Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blender Newbie

I completed my first model in Blender. Yay. OK, so I was just following this tutorial, but I did end up in the weeds a few times which was mighty disconcerting.

It is hard to find Blender tutorial aimed at the true beginner. This one strikes a good balance but still had an optional section, which seemed pointless. Another problem is the UI has changed for Blender 2.50, so most of the tutorials are out of date. This tutoral is one of the few that uses the new interface.

When I rendered the scene, I discovered that the rendered texture did not match the mapped texture created in tutorial. The wood grain on the seat was still following the default mapping. The above tutorial does not cover rendering so I was off in the weeds again.

After some Googling and experimentation I was able to add the created mapping as follows: 1) in the "Texture" properties panel, open the "Mapping" sub-panel; 2) from the drop down list for the "Coordinates" property, select "UV".

Since I'm a newbie, I don't know if this is the correct solution, but it worked for me (tm). I was surprised that I figured this out, so I must be learning something about Blender. Still a long way from being proficient, though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

If You Need To Explain...

Did Churchill have to explain to the British people why they were fighting the Germans? Did he have to explain what was the purpose of the war? No, of course not, because these things were obvious and needed no explanation. In fact, if a leader has to explain why his country's soldiers are fighting somewhere, it's a pretty good sign that they are probably fighting for the wrong reasons. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

UBB 2.0

Bell was never going to just quietly give up on forcing usage based billing onto the wholesale ISPs. Their mistake was trying to impose the Bell retail UBB onto the wholesale ISPs, which created a public outcry and turned UBB into a political hot potato. They have learned from that mistake and have made a new proposal which moves the UBB from the wholesaler ISP's retail customers to the ISP itself. The ISP would buy blocks of usage at $200/TB/month and pay overage fees of $0.30/GB/month. Bell calls the new proposal "aggregated volume pricing" (AVP) but it is really UBB 2.0.

On the face of it, AVP looks better as the ISP can be more creative in how it passes the cost on to its customers. However, the pricing is way out of line with how much it actually costs to deliver a TeraByte per month at the wholesale level. Besides, the ISPs already pay Bell to have their data transit GAS and AHSSPI so the new proposal is still double billing for the same service. AVP is still nothing more than a cash grab by Bell.

This proposal is unlikely to get 500,000 people to sign a petition and cause another media stir, as the direct impact on the individual customer is much less obvious. The proposal ensures that the fight is now between Bell and the wholesale ISPs, who unfortunately do not have any influence at the CRTC. I expect the CRTC to rubber stamp UBB 2.0, perhaps with few token concessions to make it look like they were impartial. Bell wins again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

F1 Australia 2011

I'll start with the bad news. The Redbull is still the best car and Vettel is still the fastest driver. He grabbed poll position almost .8s faster than Hamilton's McLaren. He did it without KERS on a less than perfect qualifying lap. And he won the race. Talk about total domination!

The good news is that both McLaren and Ferrari were competitive so as long as both can develop their cars fast enough, there's a good chance Redbull won't have it all their own way. McLaren was a surprise as their performance in winter testing was horrid. Having Hamilton take second place on the grid and then finish second in the race was a remarkable turn around.

Ferrari's qualifying performance was poor but they had very good speed in the race, as demonstrated by the great fight between Massa and Button. Ferrari would have had a podium finish but for Alonso's poor start, which compromised his entire race. You can't win a race in the first corner, but you can lose it.

Petrov and Renault were very impressive. Pretrov qualified sixth, drove a faultless race, and finished in a well deserved third place, his first F1 podium in only his second season. Renault may not be as fast as Ferrari or McLaren (there was no opportunity to compare on track), but Renault is close enough that they will definitely be snatching podium places if either McLaren or Ferrari slip up.

Button blew his chance for a podium finish when he did not immediately concede the place he had gained by cutting the corner. If he had conceded the position back to Massa, Button would not have been given the drive through penalty, which cost him many more than two positions. It was suprising that both the McLaren team and Button would make such a basic tactical error.

Webber had a disappointing weekend. He only qualified third and had much higher tire wear than Vettel, which wrecked any chance of a podium finish. I hope they get this sorted out by the next race as Webber is the only one who can keep up with Vettel, being in equal equipment. Pirelli was asked to produce a tire with a high were rate, and they succeeded brilliantly.

The rookie Perez was impressive, originally finishing seventh, but was later disqualified along with team mate Kobayashi, when the Suaber's rear wing was found to be illegal. It's a shame as it casts doubt on their true performance, but they'll get another chance to prove themselves soon enough.

It's hard to tell if DRS is effective as turn one is not the best passing opportunity on the Melbourne circuit. DRS did enable two passes which may not have been possible with out it. More importantly, DRS did not gift the passes and the driver's skill was still very much required. It would be nice if the the organizers asked the drivers where the DRS would be most effective. Drivers? There are drivers in F1?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kick Me When I'm Down

OK, now I'm really starting to feel like I'm being kicked when I'm down. I hope this run of bad luck ends soon otherwise there's going to be blood. Or screaming. Or both.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Random Election Again

The Liberals are adrift and rudderless. The NDP have no hope winning as usual. The best outcome that we can hope for in this election, is another minority Conservative government. The worst outcome is a Conservative majority and that is a truly scary thought. What really bothers me is how easily people have been persuaded that the Conservative agenda makes any sense, especially among my own family. Sigh.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Birthday Bash

For my birthday, I had supper with my two sisters and brother-in-law. After supper the conversation meandered from topic to topic as usually happens when we get together. And that was the birthday bash. ^_^

I am hoping that next year will be equally low key, but it's the big five-oh so I expect someone will want to make a fuss. Frankly, I could care less. Birthdays are the least of my worries.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


It looks like the unofficial git repository of mplayer, is now officially calling itself a fork and is actually making releases. The fork is called mplayer2, a decidedly unimaginative name, if you ask me. ^_^ This Phoronix post mentions the reasons for the sudden change in status.

mplayer2 is the only Linux video player that supports Matroska ordered chapters, an important feature for those of us who watch anime fansubs on Linux. However, what may of interest to more people is that mplayer2 builds against the multithreaded ffmpeg library by default for improved performance on modern systems.

I predict that if the mplayer2 makes frequent releases, it will quickly replace the original mplayer in most Linux distributions. mplayer releases stable versions so rarely that the prebuilt binaries in most Linux distributions are usually very dated. These old versions are missing features and bug fixes only available in the development version of mplayer. Since few people are capable of compiling from source, most Linux users end up with other media players such as vlc or xine.

Will mplayer2 succeed? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lions And Lambs

Spring is barely four days old and we got our first spring snow storm already. I doubt it will be our last snowfall; the odds are against us with another three months of spring to go.

There's a saying about March coming in like a lamb (or lion) and going out like a lion (or lamb). It means that when March starts out mild or stormy, it ends with the opposite condition.

As with most sayings, it is a bit vague. Does the phrase "comes in" apply to 1 March exactly or is there a range? This March started mild but cold. Then there was a snow storm on 5-6 March. So did March come in like a lamb or a lion?

Inquiring minds want to know. ^_^

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pay Wall Without The Walls

Oh my giddy aunt! The New York Times pay wall has hit a new level of stupidity. According to this techdirt article, the pay wall is written in... Javascript(!) and is trivially bypassed with NoScript enabled.

WTF? Who the hell wpould use client side code to create a pay wall? And who the hell would pay someone to write something so ridiculous? Well, someone at the New York Times apparently. Heads should roll for this embarrassing mistake.

Interestingly, the paywall is active in Chromium with Javascript disabled, which indicates the difference in Chromium's blocking capabilities compared to NoScript. Lack of NoScript is one of the reasons I am no longer so enthusiastic about Google's browser.

Hmm, note to self: must look at Firefox 4 again now that it has been released...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Windows Is Like...

Sometimes it's hard to avoid Windows, no matter how hard you try. In this case, I administer the Linux server involved in this, err, "little" project and being the jack-of-trades that I am, I got sucked into this, err, "little" project. Those specialists don't know how easy they have it. ^_^

While it is a very small project, Windows always finds some way to complicate even the simplest things just because users expect everything to have a GUI. Windows may be the dominant OS of our time but it is an island. It's kind of like Australia. It's a big continent but it's still just an island where the isolation allowed some oddball wild life to thrive. In the same way, Windows allows non-standard software to thrive.

I apologize to the Australians for comparing their country to Windows. I wouldn't want to be the cause of an international incident. ^_^

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Not Much Of A Weekend

It was a busy weekend that required actual work to be done. OK, the work only involved answering emails from a customer, but the questions were long and complicated, and it definitely felt like work, damn it! ^_^ And that was in addition my personal weekend chores. No, it was not much of a weekend in the sense that it is time off from work. But it is still the end of the week, so what else am I going to calling it?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Here We Go Again

So the Western nations are attacking another Arab state. Again. We all know how well that ended the last time. Oh wait, that time, correction, those two times still have not ended almost 10 years later. At least we are not invading Libya. Yet.

Am I too cynical in thinking this is more to do with protecting oil supplies than protecting Libyan civilians? Is it just a coincidence that Libya and Iraq produce about the same amount of oil? Maybe. Maybe not.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Surfeit Of IPv6

I have only now realized just how generous Hurricane Electric's Tunnel Broker service is. I was looking at the reverse DNS options when I noticed the IP ranges it delegates is different from the IPs on the end points of the tunnel. Needless to say, I was confused. (Yeah, yeah, I know: I was more confused than usual, right?)

The tunnel end point IPs are already in a /64 (apparently this is a RFC requirement) so I assumed that I was supposed to use the other IPs from that range. It works and there's nothing technically wrong with using them, except you cannot delegate reverse DNS because HE is already doing that to provide names for the end points. If you want to delegate rDNS, you have to use the actual /64 that was assigned to you. Well duh!

But wait! There's more! If you have multiple network segments (as I do), you can request a /48 which lets you have 65536 /64 subnets! So, with this free service, you can get up to 65538 /64's (less two IPs for the tunnel end points). I'll leave calculating the actual number of IPs as an exercise for reader. My head hurts just thinking about it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hell Is Frozen

Hell is frozen or soon will be. Paramount Pictures is distributing the DVD of a film that will also be distributed via BitTorrent. The Tunnel is a horror film set in the tunnels below Sydney, Australia. I didn't know there were tunnels under Sydney, so I learnt something new today. But apart from that, it is creeping me out that Paramount is involved with anything remotely connected to file sharing. Anyone want to bet the MPAA will sue someone for downloading the film? Right hand, left hand, not knowing, you know what I mean.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mutter. Grumble.

It was another gorgeous early spring day with me feeling like a grumpy old sod. Fun? Never heard of it. Must be something the young 'uns invented. Mutter, mutter.

Things are not going well on the work front. Namely, there's not enough of it. Where have all the interesting automation projects gone? In this context "interesting" means systems that require more than a PLC as a controller. Grumble, grumble.

Just A Blur

I had another fun filled evening with the PyGTA gang. We actually discussed several Python related topics but don't ask me what they were. It was all just a blur. ^_^

Monday, March 14, 2011

Primeval Series 4

Primeval series four is much more like the first and second series, which had stronger elements of intrigue and subterfuge in the story, unlike the third series was mostly episodic creature-of-the-week stories. While series four has an interesting ongoing story, the technical execution still hasn't improved, so expect to be annoyed a few times if you watch this. Series four ends rather abruptly, which was disconcerting. It is not a cliffhanger ending so I'm hoping the fourth and fifth series were conceived together and later split up. Well, I'll find out for sure after series five airs in the May.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fail Safe Failure

The events in Japan demonstrate how easy it is to bring an advanced, highly industrialized nation to its knees, if you hit it just right. Or hit it in multiple ways simultaneously. The combined strength of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami was more that some system were designed to handle, most notably the nuclear power stations. I hope they get them under control soon, otherwise we'll never hear the end of it from the anti-nuclear crowd. (Please forgive the black humour in these difficult times.)

While the plants withstood the initial earthquake (a laudable achievement, given the severity of the 'quake), the fact remains that they did not fail safely once they lost electricity. It's obvious that someone assumed that the backup generators would always work. And they would have, if not for the tsunami, which overwhelmed the seawalls and flooded the plant.

I hope that the operators of every nuclear plant in the world are asking themselves: how will our facilties handle that situation? I believe in nuclear power, but if you can't do it right, it's best to stay out of the game.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

WRC Mexico 2011

Well, it didn't take long for Loeb to return to his winning ways. It wasn't easy, though, as Ogier led for most of rally while Loeb worked hard to keep up. In the end it came down to their difference in experience. Ogier made a small mistake on stage 20 on day three, drifted wide, clipped something beside road, and wrecked the left front suspension. Loeb hasn't been under much pressure in the last few years and, even though he was diplomatic, it was completely obvious he was not enjoying the fight with Ogier. Expect more of this for the rest of the season.

Hirvonen, as the points leader, was first on the road on day one and had to contend with being the road sweeper. It's not a role he enjoys very much but it looks like he has become better at it. He drove a steady first day and gained from other's misfortune to finish the day in a respectable third, which was not bad considering his road position. Hirvonen kept that steady pace throughout the rally and had a remarkably incident free weekend. He turned it up big time on the power stage though, to take his only stage win of the rally, the three bonus points, and second place on the podium. I think it was one of his most mature drives ever.

Petter Solberg had a fun filled weekend. Things were going great on the morning of day one, but then his bad luck struck. A simple broken wire cost him seven minutes, which dropped him to thirteenth place at the end of day one. By day three he had fought back to fifth but his bad luck returned again on stage 21 when the handle of the gear shifter broke, which led to this scary moment. It's hard to tell what actually happened since Solberg's excited comments don't fit with the on-board video, which doesn't show him spinning in the air. He retained fifth place despite the incident, went on to score two bonus points on the power stage, and eventually finished fourth after Ogier's retirement promoted everyone. Yep, Solberg definitely had a fun weekend. ^_^

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ring Of Fire

According to Wikipedia, the Pacific Ring of Fire produces 90% of the world's earthquakes and 80% of the world's strongest earthquakes. This is one of the few times I won't doubt a statistic. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Baen Free Library

In a world where publishers fear ebooks and want to control them, we should remind ourselves of the Baen Free Library, which has has existed since 1999. It's longevity is absolute proof that ebooks are no threat to the publishing industry, if it is willing to adapt. Eric Flint's introduction to the Baen Free Library is still appropriate today, considering it was written over a decade ago. Which is actually kind of sad, really.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

End Of An Era

The final landing of the Discovery marks the end of an era, but I'm not all that sad about it. After all, it was just a glorified lorry. Much of what the shuttle did, such as resupplying the International Space Station, could have been accomplished with conventional rockets. Could the ISS have been built without the shuttle? I don't see why not. Even as a reusable space craft, the shuttle was limited since many systems were had to be rebuilt after every mission.

I am more sad that the shuttle is being retired with no immediate replacement in sight. It reminds me too much much of the Apollo program, which also ended with no clear direction for the future. After 50 years, we've advanced very little in manned space travel. If it were not for our robotic explorers, humans would have no presence in the Solar system at all. At our current rate of development, I am very doubtful that humans will ever visit the places that Voyager I has. Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic.


At this month's GTALUG meeting, Sacha Chua demonstrated Org-mode, an Emacs mode for making and organising notes. Sacha's enthusiasm for the subject was wonderful. To say that she is a huge fan of Emacs is an equally huge understatement. Her jabs at vi users were gentle. ^_^

Org-mode is nice. Nice enough to tempt me into using Emacs again. (I'm one of those weird people who has used both vim and Emacs.) However, I note that someone is working on a partial clone of Org-mode for vim, called VimOrganizer, which may be worth checking out when it's complete. VimOutliner is another, more mature option.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Luck Is Exhausted

I had to get the exhaust fixed today as it was just too loud inside the car. Strangely, it wasn't so bad outside the car. Go figure.

The gasket between the pipe and the silencer inlet had broken. A $20 part cost almost $100 dollars in labour to replace because it required detaching and reattaching the exhaust in order to move it around. And it doesn't help that the exhaust kinks vertically over the rear axle so it's quite awkward to work on. It probably would have been the same amount of labour to replace the whole exhaust system.

My luck has definitely been exhausted. Sigh.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Special Forces? Really?

Both the Netherlands and the U.K. deployed special forces units in Libya to assist their respective citizens. In both cases the units were captured: the Dutch by the Libyan military; the British by rebel forces. Yeah, the SAS were captured by amateurs. That's kind of embarrassing, actually. It seems special forces ain't what they used be.

I'm sure someone will blame it on budget cuts or something like that.

Time With Old Friends

Last night, I spent a few hours with two old friends, Alan and Robert. The weather looked iffy and I've been in a gloomy mood lately, so I was in two minds about joining them but decided to go out at the last minute. Strangely, the conversation was dominated by the economy and job hunting, and not the usual technical stuff.

Alan has been out of work since 2009 and has only had a few short term contracts, nothing longer than a few weeks. Sounds very similar to my experience in the last few years. He says there's been a spike in postings for project manager positions but he isn't getting any more responses than before, so it is still an uphill battle. Like me, he is a jack-of-trades in world that demands specialists. Younger specialists.

And I was right about the weather. The snow arrived earlier than was forecast. And I developed a major exhaust leak. The drive home was slippery and annoyingly loud.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fake Rain

Ecclestone wants fake rain in F1. Webber's response to the idea was rather more circumspect than it should have been. Frankly, it just might be the dumbest idea Ecclestone has ever had. Yes, rain always spices up the race, but fake rain is just not right. Come on Bernie, are you trying to turn F1 into the WWF?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Firefox 4.0b12

I noticed Firefox (Iceweasel) 4.0b12 is in Debian experimental now so I decided to take it out for a spin. I moved my old .mozilla directory out of the way first to get a clean start without any extensions or configuration tweaks.

4.0 is like meeting an old friend again: it's different and yet immediately familiar. 4.0 is noticeably faster for general browsing but it still stumbles badly on the ultimate JavaScript test: Google Wave. 4.0 faired much better than 3.5 did but is nowhere near as good as the Chromium browser.

The Firefox extensions are the main reason that I'm considering switching back. In this area Firefox still blows away Chromium, notably in how well extensions are integrated into the browser. On Chromium, Ad Block Plus is still limited to hiding the ad after it was downloaded and NoScript is still impossible to implement. I was pleased to discover that both worked flawlessly on 4.0.

Overall I was a little disappointed with 4.0. For all the effort that has gone into it, it clearly isn't the Chromium killer I was hoping for. On the other hand, I'm becoming increasingly annoyed with Chromium's quirks lately, so I might still switch back to Firefox.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Analogue Clock

My pick for best analogue clock program is the buici-clock. It looks good, has very few dependencies, and uses very little CPU. The second choice was swisswatch which defaults to the same Swiss Railway Clock appeareance, but is much more configurable, and also uses a lot more CPU for some reason.

The best looking analogue clock is cairo-clock but it indirectly depends on OpenGL. Yikes! It used a surprisingly large amount of CPU which I decided wasn't worth it. The OpenGL support on my graphics card is still a work in progress which may be part of the problem. Besides, too much (eye)candy will make you to sick. ^_^

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reversing Trend

The trend of sending manufacturing to China is slowly reversing - at least in the U.S. I haven't found similar stories about Canada yet, but in economic trends we usually lag behind the U.S. by a few months to a year. Canadian manufacturers who export to the U.S., and have to compete with U.S. manufacturers, must be reaching the same conclusion: that off-shoring is a bust for smaller companies.

The important point is that the manufacturing process has to be much more automated in order to be competitive. This is good news for businesses (like mine) that provide automation services. Still, the problem that remains is convincing business owners of the advantages of a custom solution versus the off-the-shelf ones, which have become more capable over the years.

Of course, none of this is good news for the general employment situation, since manufacturing traditionally employs the least skilled, and automation eliminates those jobs. Some trends will not be reversed.