Bog Roll ::

It's Not Magic, It's Work!

29 Jan 2007

PMI Training

This week we are learning the Project Management Institute project methodology. It's all very good on paper but somehow I don't think things will go quite the way the class examples do...


28 Jan 2007

XML::RSS::Tools

After a year of inactivity I've released a new version of XML::RSS::Tools on PAUSE, it should be on CPAN shortly.

The new version is most a "Kwalitee" improvement, nearly doubling the number of tests, some fresh examples and an overall clean up. It now mostly conforms to the guidelines in the Perl Best Practices book.


22 Jan 2007

Computer Games

It is sometimes said that the lack of games keeps GNU/Linux back when compared with Microsoft Windows. It is true that there are not a lot of commercial games available for GNU/Linux, however there are plenty of free ones and some are of a high quality.

Someone one said that most people don't actually want to buy games. All they want are a few decent simple desktop games and one or two flashier games. Real gamers will have every console under the sun and very serious PCs and you don't use a PlayStation 3 as a general purpose PC.

There are a few nice open-source games that I like, Frozen-Bubble is good fun, and I like the odd desktop puzzle app, e.g KPat. Recently I've been trying out ports of old Commodore 64 games such as Nebulous and Paradroid (Toppler and Freedroid).


20 Jan 2007

Debian Ice*

Today I completed my Debian Etch transition from Mozilla.org applications to the debianised alternatives. Thunderbird became Icedove some time ago, Sea Monkey (formerly Mozilla Suite) became Iceape and today Firefox became Iceweasel. It's a bit silly but in the end Debian have made their point and the Mozilla Organization have relented, and the it should not be a problem in the future.

Ironically I'd got annoyed with Thunderbird, so I now use KMail as my primary GUI MUA and I've almost never used Icedove since it went on my system.


16 Jan 2007

A Prairie Home Companion

When I lived the the US one of my favourite shows on National Public Radio was Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. You can download complete shows of the official web site, which is the best way to listen to them if you don't live in the US anymore.

Tonight we went to see the recent film of APHC made by the late Robert Altman. It was very funny though I can't see anyone not familiar with the show liking it that much - there is too much assumed experience. What is really interesting is that it was screened in the UK at all, as we don't get APHC in the UK to start with.


13 Jan 2007

Etch GUI Installer

At today's Hants/Surrey LUG meeting at Red Hat's UK Headquarters I installed Debian Etch using the GUI installer for the first time. Red Hat have plenty of bandwidth and their training PC was plenty fast enough so the install was swift and painless. I've used the TUI installer which works perfectly well and the graphical version is just as good, only prettier.

I then tried to install the ExamCram2 LPI exam simulator to show a colleague, but that failed miserably. I know I had problems when I installed it at home, but you can install it and it does run okay.

At the end of the day of playing with my newly installed box and showing some nice tools I spotted on Deb-a-day, we flushed the hard-disk so that some Red Hat trainee doesn't turn up on Monday to find the box running Debian.


12 Jan 2007

84300 RIP

Today our trusty Mellerware Sona model 84300 "Home Bakery" passed away. It had had been making excellent bread for us, every day for over four years. Today the paddle seized up and the transfer plate shattered. We came home to find a tin of unmixed bread-flour, and pieces of plastic in the bottom of the machine...

Tomorrow we will have to buy a replacement bread machine.


Secure Passwords

Top security guru Bruce Schneier has an excellent article on his blog:Choosing Secure Passwords. It's quite frightening how easy it is to brute force passwords, you have been warned "choose wisely".


10 Jan 2007

Calendar Application

Last year a manager asked a colleague if it would be possible to put a calendar application on the Intranet site. My colleague found this half-decent JavaScript application called ScriptCalendar. The problem is that there isn't an easy way to save your changes back to the server.

I wrote a simple Perl CGI script to save the generated JavaScript file back to the server. It works okay and allows end users to make changes on-line and then save them back to the server. It is a bit clunky though. I've been messing with it for months in snatched gaps in my work load and it's getting depressing. Today I made good progress, only to have a colleague show me a better tool that took only minutes to set up. Actually it's not exactly what was requested but it probably would be a better solution...


DRM Is Dead

Apparently EMI formally announced today that it has abandoned using DRM. That means that all the companies that tried to use DRM to protect their CDs have given up on the technology.

As EMI concluded, decent people don't need DRM to prevent them from making unlicensed duplicates, it doesn't prevent large scale illegal duplication and it often breaks playback for legitimate users. To add insult to injury it adds extra cost and as Sony found out a lot of negative publicity.


08 Jan 2007

Editing pdf & eps Files

Now and then I have requirement to edit files in various postscript formats: ps, eps and pdf. Some files can be opened and edited by various Adobe tools but as these tools cost a bundle and don't run on a sane platform I'm out of luck.

Today I spotted pstoedit which is available in Debian. It does a perfectly serviceable job at converting various postscript files to an editable format. It even opens up "locked" documents for easy editing. Cool!


Pegasus R.I.P.

David Harris author of Pegasus Mail has terminated the product. Pegasus for DOS/Novell was the first email client I ever used. I briefly used the Windows version but on Windows I've been mostly a Eudora user - except at work where I'm forced to use Lookout.

I don't run Windows anymore at home, so this is no great loss but I do feel sorry that David doesn't feel able to develop it anymore or better still give the source code to the community. At least Eudora plans to live on by contributing to Mozilla Thunderbird.


07 Jan 2007

You Get What You Pay For?

Today we were doing some graphics work in the Gimp. The Gimp is one of the poster children of the open source movement. It is quite a powerful application and it can do quite a lot, however it is not a drop in replacement for Adobe Photoshop, which is a better application.

You can compare many open source applications with commercial closed source equivalents and sometimes the commercial version is better, sometimes the open source version is better. When you consider retail prices though it's hard to justify buying many commercial applications for small business or home users, indeed except when the commercial offering is significantly better there is little additional value in many commercial applications for corporations either.

For example, consider:

Open/FreeClosed/CommercialPrice*
OSLinuxWindows Vista£50-£200
OfficeOpenOfficeMicrosoft Office£100-£500
Bitmap EditorThe GimpAdobe Photoshop£500
Vector EditorInkscapeAdobe Illustrator£430
Web SuiteNuvAdobe Dreamweaver£330
Anti-virusClam-AV (Not Required)Sophos/Norton£50/pa
TotalsFree & Open Source = £0£1410-1960
* Price varies depending upon version with family. Range represents typical UK street prices from most basic option to most complete.

I will admit that some tools like Gimp are not as good as Photoshop but Debian GNU/Linux is a vastly superior operating system to Windows and comes with about every conceivable piece of open source software imaginable, all easily installed. Debian cost me £zero, and while it may not be quite as good as a close source alternative in some ways it is a lot cheaper, indeed a comparable closed source commercial system to my current Debian system would cost around three times the cost of my current hardware platform.

Some closed source software may be better than open source but on the whole free and open source is a LOT BETTER VALUE FOR MONEY!


06 Jan 2007

Italy

I spent the last week in Italy on a project for work. I was the insurance in case the project didn't launch correctly. As we had done a pretty good job I wasn't needed much and it was a bit boring. However I was needed for a few things which did make it much easier for the people who needed me to do things - and it broke up the boredom.

Ironically all hell broke out back at HQ, we had lots of Wintel kit with problems and there was a lot of disruption caused. Thankfully our stuff wasn't involved so we went live on schedule without a problem.


01 Jan 2007

Predictions for 2007

Linux and Open Source

Linux and open source will continue it's inexorable march. This will not be the mystical year of the "Linux Desktop" anymore than the past or future years. Linux will continue to grow in the server room at the expense of mostly Unix systems but also Windows, in the embedded sector such as mobile phones it will continue to displace older proprietary operating systems and it will increase in market share on desktop systems - though there won't be a "breakthrough".

Firefox will continue to expand it's market share, it has already displaced IE in some markets as the dominant browser and it will do in even more. Short of fixing IE properly Microsoft are stuck with an old and insecure code-base that is expensive to maintain and very incompatible with the standards. If they fix the browser properly it will be secure but at the expense of breaking all the badly written sites they have encouraged people to write.

In general open source will continue to grow because it is cheaper to develop than close source development models. Existing closed source development will adopt all the best practices off open-source and there will always be a market for closed source software, but it will gradually become a niche area.


Predictions for 2007

Microsoft

There will be no feeding frenzy over the release of Microsoft Windows Vista. Just like XP and 2000 before it, it is better than what it replaced, but is also more resource greedy, slower, just as insecure and buggy and only a marginal improvement. It will come on all new PCs once they have the drivers fixed and companies will gradually start to upgrade towards the end of the year and into 2008.

The DRM in the Zune, XBox360 and Vista will be cracked. For those who care it will be trivial to defeat, for the rest of the Microsoft sheep it will be a pain in the posterior.

The Zune will be a huge commercial failure. It will destroy Microsoft's "Plays For Sure" partners but it will not dislodge the iconic Apple iPod. Like the XBox before, the second version may be a lot better, assuming the bean counters at the Vole-hill are willing to waste even more money in pursuit of another unnecessary market.

Microsoft shareholder may start to get twitchy with the current leadership at Vole-central and some heads may start to roll. If not the company will continue to milk it's ill-gotten monopoly and will continue to stagnate and continue to hold the whole PC industry back.