Thursday, April 28, 2005
Broken Blog Update
Turns out it was all Microsoft's fault. As you may have picked up, I'm a pretty bad speller. So a few times I've typed my post out in Word so I can catch any obvious mistakes and then paste it into the blogspot post window.
Because Word is the wonderful product it is, it inserts tags around anything it feels like - places, dates, people, whatever. When I copy and paste, these tags come along for the ride. Most of them seem to work in XML, but every now and again there's one that doesn't. Hence the broken feed.
So, no more copying and pasting from Word.
Oh, and as Gordon said, why doesn't the Blogspot spellchecker know the word "Blog"?
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Yay For Ordering Online
A little while ago I preordered some books. The cheapest and slowest option was going to take 4 to 6 weeks. Okay I figured. The orders started to ship in the 22nd of April. And mine arrived yesterday (I just went and picked it up). I'm wondering if I went for the $65 (US) shipping if they would have arrived the day before I placed the order.
And the cool thing is, it's not like this is an isolated case. Everything I have ever ordered online, regardless of who I'm buying it from, has arrived much quicker than the specified time. In fact, the worst experience I've ever had ordering online was when I was notified that a package had been delayed by US Customs because they thought the package was too heave to just be books. The package arrived safe and sound two days later (the tracking system said it was still in the US...)
So yay for ordering online!
Monday, April 25, 2005
Linux.conf.au Day 6
The keynote (or footnote as he called it) was by Eben Moglen, the legal council of the Free Software Foundation. He gave what he described as the State of the Free Union, an overview of how the Open Source community is placed, and the challenges it faces over the next few years. Basically, his speech was very cool, and ended with a standing ovation from the crowd.
After that, I went to listen to Luis Villa tell me why everyone needed a bugmaster. Villa talked about why he thinks bugmasters are really important (the help produce good quality products), and talked about the traits a good bugmaster needs (basically being fairly anal and humble at the same time). Good talk, but I found myself wondering "why would I want to find other people's bugs rather than write code myself?". So I guess I'm not going to ask to join QA just yet.
After stuffing myself with free pizza, I went along to Chris McCormick's talk on hacking the Gameboy Advanced. He made a point I'd been wondering about for a little while - if Linux is meant to be fun, why are there so few games? McCormick had started his own company to try and develop and sell an indie game for the Gameboy Advanced, but has found it really hard to break into the industry. Really interesting and really cool stuff. It probably helped that he thought he only had 10mins left, so rushed through his talk, and then realised he still had another 20mins, so could go off on tangents.
I'm pretty sure Gordon would have really enjoyed this talk.
After that it was time for the Lightning Talks - short talks about whatever cool think the speaker is currently up to. Some pretty cool stuff was talked about, and it will be interesting to see what's still around next year.
My last talk of the day was one of the Best Ofs. After seriously considering going to another talk by Bdale, I went to the Architecture of the X Window. Keith Packard didn't go into much details - I'm guessing it wasn't a work for word repeat - but he did have a lot of fun. It was a pretty cool way for the conference to finish for me.
Linux.conf.au Day 5
After the keynote, I went to listen to Elizabeth "Edale" Garbee talk about modifying the game Tux Racer. I figured Edale's talk would be fun, partly because she was talking about hacking a game, and partly because she's only about 13. And it was pretty cool. Nothing particularly ground breaking or anything, but still lots of fun.
After lunch I had been planning on checking out the World Forge talk, but then the program changed to include Mark Shuttleworth talking about going into space. I figured it was really a bit much to attend two games talks in the one day, so I went to hear about space. This has definitely been my favourite talk of the week. Going into space has always been a dream of mine (along with probably 3/4 of all the geeks in the world, although strangely not David Bowie), so it was really cool to hear about someone actually doing it.
As if to prove that I wasn't on a junket, I then went to hear developing in Mono. Michael Davies needs to build software prototypes for his day job, and so has found that C# is much better suited for the job than C. The fact that the same code runs on other platforms means he can develop on his Linux box at home and not suffer any pain using the code in a Windows environment.
Next up was a talk about the PostgreSQL query optimiser, which I figured might be somewhat useful for work. Turns out it probably wasn't, but it was still kind of interesting. I hadn't actually realised just how complex SQL queries could become - probably a side effect of only performing relatively simple operations.
Last up for the day was a talk by James Cameron (the apt-walkabout fill-in talk from the Debian mini-conf guy) talking about the bootable Linux CDs he'd built. He'd run a computer camp for kids, and so had prepared the entire desktop environment on a CD (or maybe it was a DVD). The computers would boot of the CDs, giving the kids exactly the same environment without altering the computers underneath (all running Windows). Very similar to the De Bortli setup.
The cool part was that it meant that they could quickly and easily control everything - all the network stuff was instantly set up, if something went wrong they could quickly recover and they could even do funky things like send a command from the instructor's machine and have a game (or a screensaver) launch on every other machine.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Linux.conf.au Day 4
The second talk I attended was entitled Open Source: Code vs. Culture, by Pia Waugh (not Pia Smith as the program said. I guess there was a mix up somewhere). Pia talked about how the Open Source movement is more than just a chunk of code, and how there are lots of people who can't write software but can still contribute to the efforts. She also talked about how Open Source could deal with and fight the things like the Free Trade Agreement. It was an excellent talk, and much like the Debian talks, gave me a real sense that there was a community behind Open Source.
After lunch I decided to listen to Bdale Garbee talk about bouncing ham radio signals off the moon. I couldn't really decide between the three talks that were on - nothing jumped out and grabbed me. But after realising that Garbee was the bearded HP guy from a couple of days ago, I figured I really wanted to hear him present something. I bumped into Stilly on my way, and he said it was a really cool talk. Turns out that again my geek guru was right.
Among other cool things, Garbee talked about the antenna he'd recently built in his backyard, having made most of the parts himself. I was struck by some of the similarities with Wayne Piekaraski from yesterday - hackers scavenging for parts to build cool things and generally playing Myth Busters. Lots of fun.
Next up Jermery Mark Malcolm talked about the FTA and how it impacted on Open Source. It was a really nice follow on from Pia's talk, and again had that feeling of community. Malcolm had some trouble getting his slides to work (what does he expect trying to run MacOS X at a Linux convention?), but was able to hold things together pretty well until his slides were up and running. I learnt the difference between copyright and a patient, I'm a lot more familar with the process of applying for a patient, and I understand why (most) software patients are bad. The most interesting thing I learnt was that Open Source isn't necessarily more at risk from software patients than commercial software, they're just less able to defend themselves.
For the first time (aside from the keynotes) since the conference started, I decided not to listen to something in MCC3, and went to hear David Boucher talk about Virtualizing Linux on a PPC64. Somehow I'd managed to miss read the title and abstract, and so I thought it was going to be a talk on running Linux on Mac hardware. Actually it was about running Linux on really uber IBM computers. The talk was done well, but it was a bit out of my league.
Lastly, I went to hear Warren Toomey talk about the Hacking the OzTiVo. Having helped set up Anthony's TiVi, I thought this would be pretty interesting and fun. And it was. It was nice to put a face to the "guy in Queensland" who provides the guide data. It was really interesting hearing about the history of hacking the TiVos, and hearing a slightly different approach to hacking them. Pretty cool stuff.
I had been looking forward to the WorldForge talk tomorrow, but now that Mark Shuttleworth is giving an Ubuntu talk at the same time, I think I'll have to give it a miss.
Broken Blog Update
I guess I have to do a bit of research into the differences between ATOM and RSS, but I'm still puzzled as to why Gordon's blog doesn't break in the same way.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Linux.conf.au Day 3
Today was the first day of the actual LCA conference. Thanks to my man on the inside, I knew it would be a very good idea to turn up to the opening talk at 9am (I would have gone anyway, I just wanted to slip in that I knew something most of the others didn’t). The organisers kept telling everyone to “defrag the theatre”, since they were convinced there would be people hanging from the rafters. So I ended up sitting next to a guy named Chad Tindel (who works for HP) from Colorado, and a guy from Brisbane whose name I’ve already forgotten. Both were pretty interesting people, and we had some good random conversations before Andrew rode in on his bike.
After talking for a while, Steven revealed that they would be giving away a shinny new IBM laptop at every keynote speech. Then he read out the name of the first winner - who turned out not to be there. Fortunately, Steven was prepared, and had a second name ready – who also turned out to not be there. Although he did have a friend in the audience who seemed very disappointed. An organiser rushed off to get some more names, and Steven only had to read out two more before he found someone who was actually there.
I’m guessing tomorrow there will be a lot fewer empty seats.
At Stilly’s suggestion I decided to sit in on Theodore Ts’o’s Recovering from Hard Drive Disasters session. Turns out Stilly was right – Ts’o is a very cool person. He presentation was a bit drier than I was expecting, and delved into the history and physical make up of a hard drive a bit more than I would have preferred. Having had to deal with critical hard drive failures a few times in the past, it was interesting to learn about different options next time something goes wrong.
Or I could just make regular backups…
Dan, my soon-to-be brother-in-law, was very impressed that morning and afternoon tea was provided. He’d been a bit disappointed the last couple of days at the lack of free food.
The afternoon session was done by Wayne Piekarski, and is probably my favourite talk so far. Piekarski has been studying various 3D user interfaces, and so talked about some of the cool stuff he’s been doing. Like augmented reality, the cool backpack interface he’s build that (among other things) will let you play Quake outside, and building some custom hardware. He basically outlined all of the tricks, pitfalls and cool things he’d discovered in the course of his research, with the hope that we could go off an build something just as cool. He has a much more detailed version of his tutorial posted on the web.
I’m looking forward to the Code Vs Culture and the Software Patents talks tomorrow. Oh, and I’m still hoping to win a new laptop…
Apparently my brain farted last night while I was typing this and decided that Steven was actually Andrew. Thanks for pointing that out Stilly...
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Linux.conf.au Day 2
I was part way through writing up my notes from today and discovered they were already twice as long as yesterday. So I stopped and cut things back a lot. It's still pretty long though...
Today was the second and final day of the mini confs. After looking at the program yesterday and picking the talks I wanted to hear, I realised my day was going to be pretty similar to yesterday – OpenOffice.org in the morning and Debian in the afternoon.
The OpenOffice people decided to give away some OpenOffice books to people who had filled in their evaluation forms (I hadn’t dropped mine in because I wasn’t there for the whole thing). The first one drawn went to a guy in a yellow shirt (one of the conference helper/volunteers) which I thought was pretty cool. He tried to convince them to redraw it, but the audience wouldn’t let them. Which again is pretty cool.
The first session was entitled “To OOo or not to OOo? That is the question”. It was given by a guy named Kevin Russel from a group called
He talked first about some of the myths about why people move to OpenOffice, and made some really interesting points. Like the fact that one of the advantages of Open Source software is that the money you spend to implement it stays in the local community (in the form of consultants etc) rather than going overseas (in licence fees). Someone in the audience also made a good point that in a government organisation it actually costs a lot to implement a $0 piece of software – apparently this guy has actually had senior managers sign a cheque for $0.00, because that was part of the required software procurement process.
The second talk (and the one I was most looking forward to from OpenOffice) was a case study De Bortoli Wines. The speaker, Jonathan Coombes, had been called in after the upper management had tried to force the Finance department to use a buggy release of OpenOffice without proper training.
Coombes talked about some of the interesting problems he faced, like how they dealt with De Bortoli’s problem of having several fairly remote regional offices. The solution ended up being have very little in the way of hardware outside of the main office. Basically most of the PCs don’t have any hard drives. They just boot straight from a DVD, and the individual user data is stored on a USB drive. That means upgrades can be rolled out (and rolled back) really smoothly and quickly.
Coombes also talked about how they implemented a blind trial – they didn’t tell the users that they’d changed operating systems to Linux. And most of the users didn’t even notice they weren’t running Windows. A couple apparently noticed the lack of a START button, but even that wasn’t a big deal.
Next up I snuck into the Debian theatre to hear Angus Lees talk about the Non-Free branch of Debian. The basic outline of the problem is that the Debian philosophy is that the Debian distribution should consist of only software they the source code is open. This means that a lot of things like firmware and fonts shouldn’t be included in the Main branch of the code. But, if you don’t get the drivers for your network card when you install Debian, how do you go on the web to download them?
The talk was really interesting, and gave me a great insight into the Debian mindset (something I hadn’t really realised existed). Half way through the talk it kind of degenerated into a freeform discussion, but that was just as cool (and to his credit, Lees seemed quite happy to let it go). One of the most interesting people in the discussion was a big bearded American who said he was the HP Open Source & Linux CTO (or something like that – I’m sure someone will tell me who he was - turns out he is Bdale Garbee. Thanks again Stilly). He was pretty convinced that the market will move towards more open source drivers in the near future, so Debian should stick to its guns and maintain a hardline reading of the FSG.
After lunch we had a talk from Steve Kowalik about his pet project, Linda. I’m still not quite sure what Linda is supposed to do other than check Debian packages. However, the talk was a really interesting insight into how a random person develops for Open Source. Kowalik had come up with an idea for something he thought would be useful, and so written it. He talked about how he wished he would get more bug reports so he could make it better (and I guess so he knew people were using it), he talked about his development cycle and talked about what he wanted to do in the future.
If I said “fortunately Kowalik’s talk was only half as long as it was meant to be”, people might get the wrong idea. But it was lucky, because it gave another Debian developer James Cameron (no, not that James Cameron) a chance to talk about an app he wrote. His problem was that if he was updating his friend’s Linux builds, it would take forever to download the required packaged (the bandwidth in the outback being pretty crappy), and he’d find himself downloading the same packages at each friend’s place.
His solution was to write an app (called apt-walkabout) that would basically bundle all the package requests together so that he’d only have to download them all once and he could do it somewhere with better reception. Very cool.
The Herding the N00bs talk by Matthew Palmer turned out to not be quite what I was expecting. It was more about turning random Debian users into hardened Debian developers. But it was still pretty interesting. He talked about the various things he’d like to implement in the Debian mentor program (stealing fairly heavily from the Debian-Women mentor program). He also gave a pretty good run down of the things someone needs to do to get a package into Debain, and how to get one of the cool @debian email addresses.
The final talk for the day was on why Debian needs certification. The basic conclusion was that Debian doesn’t need certification, but it would make the rest of the world much happier if there was a bit of paper they could check for. You can have the best understanding of something in the world, but often if you can say “yes, I have that qualification!”, you probably won’t get the job.
So I did a quick Google for "Linux C++ IDE", and found KDevelop. I'll give it a go, but if anyone has any suggestions, let me know.
Monday, April 18, 2005
Linux.conf.au Day 1
The fun really started yesterday afternoon when I took advantage of the early-bird registration. So really there should have been a post yesterday called “Linux.conf.au Day 0”, but there wasn’t. The conference “schwag”, as it seems to be officially called (or vender crap if you prefer the more common name) was impressive. I’d heard about most of it from Mikal, but there were still a couple of surprises. The coffee mug/thermos is really nice, and the mini HP Leatherman is pretty cool. I even used my stubbie holder last night.
Walking into Manning Clark, I found myself surrounded by geeks with laptops. It made me a bit sad that I still haven’t got my wireless connection working. After a brief chat to Lindsay and Stilly (Stilly: “I’m going to let you go, and then I’m going to have a coronary. See you later!”), I wondered into the OpenOffice.org miniconf.
The first speaker was Simon Phipps, a Sun Evangelist. My notes from his talk include the line “Simon Phipps -> Sun -> cool”, so it’s probably fair to say he made a good first impression on me. Through pure chance, his talk turned out to be probably the best introduction to the whole Open Source thing I could have asked for. He discussed how a phenomenon like Open Source was pretty much inevitable as society became more and more “connected”.
Probably his most interesting point was that there seems to be a lot of confusion in the English speaking world about the term “Free Software”. In most other languages, they have separate words for the concept of “not costing any money” and “not being restricted”. He said when people talk about “free software” they are meaning the second, or they don’t understand the term.
The second talk was by a guy named Marc Englaro. My notes say “Marc Englaro -> Si2 -> Suit”. He is part of a company they helps organisations migrate from their existing applications to OpenOffice. While not as charismatic as Phipps, he still had some interesting things to say. Also, very early on he convinced me that he wasn’t stupid when he quite clearly said that migrating to OpenOffice was not the best solution for every organisation.
He outline some of the main concerns organisations have in moving away from Microsoft Office, and some of the major deficiencies in OpenOffice (things like a lack of an MS Access clone, the limitation on the number of row in the Calc and the loss of pivot tables). He also talked about some of the key things that make migration easier.
The third speaker was a woman named Jean Hollis Webber who is a professional technical writer. Her talk was on using OpenOffice for technical and academic writing. Basically, in her opinion, OpenOffice is much better at dealing with the demands of professional writers than Microsoft Word. Her talk was fairly brief since things were running a bit behind.
The final OpenOffice.org speaker I heard was Ian Laurenson. From a quick glance at the program, it seems like Laurenson is giving pretty much every third talk over the two days. His first talk was about using Writer to do nice/pretty/impressive/cool formatting. He pointed out some of the common mistakes people make using Writer, and talked about some of the problems that keep popping up on the newsgroups. Sound a little dry? It was a bit, but fortunately he realised the fact. He kept the talk fairly brief and even said at the end “I could go into a lot more detail, but it’s a bit pointless unless you’ve got the program running in front of you”.
After lunch I decided to sit in of the Debian talks. Grant told me he’d been at an after-wedding party with most of the Debian guys last night, so if they were a bit hung over, that’s why. He suggested I bang some pots or something.
I came in half-way through Simon Horman’s talk on the current stat of the Debian kernel. It was pretty interesting stuff – interesting enough that I wished I hadn’t missed the beginning. Horms talked about how the different version numbers in Debian work, and talked a bit about bug tracking and reporting. He also talked about what he wanted the community to do more of to help support Debian which was pretty interesting. Basically, when users find bugs, he wants them to take ownership of them (to a degree). He made the excellent point that it’s really hard for developers to test a bug fix if they don’t have an environment that causes the bug to appear.
After Horms finished, Benj. Mako Hill took the microphone. Since he couldn’t be bothered preparing anything new, he had randomly grabbed a talked he’d done earlier. As it turned out, it was something targeted at people less familiar with Debian than most of the audience. Which suited me fine J
He talked about how customisable Debian is, and how there are currently around 115 distributions which build directly off the Debian distro (including Ubuntu). He talked about how he thinks this is a really great model, since it gives people much more freedom in their system. One size does not fit all. Pretty cool stuff, but there’s not a lot more I can say about it.
On my way out I managed to snaffle one of the new Ubuntu CDs.
I’m looking forward to tomorrows talks, especially the OpenOffice case studies and the Debian talk on “Herding the N00bs”.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Where Does Silk Come From?
Gordon wants to call Tremble "Silk", which I think is a really cool name (plus, we can call the Tremble tream "Silk Worms"). But then I asked, what can the Webservice be called. Where does silk come from?
The answer was obvious. So from now on, I'm going to call it "Mulberry".
My First Blog
True Pork Clerk Stories
It's too funny to change, but the link should read "True Porn Clerk Stories". Stupid fingers...
So last night we went out picked up our new (second hand) Astra. I'd post a picture, but I'm too lazy to host an image somewhere. It's blue and all shinny.
It's all very exciting.
The Naming Game
Lindsay wants to name Tremble "Context Collaboration", basically because it tells people everything they need to know about the product in its name, and it saves her (and the company) time and money. Gordon wants to call it "Silk", since Tremble is light and thin, and it's a cool sounding name for a software product.
They both have good points. So what's my bright idea?
"Silk: Context Collaboration" - it tells people everything they need to know, but once they get used to the idea, they can just call it "Silk" and sound cool.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
But instead, I'm typing this at work before I go and get my breakfast.
I've mentioned in my last few posts about how I've been battling Linux (with Stilly's help). I've been hoping to get wireless access happening ready for linux.conf.au next week. I've got a wireless network at home, and there's one at work, so it would be really good to get set up.
Except it doesn't love me.
Turns out Belkin, who made my wireless PCI card, are kind of tricky to get working. I've found lots of advice on the web, some of it actually useful. After a couple of weeks of trying, I've got my laptop knowing that there is a Belkin card in the slot, the Belkin drivers setup, the network config knowing that there's a wireless option, and I can even poll for access to a wireless network.
But it still isn't working. The little light in the card has never come on.
And, to make things even more special, the keyboard has started to play up. Maybe I should just ask for a different laptop...
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Linux Games Part I
I read an article on the weekend (well, more an editorial sidebar) in the March issue of Linux Format (p19 if you care) about how there seems to be a distinct lack of non-puzzle, non-text games for Linux. A large part of this is because (at least according to Paul Hudson) most games are written using DirectX, making the porting much harder. And with Linux holding so much less of the market share, why would any developer bother putting the effort in.
As a long time Mac user (I didn't get a PC until I build my box in 2002), I understand this pain. While most of my friends were playing the latest, coolest games in high school, I was playing random stuff hardly anyone outside of the Apple Usergroup had ever heard of. Occasionally someone would get around to doing a port of the game, but usually that was six months to a year later.
This is part of the reason I have so much respect for Blizzard - they make a point of having Mac/PC hybrid CDs for their games. So the Mac version is released at the same time (usually), and if you change OS, you don't have to re-purchase the game.
So I've been thinking about this over the last few days, and trying to think of a business model for an open source game company. While it's possible to give your code away for free but still make a good living with most kinds of software, to me it seems like it would be a lot harder. Aside from MMORPGs, you generally can't sell a support contract for games. Supplying things documentation, walkthroughs or hints are a bit redundant - these things already appear really quickly for free on the web, and if you can see the source code, it makes it even easier to produce.
So when I saw this post, I thought he'd be interested...
Monday, April 11, 2005
Well, this morning I got an email from the ticket monkey. Apparently the demand for Tori Amos has been so great that they've decided to cancel the Canberra concert and hold it in Sydney. Boo. Hiss. But, as always, there is a silver lining...
The ticket monkey and I are now going to see Tori Amos perform in the Opera House, and then the next day see Nick Cave play at Luna Park. Plus we get to do the whole Concert Roadtrip thing, which is always awesome.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Choose Your Own Adventure
My personal favourite is "You're Going To Die"
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Or is playing on someone's stereo when you go to visit...
A friend introduced me to (as in gave me a listen to, not helped me meet) Tegan & Sara a couple of weeks ago. I commented at the time that it was almost J-Pop sounding, but with a nice grunge edge. But in a good way. It's a bitteenager-ish, but sometimes that's just the music you want to listen to.
I'm not sure if it's just because their Canadian, but more than a few of the songs brings back memories of Degrassi Jr High. Again, in a good way. The other cool thing is that they're older then me by two or three days (what with dateline wackiness). I've been giving the 2 dozen or so tracks I'm "borrowing" a good thrashing on iTunes at the moment.
Just to prove Lindsay's theory of pirating music (that it actually makes it more likely that CDs will sell), I'm planning on tracking down This Business of Art next time I go CD shopping. Best random music so far this year.
Hackfest - Part I
Last week Stilly suggested that it would be a good idea for me to have a got at the Hackfest. I'd originally looked at it and thought "nah, to hard", but after his suggestion I took another look and figured I could give it a go. If nothing else, it will give me some good coding practice.
For anyone to lazy to click on the link, this year’s hackfest involves an old game called Spellcast. Basically you have two wizards throwing spells at each other until one gives up or dies. There are two parts of hackfest - the first is to write a bot (get the computer to play one of the wizards) and the second is to write a GUI for the game (or at least a better GUI).
My first thought was to go for the GUI version - I figured there would be less people entering, and I've always wanted to get some graphics skills. But then I came up with a good idea for the bot, so maybe I'll try for both. Or maybe I'll end up with nothing. I guess we'll see...
My first challenge was getting the source code to compile. After a weekend of downloading and installing packages (including acidently deleting some very important packages and having to re-install Ubuntu - thanks Grant), I got no where. After getting some help from Stilly, I discovered that I had actually managed to get the game to compile, I was just to dumb to get it to run.
So now I have a working version of Spellcast. Now all I have to do is start writing some code...
Saturday, April 02, 2005
The IMDB Game
Once you have your movie, go to IMDB. The goal is to get to the movie page by only clicking on links - you can't just search for The Incredibles. So, on the front page is a link to Sin City, which stars Bruce Willis. I have a few options to choose from here, but I'll take Unbreakable (since I thought it was great). Willis' co-star was Samuel L. Jackson. And of couse, Jackson played Frozone in The Incredibles.
Anyway. I found it a fun break from fighting Linux.