Friday, December 30, 2011

Haircuts and smiley faces

Alex had his very first haircut today. He's lasted over three years without one.

Earlier on we were in Bunnings where he had his face painted. When asked what he wanted he said "A smiley face."

"Anything else?"

"No, just a smiley face."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

XSS've coding

I had to rewrite one of my web applications yesterday to resolve a potential cross site scripting (XSS) issue. It was an interesting learning exercise, though ultimately the required changes were minimal. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) wiki proved to be a valuable resource.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

No fun Microsoft

I had a lot of fun creating allrite@. There is something about learning and experimenting with a new programming language (Python) in Linux. As I trawled the web for instructions and tips there was a sense of participating in an enthusiastic group who took pleasure in contributing their knowledge to the greater community.

I never feel the same way about the Microsoft programming community. There is still a lot of enthusiasm, but it's a kind of bulldog enthusiasm, charging in and saying Microsoft is the way, the only way and get the f!@# out of my way. You want standards and interoperability? We've got our standards and interoperability between our own products: you don't need anything else.

Want some extra functionality? Somebody has a product/plugin for that. Now hand over your credit card details...

Microsoft's programming languages and tools may have a lot going for them and I certainly use their products on a daily basis. But it's not fun.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Announcing allrite@

Yesterday I released my latest website, allrite@, my new online travel journal. 

This was my first project written using Django, a python web framework. I haven't had time to do much programming lately, but I found Django's built in functionality, including sophisticated admin screens, to be a real time saver. I'm calling the journal platform Tatami (or maybe t@tami) after the Japanese straw matting that is a feature of their houses and ryokans. Plus it sounds like "ta ta me"!

Development was done on a $250 netbook running Ubuntu. It was such a pleasure using Linux again after being stuck in Windows land for so long.

Getting the system running on the Webfaction host was a bit of a pain. Somehow, through brute force mainly, I got it operational by yesterday morning.

I managed to add features such as an RSS feed, comments, image uploads, WYWSIWYG editor, nice urls and more. Planned features that I ran out of time to add include searching, faceted search using tags such as location and transport options (I had url issues with these), a better wider header image and improved layout and styling.

The reason I couldn't complete everything before initial release was because I was up against a very fixed deadline. My latest trip, a 10th anniversary holiday in Europe, started yesterday and I haven't brought the Linux netbook with me!

IYou can read about it at allrite@...

Monday, October 03, 2011

Our garden visitor

Look what we found leaving a trail of disturbed woodchips in our front garden.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

iView, therefor iCan't

I'm not certain that my desire for my son to be able to watch ABC television content on the iPad was such a good idea. Last month he used up our 25GB download limit watching ABC for Kids content using the ABC iView application on the iPad. For the last few days of the month we were limited to 64 Kb/s. Time to get some local copies of his favourite programs or do other activities not involving tablet computers.

Star Trek V Expanded Edition Soundtrack

On Friday night B and I sat down to watch the J J Abrams Star Trek reboot movie. It's good escapist fun but a major let down for me was the score. Michael Giacchino's main theme was too unremarkable to join the ranks of previous Star Trek efforts.

The same could not be said of Jerry Goldsmith's score to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. I actually enjoyed the movie when I saw it in the cinema in late 1989, despite the largely negative reviews. Upon watching it again on video the music captured my attention so much that I recorded the entire soundtrack of the video on to audio cassette and made finding the music release a priority.

When I finally obtained the soundtrack I was disappointed to discover the amount of music in the move that was missing from the compact disc. Especially the gorgeous mountain theme and some of the background source music from Paradise City.

Twenty years later and I discover that an expanded edition has recently been released by La La Records, but it's a limited edition of only 5000 copies and I'm too late!

Fortunately, while ordering the Music of America: John Williams (see the comments after the recent John Williams concert entry) I found somebody on Amazon selling the Star Trek V cd. On Saturday I picked it up from the post office.

It's good.

Very good.

I'm happy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The ugly bird

One evening a cockatoo appeared at the kitchen window of our previous house in Menai. He was an ugly bird, bare of many of his feathers, black skin showing. He seemed curious, looking at us through the glass of the window, and we could not help but feel sorry for this unfortunate creature.

Was it a case of mites irritating his skin, driving him to pluck off his feathers? Or a case of OCD? Should we call WIRES? Then he flew off. I thought I saw him once again at the local shopping centre, still alive despite his obvious disability.

The cockatoo's condition remained a mystery until I read an article about Cocky Bennett, a cockatoo who lived to the age of 120 years. Like Cocky Bennett, our ugly bird was probably suffering from Psittacine beak and feather disease, a virus that attacks the feathers, beak and claws of cockatoos and other birds, as well as suppressing their immune systems.

Unfortunately, there is no cure and the bird should have been isolated from its flock.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Sauce of all Evil

I've just restarted "The Sauce of all Evil" where I will post what I hope is a humorous look at life and the news.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Alex's first orchestra - The Music of John Williams

One of my dreams has been to take Alex, who is now 2 years and 9 months, to see and hear a symphony orchestra play live and preferably be playing John Williams. Today my dream came true.

I've been training him from the beginning. Even when he was but a month or two old I would snuggle him in my arms until he fell asleep listening to film music on my stereo. For a long time he wouldn't fall asleep unless there was music. I love nothing more than to lie down for an afternoon nap with him as we listen to random music from my collection over the PC.

In March I flew down to Melbourne for the day to listen to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play the music of John Williams in the Star Wars and Beyond concert at the Town Hall. Unfortunately, the cost would have been too expensive to justify flying Alex and B down as well and risk Alex not lasting for the whole concert. Then last month I noticed an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph at McDonalds of all places for a John Williams concert at the Sydney Opera House. Perfect! I booked us tickets as soon as I could.

Would Alex last the concert? Would he enjoy himself at all? I didn't know, but he's been pretty good on trains and planes. And he was excited too! Just witness the number of times he opened my birthday card to hear the opening bars of Star Wars, and how he identified various tunes when I played them over our sound systems.

The advertisement said that dressing up was encouraged and by that they didn't mean coats and tails. One family were seen walking along Circular Quay with the dad in Superman lycra and the kids in Harry Potter and Jedi costumes. There were the obligatory Stormtroopers guarding the Opera House and the atmosphere for the matinee show was one of family fun rather than classical seriousness.

For the first time we were seated behind the orchestra. It gave a good view of the orchestra, especially the usually obscured percussion section, though I suspect that it may have upset the sound balance a little.

The popular comic Shaun Micallef, dressed in a white suit, provided the introductions. It wasn't that long ago that we saw the conductor, Guy Noble, doing the same thing at another concert - I don't know that Shaun's presence was a necessary gimmick, much as I enjoy his humour.

The concert opened with a rousing Olympic Fanfare, which certainly got Alex enthused. The theme from Lost in Space was thankfully short as it is too obscure for many in the audience: I heard a more extended treatment in Melbourne. Jaws was menacing, but by the dissonant start to Close Encounters of the Third Kind Alex was getting a little whingy. I carried him up to the near empty rear and he soon fell asleep on my shoulder. I was very thankful that I could stay for the entire piece, because that dissonance metamorphoses into a triumphant conclusion that sounds so much better live than in a recording.

I returned to my seat and we lay Alex down over our laps. I really enjoyed ET's Adventures on Earth, despite some curiously lazy, then too fast conducting across the long piece. The Theme from Schindler's List was much better measured and both beautiful and sad with a lovely solo from the first violinist Kirsten Williams.

At the end of each piece Alex stirred with the applause, but he woke up completely for the Raider's March, one of his all time favourites. I was somewhat disappointed with the performance of the horns section throughout the concert as they seemed to lack the necessary agility for some of William's faster passages and twice played very obvious wrong notes. Indeed the brass section often sounded a bit brash. Whether this was an artifact of our location or the Opera House's poor acoustics I'm not certain, but I found the SSO's performance inferior to their Melbourne counterparts.

I had played Alex some Jurassic Park the previous night so that he would recognise it, and he did. Whenever I hear those themes I am returned to the amazement of seeing those giant dinosaurs come alive on the screen. The session ended with the ever exciting Superman. Alex turned to us and said "I like it!", his whole body joining in the rhythm.

There was then a twenty minute break to take him to the heavily utilised toilets and a run around outside, then we returned for the second session. The March from 1941 is a rousing big band piece, but not what I consider William's best music. I didn't realise how complex Hedwig's Theme, from Harry Potter, is until a talk given during the Melbourne concert. It's another that sounds better live than recorded.

My favourite performance came with the concert arrangement of Sayuri's Theme from Memoirs of a Geisha. Just as in Melbourne I was transfixed by the beauty of the music, taken back to 2006 and the scenic Japanese Alps. I'd love to get hold of the concert arrangement, different as it is to anything of the brilliant soundtrack.

By now Alex was getting antsy, unable to sit on the seat for long. He didn't want the second lollipop that we had given him. Fortunately this also marked the beginning of the Star Wars sequence, mostly loud and exciting music with the Main Title, Imperial March, quieter Princess Leia's Theme, jazzy Cantina Band and the Throne Room Finale. I'm not sure he enjoyed Star Wars as much as if it had been played nearer the beginning, but he still listened. He did like the encore of Superman again, joining in the long and loud clapping at the end.

So despite the discouragement of my colleagues, Alex made it through the entire concert! Not only am I very proud of him, I'm also delighted that I could share the music with both he and B.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thanks for the memories Space Shuttle

I remember watching the very first NASA Space Shuttle launch on television back in April 1981. I was almost seven years old. Today marked the final flight of the shuttles. It's sad to see this magnificent, but flawed, vehicle retire, especially when the US has no replacement.

It felt funny visiting the Powerhouse Museum last Sunday and seeing the mock Shuttle cockpit standing over the other displays of space paraphernalia, knowing that Atlantis was up above the Earth on its final mission.

I hope we never stop gazing upwards.

The launch of Columbia on the very first shuttle mission © NASA

Atlantis lands on the last mission © NASA

Atlantis on its final mission as seen from the
CSIRO Parkes Radiotelescope
© John Sarkissian/CSIRO

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I'd rather a robot than a dumb model: Android vs iPad 2

I bought my wife a Android tablet for her birthday. Then I had to take it back and replace it with an Apple iPad 2. It should have been the other way around.

I have to admit that, when I visited JB HiFi (I had a voucher), the iPad 2 felt so much sexier in my hands than the Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet. It was light, sleek and responsive. If I had a choice of which one to take on the train every day the iPad would win hands down. But I was purchasing a wifi only tablet to replace a heavy notebook PC that sits beside the bed and occasionally makes it to the kitchen to display recipes.

B wants to

  1. View websites
  2. Check her Gmail account
  3. See photos
  4. Play basic games
How do the two tablets stack up? Well, I never got to use the Iconia, but I did check the specs and I own an Android phone (HTC Desire).

1. View websites

I've read that some websites automatically serve mobile pages to all Android devices, regardless of whether they are tablets or phones, while iPads are often treated separately to iPhones. However, I've had few problems with websites on my HTC Desire. I really like the common url/search functionality of the address bar, a feature it shares with Google's Chrome browser, and I believe that in the tablet version it has tabbed browsing, a must-have for me. The phone and the iPad share a "new window" system.

Where the iPad really falls over is in the lack of Adobe Flash support. B can't view things like Masterchef videos, Sydney Morning Herald videos, the ABC for Kids website, all things that would be really useful from a tablet.

I have no such issues from my Desire and often content displays better than on my Intel Atom based netbook. I can amuse Alex with a Playschool episode in the car thanks to the Flash support on Android.

2. Check Gmail

Considering that both Android and Gmail are Google products you'd expect that they would be better on the Android tablet. I have no real quibble yet with the iPad mail client, but I do like the Android notifications system and the ability to put widgets on your home screen so you could easily check email without needing to open a dedicated client. Plus Android supports Google Talk - good for when we are apart.

3. See photos

The Iconia offers Acer's Clear-fi DLNA client out of the box, and all our photos are available from a DLNA enabled networked hard disk. My Windows computers can view them, my phone (with Twonky Media installed) can view them, my Playstation 3 can view them, one of my televisions can view them, my digital photo frame can view them. Like my phone, the iPad requires the downloading of a third-party DLNA client (though I believe that newer versions of various Android phones have this feature included).

Where the Iconia comes into its own is the ability to mount an external USB drive through the USB host socket. It also has a mini-SD socket and presumably you could mount full SD cards it you attached a card reader to the USB socket. Photos, music and files can then be transferred using a simple file explorer rather than going through iTunes. More on that later.

4. Play games

The iPad probably has the edge here thanks to the number of applications available through the Apps Store. There are still plenty of games for Android, enough to keep her happy I'm sure.

Other comments

The need to use iTunes with the iPad really irritates me. I have other Apple software installed and their constant updates are a real pain. I just want to drag and drop files from any computer or device I care to hook the iPad into, not go through an overblown program. The iTunes account sign up process also feels like an invasion of privacy.

The Iconia offered flexibility and I could see it largely replacing a laptop, especially if using an external keyboard for faster typing. The ability to plug in external devices would be great for travel, where you may not have access to a PC running iTunes.

I love the ability to use widgets on the home screen of Android devices. They are great for checking Twitter posts, RSS feeds and email. The iPad screen is really just icons.

Using the iPad 2 feels like you are constrained to do everything the Apple way and it's irritating how many want to slavishly follow them. I'd rather freedom.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

There's a duck in my bed

"Quack quack!" said Alex, as he slept beside me. "Quack quack!"

I think he was asleep. Or maybe he just wanted to make me laugh before returning to sleep this morning.

Sleeping in is such a wonderful thing.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Changing the thumbnail layout in Plone

I had a lot of trouble searching for the simple task of changing the number of thumbnail images displayed on a page by Plone 3. The answer is to go into the Zope Management Interface (ZMI) and change portal_skins/ATContentTypes/atct_album_view .

Click on the Customize button, then replace the number 12 with the number of thumbnails per page that you want to display in the line:

batch python:Batch(images, 12, int(b_start), orphan=1)">

Reload the page.

Thanks to Mike Takahashi's post here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I have my Desire back

I lost my Desire for a while. We tried to work together, but our time was constantly aborted and we had from scratch anew. Now my Desire has a new heart, but at least most of our memories are the same. Oh Desire, how I missed you!

I am, of course, talking about my HTC Desire Android phone. It was constantly rebooting so I took it into the Telstra shop for a warranty repair. It was returned yesterday with a new motherboard, as expected. From what I have read it's a manufacturing flaw that has affected many of the phones.

I really did miss the constant internet access, as well as the 15 Gigs worth of music on the phone. Still, my old Sony Ericsson w705 worked admirably well as a phone and music player in the meantime.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Like father, like son

I'm was very proud of Alex today. When I picked him up the class was playing cricket and he wanted to play too. Then he told me that he wanted to fly in a plane. The free newspaper on the train had a photo of the latest Dr Who, Matt Smith, attending a premier with Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond. Alex immediately recognised them as the Doctor and Amy, despite not being dressed in character. (Matt  Smith had an ordinary tie, not a bow tie. I thought bow ties were "cool"!)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A new superhero

I have been inspired by the events in Japan to create a new superhero.

Our mild-mannered, slightly nerdy, protagonist is freakishly exposed to a blast of radiation. His skin tingles, his hair falls out, he starts shaking uncontrollably. He becomes...

... Dead.

This, of course, sets things up for a sequel, where a mysterious voodoo priest digs him out of the ground and turns him into a Super Zombie. By day he is a writer for News Corp's Daily Telegraph, eating out his reader's brains, an unsatisfying task considering the small size of them. At night... Well, you will need to buy the comic book for that.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Beauty is in the processor of the camera

As I predicted would happen to digital cameras, Panasonic's new FX-78 model includes a recording mode to deemphasise skin blemishes and a retouch function which includes teeth whitening and various cosmetics application to the photo.

How long until an automatic version of this is made compulsory for all paparazzi cameras?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Stand up for an ignorant Australia

I hate Australian politics, but at least it's better than Libya's right now. Here's a song for Tony Abbott's next election campaign.

Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

A place where all our wealth
Comes from digging up the earth
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Workers rights are out the door
Big business always needs more
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Your income will be free
To pay all of Mac Bank’s fees
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For in Ignorant Australia

Where watching a Current Affair
Will fill your head with hot air
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Say no to the married gay
Let the church have its way
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

It was hotter in Jesus’ day
If you’re flooded then kneel and pray
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

If it’s green then cut it down
We prefer the colour brown
[Unless his name is Bob]
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Better for you to be dead
Than be called a tech head
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Say no to an NBN
What’s wrong with a ballpoint pen?
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Never having to say sorry
We’ll rewrite history, don’t you worry
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

We’ll stop the boats
Of terrorists and their goats
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Our border cops will stop the lot
Send them back to be shot
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Except for Pommies, they’re just fine
Although they gave us Bodyline
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

We support the rights
Of all our frightened whites
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Our policies come from Alan Jones
And his callers on the phones
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

All that you need to know
Is tucked up inside my Speedos
Stand up for an ignorant Australia
Stand up! For an Ignorant Australia

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sleepy fish

An Alex update. Lying in bed with a sick kid asleep on my shoulder. At least it's a chance to relax and listen to music; I love relaxing with him.

He continues to amaze. On Saturday, with his "bubble" floats off he began kicking off the wall and swimming back, dipping his face into the water and back up again. The instructor was very impressed, as were we. The backyard pool may be too much work and waste energy and water, but it certainly has its uses!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Apple delivers again

So Steve Jobs is off for medical reasons again...

A little known feature of the iPhone is the built in genetic sampler. Each person who swipes their finger over the screen gets their genetic code read and sent back to Apple's HQ. There it is compared with that of Steve Jobs'.

Nobody reads software licenses, they just accept them. Someone out there has already received that special message from Steve, having accepted it before they even received it in their inbox. It reads "Give me your liver."

The sad thing is, they'll probably feel that warm inner glow of an Apple user even as the knife goes in, smug in their certainty that Apple knows best and that surely it doesn't matter if they are missing a liver, there'll be an app for that.

They have no choice.

That's why I use Android.

Update: I posted this in another (non Apple) forum and had my post very quickly deleted by a moderator. Proof  (in my own mind) that the Church of Apple brooks no blasphemers and certainly lacks a sense of humour when it comes to their pro[fi|phe]t. I'm laughing at them now. :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

100 Famous Views of Edo

While browsing the Kinokuniya bookshop in Sydney I was taken with the Taschen publication of Hiroshige's 100 Famous Views of Edo. These are gorgeous woodblock prints of famous sights in Edo (now Tokyo) during the mid 1800's. You can see poorer quality copies of the 100 views online along with his other works (above image courtesy of the site).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Floods and fire

Seventy five percent of Queensland is currently flood affected. That's a staggering amount. The footage of the torrents of water that passed through Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley is terrifying and my heart goes out to those who have experienced loss.

I have family up in Central Queensland. My sister in Rockhampton has told me that she's not directly affected and my Mum's major problem is that the airport is shut and she can't return from her holiday in Sydney! I've not been in Rocky during a major flood, managing to just escape on possibly the last flight during the 1991 event.

Flooding has not just been restricted to Queensland. Some of the regions we passed through during our post Christmas trip to Melbourne had seen the Murrumbidgee and other rivers break their banks, leave fences filled with debris and pools of water where none usually sit.

It's difficult to believe how the country was only just gripped by a huge drought, but these cycles of drought and flood are common in Australia. 2009's Black Saturday bushfires and dust storm in Sydney were eerily familiar from living in Melbourne during 1983. The summer of 1983-84 saw flooding in Victoria and probably elsewhere. I can remember that we couldn't retrieve our caravan from storage near Geelong because the Werribee river was flooded, blocking our route.

It's the cycle of El Nino and La Nina and it's part of Australia's (and the world's) climate. In my relatively short lifetime it feels like good farming conditions are an aberration rather than the norm and that farmers need to plan for the tough years rather than relying on assistance with an expectation of good conditions. The good farmers already do, I'm sure.

The scary thing is climate change causing more frequent extreme weather events and the climate seeks a new equilibrium (a dynamic one at that). Furthermore, more atmospheric heat means greater energy pumped into the system. Be prepared and be scared!

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