Blog entries from September, 2006

The first portable macintosh

Saturday, September 30th, 2006 at 01:48pm

This morning, thanks to eBay, I picked up a Macintosh Portable. Unfortunately it isn’t functional but it may be as simple as a bad battery (it is over fifteen years old) but that may not be simple to recitfy.

Now to find some time to take photos of it…

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A default install of Ubuntu

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006 at 08:23pm

As part of the larger plan (to be written about at some point in the nearish future) for rearranging the linux boxes I have at home I have been playing around with an install of Ubuntu on a small form factor 1.8Ghz Pentium 4 that I picked up at a swap meet a week and a half ago.

The default install of Ubuntu doesn’t give many options but what I ended up with was all of the hardware being detected (you wouldn’t think that detecting the components of the Intel 845 chipset would be hard until you try Windows XP SP2…) and enough basic applications installed (browsing, mail, office) to satisfy a ‘typical’ user (eg my mother).

However I am having to work around some ‘interesting’ things. For example to be able to ssh into the box I needed to manually install the openssh-server package. But all I needed to do in order to take over the X session via VNC was to go into the menu and check a box. One other thing was that there are various options (such as sharing files via samba) that when you first attempt to enable it you are prompted to install the appropriate packages.

Once I have gotten my head around it more (ultimately it will primarily be a server for my mail, local copies of my site and other stuff) this hardware will become the temporary home for my current Mandrake 9.1 install in order to maintain service while I perform a fresh install on the other hardware (which is actually the same except for a faster CPU and not a small form factor which means I have somewhere for my storage drives…).

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You can do what with environment variables?

Sunday, September 24th, 2006 at 07:02pm

Fairly regularly I create a folder of the current date to aid in sorting out files I have downloaded or similar. I finally got tired of having to manually type the date in so I decided to have a look to see if there were any existing mechanisms, preferably tied in to the context menu for a folder under windows as I already have a number of scripts hooked in there.

Fairly quickly I found one solution that I was almost about to dismiss entirely as it required altering how windows formatted dates. Fortunately I had a look at some of the responses and found something both useful and disturbing about environment variables under windows:

  • A colon and a tilde following the variable name (inside the percent characters) lets you specify a range of characters to extract from the value of the variable: eg %DATE:~10,4% pulls out four characters starting from character ten; and
  • A colon and an equals sign (inside the percent characters as before) allows a substitution to be specified. eg %DATE:/=-% replaces any slashes with dashes.

The good thing about this is that it allows me to create a one liner that extracts certain parts of the date and reassembles them in the format I prefer. What is bad is that I have never seen this usage before and I cannot find any documentation about this ‘feature’.

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Paper is done

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006 at 11:40pm

A month and a half ago my paper proposal for this years Open Source Developers’ Conference was accepted. Last Friday I decided that I had procrastinated enough so I started writing it. Since then I have spent on average three hours a day working on it and tonight I submitted it with half an hour to go before the deadline.

I have made it available to anyone who cares along with my paper from two years ago.

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Wandering through the city [3/3]

Saturday, September 16th, 2006 at 04:31pm

After leaving the bazaar I walked around Federation Square and Southbank for around about an hour before catching the train back to Clifton Hill.

A large amount of this time was looking at the exhibition of overhead photos by Yann Arthus-Bertrand that were on display. They were stunning and I almost bought some posters of them but I couldn’t decide what to get. The remainder of the time was spend taking photos of various things, mostly over at Southbank, which I should upload to Flickr.

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Software Freedom Day [2/3]

Saturday, September 16th, 2006 at 04:15pm

Apparently today is Software Freedom Day so after I picked up my latest acquisition I parked at Clifton Hill Station and made my way to the Melbourne Town Hall to check out the bazaar which had a representation.

I was only there for an hour and a half but I:

  • listened to Jon Oxer, Mark Gray, and Steve Middleton talk about combating the 20 billion dollar ICT trade defecit with FOSS, some pragmatic examples for small businesses and how FOSS enables a free media.
  • Found out about BarCampMelbourne that is happening in March next year. I shall keep my eye on this one.
  • Briefly caught up with some people I know through

There weren’t that many people there but I hope it picked up later in the afternoon.

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Another Plus for the collection [1/3]

Saturday, September 16th, 2006 at 03:59pm

This morning I picked up another Macintosh Plus for my collection. I did cost be a bit more than I would have wanted but my consolation is that it had been upgraded to 4MB of RAM (up from the standard 1MB) and it came in a carry bag that is in excellent condition.

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RSS aggregator take 2

Friday, September 15th, 2006 at 09:52pm

Two weeks ago I declared that I had found the perfect (for me at least) RSS aggregator. I was wrong.

After a few days of using reddit I found that I was reading the same headlines over and over as there was no indication of which ones I had seen before. My first thought was to go back and have another look at the aggregators that provide this functionality but then I thought about my inbox.

I currently run an IMAP server on my home linux server to access my mail which means that I can look at it from my desktop, my laptop, my work pc or even via a web interface and as soon as a message is read it is marked read everywhere. Since I check my mail on a regular basis anyway I realised that an RSS to email solution might be the answer and a quick google brought up rss2email. Fifteen minutes later I had it setup to check my list of feeds every four hours and email me any changes.

Every new item now appears as a separate message in my inbox with the summary from the feed (often the entire article which is the way I prefer it) as the message body. Now I can see which ones I hadn’t seen before (they are unread) and I can simply not delete the message if I want to follow up on it in some way later.

I have had this running for a few days now and as it is going well I have removed reddit from the folder of sites I regularly check. (I have a bookmarks folder in Firefox on my home desktop that I can simply middle-click on to load each site into a separate tab)

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Planning a menu

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006 at 10:57pm

In a few weeks my parents are going away which will mean that I will need to fend for myself (yes I still live at home) so in preparation I have been thinking about possible food options. For a while now I have been intending to try things that I have seen on Good Eats which gives me a short list of meals (in alphabetical order):

As well as these I am also planning on giving Angel Food Cake and Overnight Cinnamon Rolls a try. If I am successfull with the second I am tempted to make them fresh (ie baked on the spot) when it is my turn to provide cake for our weekly tech team meeting…

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Creating a catalog

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006 at 05:02pm

Some time ago I bought a barcode scanner. For a short time after I got it I played around with scanning anything I could find that had a barcode. It is now, almost a year later, that I have finally put it to use in cataloging all of my novels.

Yesterday I spent an hour or so assembling a perl script to:

  • Accept barcode as input
  • Attempt to convert Bookland EAN barcode to ISBN
  • Scrape title and author from the page on the Dymocks website for the ISBN
  • Insert the obtained title, author, and ISBN into a simple database table

This allowed my to, over about two and a half hours, scan all of my novels (the reason that I got a scanner with a USB connection was so I could run it from my PowerBook and connect my one of my linux boxes over wireless where the script was running) and have just over three hundred and fifty of them (ie the ones that Dymocks has records for) entered into the database.

At this point I copied and then modified some existing PHP code to give me a simple CRUD interface so I can manually enter the remaining books which consisted of:

  • Three dozen with Bookland EAN barcodes but the resulting ISBN wasn’t valid on the Dymocks website
  • One dozen with UPC barcodes but an ISBN printed on the book. Around half of these were able to be looked up on the Dymocks website.
  • A dozen and a half with no barcode (older books that I had bought second hand) but an ISBN printed on the back or inside the front cover. Three of these ISBN were on the Dymocks website.
  • Another dozen and a half with no barcode and no ISBN (even older books) that I have not yet entered into the database.

Apart from that last group I now have an electronic listing of my books. Unfortunately there are two problems; first that the data I scraped from the Dymocks site wasn’t the best with inconsistencies in author names and second that there was no representation of sets and the book order within the set. I have begun entering this information manually with the side affect being identifying which books I am missing…

While I was manually entering books I started to think about how to handle them long term. If I were to print out barcodes (thanks to a free barcode font) to stick on these books I would be a simple matter of just scanning them in the future. This would also allow me to simply scan the books with UPC barcodes.

One thing that I may change is that I am storing the ten digit ISBN in the database. As they are transitioning to a thirteen digit ISBN (equivalent to the Bookland EAN for existing numbers) I may switch over to storing that…

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Fascinated by the strangest things

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006 at 11:41am

At times I am stunned at what can hold my attention.

Around about a week ago I spend most of an evening reading about one couple who have spent the last four years travelling around america in their truck camper. I didn’t look at anything they said about where they has been, instead I got sucked in reading about their setup which included getting a new truck with a custom body, the electrical system of the camper, and musings on their choice of camper.

Last night I spend well over an hour reading about another project where an old school bus was converted into a motor home over the course of eighteen months. What was interesting about this one was that almost all of the materials were obtained for free from places such as local dumpsters.

I suspect that I am was easily fascinated by these sites as I am finding reasons to not work on my OSDC paper. Procrastination is a hard mistress…

(After some more thought I realised that the time I spent writing this post is even more procrastination…)

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Finally, an RSS aggregator that I like

Friday, September 1st, 2006 at 10:12pm

For quite some time my periodic investigations of RSS aggregators has not borne fruit. This changed tonight when I discovered that reddit (which I had first heard about a few weeks ago but hadn’t looked into) has a feeds aspect which is so far (I have added about a dozen feeds) looks like it is what I want.

So what do I want out of an RSS aggregator? I’m still not 100% sure about this but a very short list is:

  • web based so I can access it from any computer. ie my laptop, my home desktop or even my work desktop.
  • always on so it is regularly checking for updates. I have been monitoring some RSS feeds for our wiki at work through Thunderbird and I don’t like having to wait for it to check for updates.

Periodically I have checked out a few aggregators, both public services and projects that I install on my home server, but they never felt right. For some reason I just like the reddit interface…

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