Older blog entries for rossigee (starting at number 28)

Just read about the 'TCPA'.

I can't see that it's anything to worry about. Consumers aren't all as stupid as the vendors think they are. There will always be a large number of sheep-like consumers that will blindly follow the largest companies in the market, never realising that they're being abused, ripped off and manipulated. These people will probably float the TCPA boat for a while.

However, there will also always be the 'hardcore techie' contingent too, who will demand that the hardware they run will run open source operating systems, applications and development tools. And where there's demand, there'll be supply. So there will always be hardware vendors out releasing hardware platforms capable of supporting open source operating systems. Hardware that incorporates the TCPA will simply be narrowing down it's potential market for deployment.

For example, I can't see all the existing sendmail and Apache servers out there having to be replaced with Microsoft-based servers, because hardware to run Linux/BSD cannot be found any more! Right?!

Hopefully, the whole thing will turn around and shoot the TCPA consortium in the foot. As should have been a long time ago, hardware companies will release hardware with the specs required to develop operating system support for any operating system. These hardware companies will wrest a large proportion of market share from the less open players.

I'm certain that it's inevitable - eventually, open source operating systems and applications will reach a level of maturity sufficient to be a suitable desktop replacement for the likes of Microsoft Windows. Then, people will say to themselves, 'why am I throwing my money at these greedy, monopolistic, fascist hardware and software vendors? This fancy TCPA technology isn't helping make the software I use stable and bug-free. Why am I not using the cheaper and more reliable open source hardware and software the real techies are using?'.

Either way, it won't bother me personally, as long as there are hardware platforms out there that I can buy that run free software, and I can't see that changing now or ever.

I've just come back from a WiFi show, at the Olympia in London, where I had the opportunity to blag free beer off vendors, before launching into the usual line of questioning:

Me: Thanks for the beer. So, if I buy your wireless cards, they'll work in my Linux and FreeBSD machines, right?
Vendor: Erm, well, no... (starts looking for an exit)
Me: And why's that then?
Vendor: Our products are all based on the Texas Instruments ACX100 chips. Texas Instruments won't allow us to release the specs.
Me: Ahh, I see. I've already got two cards based on ACX100, and they were a complete waste of time and money. Why should I buy yours?
Vendor: We're working on a driver for Linux though.
Me: I doubt that'll be much use to me, as it'll be binary only, and probably won't work with all my kernel builds. And what good is that for my FreeBSD machines?
Vendor: Well, not much good.
Me: Exactly. There's not much your company (in this case, US Robotics) can do for me then. Luckily for me, there are people out there reverse engineering the Windows drivers, so sometime soon I should eventually be able to make use of the cards I've already got, but I most certainly will not be buying any more.
Vendor: Right. OK. Well... Sorry.

And then I wandered over to the Intersil stand.

Me: Hi. I'd just like to pass on my gratitude to your company for being thoughtful enough to release the specs for your products.
Vendor: Thanks.
Me: I wish more companies were like yours. I have been happily been using a card with one of your Prism2 chips in for months now, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to anyone.
Vendor: Thanks. Glad we could help.

None of this was technically useful, and won't have made any earth-shattering difference, but it made me feel better.

Hovercraft! I want one. Just saw a documentary about them, which rekindled my ambition to get one. Maybe one day.

Blimey. Haven't used advogato.org for ages. Quick update since October, then:

  • Spent 7 months in Thailand.
  • Now have a Thai girlfriend, called 'Mee'
  • Can speak, read and write basic Thai
  • Got knocked off motorbike the day after getting back from Thailand. Arm in plaster. Bike not too much damage.
  • Will be doing contract work until going back to Thailand in October.

I'm now fairly interested in picking up the 'gtranslator' project and trying to co-ordinate it. Trouble is, I'm only finding snatches of time here and there to look at it, so I'm making no promises yet. Mind you, I have fixed one simple bug so far.

Wireless is cool, too. I bought some wireless kit in Thailand (that's a long story too!), so now have a wireless house. My main client also has two sites with wireless clouds, which is nice. I haven't had to plug into a hub for months, and have been able to work in whichever part of the house/garden/garage I feel like!

However, only having a 56k net connection is a PITA. ADSL comes next week. I'm just waiting for the 'i' to light up on my NetGear DG814, and my cloud gets faster :)

My cast comes off June 2nd, and I'm looking forward to getting back on my bike, and for the weather to clear up so I can go fly my hang-glider again. It's been a long time, baby.

Whoohoo! My last day of work. As of tomorrow, I will officially be un^W^Wself employed! As of Monday, I will officially be gone to Thailand!

I hope to be able to spend the next six months generally relaxing, socialising and exploring various parts of South East Asia. Hopefully, I'll also find time to finish off (and/or start) some of the open source projects I've been involved in. After that, I'll either come back to England (just for the summer months), or move on to have a better look around Australia and New Zealand.

This last week has been a nightmare. My laptop LCD has an intermittent problem that worsened and had to be returned to Dell. They'll not be able to get it back to me by the time I leave, so it'll cost me at least 100UKP to ship it out to me. Also, all my home servers are behind an ADSL line, served by a NetGear DG814 router which keeps crashing and needs physically rebooting (I can't do that from Thailand!). And to cap it all, I moved my co-host at work into a proper server room, and had to change IP addresses, for which the DNS is taking a long time to propogate, leading to a few confused users.

I can't begin to explain how much I hate what England has become. Maybe I should leave and come back as a refugee. I'd probably have a better quality of life than if I came back and worked as a normal citizen!

To live in England, you typically need a house and a car. To afford even a one-bed flat where I live, you will need at least 100000UKP (1/10th of a million pounds stirling). Double that if you're anywhere near London. To qualify for a mortgage, you need to be earning about a third of that per year. How many people do you know on 35000UKP salaries? Is it any wonder that most people in their mid-twenties are still living with their parents, or have been forced to move back! The only people I know that aren't are either having to rent (can't get a mortgage) or are on the social (can't even get a job!).

And, for most people, you have to get to work and back every day, so you need to run a car. The government has now priced most people off the road, both with road taxes and petrol taxes, and by allowing the insurance industry to continue to rip everybody off. Luckily for me, I run a motorbike, which whilst a bit cheaper, still isn't practical for most people, or indeed at all during the winter months.

So it seems that anyone with more than half a brain is fleeing the country, whilst immigrants with less than half a brain are flooding in. Well, they're intelligent enough to know that if they can get themselves in, they will find the government quite happy to feed and clothe them, put a roof over their head and money in their pockets. And if they have any problems with that, they can turn to one of the 'charities' getting lottery handouts, and launch costly appeals. I appreciate that many refugees are legitimate and deserving, but they should not be taking priority over the more deserving long-standing UK citizens (inc my grandparents who risked their lives for this country) who work(ed) hard for this country are forced to pay ever-increasing taxes to hem.

I'm no politician, but it doesn't take an idiot to see through all the spin that all the politicians put on things. The quality of life is declining at the same rate that the cost of living is rising. Even if the firemen did get 30000UKP a year, that's still not enough for them to buy a one-bed flat! Imagine how hard life must be for the nurses who (IMHO) risk their lives more and get paid less than the firemen. Some major industries are being forced out of business, and nothing is being done. Many companies are migrating their facilities abroad due to costs and beaurocracy. I can't see the future getting any better.

No, I shall probably not return permanently until there is something here (other than just my family and friends) worth coming back to. At the very least, until I can afford to set foot on the property ladder, without signing my life away. Much as I love them, I'm not going to live with my parents for the rest of my life!

A little burst of activity on the weekend led to a few little open source possibilities. In looking into a problem using NOCC with large POP3 mailboxes, I discovered that the 'c-client' library that PHP uses is pretty inefficient. So I started writing a simple POP3 client as a native PHP class (using fsockopen).

And in parallel with that, I began developing a new webmail client, so I can eventually stop using NOCC for all my webmail projects (NOCC has design issues). Hopefully over the next week or two, I'll find enough time to bring these two little jobs to fruition.

I've been looking into GNUe (http://www.gnue.org/) as an open source business management platform. It's still in the very early stages, but it seems to be fairly well designed and implemented. I'll need to spend some more time getting it working, but there is the possibility that I can use this as a platform for developing the kind of system I have been envisioning for years. Whether my ideas will gel with the ideas of the GNUe developers remains to be seen :)

I'm also preparing to shut down my trusty ISDN line, set up ADSL on a friend's line (who doesn't live in the sticks!) and move my kit down there when I go away. ISDN has been sucking me dry over the last years, and for what? 8K/s!

Other than that, work still ticking over. Only another five weeks left until I'm off to Thailand, with one week holiday next week when Kate and Sandy come down from Scotland - party!

As for our mail server problems at work, despite my recommendations, it looks like it'll remain a problem for the foreseeable future. The plan is to develop a whole new mail system and migrate people over to that, which is sensible, but will ultimately leave thousands of customers with a dirty mail feed until then (if it even happens).

This, and a handful of other easily resolvable problems I could mention have sadly lowered my estimation of the ISP I have promoted for years (and now work for) to the point that I am finding it hard to recommend them to friends, family and clients any more. They used to be top of all the tables. As I see it, the company lost it's edge when it was taken over by it's parent company. It used to be technically led company and attract technically-minded customers, who could rely on decent technical support. Now, it is just another over-subscribed commercial ISP, with an inundated support line, unable to cope well with it's sudden growth. Nothing that can't be addressed, but only if it's prepared to take the steps required to do so, with the minimum of delay, before it's too late.

There, that's everything off my chest. Sounding off therapy over, I'd best get back to work. Once again, I find myself writing documentation in the hope that people will be able to maintain the systems I have lovingly developed for them, so that I can sod off and be left in peace for a while :)

Unsurprisingly, things haven't stopped being busy. No real development happening in the open source arena.

I've decided to drop techbot completely. I'm not even going to kid myself that I'll ever complete that project, and it's not a world-changer project anyway. Instead, I'm going to devote my spare hacking time to writing a small but flexible business management system, based on various 21st century technologies, and release it open-source with the hope of scratching a personal itch, and helping small companies that can't afford big SAP-like packages get started with a free, open source management system that they don't have to pay extortionate prices to tailor. I think it's a big hole in the GNU/GNOME portfolio that I'd be interested in filling. I've been designing it in my head for years, and even developed portions of it, so it's about time to put it all together and come up with something a bit more concrete. Hopefully, once I've got priority one (work) out of the way, this'll be my priority in Thailand. I'm sure the local Thai companies would find it useful, and might help me with the internationalisation. Watch this space :)

Recently, I spent a couple of days replacing my co-hosted server with something a bit pokier, and redesigned the mail backend to use Messagewall/Postfix/Cyrus IMAP, authenticating against a MySQL database, with a simple, but easily extendable web PHP4/XML/XSLT frontend (http://www.golder.org/). With any luck, that should now run itself quite happily for some time to come without needing too much intervention by me.

The other day, I spent the day rigging up my home network with IPv6, and learning as much as I could about it. I got as far as being able to setup a tunnel, and a routing advertisement daemon, so machines behind my IPv4 gateway were able to ping the 6bone happily. It's all interesting stuff, but I've still got a way to go before I really understand it properly. Next time I play with it, I'll be looking into how to set up automatic site-local addresses.

Basically, work projects have been taking up most of my time. I'm a bit of a workaholic. I love my company and have done for years before I came to work there. I've always felt strongly about the companies I've worked for, and it always upsets me if I feel things are going in the wrong direction. Nildram are definitely going in the right direction, it's just going to take a while to get there :)

My work projects are great though. They're all based on open source products, and I love working on them. In fact, our latest project involves a lovely technology combo - PHP4/XML/XSLT. Trouble is, I've found I've been getting distracted from my software development responsibilities recently. We've got a bigger problem to deal with - our mailservers.

Whilst I'm not officially supposed to get involved in Operations, I always do. I'm on their mailling list, to pick up on any software related issues that arise, so I'm normally in tune with their common problems.

At the moment, the problem is that our main mailserver, hosting several thousand customer POP3 accounts, was built up over many years, using patched versions of software (I helped fix up some of the patch, but it's still a bad solution), and working off address/routing databases that have suffered from bitrot over the years. Over the last year, matters have deteriorated, with the server regularly going down due to various unfortunate hardware and load problems (exacerbated by it's poor configuration and susceptibility to spam attacks). The problem is really starting to upset customers, who are upsetting our support guys, who are looking to Operations for a solution. As nobody else had stepped up with a solution, I articulated a whole load of problems which I consider to be contributing factors, and posted an action plan to address each problem in turn. The end result wil be that all the addresses we've 'lost track' of will be tracked, and we'll end up with a more efficient, more spam-resistant mail system. Customer's are happy, support are happy, everyone's happy, right?

Wrong. My boss is understandably a bit apprehensive and concerned about the possibility of problems during this upheaval. Whilst I can't say there will be no problems, the potential for it solving a number of our longer-standing support and customer satisfaction problems is immense. I've spent a large amount of my time in this job analysing and fixing mail-related problems caused by this unusual configuration. Now that there is a decent plan of action to clear up all our known configuration issues, plus the possibility of migrating to a newer faster servre, running a more efficient (unpatched) MTA, now are exciting times.

Unfortunately, in all this I've learned that sometimes people will just carry on trying to work around a problem day in, day out, rather than just tackle the problem properly and move on to better things. It reminds me of a comedy sketch about a DIY enthusiast whose house fell down.

Still, just 8 weeks left, then the hammock should smooth away all my work-related worries, and my lack of involvement in day-to-day network operations should mean I get to concentrate on coding.

Things have been busy since Christmas, and Advogato entries have been the least of my worries. The bottom line is - I've been sucked into the time void of paid work and deadlines, and it'll probably be this way until November (which is incidentally when GNOME2 is hopefully going to be unleashed).

Other than a few bugfixes and improvements to NOCC, I've not been much involved in the free software world, except in the evaluation and use of free software in work-related jobs. I also bought myself a new laptop, which is making my life a bit easier. No need to keep work and home computers synchronised any more, and I can get rid of a lot of the junk that's built up in my room at home. Whilst I'm on the subject of creating excuses for not spending more of my spare time on free software hacking, I'll mention just two words - hang-gliding and girlfriend. Nuff said, I think.

In November, as the British weather starts to cool beyond the point at which riding my bike is a pleasure, I shall pack up my bags and head back to Thailand for about six months. This will give me the chance to relax a little, put my work obligations out of my mind, and do some real hardcore free software hacking. I'll probably start working out with the GNOME2 bugzilla reports, and then find something a bit more weighty to put my name to. I also want to use the time to study various things that I feel I want or need to know, such as meteorology for pilots, Thai language (I want to help promote GNOME a bit in Thailand), and IPv6, among other things.

In the meantime, I'll just plod on with my work, which although commercially-oriented, is still fairly enjoyable, as at least I get to work _with_ free software, even if not always _on_ it.

Why Christmas was shit

Disclaimer: if you don't appreciate rambling, you probably shouldn't be reading Advogato diary entries!

  • I was supposed to be in a warm country. If I hadn't misjudged things while I was in Australia earlier this year, I would probably still be somewhere warm and comfortable, like Australia, New Zealand or Thailand.
  • I've got to take 4 days holiday over Christmas, immediately after installing a new system that affects the support/operations of the company. I know full well that there are going to be issues, and besides, it's too cold to actually go out, so am condemned to staying in and keeping an eye on my email, which inevitably ends up with me doing some kind of work.
  • Even though I've taken those days off work, I ended up spending all my time deleting seasonal spam, so added some extra blackhole lookups to our mailservers at work. Although an excellent improvement with good long-term benefits, it caused a bit of a stir at work.
  • I've had a cold for a couple of weeks now, and was feeling particularly bad on Christmas day and New Years Eve. I don't know if this was a blessing for me, or the family and friends I would have whinged at if I'd gone out.
  • A particularly nasty domestic dispute in the house on Christmas morning has left things in the house very tense over the festive period
  • As the temperature is rarely rising above freezing, every time I even think about going out somewhere, I remember how potentially dangerous it is. I don't mind riding in any conditions, but not ice. I love my motorbike too much to risk it for any reason./li>

And I can think of many more reasons. Since I grew out of Christmas, it has always been the time of year I dread the most. I have now decided that, as a free man, I shall leave the country every November/December and not return until April/May. To hell with the consequences.

What I've done with this abundance of spare time I've had

The only times I've been out and enjoyed myself were when Kate, Sandy and Fiona were over and I met them at the pub, and the two sundays I've been hang-gliding. I got a great aerial shot on one of them.

My todo lists have been accumulating since the beginning of December. I don't seem to have promised more than I can have been able to deliver. For example, I have two friends, whose computers need attention, who have been waiting weeks for me to come round and sort them out. I've also got about 60 emails in my personal email box, mostly related to open/free software bugs or patches, that all require some kind of action or response. Plus, I'm supposed to be starting a new project at work this month, that needs to be demonstrable by the end of the month, but I still have the leftovers from last month to finish off.

The bottom line at the moment is that, despite having 'Christmas off', I feel even more stressed than I did before Christmas. My saving grace will be that I can afford to book a couple of weeks in Koh Pha Ngan in February, even though I haven't had much chance to brush up on my Thai.

So, now that I've got all that off my chest, I can stop wasting time writing diary entries nobody will ever read, and prioritise/attack my todo list. Advogato - therapeutic, and cheaper than a shrink!

Happy New Year

Birthday week is over. Tuesday 20th, my birthday, I went to see Harry Potter at the cinema. Friday night, went go-karting with some friends from VALE, where I used to work. I took Jon (a friend whose birthday it was on Saturday). I won (although a transponder failure meant I was registered as coming third), Jon came tenth. Great fun. On the way back from karting, I was in Jon's car as he came round the corner, clipped the kerb and put the car through a hedge, writing it off. We opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate Jon's birthday when we eventually got back. As you can imagine, this kicked the weekend off to a good start.

Saturday afternoon went hang-gliding. It was a great day, and the air seemed very buoyant. This weekend, I'll be going to a hang-gliding trade show, where I hope to get an altimeter/variometer so I can tell how high I am and whether I am going up or down!

All this, plus the other social events that have been happening recently have distracted me from anything but Nildram software development. Hopefully, I'll clear down all the requests and issues that have been building up in my Inbox, so I can start next week with a clean slate.

Yay! Techbot is now compiling cleanly against the GNOME2 libraries (GConf2, ORBit2, bonobo-activation, gnet). I had to patch up gnet to make it work cleanly with glib12 or glib20, which was perhaps my favourite CVS commit of the week. I've just run across an update to the bonobo-activation.spec.in file in HEAD that I haven't committed, which I'm just testing.

Most other CVS commits were to my internal admin website project for work, and a few to the NOCC codebase, which is now virtually major-bug free and ready for a 0.9.5 release when Olivier gets round to it. Nicolas has been making some good changes, too (and a few unnecessary ones), and we've bumped our developer count to 6. I think NOCC is fast becoming one of the best opensource PHP webmail programs on the net. There are a handful of features we need to make it complete and improve it's speed a bit (address book, cached message summary etc), but that'll come in time.

I've just taken on the chilternflyers.org domain name and website, and have set up mailling lists for this club, and I've offered to do the same for Dunstable Hang-gliding and Paragliding Club.

Greg's making me jealous, by settling in to living out in Thailand nicely. Seems like he's got it sorted, whilst I'm stuck in UK for Christmas, because there aren't any flights to Thailand left. His pictures are up at his gallery.

That's it for this week. Take care, and drive safe.

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