Wednesday, November 21, 2007

7th Week: Whoops...

So, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have lost two discs containing records for every UK family claiming child benefit in the post. Sky News emphasises this point: "It means that the personal details of every family in the country with a child under 16 have gone missing."

And this is the Government that wants to create a central database containing personal and biometric data for every single person living in the UK.

The Government that claims such a central database will be "in the interest of national security".

Why were they even sending the records by post? Has nobody told them of "the Internet"?

So apparently the discs were "password-protected"... what on earth that means, nobody knows (certainly not the Government). Thank goodness the BBC know some computer 'experts': "Experts say such data should normally be sent in encrypted form." Oh really?

To close with an Internet nerd-ism: Epic fail.

Monday, November 19, 2007

7th Week: Why Is Firefox Blocked?

There seems to be a bit of a hoo-hah going on with some websites blocking Firefox due to the AdBlock Plus plugin. For the uninitiated, this is a plugin that will automatically prevent adverts from loading and displaying on websites you visit. PC Plus last month ran an article with the headline "Firefox killing web". The rather militant Why Firefox Is Blocked even goes so far as to say that "blanket ad blocking in general is still theft".

Woah, woah, back up there...

Since when has it become a crime to not display part of a web page - a page that is freely given out by a web server? Indeed, some web browsers are incapable of displaying some parts of a web page - try your phone's browser, for example, or the text-based browser Links. Is it, therefore, a crime to use such browsers?

WFIB also makes the claim that "Ad Block Plus... also prevents site owners from blocking people using it". Come again? I think what they mean is "it is non-trivial to identify users with this plugin enabled". To suggest it actively prevents such detection is plain wrong. Mind you, such detection is not exactly very complicated which suggests to me that the (anonymous) authors of WFIB simply don't know what they're talking about.

This point of view is reinforced when they claim that "Demographics have shown that not only are FireFox users a somewhat small percentage of the internet, they actually are even smaller in terms of online spending". Inexplicable capitalisation aside, no source (or even any concrete figures) for these mysterious "demographics" is cited. I'll cite my own here, then: in the last month 44.88% of visitors to used Firefox compared to 48.96% using Internet Explorer. I'm not a statistician, but 45% doesn't seem "somewhat small", and certainly not in the context of the market leader having a 49% share. (Usual disclaimers apply: not representative, only one site, but no, they weren't all me - Google Analytics ignores requests from my (static) IP address). As for online spending, I certainly don't trust entering my card details into IE any more. Perhaps these demographics came from the same place as the BBC got their figures for Linux users?

Furthermore, if a web designer does not take reasonable steps to ensure his content is accessible to as many browser technologies as possible, then surely not displaying some of that content is a consequence of their actions, rather than a crime on behalf of the visitor? I would count "reasonable steps" to include making sure that your page is valid HTML; the very simple WFIB homepage fails validation on 15 counts. Perhaps that has something to do with it being knocked up in Microsoft FrontPage 4.0.

And I haven't heard anyone object to the small text adverts that Google adds to search results...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

4th Week: Song projection...

So, I'm going to try OpenSong and/or Lyricue at the OICCU central meeting on Wednesday. Neither of them, though, let me do as I would like to and run the lyrics with a transparent background over a video window.

Lyricue has an experimental transparent display... but to get it working I've had to hack in Perl a couple of times, and the flicker makes it simply unusable in a production setting. I also don't think Lyricue handles verse transition well at all (it's actually hideous unless I'm missing a trick); OpenSong at least lets you jump from verse to verse as you need to. With the keyboard.

It took me a little while to get Lyricue's Gnome2::Canvas display working... for some reason none of the deb packages I tried had the right Perl bindings as a dependency.

Writing my own song lyric projection software has been on my "to-do" list for a while now, but realistically it's not going to happen before Wednesday at 5pm! And there's only one central meeting after this at Wes Mem, we move back to St. Aldate's next term (thank goodness) where looped video backgrounds are fast becoming the norm. I wonder what OICCU will make of them...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

3rd Week: I'm Not American...

...which means Amazon don't want me to pay money to download MP3s. I don't run Windows or Mac, which means iTunes doesn't want my cash. I'm not going to "upgrade" from what Walmart thinks is Windows 98, so they won't accept any finances from me. Neither Virgin nor HMV have heard of Chris Tomlin, PuraShop doesn't do downloads, and I don't see the point in paying vast sums of money for things I won't use (eg a physical CD) and don't need (the packaging, shipping costs etc).

Does the music industry still wonder why people use torrents?

Friday, October 12, 2007

1st Week: SJC MCR Fire

You heard it here first*, folks...

On Friday night an electrical fault with the dishwasher in the MCR kitchen caused a fire at St. John's College. Several fire appliances were in attendance and at one stage seven firefighters were reported to have entered the building in breathing apparatus. The fire had been put out by 11.30pm; MCR members are waiting to be allowed back in to the building to collect possessions, it is hoped within the hour.

*Or maybe second, depending on if you've heard it elsewhere first.

1st Week: From absurd to absurd-er

The ITV-F1 website reports that an FIA scrutineer is to keep an eye on McLaren during the final Grand Prix of the season in Brazil next weekend, due to pressure from the Spanish motorsport federation.

WTF?? Alonso can't hack it that a rookie driver might beat him to the title, and has already thrown his toys out of the cockpit several times this season. And now the FIA are joining in?

The political fight, while usually adding extra tension to a season, this year has overshadowed the real fight on the track. The constructors' championship has been decided by an FIA hearing (which resulted in a completely unprecedented fine for McLaren). The reigning world champion has been acting like a seven-year-old brat being forced to share his toys, and nas asked his bigger friend in the year above to protect him from the "bullies" of his team. And the FIA have shown themselves to be at best incompetent, and at worst corrupt.

Which is a shame, because we've had some of the best races since I started watching Formula 1.

I really hope Hamilton can win at Interlagos. Not because he's British, not because he's been the best driver, and not because it would be the perfect end to the completely unprecedented run of success he's had - let's not forget, at the start of the season we were all amazed he had three consecutive podium finishes! I want Hamilton to win because it would be the perfect two-fingers-up to everyone who's smeared F1 with dirty politics this year, while he's just done his job: get in the car and drive damn fast.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

1st Week: From Kubuntu To The World

OK, so after my last post I was feeling a little fed up with the world according to Mark Shuttleworth and the rest of Ubuntu. I decided to take a peek at what else was out there...

I'd picked up a copy of Linux User & Developer magazine, with a cover CD of Sabayon Linux (based on Gentoo). I plugged the CD in and booted my (non-work-critical) laptop, and saw what I could see...

First off, it plays music while it boots. It's an interesting quirk, and not one that gets repeated with the installed version! Incidentally the DVD also came with live options for Tor web browsing plus a handful of games. The CD prompts you to set up Compiz Fusion graphics when X first loads - the first distro I have tried that has integrated such eye-candy from the off. The app package selection was good, and even for a live CD it was very responsive and fast.

Then I decided to see if there are packages to update.

Following instructions found somewhere on their site, I did the "do this after new install" thing... and waited.

And waited.

And then, after three hours of thinking, it came up with a non-error message, telling me to run a different command to find the real error message.

I ran this command. It told me that the package that it was trying to update didn't exist, apparently.

I like Sabayon. I like their attitude: forget finnicking about this license or that license, people want to be able to play MP3s, dammit! A whole lot better than Ubuntu's left-hand-vs-right-hand approach, not including proprietary drivers yet writing a whole lot of code to simplify installation of the same. But I really don't have the time to hunt through pages of documentation just to get at an error message! Not giving the user a useful error message at the off isn't just bad design - in this day and age, it's just rude.

So, Sabayon was out. A mate of mine raves over Fedora (no-longer-Core) 7, so I thought I'd give that a go. They have a KDE spin now. I like KDE, so I tried that.

For some obscure reason, it installed both KDE and Gnome despite me only selecting the former, and ensuring the latter was deselected. I'm fairly certain amaroK doesn't depend on Metacity, the GNOME window manager... The GUI package tool was more clunky than Adept or Synaptic, and the package selection more limited. Beryl was installed by default but not running by default. With it running, it had a tendency to forget to draw parts of the screen, a problem I had not experienced running it under Kubuntu Feisty or with Compiz under Sabayon.

Fedora is known as a good distro in terms of art, and indeed it looked gorgeous for the most part; though the login screen truncated the words "Username" and "Password", and try as I might I couldn't get the fonts to render just as I like them (it reminded me, in fact, of MS ClearType).

Niggles though they were, they were minor ones, and if I had to I could probably get on very well with Fedora. However, I simply just don't have the time to learn all those little differences between RPM and deb-based distros...

Tryint out Gutsy now, a week before launch. Let's see what happens. From Kubuntu, to the world, only to find out I'm back where I started...

Monday, October 08, 2007

1st Week: Gutless Gibbon beta...

GutsyGibbon/Beta/Kubuntu - Ubuntu Wiki

"Kubuntu 7.10 now includes Dolphin as the default file manager.
Dolphin has not replaced Konqueror, but was chosen as the default file
manager to introduce new users to file management a bit easier than
what Konqueror could do. The main focus of Dolphin is usability with
the following features:

  • a navigation bar for URLs allowing quick navigation through your file system

  • split views

  • and more...

Dolphin, unlike Konqueror, does not provide browser support as well as some of the advanced KIO slaves and options that Konqueror provided, therefor easing the use of the application."

Typo aside - removing features != ease of use. I'm sorry, it just doesn't! Grammer desaster as this entry is, it otherwise seems rather flawed...
  • Hiding the file tree from new users simply means they do not know that their filesystem is a tree. The locations seem disparate and unconnected. (The exact opposite of Windows' infinite-loop thing, I guess.) Most users will (should) be familiar with hierarchical file trees anyway from Windows (though I admit I don't use it often enough to be able to say for sure).
  • Konqueror has split views. The Kubuntu devs disabled that feature by default. Go figure.
  • So being able to just drag files from a local directory to (say) an FTP server, an SFTP server, over infra-red or Samba is more difficult than navigating to your local directory (without seeing the tree), then thinking, "Ah, that *is* where that file is... now what app do I need to load to transfer it using method x?", loading the app, navigating AGAIN to the directory...
But it's OK, they haz sexy graf1x! (Yes, I'm falling out of love with this distro.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Thought From The Wilderness

Enough already.

Nothing can dull the pain of those still grieving? Maybe not. They say time is a healer, and God certainly is.

Can anything justify what happened that day? Certainly not.

But is every single year, re-opening that old wound that has already marked and shaped the 21st century, going to help?

I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories - the idea that "9/11" was constructed by the Bush administration is patently absurd. But now it's all Bush can do to drag people's minds back to the day America was attacked, because nothing but the raw emotion of that awful day can shroud the disasters his policies are making in the Middle East. Only by ensuring the wounds are fresh, the pain is still strong, have his warmongering policies survived six years.

Now, should someone criticise US "foreign policy" (or rather, military operations), Bush just needs to pull out the "9/11" card and he's won the argument.

And what _really_ gets to me, is that the whole thing is framed as some sort of good vs. evil, Christian vs. evil-terrorist-guys battle. A year after the WTC attacks, Bush quotes from John 1: "This ideal of
America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this
harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the
darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it." But note something very significant yet missed by most of the media at the time : Bush has replaced Jesus (the 'light' John was referring to) with the American Dream, a fact that seems to have been overlooked by Bible Belt America. (Stephen Chapman commented on this in more depth, in November 2002.)

I submit to you: America's response to the attacks on September 11th 2001 is not just un-Christian, it is anti-Christian. Bush himself, Sept. 11 2001: "Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America."

There are many in America who are not Christian, both supporters and opponents of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I don't seek to preach to them; my plea comes from Scripture.

Paul writes in Romans: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." (Rom 12:14 NIV). And from Jesus himself:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that
you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on
the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the
unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5: 43-47 NIV)
That is the true Christian response. Nobody said it was the easy response. The easy response was to fight back; if someone strikes you on the cheek, strike him back with your cruise missiles, right? That's human nature. Wait a sec... "Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of
human nature."

We can't escape the fact that we are human, imperfect, even evil. But for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that is all we would ever be; but we as Christians are called to be perfect, as God is perfect - something only possible by God's grace. America chose to listen to America, and not God; and I believe that only God can clean up the mess that this first decade of the 21st century has left.

I hadn't planned to write such a long post tonight; this has been on my heart for a long time. What triggered it was a forum post by "Silentbrick" (a player of the MMO game Eve Online):
Never Forget

Never Forgive.

I'm not going to voice my opinion here. This isn't the place for it.
But the four words above are the ones that will always be tied to this
date for me.
There is still so much anger, hurt and grieving over that day, not just in America but around the world. But I believe there is also a loving, healing God who is waiting for His children to turn to Him for comfort, and through Him and Him alone finding the strength to not just forgive, but to bless those who have persecuted them.

Monday, June 04, 2007

7th Week: London 2012 Logo

Here's a pleasant break from revision... One of these logos is the real London 2012 logo. It cost (apparently) £400,000 and was designed by Wolff Olins (WARNING: Flash-based site, and the little HTML they use is buggy too). The other two were cooked up in about 10 minutes by readers of the BBC News website. Can you tell the genuine one? You may be unpleasantly surprised.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

6th Week: The St. Aldate's Leadership React to a Mug of Coffee

Don't ask me how this started... See if you can guess who's who! Some are, ahem, easier than others. (And don't take it too seriously - it's a bit of fun! All who are mentioned below are great people. :-) )

Leadership Team and Staff of St. Aldate's: A Cup Of Coffee

  1. I have three things to say about that coffee, but I might only have time for two of them.
  2. I think it's a prophetic mug of coffee; I think we should drink deeply of it, I think it talks of our destiny as coffee-drinkers.
  3. Is it Starbucks?
  4. Could you do it more like, uh... stirry-stirry-stirry chinkchink? (Hint: Risky sound checks)

  5. It's there! But we need to drink it! Download it into you and then something is activated inside of you - the caffeine gets activated - and you know that you know that you've just drunk some coffee! It happened to me! I think there are people here today who need that caffeine activated in their lives. If that's you just come forward...
  6. I've called this talk "Return of the King-dom Coffee"...
  7. Hi James? I was just wondering if you'd do visuals for the coffee this evening... you can? Great!
  8. Coffee? Cooooool.
  9. Hey, guess what's cool - Ubuntu Coffee. Based on Java. And I got it installed on my Mac!
  10. So, there was this E-mail that was sent... I hate people who start with a joke that's got nothing to do with what they're talking about, but that's got absolutely nothing to do with this coffee. Why not buy someone a coffee later?
  11. En France, nous rendons du café beaucoup plus agréable que vous. Mais nous vous aimons en tout cas!

  12. NowI'vebeenaskedtotalkaboutthiscoffeeandI'llmanagetogetatleastfiveheavytheologicalpointsfullydiscussedbeforeitgoescold.

  13. coffee

    saturday 11am


    be there :-)

  14. That coffee is disgusting. I bring my own!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

5th Week: Well-Packed Cargo Bay

Now, I know I'm not the best at packing suitcases and things. But someone really must be, to minimise space wastage like this...

Friday, May 18, 2007

4th Week: Five wins Neighbours soap fight

It is done, then... the BBC report that from spring next year Neighbours will be moving to five from BBC One.

Thanks to the wonders of timeshifting, the adverts won't really bother me. Were the BBC right to not pursue its most popular daytime TV show? IMHO yes - a ~300% price hike is nothing to take sitting down. five are willing to pay (and it has nothing to do with them being part of the same company as Fremantle Media, Neighbours' distributors, of course) and I'm glad, because I do like to watch the show. Both ways, we win.

4th Week: Note to Facebook...

...contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the world is American.

A few days ago Facebook launched their new Marketplace, which as the name suggests is a place for buying and selling things. In dollars.

Yes, that's right. The only choice of currency is the dollar. It doesn't matter if you're British, European or Japanese, you can only put ads that have a $ next to the price.

I was about to say "and nobody bothers to convert from GB£ to US$ to put the price up" but then I realised, who's to say it's US$? Why can it not be Canadian dollars, or Australian? Pick your exchange rate, people! Then pay up but only the converted amount.

I put to Facebook that this might be considered false advertising on behalf of the sellers, if they demand in GB£ what is being advertised in $. Their response:

Hi James,

Thanks for your feedback concerning Marketplace. We are

working hard to make this product as useful as possible to all

users, and we welcome any suggestions. Let us know if you have

any further questions or concerns.

Thanks for contacting Facebook,


Customer Support Representative

Looks like it's going to take a while...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

3rd Week: Own Your Own Integer!

Well, since AACS LA claim to own an integer and are threatening to sue people who use it, lots of people have decided to ensure the security of their own portion of the set of positive integers .

Any attempt to publish or use the number

BA 84 46 1D 08 21 0D F4 9A 7C 2D BA CA 34 A1 68
within the United States (where the DCMA applies) will be met with... aw, heck, I can't be bothered to sue you. In fact, given that generally it doesn't matter where you are but they'll try and sue you under the DCMA anyway: I hereby license the reader to use, copy, redistribute or otherwise modify (including, but not limited to, the operations of "subtraction" and "multiplication") the above Number indefinitely and without limitation, as long as this notice accompanies it.

(If you're reading this and thinking "WTF? You can't copyright numbers!" then you're in good company. Try telling that to AACS LA.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

2nd Week: Update: Microsoft in "We Came Up With This Idea, Really, And Patented It" Shock

On Wednesday I mentioned how Microsoft were trying to claim UAC was an amazing new idea that they had come up with, rather than it being a badly-copied sudo from the Unix world.

Now apparently, it transpires that Microsoft managed to patent UAC in 2000.Except, of course, they didn't patent "UAC", they patented:

a method comprising: executing an administrative
security process under the administrative privilege level; the
administrative security process accepting a request from a user process
executing under the non-administrative privilege level to initiate a
particular administrative method, the user
process calling the administrative security process with parameters
comprising (a) an identification of the particular administrative
method and (b) arguments to be provided to said particular
administrative method; and the administrative security
process calling the identified particular administrative method on
behalf of the user process and providing the arguments to said
identified particular administrative method.

Which, in all but giving it a name, is sudo. (Read the full text here.)

Surely you can't argue now that software patents are anything other than a bloody stupid idea. When there's blatant prior art (sudo was around since the 1980s, not the 70s as I previously stated) a patent should not be given. It's clear that either the people granting the patents are being paid by Microsoft to not investigate fully (unlikely, since almost certainly this has happened elsewhere) or simply are not qualified to make decisions on technology matters.

Worse still: the patent explicitly states that "the invention is not to be limited to such specific examples, and the
may be practiced in general purpose computers or computers with
operating systems other than Windows.RTM., such as Unix or Linux."

How the f*** did this get through? And why does the European Parliament repeatedly need convincing that software patents are a bad idea?

Sorry about the language. It's been a long week, I've had far too little sleep and I have 25 minutes to do 2 hours' work.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

2nd Week: 09 f9 11 02 9d 74 e3 5b d8 41 56 c5 63 56 88 c0

Just thought I'd share that with you... (If you haven't a clue what I'm on about, then read up at Slashdot.)

"Again, you've got to ask - what's the point of DRM? It doesn't matter that the average person won't have the ability to crack their HD-DVD software, or that the company will be able to revoke the code using its fancy-dan systems. All it takes is for a couple of pirates to get their hands on it, and all those Aarrh, Jim-Lad! movies are sitting pretty. The sheer number of people trying to crack any security system makes such protection a totally asynchronous battle - it only takes one lucky hacker."

(Richard Cobbett, PC Plus)

Let's be clear, this is no justification of illegal distribution of films. Rather, it is more evidence that DRM is defective by design, that it cannot fulfil its remit but rather imposes unnecessary limits on legitimate consumers.

The other point of interest to bring out of this story is the question of how much censorship is possible, and how much is acceptable, in this so-called "blogosphere".

Oh - and no prizes for guessing the representation, in hexadecimal, of x in the equation

2^6 * 5 * 19 * 12,043 * 216,493 * 836,256,503,069,278,983,442,067 = x. ;-)

2nd Week: Microsoft in "We Came Up With This Idea, Really" Shock

Arstechnica published this post yesterday, quoting Microsoft chief security advisor Peter Watson talking about Vista's User Access Control. If you don't already know, UAC is, in Microsoft's own words:

"a new security component Windows Vista. UAC enables users to perform common tasks as non-administrators... and as administrators without having to switch users, log off, or use Run As. ... By separating user and administrator functions while enabling productivity, UAC is an important enhancement for Windows Vista."

It's similar to, but has some major differences to, the user/superuser model that's been used in Mac, Linux and other Unix-like systems since the 1970s.

Says Mr. Watson:

"If you look at it from an architectural direction, User Account Control
is a great idea and strategically a direction that all operating
systems and all technologies should be heading down."

Uh, hang on a minute... Just read the last two paragraphs again, will you... "should be heading down"? Is this another case of Microsoft taking an idea that others came up with ages ago, changing the name, and pretending it was theirs all along and how silly of others to not have thought of it?

From the blog article:

"This is a new revelation for the company, but let's not kid ourselves:
this general approach to process elevation is older than Windows

Monday, April 30, 2007

2nd Week: IBM vs. SCO

So, shortly after revealing to us that they own the entire Internet and every device connected thereto, we find out that SCO also have the right to tell Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, that he can't talk about their righteous crusade against anyone who might be using this Interwebbynet for themselves...

"We are also concerned about the statements about SCO's litigation claims made by Linus Torvalds... Because of Mr. Torvalds' position in the technology world, his comments about SCO's evidence in this case are given particular weight in industry and popular press... It is unlikely that Judge Wells would allow ... Linus Torvalds... to publicly comment on SCO's litigation claims..."

Quite, quite extraordinary. Those guys just don't know how to quit... but oh noes! I have a friend whose father works at IBM! Don't tell Judge Wells I said that...

The full letter, from a lawyer representing SCO to a lawyer at IBM, is at Groklaw with the full story here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

2nd Week: Feisty, Xinerama and Myth

Found out what was stopping MythTV from loading under Fiesty: it doesn't like my dual-monitor setup. Trying one more thing, then going back to Edgy on Avenger if it doesn't work.

OTOH, Chimaera is happy as Larry, whoever Larry is.

Friday, April 27, 2007

1st Week: Adventures in ThinkPad Land

I welcomed a new member of the family today: an IBM ThinkPad T41. Came with some second-rate OS installed, but I wiped that straight away. More details later but here's the short of it:

What Worked Out Of The Box

  • All of the base setup (once I'd rid myself of the Windoze restore hidden partition)
  • Wireless ethernet
  • Beryl (whizzy window effects). OK, so technically not "out of the box" because you have to install it, but that wasn't exactly hard.
  • Hibernate/resume
  • Power management inc. CPU frequency scaling
  • Mythfrontend (meaning that the problem on Avenger is localised, and I should look into it further)

What Didn't

  • Suspend/resume
Not bad at all, IMO. Bear in mind I've only had this for a couple of hours and currently the only way I can access the internet with it is to spoof Avenger's MAC address (don't tell Matt...) - hopefully I can find a wifi hotspot to properly test the wifi hardware. And eventually get a wireless router so I can share the connection with Avenger, and even stream TV to the laptop (whose name will be decided shortly by Heather).

More later!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

-2nd Week: The Term In Review

Hilary Term 2007: A summary of things, in no particular order or coherence.

I lost something, and gained so much more.

I learned some things - one or two of them about computer science.

Three months - a long time in politics and in Oxford. I've kept mostly quiet about the personal stuff on this blog, but those who know me well enough know what a rollercoaster it's been. But I've learnt that "immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine" is no understatement.

I found some new friends; I lost some old ones. I still run Linux. I gained some facial hair. I still accept no responsibility for any damage you cause to your computer by running dodgy operating systems, but against my better judgement, I'll probably help you sort out the mess you made. Especially if there's a cup of tea involved.

Some people... well, some people need to be taught slowly and painfully how to use computers properly. Others just seem to make life easy for you even when you have to explain things slowly and painfully. And some are even thinking of switching to Linux. Woot.

They ripped out the old college organ, and dumped it in a skip. Dave and I managed to rescue some bits of pipe. They're now standing next to Bob. (Don't ask.)

The bandwidth of pigeon-post is approximately comparable to that of a twisted-pair ethernet connection, if you ignore the effects of the Big Pigeon-Post Pigeon that Eats Pigeon-Post. And his bigger cousin, the Big Pigeon-Post Pigeon that Does Not Eat Pigeon-Post, is just scary.

I was acquainted with the Sock Man of Loughborough (and Andrea, I'm very disappointed you didn't introduce me when I visited you way back). That's a highlight, for sure.

Wow, it seems a long time ago that I was last in Portsmouth. And I'm back there in about 13 hours' time. I should get packing...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

-2nd Week: Boris Johnson vs Portsmouth

"Outspoken Conservative MP Boris Johnson has been criticised for labelling Portsmouth as a city full of drugs and obesity," report the BBC. Various figures from the city have demanded that Boris resign/be sacked/apologise/be tortured to death/purple monkey dishwasher.

Portsmouth North MP, Sarah "One Flyer Is An Election Campaign" McCarthy-Fry, seems to think she is both able to determine who is fit for being a front-bench MP (because, you know, she has so much experience of that herself) and that she knows exactly how to "encourage young people in Portsmouth to go on to higher education".

As a young(ish) person from Portsmouth who was fortunate enough to be able to go on to higher education at one of the best establishments in the world, and on behalf of all my like-aged, like-educated friends, I say to her: I laughed out loud when I read the article. Long live Boris Johnson! Ms. McCarthy-Fry, credit for replying to my letter of way back, but go do something useful like representing your constituents, or maybe talking to some real young people before you decide how they're reacting to Boris.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

11th Week: My degree is over

I made the mistake of downloading EVE Online on Tuesday. Why is this a mistake? Because it's a really rather good game...

You see, the danger of being in Oxford for so long and hence sitting on top of the rather fast JANET is the temptation to go online and do Stuff. In this instance, after several references in PC Plus (including a whole-page article on how good it is) I decided to see if they had a Linux client. My intentions here were, of course, purely academic.

As it happens, there is no Linux client (though there are whisperings) but there was some discussion about running the Windows one over Wine. Being a Computer Scientist, I could hardly resist the challenge... and as it happens, there was not much of it. Using Wine 0.9.33, it (mostly) Just Works. The sound is a little jittery (as with most DirectSound things under Wine) but the game is just as playable this way as through Windows. Plus, it means I don't affect my uptime by rebooting every time I want to play.

So, these last couple of days have been spent in and out of the Eve world, running a few missions, mining a few asteroids, and generally not doing anything relating to my degree... The possibly good news is that I have 12 days left of the free trial period, which perhaps not coincidentally also will mark the end of my stint in Oxford for the time being (I'm going home for a bit).

After that, who knows...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

10th Week: Something for Nothing?

Or at least, for US$3?

I came across a site - - that offers advert-free PHP/MySQL hosting for a one-off payment from $3. So, what did I do? I PayPal'd my $3, got signed up, and uploaded the latest SVN of my content-management system (the one that drives the OICCU website). A quick E-mail to them as some of their defaults are a bit too restrictive - by the end of the day they've sorted it and all is working smoothly. Too good to be true? Not so far - I'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 19, 2007

10th Week: In the news today...

I'm ill, so to waste some time here's a few stories that caught my eye, and I'll try and put the world to rights.

Firstly, if anyone still thinks software patents are a good idea, then you will be pleased to know that the linked list has been patented by a Ming-Jen Wang. (For the non-CompSci reading this, know that the linked list is one of the most primitive data structures used in computer science and is used by just about everyone.) Surely it's only a matter of time before someone patents "Hello World"...

Keeping with the computing theme, if any of you still think that Windows Vista is a good idea, then you will be pleased to know that security company Kaspersky Labs have stated "There's a question mark if Vista security has improved, or has really dropped down." Brilliantly, in the same article a Microsoft spokeman is quoted as saying "...[Kaspersky] have one of the best insights into Microsoft security products".

My old Maths teacher once told me, "The best way to picture something in four dimensions? Don't!" Now mathematicians have detailed a 248-dimensional structure with... I don't know, presumably some purpose. The title of the lecture in which this is being presented? "The Character Table for E8, or How We Wrote Down a 453,060 x 453,060 Matrix and Found Happiness."

And finally, if there are any of you who still think DRM is a good idea, know that 75% of customer service problems at a major online music seller are caused by DRM. From the article:

According to Musicload, DRM "makes the use of music quite difficult and hinders the development of a mass-market for legal downloads." The lack of interoperability is unfair to customers and prevents true competition between music services, in other words.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The MS Approach to Security

Don't Let OneCare Eat Your Email - AppScout

"Oh, look, that file might have a virus... AAAGGHH! PANIC! DELETE EVERYTHING THERE! WIPE IT ALL OUT! ... oops, there goes the user's entire E-mail account. Oh well, who cares? Not me. They're paying for me, you know."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

7th Week: Belated geekiness

A couple of weeks ago, Peter T and I took various tools to Martyn Layzell's Mac G3. The laptop was officially certified dead before Martyn could get anything from his hard drive, so it went to the resident St. Aldate's geeks to see what we could find.

When I got there (carrying essential caffeine supplies), the keyboard had already been taken out, and we started work on the outer bottom shell casing... Or, we tried to, but none of the allen keys in St. Aldate's were the right size. Peter had a flash of inspiration: maybe it was using American sizing? A dash to Robert Dyas, and the laying on of hands by our worship pastor (j/k), and a jolly good prising with a screwdriver and the casing came away at last.

This had taken so long that I had to leave for a class at this point (Programming Languages), but I left Peter and Martyn with my camera to photograph the end result...

A ridiculous number of fixings...

And lo, a MacBook with hard drive removed!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

6th Week: Blair really knows what he's talking about!!!!!1111one

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable Anthony Blair MP, has responded to an online petition to ban the use of digital restrictions management (DRM) for digital content (read it here).

In a complete and total misunderstanding of what DRM is, what it does, and why it is used, the response reads:

"...However, DRM does not only act as a policeman through technical protection measures, it also enables content companies to offer the consumer unprecedented choice in terms of how they consume content, and the corresponding price they wish to pay."

Um... no.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

4th Week: StarWarsGame extends Game...

This is actually genuinely part of my OOP practical. (Note: contains spoilers for the game!)
          / __   __| / _ \ |  _ \
______> \ | | | _ || /_____________________________
/ _______/ |_| |_| |_||_|\______________________________ \
/ / \ \
| | Episode OOPII: A New GoldenGlobe Game | |
\ \____________________________ _ ___ ____ _______/ /
\___________________________ | | | / _ \ | _ \ / _______/
| |/\| || _ || / > \
\_/\_/ |_| |_||_|\_\|__/
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
You are on the bridge of the Imperator-II class Star Destroyer Chimaera. Through the transparisteel windows you see a vast starfield.
There is a turbolift at the rear of the bridge

What now? go turbolift
You are in the turbolift
The turbolift doors open out onto the bridge. TIE Fighters patrol outside
There is the turbolift controls here.

What now? use controls
The turbolift doors hiss shut, and a few moments later you feel a slight motion as the lift descends. The doors open when you reach your destination.
You are in the turbolift
The turbolift doors open out onto a corridor
There is the turbolift controls here.

What now? go corridor
You are in a harshly-lit corridor near the belly of the Star Destroyer
A blastdoor leads out into the main hangar
Close to you, a door leads to another room
At the end of the corridor is a turbolift

What now? go blastdoor
You are in the main hangar of the starship. Beyond the magcon field lies the coldness of space
The blastdoor leads back into the corridor
An Imperial Shuttle is landed in the hangar

What now? go shuttle
There's no way to lower the ramp without the keycard.

... and that's all you're getting! I should point out that I haven't just played the game for the practical - but actually written it. (My first ideas, to extend the template we were given to read in XML-described levels, was discarded as being too advanced for the course.) There's an unexpected plot twist (well, such that there is any plot) later on in the game - I'll probably make the Java bytecode available somewhere at some point (but obviously not the source code, since some of that isn't mine and I don't want people to copy it before it's marked!)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

3rd Week: Beyond Vista (or, how to cream your customers for every cent they own)

More than six months ago, I mentioned the possibility of Microsoft moving to a modular, and pay-per-module, basis for operating systems after Vista. The idea was met with a general feeling of doubt that such a thing would happen, from all on #CompSci (including my aforementioned technically-adept contemporary MSHV).

Now, a short time after withdrawing a patent application for an idea they copied from BlueJ, Microsoft have filed for a new software patent. What could the subject of this patent possibly be? Why, it's entitled "System and method for delivery of a modular operating system". From the abstract:
An operating system and method for use include a core function module, or basic kernel, providing fundamental operating system support and one or more add-on modules that allow customization of the operating system as desired. Add-on modules may provide support or extended capability to the computer including hardware, applications, peripherals, and support. ... By withholding certification, a service provider may manage illegal or undesired modifications to a provided computer. Digital rights management may be used to enforce terms of use of the add-on module in keeping with licensing arrangements.
I'm not an expert on patent law, and especially not US patent law. Lucky for me, someone at Groklaw is. Their analysis?
The patent relates to a method of delivery of an operating system where you start off with a very basic operating system, a kind of crippled starter edition, and then you pick and choose (and purchase) additional functionality, with DRM used to make sure you don't self-help. It's like modular copyleft, turning the advantages of GNU/Linux -- modularity there increases what you can do and what you can add and how well everything works -- and instead turns the concept on its head by using modularity plus DRM to restrict and contain and enforce.
The article is quite a lengthy exposition of the patent application, and I won't try and further summarise it here - go, read for yourself. Most interesting, though, is the fact that some of these "add-on modules" are there to provide functionality that you would expect - nay, should demand - from the most basic installation of the OS. Plugging in all your peripherals, for example. Or having a network connection at the speed your hardware allows. Or having as many different programs open as you want, and that your computer can cope with. All of these things are flagged in the application as things available in addition to the basic kernel (eg with the possibility you have to pay for them).

As for the DRM... I believe I have my views already well-recorded on that shocking scheme for consumer manipulation and exploitation.

It's worth pointing out, of course, that "Microsoft doesn't need a patent to use this business model, nor does a patent application prove it will use the model." But who can argue that they're not headed that way?

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Monday, January 29, 2007

3rd Week: OK, brace yourselves...

The BBC News website reports on the story that's going to be everywhere in the world tomorrow: Windoze Vista's launch. Luckily for my sanity, they've avoided (so far) the Redmond whitewash by inviting proponents of the other two members of the Big Three OSs to give their pitch alongside two pro-Microsoft folk.

We can all but discard the first pro-Windows comment, obviously from someone who's never seen anything but Windows first-hand and focuses almost entirely on eyecandy (nothing wrong with an OS having eyecandy - but when you're paying £170 minimum (or £80 for an upgrade), it can't be the only thing going for it).

The second pro-Windows comment is more substantial, so I'll grab a few quotes and deal with them in turn, occasionally sarcastically.

A huge amount of research has been put into this new version which is evident in everything from the user interface right through to the new security model.
This would be the 20+ people it took to design the shoddy "shut down" options menu? And the new security model based on the philosophy of "annoy the hell out of everyone so they turn it off" (as instantiated by my technically-adept contemporary MSHV). You can't really defend against users with the mindset of "click OK just to get rid of the damn things", mind (hence why not everyone is cut out to be a superuser - don't take the name of root in vain).

This latest update provides many new components but the one which will provide the greatest change for windows users is the Windows Presentation Foundation - a set of components which allow graphics designers to produce visually stunning user interfaces.
I have to say, I wasn't blown away when I first saw Aero (I know - "Linux fanboy!!!!111") but I can't deny that it looks... nice. It's certainly a big improvement over XP's default Fisher Price settings. And I suppose the big difference here between Windows (and Mac for that matter) and Linux systems is choice, or lack thereof. A Windows developer making a GUI application is almost certainly using Visual Studio, and (for Vista) will be using WPF to make their app look and feel like every other Windows app - like it's part of the system.

Linux is different. Not only are there two competing desktop environments in KDE and Gnome (yes, there are more than this, but these are the big two) but the way they draw elements like buttons, scrollbars etc is different from the ground up. KDE uses the Qt toolkit, while Gnome uses the GTK one. Somehow, I get the feeling whenever I use an app designed for GTK, that it's not quite looking how it should - and while integration with KDE themes is there, it's not watertight. It doesn't (usually) affect the functionality of the app, just the look and feel. Oh, dear, we're talking eyecandy again...

I also like the way that all my existing hardware just works (although I am aware many other people have had problems).

Well, at this point I could give the usual "if-more-people-used-Linux-more-hardware-people-would-release-drivers-for-it" spiel but I won't. Fact is, I think of the Big Three, Linux has the absolute widest hardware support of the lot. Vista only seems available on x86 and x86_64 processors... no SPARC, no PPC... Ever tried to find drivers for an old printer on XP? Chances are it'll be already waiting for you in Linux. Reading through the list of drivers in the Linux kernel sources is a mammoth task - but, of course, we can't compare it since OS X and Vista are closed-source. Apple OSs, it's worth pointing out, only ever come with Apple-built hardware and are only designed for Apple machines, so Apple loses the hardware compatibility race from the off.

So we get to the Linux-user's comments (interesting that the Beeb would put Linux above Apple in the article). And going through this closely... I can't really fault it. It makes all the right points (though it does only dedicate two lines to eyecandy... shock horror). It doesn't make a big song and dance about being completely free; it doesn't deny the weak points (as the other three comments do - any OS will have weak points!); and it does briefly discuss the fact that the whole ethos behind Linux as an open-source project is a different one to that behind Windows and OS X:

What really sets Linux apart is its social significance provided by the free software license. It encourages users to share the software they love with their friends, rather than making the act of sharing illegal and branding it piracy.

Also it encourages programmers to be better people, working in the open and allowing other programmers from across the world to help improve their software, rather than locking up their work with restrictive licences which prevent programmers from working together.

So to the Mac-user... and I have to admit, I have too little experience of Mac OS to be able to raise many comments. Most of the points he raises - security, maintenance, productivity and interoperability with Windows users - could equally be applied to Linux too.

I now feel like I am in charge of my computer rather than it being in charge of me.

And yet you can still only do things that Apple let you do, Mr. Tilney. You only own a license to the OS, not the software itself... and still, you're tied to the Apple hardware+software+soul combination.

My bottom line? I think it's been well-stated elsewhere that I'm a Linux user through choice, and see no reason to go back to Windows. Sure, I keep it around for the odd spot of gaming (or playing Lucy at MSN Games into the early hours) but would I ever use it as my primary OS again? Not through choice. And, let's not forget, that both Apple's OS and Vista are defective by design, and include software "features" to limit your freedoms with digital media. But when the Penguin sets you free, you will be truly free... ;-)

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Monday, January 15, 2007

1st Week: Hooray for Kingsway

Kingsway are offering individual song downloads for 99p each - and, more importantly, the downloads are MP3s and without any Digital Restrictions Management. I've just bought a copy of Matt Redman's "Never Let Go" - we sang this at St. Aldate's last night and right now it's just so spot-on for describing my life.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

(Psalm 23: 4)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

1st Week: A Copied Quiz Thing - Soundtrack To My Life

I never ever do these things, but I'm doing this one because a) I haven't posted on this blog for nearly two months, b) it's quite a good one as it gives you an insight into a person's music collection, c) I'm bored, and d) it's one more thing to distract myself from everything that's happened in said last two months, if only temporarily...

So, here's how it works:
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool..

Opening Credits:
Pink Floyd - Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Waking Up:
Mr. Mister - Welcome To The Real World

First Day At School:
Pink Floyd - Is There Anybody Out There?

Falling In Love:
Delirious? - Message Of The Cross

Breaking Up:
Star Wars VI soundtrack - Ew*k Celebration and Finale (now there's irony)

A few bars of the BBC News theme... don't ask why

Life's Ok:
Delirious? - Solid Rock

Mental Breakdown:
Fight, Win, Prevail (from the soundtrack to Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn)

Delirious? - Now Is The Time

Phatfish - There Is A Day

Getting Back Together:
(Мне все еще жаль, что это не может случиться, with apologies for the translation)
Matt Redman - King Of This Heart

Birth of Child:
Delirious? - I Was Blind

Wedding Scene:
The Itchy and Scratchy theme from The Simpsons (again, don't ask why)

Final Battle:
Tim Hughes - Jesus You Alone

Death Scene:
Sean Callery - LA At 9:00AM (from the 24 soundtrack)

Funeral Song:
Spring Harvest - How Great Is Our God (ironically enough, I hope this will genuinely be at my funeral...)

End Credits:
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb

So what have we learned? Well, that my collection contains a lot of weird clips of television themes; that Ew*ks and the Rebellion are ultimately responsible for the events of the last two months; that a recurring theme of my life has been, and will be, Jesus; and that right now, I may not be comfortable, but I've certainly been feeling numb.