Friday, April 28, 2006

Atonement of the Programming Language

"Sometimes, people ask me if it is a sin in the church of Emacs to use the editor Vi. It is true that Vi-Vi-Vi is the editor of the beast. But using a free version of Vi is not a sin but a penance." - Richard Stallman.

I'm not a religious person (and in all honesty, neither is RMS).
But, in the same manner that not being Christian doesn't prevent me from debating Kirkegaard's philosophy, being a secret member of the Cult of VI doesn't prevent me from accepting the wisdom of St. iGNUcius regarding the Evil inherent in proprietary software.

Biggest problem from my point is inherent in the choice of the language of the scripture. True advocates of the One True Freedom (or the 4 freedoms of the apocalypse) know that software made with proprietary tools can never be free. And so came the GCC (GNU Compiler Collection), a free software tool that allows ye followers to compile code. This is all fine and dandy when it comes to the "classic" hackers languages, such as C, C++, Lisp, and today's Perl, Python et al, which are released under free (as in free-for-all) licenses.

But here's my problem, I use COBOL. The ancient, monolithic, elephantine language, which has the style and elegance of a Rube Goldberg machine without the humour. Until recently, the only way to create COBOL software was to use proprietary tools. Not that there is some sort of voodoo mystery surrounding the language, since the specification for it are available as an ANSI standard for decades. However, it isn't exactly a hacker favourite, so no one bothered developing free tools for it.

But, those days are long past, as now, not only I am able to enjoy two excellent GNU compilers, but I was also able to install them by using Debian/Ubuntu's own .deb format. The first, TinyCOBOL, compiles COBOL-85 code to GNU assembly, and the other is Open-COBOL which goes a bit extra by converting the code to C and then compiling it using GCC, however, Open-COBOL does offer support of the later 97 (COBOL2000/OOCOBOL) and the 2002 standards.

The homepages have the source code for both projects, however, to install them apt-get style, head here for the TinyCOBOL packages, and to the Debian Repositories for the Open-COBOL project Packages.

On the other hand, nothing I've just said can explain Vigor


Turns out the next Nintendo console will not be named Revolution, but Wii.
I believe my first reaction what "Wha?"™
OK, the concept is just feels too much like a marketing department jerking off each other (disturbing metaphor, to say the least). It's Wii, like "we" with the 'ii' which supposed to look like two people standing together. This, of course, immediately brings to mind the concept of people interacting, and the multiplayer/communal experience the new console promotes.

Only it doesn't.

It never does, actually. All those "clever" names are just wasted efforts. Sony's Playstation didn't succeed because the name conveyed immediate playable station-ness. Nintendo's Nintendo Entertainment System didn't create a feeling of systematically entertainment, and besides, most people refer to those as "PS" and "NES". What the hell does "xbox" even supposed to convey? (it's a continuation of the "x" branding Microsoft has given to it's games/multimedia driver/API, like DirectX, nothing more).

For example, have created a 10 worst Console names articles, toting Sega's Dreamcast at number 9, claiming that "Sega's got a history of creating inspired console names: Sega Master System, Sega Saturn, and particularly, Sega Genesis sounded effortlessly sleek and powerful."
No they didn't. The writing is projecting his opinion of the console over the name. Same with Nintendo: "Usually, simplicity is the best course -- "Game Boy" and "Nintendo 64" were smart, smart choices." Were they? What so smart about "Game boy" exactly?

Bottom line: Consoles are only as good as their names. Good games on a system give it better consumer appreciation, create a "cool" image, and infuse the name with more positive connotation than any marketing group might ever achieve. People don't care if it's PlayStation II, PS2, or "the machine that plays GTA"™. They didn't care when it was called Atari 2600, Famicom/super Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System/NES/SNES/Super Nintendo Entertainment System/etc. Sega's Gamegear failed miserably despite having a superior technology AND a cooler name than Nintendo's Gameboy. And besides, people have grown accustomed to calling Nintendo's consoles "the Nintendo". It's even more obvious in the new handhelds, both Nintendo and Sony released their products under the names of "DS" and "PSP" (Dual Screen and PlayStation Portable), predicting that everyone will already abbreviate it, so if you can't beat them...

I can easily predict that, in the very fortunate (and sadly, tragically, unlikely) case that Nintendo Wii's games will rule the next years, that kids growing up with cherish the name wii like other's cherish the name NES, or like writer cherish the name "Master System". Other than that, it's a cute name, with a cute logo.

(Just as a side note, whoever came up with the "two lowercase i's that appear like two people" concept knows his stuff. It doesn't "do" anything, but it's well designed).

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I know I keep a straight text-only blog, but I happened to come across a couple of more colourful pages.

The age of Photoshop tends to constantly feed us with mushed-up hilarities, and this art "history" page featuring Mr. Potato Head is no different.

A little bit more artistic, but tres cool nontheless, is this page featuring actual classical CD covers of famous composer's compilations, drawn by top cartoonists. Beautiful.

And to end it all, a revised mindmap of GNU/Linux distros. Much better than the first try.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hello Dapper (and goodbye Windows)

All in all it wasn't such a turbulent affair. Just a long winded one.

I've started the process at Friday noon. First I had to work on a promised backup to my mum, which took sometime, with zipping a couple of gigabytes worth of files into 7z files, then burning them on 2 CDs. Once I got that out of my way, I sudo update-manager -h and hit the upgrade button. When the smoke cleared, I was informed that the upgrade will demand a hefty 1 GB download, which will take anything between 2 and 7 hours, depending on the download rate. Ecstatic as I was, this was a real downer, but nothing comes easy. At exactly 9 pm, all the files have been downloaded and the installation process began. This was also the moment when I was supposed to go to my night shift.

I left everything running and went to work. I (correctly) assumed that things will stop somewhere along the way for some input, which will have to wait until my return. They were, I was prompted to replace both the GDM and the Vim configuration files. I approved both, which may, or may not, have been the best decision, as I was soon to learn. The installation and cleaning process went without a hitch, and the system rebooted.

Into a GDM error message. I don't know if anyone had the pleasure of experiencing this error message, which, from what I've yet seen (and I've managed to get several of the more interesting error messages), is probably ranked quite high. The problem with it isn't that it's incomprehensible (which it is), or upsetting (which it is), it's the, how shall I put it, look of the message. It's quite apparent that someone wanted to make this as pleasant as possible. And failed.

"let's make it nice and friendly," said our programmer. "After all, we just told our user that his X server is probably riding in the fields of eternal hunting, for all that he cares. We don't want those unfriendly, laconic messages, no Blue-Screen-of-Death-style stuff either. Let's give it a light-gray background, and a sky-blue frame, with some nice ASCII motifs in it, and give him a yes/no "buttons" for the error logs, all rendered in what is the last word in ncurses design." And then our programmer went and painstakingly designed this error message window, and then someone took this code and re-wrote everything in ADA, then used babelfish to translate it to Spanish and back and made sure that whatever error message it displays will be as garbled and misrepresented as possible.

It is quite a mess, really. Fortunately, I've already met with this monument to the futility of man, otherwise, it would've been a very unfortunate encounter, considering it was close to 8 am, and me coming from an all-nighter at work. A quick sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg later and... Nothing. Apart from the same Vogon-quality error message. Two more tries, didn't improve things any better. I eventually decided to sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx driver and reconfigure X with the nvidia driver, which, lo and behold, worked. I had to sudo killall gdm and restart it, but it worked.

I tried playing around with the settings, and so far I like what I see. But I've yet to dig deep enough into all the tweaks. In fact, it preserved most of my gnome configurations, which meant that all the GUI bells and whistles were still turned off. I'm quite comfortable with it as it is, so I doubt I'll change it just for the sake of it. I can't seem to get the screensaver to not work, as the new setting dialog doesn't include that option, but I'll find where they hid it.

Which brings me to what seems to be the biggest problem I have with Ubuntu's new version. A lot of things are hidden. The gconf menu, for once. It's not buried or anything, and can be enabled with a simple click, but the decision to remove it is bothering. Same with the Palm Pilot setting menu item. I'm sure that hard-core GNU/Linux users probably don't need those fancy-schmancy menu items, and new users are probably better off without another way to shoot themselves in the foot, but I'm neither, and I don't really like to dig for what I consider to be basic features. (In fairness, to enable all the menu option, one only need to access the "Alcarta" application which lies on the top of the Application> Accessories menu (not that they WANTED it to be located that high (It just was fortunate to be the A on the A on the A...))).

Another item high on the not-working list is actually gvim. I works fine, but can't seem to find the designated color scheme. Probably need a quite gvimrc shake.

So I'm still testing the ropes, as mentioned I made no sudden moves, no major configuration changes. I'll try XGL this coming weekend, but until then, I'm still swimming in the kiddie pool as far as the new version is considered. One major decision was to move everything from the two Windows partitions into one, and format the other to Linux as well. You can count the times I've rebooted to Windows in the past couple of months on one hand. All of those were as result of IE only sites, such as my bank's and my girlfriend's school's. And for that I definitely don't need 30 GB of space.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Dapper is in the hizhouse!

Got Ubuntu Dapper Drake Beta running, now sleep.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

DapperDapperDapperDapperDapper MushroomMushroom!

Gah. Hnng. Bleh.

I'm riveting insanely for a week now. All those Dapper (p)reviews and suchlike have been giving me a dapper craving... However, I've been constantly reminding myself that it's still a pre-release, and there's nothing that guarantees it won't destroy my entire system, or at the best case scenario, stop things from working. On the other hand, I have a very stable, smoothly running system, which should be able to withstand any such upgrade. On the other other hand, I have a very stable, smoothly running system, why would I want to toy around with an unstable release?

Well, no real reason, apart from this video.

I know, upgrading just for the sake of eye-candy is not the "Linux way", but dammit, it's one hellova candy, if you ask me. I mean, the first time I heard of XGL I wasn't really impressed. I assumed it was yet another nicety, your "coat of paint" rather than a really usable feature. I was wrong. Oh, how I was wrong.

I think it was Novell's presentation that got me interested. There are a lot of stuff running there, some of them better, some worse, some not really usable (why would I want to run a program on the side of the "cube"?), but the overall concept was very solid, it looked like someone got a lot of stuff that have "usability" written all over them. The whole "3d GUI" started to make sense all of the sudden. I mean, first thing I do in any new desktop is kill everything that isn't functional. All those shadows, 3d menus and buttons, you name it. I've been considering Mac OSX's look as "stupid" since it insists on adding all sort of cutesy animations that don't do anything. However with XGL, everything has a reason, somehow, moving from pseudo 3d to real 3d gives all those cutesies context, and therefore make them a true part of the GUI.

The big question is, whether it'll run. I did the test with Kororaa's Live CD and it was quite a nice experience. Of course, with a Live CD being one, the machine wasn't running anything else but the 3d GUI. How will it run as a front-end to a full blown operation system? I would risk a guess and say it will do a good job. Most of it is the concept of finally using the GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) of the video card rather than the CPU to render the screen, freeing the CPU to actually handling the non-graphical part of the interface. In the worst case I'll shove another 500 mb of RAM, or buy a new(er) video card.

With all this being said, Ubuntu 6.06 has just gone beta, which only further adds to my grieving. It might just be the final straw on my way to upgrading.

Oh, and the subject is based on this page'o'silliness.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Drool-buntu, or Flight of the Drake VI

The June 1 date for the next Ubuntu GNU/Linux release is closing (although the original April 24 date would've been closer... Oh well), and many "previews" are already available. I placed preview in double quotes, as these are based on the Flight Series alpha test releases, which is a snapshot release of the product.

First to rise on my browser was Linuxforums which aptly claims to be not a preview but a survey of the current available flight CD. He pushes some nice points regarding the GUI installer holy war, and it's an overall positive survey, but then again the writer is a self proclaimed Ubuntu lover.

Second is a lookahead straight from the padded cells of the Mad Penguin. The insanity of said waterfowl doesn't deter him from warmly recommending Ubuntu, despite it being, as he claims "not quite in the league of Slackware and Red Hat/Fedora". Whatever league is that, I don't know, but then again, the writer does, as par with his words, "prefer Slackware over any other distro".

And, naturally, you might want to go over the actual description of the release, which is displayed for your inquiring eyes in all shades of brown.

The current alpha release, code named "flight 6" is available here for download.

Dress to suck-less on excess?

I kept postponing this issue because I wanted to distance myself away from it, until I would be able to comment on it rationally (hopefully).

This whole mess started when Peter Quinn, Massachusetts' Open-Document martyr and former CIO, announced that the cause for companies and institutions not accepting Open-Source and open standards is due to the "Sandals and ponytail unprofessional appearance" practiced by FOSS leaders and hackers.
While this load of bull would've gone unnoticed, or at best, become the recent laughing stock among the communitee, this time it was spoken by one of the "good guys", so people took heed of the call.
This (long and overbearing, don't bother) article in Groklaw, claims that one should "adjust your appearance (wherever you are) to help you achieve those goals."

To this I say, screw them all. Anyone who makes his business-crucial decisions based on what the other side is wearing is deserving what he gets in return. This explains those Lotus Notes offices that runs everything BUT email on Lotus, since they use Exchange for that. This explains why someone will move AWAY from using Apache into Microsoft's Aye-yay-ass. It also harks back to all those "When will GNU/Linux be ready for the Desktop", which is, actually "When will GNU/Linux be windows?".

But then again, we are talking about a world where CEOs are more interested in "standardised, enterprise-ready, business-management solutions" rather than asking "how does it work, and how good is it?" Where one needs to "learn the lingo" to progress in his company, where upper management makes Dilbert's boss look like an IT guru. Reminds me of those who claim that the future of "e-business" lies with "protected, trusted technology" (Read, DRM and software patents), comfortably forgetting that the whole Internet from which they make their money is an open, free technology.

I hope that eventually all those will implode, which on that day, I'll be there to go and sing comic songs on the ruins. Oh, and Peter Quinn didn't lose his battle for ODF in Massachusetts (and his job) due to any dress code, but due to a blatant lobbying effort on behalf of Microsoft. I'd like to see him dress to that.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


First off the bat is a very nice visual Vim tutorial, made of several images that point you to various functions and keys in the Vim (Vi IMproved) text editor.

Also, All about Linux gives a once-over guide to compiling source code using GCC (the GNU Compiler Collection). Keep in mind that it's not the usual "how to compile source code in Linux" which usually revolves around the ./configure-make-make install holy trinity, but a guide to actually running the C/C++ free (as in shared beer recipe) code compilers. make is a different GNU utility which creates a script that configures and utilised the system's compiler (Usually in GNU/Linux, a GCC one).

This is your webserver, this is your webserver on MS

Quite a fun post on a blog called "Treat Chaos" showing a map/diagram of system calls that occur when a web server serves up a single page of html with a single picture. One of them is Apache on Linux, the other is Microsoft's IIS. Hilarity ensues.

Hollowood honors the wrong Pooh

A quick one, The Hollowood stars walk of shame has decided to merit Disney's 40+ year abuse of the A.A.Milne classic by awarding their flawed, infantile and distorted version of Winnie the Pooh with a broadwalk star. Yeech.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

They are our best friends, not our substitutes

Last month, there was a bit of a shocker when 6 people who volunteered to take an experimental drug were rushed to a hospital with a near-terminal illness
A couple of days ago, the last two were released, which finally can allow everyone to concentrate on the more serious part of this issue, blame assignment.
Won't be easy, as the trial has been carried out according to regs and every precaution was taken. The biggest surprise is that the previous tests, on monkeys and rabbits showed almost no adverse results. I think this might serve as a warning sign. We're grown accustomed to the horrors of animal testing, despite constant proof that animal testing doesn't always get us the needed results. Animal biology and physiology is at times so different that a drug that doesn't have any negative effect on an animal nearly kills a human being.

So far the only excuse still standing for scientific cruelty against animals was the human lives that are saved by those experiments. Now, that the flaws of this logic nearly cost 6 people their lives, maybe it's time to rethink this whole mess.

And to sum it up in a positive mind, here are some pictures of a monkey and a kitten.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Aversion number

Anyone interested in the Mono project probably knows already that Mono's second cousin project, the IDE Mono "crashes while you write" develop just got the latest version out through the door. As the previous version was 0.9, one would expect this one will be 1.0, which is a cause for celebration. Funkily enough, it's 0.10.

If I were a Vulcan, this would be the moment I'd raise my eyebrows in total contempt of the erratic human race and stroll out of the room muttering "Illogical" under my goatee. To anyone who's eyes gone into cardiac arrest, or forgot his algebra, there is no difference between 0.10 and 0.1, which makes that number most definitely not applicable for the release that comes after 0.9. I won't fall into the trap of suggesting that the total contempt MonoDevelop' developers have for simple math may go a long way toward explaining why the actual product can't even carry its own weight (oh, wait, I just did), but it's really ridiculous.

(Update, turns out it's a version numbering convention. Oh well. Still don't like it)

Get ready for the Open Discussion Day - May 19th.

Been doing some backing up of old floppies for mum, while catching up with my humongous RSS backlog (860 feeds and counting), when this one caught my eye.

It's always interesting how those things start. In this case, a guy called darco, posted a reminder that he will drop all his IM accounts, except one - Jabber - come May 19th. Reasons? Jabber is an open technology, unlike the other, closed, ones. Therefore, he believes this technology might be the biggest thing since email. I think he has a point there, and I know I'm hardly objective about this, but just think for a second.

Email, http, IRC, Usenet, all those are, or use, open protocols. AOL, ICQ, MSN, are not. Open protocol means everyone can set a server, and communication is free (as in freedom, although beer is always welcomed). Closed protocols means we have to connect to a proprietary server, and play by some company's rules. I'm not even talking about the bloatware those "official" clients became, but just think how many times your MSN/AOL was down. Would you want your emails to go exclusively through Microsoft/AOL's servers? The Internet is free. And the only way to keep it this way, is to keep wresting it out of the "major players" control. Stop letting them dictate the game, and start making them play by OUR rules. And if Google can play by those rules, it's time for the others to straighten up.

So comes May 19th, I'll be closing down all my IM accounts for (at least) 24 hours. See you on the other side.

(Oh, and Gaim 2's third beta is available, go get it)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Firefox extensions update, the HARD way

At home, I'm enjoying the best of both worlds, splashing around the secure comfort of my /home/, and suing whenever the need arises, such as when I want to update Firefox's extensions.

At work, I'm very much limited by the user access, with (obviously) no root access. This doesn't bode well, when it comes to stuff like updating/installing extensions. It isn't such a hurdle, most of the times, as I had a couple of useful extension loaded from 1.0.7 which didn't have these restrictions. However, I recently learned that extensions have a good piece of the blame pie when it comes to the famous memory leak experienced by Firefox users. Biggest offenders turned out to be Session Saver, which I use, and Tabbrowser, which I used, but removed since the 1.5 tab features made that extension redundant to my needs. It also mentioned that AdBlock had a leak issue which is resolved with the latest version.
All this meant I needed to update. I also wanted to replace SessionSaver with Tab Mix Plus, which I use at home and which covers most of the "Opera" features I was longing for, like duplicating tabs, multi-rows tabs, session saving etc.

As I couldn't simply use the update dialog window, I had to get creative. I first navigated to said extensions pages, and downloaded the .xpi files. Updating existing extensions was simply a matter of extracting the .xpi into the extension folder. Funkily, those extensions are saved at the extension folder (on Windows XP, usually C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\profile name\extensions, while on GNU/Linux it's /home/user/.mozilla/firefox/extensions<) under clear and simple names such as {871c5380-2851-459b-a3c8-27a41d4bc9f7}. This is where the extensions.rdf comes to the rescue. A quick drag into Vim shows that AdBlock is hidden inside "{34274bf4-1d97-a289-e984-17e546307e4f}". A quick "extract to folder" later and both AdBlock and its FilterSet.G were updated (although FilterSet kept claiming it wasn't).

Now came the interesting part. Uninstalling SessionSaver was possible from the dialog window, but installing Tab Mix Plus suggested that I'd need to burrow deeper into the extension.rdf file. A quick scan of both the extension.rdf file and Tab Mix Plus' install.rdf suggested the elegant, yet stylish and cunning solution: Dump everything from one file into the other, change the syntax, close everything, restart Firefox, and pray, pray, pray.

For some bizarre reason, it worked. Once I examined the content, it turns out most of it was credits, links etc. What Firefox needed was mostly the folder name and one or two basic indications of where stuff is located at. Less crufty than I thought, but much cruder than it should be, considering the extension.rdf looks quite a mess in first glance. At least it works. For now.

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