Older blog entries for mx (starting at number 31)

Beta - I'm now a beta tester for a commercial blogging service, TypePad. I set a beta-blog up using the beta tool, and am seriously considering closing down warped. I'm tired of hosting fees, and maintaining things there. It is easy to do, but chews cycles from an already taxed cranium. But, I tend to waffle on these sorts of decisions, so maybe I'll just end up hosting it all from home.

Slavery - I'm working on making a retarded network 'failover' solution function. Another here dude smacked together some scripts and a cheap-ass router, and then called it failover (IP forwarding). Of course it fails on site, and now I have to fix it. The topology is cyclic, the routers questionable, and the scripts are a mess. It's no wonder that OSS can beat commercial software ... because f*cking retarded solutions are usually ignored.

1 Jul 2003 (updated 1 Jul 2003 at 23:46 UTC) »
Mmmmm ... Books - An interesting view into the world of Amazon.com through the eyes of one of their developers (via scriptingnews). I ordered a few books today to feed my brain, including a few tufte books I've been lusting after for some time.

Oh Canada! - It's our birthday, and I'm proud to live here. Oh, and we smacked a wee rocket into orbit yesterday. A humble telescope.

27 Jun 2003 (updated 27 Jun 2003 at 18:49 UTC) »

POV - Had an interesting debate with a local cube dweller about the new G5 macs. He argued for quite sometime about how microsoft and PCs had always been the place to be, and how Apple could never be as good. He insisted that he wasn't anti-mac, but his blindness that Wintel was the One True Way (tm) was astounding.

Now I use many platforms regularly, and there are many good things to say about most of them. But today, I realized how skewed my own point of view was related to platform zealotry. It really suprised me too, as I consider myself platform agnostic. The really strange part was that I was secretly favouring products from a company that irks me, and only because of the consistent propaganda that I had hoped I was immune too. Even though I don't argue or choose technologies with the marketing-shite mindset, I still have a perception that their software is somehow better than it is.

The years of marketing-hype and constant media assumptions surrounding the quality of the Microsoft office products, indicate that they are somehow better than anything else. I've used these products, and similar products on other platforms, and have bought into this shite. I don't know how, either, because everytime I use Word it annoys me for its many failings ... and this is in a 10+ year old product. By now it should be good, really good. But a few days away from it, and the marketing-hype creeps back in and I find myself critical of other non-Microsoft solutions.

So when I'm using Open office, Abiword, or Gnumeric, I find myself thinking: "Hey, these have really come along. They're almost as good as what Microsoft would do." ... which is complete and utter bunk. They're *better*, in almost every way than the same Microsoft products. And I don't say that because I love open source.

Using Word and Excel a lot this week, I am amazed at quirky and buggy they are. Word bullet lists still stupify me - increasing and decreasing the indents has a random effect on the resulting font and bullet style. I remember this bug from 5 years ago, and it still happens periodically today. The style-editor in Word is a usability joke, 5 levels of modal dialogs to change a style. I noticed several redraw bugs in Excel today, which also suprised me. It didn't stop me from what I had to do, but I was amazed at how quickly I could forget that these products are just average software. The marketing still gets to me, and I know better. I can see where my cube-neighbour gets his mindset, even if it is hook, line, and sinker. Marketing is really the great evil.

I think the recent Apple hardware is cool, but it is spotted with marketing crap. I hope Apple does well, but I am certain that people will make unbalanced arguments about their products too, based mostly on the aura that the Apple marketing machine has worked hard to create. Some people will feel better using Apple products, just because they are Apple products. It ends up usability is partly a product of perception, of how people think they feel about the thing they are buying. And it ends up people are easy to lie to.

As for the quality of Microsoft products, I am probably more critical of Word than I am of Abiword, and conversely more forgiving of Abiword than of Word. Despite the predjudice I pretend not to have, Word is remarkably frustrating to use. It is amature software, a terrible writing tool, and bloated with unusable features. Microsoft has succeeded, though, as a few weeks now I'll forget most of the frustrations ... and remember Word as ubiquitous 'world-class' sofware. It ends up 'world-class' is all about marketing, and that I am a chump.

Even if Apple makes the fastest, sexiest machines, or if open-source produces the best Word processor, people won't buy into it. Or if they do, they'll forget the next time they turn on the TV, or open a magazine. It isn't about quality, or principles. It is about money, and about how often something is heard. People are generally too weak, even when they're discerning, to escape a constant stream of deception.

Improvement - I finally churned out another article .. a rant on web usability and blogging. I can't believe how long it can take to massage a few thoughts into something coherent, and how much the tool used affects it. I have a long ways to go before I'll be ready to write my first book.

Reversal - I used to think that web interfaces were great, but am now realizing how much they get in the way of writing. Sure, I can force my brain to produce a stream of characters into a little web-box. But it isn't effective or pleasant. How do we put up with this shite?

Retarded - I hate to be tasked with work that only exists because of brain-damaged folk. I'm not being elitest or anything, but what I'm working on this week at my slave post is really half-baked. It's partly due to the middle-management philosophy of least-risk, and partly due to a domain that can't be solved due to a borked relationship with the customer. There are actually some good solutions to this set of problems, but none of them are within the realm of possibility. Retarded man.

Less whining please - I should complain less. Futile efforts for slavery are part of life, as are the simple folk who mandate it. Things are never as bad as they can be made to be in our minds, and there are always alternatives. The same goes for being critical of past failures, which in the end were roaring successes. I still don't get how that sort of thing works, but it seems to have happened to many slaves I know. This is life as a slave, I guess.

GTK GUI building - I slapped together a GUI prototype for a blogging tool last night using glade. Glade is really quite nice - the prototype took 10 minutes, and resulted in workable C-code. It's too bad that they dropped support for generating perl and python code, but the resulting C-code will be enough to easily convert to either language. In fact, it should be 'trivial' to script the conversion between the C (or xml) and perl, python, or mono/gtk# (for that matter). I'll finish the layouts first though, and figure out what the target language will be later. Anyone have any recommendations in this area?

Blogging back-ends - Up to now, I've been building bender as both a blogging interface, and a blogging back-end. I'm thinking that I'll focus my efforts on front-end blogging tools for Gnome, as there are many decent blogging back-ends (like pyblosxom). Maybe it would even make sense to support multiple backends, as some of the tools have external-apis, or scrapable web interfaces.

What I need the most (and maybe other people too?) is a more productive front-end for managing my site, somthing that makes the writing (and simple markup) portions of it trivial or even enjoyable. Anything that makes it easier to write, and anything that makes it easier to write /better/. I can live with vim, or a web interface and by-hand markup for writing articles, but the non-writing tasks really suck the energy out of the whole process ... especially the aspects that are laggy, like web-form updates, or file transfers. Too much stuff in between the brain and the persistence medium. Cooper really has a good point about cognitive friction and usability.

Tool focus - I'm also attempting to write a paper to focus my findings, thoughts, and rants on blogging tools. Every tool I've used has been useful, but none of them have really tweaked my cortex. Most of the web interfaces suck for writing, but are decent at entry-administration ... and are great for the resulting content. Most of the client-side tools do better at the writing interface, but place too much emphasis on site organisation, templating, or file transfer. A blogging tool is really about writing first, and then pesky details like layout, organisation, and file systems.

Beer == good - We're at the end of another dev cycle, and we went for beers and lunch. Perhaps not the most productive approach, but good times anyway.

Bender update - I added several features to bender last night. It was a toss up between starting a gtk+ GUI, or hacking in some jabber-accessable features. Hacking was the obvious path, and now I have a link-log bot that does most of what I need ... though not in the most attractive package. Such is life.

XD2 - I am amazed at the problems people are having installing XD2. I was lucky, I guess, the install was flawless, and I've had few hiccups since. It is rather interesting how many different approaches people have to installing something. There's something to learn from that ...

13 Jun 2003 (updated 13 Jun 2003 at 20:32 UTC) »

mrcsparker : It changed me too ... in an indescribable way. There's more placed to learn in life than just tech ;-)

Test driven development - sounds buzz-wordish, but is really a fundimental principle. It just-plain-works. More on this later though, time to get back to testing code.

13 Jun 2003 (updated 13 Jun 2003 at 04:31 UTC) »
Zen and Zombie Land

I've reached a new state in my corporate-zombie path. Maybe I've seen Office Space one time too many, or maybe I've absorbed too much of Zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintanence. However I arrived, it is an interesting place: it's like it doesn't really matter. And, you know, it really doesn't.

I also realized that developers are much harder on themselves sometimes than they need to be. Teams of people too. Success isn't always obvious, and neither is failure. Sometimes both are a figment of the beholder. Corporate-land is weird, anyway.

XD2, Galeon 2, Evo 1.4


31 May 2003 (updated 31 May 2003 at 03:28 UTC) »

Thanks to thomasvs for the excellent information about building, rpms, and rh9. I put the tutorial together as I couldn't google a rh rpm for epiphany or moz 1.4b ... but it looks like I didn't google deep enough. Hacking the build seemed easy enough, but like always, there are better ways to do things. The community is a great thing, thanks again!

I do want to be able to build gnome pieces as I'm trying to learn enough of it to contribute to some of these excellent projects. It is tough to keep a system current, though, outside of wrestling garnome on a weekly basis. Maybe that's what it takes? Maybe that's what I'll do once I learn enough gtk API to be useful.

I did get a few helpful mails from people on the epiphany list, though they all told me the opposite of what thomasvs did. Goes to show there are many functional solutions, but not all of them correct. I'll take thomasvs's advice, as it seems to fit what I know about how things work. Good learning all in all.

30 May 2003 (updated 30 May 2003 at 21:55 UTC) »

I decided to take Epiphany for a test-drive. It is the new default browser for Gnome 2, and has been described as a small, simple browser similar to what Galeon started out as.

Epiphany isn't available in binary format, but is fairly simple to build from source. These notes relate to Epiphany 0.6.1, Mozilla Mozilla 1.4b., and a fairly stock Redhat 9 install.

Building Mozilla 1.4a

The instructions on the Epiphany install page will work, but I found that you don't need to define the --prefix= parameter.

$ ./configure  --enable-default-toolkit=gtk2 --disable-mailnews 
  --disable-ldap --disable-debug --enable-optimize --disable-tests
  --enable-crypto  --enable-xft --with-system-zlib
$ make
... (zzz)
$ su
$ make install

The Mozilla build doesn't update the pkg-config repository, so you will have to do so by hand. Epiphany uses pkg-config to discover the build parameters for including and linking the Mozila bits. If you don't update the repository, the Epiphany configure script will fail to locate a suitable version of Mozilla. Pkg-config doesn't seem to require any reset, so simply copying the files will suffice.

$ su
$ cd mozilla
$ find -name mozilla-gtkmozembed.pc
$ cd <location of mozilla .pc files from above find>
$ cp *\.pc /usr/lib/pkgconfig/

Building Epiphany

Once Mozilla is built, installed, and the pkg-config repository updated, building Epiphany is simple. Perform the ritual configure, make, and make install dance. If configure fails, and the MOZILLA_COMPONENT_CFLAGS are set to the Mozilla 1.2, then the pkg-config wasn't updated correctly. See above for details.

Note, you shouldn't need to specify which Mozilla build to link to (ie., ./configure --with-mozilla-snapshot=1.4a) as the configure script should magically determine this when it runs pkg-config to get the Mozilla library build settings.

Assuming the build and install succeed, you will have to manually copy the Epiphany bonobo server files to the right location. If you start Epiphany without updating these files, you will get the following error:

"Bonobo couldn't locate the GNOME_Epiphany_Automation.server ..."

The suggested bonobo-slay and reboot don't fix the problem, as the install fails to install the server files to the correct location for Redhat 9. I'm guessing Redhat moved this directory or something.

$ cd epiphany*
$ su
$ cp data/GNOME_Epiphany_*server /usr/lib/bonobo/servers/

Now, Epiphany should startup.

Epiphany is clean and simple browser. I've only been using it for a few weeks now, and have found it stable overall. The bookmark system is interesting, and discussions on the mailing list show their keen interest to make it even better. I've heard people voice concerns over Gnome using Epiphany for the default browser, but it appears to be a very viable choice. Well done!

(I also posted this to my own pathetic, little blog.)

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