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.