Monthly Archives: November 2010

Horrocle business

The Oracle logo has, in my mind anyway, beaten Intel’s, Microsoft’s and Fox’s trademarks in the race for most foreboding icon. All they seem to do is buy up cool things, rebrand them and then let them rot. That red and white logo appearing on a product is like finding a melanoma; you know it’s all going to go pear-shaped in the near future. Documentation will be hidden behind Oracle’s bizarrely unfriendly website; no further bugs will be fixed, but each download will be augmented with more crapware; each product will become increasingly difficult to obtain, as expensive and byzantine licencing strangles every aspect of the code; finally the quality of the code decreases inversely in proportion to the increase in cost until no-one can afford it, and no one wants it.
So here are a couple of alternative designs that have helped me find a little catharsis.



And for posterity and search-engines to come, here is how you get a Java plugin working in Firefox > 3.6.x under Linux:

  1. Ignore the crappy out of date documentation on Oracle’s site.
  2. Download Java for Linux from the download page.
  3. Install it (untar or install the rpm).
  4. The magic info you need to know is that the new and good plugin is no longer the one under “plugins”, instead it’s JAVA_HOME/lib/i386/ Obvious really!
  5. Copy or symlink this into Firefox’s plugin directory, and restart firefox. Bingo, it should show up in about:plugins.

Sunday, Counter Riot, Wings and Microcontrollers

It’s already Sunday night, and the Sunday sadness is currently being mitigated by Pepper preening on my left hand, a jug of Carlo, a bellyfull of home-made Mulligatawny soup, some nice dub and the prospect of a three day week ahead.
Apologies for yet more bullets but it saves a bunch of neurons from exhaustion:

  • Friday night was a rare excursion from the sofa. Duttybwoi and I got the train from work to Manayunk and then performed the old magic trick of turning into a pub. Michele wandered down and after a few pints, some hush puppies and some seriously ring-threatening wings we headed over to The Grape Room where our friend’s band was performing in celebration of the release of their new album. Hearing them in the flesh was unnerving; there’s only three of them, and they all play conventional instruments, but it sounded like it did on the album… they had the crowd properly rocking too.
  • Yesterday I topped up on testosterone by visiting our local hardware store. It is one of those magical places that sell everything and are staffed exclusively by psychotically helpful and knowledgable people who seem driven solely by their desire to make you leave the shop confident and contented. One of the items purchased was an “awl” as they call it over here. It has now replaced the hoe as my favourite tool; even though it’s essentially a pointed stick, and bigger than I’d hoped for, it helped me put up another blind in record time with no drill required. Damn I love my awl.
  • Mr Fritz just pointed me to a particularly excellent interview of Jon Stewart by Rachel Maddow, together with a recipe for Spruce Beer which I now crave.
  • Microcontrollers have moved on since I last worked with them (8 years ago, almost to the day). Today I plugged in a toy I bought almost a year ago and was blown away by it: a CUI-32 development board. It’s tiny, cheap and comes installed with its own Operating System called StickOS. No extra hardware beyond a USB cable is required to start programming this little beauty. Perhaps it was a fear of the unknown that prevented me from trying it out until today, but it does what it says in the blurb! You plug it into to your USB port and you can program the little guy with nothing more than a terminal! On the mac I used screen. BTW – I also had to install FTDI drivers under OS-X – even snow leopard. I thought these were pretty standard now, evidently not.
    From the terminal you can write fully functional programs in BASIC, or send your assembler directly to the device and it’ll work as well as you wrote it. The really amazing thing to me was that it did exactly what it was supposed to do with no aggro. Growing up with PAD’s and Terminal Servers has made me utterly respectful of terminal interfaces – so this is just too cool.
  • I still managed to have a chat with the family which was lovely except for the news that Uncle Bert has died. This type of news never makes me happy. Even though I only really ever saw him at funerals (for the last 20 years anyway)he was still my mum’s brother. Not good.
  • Thanksgiving is next week – that means we workers get a day or two off work. That is good thing.

A dog with two nobs

Finally, we made it to the Library to pick up the book I’d ordered weeks ago: GEB. I’m not complaining that the Library isn’t open on weekends – well actually I am. OK it’s great that unemployed people have access to the truly awesome wealth of knowledge of the Philadelphia Free Library but why rule out us wage slaves? But they do open until 8pm a couple of days a week and so a small amount of planning makes it less painful. And PHL really does have an enviable library system.

Anyway, my first dive into the book has already started firing neurons like an arsonist on fireworks night. It wouldn’t have mattered how many times I listened to Bach’s music, the true bloody genius of it would never have sunk in. At most I’d have been able to enjoy it, or not. But once the patterns are explained, it opens up a whole new world of experience. Until this evening I had no idea of what a Canon or a Fugue were in musical terms – now I’m aware of a entire universe of stuff I don’t know anything about; learning can really make you feel stupid.

Here’s a really simple example of the kinds of magical tricks Bach performed with his music, elegantly illustrated by some dude on teh Internets, taken from Bach’s Musical Offerings. Not only is this a very impressive example of extreme cunning in the musical arena, it also sounds beautiful, and he could come up with complexities like this on the fly! Here’s another, albeit more difficult to understand, example from Musical Offerings that illustrates his wilyness.

Yes, sorry to those of you who know this stuff already – but I’m afraid there’ll be more of this boring evangelising until I finish the bloody book.

Some Football/Muggy-bonehead

Here is a random selection of football/muggy-bonehead:

  • Muggy-Bonehead: Video Howtos.
    HOWTOs were one of the best things about Linux when I first started. They explained exactly how to do something in simple layman’s terms. They were written in plain, easily comprehensible HTML and could be printed out to be used wherever your computer was located. Network was optional.
    But nowadays, people can’t just sit down and write clear and plain text, they all have to be fucking TV presenters. The You-Tube tutorial is one of the worst consequences of the cheap CCD. Rather than skimming a page for relevant information, we have to try and scrub through a tedious 10 minute video which mainly consists of some little twat’s poor typing on a black console screen! Just type it out in a text editor! You will not get famous, asked to present X-Factor or laid as a result of this bullshit. Type it out in plain text/HTML/Docbook and you will get the unspoken respect of thousands of your peers. If that isn’t enough for you, get a coke habit and leave the rest of us alone. Here’s an example: I wanted to find out about some of the inner details of the web-cam drivers under Linux. For example, what does GSPCA stand for and what interfaces does it provide? After a bollocksload of googling all I kept coming up against was this tedious fucking video of a geek with no communication skills, typing shit into a terminal:
    “Feel free to pause the video if you need to copy these lines into your terminal” – this is NOT progress. If, rather than trying to be the worlds least charismatic TV presenter, you had simply typed this shit into a text editor, we could “Copy and Paste” the lines directly into the terminal! Unless we were using Windows Phone 7 of course. Either way, you have a face for text-files – stop trying to make yourself more interesting and instead, gain some respect from your peers.
  • Football: The Toy Will Win is an excellent tech post and it made me happy.
  • Muggy Bonehead: Dan Bull. He did that open letter to Lily Allen thing and I liked it, and found myself liking him. But today his youthful smugness got right on my tits as he wrote another one of his identical semi-raps, but this time objecting to the “bad apples that spoiled an otherwise significant demonstration” – the students that raided Millbank. They’re not wankers Dan, you are. They’re angry – as am I – but they got up and caused some aggro, while you and I got on with our poxy day jobs. Your little publicity coup with the Lily song is now in the past – you’re going to have to try harder from now on. That you made a tune about the activists highlights the fact that you had heard of them. That’s because they got on the news. They got on the news because they started doing “bad” things. Much like the Poll Tax riots, the Brixton Riots, the Miners’ battle and all of the other significant public displays of anger that have shaped history. If no-one broke a window, no-one else would ever hear about the demonstration. Fuck you Dan Bull – you’re not angry enough to matter.

That’s enough for tonight. BTW I know Dan Bull doesn’t read this, but he is clearly the sort of bloke who Googles himself on a regular basis, so eventually he will.

The Green Green Grass

Every time I go back to the old country it feels like I’ve pressed a Pause button on the life in Philly, and then pressed Play back in London. The only real changes are, for the most part, superficial and so it feels like no time has passed. The problem is that as a result of this, coming back to Philly and pressing Play feels like no time has elapsed, and so the entire vacation (holiday) is lumped together with all of the other English memories. It feels like the break never happened; obviously the memories are there, but they don’t feel recent.

The other problem is that international travel is still, even in 2010, a major pain in the brown-eye. By now we really should have the ability to pop over to London for the weekend, and then come back via a small sojourn in Amsterdam – finishing off the end of Sunday night with a couple of pints in New York. Ideally I’d like to be able to get on a 321 at the top of the road and spend the day in Eltham with my family, then catch a 99 up to New York for a few drinks before popping onto a 9 to Manayunk and getting into bed. Why is that still not possible, scientists?

As a result of the enormous hassle of travel, a two week “break” is filled with desperate attempts to do everything, see everyone and relax at the same time – which results in stress and failure.

As the whole experience is already drifting away from memory here is a list of things wha appen:

  • Seeing my ever expanding family – which now includes the loveliest niece in the world and some of the best Roast Lamb dinners available on the planet.
  • Spending time with K8 and family whilst working on moving from one ISP to another. It also provided ample time for slagging off Dame Shirley Porter, Blair and Murdoch.
  • A great first Friday night at the pub. I think. At the time it seemed like the best night I’ve ever had – and then I woke up in footscray, on the 321, sitting next to a box of fried chicken, with the bus driver shouting at me: “I tried to wake you up”. There’s no lonelier place on earth than Footscray at 2am. Probly. After staggering for what seemed like hours, with tears of tiredness and defeat, I managed to get a lift home. I still don’t remember how. It may have been the result of an outstretched thumb, but he may also have been a cab. But maybe not. I vaguely remember giving him a score for the journey – but still can’t be sure. I was in bed by 4am though – so no harm done…physically anyway.
  • Many visits to many pubs with old friends who managed to instantly fall back into friendship without aggro or annoyance at how crap we had been, individually or bi-directionally, at staying in touch with each other. Perhaps that’s a good definition of a friend: someone with whom you can meet after years of minimal contact, and still feel as comfortable as the last time you met. Frankly I’m always amazed when someone can be bothered to talk to me after not seeing them for a number of years – especially when they’re someone I really like and miss. It’s quite a comfort to know that despite how much we’ve changed, we can still have a laugh in a pub.
  • A computer fair where I managed to buy an iPod shuffle ripoff (which took micro SD cards) for a tenner.
  • Spending time with my family. Yeah I know I’ve already said this – but it was really excellent.
  • Quality curries, and quality bitter. Szn made this even more special by not only joining me in a post-curry Calvados but also by suggesting a drink in the Dacre. Perfection.
  • The grass is greener there. Then again that does make sense when you consider the utterly depressing amount of persistent pissing rain that comes down.
  • Sutcliffe Park and all of the local birds. We miss you.