Wednesday, 30 December 2009


Curious news items:

Bruce Schneier was interviewed by ZDNet three weeks ago now and the subject of copyright and the increasingly invasive laws surrounding this concept came up. What is striking is the following comment:

we live in a world where anything legal can be done. As long as they are allowed, companies will do it — because otherwise they would be crazy not to.

Which is why we have to be careful about what is allowed in our laws. In the past, the difficulty of bringing a prosecution has had a mitigating effect. However, digitally actionable laws like the old S92a would be easy to enact and therefore will be - frequently.

ComputerWorld-UK's Glyn Moody makes a meal out of a Microsoft job advertisement, to great effect. The article is primarily concerned with open source rather than free software but Moody does this deliberately, understanding the difference. The main focus is that Microsoft consider to be a competitor of major concern to Steve Ballmer and similar. Moody is especially interested in what it says about Microsoft's relation to Open Source projects:

Microsoft's new-found eagerness to “engage” with open source has nothing to do with a real desire to reach a pacific accommodation with free software, but is simply a way for it to fight against it from close up, and armed with inside knowledge.

Not really a surprise - corporations exist for only one reason: to make money for themselves. Everything else is secondary or irrelevant. When we deal with these entities, it is only good business to approach with caution and make sure we get value for money.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


I have managed to live through another Xmas.

Howard Schmidt has been appointed by Obama to be his Cyber Tzar. Others who have been offered the job have turned it down as it has much responsibility with little real power. Wikipedia says that in 1997, Schmidt joined Microsoft, as the director of information security, chief information security officer (CISO), and chief security officer (CSO). He was the co-founder of the (un)Trustworthy Computing Security Strategies Group.

It is unclear what this will actually mean - it's a nothing job but the appointment could signal even more restrictions of our use of media and ability to produce creative works. Specifically, this could signal the direction that will be taken in international treaties like ACTA. Gotta keep an eye on this.

I predict that this stuff will get worse before it gets better.

I've been spending my time in the continued appreciation of Outrageous Fortune. There is a lot of food mentioned on the show with varying appreciation - probably enough for a cookbook. Cheryl's famous fish pie, I know, is already published in the West Family Album, but there is also Kelsie's Eggplant Thing anh her Spicey Chicken Thing; Van and Munta's Seafood medly (paua and "pipis"); Pascalles fish pie; Ray Judd's multi-kai hangi, and so on. It would probably be possible to create a special westie-style dish appropriate for each of the characters. I'm collecting recipes. Here's one for a US/French fish pie. I'd probably use capers though.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Xmas

Oh the madness.

It seems the last shopping day is also a payday - everyone and his horse was out today - rushing madly. I am so smug I managed to slip in between rushes. Everone else seemed to decide to beat the rush at the same time this morning :) I did my shopping between 1pm and 5.

Yesterday we saw two movies at the local Berkely: Where the Wild Things Are - which managed to be philosophically deep but not warm or cuddly. In fact some bits were quite nasty. The emotion in the story was moving enough to have Cathy in tears and reminded of our own little boy. The Xmas music everywhere reminded me why I like to hide over this time.

The second was Avatar which performed to expectations. The story was regurgitated pap but the world and effects were immersive. Hopefully next time the approach is used it will have a decent plot to go with.

TV Movies tonight are A Nights Tale - an awesome sports story set in medieval europe to a rock soundtrack. Pure fun. Right now Cathy is watching Bridget Jones' Diary - which I can only take so much of.

DVDs are - season 5 of Outrageous Fortune, Terminator: Redemption, and Coraline. Basically anti-xmas movies. I have actually seen season 5 but Cathy has turned into a rabid fan so I have to rent these just to stay alive. Coraline was my choice as a date movie for Cathy and Terminator was Cathy's choice for me. She does love me!

Tonight, with the tree, the lights, and a full fridge, I am reminded of the true meaning of xmas - getting rat-arsed.


Monday, 21 December 2009

Tree's Company

We have been running around a lot today - I've had a trip to the optometrist to get my eye checked out. The good news is that the steady decline in my eyesight is slowing. The bad news is that my next prescription is around NZ$600 - and I have to wait for it.

A friend suggested we use an outfit called Specsavers in Albany. Turns out not to be all that much cheaper than anyone else. I cannot really recommend them. However, they do have fair deals on frames - if you buy more than one. Watch out - the sales people will push towards that.

At the Westlake Albany (Mall), I had a ball acting as general baby greeter and parent support. There were a lot of stressed littlies with parents in that zombie mode I remember so well. Generally if you can help keep their kids entertained, these parents are too tired to object. Go for it. Babies like it when you smile like a cartoon at them.

We had lunch there, then headed back to put up our tree. It is decked out in gold - which is turning into something of a tradition in our household - with a big star on top. Cathy especially wanted this as a kind of rememberance of our little boy.

Early Xmas prezzies this year - I could not hold on to this one: I gave Cathy a digital photo frame pre-loaded with pictures of Corwin - about 500 of them - set to change every three minutes. Wifey is very happy with hubby but does not know that I have another present held back for Xmas too. (She does not read this blog so nobody tell her.)

For her part Cathy managed to get my subtle hints and handed over a Gin Wigmore CD. It has been duly ripped (in compliance with the Copyrights Amendment Act - one copy per playback device) and just as well too - after a single playback the optical surface developed flaws which lead to skipping on two tracks. I am not impressed.

This is probably the last post before Xmas. If you are getting someone a computer hear me: buy minimum software. Most over-the-counter computers pre-installed software amounts to about half the asking price. You do not need it. To get the most out of your new computer - install a free operating system. Some version of gnu/linux for preference.

Cheers - and Merry Xmas

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

It's the Season to be Silly

Silly Season is here, I'm desperately working through last minute appointments - I have a warrant of fitness (motor vehicle) to get, and a visit to a dental hygienist - less said about that the better.

Lots of cards have arrived, as well as some parcels. Of particular note, Don will be pleased to know that the litre of Jamesons arrived to due appreciation. Longer term readers will know that John Jameson and Sons make my particular favourite brand of Irish Whiskey.

Technically we have already had our Xmas dinner, so we plan to have a quiet time over the actual holiday. Cathy is feeling the absence of children somewhat keenly and I woke up this morning certain that a small child was about to run in. They tell me it never completely goes away.

So: I'm staying out of the public this Xmas.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Birthday Bash

The 12th of December was my Mother's birthday.

She got beer and chocolates from me, phone calls from all over. Note: chocolates consumed on your birthday do not have calories. Birthday dinner was that and cold-water salmon on white rice.

The nights movies included In Bruges, on sky, which managed to be weird but not very engaging. This is a dark tragi-comedy where two hit men are hiding out in the eponymous Belgian medieval town after a botched hit where a bystander was killed as well as the mark. The plot features surreal conversations, a racist midget, a couple who roll tourists in their spare time, and another hit. The different elements are deftly woven together but the result is pretty bland.

I stayed up to watch Quarantine, a horror movie with plot similar to 28 Days Later but shot in the cinima verite style of Cloverfield and Blair Witch. It wasn't as lame as Blair Witch, but Cloverfeild was better. Still, worth the watch.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Mountains and Madness

Yesterday took Cathy and me south to see the mountains. Normally we'd be off to Tutukaka at this time, but we wanted a change from the coast and the center of the North Island featured Mt Doom (Ngaurohoe). Who could resist.

We left home at 9am, because I don't do mornings. It was a blisteringly sunny day - 5mins to burn just sitting in the car so out comes the sunscreen.

Looped around Hamilton (left after Ngaruawahia, SH39: Te Kowhai, Pirangia, Ohaupo, Te Awamutu, join SH1 at Cambridge then pretend I'm going to Rotorua until I catch the signs pointing to Taupo.)

Navigating around NZ is easy since the routes are so well signposted.

We stopped for lunch at the Treehouse in Ohaupo. This used to be a pokey dark coffee house at the back of an antique shop but now it is a clock shop. I was in a room full of the big upright models when they all struck one - I ran down.

Cathy had some sort of veggie thing, I had a chicken and kumara crepe. The food was good for the weather, well made and sustaining. Service was very slow: it appears us townies just needed to relax and get with the country vibe more. We browsed some of the arty shops, the place is really taking off, and discovered that everyone we used to know there has left.

By the time we hit Taupo, we were far too hot and spontaneously decided to swim in the lake. Swimming in a volcanic caldera is a bit of a thrill all by itself. It was warm by the shore and cool at shoulder depth. No barracuda, no jellyfish, no dangerous animals - just toddlers pretending to be sharks ... which has it's own terrors. As well as the little kids, there were several species of ducks and swans. And we could see the mountains.

We didn't have time to stay long, once the heat of the day was truly dumped we wound our way south - following the signs far Palmerston North but really looking for Turangi - famous as the setting for the famous TV Show Turangi Vice. In Turangi, there is the option to go left or right around the mountains. We wanted to go as high as we could which meant right, to National Park (These web sites just do not do the place justice - next time I'm taking a camera!).
The mountain roads are well enough maintained to support some pretty unbelievable speeds - I spent a lot of time just trying to keep out of everyone's way and trying not to get too distracted by the awe inspiring sight of the cones on a clear day.

We went to the top of The Bruce where the ski-fields live. No snow at this time of year, but the slopes looked even more impressive without it: all sharp jagged rocks. But not much to do though - except hike. Cathy suggested we visit the Chateaux.

This is an imposing building which used to be the only hotel permitted so close to the peak. Now it is the most expensive one.

Inside is hushed, there is a large lounge area with larger windows. Cathy wanted to stay for a drink, just a drink, so we had two glasses of Sparkling Pino Gris and seats before a picture window looking out at Mt Doom. It is really hard not to be blown away by the broody cone, all dark reds and brows with streaks of white by the top.

The wine was good. Too good. happily sloshed we decided to hell with it - we'll have dinner here. We chose the Ruapehu Room rather than the outside cafe and were seated at another big window with a long view over drumlins and the Tongariro Massif. There was a dress code, but not too snobby - they let me in with my sandals, jeans, and casual shirt, but drew the line at the bush shirt I had added against the chill breeze. No worries, they hung it out of sight - well, well, out of sight.

Staff were friendly and accommodating. I would like to have a camel ride in the morning please. - Certainly Sir, would that be dromedary or bactrian?
There was some chit-chat with the waiter, who was an Asian lad called Kenny. The appearance was that all the tableware, waiters, chefs etc has sort of appeared by accident. We had mentioned to the Maitre D, in passing, that we'd been driving all day and were hungry and Kenny informed us that our dishes would be served promptly because of this.

I got a choice of types of water - I'm not used to this. Aitch-two-oh please :) I chose still water which was poured from a glass jug into a tall glass which immediately frosted. To be fair, I had been brought up to this, a bit: my parents seemed to feel that I should know what to expect. I did know, I just had not actually done it in a long time. I had to keep cranking up the standard of my expectations.

The wine list started at excellent, went through superb and out the far end of awesome very quickly. We ordered the cheapest there - de Bortoli Shiraz 07. We were provided very large glasses which helped concentrate the smell (all right: bouquet). You can tell a really good wine because when you get a good wiff, you get drunk.

The food was ... how do I put this? Awesome to the point of swearing, but the establishment is way too polite.

I managed to goniff a menu to show you (see bottom). We had Ravioli followed by Fish of the Day and finished with Petit Four and coffee. But that makes it sound boring - lets see...

For instance, all the food was only just cooked through. This is hard to do consistently without psychic powers.

The ravioli came in a creamy sauce and had real truffles - which I've never tried before.

The fish was Kingfish - exactly cooked all the way through and barely seared on the outside. It was served on a bed of rice in some sort of super-mild curry sauce (but a bit of pepper bite to it - hard to describe), and something else which tasted a bit of orange and caramel, that I couldn't identify. It does not sound likely but it works.

A red wine with fish is usually considered a bit risky but this combination worked. The sauce, took the sharp edge off the wine letting the mellow flavours come through to compliment the fish.

Kingfish is quite meaty, compared with the usual hoki fillets down the chip shop. This had allowed me to guess that a more substantial wine would work. The combination was more-ish so the wine went down rather fast.

The main included the normal veggies: asparagus, broccoli, carrot, and cauliflower - all crunchy, but cooked through, just how I like them. The minimalistic cooking brings out the flavour and preserves the nutrition.

We also ordered fondant potato to go with the fish. This was useful mopping up the sauce after the fish had gone. This is a good addition for dishes with rich sauces just to balance things off.

The petit fours are, as the name suggests, four small desserts. There was a cheesecake in a shot-glass, a very sweet biscuit with a tangy cream on top, chocolate mousse with strawberries, and a stack of mint, banana, and almond bread with a caramel(?) cream. There was no way to politely get the last of the cheesecake out of the glass so we just used the back of the spoon.
You'll see a pattern - all the dishes featured some sort of contrasting flavours. This made the experience interesting and all the flavours complimented rather than clashed. Actually it was a bit like being a judge in one of these chef reality shows.

Kenny was unobtrusive to the point of absence, but when we needed him, he was there.
There was no way I was going to drive, so we settled in to the lounge to sober up. Looking at Mt Doom drunk is a whole other experience.

Cathy wanted me to go with her on a hike. I resisted valiantly, anyway, by the time I could walk properly the mist was rolling in and light dropping. As we drove away, the mist had come down Ruapehu and was reaching fingers over the roof of the Chateaux. I concentrated on driving.

Here's the menus:

We left Whakapapa at 8:30 and took State highway 1 home, stopping only for loo breaks, singing songs to stay awake. Arrived back at 1-ish am and passed out.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Intellegent Life

Yesterday a group of people interested in AI got together at Massey University at the E-Centre to kick off a AI interest group. This is not limited to Auckland. This is being done under the umbrella of the NZCS, but you don't have to be a member to attend.

A group has started on Feel free to join there.

It is very bright today, probably the excess sunshine has put me in a sensitive mood because I found myself a little annoyed at an email telling me Your email program is unable to display the HTML content of this message correctly... Hello: unable?? Excuse me but I have deliberately switched that capability off for security reasons. HTML and RTF emails are a major vector for distributing malware - just opening an email can activate an exploit and install malware to your computer without you knowing. It is only responsible to turn this off. My objection is the implied slur on my abilities. The message could easily have read: "This email contains HTML content which can be viewed at this address." But even then - doesn't it sound like a phishing scam?

A better solution is to write a short version of your content above the html header in the email (this can be automated for businesses - just prepend the message body) or, better yet, do not send html emails.

Most of these emails come from people who hope to sell me stuff, I can block them but I've asked because occasionally they have something I want to know about. Traditional marketers don't like plain text ads because they look drab alongside the full-colour animations et al of the others - what they do not realise is that the net-savvy do not look at these fancy things and are practised seeking the text on a page. Google Adsence folk tell me that plain text ads are the most effective. They are in a position to know.

Whatever - to protect yourself and others, it is strongly advised to send and receive plain text emails only. If you use Outlook, here is how. Other browsers usually have a "security" tab in their Edit > Preferences menu - ther'll be a setting in that.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Eine kleine nachtmuzik

I hear the morepork watching over us tonight - their call means everything is OK out there is the dark. The sound is actually very comforting and reassuring.

On the Software Freedom fight:

The good folk at NZOSS are powering away with their Public Sector Remix project. This was started in September with the aim to get basic desktop apps off the Microsoft pseudo-standards and provide better value for the public dollar.

IT service providers are being surveyed, c/o Victoria University, to see what professional support is available, should it be needed. This is GETS Reference: 28273, apparently - I haven't found it online.

Meantime, Labour is making some effort to cosy up to the Free Software movement - I suspect that flexing our muscles over copyright has made some people sit up and pay attention.

ACTA still looms - there is some kind of fetish about a free trade agreement with the USA and hang the cost to NZ as a whole. The EU is not taking this lying down - more sort-of reclining - and we could certainly drive a harder bargain. This agreement threatens the whole s92a thing all over again.

The Free Software Foundation wants to remind is that freedom is the goal.

Cheers - I think I'll have that drink now.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Ubuntu 9.10 on Acer eMachines EL1600

My old blog has a report on Ubuntu 9.10 on the Aspire 4315, which was an update. I also have four aging hp nx5000 machines (which actually outperform the aspire) yet to upgrade, which I'll talk about another day.

Recently, however, my desktop machine started having random reboots. Investigation showed that the heatsink for the CPU had become detached - but that there were also a host of other problems as well. After a struggle, I declared that machine dead. Which was sad - that was a custom machine and I can ill afford to replace it.

But replace it I resolved to do - forcing myself to the reality that I was no longer doing any hard-core computing which mandated the speed and processing power of the old box, I just hunted down a new and very cheap one. Settled on the sleek eMachine that now whispers next to my monitor.

Dick Smith were selling these things for NZ$500, which gets you the box (atom processor and intel chipset with XP-home pre-installed) with a keyboard, mouse, and speakers. Honestly? It looks really really nice.

The thing to realise here is that the technology under the hood is actually pretty old, and, thus, cheap. Sales have been slow so I suspect vendors are anxious to get a lot of surplus stock off their hands. Modern computers are over-specced anyway, and the price earns a lot of forgiveness.


I normally use a logitech cordless desktop set converted for dvorak layout, but that means my wife cannot use it so I resolved to keep the qwerty keyboard for her use. My regular speakers are cumbersome compared with the new ones - which take up a USB port for power instead of using a seperate PSU. So I'm using the new speakers.

The box has no provision for a floppy drive - which means I cannot use my card-reader (requires floppy IDE). The back looks like it has places for PCI card interfaces but I don't see how they can fit inside. Possibly intel or acer or someone will start making pci cards for these small form-factor desktop machines? I have yet to open the box to see what is inside it. This post is really all about the software.

DSE promote this computer as "Broadband Ready". I quickly discovered that the only difference between a Broadband Ready computer and a regular computer is the label which says "broadband ready". Staff helpfully explained that this was because it does not come with a dial-up modem - so the absence of a functionality is being promoted as the presence of something. There were other computers which did not bear the legend "broadband ready" - they do not have modems either. This is why tech and marketing do not get on.

This one came with Windows XP Home SP3... last time I had an XP machine I had a hard time activating it. This time it was a doddle, probably because I had an active wired ethernet connection from the getgo, but likely because it was a brand new licence so nobody suspected I was some sort of murdering ship-stealer.

I went through this trouble because I wanted to dual-boot.

Windows XP Home SP3

Logging in to Windows did not require a password or any visible security, it was easy to set up extra users, but very difficult to set up my dvorak keyboard. I gave up and used the qwerty one that came with. I did not need logitechs driver disk to use their wireless kbd and mouse, though the special keys did not work, and the mouse was sluggish (I am used to shunting the mouse from one side of the screen to the other with a twitch.)

This XP comes eMachines branded, theme = ugly, but that was easy to get rid of. Tougher was getting rid of the bloatware ... trying to remove it produced a progress dialogue which fairly crawled by ... until I noticed that the internet light was flashing. When I unplugged the cable, the uninstall suddenly sped up. Then it rebooted without warning?!

The other uninstalls behaved themselves. I disabled windows update, which it does not like and nags me endlessly each time I log in.

So - some hours later I have a basic Windows install. I added Firefox,, and ClamAV.

OK. So I don't really like Windows. I did have a good reason for hanging on to it this time though. Subject for another post. The next step is to install Ubuntu.

Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala)

I had previously downloaded the release ISO from Canonical, and burned it to a CD. I backed up XP, which took up two DVDs (actually one and a bit). Rebooted with the CD in the tray, and found I had to alter the BIOS to boot from the drive. Fine - try again.

I elected just to install how a normal person is expected to act: no fancy geek stuff.

I don't think the installer can get friendlier without actually sleeping with me. It even realised I was in New Zealand and suggested the correct time and language stuff. I discovered I had neglected to plug the ethernet cable back in, but it hotplugged without incident.

The actual partitioning was a matter of moving a slider about - no-brainer. The install went without a hitch, and provided a slideshow. The box is 100% free software compatible so there are no proprietary drivers in the system at all. This is so sweet.

First login shows that the gnome interface is now more Windows-like, I didn't really like it that much but six of one and half-a-dozen of the other right? I no longer need to enter my user-name, and the interface basically gives the snooper a list of users for this machine. Is this good or bad?

Everything is more Windows like. There are more windowsy themes and backgrounds for eg. Loads of peole are blogging like this is just great but really, who does not have a collection of their own wallpapers anyway?

Setting the keyboard to dvorak was easy, but the function keys had mysteriously stopped working. I discovered that this is a design "feature" of the keyboard and I can turn them back on again by pressing the mode key. It is a feature because logitech provide special drivers for Windows which changes the behaviour of the function keys.

All the keys seem to do something, if you want something other than the default, keytouch is probably the way to go. It comprises of two tools: KeyTouch - The tool to setup a keyboard that is already in the database; and KeyTouch-Editor - The tool to setup your keyboard by teaching it. You select your multimedia keyboards input, then press keys and indentify them from a drop down list.

Since I have a home LAN, I want to share the Public folder. I want to be able to share to visiting Windows computers too, so that means windows networking, which means SAMBA. This did not go as planned.

Symptom - rt-click on the ~/Public folder, select Sharing Options > Share Folder, produces error: "testparm" (No such file or directory) This is a known bug. Solution:
sudo apt-get install samba-common-bin

The testparm utility used to be in package samba-common but was moved for some reason buried in the dev mailing list archives. Some people have found that the samba-common-bin package is flagged for upgrade in synaptic, so just opening synaptic and clicking "apply" may work too.

Ubuntu 9.10 persists in the annoying behaviour of presenting a popup when updates are available. It still pops over what you are doing with Murphyesque timing, like at the exciting bit of a movie, so I usually disable this.

The issue with sound on openGL apps, which we saw with the aspire 4315, reappears here. the fix is the same: install the pulse-audio/SDL libraries:
sudo apt-get install libsdl1.2debian-pulseaudio

Creating a new user from System > Administration > Users and Groups turned out to be a bit of a trial, not because it was hard but because the created password was not persistent. I ended up using the commandline to set the password and U&G for setting user permissions.

Be warned: if you are strugglintg with user setup, you have to remove the entire user configuration - including the users home directory - before the CLI tools will work properly. Otherwise the CLI tool will see that there is already a user directory and use it instead of making a new one. This is actually useful, when everything is working, since it allows admin to quickly reinstate old users.

The reboot was slower than previous - probably because of the new KMS function which automatically configures the monitor and graphics. Loading graphics is smoother as a result, and I have not experienced the xorg.conf issues I had on previous installs. This is promising, and if it continues like this I'll probably forget how to configure graphics in linux just like I've forgotten how to compile the kernel.

In the past, each new release of Ubuntu has distinguished itself as being an order of magnitude improved from the last. I have openly wondered how long the team can keep this up. Well, now we know. This latest release is perhaps a bit too experimental to be called an overall improvement. The improvements are there in the KMS (Kernel Mode Switching) and seamless upgrade, but they came at a price: slower boots and odd interface issues (which you always get when technology changes). Thus Karmic is sort-of a transitional release between two ways of doing things - don't expect greatness.

Blogspot Journal Started

I have always hosted my own journal before at - the old posts are still there. Since I keep getting requests for a way to provide comments, feedback etc. and certain institutions want me to keep a blog someplace, I figured I'd try a free-hosted blog, and join the new cloud.

This is experimental right now - I may yet return to the previous method.

What I need to do now is edit my settings to get everything how I want them. People stumbling on this, who want to know more about me, should visit my web site (url above) or my cheapie homepage at


Saturday, 5 December 2009

Gadgets and settings complete...

Proper posts to come.

To celebrate I have embedded a magnatunes player - in horrid flash format. I'm experimenting with ogg players and see the play ogg button in the sidebar.

The album is one I've played in a blog before - Noir by Shiva in Exile from This is a gothic/indian-folk mix: unusual enough to draw my attention and good enough to hold it. I'd love to stream Gin Wigmore here but her stuff is much more proprietary and, anyway, you've all heard it before.

This page in minimalist compared to my other blog, I kinda like it, though I'm dissapointed that blogger will not process the transparency in png files so I'm forced to use gif. I'll see what I can do.