Pat's Log
Thu, 30 Dec 2004

xbox/20041230 The DashUI program is now moderately useful. It runs cleanly, has a low overhead, and looks pretty good too.

At this point, it can swallow just about any window, even complex programs like media players such as Totem. However, one problem that needs solving is selection of which window to swallow. In programs that have unpredictable titles, the window cannot be specified in advance. In others, like gpsdrive, the splash screen gets in the way. Have not decided how to get around this yet.

From using DashUI with a mouse, it is fairly clear that the solution would work very well on a touch screen. Large tabs that are always where they should be, quick switching between applications, and the ability to swallow anything really work. From here on, it should be mostly cleaning up the code, as well as adding configuration file parsing.

[/xbox] | posted @ 21:55 | link

Yes, I'm Crazy...
20041229 I spent most of the day today drilling little window holes in the model of the Enterprise-D I've owned for the last ten years. All holes are hand-drilled for good alignment. At four holes per window, my hands are quite sore. After drilling, the windows are reamed out using a dremel tool with a dental burr, then the holes are cleaned up with an exacto knife. Once the inside surface is painted black to protect from light leaks, then silver to ensure a more uniform distribution of light within, the windows will be filled with clear resin. A lot of work; hopefully it will pay off. I've seen some amazing build-ups of this particular model.

In other news, the break still feels fantastic. For Christmas, I got a 2005 Dilbert calendar, as well as the much acclaimed Polar Lights Enterprise NX-01 model. With the Enterprise-D just started, this one will not be opened for quite some time. I also went ahead and bought myself a good quality, full-size replica of the boomerang-shaped phaser from Voyager and DS9; expensive, but it should be well worth it. Additionally, I just finished eBay bidding for a decent airbrush compressor. I must be anticipating graduation or something...

With time well spent on models, decent progress on my fourth year project, and an astonishing A- mark in Quantum Mechanics, all but one of my Christmas to-dos have been completed. I still have to clean up the situation with files from my old desktop, my laptop, and my new desktop. The plan is to turn the old desktop into a RAID (linux-md) file server, put everything there, and rsync with it regularly.

[] | posted @ 04:04 | link
Mon, 27 Dec 2004

Beyond a Mock-up
xbox/20041226 The previously-designed mock-up is now a reality. Written in GTK, with code borrowed from gnome-swallow, the xeyes program was swallowed into this preliminary design. The program is actually attached to the tab pages, so when a tab is switched, the eyes are hidden. They return when the first tab is once again focused.

There are still many things to work out. The immediate concern is whether it is possible to have multiple applications swallowed. There is no reason why this should not be possible, but the current code does interesting synchronization magic by forking the swallowed program off and then attempting to control the main program loop. This, obviously, cannot work with more than one program at a time. At the same time, with a small number of programs swallowed, perhaps it is not a significant performanceissue to overcome.

The step after that is to be able to dynamically specify which programs belong to which tabs, rather than hard-coding. Related to this is the ability to set the swallowed applet's size. Currently, the eyes are scaled to fit the tab content area via command-line argument to xeyes. This solution is not practical when there is a configuration file, as the size of the tabs is not known in advance. Since the window identifier of the swallowed program is known, it would be cleaner to suggest to the program to resize to given dimensions via an Xlib call after the program is started, much like a window manager would.

Overall, this design is working out fairly well.

[/xbox] | posted @ 06:44 | link
Sat, 25 Dec 2004

User Interface Idea
xbox/20041225 Now that exams are over, as are Christmas festivities, I am proceeding full-steam with producing software I envisioned while studying for exams.

It occurred to me that the flaw in DashPC's design philosophy is that it's just a launcher. It sits on top of a window manager and launches applications (and a few other things). What is needed in an automobile is an interface, something that does not hide behind windows, but rather allows control over them, and is always available to switch to other programs. However, it should not be a window manager, as that would have to take control of any child windows that a program starts, and that is not the goal. The idea is that child windows are the exception rather than the rule, and those should be handled by a window manager when they do occur.

The result of my ideas is a tab interface with large, simple tabs on the driver side of the screen. Tabs can be added or removed from a configuration file, and each tab corresponds to a different program, always running. The program corresponding to each tab is held within the tab's content area, as pictured for gpsdrive (this is only a concept graphic).

The difficulty lies in embedding the program. Several protocols were considered, including xembed. However, it needs to set up a socket and communicate with the client program, which would require modification for each program to be used. Finally, today, I came across gnome-swallow, which literally swallows any window into its panel window. The whole program is approximately 500 lines, with 75% of that being the panel code. The remaining swallow code should be very easily portable to any other GTK application. If all goes as planned, this means the program will be fairly trivial to write.

To make things even easier on the user, a high-contrast GTK theme could be easily designed to make it very clear which tab is selected. This theme could also enforce larger text, as needed for readability on smaller screens. I am also thinking of designing a hardware switch that would make the software automatically tint to a dark green or red when the vehicle's lights are on. This could be executed right at X11's level via colour-correction functions.

[/xbox] | posted @ 22:19 | link
Mon, 20 Dec 2004

Temporary Freedom
20041220 Exams are over. I feel pretty good about all of them except two: Quantum Mechanics and Networking. Today, I handed in the final report for the IC design I've been working with all semester. Now, there is nothing left to write, nothing left to hand in. There is temporary freedom.

The past week or two has seen interesting weather, from extreme snow conditions to extreme cold. When the weather is snowy, the lights on the house glow and create the perfect winter scene. Then there are days like today, where (with wind factor) the temperature was -41C.

My laptop is being sent back to Dell tomorrow, as the screen problems that have been intermittent in the past have become permanent, and it is not pleasant to stare at with lines down the screen. Of course, this happened two weeks after the warranty expired. Hopefully the repair is not too costly. Dell parts quoted me $740 + tax + shipping for the motherboard, and I am quite certain the problem is with the motherboard.

While looking forward to relaxing over the next several days, I've decided I should resume some small effort on my hobbies. As such, the last week or so has been spent hand-drilling out windows on the Enterprise-D. With over a thousand windows, of which I am cutting out about a half, at a time of three minutes per window... it takes time. But the end result will look great when it is properly painted and lit. I am considering making it a goal to spend 20 minutes a day on hobbies next semester, as it effectively relieves stress.

[] | posted @ 16:43 | link
Sun, 12 Dec 2004

White Nights
20041211 This week has been snowy. At night, the snow really catches the light, and there have been white nights. Not the same effect as a few degrees further North, where the sun doesn't actually set for very long, but it looks the same. I managed to take a photo out of my window at 2 a.m. without any special treatment; it was very bright outside.

At this point, two exams are down, three to go. The first, Software Engineering, which everyone expected would be impossibly difficult, was actually fairly straightforward. I feel I did well on it. Today, I had my Baroque music exam, and it didn't feel as good. 50% of the exam was identifying music played during the exam, and various facts associated with those pieces. Then there were two essays; by the time I got to the second one, my brain was not functioning. This exam was probably not written very well.

Next up, Quantum Mechanics.

[] | posted @ 04:59 | link
Tue, 07 Dec 2004

VGA Output
xbox/20041206 The majority of this evening was spent constructing a simple converter that takes output from the Xbox and converts it into mostly spec VGA.

The Xbox has a video encoder chip that takes the raw digital input and converts it to (usually) composite video, although it also outputs luminance and chrominance for S-Video, as well as both current HDTV standards. From a combination of signals from all of these formats, a VGA signal can be formed. The problem is that the sync signal for the whole picture is encoded within the Green channel. This is not VESA-compliant.

The solution to creating a more-or-less VESA compliant signal is to use a video sync splitter chip. In this case, the National LM1881N was used. The input to the chip is the Green channel and the outputs are the horizontal and vertical sync signals, which go directly to pins 13 and 14 on a VGA connector.

While the rest of the PCB is mostly pass-through for the video signals and their ground lines, there Xbox also outputs audio through the same connector as video. Therefore, there is a stereo headphone jack, and it works surprisingly cleanly.

Unfortunately, the video portion of the converter is not ideal. It was expected from the start that there would be a slight greenish tint, since the colours are not weighted for VGA display. However, the green tint is quite heavy wherever other colours are not displayed. Also, there are occasionally some sync issues. Upon investigating the completed circuit, it appears that the resistor is approximately half as resistive as it is supposed to be. Perhaps the resistor is faulty. This may explain some of the issues, so it will be replaced at some point in the near future.

[/xbox] | posted @ 05:41 | link
Thu, 02 Dec 2004

A So-called "Hectic Life"
20041201 It is amazing how slowly November went by. I recall October coming and going, but November felt easily twice as long. I suppose it could be a function of how busy I am, but that normally makes time go by faster. Coinciding with the first day of December was the first spurt of snow, a modest 10cm. The flakes were the biggest I've ever seen, some were spheroids with a diameter of about 3cm.

Yesterday was my turn to test the chip I spent a good many hours of the semester designing. The chip worked great, with very sharp output signal edges, a signal high very close to 5V, all despite the big gash someone accidentally put through the middle of the chip. Well, the scratch isn't very big, considering the total width of the chip is 0.575mm. It is very neat that this nearly random-looking jumble of zig-zagging lines actually does something interesting. It also brings into perspective how amazing it is that modern chip designs have features about 200 times smaller. Craziness. The only remaining step is to write a big report and it can be called a project.

I am sick. Very sick. I hope to get better before exams.

[] | posted @ 04:57 | link
Thu, 18 Nov 2004

Some Progress
After some eMailing to the xbox-linux mailing list with no success in finding a cure for the Xbox not booting automatically from the hard drive, I discovered that the Cromwell BIOS I was running was somewhat out of date. Flashing the latest (2.32) fixed the issue, and the unit now powers up and boots itself properly. The xbox-linux guys are a friendly and supportive group, I look forward to contributing to the project.

Another good discovery was that with Cromwell, as opposed to the Microsoft firmware, any arbitrary ATAPI CD-ROM drive can be used. This is good, because the built-in optical drive was causing no end of problems reading burned media. The flipside to this is that now that the unit boots properly, the usefulness of the optical drive is much lower. But it is still good to know.

The progress report for this project is due fairly soon. Now that the system is fully running, it would be good to start transcribing ideas about how the user interface should work in time to write about it. Then, the Christmas Break can be used to start implementing these things. Also, over the exam period, it would be good to start looking for important components like the touchscreen and the GPS unit.

[/xbox] | posted @ 05:10 | link

These Are Trying Times...
20041117 The last few days of my life have been difficult, at the very least. My midterm marks suck, assignments are due constantly, and exams loom in the not-so-distant future.

The stress level multiplied by a factor of no less than ten, when yesterday the EngSoc RAID array containing everyone's data started misbehaving during a routine rebuild. At one point, it looked as though two of the four drives had failed, which would pretty much signify the end of what I've poured three years of my life into. Thankfully, we managed to recover completely from the incident with nothing but downtime, though it was really touch-and-go for a good several hours. I finally cracked a smile when in Music class, on the ninth floor of Loeb building, a mouse ran across the classroom and behind a cupboard. It was just one of those things...

Tomorrow is the last Quantum Mechanics midterm, and I'm counting on this one to do well. The last two were really poorly written. This one has significant overlap with my IC design class material, so I may do well. Certainly better than the 17/60 on the Software Engineering midterm. That class worries me.

Today, in a lame attempt at procrastination, the EngSoc folk took apart a Pentium 90 processor. It would have been good to know that the bottom plate could simply have been removed before the thing was smashed to bits. Those edges are sharp!

[] | posted @ 04:59 | link
Sun, 14 Nov 2004

Xebian Installed
xbox/20041113-1 Today was devoted to installing Xebian, a flavour of Debian tailored specifically to Xbox. After installation, it is 100% compatible with Debian's pool of software, but has a slightly different bootup process, as well as a kernel to be used specifically with this hardware. It is now running fairly well, with video output to a video camera.

The first task to install a full Linux system was to overwrite the Flash with one that can boot Linux. This ROM, called Cromwell, was put together to be able to boot Linux. The author did not release the source code publically due to concerns that it could be used to do things considered illegal. To overwrite the normal Flash, two tiny connections that were deliberately left out by Microsoft, namely the traces the write pins, had to be filled in on the motherboard. Here is one of them next to a pin head:


That was a fairly easy task, and the chip flashed flawlessly using the tiny Linux install from yesterday. Next, the hard drive was replaced with one that is expendable. Finally, a CD with Xebian was burned, and a boot attempted. This is where the troubles started. The CD drive was having troubles reading writable media, since writable optical discs tend to be of lesser quality than commercially pressed discs. After four hours of trying various discs burned at various speeds, a Google search revealed that many Xbox optical drive lasers are not set powerfully enough to read writable discs. It was suggested that the laser should be "tuned" to be more powerful. As hinted, right next to the laser diode there was a potentiometer that could be set to lower resistance. It was rotated from approximately 1250Ω to approximately 1050Ω. This setting worked, Xebian installed:


There are still issues to work out. The biggest one is that the system does not want to boot directly from the hard drive. Instead, the Xebian developers provide a CD that is simply a bootloader to the installed system. There is confusion because documentation indicates the Cromwell Flash should be able to boot directly from the hard drive. More research is required here.

While the system was installing, I looked into the complexity of creating a VGA converter to output better video. Apparently, with the signals coming out of an Xbox designed to work with Composite, S-Video, and HDTV, there are enough signals to drive most VGA monitors with a straight-through connection. If the touch-screen LCD I purchase for this unit does not work in this mode, there is a very simple circuit that can be built between the Xbox and the monitor that transforms the synchronization signals into pure VGA.

All in all, this weekend made for good progress.

[/xbox] | posted @ 05:46 | link
Sat, 13 Nov 2004

Full Steam Ahead
At this point, it seems it is high time to get the project really going. The plan is to do the bulk of the work during the Christmas holidays, so it is imperative to have all of the ground work done by then. By December, all work must be R&D.

To that effect, this evening I finally got around to trading my brand new (version 1.6) Xbox with a friend who had the original (version 1.0/1.1) equipment. This is a win-win situation, because he gets a new unit, with a new warranty, and I get a unit that is more suitable for this project. Knowing the difficulties with the 1.6 hardware also allows for another section of the project report, where I can write about Microsoft's continued attempts to prevent people from running Linux on their gaming consoles, as they get more experience with their ideas about trusted computing, of which the Xbox is a prototype platform.

I was able to get Linux loaded into the two megabyte base image fairly quickly:

[xbox/20041112-1] [xbox/20041112-2]

Next, I will attempt to strip the unit of its ability to play games, in favour of behaving as a small, cheap computer.

[/xbox] | posted @ 07:47 | link
Tue, 09 Nov 2004

Aurora Borealis
20041108 Last night the skies put on a nice lightshow in the form of auroras. They've never been particularly bright around here, so I was amazed by how they lit up the sky. Further, I was impressed that they were actually photographable. Setting my digital camera to a sensitivity equivalent to ISO 320, with an exposure time of 1 second, the CCD caught the phenomenon quite nicely. The thresholds were then raised somewhat in The Gimp, et voilà, northern lights on digital film.

In other news, I could use a break right around now. As a means of procrastination, I started moving the notes for my IC design class to TeX, which proper PostScript diagrams. I was pleasantly surprised last night when I realized Inkscape could output to PostScript. Haven't yet figured out why I'm doing this, but the first few pages sure look good.

[] | posted @ 03:54 | link
Fri, 05 Nov 2004

Midterm Time
20041104 I have not written here for many moons now. This is mostly because of the steady flow of midterm examinations I've been bombarded with recently. I just got one of them back today, and I failed miserably. It's the first midterm failed this year. It's Quantum Mechanics, and significant studying went into it. With two out of three tests in that class complete, both shoddily, I am starting to get quite worried. It seems I have all of the information I need, but there is some incompatibility between how my brain works and how the tests are written. It's very frustrating.

Another thing driving me nuts is my eBay purchase of MechAssault needed to get Linux onto Xboxes. The purchase was made exactly four weeks ago today and I still do not have it. This certainly warrants a negative rating.

My laptop's been doing stupid things with the display as of late. It seems to be a combination of software and hardware problems, neither of which I can resolve.

Today marked the first day where the daytime temperature was below freezing. It was the first day I didn't wear my sandals outside.

All in all, I feel miserable.

[] | posted @ 04:48 | link

The DashPC Project
xbox/20041104 While I'm still waiting to get the Xbox hardware to run Linux, I decided it would be a good idea to look ahead and see what front-end software I should be running.

DashPC has always seemed the logical choice. It has an intuitive interface, what appears to be decent integration, and of course, it runs on Linux using the GTK toolkit. However, building and running it today, I was somewhat disappointed:

  • The tarball is not conventionally organized, and all of the files uncompressed into the current directory.
  • The UI is incomplete and buggy.
  • The integration that was implied is non-existent. It's simply a shell with pretty graphics that does callouts to other programs.
  • It's not configurable, everything appears to be hardcoded.
  • It seems disorganized: I downloaded a tarball versioned 0.45, and I got version 0.5.9 of the program.

With these shortcomings, it would probably be easier to start a new interface from scratch. There is really very little that could make this project useful. However, that is not a bad thing, as the project's major goal is to consider user interfaces, both hardware and software.

Here are some ideas for a new project that would differentiate it from DashPC:

  • Interface elements should not be graphics. Graphics do not allow for scalability or contrast modification.
  • Interface "screens" should be user-configurable, so that a new section is easy to add.
  • The UI could be written in Glade, to allow for easier design of various panels/screens.

This software would be straightforward, with focus on two areas: user interface design and plugins/extensibility. Seeing as the back-end work is simple, the first step of the project should be to do some Glade mockups of a new user interface.

[/xbox] | posted @ 04:29 | link
Tue, 26 Oct 2004

Productive Weekend
20041025 The most productive weekend of the year started on a high note, when I got a new 17" flat panel monitor. It's not terribly fancy (actually scored quite low on many reviews), but I like it, and the price was definitely right. I was hoping for black, but all I could get was grey. That doesn't change the fact that the screen is infinitely better than the one it replaced.

At the time time, I took apart, cleaned, and reconstructed an old HP LaserJet 4. Aside from its fuser, all parts are in mint condition. The fuser works, but is starting to display signs of wear and tear. Still, it's amazing that a twelve year old printer replaced our five year old printer due to quality reasons.

Friday evening, I went to see Team America. It has to be the funniest movie this year. There were parts where I was worried about passing out due to lack of breathing due to hysterical laughing. In so many ways the movie was controversial and "over-the-edge." I suppose that's what I liked about it. That, and its more than passing similarity to the Thunderbirds.

On Saturday, I took my little sister to attend an orchestra show for children at the National Arts Centre. Last time I went, I was impressed with the level of quality, but I wasn't terribly entertained. This time was different, as the theme was "space", and the Canadian Space Agency's Marc Garneau was the special guest. He did a really cool presentation on his missions in space, in a way that the kids could understand. Best of all, a live, full-orchestra performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra and the ET theme.

Somewhere this weekend I also found time to do a lab report and assignment for school, clean my room, and cut my own hair... you know you don't have much hair left when you start cutting it yourself. Strangely enough, it turned out great.

Quote of the week: "Dyslexics of the world, UNTIE!"

[] | posted @ 03:34 | link
Tue, 19 Oct 2004

Integrated Circuit
20041018 Today was a momentous occasion, as after a two weeks of long, hard work, my IC design project came to a temporary conclusion. The conclusion is temporary, because although the design is finalized, there is a month-long fabrication process before students get to test their design in real NMOS silicon. Then there is also the project report, which is due soon thereafter.

Carleton has a small fabrication facility that can produce fairly simple chips. This project is NMOS simply because of the time constraints and the relative complexity of producing CMOS logic (several more masks and layers). Nevertheless, I find the entire process very exciting. The class associated with the project is definitely amongst my undergraduate favourites.

The chip design was permitted an area of 230λ by 230λ, where λ=2.5μm. This means that my whole project has an area of 5.75mm by 5.75mm. That would make it the smallest project I've ever completed. My tuny initials would only fit sideways in the bottom-right corner, and even then I couldn't close the "P" properly! My record for the longest time in a lab was reached today: I spent 11.5 hours with two 5 minute breaks finalizing this chip.

Edit (2005-12-14):
(230)(2.5μm) = 0.575mm. Thinking about this after the fact, the entire classes projects fit in an area smaller than 5mm by 5mm.

[] | posted @ 03:22 | link
Mon, 18 Oct 2004

Hacking the Xbox
xbox/20041017 I finally finished reading Hacking the Xbox by Andrew "Bunnie" Huang.

I consider this book to be the de facto textbook for getting anywhere with the project. Though all of the chapters were very interesting, only several will actually be used to develop the "CarBox," seeing as there is no reason or desire to further knowledge of the Xbox's security system. Regardless, the book covered many aspects of what will be required to have the unit operate with a touchscreen device, network device, and other peripherals.

Last weekend I ordered the original version of MechAssault, which is needed to install Linux on the Xbox. I was hoping to have it by this weekend, but it did not come in time. Hzopefully, it will be here soon.

[/xbox] | posted @ 03:39 | link

Fall Colours
20041017 I intended to go out this weekend and enjoy the fall colours. Unfortunately, since my IC design project is due on Monday, I spent all of Friday and Saturday at school. When I left Saturday morning, the trees were still rich in colour. When I got back in the evening, strong winds had knocked most of the leaves off.

Though the colours today were not as brilliant as a few days ago, I decided to go for a walk in the Beaver Pond park. By this time next year, the whole area is supposed to be obliterated in favour of constructing more houses.

I got a few nice photos of Luna the Dog. She turned one year old this past week.

[] | posted @ 03:31 | link
Fri, 15 Oct 2004

Hugin and Harvard
Shortly before leaving to Boston I discovered a very powerful panorama tool called Hugin. I thought I would give it a spin doing a 360° view from the corner of the courtyard between Memorial Church and Widener Library at Harvard University.


The image is made up of 17 separate photos. Some of the initial images were of drastically different different brightness. In particular, one of the photos of the three windows near the right was extremely dark. I am very impressed with how the program managed to even out the image.

I think the 'dip' in the middle of the panorama is due to me tipping the camera down toward the couryard. In the future, a tripod would probably be handy. Also, it would be very beneficial to have more overlap in the pictures. The recommended value is 20%-30% overlap; in some cases I only had 10%. Those are the seams that are more clearly visible.

The program also seems to be designed to make decisions on its own. Once enough reference points are placed, Hugin predicts where additional points will go. If you make a mistake placing a point, it warns you based upon its calculations. If a gap is left between two photos, and then the correct photo is placed in the gap, it seems to figure out the details fairly accurately and shape the added image accordingly.

Overall, the results are great. I can see myself creating more panoramic shots in the future with the help of Hugin. It really is a powerful tool.

Quote of the week: "Extrinsic semiconductors are intrinsically useless." (Professor Tom Smy, Carleton University).

[] | posted @ 02:27 | link
Thu, 14 Oct 2004

Two Difficult Days
20041013 The two days since the long weekend have been difficult.

Yesterday, while entering my Networking Theory class about 20 minutes late, it occurred to me that people were writing a midterm. I had no idea that there was a test scheduled. Due to the familiar subject matter, I probably achieved a decent score anyway. Later that evening, staying awake through the music elective was difficult.

Today, nothing went quite right. My morning lab was excruciatingly boring Object Constraint Language. Later, trying to finish my IC design I was stuck on a stupid PSPICE error for two hours. I didn't manage to solve it either. Then I skipped the silly Software Engineering class (yay, more OCL!). A four hour meeting in the evening was unentertaining; thankfully I brought a wireless access point with me.

The most interesting event of the day was in the morning, when someone discovered a small package full of white powder. Of course, the Hazardous Materials squadron was called in, as well as the Ottawa Police Explosives Unit. As the photo shows, there were at least two firetrucks, two ambulances, two police cruisers, a special police truck, and Carleton police vehicles. In the end, it turned out that someone accidentally left a packet of flour after performing experiments on various scaled-down thermo-dynamic storage containers, designed as part of an engineering design project. I, for one, was amused.

[] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Tue, 12 Oct 2004

Gnome Summit 2004: Boston
This Thanksgiving weekend was spent in Boston. I went there mostly because of the Gnome Summit, but also because it could provide me with the small vacation I needed.

I drove to Montreal, where I was supposed to pick up Kamil. He was forced to take a later plane, and by the time we left Montreal it was almost 22:00. By the time we got to Boston, it was 03:00. By the time we found MIT, it was 04:00. Boston is the most difficult city I've driven around. No use in getting a hotel at that point, so we slept in the car next to a graveyard.

In the "morning", we went to get breakfast at a local diner. The craziest thing happened: Chris Lahey of Novell, whom we both recognized, came in to have breakfast too. What are the odds? This was a good thing, because he gave us definite instructions on how to get back to MIT.

Just down the from the diner there is a YMCA in a very, very old building. It definitely had character. Showering after sleeping in a car is a good thing.

We arrived at the crazy new MIT Stata Center:

The "Dr. Suess Building"

Inside the main auditorium

The Gnome Summit Beacon

The day went by very quickly, there were several good discussions about how to make Gnome more attractive and marketable so that it remains competitive as software, as well as interesting to work on and use.

That Saturday evening, Kamil and I drove around to every hotel within 40km North of Boston. As a matter of course, all of the hotels were full. Not to make the trip too cheap, we made sure to pre-book a hotel room for Sunday evening. But Saturday sleeping was done in the car in a parking lot.

The 1994 Mazda Protege car-bed, through open trunk

Yet another trip to the YMCA for general bodily maintenance. One of the cool things on Sunday was a show-and-tell for what people have been working on in Gnome. A few interesting projects included Gamin, a new GUI editor called Stetic, and a very interesting poem generator by Jon Trowbridge. In the demo, he checked off several word-source books in the options, including something about sex, a Sherlock Holmes novel, and a Linux kernel book. Here is the great poem it generated:

Her hand. Remeber, too secure, a real
effect were to become a couple of
examples and converted to a stand.
The place? In fact, her hands. The boy, the whole
remaining shaft. A few descendant, and
recover it. The time. Sometimes the case
in more. The two devices to a mere
detail. The door behind her death began.

I presented Celestia. It seemed to make an impression on many people visually, though I tried to focus my presentation on how it's a true exercise in portability, seeing as it runs on so many platforms. Even keeping the autotools files in working order is a challenge. One way or another, it was a decent presentation.

That afternoon we took a break and went to visit Harvard, since the MIT campus really is not that breathtaking. Harvard's definitely is. The buildings are old and beautiful. I took many 360° panoramic shots of the courtyards. Hopefully I can get a chance to assemble them soon.

Sunday evening we slept in a hotel! A real bed!

Monday morning there were presentations on improving Gnome's performance and how the Linux kernel will help. Around noon, Nat showed up with his Sony Aibo robotic dog. It was fun to watch and interact with.

We couldn't stay for the closing event because of a need to drive back home. Stopping twice, it took me 7h22m from the Stata Center parking lot to my garage. The total trip was 1632km in length. I look forward to next year. Right now, I need sleep.

[] | posted @ 03:52 | link
Sun, 03 Oct 2004

Xbox and USB, Continued
xbox/20041002 With the remaining female end of an Xbox USB cable, as well as the male end of a broken cable, I decided it would be interesting to try doing the opposite of what I did last weekend. Upon soldering together the cable ends, I plugged a controller unit into my new PC.

The controller is a standard USB hub (since it has room to plug in other accessories), as well as a somewhat less standard joystick. Searching the internet, I quickly came across drivers and it worked fabulously. A quick game confirmed that everything works as it should.

This cable may prove helpful in debugging Xbox accessories in case they do not seem to work, when Linux is on the Xbox. The accessory with the standard USB end could plug into the Xbox adaptor, which could then plug into this new adaptop, bringing it back to standard USB. Though seemingly pointless, it might help find an error somewhere along the way. For now, it is fun to have a game pad connected to my PC.

My supervisor has asked me to keep a web log of progress on this project, so this entry is part of the new Xbox section of my log.

I am currently in the search for the MechAssault game needed to gain entry into the unit. Looking at the stores, the game sells for about 25 dollars, but is the fixed "Platinum Hits" edition. This one is patched to prevent the installer from working. There is also a strong possibility that my Xbox has firmware that makes this process more difficult. If that is the case, I will either have to find an older used unit, or go directly to the hardware modification. Either way, I will have to rent the original version of MechAssault from the rental store to find out.

I am over half way through reading Hacking the Xbox. The chapters get more and more interesting. I am currently reading about the internal hardware encryption methods the units use. I am glad that this part has alrady been figured out by others.

[/xbox] | posted @ 03:59 | link
Fri, 01 Oct 2004

The RAM! The RAM Is Here!
20040930 And so another month has gone by. The test was not as bad as I had imagined it. More importantly, the RAM finally came in. Of course, this happened the night before the test. That resulted in not much studying.

This RAM is crazy in every way. Very shiny. I have never spent over $500 on RAM. I don't know that I ever want to. Is it worth it? This stuff is heavy, weighing almost as much as my hard drive for the two sticks. It must be mostly because of the thick copper plates covering the chips. Even the name of the memory is big: "1GB Dual-Channel PC3200 DDR400 ECC Registered RAM". Let's not expand the acronyms.

Installing WindowsXP on this thing was painful. It actually required a floppy drive with SATA drivers. When F6 is hit as instructed for additional drivers, it gives no feedback for about 30 seconds. I must have tried 5 times before letting it sit for that long. And that was just me giving up. I installed Windows by giving up. Windows didn't support any of the hardware out-of-the-box, even though the motherboard design is about two years old. Games run amazingly: smooth, high-resolution... perfect.

Currently, Linux is installing. I decided to go with Gentoo for several reasons. Firstly, I need, as well as software that will work with as many multimedia streams as possible. Secondly, the processor was given to me by a Gentoo guy, so it feels right to have Gentoo on it. Debian's pure64 is very tempting, I intend to give it a try in due time. All hardware works out-of-the-ISO with Linux.

I'm very excited by the wireless project at school. It seems as much a social thing as it is technical. Basically, as we put more and more access points up, more and more people come to our door to ask about the network or offer to help out somehow. It's an interesting phenomenon. We seem to be piloting this sort of effort on campus.

[] | posted @ 06:21 | link
Tue, 28 Sep 2004

Stupid Course Rant
20040927 This past weekend brought about a fridge replacement for the ailing one controlled via cron job. That one also had a failing compressor. The new one is a huge stainless steel Kitchenaid monstrosity. But it works.

While working outside on Sunday I came across this little green guy. Actually, it's the largest insect of this type I've ever seen. Though not apparent from the photo, it was about 8cm in length, it basically had the same dimensions as my index finger. Happy little fellow... even has a little tail.

The weekend also saw me getting Multi Theft Auto, a client-server system that uses the already-present network hooks in GTA: Vice City to make network play possible. It's quite unstable and scoring is very unfair. Bullets that should hit do not. It's still fun, but it's too bad that Rockstar Games could not make an official version that is better integrated with the game.

Now the rant. My university program requires me to take a Software Engineering class. The professor (with a heavy French accent) won't shot up about the Unified Modeling Language, including its subset, Object Constraint Language. He sounds like he truly believes it's the best thing in the world (next to Java, of course!). Today, he introduced us to how the labs will be run in the course. It will be a week-by-week exercise in micromanagement. Basically, every lab will be a stack of short answer questions that have to be entered into a retardedly designed online form. We are not allowed to listen to music or participate in online chatting while we work; that will cost us marks. Coming in a few minutes late will also deduct marks. We cannot close the browser in which said script is running, or hit the back button. After questions are answered, a special button has to be hit so that the database is left in a consistent state, or we lose hours of work. There is no session management whatsoever. For a software engineering course where "professionalism" is equated with marks, this system looks like it requires a few more Use Cases. The professor blames the fact that the back-end is "a free database, MySQL, so there is no session management." Like that has anything to do with it. A friend who took it last year summarized this man very nicely: "You know that saying: '...those who cannot, teach.' He's a living example of that." I am beginning to agree.

[] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Mon, 27 Sep 2004

Relaxing Weekend
xbox/20040926 What a nice weekend. The weather was perfect, the body well rested. I got a lot of chores done. Also, many paint chips on the car were filled. I discovered a nice technique of applying touch-up paint, sanding down with fine sandpaper, removing sandpaper marks with polishing compound, and then applying Turtle Wax. It works surprisingly well. Initial testing was done on the hood, which is all dented up anyway. It's good to own an older car; it really lets one play and learn things that no sane person would do on a new vehicle.

Today's accomplishment was building a USB<->Xbox cable. The Xbox end was purchased as part of a controller extension cord. The USB end used to be a Logitech USB<->PS/2 adaptor. It works really well with a 64M IntelligentStick. The Xbox thinks it is its proprietary storage unit. Copying the MechAssault Linux Installer to it actually shows nice Tux icons in the built-in file browser. Now I need to go out and get MechAssault to really get going in the 4th-year project by installing Linux.

This Thursday will be the semester's first quiz. Everyone is dreading it, seeing as it's from the impossible Quantum Mechanics class.

[/xbox] | posted @ 03:47 | link
Wed, 22 Sep 2004

Arts Elective
20040921 Tuesday night, 18:00-21:00, is my Baroque Music elective. The lecture is long, albeit interesting. I've never had an arts course, so I've made several observations about arts courses thus far:

  • Much higher female-to-male ratio
  • Coursework involves more reading and writing
  • Notes are provided orally (I have to write?!)
  • People don't get computers

Regarding that last point, the course outline was posted as a WordPerfect document. When people started complaining "But the file doesn't open!" the instructor said "Oh, I didn't know that for it to work on the internet I had to post it as a Word file." This, in turn, led to a comment by one of the students, "Well, I've found a way to open it. Just save the link and double-click on it and Word will open it just fine." Man, those arts people.

Being stuck on the top floor of the Loeb building isn't all bad. First of all, the music I'm getting is entertaining and informative. The view of the sunset tonight was phenomenal. On the other hand, I would have rather seen the sunset from the pond (it was boat night!)... all I have to show is a blurry photo of the sunset reflected from Dunton Tower. Bah!

[] | posted @ 03:50 | link
Mon, 20 Sep 2004

Eventful First Week
20040919 The first week of classes was eventful. I didn't have any free time at all, catching up with people, classes, grand EngSoc projects. On Tuesday I came down with a terrible sickness (commonly known as The EngFrosh disease) that is still eating away at me. Wednesday night I actually slept from 1800-0800.

I must have passed the disease on to the EngSoc mail server, seeing as Saturday at noon both drives on its data RAID array died simultaneously. Those are astronomical odds. After ten hours of coaxing, only one of the drives in the array came up, but one is better than none. It was a very stressful day.

Today was finally a day of relaxation. The major project was to finish up with the car, so I did. First, a good rub-down with rubbing compound over the previously painted window frame evened out the paint. Then a nice thick coat of acrylic lacquer finished the job. At some point in the next short while I might rub it down a notch, the thing reflects like a mirror now!

The photo is the result (dusty already!), with the inset from six weeks ago. The inset shows the previous patch from two years ago. Clearly this did not work, so this time around, steel was removed all the way through the frame (the resulting hole was the size of my thumb), and what was left was treated with all sorts of anti-rust agents. Then it was filled, sanded, glazed, sanded, primed, sanded, painted. Hopefully it will work better this time around. It certainly looks better.

[] | posted @ 03:07 | link
Tue, 14 Sep 2004

Back To Normal Life
20040913 Frosh week turned out very well. I'm extremely tired and glad to have life get back to the normal flow of things. On the other hand, a schedule as busy as last week's does have a certain appeal to it. I made sure to save the Yukon's OnStar number so that I can prank call the rental truck frequently.

Course-wise, I can see that some courses will be crazily hard or keep me crazily busy. I'm looking forward to Electronic Materials as well as Integrated Circuit Design & Fabrication, and maybe the Music elective I'm taking, though I haven't had the first class of that yet. The two Systems courses are much less exciting.

On the EngSoc side, fantastic improvements have been made to how EngSoc can handle wireless connections via WPA with user-specific certificates. I've gotten wpa_supplicant to work smoothly, meaning that it should be a lot more sane getting a wireless connection with the laptop. It should also be hugely beneficial to Windows users, who can just double-click on the certificate file to connect. Finally, it should allow a properly configured access point to be plugged in anywhere and just work against our server, which saves a lot of cabling.

On a side note, we now officially have the coolest fridge hack. Over the weekend, the temperature-sensing circuitry died (though the individual components on the PCB appear to work), and the fridge was getting very warm. As a temporary fix, my dad rigged the compressor into an always-on configuration, and the whole thing is plugged into an X-10 appliance cube. Our NetWinder cron daemon now controls the fridge from the basement; less on-time in the evening, more during the day. Who needs a computer inside the fridge anyway?!

[] | posted @ 03:45 | link
Thu, 09 Sep 2004

Frosh Week Madness
With EngFrosh this week, time has been extremely limited, and sleeping patterns have been quite erratic.

The frosh are, as usual, a lively bunch. Today was white water rafting day at Wilderness Tours and I finally went. It was fun, though when I fell out, I got a painful scrape on one of the ankles.

Throughout the week I get to drive one of the EngFrosh rentals, a GMC Yukon. This is the most ridiculous vehicle ever. I hate it, at least the way it drives. Being fully loaded, it has fancy electronics, and the console display goes as far as to show oil viscosity, as well as individual tire pressure. If it were not for the size and terrible handling, I might like this thing. Being as it is, my fourth year project should cover a lot of the electronic gizmos in a saner car.

This evening CUSA put on a Billy Talent concert. It sucked. The cover band was even worse than my to-date least favourite group, Big Jeezus Truck. Billy Talent himself was hardly better. He sounded like my mother when she's pissed off and makes babies cry.

Tomorrow's the first day of classes. Yikes!

[] | posted @ 03:50 | link
Fri, 03 Sep 2004

Last Day of Work
20040903 Last night's boat cruise was pretty fun. It dragged on a little, since the oragnizers decided to extend it an extra 45 minutes. I realize now that taking one-second-long exposures on a moving boat is difficult. Most of my photos are blurry whenever something is less than a few hundred metres away. This phenomenon did produce a nifty shot of the very clear Museum of Civilization framed by a blurry Alexandria Bridge. The museum is clear enough to see the totem poles inside.

I cursed upon getting home, and, upon inserting RAM, getting cryptic overclocking messages spoken at me by my new motherboard. Yes, the POST speaks error messages. No, they don't always make sense. In this case, a little bit of Googling showed that it was because the RAM wasn't Registered ECC and anything with a Socket940 needs that. I cursed further at the extra $150 expenditure.

Today's the last day of work. I will miss the freedom...

[] | posted @ 17:14 | link
Thu, 02 Sep 2004

September Craziness
20040902 It's September! That's crazy! I suppose it's due to my general business, but August flew by much more quickly than June or July. School starts way too soon.

The big news of the week is that I spent small fortune to get parts for the AMD Athlon64 FX-51 chip that was given to me by Greg KH back at OLS. The processor itself is tiny, but sports an amazing 940 pins. Makes for a cool depth-of-field shot. The system consists of the following:

  • AMD Athlon FX-51 Processor
  • Asus SK8V Motherboard
  • 1 GB OCZ PC3200 Dual Channel DDR Memory
  • 128 MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro Dual Head Video Card
  • 200 GB 7200rpm Seagate Serial-ATA Hard Drive
  • Cooler Master Centurion 5 Case with 350W Power Supply

I just got the last components today, so I'll be putting this stuff to use later tonight. Right now, I'm a little disappointed with the motherboard, because it came in a very badly beaten up box and has a broken corner. I'll be exchanging that after I play a little, seeing as it still works. The RAM, however, is amazing: completely covered in thick, shiny copper heatsink, the two sticks weigh almost as much as my new hard drive. The case is really sweet too.

In other news, the car doorframe is nearly done. I'm just applying the last coats of primer, and I got the finishing paint at lunch today. It's getting pretty smooth, only a little more sanding...

Tonight, CUSA is throwing a fundraiser, and so I've been invited on a boat cruise. It should be a cool evening, but the sky is beautifully clear.

Finally, I can sleep well now that my fourth-year project to use the Xbox as an integrated car computer got approved. It will be a fun project, too.

[] | posted @ 21:09 | link
Mon, 30 Aug 2004

Car Work + Cleanup + School
20040829 Over the last little while a lot has happened. First, last week the front of the car got straightened. The hood and bumper still look rough, and there is no grille, but the underlying structure is as straight as it can be. Additionally, the hood sits flat. I also managed to get a lot done on the driver-side door patchwork over the weekend.

It's amazing how much traffic my Celestia announcement to generated. On Thursday alone, there were 970 visits, which accounted for 20541 hits, and over a gigabyte of traffic.

The weekend was largely spent doing very little. It's my last free weekend before school starts. I spent most of it catching up on bill payments, organizing financial records, cleaning out eMail, planning my new computer, etcetera. On the subject of bill payments, I paid tuition today, now that I have my baroque music elective approved. It came to $6149. It did not go up from last year.

After having my fourth year project idea rejected by the professor last week for being too complicated as a one-person task, I've been getting increasingly worried, as time is running out. Then, yesterday, it hit me: earlier in the year I was hypothesizing about how the X-box would make for a decent in-car computer. So I fired off an eMail to another prof asking if he would supervise that. If he does not, I will find someone who will, because this project has good potential. The X-box already runs Linux, and there are already good programs designed for car use. The project would be to integrate and extend. I intend to get this out of the way soon.

Funny story of the week: in this house, we often have alcoholic beverages using Coke as the base. with drinks like that the kids aren't left out because the just get the same thing minus the alcohol. Well, yesterday evening my dad screwed up: he accidentally took the non-alcoholic drink for himself and gave my little brother the one full of gin. He didn't notice this as he got distracted playing some computer game. My brother got quite drunk and it was very funny. The poor kid couldn't stand. End of story.

[] | posted @ 03:24 | link
Thu, 26 Aug 2004

Celestia 1.3.2 Released
20040825 Celestia 1.3.2 was released yesterday evening. I didn't get all the changes in that I had wanted for my Gnome front-end, but I feel better about maintaining stability than rewriting core functionality directly before release. To make for a better release announcement, I made a Gnome Celestia web site. The main point is to have screenshots so that people on the various news sites can have something pretty to look at.

Two nights ago I spent a lot of time ungluing the lenses from my broken headlights and applying them to intact ones I got cheaply, but which had the 1992 square fronts on them. It was very painful, each of the four units taking about an hour. Today, a body shop straightened all the parts that needed straightening. Things are starting to come together.

Today is the fourth anniversary of Pixeloid. I forgot to mention that to Markus when we went drinking last night.

[] | posted @ 03:51 | link
Mon, 23 Aug 2004

20040822 This Saturday was spent gliding as a fundraiser for EngFrosh. I went last year to the same event, and it was a great new experience, so I went again this year. It felt more "normal" this year; that is, the feeling of flying without engine power. There's a certain grace to flying that is significantly increased in the silence a glider. Side-slipping still feels strange. This is the ability of the glider to actually fly more or less sideways with one of its wings pointed fairly sharply toward the ground. It does funny things to the airspeed indicater, and feels completely bizarre to anyone used to forward-flight-only/powered aircraft.

In the evening I watched The Godfather. It wasn't quite what I expected. I actually expected to be a little more touched by the character of the Godfather, based on everything I've ever heard about the movie. I may have to watch it again at some point to pick up the finer details of the story.

Today was spent cleaning the EngSoc office. It needed a little work "here and there." It's a little better off now.

The professor I approached about my fourth year project wants more information before deciding whether or not to supervise me. He referred me to some very interesting research by a professor at Lakehead. I'm going to respond to his eMail now. I can't believe there are only ten days of work left before school starts.

[] | posted @ 03:32 | link
Thu, 19 Aug 2004

Power Problems
Today was less productive than the last few days. No reason, really. It just seems there were more problems than solutions.

I tried going to the gym tonight for a swim, and as I'm still a little sore, I was hoping to just float in the water a little. The pool's filter pump was broken, so it was closed as a result.

On my way home, there were broken traffic lights and cops all around Lebreton Flats managing the situation.

Continuing on my drive, I nearly ran over a skunk. I managed to stop in time, and it slowly wobbled off the road. That's a first, I've never seen a live skunk crossing a road.

Finally, shortly after getting home, the power went out. It just came back on a minute ago. Thankfully, this laptop has a "built-in UPS." The NetWinders bore it well also, since they're on the UPS I got for Christmas. The Crusoe NetWinder still has an uptime of 208 days. The power situation has been getting worse and worse over the last few years. This evening our house suffered a longer power outage than during the whole ice storm.

[] | posted @ 03:49 | link
Tue, 17 Aug 2004

I am Broken
Yesterday was a little too much for me. I biked to work for the first time in about a month. Then I went to the pool and did a bit of swimming followed by some diving. There weren't very many people at the pool, so I decided to try something new: a flip from the 3m diving board. Looks like I ended up doing half of a flip, and landed flat on my back. That was very painful.

So, my crotch hurts from biking, my arms hurt from swimming, my left knee is aching, and my back is quite stiff this morning. I feel pretty bad.

[] | posted @ 13:44 | link
Sun, 15 Aug 2004

Family Back
20040814 This week went by quickly. This is especially so, since I had to take care of the dog. I can now see why single people generally don't have dogs: they tend to take all of your spare time. I'm actually happy people are back so that she's not my responsibility anymore.

Thursday evening had a superb sunset enhanced by some interesting rain clouds. There is another really good photo where the sky is an awesome orange-to-blue gradient. It's too similar to the one with the power lines posted a while ago.

The work week was extremely productive. I finally got packages working in a reliable fashion. Things are looking up there. Too bad school starts in three weeks.

Regarding school, I finally pitched a decent fourth-year project. My idea involves making a 'floating' platform, where three or four downward-pointing fans make it hover 5 to 10cm off the ground. The point of the project is to design the hardware and software to keep the thing level and steady. It will use gyros to know which fans need to be sped up or slowed down to maintain level. Assuming it gets accepted, it will be quite a challenge to design and contruct.

I spent some time today playing with Celestia. The new release is supposed to be this weekend. An interesting discovery was that the GL problems everyone on ATI cards is experiencing might be caused by the server rather than Celestia or the ATI drivers. The latest snapshop from looks promising, but the ATI drivers don't seem to be able to run any GL programs without crashing X. Hopefully those issues can be resolved.

[] | posted @ 03:43 | link
Mon, 09 Aug 2004

20040808 I've been meaning to write for quite a while now, since quite a bit has happened over the last week or so.

Most notably, registration for university courses has opened up, and ~ I've been trying to choose a set that will work for me. It's been almost a week, and I'm still not quite there. This is because, for once, I actually have a large selection to choose from. There are just so many interesting Engineering courses to pick from. There are also loads of complementary study electives, from which two must be selected; unfortunately, Latin isn't one of them.

The movie of the week is Collateral, with Tom Cruise, which I was lucky to see a day or two before opening night. The movie is actually very entertaining, and I'd have to say it's Cruise's best part to date. Upon leaving the theatre, my heart was pumping harder than usual, and my mouth was dry. There was a woman just outside the theatre puking into a trash can. The director used interesting approaches to a lot of the shots. Overall, he filmed using very high-grain film, probably because there are a lot of very dark scenes and he wanted high exposure on them. The pace was very effective. The music was fairly impressive as well.

The weekend was dedicated almost entirely to the car. Saturday was spent at three junkyards looking for parts with Kamil from work. In the end, I didn't get anything useful. I was hoping for a cruise control unit, but it turns out that my car doesn't even have the wiring for it (though it has wiring for many other things that didn't come with it). A few hours today were spent grinding open the rusty patch-of-death that every Protege has on the driver-side door frame. It's much, much rustier inside the top layer of steel than can be seen from the outside. Much of the metal inside disintegrated upon gentle prods from a screwdriver. These rusty parts are what caused the problem to recur after it was last fixed. Consequently, a large area had to be cut out, and I'll probably spend the week cleaning it and patching it up. But it's necessary, since by next year the rust would have been uncontrollable.

I've taken an interest in photographing reflections. The photo is a reflection from my mom's laptop's screen.

This week I am family-less once again. This time, the dog has been left under my care. Hopefully it won't die or something...

[] | posted @ 03:53 | link
Mon, 02 Aug 2004

Shit. It's August already. All the back-to-school signs are popping up. I've got to get moving on the fourth year project. I came across an interesting article that I feel provides me with some insight into fundamental differences between Muslim civilization and the so-called "Western" world:

The instituting of a national law that incorporates both civil and spiritual laws is one of the principles that makes it difficult for Americans to understand Islamic nations. It is even more difficult for the people in those Islamic nations to understand a government that does not enforce morality as well as civil law. Since they do not understand the principle of the separation of the government from the religion, when people in Islamic nations see Western nation's magazines with nudity or near nudity, they believe that what they are seeing is Christianity! After all, they are told that the United States is a Christian nation. When they see a satellite program that originates from Playboy, they think that is Christianity! When they see a television commercial for any kind of alcoholic beverage, they think that is Christianity! They do not understand the separation of government and religion. They cannot understand why those who produce such materials are not punished by the government.

It never occurred to me before, but this separation of law and government that feels so natural to me must be very foreign to Muslims. While our laws are based on Christian attitudes and values, we see no room in government for God. This fundamental difference explains so much.

[] | posted @ 03:59 | link
Sat, 31 Jul 2004

All Worked Out...
Over the past six days I've been to the gym every night. For the past three, I've also been to the pool. My arms are aching from weights and swimming. My legs are aching from serious recumbent biking. But the spot I want to work out, the spot where all the fat is, my stomach area, is not aching. I go to big lengths trying to get that area of my body to break a sweat. On one hand, it's a good thing since it indicates I have strong torso and back muscles. On the other hand, I'd really like it to endure a little stress and burn fat. Other than that, I find that a swim after a workout completes the experience. I started diving off of one of the high diving boards tonight.

Since I'm biking so much in the gym this week, I've pondered why I don't just enjoy biking to work as much. The reasons are:

  • I don't have a recumbent bike.
  • I don't like getting to work sweaty.
  • I don't like exercising in the morning; only evenings.
  • I don't like hot, humid temperatures; the gym has dry/cool air.
  • I don't like wasting time in the morning, when driving is faster.
  • I do enjoy the bike ride home, especially if the sun is setting.

Still, when the weather is just right, a bike ride to and from work is great. Driving just feels wasteful.

At work, this week has been productive. Today felt especially so. I finally got all four of my build machines to behave, and they will soon function as a well-oiled machine.

I'm expecting the family home any day now. Bye-bye freedom.

[] | posted @ 03:34 | link
Thu, 29 Jul 2004

With everyone gone, this is truly a week of freedom. Since I don't have a dinner to come home to, I've been going to the Carleton gym to work out. I find it relieves hunger quite a bit, though it's left me a little sore. Tonight was the first night I went to the pool to do some laps. I feel great.

At work, I've spent the whole week thus far making a software RAID array work. The machine has an on-board VIA SATA controller. If this were kernel 2.4.x, VIA provides a driver for this "half-hardware" card, where the BIOS keeps track of consistency, while the OS driver takes care of writing to multiple devices. But, this being a 2.6.x kernel, I needed to go with the kernel's RAID1 implementation. It's been difficult, but it finally started working. It's actually a very comprehensive driver. I may start using it elsewhere too.

Only a couple more days of freedom...

[] | posted @ 04:27 | link
Mon, 26 Jul 2004

OLS is Over...
...and I'm dead-tired. Saturday was the last day, and I was completely exhausted. At the end-of-OLS party I was simply too tired.

Earlier that day, Greg KH of Gentoo, who had won an AMD FX-51 processor earlier in the week, gave me his prize, since he has a new machine and has no use for such a processor. Apparently, it's a very expensive chip. Apparently, the motherboards are really expensive too.

Yesterday was a dat of relaxation in Perth with the boat club. In the evening I watched Fahrenheit 9/11. Now I like Bush even less. Without making too much of Moore's style, there were parts that just made sense in hindsight.

And now, after sending out a few thank-you eMails, it's back to real life. I have to start putting serious thought into my fourth-year project. There is important work to be done on the car. Then, there's my job, with quickly approaching deadlines.

[] | posted @ 14:17 | link
Sat, 24 Jul 2004

OLS, Day 3
20040724 I didn't get to attend very much of OLS this Friday. The most interesting thing was an X BOFS. Again, Keith Packard and Jim Gettys put on an interesting conversation. This one looked like it drew a lot of interest from potential developers. An observation is that the X talks have drawn the largest crowds of any of the concurrent seminars. This is good, and it's a sign that good things will come relatively quickly.

The photo is of yesterday's X presentation, with two videos playing with different levels of overlapping transparency. I know I'll look back on this in a few years and consider it super-primitive.

The evening was spent doing more water-ballooning from the 16th floor. My aim has drastically improved. I was able to hit within a couple of meters from targets most of the time. Decent for distances in excess of 200m.

My family left this morning for a week-long vacation, giving me the freedom to get some true rest.

[] | posted @ 16:20 | link
Fri, 23 Jul 2004

Suspend-To-RAM Works!
An emerge sync showed there was a new version of the xorg-x11 packages in Gentoo. The changelog revealed that there is a patch to fix Radeon upon S3 resume. I built the X server, and it works! No modules even need to be unloaded except ehci_ucd. No problem.

The day started off shitty, with me being unable to attend Robert Love's speech, and then being informed that some machines at school got compromised yet again. But when this suspend/resume started working, it totally outbalanced that. I finally have a functional Linux laptop.

I'm about to leave work to go for several OLS talks. I will have to thank Len Brown. Maybe I can listen to a recording of Love's speech to make the day complete.

[] | posted @ 18:48 | link

OLS, Day 2
Due to work commitments, I only got to go to one event yesterday. The speech was by Jim Gettys and Keith Packard about the in-the-works x-server. He showed the great things that are available on his page as screenshots, but then amazed everyone with overlapping translucent videos playing in Xine as well as the technical things that drive them. I hope we can get his X server into the distros sooner rather than later.

In the evening, I spend another hour or two around Len Brown trying ACPI things. His latest patch made everything work in S3 except video resume. Still, it was a good step forward.

[] | posted @ 18:40 | link
Thu, 22 Jul 2004

Conferences, Conferences...
The second day of the Desktop Developers' Conference was definitely more lively than the first. In particular, CodeWeavers was very whiney, while TransGaming had a fantastic speaker; one of those people who can keep a presentation fast-paced and exciting. The Mozilla guys put on a good show as well. There was much bashing regarding the latest SVG spec, which for some unknown reason goes far beyond the bounds of vector drawings.

OLS started yesterday. It's amazing how much is packed into each and every day.

First, there was the speech about where 2.7 is going.

Next, I attended the presentation by Keith Packard about where is heading. It's really nice to see how quickly that's moving now that it's an open project.

There was a presentation by Tim Bird of Sony about how they've managed to reduce Linux bootup time to 1.2 seconds on their embedded devices. These are the people who get excited whenever they cut off 20ms of execution time. They succeeded very nicely. It was amazing to watch.

Finally, Len Brown, the maintainer of ACPI, did a fantastic summary of the ACPI spec, where it is at, and where it is going. Len was nice enough to spend an hour after his talk to show me the ropes of debugging ACPI. The situation has been getting worse and worse on my Dell, and hopefully we can clean it up a little. I intend to meet with him again, this time with a serial cable for debugging.

The evening entertainment was provided by Jim Munroe. I didn't hear much of it, but what I did hear was very interesting. Extremely unique.

The real evening entertainment was launching about thirty water ballons from a large surgical-tube slingshot from the sixteenth floor of the hotel everyone is staying at.

An interesting observation someone mentioned is that the presentations, as great as they are, are just an excuse to have the event so that everyone can get together. The presentations are needed to get corporate funding, but the real meat is in the conversations with others.

I was rather dismayed by an eMail I got telling me I have to come to work today.

[] | posted @ 21:10 | link
Tue, 20 Jul 2004

Desktop Developers' Conference, Day 1
20040719 Yesterday was the first day of the Desktop Developers' Conference. The keynote was by Havoc, where he talked about "silos" of free desktops, where each silo is a vertical stack built on the substrate that is the desktop platform. Next, Daniel Stone talked about and X-servers. Later, I attended a talk about MultiSync and Bidirectional text layouts.

After the conference, I bugged Edd Dumbill to show me his Bluetooth gadgets and software. It's pretty neat how everything can link like that. Edd then gave me a copy of his recent book, Linux Unwired. I now have something to read.

The evening was spent on the town. It's amazing how little time I spend in Ottawa after dark.

[] | posted @ 13:46 | link
Mon, 19 Jul 2004

Weekend in Summary
This weekend has a lot of things going on. Friday night was the first night of Lost Weekend, the only one I attended. Everyone got very drunk. There were, as there always are, some nice moments. I think the most important realization from the event is that unlike most people, who tend to lose their inhibitions when drunk, I do not. At least, not as easily. Perhaps this is why I go over the top with the drinking when socializing with close friends: I want to that point where inhibitions start going away. Later, I pay for it with physical sickness.

At the Linux in the Wild BBQ, I talked with Alan Cox about his work on optimising icon themes in Gnome. It doesn't look like it will make it into Gnome 2.8, but there is interest in having it later. It will definitely lower RAM usage, speed things up, etc.

My grandfather left today, after about five weeks here. On one hand, this will free up time. On the other, the time that will now be freed was precious.

Tomorrow I start my week of conference craziness. I'm all charged up and ready. I printed up some "Business Cards" with my vitals, including my PGP key. Output from LaTeX, they look pretty sharp. I intend to give some out this week.

[] | posted @ 03:52 | link
Fri, 16 Jul 2004

Year Four
Today I decided that enough is enough: I called the Registrar's office and demanded to talk to the head of the former Engineering Registrar Office. She was (as always) very kind and extremely quick to respond. I now have all my marks. By my books, that makes me a Year IV student.

Tomorrow night starts Lost Weekend, the EngFrosh summer party. It's always great. I can only stay for the first night, since this weekend is totally hectic. I am quadruple booked. Next week will be crazy too.

[] | posted @ 02:15 | link
Thu, 15 Jul 2004

Many Things
20040714 The accomplishment for the last few days is definitely getting the EngFrosh site up and running. I've gotten great feedback on it, and best of all, it's completely valid HTML 4.01 Transitional. The validation was what was causing me all the grief earlier, but it's really nice to have it. Also, it is my first serious web design done without the use of any commercial tools.

Work today was slow, I'm having huge troubles working around Debian's X packaging. The day was uninteresting until I got a call that my long-awaited Keytronic USB keyboard came in. It's black, but otherwise identical to the one I got in 1991 that died two years ago (except it has 104 keys). It has a totally awesome feel to it.

As soon as I got the keyboard, my hand started using the lacking-from-laptop keypad, and my biggest Linux annoyance resurfaced: Shift+NumPadKey causes digits to be entered. So, I decided to fix the keymap. I soon realized that Gnome has a setting for exactly this preference. Then I went the whole way and set my keyboard up so that I can easily enter any Polish characters, and other Latin-based ones are easy to get at too. Now UTF-8 is actually useful.

At home, we watched The Pianist once again. That is one amazing movie.

After the movie, I wanted to get software suspension going. Upon applying the kernel patches and testing, I fully expected something to go terribly wrong. But nothing did. In fact, to my complete surprise, I don't even have to reload the sound or network modules, only the USB (ehci). However, a big problem is that X crashes if I have the commercial ATI DRI module loaded. Besides that, the only hitch is that it doesn't actually shut itself down automatically after writing all the data: apparent ACPI S5 doesn't work on this unit. In time, these things will all be worked out... as it is, it is still much, much faster than rebooting.

The next project is to get GTK Celestia up to speed. It really needs work, especially after I discovered that there is a callback mechanism built right into the core. This should solve all the synchronization issues between the GUI and the Core. Hopefully I can hack on that tomorrow, as the next release is imminent.

A thought recently crossed my mind about how to embed my inverter into the car. I was thinking of hiding it somewhere and running the output cable down the middle of the car, and outputting it in the rear ashtray (built into the hand-brake island). That would be nice. Still very preliminary...

[] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Fri, 09 Jul 2004

Taking it Easy.
20040708 The weather this week has been very unpredictable: drastic changes of temperature, humidity, and pressure. As a result, I've had a mild headache all week, so I'm taking it easy.

This last weekend was very nice, the weather in Merrickville couldn't have been better. It was so sunny that shadows in the water had haloes from the light streaming into the water around ones head, something a digital camera captured quite nicely. This weekend also has two boat club events.

I spent all of last evening playing with UTF-8 once again. This time, it was my intention to get the filesystem to allow for UTF-8 filenames. To do this, I had to add kernel support for the full character set, as well as change my locale to something compatible: I chose en_CA.UTF-8. A good choice it was, all instances of color in the Gimp are now colour, and there are similar Canadianisms throughout my desktop.

Transferring these filenames to Windows proved surprisingly easy, they translate transparently through Samba. However, burning them to a CD is extremely tricky. It works great for what Linux uses (RockRidge), but Microsoft's implementation of Joliet doesn't like it. If I burn under Windows, it uses the CP1250 or ISO8859-2 character sets, which means I'd have to add kernel support in Linux to handle those. Seems silly that Microsoft cannot support UTF-8 properly. The mkisofs manpage has excellent information about all this.

I went to see a free movie today, it was Anchorman. Really funny. Really stupid. Good laughs.

[] | posted @ 03:38 | link
Wed, 07 Jul 2004

Middle of Summer
20040706 It's amazing, but half of the summer break has gone by. I still haven't gotten to the projects I set out to do, but it's alright since I'm wasting little time.

The weather today was beautiful. I put together a 180° panorama of Andrew Haydon Park right after a boat club meeting. Next time, I will have to lock the camera on a single auto setting and go from there to avoid colour fluctuations. I worked most of them out by varying the individual brightness and contrast of the layers that comprise the image.

Yesterday was a momentous occasion: I got invited by the leader of the ATI's Linux project to join a development mailing list they are starting up. The list is to discuss improvement of their closed-source binary display driver. They're not opening the driver up, but they're creating an open forum for bug reporting, testing, and development ideas. This is a definite step in the right direction. In the immediate timeframe, I hope to work with them to fix a nasty rendering issue that cropped up in Celestia since three driver releases ago. It really is nice to see more and more companies beginning to open up.

[] | posted @ 03:16 | link
Mon, 05 Jul 2004

Mechanically Sound
20040704 Yesterday was the yearly boat club meet in Merrickville. As always, the location was beatiful, the weather was amazing, and the food great. However, this year, it was my newly-redesigned boat that made me really happy. A general satisfaction, even.

Until now, the boat was overpowered, but technically flimsy: there was always a scratching or squeaking noise, often excessive vibration, to the point that I was scared to push the it to its full speed in case it tore itself apart. And really, it did. That is why I had to rip the prop shafts out in the first place. The photo is from last year, when I first got it up to full speed: it's 117cm, weighs in at 7kg, and draws almost 30A at 12V at top speed... it's a beast.

But now, while still ridiculously overpowered, it is mechanically sound: there are no vibrations, squeaks, or other signs of fatigue. The boat flies as before... but silently...

[] | posted @ 02:21 | link
Fri, 02 Jul 2004

Canada Day
20040701 Today was Canada Day, and I enjoyed some fabulous fireworks. My brother and I went down right to the shore of the Ottawa River by Sussex Drive. The fireworks display was brilliant from there. It seems that these pyrotechnics are evolving and getting more extravagant every year. We then walked all the way from Sussex back to the Lees abandoned Algonquin College campus, where the car was parked.

The only really useful thing I did today was to set and glue the propeller shafts back into the boat. Looks like this beast will be ready to play with on Saturday. My grandfather had a great idea to use plasticine to position the shafts for gluing. It turned out much better than tape and wooden blocks.

[] | posted @ 03:56 | link
Thu, 01 Jul 2004

New Backpack
20040630 It was payday today, so I decided to treat myself to a new backpack. I've been meaning to get one that has a laptop compartment for some time. But those have always been either too big or too expensive. I came across this Roots bag at Radio Shack and liked it immediately. This is a good thing, since my back was starting to ache on the weeks where I had lots of books pulling me to one side. This unit has comfortable padding, too. Best of all, it looks like every other Roots backpack, and won't draw attention to the fact that there is an expensive piece of hardware inside.

In a stroke of good luck, yesterday I managed to get in on one of the final ten openings for the Linux Symposium. I'm all paid up, can't wait for the event to begin.

Tonight, I welded some twelve-guage wire to the sides of the prop shafts I ripped out earlier. When they are glued in now, there should be more for the epoxy to hold than just the smooth brass surface of the shafts. I expect this will make for better durability.

[] | posted @ 03:31 | link
Wed, 30 Jun 2004

Super Size Me
This evening I had plans to go out and see Fahrenheit 9/11 at the World Plaza. Upon getting to the theatre, it was obvious we wouldn't get in, and a guy came in saying he had just come from the other two theatres playing the movie with equally slim chances of getting in.

So, we went to see Super Size Me. I thought it would be a comedy. It turned out being a documentary. Normally, I wouldn't pay to see a documentary, but I highly recommend this one. It really got me thinking about fast food, and some of the imagery in the production was disturbing to say the least. There was also a lot of humour. I guess I left the place feeling better about my slowly increasing weight than I have in a long time.

[] | posted @ 04:17 | link
Mon, 28 Jun 2004

A Weekend of Relaxation
20040627 This was definitely a "hands off" weekend for me. We had a party here with about twenty guests, lots of wine, lots of delicious food.

Yesterday, I went to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with the younger siblings. I thought the movie was very well done, certainly covering all of the important aspects of the rather long book. Unfortunately, the character of Oliver Wood was cut, even though he played a fairly important role in the book. While the first two movies were directed by Chris Columbus, this one was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The movie was filmed with much higher contrast, and the style was different. Not better or worse, but strikingly different, less childish. I very much miss Richard Harris' Dumbledore; he passed away and it's not the same without him. I haven't seen a movie with Harris where his performance didn't touch me in some profound way.

Today, I went to see The Chronicles of Riddick with Markus, who seems to be in town pretty often for someone who works in Toronto. The movie was sci-fi, with Vin Diesel as the main actor (and producer). It was filmed in Canada. The design work and cinematography were fantastic. Even Vin Diesel's acting was above Vin Diesel par. But it was definitely a Vin Diesel movie. That tends to mean lack of character development. Otherwise, the movie was entertaining. The only real work I did this weekend was to rip the prop shafts out of my big r/c boat. The starboard shaft had come completely loose after over three years of heavy usage, and they were never set properly in the first place. They will be done properly this time, hopefully in time for the Merrickville meet next weekend, probably my favourite event.

[] | posted @ 03:37 | link
Sat, 26 Jun 2004

Six Months
20040625 Work went smoothly today. I biked there for the third time this week. This was my goal to maintain throughout the entire summer, so now I just have to do that every week. I stopped by the side of Timm Road to take a photo of the grass swaying in the wind.

I've spent most of the evening debugging the HAL daemon. That problem with the Atheros card causing crashes still exists. I know where it happens, but I can't yet explain why. It's easy to avoid (one line can be commented), but the goal is to fix the problem.

Today marks six months since I started writing to this thing. Although it's not fed to anyone anywhere, this log still feels useful.

[] | posted @ 02:20 | link
Fri, 25 Jun 2004

OLS, Goshdarnit.
So, today I finally had all the information needed to register for the Ottawa Linux Symposium; information such as my ability to take time off work to attend (this is always harder for students). However, upon logging into the registration site, I was informed that registration closed three days ago. I eMailed Andrew Hutton about being put on the waiting list, but I'm sure my chances are pretty low. I was really counting on making it in. I did manage to make it into the Desktop Developers' Conference taking place during the two days preceding OLS.

[] | posted @ 17:53 | link

Strangest - Vehicle - Ever
20040624 As I was driving down the Queensway today, I encountered the strangest vehicle I've ever seen on the road. It was small, open, three wheeled, very low to the ground, had a funky trailer, and bore a license plate from New Brunswick.

Then, on my way from the car to the meeting, while stuck on the median of Bronson Avenue, the strongest rain I've ever encountered pelted at my face. The wind was so strong that the water was flying nearly horizontally. I could hardly see anything a metre away, and was completely soaked in a matter of seconds. The wind was so powerful that it literally threw me off balance as I ran for shelter, and the raindrops hurt more than the ice during a hailstorm. I've never been that soaked by rain in my life.

In terms of fixing the car, I went to get a quote at a body repair shop during lunch. Still waiting for the man to get back to me. They think they can fix the hood; I'm skeptical. I did manage to buy new headlights for a very reasonable price, however.

[] | posted @ 03:44 | link
Wed, 23 Jun 2004

In last night's entry posted the old family name, Suwała. Shortly thereafter, it occurred to me that I had to switch the log's HTML header to use the UTF-8 character set by default, instead of ISO-8859-1. I post to the log via PGP-crypted mail. I was expecting something to break along the way, if not in the MIME encoding, then somewhere along the procmail piping, but it didn't. I'm generally impressed by how well UTF-8 works at this point. No need for funny encoding types or ampersand-notation; I could easily insert Russian or Japanese throughout my text. До свидания.

[] | posted @ 20:45 | link

My Ancestry
20040622 Today was a calm, cloudy day, with one 10 minute spurt of very heavy rain. Of course, it was when I was driving. The photo shows how it was, with the wipers going full speed. In fact, the EXIF data tells me that the exposure time was a 1/100 of a second. It's remarkable how quickly the rain was coming down. I probably should have been paying more attention to the road...

The highlight of the evening was my grandfather giving a history lesson on the family roots. This is a subject I greatly enjoy, and he has done extremely meticulous research into our ancestry. Last time he was here, we mapped a detailed family tree, and scanned in all available photos, dating back to the very beginnings of photography. At that point, I had cleaned up many of the photos, and they were archived on CD. This was 1996/7. Now, I plan to scan all his notes and create a proper archive that can be distributed throughout the family.

The most interesting point of the discussion tonight was that my roots have been traced back to 1644. It is believed that our family name originated around then, as Suwała. The name has evolved since then, as names tend to, but remains true to its original meaning.

[] | posted @ 03:33 | link
Mon, 21 Jun 2004

Semi-Productive Weekend
20040620 I spent a good portion of the day at churches. First, the beautiful Polish Church downtown, an astounding glossy wood design. It made nice reflections of stained glass of off my glasses. Unfortunately, the camera didn't quite capture the saturation, the colours. Then, I thought my grandfather might enjoy seeing the cathedral downtown. It's amazing how the whole thing is built from wood. It really gives the pipe organ a unique sound that you don't get into a church built from rock. The organ must have at least 200 registers. I thought that would be a real bitch to set, until I saw the organist slide open a drawer, enter a number into a keypad within. At tat point all the registers reset, and then quickly set themselves to a preset pattern. That is a really neat modern add-on to this old organ.

The rest of the day was devoted to the EngFrosh site. Unfortunately, I gave in and converted my purely DIV-driven design into one that uses the forbidden table with a height of 100%. I think the conclusion I can draw is that while CSS is great for a consistent look in lengthy documents, a graphical-artsy type of design still benefits from classic HTML elements, especially when Mozilla and IE react completely differently to the styles. My design still passes HTML 4.01 Transitional, so it's not all bad. The evening was spent producing hand-drawn designs to populate the pirates theme, including various ornaments to decorate the site with an authentic ink and paper feel.

The quote of the week, yelled at me by a co-worker, is: "No one's ever thrown USB mass storage at me before!"

[] | posted @ 03:34 | link
Wed, 16 Jun 2004

Fair Weather
20040615 The weather today was good; clear skies, decent temperature and humidity. It was perfect for model boating. On the way home, a quick stop at Shirley's Bay made for a few nice photos of the calm waves.

I came across a badly named Debian package, making for a confusing statement in apt:

dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of libinstaller2: libinstaller2 depends on expect; however: Package expect is not installed.

Although the package name is perfectly legitimate in and of itself, the sentences it forms in apt output didn't make sense at first.

The EngFrosh web page is coming along, finally. I think I've managed to find a look that conforms to CSS guidelines and benefits from being implemented with stylesheets too. Still, progress is slow.

[] | posted @ 03:42 | link
Tue, 15 Jun 2004

Lunch today was spent scurrying through the local junkyard in search of parts to replace the ones damaged in the accident. Prices were pretty good: $125 for the hood, $150 for both headlights, $150 for the bumper, and $35 for the grille. After that, there will need to be some straightening of the frame, and of course, paint.

Work was productive. I thought I'd give a shot at packaging up the latest monolithic server release. Instead of the usual Debian scheme (over 30 packages), I figured the monolithic server deserves a monolithic package. And monolithic it is: one .deb with 6852 files. The task for tomorrow is to finish writing a script that parses the contents of this package and tells me what needs to go in the "Provides" line, based on existing Debian packages. Debian compatibility is paramount.

My grandfather flew over on Saturday for the first time in eight (?) years. It's nice to have him here, he is a member of the family I look up to. He is wise and has good technical skills. I look forward to his input on some of my projects.

[] | posted @ 03:34 | link
Sat, 12 Jun 2004

Crumple Zone
20040611 Work was terrible today. My brain was complete mush, I couldn't concentrate. So I started playing with kernel 2.6.7-rc3. Power management is broken more than ever before on my laptop. It sucked. My inability to debug it sucked. So I went home.

On my way home, I got a call that my mother had just crashed the car, so I drove over to help. She had rear-ended a car. The damage is mild but significant, with the front frame pushed in about 4 cm in the center, the lights bent in accordingly, and though not easily visible in the photo, the leading edge of the hood is quite a bit more vertical and scraped than before. The hood actually doesn't sit flat on anymore. The bumper is all scratched up. Next to the licence plate, the other vehicle's exhaust pipe punched a nice hole. All damage is structural and body, the vehicle's performance is completely unaffected. The other car suffered a lot more. Though a tough-looking Oldsmobile, it had just had a hitch installed, which is what caused the center-damage on our car. Because the hitch was attached to the frame of the car, it had majorly deformed their rear-end. I felt horrible for these people, but not nearly as bad as my mother. They were an older couple, on a trip from New Brunswick the man explained was 1016 km, with 2 km left to their son's house, where they were to spend the night, before leaving to their other son in Toronto, and catching a flight from there to go travel. They were so close to their destination, too.

The bad part is that this is my car. I was driving my mom's van, having just picked it up from the shop where the A/C was fixed. Here is the twist: I was the cause of the accident. I was driving down the road in the other direction, about a half-hour earlier than expected. My mother turned her head to see if it was actually me, and the rest is history... ironic history.

I made my mom a sticker that reads "I used crumple zones today."

[] | posted @ 03:38 | link
Thu, 10 Jun 2004

A Generic Day
Work was fairly plain today. I attended a number of meetings. Nothing blew up in my face.

I finished with the diplomas for my brother's graduation. They go to the printers tomorrow.

I should be starting the EngFrosh work right about now. Somehow, I'm not in the mood, though. I have all these great ideas, but they'll take a lot of work to implement. Also, my ideas don't seem CSS-compatible, which means tables-galore. I was hoping for a clean design, so I need to think about it more.

[] | posted @ 03:02 | link
Wed, 09 Jun 2004

Muggy Day
20040608 Today was super-muggy. It was 31 degrees, and the atmosphere was so thick that the clear sky was almost gray. The weather is driving the dog nuts. Speaking of the dog, she tried jumping out of the van today while it was moving, right out the passenger-side window. My dad got her by the hind legs just in time. Still, it was a close call... silly suicidal dog.

The rear driver-side bearing on the car was changed today. Hopefully that's all the repairs for this week!

Work went as planned. I started playing with the X-server. It's very similar to XFree86 at this point, but with some very nice additions. One of the most notable ones is the ability to run without a configuration file. It actually generates one on startup with a complete list of resolutions so that xrandr has a good list to choose from. Additionally, the commercial ATI drivers compile against it. I'll have to check the nVidia ones tomorrow, though I don't expect any problems.

Markus asked me to clarify that yesterday's discussion was definitely not QNX versus Linux. That's the thing about blogs: they tend to have an audience, which means sometimes things need clarification.

Had my first ice cap today. I forgot how fond of those things I am!

[] | posted @ 03:18 | link
Tue, 08 Jun 2004

Cruddy Day
20040607 The weekend was alright, I did very little, while enjoying good brew on the deck with the laptop. The photo is of moss on the front walkway at sunset. The camera was set to macro mode, which always results in a high depth of field.

Today was terrible. Nothing worked. At all. At work nothing would build, then Markus decided to start an IM debate about why QNX's microkernel approach is superior to Linux's much simpler design. From my point of view, it seems that microkernel is great for embedded systems, like what QNX was designed for, but not for servers and workstations like Linux. But besides that, Linux is getting more and more modular, and is moving more and more into userspace. The OS is moving from a monolithic design like classic UN*X toward a modular layout, unique to itself. Then Kyle pointed out that Exokernels are all the rage now anyway.

At lunch, the EngSoc mail server lost a drive on the RAID array, so I had to go in and try rebuilding from there. It didn't go, and the drive was swapped with one of the desktops' drives in the afternoon. Looks like there's a WD RMA to be requested: bad blocks, probably. The temporary replacement just finished rebuilding in the middle of the last paragraph.

I was determined to not go home until things started working, which resulted in a pretty late day. One of the last things I tried was the new fd.o x-server. It worked, shadows and all. Everything was good, except that I was just informed on IRC that I was using the experimental "k-drive" server, formerly Tiny-X, instead of the server I had planned to use. It may be experimental, but it's pretty cool. They should definitely come up with a better naming scheme, it's to confusing. Tomorrow I will try the "monolothic" server, which is the XFree86 branch I intended to use.

Project Utopia got asked if it would consider formally proposing for inclusion in Gnome 2.8. After some debate as to the API stability, it looks like there will be an effort to get it in for the 2.7 branch. That is good news. Hopefully the distributions will not rip it out like they rip out other Gnome components. 2.8 is shaping up to be one helluva release.

[] | posted @ 02:41 | link
Sun, 06 Jun 2004

20040605 Today was a astonishingly beautiful day. I spent most of it outside on the deck with my laptop trying to debug HAL. At one point, my mother decided to remove all the window blinds in the house and hose them down to remove dust. All was well until the garden hose was used for the first time. There were at least four places where water was shooting out of it. It's amazing what winter can do to rubber.

The whole evening was spent trying to make graduation certificates for my brother's Grade Six graduation ceremony. I got suckered into doing this, because when I was graduating from Grade Six back in 1994, I made the certificates, and I figured I could just reuse the same file. Well, I still had the file, but recent versions of CorelDRAW wouldn't import it. The additional catch was that they want all the names printed automatically, whereas ten years ago one of the teachers with calligraphy skills had put them in herself. This last point is what caused me pains. After messing around for several hours, I ended up recreating my work in WordPerfect, with various bits exported from CorelDRAW as EPS form, and using database merging from the Windows Address Book, which is populated by importing CSV text with all the names of students. It's an ugly hack, but it works. I did manage to reuse my Georges Vanier School logo scan from 1994. I never thought I would be using that scan ten years later!

[] | posted @ 03:58 | link
Fri, 04 Jun 2004

New Wheels
20040603 Today I finally purchased the wheels I've been meaning to get for the last little while. The diameter is one inch larger (R14 vs. R13), and they are a little wider than stock. The current tires need changing anyway, and the wheels were a good deal, seeing as they cost less than the new tires will. Of course, only after bringing them home did I notice that one of the four (pictured) is missing the center cover. All the others have pieces that fit into the middle hole. I will have to concoct something; even black lexan would be better than a hole. It was still worth it: each wheel even has a stainless steel vent cap. There is someting beautiful about how light reflects from polished alloys.

I am still very much amazed by the camera's ability to take good photos. This photo was taken during twilight, when the sun had already mostly set (at about 20:30). The brightness of the wheel is significantly higher than in real life, making it look like daylight.

[] | posted @ 03:17 | link
Wed, 02 Jun 2004

New Shades
20040602 I bought new sunglasses today. The old ones had a crack in them, misshapen, and were too wide (always getting them caught on things). The new ones are definitely smaller, small enough that it will take some time to get used to seeing the frame in my peripheral vision. They are polarized, which means that when they are turned 45 degrees to a LCD, the screen is black. The intended purpose of catching the glare off of shiny cars is also served: on the bike ride home today, I noticed that whereas windshields are normally white with glare, now they were dark and I could see right into the cars. Even tinted windows do not hinder seeing inside cars too much. Very cool.

I spent a good chunk of the day playing with CVS versions of D-BUS and HAL. D-BUS runs fine, but HAL is a no-go. With recent wireless additions, the daemon segfaults on startup when it attempts to communicate with the Atheros card. I may try fixing the code, since I seem to be the only person on the list who has one of these. It should definitely ignore "bad" devices if it cannot talk with them.

I was pondering what writing in this log does for me. At the very least, it brings into focus all of the little writing nuances that require constant practice to avoid. For example, repetitive overuse of certain words. I know I do this. When writing an essay, the repetition does not come out immediately. When writing a continuous journal, it is easy to spot deficiencies in writing style, since the topics are all over the place, and, therefore, there should never be a shortage of words. I wonder if these entries will be better in a year from now.

The monthly OCLUG meeting was last night. I missed it. Oops. It didn't even occur to me that it was the first Tuesday of June yesterday. I expected it to be next week, somehow.

[] | posted @ 15:37 | link

I have never lost important things on a hard drive...
20040601 ...until today. When I got to work, I noticed that my build machine was completely nuts, and the upon reboot wouldn't boot. The filesystem wouldn't mount from a rescue CD. Looked very bad.

The crazy thing is that the next thing on my todo list, clearly marked for this morning, was to back up all the important things on the disk. Murphy must be laughing.

Anyway, after two hours of playing, swapping hard drive PCBs, using reiserfstools, and hoping for the best, the filesystem did mount, and I was able to retrieve all important information. There were weird things, like all of the directories from the root of the drive (usr, bin, sbin, and so on) existed within subdirectories of /etc, but it mostly worked. It would not mount after that. But that's okay. There was one shot at retrieving data and it was used.

I cannot tell why this system was using ReiserFS. I generally insist that all my build machines use ext3, which would not suffer the kind of errors Reiser did. Proper journalling could have saved a lot of hassle, especially since it was just a few bad blocks near the end of the drive.

The day wasn't over yet. As I was installing a new copy of Debian on a new drive for this machine, a big storm developed. The power went off, then on. Then, a minute later, it flickered again. Damn. Well, everything survived... but not quite. Turns out the dish on the roof stopped working. So out to the roof I went. No damage. But the radio box on the antenna was fried. It got replaced quickly, thankfully.

The day was over. And I guess I didn't lose anything important on the drive after all.

[] | posted @ 03:53 | link
Tue, 01 Jun 2004

May Has Come and Gone
20040531 Work wasn't terribly exciting today. At lunch I picked up the replacement stabilizer bolt. When the guy handed it to me, I actually asked if it was the right part. It looked nothing like what I took off. The photo shows the new part at the top, and the old at the bottom. The one on the bottom has really suffered the elements! Also pictured is the part installed; there is always something strange about a shiny new part surrounded by old weather-beaten ones.

I'm just putting the finishing touches on all of the parts that make a boat go. The little bugger will definitely be in the water tomorrow.

When I took a break to go out and play with the RC car, I noticed that it too needs attention. The clutch is getting very loose. Looks like it will need replacement parts soon too.

[] | posted @ 03:59 | link
Mon, 31 May 2004

A Fine Weekend
20040530 The weekend started out with a thorough analysis of what's wrong with the car. Turns out that the bolt that held the suspension's lower arm to the stabilizer bar broke. Whenever a bump was hit, the remainder of the bolt would grind at the wheel support. The Mazda Parts store was closed over the weekend, but hopefully tomorrow I can pick up a replacement.

Then, last night, I went to see Shrek 2. Definitely funnier than the original, with lots of a adult humour cleverly written so that it's suitable for kids. The new protagonist cat, "Puss" is very well written and rendered. We went to see this at Silver City, and they had these really neat neons implanted into the ceiling. Well, anyway, they looked cool...

Today was dedicated to the balsa boat. It got its prop shaft, a coat of fibreglass for the deck, and a skeg. Looks very probable that it will be out on the water this week.

[] | posted @ 03:24 | link
Fri, 28 May 2004

Flowers in a Floppy Drive
20040527 Today's image is brought to you courtesy of whoever stuck flowers into the floppy drive of a public computer at Carleton University. I thought it was rather interesting looking.

Work was good. It felt reassuring when many co-workers thought my temporary graphics looked better than what we normally ship in a final product. Maybe I will inadvertently set some sort of design philosphy into motion for the next version?

In sadder news, something is seriously wrong with the car. Possibly the struts, possibly something more serious in the body's structure. The rear driver-side wheel is loose, and when going over a bump, something near the front of the car makes a grinding noise. Hopefully it is not as serious at it sounds... literally.

[] | posted @ 03:28 | link
Thu, 27 May 2004

No Photo Today
20040526 No interesting photos today. Instead, the camera that usually takes them.

I'm a little unsettled today. At work, a manager lashed out at me, yelling at me regarding productive use of my time. The thing is that it was not my manager. The other thing is that it felt personal somehow. And, of course, he had no grounds for doing so. I had created a new background graphic for the next version of our installer; very simple, a solid colour with some text and rounded corners. It is meant to be a temporary placeholder, in fact. It took less than 25 minutes to make and check into CVS around 1800 last night. So it was after work, it was done on my personal laptop, and was actually at the request of another manager. It left me feeling very angry that he would confront me about it. My manager is very supportive of all the little extra tidbits I do. Yet this incident had to happen after I was feeling motivated by having completed half of the week's items from my task list yesterday.

Humans being humans, the man did come back to me about 20 minutes later and apologized. I'm still unsettled about the incident. This sort of thing always makes me wonder how I will be at some point in my career. Lashing out is easy. Apologizing is not.

The season finale of Enterprise was tonight. It was a strong episode considering what is the norm for the series. Just as the end was approaching and I thought I had figured out the textbook climax, a twist was thrown in that made for a fantastic cliffhanger. An unexpected welcome surprise from this show.

[] | posted @ 03:59 | link
Wed, 26 May 2004

What a Productive Day
20040525 As expected, today was very productive. I've scratched almost half of the week's agenda from the list, and even formed a long term work plan. Most importantly, it was a fun time doing all this. This is the third version of Xandros I'm working on, and the second that is fully under my control until such a time it's considered alpha software. It's always fun to see what can and cannot be done with an operating system when one has full reign, until QA gets their hands on it and bugs have to be fought in a formal manner.

The scanner purchased for a dollar started working too, when the creator of the Viceo SANE Linux scanner driver sent a patch that works with kernel 2.6.x, using libusb instead of the previous kernel patch. With this patch, the scanner can only work at half-resolution (600dpi), but seems to have decent overall image quality. It's a shame that Viceo won't allow a GPL-licensed driver. Either way, the scanner remains a well-spent dollar.

[] | posted @ 03:48 | link
Tue, 25 May 2004

Rainy Day
20040524 The picture is of my bed covers airing out yesterday when it was sunny. The dragonfly must have thought it a good place to get a tan. It's difficult to get over how much detail four megapixels can catch, especially on intricate natural things like the wings of this insect.

Today we had heavy showers all day. I had hoped to get a lot of work done on my boat, but did very little. I constructed a new NiCad pack for the radio, but that's about it. The big boat is also out of commission as of last week, when the starboard prop shaft loosened from the hull. Maybe getting all the boat stuff done this weekend was too optimistic. Most of this boat is three years old and due for an overhaul. I'll have to take it slowly, carefully.

The album downloaded in the last entry is St. Matthaeus: Passion BVW244, by J. S. Bach. It is quite an album. This is the Leonhardt version. I've learned that in this recording he used classical methods only: key-less trumpets, hair strings, and a boys' choir for the chorus. This really sets this apart: the sound is almost surreal. It is comforting to see that the Musepack format is actually open-sourced. It does sound good, and I was worried for a while that it was not free.

The week at work is already looking busy, even though it has not started yet. The projects just lined up over the weekend. But, I got nearly 36 hours of sleep this weekend, so I'm ready for the challenge.

[] | posted @ 03:59 | link
Mon, 24 May 2004

Tulips and Musepack
20040523 Today, we went as a family to the Tulip Festival. The event is almost over, and most of the tulips had wilted by now. But there were still several varieties that looked fresh. The digicam in macro mode captured images with proper depth-of-field, and the colours look great: vibrant and exactly as in real life.

Upon downloading a few classical albums via BitTorrent, I'm quite annoyed that they're in a new format called "Musepack." This format is characterized by files with a "mpc" extension. Googling for a way to play these, all I got were message board comments like "mpc >> mp3," which was really quite useless. Eventually, I found the xmms-musepack plugin, and it seems to work, though it freezes the program at the end of every stream. I'm not generally in favour of new audio formats, even if they do sound better. Especially formats that pop out of nowhere.

[] | posted @ 03:33 | link
Sun, 23 May 2004

Wouldn't It Be Neat...
20040522 Weekends are good. I slept in till noon, and then didn't do much all day.

The Xandros building is a very interesting structure. While the building isn't in great condition, I find myself thinking "wouldn't it be neat if that 45-degree slope-of-a-roof could have a two storey tall Xandros logo?" So I gimped it up. And yes, it would be neat.

Spent most of the day working on a rudder for the little boat, watching some TV, playing some Vice City, cleaning the computer room, and I'm currently doing a big, much needed backup in the background.

[] | posted @ 02:02 | link
Sat, 22 May 2004

Long Weekend Approaching
20040521 Work went smoothly today. I wasn't able to solve the problem as had been hoped, but nothing new blew up in my face. I biked in, and though it was a little cool in the morning, the way back was an awesome 18 degrees... perfect biking weather.

Victoria Day is Monday, meaning that it's a long weekend. I have plans to make one of my hulls into a boat. Over the winter break, I managed to make a propeller shaft for it, now it needs a motor, coupling, rudder, rudder servo, speed control, and radio unit. All the parts are here, so I should be able to make it waterworthy. The motor mount was made tonight, and it ended up being the perfect height, angle, and alignment. Being a Speed 400, the diameter of the motor is about 3cm, for scale.

This week, I started playing Vice City all over again. Although I finished the game to 100% last summer, I thought it might be nice to go through the missions again. I am constantly amazed by how interactive the environment in the game is. It's simply one of those virtual worlds I cannot get tired of!

[] | posted @ 02:43 | link
Fri, 21 May 2004

PearPC and Camera Breakage
20040520 Over the last few days, I have managed to get PearPC running somewhat decently on an AMD64 machine at work. It is still very much choppy, but it seems that the processing speed is decently fast. The screen updates are set in the config file to a constant 200ms, so it is no surprise it is unsmooth. But I'm told some things execute marginally faster than on a first-generation 300MHz iBook. Not bad for a program that has to do byte swapping and native instruction translation.

The kind of success that PearPC has achieved is exactly what the goal of the first open-source project I was involved with, vMac, was. Long before the times of SourceForge, our project could execute at over half of the speed of a Mac Plus when executing on a Pentium 200 or so. The difficulty was always in the fact that old MacOS relied very heavily on its ROM, as large as 4 megabytes on late m68Ks and early PPCs. There was always much legal debate surrounding the issue as well. I am glad to see that PearPC and MacOSX apparently do not have to rely on this.

At some point, it may be worth trying PPC Linux on this emulator, but for now it is an old dream come true seeing a 'late model' MacOS running under non-Apple hardware. With time, it will only become more optimized. The other possibility is a cease-and-desist letter from Apple; hopefully the former.

In other news, the backlight on the new camera flickered and died last night. The store happily replaced the unit. The symptoms were that when the lens retracted, it hit the screen from behind producing an effect much like pressing on an LCD with a finger. Suspicions aside, it is nice to see the new one not doing so. This Casio QV-R40 is certainly a good unit.

[] | posted @ 03:32 | link
Thu, 20 May 2004

20040519 Today's log entry is about resolution. First, I am deeply impressed with the night shots the new digicam takes. The attached image of my cell phone was taken in complete darkness, yet it is sharp, crisp, and the colours are extremely vibrant, while the noise on the black is minimal or even non-existent. I really like the way it burns in. More images to come.

The second resolution is relates to problem solving or conflict. At work, several things that affect me directly have changed over the last several months. The changes were definitely in good faith, but they were implemented quickly to meet deadlines, without much thought of the process as a whole. In other words, the solution was half-way. Initial talks with the person responsible for the changes to remedy the situation proved fruitless. Over the last several days, I have brainstormed the root of the problem. The weak link between the two (independently fabulous) incompatible systems that were hacked together was identified. This allowed for a solution to be made that could be implemented in a matter of hours, using proven open source tools instead of proprietary formats, and which is considerably faster and very much simpler. All the changes are nearly implemented, and it looks like the system as a whole will benefit. All in a good day's work.

[] | posted @ 03:42 | link
Mon, 17 May 2004

Two New Toys!
20040516 After seeing Markus' fantastic pictures from Italy, I decided I needed a camera just like his. It also happened to be on sale, as was SD memory. So, I got the camera, with 256 megs of memory, and a decent carrying case. This camera does very fast auto-adjustment, has excellent light-shadow balance, an amazing live histogram, blazing-fast card access, a very cool calendar view displaying the pictures taken on it, and a very well designed menu system. I like it. I like it a lot.

Seeing as one toy is not enough, I also purchased a CD player for the car. This unit handles MP3s as well, and I cannot believe how good it sounds. I was under the impression that the speaker system in the car was sub-optimal, but a decently powerful amplifier with a decent equalizer proved me wrong. Now I have but one question: what's with the remote?

So, yeah... It takes only 700 bucks to make me happy.

[] | posted @ 03:35 | link
Sun, 16 May 2004

Two Strange Screws
20040515 This work week went by fast. Markus returned from his fantastic trip to Italy. He has a really nice new Casio 4MP digital camera. I may consider purchasing one myself. We sat on the deck and drank Guinness. Last night's weather was fantastic, and reminds me of this image of the powerlines behind my house, even though the photograph is a year old.

Today, I decided it would be good to tackle the case of the leaky car. Since water leaks in at a place that I cannot pinpoint, the plan was to add silicone to the bottom of the windshield edge. While removing the retaining bracket, two of the six 6mm screws decapitated. One took an hour to remove, by drilling through it and extracting it. It was made of some very soft steel, seemingly softer than the last brass I worked with. It is no surprise it broke. The other, however, was made of the strangest, hardest steel, and proved impossible to drill through. Yet the screws should have been identical. Had to create a new screw hole next to this stubborn one.

Finally, a diagnosis of the toasted CD player revealed that it suffered the same fate as the previous one: the drive motor still works with 6V applied, but it refuses to spin disks on its own. For now, the old OEM radio/tape box was put back in. CD/MP3 players are mostly around 200 dollars now, and they look to be good units.

[] | posted @ 03:56 | link
Thu, 13 May 2004

Gnome vs. KDE Re-ignited.
Biked into work today, the weather was perfect for that. Did some stuff, then biked home. Simple?

The Gnome vs. KDE flamewar was re-ignited today with a rather inflammatory article about Gnome. When I read it, I actually laughed. It was funny how silly it was. The best slashdot comment: "Whiskey tango foxtrot over?"

Incidentally, tomorrow is my Gnome presentation at work. Most co-workers have read the article, so it will be fun pointing out how wrong it is.

Still very disappointed with how yesterday's planning meeting went.

[] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Wed, 12 May 2004

A Craptacular Week.
This week has been nothing but unpleasantness so far. Yes, the motion to approve the plan got passed. I don't know how, but it did, and it blows. The lands to the north of the pond are so critical to everyone living here. Serious flaws in the plan have been pointed out. The plan is clearly not viable or even sane at this point. What was hoped to be a three hour meeting turned out being a shocking ten hours... I was out of City Hall at 1930.

On Saturday, while driving back home, the all-too-familiar smell of burning circuitry caught my attention. Then puffs of smoke started coming out from around the edges of the CD player. Looks like a new unit is in order.

Hopefully the week gets better from now on.

[] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Tue, 11 May 2004

"Tomorrow I Dread."
20040510 Tomorrow shall be a dark day. At 0930, I will attend a meeting at Ottawa City Hall with City Planning. The likelihood is extremely high that the magnificent forest to the North of my house will be destroyed in short order. The attached map shows the location of my house (outlined in magenta) and the destruction that will occur (yellow). More information and a better copy of the map are here. I want to speak up but cannot think of anything that will help.

In other news, still signing all the OCLUG keys I picked up last week, and work is very busy. More on that later. I'm too glum right now.

[] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Fri, 07 May 2004

Sleepy == Productive?
Today I didn't go to sleep until very late (early?), and as a consequence, I had a really hard time waking up. However, the day was very productive. Perhaps in addition to stress, I need to be exhausted to get anything done?

I am doing a Gnome 2.6 demo at work next Thursday. Why do a Gnome demo at a KDE kompany? I believe it may affect the design of the proprietary components for the better. The latest KDE seems to have an additional five menu items appended to each already-convoluted menu. Assuming this trend continues, this is why it is important to influence KDE with Gnome design. I was once told: "Never turn up an opportunity to speak." This presentation is an opportunity to speak.

[] | posted @ 03:26 | link
Tue, 04 May 2004

Save The Trees
20040503 Work was good. Very productive. Some interesting new co-op students. Hopefully the week continues as it was today.

I did some work on the big r/c boat, pictured. Basically, that crossbar between the two shaft extensions that I made over the weekend, and the bracket to hold it down. With the shaft extensions, the whole thing runs quite a bit smoother. I get to play with it tomorrow evening at the pond.

In sadder news, in the mail came a 68 page report regarding the future of all the wooded areas around this house. The woods are beautiful, fairly unique, and generally important to the people and animals who live around here. For many, they were the reason to live here in the first place. Now, a developer is determined to take all that away, and install 3248 "dwelling units." This is wrong. Besides the fact that it is illogical, based on the lack of roads and the frequent brownouts the area experiences, an integral part of the community will be blown away; countless people use the forest daily for a plethora of activities. Last year, the developer accidentally cut down a large area (about 500m2) that they were not supposed to, and they got away with no punishment. In my opinion, they should now not be allowed to develop any of the wooded area. Considering all the surrounding better-suited areas for development, it feels disgusting that the woods are even being considered.

[] | posted @ 03:30 | link
Sat, 01 May 2004

Beautiful Day
I am writing this from the top of the play structure behind my house. King of the castle. And I'm listening to "U2 - Beautiful Day" because it absolutely is. The signal strength is surprisingly good here.

Today, I bought a CD with all the good pieces from Wagner's The Ring. Good listening. Also got a haircut and a few cans of Guinness. The weather is supposed to be worse tomorrow, so I'm making the most of it!

Last night I made some updates to the style sheet on this log site, as well as adding a history bar.

[] | posted @ 22:18 | link

New Toy!
20040430 The new toy is a 3.5" 160GB PATA Maxtor hard drive, inside of a new brushed aluminum USB2 enclosure. The photo does not say much. The enclosure is hardly larger than the drive itself. This USB2 stuff is decently fast too... rsync-ing my MP3 collection was relatively fast:

wrote 3720589301 bytes read 13860 bytes 12464332.20 bytes/sec total size is 3720080570 speedup is 1.00

In other news, first day of work was nice, though I am currently overwhelmed by the summer-long project. Also, ordering power supplies from Nortel is surprisingly difficult.

May tomorrow!

[] | posted @ 01:07 | link
Fri, 30 Apr 2004

Hack of the Month
20040429 Today started out great. The weather was fantastic, I was rested. Took the laptop out on the deck and started working away at finishing Celestia/Gnome. It's definitely ready to go out now. The perfect onion in the photo contributed to a delicious lunch. But the real fun started in the evening.

The Evening Story
The connection to the EngSoc machines was down. At first, it appeared that Carleton was down, but then that came up. I could even access other EngSoc machines not on the main subnet, but the core machines were definitely not reachable at 23:00.

There were three options: fire, UPS failure, or router-machine failure. Upon arriving at the office, I noticed all the machines were running, the router was misbehaving in terms of network interfaces; restarting networking on it seemed to help, but actually did nothing.

The next step was to turn my attention to the back of the rack. Immediately I noticed that every LED on the main Nortel BayStack switch was lit up, and very, very dimly: "shit."

I unplugged everything, took it to the workbench, plugged it in: still no good. I opened it up, nothing seemed torched. "Power supply? Maybe. But where am I going to get a 5.0V 4A supply at this time?"

I decided the best bet was to try to rig up some of the Linksys and 3Com wireless routers, each with 5 ports or so on the back, and maybe get minimal services back up. As I was about to do this, it hit me that they use 5.0V 2.5A power supplies! Sure enough, a D-Link power supply made the BayStack work just dandy with no load. Indeed, the original BayStack power supply smelled quite charred.

I considered for a while just using the D-Link power supply, but with the switch fully loaded, I worried it would overload. That would make everything bad happen again and cost a power supply. So, I started thinking how to run two of them in parallel. Too much work, far too delicate without a good supply of solderable plugs.

As all this was being considered, an old AT power supply caught my eye. Hm. Perfect! The label even says +5.0V 5A.

In the end, I found a wire and plug that was already severed from a dead 12V power supply, shoved some solder into the plug's hole to make it about the right size for the BayStack, shoved the stripped its leads into the holes for the red and black wires on the power supply, moved all this into the rack, plugged all the network cables back in... you know, it works!

That's the story of a Pat Suwalski solution. It is 01:28 and I shall go to bed now. First day of full-time employment in the morning.

[] | posted @ 05:33 | link
Thu, 29 Apr 2004

No More Teachers, No More Books...
20040428 Last exam was yesterday. It is so nice to be free. Summer work starts Friday. For now, I am enjoying the freedom, working mostly on my big boat, getting in some much needed reinforcement on the propeller shafts. I had that out on the pond this week, and had forgotten just how fast it is! Today, the tax papers were done; expecting good money back. Also discovered that SuSE has issues with their Gnome configuration, and GConf install rules do not work very well. The crowning achievement was getting back on ten or so eMails that were up to six weeks out of date. The important thing is that I got to them eventually, right? So, therefore, the photo of the day is a beauty shot of my laptop keyboard... just because...

[] | posted @ 03:49 | link
Mon, 26 Apr 2004

Multi-Channel Alsa
In study boredom today, I thought I would try to get multi-channel mixing working on my soundcard working once again. Got it, this time. Alsa dmix is awesome. I can have any number of audio streams simulataneously, as well as sound notifications in Gaim and whatnot. This is definitely what I've been missing in Linux!

PS: That Centrino sticker was about ten times easier to remove than the Windows XP sticker.

[] | posted @ 03:10 | link
Sat, 24 Apr 2004

Exams... Almost Done!
20040423 That Comm Theory exam was brutal. Never have I seen so many disappointed people. There were people literally trying to reregister for the summer section right after the exam. Th other two exam since were fair. Only Statistics remains now. Once Tuesday comes and goes, I am free.

Gnome development work is very exciting. I've subscribed to the Gnome desktop-development-list, and there are some very stimulating discussions there, as there are on the various Project Utopia mailing lists. For the most part, I'm attempting to keep my mouth shut, and help out the occasional newb if there is a simple solution to their problem. I'm still not at the point where I can just sit down and hack away at code easily, so I'll continue to do supportive work. This week I made a p.g.o head for Joe Shaw, and my cleaner version of the Gnome SVG logo made it to Jeff Waugh's Logo Site. Next, maybe the t-shirt design?

The Centrino sticker has started bugging me, so I removed it from the laptop. Now it has a dull spot amongst the shined up paint. It's amazing that this 6-month-old laptop is already showing areas where the paint is completely worn through.

Celestia is getting final polish. I redesigned the autoconf script to force a front-end selection and be less ambiguous throughout. Just a few very minor bugs left.

[] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Sun, 11 Apr 2004

Exams Quickly Approaching.
20040410 I'm worried. I'm always worried when it comes to Comm Theory. The exam is coming up Thursday, the day after a much less stressful real-time systems exam. Spent the day studying on and off. Filed a few ALSA-related bugs. Some Gnome programs go nuts if OSS mixer emulation is turned off, apparently.

In my boredom over the last several days, I've added the first model I built, a Klingon Vor'cha Cruiser, to the models page. Not much of a build-up: flat paint job and not much else. But it was enough to motivate me to create more. I spent hours making the thing look more interesting in the Gimp; it was an excellent learning experience about how Gimp handles layers, transparency, and so on.

Also over the last several days, Project Utopia components just started working on my laptop. It's nice to see that this stuff works, and is extremely promising. I've attempted to write a patch that produces more verbose messages and places them in the system log. It got sort of turned down, looks like Havoc Pennington would like a much more elaborate solution: some configuration file options, a little more selectivity in what gets put in the log, etcetera. I might just try to make these things happen.

To aid with this exam studying, went out and bought Don Giovanni by Mozart. Excellent studying music. Highly recommended.

Back to studying...

[] | posted @ 03:28 | link
Wed, 07 Apr 2004

Time - Drift Bignesses.

Tonight, for the boat club meeting I decided to be the first with a boat in the water this year. There was just enough water. The boat doesn't have a motor, or even for that matter, a propeller, but I'm fairly certain it still counts. Just got back from the monthly OCLUG meeting, where there was a very interesting presentation from a man involved with running Canada's time servers at the NRC. Apparently, Canadian time is based on NTP running on three Sparc 2's. A person asked what the units of drift that NTP uses are, and the man responded saying "drift bignesses." That's the quote of the day.

Also, often after meetings like this, I go to Shirley's Bay by the Ottawa River and code or whatever. In this case, the Java TFTP server/client due tomorrow-ish. As I was going there, I passed a cop car going somewhere between 70 and 90 in the 40 zone leading up to there, and luckily nothing bad came of it. Then, while sitting in my car with the laptop, another cop came by and shone the big light on the roof of his car at me to make sure I was alright. Finally, on the way home, I passed another police car. That's a lot of police.

[] | posted @ 03:44 | link
Mon, 05 Apr 2004

Last Week of School... Sort Of.
This week dragged on and on. It's the feeling that it should be done by now but it still isn't.

The TFTP project presentation at school went not-so-well. This thing's finally due this week, and I'll be glad to be rid of it. It's not the actual workings that make this project ugly, it's having to pollute the code with debug functions that prove it handles errors.

Bought a whole load of computer things for school. It's great trying to spend as much of the budget as can be justified. The guy at the computer store actually asked me: "Stocking up on network cards?"

Started helping out with the model boat classes again this weekend. Since exam time is approaching, I decided to start going at my hobbies again. Strange how that happens every exam period.

Regarding exams, it looks like they will be mostly straightforward. I'm not terribly worried about anything besides Communications Theory. Even the content on that can be accurately predicted, it's my ability to answer it that's uncertain.

Can't wait for this school year to just get by me one way or another. The apathy is starting to set in.

[] | posted @ 03:41 | link
Mon, 29 Mar 2004

What a crazy-busy week this was. Seems like every day something was due. But it's almost all over.

Early on in the week I noticed a neat quote somewhere. It is: "Linux: be root. Windows: reboot." This is now firmly stapled to my cubicle wall.

Saturday I attended Open Source Weekend. Learned some more cool features of Eclipse, some introductory material to mono, what the deal behind GPG is, and I gave a talk about open-source software in education with Professor Nash of University of Ottawa. In this talk, I showed off the PHP version of e-Tutor; the response was very positive.

Today is my birthday. Bought myself some new headphones. I convinced my parents that it would be really great to have a new suit, and so I got one, complete with taupe shirt, a pretty cool tie, and the perfect belt to top it off. The ensemble looks great.

The weather was amazing today, so I took the snow tires off the vehicle. The agenda for the next few months includes touching up some rusted areas, finding a leak in the door seal, and fixing what is most likely a cracked coolant pipe. Also, I intend to purchase some alloy Mazda Protege GT wheels to replace the current steel ones. These will have to have new tires. This is a good thing. With any luck, this ten-year-old car will have another ten years left; is it possible?

Now I'm just finishing a communications theory lab report; what a great way to ruin the perfect birthday. Another busy week is coming up. Almost over...

[] | posted @ 04:51 | link
Wed, 24 Mar 2004

Busy Last Week, Busier This Week
20040323 Last week included the most interesting prank I've seen in my three years at Carleton: a car made to look as though it had plowed into the ground after falling four storeys. The effect was really good, I was fooled at first. The car was actually cut in half during frosh week. The guy who owns it lives in attached housing and is entitled to a parking spot for his car, only he doesn't have a car; he has half of one. People's reactions could not have been better, especially seeing as it was on the day high school students came to see the campus.

Yesterday marked the last lab and last test of the school year. Exams are quickly approaching. The day every aspect of the semester is over is the day I shall be happy.

Yesterday, I also learned an important lesson. After taking down a full Guinness in haste, never, ever sprint for the train. It left me feeling very sick, unable to breathe. Physical activity is fine with other beers, just not Guinness.

Finally, yesterday saw me banned from from six of my shell accounts. All I did was push for a reason why it makes sense to have all the icon depth/size resources in one file, as in Microsoft Windows. Apparently it is forbidden to disagree with a man named Yosh. For a while, I felt like the driver of this particular late-model white Civic...

[] | posted @ 04:51 | link
Mon, 15 Mar 2004

Yet Another Week
[20040314] It was a busy week. I spent all week at school doing EngFrosh interviews. At the end of it all, there was a midterm Saturday morning. If there is one thing I do not like it's six day work weeks. And the midterm did not go particularly well.

In more important and happy news, I've basically finished Celestia-GTK2 this weekend. The GConf stuff is all in, the Makefiles have been updated, a new icon has been created, pictured in all its SVG goodness. I feel the next version will be coming out soon, so timing seems to have worked out pretty well.

[] | posted @ 04:14 | link
Wed, 03 Mar 2004

OCLUG Meeting
I attended an informative presentation by Robert Love today (yesterday, it's just past midnight). After that, there was a good beer drinking event, when I really got to know the guy in a more one-to-one fashion. It's amazing how different-but-not-quite-different people turn out when you meet them in person. I don't get that a lot.

About 45 minutes ago I bought Robert a beer. That's something I don't do every day. I'm drunk. Good times. It's too bad I have a stats test tomorrow...

[] | posted @ 17:21 | link
Mon, 01 Mar 2004

March is upon us!
20040229 I woke up this morning, ready to write about the first day of March being here. So much for keeping track of the leap years.

Pictured is the passenger side of my car, after a certain individual in the household decided to not look where they were turning. A nice 5mm dent, some paint scratched right to the metal, a slight waviness to the door metal, and some frayed plastic weather-striping, three quarters of the length down the door. Yey. The DX decal will probably have to go with the fix, which is sure to carry a hefty price.

Watching the Oscars right now. LoTR currently has 7 awards. I was hoping that Pirates of the Caribbean would pick up some of those. All this while I'm trying to do a Comm Theory lab. Oh, make that 8 for LoTR...

[] | posted @ 04:20 | link
Sun, 29 Feb 2004

What a Week.
20040228 What a busy week. Got lots of things working around school, including the office workstation and sendmail SMTP-AUTH via TLS. Got lots of schoolwork out of the way too, including a computer architecture midterm, which was practically identical to the copy I have of last year's; I expect I did well on this one!

At work, walking by the server room, I noticed this NetWinder RM unit in the rack. I hadn't seen a production version before, only the empty preproduction cases while they were being designed. Apparently, NetWinder.Org owns this box, and it is being used to compile ARM Debian GNU/Linux. Interesting to me, since my (not rackmount) NetWinder runs Debian, and runs it well.

I was hoping to get Celestia GConf working by now, but, as usual, autoconf proved to be a hassle that set me back a week. Now that GConf is included in the build process and does not break KDE, hopefully I can get something done on this front.

I'm really looking forward to this upcoming week, when Robert Love is coming to town. I hope to find his speech enlightening and motivating in terms of both work and hobby programming.

[] | posted @ 03:20 | link
Mon, 23 Feb 2004

All Good Things...
All good things come to an end, and that includes a week of break time amidst a semester of hectic studies.

In summary, I didn't get quite as far in Celestia as I had hoped, the settings saving code remains to be written. I got some school work done (today). A hectic week approaches.

Updated to the latest kernel today. ACPI has been broken since 2.6.2, with the battery reading dying after a few hours of use. The bug report is here.

[] | posted @ 04:59 | link
Fri, 20 Feb 2004

"G" Card.
20040219 Went shopping today. Bought six wireless-G access points for school, and a DLink DWL-G520 for myself. This is an Atheros-based MiniPCI card slapped onto a PCI card. After removing the daughtercard, the "some assembly required" scheme involved adding at least one antenna jack (pictured). The larger version of the photo shows the contacts for the auxiliary antenna jack, which will be added shortly. The black cable that plugs into it is currently tucked away. The card is cheap and works very well.

In other news, yesterday's skiing was fun, the aching is slowly subsiding. I should be starting schoolwork about now, hopefully I will be getting to it any time now...

[] | posted @ 02:14 | link
Wed, 18 Feb 2004

Gnome Prereleaseness
[20040217] It took me half of the night and all morning, but I managed to apply James Willcox's patches for the Gnome wireless applet. This was not an easy feat. Much of how this thing works right now is very Fedora-specific. Running under Gentoo, I can scan for stations, but I cannot switch them or otherwise make use of the applet. Nothing overly serious, with time the bits and pieces will be ironed out, and this patch will become very popular. For now it is a step in the right direction. And running Gnome 2.5 unstable series is fun. Much of the trouble was caused by the Orinoco driver being unable to enter scan mode, patch available here.

Spent the other half of the day trying to figure out GConf. It's a lot more complicated than I thought, with schemas and all. Celestia cannot have schemas, because the autoconf macros it requires will break for the KDE guys, I believe. But I should be able to get around using just key-value pairs and building a little more intelligence into the program. It will be tricky, since I don't want to break plain GTK compatibility, but hopefully doable.

Other business: the puppy's second tooth fell out today, only a couple left until the sharp ones come out. Going skiing tomorrow at Mont Ste-Marie.

[] | posted @ 03:48 | link
Tue, 17 Feb 2004

Beware the Eye of the Blog
20040216 Lord of the Rings? Try Eye of the Blog instead.

I've spent a good portion of the day learning how use plugins and flavours for Blosxom. I finally settled on a look, heavily modified from one of the sample flavours provided. Changed some colours, the font, the inefficient use of tables.

However, I realized that the thing needed some icon, mascot... an eye! I figured my eye was impressionable enough. Took a photo. Laughed my ass off. It's amazing how a decent lens can distort when used at close range; it stayed sharp, but that picture is funny... my nose is so big!

[] | posted @ 01:46 | link
Mon, 16 Feb 2004

Reading Week
Reading Week is upon me. Excellent. Yes, reading...

Friday night was great. Went out to Barrymore's with Markus and his girlfriend and three other amazing women in this web of friends. Had a great night, everyone had fun. I am really glad Markus came all the way from the GTA to visit me, saves me a big trip. :)

Added the planned context menu to Celestia. Only a few things remain before I am caught up with the Windows version and we can make a release. I am always amazed by how much code I reuse directly from winmain.cpp in gtkmain.cpp: change a few HMENU's to gtk_menu* and voila... a callback is a callback, after all. Celestia is great.

Finally found decent MIDI and Roland-derived MP3 versions of Asteroid Dance, Part I from my favourite game, Tyrian. Best game score ever.

This was on a piece of packaging I opened yesterday...

You don't say?

To finish off the weekend, the puppy lost her first baby tooth. Hopefully those sharp ones she keeps biting me with are next.

[] | posted @ 04:05 | link
Mon, 09 Feb 2004

Wasted Weekend
My entire weekend was wasted on one class: Communication Theory. I spent Thursday evening studying, took the day off Friday to continue studying, wrote a midterm on Saturday (what a terrible day for midterms!), then spent all of Sunday writing up a lab report for this class.

Interesting contrast: the midterm was very crappy (I think I answered a third of the questions...), but the lab report went more smoothly than any report this year; I'll be in bed before midnight!

[] | posted @ 03:44 | link
Fri, 06 Feb 2004

Peer Pressure.
My little brother bought an Xbox today. That was a very stupid thing to do. Maybe I can put Linux on it?

[] | posted @ 04:05 | link
Tue, 03 Feb 2004

Gnome Nautilus "Spatial"
This spatial Nautilus thing is a neat idea conceptually. It is meant to make Nautilus more user friendly in much the same way the classic Macintosh Finder was a pleasure to use. This involved some interesting changes, whereby the toolbar and sidebar have disappeared. Moreover, the navigation method has gone back to a multiple-window mode. Here is my interesting quote from #gnome-hackers:

"I use $HOME as desktop, and so all my folders are easily accessible from the desktop, so I don't need multiple windows cluttering my workspace, since I can't use multiple workspaces because I get confused because not all the windows are easily accessible, which is a good rationale for having fewer windows with Nautilus (aka not spatial)."

My Grade 5 teacher (Mr. Kennedy) would call this a diarrhea sentence.

[] | posted @ 04:51 | link

The Awesomeness of Allegro
Being bored (not really) and wanting to try something new, I decided I would try to compile the project Markus and I wrote for OAC computers class under Linux. It's interesting, because my interests at the time were exclusively 3D Studio Max, and so I did the graphics, and little else. I did know that Markus had used mingw and Allegro to build this thing. I figured it must be buildable under Linux and pure g++, so I emerged allegro and tried compiling. Fifteen minutes later, I was playing!


[] | posted @ 03:27 | link
Sat, 31 Jan 2004

Work and Celestia.
Today was fun. Got a lot done at work, especially regarding the latest nVidia drivers.

I feel very encouraged by Seth saying he's been wanting Celestia in Gnome. That would be fantastic, if we can get over the licensing issues. The feedback in #gnome-hackers was positive though. I hope to add the context menu to the GL area this weekend.

[] | posted @ 05:17 | link
Mon, 26 Jan 2004

First Entry.
I have been meaning to start one of the weblogs for some time.

Now that Celestia is getting along fine in terms of my GTK front-end it seems a good time to do so.

This weekend proved pretty productive. I finally got the Makefiles to co-operate with GTK2 and the Gnome2 libraries. The only issue seems to be a requirement of pkg-config for the configure script to run; this is a problem for the KDE guys.

Now the only thing left is to write this Communication Theory Spectral Analysis lab report.

[] | posted @ 02:36 | link

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