Archive for April, 2008

When should an application be a protocol?

April 25th, 2008

I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m becoming more immersed technically in technology, rather than ‘functionally’ as I was previously, but it appears as though issues at the political level are clouding achievements at the technical level.

Zeth has posted before on a Social Networking protocol. That is to say that applications such as facebook, myspace and bebo share alot of similar datafields. Standardising these global fields and setting up a new social networking protocol would allow greater freedom of data-sharing, and enable more powerful “mash-ups” of data.

Tim Berners-Lee’s book, “Weaving the Web” (which I am currently reading) is opening my eyes to just how self-deprecating his work has been. Not only would his work have normally afforded him a very wealthy lifestyle should he have chosen to ‘close’ the development of the project and put restrictions on his work – but he actively encouraged other people to benefit from his work – even when the way in which they were taking his idea was contrary to his own.

Now, nearly twenty years after the ‘World Wide Web’ started to gain momentum into something recognisable as what we use today, we’ve not yet got to a point which has fulfilled Berners-Lee’s vision. He envisaged an open mine of information and collaboration. Wikified browsers were the original intention – where collaboration and editing was a key as browsing.

Another example of a good application that would work better as a protocol is twitter. I think the reason most people don’t get twitter is that in essence its just an RSS feed. Today, paulbradshaw suggested that there be a twitter feed created purely for football scores – not chatter, just results. An RSS feed would have the same functionality – but a different interface.

In the same way that programmers have now begun to separate the content from the design with the advent of Content Management Systems and ‘Blogs – so should things like twitter be more transparent about the platform on which it is built. RSS is expandable and usable – twitter has released an open API to allow integration and collaboration – yet it’s still hindered by having a Central Point of Control. The initial design of the Web implied there was no central point necessary. By manufacturing applications and functions so that a central point is necessary is to lose part of the magic and scalability of the Web.

Is FLOSS Recession Proof?

April 18th, 2008

Is open source recession proof? by ZDNet‘s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes — So, how might a recession affect open source software?

Can a cat survive falling from a plane?

April 18th, 2008

Interesting discussion tonight on whether a cat can survive falling out of a plane.

Seriously.

Not one for boring discussions, this was initially proposed by me and -a first- seconded by another friend.  With two people objecting to the idea that a cat could survive, and lively debate ensued.  For survival TEAM A (indented). versus  “PETA’s not going to be happy” (TEAM B).

The first bone of contention was the terminal velocity.  TEAM B reckoned that the cat would hit the ground so fast it’s die for definate on impact.  TEAM A came up with the following:

The cat has a terminal velocity of 60mph, compared to a human’s T.V. of 120mph.


Ok, so we’ve got our first ‘fact’ agreed upon.  However, 60mph is still reckoned to be too fast for a cat to survive.

When the cat reaches it’s terminal velocity, it no longer sense that there are forces acting upon it and so relaxes.  We then end up with a ‘spread eagled cat.’  This increases air resistance, so the cat does in fact slow down.


In what was probably a fair comment, TEAM B reckoned that even at 60mph a spread-eagled cat would have horrific internal injuries and still die.  Especially a spread-eagled cat whose stomach would hit the floor first.

TEAM A suggested that a spread eagled cat would infact be in a very good position to absorb alot of the impact.  The assumption by TEAM B that the spread eagled cat’s stomach would hit the ground first we hypothesised to be incorrect.  As the cat would not be able to put it’s legs perpendicular to the angle of descent (i.e. horizontal) they would provide the first point of contact, and absorb energy (unfortunately, likely breaking bones/tendons/muscle tissue) in the process.


TEAM B pounced at this point and suggested that a broken bone could quite easily be severe enough to cut an artery and kill the cat.

TEAM A responded saying that if the cat’s leg muscles were to absorb 20mph of velocity on impact (and not break), then there would be only a 30-40mph impact on the cat as a whole. Which spread out over the surface area of the cat should be enough to leave it stunned but not dead.


The night ended in a stalemate, with neither team wanting to concede defeat.  None of the debaters were prepared to test the hypothesis empirically, as none of us are interesting in cruelty to animals.  This debate was purely about the physical ability of a cat’s muscular and skeletal structure.  Something which is pretty amazing.

Please feel free to add your voice to the debate in the comment box below:

I did, however, find this rather shocking video.. I guess only the russians could get away with this.

Cat Jumps off a Plane and Lands on it’s legs

Who reads blogs?

April 18th, 2008

I was having a discussion with a few mates in the pub this evening about my blogging ‘antics.’ They’ve berated me for blogging before, but as it’s becoming more and more widespread I can see them getting more interested in my motivations for ‘blogging.’

One of the friends commented that it was purely the fact that he knew me that made the blog interesting. For someone that didn’t know me, the blog would be pretty dull and of no consequence. At this point, another chipped in saying – “Only bloggers read blogs.” Is this true? I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

My motivation for starting the blog was that it was a place where I could share my technical insights. Not profound insights such as the advent of structural-object-abstract programming methods that I’ve just decided are going to be the Web 3.0 – but short howto’s and the like, and to publish a few ‘Gotchas’ – problems that have few symptoms and a nice easy solution – but take hours of work to solve. I blog advice – There’s nothing quite comparable experience.

(un)Fortunately, which ever way you personally look at it – my blogging has branched out to cover all sorts of things. From the time when some guy smashed the window of my car, to re-living and walking through my car accident in 1999, to a short article on why to avoid Red Hat’s bundled openLDAP implementation because it’s crap.

I think it’s an interesting concept, for non-bloggers and bloggers alike. Who reads blogs? If you have a regular commentator on your blog, do you add him to your blogroll as a thanks for lifting your self-esteem by having him visit your blog? Do you think you have a regular readership, or just random visitors popping in and out after being directed from Google?

I don’t think it’s a negative thing that bloggers read blogs. It’s great. From the attendance at the spontaneous meet-up last Friday, it’s clear to me that there’s a nice little community of bloggers in Birmingham. However, this is a meeting of a cross-section of the readership who it’s worth meeting face-to-face in order to better your own blog.

Is blogging journalism? Is it art? Is it a cry for help from some pathetic moron wanting to share his story with the world? Is it ‘new media’? Does it matter?

I blog tech because I think some people read it and it helps them – and also as an easy reference for me. I blog ‘about me’ as a way to vent some thoughts and get some feedback from an audience who I think would be interested. This audience is dynamic, therefore I categorise my posts different to respect that.

When doing my Psychology degree, one of the things we covered was ‘online personalities and freedom of information.’ This blog is in the public domain. If it were a diary, having it leaked would immediately bring headlines of ‘scandal and gossip.’ My blog is sort of a base for my online identity. ‘andylockran’ lives here. I happen to pop up on a mailing list or a forum or IRC and you want to know more about me. Much of it is here. It’s a bit like ‘CV 2.0.’ The web is my field – if I don’t market myself well on the web, how the hell can I expect anyone to be able to trust me to market their products on the web?

The best thing about it for me is the feedback, both positive and negative. Setting up a blog exposes you to both – and it gives you the opportunity to have a voice.

VirtualBox & ‘bridged networking’

April 18th, 2008

I’ve just started using VirtualBox on my freshly installed Debian PC to do my Virtual Machines, as the kernel support from VMware was just not up to date with my recent kernel.  If I wait a few weeks, it’ll probably be there, but the ship has sailed for me.

VirtualBox is a nice qt styled Virtual Machine Server, being free and open source.  It’s nice and simple to set up a new machine, and can cope with a variety of hosts and guest Operating Systems.

However, one drawback was the networking support.  In vmware-server – I could just tick a box and it’d bridge over my  host computer’s network card to make it appear like it was on the same network as all the other machines.  With VirtualBox it isn’t quite so simple.

Run the command:

echo 1 >> /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_forward


If you’re running Debian/Ubuntu add the following to /etc/network/interfaces

 # This file describes the network interfaces available on your system
# and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).

# The loopback network interface
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

# setting up the bridge #######
auto eth0
iface eth0 inet manual
up ifconfig $IFACE 0.0.0.0 up
down ifconfig $IFACE down

auto br0
iface br0 inet dhcp
bridge_ports eth0
# End setting up the bridge ###


I commented out (rather than deleted) my current setup, so that it’s easy to go back to if you move away from VirtualBox

That will set your PC up to have a bridged network for eth0.

You then need to give VirtualBox an interface to connect to:

Run:

 sudo VBoxAddIF vbox0 <user> br0
VBoxManage modifyvm “My VM” -hostifdev1 vbox0


In you VirtualBox Machine settings, make sure the VM is powered off and selected.

Click on the ‘details’ tab.

Click on ‘network.’

Make sure the network adapter is enabled.

Select the ‘attached to: HOST INTERFACT’option in the top box, and enter vbox0 as the Host Interface Name in the bottom box.

Click ‘OK’  – and restart the computer to allow the bridge settings to take effect.

You should have the desired setup now :)  Enjoy!

Brummie Bloggers

April 12th, 2008

Just over a week ago, Pete Lewis and I set up a blog aggregator @ http://dev.zrmt.com.  We initially populated it with a few blogs that we knew of around the Birmingham Area (mostly people from SB LUG and a few other places.   At the start of the week, we decided to move it across to BrumSpace.org.

The main reason behind this was that we wanted to do something that was more than just blogging.  Having been able to read a number of Birmingham Blogs all in the same place – it made me realise that there’s lots more to a BrumSpace than just the blogs.  Twitter is a fantastic medium which is really starting to take off.. like everyone’s hidden mistress.  There’s also Plings – which is a site I’ve recently discovered thanks to a tip-off from a colleague.  It’s aiming to be an event-driven-twitter-thing as far as I can tell.  Looking at their ‘labs’ page shows they’re trying to integrate with twitter rather than replicate it – so watch that space!

The bloggers meet-up this evening was really nice.  It was good to meet so many interesting people.  As I’m fairly new to the blogging community here, I could do with some online introductions.  I’ve met some bloggers offline before even meeting them online – how weird! If you were at the meeting, add me on twitter here = andylockran.

It was also good to meet some of the guys who I’ve spoken to a fair bit on IRC/Mailing Lists, such as Pete, Zeth and Dan.  Looking forward to the next one – when I’ll hopefully be able to put more blogs to names to faces :)

FixMyStreet.com

April 7th, 2008

I first came across fixmystreet.com about 18 months ago.

It’s a simple idea. You report (and publish) issues with your local area on the internet, and FixMyStreet.com reports the problems to the council. The council then are both:


  1. Notified of the Problem

  2. Embarrassed by the publication on the internet

  3. Under pressure to get the problem solved.


In my opinion this is a win-win situation for residents. I have so far made one report, and am seeing progress on getting it fixed. See my report here.

Especially for those of you in the Brummie area – let’s sign up and Fix Our Streets!

Quick Update

April 7th, 2008

OOXML

Unfortunately last Wednesday, MS (n)OOXML was fast-tracked to becoming an ISO standard.  There’s alot of controversy in the geek-world about this decision (and rightly so) – but it’s something we’re all probably going to have to live with.  Check out Zeth’s Article for a succinct and simple analysis of the issues.

Birmingham Bloggers

In what started out as an offer of some free hosting, I’ve now helped shockhead (Pete Lewis) set up a few Brummie related IT ‘solutions’.   The biggest one is currently up at http://dev.zrmt.com.  Thanks to Paul Bradshaw, we shall soon be setting up a permanent home @ http://planet.birminghambloggers.com.

There’s alot of Brummie stuff I’ve been made aware of this week, thanks to the repercussions from a Bloggers Meeting earlier in the week.

We also have an IRC chatroom @ ##brum on irc.freenode.net.. and a nice non-geeky web-frontend at http://dev.zrmt.com/brumspace.html.  For non-geeks, this is basically a 90’s style chatroom.  My nickname (handle) is andylockran… I bet you wouldn’t have guessed.

LNMF.info

In tragic circumstances in December 2006, a good friend’s mother was killed in a freak horde-riding accident.  However, so that her memory may live on, a fund was set up in her name, and a number of fantastic projects have been run in order to build a boarding chool in Bidar Province, India.  I’ve set up a WebSite to keep people up to date about what’s happening with the project, and it’s coming very close to completion.  It works well in firefox and opera (and IE7).. but I’ve had some issues with IE6 and Safari.  Please check it out (and pass me feedback on how it works in your browser to andy@SPAMTRAPlnmf.info).

Make IT Modular 

I’ve been doing a bit of charity work recently, and wanted to share a bit of advice that I think is pretty generic to Charities and Small to Medium Business.  One things I am passionate about (with my geek hat on) is Open Standards.  I hopefully aim the articles at a more general end-user.

The article is part of an ongoing collection of blog-style articles that are presented in a more professional way than this blog.  I often find I’m repeating the same message in lots of emails – so it’ll hopefully become a useful resource that I can point clients/charities to.

Ingots 

Now that this blog is reaching a bigger demographic – I urge the new readers to take 5 minutes out of their day to have a look at the Ingots.  If you thought that the ECDL was the only computer qualification worth having – this one could be right up your street.  The INGOTs stand for InterNational Grades in Office Technology – and are the brainchild of a Tamworth based company.  Big up the West Midlands!

Twitter

Twitters proven to be a nice way of breaking up the day.  It’s nice to see some random stuff pop up now and again.  It’s amusing to see the ramblings of loudmouthman and his Humphrey Littleton-esque style departings.  Also the collaborative book review by paulbradshaw et al. I though to be a neat little idea.

Documentation

I’ve been working on lots of documentation this week and my head hurts.  I need sympathy.

Devolo HomePlug

April 3rd, 2008

Once in a while there is a fairly new and inventive solution to an old problem.

First we had networks.. then we had wireless networks.. and now we have wireless wired networks?

Ok, they’re not technically wireless – but install of having a central wireless access point in the centre of your home, you can now buy the Devolo HomePlug – and have networking points wherever you have electricity.

You see, electricity flows through your power cables at a certain frequency. The HomePlug sends your data through the wires at a different frequency. It’s quite simple really.

Anyway, you can but 14Mbps to 200+Mbps adapters for the HomePlug – and it’s n open standard, so you don’t need to just buy from devolo.

They also have wireless plugs, so instead of the plug interfacing to a network connection on your PC/laptop – you can plug in a devolo wireless homeplug adapter and get a low-range wireless base in your house too.

However, they are pretty expensive ~£80 for 2. They’re also very addictive. So much better than wifi that soon you’ll be buying them for all you computers (like I did…)

Oh well.. the more we buy the more the price will start to drop.. right?

So BUY!!!

I’ve joined Twitter

April 2nd, 2008

It’s not one of those things that had massive appeal when I first heard of it, but I’ve finally succumbed and joined it.

http://twitter.com/andylockran for the latest on what I’m doing.