Friday, September 30, 2005

Contributing to Debian

Sometimes I think of contributing to Debian in some way. There are three things that stop me, and here they are, in order of importance.
  1. Inertia. Just not getting around to it. Possibly a certain amount of laziness.
  2. Mailing lists. I had to use mailing lists at university, and I hated it. Hundreds of mostly inane emails each day to wade through. Awful. What a wholly inadequate substitute for newsgroups.
  3. Complexity. I started reading about contributing, and that led to the new maintainer process, and all that other documentation stuff. This is the internet age - anything requiring an attention span of more than five minutes will not be read. Remember The Big Chill: "We only have one editorial rule: You can't write anything longer than the average person can read during the average crap." (Actually I'm sure it is not really that complex - this is probably just a restatement of 1. above).
  4. Scale. Debian is big. Really big. Where do you start?
Yes I know that was four things. However since 3 is really just a restatement of 1 then 4 is really 3, and I was right in the first place.

Recently I read somewhere that submitting bug reports is considered at contribution. I guess that's obvious, but for some reason it hadn't occured to me. I have reported bugs a couple of times! Excellent. That means I can stop feeling guilty about my lack of contributedness, and maybe go and read some ctrl-alt-del, content in the knowledge that I am not such a freeloader after all.

Browncoats: You lost. Get over it.

Transitions - part 1

My experience with Linux began with Red Hat 5.x and Mandrake 6. In the early days I dual-booted win9x (hell at one point I triple booted win9x, NT4 and Linux on a pair of 2GB drives) Now it is win2k.

From day one I thought Linux was really cool, derived considerable pleasure from fiddling with it, and thought this whole multi-user operating system idea just might take off someday. Multiple desktops, multiple window managers. Choices choices choices. All good.

However in the end I would reboot to Windows, and there, for the most part, remained. There were some valid reasons for this. As a Delphi developer it was hard to avoid Windows during business hours, at that point Linux lacked a mail client that didn't suck, and Panzer General was only available on dos/Win. Stuff like that.

I read about the Free Software movement, agreed with its principles, and really did want to use GNU/Linux and other Free software wherever possible - at least on an intellectual level. However on booting Windows I could feel my shoulders relaxing, and tension draining away. Windows felt comfortable. Linux did not, despite its power and all the cool features. And that's the real reason I ended up in Windows most of the time.

Over the years since then I have always had a dual-boot system (usually Mandrake), and experimented in VMware with many different distributions. I used Freesco on an old 486 as a firewall/gateway for my local network. And yet until very recently my primary desktop was still Windows.

When did I migrate my primary desktop to Linux? Why did it not happen sooner?
And why not Windows XP?

Maybe later.

Articles and Hyperlinking

RT Essentials

Here we have an article about a product, Request Tracker, that does not contain a link to the product homepage. There must be a good reason for this, because it is so damn common. Is it a corporate thing? Are editors afraid that if you click through you won't come back?

Surely it is reasonably to expect that an article about Foocorp's new widget should contain a link to

Quote of the Day

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."
Robert Heinlein(1939) describing the RIAA and MPAA.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Quote of the Day - stupidity

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity
- Robert Heinlein

... and here's an excellent analysis of the whole subject:
The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Amusing PC case designs

A Mini ITX computer built with Lego pieces -

A case built from case fans -

Heavy Metal -

Save the Sheep

Makes me proud to be Australian

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Quote of the Day

The gods do not protect fools. Fools are protected by more capable fools.
- Larry Niven (Ringworld)

The Teacher Fainted

So I'm enjoying some funnies at amazing jokes. Well, mostly enjoying. I really really hate jokes that end with "The teacher fainted", "The doctor fainted", "The lawyer fainted".

For Example:

Little Mary

Little Mary was not the best student in Sunday School. Usually she slept through the class. One day the teacher called on her while she was napping, ''Tell me, Mary, who created the universe?'' When Mary didn't stir, little Johnny, an altruistic boy seated in the chair behind her, took a pin and jabbed her in the rear. ''God Almighty !'' shouted Mary and the teacher said, ''Very good'' and Mary fell back to sleep.
A while later the teacher asked Mary, ''Who is our Lord and Savior?'' But Mary didn't even stir from her slumber. Once again, Johnny came to the rescue and stuck her again. ''Jesus Christ!'' shouted Mary and the teacher said, ''Very good,'' and Mary fell back to sleep. Then the teacher asked Mary a third question, ''What did Eve say to Adam after she had her twenty-third child?'' And again, Johnny jabbed her with the pin. This time Mary jumped up and shouted, ''If you stick that damn thing in me one more time, I'll break it in half!'' The Teacher fainted.

What's wrong with "The Teacher fainted" here?
  1. It's not funny.
  2. The sentence before it is the punch line. A joke should not continue after the punch line.
  3. It adds nothing to the story.
  4. People just don't faint that easily.
Technology link: I typed this on my computer.


A flatmate used to record daytime soaps so she could watch them after work. So we've already established that she's not too bright, however that's not the amusing bit. The amusing bit is this - she insists that the TV has to be left on all day, otherwise the program won't record.

I explain to her that the signal between VCR and TV is purely one-way affair, and that the state of the Television can in no way influence the ability of the VCR to record. (Ok if she were to place a pot-plant on the TV and water it the resulting fire might affect the Video Recorder, but that's a story for another time).

She insists that on one occasion she had turned the TV off, and on that day her show was not recorded. Therefore, she concludes, the Television must be on all day.

I explain that this is not sufficient to establish causality, and reiterate the simple facts of TV-VCR interaction. This has no effect. I explain that no doubt solar flare activity messed with the timer on her Recorder. This she accepts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Reminder to Self

Think of a better name for this.

KDE Control Center - Confusing? interesting article about kde4. However:

"... the KDE Control Center, which currently organizes the configuration modules into a confusing hierarchy, ..."

Me: "Confusing? Are you out of your mind? It is a treeview. You click on the little arrow, and the tree expands. You might find these oh-so-tricky trees in such seldomly used applications as, say, just about any non-text-mode email client ever written. But you're right - treviews are so confusing that this email thing will never take off."

I'm a big fan of both Gnome and KDE, but spend most of my time in the latter. Gnome has a clean interface, some excellent tools, and the Gnome applications start up faster than their KDE equivalents. However KDE has the control center, which allows me to easily configure the DE the way I want it. Gnome's configuration tools are seriously lacking in detail.

I believe the Control Center is KDE's chief advantage over Gnome. Lately it seems most articles flag the Control Center as KDE's weak point, and I just don't get that.

It's true that Kcontrol could use a bit of housekeeping.
For example: It is not immediately obvious which branch a given node will be under, and some are definitely in the wrong place. What is "Paths" doing under "System Administration"? This is clearly a user-level setting. However these are minor issues, and do not justify cries of "too confusing".

Millions of Outlook Express users have proved that even a complete idiot can deal with a treeview.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Daughter #1

My nine year old daughter can crash any OS, sometimes in strange and innovative ways. I used to think it was just normal Windows instability/insecurity (At the age of four she managed to uninstall her 3dfx drivers. What kind of operating system gives ordinarly users permission to do that anyway - yeah rhetorical question)

Recently I configured her system to dual-boot win98se and Debian GNU/Linux, and discovered some very intersting things:
  1. Daughter #1 enjoys the free games in Linux at least as much as the expensive commercial games I buy her for Windows and Game Cube.
  2. Daughter #1 could probably bring a DEC Alpha to its knees with a couple of keystrokes.
  3. and therefore there is no such thing as a stable operating system.
An example:
#1 is listening to some MP3s. She has Nautilus open, clicks on file, listens to it in Totem, closes Totem, clicks on another file, etc. (BTW why is it Totem can remember where it was on the screen, its window size and volume setting, but can't remember that I had the Playlist open last time I used it?).

Anyway, after a few minutes she's calling out to me in her "I hate computers" voice, so I take a look and it seems ok. "So what's up?"

She closes Totem, and three more Totem windows pop up. Closes Totem. Five more windows. Close one. Three more. I got to the console and killall totem . Lots more windows. It doesn't matter how many times I do this, Totem insists on respawning. Eventually I "/etc/init.d/gdm restart" and all is well.

No doubt this is a Totem bug, and the point is not that this is #1's fault or anything. It's just that if there is a way for an appliction to fall over she will find it. If there is a game that locks X so bad that the only way to access her machine is via SSH from another box, she will decide that this is her favourite game of the moment, and insist on playing it constantly. I swear, if I have to restart her X server again today I will "apt-get remove blobwars" and tell her to find something else to play.

I have found her vocation in life, and it is QA tester.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Borland Can't Write Software for Linux

It's just their nature. Delphi version X is released. Then a couple of updates come out to fix the nastiest of the showstoppers. And that's it till version X+1. Any further bugs? It'll cost you another $2000 to see if they're fixed in the next version.

Progress in Linux is a lot more dynamic than that. "Release early. Release often."

Borland don't Get Linux and they don't Get Free Software. They tried a few years ago with Interbase and something about that scared the hell out of them - they backpedalled so fast the skid-marks must be visible from orbit.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Futility of Blogging

In 2003 I kept reading about something called a "weblog". Surely, I thought, this is just another name for the personal homepages that have been around since prehistoric times (ie the 90s). And of course I was right.

Still the articles persisted, and insisted that with tools like Blogger creating your own weblog was dead easy - anyone could do it. Eventually I succumbed and created this, wrote my first post, and published it proudly to the blogosphere (*cringe* - I hate that word).

... and two years later that single post stands as a testimony to the futility of blogging for its own sake. It turns out that in order to do this thing a fairly fundamental requirement is that you have something to say about something or other. And apparently I do not have anything to say.

So I come here to remove this blog, but with finger poised to click "Delete" a thought occurs to me. Then another. Ok so now I have a couple of ideas for posts, and I make a bit of a deal with myself. I'll leave it up a while longer, make a kind of semi-commitment to write up these ideas and see if I end up having something to say after all. And if it's gone nowhere in a month or so, well I can come back and delete it then.