Alaska could learn from Massachusetts

This post was originally posted at on 24 January 2006.

In reference to this Slashdot articleabout Diebold electronic voting data availability.

Adopting Open voting/documententation standards would curtail these sorts of issues, without the FUD of forcing constituents to switch… However, I think that blaming it on Diebold is only a scape-goat to hide corruption in the voting system, so it's likely to remain…

Linux distro woes

This post was originally posted at on 24 January 2006.

Well, my flirtations with gentoo didn't last too long. I'm now trying SuSE 10.0 out, which — yes — is an RPM-based distro!

So, why did I leave gentoo? I suppose that the "distro that doesn't get in your way" got in my way. With the arrival of our first baby, I'm rather short on the hours needed to learn how to configure everything in gentoo. While it's true that I could stand to learn a lot from getting it all to work, I can't afford to be hacking around getting pesky things like the scanner to go, or printing, or figuring out why I suddenly cannot burn a CD anymore. I need a "linux for dummies" that just works, and is more stable than winblows. Of course, if money was no object, I'd get myself a nice shiny new dual G5 Macintosh, but that's just for my dreams.

So, since Novel have decided to open up SuSE a bit more now, I'm trying it out. I downloaded the "Evaluation" version, rather than OpenSuse, since I'm not an OpenSource zealot, and frankly I'd like to visit web sites with flash animations. It has crippled xine/kaffeine and no DVDCSS, but I can live without movies for now until I get that sorted, or build from the source I have, or even (ick!) just boot to Windows (though I know of no free DVD players for win32 that expand a 16:9 movie to fill as much of my 4:3 screen as Kaffeine does).

So, it installed well, I now have working scanner, printer, cd-rw, dhcpd, cvs, mysql, java (yay!), apache, tomcat, kde. No Audacity or Rosegarden (important apps for me), no Eclipse (can wait). Slightly out-of-date jedit (4.1) and about 250MB of patches to upgrade to at some point, or not, since on dial-up I'm not exactly a cracker target...

I'm very happy with SuSE so far. It's as pleasant as I always thought it would be. YaST is nice too. Only problem: sometimes cdrecord bombs, still (!). Pisses me off, it worked once but not again, even as root. It can sit on the back-burner (oops) until after I've got my missing audio software installed

Major projects for linux are:

  • Record old music tapes to OGG and burn to data and audio CDs
  • Get nice video editing software (kino) working for baby and burn to VCDs
  • Java hacking (install Sun Java Studio sharchives)
  • Photo indexing and database, then archive to CDs
  • Produce a CD database
  • Get a working backup solution running

Obviously, I need to get cd-rw sorted as a priority... it's kinda central!

Can't trust the papers…

This post was originally published at on 1 November 2005

In reference to this Slashdot article about the Internet killing newspapers

Why does "mainstream media" think blogging is such a huge hit? It's not that Internet is immediate, or that anyone can do it (which has big down-sides as well as it's egalitarian advantages). It is simply that people everywhere are fed-up with WWII-era propagandists telling us what to believe and have started researching it for themselves.

This is the Information Revolution: the Revolution is greatly improved access to the information. People are more educated now than they were 50 or even 20 years ago and can make informed judgements. They don't need some "journalist" to do it for them. This is quite appart form the fact that today's journalism is extremely poor compared to yester-year's.

I don't buy papers because I know that I can't trust them to bring me news in an unbiased, non-politically or commercially influenced fashion, or full of Tabloid rubbish like British newspapers. I accept the risk that the news I learn via the Net can be from the "uninformed" masses and mitigate this by using many sources so I can judge for myself where the "truth" lies.

I won't even read over people's shoulders anymore.

For at least the last 10 years, newspapers have been good for only one thing: the ink used in newspaper presses is fantastic for removing streaks and smudges from my computer monitor!

Xine performance

This post was originally published at on 31 October 2005

Now playing with Gentoo as my latest Linux of choice (I got fed up with RPM dependancy problems, and Gentoo being source-based solves my other issue with binary-based distributions, where I felt like a 2nd-class citizen when using or accessing source code).

So, I've got Xine working, but can only use shared memory for the video decoding. This is great if I want to capture screen shots, but not for high-speed movies such as The Matrix, or even just reading the credits on The Lord of the Ring. So need to "fix" the performance.

I used to have Mandrake running v4l + xv, but I can't have installed it right in Gentoo because, although xv is loaded, the performance is glacial if I try to use it.

I found this old How-to with some advice to try... but I might also want to look at the FAQ.... probably I haven't built something into the kernel.

Also while reading around, I discovered Mplayer. This looks like it's worth a download...

“Get into the habbit of reading source docs”

This post was originally published at on 27 October 2005

The great thing about Linux is that all the definitive documentation (including the source code) comes with the OS.

(Slashdot quote)

You know, I'm finding that for a lot of the “beginner” linux distro's, this is not true. Yes, the source is available but it doesn't come with the OS.

Granted, not everyone wants to fill their harddrives with source tarballs or SRPMs on the off chance they might want to read them, but only a few distro's I know come with source, and those are not necessarily for noob's. the main example that comes to mind is Gentoo (since it's a “ports”-like distribution). This is not to wax lyrical on the benefits of Gentoo for learning Linux (Gentoo has many weaknesses in that regard too, among its inappropriateness as a general OS for noob's), just that it's the only one I've found where the source comes with the OS.

Other distro's with source “available” are Debian and Fedora (on extra CDs you have to download, and Fedora locks the source into SRPMs which is another learning hurdle to leap over, especially bad if all you want to do is read the source comments, or documentation not included in the binary RPM). It makes me feel like a 2nd-class citizen, that the source is somehow “open” but you have to know the secret handshake to get at it.

All of this, just to say: while reading source docs is a laudable habbit and I share your wish to encourage it, I can also see how it is difficult for most Linux noob's to form this habbit so long as the source doesn't actually come with the OS, which for a great many distro's it does not. The extra steps to download (and in many cases extract from SRPMs) the source are probably enough of a deterrent to forming this habit.

unfortunately, hacker habbits require hacker motivation :-(

“Cyber” security

This post was originally published at on 10 October 2005

In reference to this Slashdot article about U.S. Cybersecurity being about as effectual as FEMA's handling of hurricane Katrina

I wish USA would stop calling it “cyber security”. It's just stupid. The word “cyber” was coined by AI researchers for the ability of computers to interact with humans, either via a human interface, or by acting human. Later, it turned more towards embedding computers into humans as a form of prosthetic (a la “$6 millon man”) or to build composite computer-humans (cyborg).

Lately I think the US “cyber security” push has one of these aims:

  • To control cyborg's access to the net?
  • To curb “cyberterrorism” — the attack on America by those cyborgs?
  • To promote safe use of teledildonics within federal agencies, a sort of “Monica Lewinsky” protocol aimed at avoiding future political embarrasments.

Obviously, the most likely of these is the third aim… ;-)

RIAA verses the world, and a return to Music Guilds?

This post was originally published at on 31 August 2005

In reference to this Slashdot article about RIAA lawsuits

Seems that RIAA are intent on sueing more 12-year old girls for sharing music... it sickens me.

I am not sure what to do to protest (beyond what seems to be happening already — consumers aren't buying today's crap, and RIAA/ARIA/MPAA etc are just blaming it on the Net anyway). I am considering what would happen if lots of fans started writing directly to their favourite artists and asking them these questions:

  • why do you have this deal with your distributor EMI? I can't play your
  • why don't you consider putting sample tracks on your web site? For that matter, why don't you deal directly with Apple, or start your own pay-per-download site for your songs? I'm sure heaps of fans like me will buy them, and you could get a much larger cut per track than Warner Bros is giving you

Of course, there are costs to running a web site also. But I wonder if what may happen eventually is a return to music guilds, where a guild runs the site, member groups contribute content and all proffit goes to the members. It would probably be a good business to start, atracting new groups like the “Idol” TV shows do now. Shame I have hopeless business sense though.

meta-data standards

This post was originally published at on 27 August 2005

In reference to this Slashdot article about Internet meta-data standards

I would like to see more web sites adopt meta-data labelling standards and their presence be a factor in the ranking of the page. If more sensible pages had been indexed, Library-Of-Congress style (or whichever standard is adopted) then we would get many more relevant hits.

We would also get many people hacking the index by putting popular but irelevant meta-data into their pages… I haven't figured this one out yet. Perhaps if the meta-data is combined with some sort of AI that can read the page and judge if the tags are for-real, or just to seed the search engine… no this is far-out-future innovation stuff.

Mainframe is process-centred, *nix/windoze is not

This post was originally published at on 18 July 2005

In reference to this Slashdot question about Mainframe Culture

Appart from the obvious religious stuff about GUI (or lack of) and user-centred interfaces (or lack of), the biggest difference, and the biggest advantage that Mainframe brings is it's culture of process and change control. It is something you should strive to let your Mainframe masters pass on to the *nix/windoze padawans before they die of old age.

I am a *nix padawan, but, crocky technology asside, I'm frequently impressed by my Mainframe elders, their ability to deploy code to Production environments that works *the first time* nearly every time, and their ability to communictate technical changes necessary to fix broken code in the middle of the night in the 0.1% of cases where they failed to get it working first time.

Key values that I have picked up from my masters, and which should be inherrited by both *nix and PC/Mac enclaves are focused around Engineering principles. Mainframe guru's program like a civil engineer builds a bridge. No shortcuts are taken unless it can be proven that it is safe to do so. Testing is carried out in stages and test results must be submitted with the change request before a program migrates to Production. If a program must “abend” (Abnormal End) then it should do so noisily and with as much information as possible. If it finishes cleanly, little information is needed other than this fact.

These closely follow the advice Raymond has encoded in his book, but there is probably much more that your Mainframe gurus know that you should cherrish and extend to your newer team members.

Forget about the religious wars, the technology changes and the “focus” of your programmers on users or other programmers. Get the real truth from your Mainframe masters who have seen it all pass before them but have learned the hard way how to make a stable computer environment that stays up, even on cruddy mainframe technology. If their attitudes were adopted by people fluent in today's fantastic systems, all people would benefit.

The sad fact is that, in today's environment, especially after the dot-com cowboys set Upper Management expectations, following Process is just too slow, or too expensive. Convincing management that a bigger cost up front will result in a lower cost in the long run is also futile when mgt sees it as “normal” for computer systems to break. After all, their Windows machine on their desk has been doing that for 20 years now, so it must be normal, right?

What matters most to managers or clients when deploying new systems these days seems to be “time to market”, and the only consent to quality is that the IT dept/company follows check-list processes like CMMI or ISO9000 which do not address the real issues and put too much into the Process rather than the Result. Also, when the system breaks, it's typically at the expense of the IT company that built it, or was stupid enough to agree to use the off-the-shelf product in the first place, so there is nothing to drive a change of behaviour from the clients.

Radeon Performance Enhancement

This post was originally published at on 30 March 2005

Place these settings in your xorg.conf:

The RADEON driver (man radeon) supports the following options for the RV280 chip (which is found on RADEON 9200 boards). The default values are in red:

  • Option "AGPMode" "1" (driver currently supports up to x4)
  • Option "AGPFastWrite" "off" (only used when DRI is enabled)
  • Option "BusType" "AGP" (if driver's bus type detection is wrong)
  • Option "DisplayPriority" "AUTO" (set to "BIOS" or "HIGH" to fix tearing)
  • Option "EnablePageFlip" "off" (turn "on" 3D page flipping for better performance)

The biggest wins would come from APGMode and EnablePageFlip. APGFastWrite may help DRI. DisplayPriority may help KDE. Don't use BusType unless the log shows the driver has selected a PCI bus for the card...

Note:- when playing with Xorg 6.5 I got X crashes with EnablePageFlip turned on.