I've decided to retire this blog — I don't really see myself updating it any time soon, and haven't for over two years anyway. I intend to leave the content on-line for the forseeable future, but have converted it to a static site. As a result, dynamic things like search and comments aren't really going to work.

You can find me on Twitter or on Google+ if you like. Alternatively, I'm usually on IRC as LawnGnome on Freenode.

Thanks for reading!


August 24th, 2009

Well, I’m back from the right hand side of the country. More on that if and when I can be bothered typing up my journal notes. It was fun.

I now have to deal with a giant backlog of e-mail, feeds and university work, so naturally I’m procrastinating and reading Slashdot instead. This story about parking meters in Chicago made me… do something that’s somewhere between raging and laughing. We’ve had those meters in Perth for years, and for all the many, many complaints Perth residents tend to have about City of Perth parking (and particularly their grey ghosts parking inspectors), the horror of having to walk a hundred metres or so to a ticket machine isn’t generally one of them.

It did remind me of working in the city last year, though. I usually parked at the Royal Street car park — even though it was a decent walk to iiNet’s offices on the Terrace, the day rate was cheap and there was usually parking still available at the hour I was getting there. In their infinite wisdom, the City of Perth decided to install new ticket machines last year which had apparently not gone through any sort of QC at all; the credit card functionality almost never worked, coin slots didn’t have enough clearance and kept getting jammed by 20 cent pieces, and it was generally a giant screw-up. As a result, you’d fairly often end up calling the City of Perth’s parking hotline, having a whinge at the completely disinterested person at the other end who’d promise someone would look at it someday (clearly not always the same day, since the same machines were often broken for several days at a time), and being given a reference number to write down and put on your dashboard to tell the parking inspectors that you’d at least tried to pay and that they should be merciful and not fine you. (That worked most of the time.)

Depressingly, the one time I got a decent response out of the City of Perth was when I got given $30 in change from a machine in the Goderich Street car park. (I was expecting about $2, from memory.) I called the hotline after a brief moral dilemma and got told by a rather surprised City of Perth staffer (after confirming not once but twice that yes, I really did want to give the money back) to wait there and one of the City’s contracted security people would be there shortly.

They arrived in two minutes flat. Amazing what happens to parking response times when money is involved.

Eee PC 701 and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04

August 13th, 2009

I bought an Eee PC 701 a little while ago, when Catch of the Day had them as their daily special. Since I bought it mainly as a travel computer, rather than one I intended to use day-to-day, I’ve hardly touched it since it arrived and I dropped Ubuntu Netbook Remix onto it. At the time, I noticed some slowness to do with Wi-Fi and the special GUI, but since I flicked it over to the standard GNOME desktop almost straightaway anyway, I didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward to today, and I’m quickly setting up a guest account for my friends to use while we’re away on our Melbourne-Sydney road trip (since I’m apparently the designated laptop carrier for some reason). The slowness of both the GUI and Wi-Fi annoyed me, so I went and had a look around for solutions. For the benefit of anyone else having the same issues, here’s what I found:

Wireless: The 701 includes an Atheros chipset. Long-time Macbook users like myself will probably have to suppress an instinctive shudder at that. Launchpad bug 378156 is there to deal with this and, although it’s still open, hints at the best way to deal with this: installing the relevant linux-backports-modules package provides a newer version of the ath9k driver that resolves the flakiness and packet loss that the default version suffers from.

Netbook Launcher GUI: The main selling point of the Netbook Remix is its impressively slick launcher GUI, which wraps around GNOME to provide a better small-screen environment. It looks terrific and would work really well but for Launchpad bug 349314, which details a problem with the tiling support in the graphics chipset driver that makes the launcher unusably slow. The workaround for this is to enable the /apps/netbook-launcher/force_low_graphics option in GConf, but the real fix is in the pipeline, which is a new kernel version (2.6.28-15-generic) which is currently in the jaunty-proposed repository and makes everything work smoothly, just as your chosen deity or non-deity would have intended.

The Ubuntu Wiki has a useful page detailing these and other problems that affect the 701, but with those fixes above, I’m now very happy with Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the 701.

Strange days

August 12th, 2009

It has been a long, strange day full of sleep deprivation, coincidence, opportunity, drama and mostly self-inflicted angst. I might see if I can distill it into a blog post tomorrow.

At any rate, I’m off on a holiday as of tomorrow evening, and looking forward to my first real break since last July. (Conferences and uni trips are fun, but not exactly relaxing a lot of the time, and the Foundation Day long weekend I spent in Albany just wasn’t long enough.) The plan is for five of us to go to Melbourne for a few days (including taking in the battle for the priority draft picks, aka the Fremantle-Melbourne AFL game; and no, I’m not a Dockers or Demons supporter, so that’s going to hurt), drive very slowly through the snowfields in the general direction of Sydney, then catch a Bledisloe Cup game the weekend after next and return triumphant. And hopefully relaxed.

Obviously if you have open DB bugs, are breathlessly waiting for long-overdue action on the Dubnium front, or really want a new feature in wp-gopher, you may be waiting a bit longer.

I’d apologise for the above, but I’d be lying through my back teeth as I did it. I’ve been looking forward to this for months.

wp-gopher ₀.₂.₁

August 6th, 2009

Every time I release a version of wp-gopher I assume I’m done with it, since it’s a trivial little bit of Python that does one thing and does it well barely adequately. Neverthless, I got annoyed with the lack of character set support in it, so I’ve quickly hacked up a rudimentary fix — you can now define the character set in the configuration file and wp-gopher will insert an appropriate <meta> Content-Type tag to enforce it within blog posts (supporting non-Latin-1 text in the index would require character set support within the Gopher protocol, which doesn’t exist, as far as I know). The default is UTF-8, unsurprisingly.

To prove that it works, you can view this very blog post via Gopher (possibly even IPv6 Gopher, if you have IPv6 connectivity) and marvel at the following string of UTF-8 encoded Arabic, which Wikipedia claims is the Arabic name for Perth: بيرث.

A tarball is available: wp-gopher-0.2.1.tar.gz (SHA-1 sum: b9f9f1ced88464a1ff52cef5d088f2d046d7a20d), or you can git clone http://www.adamharvey.name/git/wp-gopher for the latest trunk.

Undesirable content

August 5th, 2009

Tried to access my home server from university (the same university that blocks access to everything except HTTP(S) via a proxy — not even outbound port 22, requires all wireless connections to go over an unsecured network then uses a PPTP VPN over that, rather than the more obvious 802.1x authentication, and other bits of IT bizarreness) and got this wonderful screen (URL and user name blanked out to protected the guilty):

ContentKeeper Fail

I’m not quite sure what’s malicious about a Mythweb interface, but hey, who am I to argue with the sensible people in university ITS.


July 27th, 2009

As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, this blog is available over IPv6 as well as IPv4. Inspired by Dan Siemon, I thought I’d have a quick dig through my HTTP access logs and see how many requests come in over IPv6.

Type Unique IPs
IPv4 13,514 98.8%
IPv6 165 1.2%
Total 13,679 100%

That’s actually a bit more than I expected, since at best only four of the unique IPv6 IPs can be attributed to me. I wouldn’t say that IPv6 has hit the mainstream yet, but even 1% of traffic’s an interesting result.

On the overuse of parentheticals and their applications to high school reunions

July 23rd, 2009

Next weekend is my eleventh high school reunion. If it seems like an odd number for such a thing, well, there was a tenth last year, and presumably it went so well that they decided an eleventh was in order. Honestly, I did wonder briefly if it was just a reflection on the quality of our mathematics department. I didn’t go last year (in spite of some cajoling from one of my then-new friends, who basically suggested that I take her to prove… something that I wasn’t entirely clear on at the time, but which evidently would have been in the spirit of fuck you, I’m an anteater — suffice it to say that it only really started making sense once I found out more about her school experience), and I’m not going this year.

Oddly enough, I’ve had plans for next weekend since the start of the year, so I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief when the reunion was plonked on the same weekend; I mean, it saved an awkward excuse to cover not being very interested in seeing pretty much anyone from my high school. Broadly speaking, the (single digit figure of) people I want to be in touch with I’m still in touch with, with only one or two exceptions.

Still, it got me thinking back. I mean, what conversations would I realistically have given the shared experiences feel like a lifetime ago? Hell, I’m a pretty different person these days to the guy I was in 1998. Conversations? They’d be one liners at best; to whit:

  • The bully: So, hey, how about that ear thing you tried once outside science class? Did you ever stop breathing through your mouth?
  • The sort of friend of convenience I didn’t bother keeping in touch with: Yeah, sorry about the whole not calling thing. For, like, eleven years. How ’bout them Eagles?
  • The druggie (hell, which one?): Did you end up killing all your brain cells, or did you get lucky like me and manage to wise up before that point?
  • Most perilously of all, the first serious crush: Shit, you were all I wanted when I was thirteen. Subconsciously, I still compare every partner to you, no matter how unattainable you are living there almost fifteen years in the past (because really, I can only think about how you were then; I know nothing about you now). So, uh… how’s the food?

How the hell do you respond to any of that? And presumably I’d be getting similarly awkward conversational gambits my way (heard you got kicked out of a university less than twelve months out of high school — way to go, man!) which I’d have equally little interest in engaging with.

Maybe I’ll have more perspective in time for the twentieth. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my lost weekend next week with my friends.

Unordered lists are fun

July 8th, 2009

Additions to my list of things I shouldn’t do while feeling emo and heartachy:

  • Buy music
  • Choose clothes to wear from my extensive collection of XKCD shirts
  • Prepare any sort of work presentation that needs to be upbeat and cheery
  • Read Questionable Content‘s archives

Whoa. I might just add don’t read Webcomics to that.

Let me fire up the DeLorean

July 3rd, 2009

Found and reported a couple of PHP 5.3 bugs yesterday. That isn’t such a surprise; it’s a new release, after all, and we’re currently in the midst of developing code for the first time against 5.3 here at work. One of them is a crasher, but an obscure one reliant on the new-in-5.3 INI_SCANNER_RAW mode in parse_ini_file and a rather odd configuration file, so as these things go, it’s pretty minor, and scottmac has jumped on it very promptly indeed (thanks!). The response from Jani was interesting, though:

Thanks for not reporting this before release..

Now, Jani does a tremendous amount of work triaging PHP bugs and I — and every other PHP developer (particularly those of us who does this for a living) — owe him a huge debt for that. But frankly, I resent the implication that I’ve somehow sat on a crasher since before 5.3.0 was released and only submitted it now as some sort of weird vendetta against the PHP internals team. Funnily enough, I only found it while I was reducing the other, more trivial bug down to a minimal test case.

I get far worse things implied in my direction when I’m out on a Saturday night in Northbridge, so really, I’m not that fussed. (I’m obviously a bit fussed, though, since I’m writing this.) I do wonder how somebody new to the PHP community would feel, though — my guess is that you could forget about future bug reports in some cases, and that just isn’t a win for anyone.

Tarnished, Old, Boring

June 18th, 2009

As is all over the Web, our good friends at Microsoft Australia have decided to give away some money1 to try and shore up IE 8′s market share. They’ve done this by setting up a Web site that tells you to use IE 82, and when you do, you get a little box that includes the tweets they’re popping on the competition Twitter account.

That’s all well and good — it’s Microsoft’s money, after all, and they can spend it however they like. That said, there are a couple of things I find rather odd about the whole shebang. The first is technical: thus far, the landing page they have only uses some remarkably simple server-side User Agent sniffing to decide which image to show and whether to show the box of tweets. It would be nice if they actually used the competition to showcase some nifty technology that IE 8 actually brings to the Web that the other browsers don’t have, but presumably ActiveX and VML3 don’t count these days, and that pesky Silverlight team actually get things working on other browsers, damn them. (The fact that the competition page detects a default IE 8 install as IE 7 is particularly hilarious, but well documented elsewhere, so I won’t go into that.)

The bigger thing I find strange is the verbiage. There are at least seven versions of the welcome image that get served up depending on your browser: Tarnished Chrome, Old Firefox, Boring Safari, IE 6, IE 7, a generic message for other browsers, and the IE 8 version that talks about the competition a bit.

The first thing that leaps out at me is the rather negative language used — if IE 8′s so much better that people are going to love it just as soon as they give it a shot (encouraged by the chance to win $10,000), surely there’s no particular need to pluck out some negative adjectives before the names of the non-Microsoft browsers. (Presumably Microsoft’s marketing department isn’t too keen on talking down IE 6 and 7, so no adjectives and no ditching of the browsers in those cases. Feel free to suggest appropriate adjectives for IE 6 in particular in the comments.) Talk up your own product, Microsoft!

The So get rid of it, or get lost line is a bit odd, too. It seems to be an attempt to be cool, hip and edgy, but it’s dangerously close to actually telling your prospective customers to get bent, which is the sort of marketing tactic that doesn’t work out very often. Particularly for people on non-Windows platforms, surely it might have been better from a brand image point of view to say something nice (Sorry, but to take part in this competition, you have to be running the sheer awesomeness of Windows?) rather than that rather strange, out of place comment.

From my point of view, the idea of a marketing campaign for a new browser version seems reasonable — the last thing Microsoft wants from a brand and technological point of view is a world dominated by alternative browsers — but this seems like a remarkably wrong-headed, badly thought out way of going about it.

(Legalities: the marketing images and copy linked above are © Microsoft Australia and are reproduced unmodified apart from the addition of a background colour for legibility. Fair dealing is asserted under section 41 of the Copyright Act 1968 for the purposes of review and criticism.)

1 Link appropriately nofollowed. I did debate whether to post this at all, given it’s an obvious attempt at a viral marketing campaign and Microsoft would want people to talk about it, but I felt the need to vent a bit, so I feel nofollow links are an appropriate compromise.
2 For what it’s worth, I don’t mind IE 8 anywhere near as much as 6 or 7 as a developer. Sure, it’s still horribly slow at executing Javascript — sorry, JScript — and lacks support for a whole bunch of useful features everyone else has had for years, but it’s not actively broken any more, which is nice.
3 I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the continued support for VML in lieu of SVG in IE. There has to be some sort of stubborn as a mule award on that front.