Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Useless fact

Here's a useless fact I just discovered while programming leap years. I was born February 28, 1980, a leap year that began on Tuesday. This year, 2008, is the first time since I was born that a leap year began on a Tuesday. A leap year will not begin on Tuesday again until I am 56.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Computers and education

Our local newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat, had a call out for people willing to be interviewed about how the use video games to promote their child's education. I called the lady doing the article and told her about my setup. She seemed pretty excited about the things I was telling her and we agreed to have her and a photographer come over and watch the kids play on their computer and ask them questions about it. I also told her about our XO, which she seemed pretty excited about seeing.

Updating goodness

The new version of Ubuntu comes out on Oct. 30th. After running my machines through beta versions of Ubuntu during the last development cycle, I decided to be a bit more patient this go around. I left my laptop and primary desktop machines alone, but last weekend I updated the girls machine to the beta version last weekend. It seems I updated during a window in which a bug was causing some upgrades to fail. The bug would cause the machine to bootup and right before login would just give you a brown background. I filed a bug, which got marked as a duplicate of https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/rarian/+bug/284074 After it was fixed, a fix for broken systems was posted and I got the girls machine back up and working.
The wallpaper was going to be this, which looks like poop through a kaleidoscope. It looks like they finally changed it to this, which looks amazing and is on par with their previous wallpaper's quality.
The next major noticeable difference is that everything feels a lot more responsive.
Wallpaper candidates can be found at https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Artwork/Incoming/Intrepid/Desktop_Background_Submissions There are some really great pieces of art in there.
About a month ago I tried to update our XO. The update left me with an unusable machine. I couldn't even get to the terminal to try any repaired. After some searching last night I found out how to restore it to factory default settings. Once that was done I did a clean upgrade which essentially wipes the drive clean and builds the latest version off of a USB key. The latest updates give a better user interface and it also feels a little more responsive. I even gave it the brand-spanking-new Flash 10 which seems to run fine.
In just about two weeks I will be upgrading my primary PC and laptop with the final version of Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Almost lost my fingers

Monday night I was working on my new Vanagon. I came in side after a while to eat dinner and get everyone tucked in to bed. By that time it was dark, so I was working with my trusty flashlight that is powered by shaking it to charge the cell.
I was attempting to locate the slave cylinder. I had crawled under it during daylight and was very sure that the only thing going in to the transmission from the front was the rod that connects to the shifter. Somewhere the clutch has to go in to the transmission at the slave cylinder, but I could not locate it.
After I had everyone tucked in I used the instructions at http://www.type2.com/bartnik/clutchslave.htm It says to take of the rear-"left" wheel. I assumed left meant driver-side. Note to everyone, always say driver-side or passenger-side, not left and right.
So I jacked up the rear driver side. The jack that comes with the Vanagon is pretty cool in that it has a bar that goes in to a hole in the van so there is no possibility of slippage. The only problem is that the base is about 2.5" x 2.5", so there isn't a lot of base to carry the weight of the vehicles back end. I found some wood and stuck it under the jack. On the last turn of the jack the handle broke. This was pretty frustrating, but I trucked on and got the wheel off. I stuck my flashlight back in and thought I saw the slave cylinder, but on the other side of the vehicle.
I broke out another jack and jacked up the other side, leaving the driver-side up, unable to crank it down. When I finally had the passenger-side jacked up I pulled at the wheel to get it off when both of my jack slipped and jammed my fingers between the tire and the frame of the bus.
My neighbors got their fair share of late-night choice words. I seriously did not think I was going to be able to get my fingers out by myself and was not sure how I would be able to signal anyone, with everyone asleep at this time.
With my left hand I put my palm under the frame, knelt down and with my whole body pushed up. I was not able to push the frame off of the tire, but was able to push it up enough that I could pull my hand out.
My adrenaline was pumping pretty hard and I was shaking. My fingers didn't hurt that bad and didn't immediately appear broken. I moved them around and they appeared to work just fine. There was a few layers of skin peeling back, but it just peeled right off and there was no bruising, scabbing, or broken bones. With a bag of ice and some time to calm down I put all my tools away, including both jacks and called it a night.
I was worried that I would be unable to type at work, but aside from a little pressure from some minor swelling, my fingers where just fine.
I already don't' trust jacks, and I don't even feel comfortable climbing under a vehicle with all four wheels secured, but now my trust levels have gone even further south.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I just got my grades in for the first half of the semester. I got two As. Next week starts the second half of the semester with a philosophy class and a database class. If I can get As in those two classes as well I will have had my second ever straight-A semester.

Canonical's place in the Linux ecosystem.

Greg Kroah-Hartman recently gave a talk in Portland, OR on Canonical's contribution to the core of Linux. The talk was at the first Linux Plumbers Conference. The conference was designed to get as many of the core Linux developers together and talk face to face.
One key point to open-source software is upstreaming and downstreaming. Project developers, like Mozilla's Firefox, are the core of a product. Downstream companies grab and reuse the code of the upstream core team. So when Ubuntu pulls down Firefox, they package it for their users.
When users have problems they report them to their provider. So if I notice a bug in Firefox I go to Canonical's launchpad and file a bug. What should happen is that bug report, once verified, should go upstream. This means that the bug may be fixed by Canonical, or may be fixed by Firefox. If Canonical fixes it then they push that bug fix upstream to Mozilla, and downstream to their users. So not only do Ubuntu users get the bug fix, but all users of Firefox get the bug fixed as well.
This sort of collaboration amongst upstream and downstream users across the web of providers is one of the most powerful parts of open source software.
Another important aspect of open-source software is that upstream doesn't have to accept patches from downstream. If Canonical fixes a bug, but the patch for the fix does not meet Mozilla's quality standards, or Mozilla doesn't consider it a bug, that is fine. Canonical is responsible for producing what it views as is best for its users. Ubuntu users could also demand a feature in a product, and Canonical could implement it an upstream it, and the upstream could not accept the new feature. For example, Ubuntu users may want to use Firefox as a file-system browser. Canonical could add this support and send it up to Mozilla. Mozilla could simply conclude that being a file system browser is not part of its vision and not implement these changes. Other downstream could get these patches and put them in their product if they wish, or not if they don't.
What is important is that downstream communicates with upstream so that all downstream users of a product are able to benefit from each others work.
Back to Greg and the LPC. Firefox is none of their concern. They are interested in the core of what makes up the Linux OS. Firefox is not part of the OS. It is simply a browser that happens to run on Linux (as well other OSes.) The LPC is for people who work on core parts like the kernel, xorg (the graphical part of Linux), and other specific components.
Greg has two arguments:
  1. Canonical's contributions to the core components of Linux are too small.
  2. Canonical does not upstream their core work very well.
  3. Ubuntu is too many degrees downstream to effectively get its work back to the core.
A small review of Ubuntu's relationship to upstream projects. Ubuntu is based off of Debian, another Linux OS. Debian packages together programs from across the OSS Linux communities and builds their distribution. Canonical takes the Debian OS, tweaks it and ships Ubuntu. Every six months Ubuntu synchs up with the latest stable Debain, applies all of their patches, makes all the new adjustments, and ships a new version Ubuntu.
So, in practice Ubuntu doesn't actually upstream to projects, they upstream to Debian. Debian accepts what they like and then upstream that up to the main project. The problem, according to Greg, is that these never make it back to the main project, and thus never trickle down to the rest of the OSS community. The accusation is basically that Canonical is not acting a good member of the community, effectively free riding off the rest of the group. His proof is in the low number of contributions to the core of Linux.
In the context of the LPC this makes sense. So what if Ubuntu has made major strides in fixing problems, and implementing new features in Gimp, Gnome, various translations, Nautilus, etc. In the context of LPC these are not important, just like an engine designer is not concerned with the improvements made in a car's dashboard.
Greg's mistake is pointing this out as if it is relevant. He completely misunderstands Canonicals place in the Linux ecosystem. Mark Shuttleworth did not set out to build a stable and secure operating system. Linux had been both stable and secure long before he come on the scene. The problem was that the stability and security of Linux was out of the grasp of users. It took months to learn how to install Linux, and then even longer to figure out how to use it. It was like having a car that never broke, but was more difficult to drive than a space shuttle. The strengths of Linux where irrelevant as it was obfuscated from usability by the average human being, indeed even the average computer geek.
So Mark set out to build on top of the Linux's greatness, and conquer its weakness. He wanted to bring Linux to the masses. He built a distribution that is easy to use and install. Linux is still not easy enough. In fact, no OS is easy enough. The fact of the matter is that every OS has really crapy usability. Mark is looking to fix that problem, and to make Ubuntu not only more user-friendly than Windows and Mac OSX, but to bring it to the level of usability that users are expecting of our future technology.
This is why you see him personally attending to bugs like this one. When you look at his comments, he is only commenting on the usability aspect of the bug, not the technical aspect of the problem. When you read his interviews he is always talking about the user experience. You will never hear him say that in the next version of Ubuntu he wants to bring killer features to the file system, or really great caching in the kernel. These aren't the things that he stays up late at night thinking about. He understands that there is already a really large team of great engineers working on these problems. He also understands that Linux lacks such a team for fighting for usability and the end-user experience.
Marks fight and Greg's fight are different fights on the same team. Greg is the butcher and Mark is the chef prepping the plate that is going to make the customer want to come back. The two should be patting each other on the back for doing such a great job.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Another trip out to Saint Marks.

Andrew and I had planned on camping in one of the primitive camping spots in Saint Marks, but when we called the for a permit we where informed that they where only for people hiking the whole forty-mile trail. Not to be deterred from a great weekend, we just hiked out for an afternoon stroll.
What made this walk better than the first was that there where no mosquitoes. We started around 5:30pm, so it was also much cooler.
The whole trail has waters on both sides, and we saw a lot of alligators.
We turned around at one of the primitive spots. It was a very cool camp site. It was a circle off of the trail that had a little pond in the middle. We walked from here to here.
Unfortunately, I could not locate my camera, but Andrew got plenty of good shots, and I took a few too.
The moment we reached the camp ground the sun ducked under the horizon. We ran about half of the way back, and spent about the last third in darkness. Andrew had his bicycle light, and the night was pretty bright, but it was not what we would have preferred with snakes and gators that like to come out at night. But, we made it back healthy, and we had an excellent time. Photos start here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lard marketing

I really hate lard marketing. It is very demeaning and cheapens the products in question. Lard marketing is when someone takes a product, ads a bunch of crap to it, and sells it as a better product. By crap I mean 'X' marketing, and things of the such. For example, I saw a Jimmy Johns advertisement that said, "Subs so fast you'll freak." Another example, lots of companies are using the following format for their business name, "X-Treme Verb" For example, X-Treme Auto-Care, X-Treme Lawn Care, X-Treme Graphics Design. Unless these companies yell at you when you enter, I doubt there is anything extreme about their services, and if there was I would be sure to not use their service. When someone fixes my car, I want it to be as unextreme as possible. I want to tell you the problem, hand you me keys, and have it fixed. To me, extreme would be you give it back with more stuff broken, or you argue with me about something. I don't want that. Just fix it and let me go away.
Gatorade has also bought heavily into the lard marketing. They have flavors like Fast Lightning, and Tropical Snow. These aren't real names, I don't think, but it's the format they use for naming their drinks. I want names like Lemonade or Fruit Punch. I have purchased a few of these lard drinks out of curiousity, and more accurate names would be Dangerous Feces or Insane Barf, because these names more accurately describe their flavour.
Throwing Green on everything is another one. I saw a sign for YellaWood. It simply had their mascot guy with a very smug grin and read "Envrionmentally Preferable Product." Preferable over what? The other guy selling plutonium made houses? That's a pretty relative claim that doesn't really mean much without any context. This is thrown on so much stuff today. Everything is Green this or Green that, when it seems that what would be really green is not purchasing your product at all and stop the overconsuming that is depleting our resources and filling up our dumpsters.
When I buy something I don't want bullshit. Bullshit doesn't help me make a better decision. Tell me what you are selling me and for how much. Once you start going off on tangents, my BS meter goes off and I start looking elsewhere.

I joined a movement, and didn't know it.

A few months ago there was a lot of news about the exponentially growing food shortage problem, propelled recently by the use of corn and other produce to produce fuel. Kim brought up the idea about reducing our meat consumption, since the meat industry really drains the food supply by diverting vegetables away from markets and into cows, producing less food out than comes in. We agreed that we would stop buying meat for the house. We would still eat meat, but we just wouldn't prepare it around the house. Over the last couple of months I think we have broken this twice.
So apparently this is a new fad called flexitarians. Basically, people who have no desire whatsoever to cut meat out of their diet, but are interested in drastically reducing their meat consumption to much more sane levels.
During a work day my diet usually consists of a bowl of Kashi cereal with soy milk (I'm looking to go rice milk for a while once this last jug is gone.) For lunch I eat a bowl of Tabatchnick soup, which is vegetarian, and most are also kosher. And for dinner I eat whatever we are having at home. Some school night I pick up some fast food, which usually consists of a chicken sandwich, and about once every-other week Kim and I eat out, which usually includes a meat dish too.
I don't really feel any different (people often have "Whoa" stories to accompany diet changes), but the food I'm eating isn't any less good either. In fact, I've always enjoyed vegetarian food.