Older blog entries for msevior (starting at number 73)

AbiWord - Distruptive or pushing the edge?

Luis here is your chance to be lead by example :-) Now that you are a student and eligable for the Google Summer of Code experimence, why not sign up for Abiword SoC project numbr 5. To quote:

"5. Come up with a UI suitable for the OLPC project. The OLPC project is aimed explicitly at children and the computer screens are either 640x480 or 800x600. Our current UI is not optimum for this evironment. This project would be to find a UI that works for OLPC."

Robert Staudinger has had a bit of a go at this already. You can find some mockups here along with some discussion on the OLPC list here

I'm also really interested in the possibilities of Beagle-Dashboard-Abiword integration as listed in project number 1.

"Last year Martin wrote the AbiDash plugin which sends clues and notifications to the Dashboard program. Dashboard is a really interesting project which runs in the background in a spare piece of screen real-estate. As different programs gain focus they send "clue packets" which describe what the user is currently doing. Dashboard integrates with the Beagle search engine and uses the clues to perform searchs through the Beagle index. It attempts to find relevent files and relevent pieces of text that could help the user with their current document.

So for example, if a user is employing AbiWord to write an essay on Shakespear's Midsummer Night, the Dashboard program would search through the users documents looking for both relevent documents and relevent parts of the documents to what is being typed. It should present the user with useful information without the user having to do any explicit searches. So imagine relevent parts of the "Midsummer's Night's dream" appearing in Dashboard as I write my essay. Or if I'm writing a technical paper I get references to previous work and relevent numbers and formulae in Dashboard as I type in Abiword."

Dashboard currently complies wth a small patch to the Beagle pkgconfig.pc file but crashes almost immediately after receiving clues. It needs a lot of love to recover from it's bitrot.

Will Dashboard live up to the vision described above? I don't know but it will be fun to try and you never know, it might be the Next Big Thing.

And of course the uber-cool AbiCollab project that uwog and I are working on (Project number 2):

"The AbiCollab project enables users to work collaboratively on the same document by immediately broadcasting changes from different Abiword sessions around a peer-to-peer network. The basic functionality and first order corrections for internet lag have been implemented and shown to work. Abiword sessions on different sides of the planet (Australia and Holland), (Australia and the USA) have been connected and typing, deleting and changes within the documents are transported to the remote documents. The first order corrections to internet lag allow the documents to remain in sync even if the users type and delete as rapidly as they can. In addition the usual word processing features like text fonts/style/tables/bullet points etc all get transmitted correctly to the remote document.

However there is tons of work left to do here.


But that's not all! We have another 6 interesting projects listed on our wiki and if students have an interesting idea they like to try we'll certainly listen.

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27 Apr 2006 (updated 27 Apr 2006 at 02:52 UTC) »
Presentations with IBM T43 and Fedora Core 5

Getting my IBM T43 to give presentations actually took a bit of manual configuration of the xorg.conf file automatically generated by Fedora Core 5. The T43 has a screen resolution of 1400x1050 which is a bit wider than the aspect ratios found in almost all data projectors. Consequently without the following tweaks, the edges of my presentations were cut off.

After installing the proprietry ATI drivers from the http://rpm.livna.org/ web page I editted the device and screen sections of the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file. I got this information after a google search. Unfortunately I can no longer find the webpage that give me the clues to get this right so I'm blogging this to add to the general correctness of the web :-)

The key to all this is the "clone" paramter in the device section of the file. This literally makes a clone of your laptop display so what you see is what your audience gets. (WYSIWYAG) Which Is Normally What Is Wanted :-)

Section "Device"
Identifier "Videocard0"
Driver "fglrx"
VendorName "Videocard vendor"
BoardName "ATI Technologies Inc M22 [Radeon Mobility M300]"
Option "VideoOverlay" "on"
Option "MonitorLayout" "LVDS,CRT"
Option "MergedFB" "true"
Option "DDCMode" "on"
Option "RenderAccel" "on"
Option "MetaModes" "1400×1050-1400×1050 1280×1024-1280×1024 1024×768-1024×768"
Option "CRT2Position" "Clone"
Option "CRT2HSync" "32.4-90.0"
Option "CRT2VRefresh" "60.0-100.0"

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Screen0"
Device "Videocard0"
Monitor "Monitor0"
DefaultDepth 24
SubSection "Display"
Viewport 0 0
Depth 16
Modes "1024x768" "800x600" "640x480"
SubSection "Display"
Viewport 0 0
Depth 24
Modes "1400x1050" "1280x960" "1152x864" "1024x768" "800x600"

Then when I make a presentation, I use randr to set the resolution to 1024x768.

There is one final trick to make it work. After pluging the external display into the laptop I have to logout and restart X.

If the lazyweb can tell me how to avoid this restart of X I'd be most appreciative :-)

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17 Apr 2006 (updated 17 Apr 2006 at 05:03 UTC) »
Faith restored in Linux Desktop

I installed Fedora Core 5 on my IBM T43 laptop a few days ago. I waited a while for a new kernel that supported the proprietry ATI 3D drivers.

I'm VERY pleased with the outcome. Firstly the install went like breeze. Video worked, sound worked hardwired network worked. Next I installed the firmware for the centrino Wireless built into the laptop. Got wireless working with the standard Fedora network tools.

Then I did the big update since the DVD was distributed. Around 300 Megabytes! Included was the patched 2.6.16 kernel. After rebooting and downloading the livna rpm to gives access to the grey packages, I installed the ATI 3d driver. It worked like a charm.

Started PowerManager and now the machine suspends to RAM just fine with lid closure. NetworkManager handles different wireless networks beautifully. The video out works nicely so I can make presentations with my laptop (I do a LOT of these now).

Plus there is a whole load of useful goodies in FC5. Gnome-2.14, Beagle, Tomboy, F-Spot are great programs. The FC Extras and Livna repositries now hold a whole slew of useful applications and now the "pirut" graphical interface to yum allows these programs to be discovered and handled easily.

Unfortunately "pirut" has a really dumb behaviour of closing immediately after having installed software. Sum1, our really cool AbiWord bug meister, found that there is a bug for this, and after adding a "Me Too" to complain about this, I discovered that it is possible to load up every thing you want before installing. This wasn't obvious to me and I think most users would find the same thing. Since "pirut" takes a long time to start up, closing the app after a single install really sucks.

Anyway after discovering the right way to use "pirut", via the bug report, it was very easy to find a whole lot of interesting software. (Including the all the patent restricted stuff.)

So in all, I'm very, very happy with FC5 on the T43. Plug and play with USB devices works great. The nautilus based CD and DVD reader and writers "Just Work" beautifully. I'm learning how to use Beagle and desktop search.

I'm looking forward to finishing the integration of AbiWord with Beagle and other search tools via dashboard.

Crossover Office 5 is there when I absolutely must have MS Word and Powerpoint alhough AbiWord is more than enough for almost all my needs now that we have fully integrated Equation support. I've been creating problem sheets and solutions with AbiWord for my 2nd year Thermal Physics classes and it works great. It is much easier and faster than MS Word or OO.o Equation Editors to an old Latex Hack like me.

FC5 definately raises the bar to whole new level for Linux distros. The GL-based Window Managers from Novel and RedHat should make Linux desktop fully competitive with Vista and OSX. There is every chance Novel Linux Desktop-10 will take things this new level, especially since they can ship patent restricted software like mp3 and various video codecs.

Anyway I also wanted to send a big "Congratulations" to the whole community that made FC5 possible. It's great to see how a huge group of competiting and cooperating people can raise the water level so that "everyone floats ups".

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14 Apr 2006 (updated 14 Apr 2006 at 15:08 UTC) »
My First Marathon

Last Sunday I completed my first marathon. It was held in Australia's Capital, Canberra. I flew up on frequent flyer points from Melbourne on Saturday. My brother drove down from Sydney to be my support team. It was great to spend a couple of days together and he even managed to get a few videos of me struggling along at 16, 23, 28, 34km and for my stunning last 200 meter sprint to the finish :-) The day was just perfect. The sky was clear blue and the temperature rose to 20 C. The course was beautiful and wound around Lake Burley Griffen and various Important Buildings. The locals were fantastic and really supportive. Lots of people volenteered their time to provide drinks, traffic coordination and Inspirational Music along the course. I'll never forget "Theme to Rocky" while running under a blocked-from-traffic underpass :-) All in all if you are going to run your first Marathon this was a great place and time to do it.

My time was a very un-stunning 4 hours 48 minutes. I finished 788th out of 866 people who completed the event. I think over 1000 started. I found that despite all my training my legs became really sore after about 23km. At 25 km I just couldn't run any more. I needed to walk. After about 10 minutes of walking I was able to run for another few kilometers. Then I needed to walk again. The remainder of the event saw the periods of me walking get longer and longer except for the final 200 meters when I put on sprint to the finish.

While I was training I thought I would complete this one Marathon and that would be it. I could cross it off my List of Things I Want To Do Before I Die . But there is so much room for improvement in my time I think I'll do another.

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Fuel Efficient cars

Rich Burridge quotes a summary of a Consumer Reports article which states that only 2 hybrid electric cars will save you money over 5 years.

This was based on the idea that fuel prices will either remain stable or fall in this time scale. Just to remind people, China, India and other countries in the third world are enjoying economic growth which is leading to substantial increase in private car ownership. The effect is to increase world demand for Oil by about 1-2 million barrels of Oil per day per year. This article shows that even Saudi Arabia will max out the rate at which it can supply Oil at an extra 4 Million Barrels of Oil per day and that it will take them until well into the 2010's before the increased production is ready.

With an extra 2 billion people competing for the world's remaining Oil reserves, the only way gasoline will become cheap is if it surplanted as the transportation fuel of choice.

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1 Apr 2006 (updated 1 Apr 2006 at 09:43 UTC) »
A really nice compliment.

Our website devoted to the study of Nuclear Power, http://nuclearinfo.net has been selected for Digital Archiving. I received this email asking for our permission.

29 March 2006

Dear Professor Sevior

Request for permission to archive nuclearinfo.net website at http://www.nuclearinfo.net

The National Library of Australia aims to build a comprehensive collection of Australian publications to ensure that Australians have access to their documentary heritage now and in the future. The Library has traditionally collected items in print, but it is also committed to preserving electronic publications of lasting cultural value.

PANDORA, Australia's Web Archive, was set up by the Library in 1996 to enable the archiving and provision of long-term access to online Australian publications. Since then we have been identifying online publications and archiving those that we consider have national significance. Additional information about PANDORA can be found on the Library's server at: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/index.html

We would like to include the nuclearinfo.net website in the PANDORA Archive and I would be grateful if you would let me know whether you are willing to permit us to do so, that is, grant us a licence under the Copyright Act 1968, to copy the publication into the Archive and to provide public online access to it via the Internet. This means that you would grant the Library permission to retain the publication in the Archive and to provide public access to it in perpetuity.

Nice :-)

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6 Mar 2006 (updated 6 Mar 2006 at 13:55 UTC) »
AbiCollab Lives!

Nice screen capture Marc!. jdub hmm yes well only a little bit later than I'd hoped but on the other hand the promised encouragement was never forthcoming :-)

AbiCollab is really cool and I'll prolly get more time hacking on it now that Research Grant writing season is over. On the other hand my involvement in the Nuclear Power debate seems to be taking more of my time than I expected. Hopefully uwog will continue to take up my slack....

Comments here

17 Jan 2006 (updated 17 Jan 2006 at 10:32 UTC) »
Another data point for Thomas.

Thomas I know one other person who has all his digital music in Ogg form. He is a vegetarian, rides his bike everyone, dotes on his wife and 2 daughters and looks forward the the Port Fairy Folk Festival every year. He is the epitome of a tree-hugging leftie (and has a sense of humour too :-).

Comments here.

PS. This is not me! I eat meat and all my digital music are mp3's.

30 Dec 2005 (updated 30 Dec 2005 at 12:25 UTC) »
Server-Side AbiWord

AbiWord's primary purpose is to be easiest way possible to prepare documents. We're very tightly focused on being as easy to use as possible. I'm particularly proud of our Visual Drag and Drop feature which substantially reduces a users need to use the clipboard.

However about 3 years ago I thought about the possibilities of utilizing all the neat features of AbiWord remotely. While AbiWord has an extensive array of command-line options, and many people found these useful, each use of Abiword from the command line required reloading Abiword into memory, which was highly inefficient. So I came up the idea of command line interface to AbiWord.

This is a plugin, ("AbiCommand"), which is invoked with the command-line

abiword --plugin AbiCommand

The "--plugin" means execute following the plugin immediately.

This gives you control of the program without actually having a graphics window open. AbiCommand provides a command line interface into AbiWord which allows all sorts of interesting things. You can load and save documents. You can find and replace text. Insert text, delete text etc.

I thought this was a great idea but nobody seemed to be using it much. It was one of those "secret tips" computer magazines like to tell their readers about. Except nobody seemed to know about it.

Then after the release of Abiword-2.4 we began to get more and more bug reports and Requests For Enhancements for AbiCommand. It appears that some people have realized how useful this is for document conversion. AbiWord-2.4.2 (due Real Soon Now) has very good support for export to odt format (Thanks Nokia!), which joins our great support for export to HTML,RTF and ABW. We also had a report that showed how easy this was to utilize with PHP..

$handle = popen("/usr/local/bin/abiword --plugin AbiCommand 2>&1", "w");
fputs($handle, "server");
fputs($handle, "load /usr/local/apache/sites/Toronto.doc");
fputs($handle, "save /tmp/toronto1.html");

or via the "converttotext" or "converttohtml" commands in AbiCommand

So any of you admins wishing to display Word Processor docs in users webbrowsers, just employ some combination of PHP scripts and AbiWord and you're done!

If you are an administrator who wants to automatically convert legacy documents in MS *.doc formats to a more modern and maintainable format (like *.abw or *.odt) go to it :-)

The complete list of AbiCommand's follows. This list of commands is easy to extend.

AbiWord:> help

Currently implemented commands are...

help - prints this message

quit - exits the program

new - create a new empty document.

load "filename" - load "filename" replacing the current document.

printfile "filename1" "filename2"... - print the current document into the filenames listed.

replaceall "find" "target" - replace every occurance of "find" with "target" in the current document.

replacenext "find" "target" - replace the next occurance of "find" with "target" in the current document.

inserttext "target" - Insert "target" at the current point in the document.

delete "args" - Delete "args" characters at the current point in the document.

replacenext "find" "target" - replace the next occurance of "find" with "target" in the current document.

movept "arg" - Move the current point to another location in the current document. options for arg are: BOD,EOD,BOP,EOP,BOS,EOS,BOL,EOL,BOW,+num,-num,num

selectstart - Start a selection at the current point

selectclear - Clear the current selection.

findnext "target" - Find the next occurance of target and select it.

save "filename" - Save the current document.

If filename is omitted the file is saved to it's original name. Otherwise the extension of the filename is used to determine the format of the file

converttotext "src" "dest" - convert the file given in "src" to the plain text file named "dest"

converttohtml "src" "dest" - convert the file given in "src" to the html file named "dest"

writepid "file" - write the PID of this process to the file "file"

server "error file" - This is being run as remote process. Write an error file on error.

previewpng Document preview.png width height - Create a PNG preview of Document with name preview.png of width pixels wide and height pixels in height.

visualedit - popup a visual window and edit the file or just preview what you've done close the window when finished.

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21 Dec 2005 (updated 21 Dec 2005 at 10:08 UTC) »
Everything you want to know about Nuclear Power

For last 6 months I've been leading a team of Physicists here at the University of Melbourne in the development of a wiki website that explains all the issues of nuclear power. Today we sent a media release announcing the website.



We did this because we felt we had something to offer to a debate about Nuclear Energy in Australia. We have no vested interest in Nuclear Power other than ensure everyone fully understands the risks and benefits of either employing it or not employing it. No one funded our research. We donated our time to the work much like what happens in Open Source software project. Because of this we could be free of accusations of bias. (But I'm sure we'll get some accusations anyway.)

Much of the anti-nuclear argument centers on an incorrect model of the energy costs in mining Uranium and Nuclear Power plants by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith . The implication of their work is that once the current crop of Uranium mines are exhausted, the energy cost of mining the less abundant Uranium will be so great that it will not be repaid in operating the power plant. We show that van Leeuwen and Smith both over-estimate the cost energy cost of mining the Uranium by at least a factor 10 and also over-estimate the cost of building and operating a Nuclear Plant by over a factor of 10.

The upshot is that Uranium at far lower concentrations that what are currently mined can be efficiently extracted. The implication is that there is hundreds of times more minable Uranium in the world than predicted by van Leeuwen and Smith. Enough to provide the entire energy needs of everyone on the planet for hundreds of years.

But that is just one of our findings. We look at everything to do with Nuclear power. We cover Waste Disposal, Advanced Reactors, Accelerator Driven reactors, Other energy sources, Radiation Safety, What happened at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, Greenhouse Gas emission, Costs of Nuclear Power and alternative energy sources, electricity prices in different Countries plus more.

Have a look. If you find it useful give us a link and tell your friends!

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