Friday, December 22, 2006

The Answer's in the Question

I got a message in my Inbox today asking, "could you be Psychic?"

If I were psychic, wouldn't I have known the answer already?

Penguin Pete's blog

Another quality post from Penguin Pete.

How can you not love a guy who uses taglines like "This page intentionally filled with writing"?!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Novellar Fallout

I'd like to point you all to the blog of Brian Proffitt, editor of Linux Today, who has this to say on the MS-Novell deal and the fallout from the Jeremy Allison affair:

http://blog.linuxtoday.com/blog/archives/061221-153104.html

(I'm not sure of the copyright status of Brian's blog postings, and I don't want to violate anyone's copyright, so instead of posting it here I've linked it instead.)

He says what I would have said, but is perhaps more erudite than I could have been.

Enjoy!

I Danced with the Devil in the Redmond Light

Further to my earlier post on the resignation of Samba's Jeremy Allison from Novell, a thought just occured to me:

MS claims that its deal is to "improve interoperability" between Linux and Microsoft products. Leaving aside the fact that Samba already existed without the help of Microsoft, that if Microsoft want to improve Linux code it's already out there for all to see, and that Microsoft have always been the number one barrier to interoperability with Microsoft, what happens to these so-called "interoperability" efforts if the organisation with whom Microsoft signed a GPL-contravening exclusive agreement "to improve interoperability" has no staff working on a product of which the maintainers have already said they are moving to GPL3 to close the loophole "Microvel" exploited?

Personality Nut

Wikipedia reports that the President-f0r-life of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov (trying saying that after a few glasses of ginger wine) has died, leaving a power vacuum in the country due to the fact that no-one was allowed to intrude on his little personality cult.

You know, it makes me wonder what, in the psyche of human beings, is it that makes them set things up so that they're irreplaceable? I mean, job security you can sort of understand, but do these tinpot dictators somehow believe that they will be able to exert some influence over the country even when they're gone? If they do, they better take a lesson from the example of King Juan Carlos of Spain. The young "Prince of Spain" was groomed by "Generalisimo" Franco to take over from him on the dictator's death, whereupon, the new King announced that Spain was going to undergo (what would ultimately prove a successful) transition to a democratic, secular, parliamentary, and federal-in-all-but-name state. The antithesis of everything, in short, that Francisco Franco Bahamonde, to give him his full name, stood for.

Whoops. Cocked up there, didn't we, Frankie? Kudos, Carlos.

Another Novell Resignation

Jeremy Allison, who up until now had been working for Novell on the Samba project to allow Unix and FOSS OS's to connect to Microsoft machines across a network, has announced his departure from Novell, reports Groklaw.

I've already staked out my claim as no-friend-of-Novell over their patent deal with MS, and this isn't the first time there has been wailing and gnashing of teeth over it from the Samba team, either. I understand Novell felt they had to do something to gain on Redhat, by far and away the No.1 in the commercial Linux sector - but it's a shame that they had to throw their community goodwill out in the process. Despite some hiccups along the way (abandoning the Linux desktop, retreating from selling shrinkwrapped Linux versions in stores like PCWorld), Redhat has actually managed to stay in the good books of most of the Linux community and prove that the GPL is not unfriendly to businesses. (In fact it's my - somewhat controversial - opinion that the GPL is more friendly to business than BSD, and that is what is responsible for Linux' success. More on that topic later.)

Update

Yes, I fixed that embarrassing typo! :-(
Linux.com has published a review by Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier of Xandros DesktopOS 4.1 Professional.

Xandros is one of those distributions that is targeted towards the "end user". Though I consider myself an "end-user", what that sentence really means is that "Xandros positions itself as an easy-to-use alternative for the beginning, inexperienced or uninterested Windows user" - the kind who "doesn't want to know" how a computer works in order to use it (I'll save a rant on that subject for another time).

I'm long past the stage when I objected to Linux being made suitable for the "end user". If I ever did, it was only because I believed that this would result in the loss of the advantages which those of us who have known and loved Linux since before 99% of the computing population ever heard the word, value so highly. But it turns out that even in the world of MacOS X, where I'm sure the majority of users aren't the slightest bit interested in tools like uptime(1) or top(1) or packages like Fink, the "underpinnings" of the BSD-based OS can now be used happily by those who want to. This of course, is totally unlike the situation pre-Mac OS X, and I think Apple should be praised for it; maybe Steve Jobs learned a few lessons in his time at NeXT (though he still hasn't given us more than one mouse button, the stingy blighter ;-) ).

One thing about Xandros, and about Joe's review, however, does worry me:

The need for desktop AV under Linux today is minimal at best. But vendors like Xandros are trying to woo users and organizations away from Windows, and Windows users have been trained to look for anti-virus applications on their desktop. Without the anti-virus app giving the thumbs-up, many users are going to feel nervous about a system, and wonder what sort of nasty malware may be lurking on it.

That's all very well, but what happens when the user doesn't find any viruses? After all, if there is such a need for virus checkers, even on Windows, then there can't be all that many Windows users like the ones I know, who are careful about what exactly they put on their machines. And the ones who are, probably don't get many viruses at all.

But what about the incautious Windows user? Are they going to be happy that their brand, spanking new Linux desktop is free of viruses? Or are they going to worry that the reason why their Linux "anti-virus" program has not found any viruses is because it's no good?

Surely it's better to educate these people on why anti-virus programs are not necessary on Linux, rather than making them believe that they are?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Windows? Where we're goin' we don't need Windows

As I posted previously, I have been using a spare Windows machine whilst network connectivity issues (which in this case have nothing to do with the OS) on my Linux machine get sorted out.

Unfortunately, for the umpteenth time tonight the wireless router had to be rebooted. On Linux, if you had this kind of problem and the machine refused to connect to the network, you'd just restart the network service (or daemon, to the cognoscenti).

But on Windows, oh, no, you have to reboot the whole damn machine.

And this is supposed to be the "world's best OS"?

Hah.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"All the Nice Ones are Already Taken"

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have been making (halting) attempts to learn the Python programing language. I had thought of working up to writing a simple GUI mail client that acts as a modern front end to the MH Mailing Handing System (exmh is one, but it's probably not what most Windows users, for example, would call "modern").

Only it turns out that Sylpheed already does that.

(Oh, and Novell Evolution--Ed.)

Damn.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Another Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of:
  • The Protectorate of England, Scotland and Ireland, by which Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector (king-in-all-but-name) of the three kingdoms. (1653)
  • The adoption of the Bill of Rights by the English Parliament. (1689)
  • The Boston Tea Party of 1773, by which the American colonists signalled their opposition to certain acts of the Imperial Parliament.
I wonder if the collocation of the three dates is significant.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Captain's Log, Stardate: Christmas

I'm an avid collector of Star Trek: The Collector's Edition (if a collector of all issues of something without an issue of which, your collection wouldn't be worth much can be called "avid"), but in recent months for various reasons, the issues hadn't been coming according to the regular schedule.

I finally received issues 62 and 68 (don't ask) two weeks ago, and today, I received the remainder of the issues I was missing, including those which the website currently lists as "current" and "next". Unless they are going to pull a rabbit out of their hat, this completes the collection, which consists of all episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD, plus all ten movies (including a special, remastered edition of Star Trek: The Motionless Picture as we Trekkers like to call it), and a full colour glossy magazine accompanying each DVD.

So In total I have received no less than 9 DVD's this month.

Anyone would think it was Christmas.

(Ebony, the cat, a gorgeous little black thing of whom I shall have to upload a photo, was obviously very annoyed; she'd been sitting on my lap whilst I was checking my email and had to get off when I got up to answer the door. So when I started opening the packets, I had them strewn across a table, off of which she promptly started to throw episodes.

Cheeky so-and-so.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has vinyl editions of their single Red Eyes and Tears available from their international website. At £15 a pop, they cost more than CD editions of their albums Howl or B.R.M.C (a tenner each).

Vinyl fans must really love vinyl.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jargon, Schmargon

In these days of Graphical User Interfaces and lawsuits against companies who have the "audacity" to serve coffee hot, expressing opinions like those in this post is liable to get you burnt at the metaphorical stake by people sticking up for the "common man" (if you're brave enough to read through the comments you will see that I, too, have found it necessary to stick my oar in).

One of the things that computer people often get pulled up for is using "computer jargon", but the fact is, every walk of life has its own jargon. An example: My mother has a mortar and pestle on her windowsill, which she uses to grind up spices. This may make me sound dumb, but today I had to ask her which was the mortar and which was the pestle.

So why don't they just call it a bowl and stick?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Limits, Ltd.

I had terrible trouble posting that last, er, post. It seems that Blogger doesn't let you post more than 200 words at a time; I ended up leaving out nearly half of what I originally wanted to say. Can't complain too much, after all, it's free, and someone has to pay for all the space I've been taking up.

But on the bright side, maybe it will help me get control of my tendency to waffle.

Rant

The BBC reports that violent clashes erupted in Chile on news of Pinochet's death; anti-Pinochet crowds were celebrating. Meanwhile, supporters marched past his coffin.

Look, I have no love for Pinochet. But celebrating because someone died? Just distasteful.

What gets me most, about it, though, is when people like his supporters in Chile and elsewhere rant about how this particular generation of rightwing dictators "saved" us from Communism.

Bull.

All these dictators did was deliver the people of those countries from one type of tyrannical, cruel, boneheaded ruler into the vicious grip of another. I understand why a lot of businesspeople hate Communism; why are they so eager to give up (others') civil liberties? Yes, Margaret Thatcher is probably grateful for his support against Argentina in the Falklands War. That's one thing. But to praise him as some sort of "great leader", ignoring all the corruption, the caravanas de la muerte? We were Allies with Stalin in WW2, but I don't remember Churchill ever saying Stalin was the dog's balalaika.

Gmail Three Ducks

Gmail's spam filter is driving me bonkers again. Either it catches too much or not enough.

I don't want to turn this into a(nother) rant, because aside from the spam issue (addendum: and I do understand that filtering spam is HARD), and the fact that non-US-English users get features late, I really do like Gmail; can I simply advise you, if you do use Gmail, to check up on Gmail "spam" as often as is practicable?

Bacon at Christmas

Technically, I suppose, it isn't Christmas yet. But can there be anything more un-Jewish than bacon at Christmas?!

Fortunately for my Yiddishkeit, it's not me who's doing the eating ;-)

Jeff.

Monday, December 11, 2006

ISP? Update

Well, whatever the problem was seems to have been fixed. So it looks like I'll have to eat my words!!! Probably just a transient network effect.

Internet SERVICE Provider?

After a short period of everything working as it should, tomorrow I am going to have to phone my ISP again to tell them that my connexion isn't working correctly. I am getting dial-up speeds on an "upto 8mb" broadband line.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pinochet Dead

Wikipedia reports that, one week after suffering a heart attack, Chilean ex-President Augusto Pinochet is dead.

Well, that's that then.

Wiin some, lose some

Wired (not a source I ordinarily read, honest) reports that Nintendo, the makers of the Wii games console (pronounced as in "we" and not as in "wee", apparently; now that is a stupid name) are being sued by a California company for using a patent owned by the latter. The patent involves a "Trigger-operated Electronic Device", and the company is complaining because Nintendo have developed a device, called a Wiimote, which responds to arm-and-hand movements as well as incorporating buttons. (Maybe they got Jonathan Woss to name these products.)

The US patent system is really getting out of hand, and this suit shows it. We all know that the Americans are famous for, erm, indulging in what one might politely call "frivolous lawsuits". Software patents, thank God, somehow have managed not to make it over here (Europe) yet, though they keep trying, but in the States Microsoft has now claimed (thankfully not in court - probably because they have no proof) that Linux infringes on Microsoft patents, whilst Apple has a patent on maximizing a window. Let me just check -- yep, Microsoft is infringing on an Apple patent by including a maximize button.

The thing about patents (actually two things) is that (a) the 50-year lifespan of a US patent is designed for a time when technological progress was much slower; (b) they are supposed to be awarded for non-obvious inventions. I don't know about you, but as a computer enthusiast (if nothing else), maximizing and minimizing a window seems to be rather obvious to me. And as others have pointed out, the US Patent and Trademark Office awards patents "willy-nilly" and leaves it to the courts to sort it out - thereby penalizing small companies and helping big ones grow even larger - the exact opposite of the original intent of patents, viz. to "protect innovation".

To a certain extent this is understandable - to a large section of the population, which probably form the majority if not the entirety of the workforce at the USPTO, computers appear to be non-obvious in the extreme; therefore it's not surprising that some very useful but simple "inventions" get patented, but the USPTO really needs to be reformed. At the very least, i.e. short of reforming the law, they need to get people in who know the technology field - after all, as a non-driver I don't sit at the front of the bus telling the driver how to move the thing, and I wouldn't expect someone who doesn't know a word of Spanish to give me a lecture on how to write a letter of complaint to my local MP (if my local MP were Spanish, anyway).
Hmm.

After a little more research it turns out that Pine Is Not Elm was apparently, never an official expansion of Pine, and that the name was never intended as an acronym originally. However, the Wikipedia entry on the mail program states that the author now prefers Pine is Nolonger Elm or even Pine is Nearly Elm as (putative) expansions.

Oh my GNUdness

Yes, I've finally returned to Python after a hiatus.

It's interesting to note that there is a collection of links to Python resources called "The Vaults of Parnassus".

Where do they get these names?!

(That would be Greece, in this case, I suppose--Ed.)

(Smart aleck--Jeff.)

Seriously, though, I'm constantly amazed by the creativity that goes into FOSS program names - the GNU versions of Unix stalwarts lex(1) and yacc(1) are called flex and bison, respectively, and of course yacc stands for Yet Another Compiler Compiler. Plus we've Gnu Privacy Guard, an implementation of Pretty Good Privacy, and the GNU implementation of Unix's original file-versioning utility Source Code Control System (SCCS) is the rather haughty-sounding Compatibly Stupid Source Control (CSSC). Last but not least, Python was named as such because the creator, Guido van Rossum, wrote it whilst watching reruns of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Of course this sometimes causes problems for newbies. ("What the hell is synaptic?" etc.) We used to be able to counter complaints of "Why do Linux programs always have those silly names?!" with cries of "What about Microsoft Outlook?! What does that have to do with email?!" but now they've gone and spoilt it by renaming Outlook Express to Windows Mail. (And unhappily, some programs have even been retronym'ed, such as the erstwhile Pine Is Not Elm (elm being an early ELectronic Mailer) being renamed to the boring Program for Internet News and Email.)

Bastards.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Keep Finnish Fascination

As I neglected to mention on my blog yesterday, December 6 is Finnish Independence Day.

Tornadon't

I'd just like to reassure friends of mine from around the world that no, I've not been affected by the tornado. Newcastle is about 400 miles north of London, and I'm about 15 miles north of Newcastle!

Reading stuff about the "global warming myth" is a little like reading one of Microsoft's "Get the Facts" campaigns about Linux.

As fans of this site will know, this isn't a good thing.

This site, on the other hand, tackles a few of the myths about global warming.

No-bal warming

The BBC is reporting that there has been a tornado in London which has caused irrepable damage to between 100 and 150 houses.

That'll not be that good old global warming that isn't happening then.

The story is reported here.

Definition of...what?

Apparently Oprah Winfrey once said "I always knew I was destined for greatness".

Now, is that the definition of hubris or irony?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

IF YOU CAN READ THIS...you might need glasses anyway

I recommend browsing the LARGE PRINT section of your local public library. You might find gems there that you can't find in other sections, like Chris Ryan's LAND OF FIRE, which I'm reading at the moment.

Review soon.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Film Review: Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning

Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning is a spoof of Star Trek and Babylon 5 by acclaimed young Finnish director Timo Vuorensola. It was released in 2005, is available on DVD or as a download from starwreck.com, and stars amateur film-maker and actor Samuli Torssonen (also credited as the film's creator) as Emperor (and Captain) James B. Pirk, Timo Vuorensola as Commander Dwarf, Atte Joutsen as Captain John K. Sherrypie, and established Finnish actor Kari Väänänen as Russian President Ulyanov.

The main thrust of the story is that Captain Pirk and his hapless crew (including the aforementioned Commander Dwarf, a Plingon officer - violent but cowardly - and Info, a tediously exact android with flaking paint) are stranded in the late 20th or early 21st century. The timeline has been hopelessly corrupted by the sex-crazed Vulgars, who allowed their spaceship to be sold to Russia courtesy of one Jeff Cochbrane. In an attempt to return to their own time, Pirk and the crew of the CPP Potkustartti (translated into English as the CPP Kickstart) enlist the help of charming Russian President Ulyanov, and the hopelessly incompetent former Chernobyl worker Sergey Fukov, to rebuild the P-Fleet and conquer the Earth with superior, future technology. This accomplished, they attempt to return to their own time through a maggothole, but succeed only in meeting up with Captain John K Sherrypie (a man fond of interminable speeches) and crew (including the stroppy Ivanovitsa, the drunkard Mikhail Garybrandi and the enigmatic Flush) from an alternate Earth with Babel 13 technology (instead of the P-Fleet); whereupon, the two Earth forces engage in an epic battle for control of the alternate planet.

Yes, it's all rather daft but manages to be quite funny; as any good translation should, the film makers have gone to great lengths to ensure that the cultural references and Star Trek/B5 in-jokes work as well in English as they do in Finnish. The film is the latest in the series of (otherwise mostly animated) Star Trek parodies, which several of the actors and crew involved in the project started as teenagers - as such, there is quite a lot of teen humour (such as the scene when Pirk spots a "hot chick" in a hamburger bar and quite blatantly attempts to stare down the front of her dress), but also some nice in-jokes. The Babel 13 defence fighters are called Star Flurries (a parody of the Star Furies of the "real thing" as it were), and there are the B13 battleships Backgammon and Mannerheim (the latter named after a famous Finnish general and former head of state).

Where this production really shines, however, is in the special effects and score, which look and sound (almost) as if this were a professional production. Much of this is probably due to the fact that the film took an astonishing 7 years to make, much of that time being taken up in waiting for the render-farms to finish the space-scenes, etc. These go way beyond what one would normally expect from a fan film, and have even garnered praise from professional critics.

One thing to remember is that, upon first watching the film, in a couple of places the translation appeared to be somewhat spotty (for example, one of the characters at one point appears to refer to "resorts" instead of "resources"), however, Wikipedia's entry on the film claims that this is deliberate, and is a faithful rendering of certain malapropisms on the part of one of the characters in the original Finnish.

Bottom line, if you can put up with the Finnish language soundtrack (though as I said, there are English subtitles), and are prepared to take the film on its own merits - as a very good example of parody/fan fiction - take a look at this film. I think you'll enjoy it.

7/10.

Friday, December 01, 2006

SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION: Back to Computers - A Free Software Advocate Speaks

Gary Richmond at Free Software Magazine has this stinging and absolutely correct analysis of the Microsoft-Novell deal:

Fork off Mr Ballmer!

by Gary Richmond

Online on: 30/11/2006

Any serious, committed user of GNU/Linux who hasn’t heard about the Microsoft/Novell deal has either been slightly dead or at the bottom of an Albanian tin mine shaft wearing a particularly sturdy pair of ear muffs.

[Lovely phrasing, there; I'm glad I thought of it ;-)--Ed.]

Seriously though, the digital wires have been humming back and forth with the original story and the chain-reaction stemming from it. Is it all a storm in a teacup, an over-action? And, does it really matter to the mere, humble end-user like me? I think that it does matter.

It matters because, if you are a typical GNU/Linux end-user like me, you may have found your way to it after enduring the progressive miseries of Windows. In my case, the culprit was the notorious Windows ME. By the time I was ready to jump the proprietary ship, the monitor was heading towards the unopened window. Once I was able to compute in pleasure, stability, ease and security, my interest turned more and more to the ethics, philosophy and politics of free software.

I came to realise that this was the guarantor of the technical aspects I took for granted but as the saying goes, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and whilst this may be a dry, tedious business it is as necessary as pension planning. Nobody likes it but come the day when they present you with the retirement clock and you are looking down the financial gun barrel...

So, who has been saying what? Nicholas Petreley, a former editor of Tux Magazine. He was near inchoate with anger and did not pull his punches. He wasn’t the only one. The Samba team also laid into Novell, as did Petreley, for putting short-term business gain before the long-term interests of the Linux community, which has given freely to Novell many of the GPLed tools we all take for granted. Meanwhile, over at the ever dependable and informative conduit at Groklaw, Novell was accused of getting cute with the GPL and Eben Moglen is reported as saying that the upcoming GPLv3 will be re-drafted to make the Microsoft/Novell deal a violation of the GPL. Bruce Perens was unequivocal in his condemnation: Novell was the new SCO.

When names of such quality and recognition are speaking out so vehemently and with much greater knowledge and experience than me, I’m inclined to sit up and take notice. You don’t need to be classed as an FSF purist or ideological bigot to see that something is happening here that concerns all GNU/Linux users which, if left unchecked, will lead to further attacks on free software.

Think I’m exaggerating? Well, if you don’t believe me just look at the reaction of a certain Mr Steve Ballmer. Barely had the ink dried on the deal, which the spin told us was to protect Novell customers from action by Microsoft for infringement of their patents, when Ballmer immediately started to crow that other Linux users could owe his company money for using its intellectual property! Excuse me while I reach for the Imodium. Here’s a little puzzle for you Steve: rearrange the following words—black, calling, pot, the and kettle. At least Novell hit back very quickly and refuted Ballmer’s interpretation. The words “constructive ambiguity” spring to mind, a term that implies the issue is being fudged.

Perhaps I am being too naive or too cynical. I’m not an IT professional or a business consultant and ill-equipped to tease out the machinations and tactics of large corporations but like most other GNU/Linux users I know that Microsoft is (in)famous for retailing an inferior product and deploying a lot of FUD in doing so. It may come as a something of a surprise therefore to discover that Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical/Ubuntu fame has been accused of spreading FUD too! He made a pitch to Novell developers to jump ship and join the Debian-based distro. I read some of the reactions. They were unanimously hostile.

Well, that was quite an interesting tour of the current furore. Doubtless the story will continue and we will all have to decide whether or not to have a SUSE uninstallfest. What did I do? Sorry, but I’m not saying lest I make a fool of myself. I’ll sit on the fence for the time being and keep a watching brief on what the experts decide to do and recommend. In the final analysis, if you have the inclination and the skills you can always fork off and develop your own distro or contribute to someone else’s efforts.

As a parting note, I will make this observation: when Warren Buffett donated his billions to Bill Gates’ charity to dispose of at his will, Gates gave Buffett his first edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Perhaps someone should have underlined the following passage: “men of the same trade seldom meet together, even for the purposes of amusement, but the conversation turns into a conspiracy against the public”. Need I say more?

[I couldn't have said it any better myself--Ed.]

Copyright information

This blog entry is (C) Copyright, Gary Richmond, 2004-2006. Unless a different license is specified in the entry's body, the following license applies: "Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved and appropriate attribution information (author, original site, original URL) is included".

New Look

Yes, I've changed the template for the site; I was getting bored with the old one and I think the new one looks much better.

What do you think? Does this one look better? Are there elements you think should be changed? (background colour, position of elements, etc.) Do you have a favourite theme you think would suit this blog?

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