Pledges of allegience to free software…

In good news, the pledge drive to raise $10 000 towards a reverse-engineered NVidia DRI-3D-accelerated driver has succeeded. Dave Nielsen, the instigator of the pledge, gave a canned history of the pledge drive on his blog, and handily demonstrated that the free software community are willing to put a little bit of extra cash towards a little bit of extra freedom.

In bad news, the bid to purchase “The Saga Of Ryzom” from failed developer Nevrax has failed. They were outbid by Gameforge AG. A ray of sunshine is that the project looks like it will continue, and there has already been the suggestion that they instead consider Asheron’s Call 2 which closed in 2005 but was apparently quite good.

Co-incidentally, I was in one of the beta tests for Asheron’s Call (I don’t remember if it was 1 or 2), and today beta-testing applications opened for Tabula Rasa. I don’t remember signing up for the mailing list, but I do have a PlayNC account through having purchased Guild Wars, a model I still hold up as being an excellent way to structure a MMOG’s income, at least from a payer point of view. Of course, my job here at Micro Forté is as a programmer, not game producer, so my views aren’t exactly changing the world… but give it time. ^_^

Speaking of Micro Forté, the Gaming Miniconf at LCA2007 is having Paul Murphy from <a href=’’BigWorld Tech (MF’s MMOG technology development subsidiary, based in Sydney) as a guest speaker. I’ll prolly have to sneak out of the Debian Miniconf to see that.

Poop. Paul Murphy’s talk clashes directly with Anthony Town’s “State of The Project” address. So there you go, first session of LCA2007 (barring keynotes, which don’t conflict…) and I’ve got a scheduling conflict. >_< Maybe this year the recording will all work…

Edit: Someone floated the open-source Asheron’s Call 2 idea the day it closed…


LCA 2007 Ho!

Well, it’s nearly LCA time again. This is just a quick post mainly to see if my syndication at Planet 2007 is working yet.

I’ve been working at MF (Milestones just seem to come at you faster than the calender would otherwise suggest) and particularly in the last couple of weeks getting a good vector-math workout.

I’ve also been working at picking off RC bugs to try and help Etch along a bit, since kind of hoped to be upgrading to it in the half of January that’s just passed.

I’ve also been looking for a CMS for the ANU Anime Society to try and resolve the fact that our web admins never seem to last as long as we’d like. At the moment, Joomla! is top of my list for trialling, as I’m familiar with PHP and looks to have the relevant modules (forum, calendar, eventing system that’ll need modification to work for screening scheduling). However, I’m open to other suggestions, and will see if anyone at LCA has any useful suggestions.

And of course, by adding Planet LCA 2007, I’ve had to read it. And I came across ThreatNet, which is a distributed compromised computer identification system. It’s actually really simple, you do something to identify a certain IP as a threat (the sample code scans postfix logs for “REJECT: noqueue” which usually comes from “no such user” although I noticed it also comes from greylister at CBIT) and sends that IP address to a nominated IRC channel. I dunno what’s next, actually. Presumably, sites can block that IP address as they see fit, and if the responsible parties for the machine become aware of it, they can take action. I’ll be adding this to my ever-growing list of things I need to consider implementation of at CBIT.

On the plus side, I recently installed Debian on a Slug with a 512MB USB flash stick, and I’m going to see how Nagios performs on it. If it’s up to scratch, I’ll prolly shoehorn in a wireless card and see if I can monitor two disparate networks effectively.

Confessions of a mercenary programmer

Just a quick note, in the aftermath of the vote to decide where Anthony Towns, Debian Project Leader did something good for Debian, bad for Debian or indifferent to Debian with the Dunc-Tank.

I, Paul Hampson, hereby confess that I too earnt money for doing Debian work, specifically packaging FreeRADIUS and getting it sponsored into the archive in time for Sarge to ship.

Mind you, I didn’t earn much money, since Bandwidth Unlimited (for it was they) went bust without paying me much, but they did pay me. And you might argue that I’d been looking for a package to help out with in Debian for nearly three years at that point, and I would have worked on it for free, and that when I was being paid serious money to administer an ISP, I didn’t do much FreeRADIUS work at all.

To which I’d say that I’d never have picked FreeRADIUS were I not running an ISP, and I would not have been running an ISP had I not planned to become rich and buy the world’s largest chocolate bar from the experience. And I didn’t get a lot of my job functions done when I was running an ISP, so lower-priority things (like FreeRADIUS, cleaning my desk, a full night’s sleep) were often pushed aside.

I have to say that until I recently became a professional, regularly paid, programmer, I was highly envious of people who get paid to work on Open Source stuff, let alone Debian stuff. Now I’m just envious, although that’ll prolly upgrade back to highly envious after 2007 (or as I like to think of it now,

This whole thing puts me in mind of my experience at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. I was one of the IT volunteers, and we basically picked up the less-interesting jobs the IBM-paid staffers gave us. At the time I felt a bit put out that I was there volunteering, and these guys were being paid to be there doing nothing that I couldn’t have handled. Obviously that was decidedly unfair, and from my days of “I’m as good as or better than anyone else at computers” phase. But the unfairness of my attitude isn’t actually the issue, the issue was that I really wanted to be paid to do that sort of thing, and didn’t see why others should get paid but me not be.

Now of course I want two things: To get paid, and to do the things I love. I’ve finally reached the point where I can combine them, and I no longer begrudge those who, through luck, skill or otherwise, get paid more to do the same things, or get access to cooler toys to do them on. I’m envious, obviously. How do you not envy someone who gets to bring up Linux on a 128-way Power5 machine on the quiet? But that doesn’t make me unhappy, it just makes me want to strive more, and work harder. One day I’ll be the one submitting a paper to on some stupendously cool thing I’ve done. ^_^

Anyway, my short-medium term goal is to leverage the experience of the current MicroForté work, plus finishing my Japanese studies, to go work for a games company in Japan, combining my two favorite pipe-dreams into one, and making it reachable in a little as two years. Maybe I’ll be lucky and MicroForté will open a Japanese office or something, or I’ll luck out and end up working on a Japanese MMORPG with a Linux client and a measurable dose of serious cool. Or somehow end up programming at Nintendo…. Oh, sparkley eyes! *_*

And a by-the-by, it’s two and a half months in, and I’m still totally thrilled to be working at a video games company. I mean, seriously, I’m like all, wow. I thought it was cool when I was working at TransACT, and my testing procedure involved firing up a video stream, and watching it on a TV. I had a TV on my desk, for work purposes, and that was the high-point of my career. Now I don’t have a TV on my desk, but when I’m hacking on combat-handling code, part of my procedure involves firing up a game server, and playing.

I’m learning to take my time with things a bit more. I’m now much less worried that I won’t speak six asian languages, play the piano, have my name someone in the Linux kernel that doesn’t share a sentence with “blame”, have invented an entirely new way of interacting with computers, master four different styles of martial art, earn my first dan in three different Japanese weapon styles, hold two masters degrees in disparate subject areas, earn infamy in the Debian community or even the admiration of my peers by 30. Or 40. I’ll be pushing it to get there by 50. But the advantage of youth is that you get it when you’re young, and only lose it if you let it go.

I guess on reflection, my goal has become to be a polymath ronin… For those familiar with anime, I think I want to be Kintaro Oe when I grow up…

Side-note: I’m now the secretary of the ANU Anime Society. Two days before the AGM, I wrote in an email to the then-executive committee that secretary was the one position I’d never take. Time makes fools of us all. ^_^ Congratulations to Cathy Ring on stepping up to the presidency, and to the other executives, old and new, for stepping up to what I expect (knowing Cathy) to be a hard-driven and successful year coming.

Oh, and someone asked this week about getting the GTO Live Action box set. So here’s my AmazonJP links…


So you wanna be a domain-specific hero?

Wow. “Later this week” certainly took longer than I expected.

As of July 31st, I’m a (junior, for now) programmer at Micro Forté‘s Canberra studio. Two weeks in, and it’s the best job I’ve had so far. ^_^ My first task involved trying out installation of the BigWorld MMOG server system as a new user so we could see what state the documentation was in, and for those who know how pedantic I am, a four-page file called whinge.txt is actually a positive sign.

It’s an approximately eighteen-month contract, so I guess Japan and University will have to be put off at least that much longer. Still, I’ve pretty much wanted to write video games since I was six, learning Applesoft BASIC on the family //c, so no regrets. ^_^

I’m no longer working full-time at CBIT Internet, although I am still maintaining the ISP’s servers there.

In celebration, I bought Guitar Hero, which neccesitated getting my Playstation 2 back from Richard, who’d in the meantime bought a PS2 EyeToy. I haven’t tried the bundled game yet, but instructions exist to use the EyeToy as a windows webcam, and to use the EyeToy as a linux webcam.

This, plus the request of a nice young lady whom I only seem to face-to-face once every twelve months or so that I install Skype, got me playing with Skype again. Sadly, the 10 euros of credit I bought in 2004 and was unable to use (due to their system failing to transmit voice to the US at the time) have “expired”, which annoyed me enough that I was boycotting them. The boycott ended the moment someone asked me to actually use it, mind you. ^_^

Of course, this led me into an exploration of open-source alternatives. On the Skype-protcol side, there’s a paper from 2004 looking at how Skype 0.97 talked to the network as well as a recent claims from a Chinese company to have reverse-engineered the Skype protocol. Sadly, the latter is planning to commercialise their results, not publish them.

On the actual open-source side, I’ve been playing with SIP stuff again. I’ve had a SIP-based Asterisk server running here (You can try to call me via SIP although I don’t always have a SIP client running) for a while now, and I recently got a chance to test it with some overseas friends, but due to poor codec choice, it quality sucked.

On codecs, I have to say that Speex is great and iLBC is awful. Both in voice quality, and for the fact that Speex is free open-source, while iLBC comes with a “no-commercial use” license.

Anyway, with a webcam, I’ve been toying with video-supporting SIP clients. For windows, the only free one appears to be X-Lite 3 which doesn’t do Speex (although its commerical version, eyeBeam 1.5 does) but for my purposes (LAN to the Asterisk Box) I can do G.711 and let Asterisk do the Speex transcoding for me.

Under linux, Linphone has video support (although the 1.35 Debian package is compiled without, and the build-deps to build it wanted to remove texlive in favour of tetex…) which I’ve not tried yet, but which a brief glance at the source suggests supports H.263-1998. Ekiga, the successor to GnomeMeeting, also supports video, via opal, but only H.261. There’s H.263 code there, but relies on FFMpeg 0.4.7 patched to support RFC2190 for its video support. (It’s actually FFMpeg‘s libavcodec that’s being used, but very few people make the distinction it seems)

A brief aside on the video codecs at play here. H.261 is the older ITU-T video standard for ISDN, while H.263 was a newer standard which drew from H.261 as well as MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, and which was the default video standard for H.323 computer video conferencing, thanks to things like Microsoft’s NetMeeting and the open-source GnomeMeeting. However, along with MPEG technology comes murky and ill-defined MPEGLA patent issues. There’s also H.263-1998, aka H.263p or H.263+, which adds some annexes to H.263 to support some more encoding features. For moving H.263 over RTP RFC 2190 was written. However, the stream format defined in RFC2190 couldn’t support the data stream from H.263-1998, so RFC 2429 was published. Both H.263 and H.263-1998 can be carried in the RFC 2429 stream format, so in theory everyone should be using RFC 2429 streams, and we’d all be happy. Apparently, NetMeeting only support RFC 2190 and H.263 however, so that’s the version that they implemented in Ekiga too (since Opal is a refactoring of the OpenH323 library’s media interface, and Gnomemeeting’s built on OpenH323. And the OpenH323 H.263 code was submitted by the same person who did the FFMpeg patch mentioned above.) Meanwhile, X-Lite supports H.263, H.263plus, and (according to my SIP debug logs on Asterisk) RFC 2429 streaming.

I spent most of today weighing up forwardporting the RFC2190 patch to FFMpeg, or updating libopal to support RFC2429. I didn’t achieve much, but I weighed it up a lot. The final answer was wait for the current libopal refactoring (they’ve moved the video codec support out into plugins, and rewrote the H.263 code such that it’s much easier to _add_ RFC2429 support) to reach my via Debian in some way, and then have a poke at it, if they haven’t done it already. If it’s not already done, I’m sure that submitted the code to make it work would make me an Open-source Telephony Hero

So to bring us back to the story, I’ve got a nice little Windows-based SIP client which does video but not Speex and needs to register with someone, a Linux-based client that does speex but which I haven’t compiled the video for yet (Linphone), and a both linux- and win32-based client which claims to do Speex but barfs (Ekiga…) and which can’t do the current video codec with the current video stream format, and depends on a slight fork of another library to do current video with the old format.

I can see why Skype’s so popular…>_<

Incidentally, if you want a non-registrar-requiring Speex-supporting free but-without-video SIP client for Windows, I found PhonerLite seemed to work well. And frankly, if you’re going to call me without warning at home, you might not want the webcam to show you whatever my current state of dress or undress is. ^_^

Talking to Chris Smart (of Kororaa) at CLUG‘s PSIG meeting last Thursday about webcams, Ekiga and kopete inevitably led onto the GPL and the Linux Kernel (he loves to talk about it, really! ^_^) and Chris pointed me at Greg K-H’s take on Linux and Binary-only modules, which manages to draw the line between legal and illegal way way back there compared to where we all through we were. (On a sidenote, OLS looks like it would have been tremendous fun. I can hardly wait until I’m a jetsetting conference-attending Linux Kernel Hero.)

I’ve also been poking at the DeviceScape 802.11 stack for Linux. As well as happily running my laptop’s Apple Airport Extreme2 card for the past few months, its software-based Access Point support appears to have progressed to the point at which I can start poking at it for Nintendo DS Wirelss Multi-boot infrastructure, which will bypass all the card-specific hacking people’re having to do, as well as let it work on things that aren’t RT25xx cards. It seems in the six months or so since I’ve looked hard at Nifi, a dude called masscat has picked up the ball and run with it, so I’ve almost 10 pages of forum thread, and then whatever code he’s published, to catch up on. I’m pleasantly surprised, I thought with the advent of Wifi support for Nintendo DS Homebrew code interest in WMBing over Nifi would die. So here’s my chance to get the dscape port done, and become an NDS Homebrew Hero.

I’m currently reading Perl 6 and Parrot Essentials and it’s reinvigorating my love of Perl. ^_^ Shame MicroForté is a C++ and Python shop… Still, it’s a nice change from reading The C++ Programming Language, 3rd Edition which I was reading for the six weeks between my first job interview and pretty much the weekend before I started at MicroForté. Of course, this means I’m tempted to spend my free time ignoring all the above ideas, and tooling about with Perl 6 and Parrot Especially with sheer coolness like Z-Code support in Parrot.

And for one final note, the real-estate agent is coming around next Saturday to inspect my flat, so I had to clean up. Luckily, it was mainly a case of emptying all the bins, although I need to run a quick vacuum around the place, it’s a bit dusty in parts. I expect this inspection is because my lease expires in the next couple of weeks, and they want to know if they should kick me out or not. Given that I’m not working days in Watson with occasional evenings in Belconnen, I’m looking at moving anyway. Anyone know of a cheap one-bedroomer or two-bedroomer in Watson or adjoining suburbs? I’d like to be able to walk or bicycle to work. ^_^

Perl 6 And Parrot Essentials (Essentials)
The C++ Programming Language

Edit: Correct misspelling

Irrepressibility in the face of popularity, pixies and other illnesses

I’m home sick today, so of course it seemed like a good idea to update my blog…

After adding that new banner to the sidebar it occurred to me that I should active the neat Sidebar Widgets feature… Of course, this required me to either give up my non-standard sidebars, or widgetise them…

Firstly I modified the Top 10 posts plugin (original version) to have a widget mode for the sidebar, and also to do everything in a plugins_loaded hook, since it may load before the widget support plugin itself.

I then knocked up a quick widget, based on the Google Search widget that comes with the plugin, which produces random chunks of censored material from These widget things are quite easy. ^_^

I also quickly knocked up a Weatherpixie widget for the Weatherpixie, although I didn’t go as far as to offer a drop-down for the troopers or countries. This way people still go visit the pixie-chooser page, where the author’s Google Ads are. I don’t feel bad this way, given I emailed the author a few months ago about this, and didn’t get any reply.

I did all my uploading/editing in lftp, but I intend to set up an FTP mount of some kind on my machine, now that I’m trying to avoid sshing into the webhosting box. I’m also looking into chroot’d sshd or sftp, but the quick answer so far is “hard”.

I started doing this post in the Performancing Toolbar for firefox, but after two paragraphs I decided I much preferred the normal WordPress interface. I’ll be uninstalling Performancing pretty soon.

I’ll stick and updates or other WordPress stuff in until such time as I can be assed putting them into version control, and fixing the bzr browser on

Sin, Certs and Wans; or Sun Tzu VS Bikinis

I pre-ordered Sin Episode 1: Emergence on the weekend. It was cheap (AU$23 or so) and included a Steam version of the original Sin. This is partly my fault, I was hoping for a steamy version of Original Sin… (Sorry if you were hoping for a different original sin joke. ^_^)

I actually own Sin, but I don’t know where the CD is. The original box is still on my shelf. So I’m taking the opportunity to actually finish the game, since the new one is set four years later. And it’s still as I remember, one of the best-fun first-person shooters I’ve played… Dragged me right away from Half-Life and its expansion packs. (Although I’m finished Half-Life and Blue Shift now, and I think I’m close to the end of Opposing Force)

A recent topic on Slashdot about The changing value of certifications. Beyond the somewhat inaccurate summarising of the arcticle on Slashdot (certifications still attract a pay premium, they don’t actively hurt your career) I think a rather important oversight was made in much of the discussion (ie. that bit which survived my threshhold) — and maybe this was covered in the original research, I didn’t bother trying to track down the report mentioned in the article — that for some jobs a certification doesn’t attract a premium, because it’s a neccessity.

Certainly the terms of employment at CBIT require that I hold a certification of some kind within six months of joining. It originally specified MCSE, but they happily let me substitute my LPIC-1. I since discovered that my Windows NT4 MCSE is still valid, so I’m putting the MCSE upgrade on hold to get my CCNA done.

Then a lot of the posters proceeded to confuse certification with qualifications. Having both, I’m amazed that this happens. On the other hand, the people generating this confusion were usually on the “I didn’t need stuffy boring university or a do-in-my-sleep MCSD, I just walked in and told them how I’ve been running Windows since I was six and they hired me” side of the debate.

I’m going to get condescending here. I’ll let you know when it’s over. I really think these attitudes go hand in hand, and are usually closely followed by “Why won’t <large company> hire me as their CTO? I know as much as all these highly qualified lawyers and managers. They’ll fail now, and it’ll be all their fault for not hiring me,” and then later followed by “I’ve been working this same $30k/year first-level support role for ten years now, because management are too short sighted to realise that I was just too smart to waste three years on a degree.”Done with the condescending bit.

And sure, I myself have been guilty of this. I still am, frequently. I think most of us in IT do it to some extent. This is also how we end up with the armchair lawyers, armchair managers, armchair accountants and armchair linguists that pervade our community. (I pick those because I’ve done them all myself. Ranter, berate theyself. ^_^) It might be a symptom of the type of person who succeeds in IT (self-confident, multi-skilled and widely read/educated) as compared to those who fail (obstinant, unfocussed and arrogant).

So why certify? I do it partly because I love training and learning, and having something to show for it — Ignore that I waited five years to graduate my B.Sc — and partly because it makes financial sense. I like to read when I go to bed… It settles me down and clears my mind. However, a $20 novel will only last two or three days. My CCNA INTRO book has taken me over a month to get about half-way into… I think because it’s so dry, I can’t read more than a few minutes. Either way, good value for $50.

Flicking through Planet Linux Australia as I do when I forget how much time it sucks up… Between the sordid tales of a Power5 lying with a SunFire — Oh I wish I had a project to throw at them… Where’s my multi-threaded Sudoko solver? — I came across this gem of an idea for a Canberra-wide wireless mesh network. This is something I’d heartily endorse, and help with where I could… I’ll have to dig out my old Gungahlin-wireless-mesh plans…

A quick aside: Another Rich Web with PHP talk from Rasmus Lerdorf. The content aside, the template is sweet. The template aside, the content is fascinating.

Another quick aside: Digital cameras have their own digital signature. I’m not sure if this is even vaugely practical for any use, but here’s the original article‘s PDF. Someone in the discussion pointed me at a US Government scheme to convince colour laser printer manufacturers to encode printer identification data onto each page. It’s a scary world we live in.

Last aside… Two more links: One to make you cry: Even if the author is being facetious, someone somewhere belives this; and one to make you laugh: Every workplace should have a plan on its books for how to deal with Viking Raids.

But what of the bikinis, I hear you ask… Or would, were I narrating this out loud instead of in my head… And you cared about bikinis more than you care about Sun Tzu… OK. This is an IRC story. You’ve been warned.

On one of the IRC channels I hang out on, discussion turned to bikinis, and one of the channel regulars (Io) mentioned that she doesn’t wear bikinis.

Pseudo-aside: This is Io. I knocked up this image that same evening, as it happens. MSPaint’s so much easier to use than The Gimp… I did the whole image in the time it took me to give up the other day on finding a “Draw a square” button in The Gimp.

Anyway, it seemed sensible at this poit to consult with my new TzuBBot. TzuBBot being my Art-Of-War-based-advice-bot. Here’s the results.

03:00 < TBBle> TzuBBot: Any advice on the best way to get Io out of Brazil and into a bikini?
03:00 < TzuBBot> THE NINE SITUATIONS: 55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor does he foster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret designs, keeping his antagonists in awe. Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms.
03:01 < TBBle> TzuBBot: Any advice on the best way to get Io out of a bikini and into my lap?
03:01 < TzuBBot> THE ARMY ON THE MARCH: 45. If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual.

The TzuBBot gives useful advice so often, it’s scary…

Final note: My goodneess, but the move from Yurika to Dino has made this website soooo much snappier!

Certifiable Linux Professional

My LPI exam results came on Thursday, but I only just read the email…

Score Report for Exam 101

Your Score: 660
Required Passing Score: 500
Status: Pass

Test Section Information
Percent Correct Section
 71%            Hardware  Architecture
 78%             Linux Installation & Package Management
 95%            GNU & Unix Commands
100%            Devices, Linux Filesystems, Filesystem Hierarchy Standard
 75%            The X Window System
Score Report for Exam 102

Your Score: 690
Required Passing Score: 500
Status: Pass

Test Section Information
Percent Correct Section
100%            Kernel
 75%            Boot, Initialization, Shutdown and Runlevels
100%            Printing
100%            Documentation
100%            Shells, Scripting, Programming and Compiling
 66%            Administrative Tasks
100%            Networking Fundamentals
 94%            Networking Services
 83%            Security

Given my intense need to know just how much cleverer I am than those around me, I went to the LPI website to find out just what the LPI scores mean. It turns out that they’re scaled to give a mean of 480 and a standard deviation of 100.

If you’re not familiar with standard deviation, Wikipedia to the rescue: Standard Deviation

This means that passing should be just under 50%. However, their stats say that the pass-rate was about 64% up to 2003, and the recent stats say they’ve given 100k exams and have 32k certified LPIC-1’s — you need two exam passes to be an LPIC-1. Well, I guess at least they’re consistent over the years…

More importantly, this means that my 101 result puts me at the middle-high end of the 84.1 — 97.7% block (1σ-2σ) and my 102 result puts me at the low end of the 97.7% — 99.8% block (2σ-3σ). Which means a score between 780 and 860 is top-0.2%, for those playing along at home.

I’m quite pleased, given they only took me around 20 minutes each. ^_^

So how am I spending my weekend? Installing Visual Studio for a development project I’ve won. >_<

I also recently discovered a new prime number generation algorithm. Ask a client to submit all their new artwork for their website. Some portion of it will need scaling down. And some portion of that will have a dimension that is prime. O_O

Edit: Fix image