Friday, December 25, 2009

Good news from Jamaica

As mentioned in an earlier post I left my Acer Aspire One with a guy in Jamaica.
He has been having his challenges getting all the stuff he wants working on that machine. He has asked a few questions, but has mostly found his own solutions.
He's been trying hard to get the video conferencing (with empathy) working. Not much joy there, I've had trouble myself, tends to be a bit hit and miss + the AAO can struggle a bit with voice and video.
Anyway, this mornig I got a video call from him :)
Some Italian guy from the Ubuntu forums had helped him install the latest pidgin, talking him throught a bunch of terminal stuff.
Ubuntu you are awesome.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copenhagen shows what can be done if you are serious about supporting cycling

The video here shows what can be done if you are serious about promoting cycling in your city.

Some of the things they have done:

  • Lots of double width cycle lanes
  • specially designed junctions to cut down serious accidents
  • LED's to warn right turning vehicles about bikes
  • traffic lights co-ordinated so bikes travelling at 20km/h never have to stop
  • bike counters to a. monitor and b. let everyone know how many bikes there are.

Such a refreshing change from the world's worst bike lanes. Hopefully, other cities will start to catch on.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Karmic Koala on Acer Aspire 11.6" ZA3

I left my 8.9" Acer Aspire One behind with a really great Jamaican guy on a recent trip there.

It had Ubuntu Karmic Koala on it, so far the guy is doing pretty well, I've been impressed by his resourcefulness in trying to work around problems. One of the early questions I got was something like, "This wine stuff is a bit complicated".

Meanwhile, time for a replacemen beastie for me. There is a Canadian Computers store just up the road from me. The staff there are pretty clued in and helpful with it. The 8.9" acer has been excellent. Good points were the long battery life, light weight, compact size. I've found myself wanting a larger screen some of the time, but the plus points have offset this.

The 11.6" aspires were too tempting. Similar weight, half inch bigger all round, but 1366x768 screen resolution and 5 hours battery life. Perfect.

Only problem is the Poulsbo chip set used for the graphics driver. On the plus side, this is the chip that combines lower power consumption magic with the high resolution. The big problem is it is proprietary, with closed source drivers. At first sight, it appears to be an Intel chip, but it turns out they have done a deal with a third party, so the usual rule of thumb, where Intel really do play nicely with open source goes out of the window.

Nonetheless, Karmic installed from a USB stick without problems, bar the screen resolution. This thread provided the solution to the resolution problem. The scripts from lucazade worked like magic.

The only remaining issue is I have a choice between working sound and using the compiz 3-D effects. I'm sure someone out there has the answer to this one.

I was a little concerned tha the Atom Z520 processor might be a bit under-powered, but so far all is ok. I do have to keep an eye open for runaway firefox processes though -- occasionally it starts the cpu racing and then of course performance nosedives.

Meanwhile I've installed the Google Chromium browser with these instructions. I'm really finding it very slick on this machine. Added bonus is Chromium extensions are starting to trickle in, so it is becoming a viable alternative to firefox for me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First snow flake spotted in Ottawa

From snow and balloons

Actually, this gets a fail as a snow flake. The real thing should be here any day now, so the baker can go and check what they really look like.

In other news, I went to a Halloween party as balloon boy at the weekend. Since then, I have carefully adjusted the balloons payload so they hover about the apartment. It is a bit worrying how much entertainment I'm getting from this.

From snow and balloons

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ottawa Karmic Koala Release Party

It probably wasn't the biggest release party, but a good time was had by all anyway.

I went along to the UMI Cafe in Ottawa for the Karmic Koala release party I had advertised.

On arriving at the cafe I was happy to see that the laptop that myself and Ralph Pitchie had set up there for anyone in the cafe to use, running Jaunty Jackalope, was being used. Since neither Ralph nor myself had been to check on the machine since early September it was great to see it still running without problems.

It looked like it was going to be a one man party for a while. I had assumed that the Karmic T-shirt would tip people off that this was where the party was, but it seems the fronts of these shirts are a bit too subtle -- it wasn't until I got up to take the photo below of the laptop being used that George saw the back of the shirt and realised who I was.

From Karmic release party

I decided not to try and upgrade the cafe laptop, as I expected the Ubuntu servers to be a little sluggish, due to the release. I'd already upgraded my netbook, as had George so we just ended up chatting about each other's linux use.

From Karmic release party

Later the party moved on to the Royal Oak (aka The Sooty Oak) on Bank Street.

From Karmic release party

Monday, October 26, 2009

Karmic Release Party, Ottawa

I've just put myself down to organise a Ubuntu Karmic Koala release party at the UMI Cafe in Ottawa.

With the help of Ralph Pitchie (Ralph did most of the work), I helped set up a laptop there running Jaunty, giving free web browsing to anyone using the cafe.

So the plan is to have a release party 7pm onwards on Thursday 29th. We will no doubt migrate to a pub later in the evening.

I'll have USB sticks with the release candidate on them (might have the distro itself so long as the torrents are working ok on Thursday).

Will try and upgrade the laptop whilst I am there.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Karmic Koala release candidate

I just upgraded my LG P300 to Karmic Koala release candidate. To be precise, I did a fresh install.

I have /home in a separate partition. I followed my usual Ubuntu upgrade procedure is as follows:

  • Take backups
  • Install OS to a new partition
  • Test it
  • Mount the old /home.

The desktop CD booted no problems. The install went well.

On reboot I ran into this bug. The good news was that moving /etc/X11/xorg.conf out of the way was enough to get the machine booting into X without problems.

Once in X I was able to install the proprietary Nvidia drivers and all has been good.

I decided to convert my home directory to ext4.

This is where I ran into a bit of fun. First of all, I'm a plonker and when I partitioned my disk a while back I created too many primary partitions and did not leave enough space for the one extended partition I created.

Once I had karmic running I decided to backup my jaunty partition, then do some re-partitioning, then copy the jaunty install back into a fresh partition.

Now karmic comes with grub2. One nead thing with grub2 is you can just run:

sudo update-grub

and it does just that, including scanning for other OS'es on your system. This nearly worked for me. Unfortunately, I hit this bug. Probably a pretty rare situation, but would be good if the OS probing could cope with this one.

With a little hand editing of /boot/grub/grub.conf (yes, I know you are not supposed to do this) and fixing up the UUID's in the fstab the old jaunty install was up and running again.

In the course of this I discovered: /dev/disk/by-uuid/

This is a folder with links named by the UUID's to the actual partitions in human readable form. Very handy.

What is new?


I had mixed feelings about the switch to empathy from pidgin as an IM client. I've never been 100% happy with pidgin though, so I was prepared for a few rough edges. I really haven't used empathy long enough to give a fair assessment, but so far it is doing the job nicely.

Added bonuses are voice and video support. Voice also working to people running gtalk within firefox on OS/X.

Update: video also working from empathy on Karmic to gtalk running in firefox on OS/X.

Firefox 3.5

This seems very much snappier than firefox 3.0. I was using firefox 3.5 (shiretoko) under jaunty but that was sluggish compared with the karmic firefox3.5

Pulseaudio airtunes support

Pulseaudio now comes with support for airtunes.

You will need to install: padevchooser, pulseaudio-module-raop and pulseaudio-module-zeroconf.

With these it should automatically spot any airtunes devices you have on your network.

You can then fire up padevchooser, configure the local sound server to 'Make apple airtunes devices available locally'.

Now from the pulseaudio volume control, go to the playback tab and you should be able to select your airtunes device as the sync.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lloyds online banking is a bit crap

Actually, it is a bit unfair of me to criticise Lloyds online banking as I've never actually tried it.

I've been going through a kafkaesque process since July trying to set this up. So far the only real beneficiaries are skype and Canada Post.

Now I see that even if I do get the thing set up it might not work for me.

It is 2009 and I'm afraid I never thought to check if they support firefox.

Update: The internet banking was finally set up today! Only taken 3 months and as an added bonus it seems to work OK with firefox on linux. So it appears that far from being a steaming pile of dung, Lloyds TSB is a wonderful organisation that really gets the net. My apologies for any confusion.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Karmic Koala -- sexism

There has been a lot of fuss about sexism in the Ubuntu world of late. I'm not going to comment on that, more than enough has already been said.

However, as far as I can tell these Karmic Koala T-shirts are only available as men's T-shirts.

How am I supposed to explain to my wife what I do if she can't even buy the T-shirt?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Karmic netbook remix on Acer Aspire One

I've just upgraded to Karmic and so far the experince is excellent.

Firefox very much snappier + I suspect the wireless driver is working much more smoothly.

An added bonus, the light that indicates wireless activity now works too.

gwibber (twitter client) keeps crashing on me, but other than that, so far so good.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pharmaceutical Mathematics

So today's question is:

If a 40mg tablet costs $x how much does a 20mg tablet of the same drug cost?

In the case of Astrazeneca's nexium the answer is a surprising $x.

So why don't people buy the 40mg tablets and split them? Well apparently they are not designed to be split like that.

I suppose we are supposed to be happy that Astrazeneca have decided those that need a large dose of their drug should be subsidised by those requiring a smaller dose.

I'm wondering how prevalent this sort of pricing is.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mixing bikes and pedestrians

It has been a bad summer for cycling in Ottawa, another cyclist died yesterday.

Over the summer I have read a number of pieces suggesting increasing tension between cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

I've seen claims that cyclists and pedestrians don't mix any better than cyclists and cars.

One wrote that there is little difference between a cyclist doing 30km/h plus car doing 60km/h or a cyclist doing 30km/h and a pedestrian doing close to 0km/h.

I have to disagree with this. First off, 30km/h is top end of the range for cyclists, 0 bottom for pedestrians and 60km about par for a car, assuming 60km/h limit. Realistically thoug, the cyclist will be doing more like 20km/h and the pedestrian 6km/h, so the speed difference is as 14km/h in that case and 40km/h car to cycle.

The relative speed is of course a factor in generating accidents, but then you have to consider the damage when there is an accident. The energy involved is proportional to the square of the velocity. So, even if you ignore the mass of the car, there is 4 times the energy in a car/bike collision than bike/pedestrian. Throw in the mass of the car and it is off the scale.

Now on Sunday, I went for a run along the canal. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, some of the trees just starting to turn colour with joggers, cyclists, walkers and people casually strolling all mixing with no problems at all. Cyclists were courteous, ringing their bells to warn of their approach, slowing if necessary. Walkers were keeping to the right side of the path, aware they are sharing with others. Lots of give and take, everyone having a safe and fun time.

If only there was the same give and take between cars and cycles.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


On a moped, smoking, drinking and phoning

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Watching the final day of the Ashes

I spent a great afternoon watching the final (actually 4th) day of the Ashes at the Oval. Well not actually at the Oval, rather in the local pub in Sheffield.

Despite the Aussies needing 546 to win it was still tense, if any team can snatch defeat from victory in that sort of situation, England are the ones.

There was a friendly crowd in the bar. Everyone getting increasingly tense until Freddie threw the stumps down to run out Ponting. After that it was a steady procession of wickets, just when you felt it was starting to get tense again another would fall.

Great win for England, but credit to the Aussies and Ponting in particular for being dignified throughout this series. The series could have gone either way and the Aussies probably had the raw end of umpiring decisions this time.

Looking forward to Australia 2010/11.

More pictures here

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Revenue on line (ie)

I just had to log onto the Irish revenue site to renew a digital certificate.

I was greeted by the a message to the following effect:

Security on this site is provided by software from The legion of the bouncy castle.

No link to was provided, so I ended up googling to check the thing out. It was all seeming a bit pythonesque.

Turns out it is all fine, an open source set of tools for cryptography.

So, after a slight fright I went ahead and renewed.

More annoyingly, the ROS service still does not support linux as a client. So whilst they use open source software for their site they still insist that you pay the Mac or Microsoft tax to file your taxes

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A day late, but better weather

The clouds were a little more cooperative tonight. As well as that I lowered the exposure somewhat and so in many of the photos you can pick up the position of the transmitter.

You can find all the photos here.

I'll have to get a tripod for next year.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Solstice

There I was thinking I live in a condo block. It turns out I'm living in an astronomical clock, used to signal the summer solstice.

The picture above was taken on the evening of 21st June 2009, looking towards the Gatineau Hills and the mast shows Ryan Tower at the top of Camp Fortune in the Gatineau Hills.

The above photograph was taken a few minutes later as the sun crossed the horizon. Unfortunately the picture did not capture it, but Ryan Tower was exactly bisecting the sun in this shot (next year I'll lower the exposure somewhat).

Now the question is, will my condo block last as long as Stonehenge?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Version control wars come to registration plates

Spotted this the other day. I'll have to see if GIT has been taken yet.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eeebuntu on an Acer Aspire One

I recently acquired and Acer Aspire One. I wanted to put a Ubuntu based distibution on it, mainly because I'm familiar with Ubuntu and wanted the wide range of ubuntu packages available.

My first attempt was to install the Ubuntu netbook remix. This installed well and worked perfectly. The only issues I ran into were that it set the architecture to 'lpia' rather than 'i386'. I know the former is technically correct, but many repositiories do not have packages for 'lpia'. This prevented me from installing skype from medibuntu and I also could not get BBC radio to play due to inability to find a suitable version of realplayer.

I considered doing a generic intrepid install and then adding the netbook interface, but after doing some googling read that the intrepid kernel does not have support for the wireless care in the Acer Aspire One. Whilst there are good instructions on how to work round this I decided to wait for Jaunty.

However, I then discovered EeeBuntu. Reading around there were reports of it working out of the box on the Acer Aspire One.

So, I decided to install the netbook remix (NBR) version.

The install process was pretty straightforward.

The process is as follows:

  1. Download the iso from here.

  2. Put the iso onto a USB stick

  3. Boot your acer from the usb stick

  4. If all goes well do the install.

Stage 2. is probably the trickiest. Since I was running Ubuntu
Intrepid on the machine I downloaded the iso to this was actually
quite straightforward.

There is a package, usb-creator, that will take an iso and turn it
into an appropriate usb stick. If usb-creator is installed, it should
be available from the menu under "System->Administration->Create a usb
startup disk".

Just Plug in a USB stick (a 1G stick should be plenty big enough).
Start the usb-creator, select the iso you have downloaded and the
stick to copy to and you are done.

If you don't have usb-creator available the best bet is probably to use unetbootlin. This is a utility similar to usb-creator that has versions for both linux and windows.

Once the stick has been created, just plug it into the netbook and go
into settings at boot to select booting from the usb stick.

If all goes well your netbook will boot into a Ubuntu live, running
off the stick. This allows you to check everything is working before
doing a full install.

If all is well, you should probably take a back up of anything in your
current home directory that you might want to preserve (again, usb
sticks are good for this).

Once you have the backup you should find an option to install under

The install itself went pretty smoothly, the only things I did
different was to choose custom partitioninng so that I could specify
that ext2, rather than ext3 should be used for the filesystem. My
netbook has an SSD drive and the story is that ext2 performs better
and does not result in so many repeated writes to the disk. I'm not
sure if this is a practical issue or not. Also, I chose not to
allocate any space to swap. Again, this reduces disk writes.

The install went very smoothly. If you are not confident with
partitioning then I would suggest just picking the option to use the
full disk.

Once installed networking was working as was sound (including BBC
radio). I added the medibuntu repositories and was able to install
skype, which again worked well.

Since the initial install I have discovered that the wireless is a
little flaky and have had some sound glitches. My current plan is to
live with these and upgrade to Jaunty when it comes out.

Meanwhile, if you have an EEE pc then I'd expect this distro to work
really well. For the Acer Aspire One it is also pretty close.

IRMA Threatens Irish ISPs

Blacknight has this response to a letter from the IRMA, with RIAA type threats demanding they take action against infringing users.

The letter explains that going through the courts is impractical because, ".. as a logistic matter they could only identify a finite number of infringers while meanwhile the infringement was going on wholesale."

I'm puzzled by this. Are the lawyers really suggesting there are an infinite number of infringers? If so, it is rather pointless them trying to pursue a few of them.

How can they get away with complaining that the courts can only deal with a finite number of infringers?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Obama in Ottawa

Barrack Obama visited Ottawa yesterday. I had intended to walk up to Parliament Hill to see him arrive, but got delayed and by the time I went out they were stopping people at the end of Rideau Street. This ended up being not a bad place to watch the motorcade go by as it has to slow a bit for the corner.

There's a 50% chance he's in the photo above, though could well have been in the second limo which I only got a partial picture of.

Later in the day he made an unscheduled stop in the Byward Market, visiting the baker I normally get bread at to buy some maple leaf cookies.. now being sold in vast numbers as "Obama cookies".

More pics of the visit here (the Whitehouse), here (CTV) and here (mine).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A cool blackberry

Never really thought of Blackberries as cool until now ;)


The annual winter festival in Ottawa started this weekend.

It has been a good weekend so far, relatively mild. Last night in fact was a bit too mild, +6C, for the ice sculptures.

OC Transpo bus spotted in its natural habitat

Spotted the above today in Ottawa. Previously thought to have become extinct at the end of 2008.

Good to have the buses back at last.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Openpistemap and Mt Tremblant

I've done a bit of work on the tracks I collected at Mt Tremblant and started working on mapping it for OpenStreetMap.

I found JOSM a little painful at first, partly because I did not really know what I was supposed to be doing.

Switching to the latest version proved a good move, as the Ubuntu Intrepid version had a bug making the preferences dialog too small to change the things.

Anyway, with some help from the IRC channels, you can view the results here. Still rather a lot of pistes to add though.

UPDATE: the map link was showing my changes earlier, but they've now disappeared. I'm sure the rendering stuff will catch up again soon.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

GPS and skiing

With the winter weather I'm unable to feed my GPS and cycling obsession. The good news is I've found a new obsession: OpenPisteMap. This is part of the OpenStreetMap project.

The idea is to map out ski resorts. I've been using JohnJohn to collect tracks of my recent ski trips. The results have been a bit mixed. One problem I've run into is that many ski hills are north facing, which means the GPS satellites tend to be below the horizon, giving a poor fix at times.

However, I am collecting some reasonable tracks. Below is some data from a trip to Mt Tremblant earlier this week. By plotting altitude, speed and direction (with matplotlib) you can get a reasonable feel for what is going on: I go downhill faster than uphill, you can see some lifts are faster than others etc etc.

Next job is to load the data into JOSM and see if I can create some sort of map.

Monday, January 26, 2009


A bit late, but here is a pic of me toasting Obama last week.

The T-shirt is one I had made with an image I'd created myself and it has a hidden message.

To see the message, here is the raw image.

Obama's inauguration brought back memories of Tony Blair being elected in the UK, which was a happy day for me for other reasons. People were optimistic about change, but it didn't quite turn out like that.

The image was created thanks to the Python Imaging Library and a few lines of code (see below).

I tried using the GIMP, but I'm afraid I don't use it often enough to be able to do anything non-trivial faster than I can write PIL code.

import optparse
import Image

import ImageFont
import ImageDraw

def get_weight(xoff, yoff, width, height, image):

total = 0
count = 0
for x in range(width):
for y in range(height):
total += image.getpixel((xoff+x, yoff+y))
count += 1

if count == 0: count = 1
return int(round(total/count))

def get_rgb(xoff, yoff, width, height, image):

rr = gg = bb = 0
count = 0
for x in range(width):
for y in range(height):
r, g, b = image.getpixel((xoff+x, yoff+y))

rr += r
gg += g
bb += b
count += 1

if count == 0: count = 1

return int(round(rr/count)), int(round(gg/count)), int(round(bb/count))

def make_image(options):

obama =

options.width, options.height = obama.size
scale = options.scale
options.width *= scale
options.height *= scale

image ='RGB', (options.width, options.height))

print obama.getpixel((10,10))

text = options.text

font = ImageFont.truetype("/home/me/.fonts/arial.ttf", options.font)

draw = ImageDraw.Draw(image)
width, height = font.getsize(options.text)

xpos = ypos = height

offset = 0
total_offset = 0
red, green, blue =,,

while ypos < options.height:
while xpos < options.width:

for char in options.text[offset:]:
wchar, hchar = font.getsize(char)
if opts.rgb:
rgb = get_rgb(xpos/scale, ypos/scale, 1 + (wchar/scale), 1 + (hchar/scale), obama)
draw.text((xpos, ypos), char, font=font, fill=rgb)
weight = get_weight(xpos/scale, ypos/scale, 1 + (wchar/scale), 1 + (hchar/scale), obama)
draw.text((xpos, ypos), char, font=font, fill=(int(weight*red), int(weight*green), int(weight*blue)))
xpos += wchar

offset = 0
ypos += height
xpos = height
total_offset += options.offset
offset = total_offset % len(options.text)'blair.png', 'w'))

def get_parser():
""" Get an option parser.
parser = optparse.OptionParser()

parser.add_option('--width', type='int', default=426)
parser.add_option('--height', type='int', default=640)
parser.add_option('--scale', type='int', default=2)
parser.add_option('--offset', type='int', default=15)
parser.add_option('--font', type='int', default=9)
parser.add_option('--obama', default='obamagrey.png')

parser.add_option('--red', type='float', default=1.0)
parser.add_option('--green', type='float', default=1.0)
parser.add_option('--blue', type='float', default=1.0)

parser.add_option('--rgb', action='store_true')

parser.add_option('--text', default="Please don't do a Tony Blair ")

return parser

if __name__ == '__main__':

parser = get_parser()

opts, args = parser.parse_args()