Smolt enters GSoC

I don't know why I didn't post a project here sooner. It's sorta like posting to craigs list, but cheaper. In short: Web Apps, Web 2.0, Lots of cool data, Sideburn Growth, Making Linux work on a Crapload of Hardware

To find out more, go here:

It's not news, but it's bad

"I believe the games have advanced the agenda of human rights" in China This really isn't news. China has been silencing people who have declared their right to natural self determination.

Unfortunately, I'm still not sure whether Natural Self Determination is a right that should be guaranteed to all. To determine oneself as being a member of a group requires the approval of that group, one which has every legitimate right to exclude people. To determine one's identity as an individual nation-state usually requires some accepted form of sovereignty, such as owning a nuclear weapon or full control of an island or larger sized piece of land. Owning a really large amount of gold is useful too. These are not things the common Tibetan can obtain easily. In this case, as in the case of Kosovo and Serbia, the original government, that is China and Serbia lose a certain amount of respect, control, and power, which are valuable commodities in the international rulers social club. Ultimately, I think it's wrong for a government to hold such a large group of people in a position against their will though, and a government that can willingly give up control to a group of people is a political move that can earn it a lot of good will in said social club; so much so that having the Olympics there might be a worthy thought.

What really ticks me off is that China feels compelled to censor this. I don't think that anyone reading this blog doesn't know what the great Firewall of China is. China has been deliberately punishing protesters blocking their rights to free speech. Even if Natural Self Determination is not a Natural Right, free speech definitely is. The human brain's idea of consciousness is partially determined by the ability to use human language, and free speech allows an individual to bring about changes into this world. It is fundamentally part of who we are.

As a supporter and worker in the Free and Open Software movement, I can not support these actions taken by China. Although it is only a small price to pay, I will be boycotting the Olympic games in China, and as the date approaches, being incredibly obnoxious to my peers until they agree. I am open to arguments, but I don't think anyone who agrees with the goals of the various Free and Open movements should support such blatant human rights violations involving Free Speech.

(ALL comments involving the so called state of Palestine WILL be deleted. If you wish to comment on it, in relation to this post, email me. You, the comment poster, will receive immortal silent treatment from me for starting a flame war. You have been forewarned.)

Epic Failure Redux

Looking at some of the preliminary responses to my post earlier, I'm glad to see that there are no flames yet.

I also want to thank everyone who tried to make something good out of Codeina, because there really is no person who is responsible for its failure. Not even Chuck Norris.

(Now only if we can convince other ruling bodies to be as transparent about complicated decisions.)

PS. This makes me happy inside: Python 2.6/3.0 Release Schedule

Why I think Codeina is an Epic Failure

I got lucky and got 3 hour reprieve today, since one of my professors is sick, so I felt I would weigh in a bit on the Codeina debate. Before I begin, I want to be clear that I'm not belittling anyone's work on the project; I just think we erred on the side of caution and failed.

If anyone has used Ubuntu in its early years, they might remember using one of many tools like Automatix. The rest of us hardcore Debian users knew simply to just add a third party repository, and install a bunch of packages. But for the uninitiated, these tools would basically install support for every third party repo one might want, every media format, and even break your system for you. It was a known fact that the tools didn't work perfectly and weren't supported, but nevertheless links to them got passed like wildfire from forum to forum. People wanted to believe a warm brown Linux Distribution with bundled nudie pics would change the world, much in the same way many people believe an upstart senator is going to change the world in the next four years. I think Fedora is missing that edge.

When Fedora first came out, my impression of it was to stay away. It was this bundle of bits locked up by Red Hat missing all the little bits I needed to make my computer do what I could do in other OSes. I'm not suggesting that this is the impression one gets from Fedora today, quite the contrary, but I still don't see people trading lots of hints around amateur Linux user forums and such. In fact, if I need technical support on something trivial, the number one source has been the Ubuntu Forums.

Even so, it strikes me as odd, that when we gave the users the tools to actually patch in the bits they needed to play media in proprietary formats, they used it less than the tools Ubuntu's community had to offer. Overall, we were lacking a clear idea how far we wanted to take the concept of 'auto-downloading', and we tripped over it big time.

One of the biggest criticisms I heard (read actually) is that Codeina didn't take into account the international community, nor even the american community. I can't officially comment, but I understand that there is a question that if Fedora moves to distribute something that might have patent or other questions on them, Red Hat might be able to be sued. This doesn't make it outright illegal for Americans to posses those same bits that Fedora can't distribute. In fact, with a strong enough community, there would be a million guides on the web about how one can install Fedora, go to Livna's website, click on the RPM they need, type in their root password, and then go to some menu to a graphical utility to pick certain packages, or even a helping utility that Livna provides. Then no one would care that Fedora doesn't distribute anything. But the community has yet to come out with this.

Now I feel like we are floundering about with very little legal guidance from either the Board or Red Hat, other than an outright no. I also feel that people expect us to be the authority, and tell everyone the correct way to get the bits we need to play our music collections.

I'm afraid I can't think of any solution outright better than anyone else can. If I were good at marketing, I probably would have a nice cushy job for some marketing agency, instead of doing Fedora work. But I do think the solution has to come from the outside, and it has to take the world by storm. Ubuntu-seeking missiles might be useful too.

The sign of things to come

Just what I've been working on today.

Not to belly ache, but HTML 4 + Javascript + jQuery is a strange beast when you've been doing Python and SQL for a long time. The context shifting takes a lot of speed out of you. But now it's done and all we have to do is make it work nice, well, and cleanly.

UPDATE: Git tells me this took over 500 lines of code to implement. Granted, this was on top of lots of other infrastructure. I still worry though that every new proof of concept will take an increasingly larger amount of code just to make it work. Hell, my window manager of choice works in about 1000 lines of code, not including my config file or the extensions I use. To be fair, some of those lines are from a few javascript libraries I added. They only account for about 200 lines of that soup. Another load comes from the genshi templates I had to create. Much of that was copy and paste, but then there was the mucking about I had to do to fit them into my new site.

I think the important point though is that although Python lets you do things in a more concise way than Java or C would, all we do is introduce more complex paradigms to the application developer. Meanwhile, our need for more complex things constantly raises the amount of lines of code it takes to make things do what we want. This is something that bears serious looking in to.

Happy Pi Day.

Dear Lazyweb

Dear Lazyweb,

Does anyone know a good plugin for Eclipse for editing genshi templates? I've been trying Aptana's tools but they don't seem to fare well against turbogear-isms.


A Dash of Documentation

Here is a bit of Documentation and a collection of Gotchas that you might encounter when trying to internationalize your Genshi templates in Turbogears:

Turbogears Internationalization

A picture is worth a thousand words in many languages

It's in no way complete, as you can see, but it's a start. Hopefully someone will do the grunt work involved in making all the strings available if I don't. There are also a few bugs I've found with special characters.

First Impressions of the Dell Vostro 1400

Linux is installed, and it's snowing out. Whee. So far everything has worked so so.

Installing Fedora was a breeze, being familiar with the process. The only difficulties were in keeping Wintendo intact. (Please take politics somewhere else before making comments.) I had to use GParted's LiveCD to resize the NTFS partitions, even though Vista now has the native capability to do so. The hard drive is 160 GBs and Vista only takes up a whopping 12 GB. Despite this, Vista wouldn't let me resize itself smaller than 90 GB. Thus, GParted was needed. The resize went smoothly, and Vista repaired itself afterwards. There was no problem there.

The Fedora installer went without any hiccups. Rebooting into Windows though was scary. Using the option figured out by Anaconda, I got a message from Vista saying "BOOTMGR missing". Fedora booted fine. The strange thing about the configuration of this dell is that there appears to be two copies of Windows. Partition 0 is some 80 MB thing that no one can read. I'm going to explore it later. Partition 1 is Vista. Partition 2 is some other Windows setup I know nothing about. Probably the recovery partition. Finally, Partition 3 is the extended partition holding Linux in all its glory. When I tell grub to boot from Partition 2, and using the command 'makeactive', Vista boots fine. It was a bit unsettled at first, but it fixed itself. The amount of self repair Vista did overall shows that Windows certainly has matured, not that we can't do any better. Finally, there's Dell Mediadirect to test. This results in a lovely BSOD. I will probably break out the repair CD later and see what I can do with that.

Final Score:
  • Vista: OK

  • Fedora: OK

  • Dell Mediadirect: Epic Failure

I commented before that the level of polish between the Dell hardware and Vista software was excellent. This experience was denied to me in Fedora. Suspend was disabled, and Hibernate refused to turn the screen back on. Sound appeared to not work. A quick update of Fedora solved the power management issues. There is still a bit of a disconnect between how the BIOS turns down the screen brightness and how the OS does it. Sound only works through the headphone port. I did a bit of googling, and I found that there are a number of similar problems with the chips and codecs Dell uses with the hda_intel driver. Even their Dell N models were not immune to such problems, although I believe their Ubuntu remixes come with patches for these things. Overall it's a jumbled mess.

I spoke to a colleague today who uses Vostro laptops in his office, and he mentioned there were no problems with sound with any of the laptops, and they run a mixed environment of Fedora, Gentoo, and Debian. He mentioned trying the latest development version of ALSA, which I will probably do at a later point. I am loathe to do so because it puts files outside of /home that aren't managed by yum.

Another sticking point I had to deal with was the usage of the media keys. Fedora defaults to some strange "XF86Play" meme for naming the media keys in the shortcuts control panel. I have yet to meet a laptop who knows what that is supposed to mean. Instead I had to manually set it up, which was simple enough to do. All I had to do was assign keys. Why this can't be done to work for all laptops out of the box, possibly with some quirks system like we have with hal is beyond me.

Compiz (naturally) couldn't be enabled by default. The system has an nVidia card in it, that required certain drivers from a certain non-US source. They installed flawlessly. Kudos to the guys who work on that. After restarted X, using the default Compiz setup from Fedora was sluggish, on the friendly side of painful. It made the system feel a bit gummy all over. I will probably experiment later with Compiz Fusion to see how well it can work on this machine, and if experience serves me correctly, I would say pretty good. Nevertheless, a few keystrokes away, and I had xmonad installed. I'm going to work on getting it packaged for Fedora tonight for once and for all. With xmonad, the system is very snappy.

For what it's worth, the music quality from my headphones is still great.

First Impressions of the Dell Vostro 1400

Because I was looking for a new laptop, and it happened to be on sale, I've decided to push off my dreams of getting a tablet laptop once more, and bought a new Dell Vostro 1400. I haven't installed Linux on it yet, and I figure the experience involved in that would be many blog posts to come, so I decided to go over my impressions of just the hardware, with just a few comments about how Vista is set up.

Unboxing the laptop was routine. I wasn't expecting some apple-ified smoke and mirrors packaging, and I didn't get one. Instead, I got a brown box from Dell's business division labeled "Made in Malaysia", with a laptop, and all the accouterments inside. Included were four recovery CDs (free of charge, unlike some other laptops I've bought), some manuals, the power adapter plus plug and a catalog asking me for more of my hard earned money. Most notably absent is the rather useless phone cable that I've received in the past. I'm sure dell saves 2 cents on that, but not having the waste involved is great environmentally as well.

But speaking of which, that the laptop was made in Malaysia is a bit unsettling. Without going into the economic factors involved, it strikes me as a bit odd that I would consider spending 8 dollars to get dell to plant extra trees when we could reduce the environmental impact by just sending the parts to me, straight from the factory. This would have been more fun. I guess the best I could hope for is that the Malaysian factory workers are at least being fairly compensated for their labor and have access to all the health care they need.

Switching back to a more materialistic thread, removing the plastic from the laptop revealed a sleek looking black laptop underneath, with the usual 9-cell wart protruding out of the back. Two very cool features caught my eye at first. Underneath the laptop, I can check the charge of the battery using the exposed meter. I'm sure it's been done before, but this is a first for me. It's incredibly frustrating to have to remove the battery on a laptop in standby just to check the battery power, and this solves the problem quite neatly. Second is the lack of a latch to keep the laptop closed. Instead, there is some kind of spring/resistance system to keep things in place, and it feels quite sturdy. The screen never shakes the way my old ones used to.

The laptop itself is sleek, sexy, black, and otherwise quite thick. Since it's from the business division, I'm sure I could make several bad jokes about certain stereotypes that also match description. I don't feel like starting a flame war tonight. Sufficed to say, it's reassuring to know that behind this otherwise hefty design is the same kind of technology that goes into a Thinkpad laptop that makes it so sturdy. Overall, the machine weighs a bit more than 6 pounds, but makes up for the fact by being only 14 inches across diagonally. This makes it feel slightly lighter when I hold it from one side, which I often do when I move things around. I mention this not because Dell got something right, but because of the usefulness of analyzing exactly how I use the objects in my living spaces :P.

I'm not a big keyboard junky, but the keyboard does feel pretty nice, and the inside of the laptop when you open it is also quite nice to look at. When I turned the laptop on, the BIOS took some time to start up the first time. The BIOS Setup screens are relatively stuffed with options compared to other Dell's I've seen, but it's nothing outrageous. Booting up Vista the first time was equally slow, but it gets faster. The scary thing though is how quiet the whole system is. I didn't realize how quiet it was until I put a CD in, and got something that sounded like an airplane taking off. Once the computer figured out what the disc was (A DVD), it quieted down somewhat. Still, the tray cover does not fit flush with the rest of the machine causing some slight rattling when playing DVDs. It can really get annoying. Otherwise, the machine is perfectly quiet, all the more amazing when you put your hand up to the exhaust vent under a heavy load, and feel this massive power of air rushing past your hands. Bonus points to Dell for getting that right.

Sound quality (with the HD addons) is great. I haven't tested anything with alot of spatial effects in the music, but the overall quality is the highest I've ever heard in a laptop in a long time. Coupled with all the annoying bleeps Vista enjoys making, it gives the laptop a very polished feel. I said I wouldn't comment too much on Vista, but I do have this to say. Dell has put quite a bit of effort into integrating Vista with the rest of the laptop. On my old laptop, Fedora and the BIOS would have two separate ideas of what the correct brightness should be when the laptop is unplugged. On this laptop, the settings in the BIOS are reflected clearly in the Control Panel, and vice versa. There are many little touches to it that really makes it feel like a finished product. Seeing alot of them in Windows is a bit tragic because you start to realize how many of these features are messing just due to common sense. (That is, we are not OEMs but software creaters and need the efforts that only an OEM could provide.)

So far the experience has been nothing but good (not including that one problem with the CD drive). That is, it's been great up to the point where Windows asks be stupid questions about every single action I want to perform. That smarmy ad that Apple ran about it a while back, it's so far beyond true, it's not even funny. All it takes is one hacker to convince Vista that his code is legit, while Winamp and the Winamp Toolbar aren't, and said hacker will have access to way too much. I hope this happens soon, so people will learn not to use this kind of faulty security.

Jet Lag Cat is Jet Lagged

Jet lag sucks, but watching my cat fight with his tail while my brain thinks it's 2 in the morning is awesome. I missed my cats.

Fosdem Part 2

I'm finally back home in Pittsburgh after a week in Israel, and all I've been doing is hiding at home, putting together some lose ends. My cats are certainly happy to see me, so much so that they are happy to get hair on my laptop again. I'll be human and go outside tomorrow, but today I really need the day off.

One of the loose ends is Fosdem. Below is the (hopefully permanent) link to my presentation from Fosdem about Smolt. It explains how the new Privacy features work, and hopefully you can all understand why the old clients no longer work with the new version of the server.

Overall, Fosdem was amazing. I'm sure you've all read about it already. I suppose the only thing left to do is give you my take on Fedora EMEA. More precisely I want to explain why it is important to you if you are not Eur

Fedora EMEA, as I understand is an organization given Fedora's blessing to use the Trademark in a limited fashion, for the purposes of supporting Fedora in the EU and Eurozone. The organization is a Non-Profit (equivalent actually) organization with the paperwork filed in Germany. For those of you not familiar with European law, this gives them the same rights as an organization in any of the EU nations that German law gives them (with the usual IANAL disclaimer). They can operate in any EU country, to do what it is they want to do.

Well, you are probably wondering now, what exactly is it that they are going to do? The single biggest overarching gain by the organization is the limited liability rights they now have. (This is not the same as the Anglo Limited Liability laws.) Should Fedora EMEA distribute T-Shirts at a convention that turn out to have arsenic in the fibers, the members are partially protected from any legal backlash. It also gives the organization the rights of a body to hold bank accounts, credit cards, make purchases for cool schwag, host events, and do anything else. They can also take donations in the EU (I'm not sure about the tax status that goes with it) for use towards Fedora things.

These rights are pretty important in the EU. For myself and the rest of the American Fedora-ers, we have the advantage of Red Hat being there to buy schwag, host events, and manage alot of the legal things that go on in the Fedora world. Unfortunately, these rights only extend so far out of the country, and where they exist, they carry an extra legal overhead involved. Fedora EMEA makes it very easy for Fedora-ers in the EU (and possibly certain nations in the Eurozone) to do the same, with the same financial backing we've enjoyed here.

Finally, the last significant thing about it is that I got to witness the formation of a non-profit organization under German law. I tend to find the way contracts and organizations are formed interesting from an anthropological perspective. Hopefully, I can also convince my Professional German professor to give me extra credit for this.