Greg MacLellan

August 26, 2012

New House!

Filed under: General — groogs @ 11:56 pm

While I was in the process of updating the front entrance, my wife and I started talking about if it made sense to do another job we had been thinking of – tearing down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and putting in some new cabinets and a breakfast bar. My reasoning was if I was doing this at the same time, it would be enough work at once that I could justify bringing in a pro to finish the drywall for me (yes, I hate it that much). This started us into another conversation about how much more work and money we wanted to put into this house, and how much longer we’d stay. When we bought the house, we had originally figured it would be about 5 years, and now it’s been 4, and we were feeling this might be a good time to move.

We started looking around to see what was on the market, going to a couple open houses, and even looking at building a new house. We had our real estate agent take us out and show us a few houses, and actually saw one that we really liked. We decided to make a conditional offer on it.. and it was accepted! This was great – although as part of the conditions we had 2 weeks to sell our house, and our front entrance was still a construction zone. When our agents came over on that Friday, I had a plastic sheet up around the front as I had only just put on the first coat of mud and was getting ready to sand.

Luckily this was a long weekend, so we went into high-gear, and by Monday night I managed to finish the entrance, as well as we got the rest of the house in a respectable state and ready to be photographed and have people walking through. The next day, we had multiple offers competing, and accepted one that night. We had the deal finalized less than 48 hours after putting the house on the market, and so huge thanks to our agents Della and Dave Cook for that!

So while I’m happy to have the entrance done, we’ve only had a bit over a month to enjoy it — we’re actually moving in a couple days from now. There are already a few things I want to do on the new place, and the basement is unfinished a blank slate, so expect more posts in the next few months!

Old House

For now, we’ve put a lot of work into this house and it’s sad to say goodbye, but also exciting to start fresh. Hopefully the new owners will enjoy this house as much as we have.

February 12, 2009

Rick Mercer: Canadian government

Filed under: General — groogs @ 5:57 am

A bit of an offside from my usual topics, but Rick Mercer gave an absolutely great explanation of how Canadian government and parliament works that is worthwhile watching.

May 29, 2008

SvnMergeGui

Filed under: Code,General,Technology — groogs @ 2:01 am

I just created a Google Code project for a quick and dirty little app I built, SvnMergeGui. As you may suspect, it’s a GUI to SvnMerge.

It uses ClickOnce for the installation (because it was really easy to do from VisualStudio), and is pointed at the svn repository for updates – so although I’ve never tried it, the theory is that it will have automatic updates built-in. You can download the install files from the project page linked above.

March 24, 2008

Hacking RFID-enabled credit cards.. For $8

Filed under: General — groogs @ 1:43 pm

I’ve talked to a few of my friends about the stupidity of the non-contact credit cards (that use RFID) before, but at the time I couldn’t find any practical examples showing that it was actually possible to steal credit card information just by walking past people. Well, now you can watch it in action:

Via BoingBoing

February 7, 2008

Jango

Filed under: General — groogs @ 5:46 pm

So it’s been a while – almost a year! – since I updated this site, which probably also means no one pays attention anymore, but oh well. I just thought I’d make a little post about a new service I’ve been using over the last couple of days called Jango. It’s basically personalized radio stations, along the lines of Pandora, but it’s a bit more social, and (the biggest thing for me) it works in Canada.

Each user can create a number of stations, and for each of them, you can add artists to it, control how much variety it plays, and rate songs as they play.

An interesting feature is you can search for and play songs on demand – but what happens is it shows songs that are currently playing on other user’s stations, and then tunes you into that station. The song starts at the beginning, but if you continue listening, the next song that plays is determined by the station. In this sense, “stations” are more like dynamic playlists – it’s an interesting concept.
My stations are at: http://www.jango.com/users/3393756. Enjoy!

March 12, 2007

Two Days to LNP

Filed under: General,Telephony — groogs @ 9:08 pm

Well finally wireless number portability is coming to Canada on March 14th. This means you will be able to transfer your wireless number to wireless another carrier, to a landline, or your landline to a wireless carrier. Transfers between wireless carriers should take 2.5 hours, transfers between wireless and landline could take up to two days, and fees for doing a transfer are left up to individual providers. I haven’t yet found out if transfers from wireless or landline to VoIP carriers will be possible, although I don’t see why it wouldn’t be.

On that note, I recently had to switch my home phone number. It’s not really a big deal since most people call my cell phone anyways, but basically Unlimitel pulled out of operating in Kingston. I am now with les.net (which has a really nice interface by the way – letting you pick and add DIDs to your account in seconds, see your balance, automatically send you a reminder when your balance is low, etc). I looked into porting my number over, but was told that I would be charged a $150 fee to port – I have to wonder if that would still be the case in a couple of days?

January 17, 2007

PHP mail() logging

Filed under: Code,General,Technology — groogs @ 12:33 pm

I’ve posted my php sendmail wrapper before, but I just noticed that Ilia Alshanetsky has written a php mail logging patch that essentially does the same thing, but from within PHP itself. This is nice because it can log the full path of the file and line where mail() was called, whereas my script can only log as much info as PHP passes to sendmail (which isn’t very much) and what it can get from the environment. The downside is since it’s a patch, it requires recompiling – my script can be dropped into any installation (PHP4/5, and maybe even 3) and just requires a simple php.ini change.

I should also point out that if you’re using this, you should be sure that you don’t “whitelist” localhost in your mail server, or otherwise people can just connect to your SMTP server locally, and send mail without requiring a username or password. If they use SMTP you can’t see what script or virtual host sent the mail either way, but at least if you require authentication you can see what account is being used if it becomes an issue.

January 9, 2007

freePBX 2.2.0

Filed under: General,Technology,Telephony — groogs @ 2:21 am

I haven’t posted here in a while, so I just thought I’d mention something about freePBX 2.2.0, which was just released a couple days ago. For those that don’t know, freePBX is an open source configuration and web-based interface to Asterisk, which allows you to configure and run a PBX that has the equivalent functionality to commercial PBXs costing several thousands of dollars (or more). I’ve been involved with the freePBX project since December 2004 (when it was called AMPortal, or AMP for short), and minus a 6 month hiatus in early 2006, I have been contributing to the project ever since.

2.2.0 is a fairly signifigant release, adding a fair chunk of new functionality, fixing lots of bugs (over 200) including some long-standing bugs that have been around since the 1.x series. Among these are some bugs in the call handling that dealt with certain situations where you pass a call from a queue to a ring group, or going to a cell phone, and then forwarded back to another extension, etc, that were sometimes causing voicemail to never pick up, and some other strange behaviour. I was busy rewriting the modules API to make everything a bit more solid, and wrote a fancy new module administration interface. I also ported a nice new design done by Steven Fischer, which was a much needed upgrade from the basic look that the interface had from the start. I’ve also written some new modules (announcements, phonebook directory, misc applications, speeddial) and done some work on a half dozen others. Overall, we’re quite happy with this release and definately suggest that anyone using 2.x upgrades.

Going forward, there’s a few things I’d really like to do – write some hooks to use QuickForm, to make writing GUI code a lot simpler; finish my text-to-speech and manualconditions modules (which I’ve started on already); finish the daemon to write config files (instead of having the web server invoke a script); write the framework for a user portal; and add a menu before going to voicemail to allow callers to do various things besides leave voicemail.

Now, if I just had a clone or two that could my other day-to-day tasks like go to work, I would be set.

November 28, 2006

Now on sale..

Filed under: General — groogs @ 10:37 pm

I grabbed this picture on my cell phone a couple of weeks ago. I’m really not quite sure what to make of it..

breast-cancer-on-sale

September 20, 2006

Great Error Messages

Filed under: Asides,General — groogs @ 12:19 pm

Here are some great error messages that should remind programmers to put some effort into what they display, and always check for those impossible situations that can “never happen” — otherwise you, too, may find yourself lost at the subway station “Integer divide by 0”.

July 23, 2006

MythTV + PVR150

Filed under: Code,General,Technology — groogs @ 10:21 pm

I have been using MythTV in my living room for the last couple of months, and it’s quite a nice setup. Originally, I got it as a media player after the DSM-320 didn’t live up to my expectations (it’s still usable, but it’s been relegated to the 13″ TV in the bedroom).

MythTV main menuWe don’t actually subscribe to cable, and only get a few network channels that ‘leak’ through from the cable internet, so I never really intended it to act as a PVR. One day I happened to see a good deal on a Hauppage PVR-150 that included a remote, so I figured what the heck.

Recordings screenIt’s nice to have it record a few shows every day, and the “only keep x episodes” feature is handy. I even have it recording the local 6 o’clock news (and only keeping 1 episode) since I never usually watch it at that time. It’s also nice to always have a few episodes of The Simspons to pick through.

Media Library screenI’ve never been a slave to the TV schedule, I’d rather just not watch something than re-arrange the rest of my life around a tv show. For shows that interest me enough, I’ll download them and watch them at my leisure, and never miss an episode or watch them out of order. Having a PVR to do that just makes things easier.

Live TVOverall, myth was fairly straightforward to get working. I installed it on a Debian Sarge box, from source, along with ivtv and lircd.

Program GuideI wanted to post some of my config files, particularly for the remote setup, since it was very difficult to find the files for these, and for some unknown reason almost no one has posted complete configs (that have all the buttons configured) for the remotes.

  • /etc/lircd.conf – Remote definitions for various Hauppage remotes
  • /home/mythtv/.mythtv/lircrc – Mapping of remote buttons to MythTV commands

Caller ID on screen displayI also have asterisk and FreePBX installed to run my phones (I’ll write another post about that another time). One of the nice things about it is I have an on-screen popup when someone calls. I’ve written instructions on how to set up freepbx with mythtv osd on the FreePBX documentation wiki.

It does take a bit of reading and a bit of playing around, but it’s well worthwhile to setup MythTV as a PVR.

By the way: sorry about the crappy quality images for the live TV, it’s from my cell phone camera. I couldn’t take a screenshot of the video output (it just came out blue, like in the program guide picture).

July 5, 2006

Improving Windows Roaming Profiles

Filed under: General — groogs @ 11:41 pm

We use roaming profiles on our network which is handy for a number of reasons. It’s easy when users use another computer than their normal one, or want to log on to a laptop for a presentation or meeting (a couple of which we share). It’s also handy as an administrator since I can basically swap out their (faulty) computer with another without much interruption (I also use automated application distribution).

While for the most part roaming profiles do the job, there are a number of problems. The most notable is that when the profile gets large, logon and logoff takes a long time, as Windows insists on copying everything, even if it hasn’t changed. There are also obscure errors that can happen when processes remain open during logout (“\\server\user\profile.pds not found”), or when a logoff or login happens when not on the network (think laptop users that use ‘suspend’ mode a lot).

I’ve been trying to find ways around them, but the best suggestions seem to be:

  • Keep your profile ‘small’Why should I have to do this? More importantly, why should I force my users to do this? Maybe 6 years ago, a few megabytes was a reasonable size for a profile, but nowadays, I have individual pictures that are a few megabytes each. User data has grown in size, the ability of Windows to handle a large profile hasn’t.
  • Redirect Desktop, My Documents etc to network sharesThis is a great tip for desktop systems, but not for laptops, and certainly not for hybrid environments where users interchangably use both. While ‘offline files’ theoretically takes care of this, in reality it causes many more problems. If two users log on to a system, that system will forever try to synchronize files for both of their profiles – no matter whose profile you’re in. This obviously fails, as user A doesn’t have access to user B’s network shares. In my experience, it’s also not very smart, often failing to see a network server even though explorer does, or randomly switching to offline mode for no apparent reason.
  • Redirect Desktop, My Documents etc to local (non-roaming) foldersThis makes the settings for a profile roam, but obviously not the files. Switching between computers means you lose your stuff, not to mention it doesn’t get backed up on the server.

With these ideas in mind, I’ve tried to figure out a way to get around the limitations and bugs (which existed in NT and continue to exist in XP, with no signs of going away) while preserving the useful traits of roaming profiles and offline files.

The best solution I’ve come up with so far is to use a file synchronization program (like AllwaySync or the open-source FullSync) to do the transfers. Basically, I would redirect the ‘big’ folders (Desktop, My Documents, Application Data, Start Menu) to local paths only so they don’t roam with the profile, and then use the sync program to keep them synchronized to folders in the user’s home directory on the network.

AllwaySync in particular has some features that make this very useful: it can synchronize at logon/logoff, as well as on intervals or even watch for changes and synchronize ASAP. The ability to synchronize while working brings a number of benefits: for laptop users that use suspend at the end of the day instead of logoff (me!), the files are still pushed to the server (to be backed up, or available if you forget your laptop the next day); it’s possible to be logged in to two computers at once, and have a file you save show up in your My Documents folder relatively quickly; and if something happens to your computer before you logoff (power failure, or worse) then at least most of your stuff should be copied to the server.

So you may be wondering why I’m writing this article as a theoretical idea instead of as a how-to. Well, there are some shortcomings that need to be overcome. AllwaySync (as of 4.6.1) has a bug, where it is unable to copy read-only files to a linux server (it copies to a temp file first, then tries to move it, so in case it’s interrupted you don’t get a partial file — linux doesn’t allow moving a file with no write permission, while Windows does). As there are a number of read-only files stored all over the place, I cannot do a full synchronization. The XML configuration file for AllwaySync is also incredibly confusing and complex, which may make it more difficult to generate automatically for use. I’m not as concerned about this though.
I’m not sure if FullSync will fit the bill or not, but I will investigate. It doesn’t look to be as full-featured as AllwaySync though. If anyone has any other suggestions, please let me know.

I will post again about this, hopefully as a how-to once I find a solution that works. I just wanted to get this out there to gather some feedback, and so I don’t have to explain the why part again, once I figure out how to do it. :) Keep watching for updates here.

June 9, 2006

Where did my insert key go?!?

Filed under: General,Rants,Technology — groogs @ 12:11 am

I spent some time recently trying to find a new keyboard, since my old one has had enough spilled on or in it over the years that it was uncleanable (still worked fine, but it was getting pretty gross). Now, I don’t know what keyboard designers are on these days, but they’ve made it an incredibly difficult and frustrating task.

What happened to the insert key?I don’t have any special keyboard needs, I usually just buy the basic el-cheapo keyboard that gets the job done. So I went down to my local computer shop, as I usually do when I need computer parts. It seems that somebody decided that the ‘insert’ key is no longer useful, so they removed it and replaced it with a gigantic delete key. Now, insert is probably one of those keys you use more than you think you do. If you spend any amount of time in vim, it’s something that will have you screaming bloody murder.

Do we really need a huge delete key?I then went to the big box stores thinking that I’d be able to find something with their larger selection. Although most of their selection was wireless, every single keyboard had some weird layout. The only ones that actually had an insert key were the ‘natural’ keyboards, unfortunately I can’t type on those, because I hold my arms at that ‘natural’ angle with a regular keyboard. When I use a ‘natural’ keyboard, I have to stick my elbows way out and it gets very uncomfortable.

Yes, that is a power-off button where page up should be.As I spent time looking at these keyboards, I also noticed some other trends, like weird function key groupings (see first pic above, where F1-F6 are on one side, and F7-F12 on the other, or the second pic, where they’re grouped by 3’s instead of 4’s). The absolute worst design has got to be the poor placement of power buttons. 15 minutes on of these keyboards and you’ll understand. I don’t know who decided to put a ‘power off’ button where ‘page up’ is supposed to be, but something horrible needs to happen to them.

You'd think these power buttons are small enough to be out of the way - they're not.It seems that keyboard designers have gotten bored or something, as they all love to mess with the layout of the cursor keys, insert/delete block, and function keys. Multimedia keys – even power buttons – are fine, but please just put them outside of the regular keyboard area!

I ended up buying a Logitech G15 (I’m sure I could have found and ordered a normal cheap one online, but hey, I was impatient that day), which is totally overkill for me since I don’t play games at all. I can’t even see the LCD, as it’s hidden under my desk because of the keyboard tray. I set up the programmable keys to open some commonly-used programs, but I rarely use them. What I do like about this keyboard though, is the backlighting (actually, that’s quite nice), the feel (light, but you know when you pressed a button), and most of all: it has an insert key.

May 18, 2006

The other side of spam..

Filed under: General — groogs @ 2:23 pm

I got a kick out of this this morning. Someone used my email address for the “from” address in some spam, and apparently this guy was less than happy about receiving it.
Some spam that

May 16, 2006

Macs 13% more than PCs? Try 75%..

Filed under: General,Technology — groogs @ 2:39 pm

AppleInsider is running an article saying that Macs are only 13% more than a comparable windows desktop, or 10% for a comparable notebook. They did this research to squash the notion that Macs are way more expensive than PCs.
One of my problems is the cheapest Mac – the Core Solo – is still $699 CAD. At my local computer store, you can buy a basic PC for $279 plus $120 for a copy of Windows XP Home. Sure, this isn’t “comparable” to the Core Solo in terms of components, but in terms of functionality pretty much everything is there, and certainly it is for someone who just wants a PC for web browsing, email, to listen to and burn music, and the occasional word processing task.
So what else is the Mac Mini offering that makes it worth that much more money? The small form factor? Okay, that’s neat, but I have lots of space, and don’t care about the size. Firewire, wireless ethernet, and a remote? Again, I don’t need any of them.
So for someone looking to get a basic computer, it seems to me that an Apple is 75% more. This is a far cry from 13%. This is even a place Apple should be looking to convert users, as these basic tasks do not require any Windows-only software — typically the sticking point that prevents switching. They’ve effectively priced themselves out by offering too-fancy hardware with options many users don’t need. I know the Mac Mini was Apple’s answer to offering a low-cost PC, and compared to traditional Apple prices, it is low-cost.. but that’s sad in itself.

I think Apple should really create an introductory system that targets a sub-$500 (CDN) price point, and market it against the basic PC. But then, maybe I’m off the mark here. Maybe people are really willing to spend $700+ on a system that is 10x more than what they need (Future Shop and Best Buy seem to be selling computers, after all..).

I have never owned a Mac, but would love to buy one — unfortunately I just can’t justify it when I can buy a PC that meets my needs for so much less (less than half the price, running Debian Linux). Maybe someday Apple will learn..

April 19, 2006

Expensive Speaker Cable

Filed under: Asides,General,Reviews — groogs @ 1:31 pm

Something that’s bugged me for a long time, and that I’ve been meaning to blog about, is overpriced speaker wire. I found an article someone had linked to in a thread about a certain brand of cables, and it really exactly echos what I wanted to say anyways. This particular piece is a review from 1983, but certainly still valid: Stereo review dares to tell the truth. The rest of the page is also very good, so have a read through. Fair warning: if you paid a signifigant chunk of change for your cables, you may not want to read this review. After all, ignorance is bliss.

April 18, 2006

CodeIgniter

Filed under: Code,General,Reviews — groogs @ 8:13 pm

I’ve been playing with a sweet PHP framework called CodeIgniter, and I have to say: I love it. It uses the MVC pattern, which I’ve never much cared for, but does it in a nice way: by staying out of the way. The models are incredibly basic, and really, you don’t even need them. The views are PHP templates done the way PHP templates should be done; with PHP.

Something many frameworks miss: the documentation is amazing. There is a great tutorial video on their website, and after watching it, many people say they’re hooked. The user guide is even better: well laid out, and it even has a slick interface and look that makes it pleasurful to use. What’s missing is pure API documentation, but there is a reference (that I now have printed and posted just above my desk) and most of the calls are outlined in the manual.

Unlike many other frameworks, it doesn’t impose any strict methods of doing anything. You have a controller that is a class with a bunch of functions. There are ‘helpers’, ‘libraries’, ‘plugins’, that all have a common way of loading ( $this->load->library(‘session’); for example). These can be core libraries, or application-specific (installed in the application/ folder). The directory layout is very intuitive, and it can all go underneath an HTTP root folder (not requiring certain files inside/outside of a web-accessable folder — double plus for people using shared hosting with open_basedir restrictions).

I started experimenting with it for the second version of web interface I’m writing, and I actually decided to port another application I had 75% done to it. It’s still in-progress as I write some user authentication routines, and I decided to write a “SuperModel” class (yeah, kind of dumb name) that builds forms and validates them – because I hate manually building forms.

If you’re a PHP developer, I highly recommend checking this framework out. It’s only been around publically for a couple months and has been aparently downloaded over 5000 times, and has a growing and active community in the forums.

April 13, 2006

The Hockey Monkey

Filed under: Asides,General — groogs @ 10:47 pm

I was sitting here watching TV, and this amazingly great song (video link) came on as the theme song to some show called The Loop. If you haven’t before, check out The Zambonis!

April 12, 2006

VoIP over VPN improves call quality

Filed under: General,Telephony — groogs @ 10:51 am

I came across an interesting article showing that running VoIP over a (TCP-based) VPN actually improves call quality. This goes against what you would expect – VoIP traffic uses UDP to ensure the least amount of latency, while TCP ensures all packets arrive in order, but means that one holdup can stall the whole stream.

Once they investigated more, it actually makes sense why this happens. The VPN ensures that all packets get there, in order, which yields a better call. What is needed for this is enough burst bandwidth so if a packet is delayed, there is enough headroom to ‘catch up’ to the stream (detect the error, and retransmit enough data to fill the gap). A 64kbps VoIP call takes up about 80kbps when encapsulated in a VPN. Having a 100kbps connection isn’t quite enough, but in the tests 500kbps was enough to improve quality (see the chart). The flipside to this is that on a bad network, nothing helps, which really just seems obvious.

The interesting implication of this is that it’s actually another reason to deploy VPNs to remote workers. Not only is the call now encrypted (something many VoIP protocols don’t do) with proven SSL technology, but it actually helps the quality, provided they have a half-decent connection to begin with.

The other point here is that it’s actually okay to overprovision as long as you have enough burst bandwidth. For example, if you have a 2Mbps pipe, and are serving 12 users from it, they consume just under 1Mbps total. That leaves another 1Mbps for burst capability if any of the streams get left behind, and 12 times more than any single connection requires. (This is of course assuming no other traffic is flowing on the VPN, so adjust numbers accordingly if the VPN is used for browsing, file transfers, etc).

I’d like to see a test done using OpenVPN (they only used commercial VPN products), but it’s clear that it’s a good idea to add SSL. It’ll be interesting to see where this heads: if SIP phone manufacturers will start adding VPN clients or even just SSL transports to encapsulate the SIP traffic. Perhaps even a new TCP-based protocol will be thought up.
digg story

April 9, 2006

del.icio.us

Filed under: General — groogs @ 11:09 am

I just thought I’d post something about this great service that I realize has now become one of those vital pieces of my internet world. Del.icio.us is basically an online bookmarking service that lets you “tag” sites with keywords. You can then browse your tagged sites by tag or multiplte tags. It has completely replaced my browsers built-in bookmarking feature.

I used to have a fairly large collection of bookmarks, and it was always a pain to keep organized. I also had a different set of bookmarks on my laptop vs my home PC and office PC. With del.icio.us, organizing is built-in – it just depends on the tag you use – and I can tag and access everything from any browser.

Del.icio.us really bills itself as a ‘social bookmarking’ service, but to be honest I don’t really take advantage of that very much. Basically it will show you “saved by x other people” for all items, and by default your page is public. There are also pages to show you what’s popular and recently tagged.

I highly recommend using this del.icio.us plugin for Firefox, as it adds some handy tagging features to the browser interface that make it really easy to use.

This is one of those services that once you start using, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

March 20, 2006

Woman faces eviction for blog

Filed under: General — groogs @ 4:42 pm

At issue is a blog started by Dawe, a 46-year-old widow who lives on a disability pension, chronicling her disputes with Homestead over issues in the apartment where she has lived for more than a decade. Homestead informed Dawe that it would evict her unless she removed the blog, which she has refused to do.

read more | digg story

March 9, 2006

Time to ditch those CD sets..

Filed under: General,Technology — groogs @ 9:11 pm

Something that really boggles my mind: Why do all the distros still push their 3 or 7-CD or DVD sets as the main way to download them? It’s 2006 for crying out loud. My distro of choice these days is debian, and I’ve been using the net-install ISO for a couple years now.

Waste of Bandwidth

Most distros come with, well basically, everything. Interestingly, most people use one desktop environment. One internet browser. One mail client. One office suite. Many many TB’s of bandwidth are wasted by the extra programs people are downloading, but never use. This puts undue strain on all the sites hosting, including the mirrors that donate their bandwidth.

With a network-based install, you just download a small, bootable CD with the basic OS on it. Debian’s net-install is 100MB. The installer has the ability to download packages from web, ftp, and nfs servers, as you select which packages you actually want.

Quickly Outdated

When you burn a distro on CD, it pretty much goes obsolete immediately. The longer you wait, the more packages get updates. If you install something a month or two old, then chances are the first time you run the update utility, it’s going to download a large number of packages again, because they’ve been updated. So now you have a whole ton of packages on CDs – many of which you’ll never use – and once you’re done installing, you’re goig to have to download most of them again.

Broadband: It’s Everywhere

A very high percentage of people have broadband access (in USA, estimated 29% rural, 39% urban – probably higher in the rest of the world), and I’d be willing to bet that the percentage among people installing Linux (ie, the techies) is much higher. With a good connection, downloading doesn’t even take that much longer than copying off a CD. (And just think, with all the extra bandwidth from people mostly doing net-installs, the mirrors will be able to go even faster!)

For dialup users or people that want to install on a standalone machine, it makes sense to keep the CDs around.
Faster Install

Instead of having to wait to download 2 or 3 CDs, and then do the installation, you can just download the 100MB image (or use an old one you have laying around, as if it’s been well-designed, it will basically never go out of date) and then download only the packages you need (which should be much less than 3 CDs worth). This even makes sense for dialup users, if they don’t otherwise have access to broadband to get the full CD set.

Drawbacks

There are drawbacks to the net-install. If the network hardware isn’t supported by the installer, then obviously it won’t work. For a new user, a net install may be confusing since it’s so different from the typical OS install. I don’t think these are huge issues though, as long as the user interface is well designed and enough drivers are included (and the user isn’t using some obscure and/or obsolete network hardware).

I’d love to hear comments on this, about why it is or isn’t a good idea, and why more distros have not adopted the network install method.

March 6, 2006

Zend Framework

Filed under: General,Technology — groogs @ 7:25 pm

The much-anticipated Zend Framework was released a couple of days ago, and I finally got around to looking at it today. I really wasn’t impressed much.

It’s really not much more than PEAR, with a sloppy MVC framework tacked on. I certainly don’t think it’s not a useful library: the Zend_InputFilter class looks very handy, and the Zend_Db stuff is an interesting implementation (though, I’m not sure if I’ll be switching away from ADOdb anytime soon).
I’m still not currently using a formal MVC framework (I haven’t yet found one I really like – though I do implement something similar the view-controller part without object oriented code), and by the looks of things, I won’t be building any applications using just the Zend Framework, either.

Okay, so it’s written by the people behind PHP. Is this really the best benefit it has over any other framework? I certainly don’t seem to be alone in thinking this way.

March 2, 2006

Puzzle + Alarm Clock

Filed under: Asides,General — groogs @ 11:14 pm

The alarm clock goes off, and pops 4 puzzle pieces into the air, and won’t shut up until you reassemble them. Seems like a neat idea, but I have a feeling all it would teach me is how to do puzzles in my half-sleep..

February 28, 2006

Shiny New Laptop

Filed under: General,Technology — groogs @ 12:51 am

I just got a new Dell Inspirion 6000 to replace my older Inspirion 1100. There was a nice promo on the 6000, and I have a Pentium-M 740, 1GB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive, as well as integrated Wireless b/g, bluetooth, a DVD writer (not that I will ever use this in a laptop..) and a 15.4″ widescreen LCD.

Inspiron 6000The first thing I did was try to install our corporate copy of Windows 2000 Professional, to bring it inline with the rest of the systems at work. I had a few devices not recoginized, so I re-installed with XP Pro on the advice of a friend. I ran into the same problems, but eventually worked my way through them. I’m pretty sure that I could have fixed the problem with Windows 2000 as well, but I didn’t feel like re-installing again.

The bluetooth driver was most problematic. The Dell downloads didn’t even show bluetooth drivers when I selected my machine, or entered my service tag. I actually thought that by entering my service tag they should have only shown me drivers for my exact machine, instead of the 4 different possible wireless options, display options, etc. After looking at my invoice and doing some searching, I found the bluetooth driver.

One big thing for me is the keyboard layout. My old Inspirion 1100 had a strange layout, with home, pgup/down, and end along the right side of the keyboard, with insert and delete to the left of the cursor keys. It took me a while but I eventually got used to it. This keyboard now has a layout closer to a normal 104-key keyboard, with the aforementioned keys grouped together in the top right, in basically the same configuration as a normal keyboard. I still reach for the delete key in the wrong place, but it’s certainly easier to get used to. I’ve yet to understand why nobody puts a full-size keyboard (minus the number pad) on a widescreen laptop. I guess they figure the 1″ of nothing on each side is a better use of space?
I’m more than impressed with the battery life. I got the 8-cell 80-WHr battery, which is the biggest you can get for it, and on a full charge, with bluetooth and WiFi turned on I get 5 hours. I think that’s pretty impressive for a laptop with a large widescreen display. It is definately a refreshing change from the dying battery in my 1100 that would get about an hour.

I’ve had some issues with wireless just “stopping”: the WiFi light goes out, and it loses all connectivity, even though the icon in the task tray still shows a good signal. I have to disable and re-enable WiFi using the keyboard (Fn + F2) to restore the connection. It sometimes also takes a couple of minutes to get an address from the DHCP server. At work, I’ve watched the logs, and the DHCP server sees the requests, and offers an address, but the laptop simply doesn’t take it.

This machine has quickly become my primary computer, both at work and home. I use it for everything from browsing the web and checking email, to programming, to working in photoshop. Though I never thought I’d say this, the 1GB of ram really helps for someone like me, who keeps 7 or 8 applications open at any time (it’s not uncommong for me to have 4 instances of visual studio, or a bunch of firefox tabs and windows, or both).

Overall, I’m quite happy with this laptop, and I would recommend others looking for a decent system at a reasonable price.

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