would that change be considered acceptable? It should not be, because it still treats the wholesale ISPs as if they just reselling Bell's services.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Want More Snow?

OK, so Toronto didn't get the 20-30cm of snow that was forecast but the 10cm was enough, thanks. I really hate it when someone accuses others of being wimps because it was only a little snow. "We're Canadians, this is nothing!" Every time someone says that, we should arrange to have all the snow in his neighbourhood dumped on his property. You want more snow? Here, have ours.

When I was in my 20s (perhaps even into my 30s), I didn't feel this way about snow. As I got older with many more problems to worry about, snow has become just another problem. So I guess the moral of this post is: don't get old. ^_^

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

UBB Reaches The Top

Micheal Geist has written an analysis of UBB which covers the entire situation rather well. UBB is caused by the same disease which infects the entire Canadian telecommunications industry: lack of competition. There are only for major ISPs in Canada, although only one operates nationwide, and in most areas they are lucky if they get two choices. Between those four, they control 96% of the ISP market and all of the last mile infrastructure. Unless that domination of the market is properly managed, the tiny 4% of the remaining ISPs cannot exist.

That message appears to have reached the top with the Prime Minister getting involved and promising an immediate review of the CRTC decision. Given Harper's top down style of running the government, if he is getting involved, it means that some action will definitely be taken. But they make the right choice? We wait with bated breath. The future of competitive Internet access in Canada hangs in the balance.