Category Archives: Oddball entries

Bye bye Slicehost

Finally closed my slicehost account today and deleted my slice. I set it up a few years ago to host linuxrising.org and some misc other sites I was planning. I also hosted my own private email server on it.
In the end I think it just ended up being an overkill solution for what I really needed, but I thought it was a good experience to run my own server on the net. Anyway, Slicehost got bought by Rackspace some time ago and I kept getting these emails telling me to migrate to Rackspace and the rackspace priceplan. I took it as the kick I needed to get a hosting setup more suited to my actual need and save quite a bit of money in the process. So now the site is just hosted on my domain registrar as a simple website and the email I moved into Google Apps. At this point I am just happy I don’t have to fiddle with postfix and dovecot config files anytime in the forseeable future :)

While the DNS records etc. gets updated you might have some issues with the Transmageddon website, but it should hopefully be sorted before Monday.

New Transmageddon release should follow shortly after that.

A day in my life with the GNOME Shell

So I have been using the GNOME shell for quite some time now, and I guess like any desktop experience it has its ups and downs, but at least I think I reached a stage where my remaining quibbles with the GNOME Shell is related to how it works as opposed to irritations caused by me being used to something else. One thing I keep asking myself is if GNOME Shell has in any way made me more or less productive, my guess is that the change has been mostly productivity neutral once I got used to the new setup.

That said I have some smallish irritations with the GNOME Shell, the biggest being that the menu system feels slow, it feels distinctly slower than GNOME 2.x to click into Activities->Applications->Category to get to the application I am looking for, especially if I haven’t done so in a bit and the icons have to be pulled from disk. Also the fact that the categories is on the right side of the screen means a long mouse journey across the screen to get to the categories, and then a long mouse journey usually back towards the left side of the screen to click on the application I want. Ok, so this is not an operation I perform every 5 minutes, but still it feels a bit to laborious for what it is.

The other frustration I have is with the notification dock at the bottom of the screen, but I suspect this is mostly application issues. Like for instance gtimelog seems to have a different behaviour if you click on the text or the icon, and with the icon being so small I sometimes overshot, which causes the irritation of having to move a ‘long’ way back to due the neighbouring icon having expanded. Other small irritations includes the the Banshee icon saying ‘notify-sharp’ instead of Banshee and getting a ton of notification messages on the status bar as peoples IM client set them to offline/away etc.

Hmm, actually having written my irritations down I do feel they feel rather small and insignificant, yet if someone sees this I hope these items will be improved upon for future versions.

Also I do think that the system menu should offer shut down/restart by default, if I hadn’t seen someone mentioning it on IRC some Months back I am sure I to this day wouldn’t have realized I could press ‘alt’ to get shutdown/reboot to appear in the menu. I know there is an extension now, but it is such a basic operation that should require knowing ‘secret’ buttons getting an extension.

Is the United States government solvent?

When George Bush responded to the US downturn by sending everyone a check with some money my first thought was that it might not be the right approach to solve the current issues in the US economy. My reasoning is that I think that the main problem the US face at the movement is that the federal government is heavily underfunded and that the world markets are starting to doubt the strength of the US economy due to the extreme level of debt the US has acquired. So splashing out money to stimulate consumers might alleviate things a little in the short term, it made the underlying problem of US state finances being horrendous bigger. While this problem was not completely ignored by analysts at the time, it was mostly mentioned as a byline. In fact I think that if I hadn’t been searching for mentions of it I might have missed those mentions all together.

Got reminded of my worries today when I came accross an article in a Norwegian paper discussing the Fannie Mae and Freedie Mac bailouts. The US federal government having to bail out  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac comes at the price of taking on even more debt at the federal level. And while I don’t doubt the need for the takeovers, I can’t help but wonder if by putting out one fire they have laid the foundation for a bigger one. The US defaulting on its debt would have rather overwhelming negative consequences for the world economy. And if that article is correct I am not alone in my worries, it seems a lot of the Asian countries which has up to know invested their trade surpluses into US bonds are getting cold feet and have started pulling out.

GUADEC photos online

I have been looking for a new hosting option for a while and last week I finally choose one. Based on recommendations from others I ended up going with Slicehost. Slicehost advertise themselves as being a hosting company for developers, which I learned is definitely true. It is the first time ever I had a hosting setup where I even needed to install and configure my own email server. Learned a lot about Postfix over the last weekend :)

That said their setup is pretty nice. You can choose which linux distro you prefer from a quite big list and they will automatically set up your slice with that distro for you. They also have nice webtools for configuring things like DNS. And finally they got a lot of easy to follow tutorials on how to get common server tasks configured and running. Most of them Ubuntu centric, but I found it easy enough to find the Fedora equivalents when needed.

Once the basics was taken care of it was time for me to get my photo gallery back online after a longer period of being offline. Mostly due to me not having kept the gallery code up-to-date (and thus secure) it had been disabled at my old hosting provider. So upgrading to latest version was step one. The upgrade instructions turned out to not work at all, but doing a fresh install seemed to do the upgrade job just as well, it still managed to pick up all my old photos. I am still using Gallery 1.x though, but I noticed that Fedora packages Gallery 2. So I should probably switch to that at some point as having Fedora packagers make sure I am up to date without glaring security holes is more likely to work in the long run.

Anyway, to summarize a long story, my photos from GUADEC are now online :)

I also orderd myself an Epson 350 photo scanner today after discovering that <a href=”http://avasys.jp/hp/menu000000500/hpg000000442.htm”>Epson</a> actually provides official drivers for Linux. Hopefully I will soon also get all my pre-digital photos online.

Enjoying Musical Theatre

So my mother has been visiting this week for the first time since I moved to Cambridge. Her trip here is actually quite a big step for her as its the first time she has really travelled since she had her brain surgery some months ago. And while she is still struggling somewhat with anxiety attacks I think the change of environment has been good for her.

Anyway, as part of her visit I took here into London last evening to watch Mamma Mia the musical at the Prince of Wales theater close to Leicester Square. I think it was the first musical I have seen live since I saw Phantom of the Opera as a kid. I actually ended up enjoying the show quite a lot and while I would think the cast might be a little tired of doing the show at this point it didn’t come through at all. Instead they seemed very enthusiastic and energetic. I was positively surprised how they had managed to tie the various ABBA songs lyrics together into a relatively coherent narrative.

So while I do not see myself becoming a regular on the London musical theatre track I do suggest that anyone who has family visiting them in the UK might consider a trip to the London West End as a good way to entertain their guests.

Back from Turkey

So a little later than ‘everybody else’ I am now back from Turkey. Wim and I had both decided we needed some vacation and since we where going to Turkey for GUADEC it would be a great opportunity for us to travel around and see the area. Our original plan included climbing Mount Arrarat and visiting Georgia and Armenia, but trouble getting climbing permit combined with some german tourists getting kidnapped on Mount Arrarat by Kurd sepratists got us to adjust our plans. We ended up instead travelling down to cities such as Urfa (Edessa) and Harran, spending some days in Cappadocia and finally visiting Pamukkale and Ephesos. Had a blast of a time although Wim seemed a little less enthusiastic about females of the Korean and Taiwanese variety than me. Could of course just be that ‘Hello Kitty’ panties fail to get his sap boiling :)

For anyone travelling to Turkey I think spending 2-3 days in Göreme is an absolute must. It is a charming backpacker town with a lot of the hotels carved out of volcanic rock. A little gimmicky in the sense that the locals no longer live in the rocks for the most part, but the area is something which just have to be experienced.

Although we enjoyed the food I think it is safe to say that neither myself or Wim will be eating salad with cucumber and tomato, sprinkled with a little lemon anytime soon. 10+ days in a row is enough for a while :)

One thing I started wondering about while travelling around was the enormous expectations by local people for what an EU membership would mean for the people of Turkey, ranging from the EU solving all minority rights issues for Kurds, Armenians and Alavis, west European living standards and salaries for everyone, to solidifying Turkeys secular traditions. While the EU will for certain help push Turkey in the right direction on these issues, I can’t help but wonder if a future EU membership for Turkey might end up being a big lettdown compared to the expectation level I experienced.

New times, new paradigms

It has been with interest that I have been seeing my friend Andy Wingo and then Alex Graveley commenting on the state of the desktop.

It is somewhat of a debate which has been had in the GNOME community for the last 3-4 years at least. The problem is that nobody is really able to come up with a compelling idea for this ‘revolutionary UI’ that people seem to want. And its not like we are alone in this situation. Nobody else is really able to come up with something earth shattering either, so while KDE4 and Windows Vista both have been blowing their trumpets like crazy lately, its not like you find anything apart from incremental refinements of already known concepts when you dissect them.

And it is not like nobody has tried to come up with new stuff. Alex Graveley has been pushing his own ideas on and off, and the online desktop is another effort who sees itself as redefining the GNOME desktop. Yet, despite Alex’s disappointment in a lack of interest, my contention is that while there are some improvements in the ideas put forward, neither Alex or the Online Desktop has so far been able to put forward a narrative which has gotten people truly sold. And expectation of great interest or unbridled enthusiasm when one hasn’t been sold on the idea is a bit much in my opinion. I think I have walked out after both Alex and Havocs talks at recent GUADECS thinking; looks interesting and I will keep my ears open to news about it, but I am not convinced this will make me rethink how I want to interact and work with my desktop.

Yet we have entered, or been in, a phase where everyone wants a new paradigm for the desktop, even if nobody can agree on what it should do or at least what it should be. So instead we pull in buzzwords of the day like web integration and online presence. Which are all concepts loose enough to be able to mean nothing and everything. In fact the whole web/desktop integration idea isn’t even very new even in the context of GNOME. I assume I am not the only one who remembers IBM’s SashXB effort many years ago, which would change the world through GNOME and Mozilla  ‘weblications’.

So maybe all the ‘small’ fixes we focus on these days are not enough to revolutionize the world of desktop computing and change market share numbers so quickly that Microsoft crumbles under our onslaught. But I don’t think such an innovation is possible, or rather if it comes along it will be so different from what we are doing today that it will not really be considered a direct continuation of the PC desktop. However I do think that we are on the right track and that while the incremental improvements we push out in every new release might not feel like something that change the computer interaction landscape, they do add up to creating a stronger and stronger argument for the linux distributors to get traction with major corporations for being open to looking at a Linux desktop migration. And to pull it down to the microlevel, for me personally the fact that I am now for instance able to pair a phone over bluetooth with my desktop and transfer files by drag and drop from it is actually a huge step forward to where we was just a year ago. Or that I am now able to plug and play a SD card into my laptop without obscure mount commands. Sure its not revolutionary, but it is the kind of things that makes it easier for me to feel good about trying to get my family to switch over for instance, as I can now know that getting them to do so will not need to mean endless support calls and frustration on both sides.

So to summarize while I can understand that with the core desktop metaphor feeling like it has only slightly evolved since Xerox introduced it can feel a bit dull and that people feel the time is overripe for something new, lets not walk off a cliff while we walk looking up trying to figure out how to travel the stars :)

Jono’s new effort, Severed Fifth

Since I am in the process of discussing people attempting new stuff I thought I should bring up my friend Jono Bacon’s latest effort, Severed Fifth. I think its a neat example of someone deciding that the current paradigms in the field (of Music) are not working and thus is doing a little experiment to try to figure out if there could be another way of doing things. Most of the time such efforts collapse into nothing, but something they do strike gold and show a path forward. Too early of course to tell if Jono will be able to strike gold here, but I do think he deserves kudos for daring to try. Even in the meritocratic free software world I think we have a tendency to focus a bit too much on providing other people with stop energy whenever the opportunity arise. So if you are interested in exploring alternative ways of organising the world of music then be sure to check out Severed Fifth.

Fedora 9 looking good

I upgraded my laptop to the latest Fedora Core 9 test release last night due to having some issues with a broken keyring database. And I have to say it is a very nice experience so far. The major thing I think a lot more people than me has been waiting for is having the GNOME keyring database connected to your gdm login. So now more first login in then providing they keyring manager your password before it logs you onto the wireless or email servers.

Another small bug now fixed is that when you boot with for instance a SD card in the machine it pops up on the desktop right away. in FC8 I had to take it out and put it in again once the desktop was running to get it automounted.

The system monitor is also become very nice, while this is a GNOME improvement more than something Fedora specific it is still something I appreciated when I took at look at it. There are also some improved icons, especially the new SD card icon looks really sweet.

Various bits of polish added to NetworkManager also like a Connection Information item. The power manager has also improved, and it now asked me if I wanted to change my lid down action when connected with mains power to avoid system risking overheating.

Firefox 3 is of course another nice improvement of this release. And it seems Fedora integrated the OpenOffice GStreamer patches created by Novell as I was able to put an Ogg video into a presentation and have it work now.

I also liked the fact that when I had to type in my SSH password in a terminal window the gnome-keyring popped up a dialogue asking if I wanted it to remember this password, very sweet indeed.

Only thing I am not to fond of is the new GDM log in, it feels slow and cumbersome as I first have to pick my name from the list before it ‘slowly’ brings up the password field.

Biofuels, how long before the stupidity ends

I always believed that good environmental policies are crucial to the future of this planet, but for every year that goes by my faith in humanity’s ability to enact useful ones diminish. Partly because I think the main environmental issue is human overpopulation and unfortunately faith based organizations have sabotaged every UN attempt at pushing for some global policies and debates on that.

The other thing is that politicians seems unable to react in an intelligent way when faced with new data. And I am not just talking about the American right holding their hands over their ears screaming lalala for many years instead of facing the facts that global warming was real. Or arguments that science will be able to overcome any problems eventually so there is no need for hard hitting policies, the last argument strikes me as the same as encouraging unprotected sex with HIV positive people since science will probably come up with a cure before you die from Aids. While I am a strong believer in what science can accomplish you have to make your plans on what is currently available, not on what you hope is going to happen.

One of my favourite examples of political stupidity from Norway is milk carton recycling. You see, for many years the government did huge campaigns to try to get people to send in their milk cartons for recycling, most of these campaigns especially targeted towards children. Then some years ago a researcher pointed out that recycling these cartons was actually less environmentally friendly than just burning them. The pollution caused by transporting them in for recycling combined with the chemicals they had to use to dissolve the wax protection on the cardboard was a bigger environmental hazard than actually just burning the cartons at the local garbage treatment plants. So what did the government representative say when faced with this? Did the representative say that with this new information the recycling project would be stopped? No, instead the representative managed to say that since stopping the recycling project might undermine the faith in the environmental policies and due to the great symbol value of the project for environmental protection it would continue…… Yep, nothing strengthens policy support and provides greater symbol value than doing something stupid.

These days we are faced we what has turned out to be a similar stupidity on a global scale. Biofuels.

Biofuels has been hailed as a white knight for both energy problems and environmental policies, but recent research has shown that it actually might be a environmental disaster, not to mention its contribution to the rising prices of food will also make it a participant in a humanitarian disaster.

The problem with biofuels is that while the plants involved do photosynthesis like any other plant they do less than a similarly sized field of wild plants and trees. And since current biofuel policies are causing a lot more forest and wild fields to be turned into farmland for biofuels, the amount of CO2 converted to Oxygen lessen. And voila, the push for biofuels manage to accelerate global warming instead of slowing it. Question if how many years it will take for politicians to catch on to this and for instance the EU biofuel goal to get scrapped.

Norwegian Public administration suddenly a lot more stupid

I learned today that that the Norwegian Equality and Discrimination Ombudsman have decided that public sector workplaces can not pay two groups with the same length of education differently. The specific case where a case where some nurses and some engineers in a small Norwegian community where earning different salaries, even though both groups had four years of higher education.

While the case will be taken to the courts, and hopefully overturned, it is an example of equality thinking having gone horribly wrong. There is so many problems with this decision that I have problems knowing where to start. First of all this decision forgets that the labour market, is in fact a market. Different salary levels come about as a result of supply and demand issues or a range of years. And if this rule is not overturned it means that public sector work places will basically be unable to get qualified employees in high competition parts of the labour market, as it is of course infeasible to increase the salary of every employee in the public sector each time one need to pay more for in demand labour.

The second part is that it makes the already ineffective tuning of the education sector to the needs of the labour market even more ineffective. If you can’t pay people who have been taking math in Uni higher for instance than someone studying other subjects, that means you have very few incentives for driving people towards harder and/or less popular studies which are needed for society to prosper.

If the rule stands it also plays into the already growing problem of education padding, where groups are continuously pushing for longer education periods to increase the standing of their profession. The financial education I took over four years is today actually a five year degree, and even when I did my degree I wondered to myself what knowledge or skill was actually passed to me during those four years which couldn’t been just as effectively transfered over three years.

The Norwegian socialists (communists?) need to wake up and realize that equal pay for equal work is not the same as equal pay for all work. Salary equality need to be aimed for on a macrolevel, not across random professional boundaries and organizations.The government is supposed to be involved in nation building here, not a re-enactment of Animal Farm.

And I am not saying that salary inquality is not something which cant be a problem. I do agree that policies aiming at making sure that women who holds basically the same job as a man should get on average equal pay is correct for instance. (And I repeat that the goal should be to look at that problem in the context of macro level averages as there are of course many cases where paying one person more than another is reasonable, even if they have similar backgrounds. An obvious example here is the world of pro-sports, but that applies just as much to other types of work, ie. Linus Torvalds is of course not comparable with any random person who spent the same amount of years as he doing computer science in Uni.)

And I was also musing while watching the US news and discussion shows on TV here yesterday, that
maybe one of the big issues undermining the US economy and sense of social unity is the enormous gaps in income here. But just like the gender equality issue trying to address that issues through public policy needs to happen gradually on a macro level and not on a micro level. For example are there laws or policies that could be put in place that would strengthen the bargaining position of those earning less and thus over time improve their average income level in relation to the rest of society?

Of course politicians today do not think in such high level terms, instead they prefer buying votes by earmarking money to specific groups.