Monthly Archives: May 2010

A Couple Things

I’m still plugging away at the Aubrey-Maturin series and I’m still enjoying it, about halfway through HMS Surprise.  I mentioned it to a friend recently about the series and I agreed with her that it’s probably a bit of an acquired taste but if you’re in to sailing and/or military or historical fiction you should check it out.

Also, you should check out PBS Video if you haven’t recently.  Although some of the content is geofenced (and there are ways around that if you’re creative) there’s a lot of good stuff there for the watching.  Lately I’ve been enjoying American Experience in particular, oh how I wish we had PBS in Canada.


I just pledged $25 to the Diaspora project on Kickstarter.  I won’t repeat all the details here, but it’s in many ways an answer to my complaints about Facebook.  I’m still a bit leery of some aspects of social networking regardless of the tools but the idea that I manage my own data directly is incredibly appealing.  I urge you to check it out and if you feel strongly about it go ahead and sponsor the project.  Anyway, off to Montreal… have a great weekend!

G20 Summit Plans

You are probably aware that the G20 Summit is on its way to Toronto in the not-too-distant future. From what I’m hearing it sounds like the Toronto Police, OPP, RCMP, CSIS and their friends are going to be out in full effect for the duration to enforce a DMZ they’re putting around the Convention Centre and Intercontinental Hotel. It’s a bit of a double bummer because my office is inside one of the planned security cordons and it sounding like I have to get added to a list and get ID’d in order to go to work during the duration. I was thinking about taking the week off and going on vacation but it doesn’t sound like that’s an option as by coincidence I’ll be the only one in town who does my job during that week.

I don’t understand why the Powers That Be decide to hold a meeting in the middle of Canada’s largest city when they want to make sure that nobody can get close enough to interfere with their plans, but I digress…

All this nonsense has got me thinking about what I’m going to do that week when I’m not in the office. Frankly I think most of the G8/G20 protesting is somewhat pointless and more akin to pissing into the wind than to meaningful political statement, however I’m not that impressed by the heavy handed tactics that the police have tended to use at the behest of their masters. So I’ve started thinking I might make a somewhat concerted effort to go out and attempt a photographic “study” of the whole thing.

I’ve been getting more serious about photography lately (just bought a new lens for my D80, but more about that in a future post) and it might be an interesting exercise, not to mention my definite feeling is that documenting things is probably the best way to avoid problems.  I’m just not sure how keen I am on getting even indirectly involved.  I need to think it over a bit more before I make up my mind…

Flickr is Cool

I’m a pretty slow adopter of new “fad” Internet tools, particularly when it comes to so-called social media applications.  Though I don’t have any illusions regarding the level on anonymity anybody can have on the Internet these days (read none), I am not very comfortable with ease with which sites like Facebook merge one’s “private” and public lives by default.  As a result I tend to avoid anything that even smells like Facebook, thus I was very surprised when I started playing around with Flickr last week.  I’m so far behind the curve on Flickr that I think I can safely assume that nobody’s going to accuse me of being a trailblazer but I still thought it might be worthwhile to share.

I used to run a lot more software on my personal website but I just don’t have the time to maintain tools like Gallery with my current day job if I ever want to take some time off from being a sysadmin.  (Which I do!)  So I started looking at alternatives to Gallery in the WordPress plugin database and didn’t find anything I really liked but it gave me the idea that I should investigate using Flickr to host my images.  At any rate, after playing around with Dan Coulter’s phpFlickr class and fumbling my way through the Flickr API I’ve managed to cobble together a passable little photo gallery with all the backend content and meta data being stored on Yahoo! servers.  This also has the side benefit of reducing my bandwidth usage and hopefully speeding things up for remote users.  I’ll probably rework things someday once I actually read the Flickr API documentation and figure out a slightly more elegant way of doing things.

I’d post the code I wrote to create my galleries but I’m so rusty with PHP it would probably be a crime.  Once I clean things up a bit and standardize how I’m doing things I’ll try to make it available for anybody who might be interested, the only serious limitation of my approach is that it is not a full-fledged WordPress plugin so it requires the ability to execute inline PHP on WordPress pages to call my gallery function but it’s still fairly simple to do and doesn’t require much overhead compared to building and managing a local photo gallery.

I also integrated Lightbox into the photo galleries to make things look a little sharper.  I’m not completely sold on it yet but it’s not that hard to replace so I’m going to wait and see.

In any case, I just wanted to draw attention to the Flickr API and phpFlickr for anybody who might be trying to solve a similar problem.  They’re incredibly powerful and so far I’m quite happy.

You can see my Flickr photostream here.

Flash is Not a Right

I just finished reading this post on Slashdot as well as the linked blog post.  I’ve been hesitant to weigh in publicly on what I think about the whole Adobe/Apple war that’s going on right now since I’m not really a iPhone OS developer and and I don’t pretend to be a technology maven (or pundit).  However, I do have some opinions on the matter and Bogost has presented a more articulate explanation of some of my thoughts than I ever could.

I’m not overly keen on the idea that Apple chose to close their platform to Flash developers (or even to Adobe and other third party tools providers) but at the same time Steve Jobs’ public argument isn’t entirely without merit.  Adobe’s response has been pretty flaccid, in my view premised more or less on the idea that because lots of people use Flash, Apple should therefore support it.

Flash, in my experience, is actually not that well optimized for any platform and Adobe gives the impression that non-Windows platforms second class citizens.  Being a MacOS X/Linux user I probably see the whole argument through a slightly more jaded lens than your average Internet/iPhone user but I have experienced Flash crashing web browsers and my netbook (running Windows 7) only heats up and burns its battery off at a rapid rate when I hit heavy flash sites.

It’s too bad that Adobe hasn’t done a better job of integrating Flash, when the first apps and media players first hit the web I was pretty impressed.  But times have changed and the world of proprietary (and in particular) Windows/PC/x86 based tools on the web seems to finally be behind us thanks to mobile devices and Apple (as well as RIM) have been key players in this space.  The whole debate appears to me to boil down to a major clash in philosophies and interpretations of what the concept of “open platform” means.

I don’t know if there’s a “right” answer to this, but I’m sort of hoping that both sides stick to their guns and we get to see where the rest of the industry/public do.  My impression is that neither side will come out unscathed and I hope that this isn’t a massive miscalculation on Apple’s part because I’m quite concerned that this may be an ideological or profit driven move rather than a genuine effort to move mobile computing and HTML5 forward.  It’s hard to tell the difference when Apple is no flock of angels and could very plausibly be basing their moves on either motive (or both).

Master & Commander

I’ve started reading Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian.  I’ve long been a fan of Napoleonic War era historical fiction but for some reason I’ve never quite gotten around to the Aubrey-Maturin series.  Though it’s premature to give a real review, I can appreciate why the books were so well received critically.  I’ve got Post Captain and HMS Sapphire on my bookshelf and I’m looking forward to some serious reading!

Oracle, Don’t Strangle Sun

<frowny face>

I don’t quite understand what Oracle’s strategy is with Sun.  They seem to be going out of their way to piss in the cornflakes of Sun hardware and Solaris/OpenSolaris people.  There are conflicting reports on Slashdot regarding the latest change to Sun hardware support whereby the public can no longer download firmware updates.  Then again Oracle’s never seemed to care about PR all that much.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Solaris myself but it has its place and over the years Sun did a lot of good in the Unix/Internet space and over the past few years Sun garnered a fair bit of good will in the technical community with OpenSolaris and ZFS.  Even Java isn’t completely awful. <shudder>  It’s kind of sad to see things end this way.

US Piracy List, A Canadian Reponse

There’s a good summary over on Ars Technica of some of the problems involved with the continued American insistence of categorizing Canada as a country that doesn’t enforce intellectual properly law. I’m personally content with the middle ground that we seem to be standing here.  Although ideally I’d prefer to see a more open regime here, the reality is that so long as we live next to the United States we’re not very likely to have completely reasonable laws.  Anyway, the article I linked is pretty brief and has some interesting facts regarding piracy and IP violations in Canada.

PHP 5.2.13 + Suhosin patch for RHEL5

This item is out of date, the repository is now decommissioned. Feel free to contact me if you depended on any of these packages. I can walk you through a migration path to current stable versions of these tools.

If you are a current Red Hat Enterprise Linux/CentOS 5 user you are no doubt aware that RHEL currently ships with a fairly outdated version of PHP.  As I’ve been updating my hardware/software here I’ve decided to build my own PHP RPM packages in order to ensure that I can get a consistent and up-to-date set of software.  I’ve borrowed heavily from several others (primarily the Fedora 11/12 source distributions and Remi Collet) so I don’t deserve all the credit but since I’ve been unable to find a complete and consistent set of packages built on top of base RHEL I’m offering up my work to anybody else who might be interested.

Other than building up-to-date dependencies the primary difference between my package and the other packages I’ve found is that I’ve chosen to apply the Suhosin PHP hardening patch to the sources and I will also provide a current Suhosin extension.  For the time being I’m only intending to provide binary packages for x86_64 since I do not have a 32-bit build machine but you can take the source RPMs and rebuild for your architecture as you see fit.  If there is enough interest I can probably scratch together a 32-bit build system on CentOS so that binaries are available for both architectures.

Binary packages for x86_64 can be found here.
Source packages for the above can be found here.
My RPM signing key is here.

If you think you can trust me, you can go ahead and just install the yum config for my repository like this:

rpm -ivh

Once that’s complete you can just use yum to search and install software from my repository. Be warned that this repository contains additional packages I find useful and as a result this may unexpectedly update packages shipped by Red Hat so examine the proposed transaction carefully before proceeding.