Sunday, September 14, 2008

OSM m,Linux and my Holux M-241

Ok, so you've probably figured if you've read some of my recent twitters that I've become ever so slightly addicted to openstreetmap mapping.

I'm so involved I co-organised a mini mapping meet in Farnham (Surrey, UK) recently and dramatically improved the coverage and detail there; I took one of the most involved sections around the town.

It appeals to the slight OCD tendency many geeks have and helping out with OSM really feels like I'm contributing to a useful resource that many other people will use, so there's a big feelgood factor; plus it can be quite social and gets you exploring areas you wouldn't normally go to otherwise, even finding paths or features nearby that you wouldn't have discovered without the OSM motivation.

At the moment, the data isn't complete enough for the UK to be consistently usable for routing, but Central London is generally mapped better than google-maps with many details that you don't get with other maps (eg. amenities like recycling, telephone boxes and postboxes). The OSM Foundation reckon they'll have all the UK roads mapped by the end of 2009. Most of the work is being done by the few committed mappers with lots of time on their hands, but in the 'long tail' methodology, many many thousands of people have updated the places and names near them that they know through local knowledge. Maybe only one or two updates each, but its the sum total of those updates that makes the real difference.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Moot Point

I've seen a couple of episodes/shows recently where they question the phrase "moot point" - one of them being Earl. Earl's simpler brother thinks it must be "mute" point, as in "not worth mentioning" mute. This bothered me a little; and I suspect some people who don't know any different will take this use over the proper term. Not that they'll be reading this blog either (ho hum), but it definitely is moot!

From online dictionary (just the adjective definition quoted):
(adjective form:)
  1. open to discussion or debate; debatable; doubtful: a moot point.
  2. of little or no practical value or meaning; purely academic.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

xkcd conundrum

This post was originally written on 7 October 2008, shortly after the related xkcd cartoon was published.

I only discovered XKCD relatively recently (within the last couple of years, '06/'07) and it's not always as funny as it can be, but this particular cartoon got me thinking what I would do:
And over there, we have the labyrinth guards. One always lies, one always tells the truth, and one stabs people who asks tricky questions.
This is clearly a take on the old classic problem where you have to try and find out who's telling the truth, but with the added problem of not being able to ask tricky q's until you've figured out who the stabber is. Obviously you don't want to get stabbed. So perhaps the first question to ask would be "Are you going to stab me?" or similar to one of them. I'm assuming that's not tricky enough to elicit his stab response; but that anything with more than one clause in the question would see you lying in a pool of your own blood if you happened to ask a complex question.

If he says yes and doesn't stab you, he's the liar (but could also be the stabber ); if he says no he can't be the liar because he'd have to stab you and then he wouldn't be the liar - assuming mutual exclusivity of the 3 behaviour traits. Problem is, the way to identify more quickly who's who is to force him to try and stab you by asking a tricky Q which will figure out whether he's the liar or not, and hope you haven't picked the stabber; then run v.quickly out of stab-range after asking (but still so you can hear them)?. Mmm..

Monday, July 21, 2008

Opera Link Sync the bees knees

I LOVE Opera Link synchronisation. I had a feeling it would be a bloody useful feature, and it f'in well is! What is it? Well it's only really useful if you run opera on at least one of your PCs, and you use multiple machines regularly (even if you don't use Opera on all). Seeing as Opera runs on just about anything (Linux, Windows, Mac, almost any smartphone, PDA, or any that can run Java J2ME apps which includes some not-quite-smartphone phones), that's quite easy to do. Read the link for more, but for the lazy: it allows you to see the same bookmarks; notes, speeddial if you want to across any computer you run Opera on. So I can add a bookmark at work, in my "to check out" folder, and when I get home, without any extra work whatsoever, I can load Opera and that bookmark is there ready to check out. It synchronises so quickly I don't even notice it and in the background while working away too.

I know I've mentioned it in my PiM synchronisation post a while ago

Opera is my favourite browser anyway - once you've got it loaded (and it's a lot faster than it used to be at starting up too, even with 30 or 40 tabs loaded at once), it's fast, very stable (more so than Firefox/IE), less of a memory hog (20 tabs loaded in Opera will often use less system resources than 3 tabs loaded in Firefox) and very very customisable. It doesn't have extensions like Firefox, but it has 'widgets' and it's so customisable you almost don't wish for them. Good if you want a UI that's in your own (non-popular) language too. They came up with a lot of the features that other browsers have first, and then FF/IE copied them. Minor annoyances are how the odd site doesn't look quite ok or work quite the same as in IE or Firefox, but they've become more conventional recently too in v9.51 (at the expense of breaking what it should do according to the specifications in some areas - pull yer act together IE!).


Monday, July 14, 2008

Public Windows BSODs

A post over on slashdot caught my eye, referring to a post on publicly visible overpowered uses of Windows:

1. To display a static green arrow over the open TSA security lanes at Detroit Metro. I kid you not, at the main security checkpoint to get into Detroit Metro there are monitors over each metal detector. The ONLY thing those monitors ever display is a big green arrow pointing down. Oh, occasionally they display a blue screen with a Windows error notice.
Classic. What was wrong with an electric switch and an actuator to move a physical sign (maybe even LED backlit) or swap it. No problems with updates or being open to abuse from computer virii/worms.

Reminds me of the time earlier this year on the way back home on the tube, when Bank underground station's status displays were all BSOD'd


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

PiM Synchronisation

Holy crap it's been a while since a post. Watch the twitters instead...

I couldn't be bothered to think up a clever title, so I'm going with direct. I've had a thing about calendar, notes, todo's and address-book synchronisation for a while (a few years). I finally got round to trying out various solutions in the last few months, and lots and lots of google searching on various related phrases.

More recently, I have discovered (via a comment in a lugradio podcast by Aq) “ScheduleWorld

. The web interface claims to be web2.0-ish, but is rather clunky and looks like it was developed more for the author than for everyone to use; but it works. The preferences are the hardest to read, but luckily once you have it configured correctly you don't really have to use them again unless you need to reset or do a full/slow synch again.

It took a while after creating the account and doing my first synch from my phone (which has built-in SyncML support handily) to sort out the setup - first off, I hadn't set the time zone which being in the UK is rather important to do as it assumes US otherwise (at least it looks like it as it managed to create duplicates 5hrs earlier of most things.. argh!). There are tools on the site to remove duplicates and if you have multiple address-books/calendars you most likely will want to spend some time checking them as they'll all end up copied to everything else, so you need to merge the fields if it doesn't already and remove all but the master copy.

One limitation at the moment is that it only stores 1 'note' per address-book contact, on my phone the first listed in the entry; so several of my contacts that have directions in notes and also special entries for the series-60 version of Metro to indicate which tube stop is nearest for it's routing feature, or other additional notes don't get fully synched; but it doesn't appear to lose the extra notes when you sync back again, once you've tidied up any initial dupes on the phone with only 1 entry.

It supports the following that I use:

  • Thunderbird Address-book - they have an extension you can have sent to you by mail to make it easy to install (not quite as automatic as in firefox otherwise)
  • Lightning -
  • Evolution address-book/calendar - not tried the plugin yet, but it works with the general syncml-supporting one from what I read
  • Nokia N95 8Gb - syncml's built in, some issues as mentioned above; but now faily happy. Don't get it stuck half-way through a synch, I had some weird stuff happening; and notes with ampersands in (&) got html-escaped and duplicated; awaiting reply in support forums
  • Google Calendar/Contacts - calendar syncs fine now dupes are tidied; contacts used to be supported but not since google changed their API :-(

Now Opera have released 9.5 (which has quite a few improvements) I can use their Opera-Link service to synchronise my bookmarks (and other things - not sessions yet) between my mobile phone's opera-mini, and opera on all my desktops; very cool. I've discovered a nice easy way of continuing browsing a site when I get home after looking at it at work (albeit with loss of history) is to add it to a folder kept for that purpose in my bookmarks (ie. temporary sites); when I get home and start up opera, it synchs and there it is. Maybe I'll sort out an automatic session-save cron job and scp to my home PC at some point but only if it really becomes annoying otherwise.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cloverfield leaf-elled

Ok, again, excuse the absolutely horrible and rather-stretched pun of a title (clover-leaf? levelled?... yeeeeeessss). I went to see Cloverfield for a movie's meetup via - well actually it should have been Sweeney Todd, but they sold out just before I got to the kiosk. Others had booked in advance, and I almost did, doh! But anyway. The usual level of non-specific spoiler applies as per my other reviews (ie you won't find out anything more, in fact probably noticably less, than watching a TV-spot promotional for it).

The usual arc of introduce some characters, build involvement and viewer attachment, have them go through some kind of change, and tie things off, doesn't quite hold for this movie. It's only missing one part, and it's not the beginning. It leaves you rather suddenly; I'd been slightly prepared for it, and there were several moments where I wondered "is this it?", but if you like the typical hollywood ending and being predictable then perhaps this movie will leave you a little cold. But I think it's more a good thing than a bad thing. It's been compared to the Blair Witch Project, but only because it sports the same camera-style of jumping around and panning everywhere rather than cutting between characters. If that aspect of the Blair Witch really threw you in a bad way (or you threw up) then perhaps you should give this one a miss, at least until it's out on the small screen/DVD, where the effect is less noticable.

I enjoyed the movie, but I only rate it about 6.something/10, and I still want to go back and see the Todd with Johnny Depp (I'm becoming more a fan of his work the more I see, and I loved his Captain Jack Sparrow - but for that law about worse sequels, damnit, or at least blatantly stretching the monetisation of them).


Monday, February 04, 2008

Why Linux? Top Trumps

I know why I chose Linux and continue to run it as my O/S of choice on both my home and work PCs, but what about you?

I listen to the Lugradio podcast and over the last few episodes, they've had a "Top Trumps" of each of the presenters to examine which parts of the Linux world keep them devotees and how much they take part in/enjoy those aspects. This got me thinking about mine and wondering about friends' reasons ('cos most of my friends are geeks too and run/look-after Linux somewhere, even if only at work). The categories used were:

  • Freedom-crusading
  • Tinkering
  • Underdog
  • Communitisation
  • Cheapness

As per the convention for Top Trumps, you score between 0 and 10 for each category. Myself?
I would have to rate 6 on freedom, 'cos I do strongly believe that open source and standards and protecting those rights when given is important, but I can't say I do anything towards it at the moment. I do however always make the effort to release the source code to anything I do in my own time that is fit for publishing, because whatever great idea I might have, there are other people more committed and talented and if they so wish (and have time), it'll always be a help to have access to the code when looking to extend or improve software and we all benefit.

I love tinkering, so that would have to be an 8 or so; it's only not a 9 due to the limited time I put into it nowadays.

Underdog? 3. It added some coolness 11-12years ago and made me keen to try it, but I don't support underdogs specifically, and I would be more happy if Linux became more mainstream; it would vindicate my belief in how good a system it had the potential to be originally.

Community - er... Incredibly useful, and I've spent time contributing to forums and answering posts by newbies and talking to developers even. Linux wouldn't be what it is today without the sense of community around it, and how friendly and helpful a lot of people are. If everyone disappeared or started bickering lots, I'd still be happy running my versions of everything for a fair while. When new technology came along and things start dropping behind too much, then I would have to consider other options (although it would take years of bad problems), but I would look back with a lot of fondness. So perhaps a score of 5?

Cheapness - 7. It's a big plus that it's free. When you can get all this cool code without a dime (just the tcp/ip connection, or in the old days even a disk in the post, thinking back to my Sinclair Spectrum days and demos/utils), it makes you wonder why you would ever pay Mr. Gates for considerably less stable and sometimes less powerful software. When you can support it yourself and don't need high-powered 3rd-party apps that only run on another O/S, can roll your own scripts to do the mundane tasks, and leave it running for years after MS Windows has needed a host of reboots and crashed more times than you care to count (well, pre Win2000 for sure), it just makes perfect sense.
I haven't upgraded the base of my main home PC in quite a few years (if you exclude the extra memory and newer graphics card and drives), so the cheapness ought to be high-ish. But I'm happy enough with how fast the latest Ubuntu runs on it.

You're welcome to submit your answers as comments, and I strongly recommend you go check out if this has been interesting and you haven't already heard their brand of wit, interviews, and comment on all that is the Linux and "free" world. Tags: