David Grant's blog

Boil This

After some torrential rain and other weather stuff that I was totally oblivious to, a boil water warning was issued for the entire Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). I wish I had bought some bottled water earlier; now I am pretty dehydrated. I would drink the water in our fridge that we boiled earlier but it is just so cloudy and gross-looking. You don't appreciate something until you lose it, and I definitely appreciate our normally clean drinking now.

Planet Larry

I am excited to be a part of Planet Larry. I don't write about Gentoo too often, but once in a while I might have something interesting to say about it. For those that are interested, my past articles on Gentoo, and my past articles on Linux.


Firefox 2.0 New Features

I just tried out Firefox a couple weeks ago for the first time and started writing a list of the best new features. I let this post bake for a couple weeks to see if I discovered any more new features. I didn't really find many more, just the 5 below:

  1. Spell-checking! This is one of the most useful features in my mind. No more clicking on a button on a website that says "check spelling". Firefox does it for you automatically and underlines misspelled words in red. 100% client-side spell-checking in any language. I have already downloaded the Canadian dictionary for normal user as well as the Spanish dictionary (Argentinian, not Spain).
  2. Built-in support for restoring the previously opened tabs, much like what the Session Manager, Tab Mix Plus, and SessionSaver plugins would do. Firefox 2.0 has a close button on each tab, tab dragging/reordering, and it can restore your tabs if you restart Firefox. It is still missing some features present in Tab Mix Plus, for example, the ability to restore a deleted tab, and the ability to make the tab bar take up more than one row.
  3. Better feed support. Click on a feed and Firefox will add it to your favourite reader. Supports Bloglines, My Yahoo, and Google Reader as well as any local application of your choosing. This should help the enormous number of people out there that still have no idea what a feed or RSS is (although I question whether it really matters if those people never know what they mean).
  4. Automatic updating of extensions. This is a big help, the more that can be done automatically the better. Now when I open up Firefox some days I am greeted with a dialog that tells me about extensions updates and allows me to update them with one click.
  5. The session restore feature leaves form information intact. So apparently this blog post that I am writing write now would be saved if my browser just crashed. I have not tried it yet, but I think this is a significant improvement over extensions like Tab Mix Plus that I thought it deserved a separate mention on its own.

Here are some things that are lacking:

  • Still does not pass the Second Acid Test. Not a huge deal but it means that Firefox still is not a fully standards-compliant browser while Konqueror, Opera, and Safari are.

I highly recommended downloading Firefox 2.0 mainly because some of the extensions out there are only being developed for Firefox 2.0 and may not work with Firefox 1.5. These are the extensions I am using by the way:

  • Adblock Plus
  • Canadian English Dictionary
  • del.icio.us Bookmarks
  • Fission
  • FlashGot*
  • Google Notebook
  • Greasemonkey*
  • Map+*
  • Mouse Gestures
  • Stylish
  • Web Developer

* rarely used

Scrabble Scoring Oddity Nets Scrabble Win for Me

Was playing Scrabble last night with my wife. She was kicking my ass and before I played my last "A" on the board to spell P-A-R for 6 points, and was beating me by about 30 points. As I played out, it was time to count her remaining tiles. She unluckily had a Q (10) left over and an extra piece worth 1 point. She lost the 11 points, but according to the rules, because I used up all my tiles I also get whatever tiles my opponents had left ADDED to my score. So another 11 for me and that was the game. What an awesome way to win! Neither of us will ever leave a high-valued letter on our racks again.

Sun to Release Java Under GPL

Looks like Sun is finally releasing Java under an open-source license. The GPL v2 to be precise, and not the "Sun-conceived Community Development and Distribution License (CDDL)" as it has with other projects. It will be managed by a new community that will spring up called "Open JDK". I am looking forward to this. The main thing I hope this brings is more features and quicker bug-fixes. Hopefully the open-sourcing of Java will allow more developers to be involved and hence allow it to be improved at a quicker pace than it has in the past.


Hibernate-3.2.x/JDBC-3.1.x Does Not Work With MySQL 4.1.x

I just spent six hours today trying to figure out why the Hibernate example I set up and the example in the "eg" directory of the Hibernate binary distribution both did not work. The example I made was doing something really simple, filling in 3 attributes in a table. It was putting in garbage instead. The "auction" example that comes with Hibernate (in the "eg" directory) would just cack, leaving me with all sorts of confusing log messages.

Since the "auction" example worked at my work computer so I thought about what was different on that computer. I then thought that my work computer might have been using mysql-5, while my home computer is still using mysql-4.1.x. I had tried upgrading to mysql-5 a few months ago but it didn't work for some reason. I tried following the instructions for upgrading mysql on gentoo again and they worked flawlessly. I tried running the hibernate auction example by typing ant eg and it worked. Next I tried running the example I made myself and it worked as well. Finally, 6 hours later, and it looks like the solution was to upgrade to mysql-5.x.

I have no idea why mysql-5.x works but mysql-4.1.x would not. I would be surprised if my example or the auction example were making use of any new mysql 5 features. It's been a painful day, but at least it is fixed now. Now I can finally continue working to understand Hibernate.

NDP-Green Alliance in the News

A while back, I talked about my idea for how the Federal Greens and NDP could join forces in the next federal election (by swapping ridings rather than merging). Last week there was some news involving not the national parties but the BC NDP and BC Green Party. NDP MP Corky Evans said "it's time for the NDP and the Greens to start talking about working together." Apparently he wrote a letter that was circulated among NDPers and was published in a Victoria socialist newspaper (anyone know the name of this newspaper by the way, or have a copy of the letter?). Apparently Evans "does not use the word 'merger,' but he does say it's time for the NDP and the Greens to begin negotiations." Negotiations for what? If not a merger, perhaps a riding swapping system like what I proposed (at least until STV or another proportional representation system is in place)? Even if the NDP party and the Green party had nothing in common, they should both be interested in pursuing such a plan because it should increase both of their seat counts and I assume as high a seat count as possible is the ultimate goal of any political party in an election.

The next day, on October 26th, 2006, Carol head-in-the-sand James had this to say: "It's not on the top of my to-do list. I'm busy being the leader of the Opposition, holding this government to account and raising the issues that the voters elected us to do." What an idiotic response. Anyways, it doesn't sound like there is any talk about riding swapping or anything like that. Unfortunately they're still thinking about it as if it should have something to do with the issues. It had nothing to do with that. In the 2005 BC election the Liberals got only 46% of the popular vote but won 58% of the seats. The NDP had 42% of the popular vote and won 42% of the seats. The Greens had 9% of vote and 0 seats. Essentially the Green voters helped elect some Liberals. Take the Burnaby-North, Burnaby-Willingdon, Vancouver-Burrard, Burquitlam, Vancouver-Point Grey, North Vancouver-Lonsdale, Comox Valley, Saanich North and the Islands, Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Maple Ridge-Mission, and East Kootenay ridings for example. The Liberals barely won those ridings. In fact, in all those ridings the Greens got more votes than the difference between Liberal and NDP votes. Had the Greens given up those ridings and given the Liberals and NDP a virtual runoff vote, the NDP might be willing to give up 1 or 2 ridings where the Greens were strongest, say the West Vancouver-Garibaldi and Powell River-Sunshine Coast ridings. What respect is there to be gained by running in a riding that you know you are going to lose well beforehand, but instead you run (in an albeit ridiculous voting system) and end up splitting the vote. The Democrats (and the Greens) managed to stop Nader in 2004, now it's time for the NDP to stop the Greens in 2009, but the Greens should make sure they get something in return and get a fighting chance at a seat.

Borat's Makeover: What Happened to the Old Borat?

[img_assist|nid=158|title=Borat: Before|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=77|height=100][img_assist|nid=159|title=Borat: After|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=96|height=100]Over the past few weeks I have noticed something odd with Borat. It looks like he has been given a makeover. A makeover of his looks and personality. He no longer has the same receding hair line, his hair is bushier, his moustache is much bigger and thicker. He smiles all the time and speaks in a chipper voice and squints a bit. He now does strange things like dancing randomly (see SNL bit below). What happened to the old uncoordinated Borat that I watched trying to learn cricket and football in vain? Actually I was wrong he has done that dance before, but not with a weird smile on his face and not randomly when there are 4 seconds of camera time to fill. He's also a bit more annoying for some reason. Something about his demeanour, it's just not the same Borat that I once knew. Here are some videos of the old Borat in action:

The following video is from Season 1 of the Ali G Season 1 DVD. Classic episode where Borat gets advice on dating and does some speed dating.

Here is another great episode where Borat tries to "buy a slave."

Now for the new (although I wouldn't say "improved") Borat. This video is from "Night of Too Many Stars" with Jon Stewart and this was the first video of Borat that tiped me off to his makeover:

Then I saw this opening skit on SNL and it confirmed my earlier suspicion of a complete Borat transformation:

Did the movie producers force him to change his character for the movie and for all movie-related promotional material?


My Maui Photos Accepted to Schmap

I mentioned before that some photos I had posted to my Flickr account had been short-listed for inclusion in a Schmap travel guide. As I said before, "I did not enter a contest or anything. I just took the pictures and posted them to Flickr and I guess they found them and I liked them." Well it turns out all six photos that were short-listed got officially accepted into the guide. Unfortunately I cannot see the guide because Schmap requires users to download a client to view the travel guides and that client only runs on Windows. If anyone wants to try it out, go to the Maui and Molokai travel guide and let me know what the guide is like and if it is any good.

Custom Drupal Recently Updated Modules Feed

I just created a feed of recently updated drupal modules using RSSxl Beta could do it. I entered:

  • Page URL: <a href="http://drupal.org/project/Modules/date">http://drupal.org/project/Modules/date[/geshifilter-code]
  • Start String: leave blank
  • Start Item String: <h2>
  • End Item String: </div>
  • Start Description String: <p>
  • End Description String: </p>
  • Link Number: 1

Unfortunately, according to this forum post, "RSSxl only uses the first 20KB of the target page - we have to do that to keep bandwidth usage down to reasonable proportions." And because drupal seems to alphabetize the modules that got updated in any given day, if the number of module updates that fit into 20kB is more than the number that were updated on a certain day, then some module updates might not get into this feed.

Actually it might not be exactly alphabetical...it looks like it is aphabetical in batches. Must be due to a cron job running infrequently and the batch it generates on each run is alphabetical either intentionally or unintentionally due to the fact that directories and the like are sorted alphabetically by default.


Generate Custom digg.com Feed

I found a really neat site that can generate custom feeds. I really wanted a way to not only get a feed of the most popular articles today on digg, but also have links directly to the dugg article, not to the digg page (sorry digg).

This site called RSSxl Beta could do it. I entered:

  • Page URL: <a href="http://www.digg.com/view/all/popular/today">http://www.digg.com/view/all/popular/today[/geshifilter-code]
  • Start String: <div class="news-body">
  • Start Item String: <h3 id="title.*?">
  • End Item String: <div class="news-details">
  • Start Description String: <p>
  • End Description String: </p>
  • Link Number: 1

That will give you a nice feed of the most recent 9 items on visible at http://www.digg.com/view/all/popular/today. The only downside is that it only displays 9. I am thinking I might write my own script to do this in python using a similar method to that done by RSSxl Beta.

Update: Just modified the "start item string" a bit. Didn't realize you could use regex.


Google Recipes Custom Search

I just created a custom search engine with Google's new Custom Search feature as part of Google Co-op. It's called Recipe Search. Just type in some ingredients and it will search all the best recipe websites. You can then narrow your search down further by only looking only at sites specializing in seafood, vegetarian, international cuisine, etc...

Give it a try...

I am looking for people to help maintain and improve this search engine. If anyone has some knowledge of recipe websites and has an interest in helping out with this project, please let me know and I can invite you do be a collaborator.

Beryl 0.1.1 Released and in Gentoo Portage

[img_assist|nid=161|title=|desc=|link=url,http://|align=left|width=100|height=100]Beryl is now in Gentoo's official ebuild repository, portage. There are instructions on installing it for Gentoo as well as how to set up your nvidia graphics card if you have one. The beautiful thing about having a nVidia graphics card is that with the latest nVidia drivers (build 9625) you no longer need to install XGL. You just add the AddARGBGLXVisuals to your xorg.conf file and install the Beryl window manager and you get snazzy effects right out of the box. The other great thing is that you don't need to edit any other files on your computer. Just launch KDE for example, as usual, then run "beryl-manager" from a konsole window. You can change your window manager to beryl from the taskbar icon that shows up, restart beryl if it crashes, or switch back to kwin. You can also use emerald (the window-decorator) and change your emerald theme from the taskbar icon.

What is Beryl for? Well a lot of it is just eye-candy, like the spinning cube desktop for example. But some of it is really useful. In my opinion the most useful feature is the thing that imitates the Mac OS X Expose feature, that shows every window on your desktop and allows you to switch to the one you click on. You can invoke it with the F9 or F8 keys. The reveal desktop feature is pretty nice as well (activated with the F6 key).

Online Backup With Carbonite

I just read a glowing review of Carbonite online backup service here. Here's the salient points:

"It requires a simple installation, and users choose to back up their entire hard drive or just parts of it. Carbonite then begins the backup process, uploading 2 GB per day over broadband until finished. Files are encrypted, and there is no limit on total storage. If you delete a file, Carbonite keeps it stored for 30 days in case you change your mind. Carbonite monitors files that are changed and backs them up right away.

And if you have a problem and need to get the data downloaded to a reformatted hard drive or new computer, Carbonite will download at up to 15GB per day over broadband until your system is restored."

The bad news is that they don't support linux or Mac OS X just yet. If you click on the download link, it will tell you that the software is only available for Windows XP and you can then enter your email address and they will notify you when it is ready. I really hope they make this available for *NIX users. If they do, I'll use it for sure.

Nuclear Energy as a Way to Reduce Global Warming Gets Boost From Australian Government

It looks like nuclear energy is starting to get the respect that it deserves as a very legitimate alternative to burning fossil fuels (or daming our rivers), as least in Australia. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said:

If you want to address the climate change issues then it's very important you address the issue of CO2 emissions from power stations - in the short term wind mills and solar power are not going to provide you with a base load power in any country on earth that you need . . . Nuclear power is a very real option, it works well in a lot of parts of the world and it's entirely clean.

Australia currently has no nuclear power plants. Industry and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said:

Australia would be foolish not to consider introducing nuclear power because it could play a major role in slashing greenhouse gas emissions . . . We are preparing the ground for a factual, non-hysterical debate in Australia on nuclear energy.

Having a non-hysterical debate is going to be a bit challenging with so many environmentalists against the prospect of expanded generation electricity from nuclear sources. Fortunately, there is a called Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy. According to their website:

ENVIRONMENTALISTS FOR NUCLEAR is in favor of all energies which respect the environment, including the peaceful applications of clean nuclear energy (which has the greatest industrial potential), as well as renewable energies (hydro, solar, geothermal, and wind, all have appropriate roles to play, but with a much smaller potential).

It looks like their board of directors is comprised of a fairly diverse group of individuals, some environmentalists and some from industry.

Some environmental groups say: "renewable energy sources — such wind and solar power — are a safer, more sustainable long-term solution to global warming." I'd like to see someone actually crunch the numbers and tell me how much of the earth's surface area would have to be covered with solar panels and how much of the earth's surface area would have to be covered by wind wills to provide for the energy needs for the earth today.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard gets the last word:

Those who say they are in favor of doing something about global warming but turn their faces against considering nuclear power are unreal . . . If we're serious about having a debate about global warming . . . we have got to be willing to consider the nuclear option.

I agree that we should not pursue the nuclear option willy-nilly, but it has to be considered, as Ian Macfarlane said, through factual, non-hysterical debate.


Subscribe to RSS - David Grant's blog