Lars Wirzenius: March, 2005


Monday, March 28, 2005

Random hacks: Gave away SoundConverter

Some time ago I decided that I didn't have the time and will to hack on my SoundConverter application. It did what I wanted it to do, but people wanted MP3 encoding support, and maybe some other things as well. Gautier Portet offered to take over the program, and he has now released two new versions. See for the new versions.

I didn't manage to run version 0.7 on Debian yet, but version 0.6 works, and has MP3 encoding. After I do get it running on Debian again, I should probably offer to package it.

Random thought: Checklist for free software web pages

I wrote checklist for free software web pages. I have often been annoyed by web pages that are missing essential information so I figured I might as well list the essentials and point people at the list if they need guidance.

I actually wrote it a month ago, but forgot to make it public.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Random hacks: RSS generation and ampersands

Jose Carlos Garcia Sogo and Mike Beattie write about ampersands in Jose's log breaking Planet Debian and its aggregated RSS feed. I didn't find the problematic RSS snippet anymore, but here's what I think the situation is: RSS (at least version 2, which I use, and I think the others as well) requires the HTML content to be entity escaped. In other words, if you want an ampersand in the final output, the HTML to create it must be &, and this must then be encoded in the RSS file as &.

You have to do the same escaping for the less-than and greater-than characters as well.

I struggled with this a couple of years ago when I wrote my own web log scripts. I wrote them because I wanted to have the web log pages integrated with the rest of my pages, and because I am a NIHolic, but in case they are of use for anyone, I put a tarball up. Note that they are likely to not work for you directly, but they might be helpful in looking at how RSS is generated.

For debugging RSS feeds, I found extremely useful. It doesn't respond to me now, but I hope that is temporary. It is a validator for RSS and Atom feeds, and validation is most helpful when you are unsure if your stuff is correct or not.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Debian: We're everywhere

I just noticed that according to the Debian developer world map there is one of us in the middle of Greenland and another in the middle of Antarctica. Debian truly is universal!

Well, global.

Unless they're errors in the data.

But that wouldn't happen, right?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Rant: Evil equipment

Printers are evil. Partly they are evil because they are complicated electromechanical devices that break or malfunction whenever you are in a hurry. Mostly they are evil because all the software that exists to use printers sucks.

Here is what I want to see when it comes to using printers: I plug a printer to the USB port of my laptop, and then I tell whatever application I'm using to print and the printer spits out paper with whathever I wanted to have printed. If the printer is on the network, and not directly attached to my laptop, then I should be offered an descriptive list of printers from which to choose the one I like.

I don't want to configure a printer queue. I don't want to tell the software how many dots per inch my printer can print. I most certainly don't want to have to figure out which version of which driver to use. Any question more complicated than "is this the printer you want?", with a picture of the printer, is too much.

Now, I'm not sure this can all be completely achieved. I can dream, though. Certainly things have become easier than they used to be, I haven't had to manually touch printcap in a couple of years, but we're still a long way away from Nirvana.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Debian: DebConf5 statistics lesson?

One more wishlist for a talk at Debconf5: a brief course in elementary statistics, including data collection, simple frequency analysis, average, mean, basic distributions, and so on. Particular emphasis on ways in which statistics can be done wrongly and how people lie with statistics.

People keep insisting on using pseudo-statistics to argue their point. For example, by taking the download numbers for one particular Debian mirror and pretending that they are representative for all users. It would be nice to stop this kind of useless argumentation.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Random thought: Patent fund

Fighting fire with fire: European Anti-Software Patent Bribe Pledge Drive. I'm not sure I like the idea of doing bad things in order to combat bad things, but this time, the idea is funny. Perhaps I'm just overly desperate.

Would anyone like to hire me as a photographer? To keep with the theme of the day, I could do banana pornogrpaphy. (That's porn for bananas, in case you were wondering. Quite explicit pollen, for example.)

Random thought: European Banana Union

I suggest that people not, I repeat, not send bananas by mail to Luxembourg and other parties. They might rot and harm other packages and letters.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Travel report: FOSDEM 2005

I went to FOSDEM this year. It was my first visit, and it was quite fun. Unlike a professional trade show (say, CeBIT), it was by hackers, for hackers, and that made it relaxed and enjoyable. It wasn't about getting people to buy things, it was about people who work together over the Internet meeting each other in real life, and about meeting new people with shared interests.

On Thursday, the day before I left for Brussels, I had a fairly serious case of pre-low, being very nervous of travel. On Thursday morning, when I started to think about having to sleep uncomfortably in a sleeping bag for three days, I almost called the whole thing off. Luckily, I found a site (since forgotten) from advertising on Google that allowed me to find a cheap hotel room in a fairly good location. Later that day, I got into pre-high mode, being almost giggly with joy about the whole experience ahead of me. I didn't get much sleep the night before the flight, however, since I was still nervous not about flying, but about going somewhere new. What can I say? I don't travel well.

On Friday, I happened to meet Mithrandir and Naima at the airport and then proceeded to follow them around like a sleep-walking puppy. Hopefully I wasn't too annoying. We had some food and visited the chocolate museum near Grand Place. After a while I got really tired so I left them and went to my hotel, the Ustel, and slept for three hours or so. The hotel was pretty good for the price, but made me think fondly of some of the hotels previous employers used to send me to. I never realized how important things like sound proofing can be.

I also re-discovered my loathing of the traditional kind of faucet controls that are still popular in most of Europe (and the rest of the world as well, I assume). The kind where you control the amount of hot water with one dial and the amount of cold with another. The fact that water pressure seems low at best and variable at worst doesn't help. The style of controls popular in Finland, with one "stick" with which you control temperature by turning it left or right, and strength of flow by turning it up or down. With that, plus decent water pressure, it takes me about two seconds to get the kind of shower I want at home, as opposed to a minute or two of fiddling in a hotel. Blah.

On Friday evening, I went to Le Roi d'Espagne at the Grand Place, where lots of other people going to FOSDEM were also. The third floor was completely packed with us. I met quite a number of people, most of whose names I've forgotten, sorry. It was nice, even if I did what I always do in such situations: no mingling, but sat in one place desperately hoping that someone would talk to me. I rather think all the psychiatric tests that classify me as extrovert are crap.

Santa Claus hanging from the roof

Ever wondered what Santa Claus does between Decembers?

I spent most of Saturday in the Debian developer room at FOSDEM. The talks were great and it was nice to talk to people between them as well. I was actually glad there was no network there on Saturday, it was easier for me to concentrate on what was happening around me rather than doing e-mail or irc. I didn't quite concentrate enough, however: my knee got stuck into some gum that someone had left under the table I was sitting at. Three times. My last pair of trousers, too, since I have been avoiding to buy new clothes before I get a steady income.

I heard there was some kind of dinner or party on Saturday evening, but I was too tired and decided to go back to the hotel for a quiet evening and some sleep. I got lost on the way, but eventually went into a bar and they ordered a taxi for me. Eventually I did get some sleep, but not quite enough.

On Sunday morning, I got lost again, on my way to FOSDEM, and had to take another taxi to get there. I guess when I go somewhere the next time, I should get a map that covers the entire area I need to be in.

Brussles garbage collection

Hedgehog has faster garbage collection than Brussels.

The Debian developer room had more interesting talks on Sunday, but I missed some of them, because of our own talk. Cessu and I gave a presentation on Hedgehog, our 21-kilobyte byte code interpreter for a Lisp-like language. The talk was not a huge success, with only about a dozen people attending. I had more people tell me it is crazy to put Lisp into an embedded box... but those who were there seemed to enjoy it and laughed at the right places. We have put the paper and slides on the Hedgehog page.

Alan Cox

Showing a preference of pragmatism over principle, Alan Cox uses the OpenBSD wall socket for his laptop.

Most of the rest of Sunday went in a nice post-high from the talk. When FOSDEM was over, I happened to meet three random people and went with them for dinner and afterwards they kindly drove me to the hotel. We got nicely lost, again, and stopped several time to ask for directions. The one saying "follow the tram" helped us most.

Cow at Brussles airport

Möö (loosely translated as "moo" for the benefit of English speaking cows).

On Monday, I checked out from the hotel early, and wandered around in Brussels for a few hours. I saw Manneken Pis (utterly boring) and failed to visit museums (the ones I found were closed). Carrying around a heavy backpack and a hefty SLR with accessories in a shoulder bag turned out to be too much for my back. I ended up going to the airport many hours before my flight left, and even a couple of hours before I could check in. As you can see in the picture above, however, I had good company.

A company that wasn't as good, however, was Proximus. They operate the wireless LAN at the Brussels airport and you can by access to it for ten euros per hour (after you find the right place; the airport guide has the wrong information). Proximus has created a set of login pages that do not work with any of the browsers I have installed on my computer. They probably work with MS Internet Explorer, but the mess of JavaScript and broken HTML didn't even let me get through the "choose a language" page. I opened the source and parsed the code by hand, then guessed at the URL and eventually did get to the page where you are expected to enter a username and GSM phone number, although it didn't work, either. Yes, you read right: in order to use the Interent, you must have a GSM phone number capable of receiving SMS messages. How anyone operating an ISP can be so clueless I do not know, but there you are.

If anyone wants a free one hour of wireless LAN access at Brussels airport, the following code might work (unless someone has already used it): J8G4P816K. Set your SSID to "Proximus Wireless LAN" and go to and eventually, if their pages happen to work, you should find the place where to enter the above code.

On the whole, this was a really nice trip. I'll have to start preparing better for future ones, and I totally failed to document things with photographs, but those are minor problems. Now I'm really looking forward to Debconf5.