Geek Moments

Every so often, I have an "Oh my, I AM a geek ..." moment - two were this morning, when I was removing plates for Christmas breakfast (Merry Christmas to everyone by the way) from the bottom of the stack, instead of the top, and I have a mental conversation with myself somewhat as follows:

Me: "Ha, its a queue, not a stack (chuckles)" [for those of you in CS, if your data structures class didn't involve the spring-loaded plate dispenser example for a stack, you're missing out]
Me also: "Oh my, I am a geek ..."
"Hmm, I have a lot of these 'oh my, I am a geek' moments"
"I should blog about -"
"Oh my, I AM a geek ..."

Anyway, Merry Christmas to everyone, and a Happy New Year - I'll end with this link ("If programming languages were religions") that I've already posted to Facebook, but should repeat here (if you get most of the jokes, you are a geek too - if not, there's still hope for you :-) )

Repost - Christmas back home

This is an XKCD comic from last Christmas - I posted it then, and I'll post it again now, because its cool (and oh so true - the subscript is "Family going to bed at 10pm is so much worse than jet lag") (apologies for the formatting - Blogger is not so great at that)

... Another note from Christmas Break back home: - my mother has a rather steampunk iron (ha ha, punny, eh?) See the picture above (I was ironing a dress shirt for the church Christmas Eve service):

Star Trek Insurrection - HMS Pinafore

This is Picard, Data, and Worf singing a number from HMS Pinafore - for real, in an actual movie (Insurrection). Too cool, I love it.


An interesting idea

Here's an interesting idea, courtesy of John C. Dvorak - once higher bandwidth wireless routers become ubiquitous, allow a setup whereby you can share a smallish (say about 50 mbps) chunk of your bandwidth as an open connection, for the benefit of the general wired (unwired?) public. His point is that while wifi hotspots are more ubiquitous now than they used to be, there are fewer open hotspots (as is good security policy). This slice of open bandwidth would be sandboxed off of the rest of the network, and would have bandwidth caps, to prevent abuse, but would be left otherwise unencumbered - a way to share internet connection, and provide an easy public service - it would certainly increase the usefulness of portable wifi-enabled gadgets (iPhone, netbook, Nintendo DS, laptop, I could go on ...) by about an order of magnitude, and reduce people's reliance on expensive, slow cell phone data plans, perhaps give the telcos a bit of competition in that field (which is always good - telcos are pretty evil, and could use some competition to make them listen a bit better).


Why the Republicans should have run Fred Thompson

He has a wicked sense of humor. (Unfortunately I can't figure out how to embed youtube videos in this blog anymore, so I'll just link it)


Widescreen Web

I've been doing more of a tiling layout to my desktop lately (when I have some free time to risk tanking my computer, I'm going to try a tiling window manager) - this is fairly simple though - taskbar along the bottom and left side, MSN bar along the right, and my web browser in the middle. Now, this is nice, keeps all the information I want at once accessible (or at least most of it - tiling is good, overlapping windows are pointless, but that's a post for another day) - thing that's a bit weird is, there are quite a few webpages (facebook, apple's page, etc.) that are wider than that window (which I measured at 948 px, window chrome included) Now, certainly I'm not saying that web pages should all fit in 640x480, but the fact that a lot of common ones want 1000 pixels or so across seems a bit high - that's the entirety of many screens - what if I want to look at other things simultaneously (like IM conversations, or the controls to my music player, etc.)? Anyway, I declare this "hug a web developer day" - and then remind them that interface scalability is considered a good thing :-)

Wicked Cool Canadian Invention

Apparently the trackball mouse was invented by the Royal Canadian Navy. Wicked Cool. I love my country (and trackball mice - I have a fairly nice Logitech I picked up on sale at the Bookstore).


More Coalition Drama

Well, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc have dropped out of the Liberal leadership race, leaving Ignatieff uncontested to lead the party - this is totally about the whole coalition thing - my reading of it all is that the leadership candidates don't have confidence in Stephane Dion, and want to replace him before they pull the pin on a non-confidence vote - Ignatieff is the only one of the three candidates who has much credibility on the economic front - Rae is still hurting from when he was leading Ontario during a recession, and LeBlanc is just too young and new yet. From what I hear, Ignatieff actually wants to wait and see what Harper comes out with in his budget before deciding whether or not to overthrow the government (which sounds fair to me) - with luck all this ridiculousness will blow over soon, and our government will get back to the business of governing, not being the butt of Jon Stewart jokes (admittedly, its slow news in the states, with Bush on the way out)

A few good links:

Keeping up with my habit of blogging in bursts during downtime (yes, finals is downtime - if it weren't for the exams, it'd be the slackest time of year :-) ), A few links I've run into that are pretty good:

Stuff Christians Like: Applies leg drops of sarcasm (all in good Skittle-flavored fun) to some of the ridiculousness that happens around Christianity (potlucks and DVBS food and all that other fun stuff), with some seasoning of real stuff about how big and awesome God is, and what he's done in the author's life. [kudos to Christina for giving me the link to this one]

Global TV: Streams full episodes of a bunch of shows on Global (so I can still get House and The Office when I have no TV). Admittedly, this is pretty standard for TV network sites these days, the great part is, ... wait for it ... it works in Linux! Major props to whoever did their website

Well, I guess that was a couple, not a few ... oh well ... enjoy.


The Coalition

So, in case you've been living under a rock for the last week, Canada's three opposition parties have signed a deal to overthrow the Harper Conservative government. They propose a governing coalition of the Liberals and NDP, with the Liberal leader (currently Stephane Dion) as the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Harper, in response to this proposal, got the Governor General to suspend Parliament until January. Now, while I strongly dislike Harper's government style, and think people underestimate Mr. Dion, I'm not quite sold on the coalition idea. Their entire point is that the Tories aren't doing enough, quickly enough on the economic crisis. However, their own plans have been somewhat slow coming out (announce downthrow of government first, release plans later), and switching governments mid-Parliament would certainly slow down anything getting done. Also, as one of my good friends once said, "you can trust Stephen Harper to do exactly what will get him the most votes" - crashing the economy would get him chased out with a stick next federal election. He's also trained as an economist, and from what I hear did fairly well at it. So, while I don't really like him, and think the opposition parties ran on significantly better platforms last election, I won't complain if Stephen Harper holds on to government, as long as he gets some good things done - on the flip side, if the coalition gets into power, and then makes a hash of things, I may just vote Conservative next election.

10 000

Well, I haven't posted for a while (can't believe I completely missed the federal election ... I probably should say something about the "coalition" in another post), but I realized something this week I thought I should say: I could live quite comfortably on $10 000 a year. I was looking at how much I've spent over the last four months, and, discounting tuition, it was only about $2 500. This isn't trying to be holier-than-thou, it just made me think about how much we demand as "basic necessities " as a society. For one person, in the size of city I live in, the poverty line is about $17 000. Sure, I don't own a car (which would probably eat up another few thousand dollars a year)), but in the city I live in, I don't have to - public transit (which is very good here) and my own two feet serve me well enough (Here's a link to a guy's blog about why cars are largely unnecessary - he's full of vitriol, absolutely spitting acid, but he makes some decent points nonetheless, I think). My furniture may be second (or third) hand used, but it gives me a comfortable place to sit, and somewhere to store my stuff. I have money for real food with real meat and vegetables, and even entertainment (cable TV, the high-speed internet connection I am typing this on now, the occasional movie, dinner out, etc.). Sure, people usually want a higher quality of living - bigger, nicer places to live, and newer, better stuff - when they get out of university, but I wonder a bit why - do I really need that? We hear newscasters talking about the present economic crisis until they're blue in the face, and I know a lot of people are in real pain from it - lost jobs and bankruptcies - but we really brought it on ourselves as a society. We've let capitalism and materialism run out of control, and forgotten the value of hard work, savings, and making things to last (not saying I haven't done this too, by the way). I just hope it doesn't take another Great Depression to make us all remember.


A Home in Gnome

Well, I just finished installing openSUSE 11 on my computer (well, I still have some issues to tie up, like wi-fi ... ugg ...) - contrary to my usual practice, I installed it with the Gnome desktop environment instead of KDE. My reason was that openSUSE is shipping with KDE 4.0 at the moment (and 3.5, but I want 4 sometime, and it seems like it would just be a hassle to try and upgrade a major version in place), and from what I've heard, though openSUSE has one of the best implementations of KDE 4, its still a bit point-oh in its feature support, and in its applications being updated for it, etc. - my plan is to wait for openSUSE to package up 4.1 before going back to KDE, so, in the meantime, I'm using Gnome. (Why didn't I just wait untill December and get 11.1, you ask? - my package management was completely borked on my previous install, and openSUSE 11 has big updates there) - It has been a bit of an adjustment making a home in Gnome (much more fun than making a home in my new apartment, which is still not quite unpacked :-) ), but my initial impressions are quite positive. - I use Firefox for web browsing, and Thunderbird for email, so that was no change (by the way, there is a great extension for Firefox called FEBE - it backs up and restores all your profile settings - the UI stinks, but I was able to transfer my Firefox over with much less hassle than re-downloading and configuring all my extensions). I've been using Pidgin instead of Kopete for IM, which I actually really like - the UI has a lot of the things I liked from the Google Talk desktop client (my first experience with IM) - its clean, well laid out, and provides exactly enough information). For a music player, Rhythmbox is doing a passable job - I don't like it quite as well as Amarok, but it has promise - the music selection and queueing interface seems a bit like a cross between Amarok's playlist-based model and iTunes search-based model. For a terminal, I've been using Tilda (as opposed to Yakuake on KDE) - both are basically hotkey based terminal emulators, and support tabs - Yakuake does it a bit more prettily, but no big differences. For other software, OpenOffice is, as always, my office suite (tab completion rocks!), but I've added TexMaker this year (you try taking set theory notes in OOoWriter, and trying to inseart a union symbol all the time - LaTeX rocks for that, and TexMaker is a good editor (you can get it for Windows too)). Anyway, if any of you have fuel for a Gnome vs. KDE flame war, feel free to toss it at me, and if you have any suggestions for good Gnome apps, I'd love to hear that too (especially if anyone knows of a graphical Go game - I'd like to learn to play, and computers are good for that).

Really Awesome Wicked Cool

For those of you that haven't heard yet, Google is coming out with a new web browser, and it looks beautiful. Google Chrome [link very well may be broken, but this is supposed to be the official site] is set to release Thursday - its open source, based on Webkit (the same rendering engine that powers Safari - its open source, standards compliant, and, as it is in Safari, gets enough developer love that it works well on the majority of web sites), has an entirely new JavaScript engine (called V8 - its supposed to be super-fast, so we'll see), Google Gears offline integration, and some really neat under the hood stuff, that they've explained in a comic [link has been intermittently down due to slashdot effect - try refreshing in a few minutes] (you'll get most of it if you're reasonably familiar with some programming/system administration concepts). The beta coming out Thursday is for Windows only :-( but they're apparently hard at work on Mac and Linux versions (I hope they actually use the native interface widgets, instead of their own separate theming engine, a la Firefox ... I mean, Firefox is pretty enough, but it doesn't really match the desktop ... (and in that case, I hope they do both a KDE and GTK version for Linux ... that would be really sweet ...))


So my grandparents are on facebook ...

Yes, that's right, my grandparents have a joint account on Facebook. Its either become mainstream and permanent, or rung its death knell. Rather shocked ...


MSN is terrible (a rant on IM tech in general)

I have come to the conclusion that the MSN Messenger protocol is terrible. This because there is not a single implementation of it that works nearly as well as any implementation of the competing protocols - even Windows Live Messenger drops the connection or fails to sign in sometimes, and that comes straight from the source. (Incidentally, meebo.com (which is pretty much text-only) is fairly good - its been a while since I tried Trillian, but I don't remember any problems with it either (though it is also limited in feature set)). I've tried aMSN - it's got the same problems, but worse. Kopete, my primary messaging program, logs into my GTalk and AIM accounts almost instantly, but usually requires two or three pushes to log into MSN (and even then, takes a few seconds). Now, considering these experiences, I put the blame for flaky MSN performance on the actual protocol - admittedly, AIM and Jabber (GTalk's base) are more open, so external developers will have an easier time implementing them, but the fact that even the official Microsoft client is flaky lends support to my theory that the fault is in the protocol.
Why does this matter, you ask? I live in Canada - the most common messaging protocol in Canada? MSN. The solution: Microsoft does one of their major updates, that forces everyone to move to the new messenger, or not be able to talk to anyone (it has happened) - this update will include a backend update to a completely new protocol. Base it off something like Jabber (which is open-source, and stable), and open-source the extensions they add to it to support all their features. This should give them a stable base to work from. Also, work with Google - make it interoperate with GTalk (also Jabber based) (IM should be like email or the phone system - any vendor's product can talk to any others - this would be a step in the right direction). (Incidentally, I haven't used it for a while, but I loved the UI on the Google Talk desktop client - if they released a Linux version that could talk to MSN, I'd ditch Kopete in a second).
Anyway, that's what I want to see in IM tech - anyone else have anything they wish Microsoft (or AOL, Yahoo, or Google) would do?

Ninety-six Percent

A quote on Vista SP1, from All About Microsoft:
Ninety-six percent of new system runing Vista have all their drivers just working out of the box.
What about the other four percent? These are new systems.



Hi all - you may be wondering about the change of look - I just figured it was time for an update to the look of my blog - I know its one of the Blogger standard templates, but I think it looks pretty sharp. Ciao

Content for free

As some of you may know, Dilbert.com has done a major redesign, every day's comics in color, animations, all sorts of jazz. What you may not know is they're now giving away content for free - the days comic, the entire archive, on a site with no ads. Now, this is not the main Dilbert site - they are not advertising this (though Scott Adams mentioned it in his blog). But, if you go to www.dilbert.com/fast - you'll see a simple site with the comic, an archive, some nav links, and nothing else, not even ads - content for free, from a major syndicate no less - go quickly, before they figure it out :-).


Messages from the future

You know, if I could get a message from myself, twenty years in the future, and it told me that I never owned a car - I'd believe it, I think. (Providing the message from my future self could authenticate its sender reliably - I strongly doubt the feasibility of time travel) - But about the car - I wouldn't mind owning a car, I have my license, I like driving, and I fully expect to own one at some future date - but I wouldn't be surprised if I never owned one. Back home, I could always borrow my parents - living in a university town, foot and public transit suffice to get me around - a car just isn't worth the expenditure. I can see that not changing though - gas is only getting more expensive - unless a viable alternative to petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines emerges, owning a personal automobile will soon become infeasibly expensive. Its going to make changes - one of which will be the fall of the small automobile - better dust off your bicycle helmets.


Smells like Microsoft

News came out this week that Apple is using its iTunes software update to push their Safari web browser out to Windows users. You can, of course, opt out, but that's not the point. This is just another example of Apple trying to use its music player monopoly to leverage in on other markets. Buying an iPod basically forces you to use iTunes - that is sketchy to begin with. But using iTunes to push out unrelated software - you just shouldn't do that. The Mozilla CEO compared it to malware distribution techniques, and I'd have to agree. There's a good comment stream here.


A few political notes

So, just quickly, American presidential race - I still want Obama to win, he's got a lot of momentum, and there's rumblings about Hillary's race being in trouble. On the Republican side, McCain has it pretty much wrapped up, though Huckabee is staying in it. The Democrats are going to win the election anyway.

On the Canadian front, the election rumblings are dying down, as the Liberals and Tories have made a deal on Afghanistan pull out. It's not set in stone yet, but its looking good. What I think more interesting, is that, in a recent poll, the Greens are polling even with the NDP - I'd like to see them win some seats in the coming election, and I think they may be able to manage it. (The Conservatives are near majority-government level support - not a bad thing - Harper is competent, and has done a good job as PM)


Reaction: Microsoft's new open-source pledge

So, Microsoft is giving am bunch of stuff away for free - firstly, free development software for students - Visual Studio Pro, SQL Server Enterprise, etc. As a student myself, this is pretty shiny - not sure if I'll take them up on their offer - not much into .NET, and mySQL has got some decent DB software (I like Linux better anyway - really, for anything but .NET, Linux is a better devel environment) - but its nice to know I've got the option. The only kicker I see there is once I graduate, said multi-hundred dollar pieces of software will cease to be free, and if I end up using it, I'll be stuck with old versions.

Other news: Microsoft is making big openness pledge - its opening up API's for many of their big money products, and letting plugins into Office to use other file formats. Now, commentators are flaming Microsoft for this being a low business ploy - the Office announcement came one day before they were being evaluated for (highly lucrative) open source accreditation on their Office Open XML file formats, and the APIs are free only for non-commercial use. Now, Stephen J. Vaughan-Nichols (who, I gotta say, is a bit of a FOSS zealot) said "Microsoft isn't offering open source a new opportunity, it's offering open source a trap." I wouldn't go that far - sure, that means that any commercial open source companies will have to licence Microsoft's technology - I say that's fair - open source is all well and good, but MS has a right to make money on their work. I predict the commercial companies will license APIs for better compatibility, some of that might trickle down to non-commercial implementations. But, overall, Linux, etc. will play better with Windows, etc. but things aren't really going to change - Microsoft will still spew FUD, the FOSS ecosystem will still have flaky and/or hacked integration with the MS ecosystem, and, in general, things won't be different.

This has been long, so, later.


Movie Review - Juno

So, I went and saw Juno a couple days back. I'd categorize it as a quirky romantic comedy about an unfunny subject, teenage pregnancy. Which, I must say, they treat well - without going into specifics, a lot of how things work out in the movie seems believable and more real-world than happy-movie-world. Also, the film is really funny. The style of humor is sarcastic, and relies heavily on odd, funny words and phrases (which is a good thing) (the sequence near the beginning where The Office's Rainn Wilson plays a convenience store cashier is especially good). The entire theatre (moderately well filled for a Friday evening) laughed out loud at multiple points. So, bottom line, the characters were quirky, but believable - you could see them inhabiting your own neighbourhood. The writing was funny, but still treated its less funny subject matter with some gravity. It was funky and funny and good. 3 1/2 stars out of 4.

Election Update - Iowa

Well, as some of you may have heard, Obama and Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses by a significant margin. I haven't really heard enough about the Republican field to decide who I would rather win (but have no real impact on, as I'm not American ...). Huckabee doesn't seem any worse than any of the others (he was a Baptist minister at one time), but the Republican candidate isn't going to win anyway (and pundits more professional than myself are saying that Huckabee's Iowa win isn't all that significant - lots of Baptists there). Obama's win in Iowa is more encouraging - his message is one of unity, and co-operation - something American government sorely needs after the previous administration's polarizing election tactics. Also, relieving my earlier doubts somewhat, Iowa is primarily white, yet Obama won as a black man - perhaps race won't be as big of an issue as I feared. In any case, it was a major boost for his campaign, and a hit to Clinton's and Edwards', the strongest of the other candidates. Anyway, though an election I could actually vote in would be more interesting ... this one's not bad. Later.


Completely off message

I saw this article, titled "Google Looks to Tech that Recognizes Text in Images" and immediately thought "circumvention of CAPTCHA systems" (the wonky security text). Of course, the press release talks about reading street signs from Google Maps Street View, etc. It must be a computer science thing - seeing a system, and immediately thinking how to break/corrupt it - finding the extreme cases (useful, of course, for making software more stable). Any other computer scientists agree/disagree? (yes, I've come to terms with the term "computer scientist" - it isn't so bad as I thought it was at first ...)


Bigger News

In case you haven't heard, the RIAA is now suing people for ripping legally purchased CDs. That's right - if the RIAA has its way, you won't be able to listen to your own music on your computer, mp3 player, etc. Now, I believe in fair use - you buy a copy of some media, say a song, and you should have license and legal right to play it on any and all playback device you own. It is yours, for your personal use. If buying a CD only gives you rights to play that CD in some CD player, its way overpriced - the actual disc and packaging can't cost more than a buck or two to produce. Watch this carefully - the recording industry is just trying to suck the money out of your pockets.