Mel8ourne 2008
Celebrating - Australia's Linux, Free and Open-Source Conference - fun, informal and seriously technical...

January 04, 2009

Upgrading stuff

I’ve been spending most of today upgrading various bits and pieces on my external server. Since March 2007 I’ve had a dedicated server at Layered Technologies in the US. However with the change in the value of the dollar, a price rise they had a while back the cost has gone from around $NZ 100 to $NZ 200 ( $US 105 ) per month (with me paying a larger percentage of it) which is just a little too much for what I need.

So a couple of weeks ago I bought a $US 40/month VPS at to replace it ( switch off of the old machine is the end of January ). So far I’ve been pretty happy, the box was provisioned in a few minutes, I got an extra IP no problem and it came with a nice minimal Ubuntu 7.10 install.

Today I’ve been moving over a few more service to the new machine and documenting it as I go.I’m also trying to get the config a little tidier than the previous one

  • DNS was pretty easy and I’ve tidied up my domains ( all 10 ) . I’m just waiting for people I secondary DNS for to make some changes before starting cut overs.
  • Some websites are move. The static sites ( like my homepage ) were easy and the wordpress ones were as well ( dump DB, scp , import DB ).
  • I upgraded Wordpress to 2.7 while I was at it which seems to have worked okay. Only thing I don’t like is the small fonts on the admin pages.But there is probably a way to fix that.
  • I had a few problems moving over one web-app since it was keeping old info somewhere (I checked the DB and the configs) but as luck would have it Ubuntu has recently fixed the package to work with non-apache Web installs (I am using lighttpd) so I just blew away the DB, grabbed a clean install and took 20 minutes to re-add the small amount of data.
  • Wiki sites are still to be moved and I’ve left off a couple of that are probably getting moved elsewhere.
  • I got the basic backups working also just in case something goes kaput.
Overall it’s been a fun day. I would hope I’ll be able to finish the rest of the move by the end of next weekend.

January 03, 2009

Musings on copyright dates

In the context of a blog, with lots of posts from different years, how would copyright apply? Would each post on the blog have a separate copyright? Or would the blog have a copyright as a whole? Or is it up to the author how it should work?

Say I added a footer to the bottom of my blog in the year 2005, which reads:

Copyright © 2005 by Jeremy Visser. All rights reserved.

(Please note that the copyright notices in this post are purely for discussion and illustrative purposes, and are not intended to state the true copyrighted nature of any of the content on this website.)

Now, it’s the year 2009, so there seems to be two popular ways to update this kind of line:

  1. Copyright © 2005-2009 by Jeremy Visser. All rights reserved.
  2. Copyright © 2009 by Jeremy Visser. All rights reserved.

So in the latter one, the copyright date is simply bumped up to 2009. Is it legal to arbitrarily bump the copyright expiration date like that without formal renewal?

In Australia, this is not a problem, as copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death — it has nothing to do with the publication date. In which case, it does not make sense to add a year to copyright declarations of Australian works. I think the following would do fine for me:

Copyright © by Jeremy Visser. All rights reserved.

It would then be up to somebody to look up the date of my death to find out if any of my works are in the public domain.

So why do we add dates to copyright notices? In the United States, the case is the same as Australia — copyright expires 70 years after the death of an author.

I could not find any information on how copyright expiration applies to a corporation in Australia (after all, a corporation cannot die), but in the United States, copyright on a work produced by somebody as part of their official duties while working for a corporation expires 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation (whichever is shorter). In this case, adding dates to copyright notices does make sense.

So, it seems to me that the reason we all add dates to our copyright notices is because we are all sheep and simply copy each others’ copyright notices. Ironic, eh?

RAID is not a backup solution, times one million

Via (yes really, I still pull in the headlines, although the miracle of feed readers has allowed me to confirm that yes, Ars Technica is a better read), a site called Journal Space, which hosted weblogs, lost all their data. They only had a RAID setup as backup, that is, a system that mirrors content between two disks and is designed to protect against disk failure. If you've heard of RAID, you hopefully already know that it is not the same as a backup: if software error or an accident or a malicious act deletes data from one disk, the RAID setup faithfully mirrors it to the other disk. If not, imagine that you have two magical whiteboards. One is copied exactly to the other. If one magical whiteboard totally breaks down, excellent, you have a full copy of your meeting notes and doodles on the other. (Note for accuracy, not all RAID configurations produce a full mirror and sometimes the mirror is spread over more than one spare disk. But you get the idea.) However, if someone rubs something off the whiteboard, or falls over while holding a can of solvent and splashes it on the first whiteboard, everything on it is immediately deleted from the other.

Instead, for home machines you want, most likely, an incremental backup, that is, a separate disk/machine with several copies of your data going back in time. Your data as it was an hour ago. Your data as it was a day ago. Your data as it was a month ago. And so on. I have snapshots of my data for every three hours over the last two months. (Sensible backup programs will notice when data is the same across two or more time periods and only store it once, so your backup disk does not need to be so very much larger than your normal disk.)

For business systems you want both: the quick recovery from disk failure that mirroring systems such as RAID offer, and incremental backups. (I don't maintain business grade systems, ask someone else for best practices if you need them. Internally consistent database backups are something you want to pay particular attention to.)

I note this because in November I gave a talk on home backups for Linux at SLUG and there is one other point of interest: do not trust third party providers to have good backups. It is getting increasingly common to have a lot of your most interesting data on someone else's servers: your email on Google's, your blog over at, contact details for all your friends on Facebook, and so on. But your provider can make both their own catastrophically bad decisions, like Journal Space, and have their creditors suddenly sell their hard disks off in a fire sale, as happened to Digital Railroad.

Which is a big problem, because a lot of third party providers do not provide an easy way to get your data ('easy' would be both a documented API accessible from common programming languages and an installable application), and lots don't provide any way at all. (There's also a whole batch of interesting issues to do with your comments or Wall postings or whatever: you don't necessarily have the right to reproduce them and there would be privacy implications when allowing you to back them up and reproduce them on some other side. LiveJournal, for one, solves this problem by not allowing easy backups of comments left on your journal.)

If your email host, blog host, calendar host, documents host or social networking host failed or deleted your account, how would you fare?

January 02, 2009

to send or to receive?

Originally published at KatteKrab. Please leave any comments there. 2009 starts in a little over 2 weeks in Hobart Tasmania...

Will you be there? - wish you were here

Happy New Year

New Year Fireworks, by kelvinhu,

Another year over and a new one just begun… Saw New Years in on top of Rangitoto Island again like last year.

Last year was better. The campsite was packed out. If I’d wanted crowds and sleep deprivation with loud music and vicious arguments I could have just stayed in my apartment. There were 260-something scouts having a jamboree there, though they weren’t a problem. (Even if the ad-hoc Halo or CnC game they played after dark the first night was a bit loud. You can take the children away from the video games, but you can’t stop them playing them.) The main problems was the rowing club with their 5-car-battery-operated sound system and the angry guy and his family problems we camped next to. Also there is only limited toilets for the almost 200 non-scouts, possibly the cause of an unsanitary situation. The less said the better, but Michelle has photos. The scouts were prepared with their own port-a-loos.

We stayed two nights this year. (A result of some grumping about so much walking in such a short time last year. Grumping by people who didn’t go in the end this year.) It meant two nights of little sleep, but we did get to see more of Motutapu Island.

We went for a walk around the coast, which ended up on the hills navigating through thistle patches, and had a swim at Mullet Bay. Then we checked out the old Coastal Defenses at Northern Junction. Explored the tunnels and ammo dumps there. One question I had was what are the narrow tunnels running round the underground rooms for? The answer I’ve discovered is these are Lamp Passages. Before electricity the tunnels were lit by lamps, but it was too dangerous to have lamps in the ammo store rooms. So instead there were thick windows and lamps were hung in the lamp tunnel around the outside of the room. The windows must have been blocked up when electricity was introduced.

Had scorching weather for most of the time (shade was a precious scarce resource at the campsite), but New Year’s Eve itself was a bit wet. Michelle needs to learn not to say things like “it’s not going to rain”, “it’s only going to drizzle”, “we’re almost at the top”. There was a big crowd on the Rangitoto summit, seemingly all from the Rangitoto batches. The Dutch woman with Oliebollen wasn’t there though :-(. This year the only fireworks we saw were the Sky Tower ones. There were glows over Waiheke, but the display must have been on the other side of their island.

Met up with Brian’s sister and bro-in-law who visited for New Year’s Day and caught the ferry back to Auckland with us. I went straight back home and promptly fell asleep.

Mullet Bay
Pill Box
Fireworks 2009

Photo album

January 01, 2009

Inspiration From Elvis Presley???

As an Elvis fan and a fan of gospel music I borrowed a two dvd set from our local public library about Elvis' gospel music. This is where I came across this song, Walk A Mile In Their Shoes. I hadn't heard it before but it's terrific!!! Here's the lyrics

Elvis Presley Walk a Mile in my Shoes Lyrics:

(words & music by Joe South)

If I could be you, if you could be me

For just one hour, if we could find a way

To get inside each other's mind

If you could see you through my eyes

Instead your own ego I believe you'd be

I believe you'd be surprised to see

That you've been blind

Walk a mile in my shoes

just walk a mile in my shoes

Before you abuse, criticize and accuse

Then walk a mile in my shoes

Now if we spend the day

Throwin' stones at one another

'Cause I don't think, 'cause I don't think

Or wear my hair the same way you do

Well, I may be common people

But I'm your brother

And when you strike out

You're tryin' to hurt me

It's hurtin' you, Lord how mercy

Now there are people on reservations

And out in the ghetto

And brother there, but, for the grace of God

Go you and I,

If I only had wings of a little angel

Don't you know, I'd fly

To the top of a mountain

And then I'd cry, cry, cry

Walk a mile in my shoes

just walk a mile in my shoes

Before you abuse, criticize and accuse

Then walk a mile in my shoes

Lyrics: Walk a Mile in my S

I love the chorus especially! "Walk a mile in my shoes, just walk a mile in my shoes. Before you abuse, criticise and accuse, Then walk a mile in my shoes."

I've been working on a play, for a couple of years now, called Walk A Mile In Their Shoes. This song would be perfect for it! The play's about ordinary people telling their stories of drugs, abuse, addictions, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, mental illness etc. I don't want to have actors I want the actual people telling their own stories or have a group but they all swap stories. I will help them write their stories so that each one emphasises a different aspect. I've written notes but haven't got any further yet. I know it'll happen at the right time though and with the right people.

I love telling stories, seeing them come to life on a stage!! And these are stories which I believe really need to be told. All these things addictions, mental illness, domestic violence can affect anyone from any walk of life! Before we know what someone's situation is or has been we can't and shouldn't ever abuse, criticise or accuse them!

I've written a few plays which have been performed at churches I've been part of and I want to get into it more again. I've neglected my creative side too much but am slowly getting back to doing more creative stuff like my crafts, music, writing, photography, and graphics in between packing to move house that is.

On the dvd Elvis says this when he sings this song

You never stood in that man's shoes

or saw things through his eyes,

or stood and watched with helpless hands

while the heart inside you dies.

So help your brother along the way

no matter where he starts

For the same God that made you,

made him too

These men with broken hearts.

A lovely youtube video of Elvis photos and him singing this song.

New Years' Encouragements

From RavenBlack:

New Year's Encouragements. Instead of making pressurey resolutions for yourself, make positive uplifting recommendations for other people. No negativity allowed, and try not to even imply something negative (eg. "eat better" implies you were eating poorly, but "make delicious home-cooked meals at least once a week" is pretty cleanly positive, and "make more delicious home-cooked meals because your cooking is great" is better still.)

Anyone with encouragements of this positive type may contact me via my preferred method or my LiveJournal, if you have access. (I am beginning, finally, to think about allowing comments on directly, but it's not likely to happen very soon.)

You are hereby invited to do this in your own weblog.

2009 plans

One year I'd like to do the same project Skud is doing for 2009, that is: a resolution a week. But this year is a finishing year for me, not a starting year.

A quick wrap-up on 2008 resolutions:

  • I dabbled in morning yoga, I am just not good at getting out of bed twenty minutes early for that reason, and Andrew is less good at it (and now has a fixed 9am work start time). I did some morning meditation practice when going through a very stressful period in April (after my DCS hospitalisation).
  • Tidiness. We got slightly better, but that one was actually Andrew doing it for me. Which is nice and all, but I have no claim to glory here.
  • Clothes shopping. Oh yes I did. The secret turns out, unfortunately, to be buying expensive clothes.
  • Reading and watching movies. Not so much.

The first half of 2008 was pretty difficult for me. In retaliation, Andrew and I screamed around the south island of New Zealand in August. I do recommend its recuperative powers.

Major goals for 2009:

  • Submit PhD thesis for examination.
  • Do PADI's Rescue Diver certification before my CPR qualification expires, that is, before March.

Other plans in 2009:

  • A short holiday in January in Tasmania.
  • With any luck, an international conference or two, and depending on my PhD timeline, a holiday around one of these.
  • A major party to celebrate my PhD submission.
  • Something meaningful in August to mark the 10th anniversary of my relationship with Andrew.
  • Stretching and strength work. If I can't get it together to do a full yoga routine, I do want at least to be working on contributing skills daily.
  • The odd SCUBA dive here and there.

Also, given the PhD submission thing, I will probably be looking for a job towards the end of 2009. I do not know yet if I am going to apply for postdoctoral positions, this will probably depend on achieving a couple of major conference acceptances in 2009. And on deciding whether I want to live in the northern hemisphere. Even if I am I may be looking for programming or similar work in the short-term to wait out my examination process. So, keep in touch, if you want to offer me work, or come to my submission party. Or both.

December 31, 2008

Some logos

Okay, what do these logos have in common?

They all use stripes, and they’re ugly. Ugly, I tell you. I don’t know why, but I hate logos that use stripes like these. Please, just use gradients, drop shadows, or just go psycho with the gloss.

December 29, 2008

Thai Airways, good for business travellers

Found a postcard, and decided that I should send it along to her. Called up the wonderful reception, and they said I should bring along the postcard to the concierge.

At the concierge, I was told that I would need to pay 20 THB for postage. I asked if they could charge it to my room, and they declined. I waved a USD$1 note, and they said I’d have to change it at the reception.

Walk along to the reception, and I ask if they can give me cash out, and charge it to my room. Highly obliging, the receptionist, starts processing to give me my 20 THB. Its taking far too long, and I think to myself, maybe its easier to do a FOREX conversion. Without realising, I was thinking aloud, and the receptionist insisted that it was no hassle at all.

Two paw prints later, I had a crisp 20 THB note in my hand. I walked back towards the concierge, and handed it over to them.

What’s ironic about this whole transaction? In a couple of hours, I will be going down to settle my hotel bill. It will cost a magical sum of only 20 THB, and I will settle it with my credit card :-)

And here’s why flying Thai Airways might make business sense. Their planes reach Thailand early in the morning (9am, had my flight made it previously, or about 3am when coming back earlier). Their planes leave Thailand for other destinations pretty late - generally, the layover is about ten to eleven hours. They provide you a hotel (the Novotel Suvarnabhumi), at a cost to them.

So lets say I have a ten hour layover. I might need sleep for about 4-4.5 hours. It still allows me to have business meetings in Bangkok for about 3 hours, without any issue. Maybe even more, if the meetings are held at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi!

Their flights are pretty cheap. So cheap, that the next time I fly them, and if I’m going to India, its business class, or no flight at all. And when planned properly, maybe have many a meeting at the Novotel.

Internet access isn’t cheap, but its typical of a hotel: 150 THB for half an hour, 200 THB for an hour, 500 THB for 12 hours, 700 THB for 24 hours.

I ask myself though, why bother? When I’m done, I can head over to the airport, check in early, and visit the beautiful Royal Silk Lounge in the airport. Emphasis, on beautiful - its much better, IMHO, than the Singapore Airlines Lounge, in Changi. The food (and magazine/newspaper selection) doesn’t seem to be, but the ambience, the chairs/sofas/couches, definitely are.

All this thinking, reminds me of the shrewd startup style thinking that business travellers in startups should have.

December 28, 2008

Tab roundup for December 2008

Om Malik’s blog design, and themes as a business

I stumbled upon Om.Is.Me…, Om Malik’s private blog, and was taken away by the design. For one, its hosted at (something I’m thinking I might do at some stage, if it was less rigid). But more importantly, what I noticed was the design - I was really taken away by the blog theme. Its designed by GNV & Partners, and it looks snazzy.

Is there big business in Wordpress themes? If their website was in English, I’d be a little more interested… Largely because I have to theme at least two Wordpress sites in the near future, and I’m not looking forward to mastering CSS, etc.

What do custom Wordpress themes go for? How many folk pay for themes?


Found this via Twitter (thanks @achitnis), and it Hackerspaces reminded me a lot of coworking. When in Melbourne, I always pined of a co-working space (I believe, Joe’s Garage came close to it - upstairs, anyway). Now that I’m in Kuala Lumpur a lot more, I am wondering if a warehouse somewhere, might make sense…

Cybercafes in Japan, offering physical addresses to the homeless

Read Cyber cafe offers address to homeless. I didn’t know that cybercafe’s in Tokyo gave away a free email address (maybe they don’t, but they might give you access to one), but I was impressed that comic books and unlimited beverages were a norm. Kudos to Cyber @ Cafe offering long-term lodging and an official registered address (important, when PO BOXes aren’t acceptable or you’re homeless).

Takemitsu Karitachi, used to sleep on park benches, but he doesn’t have to anymore:

This simple service is vital for the 50 semi-permanent residents of the cafe, many of whom have taken refuge here after being laid off abruptly during the current recession.

Takemitsu Karitachi, a contract worker at a nearby factory, is one of the many people who have been sleeping at the cafe every night for the past two months since he lost his office job and his apartment.

Karitachi, who used to roam the streets and hopped between various Internet cafes for months, says he is now relieved to have found a more permanent home — even if it’s a cubicle just slightly bigger than the back seat of a car.

BMW India sales records

It stunned me when I found out that in 2007, BMW only sold 1,338 cars, and in 2008, plans to sell 2,800 units. The sales ratio between the BMW 5 and 3 series is 55:45 (so the one’s buying a BMW, actually have a lot more disposable income than one would think).

I don’t know the cost of a BMW in India, but if its prohibitively expensive as it is in Malaysia (what is it, up to 300% excise duty?), I’m surprised the numbers are a lot lower. Seeing a BMW (or a Mercedes) on the road in Malaysia is very common - yuppies are driving 3-series cars (BMW 320), straight into their first management job, willing to fork out RM220,000+, and paying it off over seven or nine years.

Lucky for me, I don’t think of a car as a status symbol (and think that people that do, are rather daft).

After Credentials

Read Paul Graham’s After Credentials. It is probably his best essay in recent time, and its very pertinent to those living in Asia.

Not only in South Korea, but in most parts of Asia, education is touted as being very important. Quotes like “In our country, college entrance exams determine 70 to 80 percent of a person’s future,” don’t surprise me. Paul thinks its old fashioned - I tend to agree. Today’s universities are not more than cram universities.

The problem comes when parents use direct methods: when they are able to use their own wealth or power as a substitute for their children’s qualities.

Let’s think about what credentials are for. What they are, functionally, is a way of predicting performance. If you could measure actual performance, you wouldn’t need them.

This doesn’t work in small companies. Even if your colleagues were impressed by your credentials, they’d soon be parted from you if your performance didn’t match, because the company would go out of business and the people would be dispersed.

In a world of small companies, performance is all anyone cares about. People hiring for a startup don’t care whether you’ve even graduated from college, let alone which one. All they care about is what you can do. Which is in fact all that should matter, even in a large organization.

The whole article is interesting. There is a good analysis of the big company versus small company paradigm, as well as the fact that people want instant (and not deferred) rewards.

I predict that within Asia, in the next two decades, hiring based on your after credentials (first bachelors, then masters, possibly doctorate eventually), are going to be a thing of the past.

Lawyers use Facebook to serve notices

Via The Age:

Canberra lawyers have won the right to serve legally binding court documents by posting them on defendants’ Facebook sites.

In a ruling that could make legal and internet history, a Supreme Court judge ruled last week lawyers could use the social networking site to serve court notices.

Email and even mobile phone text messages have been used before to serve court notices, but the Canberra lawyers who secured the ruling are claiming service by Facebook as a world first.

“The Facebook profiles showed the defendants’ dates of birth, email addresses and friend lists and the co-defendants were friends with one another,” a spokesman for the firm said.

On perfumes, and smell

This is interesting, The scent of a man. Very captivating, here are a few select quotes:

They already knew that appropriate scents can improve the mood of those who wear them. What they discovered, though, as they will describe in a forthcoming edition of the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, is that when a man changes his natural body odour it can alter his self-confidence to such an extent that it also changes how attractive women find him.

They found that those who had been given the commercial fragrance showed an increase in self-confidence. … What was surprising was that their self-confidence improved to such an extent that women who could watch them but not smell them noticed. They were, however, unable to distinguish between the groups when shown only still photographs of the men, suggesting it was the men’s movement and bearing, rather than their physical appearance, that was making the difference.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway was: “The sexes themselves smell different, too, and women can glean information about a man’s social status from his smell alone.”"

Women can smell success?

December 26, 2008

Amarok 2.0 uses MySQL

I’ve always been more of a GNOME guy, and when running Linux, I use Rhythmbox to play my music. However, Amarok 2.0 might just change that.

They’ve chosen their database - it is none other than MySQL. The release notes state:

Some features, such as the player window or support for databases other than MySQL, have been removed because either they posed insurmountable programming problems, or they didn’t fit our design decisions about how to distinguish Amarok in a saturated market of music players.

If you want to know why the decision was made, read MySQL in Amarok 2 - The Reality. It has a lot to do with the fact that MySQL can be embedded, and performs well. Its a generally useful read to see why SQLite and PostgreSQL was not chosen.

MySQL… powering the music of today!

(wonder as I may, if we will ever get any Enterprise customers, who make heavy use of Amarok over many computers, etc… - I’m thinking modern night clubs, lounges, et al)

Blogs I'm Reading Today

Rellies and Bullies from the blog All About Olive.

When a 107 year old blogger orders your attendance, there is of course no saying no.

When this same blogger, reputedly the oldest in the world, says there’s a meeting not be missed and it’s blog related, well you just jump to it, don’t you?

Subjective Truths from Apple Leaf Blog.

I think the Biblical advice to take people's words lightly is wise. Don't worry when people criticise you or your work, because they are really only voicing their OWN opinion! It took awhile for me to learn this and sometimes I still forget. On the other hand, when others heap praise on us and tell us how great we are, we ought to take this lightly too, for the same reason. If we let this sort of thing get too deeply into our heads, it'll hit all the harder when the other sort of feedback comes, as it always will. I think the very best thing we can do is carry on faithfully doing what we are sure is our calling without letting people's words affect us much at all. Then we are probably in the best position for God to use our input.

When Holly Met Crystal from the blog Closing In On Heaven.

Holly sighed. Blood was seeping through her bandage. She was sick of her stitches. Remembering, her Mothers image flashed before her eyes and she shuddered. She heard the noise again; she decided to get off her bed. Holly grabbed her watch and started toward the noise, walking down the hall she put her watch on over her bandage. She stopped at the top of the stairs. Listening again, a door slammed shut.

Why Australian trials are important to the OLPC vision from Pia Waugh's blog.

Need in Australia - there are many children in Australia who are in serious need. Whether it be in remote Indigenous Australia, or living in poverty in metropolitan areas. Supporting projects for these children is a key goal of OLPC Friends for Australia, New Zealand and throughout the Pacific. The first Australian trial includes some children from extremely disadvantaged communities (including a remote Indigenous family) as well as typical kids to ensure that the technology meets both the specific needs of disadvantaged children as well as the typical education requirements of an Australian school.

Web Wandering

Went on an interesting web wander this morning. I started out at looking at my friend Dana's profile. From there I went to her blog and read part of the novel she's writing called Closing In On Heaven. This reminded me of a favourite author of mine Paula Vince so I went to her website Apple Leaf Books. From there I found out that Paula has a blog too so I went there and read some great blog posts which encouraged me in my own writing and other creative pursuits! I emailed Dana about Paula's books and gave her the links to Paula's website and blog. I hope they encourage Dana too. :-)

Paula's Quenarden series is great! I received her first book Quenarden The Prophecies free at a homeschooling seminar. I couldn't put it down and when I finished it quickly rang her and ordered the next book from her website.

The same thing when I'd finished book two, I got the next one to find out the exciting finish of the series!

December 25, 2008

Felice Fiestas! Happy Holidays! Seasons Greetings!

Originally published at KatteKrab. Please leave any comments there.

Tis the season... for thoughts of rest, peace and joy! An Ascendant moon, the southern cross hang above a city skyline and a cartoon forest of trees

Whilst it's not a holy-day for everyone, Christmas Day is a scheduled public holiday in Australia. For some people that just means time and a half, perhaps triple time for a few.  Nurses, Police officers, system admins - slave on, while others gather with family and friends to share each others company, eat too much food and exchange gifts.

But it's a dark time for some people - everyone else's excess and good fortune is just salt for unspoken wounds. Whatever the faith (or lack there-of) behind your celebration take a moment to think outside your own experience. Hate a little less, criticise not, appreciate another point of view. 

Observe some inner peace, and share tolerance and respect in the closing days of 2008.  The future always seems close at this time of year. Ponder the possibilities for the future you want. Dream a little.

Love. Blessed Be.


December 23, 2008

Youtube comment filters waste of time?

Even now and then I get bored and look on youtube at the odd video. One thing I notice is that in the comments for a video you have the option of flagging comments as a “poor comment” or a “good comment”. You also have the option of filtering the comments you see to only show those with scores of greater than -10 , -5 , 0 , +5 or +10 ).

The problem appears to be that nobody ever rates comments as good. So this feature is completely useless. To check I had a look at the top 8 videos on the most viewed videos of all time page and even though most of the had thousands of comments not a single comment was rated better than +5 . In other words a complete rating system for video comments that is completely unused by anyone.  Perhaps they should just remove the buttons.

I also noticed that the most viewed video on youtube ever ( Avril Lavigne - Girlfriend ) is “not available in your country” when I try to view it. I assume this says something about somebody’s business model.

December 22, 2008

Takeaway lights script

I just stumbled across a simple yet fun script I wrote over a year ago to animate your keyboard LEDs:


LED="setleds -L"
SLEEP="sleep 0.2s"

$LED -num -caps -scroll

if [ "$1" = "-c" ] ; then
	exit 0

while [ 1 ] ; do
	$LED +num
	$LED +caps
	$LED +scroll
	$LED -num
	$LED -caps
	$LED -scroll

It will simply pulsate the keyboard LEDs from left to right. Note that this script only works while logged into a tty — it does not work under X11.

December 21, 2008

Positive Y

The excellent Cairo graphics library has a simple function to draw arcs; in C it’s cairo_arc(); from java-gnome it’s Context’s arc() method, etc.

Quite unsurprisingly they define increasing angles as going from the positive x axis on toward the positive y axis. Nothing unusual about that. The only thing that was surprising is that they even mention this in their documentation.

I should know better.

What I totally missed was the implication of this. I didn’t quite clue in that the positive y direction in screen positioning and page drawing is down, and so increasing angles go clockwise. Using cr.arc() to go from 0 to say π/3 radians does not give a rise of 60° like I expected; it gives this:

cairo arc positive

Whoa. This is not the counter-clockwise increasing θ like we’re all used to seeing in normal Cartesian or Polar co-ordinates. But it is indeed increasing toward the positive y axis. Oops. Oh well :)

So I made this illustration and added it to the documentation for Context’s arc() method. Really it’s mostly about pointing out which direction positive y is, but when I’ve learned something like this the hard way, I do my best to try and incorporate that knowledge into our public API. With any luck others can be spared my folly.

Drawn with Cairo, of course!


Update: Some people have pointed out that you can use a transformation matrix, and if you happen to (say) mirror across the horizontal axis then the clockwise notion would no longer apply. Fair enough; but if you have forgotten that +y starts out going down, then you’re not going to think to do such a flip in the first place.

Sysadmin Miniconf programme up

I’ve just posted the programme for the 2009 Sysadmin Miniconf !

This year we were allocated 2 days by the programme committee so we have 15 full length talks by some great speakers on a wide variety of topics. Have a look for yourself to see which ones you are interested in.

I’ve not yet updated the lightning talks but we have a few already and are still looking for more, so contact lca09 @ is you are interested in presenting.

December 20, 2008

You never know

I was pleased to find a decent l’Entrecôte restaurant in east Berlin around the corner from where I was staying.

I ordered what looked like it might be a promising little Côte de Rhône. Somewhat to my chagrin, a bottle of Côte de Beaune showed up instead. Which turned out to be delightful.

Hautes-Côtes De Beaune 2005

“Clos De La Perrière”

Domaine Parigot Père et Fils


Which just goes to show that what you ask for has little to do with what’s actually going to work with the meal you’re having.


On mobile readership, and partial RSS feeds

I’ve been meaning to write my thoughts down on this for a while. Its on RSS feeds, and mobile readers (two separate issues). Spurred, largely today, thanks to a post titled: You can’t afford to lose mobile readers. The author is right - you can’t.

Mobile readers

While I don’t think sites need to be optimised for 800×600, largely because I think we’ve moved from the days on the Web where this was a necessity (what’s next, going back to the colour safe web palette? ;-)), I do think a mobile alternative to a site should be available.

WordPresss has plugins - the author mentions MobilePress and WPTouch. I’ve never used either, but I use the WordPress Mobile Edition by Alex King - in time, I’ll probably play with the other WordPress plugins.

Its nice to know that sites like Tumblr just have a mobile version available right there.

Note the bit about Flash. Most (if not all) Nuffnang ads tend to be flash based. You’ve just lost some ad readership.

RSS feeds

My pet peeve? Partial/excerpt RSS feeds. This is just plain silly. If you think people are going to click on to go and visit your site to view advertisements, you cannot be further from correct. If I’m savvy enough to be reading RSS feeds, I am almost certainly going to be using some form of ad blocker - if not via Adblock Plus, via some other method to not see ads.

If you’re worried about losing ad revenue, consider RSS feed ads. I don’t know what the click-through-ratio is, but I’m seeing more and more of them pop up nowadays. They’re a minor annoyance, I don’t block them, but I don’t actually click on them, either.

And why are partial RSS feeds bad? Because if I’m reading it on my mobile device (say, the E71 or an iPod Touch), I’m very unlikely to want to click to open another window and load your blog entry. I’ll just skip it. Skipping it is worse than showing full feeds…


  • Have a mobile optimised site
  • Have full RSS feeds. Run ads via Google if you need to. If your service of choice doesn’t support it, badger them
  • If you plan on posting lots of photos, ensure that your mobile theme resizes them to something more sensible (then again, posting original sized JPGs, and having 20 of them load in a page is play stupidity - if you’re lazy to resize it, use a service like Flickr)

More thoughts? Share them in the comments.

December 18, 2008

VirtualBox 2.1.0 does OpenGL 3D acceleration

VirtualBox 2.1.0, released today (see the changelog), does OpenGL 3D acceleration, which is something I have been hanging out for for a very long time. It doesn’t yet do Direct3D acceleration, but OpenGL is sufficient to run many popular games, namely ones based on the id Tech 3 (Quake III Arena, Jedi Knight II, Jedi Academy, Alice, etc.), Half-Life, or Source engine.

The 3D acceleration works with a Windows guest (with guest additions installed), and works on any host operating system (including Linux).

OpenGL in VirtualBox

The above screenshot shows me running Quake III Arena in Windows XP in VirtualBox 2.1.0 in Gentoo, which is running at 52fps.

It is quite ironic that VirtualBox only supports OpenGL acceleration. VMware has had 3D acceleration for a while now, but they have only supported Direct3D, not OpenGL. So I suppose in the meantime, you can use VirtualBox for OpenGL games, and VMware for Direct3D games. Everybody’s happy!

December 17, 2008

A little MySQL Conference & Expo 2009 update

The one thing that has consumed my days (and nights) recently, has been the organising of the MySQL Conference & Expo 2009 (hereinafter, referred to as the CE2009).

For starters, we’ve had 356 proposals. That basically provides a 1:3 acceptance:rejection ratio. So the voting committee had a really, really hard task to look at talks. Some even cross-referenced submissions with other submissions. Some even made suggestions of combining talks (successful, even). So my great thanks to the voting committee for the CE2009 - you guys all rock.

Then, once the voting committee has done the hard work, you’ve got to sanely schedule the talks. This is really, not an easy task. Very quickly, you realise that you want to be in all track, and you’ve got to split yourselves. This, being impossible, however, leaves room for the community (and in the past, Sheeri has done a great job at this, and I’m sure she’ll continue for the CE2009) to start making recordings. Good news is that we’re also looking into this, so it might be professionally done, for CE2009! Watch this space, for more details.

As of today, about 84% of the conference schedule is filled up. The tutorials are all 100% filled up. So come registration time, you can already be excited and start registering for your tutorials. And seeing most of the conference schedule, should be a positive thing, to help drive registrations.

Early registration is expected to open up sometime today. Early registrants, especially those that do so in December, I’m told will get a special gift.

The conference site even has features for you to now customise your own schedule. Even better, you can share this with others, if you choose (oh so, social networking :)). We also have a MySQL Conference & Expo Facebook Group.

Note: Some people are getting acceptance notes, and blogging, which is great. Some people are getting rejection notes, with discounts. And some people just aren’t getting any notes yet, because hey, we’ve got about 15% of the conference to fill up :-)

Anyway, this is your humble Program Chair, signing off for now.

It’s not over yet

Strike me down, Commonwealth

I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Telstra.

December 16, 2008

Server recovery first steps

At work last week we were looking at backups on a group of machines that had been installed by another company but which our team had recently taken over. I was interested in the backup system they had which involved doing a lvm snapshot of the boot partition and then rsyncing this to another machine is the group ( the rsync’s went around in a circle more or less).

This looked quite cute for quick machine recoveries ( we kickstart our servers but we are still at the stage of doing a fair bit of post install setup ) and we had a think about recovering machines by doing a simple kickstart, then netbooting the server, mounting the root partition under the netboot and rsyncing it back to the install. This seemed a promising idea which we thought would only take an hour or so per machine.

However over the weekend I had a bit of a think and it popped into my head that Mondorescue almost did this sort of thing out of the box already. So I’ve been playing around a it this week with it.

So what I have now ( testing using a scratch VM ) are a few commands that:

  1. Backup the server to a NFS partition.
  2. Make an differential backup since the previous backup
Which means I now have a directory on a NFS server with a couple of bootable ISOs sitting in it. One has the full backup of the machine ( it’s about a third of the size of the used space ) and the other has any changes made since the first was done. I do the differential since the full backup takes about 30 minutes of hard work for the server while the incremental only takes 3 minutes or so ( YMMV ). I’ll probably do full backups every week and differential backups nightly.

The fun bit is the recovery:

  1. Remove console the server and boot it over the network
  2. Use PXE to boot the full backup mondorescue image
  3. Mondo boots and thee automatic restores the server to the state is was when the last backup was made (about 15 minutes) . I then have to hit enter a couple of times to reboot
  4. Netboot the incremental mondo image.
  5. Mondo now applies any changes between the last full and the last differential backup.
  6. Reboot again to the hard drive
  7. Finished, machine should be up and running.
A bit of testing shows this only takes about 20 minutes for my test VM ( 3 Gigabytes of default RHE 5 goodness ) and production servers shouldn’t be much slower ( more data but faster disks and CPUs ).

With a bit of luck I should have this ready to deploy in a few days ( although I’m a little short of NFS space to apply it to every machine ).

Overall a fun couple of days, depending on how it goes I might even do a lightning talk about it at the Sysadmin Miniconf next month although I’m not sure if it’s a little trivial since this is close to “out of the box” functionality for Mondorescue.

December 15, 2008 2008 CFP closing soon

Are you planning on submitting a talk or tutorial for 2008?

Get your submissions in by Friday 20th July.

And for those of you concerned about the video option - please don't worry. It's entirely optional. We are aware that many people don't have the means or expertise to make a video and get it online - but for those who do, for those who want to, go for it!

** please forward this message to friends and colleagues you believe should make a submission to present at 2008 **

House of Cards

This is a beautiful song. Its on replay through my speakers, a lot recently (you’ll know if you follow me on That is, the single from Radiohead, titled the House of Cards. From the excellent album, In Rainbows (you know, complete download available DRM-free, for any price you want to pay for, even zero dollars.) Beautiful lyrics.

I don’t wanna be your friend

I just wanna be your lover

No matter how it ends

No matter how it starts

Forget about your house of cards

And I’ll do mine

Of course, the video is equally interesting. Because no cameras or lights were used to generate it. Read more about the technology behind it (how to capture, and render 3D data). Joi Ito has a good post summarising the important bits: the data (not the music) used to make the video is under a Creative Commons license, the source code to make it happen is under the Apache license. Good stuff all around.

Goodbye Mixwit, thanks for the online mixtape music revival

Today I found out that Mixwit, a site that allows you to make digital mix tapes, is closing its doors by December 21 2008.

We regret to announce that Mixwit will cease to exist at the end of the year. The website and profiles will be turned off around Dec 21st and all embedded widgets will stop playing before the end of December.

We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in a position best described as “between rock and a hard place.” We’re very grateful to be have been part of the mixtape revival of ‘08 and are satisfied to be able to to bow out while things are still good.

I’ve had an account since about August, and made two mixes, which have received an OK number of plays (considering the mixes were really just meant for one person). The interface is easy to use, you can customise it with a graphic design of your choice (I’ve used photos), and if you want (or should I say can) to buy the MP3’s, you can do so via the iTunes or Amazon music stores. As long as you have unmetered bandwidth, Mixwit made a lot of sense.

For me, it was bringing me back memories of mix tapes, and why I created them. Mix CDs replaced mixed casette tapes, but seeing Mixwit’s interface brought back that nostalgia. If tapes were the originals, CD’s felt so mixtape 1.5 - Mixwit was mixtape 2.0.

Good bye Mixwit, and thanks for the mixtape revival of ‘08.

Songs to remember: Barry Manilow - Can’t Smile Without You, Michael Buble - Everything, Jet - Look What You’ve Done, Toploader - Dancing in the Moonlight, Ronnettes - Be My Baby, Jason Mraz - You and I Both, Oasis - Wonderwall, Wannadies - You & Me Song, Gwen Stefani - Cool, Starship - Sara, Hoobastank - The Reason, Bob Dylan - Sara, Winterpills - Pills for Sara, Eric Gale - Sara Smile, Fleetwood Mac - Sara.

LittleSnapper and Mac Development Talky Talk

Four little announcements, all of them Mac-related:


First, myself and my comrades at Realmac Software are very proud to announce the release of LittleSnapper 1.0, our swiss-army-knife picture, screenshot and website organisation utility thingamijiggo. We’ve all worked hard on this for the past few months and sweated over a ton of details to try to make it a polished user experience and be a joy to use; we hope you agree. (You would not believe how long we spent figuring out how the blur and highlighting tools should work before they became their final incarnations, or how much pain was involved when we decided to add FTP and SFTP1 support late in the development cycle.) If you’re a Mac user, give it a whirl; it’s a hard program to describe because it has a lot of different workflows, but between the quick annotation tools, easy Web sharing with QuickSnapper/Flickr/SFTP1, website DOM snapping, and the iPhoto-like forget-about-what-folder-you-need-to-put-your-picture-in snapshot management, I’m sure you’ll find something useful for you in there. Hopefully our hard work can make life just a little easier for you!

1 FTP must die.


I blogged earlier that I was speaking at MacDev 2009 in April, but didn’t mention exactly what I was talking about. Well, the talk abstract’s up now:

One reason for Mac OS X’s success is Objective-C, combining the dynamism of a scripting language with the performance of a compiled language. However, how does Objective-C work its magic and what principles is it based upon? In this session, we explore the inner workings of the Objective-C runtime, and see how a little knowledge about programming language foundations—such as lambda calculus and type theory—can go a long way to tackling difficult topics in Cocoa such as error handling and concurrency. We’ll cover a broad range of areas such as garbage collection, blocks, and data structure design, with a focus on practical tips and techniques that can immediately improve your own code’s quality and maintainability.

So, two sections: first, low-level hackery of the Objective-C runtime. Second, a different kind of low-level hackery, and one that’s arguably far more important: understanding the essence of computation and programming languages, and why I fell in love with both Haskell & Objective-C, two languages at completely opposite ends of the planet.

I’d like to point out that while the MacDev registration fee seems fairly expensive at £399, keep in mind that covers your accommodation and also meals, which easily covers £100-£150. Scotty’s done a lot of organising so that you don’t have to. There’s also a Christmas special on at the moment where a few applications are included in the registration price; check the MacDev 2009 website for details.


If you’re an imsoniac and are having trouble sleeping, you’ll hopefully enjoy a recent Late Night Cocoa episode where I talk to Scotty about Garbage Collection. (Actually, you probably won’t enjoy it so much after you find out exactly how -retain & -release are implemented under-the-hood. The words CFBag and “lock” should hopefully scare you enough.) It’s a bit of a long episode at over an hour and a quarter long, but next time I’ll say “um” a bit less which should shorten it to about half an hour. Have fun. And use GC! (LittleSnapper and RapidWeaver both aren’t GC yet, but you bet your ass they will be for the next major versions.)


I’ve had a pretty long exodus away from the fp-syd user group since I was off getting drunk overseas for about four months. That, of course, meant that somehow my brain was rather misplaced when I arrived back in Sydney, so I decided to give a talk at fp-syd upon my return… on the same day that LittleSnapper 1.0 was due to be released, leaving pretty much no margin for error. Oops. I’ll glad to say that the gusto prevailed, and that both the talk seemed to go OK (well, I wasn’t booed off the stage anyway), and LittleSnapper was released on time. (Just; thanks Alan and Danny!) My talk there was similar to the one I gave at Galois in Portland earlier this year: a whirlwind tour of the Objective-C programming language and Mac OS X technologies for a functional programming audience. In particular:

  • basics of the runtime system,
  • higher-order messaging and its analogy to higher-order functions in functional languages,
  • some details on the engineering marvel that is the Objective-C garbage collector, and
  • (updated!) information on Blocks, LLVM and Clang, and a wee tiny bit of info on Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL.

I’ve updated the talk with a few extra slides, since Apple have made a little more information to the public now. (In particular, brief information on Blocks, Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL.) Enjoy all!

Interview with Marshall Kirk McKusick

A website named Neat Little Mac Apps is not the kind of place you’d expect to find an interview with a operating systems and filesystems hacker. Nevertheless, one of their podcasts was just that: an interview with UNIX and BSD legend Marshall Kirk McKusick. (He has his own Wikipedia page; he must be famous!)

There’s some great stuff in there, including the origin of the BSD daemon (Pixar, would you believe? Or, well, Lucasarts at the time…), and a great story about how a bug was introduced into the 4.2 BSD version of the pervasive UNIX diff utility. Marshall’s full of energy, and it’s a great interview; it’s a little amusing to see the stark contrast between the interviewer and McKusick, both of whom have rather different definitions of what constitutes an operating system.

December 14, 2008

Evaluating conference management systems (again)

Peter and I are sitting on the technical committee for ACEC 2010 - the Australian Computers in Education Conference scheduled to take place in Melbourne in April in 2010.  That seems like a long time in the future, but, well it's not really - the organisers would like to open the call for papers in early March!

We've been looking at the following systems:
  • Expectnation
  • MyReview
  • OCS
  • OpenConf
  • Zookeepr
  • Drupalcon
  • Eventwax
  • Regonline
  • Easychair
And are in the process of finalising our feature wishlist.  We'll be seeking expressions of interest in the next weeks for development/hosting.

We'll need call for papers, paper review and speaker management, including speaker profiles, registration and delegate management, delegate experience including links to social networking sites, and session selection. Payment gateway, financial reporting, and export to accounting software...  A Tall order?

Do you have other suggestions?

MustGoLah, the Malaysian event portal

Today I found Must Go Lah, a portal for events happening around Malaysia. Its a WordPress-based site (still 2.5), run gratis, by Orangedot Technologies.

I even disabled AdBlock Plus to look at the site and found no monetary business model (read: ads). I’m impressed - I wonder how long it will last. Do we really need another site for events listings, considering there already is Upcoming? Turns out of course that there are more events listed on MustgoLah, then there is on Upcoming. I’ve added it to my RSS reader.

Are there more event portals in Malaysia that you know of?

December 13, 2008

New iPod Touch firmware allows over-the-air podcast downloads, but…

The new firmware (ok, its been out a few weeks) for the iPod Touch (and I presume the iPhone), allows one to download podcasts over the air - i.e. no need to sync with iTunes any longer, you can do it over the 3G network (on an iPhone) or the WiFi network (on an iPod Touch). Preetam was right when he said podcasts are really going to rule now.

I got the update, it took hours (some 200+MB took hours on a DSL connection), and was all excited, till I saw the following:

iTunes not available in your country

The iTunes Store is not supported in this country. What an amusing message. The AppStore definitely is. And podcasts are free - are there paid podcasts that I don’t know about?

I filed rdar://6443514, in disgust.

On power outlets

Starbucks, Coffee Bean, and many other chains, aren’t afraid to let you use their electricity (and at some places, free WiFi), because they know you’ll be buying coffee, food, and more. I however, took offence to the Secret Recipe, in Plaza Mont Kiara - the management there find it offensive to allow people to plug their laptops in!


However, running a Christmas tree from another socket was fine. I think they’ve just lost my business, and probably every other laptop toting yuppie reading this.

MySQL in a small town cafe

Via Ditesh:

Interesting aside: the bus stopped in a ${RANDOM} town in Johor for food, and at the cashier, I spotted the cashier using KC POS which had a prominent “Powered by MySQL” text and the Sakila logo. Very cool!

This was a small town coffee shop, using a cash register, powered by the mighty Sakila. Similar to the chain of restaurants, Old Town White Coffee.

The whole blog post from Ditesh itself is interesting, but knowing you can find MySQL just about anywhere, showing the ubiquity of the database, just makes you proud to know, you work at/on/with MySQL.

December 12, 2008

Height grumble

Something that's been on my mind recently, of which I was reminded by Joshua Gans linking to a study about problems with high birth weight babies: did you know medical care is somewhat compromised by being extremely tall? How so, you might ask? Well aside from the fact that Jo(an) Public's sense of what a good weight is is seldom corrected for height, especially for women, actual doctors with actual charts have no idea what a healthy measurement is for me in terms of blood tests or, in some cases, actual organ size. I have over the last couple of years had several tests where the radiologists and/or pathologists were unable to give a firm reading because they do not have enough data for women at my height (or weight in fact). They can extrapolate, but appear unwilling to, it's different from having an actual sample. I guess I shouldn't really be surprised, I've been reading for years about how correct diagnoses are harder to obtain the further you get from the profile of people who participate in clinical trials. It's even justifiable in my case: it's not as though there's an overlooked population of very tall women out there to be studied. But it's still extremely irritating to be told that 'this result would be worrying in most women... for you, we simply don't know!'

Anyway, I'm never able to read the stuff about heavy babies (I was, I believe, a bit this side of 4.5kg, but not by much) without wondering if someone is correcting for parental/neonatal height in these measures. Are all babies really supposed to be the same size regardless of, to take a hypothetical case, having a mother sitting on the fifth standard deviation above the height average?

December 11, 2008

Internode unmeters ABC iView

This is awesome: ABC iView is now unmetered for Internode customers.

In addition to their other unmetered services (including SourceForge), VoIP, and (relatively) gigantic download quotas, there is now absolutely nothing stopping us from switching to Internode from iiNet.

All About Olive

I was browsing and came across videos of this amazing woman. From there I went to her blog, or blob as she called it.

Olive Riley lived to 108 years old and is known as the world's oldest blogger. Through the blog she relives stories of living in Broken Hill (in outback New South Wales, Australia), raising her kids as a single mum, her son going to war and more.

Quotes from Olive's Blob


Good Morning everyone. My name is Olive Riley. I live in Australia near Sydney. I was born in Broken Hill on Oct. 20th 1899. Broken Hill is a mining town, far away in the centre of my native Australia.

My Friend, Mike, has arranged this blob for me. He is doing the typing and I’m telling the stories.

At the football

That was in Broken Hill in the Depression. I used to go to the game of a Saturday with a pram full of home made pies and pasties, and I’d be selling them to the crowd.

There's also a dvd of an ABC documentary which I'm very tempted to get because I'm a history lover and especially love stories of outback Australia and I've lived near Broken Hill for a short time too. My uncle used to tell great stories, I wish they'd been recorded like this before he died.

Configuring a chrooted Ubuntu installation

Installing a chrooted Ubuntu installation (i.e. creating one from scratch) is quite easy. All it takes is a lot of bandwidth, because each chroot installation needs to download about 200MB from the internet. You can save bandwidth by setting up an apt proxy (I use approx, available in the Ubuntu repositories) on your computer or server first, but that’s another story.

When you manually install Ubuntu with debootstrap, the initial setup of the environment is quite different from when you install Ubuntu off the normal installer CDs. There are a few tweaks you have to make to get it out of its default state of insanity for most cases.

First of all, it’s quite easy to make a chroot. Syntax is like this:

sudo debootstrap --arch=i386 hardy \
    /wherever/you/want/to/put/the/chroot \

When chrooting into the environment for the first time (and upon subsequent reboots of your computer, as well), you should run the following commands first outside the chroot, otherwise you can get quite strange errors. (Source: Ubuntu 6.06 Live CD customisation guide)

mount -t proc none path_to_chroot/proc/
mount -t sysfs none path_to_chroot/sys/
mount -o bind /dev path_to_chroot/dev/

Also, to get X apps working, type this outside your chroot:

xhost +
mount -o bind /tmp wherever_your_chroot_is/tmp/

I once had a problem with installing the dbus package. For some reason, the dbus-daemon process just bombed out. Eventually, I found the problem was related to forgetting to mount the /proc and /sys directories, so don’t forget to run the above lines.

If Perl complains while being invoked (for example, when installing packages), run the following commands:

export LC_ALL=C
sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

Your chroot environment may or may not be able to access the internet. In order for it to translate host names ( to IP addresses ( it needs to know about your DNS server.

From outside your chroot environment, run the following:

sudo cp /etc/resolv.conf wherever_your_chroot_is/etc/

resolv.conf is a configuration that simply contains the IP addresses of the DNS servers that the computer knows about. Normally, whenever you connect to a Local Area Network and use DHCP to get an IP address, the resolv.conf file is automatically updated. Because the chroot uses the already-existing network, it doesn’t have to use DHCP, but that means the resolv.conf doesn’t get updated automatically.

If you’re using approx to cache your packages, or your ISP mirrors Ubuntu, copy your local sources.list file into the chroot (be careful if your distro version is different to the distro inside the chroot) so as to download from the same location:

sudo cp /etc/apt/sources.list wherever_your_chroot_is/etc/apt/

Now, if you want to boot into the chroot later on, you’ll find that you have no way to log on. That’s because there is no root password set by default. You’ll want to set it from inside the chroot:

passwd root

That’s all I have for now. If anybody has any improvements they want to suggest, please tell me in the comments, so I can add it to the article!

Soon to come: a script I wrote which automates most of this!

December 10, 2008

Subtitles On Movies For The Hearing Impaired


All dvds need to have subtitles!!! Anyone who has a hearing loss, like me, would agree. Even with my hearing aid now it's still near impossible to hear ALL the words and I often miss the meaning of parts of the story then I have to ask my kids (or hit rewind) and they get fed up with me very quickly!

With subtitles I can happily follow the story and enjoy the movie instead of it becoming a frustrating experience trying to decipher what's being said. I only have a mild hearing loss but the things I find hardest are using the telephone and watching tv and movies. Hearing conversations in noisy places is difficult too but my rant here is about subtitles! When I'm at someone else's house I'm sometimes too embarrassed to say anything so if you're watching with friends it doesn't hurt to ask if they'd like the subtitles on.


Sometimes you can get a really good laugh from what's in the subtitles too. Often all of the music is described so in a particular seen you may have 'curious music', 'apprehensive music' etc and I've always wondered how can music be curious or apprehensive? :-)

Ten things you didn’t know about me (and don’t really care about either)

  1. I’m left-handed. (Although I still operate a computer mouse with my right hand.)
  2. I love the art of typography. I’m not a typographist myself, but I appreciate reading material that is well laid-out, and special attention is paid to the line-spacing, font, whitespace, etc. When reading a book or sign, I’ll often discover that I didn’t take in any of the textual content, but I was trying to deduce the typeface name.
  3. I’m obsessive about the selection rectangles that Firefox draws around hyperlinks. Whenever a link is selected (focused), it draws an ugly dotted selection rectangle around it. You can click somewhere else on the page to get rid of it. Even worse, when you middle-click a link to open it in a new tab, the selection rectangle is left behind. So, I have developed this awful habit of middle-clicking a link, then left-clicking near it to get rid of the rectangle. That’s twice as many clicks.
  4. I’ve been overseas twice: once to Indonesia, and once to Spain. In August 2005, my two sisters and I toured with the BlueScope Steel Youth Orchestra to Yogyakarta, Indonesia to perform in an event called Gita Swarasisya Buwana, a benefit concert for victims of the Boxing Day Tsunami. Scarily, I went through Bali, in between the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings. In April 2008, we toured northern Spain through some pretty awesome cities, and performed in four concerts while over there.
  5. Something about bureaucracy really turns me off. I don’t know what it is, and I know that in some cases, bureaucracy is the only way to get things done. However, I have an awful habit of attributing just about anything negative to bureaucracy.
  6. I deliberately say words grammatically uncorrectly or emphasise words in strange ways (e.g. pronounce dangerous as dan-GEE-rers) every now and then. Not sure entirely what I do it. Often, if somebody I’m talking to is being lulled into a stupor by what I’m saying, inserting a few strangely pronounced words can jerk them back awake again.
  7. I’ve never broken a bone in my body. When I was small, I was always scared off by people (usually older than me) taking risks and ending up with a cracked skull or broken arm. Because of that, I stay firmly in the sidelines. The closest I’ve got to breaking a bone was actually during packing up my bassoon one day while on my knees — my knee got momentarily dislocated. Very painful, although I could walk within a few minutes of that happening.
  8. The highest high school year I have is year 9. I was homeschooled. For year 10, I started CGVE via OTEN, but that royally sucked because it was really not designed for 15-year-olds, and the support staff didn’t want to have anything to do with me, and didn’t give me the help I really needed. As a result, I dropped out of the course. Good riddance.
  9. I have red hair, which means my skin is pale, and burn easily. As a result, I hate going out into the sun. I also have glasses, but rarely wear them, as I don’t find I need to see into the distance at great detail very often.
  10. I have two scars on my chin; both of which I got when I was around two or three years old. One was from jumping on my bed, where apparently I fell and hit my chin on the bedhead and my teeth went through the skin. Ouch. The other was from jumping out of the side of our house, which I distinctly remember. I had called out to Dad something like “Hey Dad, catch me!”. As my luck would have it, Dad didn’t hear me, so when I jumped out, naturally, there was nothing but the ground to break my fall.

December 09, 2008

19 Ways To Cope With Stress :-)

WARNING: do not attempt these at home.

1. Jam miniature marshmallows up your nose and sneeze them out. See how many you can do at a time.

2. Use your Mastercard to pay your Visa, and vice-versa.

3. Pop some popcorn without putting the lid on.

4. When someone says "Have a nice day", tell them you have other plans.

5. Make a list of things to do that you have already done.

6. Dance naked in front of your pets.

7. Put your toddler's clothes on backwards and send him to kindy as if nothing is wrong.

8. Fill out your tax form using Roman Numerals.

9. Tape pictures of your boss on watermelons and launch them from high places.

10. Leaf through "National Geographic" and draw underwear on the


11. Tattoo "Out to Lunch" on your forehead.

12. Pay your electric bill in 5 cent pieces.

13. Drive to work in reverse.

14. Polish your car with earwax.

15. Read the dictionary upside down and look for secret messages.

16. Braid the hairs in each nostril.

17. Write a short story using alphabet soup.

18. Stare at people through the tines of a fork and pretend they're in jail.

19. Make a language up and ask people for directions in it.

Have a Great Day!!! unless you have other plans.

December 08, 2008

Bought an Eee PC

Well, today, I got an ASUS Eee PC 901. I’m totally jumping on this netbook bandwagon.

For me, I’ve found that I actually don’t need all that much power. In fact, I have a ~5-year-old laptop with a 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 M processor. The Eee 901 has a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom, which is (technically) 400 MHz slower. These days, speed is much of a muchness. It is more about making power usage more efficient, and becoming more mobile.

The laptop I currently have is a 15-inch Evo N610c, which I simply find too bulky to lug around. I find that when I’m going somewhere where I want to crunch bits but don’t want to be burdened with lugging a laptop around, I take my OLPC XO-1 with me, which powers on from standby in less than a second, and can instantly connect to a wireless access point. However, this is abuse of my XO, as it is not really practical as a mobile workstation, which I often use it as one (in addition to hacking on Sugar).

So, the Eee 901 fulfils my desire for increased mobility perfectly. I’ll find invaluable the Intel 945 graphics, solid state drive, webcam, Bluetooth, WiFi (802.11n), and the ginormous 8-hour battery life. It’ll be able to do everything I can do with my current laptop, and more.

I’ve installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix (referred to me by Jeff Waugh), which is a super-slick user interface for Ubuntu designed for small screens. I’ve already tried out the Remix on my existing laptop (though running it on a 15-inch screen is a bit of a waste), and it performs well, and looks awesome.

I’m totally impressed with this laptop’s performance. I connected it up to my VGA monitor, and ran a fullscreen video at 1280×1024 — perfectly smooth playback. Also, I was quickly able to start an Ekiga video chat using the in-built webam.

The things that didn’t work out of the box in Ubuntu were the function key shortcuts (e.g. brightness/volume controls), the WiFi, and the webcam. Getting the webcam working was easy — it is simply disabled in the BIOS by default (I presume to ensure user privacy). Getting the keyboard shortcuts and WiFI was fixed in one fell swoop by installing the linux-eeepc-lean kernel from the Eee PC Ubuntu Repository, which adds hardware support for the Eee’s devices.

December 07, 2008

Google Reader translates foreign language blogs

Both Giuseppe and Kaj have blogs in languages that I don’t understand. In fact, even Planet MySQL has feeds for German, Spanish and French blogs.

Want to keep up with non-English based blogs? Happen to use Google Reader? Then use their nifty “Translate into my language” feature.

Google Reader Translates

I can now read Giuseppe’s latest Italian blog. Current content is about MySQL 5.1 for the impatient - a feature overview of what’s new and cool.

Flickr, and a GPS enabled camera phone

I have always been excited about location based services. I’ve found it daft that its taken so long to get a camera integrated with a GPS chip for this amount of time, considering how cheaply available GPS chips are.

Yes, its taken a while for me to go the GPS-phone route… Nokia has had a bunch for a year-18 months already I’m sure (their Navigator phones, the N95, etc.), but for me it all came with the E71 purchase.

I like photos. Its quite natural, that I like Flickr. Its also nice to know that EXIF has so many unused fields, that you can embed location data. Flickr takes the embedded location data and then pairs it with a map. Just look at the following photo of a garden.

The garden

The meta information includes Latitude, Longitude, Altitude, as well as GPS Time/GPS Date. The Time/Date fields seem inaccurate (or non-parsed), but the Latitude, Longitude and possibly the Altitude are very correct.

Unfortunately, when I click “map”, I am disappointed. “We’re sorry, the data you have requested is unavailable. Please zoom out to see more map information or refresh your browser to try again” is the sad message I see. Yahoo! Maps doesn’t work too well… but…. Google Maps does! I enter the latitude/longitude combination, and it shows me street level accuracy. In fact, the phone’s GPS picked up the data almost as accurately as a device from Garmin did.

Flickr (and by this I mean, Yahoo!) should tear down the walled garden, and allow people to let the “map” link point to Google Maps.

How does all this work?

In Flickr, make sure you allow it to Import EXIF location data.

On the E71, I installed Nokia Location Tagger. I run this application, allow it to auto-hide, and the camera does its thing. The only way I know Location Tagger is running, is when taking a photo, has a significant lag, as the GPS data is being written. This software can start in the background - just make sure you have a fairly sensible data plan.

I upload images either via Share Online (direct to Flickr from the camera) or via transferring the images to my laptop and then uploading them. The way it gets to Flickr is immaterial - the location data is embedded in the EXIF tags.

Other thoughts

Some say this is a violation of one’s privacy. Because now, people may know where you live, and stalkers may show up. Sure.

I’ve seen examples of this on Picasa (which integrates with Google Maps, and is cool), but I haven’t used the service myself.

Searching for Creative Commons photos, by location, can be a really useful technology for stock photography. Might this disrupt the industry? Might this help, enhance the industry for someone who harnesses it?

Preparing to experience the joy of Inkscape

Originally published at KatteKrab. Please leave any comments there.

Deep into preparations for the Inkscape tutorial I'm giving at in Hobart in January, I've been practicing techniques and recording them using RecordMyDesktop. It is a Linux application that does exactly what it says, screencast and audio recording of what's happening on screen.  It works very well!

This was inspired by heathenx and rfguerin's fantastic screen casts. They've also followed these up by creating a group on flickr for people to post examples of the work they've done inspired by the screencasts. It's interesting to see how other people express their learning and apply their own creativity and perspective.

But the HeathenX screencasts and other online tutorials make me wonder about the value of a same-time, same-place tutorial in some random room, at some random conference, when one can learn so much from following step-by-step how-to's and watching videos on you tube.

Does the value lie in the quality of the learning environment? Is it the chance to collaborate with peers? We often learn just as much from the questions of fellow learners. During a recent interview Michael Wesch said something along these lines [1]. So I'm looking at resources such as Wikiversity's article on Instructional Design to see if there are tried and true methods I can build on.

I reckon there also has to be shortcuts - most people want to use a tool to accomplish a task, not spend hours scaling the rocky cliffs of the ugly end of the learning curve. So helping beginners get past that stage will be one of the major aims of this tutorial. But I also need to have something there for more experienced users of Inkscape. A couple of gurus and developers who could put my meagre knowledge to shame will be at the conference too, so if they come to heckle, I hope they'll get something out of this too, and perhaps learn something about learning inkscape they can take back to help build the world's best open source scalable vector editor.


1. Interview with Michael Wesch

Note: This was posted at and -fingers crossed- automatically posted back to LiveJournal

December 06, 2008

Some Qik thoughts

I was at the December meetup, something I haven’t been to in a while. I had told Aizat that I’d attempt to record the session, but when push came to shove, I couldn’t find the AC adapter for my video camera!

With less than an hour to spare, I decided to give Qik a try. It seemed to work in my initial testing, so I headed to the location and decided to give it a twirl.

Executive summary? It just worked. AeU had a good enough WiFi connection, and broadcasting Mohan speak live, just worked.

The MyOSS Meetup

Mohan talked to us about oAuth. His slides are online - Mohanraj - Securing Your Web Api With OAuth. If you want to grab the video, don’t hesitate to look at Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Note that there are also comments from the live chat feature - very cool.

Why is it in 3 parts? I received three phone calls during that one hour session, and everytime the phone rang, and I cancelled the call, it would end up in me having to restart the streaming. Oh woe!

Live chat? Allowed a few others to join in on a myoss meetup, without actually being there… There might have been five people chatting, with two actually being in the room ;)

My initial thoughts on Qik

  • Its dead easy to setup. I broadcast video now at my Qik account.
  • It allows export to .3gp (which I presume will work in real player on my Nokia), and mp4 (which may work on an iPod?). It doesn’t do .ogg, but neither does anything you can find hardware for commonly…
  • It doesn’t seem to playback in my phone, in browser (with OperaMini or even the standard Series 60 browser). It also looks like playback in the iPhone doesn’t work. I understand fixes that (but its woefully slow in Malaysia, so a waste of my time)
  • It seems to be pretty choppy on my UMTS connection. Bad Maxis… So there’s lots of buffering, before
  • When it buffers, it uses the phone memory, instead of the memory on the memory card… this means that with about 100+MB free on the e71, you run out of memory after about 10 minutes of video… and then it kind of hangs the phone (typical of S60 devices). It involved rebooting my phone once
  • The moment the connection resumes to though, everything buffered gets uploaded in an instant. Great!
  • 1 hour of video knocked 2 bars off my battery, while using WiFi
  • Receiving phone calls, breaks video streaming. This is annoying. Continue recording, please!
  • There seems to be no way to concatenate videos together. It would be wise, considering the problem above, where you actually get phone calls…
  • It integrates with Twitter. So those following me there, or on FriendFeed can know when I’m broadcasting something live. Smart.
  • There is mapping capabilities on the website… but it didn’t seem to integrate with the GPS in the phone. Why? Maybe I need to look harder
  • It looks like it integrates well with iTunes… so this is a great tool for video bloggers and video podcasters… with enough adoption, I see this as being crowd-sourced JenniCAM… a way for the current camwhores to become videowhores!

There seems to be a little trend of Qik users now… han and aizat are broadcasting BarCampJB live on Qik. All in all, hat tip to @thechannelc, whom gave me that “aha moment” before going to the meetup - I saw her short clip of StartupCampKL, and was amazed that it was live, coming off an e61i…

Video: Linux Users of Victoria

I was reminded last night that I have failed to proclaim to the world that video of the November LUV talks is now online - and it is pretty darn good quality.  A huge thanks to Ben Balbo for his efforts in filming, encoding and uploading to BlipTV

Linux Users of Victoria

So - 1st up was Brianna Laugher - Hacking MediaWiki for Users

and 2nd was Russell Coker - Cloud Computing

Get 'em here:

I could link direct from here - but then you'd fail to see that the LUV site looks different.  Don't get excited though, this is just a staging post on the way to a glorious new destination and custom theme courtesy of Raena Jackson Armitage and Tim. As it happens, Raena spoke at the LUV December meeting, giving us a sneak peak of her Usability on a Beer Budget talk she's preparing for - which looks to be a cracker.

Unfortunately, Ben was at OSDC, and we didn't quite pull together the resources to film the December talks - but we're hoping to regularly film our talks starting from Tues 3 Feb next year... So - those attending LCA and hanging about in Oz are very welcome to attend our Linux User Group meeting - all the details will be on the website.

LCA2008 Day Two


I started Tuesday by going to the GNOME Miniconf in the morning. We had a talk about Conduit by John Stowers, which showed off the potential of having a generic mechanism to sync devices. It's quite nice to be able to visualise data sources and sinks, and to hook them up visually. I'm hoping that many data connectors get written so that the ease of moving data around between web2.0 applications.

Then it was Martin Sevior talking about bringing Sugar concepts (from OLPC) into the desktop. We ended up spending lots of time talking about collaboration and presence - projects like Telepathy and Empathy - to achieve our dreams. Again very nice stuff with great potential.

In the afternoon I moved over to the Gaming Miniconf, which was a lot of fun. Since OSDC 2006 I've been a big fan of pyget, so sitting in on a tutorial by Alex Holkner and Richard Jones on the topic was something I was very much looking forward to. The tute was writing a cross-platform space invaders-style game in python in less than 40 minutes! Quite amazing what can be achieved in such a short time. It helped that Alex types very fast! :-)

Brett Nash then spoke on using Enlightenment for 2d Games. Then it was back to Richard Jones for an intro to PyWeek. I wish I had the time to commit a week of evenings to try it out.

Nice Guys finish... somewhere

Judging from the xkcd forums I am probably the only person alive who has read today's xkcd Friends comic in a particular way, so I thought I'd fill it out.

Firstly, you have the Nice Guy position. The Nice Guy position (it's by far most expounded by men interested in women, but I have heard it other ways), goes something like this: women say they want nice men who look after them. (How women say this varies, some Nice Guys say they hear it direct from their female friends, others say that they got the memo direct from feminism itself. This bit has always seemed a bit weird to me. I can't recall ever saying or ever hearing other women saying that they had persistent problems finding men who aren't mean to them.) But they don't behave like this: take me, a Nice Guy, for example. I am so nice to women, I hold them when they cry, I listen to them when guys cheat on them, I pick them up from parties drunk at 4am and put them to bed. And they all say you'd be such a great boyfriend and then they go off and date other guys. (Or, in many forms of this argument: they go off and date my polar opposite, Jerks who are mean, abusive cheaters.) Nice Guys finish last.

And most people reading the comic seem to be reading it as essentially damn straight, this happens to me all the time, I am the totally bald stick figure guy (TBSF Guy), you nailed my life down dude, just, man, I wish women were as honest about their innate preference for Jerks as dark-haired stick figure girl (DHSF Girl) is and would stop lying.

I see the comic as a bit more subtle than this. See, there's also a long running criticism of Nice Guys (as opposed to men who are nice), and it goes something like this: no one owes you sex or a relationship. You offered what looked like intense loving platonic friendship to your romantic interests and she took it for intense loving platonic friendship. (Or in the occasional case, she is not a nice person, she realised you would do anything for her and played you for a sucker, it happens too.) If you want sex or a relationship, ask for it and risk rejection, don't try and buy it from someone and especially don't be angry about how you did your bit by being a friend, where's the sex?

I won't go into this in great detail here, it's done the rounds several times — check out Alas A Blog: Defenestrated On “Nice Guys” and Shakesville: Explainer: What is a "Nice Guy®?" for longer versions of this and ensuing all-in comments threads where Nice Guys and their critics go head to head — but I see the comic as essentially making this critique too. TBSF Guy is the "friend with detriments.". The last panel is how TBSF Guy sees the situation (it is not literally quoting DHSF Girl), but is actually irony. It's TBSF Guy who never respected DHSF Girl. The couple of panels before that say this pretty plainly to me, although to a lot of readers they seem to boil down to no relationship is as great as you think, women should settle or alternatively this is, was and ever shall be the male experience of women, life sucks and then you die. My reading is this experience of women is contingent on you bringing this baggage with you.

The issue isn't of intense personal interest to me: I haven't been single since I was eighteen and don't regularly require my friends of either gender to help me through romantic crises. I know that for some people this experience of relationships continues but my experience was it tailed off sharply after about twenty two for many people, because the men involved realise that there isn't only one perfect woman in the world for them and that therefore they can expend their emotional energy in more than one place, and the women involved realise that there isn't only one perfect male friend in the world for them and don't accept devoted attention from male friends anymore. (Possibly the only less heard contribution I have to this discussion is that women have trouble saying no to a lot of things: friendship is one of them. I suspect some of the you'd make someone a great boyfriend stuff is a insufficiently strong attempt to say essentially I don't want this friendship to be as strong, please go and find someone else to spend emotional energy on. Please.)

I proceeded to have an interesting conversation with Donna and others on IRC about the point-of-view: essentially, it's male point-of-view. While the comic is criticising a man it's still not about how DHSF Girl thinks, but about TBSF Guy thinks about her (and, if I'm reading it correctly, how he should instead think about her). xkcd is often like this, which is fine, but does anyone have a pick for similarly themed comics, without ongoing storylines (just because I cannot for the life of me get into comics that require me to read regularly) by women? It would be fun to read them too.

December 05, 2008

MySQL 5.1 is released

There has been a lot of hoopla with regards to the GA release of MySQL 5.1. I’ve been using it on and off for quite a number of things, and during all my demonstrations, I make extensive use of it.

MySQL 5.1

My advice?

  1. Test it. If something’s not right, report a bug
  2. See your fix, probably go into 5.1.31 or 5.1.32

The 5.1.31 tree is already quite busy. It can only be even better, with more extensive testing. And if history shows anything, people tend to only start using things when they’re GA (not even RC). A point of note: MySQL 5.1 release schedule - please read it.

December 04, 2008

Bye Bye Big Blue

After nearly eight years at IBM, I finished up with the Linux Technology Centre last Friday (28/11).

What's next ? Some time off for school holidays with my family then will see what the new year brings - it'll be OSS/Linux related though on current plans :)

Deciding to leave is one of the hardest decisions I've made, IBM was a great gig and provided the opportunity to work with some astonishingly bright folk both within IBM and in the broader Open Source community. It was also the source of many happy memories and I'm pleased to have left on a good note.

The nice thing about OSS work though is that I still get to interact with many of the same people just from a different standpoint, so this is more the end of a chapter than the end of the story. In some respects this made it easier to decide to go, but I'll miss the office banter :)

2008 has also proven to be a tumultuous year personally and this weighed in the decision making. So all considered, some time off is sounding good...

Get Up - Save the Net


Despite trying to fix the embed code for Get Ups petition signing widget 3 times...

I've decided to can it. It was a silly flash thing anyway...

But don't let that stop you from signing the petition, and telling everyone you know to do the same.

Here's an old fashioned link instead:

December 03, 2008

Subversion revision number?

If you’re using the bzr-svn plugin to allow you to easily to interact with upstream projects using Bazaar, how do you find out the Subversion revision number that you happen to be at? (The bzr revno is, in general, going to be something different)

Seems to be a common question; I found myself asking it today. Turns out that the bzr-svn plugin adds a line to the bzr log output telling you the answer:

$ cd ~/vcs/gnome-util/trunk
$ bzr pull
$ bzr log | less
revno: 6852
svn revno: 8199 (on /trunk)
committer: gforcada
timestamp: Tue 2008-11-25 12:52:19 +0000
  Updated Catalan translation
revno: 6851
svn revno: 8197 (on /trunk)
committer: gforcada
timestamp: Tue 2008-11-25 12:37:53 +0000
  Updated Catalan documentation
revno: 6850
svn revno: 8194 (on /trunk)
committer: ebassi
timestamp: Mon 2008-11-24 22:45:28 +0000
  2008-11-24  Emmanuele Bassi  

        * gnome-screenshot.c: (save_options): Save the include-pointer
        setting to GConf.

8199, apparently. :)

Nice feature!

Thanks to Matt Nordhoff for pointing this out to me in #bzr.


Going to town on a train

I've always loved rail travel. So here I am on the 5:05 from Canberra, heading to Sydney. A plane and even a bus would be quicker, and there would be some possibility that I could have got a lift with someone going this way as well. So why put up with being constantly rocked around, with other people who swear and play the guitar?

For the fun of it, of course! I've never seen some of the countryside I'm travelling through, out the back of Bungendore and Tarago. I've driven under the railway bridges and followed the line from north of Goulburn to Bundanoon, but never been on the track watching the cars. And it really is quite beautiful in an Australian way - rocky creek canyonettes (canyoninas?) and river banks green with recent rains, the rolling hills that yellowy-browny-green that only Australia seems to call fertile, and sweeps of countryside seen from other vantage points. I'm just going past a whole set of brick - brick! - pylons crossing a river that have no bridge or track on them. What is their story? What is that mysterious high-security spot just south of Bungendore that you see easily from the train but never see from the road? What is that huge shipping container area - devoid of cargo - just near Tarago? So many new things to find out! So much countryside I now appreciate for its own character, its twists and turns and long straights, that car drivers never touch.

It's wonderful. And it doesn't cost that much either!

Footnote: added links to Google maps for the two places I could find - the mysterious high-security area isn't showing up where I expect it to be - it's like the track, road, fences with cleared area around them, dams and buildings all just ... don't exist ...

Metro-equivalent broadband

Reading Simon Rumble’s ’blog post on country broadband, & a few thoughts crossed my furry little mind.

I have had experience with broadband in a small country town (in Western Tasmania) & despite being spread out around the corner of a hill, reticulating broadband to the entire town could easily be done using two cheap (AUD$50 apiece) TP-Link wireless routers with a top speed of 100 megabits. The problem would be getting a pipe to the rest of the world, however the next town, 15km away, has ADSL so a tap into the bandwidth for that (which has to be run along the highway that our primary town is built across) seems reasonable.

That solution won’t suit everywhere but in many cases it should be practical to alter a standard/cheap router to cover maybe 100 households per throw, given only an uplink.

Some uplink stuff can be done reliably/cheaply as well, with 100Mb via hops of several 10s of km at a time via simple, cheap Yagi or dish antennae.

Now the show-stopper will be the politics.

December 01, 2008

Packing FOSS

Just for a second, put yourself in the shoes of an average PC user. You use the software that came with your computer, plus perhaps some others that you downloaded, bought in a box or ‘borrowed’ from a friend. You’ve heard some good things about something called “open source”, but you haven’t the foggiest clue of where to get it or what applications to try. You aren’t a technical person, have limited time and even less patience. Ultimately, you’re looking for something that ‘just works’ and is either free (of cost) or clearly better than what you’re using now. Why make the effort otherwise? Honestly, you’d rather be down at the pub watching the cricket with your mates.

How would free software advocates best woo such a person into their camp? They aren’t going to immediately repartition their hard drive and use GNU/Linux exclusively. They would more likely be willing to try some free software on their existing OS, provided that the barrier was sufficiently low. If you’re lucky, that toe-dip will lead to deeper immersion in the world of FOSS, and hopefully also into some appreciation of the philosophy beyond the practical.

If this person has a knowledgeable friend or pays attention to certain information sources, they might get some ideas on what software to use. Applications like Firefox and are fairly popular choices these days, but what about less publicised treasures like the GIMP or ClamWin? Sure, there are Web sites that let you search for FOSS equivalents to proprietary applications, but these still require some effort:

  1. Search for the application you want.
  2. Go to the Web site for that application.
  3. Find the download page and pull it down.
  4. Run the installer.
  5. To uninstall, use Windows’ Add/Remove Programs.

These steps need to be performed for each application you wish to install, so can become tiresome very quickly.

How could we simplify this process? What I propose is a software management application. Let’s for the sake of brevity call it FOSS Pack, named after the closest analogue I can think of, Google Pack. The process is intended to be as simple as possible for the end user:

  1. The user downloads a single application (FOSS Pack) and installs it.
  2. When they launch FOSS Pack, they can select from a menu of categorised FOSS applications to install, similar to how a GUI package manager front-end works on (GNU/)Linux.
  3. The user selects the applications they want, and then they are downloaded and installed in batch.
  4. Uninstallation should be as simple as installation, all within FOSS Pack.

Here’s the killer feature: FOSS Pack should be able to scan the user’s system for proprietary applications. These are identified based on an internal list, which also contains information on FOSS alternatives to those applications. Those alternatives are presented for easy download and install.

FOSS Pack contains descriptions of each application, so the user doesn’t have to visit another Web site to understand what they do (although a hyperlink should be provided as well). The option should exist to be able to select only from applications that have Linux versions, as a means of facilitating an OS transition. FOSS pack should also be able to automatically check for updates at regular intervals, and offer to install them when available.

I’m not expecting any of this to be as clean as a real package management system. FOSS Pack will likely have to execute the external installers. Perhaps in the future the applications authors could co-operate with FOSS Pack maintainers to deliver a more seamless experience.

It looks to me that a lot of the pieces to create FOSS Pack are already there, and as is often the case in the FOSS world all that’s required is to tie them together in an appropriate way.

LotD: 30 Things That Are the Same In Microsoft Word and in Writer

©2008 Sridhar Dhanapalan.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Australia Licence.

Creative Commons BY-SA Licence



I gave in and joined Facebook the other day. My daughter, brother and cousin have been asking me to. It's a shame that you have to join to see what's on there. I'm still learning how to use it and what it's basically all about. If you're already a member and you want to find my profile search for my name. I'm not sure how much I'll use it but there are a couple of rellys I want to keep in touch with on there.

November 30, 2008

Telegraph partnering with online sites

The Telegraph Group in the UK, publishers of the The Daily Telegraph seem to be embracing the Web world. Take a look at their offers page.

They’re offering services, using 3rd party web providers, like Wesabe for managing your finances, and partnering with Specsavers to tell you what kind of spectacles to choose next.

I don’t know how comfortable one would be, giving a newspaper more and more information (I didn’t find a privacy clause) about oneself, but this is the Facebook-era, where information is mostly free. Wesabe also mentions that with 22.9 million unique visitors to the Telegraph website in September alone, it could mean great growth for the site.

It would be interesting to see The Age/Sydney Morning Herald partner up with some local Aussie startup sites… similarly in Malaysia, now that the newspapers are moving to a more online fashion.


MSC Malaysia InnoTech slide summary

I wasn’t at the MSC Malaysia InnoTech event on the 17th of November 2008, held at the Shangri-La Hotel, in Kuala Lumpur, but I did take a look at the slide deck.

Executive summary? All the talks, save for the ones listed below, were probably a waste of time.

Khailee gave a fairly short pitch (~9 minutes), he even put up a video with bits of his transcript. I saw an expanded 45 minute version of this talk at StartupCampKL, and I reckon that was the better version to be at :) There was also video recording, but it hasn’t made its way online, yet.

Bob Chua, from The Pulse Group, gave a very interesting talk on Funding Trends (OK, his slide deck was interesting). Why? Because it was filled with nuggets of useful information, almost like it was out of the book Microtrends. Did you know that 1 out of 8 couples married last year, in the U.S. met online? His closing thoughts, though nothing new, are generally useful for the entrepreneurial crowd.

Kumaran Singaram, from Cisco, probably gave a product pitch, but there were some interesting nuggets in the slide deck. “The Network Is The Platform for Colloboration” sounds very similar to “The Network is the Computer”, no? Its interesting to see how much of WebEx/C-Vision is used at Cisco, for example (why the details are kept “Cisco Confidential” I don’t know). Its great to see the amount of active blogs, in the Cisco blogosphere (and the growth from February - August is about two times). There’s active use of discussion forums at Cisco, and there’s been a 6x growth from January to August! Lots of Wiki usage as well. I fear these stats might also be from 2007, rather than them being current (I can only guess, based on the confidential/copyright marker in the footer of some slides).

The rest? I think Tom Raftery (of RedMonk fame) might have given a good talk, but the slides didn’t give out too much.

Were you at the event? Did you learn something new?

The Star Online does TV!

I hardly visit websites anymore, preferring instead to muck with feeds, in my current feed reader of choice (Google Reader, on this very fine day, kept in a site-specific browser). But I did visit The Star Online recently, and was shocked to find that they had a multimedia section, that also had video clips! Its called

The Star Online - newspaper also hosting video

A newspaper, traditional media that is print, embracing video? I wonder if reporters are carrying around little FlipMino’s :)

Seems somewhat popular even. On Thursday Malacca divorcing George Town had a paltry 163 views. Today, its Sunday, and its up to 1,089 views. Most viewed video is at 9,752 views, in where Thaksin goes shopping in Dubai.

Its interesting to see that they’re hosting the videos on YouTube and embedding them. They have 740 subscribers to their YouTube feed (soon to be 741 as I subscribe to them :P)… They’ve been around for over a year, and have had under 35,000 views in their channel - nothing exactly fancy, but a good start. Its also good to note that they’re not updating it like once every day - it gets updated several times a day.

Kudos to this old media company, exploring new media… As more people think about IPTV, as more mobile phones support fast data access, as more people stop reading dead tree newspapers, this kind of experimentation is going to pay off for them.

November 29, 2008

The real story behind Maxis Broadband

The whole Maxis Broadband advertising spiel is hitting up again in the Malaysian blogosphere, and I think its time I write about their broadband service a little more.

Point of observation: lots of the blogosphere, probably get paid [not necessarily monetarily] to write reviews, which are generally crap because they never actually use the service. They should disclose this payment/affiliation, but they usually don’t, which is terribly sad. Anyway, ignore the hyperbole - I’ll tell you about Maxis Broadband from the trenches.

I’ve been using the service for what must be about six months now (using a Huawei E220, on a Mac and Linux, but mostly on a Mac - since all I really carry around is my Air). I only hopped on Maxis, because everyone that was a Celcom customer told me that dialup was better than Celcom’s 3G/HSDPA.

The good

It works really well in both my homes, in either Petaling Jaya or Klang. This is of course, not the prime location I would like to use the broadband modem - I have DSL coming through the houses, and its always more reliable than a HSDPA connection.

It works really well in Mont Kiara. The Coffee Bean there, has got fabulous coverage. In fact, so does SOMO.

Where my vet is located in Brickfields, Maxis Broadband shines - 364KB/s. Also, in Cyberjaya, I hopped on WCDMA while I was at MMU… not fast, not slow, but just about usable ;-)

The bad

Uploading to Flickr fails. Anything large (you know, that comes out of even an 8MP digital camera) will fail to upload.

I was at UITM (Shah Alam) not long ago, and the coverage was an epic fail. Nearby the Maxis headquarters (OK, I was at the Sun office in KL), Maxis gave me some amazing ping times - 10761.587 ms! But maybe it was switching cells, far too often?

I was in Cheras (nearby Leisure Mall) not long ago, and was sitting in my car, trying to surf the Internet. Here, you’ll notice that the HSDPA network is weak - it moves to EDGE, most of the time. The Internet is also, virtually unusable.

I took a bus to Singapore a month back. Trying to use it on the North-South Expressway, was not happening. It would disconnect so frequently, it made more sense to sleep. I’ve been told however, that Celcom works a charm on the North-South Expressway. Then again, not exactly a common use case for me.

I have a box sitting in the Jaring IDC. Transfers (ssh -C) top out at about 20KB/s. Ping times are around 80ms, but its just not that fast… Well at least with the WCDMA network in Mont Kiara.


I’m not slagging Maxis off for no reason… I’m trying to make you, the reader, an informed consumer, so that you don’t simply buy a service, that cannot be provided for.

In fact, I wondered how many users could blog from a single location using Maxis Broadband even. Their service coverage is probably not the best, and imagine a bunch of bloggers (Nuffnang-ers) who want to live blog… These are the camwhore crowd, et al. I’m sure they had a massively enjoyable time, wishing they were at home, with Streamyx ;-)


Well, it seems that Vodafone offers $0 Dell Inspiron Mini 9’s on a $70 plan, with 5GB of data transfer in Australia. I won’t be surprised if Maxis has a similar deal with Dell… A simple Google showed that Dell and Maxis are already in cahoots - RM99 x 24 months with “free” Broadband access for 6 months… more details about the promo, which means you’ll end up paying RM2,376… and assuming you like the Maxis Broadband service, you’ll end up having to fork out RM77 for the remainder of the 18 months, totalling a paltry RM1,386. Wait… RM77 is a lot cheaper than the usual RM138 per month (RM118 if you’re a Maxis postpaid subscriber). RM61 savings!?! That’s RM1,098 one can save… ridiculous. I’m tempted to get this “deal” and just ask for an extra SIM card to be tied to my account… I’m sure that can’t cost more than RM5 or RM10.


I even had other issues with them… upon signup, they said they would direct debit my credit card. It took a threat to leave the service for them to do it over the phone, in the fifth month of service. I still seem to be getting paper bills (costing me an additional RM5).

I am of course, posting this via a Maxis Broadband Internet connection :) It has allowed me to not pay Airzed for Wifi, and if it worked a little better, everywhere else, I’d be mostly happy with it.

What are your experiences with Maxis Broadband?

November 28, 2008

WordCamp today

Rise and shine! I’m going to WordCamp Australia today. See you there!

Technical events and unsuitable content

Last night at SLUG I attended my second technical talk featuring projected slides of scantily clad women (the first was at the Open Source Developers' Conference in 2006, see the presenter's account of it and also my jam). I wrote something quite long about this tonight and have thought better of publishing, at least at the moment.

However, in brief, a couple of things for event organisers. First, it is apparently necessary for Free Software events who don't wish to have sexualised material shown at the conference (and neither OSDC or SLUG do, as far as I know: neither the sponsors of OSDC nor the hosts of SLUG were impressed with what happened at their respective events) to warn their speakers of this. Here's something you could adapt:

[Event name] is an all-ages event, attended by people of different cultural backgrounds and sensitivities. Please make sure your talk and slides are not likely to offend or upset people unnecessarily: particularly we require that no sexual material and nothing targeting people on the basis of age, religion, race, gender, sexuality or ability appears in your talk or slides.

Second, it would be good for chairs to be aware of how to react: being unable to seize the moment is common in anything to do with inappropriate behaviour, because of lack of experience. Something like the following would work from the chair:

  • Stand up and move towards the speaker. If their slides are inappropriate right then, block the projection, disconnect their laptop from the projector or turn the projector off. Otherwise ask them to halt the presentation at the current point.
  • Tell the speaker quietly that the material is inappropriate and that they may not continue the presentation.
  • Address the audience and apologise for inappropriate content and let them know the talk is ending. If the speaker seems genuinely contrite allowing them a brief apology would work.
  • Let the event organisers know what happened, if they aren't in the room. They may wish to do something more or be prepared for questions about what happened.

The reason you need to end the presentation is that otherwise the audience is stuck in the very uncomfortable position of needing to continue responding to a talk after seeing both out-of-line material and seeing an intervention about it. The speaker is also likely to be embarrassed and off-put.

Note that the audience should not be expected to demonstrate openly that they feel uncomfortable before you intervene: they have far less power than the chair or conference organisers do. Don't ask them for their opinion of the material that you've already decided is inappropriate (and don't let the speaker ask them either). It's pretty uncomfortable to be asked to identify yourself as someone who was just offended, it's seen as a weakness. Also, don't assume that children or women or homosexual people etc were necessarily the only ones who were upset: for example some heterosexual men find hetero-male oriented sexual material distasteful when used in technical talks too. Just apologise to the audience as a whole.

To make my day complete & happy...

...I had a seizure on Wednesday afternoon, plus some of the people in between have been accurately pointing out details in the methods which a self-declared (really: an un-declared one) enemy has been using to take problems caused directly & solely by them, & contrive to have them blamed on me.

It was encouraging to see people whom I hardly even recognise gathering to check that I have recovered (the CT & Xray scans seem to be fine), & to have near-complete strangers volunteer their friendship (which was a tad distracting for a few voluptuous (blonde, as it happens) European lasses).

It is also encouraging to note that I have far more direct connections with the meta-victims of the lying, deceitful enemy, so I can (amongst other things) provide them with a more complete (& self-consistent) description of events, & also answer their direct questions for details which are essentially impossible to invent in such detail & completeness.

Finally, I have discovered a sickness which seems to match the deceiver’s idiocy. This may give me an official handle as leverage for compelling them to be at least partially reasonable. It would be healing to have them face their guilt — at least WRT my fine self — & beyond marvellous to free their manipulated effectively-prisoners.

Project idea for Linux desktops: backup creation

In the course of writing my talk for SLUG tonight, the following idea occurred to me.

Scenario: I am a desktop/laptop user without cron/commandline fu (caution to people picking this entry up without knowing me: I am not actually a desktop/laptop user without cron/commandline foo: I am fully fu-ed up and just pretending). I want to backup my stuff. I don't want pain. So, I buy a big external hard drive. I plug it in. Up pops a helper/notification/whatever saying "would you like to use this drive as a backup drive?" I select 'Yes', do as little configuration as I can humanly get away with, and it is now my backup drive. Every time I plug it in in future, a (non-system destroyingly intensive) backup begins. I do not have to even contemplate anything named 'udev' or any commandline tool whose name begins with 'r'.

Obviously there needs to be a nice easy way to do partial restores too in the event that I accidentally delete my desktop. In the event of media failure, I should be able to pop in a new internal hard drive, boot from a LiveCD and be invited to plug in my backup drive if I have one, and the system is then restored to the new hard drive... and already know about the backup disk for ongoing backups!

Random things that would be nice:

  • integration with my 'Trash': things that are on the backup drive don't need to remain in the local Trash, and perhaps I should be able to see backed up stuff in my Trash folder when the drive is plugged in... and have the option to restore more than the most recent version!
  • sane command-line interfaces to all this, so the fu-ed up can join the fun
  • network backup as well/instead of local drive backup

Time Machine for MacOS (which I was only aware of by name before just now, when I wrote most of this entry and then went and looked at it) seems to be more or less the equivalent of this, and has some other desirable features:

  • doing backups as long as the drive stays plugged in
  • automatically cleaning up old increments
  • skipping caches (oh ~/.thumbnails, how giant you are)

I don't care so much about the visualisation of my system as it changes over time, but what the hell, it sounds cool anyway.

Falling prey to fear

I have a number of clients, colleagues, and friends who live in Mumbai, a place that is sadly no stranger to trauma and which is going through it again. In such times we can only hope that our friends and their families have not been hurt in the unpleasantness that is presently besetting their world.

It is hard for outsiders to understand the confusion that embroils such situations; people reporting the news always seem to convey the air of knowing what is going on. Of course they don’t, but the people that can spot the discrepancy usually aren’t exactly watching television.

Being present during a terrorist attack is, sadly, an experience that far too many of us share. Many people find it difficult to remain calm in the face of crisis and chaos. Not for us, far away, to say that they should feel any differently.

What I can offer, however, is the absolute certainty that the one way above all others that we beat those who would tear down our society is by not falling prey to fear. Incidents are bad enough, but the real damage is afterward, when we allow the circumstances to themselves become a cause and a self-inflicted excuse for curtailing our freedoms. No. Returning to normal is not easy, but it’s how we win.


November 26, 2008

Slashtime goes gooey

A long time ago I wrote a tiny perl script that told you the time in various places. It was a somewhat unusual take on the usual approach to the timezone problem in that it displays offsets from where you are, not offsets from UTC (which, unless you’re in the UK in the winter time, are really kinda useless). A number of people liked using it, which was nice. It was called “slashtime” since /time is a shortcut on my company’s website to get to an HTML version of it. Slashtime places list

For a while, though, I’d wanted to make a version that would be graphical; in addition to being more compact, I wanted it to be live and to help me with arranging meetings. So I did!

Here’s a screenshot of Slashtime running.

The new Slashtime inherited the original’s premise of showing offsets, of course, and adds some other nicities. When the sun is up is irrelevant in this day and age; but business hours aren’t (white background), as is knowing when it’s not a good time to call someone (the dark shading).

Knowing where you are is important too; that’s the blue line. There are a number of heuristics to try and figure that out, but if your Linux box’s /etc/localtime is a symlink to a file in /usr/share/zoneinfo like it’s supposed to be, you’re golden; it degrades gracefully from there, looking at what /etc/timezone says, then the TZ environment variable, etc, and doing all this in a hopefully OS aware way (there’s code in there that made it work Solaris, for example).

Oh, and yes, 01:30 is the fold point, quite deliberately. Hackers don’t go to bed at midnight. Perish the thought. So if the person you’re looking for is in the dark portion but at the bottom of the display, there’s every chance they’re still up :).

The list of places shown is specified in from a simple text file at ~/.tzlist (a default list will come up if you don’t have one). Instructions of how to set this file up properly to your own preferences is shipped with the program in the PLACES file. As you can see, I have quite a number of places in my .tzlist file, but there’s nothing wrong with just having two or three if those are the only places you want to know about.

The discussion in the PLACES example makes a point that might night be obvious at first glance: you control the names of the places shown. So if you live in Marseilles, and are tired of every other gizmo out there showing the time in “Paris”, you just go right ahead and put “Marseille” in your .tzlist file as:

"Europe/Paris"    "Marseille"    "France"

There’s also a meeting planner. Right-click the list and select “Meeting…” from the context menu:

Slashtime right-click context menu

and you can set the program to display a specific time and date somewhere in the world. More typically, you ned to hunt for a good time to have a phone meeting with someone; just move the sliders back and forth until you find a nice alignment for you and the other people on the call.

ime of Christmas 2007 in Toronto and Sydney Meeting planner Dialog

This example shows me working out that assuming I’m in Sydney that week, if I want to call my Mum to wish her a Happy Christmas, so long as I call just before I go to bed on 25 December it won’t be too early there (the red border is a warning that you’re not seeing current time displayed).

The GUI version of Slashtime has actually been around a long while; It’s written in Java and served as an early test bed for the java-gnome bindings of GTK and GNOME. Thanks to recent work by Serkan Kaba, however, the program is now properly internationalized. Not that there’s much to translate, but it’s important to at least set the foundation. Serkan did Turkish; I’ve done French Canadian (ahem, that’ll just go to show how rusty my Quebecois is). I must admit that I’m still pretty new to internationalization and localization, so I’m sure there’s room for improvement here.

Slashtime 0.5.9 was released this week with that branch merged. It’s packaged on Gentoo Linux as app-misc/slashtime. Building it yourself shouldn’t be hard; Thanks to people like Carl Worth and Rob Taylor it works out of the box on a number of other distros. You’ll need java-gnome >= 4.0.9. Just follow the instructions in the README file; once you’ve make installed it to the right place it’ll be in your system menus and whatnot. I personally also have a keybinding set up so I can easily run it on demand, but:

$ slashtime

will certainly do the trick :)

If you want to hack on Slashtime, just use Bazaar to grab the sources. The 'mainline' branch is at bzr:// and you can find me in #java-gnome if you want to chat about it.

Incidentally, no, this isn’t a GNOME clock applet replacement — although I’m very pleased that Bryan Clark picked up on some of the UI ideas when I showed Slashtime to him last year in Boston; sharing ideas and learning from each other is what Software Freedom is all about — but it is a fantastically useful program to have around when you’re dealing with people around the world, as so many of us do. Enjoy!



One of the less pleasant things about upgrading is the risk that new versions will break existing capabilities that you’re used to. Sometimes these are for-real regressions; others its just a case of codebases having moved on and unfortunately things not gelling together properly.

Upgrading my Linux kernel to >= 2.6.26 from 2.6.24 or so caused me two problems; the brightness controls for my screen were inverted, and the wireless networking applet suddenly stopped working!

Both of these bugs were resolved in the last two days! I’ve been very fortunate to have the help of some wonderful people. In one case it involved backporting an as-yet-unreleased bug fix in HAL, and in the other it was my kernel config lacking a necessary setting.

The details aren’t really important. The mutual support that is so often evident in Open Source communities like Gentoo Linux is. So to the inestimable Daniel Drake, “Sergey”, Ricardo Salveti, and all the others who helped me isolate and troubleshoot these problems, thank you very much!


November 25, 2008


So I upgraded this blog to WordPress trunk (soon to become WordPress 2.7). You might recall that I chucked a hissy fit at Automattic, and vowed to move my blog off

This is the result of that vow. WordPress trunk (weekly breakage FTW), Sandbox 1.6 (’s Sandbox 1.0 wasn’t FTW), 100% w00tness.

How to access Gmail and Google Reader over IPv6

I just figured out a really simple and obvious way to access Gmail and Google Reader over IPv6 that doesn’t require the use of hacky portals such as IPv6Gate.

Google already offers their search engine service via IPv6 at This works fine, although it doesn’t work with Gmail or Google Reader, as for some reason, they have not added those services to the domain — they only work if you are on the domain.

However, there is a way to access Google’s IPv6 server and still retain the domain: edit your /etc/hosts file.

To access Gmail and Google Reader via IPv6, add the following line to your /etc/hosts file (if you are on Windows, add it to your C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts file):


If you are using Firefox, you will need to restart your browser before it picks up the changes (as it uses an internal DNS cache).

You can add support for other services such as Google Images by adding the respective domain names to the end of that line. However, adding Google Maps gets a little tricky, as the map images are served off several different servers. In the comments below, Jari K gives us an /etc/hosts line that adds the map image servers, which apparently works.

Please note that the above IPv6 address may have changed since I wrote this post. To find out the most current IPv6 address that Google uses, use the following command:

dig +short aaaa

If the IPv6 address that you get from that command is different from the one I posted above, please let me know in the comments!

I wonder what the likelihood of Google adding AAAA records to the main domain is.

Random randomness

The SECRET_KEY setting in Django is used as a 'salt' in (one would hope) all hash calculations. When a new project is created, a piece of code generates a new random key for that site. I'd seen a couple of these and noted, in passing, that they seemed to have an unusually high amount of punctuation characters. But I didn't give it much thought.

Recently I had to generate a new one, and found a couple of recipes quite quickly. The routine (in Python) is:

from random import choice
print ''.join([choice('abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789!@#$%^&*(-_=+)') for i in range(50)])
(Aside: Note how Python's idea of line breaks having grammatical meaning in the source code has meant making one liners is now back in style? Wasn't this supposed to be the readable language? Weren't one liners supposed to be a backward construction used in stupid languages? Is that the sound of a thousand Pythonistas hurriedly explaining that, yes, you can actually break that compound up into several lines, either on brackets or by \ characters or by partial construction? Oh, what a pity.)

Anyway. A friend of mine and I noted that it seemed a little odd that the upper case characters weren't included in the string. Maybe, we reasoned, there was some reason that they didn't include these characters (and the punctuation that isn't on the numeric keys). But, looking through the actual changeset that combined all the various salts and secrets into one thing, and looking at where the secret key was used in the code, it seems that it's always fed into the md5 hasher. This takes bytes, basically, so there was no reason to limit it to any particular character subset.

So my preferred snippet would be:

from random import choice
s = [chr(i) for i in range(32,38) + range(40,127)]
print ''.join([choice(s) for i in range(50)])
So you can at least read your secret key, and it doesn't include the single quote character (ASCII 39) that would terminate the string early. The update to the original functionality is in ticket 9687, so let's see what the Django admins make of it.

November 24, 2008

Taxes (2008)

More for my reference than anything else…

I originally read it in the dead tree edition of The Edge. Its a pity they don’t place all their content online (worried about people not buying your paper for RM5? Place it online after a month, its “dated” enough to be free).


  • According to Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop, only 1.2 million of Malaysia’s 10.5 million workers earn more and pay income tax.
  • Only 38,500 earning a taxable income of RM100,000 and above are in the highest tax bracket.

The above via Malaysians brace themselves for higher cost of living. If you can get past the opinion, most of the article is quoted in this comment.

Quran’s costing RM1.3 million - wisest use of tax payer money?

This was in the news recently: Quran in hotel rooms soon. Excerpts:

A copy of the Quran and its intepretation will be made available in most hotel rooms in the country to allow both Muslims and non-Muslims to have “access” to the Holy book.

Ahmad Zahid said Jakim would be printing another 50,000 copies of the Quran’s interpretation for the purpose, costing some RM1.3mil, adding these books were in English to cater to foreign visitors and tourists.

50,000 copies. RM1.3 million. RM26 per Quran. Jakim is the Department of Islamic Development, Malaysia. It’s a Malaysian Government institution.

Now, if you’re in a 3-star hotel or above, you’re getting a Quran, courtesy of the Malaysian Government. Courtesy of your tax payer ringgit. I think there’s better ways to spend RM1.3 million of money from the rakyat - let’s feed and shelter the homeless, for a start.

Another healthy way the government of the day, is spending your hard earned tax ringgit!

Update: @nazroll tells me that this comes out of zakat payments, that only Muslims pay. I still believe there are better ways to spend zakat payments, but I don’t run the country, now do I? Zakat from the Malaysian government or Zakat via Wikipedia… Wikipedia describes zakat as “alms for the poor” - I don’t know how accurate that is, but if you’re staying in a 3-star hotel and above, you aren’t exactly poor ;)

Next up, time to read up on Islamic Banking/Economics. Looks like an interesting topic! (I mean I’m bombarded with signs about it, let’s see how it compares with regular banking)

Update 2: There was active chatter on Twitter! @ditesh tells us that the zakat is a tax credit, and Wikipedia explains the taxation behind it. @nazroll continues to tell us that development is OK, and people are curious to know how the money is spent, and it is available upon request. Lots worry about accountability, and @nazroll hits it spot on.


These are some of the craft items I've been making to sell at markets. My first market is this weekend. I haven't got a lot of stuff yet but will keep working on it. I've got more photos to post. I've been using up all the craft stuff I've collected over the years as well as recycling things and getting things from family and the Teen Challenge op shop to refurbish or make into something else.

These are Shrinky Dinks, they're very easy to make, like the old shrinkies I did as a kid. They can be buttons, stitched on quilts, used in scrapbooking, on mobile phones or scissors, earrings etc.

This is a trust box with a poem I wrote on it.

A cross stitch purse.

A cross stitch Christmas decoration.

Cross stitch coasters.


This is the longest gap I've ever had between blog posts! I haven't been well. I don't know if I'll get back to regular posting or not. Lots has happened over these months here's the short (web) version:

* Jess went to local high school for one term and is now looking for full time work.

* I've changed churches, going to one in Mannum now.

* I finished my work at Teen Challenge, Murray Bridge.

* I'm selling my house and moving to Adelaide after nearly 17 years in Murray Bridge.

* I'm still involved with Teen Challenge and look forward to working with the drug rehab students again.

* I'm doing heaps of craft and will be having a stall at the Country Market here this weekend.

* Go to the MHAL (Mental Health Activity & Learning Centre) in Mannum.

November 22, 2008

IPv6 via AYIYA

This is getting repetitive, but again, I’ve wired up our house to the IPv6 internet.

This time, I’m not using Teredo or 6to4, but I’m using an AYIYA tunnel provided by SixXS. The reason I don’t use 6to4 is because we use DD-WRT v24 on our router, which for some stupid reason does not come with IPv6 support.

I am using the AYIYA tunnel by way of the AICCU utility (which is packaged in Debian and Ubuntu). AYIYA is cool because it can traverse NATs, and even doesn’t mind if our router reboots for some reason and our dynamic IPv4 address changes. It all works beautifully.

I’ve now got my own subnet, which is generously provided by my SixXS PoP, 2001:1938:309/48, which gives me, like, zillions of address space to play with. The whole setting up of IPv6 has been very educational. I would recommend that anybody interested in IPv6, or even just IP routing in general, route an IPv6 subnet at some stage, to just get a feel for the system.

Last one to ping6 -c 1 2001:1938:309:beef:21b:fcff:fe25:42e7 from their machine and tell me if it works is a rotten egg! Thanks, Paul — it worked!

Talking for real

Right. With two weeks to go until OSDC, I feel like I'm actually nearly ready to give my talk. The slides are all written up, and my first practice talk-through took 25 minutes - should fit into the 30 minute slot nicely. I aim to do about a dozen more talk-throughs so I can get my notes up to speed, and so that I don't read from the slides, speak too fast or ramble too much. I've spoken at CLUG before but this is an order of magnitude larger audience and three orders of magnitude more important. I really want this to go well, and I'm determined to do it well.

Damian Conway is my inspiration here - I will not fail him!

November 19, 2008

Victorian Education Ultranet

Ultranet Tender Media ReleaseFrom:     Donna Benjamin


Cc:         The Moodle Users' in Schools Mailing List, rodney gedda,

Subject:     Selective Tender for Ultranet

Date:     Wed, 19 Nov 2008 11:36:13 +1100

I note with interest the release of a selective tender for Ultranet with revised specifications. It is disappointing to see that Moodle, an Open Source, Australian developed learning management system already in use in many Victorian schools and widely used around the world, is not included.

 1. Was Moodle considered or consulted in the independent market sounding exercise?

 2. If Moodle was considered, why was it not included in the selective request for tender? What were the specific reasons for its exclusion from the new request for tender?

 3. Otherwise, why was Moodle not considered or consulted in the independent market sounding exercise?

I look forward to a prompt response. Any constructive and useful criticism of Moodle will be taken back to the development community who may be able to improve and further develop the product for the global user base.

yours sincerely,

Donna Benjamin


Donna Benjamin

President - Linux Users of Victoria -

Education Spokesperson - Open Source Victoria -

Member - Open Source Industry Australia -

Executive Director - Creative Contingencies -

"Open Source is arguably the most significant movement in the software

world of the past decade. Its impact is both pervasive and disruptive,

and the importance of Open Source solutions to government and business

organisations of all sizes continues to grow."

                     Prof. Bob Williamson, Scientific Director, NICTA

November 18, 2008

Help needed: your Free Software story

I am giving a talk for women in a while (the venue has not yet been announced) entitled Starting Your Free Software Adventure. This is the current abstract:

Free Software development opportunities range from code and documentation through to community management. There are a huge number and variety of projects to get involved in and even more waiting to be started. But finding a place to begin can be difficult.

This talk will show where the entry to Free Software contributions lie from all kinds of directions: coding, bug triaging, documentation, packaging and more, using women already involved to illustrate pathways to involvement.

If you are a woman involved in Free Software or Free Culture volunteering or paid work, I'd like to invite you to be used as an example in this talk. There are two main things I want to know:

  1. what are you doing now?
  2. what were your first few steps into Free Software/Culture?

I will want to use either your name or a usual handle in the presentation, and a (CC BY-SA or compatible) photo if possible, but neither is absolutely essential.

I'd prefer to talk to women who have made the results of their work public at some stage (ie you're active in a freely joinable community with web archives, or your code goes in a Free project, etc). That is not essential though. Please identify the country or countries you would say you come from -- I am hoping to have a good mix of Australian and international women, for an Australian audience.

Feel free to send a link to this to other places before November 28 2008. Please do not forward after that. I would like expressions of interest by December 5 2008 to and we will take it from there in email.

Messaging matters

Look at the pitches these articles give. Tell me if you get different messages from them.

The Star says Govt has stopped paying petrol subsidies: Shahrir and The Malaysian Insider says Malaysians are now paying petrol tax.

The Malaysian Insider has 28 comments at the time of this writing… Interactivity. Something traditional media should look into?

To remember in the future:

“After the station operators take their margin of 12.1sen and the oil companies take their margin of 19.1sen, we are left with RM1.69 from RM2.

“If the refinery price is RM1.30 per litre for example, the Government will be taking 39sen per litre as revenue.”

A nice way to wake up

I’m the lead author and maintainer of java-gnome, an Open Source project that enables Java developers to write native GNOME applications using the GTK user interface toolkit. Like any such effort, it’s a huge amount of work, much of which goes on unseen. So there are few better ways of starting off your morning than finding a message like this in your Inbox:

I just want to thank you for this great API to GTK.

It feels entirely natural in Java, is very comfortable and very approachable. The names and APIs are as you’d think them up when you’d draw a widget set API in your mind, thus they are easy to find, too. They also work as expected (as least so far, I am still new).¹ The API documentation for each class has a nice prose introduction text, which is very helpful and saves most “tutorials”. I also appreciate that it points out just the right level of footangles to be aware of.

All in all a really great piece of work. When you talked about “quality” on your website, I was suspect, as that’s most of the time just words, but you really deliver quality. You show an good example of what quality means in the context of an API.

Sun should take a good example from you and many in the open-source world, too. Such brightness and care is rare.

Hey, thanks!

Quality versus Barrier to Entry

Regardless of the underlying economic circumstances, most Open Source projects are labours of love. But they can go one of two ways.

One tendency is to just accept anything, and hope that “someone” will fix it later. This approach has the beneift of a low barrier to entry, making it easy for people to contribute. But it can result in a muddle; code that is not yet up to scratch but whose authors have moved on to other things. The only time that Open Source fails to live up to its promise (as a software development methodology) is when someone starts something and doesn’t finish it. A situation nobody wants, but it is easy to have this inflicted upon your project if you accept incomplete contributions from other people — it can be hard to incent them to come back and finish the job.

The other way is to maintain a high standard, putting emphasis on internal consistency and clarity and asking people to rise to that level. While setting a high bar does put some people off, the contributions from those who invest the effort to rise to the occasion tend to be really good.

I tend to favour the second way. If your initiative is worth working on at all, then it is the kind of thing you work hard at making perfect because it deserves nothing less. You’re not going to let it down, and you don’t want anyone else to either.

Anyway, it’s all a lot of work. Sometimes I hate it. But when you receive a note like this from someone who appreciates the effort you’ve put in, it really does make your day — and makes you feel that result of staying clearly focused has been worth it.


¹ I pointed out to him in my reply that there was still plenty of time for him to trip over something :)

November 17, 2008

Coherence & Groupthink

Charles Petzold, one of the most famous authors of Windows programming books out there, wrote a great entry on his blog over a year ago that I’ve been meaning to comment on:

Once you’ve restricted yourself to information that turns up in Google searches, you begin having a very distorted view of the world.

On the Internet, everything is in tiny pieces. The typical online article or blog entry is 500, 1000, maybe 1500 words long. Sometimes somebody will write an extended “tutorial” on a topic, possibly 3,000 words in length, maybe even 5,000.

It’s easy to convince oneself that these bite-sized chunks of prose represent the optimum level of information granularity. It is part of the utopian vision of the web that this plethora of loosely-linked pages synergistically becomes all the information we need.

This illusion is affecting the way we learn, and I fear that we’re not getting the broader, more comprehensive overview that only a book can provide. A good author will encounter an unwieldy jungle of information and cut a coherent path through it, primarily by imposing a kind of narrative over the material. This is certainly true of works of history, biography, science, mathematics, philosophy, and so forth, and it is true of programming tutorials as well.

Sometimes you see somebody attempting to construct a tutorial narrative by providing a series a successive links to different web pages, but it never really works well because it lacks an author who has spent many months (or a year or more) primarily structuring the material into a narrative form.

For example, suppose you wanted to learn about the American Civil War. You certainly have plenty of online access to Wikipedia articles, blog entries, even scholarly articles. But I suggest that assembling all the pieces into a coherent whole is something best handled by a trained professional, and that’s why reading a book such as James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom will give you a much better grasp of the American Civil War than hundreds of disparate articles.

If I sound elitist, it’s only because the time and difficulty required for wrapping a complex topic into a coherent narrative is often underestimated by those who have never done it. A book is not 150 successive blog entries, just like a novel isn’t 150 character sketches, descriptions, and scraps of dialog.

A related point I’d like to make is that people tend to read things that reinforce their viewpoints, and avoid things that go against their beliefs. If you’re a left-wing commie pinko in Sydney, you’re probably more likely to read the Sydney Morning Herald as your newspaper; if you’re a right-wing peacenik, you’ll probably prefer The Australian instead. If you’re a functional programming maven who sneers at C, you probably hang around Haskell or O’Caml or Erlang or Scheme geeks. If you’re a Mac programmer, you talk all day about how beautiful and glorious the Cocoa frameworks are, and probably have a firm hatred of C++ (even though there’s a decent chance you’ve never even used the language).

Hang around with other cultures sometimes. Like travelling, it’s good for you; it broadens your perspective, and gives you a better understanding of your own culture. The human nature of seeking confirmation of your own viewpoints, combined with Petzold’s astute observations about learning in bite-sized chunks, means that it’s incredibly easy to find information on the Internet that only explains one side of the story. How many people on your frequented mailing lists, IRC channels, Web forums or Twitter friends have similar opinions to you, and how many people in those communities truly understand other systems and have been shot down whenever they’ve tried to justify something valid that’s contrary to the community’s popular opinion? I’m not saying that hanging around like-minded communities is a bad idea; I’m simply saying to be aware of groupthink and self-reinforcing systems, and break out of your comfort zone sometimes to learn something totally different and contrary to what you’re used to. Make the effort to find out the whole picture; don’t settle for some random snippets of short tidbits that you read somewhere on the Web. Probably the best article I’ve ever read on advocacy is Mark-Jason Dominus’s Why I Hate Advocacy piece, written eight years ago in 2000. It still holds true today.

git-svn & svn:externals

I’ve written before about git-svn and why I use it, but a major stumbling block with git-svn has been been a lack of support for svn:externals. If your project’s small and you have full control over the repository, you may be fortunate enough to not have any svn:externals definitions, or perhaps you can restructure your repository so you don’t need them anymore and live in git and Subversion interoperability bliss.

However, many projects absolutely require svn:externals, and once you start having common libraries and frameworks that are shared amongst multiple projects, it becomes very difficult to avoid svn:externals. What to do for the git-svn user?

If you Google around, it’s easy enough to find solutions out there, such as git-me-up, step-by-step tutorials, explanations about using git submodules, and an overview of all the different ways you can integrate the two things nicely. However, I didn’t like any of those solutions: either they required too much effort, were too fragile and could break easily if you did something wrong with your git configuration, or were simply too complex for such a seemingly simple problem. (Ah, I do like dismissing entire classes of solutions by wand-having them as over-engineering.)

So, in the great spirit of scratching your own itch, here’s my own damn solution:


This is a very simple shell script to make git-svn clone your svn:externals definitions. Place the script in a directory where you have one or more svn:externals definitions, run it, and it will:

  • git svn clone each external into a .git_externals/ directory.
  • symlink the cloned repository in .git_externals/ to the proper directory name.
  • add the symlink and .git_externals/ to the .git/info/excludes/ file, so that you’re not pestered about it when performing a git status.

That’s pretty much about it. Low-tech and cheap and cheery, but I couldn’t find anything else like it after extensive Googling, so hopefully some other people out there with low-tech minds like mine will find this useful.

You could certainly make the script a lot more complex and do things such as share svn:externals repositories between different git repositories, traverse through the entire git repository to detect svn:externals definitions instead of having to place the script in the correct directory, etc… but this works, it’s simple, and it does just the one thing, unlike a lot of other git/svn integration scripts that I’ve found. I absolutely do welcome those features, but I figured I’d push this out since it works for me and is probably useful for others.

The source is on at Have fun subverting your Subversion overlords!

LCA2008 Days Zero and One


Arriving in MEL at around 3pm on Sunday meant that I got to survey the lay of the land ahead of the unofficial conference opening on Monday (otherwise known as Miniconf days). It looks like I wasn't alone, with 80 or so others wandering around the conference venue. Rusty's & Kelly's Newcomers talk on Sunday afternoon was so full that they had to stop people going in.

But now I'm already jumping ahead of myself. I decided this year to stay at the recommended backpackers, which I have to say is interesting. The benefits are that I get a 25 minute walk to the conference venue each day, whereas the problems are that they don't servce breakfast until 8am (too late) and it's a bit too rowdy to get much sleep. Mea culpa.

Back to the conference venue - Rusty led the masses off to the pub, so it was natural to follow. Much socialising continued, including talking quite a bit to Alli, Hugh, George and Tim. I find it really interesting to find out what people have been doing with themselves since the last conference when we chatted.


Like I said, not much sleep was had, which was a bad thing leading up to my talk on Source Code Integrity and Protection with the sample toy implementation of zign. Fortunately it all went well except for a brown-bag bug that I showed everyone during the demo part of the talk. Still, I got some good feedback from people, so hopefuly the talk achieved it's pupose by making people think about the unspoken assurance of the source code they release.

More catching up with people - Andrew, Grand Pajamaran Donna, Peter, Steve, Stewart, Grant, Eric, Jon and many others. Catching up with the community from all around Australia is one of the big benefits of LCA.

The day was really a jump around the conference as I sat in on various miniconfs - Fedora for Eugene Teo's Writing System Tap Scripts which was excellent and made me realise that a whole class of difficult problems are now potentially solveable, Security for Guy Gershoni's Security Programming in Java and Damien Miller on OpenSSH which did nothing but increase my confidence in OpenSSH's design and team that are supporting it, and Debian for Martin Kraftt's Version Control Systems for Debian packaging. My brain is already full, and its only Monday :-)

The evening was spent out at the University Hotel with Eric, Dennis and Grant chatting about OCaml, writing yet another text editor, multi-national companies that move their software development offshore, Fourier transforms, low pass filters and music genres. Good food and company and a good time out!

Tab sweep


PickupPal is an interesting concept. Its a web tool to connect drivers and passengers, to help carpool, in various towns, all around the world. This is something I wish I’d known about had I been in Melbourne. I of course only found out about it, thanks to the city of Ontario being silly, and fining them for unregulated transportation. I say fair game for all - this is like hitchhiking 2.0? Good way to make new friends, and I’m guessing it’ll work well, if you already enjoy things like CouchSurfing, for example.

Ordering pizza from Facebook?

Ordering Pizza Hut From Your Facebook Page? It’s on the Way is an interesting read. To know that Pizza Hut crossed $1 billion in online sales in the last 18 months is valuable - to know that now you’re going to do it from your possibly favourite website, with a viral widget, is even more valuable.

Imagine you ordering a pizza, it updating your Facebook status, and another bored friend isn’t sure what to eat in another timezone, and decides to order a pizza. Highly plausible.

Ordering via text/phone[web] (they seem to focus on the iPhone), also makes a lot of sense. Cuts out the need to speak to a human. Cuts out the waiting time.

Artist scatters a thousand of his paintings around London

A great social experiment? Adam Neate left a thousand of his paintings around London, for anyone to pick up. Some people are finding them and placing them on eBay, raking in up to £1,000. And Adam is happy about it - it’ll help people during the upcoming Christmas season.

Radar and Apple

Apple’s bug tracking system is called Radar. Its been notoriously kept closed, unlike most open source projects have. Read more about Open Radar, check out the Google App.

As technology enables people to do more, and more, companies previously setting up virtual roadblocks, will face competition from the community. A lesson to learn.

November 16, 2008

BBC promoting new shows via personalisation

A great, modern way, to promote a TV series. [spooks] code 9 allows you to upload an image, and play a “game”, that is generated into a movie (a short clip). It takes all of under two minutes to do, and the whole application itself (Flash based) will take about five minutes of your time.

Personalisation, has been taken to the next level. The video below will last for three months, after which all I have are the screenshots. Give it a twirl, you might enjoy it.

my ID; a rendered me (as a Caucasian woman, quite possibly :P)

I like the idea of allowing you to email, or upload to Facebook, or embedding it to your own site. I like how you “play a role” in the mission. You have choices, before the final movie is made. All in all, good job BBC.

November 15, 2008

Comes with music

I’m not a big fan of listening to music on my mobile phone (though I guess if I was an iPhone user, this might be different), but it seems like all phone manufacturers are now targeting the masses, to show that their phones are all music devices.

I see adverts bombarding me from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG, and more, to tell me that a new phone, will also play music for me just fine. Some go so far as to tell me, I can “make the Web by hand” :)

So it comes as no surprise that in Britain, you can get a handset that “Comes With Music” (CWM) for a year, for free, thanks to Nokia. The music continues to be playable after the year is up too. Unlimited downloads?

I can’t wait for this service to be available outside of Britain.

Melbourne City Council Elections


I just voted.  I hate the electoral system for the city of melbourne.  Postal voting should be reserved for those who can't attend a polling booth on election day. I like going to vote. There is purpose, intent and often a thoughtful celebration of the democratic process in heading off to the local school, town or church hall to put pencil to paper, and slip the ballot paper into the box. 

We don't get to do that in the City of Melbourne, instead we fill in forms, stick em in an envelope and post them. Mail order Government?

And corporations that own or occupy property may also nominate representatives to vote... not sure that's the case anywhere else in Victoria.

From the VEC site:

You are enrolled to vote at the Melbourne City Council elections if:
  • you are on the State and Federal electoral roll for your present address and will be 18 years of age or over on 29 November 2008;
  • you own property in the municipality but don't live at that property, and you are the first or second-named person on the Council's rate records;
  • you have successfully applied to the Council to be enrolled for this year's elections; or
  • you are the nominee of a corporation that owns or occupies property in the City of Melbourne.
Also of note: you don't need to be a citizen - if you've lived in the City of Melbourne for a month or more, you're eligible to enrol - but the rolls closed over a month ago - and the postal poll closes on the 29th of November. that's almost 2 months later. pfft.

Shame I didn't know that earlier, because Peter is not a citizen, but clearly eligible to vote in this election, despite being ineligible to vote in State or Federal elections. Curious.

BTW - candidates that rang me with recorded announcements disqualified themselves from the contest, as did those who sent negative campaign material.  Sorry Peter McMullin and crew - you failed on both these counts.

November 14, 2008

Economist plus meme

Why I love The Economist :

China could stop making aggressive gestures towards Taiwan and buy Malaysia instead. It’s already run by Chinese, so they’d hardly notice the difference. And Barack Obama, committed to uniting America, could defuse the nation’s culture wars by purchasing an alternative homeland for those of his countrymen who want more use of the death penalty, less gun control and no gay marriage. A slice of Saudia Arabia’s empty quarter would do nicely: there’s plenty of space and the new occupants would have lots in common with the locals

From O give me a home… in the Nov 13th 2008 edition.

and the Book Meme thats going around Planet Linux Australia.

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST
and mine is:
Black has a backward d-pawn and a weak square on d5, though it is difficult for White to exploit either - the d-pawn is well guarded, while occupation of d5 often simply results in exchanges.

From Understanding the Chess Openings by Sam Collins.

Which is I guess what you get when you insist on the nearest book.

SourceForge being sued for hosting Shareaza

According to a TorrentFreak article, SourceForge is being sued in France because it is hosting Shareaza, a popular P2P file-sharing application, which happens to be used by the community for illegally sharing music.

This is just beyond ridiculous. You know, terrorists can use the telephone system to coordinate attacks, so why don’t we ban the telephone? I can make copies of music in my mind — why not ban thinking, too?

I wonder if the US-based companies that are being sued by the French record labels can be dragged over to France and prosecuted. The linked article says so, but if they refuse to fly to France to show up in court, can the French police ask the US police to seize them nonetheless? Can I be immune from ridiculous foreign lawsuits by residing in a country where it is legal? Does it make them liable because they are conducting their business in France by sending data traffic to that country? So many questions.

Sales per pax

Was eating out the other day, and found this:

Dragon-i Restaurant is smart!

Dragon-i Restaurant is smart. Sales per pax. Why don’t more folk do this? It makes it easier to go Dutch!


meh...  page 56 is blank!

Book Title: There's no business that's not show business:  Marketing in an experience culture

Authors: Bern H. Schmitt, David L. Rogers and Karen Vrotsos

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST

PhD bubble

I have that thing all PhD students hate and fear to speak of, that is, a submission goal. I aim to submit my thesis no later than October 2009.

This means that until then I'm doing the same thing I did in my honours year in 2003: cutting back on random accumulated cruft in my life. That includes but is not limited to volunteering for committees, talks and organising events. It will definitely mean less time shooting the breeze on IRC or IM: I intend to try and be on them only when I have something to accomplish. I'll cut blog subscriptions and twitter/ subscriptions back shortly too. I'd cut mailing lists, but my mailing list subscriptions never actually made it back from 2003/2004.

I'll probably also be trying to cut down on social and semi-social commitments: as I've said elsewhere the number of them this year has been staggering. (You're lovely people, all of you.) And exhausting: I can't keep getting home after midnight three or four nights a week. I don't intend to crawl into a hole, far from it, but I need to rediscover the joys of introversion, and not having my evening scheduled military style. So if you see me saying no to your things, that's what's going on.

If I've already volunteered for something with a firm scope, I am still doing it unless you hear otherwise. If it doesn't have a firm scope, I'll be in touch to firm it up. If I haven't volunteered, I'm not hugely likely to. Not this year.

Incidentally, I'm not sharing this for accountability's sake. If I need someone to sit on me and make me finish my PhD, I already have a mother. And you can be sure that she'll be sufficiently displeased on your behalf if she does have to do that: she never spent much time making me do my homework before.

Twitter for politics, and in the media

This is largely about social media, with a focus on Twitter.

Premieres using Twitter

Its great to see Kevin Rudd start twittering - follow him at KevinRuddPM.

He’s following in the footsteps of BarackObama. Who may just have won an election by harnessing the amazing powers social networks.

Did Obama use Ning? It would be interesting to see what Marc Andreesen has to say about the entire campaign, what was used, what was done, etc.

Twitter in Malaysian media

Oon Yeoh writes about twittering, like SMSing,is here to stay, in a column he writes for an old media newspaper.

I find it funny that he refers to the Malaysian public as “comfortable” with Facebook “status updates”, considering Friendster is still a lot more popular in Malaysia. Twitter itself is probably not big in Malaysia, because no one likes spending a premium sending a SMS overseas. I especially like:

One early adopter, who is currently studying abroad, uses Twitter as an efficient and effective way to keep her boyfriend updated about what her day is like.

Good, now she can keep her stalkers up to date as well :) Oon seems to add a questionable paragraph:

It’s not so good as an archive of news though. And that’s mainly because its search engine is quite lousy. Perhaps Google should gobble it up and improve its search capabilities.

Google did gobble up a “Twitter-like service” - its called Jaiku. Twitter themselves, gobbled up Summize, and you now have (how else do you think we update the status page on

Its just amusing how many other errors there are in the article, but this is the drivel that is the print media, yes?

Update: Read How Techies can Improve Democracy and Governance, an interview with Silona Bonewald. (I conducted a short one, a few months back, too).

Update 2: Read about Obama’s plan to use YouTube for weekly “fireside chats”. I continue to be impressed.

Book meme

Okay, here’s the latest meme going around Planet Linux Australia:

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST

And the result is:

“All I is knowing about myself is that I is very old, very old and crumply. Perhaps as old as the earth.”

From Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Haven’t read that book for years — I should read it again some time.

Imagery of another solar system

Look what they found:

Keck observatory image of HR8799

yes, very nice, but what is it? Maybe this image (care of the BBC News article about this) will help:

diagram comparing our solar system and HR8799

That’s right. Not just “we found another planet outside our solar system”. This is a picture of another solar system. Incredible.


November 13, 2008

fits of irony

In a fit of irony, its worth nothing that StarOffice has been dropped from the Google Pack while the Java Runtime Environment will now include the Microsoft Live Search Powered Toolbar on Windows.

I always tell people who use Windows to download the Google Pack. Maybe they would include 3.0? I’ve been a user of Google Docs recently, and there’s still something about OOo that makes it just that notch better. The other news though? Its days like this that I’m glad I don’t run on the Microsoft Windows platform.

Online catalogue software?

Dear Lazyweb,

I was browsing FACES recently, and noticed that they had an e-magazine. Nothing fancy, you have to zoom in and out to read it, making it kind of annoying on a laptop screen (the real experience will come on the 24″ or 30″ screens maybe).

What annoyed me was that the software was Windows only. It seemed to only work in Internet Explorer. These jokers make the software (Digital Magazine I believe, it is). Windows only is a silly market to be targeting - more and more Macs and Linux desktops are becoming a reality.

So, what are the other open source solutions for catalogues, brochures, magazines?

Flash is slow. The Ikea catalogue is a Flash app. Windows only (with ActiveX?) is a fail. Is there some JavaScript+CSS goo that can make it all work, in-browser? Something that also makes it usable on screens that are still standard (1024×768 resolutions?).