29 December, 2005

Is this a gumboot I see before me?

I finally got the Gumboots (a set of five documentation CDs) installed on their own vhosts in apache - now it's all visible from the Internet at large, when I open the correct port in the firewall. Thanks to wishes and others for pointing me to the correct way to get it all working, though I don't know why it wasn't working properly the first time I tried it all their way. Still, great that it works now.

I still haven't got this blogger working quite properly - the applet doesn't get the Title in the correct place, and there's no way of selecting the correct format for text in a paragraph without going onto the website and modifying it for myself. Still, as I said earlier, it's a good quick program.

I had a good Christmas over all, though I'm still awaiting a secondhand DVD writer.

27 December, 2005

I do not LIKE green eggs and ham

Well, actually I don't mind either eggs or ham. Not that I got either for Christmas, though I got some other items of use. The one item I got that disappointed me, even though I thought it would improve things, was a 80-wire IDE cable. Now Windows won't boot (no loss, some would say) and I still haven't got any other speed increase in my hard drives. Surely I ought to get 40-something MB in drive transfers on udma4? But no, it's a slow old 12MB/sec. Never mind.

I'm still working my way through "Crime and punishment", a good old classic story from the Russian author Dostoevsky. It's getting rather intriguing, with the prime character still not having been caught for his crime of murdering two people, but constantly fluctuating between "Do I confess all? This is killing me!" and "I don't really GIVE a shit about the world". Being given lots of money and a new set of clothes only serves to have confused him somewhat so far. I'll let you know once I've read more.

Ever had the post-Christmas blahs? That time directly after Christmas day when nobody's open (in Wellington, anyway) or you don't have any money to spend and you've run out of things to do? Yeah, that's struck here too. Pity, really. I wanted to go see "The fastest Indian".

17 December, 2005

Enlightenment strikes with Gnome

I've FINALLY managed to get Gnome 2.12 to work, and enlightenment to fire up under it. Because of this, I was able to get TWIN windows to take up the full screen, even overlapping the panels. I understand that I've got to address this, but I'm not too worried by it. Frankly, I've got bigger fish to fry. I'm interested to see what extra niceties Enlightenment-DR17 will bring. And now that Gnome is playing nice (I was having trouble with an old menu that wasn't formatted properly, and UTF-8 encoding was screwed) I can see how it all works.

14 December, 2005

From the desktop of The Viking

Yeah, this time I'm posting from my own desktop. Like, how cool is THAT? The only thing I'm missing seems to be formatting, but I'm not too worried about that as this application I'm trying out is for quick-throw notes up onto the blogger (or whatever) site, and not for particularly worrying about whether the words are all formatted in Verdana (my preferred blogging font). The other option would have been to create a post and email it, which blogger.com supports happily. The only problem with that being that I have to go back in and edit the post to change the formatting from mobile post to normal post, then actually POST the darn thing. The second is easily handled by a setting to post straight away, the first - well, I don't yet know. Anyway, this method lets me post to the blog straight away, and worry about the formatting later.

Anyhow, I'm still waiting for my LG GWA-4020 to arrive from Canada. The anticipation is just killing me. I even went out and badgered zoombuggy into letting me buy DVD media in preparation - thankfully I saw some for NZ$9.98 for ten DVD+R and the same cost for ten DVD-RW, which is STILL a ripoff as far as most other countries are concerned, but well, that's New Zealand for ya. They even charge the earth for cellphone calls too! Just in case you want to know (like you're in New Zealand) I got the media at Dick Smith, and they're basically DSE-labelled.

I had a wee bit of an accident with my Apache. I downloaded the Apache packages from Cooker to upgrade my system as I'd decided to upgrade to php-5.1.1. Well, was MY system ever in knots! Couldn't find this file, that symbol was missing from the module file, and as a result, apache wasn't going to start without a bit of a repair job. Made me feel like chucking the whole thing in. Thankfully, I'd decided to grab slightly earlier Apache packages from the updates tree for Mandriva LE2005. I stuck those back in, then had some help fixing the config files so that all my existing vhosts could be seen.I'm still not sure how on earth to make those vhosts visible from outside my network without starting them all on differing ports. At the moment, I have them differentiated by name (gum1, gum2, cisco, etc) but that won't work from outside as my DNS is private to my network, and isn't seen from the Internet. So, noxo (from undernet#linux), thank you.

Right - time for me to go, again.

06 December, 2005

Baen Books and David Weber

I got pointed to a pretty good set of books the other day - if you're into books about Science Fiction, then go see the Baen website , especially books by David Weber who writes the "Honor Harrington" series about a woman commander of space craft. I've only read the first book so far (On Basilisk Station) but already I can see I'm going to really like this author, just as I enjoy Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, and Tad Williams. Other authors (from different categories) include James Clavell, Stephen Donaldson, and Bryce Courtenay. So yes, perhaps I am a bibliophile.

29 November, 2005

Cut and iced. That's all the source

As I said in a previous post, I've been collecting source code to examine. Candidates have included the three major free BSD world trees (i.e. what's in their source tarballs), OpenSolaris world, and of course, the Linux kernel (world's a bit big to reasonably subset in Linux). I've also added some GNU software - glibc, gcc, flex, binutils, coreutils, etc etc. NetBSD world is nuts, I had to spread it over three CDs, although if I thought about it properly, I would have put NetBSD on just two CDs, and packed out the second CD with something small, like some of the GNU utility programs. As it is, I've thrown current copies of the state of play for X11 for Xorg, NetBSD and OpenBSD all on an additional CD, so I've ended up doing a bit of burning. Other stuff includes sed, awk, and even grep. Thankfully I don't have any more major examples of sourcecode to ice, having done the major ones I wanted. Theoretically, if I examine the current state of play for commonly used programs, I may have a tutorial of good clean code to learn from. And with tools like openGrok to format the sourcecode, I may even be able to trace changes in the code, though code like flex and make hasn't changed for a very long time. OpenGrok (from the Open Solaris project) is a sourcecode browser and indexing application that provides a full-text search front end to any source code you index with it. In my view it is a bit complicated just to do code viewing and diff'ing. The web application (currently) installs within a TomCat server, and the database is prepared with a java console tool. It seems a bit complicated to have to create the database from existing sourcecode, then go and open up the source.war file, edit the web.xml file, then rezip everything back up into another .war file for deploying on to Tomcat. I don't imagine the average Windows refugee wanting to do that every time she wanted to view a different source tree. However I haven't given the application a very hard job, and I do like the job it does. Imagine that it's a java front end to a ctags database, and so far you'll have almost my total understanding of the application. I'll let you know if I do anything much more with it.

22 November, 2005

iPod, but not so you'd know it.

I've finally finished "iPod, therefore I am", which I talked about four days ago. While I thought it had some good moments, I felt that the book mainly rambled on about Dylan Thomas's musical tastes, and how he could literally play any tunes he owned, in any order he wished. He did state a reasonable amount about how the iPod has affected the culture (from his viewpoint, anyway), and he also rambled on about how he had to make decisions about just what does get onto his playlists. The iPod's great for all of these things, but really, more could have been made of this and other things the iPod can do, or have done to it. Podcasting rates barely a mention by him, which is a shame. The fact that he lauds the iPod as the "be-all-and-end-all" of portable media players strikes me as a little wooden and repetitive, given that he effectively tells us this fact a number of times, with due explanation as to why, yet he doesn't go into great detail about just what this little wonder from Apple can do. The sub-title is: "A personal journey through music", which it certainly ends up being. But boy, I think it's banal. From reading this slice of bio, this guy is into his music in a big way. He knows artists I've never heard of (not hard), he knows tunes they've done, quite often what circumstances those tunes were created in, and what sort of impact those tunes made, both upon him, and others of his time. He even seems to know strange little bits you wouldn't know otherwise, but frankly didn't need to know. I state this carefully, because really, he doesn't tell us many things about the others he knows. Given the subtitle, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. He even has the candidness to state that he can't actually sing anywhere as well as the artists he loves so much, but I guess not all of us were born with a clarinet for a voice. For the depth of descriptions, it's worth a read, but it is still just his viewpoint. As a result, I've ended up being disappointed by this book, which is a shame; I think it could have been much better.

18 November, 2005

Ding Ding! Let's get ready to rumblllllle

Gawd. Wake up this morning, and I find out that Mass is having another miniature war regarding whether they were even allowed to mandate their choice of formats; and coming up against opposition in the form of amendments to legislation currently on the table. This is subsequent to the Oct 31, 2005 hearing. Basically, it's not looking good for Massachusett's original decision, with heavyweights coming in from all corners, most of them on the side of a well-established corporation with a large financial interest in staying alive. Frankly, you probably know what side I sit on. People have already stated that as long as ODF supports the stuff that they need to do, then they are fine with it. Curtis Chong, president of the National Fedaration of the Blind in Computer science, has said he is willing to change his mind and possibly support ODF if some aspects are considered. David Berlind covered this in a recent post . Another objection to this has come in the form of people saying effectively that "all the disability software is written with Windows/Microsoft in mind", which is true because of the profile that Microsoft have in the desktop market. So they see that there isn't any point putting in alternatives, as Microsoft is already present. One of the most prevalent of these is a piece of software called "JAWS", and hooks into Office, operating as a screenreader, among other things. Be aware that as I'm not affected by a mobility or visual disability, I haven't had a need for any relevant software in these fields. As a result, I don't know what the state of play is regarding this software. I have heard JAWS is apparently pretty good. Linux has a rather poor showing in comparison, though new versions of Gnome and KDE have text-to-speech programs as part of their respective desktops. So far, I haven't succeeded in getting the Gnome version to work on Ubuntu Hoary. And I'm reasonably knowledgeable about setting computers up under Linux. I guess that this battle hasn't ended yet, not by a long shot. (More editing probably needed)

17 November, 2005

The Life of an iPodder

No, not me. Some other guy. Wrote a book, in fact, about his love affair with iPod. Called "iPod, Therefore I Am" and written by Dylan Jones, he decided to write about how he got 'podded. So far it makes for interesting reading - I'll let you know if I finish it. I've wanted something to play/store MP3s with. Though I don't have a large music collection, I'd like to have some place to store it other than on several silver discs, or on hard drive taking up space. One alternative (which might take some time) is to generate an equivalent - burn a CD's worth of MP3 tunes. The time taken to create the tunes will be the same, only the storage medium will differ. Only disadvantage with this method is that I have to have the computer on when I want to listen to these tracks. But as my computer's on throughout the day anyhow, this isn't really a problem. And after all, I do have a 32x CDROM and a 7-cd jukebox. My only debate about the whole storage thing for MP3s is the cost. Yeah sure, the iPod's sexy (for what THAT means) but boy it does cost. And by some accounts here in New Zealand, it's not that hard to damage, and Apple will not pay out if there's the LEAST chance that it was the user's fault. I'm not sure I want to take that chance. So I may go for a slightly cheaper iRiver, same amount of storage space, but less cost. Of course, I'm never going to have one of these unless someone decides to hand off their old one to me. Yet another item I want, but can't buy.

08 November, 2005

Reading, burning, and reading some more

What a week

Over the past week, I had the privilege of borrowing a CD burner for a day. As a result, I was finally able to get my documents burned to CD, and clear some space off my hard drive. An even better result is that I now have more than 10% of my space available, mind you, that's not all that much, as I only have a 16GB partition. I've already started filling more of it up with various downloads, and my main idea is to download common OpenSource kernels, and extract their sourcecode to burn to a CD. That way, I don't run the risk of accidentally removing any of the files, nor of taking up any extra space on my hard disk.

The source of it all

So far, what I've managed to get has been the kernels for NetBSD-2.1, OpenBSD-3.8, OpenSolaris-20051103, Linux-2.6.12 plus patches up to 2.6.14, and trees for the two GNU projects glibc-2.3.5 and gcc-4.0.2. I've even been insane enough to extract FreeBSD-5.4 world to a CD, and I intend to do the same to OpenBSD and NetBSD world trees. That'll take more time, and a burner, of course. Other ideas include the Darwin and the HURD kernels. Does anyone else have sensible ideas of what else I could add?


While I've managed to get all of that done, I've also been reading recent issues of the Linux Journal, the TUX magazine, and Linux Format. A conclusion I came to about the British Linux Format magazine is that it seems a bit more informal than the U.S. counterpart, and at least in the issues I have read so far (62, 66, and 68) there are a small number of minor innaccuracies that occasionally catch the reader out. If you're an experienced Linux system administrator, you'll probably just pass this off as "oh, they meant that instead", but when even the readers' Letters to the Editor make note of it too, you have to take note of the possible reliability and usefulness to someone new to Linux. Funnily enough, I've struck something about the TUX magazine I also don't like, though I love the for-screen layout and PDF format. It's the Mango Parfait column, and also to some extent, the undercurrent of dislike for the GNOME environment. I won't say that they're rabid KDE fans, but there's more scruff than a professional magazine should probably express, given that this publication is created by the same parent company (ssc.com) that produces the excellent Linux Journal. If only I could have afforded a subscription. Individual copies of the Linux Journal are nearly $17.00 to buy here in New Zealand. Still, that's cheap in comparison to two other Linux magazines available for sale.

04 November, 2005

Ebooks - a pain to read onscreen.

I don't know about you, but whenever I find a good book, I try to get it in paper form when I can. Getting it in electronic form can cost anywhere from free to whatever the place you go to charges you, but then you have to either choose to read it on the screen once having downloaded it to your computer, or go through the hassle of printing it off just so you have something tangible you can hold. I did exactly this with "The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky", and while I got a book I could then read, I had to do some juggling around with page size just to get the text down to a comfortable size for reading. In the end I got away with four pages on each side. PlanetPDF have some good books, but the way they put text to page is abysmal - something like 12 lines in a page, with only about six to eight words per line. It makes for a lot of pages printed off. If I were to print each page as an A4 page, it'd make a great size for the visually impaired to use. I tend to like my text size anywhere from 8pt to 10pt for reading, not 18pt.

The other aspect to reading off the screen (depending upon the type of screen) is being able to sit comfortably without any glare on the screen, and the main difference of landscape layout as opposed to portrait. There aren't very many flip-screens out, and those that do exist generally aren't cheap. There's also fonts to consider, what program you're going to use to read with (Adobe's Reader, Mozilla Firefox, or the humble "less") and even whether you're going to go with classic black text on white background, or invert that so you have white text on a black background. I'm not entirely sure which I prefer, yet, though I still lean towards classic black text on white, without antialiasing. For some reason, anti-aliasing on my monitor just never seems to look crisp, and apparently that's quite a common complaint, especially with CRT screens. LCD screens have yet another problem of fidelity if you're not using the screen's native resolution.

Another good site to go to for books that are no longer under copyright, or where the copyright has been given over is Project Gutenberg. They have literally hundreds of thousands of books both in text/html/pdf/ps form and now, even in audio form. And they're all free to download. Sure if you want to download a whole collection at a go, then this isn't the place to go, but when you're prepared to get books one at a time, then this is one place to search out. I'm currently downloading a whole bunch of novels by Charles Dickens in html form from the University of Adelaide's stash of books. Dickens makes for some difficult and stylised reading if you're not used to Victorian English, but once you manage to dig under that, you'll commonly find a mine of good work, with plenty of commentary on the political map of the times. Of course there's the classics such as "Great Expectations" or "A Christmas Carol", but there are some other not-so-well known books too, as well as a number of short stories. Well worth a read if you like the classic English story.

Well, that's all from me - I'm going to have a damn good read shortly, after I finish listening to what MUST be the abridged version of Tom Clancy's "Hunt for Red October" - yes, I'm sort of a Tom Clancy fan, though I find his earlier stuff easier to read than his later collaborative works (Net Force, Op Centre). Still, it's good writing nonetheless. So cheers, all.

01 November, 2005

My top ten of computing

Here we are - in no particular order:

1) Blogging. Has to be one of the ... more... interactive things I've done yet. All I need to do is to get the email portion worked out, and I've sorted it. Comments are good too, except the spam ones, of course.

2) The web. Of course. Without the web, the Internet just wouldn't be the same. Tim Berners-Lee wasn't the only one to have this brilliant idea, however he was in the right place at the right time to implement things. Of course, now companies give you so much on offer that nowadays the Web can seem pretty overwhelming to people new to the whole Internet/Web/online thing.

3) FTP. Where it all started. That, and email. But FTP is way easier to deal with for what it was designed for. Getting files from one place, to your hot little machine.

4) The desktop machine - one that's actually affordable for a lot of people. This has happened mainly because of inevitability, technology, and sheer bloody-mindedness.

5) Email. About as ubiquitous as running water in a city, or even electricity. One of the most hated things about email is the ability to spam millions of customers with just the click of a mouse, or the simple sending of one email. One of the most loved things about email is the speed with which it gets from source to destination. Also one of the oldest reasons to have started the Internet.

6) The telephone service. Without it, we'd still be using tin cans, morse code, or be using radio links. And there would be a LOT less people "online" if it meant that you had to compete for radio bandwidth with 36,000 neighbours.

7) Commercial companies to supply an Internet connection to homes over those same phone lines. Okay, they may charge a bit, but that's the price of technology, right?

8) Operating systems that are free to use in any way you choose. Of my selection, I use Linux, but Free/Open/NetBSD, Darwin, or the HURD are also free, in the sense that you can do whatever you like with them, except to try and restrict anyone else's right to also do the same. This is more prevalent when using the GPL than it is with the BSD license, however, even the BSD license allows anyone to freely modify or "reverse-engineer" any part of the free operating system that they distribute. Just don't try it with any commercial program, regardless of whether or not it's actually running on that same free-of-encumbrances operating system.

9) Human inventiveness. Without it, we wouldn't have things like Tivo, iPod, software, 4.0GHz machines on a desktop, or many other things we now take for granted that were sheer flights of fancy many years ago, if indeed they had been thought of at all.

A) Streaming audio and video. This way you can literally talk to anywhere in the world for only pennies/cents/pence/whatever.

Well, that's my lot for this post. Hope it gets through alive.

Oh, by the way, do comment. I've turned on confirm now, so theoretically, only legit comments will get through now.

31 October, 2005

Only two hours old, and already there's a spot.

So much for thinking that comment spammers would leave me alone. Out, out, damn spot. Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled transmissions. And no, you can't comment. Go away, spammer. Being on dialup sure doesn't hold a candle to having DSL. As yet, I've not experienced DSL, but I suspect that for the first month, I'd quite likely be just like a kid in a candy shop, and go WAY over my normal account allowance. Thankfully, I haven't got that chance, as yet. And, given that ADSL2 is just around the corner in New Zealand, and already being rolled out in Australia, I suspect that ADSL (version 1) is yet again going to be relegated to the boondocks just like dialup was when ADSL first came along. Free Fibre throughout the country, anyone? Hrm. Thought not. Guess our telecommunications infrastructure has to make their profits some way.

Time to consider things, Big Ben included.

Timezones get confusing, sometimes. You say you're in New Zealand, and nobody knows where the hell that is - although that's sort of changing now. At least now they know we've got sheep. And pretty good scenery - though that was always a given. I was on IRC last night (as per usual) and was talking about Casio watches when I found out that the newer models (for lots of money, of course) now have "Atomic" timekeeping - the general concept is that these watches take their time off an atomic standard, and hence, never need setting, except to set the timezone that you're in. What method do they use to receive the signal? Is there a little radio set up to receive WWV or WWVH? And what if you're out of range of either of those? Does your little watch gradually drift further out of time with the rest of the world? Tick tock, tick tock. I played around with a perl script called "grandfatherclock" last week, along with adding decent "bong" and quarters sound files. Took a little work in audacity, and I'm still not sure I've got two of the files "right". But at least now it sounds good at the half hour chime, and the last "bong" of the hour is nice and drawn out, like I'd expect. A little trick I thought of was to have two "bong" files - one for the first, second, etc,, and the other bong file would be what you get on the last bong of the hour with proper delay at the end. Then, when we play the hours, play the first sound for every bong but the last one, then play the second sound with the full audio decay as the last one. It only took a little work with an editor, and a couple of iterations of "edit, test" to get it right. The trick of course was to get decent audio files to begin with, and thankfully, someone had put up an MP3 of Big Ben striking 3 (along with all the quarters, of course). That gave me enough material to work with, once I converted it back into split-up wav files. In the Windows world, things are a little different. For starters, most people putting up their program shout out "Authentic sound of Big Ben!" while hiding the fact that their program could literally be doing ANYthing while it's chiming. I'm intending to port the program to Windows, using the ActivePerl environment. The only thing that I'll be missing is a cute toolbar icon and tray applet to go with it. Any suggestions, anyone?

Mass and Microsoft: and the beat goes on...

To continue to introduce myself: I'm basically a New Zealand Viking, with a presence on IRC, web, and now, on blog. Don't expect too much out of me, as I'm only learning stuff, mainly to do with Linux and programming, but also don't expect that I'll be totally vapid either. You may even find that I'll play with things, just because I like to play with things...

Mass vs Micro: is this fight open?

First, I recently took a look at the October Open Document Format invite-only discussion, and had read the recent Groklaw article and link to the Harvard Law School audio/video feed. By the way, Pamela Jones and the team run a really tight ship at Groklaw. Well done. The fact that Mass. Executive has voted for OASIS Open Document Format is certainly a signal for other organisations to consider the format, along with Microsoft's XML offering and Adobes' PDF format, of course. I also note, as David Wheeler does, that it IS only one department of Massachusetts state government, but still, it's a pretty important move to make. My beef is with the internal wrangling that Microsoft must be undergoing right at this moment, "do we support it, or don't we". Simply put, my impression is: they wish to retain or even extend market share and lock-in (or lock-out of competitors). They feel they can only do this by exercise of their "proprietary" crown jewels, that "retain fidelity" of the author's creation, though only in the manner that Microsoft decide that an author should lay out her document. If they are able to achieve this, then they guarantee themselves a revenue stream. If on the other hand, they cannot achieve a lock-out of competitors being able to create any "documents" in any layout and format that they wish, then Microsoft have lost the chance to maintain their revenue stream, at least from the simple requirement for the creation and exchange of documents. We all know that Microsoft isn't the only kid on the block. Hell, they even have pretty decent software in the Office arena. The recent release of OpenOffice.org 2.0 is a big signal that now, there's another contender, and Microsoft won't be getting any money from people's use of OpenOffice.org.

Rights of an author not to be left out

Authors obviously have the right to create documents. They also have the right to control what those documents look like, and to control who their documents can be accessed by, and in what manner. The argument (at least from Microsoft's view, perhaps) is that Microsoft should be able to say "We'll support the author's right to control these items, but we'll use a layout mechanism (a schema) that doesn't have an implementation diagram on public show" - in short, the "binary blob" in each Microsoft XML document that has been described in other places. In comparison, Open Document Format shows the layout mechanism in plain view. Arguments can of course be made on either side of this, but I think OASIS have done the right thing. More later.

This is a test - this is.. Oh, hello.

Ah! So you've arrived already! Mon dieu! Garcon. GARCON! Where's that waiter when I need him to bring me my winelist? Hmpf. Never here when I need him. Ah well. I guess I had better introduce myself. I'm the Viking from down under - a.k.a. New Zealand., and I have a lot of opinions. Sometimes not very well informed ones either. I have several interests aside from computing, but, computing pretty much has it all over the rest of the interests at this time. Sometimes my wife complains she can never get me off the thing, and that she should just brick up this portion and leave a feeding hole (or perhaps not). I seem to have gained some experience in Linux computing, Windows98 and with FreeBSD as well as having dabbled with the Amiga500+. I'm interested (but mainly unknowledgeable) about programming in a number of different arenas, web and scripting coming to mind. I also like to try to understand the current battle between Open Source, Free Software, and commercial companys that want us to buy their product because it's NOT free. I also can be found on IRC, occasionally talking up a storm, or on the Web, where I can be seen discussing points with developers just because I need to understand something better than currently. Other than that, well, I read a lot, or try to. Sometimes I need to get my voice out on photons, so - here I am.