15-stones-on-a-table

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago today, an event happened that changed the course of my life.

What? Of course I’m not exaggerating… I’d call: meeting, getting married, getting our own home, having three gorgeous kids; all quite life-changing, wouldn’t you say?

So yes, it was on Saturday 22 May 1999 that Caroline and I met for the first time. I’d travelled 180 miles up the M1 from Slough to meet with Caroline at the place she worked. I picked her up from there and we went on our first date to Valley Centertainment at Sheffield for bowling, a movie (possibly?) and a meal.

Anyway, I’m not going to recount the events of that day because I’ll probably get something wrong (if I haven’t already!)

According to Wikipedia, the Gemstone Gift for a 15 year anniversary (ok, yes, it’s for wedding anniversaries… but what makes this any less significant?) is Rhodolite, a semi-precious gemstone with the chemical formula (Mg,Fe)3Al2(SiO4)3.

Wait, wut?

For our 8th wedding anniversary, I bought Caroline a Tourmaline pendant… so I wanted to do something different for today. By now, she’s hopefully already discovered the small grey box that I placed on her bedside table this morning, so she would have already found the 15 Rhodolite stones that I’ve placed in a cute little bag.

15-stones-on-a-table 15-stones-in-a-bag

Whilst 15 pieces of silicate pyrope may not be the most exciting gift in the world, the meaning and definition behind what it represents means a heck of a lot to me.

computer-frustration

Windows Update – why?

Caroline and I spoke briefly about this on The Bugcast 288.

Consider this scenario (times are approximate)

If I was to take an old crappy laptop and an Ubuntu 10.04 CD, I could get that up and running within an hour. If I was then to apply all outstanding updates for 10.04 – i.e. to bring it to 10.04.4 – it would take about another 30 minutes max. Then, a full update to Ubuntu 12.04 would take about another hour. So, to be fair, let’s say 3 hours.

Now consider this scenario

If I was to take a brand new laptop with Windows 8 already installed, it takes about 5 hours, and probably the same number of reboots, to apply all of the updates to bring that installation of Windows 8 completely up to date. Then, a full update to Windows 8.1 would take another 5 hours, with about 3 reboots. So, about 10 hours.

Ok, now consider this scenario

If I was to take an old (5 years old?) laptop with Windows Vista installed, run system recovery on it to push it back to the original OEM installation of Vista, it takes about 30 minutes. To then apply all of the updates to bring that new re-installation of Vista completely up to date, takes about 8 hours (over 3 days) and about 12 reboots. I then decide to upgrade to IE9 from IE7 – can’t do that as I’m not running SP2. Really? So when I ask Windows Update to “Update” my “Windows”, it doesn’t even install Service Packs? So I kick off the installation of SP2. *boom* Sorry, you can’t install Service Pack 2 without installing Service Pack 1. I thought these were suppose to be cumulative? *sigh* Anyway, two Service Packs later and I’m able to install IE9. That’s probably another 2 hours on top of the original 8. So, about 10 hours.

My complaint

My complaint is not with the Windows Update process itself, but more the way that Windows update packages are deployed. With APT, the application of a single update – let’s say a new kernel update – takes about 1 minute, plus a normal reboot. In Windows, the application of a single security update takes about 3 minutes, plus a reboot that does about 2 minutes of faffing on the way down, and another 2 minutes of faffing on the way back up. Why are Windows update packages such a big chore for Windows Update to apply? Why, when I can apply a full update of Plank, Wingpanel, Slingshot – all core components of Elementary OS Luna – and not have to reboot. And yet an application update of Adobe Reader – a non-core component of Windows – requires a reboot. I think there’s an inherent flaw in the way that Windows handles the system files and updates, and I’m really surprised that through 5+ generations of Windows, they still haven’t got this right.

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Freaky door closing…

Something really freaky happened yesterday.

I had just picked my motorbike up from it’s service, and brought it home. I parked the bike at the side of the house, went into the house through the front door, unlocked the back door and side gate, and brought the bike into the back garden. I locked the side gate, secured the bike, came back into the house and locked the back door.

Then I heard the front door close.

I’m like, maybe I didn’t close it properly and the pressure from closing the back door closed the front door… but that wouldn’t have worked for two reasons: 1) the pressure to close the front door would only be generated if I opened the back door, and 2) even that would only have worked had our back door been hinged… it’s a patio door.

So I’m now freaking slightly… I know I closed the front door when I came in, so the only likelihood is that someone else opened it and then closed it when they heard me back in the house. So, calling on my extensive knowledge of TV shows and film plots, I did the only thing I could do in that situation…

<softly>”Hello?”</softly>

No answer.

Well, duh… of course there’s no answer… there’s no-one else in the house. But still… I checked outside (bearing in mind that the time elapsed between me hearing the door close and this particular point in time is only about 6 seconds) and there was nothing there.

So now I’m freaking a lot. Clearly someone tried to get into the house whilst I was in the back garden, and could potentially have been waiting for me to go and collect the bike from the side of the house before trying to get in.

Not here, surely… not in this village.

*sigh*

2012

And now to the proper 2012 post…

So, following on from my previous post (and thank you to everyone who offered feedback), here is my obligatory 2012 post with… du-du-duuuhhhh… my goals and resolutions for the year.

Goals

I have set myself a number of realistic goals for this year, which I am fully motivated to achieve, with the help of my friends and family.

Weight

I will reach my interim target weight of 15st by the end of 2012. This is a SMART target. I have employed the use of an activity tracker to assist in the achievement of this goal.

Photography

Despite me saying that I wasn’t going to renew my membership of blipfoto this year, I backtracked on that decision about 3 hours before my previous membership expired. The goal here is to post one photo every day for the whole of 2012. You can plot my progress at my blipfoto journal.

Bloggage

What you’re seeing here is the start of my attempt to post one blog post per week for the whole of 2012. Is that SMART? Yes it is, because I’m certain I have more than 52 blog posts in me.

Resolutions

Alongside the specific goals I have set above, there are a number of resolutions (i.e. goals that are not specifically quantifiable)

Holiday

It’s been a fairly long time (probably since before we had the kids) that we’ve been away on a proper holiday. This year, this will change.

Podcasting

In March of this year, The Bugcast will celebrate both 4 years and 200 episodes. In that time, there has been very little growth in the show as a whole, and everything has been very stable and consistent. A number of people have, in the last few years, offered some fantastic advice in how we could improve the show, but – and I’m being brutally honest here – very little has been actioned or implemented. I intend to change this over the next few months. I will do another post in the next few days over at thebugcast.org to cover this off.

I haven’t listed the obvious ones, like being a better dad and husband, and fighting for world peace… those are a given.

My last blog post of 2011

Almost every day, I have the urge to write about something, but when it actually comes to getting to a point where I can write it down, inevitably I’ve forgotten about it.

So I’m putting this down on digital paper with my digital pencil whilst I remember.

This post is not a review of 2011. I’m sure you want to know about what’s happened in my life in 2011: like how I survived yet another round of redundancies at work, or how I managed to make it onto Santa’s Naughty list for farting in bed; but that isn’t what this is about. I’ve already told you what I wanted to share: either on Google+, Facebook, Diaspora* or StatusNet. If you missed that, then… well… tough. Quite frankly.

No… this post is about where I am at this point in time. Where Dave Lee finds himself at one minute to midnight on the last calendar day of two thousand and eleven.

Physically, I’m sat sitting here on the floor of my living room, with my netbook on a teddy bear stool, typing this drivel.

Mentally, you’re probably better off not knowing.

Spiritually, that’s a different post, for a different blog, for a different day. Let me know if you want to read that one.

Emotionally, I’ve never been in a better place than I have been recently. I have a wonderful family: a beautiful wife to whom I’ve been married for 10 unforgettable years (although I can’t remember most of it), two gorgeous daughters who mean the absolute world to me; all three of you make my life complete. Thank you x

But that’s led me to think about how I got here. No, not “when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much…” but more where my life choices and circumstances have taken me from where I have been to where I am right now.

It has always been my belief that where you’ve been and what you’ve done makes you who you are. I like who I am, and I can’t really think of anything I’d want to change. Other opinions, of course, are available.

But when you think of what I’ve been through in the last 39¼ years (hold on with the violins there, buster!) how on earth can things be so great for me now?

I could look back on my life over the last 20 years with despair, regret, disappointment and embarrassment.

I could, but I won’t.

Because absolutely everything that happened in my childhood, young adult life, 1993 (which was about the time I really grew the heck up), my time of serially failing relationships, my life changing in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined in 1999… everything good, everything bad, everything light, everything dark…absolutely everything…

… has brought me to where I am today.

I can’t look back on 1984 with regret.
I can’t look back on 1993 with despair.
I can’t look back on 1994-8 with embarrassment.

No, instead I look fondly on the bad times in my life, and I look gratefully on the good times in my life.

If one single thing… one decision… one circumstance… one second had been changed, my life could have turned out totally different.

This is a concept which both fills me with joy, and scares the hell out of me. How easily it would have been to make another choice at another point in time, and my whole life would have taken a totally different path from that point onwards?

How mind-blowing is that?

So,

  • to the guys who beat me up in school
  • to the girls who dumped me
  • to the man who did things I don’t want to discuss, ever
  • to the lass who was the catalyst to the darkest time of my life
  • and many, many others

… I am eternally grateful. I will always look back at every one of you with fondness and love. And yes, I remember all of you.

And,

  • to my parents for everything they ever did
  • to my wife for blessing me with such an amazing family
  • to my children for filling me with joy
  • to my family who have always been there for me, even if I haven’t for them
  • to my friends, you should all know who you are

… thank you. You all have an important place in my life and my heart.

You have made me who I am.

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My thoughts on the patent war

As Samsung attempt to prevent sales of the iPhone 4S, and Apple try and prevent sales of the Galaxy Tab, I feel I must share my opinion on the patent war. I’m no lawyer, so my terms may appear basic.

The whole issue of software and design patents is pathetic. Huge companies suing similarly huge companies over the design and concept of each others products.

Apple is suing Samsung for breach of patent over the design of the Galaxy Tab because it’s too similar to the iPad2. I mean, if you’re going to design a tablet, of course it’s going to look like another tablet. It’s a tablet!

Samsung is suing Apple over something to do with wireless data transmissions.

Both Samsung and Apple (amongst others) are paying an absolute fortune on lawyers fighting patent battles, and patent protection deals with other companies, effectively indemnifying them against any future patent-related action from that company. This is all money that would be better spent elsewhere, and probably money that will end up costing the consumer – that’s you and me, folks – more to buy their handsets.

This whole situation is stifling innovation and creativity, and suppressing competition in the market place… something which is – in many countries – illegal! Everyone involved should bloody well grow up.

Oh, and stop paying bucketloads of money to Microsoft – yes, I’m looking at you Samsung – don’t you realise that Microsoft are making more money from Android than they are Windows Phone? Or is this just you being spiteful towards Google for buying up Motorola Mobility?

This is going to snowball out of control, and end in litigious tears.

My true feeling on this situation can only be summed up accurately in the words of one of the greatest heroes of the Great War:

Captain Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.
Private Baldrick: But, this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?
Captain Blackadder: Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
Private Baldrick: What was that, sir?
Captain Blackadder: It was bollocks.

Scarily accurate, if you think about it.

Screenshot at 2011-10-15 11:06:02

My thoughts on Ubuntu

With the recent release of the latest version of Ubuntu 11.10, the “Oneiric Ocelot“, I thought I’d get down my thoughts on Ubuntu in general.

I’ve been a full-time Ubuntu user on my home laptop (the one I’m typing this on, in fact) since I bought it back in July 2006. At the time, the PC had XP Home on it, and I wasted no time in wiping it and installing Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, the “Dapper Drake”.

At this point, it might be worth pointing you at the Wikipedia article, List of Ubuntu Releases.

My first experience with Ubuntu was with the previous release, 5.10 “Breezy Badger”. It was nice to use, I suppose, but not particularly intuitive or stable. But as I was becoming increasingly disillusioned by Windows, its regular blue-screens and crashes and freeze-ups, I felt it was time for a change. There was nothing specifically tying me to Windows, as I’d already identified most of the software that I used on Windows had some form of direct equivalent in Ubuntu. Oh, except iTunes… but as I didn’t possess an iPod, that really wasn’t an issue.

I fell under the Ubuntu spell very quickly, and found that it did what I wanted quickly and cleanly. Although the decision to switch wasn’t exactly an educated one, I did have some good advice and advocacy from popey, who I’d known for some time so I respected his opinions on the matter.

So anyway, my first impression? Reliable, hackable, but not very slick.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of each release upgrade, but I have done a number of upgrades and reinstalls, and aside from one issue that I’m currently experiencing with a new install on my studio PC, I have never had any problems.

But this is the thing I wanted to talk about here… as I’ve travelled on my journey with Ubuntu throughout the 12 different releases between 6.06 and 11.10, I’ve noticed a number of things:

  • the system has become more stable
  • the UI has become more intuitive
  • the UI has become much nicer to look at
  • the focus has been more towards the end-user than the hacker

… and I personally believe that all of these points are related.

Ubuntu (and Canonical, the commercial sponsor behind Ubuntu) have received a lot of stick from the community over the years because of the focus and design changes that have evolved over recent releases. I’ve heard people that I know complaining that it’s moving away from power-users and hackers, and concentrating more on the consumer end of the desktop market.

My response? “Bravo!”

Linux has for years been tarnished with the geek brush, with consumer users saying that it’s only for hackers and neckbeards (seriously, Google it), and that everything has to be done on the command line for anything to work. Well, not any more. Linux has come a long way in the last 20 years, and I do believe that it is now workable as a stable desktop environment.

No, I’m not going to start with the “Year of the Linux desktop” crap. That’s not going to happen for a while, at least not until the community stops in-fighting.

Ubuntu 11.10 is a really good example of what a desktop operating system should look like.

It’s clean, it’s fairly minimal, it’s not cluttered with stuff that you don’t need, and it works. Yes, it will take some time for the average Windows/OSX/insertyouroperatingsystemofchoicehere user to get used to, because it’s different to most other systems. And again, because of the evolution of the Ubuntu desktop over the years, there has been a fair amount of uproar about the choices that have been made:

  • moving the window buttons (close, minimise, maximise) to the left-hand side
  • switching from the old two-panel design of Gnome 2, to the minimalist Unity interface
  • the Messaging/Indicator/Me menu
  • the Global Menu

… but I can’t see what the fuss is all about. All of these things are designed to improve the desktop experience, and these are decisions that have been taken by the Ubuntu design team (and others) with usability in mind. It’s worth pointing out that most of the people who have complained about these new features and design changes have been old-school Ubuntu users, and by extension, power-users. But that isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the target market for the Ubuntu desktop. Ubuntu’s tag line is “Linux for human beings”, not “Linux for people who know how to hack”. There are plenty of other distributions out there, and if Ubuntu is not for you then switch to something else. That’s the beauty of freedom of choice.

Ubuntu releases a new version every 6 months, but I consider these to be development releases. If you’re looking for stable releases, look for the ones that are released every 2 years with the letters LTS (Long Term Support) in the version. Ubuntu 10.04 LTS is the most recent one, with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS being released in April. Don’t forget that you can download an image from the Ubuntu website which you can test what it’s like without installing it, or – if you run Windows – you can install Ubuntu like a Windows application, so it doesn’t install over anything else.

I have been a supporter and advocate of Ubuntu since I started using it in 2006. I intend to increase my advocacy and post more of my experiences with Ubuntu. I’m happy to share my specific experiences with the Ubuntu desktop should anyone wish to ask.

And now, I leave you with Evolution of Ubuntu Over the Years – A Brief History which will go some way to illustrating how Ubuntu has changed and improved in the last 7 years.
(That image at the top of the post is an advert, so if it says “Download Now”, it doesn’t mean Ubuntu!)

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Software Freedom

Today is Software Freedom Day, and I thought it only fitting to write an article on a subject that has been bugging me for some time now. I was going to use this opportunity to cover off the talk that Richard Stallman (rms) held at Nottingham Hackspace on August 24. However, I’m going to save that one for another day.

So instead, I want to cover off my own opinion on the balance between Software Freedom and Usability.

According to the Free Software Foundation, software can be classified as “free” (as in freedom) if the software’s users have the following 4 freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

taken from http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

A side-note to acknowledge the zero-based nature of the freedoms. I liked that.

Now, I would like to go on record that I support these freedoms wholeheartedly. I would personally prefer to use Free Software (using initial caps to highlight the definition above) than a proprietary alternative, if a free version is available. This fits in line with my preference of Ubuntu as an operating system.

No, I will not be going into the GNU/Linux debate here. Nor will I be addressing the argument that Ubuntu is not Free Software.

The ideology

Now, the ideology of Free Software is sound, but it really is an ideal-ology, and in my mind not entirely practical with the Free Software that is currently available to us. In his talk, rms effectively said that if you cannot find a Free Software alternative for what you are trying to achieve, you should not fall back to the proprietary alternative – i.e. the use of Free Software should be 100% use of Free Software. Again, something that I support, but we need to remain in the real world here.

I run a Free operating system, however I am aware of the fact that it runs non-Free Software. If I run the vrms (virtual Richard M Stallman) command in a terminal, I can see that I currently have the following packages installed (this is not the complete list):

  • picasa – Image management application from Google
  • w32codecs – win32 binary codecs
  • flashplugin-installer – Adobe Flash Player plugin installer
  • virtualbox-4.0 – Oracle VM VirtualBox

Now, think about this for a second. The w32codecs are for playing back Windows Media Audio and Video files. (I’ve just realised that the MP3 codec isn’t mentioned in vrms… hmm) But you need to take a pragmatic approach to this. Why do I have the WMA and MP3 codecs installed on my laptop? For exactly the same reason that I have the Adobe Flash player installed. Because there is content out there on the internet (and let’s face it, most of what we do nowadays is on the internet) that uses those proprietary standards. These are closed standards folks, even if there was a suitable free alternative for playing these formats (don’t even mention Gnash, it’s not a full-featured replacement for Flash), the standards behind the formats in non-Free and, according to rms, you should not use them.

The question of usability

On an early episode of the Ubuntu UK Podcast (UUPC), a listener asked the (approximate) question, “Why do you release your podcast in MP3 format when it’s closed, patent-encumbered, and with Free alternatives available?” The answer that UUPC gave was utterly spot-on. How can you educate and inform people about something new when all they can hear is something old. In some circumstances, Ogg (or more correctly, Ogg Vorbis) is far-superior to MP3 in both terms of audio quality and file size. However, not all operating systems support Ogg Vorbis out of the box, and not many people know that Ogg Vorbis actually exists. The likes of Microsoft and Apple are doing an exceptionally good job in ensuring that it stays that way.

An alternative to the listener’s question could be, “Why do you use an operating system that is closed, patent-encumbered, and with Free alternatives available?”

The answer is rather straight-forward, it’s a case of usability. Windows and MacOS are the two prevalent operating systems in the world today. Therefore, there is more software for it, and more support available for it, and more hardware designed for it. MP3 and AAC are the two prevalent audio codec in the world today. Therefore, there is more software, support and hardware, etc.

In the same way that the Linux (no, I said I wasn’t going into that now!) is fighting a battle to become known, respected, and a key player in the desktop operating system space (Linux already has roughly 70% of the market share of web servers incidentally – source), so Free Software such as Ogg Vorbis and FLAC codecs, LibreOffice, and countless others, can actually compete fairly in the mainstream software space.

And, of course, I can’t leave out Flash. For as much as Flash is a fairly nasty piece of bloatware, it does what it does and it actually does it quite well. From what I can tell, it’s only iOS out of all of the popular operating systems that doesn’t/won’t support Flash. It has a place in the world, and will probably do so for some time. HTML5 is geared up to be the catalyst for the functional replacement for most of Flash’s capability (which is part of Apple’s argument for not including it in iOS)… but it doesn’t look like HTML5-compatible presentation formats, like H.264 for example, are capable of providing the level of user interactivity that Flash can. Comparison of HTML5 and Flash at Wikipedia.

The question of free choice

Despite being a Linux user and advocate, I’m also a strong believer in free choice. Therefore, I am not one of those people who will blindly say, “you must use Linux and this is why”… if a user is using Windows, and it serves their needs, and they use WMA and they’re happy with it, and they use Microsoft Office and they’re happy with it… I’ll probably suggest that they stay where they are. I see absolutely no point in trying to convert someone over to a system that they probably don’t actually need. That won’t stop me in explaining the reasons why I use the software that I do, and explaining (to those people who are running unlicensed copies of proprietary software because they can’t afford the licence) the benefits of switching to a Free Software alternative.

So…?

Free Software is good. Very few would argue with that.
The exclusive use of Free Software is good. However, we’re not there yet.

I believe that the exclusive use of Free Software depends on a number of factors including (but not limited to):

  • Free choice
  • Usability
  • The right tool for the job

Subjectivity cannot be ignored, because – as a Free Software community – we have absolutely no control over it. Who is to say whether a piece of software is right for a given user? The 4 Software Freedoms at the top of this article do not take the three factors that I’ve mentioned here into account.

The adoption of Free Software will happen, and it’ll happen in its own time. We can help it on its way, but the unconditional enforcement of an idealistic philosophy is going to win no favour whatsoever.

crap

Such language in this house!

Amy used those two fateful words this morning for the first time.  
You know, the words that translate roughly to “go forth and procreate”?

She overheard it on a YouTube video that we seriously didn’t expect to hear it on.  The words themselves were fairly muffled, but that didn’t stop her asking if the “… person on the video just said [those words]”  Unfortunately, because Caroline and I were trying desperately to prevent ourselves from moistening the bed, she felt the need to ask the same question multiple times, whilst we were physically unable to answer her!!  

Thing is, I don’t see how Amy would have picked up those words from the video and then repeat them so /clearly/ unless she’d heard them somewhere else… and it certainly wasn’t from us.  I might refer you back to a comment I made last month about the potty mouth nature of some parents, so I really wouldn’t be surprised if it came from a parent or child from her school.

Gah.

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Amazon and Paypal terminate Wikileaks services

Well, it would appear as though Amazon have cancelled Wikileaks hosting (yes, the link is dead), causing them to drop off the internet. Wikileaks have since re-emerged as wikileaks.de, but this is pretty poor show by Amazon. Apparently, this is the result of Amazon getting pressure from the US, the supposed “land of the free”. So much for free speech.

(source)

Paypal have also cancelled Wikileaks’ account, citing “a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.”

(source)

I’m not convinced that anything that Wikileaks has done has been illegal, unless it’s suddenly illegal to reveal the truth? Particularly truths that are clearly in the public interest. This smacks of panic by the US government, in a move to prevent any more embarrassment. Surely, with the various Freedom of Information Acts around the world, international governments must realise that anything they do is eventually going to come out into the public arena at some point anyway.

Disclaimer
I am in no way suggesting that you cancel your relationship with Amazon, Paypal, or any of the other services mentioned above or in the links given. I leave it to you to decide whether you continue doing business with these organisations.

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