Sitsofe's diary for August 2002

31 August, 2002

Used OpenOffice recently? Tried its English British dictionary? Terrible isn't it? Jammed full of Americanisms and seemingly obsessed with trying to eliminate anything with a double l. I'm hardly a wordsmith but help it at hand — there is a far better English British MySpell dictionary available... Ah hang on a second, looks like I opened my bottle of non-alcoholic wine too soon; I fed it one of my web pages and the initial background spell check was so slow I thought OpenOffice had crashed. There's always something...

Yesterday night and this morning I compiled GNOME 2.0 to see what's it's like (Linux Format gave most of the needed tar balls on their cover DVD). Actually I compiled GARNOME because I didn't want to blow away my existing GNOME 1.4 installation. There was still a fair bit of hacking with scripts to get it to see the DVD tar gzipped tarballs (it was expecting tar bzipped ones). I can report that the fonts are now antialiased, the default font is too small and the font sizing program segfaults. Nautilus is a bit faster (and less buggy) though and the new preferences are neater and the tab focus is now available in more areas aiding keyboard lovers.

30 August, 2002

Started the migration of the site from the old format to the new format (soon all the pages on the site will have a similar look to the diary pages). This may sound simple but in reality it requires me to convert the original source pages from the HTML Sucks Completely format to eXtensible Markup Language. I wrote a Perl script to do most of the work and having fixing up the remaining problems by hand. Yes, the pages you read are actually compiled (although transforming may be a more accurate description of the process).

In fact, if you want to see the original format of these pages change the .html extension to .xml and bask in the default nonsense. Anyhow, I've got to press on with the conversion.

29 August, 2002

The day started off with me lying in bed listening to Radio 4 (as I'm oft to do when I have the time). Today (the name of the programme that was airing) was discussing how the woman who was arrested in connection with the Soham murders was going to have a video trial (fair enough if people are going to try and abuse her as she arrives at court). A lawyer was debating about how video trials were a shabby alternative to the real thing likening it to having a video examination by a doctor (Cue echo)...

Shortly after I rushed out of bed and got ready for my own Doctor's appointment. I'm pleased to say that unlike the University doctor, this one has ordered an X-ray (so maybe now I'll find out what's wrong with my back).

Apple have killed off the "Happy Mac". This was always one of the things that I preferred about using Apple hardware. If something was wrong when you started the machine then the icon would not be its usual reassuring smiling self but a downturn face of misery warning what was in store. This just struck me as intuitive since it has been long known by anyone who uses computers that they can be temperamental and have off days. Drawing a face with what the computer is feeling on it just obviates this — I'd like to see if you could tell how I was feeling if I had progress bar for a face.

Point and click players rejoice — LucasArts are releasing sequels to Sam & Max and Full Throttle (found via Slashdot).

More from Slashdot. A new player writes about his first Dance Dance Revolution experience. I'm a big fan of the PaRappa the Rapper games and I've shaken maracas until my arms nearly fell off so I suspect that I'd enjoy this (just as long as I didn't truly suck at it). Some people have even taken it so far as to actually dance (rather than just trying to hit the arrows with their feet) on the machines. Oh and mentioning this wouldn't be complete without the link to the MegaTokyo's Mosh Mosh Revolution comic strip (warning: ability to decipher elitespeak helps immensely).

28 August, 2002

Hmm let's see, it's been a few days since the last update (breaking one of the rules of the living web article I mentioned the other day) so I think it's time to switch to the emergency material I've been keeping for a moment like this.

The DMCA (aka the Digital Millennium Copyright Act)

I don't like it and neither should you! If you don't know what the DMCA is or you are looking for examples of how companies are using it to stifle critics then following are for you. I originally put these links together to show to Jon (who's training to be a lawyer) after I told him what a far reaching and downright dangerous law it was.

25 August, 2002

Alistapart (one of my favourite web design sites) has a story up about writing for the living web. Fancy title but it's basically an article on what makes an interesting weblog/diary/journal.

I'm starting to get to the stage where I need to develop my current diary system (which I've nicknamed Oodles) into something better or jump ship to something established (like Moveable Type). The thing is, the software I would like to use doesn't really exist yet. I prefer to write this blog in what I shall call a line based format (for example I currently make bulleted lists by starting a line with a tab followed by * and a space) and I need a tool that accommodates this wacky style and converts it into tag based XML. From there it should then apply an XSL stylesheet and thus create the finished HTML 4 Strict page you are reading.

It should also have a simple way to make a link (so that I don't have to mess about with the tags I've got now) and convert those pesky ampersands into & tags automatically (so that the HTML conforms). In fact it should have on the fly invalid HTML checking. Oh and some sort of spell checker is a must — I'm sick of all the typos I let slip through. Oh yeah its editor should either be Vi or support Vi shortcuts (and no I'm not going to write an Emacs mode. This system needs to be an app in its own right).

Oh and it should work with ssh so I can securely copy all the stuff up to SUCS. All the current systems seem to depend upon good-old-insecure FTP which doesn't cut it for me. FTP is the telnet of the file transfer world after all.

24 August, 2002

There is a weblog bot called Organica that has taken to crawling this page (and thus it's liked pages). It's kind of interesting what they are trying to achieve with it. It reminds me of Blogdex with its first seen, most recent and the like statistics.

23 August, 2002

First up a brief plea. If I write something that doesn't make sense (grammatically or spelling wise) please contact me and tell me about it so I can correct it. Some of the stuff I have written is shockingly incoherent at times...

Name dropping

I'm not sure whether I should grace my long time friend Simon Little (one of the paintball drop outs) with a mention here after he likened me to the Comic Book Guy out of the Simpsons today after perusing my diary. This he claimed was because I was too critical — pointing out that I mentioned Gareth's site only to then go on and talk about some of the "weaknesses" in it. He also had the audacity to claim that most of yesterday's entries were critical (an off day I'm sure). Well I hope he enjoys the link I gave to his site (The fishing penguin in case you missed it earlier) at least.

Also hello to Jason Bees for admitting he reads this stuff on a regular basis.

On a very tenuous link, I'd like to turn your attention to this Penny Arcade strip concerning the M$ abbreviation of Microsoft's name. I remember not so long ago I used to use this abbreviation a lot but after Finn Wilcox asked why people were using it I realised I was just being petty about Microsoft's success. Last time I checked it wasn't illegal for companies to make money, rather it is how they make money that can be cause for concern (and this distinction is not clear when M$ is used).

22 August, 2002

Got back from London yesterday. I really do find travelling anywhere incredibly stressful. This visit involved lots of walking, waiting and not eating for 8 hours (a rarity for me). Thank goodness I took the GameBoy along (Advance Wars is still good).

Looks like Juan Quintela has snuck out the supermount patches for the 2.4.19 Linux kernel (which is good because I'm not sure whether my own hacked version of the 2.4.18 patches were actually stable).

Today I tested the quality of the Ogg Vorbis (a lossy digital audio standard) encoder. I really do wish they had included the information about how the default quality of 3 is roughly equal to a 128Kbit MP3 in the docs/man page... I've found that there was some nasty artifacting during The Chemical Brothers' Hoops and I've gone back an re-encoded everything with a quality of 4 (which seems to still make files smaller than my VBR MP3s but still containing the occasional annoying artifact).

A screenshot of the upcoming Redhat 8.0. Things are looking a lot smoother and slicker than before, making me wonder whether low colour desktops need not apply...

Why is communication (with people) sometimes so difficult? One should be able to just say what is necessary in every circumstance but I just don't seem able to manage it...

20 August, 2002

I'm writing up my paintball experiences from a few weeks ago so consider that today's entry :)

I've just caught this usability rant about IE being unable to make fonts bigger. The thing is, this feature works in the cases he raises in Mozilla/Opera. In Galeon (and I think Opera) they will even remember the font size. Certainly it is a feature I would not be without (given how small fonts can look on Linux).

Someone ( just did a search for "openoffice dnetc slow" and ended up at one of my pages by accident. Thanks to this person I now know why OpenOffice is so slow for me when I'm in Linux - it appears to be the fault of dnetc. Turning dnetc off makes OpenOffice feel far more responsive. Thanks for the tip off!

I'm off to London for a few days so there won't be entries until I come back.

19 August, 2002

I saw the final episode of 24 and I must say I was underwhelmed (but then again I have only seen the prior episode). Good concept though.

17 August, 2002

Yesterday I found out that Rhys Jones has a weblog called Backburner. I know (of) Rhys because he is a long time SUCS member who seems to like similar geeky things to me (I'm fairly certain he reads NTK and I wouldn't be surprised if he uses Lynx quite a bit).

16 August, 2002

Paul Graham outlines an interesting filter for spam based upon probabilistically looking at words that appear in spam and non-spam email.

Looks like the BBC have a broadband section (I never noticed this before). Basically everything is bigger in terms of bytes to download but I wonder if that automatically makes it better?

In the evening I was called upstairs because my Mum's P200 running Windows 95 was complaining that it had run out of hard disk space. I found this a little odd because just a few days ago I had freed up more space after running a backup. While there wasn't a huge amount of free space (only around 190Mb free) I thought it odd that it should suddenly be used up so quickly.

My initial thought was that the dialog was lying but no there really was only 2Mb free. My next thought was that it was Windows expanding its virtual memory due to some memory leaking program, a program that I knew had been causing a lot of other faults, the program mentioned in FAULTLOG.TXT more than any other one - RealPlayer.

You see my Mum had been pestering me for some speakers for her computer for quite some time and I until I got back home a few months ago, I just hadn't got round to getting a pair. However, since I don't use my 4.1 surround speakers at the moment (it's far more convenient for me to use my HiFi) I hooked up two of the speakers from it and she now spends even more time online than I do, listening to Bloomberg radio. Bloomberg radio is broadcast as a RealPlayer stream (nowt wrong with that) but I've noticed that RealPlayer (at least the version on Windows) appears to be a very buggy program.

Well I tried the first solution for fixing a Windows problem - I rebooted and after the system was back up the hard drive space had gone back up to 190Mb.

I took the opportunity to compare the version of RealPlayer 8 on my computer to the one on my Mum's and it became clear that there was an updated version. Frustratingly, it is extremely difficult to find the last version of RealPlayer 8 on the web because Real want everyone to use their RealOne player these days. Even my Mum's copy of RealPlayer wanted her to update to it despite the requirements being a P233 and Windows 98+!

This wasn't a huge problem though — I keep archives of all the software I put on my machine for when I have to reinstall Windows and I had thoughtfully copied all this software on to my Mum's backup CD. After about half an hour the new version was installed with the memory leak hopefully fixed.

15 August, 2002

Today Dave popped over and wondered whether I'd be interested in getting a place in Bristol. I asked what had brought this on and it turned out that the people Ad is staying with are being evicted real soon and he needs a place to stay... I said I'd think about it if I got a job.

Gee someone did a search for Anton Setzer XML and then rifled through my diary. I wonder what that was about?

Hmm there's been an interesting ALSA vs OSS thread on the Mandrake mailing list recently. Oh and Mandrake 9.0 Beta 3 appears to be out.

Hello host* — you are a very regular reader. I hope there have been enough updates recently to keep you interested.

14 August, 2002

Today I unearthed an interesting bug. When I scroll one of my documents in OpenOffice the kernel freezes up. Tests have shown yet again that this is a bug in the NVidia proprietary binary driver so I'm using the Opensource one that doesn't show this problem in the meantime.

Oh and my latest copy of Edge has arrived. They have gone for another set of gimmicky covers with one in blue and the other in red/orange and of course being a subscriber I didn't get to pick which one they sent.

13 August, 2002

I've fiddled with the site's stylesheet again so that the CSS indentation should now work in IE 5.5. I've also worked round the Konqueror 2 bug (for now).

11 August, 2002

Went off to Jon's house to celebrate his recent birthday. Kim demonstrated the curio which is Rez and provoked Jon to comment that he preferred its wireframe smoothness to the the ever increasing numbers off filled polygons in modern games. Well I'm not going to say I prefer it's simplistic outlines to those of all the other current games but I am going to say that from an artistic point of view it is encouraging to see leftfield risks being taken by games companies. As a package of style (music, sound effects, menus and feel), it's one of the best there is, rivalling that of the Designer Republic's WipEout (on the PS-1) stylings. So it's rather unfortunate that I found the gameplay shallow and not overly engaging which is not to say it's bad but rather it was unaddictive. It's not so much that it's bad but rather that when Dave hired it out on his Playstation 2 it was far more entertaining watching him play through it than it was actually playing it myself. Chalk up another victory for spectator orientated games...

Next up was four player Virtua Tennis 2 (on the Dreamcast again). Now a little known fact is that I actually own a four-player tennis game (called Super Tennis Champs) on my Amiga, and even more telling is that the basic controls of Virtua Tennis 2 are practically unchanged from tennis games on the NES. Still it's mostly good fun (although I proved to be fairly poor at it until I teamed up with Jon for the second time).

A grudge match had to be put on hold due to time constraints and we drove off to see Men in Black 2. Having watched the original not so long ago perhaps I was expecting too much from the sequel. It's simply less entertaining and feels so contrived the whole thing comes across as a rather cynical money maker.

Shake it!

After returning back and feasting on barbecue food the serious business of playing Samba De Amigo began. This game fits into a genre I'm going to nickname physical action (of which another member is Dance Dance Revolution). Well in this one you have a pair of (real) maracas which you must shake in time to the music (so it also fits into the Simon Says genre). The catch is that that there are three different heights that maracas need to be shaken at coupled with various pose requests so while one is shaking that "thang" to well known sambaed songs (including Thubthumping and Take Me On) you must also strike ridiculous poses. All round, a fun, if physically demanding party game (after doing two rounds consecutively my arms couldn't take more and could hardly shake the maracas during the third round) that offers a rather unique form of entertainment and exercise...

10 August, 2002

My mate Gareth James has a new unofficial website (let's see if that link helps his Google standing eh?). Despite being designed in Frontpage it is viewable in Opera and Mozilla although I think some of the pictures need to be re-saved at smaller sizes (190K for a thumbnail pic is a bit much) so the bandwidth poor don't suffer so much. Oh and what's this? He's using frame masquerading which stops the URL bar from working properly :( (I know it's because he wants the nicer domain to be displayed but...)

9 August, 2002

I have added breadcrumb navigation and more obvious diary entry navigation to the site. These navigation aids are long overdue... Due to my using float: right in the CSS stylesheet Konqueror 2 shows a huge gap to the right of the page but apart from that I haven't seen any major problems.

It was Jonathan Hyde's birthday today.

8 August, 2002

I have finally (years after actually passing my test) got insurance on my Mum's car. Driving has never been one of the things that I have looked forward to — I guess I have never been all that comfortable with the experience. I seem to never be fully awake or at least not to the extent where I'd feel happy to drive a car. So why now? Well I need the practice and it there have been several times when it would have been just more convenient if I had been able to drive.

The story goes that when I was learning to drive the time came when I convinced my Mum to let me practice in her car (a Nissan Micra). She wanted me to practice maneuvers in the lane opposite our house. I had originally wanted to start out on the main road because it was straighter and I felt I needed the road practice first but I couldn't convince her. So I sat down and promptly stalled the engine twice and had to be reassured both times to continue. On the third time I bunny hopped into the car in front (clutch control was still something new) and scraped past it to the right coming to a dead stop in front of a tree (thank goodness I had got up to emergency stops in my lessons).

After getting out I surveyed the damage to the car I had hit and found that one of the rear headlights had been smashed. My thoughts turned to how much it was going to cost to replace it. I then took a look at the car I was driving and found that the bumper was hanging off a bit and the left hand headlight had a crack in it.

Anyhow after talking to the neighbour it turned out that he actually had a spare rear headlight (I think the car was a Skoda just for the record) and that part worked out quite nicely. Unfortunately the damage caused to the Micra came to around £250 because the headlight had to completely replaced due to internal cracking.

An extra hassle was that I wasn't even insured on the car. I can hear the gasps of some people — why not? Well the honest truth was that I didn't really understand that you needed to have insurance before you drove a car (no matter in what capacity). I suspect that I would have been scared to claim at any rate because of the increase in premiums. No wonder Mum hadn't wanted me to go on a main road (what would I had an accident and someone made a claim against me?). Anyhow after the incident I haven't driven the Micra since...

Cool T-Shirt logo (via Hack the Planet) but my regexing isn't hot enough to work out what it actually does :)

4 August, 2002

A rather entertaining appraisal of the Opensource methodology. There is a funny analogy drawn between Opensouce and a hippy chick...

Paintball day

Well after weeks of planning for this event it actually came together. There are a few lessons that I can draw from the planning stages of this though:

  • People will drop out (even at the last minute). It is just an inevitable fact of life. Make sure you have enough people so that these drop outs don't cause an event cancellation.
  • Plan these events a good month in advance at a bear minimum. Any less and people won't get back to you in time
  • Don't give alternative dates. If you have picked a date far enough in advance this won't be a problem.
  • Make sure that the organisers of the event have the phone numbers of all the people planning on going. This way the chain of command is nice and flat making it easy to know what position everyone is in.
  • Give people all the information up front — give full costs, directions and such like when you first contact people.

The day started ludicrously early (at least by my standards). After waking Matt "manic" Hawkins and eating a hasty breakfast up we set off over to Dave's house a little bit late. The night before Kim had cancelled due to illness but five minutes after receiving the call Rob phoned up asking whether he could go (he had been unsure whether he could make it the week before) so things had worked out nicely.

The trip up was relatively uneventful but problems occurred when it turned out that Stuart (who was being driven up by a friend who had never been to the paintball site before) called to say he was lost. This was at about 9am and the event started at 9.30am. Over the next half an hour, Simon (Dave's brother) and his Mum gave directions to Stuart and his friend. A weak signal meant that we had to walk away from the shelter of the site and receive the calls in the rain. Simon eventually dropped out due to lingering cold he hadn't quite shaken off (and I don't think running around in the rain would have helped it).

It soon turned out that we were not going to be alone because there were only twelve of us. Due to our small numbers we were put up against 25 other people (who I latter learned worked at HP). There were also young kids on our side so it was just as well Kim couldn't make it because I had told him at great length that there would be no little kids...

The first few rounds just flew by (from my perspective) due to paintballs having a rather strange attraction to the "hopper" (the part which actually holds the paintballs) of my gun.

It was often difficult to tell if you had been hit and there were many tales of people thinking they had been shot, checking whether they had been shot only to be shot at that moment. The moral I guess is assume you aren't shot unless you see the paint dribbling down straight away or the marshal is dragging you off.

As I mentioned earlier it had rained a bit at the start of the day which meant the ground was moist and due to a lack of breeze the evaporating steam would often become trapped within the visor. Those wearing glasses were given a larger old style visor that was incredibly slow at clearing steam so I guess wearing contacts is a good idea if you have the choice of eyewear.

[...] (More to come)

Tips for those going paintballing

  • Make sure that you take enough people. It is frustrating to have to be mixed up with people you don't know and young kids.
  • Not having lots of ammo really does suck when your opponents can afford loads. Budget for lots of ammo (500 rounds won't cut it for a day). Take enough money so that this doesn't happen.
  • Little kids are a boon and a pain. They are small fast and difficult to hit. They will cry if they get hit.
  • It is often the things you don't get control over that ruin the fun. Things like steamed up visors and jamming guns sap satisfaction.
  • Most bruises are actually picked up from crawling on the ground rather than being hit.
  • Being hit does hurt but only at close (two metres or less) range.
  • The paintballs are not tasty.
  • Don't scab paintballs off the ground — they cause gun jams (right Rob?).
  • Go half day - doing a whole day is probably a bit too much unless you are fit!

2 August, 2002

Looks like HP have abandoned their DMCA threat against the security analyst who revealed a security hole in their software. It's kind of scary that the DMCA could be used in that manner in the first place though... I sure hope that a law like it fails to be passed in Europe — it's too easy for big companies to use it to shut up anyone who insomuch as dares to look the wrong way at their products.

1 August, 2002

Went shoe shopping because I need some comfortable shoes for the paintball and Mum threw away the only other pair of shoes I had (she alleges that they were tatty).

Previous month Next month