Older blog entries for gtaylor (starting at number 31)

Whew! After a long absence caused by vacation, holiday, and disease, I'm more or less back...

RMS

RMS wants me to restructure my database to incorporate all hardware in addition to printers. He also suggested some changes to highlight the fact that there's nothing Linux-specific; pretty much anything vaguely Unix can benefit directly from the information. And of course he wants the usual s!Linux!GNU/Linux!g thing done. All this after he bumped into Till, apparently when speaking at Mandrake.

All in all, these are good ideas, and it will give the GNU project a mighty nifty hardware compatibility list. So I'll be working toward this over the next few months. Key for mirrors is a way to host a copy without Postgres+CGI; luckily I'm already planning a static flatfile database representation anyway; formatting a version of that as HTML should be straightforward.

Ghostscript

Mike announced an Epson-funded gig for Easy Software maintaining an Epson-friendly Ghostscript kit; this will be "ESP Ghostscript", an almost-fork containing gimp-print, various minor fixes, etc. Technically, this is at most a minor variation on what he was doing anyway in shipping Ghostscript as part of CUPS; logically, it represents a sort of pressure point for mainstream Aladdin Ghostscript to get it's license snafu un-fu'd. In any case it'll be handy to have RPM/DEBs of gs+stp readily available.

Disease/Travel/Work

For the holidays I went on a week-long cruise to various Carribean islands including St Thomas/St John, Dominica, Martinique, Barbados, and St Maarten. All really nifty places--especially Dominica, St John, and Barbados. The ship was Carnival's Fascination, which I can't really recommend; the onboard food/service/entertainment ranges from fair (food) to awful (entertainment). I guess it was good if viewed as a portable hotel.

At work the incredibly wrong email setup is now irrelevent, as I've established working email on the Linux server by carefully avoiding our company's DNS entirely. Of course, now the email addresses are unrelated to the company, which is sort of a flaw, but at least things from cron to version control can now work.

I'm finally recovering from a series of funny dieseases which culminated in Conjunctivitis (aka pink eye). This involved hemorrhaging, itchy eyes full of goo to the point that I couldn't really open them for three days. Fortunately my eye doctor gave me antibiotic eye drops, which cured things pretty quickly. Unfortunately this blew last weekend from a free software standpoint. Sigh.

Stupid Car Tricks

Today I parked by the door at work. Unfortunately, during the day, a huge chunk of ice fell of the roof four stories above and made assorted huge dents in the hood. Doh! This appears to be a(nother) design flaw in the building; fully 1/3 of the parking lot suffers from this problem.

LinuxWorld

I'll be going to LinuxWorld in New York later this month, courtesy of my employer. Drop me a note if you'll be there and care to meet up...

Well, we're in for a busy phase in the printing world again. HP hired Bruce Perens, and those members of the Slashdot crowd that can spell took the opportunity to point out that HP is mostly uncooperative and has poorly supported printers. Hopefully Bruce can change that. As is, they're actually up front about it on their website, which si more than can be said for the inconsistent stories you get from the human support.

Meanwhile, I've made a dozen or so touch-ups to the website, most notably version branching support, and revamped the downloadable foomatic kit to be useful. Now you can install a local copy of the whole printer/driver metadata library, and run backends and tools against that data. This made it easy to add in support for LPRng/magicfilter; hopefully soon this will be debugged.

I also thought up a simple scheme for mapping the database to and from ascii files; this might help various driver developers and foomatic maintainers do things easier.

Meanwhile Raph's put out gs 6.5. Good deal!

Personal

Last weekend, Kelley and I went out and, against my better judgement, bought a DVD player. Gads! All the poor press the RIAA gets is deserved; I've never seen such a klunky bunch of junk wrapped around such a straightforward thing as mpeg-2 video files. Between macrovision and whatever scripty thing they've got turning off features when you stick in disks, it's just ridiculous. If it weren't for NetFlix I'd probably march the thing back to the store...

I guess I get to type this in again--my silly web browser blew a gasket on me.

I surprised my mom for her birthday by flwing down to Atlanta for last weekend. It worked; she had no idea.

Another few people asked after my defunct CDPD page, so I've revived it. I also fleshed out the list of free software I've done on my home page. SRP got a little page, too--despite the embarrasingly crappy nature of the code, I still think the concept is a good one, and a fellow I know is going to try and touch it up a bit for a school project.

LinuxPrinting.org

I haven't gotten much of anything done for a week or so. Till of Mandrake, OTOH, fixed assorted buglets in the database. There was a review in Duke of Url about Mandrake 7.2; it was cute to see Foomatic all over one of the screen shots. Everyone seems to notice printing working well in Mandrake, even if they have no idea how many different projects came together to make that happen.

Revenue from my experimental affiliate program is running 30% over budget. I think I'll spend surpluses on supplies and printers for driver developers. Is there any English-language web vendor that will take a US-based credit card order to ship to random points in Europe? Since it's blank paper and the like that I'd be shipping, it would be best if they shipped from Europe as well; shipping blank paper overseas via Fedex seems a bit silly. It would also be nice to offer European developers printers that they can plug in.

I had an interesting discussion with a buddy of mine who turns out to work on MIT's oft-/.'ed 3D printing project. It's conceptually simple, but it appears to be a challenge from the material science standpoint. Consumer models are some time away; even the rattiest commercially sold "goo" printers run $10k and up. MIT's research models are very large and inefficient. They can, however, print 3D objects made of real materials like metal; I had thought it was a setting-type epoxy or something. In fact they can print with all sorts of plastics and metals and things. So they could print up a spare part in only twice the time it takes to get one Fedexed in and for only 10 times the price. I guess it's not the diamond age quite yet...

The interesting thing is the direction of the current research. They're printing things with variations in the material throughout. It turns out that you can make a lens that's perfectly flat, but since the refraction index of the material can vary in a controlled way across the thing, it's still a lens. This is way better than a fresnel, and is something that can't be manufactured any other way. Nifty!

KDE2 is pretty good, but the main feature for me, Konquerer, isn't as good as Galeon seems to be, so it's back to Gnome. At least now I have KDE available for testing things like KUPS and QtCUPS.

In the meantime, I installed Galeon. Nifty! It's much faster than Konquerer, less dreadful than Netscape, and deas the Gnome theme thing properly. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to do plain old http authentication. Hmm.

I finally played with gnome-pilot; it's reasonably capable, although having the thing be bound to the desktop means you have to login to sync. There also doesn't appear to be a viable conduit for gnomecard; the current one is sort of one-way somehow. Gnomecard being the bug-fest that it is, this perhaps isn't important so long as I can find an address book program that's stable and syncs properly. Perhaps mom will end up with KDE after all...

LinuxPrinting.org

Well, it's apparently open letter season. Kurt went haywire with an offhand comment of mine on the German website LinuxCommunity, so I wrote less offhand thing calling for vendors to work together to end-of-life LPD. This has produced at least one good result: the VA folks actually put up a web page about gnulpr, their project to improve and eventually replace LPD. We'll see how that turns out, and what the world is like when there are six LPD alternatives. It's not obvious which of "everyone uses crappy LPD" or "everyone uses a random spooler" is the better state. Unfortunately, the ideal result of distributors actually discussing with each other what printing tools they ought to ship in the near and far future doesn't seem to have happened. Doh!

The next day, HP posted an open letter response to an ESR letter from a while back. About a third of it dealt with printing, so I posted a response of my own.

And the day after that, I spotted two Lexmark driver developers having trouble figuring out a printhead arrangement, so I sent a letter on their behalf to a manager and and engineer I know inside Lexmark asking them to get with the program and open up, already. The Lexmark fellow wrote back and said they're going to try and figure out what to do. No doubt there's some confusion, since they've just released proprietary Linux/x86-only drivers for the Z32 and Z52 inkjets which, while quite functional, do not a viable long-term strategy make; especially if the other two-thirds of the market is supported by proper free software.

I've done some preliminary work on a magicfilter backend for foomatic; in theory now there are hundreds of magicfilter filter files available, as opposed to the several dozen that there used to be. Whee!

Work

Now that I have demonstrated that Linux is a sensible OS for our project, I'm pondering the development environment. The OS and toolchains are no-brainers; ppc and arm cross toolchains are available in properly debianized format from the emdebian folks, and the rtlinux kernel kit is in stock Debian. Less obvious is version control; everyone assumes clearcase, since they're used to it, it's very capable, and money is not a big concern. The problem is that clearcase is incredibly poor for remote developers (ie, me when it snows). That techies.com survey about frills was spot-on wrt telecommuting. I've got a list of 6ish other systems to look at; we'll see what else there is.

I've been playing with KDE 2 a bit, and it's pretty slick. Konqueror is actually quite nice, although there's some quirk in the way it interacts with two site I frequently use: my own, and Advogato. Doh!

Things are getting underway at work; I'm examining the choices for our embedded OS. Everyone sort of wants to use Linux, but we have to check that there isn't something out there which is overall better, somehow, for our purposes.

LinuxPrinting.org

I gave my Linux presentation at the Multifunction Peripheral/Integrated Office conference in Boston earlier this week. My session was moderately well attended; about 20-30 vendor types came. In the conference as a whole, the suit concentration was nearly 50%, so I guess they were mostly engineering managers and project lead types. Anyway, the audience was remarkably unresponsive, although some questions did pop up at the end. The questions mainly centered around technical capabilities; ie "is there this", where "this" was EPP support, some network protocol-du-jour, or what have you. Later in the hall, though, various people discussed with me the sort of documentation they would need to provide for good free software support; that was a good sign. And I chatted a bit with various engineering directors and the like from Ricoh, Okidata, etc. The one guy I really wanted to chat with was the VP of PandI from HP; alas he only stopped in to give his keynote, and vanished afterwards. Oh, well.

More interesting, perhaps, were the keynotes. The upshot of them is that none of these printer vendors quite knows what the next big printing thing will be. They're all excited about color fax, and they've got some vague notion that they ought to attach themselves to the Internet growth trend in some way, but they're feeling about as doomed as the network operators; everyone sells eggs, and eggs will soon be basically free. It's clear that they can't be like Cisco even if the current ink pricing were sustainable.

rlk proudly announced gimp-print 4.0; this is really good news all around. Now hopefully some distributions will get their act together and ship inkjet drivers that don't suck.

Oidata sent me an OkiPage 8z to play with. They'd helped Marcin Dalecki fix up the oki4linux driver package for this host-based laser back in August. So I went out to find this new driver version, and discovered that it isn't on the net. I'm not sure what good it did for them to arrange for a new free driver when they're only going to sit on it for two months. In any case, I got the Okidata guy to mail me a copy, and put it up on my own website where people will be able to find it properly. The printer itself works OK, but the driver goes on about how dangerous it is to run as a filter, so it doesn't fit in well with normal Unix printing styles like LPD. Hmm.

Richard Wisenoecker has begun porting his Lexmark Z52 driver into gimp-print; he's the first substantive response to my developer invitation. This is good; clearly version 4.1 will have at least some Lexmark support.

I composed and sent off a press release to LWN about the forums on my site. Really the goal is to get some generic publicity; people are still asking the same old questions like "does this printer work with Linux?", whereas I should have eliminated that as a question by now.

A nontrivial share of traffic to linuxprinting.org is still pointing at the old picante.com location. I redirect it all seamlessly, but this involves lots of people trekking through my house for no good reason. I can't figure out a good way of "forcing" all the old links out there to get updated without inconveniencing the actual users of those links in some way. For the moment, I'm sending emails by hand to dozens of webmasters, but this is only partly effective.

20 Oct 2000 (updated 21 Oct 2000 at 00:48 UTC) »

So I've done a week here at the new job. We've got 10 people sharing a modem, which made my Debian install take forever, but all else being equal, things are looking good here.

There's a disturbing Windows-ness to the place; people don't want to think about it, so they default to pushing two buttons on a Windows 2000 box and moving on to more important things like what we're going to build and such. I've got to arrange for veto power over the IT guy when we hire one. Never solve by elbow grease what you can solve with politics...

LinuxPrinting.org

Some fellow posted an open letter to raph containing the same "don't require GNOME for Ghostscript" thought the rest of us all got over weeks ago. My take: the Ghostscript X11 driver sucks. Raph's libart has the code needed to fix it; end of story. The equivalent code in KDE is part of the Qt library, which would be even less politically feasible to link in, and which is or will soon be not as good as libart and the other GNOME canvas things. Politics aside, Ghostscript will continue to run fine sans GNOME and KDE forever. All this agitation is wasted.

Also on LinuxToday was a sort of HP sux/OfficeJet's don't work rant. Many OfficeJets do work, although truth be told I would be uncomfortable saying "HP doesn't suck". My Multifunction Peripheral Association convention presentation on Linux and multifunctions is next Tuesday in Boston; comments are welcome. A suitable free software developer would also be welcome as a partner-in-evangelism.

No sooner do I post than someone publishes a book. O'Reilly has put out Network Printing. I read the sample LPRng chapter, and examined the toc/index. The LPRng chapter is short but a useful beginning, although any serious use will involve reading the extensive and excellent LPRng documentation to fill in the missing pieces. The book as a whole is broad, rather than deep, and appears to be a good fit for people in heterogeneous environments. It does not, however, appear to be broad enough to fit free Unix housen well; CUPS, PDQ, PPR, magicfilter, libppd, yast, printtool, or GNOME and KDE tools are not mentioned at all. My database does show in the index as the "PHT Support Database", which is good, although I have no idea what they said about it.

The leaves are all changing, but I'm unable to take the pictures I promised folks because I can't find my camera. Doh!

LinuxPrinting.org

I've installed the colocated server and migrated all the data. Now it's just a question of waiting for the DNS change to complete, and getting people to correct all references to www.picante.com/~gtaylor/pht/ in the world so that everyone won't still go through my house...

Alter.net in Chelmsford appears to suck horribly; the new location has been unreachable for nearly two hours this weekend because the Alter.net 'customer' router my ISP is on is fscked. Hmm.

I set up a forum/group/list thing for discussion of foomatic and the LinuxPrinting.org data. Hopefully over the next few weeks enough interested people will participate that my impending state of employment won't matter.

David Paschal pointed out some hpoj project URLs that I'd missed; while I was at it I reexamined that project's success list and found that a good number of HP multifunction devices do now work. This has an obvious impact on my MFP Association presentation, although since the bulk of my presentation deals with how to work with us free software types, the impact is less than I'd originally thought. I went through my database and updated all the OfficeJets.

My wife is sick again; evidently from the cold snap we're having. We just saw my father-in-law off; he was visiting from Rome, where he now works.

I finally got the tape drive from VA Linux all plugged in and running; tomorrow I'll establish a sensible backup regimen and that will be that. Thanks, VA! Now if only they would send my the check they owe me...

LinuxPrinting.org

So I've decided to move the site out of my house and off my cable modem. To that end, I've found an inexpensive colocation place halfway between home and office, and ordered a 1U rackmount box. I was unable to find one with Debian preinstalled, so I'll have to wipe it when it comes and do an fresh install to get rid of Red Hat. Hmm. We've made progress, and yet the end result is the same...

I've run my LinuxPrinting.org-branded certification idea past two printer vendors now, and gotten about 0.75 interested vendors between them. This number is non-zero, but it'll be tricky to work it up into an operable program by the end of the week (!) as was my original goal. The program, in a nutshell, was to certify printers as supported by free software through straightforward experimentation and in accordance with the "perfection" criteria already in force in my compatibility listings. The output for vendors would be a logo to stamp on the box, a whitepaper detailing software and configuration methods for the printer, and some sort of highlighting on the website. The intent is for this process to be lightweight enough to offer quick turnaround, and for it to bring in enough money and printers to pay for itself and fund free software developers.

Among the things mentioned by one vendor was the fact that all the big-name Linux distributions are now happy to include proprietary driver software (this vendor has specifically asked each distributor multiple times, and while last year it wasn't so, this year it is). Printer vendors may therefore view traditional Windows-grade driver support as sufficient, since that will ship with the Red Hats of the world.

I find this situation most unsatisfying.

I added a flock of discussion web and nntp forums to the website. Initially I added one per printer, plus one per vendor, and a few others, but that made for over 1000 groups, which was silly. So I toned it down to linuxprinting.general plus one general group per printer manufacturer. There's even an actual thread underway in the Epson one.

Now I need to get mailing lists working, and connect them to the news server. I'm thinking mailman, although it has a lot of baggage I don't need, and only minimal scriptability. Really just a bounce processor would be quite enough.

Michael suggests a LaTeX style repository like themes.org. I agree, although that repository already exists in CTAN. What's needed is more people who prefer LaTeX for certain tasks (I know I do) and grok TeX (I don't) enough to write useful styles compatible with the standard ones.

I see rlk has joined us. Hi Robert!

As of Friday, I will no longer be a 3Com employee. Apparently I'm leaving at about the same time as Eric, so news of my departure has been eclipsed in the media. ;)

I spent a little time identifying suitable mid-range lasers for the suggested printers page and, while I was at it, added a price display thing so people can know what the things cost.

With the possible exception of amazon, affiliate marketing programs suck horribly - not in conceptually, but rather from an implementation standpoint. They're constructed in such a way as to make it impossible to programatically compute a URL from a vendor's website (from a part number or whatever); instead you have to use a mind-bogglingly crappy search engine by hand. It's like they want anyone who might actually be in a position to sensible recommend products to run screaming. I'm thinking that this experiment may be futile. Pity.

There certainly seem to be a lot of brusque responses to Raph's letter on LinuxToday; mostly centered around a mention of using a library from Gnome to spruce up the X11 driver. This seems odd to me; I had rather thought that the lack of forward progress on properly free licensing was far more contoversial. And controversy or no, Raph represents new blood of exactly the sort necessary to have Ghostscript survive in the future. Cursing him and his children and his children's children for mentioning Gnome hardly seems useful.

It looks like Foomatic suffers from the usual Ghostscript buglet; the interpreter's stdout goes to the Unix process's stdout, which is inconvenient if you're trying to pipe. Doh! In the good news department, Foomatic was implicitly mentioned in a review of Mandrake 7.2b; the review spoke of his Canon inkjet just up and working automagically. Good.

There's now a section on Slackware in the Printing HOWTO. It's a bit spartan; someone who actually uses it should read and contribute some more details.

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