wireless issues with rtl8192ce and Thinkpad X220

I rebooted the other day, which got me a new kernel (3.2.91), and now it seems my wireless (rtl8192ce) has become really flaky and unstable. At first I thought it was the router playing up, but everything else in the house works fine (everything else in the house is made by Apple it seems).

Typically it fails to associate until you reboot the router (which is why I thought it might be the router) or occasionally the laptop. When it is connected performance is occasionally crappy. I’m totally out of my depth debugging this. I poked around a bit but found nothing meaningful.

Help appreciated!

  1. I think I was running 3.2.1 before, which got uninstalled. Fedora helpfully left 3.2.6 and 3.2.7, neither of which I think I ever booted into. []
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Seriously impressed with libpeas.

I think about my previous work adding plugins to things (some of them involved Bonobo) and I think how much easier it would have been if this technology was around back then.

It was very simple to put together some plugin GObject interfaces, annotate and add introspection for them, and then write some Javascript plugins that implement the interface. It looks like C on the C side, and Javascript on the Javascript side. No weird IDLs or custom file formats or generated bindings, just regular gobject-introspection.

Here’s an example of what I mean (needs to be run from the src/ dir, cause I was lazy about paths).

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AdaCamp and Haecksen


Saturday was the very first AdaCamp, an unconference set up by the Ada Initiative to talk about issues facing women in open stuff, here in Melbourne.

The event was well attended by awesome feminists from a breadth of fields and some geographic diversity within Australia (including a surprising number of people from Perth). There were open source people, Wikimedia people, librarians and academics.

There were 21 sessions in total, in 3 streams, so I don’t know everything awesome that was discussed. I think the most important session I attended was the first one of the morning on Imposter syndrome. Also the session on getting women involved with open source, where I talked about the GNOME Outreach Programme for Women.

[Unfortunately I forgot to bring a notebook with me, and tiredness has caused my memory to let me down.]

Brianna and I supplied the morning and afternoon tea, which was various combinations of vegan, gluten-free and fructose-free. Some people asked for the recipes used, which I blogged here.


I drove to Ballarat yesterday to give my panel at the Haecksen miniconf at linux.conf.au1 on gender-focused outreach in open source.

It was, in my opinion, an extremely good panel. I was originally daunted by appearing on a panel with Pia Waugh, Leslie Hawthorn and Selena Deckmann (all of whom are amazingly talented), but I think I did okay. We covered a breadth of mentoring from school age girls, to open source mentoring with Summer of Code and specific programmes like GOPW with a little bit about mentoring in organisations. Unfortunately I feel like the panel ran out of time just when it was getting interesting, and I didn’t get to talk about optimising your mentoring and the differences I’ve found in mentoring people from high-context culture vs low-context cultures [1, 2].

We also talked a bit about improving your diversity (which was a bit off-topic, more of a carry-on from the talk preceding the panel). Key point for me was: people from minorities tend not to ask (or apply), if you want diversity, you have to seek it out. Furthermore, people tend to know people who are like them, to seek out diversity, ask for recommendations from people who are least like the people you already have.


Unfortunately, I’m not at linux.conf.au itself, so if you’re looking for me, I’m not there. If you want to talk to a Collaboran about what we can do for you or how awesome it is to work for us, you can find Daniel Stone or Dario Freddi at the conference.

  1. Many thanks to my employer Collabora for letting me be there. []
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creating m4a/m4r files with gst-launch (gstreamer)

Since it’s annoyingly hard to work out what muxer to use for m4a files, and I don’t have a profile for encodebin, here’s the gst-launch command to make m4a or m4r (ringtone) files.

gst-launch filesrc location=input.file ! decodebin2 ! audioconvert ! faac ! ffmux_mp4 ! filesink location=output.m4a

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kpartx – mounting partitions inside disk images

This is a neat trick, and so I thought worth reblogging. I was handed a corrupt SD memory card yesterday and asked if I could try and get some Christmas photos off it.

Typically, the first thing I did was image the card with ddrescue (package gddrescue in Debian/Ubuntu), confirming that the partition table was intact, it looks like the problem was a corrupted FAT, so I wanted to run fsck on the partition.

Back in the day this would have involved either dd-ing the partition out of the image, or re-imaging the card, both slow, or screwing around with loopback offsets. Instead I discovered a tool called kpartx which maps the partitions from the image into the device mapper, giving a device like /dev/mapper/loop0p1, which can be used like a regular block device.


Unfortunately while different, both FATs were damaged, and has been incorrectly repaired by something, and I ended up recovering the files with photorec instead.

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Linux work available in Perth, Australia

Happy new year, everyone!

Once again my former employer, Fugro Seismic Imaging, is looking for two new R&D staff for their office in Perth, Western Australia (one to replace someone who’s moving on, and another to grow the team).

The team there is approximately half a dozen people, generally open-source experienced, who are primarily developing graphical front ends to geophysics applications (there’s also some other stuff, in general it’s pretty cool). You’ll almost certainly have to know C. Knowing any of C++, Python, Perl, GTK+, Qt or Fortran also a benefit. You don’t have to know any geophysics, but knowing a bit of maths and physics helps. You’ll easily pick up what you don’t know as you go along.

Pay and conditions are very good. FSI have previously provided sponsored work visas for skilled applicants looking to work in Australia.

If you’re interested, send your CV to the regional manager, Kelly Beauglehole.

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more on DPI

Daniel Stone recently wrote this amusing summary of why saying OMG I ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE MY DPI CORRECT is rarely, if ever, correct.

Since most people who say this aren’t considering the two monitor case, I thought I’d provide a illustrative screenshot.

GTK+ resolution independence

This is an old screenshot of the resolution-independence branch of GTK+ running the demo program on two different monitors. It shows that both apps the physical same size, with the same physical size fonts (ignore the size of the title bars, those are provided by Metacity, which is using the system GTK+).

However, the font rendering looks different. This is because of the amount of anti-aliasing that goes into making fonts look smooth when you have less pixels to play with. Notice how in the title bars the font looks the same, even though they’re different sizes. That’s because they’re using the same number of pixels, and thus the same amount of anti-aliasing.

I couldn’t find a screenshot of what happens when you have a window that crosses between two monitors. [Perhaps it’s a nonsense case, but it can come up.] At this point everything just looks like crap. We have to choose the scaling of one monitor or the other. It will look wrong on one monitor or the other. It will be a different size to everything else on that monitor. [Before you suggest it; we can’t divide the window and calculate the scaling separately for each monitor across single widgets].

The thing is, for day to day computing, you don’t really care about the DPI, you care about having readable, attractive fonts and visible, clickable icons. So Federico is right. For some specific applications, you do care about DPI, but those applications can already use the XRandR data to take care of themselves [I have written visualisation apps which do this, presenting a scale on the screen of millimetres on screen to metres in the real world.1]

This said, I’m not sure why the only font size settings now in GNOME is a quantised Small, Normal, Large, Larger setting in the Universal Access settings pane. gnome-tweak-tool includes a scaling slider. The slider is hard to use though, especially when your text reflows while using it. Federico’s idea seems better.

As DPI continues to increase, it’s probably worth also applying scaling factors to our scalable window graphics, lest icons and the like become increasingly harder to hit. At this point we will likely need to adopt a resolution independent GTK+. However, again what will matter will be readable fonts and visible icons. Using the actual monitor DPIs will likely not be that important.

  1. And in using these apps, I’ve found plenty of monitors that return nonsense DPIs, forcing me to hardcode the monitor size in X11. []
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the death of the engineer

I find it so amusing yet depressing how afraid your average engineer now is now afraid of a computer.

My brother started his first real engineering job and rapidly found himself with a problem he needed to solve. He can’t afford Matlab or Mathematica, so I suggested he teach himself Python and use that. After all, Python has excellent scientific credentials. He looked at Python and agreed it looked easy to learn and met his needs.

His boss however, vetoed the idea on the basis that if a tool were written in Python, no one would be able to come back later and edit it. The implicit assumption here seems to be that programming is hard. That no one else could learn enough of the language to later edit the program.

Once upon a time, computers didn’t do very much. They could read and write data and execute programs. Engineers and scientists had to teach themselves to write their own programs to solve their problems.

Over time programs got bigger and more complex. Then people started collecting them together into packages of tools and turning them into a product to sell to other people. They hired engineer-programmers to work on them. Eventually they glued user interfaces on top and so we get the engineering and scientific packages you see today. [My first programming job was working on one of these packages.]

New engineers start in the field and they are simply taught the package at the user interface level. Sometimes they hit the limits of the interface, and learn how to drive the individual programs underneath.

Rarely though do they still see the computer as the blank canvas which they can use to solve their problem. It does so much now that the idea of learning to make it do more seems foreign. Engineers are now afraid of the tool.

It is my belief that engineering students should be compulsorily exposed to some computer science; The core stuff with useful tools. They should have to implement algorithms that have meaning to engineers: solving equations, not a booking system for tennis matches. Perhaps then they’ll stop being afraid of using computers to do computation.

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let us not mourn telepathy-python

But let us instead celebrate gobject-introspection.

While there has been no official announcement, I think it’s probably time we declared telepathy-python to have passed away. Deprecated. In the great attic of the sky.

The python-telepathy client-side bindings have been in a state of disrepair for a long time now, not able to do the heavy lifting that other bindings such as tp-glib and tp-qt4 have been focusing on.

telepathy-butterfly is not really maintained, isn’t supported properly by empathy master, and is looking to be replaced in the future by the MSN Live XMPP support. In the meantime bug #663829 migrates existing butterfly accounts to telepathy-haze. I’m not sure about telepathy-sunshine, but I suspect it also won’t work with the latest Empathy.

Through work I started, and a bunch of other people have continued, telepathy-glib client-side bindings have been growing increasingly more introspectable as time passes. This is now used by gnome-shell, and it works pretty well.

Since someone asked today, here’s how you set your global presence in Python:

from gi.repository import TelepathyGLib as Tp
from gi.repository import GObject
loop = GObject.MainLoop()
am = Tp.AccountManager.dup()
am.prepare_async(None, lambda *args: loop.quit(), None)
    'available', 'Set by script')

Unfortunately we can’t introspect the service-side bindings, they do some things that are very creative and clever, but that gobject-introspection just doesn’t understand. Which means you can’t write a CM using PyGObject yet. The solution, I think, is likely to come with a future, GVariant-based telepathy-glib, but I’m still trying to figure out how we can make things (like mixins) work in a way that g-i can understand.

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mistakes with g_value_set_boxed()

In today’s PSA, mistakes with g_value_set_boxed(). A mistake that’s been made several times by yours truly, and only realised today thanks to Xavier.

At some point in the GLib 2.22 cycle, types such as GArray, GPtrArray, GByteArray and GHashTable1 gained ref() and unref() methods, which allowed things like g_boxed_copy() and g_boxed_free() to be a stack faster for those types. This was mid-2008.

Danni, who didn’t get the memo, had been occasionally writing bits of code like this:

GArray *array = g_array_new (...);
g_value_set_boxed (value, array);
g_array_free (array, TRUE);

Which, if you read the code, will keep the wrapper alive, so your code won’t crash, but will release all the data the array contains. Similarly for g_ptr_array_free() etc. It nicely zeros out the length of the array, so when you come to read it in your GValue, it looks empty.

The correct thing to do (of course) is unref your data, which will then free the memory and the wrapper when the refcount reaches zero.

GArray *array = g_array_new (...);
g_value_set_boxed (value, array);
g_array_unref (array);

Update: As pointed out in this simple example, you can replace this with the following pattern:

GArray *array = g_array_new (...);
g_value_take_boxed (value, array);

Which passes your ownership to the GValue. Where this falls down is for more complex values built for dbus-glib, where the ownership isn’t clear-cut, and so you need to free the components separately afterwards.

  1. You can discover what g_boxed_copy() and g_boxed_free() will do for a type by looking for its G_DEFINE_BOXED_TYPE in GLib, which is probably in gobject/gboxed.c. []
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