Lars Wirzenius: August, 2003


Sunday, August 31, 2003

Random thought: Birthday party

Tomorrow when I wake, I will be thirty four years old. That is more than a third of a century. I'm not sure whether I should feel good or bad about this.

I do feel good about the birthday party yesterday. It was a joint party with two friends of mine: they celebrated their marriage. There were many guests, and it seems a good time was had by all. Happy thoughts.

My friends are now schooled pretty well about what kind of stuff I want for presents: books. I got three: one on photography, on with photographs, and one about Lisp. Happy thoughts and big thanks.

Random thought: Worrying language habits

I have the feeling that I've let my use of language get sloppy, especially on IRC and when talking. I don't complain that I use informal language and slang on IRC, because they're appropriate places for such language. Rather, I mean that I've noticed I use certain constructs I dislike coming from other people, and that feels bad. The habit that sparked this thought is an overly aggressive generalization: saying nobody has any use for foo rather than I don't have any use for foo. On the IRC channel I most often frequent, such use is sometimes so frequent it gets hard to notice when people don't actually mean to be general, which can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.

I won't try to get everyone else to change their language habits, but I do have to be more careful myself, or else live with an icky feeling.

Hedgehog Lisp: Lack of static type checking, Bluetooth

During the past week at work, we've found several bugs that would have been found by static type checking. Unfortunately, the Hedgehog Lisp does not do that and the language does not really allow it, either. Cessu is eager to design a completely new language, with static type checking, but that will not happen until next year. In the mean while, I suspect that more thorough testing is required, and that means building better simulation environments of the trucks and what not our boxes are attached to. That should be good anyway, in the long run, so it's not wasted effort.

I've also been working on getting Bluetooth connections between boxes, and it progresses slowly, but nicely. Most pleasantly, all Bluetooth traffic is either via sockets at the server end or through a simple serial port protocol in the client end, so all the work can be done in Hedgehog Lisp itself, no need to write C code. This is quite fun.

Lodju: Some progress

There is some progress on Lodju. I've made releases a week ago on Sunday, on Thursday, and again today. Even if progress is not as fast as I would like, it still feels good. There is very little feedback, though, which is a bit discouraging. Perhaps it has been vaporware for too long and people have tired of it.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Linux: I've seen my book

I was spending some time with a friend today and we were hanging around in a bookstore and happened to see my name on a book. It seems that Coriolis Press (or something named like that, I didn't make notes) has printed my Linux System Administrators' Guide together with Olaf Kirch's Linux Network Administrators' Guide. I can't remember if they told me they'd do that, but they might have: I'm quite forgetful. Anyway, it was a nice surprise. Too bad my book is in desperate need of updating and revising, and I'm not up to doing the task.

Of course, I'd be much more likely to remember them if they'd sent me a copy or two of the book. Nudge, nudge.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Review: L.A. Confidential

When the world plays football with your nuts, some escapism is in order. I first saw L.A. Confidential in a nice movie theater with a friend, after we missed something else. Lucky us.

L.A. Confidential is the kind of perfection that makes Hollywood worth all the crap they produce. Movie making is an art and a craft, and there are lots of areas that need to work for a movie to be good. When each area is good, and they all work together superbly, the result is something exquisite. This is the case with L.A. Confidential.

The script, the acting, the photography, the costuming, and all other areas, which I can't even name, are all satisfying. It sounds so banal to not be able to point out problems in a movie, but I can't. I'm sure there are, but I'm a lousy critic and my analysis is superficial.

Tonight, L.A. Confidential was a nice bit of escapism. The good guys won, the bad guys lost, and the important people survived (well, most of them). Immersion into the movie, empathy for its characters, not a thought about the worries at work. Exactly what I needed.

Lodju: 1.99.2

I released Lodju 1.99.2 yesterday, but there seems to have been little reaction so far. Ah well.

Oliotalo: Not fun after blackout

Some days at work are just not as fun as others.

Helsinki had a blackout on Saturday evening, and this affected Oliotalo's machines as well. I went to the office on Sunday to bring up our servers. Some of them had filesystems that needed tender loving care, and one graphics card gave no signal (so I had to do the fsck blindly). None of them got their network up, because the switch they were all connected was confused and needed to be rebooted. After that, the servers were fine.

When I came to work on Monday, I was informed that two of workstations also had broken graphics cards. The boss had rushed out and bought two replacements: new Radeon ones. Too bad XFree86 in Debian stable doesn't work with them. So this resulted in a need to upgrade things to unstable and experimental, which sucks, because now the machines are going to require much more attention than when they ran stable. I've shouted at the boss for being an idiot.

For the kinds of work we do, a basic 2D slightly accelerated card is fine: it performs plenty well enough to keep the user happy, is cheap, and is well supported. Something like, say, the Matrox G200 or G400. They don't even have fans, or require extra power connectors. Unfortunately, the computer store in the same building as Oliotalo doesn't believe in such cards. They think the Radeon's are low end and outmoded, even if the newer one came out only this year. That and the fact that they don't have a clue about Linux, or possibly anything, is why I told the boss never to buy anything from them again.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Rant: IE doesn't do PNG transparency

I'm a sucker for the drop shadow effect on thumbnails. Unfortunately, it seems I can't implement it using reasonable tools if I care about people using Internet Explorer (at least the Windows version). For no good reason at all, Microsoft refuses to add proper support for PNG transparency. There is a way to get it done, I'm told, but you need to use JavaScript and ActiveX or something like that, and it's useless complication for what should be simple.

Below are crops of screen dumps from three browsers: Galeon, Opera, and Internet Explorer. Galeon and Opera do the transparent drop shadow perfectly, but IE bungles it completely and loses the red background color of the page completely. There is no reason for it to do that.

PNG is an old standard, by Internet age. Years and years and years old; in fact, about 8 years old by now. If Microsoft wanted to support it, they would have already. There must be some reason why they don't (their browser is evidently capable of it), which probably has something to do with the fact that PNG is not a standard they control.

Galeon screenshot

Galeon: perfect.

Opera screenshot

Opera: perfect.

IE screenshot

Internet Explorer: crap.

The question is: should I care about supporting the Internet Explorer by avoiding drop shadows and other things that work perfectly on other major browsers? My pages try to follow the relevant W3C and other standards, so IE users should get at the information on all my pages, but they might not get such nice looks as those using good browsers. Decisions are hard.

(I know many people consider drop shadows lame. I don't care.)

Rant: The press protects Microsoft

The past week the Internet has been plagued by several new viruses for Microsoft Windows. I have noticed only one instance in mainstream media where it has been mentioned that it is a Windows problem, even if it causes mail overload for everyone else as well. One! What is wrong with journalists? Why must it be kept a secret that the reason all these viruses can thrive is that Windows security is bad? If, say, a chemical company would be as lax with its security, and caused so huge monetary losses internationally, everyone would be screaming for them to be shut down.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Review: Soul Music the animation

Some time ago my friends Nora and Cessu showed me Soul Music, a animated version of Terry Pratchett's novel of the same name.

I'm a fan of Pratchett's, and I like the novel quite a bit. The animation follows the book quite closely, which is good. The quality of the animation is pretty standard for a TV series: OK, but nothing compare to large budget productions from, say, Disney. At least it was largely lacking in excessive repetitions of the same sequences, which seemed to plague cheap TV animations back when I was till watching television regularly.

The animation was quite an enjoyable experience, and made me want to see other Pratchett animations. It was not quite good enough for me to want to spend much money on them, but it might be because I've already spent money on the books.

Both tapes of the animation started with a Pratchett interview. Those were also fun, and actually more interesting. I knew the story, but it was interesting to hear what Pratchett thought of it, and his thoughts in general. I'm not quite enough of a fanboy to trawl the net for interviews to read, but when I do come across a good one, like this one, it is a pleasure.

Lodju: Feature complete for 2.0

My employer moved to a new office about six weeks ago, and this meant my commute grew to be about an hour. Since I can't read on the bus -- I get car sick easily -- this leaves me with plenty of time to daydream and to think about my hobby projects. Today I though about Lodju.

I'm now pretty convinced that the current development version of Lodju (1.99.0 plus changes I've made since) has enough features to replace the 1.1 version as the official and stable version. There is only one major feature missing: backwards compatibility. There are lots of bugs, mostly minor, and those need to be found and fixed, of course. I suspect I'll more easily get feedback if I make a proper list of dependencies and a proper Debian package, so I'm making those my priority for this weekend.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Photography: Canon EOS 300D

Canon seems to have announced a new digital SLR today, the 300D. It's all over the photography websites. It's cheap, it's digital, and it's an SLR. I may have to reconsider my decision to keep using my D30 for a couple more years. On the one hand, I would like better autofocus, but on the other hand, I really should buy a better lens or two. On the left foot, I can't afford anything right now, so it's all academic.

There seems to be not a lot of differences between the 300D and the 10D, but probably later news will reveal some.

Debian: Release schedule for sarge

Anthony Towns has published his release schedule for the next Debian stable release. I can't decide whether he's a genius or a lunatic, but at least he's ambitious and he may know what he's talking about. Good.

From my point of view, there are three things I need to do: fix the couple of bugs in my own packages, hack upstream Lodju so that it is ready to be included in the next Debian release, and help with Debian bug fixing in general.

That is actually quite a large chunk of my free time, given my current work load. I should probably use my free time more efficiently and not spend so much of it in apathy, staring at the screen, occasionally saying something on IRC. I want to do that, too, but I needn't do it quite as much. Lazy bugger, me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Photography: Sword maiden pictures, for sale

Last month, I took some photos of Spider dressed up as a sword maiden. I've decided to see if I can sell any pictures. Whee.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Linux: Kernel upgrade to 2.6.0-test3

I hate upgrading the kernel.

Today, I decided to try out version 2.6.0-test3, which is the newest development kernel. My laptop did not work very well with the stable 2.4 series in April, when I got it, so I've been running with 2.5.66 for some months now. It works, except that it won't suspend (not even with swsusp), and it will neither reboot nor shutdown cleanly and instead panics when unloading usb stuff. Not good, but good enough.

After I upgraded to 2.6.0-test3, the mouse stopped working in X. After a couple of hours of looking things up and trying various things (nothing is, of course, ever documented clearly), Killeri told me on IRC that the development kernel had dropped support for /dev/psaux and even /dev/input/mice, and that you now have to use /dev/input/eventX. Trouble is, the X server didn't support that...

Eventually the following works. My laptop uses a Synaptics touchpad, and the kernel recognizes it. X does not, natively, but there is a driver, which you can compile and load dynamically. Luckily, I didn't have to compile it, since Killeri had one that worked for me. I put synaptics_drv.o in /usr/X11R6/lib/modules/input. Then I put the following in XF86Config-4:

Section "InputDevice"
  Identifier "Configured Mouse"
  Driver     "synaptics"
  Option     "CorePointer"
  Option     "Device"          "/dev/input/event0"
  Option     "Protocol"        "event"
  Option     "Emulate3Buttons" "true"
  Option     "ZAxisMapping"    "4 5"

This works, for me. Perhaps putting it on the web helps someone else. The Synaptics touchpad driver is supposedly going to be integrated into a future release of XFree86, which will make this a bit simpler.

The good thing about this is that now the touchpad's scroll button works. This is a major improvement in usability.

But I still hate upgrading the kernel.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Personal life: Too much stuff

I have too much stuff. This apartment was spacious when I moved in, and it now feels crowded. Partly it is because I now have more furniture, but partly it is just accumulation of useless junk, such as empty boxes, or piles of unsorted papers, some of which are important. I have more books than fit in my bookshelves. Something needs to be done. Cleaning, to begin with.

Cleaning will, however, only help for a while. I need to stop new junk from coming in and conquering the apartment again. I need to declare war on junk. A nice, happy, anti-Geneva convention war with no prisoners taken. Total, all-out annihilation of everything trying to infiltrate my home. Except books, of course.

Photography: Image manipulation sucks

Did I mention I want someone else to do my image manipulation for me? I think I did.

On the other hand, I've also found the contrast to be quite big between the desktop's nice, nineteen inch CRT and excellent mouse and the laptop's fourteen inch TFT and slightly insensitive touchpad. I like the laptop, but it's really not all that good for anything that requires precise mouse handling (such as selecting blood stains in the Gimp). The TFT is nicer to look at, generally, in my opinion, but it's color does change rather too much with the viewing angle for image editing to be comfortable.

On the other hand, Linux, X11, and the Gimp don't have color management, so when editing an image for printing purposes, it is rather random anyway. Hm, I wonder how much work it would be to write a device driver for a screen calibration device...

Personal life: Gnome Iagno bug

Feeling a bit better, but still not well. Been playing Gnome Iagno, which is a beautiful implementation of Othello (or Reversi, to some people). It has a bug that makes it stop playing in some situations at higher levels of difficulty, so I've been playing it on the lowest level. This is pretty boring since I win every time. On the other hand, it is about perfect for the current functionality level of my brain.

Gnome Iagno screenshot

It's not whether I win, it's how much I win.

Debian: Debian is ten years old

Today marks the tenth anniversary for Debian. Yay! The celebrations in Helsinki are pretty minor, though: we're going out for dinner. Other people in Finland seem to go to Turku, and hopefully they'll have a good time.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Personal life: Rambling

I'm still feeling ill, so still at home. Bored out of my mind, whenever I'm not feeling sorry for myself. This tends to cause my brain to invent all sorts of stupid ideas.

Idea #1: I should start a regular (weekly?) radio show of sorts: a half hour show with talks and interviews and stuff, no music, published under a free license as an Ogg Vorbis file, covering all sorts of topics that interest me, such as computers, photography, and RPGs.

Idea #2: A movie about high school nerds who decide to get laid once and for all, and decide to do this by arranging a power failure. They arrange for themselves and some babes to be in an elevator, and for fake radio broadcasts that indicate the world is ending. This should set the babes in the right mood...

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Personal life: Flu

Stayed at home today, feeling ill, probably a slight flu.

Review: High fidelity

Watched High Fidelity on DVD. I've seen this movie before, several times, and every time it leaves me with a nice, warm glowing feeling of satisfaction, possibly even happiness. A nice story, good acting, find photography, everything good.

I'm not a music freak; indeed, I rarely listen to music, I just keep it playing in the background. Nevertheless, I feel the music nerds in the movie are my kind of people. Geeks have empathy for geeks, I guess.

Photography: Epson Matte Paper Heavyweight

I bought yesterday some Epson Matte Paper Heavyweight, which is my preferred paper for the photo printer I have. It wasn't all too easy: all stores seem to carry only HP photo paper, but luckily does carry it.

The reason I bought the paper is to print out some photographs I took of Spider, on the theme "Sword maiden after the fight". I want these to look as good as possible on paper and this requires some editing with the Gimp. I hate editing photos, but unfortunately it is necessary. What I need is someone who just loves editing but hates shooting photographs so that we can team up...

Since I think the sword maiden photos are pretty nice, I've been thinking about whether it would be possible to sell a few prints. I'm not at all sure anyone will want to pay for them, but we'll see. I'll do my best to make as good prints as I can and then show them to people and see what the reaction is. Pricing is going to be a problem: it doesn't cost very many euros to make a print, but on the other hand, I don't want the print to cost less than the frame, and decent framing costs a pretty penny.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Photography: Ropecon 2003

Ropecon happened. While I don't currently play roleplaying games or larps, I hang around with people who do, and who also happen to organize Ropecon. Two years ago, when I'd been photographing as a hobby for about six months, I suggested setting up a studio where people could come in and have their photo taken for free. Since my camera was digital, there would be no costs involved for anyone. The studio was pretty successful and popular, and some of the photos weren't all that bad.

This year I repeated the studio. I've put up a gallery with about one shot per person.

Thumbnail Thumbnail Thumbnail.

Some of my personal favorites.

Looking at the pictures I've taken as a group, I conclude that I'm a sexist pig. Most pictures are of women, and there are more pictures per person of women than of men.

Photography: Photography news groups

I lurk on a couple of Finnish newsgroups related to photography. They are occasionally infested by a former pro photographer on a personal crusade. Whenever he attacks the groups, they tend to become unbearable for a while. He's just done it again. This has prompted me to unsubscribe the Finnish newsgroups and have a look at*. They don't seem to be even as interesting as the Finnish ones, but they have more interesting quotes.

It's pointless to argue with someone with no soul.

Skip Middleton, in a discussion about the creativity of photographers.

Lodju: Ropecon gallery with Lodju

I created the Ropecon gallery with Lodju. Whee!

Lodju is nowhere near good enough for the whole task of processing pictures from a photo shoot. For example, it is impossible to look closely at photos with it, since it only shows a thumbnail scaled to the desired size. This is very inexact and you can't even see if the original is in focus or not. There are also lots of minor bugs. But I'm getting there, even if slowly.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Personal life: Tanda's birthday party

Went to Tanda's birtyday party. Not very many people, but very nice anyway. Meeting people socially needs to happen to me more.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Lodju: Almost a release

Made the first semi-real release of the current development tree and posted about it to the Lodju mailing list. Probably no-one will care, but just in case...

Sunday, August 3, 2003

Review: Terminator 3

Saw Terminator 3: rise of the machines in a movie theater. It is a movie that did not need to be made. It is not actually bad, just wholly unnecessary.

Photography: Artful composition by Michael Spinak

Michael Spinak wrote Artful composition on

The art of photography is not fundamentally about the pleasing spatial arrangement of objects in a two dimensional space; it's about communication.

Quite an inspiration article. I'll have to find something to communicate.

Friday, August 1, 2003

Personal life: Hot weather, cooking at work

The weather continues hot. I don't remember any such summer in Finland during my life: several continuous weeks of sunshine and high temperatures. Mostly, I'm enjoying it, though it is sometimes difficult to sleep during the nights.

The hot weather has this week been combined with a quickly rising stress level: my summer vacation has ended and works is demanding. On the other hand, even with only two weeks of vacation, I did manage to get my stress level to a reasonable level, and have now been able to be mostly relaxed at work, even when under pressure. This is very good and will hopefully continue.

One thing that has helped is that we've started making lunch at the office. Oliotalo moved to a new office at the beginning of July and they're great. There's air conditioning and a real kitchen. There are a few lunch restaurants in the area, and one downstairs in the same building, but they tend to be a bit expensive, and some of them are closed during the summer. So far, we've made lunch ourselves three times. It is great fun, and cheap.

Random thought: The Vatican and homosexuality

The Vatican has once again made a statement, approved by the Pope, opposing homosexuality. I don't understand why men who habitually wear skirts are so upset about gay people. Especially as they employ and protect child molesters.

Rant: Electronics engineers shouldn't design APIs

Electronics engineers should not be allowed to design software application programming interfaces. The box we use at work has several analog inputs and a way to make a message to be sent by the operating system to the application if the input value goes outside bounds. The maker of the box provides a C structure to hold the configuration. The structure contains no less than three ways to refer to an analog input port: two different bitmasks and an index into an array. There is no point in doing this, since it would be possible to use a single name. Even if you just used one name for the bitmasks and another for indexing the array it would be simpler. Bah.

Debian: Dueling banjos

Weird mail of the day:

Could you please send me the sheet music for Dueling Banjos

Debian's developer mailing list gets this request at least once per year. No-one knows why. I can't imagine how you would duel with banjos.

Review: Monster ball

I had the impression that Monster's ball was a dark and depressing movie. It is anything but. Much of the movie depicts the hardships of the two main characters, but the end makes it an optimistic and happy movie.

I like the way the storytelling is slow and simple and understated. I've now seen Billy Bob Thornton in two movies, and he excelled in both. On the other hand, both of these characters were quiet men; it would be interesting to see him do a completely different kind of role.

Halle Berry is the big surprise of the movie. I admit I'm prejudiced and have little hope that a supermodel or other celebrity will improve a movie. Berry acts so well I forgot not just that she used to be a model, but also that she's gorgeous.

All in all, an extremely nice movie.

Review: Forrest Gump

I bought Forrest Gump a little while ago on DVD, since I got it cheap, but didn't watch it until this week. I did see it originally in a movie theater when it was released, but had forgotten much of the plot. I only remembered that I liked the movie, and now that I've seen it again, I remember why.

The movie made me feel good inside. It also made me cry. I'm not entirely sure why, since the plot isn't all that different from the more boring kinds of movies that Hollywood makes so many of each year. Perhaps it is not the plot but the execution. The movie was executed quite well. There is a thin line between being exquisite and being vulgar or boring and Forrest Gump manages to stay on the right side.

When I commented on Forrest Gump on IRC, someone said that they had hated the movie, because it was calculated. After pondering on it, I agree: it is calculated. I don't, however, think it is a bad thing. I value craftsmanship and I think it is good if movie makers can make a superb movie on purpose and know exactly what they are doing. It would be sad if good movies were made only by chance.

Review: Bullit

I've owned a Bullit DVD for a couple of years now, and seen it many times. It is a realistic, understated and finely crafted police action thriller from 1968, starring Steve McQueen. The movie is perhaps best known for its long and dramatic car chase scene, but the acting is almost perfect all round. Highly recommended.

Review: Bend it like Beckham

Bend it like Beckham is a nice movie. If you've seen the trailer, or the posters, the plot is unsurprising, but the execution is good, and the movie leaves a warm, happy feeling that the world is, perhaps, not all that bad, after all.

Photography: Obsolete digital cameras

When will a digital camera be obsolete? It is popular to claim that since new models come out several times a year that a digital camera will be obsolete in a year or so. This obsolesence is completely artificial, however.

When you buy the newest digital camera, it will indeed only take a few months until a newer model replaces it on the market. This does not, however, in any way affect your camera. It will still be just as good as it was. Accessories like memory cards and batteries are typically shared with the newer model. The only thing that is different is that you no longer own the newest toy on the market. Big deal.

When accessories are no longer available, then, and only then, will a camera be obsolete. It will take years for this to happen. Eventually it will, but even then it only means that you can't get new ones for your camera. Used ones will probably still be available, and unless you break it, the camera will work as well as it always has.

Digital cameras do seem to become more rapidly obsolete in this manner than film cameras. This is unfortunate, and I'm not particularly happy about it. On the other hand, the first digital cameras, up until about three or four years ago, were not actually all that good in that the picture quality they produced was nowhere good enough even for everyday snapshots. Now that pocket size digital cameras have become good enough to produce prints, at least small prints, that are comparable to those from pocket size film cameras, I think we'll see less fast obsolescence. Actually, I think we're already seeing it.