Pat's Log
Mon, 25 Dec 2006

20061224 Wow, it's been a time since I've writte anything at all here. It's not that there is nothing to write about, it's just that there is a whole lot of repetitive dull stuff to write about, and there is nothing worth mentioning here.

Anyway, I have been spending most of my time working on that Oberth-class model. I am well over half done now. I can see myself getting to the point of painting it before January is done. Scratchbuilding detailed parts is quite time consuming.

Outside of models, the new camera is keeping me entertained. I am at nearly 1800 photos so far. Some of them are really quite good. Perhaps I should start a flickr page with the crème-de-la-crème shots. I am also pondering purchasing a new lens. I don't have specific plans yet, though it will probably be in the 70-200mm or 300mm range. With image stabilization, those run from about 1200 and up. This is why I am taking my time.

On the subject of cameras and Christmas, I asked Santa to bring me a nice solid tripod. As a result, I got a nice solid tripod. This will enable me to do some nice night-time photographs, and should help produce evenly lined-up composited shots of my models. Thanks mom and dad! I just wish I could produce models faster! I'm typically not one for family shots, but the first tripod shot is appropriate.

[] | posted @ 04:26 | link
Tue, 14 Nov 2006

Democracy at Work
20061113 Tonight is a momentous night. City politics worked as they should, and the incumbent City of Ottawa Mayor, Bob Chiarelli, was voted out of the position he was getting far too comfortable in.

In an amazing twist, Larry O'Brien, the guy who was trailing behind Alex Munter in the polls, ended up winning with an astounding 47% of the vote. Munter got 36%, and Chiarelli got a wonderfully low 15%.

The other amazing factor is that these numbers are really representative of the population. Whereas the 2003 election only got 32% voter turnout, tonight's voter turnout was about 55%. Wow! That has to be the highest voter turnout I have ever seen!

Well, I'm quite excited that my guy got in. In a sub-million city which employs over 25,000 employees, with an average salary of over $70,000 per year, I'm excited when he says he will run the city as a business. I want half of that staff gone. I also hope he manages to do something about the one billion dollar monstrosity that the light rail project has turned into. Efficiency is key.

Also, Larry O'Brien looks like Darth Vader without his helmet.

[] | posted @ 04:42 | link
Wed, 01 Nov 2006

New Toy
20061031 Time to take photography to the next level. I bought a digital SLR camera, the Rebel XT by Canon. My hopes are to reignite the spark that once existed when I was into film photography on my trusty old Praktica LLC. Only this time, I can know if I do something right or wrong instantly.

The camera itself isn't Canon's top-of-the-line model, but most of what matters is similar enough or the same when compared to their professional offerings. I don't expect to be using this more than once or twice a week, so I do not need bullet-proof construction. Furthermore, I keep getting told that it is the lens that really matters.

The lens that came with the unit is quite acceptable for initial adventures. The plan is to treat myself to a more expensive piece of glass a few months down the road. The immediate plan is to invest in an adaptor that will let me mount the old M42 lenses from the Praktica onto the Canon EF body. The lenses will force the camera into completely manual mode, but that's the point. They are good lenses, and it will force me back to basics.

I look forward to many years of quality captured frames of still life.

[] | posted @ 04:33 | link
Wed, 11 Oct 2006

Boston GNOME Summit 2006
20061010-1 This past weekend was the Boston GNOME Summit, which I've made a habit of going to. I left work on Friday with the intention of getting there earlier than last year. Unfortunately, I ran into an hour-long line at the border, then managed to pass the same upstate New York spot twice traveling in the same direction, somehow, about 45 minutes later. Suffice it to say, I got there later than last time. Still, the drive was very nice, with a full moon lighting up the whole scenery around me.

At the conference itself, I went to a discussion whenever one was available. Whereas last year was all about optimization, this year there was a lot of focus on designing new technologies and the direction GNOME should take. I contributed to the talks as much as I could, but many of the subjects were about things I am not familiar with. A testament to all of the interesting directions the project is taking to stay fresh.

This year's hack was something that turned out fairly successful, judging by the reaction it got in the show-and-tell at the closing session. I made a quick little script that acts as a Nautilus thumbnailer for Windows EXE files. So, when a folder with Windows binaries is opened, their icon shows up using the same functionality as image files. The current implementation is a complete hack; it doesn't even choose the optimal icon resource. But I plan on extending icoutils to make a proper version more efficient.

I'd like to thank all of the locals for their great hospitality. I had a really good time hanging out with the RedHat and Novell folks. You learn so much by meeting people in real life compared to the internet. My back even made it into Jakub Steiner's flickr collection:


[] | posted @ 01:34 | link
Fri, 29 Sep 2006

Emissions Testing and Terabytes
I guess it matters where you have your car emissions tested and repaired. As written earlier, the car failed emissions testing with essentially the same numbers as the test two years ago. At that point, the shop could not figure out what was wrong and we ended up spending about 600 dollars to get all of the obvious things out of the way. To no avail. This time, I used a smaller, more specialized emissions shop, and they were dead-on in determining that it was the O2 sensor all along. So, now I have a car that once again passes these tests with a good margin of error. There is also a good chance that it will burn less gas.

In other news, at work, I finally got my hands on a machine that has storage in excess of a Terabyte:

pats@backup:~$ df -h Filesystem Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on /dev/sda1 3.7G 466M 3.1G 14% / /dev/sda3 1.5T 52G 1.4T 4% /data

Using a 6-disk RAID5 array, this momentous day marks the next power-of-ten for me. Now, on to the Petabyte!

[] | posted @ 03:00 | link
Fri, 22 Sep 2006

Antec's (Lack of) Quality Control
20060921 I'm a little angry. After all that work on the car's fender made me feel good about the vehicle I drive, I go in yesterday for emissions testing, and it fails. The results were exactly the same as the last test, meaning that if I invest 450 dollars I'll get a conditional pass. That 450 is supposed to cover repairs to rectify the situation, but it sure didn't last time. So, I'll pay, get a pass, and have to pay again in a couple of years when they still don't know what the problem is. Anyway...

A while back at work, I was working on a running computer, so that I could feel if a hard drive was spinning up as it should. Unfortunately, there was one of those flimsy Y-splitters for power, and one of the wobbly pins shorted with another. I've had this happen before. It's usually a matter of just changing the power supply's fuse. This time was worse. The power supply died, and it took the brand new UPS with it.

I finally got around to doing a post-mortem on the UPS and power supply. The UPS is shot for unknown reasons. It thinks there is an overload when nothing is plugged in, meaning that one of the FETs probably went bad. But why is the UPS affected at all?

Opening the power supply, the real issue became immediately apparent. The main fuse in the unit is the standard ceramic tube, sandwiched into leads that make it suitable for mounting on a board. To save space, they mounted it vertically, heatshrinked the lead that comes back down to avoid shorts, and then heatshrinked the unit as a whole to prevent contact with neighbouring components. The problem is that the heatshrink on the lead that loops down is nonexistant in the area that matters. The outer heatshrink was pressing the exposed lead up against the lower contact, making the fuse effectively "not there."

I mailed Antec and got the response I more or less expected:

There is no way to determine what transpired regarding your power supply cause damage to your UPS. We would have to test your system completely in its entirety to get an accurate analysis of what happen. Now for the simple fact that you have already open the power supply up there has obviously be some tampering of the power supply by an unauthorized Antec service representative. With that being said there not much we could. do.

Never mind that I would not have known about the problem had I not "tampered" with it. I'm tempted to write back saying that small-claims court could easily settle this. They won't show up. I'll get the few hundred dollars to replace the UPS and my court fees. If they do show up, it still not a problem. Any idiot can see that the fuse doesn't do anything. It could just as well have burned the building down. They ought to recall all of their power supplies.

[] | posted @ 02:59 | link
Thu, 14 Sep 2006

Mon Char, Body Work
I've been awfully quiet lately. It's probably because all of my efforts have been going into fixing my car's body while the weather still accomodates painting.

The story starts last year, when I noticed paint behind my driver's side rear wheel bubbling. By the end of winter this year, the bubbles had gotten enormous. This is where most cars develop rust, and in this case, it's the worst rust this twelve year old car has. Last month I couldn't take it any more, bit the bullet, and peeled off the giant bubble.


The rust was bad. Toward the bottom, there was really nothing left. My finger easily pushed through. This is unfortunate, since that's the part of the fender the rear bumper trim is attached to. On the bright side, the inner steel wall was in better condition, with shiny primer clearly visible. Removing rust is a very exacting process; it absolutely has to be removed entirely, so I used a dremel tool with various grinding bits and worked at it until all the soft porous iron oxide was gone. Rust may look shiny when polished, but like cancer, the whole tumour needs to be removed. I then applied an etching solution several times to make sure any rust left was properly treated and sealed.


A typical Bondo-only repair is never good, there needs to be some structural support. Also, because the part I removed had to actually a screw of the bumper trim, there needed to be something rigid. Typically, body shop workers use steel. I formed the bottom lip out of fiberglass, since I don't have tools for steel. The cloth extends far up inside the fender well so that there is a large surface it holds on to. The bare steel was primed, as Bondo seems doesn't adhere directly to steel as well.


Several layers of Bondo and spot putty followed. Getting the shape of the curve to match the steel contour was quite difficult.


At this point, I used a thick asphalt undercoat with rubber to seal the surface exposed on the inside of the wheel well. It took several coats. It should keep the salt out of the fiberglass and especially from soaking into the porous Bondo. A thick coat of primer was applied to the outside surface and sanded smooth.


I decided to go and shell out the money for a custom made spray bomb of Dupont exact match laquer. The area was masked such that the tape at the edges was not stuck directly to the surface. This was done to prevent a sharp edge of paint.


Twenty minutes later, when the mask was removed, the desired feathering is there. Unfortunately, the new paint is slightly bluer than the existing paint, probably due to fading. Nonetheless, it's as good as it is going to get; there is just nothing I can do about that.


The final steps of the paint job are the ones that seem impossible. The shiny finish needs to be sanded to remove the "orange peel" texture and then somehow magically buffed back to a shine that matches the rest of the car's finish. I never thought that that could actually be done without a top clearcoat. Thankfully, I was wrong. Using 1500 grit sandpaper, followed by polishing compound applied with an old sock, along with plenty of water, I managed to match the luster of the finishes.


The entire project turned out fairly well. Most people would not notice anything had been done. Looking straight at the area, the difference in paint colour is quite apparent, however. Also, I did not mention that the fibreglass reinforcement took two tries, since I used stale resin on the first attempt. Finally, the paint finish took not one, not two, but three tries to get right. I think it has something to do with the primer. So, my repair work is not perfect, but it is good enough. It was a very educational three weeks.

[] | posted @ 02:21 | link
Fri, 08 Sep 2006

EngFrosh Movie Night
Tonight was EngFrosh 2006's Movie Night at the Mayfair Theatre. I decided to come visit, and, as expected, there was a crowd of "old geezers" (people from my generation) at Quinn's. We had a few drinks, and I dropped by for the movie.

The movies this year were Super Troopers and Top Gun. The latter was awesome, because it was the movie during my frosh week! But really, a 20-year-old movie on original film is hard to come by. Apparently it was somewhat difficult to get, and there were a few frames missing. Still, the state the emulsion was in was good. I had a great time. I'll hand it to the Mayfair, they always treat EngFrosh well.

[] | posted @ 03:44 | link
Wed, 30 Aug 2006

Small Boat, Big Lights
20060829 I've been busy working finishing some body work on the car recently. The driver-side rear fender was in need of attention, as there was a significant rust-rot infection. That's mostly cleared up now, but the paint job still needs work.

I took a small detour from the car work to make my little tug boat water-ready enough to float around the pond tonight. This little boat is about 45cm long, and is loaded with 27 LEDs. At one point it had running gear, but with two Speed 400's it was very much overpowered. It was so overpowered that it nearly tore itself apart.

This summer, I had hoped to revive it, and while that didn't happen, a solid plan of action did get created. I'm going to buy cheap (tiny) aircraft forward-only speed controls, and those will turn the two propellers independently with slow motors. It is not necessary for the speed control to have reversing, since it will be a slow boat and should be able to rotate in place anyway. As an alternative, I am considering modified servos. They might be enough, and would have reverse, in addition to being a fantastic price for what amounts to a speed control, motor, and gearbox in one.

The photo does not do the model justice. The LEDs really lit it up.

[] | posted @ 03:56 | link
Tue, 15 Aug 2006

High Resolution AIGLX, Low Video Memory
After playing with XGL (and loving it) for a while on my home desktop (ATI Radeon 9800), I thought that it needed a relatively powerful card to work. However, at LinuxSymposium, I noticed a beat-up old ThinkPad R-series laptop running it. I was told that the requirements to run AIGLX are much less demanding.

Intrigued, I tried running AIGLX on my laptop, a Dell D600 (600m) with a 32 megabyte ATI Radeon 9000 M9; by no means powerful 3D hardware. At a resolution of 1024x768, it worked very, very well, doing the same compiz effects I could do under XGL on a much more powerful card with proprietary drivers. However, running at my LCD's native resolution of 1400x1050, the desktop didn't draw completely: it clipped at 1024x1024.

At first, I figured the old hardware had a texture limitation of 1024x1024. Thankfully, since this was LinuxSymposium, I ran right to the man who knows my hardware best, Adam Jackson. He told me that the 1K-texture limit was artificial, and has to do with memory resources. Using glxinfo -l, he showed me that GL_MAX_RECTANGLE_TEXTURE_SIZE_NV is the texture size that would fit in the video texture memory, so that the card could hold a certain number of textures, also listed in glxinfo. This value could be overridden by telling the card to support large texture sizes in a mysterious /etc/drirc XML file:

<driconf> <device screen="0" driver="r200"> <application name="all"> <option name="allow_large_textures" value="2" /> </application> </device> </driconf>

This allowed textures to easily draw the full 1400x1050 I needed. However, because of the sheer size of the textures and the small amount of video memory I have, the number of textures that could be stored on the chip went down significantly. Having a few large windows open (Desktop, Firefox, Thunderbird) resulted in an extremely slow desktop experience, as the textures had to be swapped in and out of the video memory for every frame drawn.

So, while it didn't work out for me, perhaps this information will be useful for people who have a little more video memory than I.

[] | posted @ 22:06 | link
Sat, 05 Aug 2006

PDP-8 Switches
20060805 As reported earlier this year, there is an effort (albeit slow) to get Carleton's PDP-8 working again. I volunteered to fix all of the programming switches.

This morning, I've finally got something to show for it. I went out an purchased the Alumilite starter kit, which came with enough mold rubber and resin to get me started. At 40 dollars, it wasn't cheap. However, since I've never had the opportunity to make a two-piece mold, this was the perfect excuse to learn. The process works very well, and the resin sets in an astonishing 3 minutes.

While the first copy isn't absolutely perfect, it should be good enough. The main rocker hinge is made of stainless steel in my copy, so it won't wear out too quickly. This is the same rod I'm retrofitting all of the remaining original switches with, as all of the little nibs are in poor condition or broken off completely.

All in all, the process was a success. I can crank these out fairly quickly now. If there is interest from other PDP-8 owners to get some replacement switches, I might even be interested in producing some for sale.

[] | posted @ 17:46 | link
Mon, 24 Jul 2006

Ottawa Linux Symposium
20060723 Linux Symposium is an event I always look forward to. Being local, it would be foolish of me not to attend.

This year went as smoothly as previous years, with many talks, much developer-to-developer discussion, and excellent evening outings. It really is amazing to have so many of the minds behind my favourite operating system in one place. As someone pointed out during the week, "if there were a bomb at the Congress Centre during this week, Linux would really be set back a fair bit."

As with every year, there are one or two general topics that drive many of the talks. Two years ago it was the splitting up of, last year it was virtualization. This year's most interesting talks focused around the new kernel debugging mechanisms and the challenges around optimizing everything from the kernel through to the highest-level applications.

A large portion of my time was spent talking to X developers are trying to get a grasp on how AIGLX ("aiglix") and XGL work, where they're going. There is much misinformation out there, and everything is constantly changing. I think I got a good feel for how the next year of X development is going to pan out, which is good for both my curiosity and professional goals.

This conference, as with every conference, always has one person who really stood out, with whom I spend more time than with others. This year it was Aaron Seigo, best known for his involvement with KDE. Aaron is very approachable, knowledgable, fun. It all started when I overheard on the first day that he needs a place to crash. I volunteered Hubert, thinking to myself that it would be funny to impose a KDE developer on him. Naturally, I only told Hub after Aaron accepted. It turned out being a great way to make a new friend. Also, Aaron is a karaoke ninja.

Admittedly, after an entire week of festivities, I'm severely drained. Nonetheless, I'm already looking forward to next year.

[] | posted @ 03:48 | link
Thu, 20 Jul 2006

Roadtrip to Milton
20060720 Last week Markus invited me and the usual suspects to spend the weekend at his place in Milton, Ontario. I was reluctant to go at first, spending the last few days before OLS away from home, but going turned out being a good idea. Despite extreme heat, we had lots of fun. Markus made me promise to blog about it.

On Friday night we went to a bar called Nascar. The goal was to find a bar that best says "hicktown." I ended up feeling sorry for the place, seeing as they had all of about eight paying customers on a Friday night. That figure includes the really bad karaokeists. Also, through no fault of my own, the letters on the sign in front of the building happened to rearrange themselves to spell "Ball Me Soon." Funny.

Saturday was even more fun, if "fun" is interpreted as "pushing around a 3800kg Ford Excursion." Markus' work truck was having some serious problems after we got far away from his place. It would just run very well and then suddenly choke and die. For better or worse, its frequent stalls and unwillingness to start added to an entire layer of adventure to the trip.

We'll have to do this again some time.

[] | posted @ 19:57 | link
Fri, 14 Jul 2006

What The Internet Could Have Been
20060713 This entry is a follow-up to the article about my first homepage.

Back in the summer of 1996, the fourteen-year-old me was youngest ever employee at Corel Corporation. My job was as a "Quality Assurance Assistant" for a little-known product, Corel WEB.SUITE. This product was composed of WEB.DESIGNER, WEB.WORLD, and WEB.DRAW, a slimmed down CorelDRAW with focus on output to screen graphics as opposed to paper.

Of particular interest to me was WEB.WORLD, an early (and very simple) VRML editor. At the time, this technology seemed to me as the future of web sites. Information could be organized spatially, objects could be hyperlinked, it ran decently fast on the blazing-fast Pentium-133s of the day, and it was generally quite popular. Sites all over the place required a VRML plugin.

For my testing purposes (and because it was fun), I made my online gallery of computer renderings into a virtual 3D gallery. They were grouped by "room" and you could click on the images on the walls to get the full version of the image. It was a fun way of navigating the site.

Somewhere along the way, VRML died off, and now Flash has essentially taken its place everywhere. Yes, the intended purpose of Flash is different. Another big difference, however, is that VRML was based on an open specification that anyone could write a plugin and an editor for. That fact, coupled with majorly increased 3D graphics performance toward the late nineties, make its fate a curious anomaly of the web.

Why did it die? I don't know. But if it had taken off, the net could literally be a completely different virtual landscape today.

[] | posted @ 03:53 | link
Tue, 27 Jun 2006

Mobile Office
20060626 As ye olde parents are away on travel to Italy, it has become Pat's responsibility to taxi around the kids. While some events are long enough to justify two trips, others are short enough that it doesn't make sense to come back home in the meantime.

Enter the mobile office. My car has already proven itself to be a useful place to sleep when everything is folded down. Half folded-down, it makes a great place to set up "base camp." Hook the laptop up to the inverter, use the handy-dandy sound system remote lying by the seatbelt buckle to control the music, and it becomes a useful hacking-mobile with tons of leg room.

In fact, most of my latest project, the NetworkManager Editor, has been put together on the back seat of my car waiting for tae-kwon-do to finish.

[] | posted @ 03:39 | link
Mon, 26 Jun 2006

Beautiful Day
Today was really nice. I took the opportunity to force my brother (and myself) to bike all the way to Parliament and back. It was a great ride. About 50 km total. Then I mowed the lawn. Now I'm sore and bright red from the sun. Proud that my brother made that trip, I didn't think he had it in him. Glad that the gym made this excursion much less painful than it used to be in years past. Well, there is a good chance that my opinion will change by whenever I try waking up.

As an aside, I came across the old video camera fisheye lens that came with our old family Sony HandyCam in 1992. Interestingly, I could look through it and see properly. So, I tried holding it right in front of my digital camera's lens. Surprisingly, it works very well. Will try to take some interesting photography in the next little while.

[] | posted @ 03:26 | link
Sun, 25 Jun 2006

Bimmer Time?

As I was coming home from the gym on Wednesday, two kilometres from my house, the Protege's engine gave a loud pop, followed by uneven operation and zero engine power.

The problem ended up being that one of the spark plugs had wiggled loose and eventually was blown out of the socket by engine pressure. This resulted in no pressure in the engine block, meaning no power.

While fixing it took all of two minutes (thanks to the handy toolkit in the trunk), it is what was going on in my head that was surprising. My first thought after instinctively shutting the engine off was "time for that new BMW?" I would have expected something more along the lines of a more logical "I wonder what rattled loose?" The mind is a strange thing.

So, no, it is not time to get a Bimmer.

[] | posted @ 03:48 | link
Sun, 04 Jun 2006

Ten Years of Web Pages
20060604 Last month marked the ten year anniversary of my very first web page. Hosted on National Capital FreeNet, it was one of the things I might not have gotten into if it were not free.

I recently opened up the page to do a screenshot, and was happy the HTML still worked. Most of the graphics were from the then-popular "web page collections," though I was smart enough not to fall into the animated-GIF craze. The text is corny, at the very least (hey, I was 14). I had an interesting choice of navigation menu: I would literally make .ico files in Windows, take a screenshot, and make an image map. I think I did this until there were too many icons to make it practical. It predates the Netscape-Internet Explorer war. Perhaps the most surprising discovery is that the counter is still active.

Looking at the page also reminds me that my high school was the first one in the (then) Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton to be "on" the internet. The school was brand new in late 1992, and it was immediately outfitted with an ISDN connection powered by a Gandalf box. In the pre-Mosaic and pre-Netscape days, it was actually mostly used with Gopher, though I'm too young to have witnessed that. The school board provided a Unix machine to host web pages for all of the schools. As far as I know, Trinity was the first on there as well.

Speaking of ISDN: this page was created in the short time between when I first started dialing up to FreeNet via a 14.4K modem, to when Corel provided 28.8K dial-up access. Shortly after, during the summer, Corel provided an ISDN line. That was really fun; up to 15K/s on a good day. Of course, it was only used by my father and only for business purposes (wink, wink).

Anyway, unlike most things in my life, the ten years has not flown by too quickly. It actually feels like at least a decade with this one. Maybe it's because the internet has grown and changed so much that it would be difficult for any shorter period of time to have passed.

Now, a full decade later, I still have a site. Being a minimalist, the content of the site is not a big ball of bloat. Rather, it's neatly organized and contains only original content. Part of that is a blog that's already pushing a quarter of a decade this month! The site has gone from being an overly-coloured and cliparted page, to one that was far too graphical (with mouseovers!), to one that was part of the DHTML craze, to today's relatively simple stylesheets. I wonder what the future will hold?

[] | posted @ 18:08 | link
Thu, 01 Jun 2006

It's been nearly a month since I've written here. Time really flies. Maybe it has something to do with keeping away from computers once I get home from work. I think I will get back into it once the current (and absolutely insane -- by that I mean fast) product cycle at work is over. That should happen in the next couple of weeks.

I just finished watching Serenity. It has a much better storyline than I anticipated. Back in the fall I borrowed the complete Firefly series, watched the whole thing while sick; came to really like it. It's uncanny, fun science fiction. It's real "cowboys in space". Had I known about the show while it was still on, they would have had another viewer. The movie really wraps the storyline up very nicely. There are spectacular practical and computer shots, sad parts and funny parts. It's far more than just an extended episode. Summary: excellent flick.

Elsewhere in my life, I've finally installed Ubuntu on my laptop. There was nothing specifically wrong with Gentoo, except that with my recent "keep away from computers" attitude Gentoo was too high-maintenance. Portage has also become unbearably slow on anything short of a SATA drive. Gentoo is still on my desktop. Congratulations to the Ubuntu folk for making a very decent distribution.

Regarding keeping away from computers, I'm still managing to stick to the gym three times per week. I have some muscle to show for it. There is no appreciable weight loss, but there is no gain either, and I feel strong. Back pain is a thing of the past.

The rest of my time these days is spent building models. Before messing up the precious Enterprise-D, I was hoping to try some of the techniques out on a simpler model. I started building something I thought would take just a couple of weeks. Turns out it's a very rare and valuable piece of styrene, significantly more so than the Enterprise, so I'm going to take my time on it. I still entered it into Starship Modeler's Model-in-a-Month contest, but I don't know how well that will work out. As a vacuformed kit, this thing has its own set of challenges! Such is life.

[] | posted @ 05:09 | link
Mon, 08 May 2006

LinuxWorld Toronto
20060507 I've been meaning to write about my trip to Toronto for quite a while now; it's been almost two weeks since I was there!

The show, LinuxWorld Expo Toronto, was essentially what I expected; it was a trade show: lots of people trying to sell lots of things. My two talks went alright. I met some familiar people I know from other Linux endeavours. I got to talk to some of our customers. I'm told that attendance numbers were on the low side. Indeed, the second day did seem a little sparse. Regardless of the show, I had a great time. I finally got a business card and corporate shirt! I never thought this day would come!

The real lessons were learned in dealing with our marketing team from various parts of the globe. I learned a lot about how people from different areas of the globe deal with each other. For example, when an Italian was 15 minutes late for breakfast, a German told me that it's normal, to give him another 15 minutes. He sat down in the hotel lobby and pulled out his laptop while I waited impatiently. Perfect estimate to the minute. People who have marketing experience and travel definitely have a lot of wisdom to share.

Speaking of the hotel, Xandros got rooms at the fancy new "One King West," a building that was once a bank. They kept the original vault as a display piece in the lobby. It was very fancy -- so fancy, that they gave full-sized bars of brand name soap! Sleeping on the thirty-first floor was also a new experience. Quite a view from up there. Classy.

[] | posted @ 03:56 | link
Mon, 24 Apr 2006

Entropy Everywhere!
20060423 Change is everywhere. Spring is changing things outside. At work, we just finished Xandros Server 1.0, our major new product and everyone is changing over to Xandros Desktop work. Another change is a significant decrease in noise: the renovation that has been going on all winter at the Xandros office building is finally done. While I prefer the old "80's technology" look that we had before, the new plant life does good things to the lobby; it really is a unique building, even if its construction is flawed in many ways.

I'll be off to Toronto tomorrow for the official launch of the aforementioned Xandros Server at LinuxWorld Expo. I expect it will be a new experience, as I have only attended technical conferences in the past. At the moment, I'm just putting the final touches on my speech regarding standards, and why they are important to Linux. In fact, here is the official summary:

Pat Suwalski explains how Linux engineers are incorporating open standards and specifications, and why they are important to the future of Linux from the point-of-view of distributions, software, and hardware vendors.

My talk has been put directly between two rather influential people, Waldo Bastian and "Maddog" Hall, so the pressure is on. But then, I like speaking. The hard part is condensing the talk to a small timeslice and in terms that business people can understand. A good challenge, it is.

An interesting story from this week is about a smart battery that wasn't so smart. Peter had a spare Palm Zire he had no use for, so he donated it to my brother, who really wanted one. It was new-in-box, but the battery did not work. The 3.7V unit only output about 0.1V, and charging had no effect; zero current draw. So, we ordered a new one from eBay. In the meantime, seeing as the current cell was dead, I decided to see if anything could be determined from an autopsy. Taking the plastic sheath off the battery, it became apparent that it's a "smart" battery. This surprised me, as I had assumed all of the smarts were on the Palm's mainboard. Putting a voltmeter directly to the cell, it gave a healthy 3.5V. Clearly, the electronics had gone insane! Where's the reset pin? With nothing to lose, I shorted all of the pins on the chip to the negative terminal on the cell. Immediately afterwards, the whole unit began to behave. We now have a spare Zire battery. Remember kids, do not try this at home.

[] | posted @ 03:39 | link
Sat, 15 Apr 2006

Good Friday
20060414 Well, I guess it was a good day. While changing the winter wheels on my car to my summer rims, I noticed that the passenger-side ball joint was very loose. Finally, the culprit that was going "clunk-clunk."

As luck would have it, a friend who goes through parts at at-cost prices got me a pair of new ones for about 35 bucks apiece (the driver-side is loose, but not noisy yet). That's an amazing deal, seeing as I paid 200 dollars for the last one.

It was a difficult job. Of course, a bolt snapped along the way. Still, a good learning experience.

Change of subject: I got a surprising amount of feedback about the gas graph. I was told a lot of interesting theories, but they all pointed to what I alluded to: normalization to prices elsewhere in the world, with a growing population and growing demand. So, I'm not complaining about gas prices anymore, and neither should you. But feel free to complain about the uncompetitive "up-and-down" methods of gas stations.

[] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Thu, 13 Apr 2006

Gas Prices
20060412 Now that gasoline is regularly over a dollar per litre, I decided it was a good time to make an effort to do something useful with all that data I collect at every purchase. Yes, every time I buy gas, it's recorded.

People these days complain a lot about rising fuel costs. The recurring question to me is whether or not the complaining is justified; perhaps the rate is increasing more-or-less with other prices?

The resulting graph is interesting. It shows that:

  • Gas prices were fairly consistent throughout the nineties
  • Prices actually dropped to 1988 levels in 1999 and 2002
  • The variation in pricing used to be a couple of cents
  • Since 2000, price variations are large and unpredictable
  • The average increase since 2001 is more-or-less linear

I am not an economist, and I do not understand the "economic ecosystem" (my guess is that no one does), but it seems to me that if a chocolate bar that cost 50 cents in 1988 now costs a dollar, then it makes legitimate sense that gasoline would double in price as well.

Unfortunately, the average Canadian salary has not doubled. Perhaps this is why people feel the impact. Nevertheless, prices on many items have gone up significantly in the last eighteen years, so is it oil getting expensive, or oil catching up to the rest of society? Will the graph level off once again in the next year or so?

[] | posted @ 03:07 | link
Wed, 12 Apr 2006

Spring Has Sprung
20060411 I'm happy to report that things at work are slowly returning to "normal," whatever that means. Actually, it means that my projects are frozen and that there is more time to enjoy life, including the beautiful weather these last few days... and to write here.

This evening was the first meet of the Rideau Nautical Modellers at Andrew Haydon Park. The water is now 99% liquid, the evening a nice 18 degrees. I took the little boat out; still working on the top for it. Peter took a photo with his nice new D-SLR that makes it look like its wake is really big. Next week I'll have the big boat out.

The project for this evening was to update four years worth of gasoline data into my trusty spreadsheet that goes back to 1988. The goal here is to produce a date-vs-price graph for the last 18 years. When that's done I'll post a nice picture here. I expect a relatively smooth curve with a spike around 2003. I predict that when inflation is considered, the rise in gas prices is less significant than many think.

[] | posted @ 03:59 | link
Tue, 28 Mar 2006

A Promotion...
...but not really. However, Xandros is getting me business cards. Yes, my first official business cards. I never thought I would see the day. I remember when I was little and going to visit my mom at work, I was always fascinated with office stationary and whatnot. It's like a little part of me is fulfilled now.

I haven't been writing here much lately. The general theory is that I only write when there is something interesting to write about. Well, there hasn't been anything interesting to write about. Work is keeping me very busy, and outside of work I'm finishing projects -- usually away from the computer. Whereas previously I had started many projects and there were many interesting things to write about, now I find myself completing them, and it takes time.

Tomorrow is my twenty-fourth birthday. I can still remember a time when there was much anticipation of presents, cake, etc. Not so anymore. Instead, I find myself planning around what is certain to be a hectic day at the office. Is this what being a grown-up feels like? Maybe I'll sleep in or something.

The latest addiction in my life is Multi Theft Auto: San Andreas. It builds upon the multiplayer stubs in GTA:SA. The result is unbelievably addictive multiplayer races, rallies, and deathmatches. The coolest feature, by far, is that checkpoints can change vehicles. When a map is designed to use the features of the engine, it makes for a pretty unique game.

Watched the final episode of this season of Battlestar Galactica. I really don't know where this is going. I'm a little annoyed at this one. It's possible something good will come out of the plot development, but I can't see it right now. Unlike Star Trek, there is small likelihood that time travel is involved or that this is a parallel universe. I have faith in Ron Moore. Something good will come out of this. But I already miss the ship with the UBC dome.

That's all for now; there are many little anecdotes I could type away at, but why bother? Maybe there will be a picture next time...

[] | posted @ 04:53 | link
Sat, 18 Mar 2006

Iron Ring and Saint Patrick's Day
I have not written here in several weeks. There is no need to apologize for the reasons, there simply have not been any worty of mention. Work has been busy, model has been progressing, yadda, yadda, etc, etc.

However, this evening is a special occasion. Not only it is St. Pat's day, it's also Ring Day for a whole new year of Engineers. I felt it important to attend all of the post-ceremony activities. I'm still inebriated from the whole experience... I find that makes for the most honest and interesting writing.

The first thing I attended immediately after work was the Iron Ring reception at Olivers. There were very many familiar faces, free beer, and good times to be had. It felt, frankly, like I had never left Carleton.

After everyone had left (mostly for the Honest Lawyer), I decided to explore the newly redesigned Unicenter. I believed it to be an unfortunate redesign, employing modern "blue glass" architecture. It most certainly was disappointing. However, music from upstairs drew me in. It came from Mike's Place, the only good pub on campus. After walking around some of the new, highly acclaimed facilities (which were, in my opinion, crap, as in, "Ooooh, it's shiny!"), I walked into Mike's Place. Indeed, a fantastic duo consisting of a guitar and tenor sax were playing great music. This pub has not changed at all in my time at Carleton. Even now, a whole 6 years after the smoking ban, Smokleen machines are still on the ceiling. The original appearance of the Unicenter, with exposed dark brick and brown trim, is still there. I ordered a Guinness. Efficient "Cool White" light poured into the dark lounge from outside as the two musicians played in the classic yellow incadescent bulbs. It was unbelievably nostalgic. Modern architecture is a disgrace.

Eventually I pulled myself out to join everyone at the downtown pub. I met so many people I haven't seen in about a year. It really doesn't feel like so long. Does time slow down more and more as we get older? It seemed that most of the people there were of my vintage. I estimate that I knew 80% of the people in the room. One of the conversations that is worthy of mention is with Edwin, who wanted to set his MSN-Messenger buddy icon to an Iron Ring in light of the ceremony. He searched Google Images for "Iron Ring". On the first result page, my entry from precisely a year ago came up. It pictured my hand holding my then new ring. It's been a year. A whole year. Where am I going with this life? Why does it not feel like 365 days?

Words simply do not describe what I felt tonight. Relief, as though nothing's changed in the last year. Sorrow, missing university and all of the people. Accomplishment, regarding having a job that I like, not monotonous. Jealousy: does everyone have a steady girlfriend now? Renewed pride: I have the ring; it's a symbol of what I believe, and others cherish it as well. Seeing and talking to everyone was simply great, plain and simple. The only emotion left to describe tonight is joy: I really, really enjoyed catching up with everyone.

After getting home, I wrote this. While doing so, I finished off a bottle of vodka received at graduation last year. Appropriate.

[] | posted @ 07:22 | link
Mon, 20 Feb 2006

XGL and Model
20060219 This weekend was devoted to two things: getting XGL up and running and getting some lighting tests going on the Enterprise-D.

XGL is really cool. It works extremely well on my desktop's ATI Radeon 9800. It's amazing that all of the window drawing is done in hardware. The desktop feels unbelievably snappy, probably because this prevents programs from having to redraw on window expose events. I suspect that they are always fully drawn, otherwise things like the Apple Exposé work-alike would not be practical. Wobbly windows rock! The desktop cube is awesome! Having used this desktop for most of the weekend, I really feel very good about it. Can't wait until it gets in the mainstrean distributions. Unfortunately, the Radeon in my laptop does not seem up to the task.

The other half of the weekend was spent with the Enterprise-D. I finally finished cutting out all those blasted windows. Later this week I'll finish filling them. In the meantime, I went ahead and wired up one of the nacelles. I'm doing photo tests along the way to make certain everything balances nicely. It looks really, really good with anything as short as a 1/8 second exposure. I also tried lighting the saucer with two white LEDs. I plan to have nine or twelve in there, but I was quite impressed with just two. I ordered a bunch of super-detailed decals online last night. It's all starting to come together. But I won't be satisfied until the moment I remove all of the tiny pieces of masking tape that will cover all of these windows during painting...

Typing this has been hard, as I just sliced open an important finger. Work tomorrow will be a bitch.

[] | posted @ 04:51 | link
Mon, 13 Feb 2006

Photo Compositing
20060212 Photo compositing is the technique of taking two or more frame-aligned photographs and combining them to produce a single well-balanced image.

The compositing technique is used heavily in motion control photography, such as what was used on Star Trek in the days before computer animation. In that technique, several identical camera passes would be filmed:

  • Beauty pass, showing the ship's in body in natural colour, lit as if by a star nearby;
  • Light pass, where all is black except the window lights;
  • Glow ("Malibu") pass, where only the glowing parts, such as futuristic engines, are visible;
  • Strobe pass, where the strobing lights are filmed several frames on and several frames off;
  • Mask pass, where the background is brightly lit and the object in the foreground is black.

The reason compositing is used rather than a single pass is to overcome the limitations imposed by contrast of the individual elements. For example, in reality, the interior lights of the Enterprise are very weak compared to the bright light used on the exterior for the beauty pass. When composed, one layer can be brightened independently of any other.

In the past, as with my Klingon D-7 model, I used manual compositing. Using low-ISO film, I would hold the shutter open for 10-15 seconds, to let the interior lights burn in nicely. During that time, a single flash, from the direction I wanted the beauty light from, was applied. The problem is that if the timing was at all badly balanced, the result would not look good, and the photograph would be wasted. It was luck as much as anything else. At the time, individual composite shots did not make much sense, as when scanning in the film, there is no way to ensure good alignment, and printing digital photographs was expensive.

Welcome to 2006. Digital cameras prove to be the ideal instrument for compositing. They have excellent light sensors, are not affected by frame misalignment, and can preview over- or under-exposure immediately.

This afternoon, I tested my theory using a typical automatic camera and my cell phone, which glows blue like the engines of the model I'm currently working on. The camera was locked down on a tripod, using a two-second timer to prevent misalignment when pushing the shutter button.

The top-left photo is the raw beauty frame, while the bottom-left is the raw light frame. Two minutes of compositing in the Gimp produced the image on the right. The glow can be increased or decreased at will. The experiment is successful, in that with normal lighting, the blue LEDs are hardly visible.

I'm excited that this technique is finally achievable without expensive equipment. It's not enough to build a good model if it cannot be photographed properly. I look forward to producing some amazing images later this year.

[] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sun, 12 Feb 2006

Celestia-Wine and Rideau Canal
20060211 Work has been busier than usual, with several deadlines approaching quickly. It's not that I don't have the time to blog, it's that I don't have anything interesting to write about!

This morning I nearly made a release of Celestia 1.4.1, until some rather critical bugs were found. I think it would be helpful if someone stepped up to the task of taking maintainership of Windows user interface. I get the feeling that it's more of a chore than a pleasure at the moment.

Regardless, having downloaded the Windows installer executable, I instinctively double-clicked on it under Linux. This launched Wine and ran the install. Seeing as I had nothing better to do, I proceeded with the install. To my surprise, the Windows binary runs quite well under Linux. There are a few crashy spots and the menu bar tends to not redraw, but it was otherwise usable. I think I'll stick to my GNOME code for now...

After two weeks of April temperatures in the middle of the winter, the Rideau Canal is finally open for skating. Went with my family last night, skated the full 7.8km in both directions. What a fun experience. There is nothing like skating under a perfectly clear sky and enjoying beer afterwards.

[] | posted @ 03:17 | link
Sun, 05 Feb 2006

What's With The Weather?
20060204 Never have I seen a winter like this. Last year, on this weekend, I was coming back from Perth and it was foggy. While that was astonishing, it doesn't compare to the last week of rain. Temperatures are high, animals are mating early, Winterlude is destroyed, the canal is all slush. It's winter straight from Vancouver.

I spent all of last night filling the windows of the Enterprise-D with clear epoxy resin. It's a little more bubbly than I would like, but it should look good when the model is finished. As a whole, the windows in the saucer turned out well. I've light-proofed the inside with reflective paint and bought some lighting supplies. I'm psyched about getting on with this.

While working with epoxy, I usually mix the resin on discarded CD-R's. The benefit here is that the reflective background makes it apparent when the two parts are properly mixed, because they go from their clear individual state to a murky mix, which is much easier to see on the reflective surface of a CD than elsewhere. Before the resin is mixed, the perfectly clear substance refracts the colourful light from the CD beautifully, reminding me of the "drop" effect in MacOSX.

[] | posted @ 04:51 | link
Sat, 28 Jan 2006

Ye Olde Computor
20060127 Earlier this week I got an interesting piece of eMail from a local Adobe employee regarding some of the code in my fourth year project from last year. One thing led to another, and this morning I visited the Adobe Ottawa building to see their Linux operations. Apparently, a large portion of the building is devoted to this. They do a lot of work in Java.

Being in the vicinity of Carleton I decided to stop by and talk to people who I hadn't seen in nearly a year. It wasn't the best day for that, as many people are away on Friday. Still, I spent over two hours there catching up with people.

In particular, on my way out, I bumped into Phil, who let me see how his work on Carleton Engineering's old PDP-8 is progressing. He got permission to attempt to activate the unit after it's been on display, non-functioning for approximately my entire lifetime. I'm told it is a very rare unit.

Suffice it to say that I was immediately captivated by the project. I scanned in a very badly faded photo that shows the original setup at Carleton. Gimp automatically fixed the contrast. It was neat finding the exact corner where that unit stood over twenty years ago. I opened up one of the massive hard drives and played with a platter nearly 1cm thick. I fiddled with the optical paper tape reader until its locking mechanism worked as it should (a spring had fallen off). My father tells me this is the über-advanced unit: the one he had used had mechanical pin sensors. It was amazing how by staring at the controller board, seeing eight identical rows of resistors and transistors, plus one slightly different arrangement (for parity), makes it blatantly obvious how the unit works. I imagine fixing these things can be done with the simplest of electronics tools.

Speaking of fixing things, the unit it missing significant portions of the various boards it needs to function. On the bright side, it seems that at least one of each board exists. Further, the boards are, for the most part, dead simple, with as few as a half-dozen components. They can probably be built from scratch. The more complex units could probably be emulated with the cheapest of Atmel microcontrollers to perform the tasks of components no longer available. The hard part is figuring out what all of the components do.

This old computer can turn out to be either a wonderful learning experience or fantastic waste of time. Exciting!

[] | posted @ 04:20 | link
Mon, 23 Jan 2006

Stainless Steel
20060122 The VHS transfer, cleanup, chapter setting, and burning is done! Praise $DIETY! A grand total of 30 discs over the last two weeks.

My mom's birthday was yesterday. I found her this really nice all-stainless knife set. I couldn't resist doing a false-greyscale photo of it. The blue light from outside and the yellow light from inside create a very soft contrast. That, and I love the machined texture on the blade itself.

Gym yesterday was great. I pushed myself really hard while swimming and it got me into a great pace (good). I rewarded myself by eating too much cake (bad).

Today, I found RealGTA.Net, an amazing (free) expansion pack for GTA3. It basically replaces most of the models in the game with more realistic versions, including real branding. Simply an amazing expansion.

I'm looking forward to this week of work. Good things should happen.

[] | posted @ 03:30 | link
Sat, 21 Jan 2006

A Great Day
20060120 Great days are few and far between. It is very fortunate when they occur on Fridays, because it reduces the stress level on weekends to zero. Today was such a day.

Developments at work are going fantastically. A good chunk of the week was spent making my AMD64 builds of Xandros install cleanly. Today, it all finally started working very smoothly. It's incredibly relieving knowing that everyone's software works and no major re-writes will be necessary. Some small items, like our boot screen, written in 1999 and relying on VM86 mode (not implemented in the AMD64 kernel), will have to be deprecated, but I've been pushing for that for several years now! No more pushing video cards into video modes directly and writing straight into video RAM!

Additionally, my side project at work ("playing sys-admin") is increasingly exciting as the server room is becoming more and more a server room proper. "My" rack now has 21U of goodness in it, and today I spent time re-organizing the room so as to start using our DMZ rack.

The VHS-to-DVD transfers are almost done. I predict only about five more discs will be needed. I've currently made 25 discs, which is over 26 hours of video. The gap between the new DVDs and the video previously on DVD is getting small. It would be nice to be done with it this weekend.

[] | posted @ 04:32 | link
Tue, 17 Jan 2006

Today I Feel Great. Tomorrow I Will Regret It.
There hasn't been an update here in quite a while. For the most part it's all "same old." Excellent progress at work. The VHS-to-DVD transfer is taking a long time. It will be about 40 one-hour discs, and each disc takes one hour to rip, half an hour to clean up and set chapters, and then another hour to compress and burn. Do the math. I'm well over half done at this point.

The other big project, namely using the Carleton Athletics facilities, is going very well. For this I have allotted Monday and Thursday evenings, as well as Saturday afternoons, and sticking to it has not been a problem. I do 30-45 minutes of cardio/weights, followed by an hour of swimming. Tonight I pushed myself harder than normal, by doing an extra ten minutes of biking and I recently started swimming 40 lengths (1 km) rather than 30. It feels great now, but I'm sure I'll regret it tomorrow morning. Or not. The human body is a strange machine.

Other miscellaneous items have included watching the first two episodes of Battlestar Galactica's season 2.5. As usual, the performance was exceptionally well delivered; can't wait to see what will happen next. Saturday night was nice: played Settlers of Catan at Hub's house and found my new favourite song, Rebellion by The Arcade Fire. I hear the CD is quite good, perhaps I will buy it.

There has not been photography here in a long time. This is most likely because I haven't taken a single photo since Christmas. Time to start that again, too.

[] | posted @ 04:39 | link
Fri, 06 Jan 2006

Working Out and Digitizing VHS

Getting out of shape. Restless. Not any heavier, thankfully, but clumsier. The remedy: a membership at Carleton Athletics. I enjoyed using their facilities while at university, and the grad discounts are too good to pass up.

This evening I spent an hour "warming up" in the fitness room (until my muscles could take no more), then I swam 32 lengths. Making this a three-time-per-week would do me well. I will sleep well tonight.

My current computer project is to digitize all of the family videos to DVD, much like I did with whatever originals were still on 8mm tape last year. The results of that were fantastic. However, I was worried that digitizing the old VCR through the Firewire camera would produce bad, blurry results, or worse, that the VHS tapes since 1992 had degraded. Unfortunately, they were all recorded in the fastest speed, meaning that the image would look bad. Furthermore, that was after an analog transformation from the source camera. A further annoyance is that dual-layer discs are only available in the '+' format, and the good ones are a whopping seven dollars per disc.

The results of the earliest tape look quite good. They really could not be better. It is comforting know that since they are 10Mbps MPEG2 they will not deteriorate any further. While that is about 4.5GB per hour, I'm going to keep a backup of all of the DVDs on hard drive. If CD-Rs are any indication of how discs can deteriorate, it's good to have a copy. Storage is cheap.

Sidenote: I was a cute kid at 10 years.

[] | posted @ 04:42 | link
Mon, 02 Jan 2006

New Year, New Stuff
20060101 Welcome to Anno Domini 2006. It's amazing we've gotten this far. 2001 was supposed to be the big year, where we're either waltzing in space Kubrick-style or the world comes to an end, but neither ever happened. And here we are a whole five years later and there has been pretty much zero progress.

The Celestia 1.4.1 work progresses smoothly. I gave in and reluctantly created a splash screen for GTK Celestia. I just checked it in, and it's running very smoothly. So smoothly, that I've actually grown fond of it.

Creating a splash screen was in some ways more and in other ways less difficult than I imagined. The screen was to have alpha transparency and could display start-up progress based on recently-added core code. Figuring out how to do the transparency took a full day of work. It is implemented with Cairo if the composite extension is on, and if it is not, the fallback is to do a screen capture of the area beneath the window and set it as the splash screen's background. This gives the illusion of transparency.

Despite adding around 200ms to the start-up time, the fact that there is a nearly immediate response to clicking the application's icon makes it feel a whole lot more responsive.

The biggest stumbling block was when the code magically started not compiling. "common.h" is included in every one of my source files, but when it was included in the new splash source file, there were bizarre errors in things that had already compiled. It took a few hours of head scratching, but eventually reading the 83,482-line pre-processor output (splash.ii) made it clear:

(...) ControlKey = 0x10, }; enum 0 { ArrowCursor = 0, UpArrowCursor = 1, (...)

Basically, the enum 0 was originally enum CursorShape, but this got included while playing around with cairo and Xlib:

X11/X.h:#define CursorShape 0

While the naming collision is obvious now, GCC did not complain about it, as there is nothing wrong with the define. That said, it is probably why defines are often fully capitalized and prefixed with underscores. It had me tearing out what little hair I have left. I'm quite surprised it has not been an issue before now.

[] | posted @ 03:33 | link

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