Archive for May, 2008

Why you shouldn’t have a bag with side pockets

Just saw this reported on the Sydney Morning Herald

Airport bungle gives passenger $10,000 in drugs

http://www.smh.com.au/news/news/airport-gives-passenger-10000-in-drugs/2008/05/27/1211653984557.html

An unsuspecting passenger who flew to Tokyo is carrying one million yen’s worth of cannabis compliments of customs authorities after a bungled exercise involving sniffer dogs.

An officer at Narita International Airport yesterday stuffed 142 grams of the drug into the side pocket of a randomly-selected black suitcase coming off an overseas flight so that the animal could detect it.

Imagine if they were flying somewhere which had the death penalty.

[Added 1/7/08:

Apparently it wasn’t an isolated incident, and they’ve now had a talking to:

http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/customs-officers-punished-for-planting-drugs-in-luggage/2008/07/01/1214677979089.html]

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The Benefits of a FLOSS Toolset

OSIA has a stand at OpenCeBIT this year.  As a member I’m entitled to have my logo displayed on a screen that’s been installed at the stand (thanks to Andrew Yager).  So this means I need to produce an encapsulated postscript (eps) file to load into the display.

Recently I got some help with my business cards from Donna Benjamin.  Donna not only helped with the layout, but made sure the fonts used in the cards were free fonts – I now have “Free” Cards (actually, mostly free, because the logo itself uses non-free fonts).  Donna was kind enough to send me an svg file which I could edit myself in the future if I wanted to.  So I decided I would use the business cards as a base for creating an eps logo for the display.

My stomach has been a little upset, so I decided this after getting up at about 5:30am this morning.  In order to edit the svg I need a tool (in this case Inkscape).  Not having this tool installed on my computer doesn’t pose any problem for me, even at 6am.  I can just download it from a repository, install it and go (which I did).  I could not have done this with a closed system.  I might have been able to search for a program with equivalent functionality, but then I wouldn’t have the same level of comfort as to what I was downloading (eg is it a “limited trial version”) and whether I’d be losing my files if I worked in it.  Not only that, but I know that the tool I have is exactly the same tool used to create the svg in the first place.

I sent the eps off a little while ago.  I now have inkscape installed.   I could remove it if I wanted to, safe in the knowledge that I could download it again in the future as the need arose.

I also found out that download speeds at this time in the morning are pretty impressive.

Motherboard Dead – Now what?

“Oh, that doesn’t smell good” – My motherboard is dead, apparently as a doornail. So what to do?

First Steps

I had a look around today [Wednesday] for entry level machines. Adelong sells “box only” systems which I was tempted to get. I found what looked like a good deal on the Dick Smith Site – HP Pavilion E2180 2GB RAM including plus a 19″ widescreen LCD for AUD$800 and bought it. Apparently HP is offering a $150 rebate on it as well, which will work out quite nicely thank you very much.

I have brought the machine home and connected up to my current monitor and booted Knoppix 5.0.1 – all’s fine except that it doesn’t recognise the ethernet device :( The computer comes with Vista pre-installed, but I haven’t tried it yet. The machine is quite quiet which is a welcome discovery. I have not used the keyboard yet, but from a brief inspection it sounds quiet as well.

The box does not appear to contain a DVD for Vista. sda1 appears to have MS office applications preloaded. Perhaps this is a trial copy? Wasn’t mentioned on the ad. Maybe I should complain?

Burnt a copy of knoppix 5.1 but it’s not booting (can’t find media at /dev/sr0), nor does 3.6 nor 4.0.2. However edubuntu live 6.1 boots – and properly configures the network card (am doing this edit from edubuntu from the new machine). However, Edubuntu doesn’t seem to see the hard disk(!) Maybe that’s just an edubuntu thing? OpenSuse 10.3 (Gnome) also boots with the network card automatically configured.

Not Much of a Vista

Next step is to salvage the old hard drive and install it to dual boot. It looks like I’m not going to have a chance to use the preloaded vista in the near future (I will eventually, as there’s a music program which I want which only works on XP or Vista – I have an old version running on w2K but cannot upgrade atm). Before I bought it I checked the motherboard and saw it had two sata headers – which was just right to dual boot with two sata drives. Unfortunately I didn’t count on one of those sata headers being used for the dvd drive (shows how long it is since I have bought computer equipment). So – to use my existing drive I needed to either keep the dvd or keep the second hard drive. But I needed the DVD connected to install a 64 bit version of Linux, so my vista “experience” will be offline for the foreseeable future.

Question: If anyone knows how to extract the text of the vista licence from the hard drive (where is it?) please let me know.

The subassemblies inside the case are pretty convenient, although they don’t leave a lot of room to move, and it’s something of a pain to have to remove them to rewire stuff (see below). The bios also seems to provide a fair bit of flexibility (eg choosing boot devices and prioritising them).

Blankety Blanks

I decided to install opensuse 10.3/KDE/x86_64. I wasted a half dozen CD blanks before realising there’s something wrong with my laptop’s burner – had to burn it on a portable burner (and even then I had one coaster before doing a slow burn to get a properly validated CD). Note to opensuse: I know I can’t run an x86_64 distro on my old laptop but could you at least let me do the media check in it?

Lost Hard drive

I booted to the opensuse installer then got a bit of a shock – there were no hard drives!! Hmmm, given that I knew the 10.3 Live CD worked, it was unlikely to be a driver issue, but I thought I’d reload the live CD to get some idea of the modules to load… Only the hard drive wasn’t there for the live CD either. In order to plug the DVD in I had to disconnect the (vista) sata drive. In order to do that I needed to disconnect the second sata drive with my previous install on it, then forgot to reconnect it. D’oh!

There is a modem card taking up one of the pci slots, so I might ditch it and get a sata board. Or I might just get a usb sata enclosure.

Risen on the Third Day

After actually reconnecting the drive, it works. Install was relatively painless (biggest problem was choosing a name for the computer). Formatted a partition I had trouble with in the past and nominated it to mount as /home, rebooted, seemed to work, went to bed. This morning (Friday) I booted, umounted /home and mounted my previous home partition and everything is working mostly fine and dandy (software which I had before but which is not part of the standard install – like Thunderbird and a weather applet – still needs to be reinstalled though). Have updated fstab. Apparently it has a bluetooth device. I will need to check it.

Note to Open Suse:

Not sure I’m keen on device specific ids in fstab.

The install doesn’t seem to have handled UTC correctly maybe that’s because I’ve imported my previous /home?

Suspending TRIPS Obligations – the Little Guy’s Nuclear Option

Astounding in its simplicity, shocking in its consequences, the Center [sic] for International Environmental Law has recently held a workshop in Geneva on SUSPENDING IP OBLIGATIONS UNDER TRIPS: A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO ENFORCE PREVAILING WTO RULINGS? They have also released a paper on the subject.

While the theory is untested, given the extraordinary influence that such interests have in trade negotiations the likely effectiveness of such an approach in securing WTO compilance is dumbfounding, creating a sort of IP ju-jitsu move on big countries for whom IP is important but who are heavily into agricultural subsidies. In the extreme it can create a direct internal tension between various political constituencies in the target country affecting the negotiating position of the target country in future trade rounds.  Once this has been established as a precedent it will cause even more trouble for countries with agricultural subsidies – as a breach based on subsidies is generic in its effect and will presumably entitle multiple aggrieved third party countries to take similar retaliatory action.

Hat tip to Shane Coughlan.

All It Takes is One Rotten Apple

Or why the industry needs more subsidies from the Government.

Imagine a good which, if you were to sell it, the person to whom you sold it could reproduce it almost endlessly. Imagine still if those reproductions were functionally identical. Imagine further if the techniques allowing such reproduction were being constantly improved so that reproductions were becoming cheaper and easier over time. It stands to reason that such a good would never be produced in the first place. Whoever went to the trouble of producing the first of these goods would not be able to recoup their investment. You can imagine, after their first sale, the purchaser could set themselves up in competition, undercutting the original seller. Free riding in the industry for such a good would destroy it and therefore deprive the general community of the goods.

I chanced upon one of these utterly remarkable goods down at the shops the other day. The fellow selling it called it an “apple”. Apparently this little device can be reproduced using technology already owned by most people (portable devices containing a plastic shell and some soil apparently retail for a handful of dollars). Indeed, with a little initial investment this thing reproduces itself practically ad infinitum and with little or no human intervention. Moreover, the techniques for reproduction of these things are constantly being improved.

While the fellow selling this thing seemed quite oblivious to the looming problem facing the industry there is clearly a need for action. Probably the best response would be to create a legislative monopoly over reproductions of the good. What do you think? This is something which needs urgent attention if we want our children and our children’s children to have the benefit of these goods.

Please write your local legislative representative before it is too late!

Myth Buster: The Rude French?

Some highlights from trip to Paris 08

The French have a reputation of rudeness towards foreigners. I was a little intimidated by this reputation before my trip there in April. Then I thought about the (very few) French people I have known. They were a pretty nice bunch all things considered, so perhaps, I thought, they would not be as bad as everyone makes out.

We arrived at Paris Nord railway station and had to make our way to our hotel (the lovely, if somewhat small by Australian standards, Hotel Royal Magda) near the Arc de Triomphe. The receptionist in the hotel had told us not to touch the subway with luggage and to expect a cab fare of about €25 (the Hotel has a pick up service, but at €75 it seemed a bit much). Outside Paris Nord we were approached by some fellow with a custom cab service, quoting €45 (“lots of traffic this time of day,” he said, in (halting) English). We turned him down and decided to look for the cab rank, when some French fellow carrying a baguette in one hand (no, honestly, he really was carrying a baguette) grabbed us and ushered us up the street to the cab rank. He browbeat the cabbie to take us then asked for a tip (€3 but I only had €4 so he got a bonus). The cab fare cost €17 (plus another large tip) so presumably there wasn’t as much traffic as the €45 fellow was expecting.

That night we had dinner at a restaurant around the corner (The Chez Clement Wagram). The hotel staff said we’d get free drinks there if we showed our hotel card – but we didn’t. Oh well. Dinner was very enjoyable (even though I had oysters for starters and they might have been responsible for me being a bit sick a day or so later). The waiters suggested I have a Heineken with dinner which seemed a little odd to me. Why come all this way to France and drink a dutch beer? So I asked for a French beer, but apparently they didn’t have any because they gave me a Belgian one (Affligem).

On the way back from the restaurant some lady “excuse moi”ed me and told me my backback was open.

The next day we “did” the Louvre (it seems one never becomes fully acquainted with the verb “to do” but when one is on holiday). Got a reasonable photo of what the people in the Louvre call “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo” (ie the Mona Lisa). It was raining when we left the Louvre and most of the cafes seemed full. We ended up at one near the Bourse and sat down for a nice lunch (I ordered Roquefort ravioli and M ordered a hamburger (of all things) but it was a bit rare, so I ended up having the hamburger and not the ravioli :( The waitress spoke very little English but we communicated well enough and she was helpful in getting us organised into our seats.

After lunch we wandered over to La Conciergerie and then to La Sainte-Chapelle (btw well worth the wait and should be on anyone’s Paris itinerary). One of the Gendarmes guarding the exit to La Sainte-Chapelle let me and my son through the gates so he could go to the toilet. While M waited in (the very long, slow) line to (get your bags checked so that you can) get into La Sainte-Chapelle I took the kids over to Notre Dame and had a quick look inside. We went back there again after finishing at La Sainte-Chapelle. M apparently encountered some woman at Notre Dame who wasn’t entirely helpful… but it was late in the day.

Later that afternoon I went out to find some snacks to eat and ended up at a “Pain a Manger” shop a couple of blocks away. The lady “bon soir”ed me and I “bon soir”ed back – apparently with too much confidence. After she rang up the price I insouciantly handed over €15 in notes. The woman at the checkout asked me something in French – actually incomprehensible, but something to do with “do I have any change”. As there were now half a dozen people waiting in line behind me I just opened my wallet and let her take what she wanted – what flair… Next time I will “bon soir” with less aplomb.

We must exude French (or perhaps Hapless) because two days later while wandering up the Boulevard Haussmann (or perhaps the Avenue de Friedland) an elderly French couple wandered up to us and asked us (in French) where the could find the Galleries Lafayette. Speaking only about 5 words of French (including Bon-jour, soir and merci) we did the best we could…

I only managed one coffee in Paris, although I did have it on the Champs-Élysées. It was rubbish. Perhaps I should have gone to the place next door, which was charging €4.50 a cup?

On the way to the bus to take us to the airport some woman helped one of our children wheel their suitcase across the road b.c she thought they were having trouble with it (she had come across the road, then doubled back to help us, then had to go back again to continue on her journey).

The Verdict: Myth Busted

We were only in Paris for a couple of days, but the French we encountered were either pleasant or helpful. In some cases (such as the woman who helped us with our bag across the road and arguably also the fellow who dragged us over to the taxi rank) they went out of their way to help. To the extent there was difficulty it was usually down to the fact that they didn’t speak English, but it would be churlish to point this out (that we didn’t speak French is an alternative, but easily discounted, explanation).

[update June 09 – some checkout attendants can studiously ignore you, which I found off putting, and one of them quickly slammed a “this checkout closed” sign down as I was mid-stride towards her.  However, also some old fellow came and gratuitously offered me directions (which I didn’t really need, as I was just wandering… and we couldn’t really communicate, me not speaking French and all, but I politely asked after some monument I knew was close by and waited for him to explain, then we parted ways.  Overall the French I’ve encountered (in Paris) have been polite and helpful.]


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