Older blog entries for mx (starting at number 70)

27 May 2004 (updated 5 Jul 2004 at 04:01 UTC) »
Weblogging freedom - I rebuilt my site last month using Textpattern, a fairly decent set of weblogging scripts. I didn't really take the time to understand its license though, and it seems like it might be drifting toward a split commercial/BSD license at some point. Some of the sources state a BSD license, but the site is really unclear, and there are hints that they might charge for it once it's out of gamma. It doesn't matter though, there are lots of choices.

I took a second look at the Textpattern licensing and general development progress after noticing the release of Wordpress 1.2. I installed it on my laptop (later on my testing site) and was impressed ... the progress has been significant since the last version, and the license fits my personal preference. The development group is active and open, it represents more freedom, and a better tool. It's funny too, as a developer I have another freedom that others may not: I can code my data out of a tool that I no longer want to use. This is one of the reasons I've been teaching programming to a group of friends (Freedom for free beer).

For anyone who hasn't used Wordpress, it has a few really impressive features:

  • The editing window is large, and resizes with the browser window. You can also configure the height of it (as a text-area can't be scaled automatically in that direction). This is a killer feature, IMO.
  • The templates are real Php files. Most weblog tools have their own simple template language, which is almost always limited. Wordpress exposes a Php API that you can use from fully-functional Php pages.
  • The plugin system (new to 1.2) provides multiple hook points, and can be activated/deactivated from the web interface. I've been frustrated by other tools that didn't provde hooks for munging article data.
  • The install is trivial, the interface is sensible, and it performs reasonably well.

Forensics - We picked up a small contract at work to find some data for legal proceedings. I'm impressed by the Free tools available for Gnu/Linux, especially Sleuthkit/Autopsy (and both are available from DAG's Yum repositories). I have several drives to analyse, and the UNIX way is well-suited to this sort of analysis. I was able to image the drives over the network, to an array of SCSI drives with a few simple tools (netcat, dd), and from there can analyse the vfat and ntfs filesystems easily. The same activity on Windows require a few more steps, and more licenses. I wasn't able to get around the reboots (for swaping drives), as we didn't have any unused hot-swappable bays (that would have been nice).

Visualization - We've also been investigating visualization toolkits for another potential project. We looked at Coin3d, which is a full implementation of SGI's OpenInventor API (way ahead of its time). Our other Architect has some amazing stories about the history of SGI and OpenInventor, making this job so worth the cut in pay. I'm finding that working with incredible people, and living closer to family means more than money (should be obvious eh).

We're also looking at Java3d, as the client has a general preference for Java. We could wrap something like Coin3d, but we'd prefer to skip the complexity if possible, as usability is generally a function of available time. Java3d performs reasonably too, and our group is quite productive in Java. Java has certainly come a long way in the last few years.

Unixisms - I've also been managing IT at the new job. It was a bit of a stretch for me, or so I thought. It actually ended up quite a lot of fun, and I'm learning things I needed to know.

This company has churned through a few IT managers in the last 10 years, eaching bringing their own direction (Windows, Linux, Windows, Linux), so the IT grunts are obviously disgruntled. One of the first things I've done is to set a long-term direction, and put the decision to change in the hands of the team; this is more of a defacto policy change, but the IT guys believe it, and the CEO prefers it too (it costs a lot to change so often). I've also been working on training these guys, who have a windows background (and some *nix traing courses). They've showed some fear of the existing setup, so they now have a test lab to play with, and to build/test new servers. It's working well.

I've also been training myself on sendmail, ldap, imapd, and other bits. I've used most of these tools for years, but not at the enterprise scale, which is really very different. Spam is much more of a problem too, and the dynamics of the solution change fairly quickly. We were drowning in joe-jobs (bounce spam), which I'd never heard of before (quite a clever/evil approach too). The tools are good, and their actively developed, so at least we have a chance of keeping things running smoothly without drowning in license fees.

Netbore - Slashdot is getting really annoying again, and I think I might have outgrown it. While there is the odd nugget in the comments, most of it is unbalanced and damned predictable (whine, bitch, and complain). On the other side, I've been reading some MS blogs, where there seems to be a lot of a similar imbalance. Somewhere in the middle, there is truth (but where?). Imbalance seems to be how sites get noticed these days.

Speaking of imbalance, Eric Idle has a new song that fingers the FCC. I don't usually talk politics, but man Freedoms are fleeting down south. I fear it will happen in time here too.

I don't think the nearest-book game as silly, it's a curious social experiment:

While the story of Edison's preferences for pencils is understandibly not so oft-repeated as that of Edison and the electric light bulb filament, the history of the led pencil itself does involve quests so memorable. -- Henry Petroski (The Pencil)
I am Canadian
Fedora and Laptop

Things are still humming along with Fedora and the laptop. The only things left to set up are the video driver and the magic buttons (both of which I can live without).

All of the Gnu/Linux bits have come a long ways in the last 5 years. The Red Hat configuration tools, for example, are nicer to use that the ones in XP, and they map to the orthogonal back-end tools in a natural way. Switching network adapters is trivial (between wlan and the wired nic), where XP stumbles on itself to magically reconfigure (which works, but is slow and confusing).

Other configuration is simple, and organized in a really sensible way ... unincumbred by blatent commercial interests, and weird internal politics. If it sucks, it gets rewritten, which is what has happened with the Gnome configuration tools. I've seen at least 4 full rewrites in the last 5 years -- and it's resulted in a damn fine set of toos.

The back-end stuff has matured nicely as well, and is as nice to use from the CLI as from user-land. Hardware detection and support is fairly complete (better than NT ever was), and working around unsupported bits can be done when needed. Supporting systems like sane, cups, kudzu, metacity, etc., are the right ways of doing things (even if usability can be improved).

And the applications! This is where things have improved the most, and the rate of improvement is fairly consistent. Not like in the commercial world where things change *only* based on perceived chance of revenue (*cough* IE, *cough*).

I grabbed a recent version of Inkscape, for example, and found a world-class vector tool: it looks good, it is easy to use, and it's powerful (I'm sure sodopidi is good as well). These tools give everybody a chance to work with great implements, not just those who can afford them. The Gimp2, while no PhotoShop, offers a great deal of utility for everyone to use. That's powerful stuff. No need to pirate. No need to spend and pray (that the company doesn't tank, or hijack your data). No good reason to get frustrated at the s/w (you can be part of the process). This is the right way to do things for so many reasons.

And they can't stop it either (I'm not sure what everyone is worrying about). It's not like I would give up contributing and using Free software, and I'm one of millions around the globe. It's a beautiful thing.

Prejudice

I have this problem with pre-judging software based on my personal heuristics. It's required too, as there is so much software out there, I need some way to improve the efficiency of my filter. The problem is that I can be wrong.

So I've been ignoring Wikis. The name bugs me, and I don't know why. I guess the first time I saw the concept that the effect of the sound of the word caused a synapse to fire the wrong way ... combined with the 'unique' interface that most of the wikis use. But I was wrong.

Yesterday I was reading the Inkscape documentation, which is stored in a big-assed wiki. There's a lot of information there. The volume of information is respectable, and I figure the tool has to have something to do with it, so I started to look into Wikis seriously. It ends up wikis are a cool balance betwen CMS, weblog, and something new (more likely that weblogs are the deviant, but that's a different argument).

I looked at several wiki implementations, and am impressed with their balance of usability and utility. Instead of applying policies around users and access limitations, they mostly offer a way for people to collaborate and write. A good focus really, and it's something I'll add my list of useful tools. I'm also looking at where wikis are used, and the results are quite respectable. Previously I would avoid wikis as they seemed a bit weird. Serves me right for being a prejudiced prick.

Fedora Core 1 - I installed Fedora on my test server and new laptop. Both installations were smooth, and the overal distro seems solid.

I was a bit wary about installing on the laptop (hp pavilion ze5400) after reading a few stories about rh9 and ze54*s. I think the stories were a bit outdated, and I know more than I used to ... I disabled apm and forced acpi, tweaked the wlan settings a bit, and switched the sound driver to something a bit more stable. I had similar problems with XP too, the network h/w configuration was borked, and the sound driver locked up the wlan. I haven't installed an accelerated driver for X yet, but at least now I can code in peace. XP just never felt like home.

Work - I'm really starting to like my new job. It's not quite what I'm used to (consulting, managing IT), but it's good for me. I'm learning, growing, and all of that good stuff.

One of our clients described a way of working that changed the way I think:

"We don't fail because we don't let those around us fail."

His principle is to take responsibility for things that could cause you to fail, if success relies on them getting done. So if you need some information, an email and phone message isn't enough. Get off your ass, and get the information. Even if it isn't your job to do it, it is your job to succeed. He's right too.

It's refreshing to see intelligence in business, and it has reminded me that business isn't all yuppies and retards. I knew that of course, but it's handy to see strong examples of it in the wild.

It is a challenge to be away from design and development, but the plan at this place is to work directly with one of those rare architects who is excited after decades in the industry. But first things first, we're gonna make IT sing, and knock a few consulting contracts out of the park.

hub - Yes, I really like Abiword 2 - and use it, OOo, or vi when given the choice. I used Word on that last project for a very simple reason: OOo couldn't import the dot file we were using (not sure about Abiword). It actually could have been that I didn't know how to import the dot file, but the result was that I couldn't collaborate with our MS-centric customer (and we need customers right about now). Abiword, though, is a Verg Good Thing (tm). Word, OTOH, is suprisingly unsable and quirky given the amount of time put into it.
10 Mar 2004 (updated 11 Mar 2004 at 16:36 UTC) »
Oh how I hate thee - I hate Word. Not words (those I like). I hate Word; the spawn of Microsoft, the generally-useful tool that crashes way too fucking often. It's crashed four times today, which seems to be caused by my habit of continually saving the document -- a habit formed because Word crashes way too often. Way too fucking often.

Why don't I use OOo? I like OOo (for many reasons), and use it unless a client requires otherwise. OOo lacks in how it imports stylesheets, as they seem to be left out of any coversion. I'm not sure how much of a dot file is stored in a document, but to collaborate with Word <-> OOo, it's important that a document's general look doesn't change with each import (or export). Yes, I know I should shut up and fix it, but sometimes there's work to be done.

Fuck, I hate Word.

Gaim 0.75 - I'm really impressed with the progress made by the Gaim team, in terms of maturity and usability.

On my new XP-laden laptop, I installed an older version of Gaim, which happened to be a bit buggy (.6x series iirc). Previously on Windows, I used Trillian, which I thought to be generally quite good. So suffering a few annoying Gaim bugs, I tried to switch back to Trillian, and was amazed at how terrible their interface was.

So I grabbed an updated version of Gaim, and re-installed it, and was amazed. I've used Gaim on Gnu/Linux and BSD for a few years now, but always found it a bit out of place on a Windows desktop. The recent builds, though, with the built-in Wimp theme, and wonderful/magical instaler fit into a XP desktop seemlessly, AND the user interface is really quite nice.

Unlike Trillian (or *gasp* MSN), the Gaim interface is not at all obtrusive. It's simple to configure, and errors are reported with a hint of sanity. When I was setting up Trillian, it wouldn't connect to MSN, and gave no useful message to lead me to a solution. In fact, I had to search for the f##k#ng conection-log, and was then presented with obscure numerical codes.

In general Trillian configuration is retarded, and starting/stopping an account is worse. And, the interface hasn't improved since I last used Trillian regularly, which is at least a year ago (who doesn't improve a desktop app within a year??). Gaim, OTOH has improved considerably, on nearly every axis. It's even good enough that I plan to set it up for a few non-technical people I know who suffer life using MSN-messanger.

Kudos to the Gaim crew, it's a great app!

OOo 1.1 - I'm impressed. OpenOffice.org 1.1 has reached a workable level of maturity on Win32, and is even nice to use. It's comming along on Gnu/Linux, though it still suffers from integration and performance issues (maybe it's just my distro/PC).

The swx format is intuitive too (I'm looking at scripting some OO related tools in Perl). And, the knowledge that the data is easy to get at makes me happy. Damned be the propietary (and/or retarded) file formats!

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