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April 2006
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Andrew Pollock

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Sunday, 30 April 2006

On non-free RFC documents

So a release-critical bug was filed against dhcp3, of which I am the only active maintainer at present.

I dutifully stripped the RFCs and IETF draft documents from dhcp3-common, and made an upload, however the bug was reopened. Seems I should have read this.

So it looks like I need to strip them out of the source tarball as well. Goody.

I'm no fan of debian-legal, and I don't personally subscribe to the non-freeness of RFCs, using my personal DFSG-o-meter, but #199810 makes for an interesting read. It's motivated me beyond raising my middle finger to debian-legal to actually bothering to repack the tarball sans the RFCs, but it's going to be a bit of PITA to do that for every new release.

I mailed the dhcp-workers mailing list to ask the upstream maintainer what he thought about removing the RFCs from the source tarball. So far he hasn't replied yet, but I have had one interesting reply:

In general, I applaud the DFSG. But in this case, I think Debian is being unreasonable. While the RFC licenses do not permit creation of derivative works, they may be copied verbatim. It's marginally useful to users of the code to have the RFCs handy, and it's probably quite helpful for people trying to find and fix bugs.

I'm in favor of being careful about licenses. I've asked people on my project at work not to use the Sun JDK (but did not ask them not to write in Java) because Sun's implementation is non-Free, and therefore non-portable. But objecting to RFCs really seems to be going overboard. If the RFC were used to build the program, I could see the point of needing to have the software freedom to modify it. But it's merely bundled.

So I would suggest that Debian reconsider their position, and apply DFSG to software, and adopt Debian Free Documentation Guidelines for docs, and Debian Free Standards Guidelines for standards. DFStG should allow the ISOC copyright license - the purpose of allowing standards is to have them easily available as a reference.

[18:37] [debian] [permalink]

The Pollocks: 4 Bicycle rack: 3

On Friday night at a dinner of random Googlers, we met Robin, who recently relocated from Boston (and incidentally knows Martin). Turns out, she's into outdoorsy stuff, so we went cycling together today.

Just getting to Robin's place with the bikes was a bit of a challenge. It's been a while since we've used our bike rack, and it put up a bit of a fight going onto the car. Then we got to Robin's place, and discovered that whilst a Saris Bones 3 may technically be rated to carry three bikes, it isn't always the case, so we ended up taking two cars in anyway. We also discovered that you really don't want to try to open the boot with bikes on the rack. The bike rack eventually gave in, and we got on our way.

We drove into the hills near Saratoga and cycled along Skyline Boulevard, which was really nice and scenic. It was a beautiful day for it. Skyline Boulevard was pretty hilly, but the downhills were excellent.

Sarah and Robin had their road bikes, but I've only got my mountain bike, so it was tougher going for me, but I still enjoyed it. I desperately need exercise, and I sure got some today. We stopped for lunch in Saratoga on the way back, which looks like a nice looking place to go back and explore another time.

[16:44] [life] [permalink]

Saturday, 29 April 2006

Thank you for smoking

Tonight Sarah and I went to see Thank You for Smoking.

Aaron Eckhart (a local, as it turns out) does an excellent job as Nick Naylor, a spin doctor for the tobacco industry, and the movie covers him going about his business in a very tongue-in-cheek kind of way.

It was a very clever and entertaining flick, with a bit of a feel good ending when Nick moves on to other things.

We went out to dinner beforehand to Tomatina, which I'm pleased to discover isn't some coast to coast mega-chain. The food was really great, and so was the service.

[22:15] [life] [permalink]

Friday, 28 April 2006

Allergy testing

Today I went to the same allergy doctor that Sarah went to see and basically had the same thing done.

I've been feeling very suboptimal for the last few weeks. It coincided with when the kittens came to stay, and I was initially blaming them, but I was also a bit of a wheezing mess after cycling to or from work. I think it was a combination of the cats and spring in general in the end.

I certainly haven't had the sort of allergic asthmatic reaction I'd been having now for many many years, and I didn't want it to continue, so I figured the allergy testing and relevant treatment would help.

Turns out that I'm allergic to grass, dust mites, mulberry and oak. The doctor advised against allergy shots for me until I'd been in the country for 12 months and seen all seasonal variations, so I've been given a whack of asthma anti anti-allergy drugs to tide me over until July when the worst of the pollen should be gone. The kittens are big enough to be de-sexed and put up for adoption so they go back to the animal shelter next week.

I really liked the doctor, she was a no-nonsense, straight-talking type, who knew Australia. An added bonus is she sees patients at work as well, so my followup appointment will be more convenient.

[22:34] [life] [permalink]

Monday, 24 April 2006

Extended weekend skiing escape

Now that I've got a bit of vacation time racked up, I took last Friday and today off, and we had a long weekend in Squaw Valley skiing.

The weather was a bit variable. It rained a couple of times, it also snowed. It was also very warm when it wasn't doing any of the above. The snow quality was reasonable considering all of this.

Sarah seemed to have lost her nerve a bit and didn't have as good a time as we used to have at Perisher Blue, but we did get to have some quality time together, which was good.

We stayed at the Olympic Village Inn, which I can highly recommend. It was very comfortable, well equipped accommodation, and quite a step up from couple of places I've stayed in at Perisher Blue and Smiggins Holes.

The accommodation threw in complimentary snow shoes, so as well as skiing, we went for a bit of a wander in the canyon behind the Inn.

I managed to fry myself good and proper in the few hours before lunch (and sunscreen application) on Saturday, and so am now sporting some very sexy sunburn indeed.

The extended weekend thing seems like a fairly good way to see parts of the country that are within a half-day's drive or so, without burning too much vacation time. Once it warms up a bit more, I think Yosemite might be next on the list of destinations.

Photos from the weekend are here.

[23:19] [life] [permalink]

Friday, 14 April 2006

Taking separation of Church and State to new levels of silliness

It's always surprised me how for such a supposedly puritanical country, America seems very wrapped up in political correctness when it comes to observing holidays (gee, what's the derivation of that word?) based on Christian events.

It's not "Merry Christmas", it's "Happy Holidays". There's no public holidays for Easter, for example. They get right into Halloween, which is a very pagan event.

Today I tried to call a utility company, and got a recorded message, and it turns out that some employers to give their employees Good Friday off. They just call it the "Spring Holiday".

[22:40] [life/americania] [permalink]

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Only in America...

Could something like this be legal.

[22:52] [humour] [permalink]

Learning Python

So I now work in Python shop.

I'm a Perl weenie from way back, and I've been meaning to learn Python for a while now, mainly because all the cool people were writing all the cool back-end stuff in Debian in it, and so I wasn't cool just writing Perl and PHP (just had to get that third P under my belt).

So I bought Learning Python a couple of years ago, and got through maybe a quarter of it before I got distracted with Uni or something and put it down again.

Now a large part of my job involves the care and feeding of a behemoth in-house developed system written in Python, so I have had to bite the bullet a little more and just learn it. The entire time, I've tried my level best to maintain an open mind about Python.

I'm starting to realise that the code-base I'm working on isn't necessarily the best introduction to Python. It's been through two iterations, and some of the first version has been pretty much cut and pasted into the second version, and was originally written for a much older version of Python than it now runs with. For example, I was always told that everything was an object in Python, so I was little surprised to see string being imported, and some methods being called from this module directly (I would have expected to see this as a method of the string object instance itself), but after reading up on things a bit more, it seems this is a throwback to the Python 1.6 days, so is a bit of legacy code.

I can't get used to the way slices work. I find the subscripting to be difficult to read. I've seen some code that removes the first and last character off a string if it's a period, and the way that did it still does my head in if I try to think about it too fast. I'm used to Java, as that's the only really object-oriented language I've learned, and so I'm used to the substring() method of string objects. I remember once I spent ages trying to figure out how to get a substring out of a string in Python. I've read Dive Into Python twice, and the first time I read it, I learned just enough to get myself into trouble, and I spent forever doing dir() on string variables in an interactive interpreter trying to find what Python called its substring method...

I can definitely agree with the argument that Python is more maintainable than say Perl. Perl's "more than one way to do it" mantra can lead to some horrible horrible code that not even the author can make sense of after six months. I bought Perl Best Practises a little while ago because the Jacinta and Paul from Perl Training Australia were giving it a good wrap, but I haven't actually had time to open it yet. Python's more single-tracked one of doing things tends to mean that the code is going to make more sense.

That said, the indentation thing is the pits. I miss curly brackets. I miss being about hit % in vi and jump between the start and end of a block. It's very easy to not realise when you've dropped off the end of a function definition, and of course if you move a block of code, you have to reindent. I don't doubt there's some funky vim stuff to deal with this, but until I figure out what it is, relocating chunks of code is going to be a bit tedious...

Other than that, it's not too bad. I did some serious hacking today, and got some results, so it wasn't all bad.

[22:09] [work] [permalink]

Monday, 10 April 2006

Getting the CD-RW in a D610 to work with Linux 2.6.16

I recently bit the bullet and left the relative comfort of a moderately patched 2.6.12 kernel, and went for the standard Debian packaged 2.6.16 package.

The main issue so far was that my (SATA) CD-RW device went AWOL. A lot of googling revealing similar stories for other people, with the dreaded WARNING: ATAPI is disabled, device ignored. turning up a lot.

The solution is actually mentioned in the 2.6.16 changelog, however to put it simply:

  • put options libata atapi_enabled=1 in something in /etc/modprobe.d
  • rebuild your initrd with a bit of dpkg-reconfigure linux-image-2.6.16-1-686 (or the appropriate package)
  • ensure your bootloader appends combined_mode=libata to the kernel command line

On the next boot, lo and behold, the CD-RW is back reporting for duty.

I need to scope out suspending next.

[00:50] [tech] [permalink]

Saturday, 08 April 2006

Movie of the year

Tonight Sarah and I went to see Inside Man, and conveniently managed to end our search for a half-decent cinema in the Bay Area at the same time. The AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara definitely has the best seating of all the cinemas we've been to so far. Century Cinemas, are so... last century by comparison.

Anyway, back to the movie. Bloody excellent. I knew I wanted to see it from the moment I saw a trailer. It reminded me a little of The Thomas Crown Affair, a movie I enjoy for its plot.

The movie was littered with hilarious one-liners that cracked up the audience. Denzel Washington was brilliant, and the plot was first-rate. Definitely one to see again, and definitely one to own.

[22:45] [life] [permalink]

Jumping on the bandwagon

I'm very pleased to see that aj's been elected as DPL. I look forward to a change in tempo.

Congratulations, Anthony.

[22:37] [debian] [permalink]

An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore gave a talk on climate change at Google yesterday, and I was fortunate to be able to go and listen to him speak for most of it. On-call duties prevented me from hearing the conclusion, which was probably the best bit.

His slide deck was excellent. Overall, he wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know, but he had a lot of facts and figures to back it all up, and yup, the planet's royally fucked.

It's really reinforced my desire to be as environmentally conscious as possible while in the US, given that this country is the biggest offender. There's not much more we can directly do at home except try to switch to a green power provider, if one is available. According to the calculator, our household is already significantly below the US national average in terms of carbon dioxide production.

I wish Australia would get on board with the Kyoto agreement. Not that in the grand scheme of things, it would make a big difference, but it'd still be nice not to be one of the only two developed countries still with its head in the sand.

That said, I am very excited about alternative generation projects such as the so called Tower of Power currently underway in Australia. I'm very inclined to buy shares in that.

[16:10] [opinion] [permalink]

Thursday, 06 April 2006

Usability issues with changelogs.debian.net

Thanks to Martin for pointing this out to me. I'd have never found out about this or this otherwise.

I don't want to be providing a service that people hate. That's no good at all. So I've ditched the Debian logo watermark. It was just aesthetics. I liked it, but heck, I am but one... The markup issues in w3m are interesting. The plain text output is inside <pre> tags, and obviously it renders as intended in all graphical web browsers, however it only renders readably in lynx but not links.

So it looks like I've got some HTML tweaking to do. In the meantime, you can obtain the results in glorious text/plain if you ask the right way.

[21:12] [debian] [permalink]

Wednesday, 05 April 2006

Ubuntu Live CD. Nice. Very nice.

My laptop has developed a bung hard drive. After a couple of days of rest, it managed to boot again, but I don't trust it, and have (after much angst) managed to convince Dell to send me a new hard drive.

I was initially going to try and borrow a 2.5" SATA USB hard drive enclosure from somewhere to attempt to rescue the data off the disk, but I thought to myself, why bother, when I can just boot off a live CD and skip mucking around?

So here I am, writing this post SSHed from the 5.10 live CD, and it Just Workstm. I'm quite impressed. It dealt with the SATA hard drive. It dealt with the SATA CD-ROM. It dealt with the wireless (albeit it associated with the wrong access point), and it dealt with the video. It took a little while to boot, but not as long as the SuSE live CD I once experimented with. Overall, very slick. Nice job guys. Now if I can just rescue my data...

[23:29] [tech] [permalink]

There's hope for Dell USA yet

Despite my dramas on Monday night with Dell USA, and I think thanks to the (much better) Dell APAC, I had my change of ownership expedited, and received an email today that it had been completed. So I again grappled with the abomination that is the US Dell support line. I might add that I could not find the number I called anywhere from http://support.dell.com, and had to rely on the dialled number history in my phone to call them again.

I'd like to think that half of my customer service experience improvement was because I only spoke to someone in India once. They were able to pull up my laptop's service tag now, and transferred me off somewhere else. Except that wasn't the right place, and so they transferred me again. To the wrong place. At least the second person I was transferred to was able to see that I'd already been transferred twice, and used some special phone system secret powers to transfer me to the right place at last.

I didn't even have to put up too much of a fight to convince them to ship me a new drive. When I told the lady on the phone that I'd run the Hitachi Drive Fitness Test and it'd failed the disk, and that it had been making nasty clicking sounds before that, she agreed to send out a replacement. Hopefully it'll arrive on Friday.

[23:28] [opinion] [permalink]

Tuesday, 04 April 2006

The US Government bureaucracy strikes again

It's been more than the six weeks since I passed my driving test, and I still haven't received my real licence in the mail. This is despite the fact that Sarah received hers a couple of weeks ago, and she only did her test less than a week before me.

So today I actually had the presence of mind to ring up the DMV and ask what was going on. Turns out I'm waiting for the dreaded secondary verification with the Department of Immigration. God bless that institution of central delays.

The DMV gave me another number to call, which when I finally got through turned out to be somewhere else within the DMV, and they told me pretty much the same thing, and that it took at least four months for Immigration to get back to them and I shouldn't expect anything until at least May. But my licence might come before that. Whatever the hell that means...

So I continue to wait. The temporary licence expires on May 4 or something...

[23:05] [life/americania] [permalink]

Monday, 03 April 2006

Dear Mr Dell,

Your US service organisation is fucked. Completely and utterly fucked. Outsourcing it to India, and implementing a voice recognition system that cannot understand single-word responses only exacerbates the problem.

If I buy a laptop, which has an international warranty, make the fucking service tag information accessible internationally!

There is nothing more infuriating than having to fight a telephone system that is clearly deficient, then to speak to an Indian who can understand me about as well as your telephone system, and then to be told that because my service tag information cannot be retrieved, I cannot be helped.

The Asia-Pacific support organisation is a model of good customer service on the contrary, their only fault was they could not ship me a new hard drive, forcing me to deal with the abomination that is the United States support.

To make matters worse, once it was determined that I needed to effectively do an ownership transfer from myself to myself in a different country, the online system tells me it will take up to 10 business days! For a laptop with a next-business-day fucking warranty! What the fuck?

Why the hell should I ever buy another computer from you?

Love and sloppy kisses,

Andrew

[23:04] [rant] [permalink]

Saturday, 01 April 2006

Becoming an early riser

I'm a little surprised it's nearly 3 months to the day, since I first wrote about trying to become a morning person again.

So it seems like a good time to record the results of the little experiment.

In essence, the trick to it is to go to bed when you're tired (staying up as late as you like) and getting up as soon as your alarm goes off, at the same time every day.

Within about a week of this, I found I was automatically waking up at around 7am, with or without an alarm, unless I was completely shagged for some reason, or had a particularly bad night's sleep. I did find that I was getting less sleep, as I'd continue not going to bed until late (around 11pm or midnight), but sometimes I'd be tired and crash earlier.

The added bonus is on the weekends, I still wake up earlyish, and get to enjoy the feeling of a lie in. Sometimes I'll doze off again for a bit, other times we just get up at a reasonable hour. The upside is we don't burn half the weekend lying in bed.

[12:22] [life] [permalink]

Tour de Cure

Sarah's been helping someone at Google organise the Google Tour de Cure team, and so I've been roped in to ride.

I don't know that I'm going to be able to raise a lot of money, as I don't really like asking people for money, and I don't know that many people here well enough to be soliciting donations anyway. I got this generic email to spam people with after registering:

Dear Friends and Family,

I recently accepted the challenge of cycling in the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure fund-raising event. I am taking part in this event because I believe in and support the Association's mission: to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.

You, too, can help by supporting my fund-raising efforts with a generous contribution. Your tax-deductible gift will make a difference to more than 20 million Americans who are affected by diabetes and another 40 million who are at risk for developing diabetes. It is faster and easier than ever to support this great cause - you can make your donation online by simply clicking the link at the bottom of this message. If you would prefer, you can also send your tax-deductible contribution to me at the address listed below.

More information on the American Diabetes Association, its programs, and diabetes in general can be found at the Association's Web site, www.diabetes.org. To find out more information on our Tour de Cure, please visit http://tour.diabetes.org.

Whatever you can give will help! I greatly appreciate your support and will keep you posted on my progress.

Sincerely,

Andrew Pollock

To donate online, click http://tour.diabetes.org/site/TR?pg=personal&fr_id=3323&px=2791919.

If this link does not send you directly to my personal fund-raising page, please cut and paste the entire link, from beginning to end, into your Web browser and hit return.

To send a donation:

Make all checks payable to: American Diabetes Association
Mail to: Andrew Pollock
Google, Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway,
Mountain View, CA 94043-4933

[12:14] [life] [permalink]

More animal fostering

A mother and her litter of five kittens (four boys and a girl) were dumped at the animal shelter that Sarah volunteers at, and they needed a temporary home for about 5 weeks until they're old enough to be weaned, de-sexed, and put up for adoption, so they have taken up temporary residence in the spare room.

They're about three weeks old at the moment, and very uncoordinated. The mother is only about 8 months old herself, and very affectionate. It's interesting watching her reaction to her kittens mewing. It'll be fun watching them grow up. They're a bit too small to be playful yet, but they're starting to develop their own personalities.

Sarah named them:

  • Frodo (male with hairy toes)
  • Byron (black male that reminds us of our old cat)
  • Bella (female tortoise-shell, slightly longer hair)
  • Shadow (male, slightly more greyish coat)
  • Mojo (male tabby with a bit of an "M" on his forehead)

[12:00] [life] [permalink]