Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making Robots Harder To Kill

In researching robotics for the eventual War With The Machines, a team of scientists have successfully built a robot that can learn how to walk after losing one of its legs.  Click here for the story.

We're already going to have zombies to deal with, now zombie robots.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sometimes You Just Want To Type Ředkvička

With the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.0, I decided it was time to do a clean install on my workstation at the office.  This system started life with RHEL-5 of some variety and has received manual updates over the years eventually resulting in something that claims to be RHEL-6, but it's really not.  I can't install any standard RHEL packages.  I have to install everything by hand.  And /usr/local was getting a bit crowded.

So it was time for a reinstall.

After backing up data and rearranging where /home sits (wanted it on the largest physical disk), I started up the familiar installation program.  In a short amount of time, I was up and running with a new RHEL-7 system.  Now to configure it.

I am trying to run as much of a stock RHEL-7 configuration as possible so I can get daily usage out of the product we ship to customers.  It came as no surprise that I only needed to make minimal configuration changes.  Basically everything worked out of the box and I only needed to configure some internal repos we have for yum and site-specific things.  But that doesn't mean I found some things difficult or just not the way I like them.  With Ryan Lerch's help, I was able to get around the most annoying problems:
  1. The desktop I saw when I logged in was littered with everything in my home directory.  That's my own doing, but I miss the days where we had a separate Desktop/ subdirectory for the things you wanted to see on your desktop vs. in your command line environment.  Minor gripe, but it served as a good excuse to clean house.

  2. I do not like the default terminal color scheme.  I do not like the white background.  Easy enough to change.

  3. I absolutely cannot work without sloppy focus for windows.  Ryan Lerch helped here.  Got Tweak Tool up and the right extension installed and was able to toggle sloppy focus on.  This setting is a bit too buried for my liking, but that's ok I guess.  In terms of functionality, it's not quite right.  There is a brief pause between windows gaining focus.  It has taken some getting used to.

  4. I wanted a different window decoration theme but couldn't figure out how to easily change that.  Gave up.

  5. Failed to install a GNOME extension to display weather information.  Tracked down to not having the gnome-shell-browser-plugin installed.  The site could suggest that as something to check on your system rather than just saying it doesn't know what you're running.

  6. I'm not a big fan of the default Cantarell font.  The name is way too similar to my last name and it's not a great font.  Ryan Lerch suggested the Droid Sans fonts, which I switched over to with his help.  This was a direct css hack that will no doubt be lost when I upgrade this system.  I made a backup copy of the original and left a note for myself, but that still doesn't mean I won't lose it during an upgrade.

  7. The window title of the application in focus is displayed on the menu/status/whatever bar at the top of the screen.  The default mode shows an oversized watermark of an icon behind the title in the bar.  The image extends to the edges of the bar and looks incomplete and makes the window title difficult to read.  I've seen this for a while and to me it just looks like a display error.  Example:
    The image appearing behind the word Calculator is hard to read.  For me anyway.  Ryan Lerch helped me modify the CSS file directly to disable this.  Might be nice to have an extension to turn off the image more easily.
But my biggest gripe has been with the keyboard layout configuration.  I have tried numerous ways to configure the US International AltGr variant layout and nothing sticks.  I used to just run setxkbmap as part of my session init script, but that does not work.  Through trial and error, I learned that GNOME uses ibus for input settings.  Once I disabled that, my Xkb settings were honored.  Here's what I did:
  • As root, run something like this:
    localectl set-x11-keymap us pc104 altgr-intl lv3:ralt_switch,compose:caps
  • Run localectl again to verify the settings.
  • Now run this as your normal user account (I assume you are logged in to GNOME):
    gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.keyboard active false
  • Log out and log back in.
  • Verify you can type characters using the us altgr-intl layout.
Searching online showed multiple recommendations for leaving ibus in place and just disabling it.  So I did that.

And so far my keyboard settings have survived logouts and reboots.  If there is a better way to get this configuration layout, let me know.  I did try using the control center Input Sources thing to change the settings, but it does not offer this level of configuration.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What Is It Like to Have Some Form of Colorblindness

I've been colorblind my entire life and it's not really a severe problem, it just means some things will be more annoying to you than to other people.  Coloring assignments in elementary school were annoying, as were really anything that required coloring.  I read the labels on crayons and markers.

Color-coded systems are also frustrating, which is why color should always supplement some other system whenever possible.  It's not always possible and sometimes color just makes sense.  Airports are marked with rotating green lights.  Ships mark their port and starboard sides using colored lights.  And of course, the question I get most often, we have red and green traffic lights.  So how can I see those?  I don't know, I didn't make my eyes, but I do know that I can pass the vision test at the RMV and that I've never caused a wreck and I've been driving for 19 years.

It is extremely difficult for me to drive at night because stale green traffic lights look exactly like sodium vapor street lamps and oncoming vehicle headlamps.  Local roads at night are most frustrating.  If I have to drive at night, I prefer controlled access roads.  But then again, I just avoid driving long distances at night.

I dislike those high intensity discharge headlamps that BMW and other manufacturers started using.  I also dislike it when people remove tail light lenses and replace them with clear lenses.  You start making everything look the same.  At least give me a fighting chance!

This is a really common image that shows up to describe to people what it's like to have forms of colorblindness.  It's ok, but not great.  People need a better example with a wider range of colors.  And I found site that does a good demonstration.

Colour Blindness Simulator

Upload a JPEG image not larger than 100k and 1000x1000 or lower in resolution and it can convert it to provide a reasonable demonstration for protanopia, dueteranopia, or tritanopia.  I tested it using a recent picture of our daughter.

Original Image

How I See It

And there it is.  I asked Karen to look at it and see if it looked different.  She said it did, so hopefully I saved the right images here because they look the same to me.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Road Has Been Removed

What happens immediately after you buy a new car?  Of course it rains, but in my case the city comes by and removes your road.  Our street was removed this week so they could grade and resurface.  This was planned and we knew about it, but when exactly it was going to happen was unknown.

Supposedly today they are repaving and it will be done at 4pm.  I don't know.  Right now it's raining.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New Car

Last week I took delivery of a 2015 Subaru Forester - Premium edition with all-weather package (do not let the name confuse you, the Premium edition is one step up from the base model and there are five or six trim levels).

I had been growing concerned with my 2012 Ford Focus.  The Focus replaced my 2004 Jetta GLI.  The Jetta was purchased new in Georgia and made its way to New England and eventually Hawaii where it enjoyed nearly four years of mothball status before being called up to service to move Karen and I from Seattle to Boston.  Putting less than 3200 km (roughly 2000 miles) a year on the car in Hawaii and then suddenly driving it across the country did a number on the car.  It wasn't long after being back in New England that breakdowns started happening.  Not wanting to play that game, I got rid of it and got a new Ford Focus.

The Focus looked like a nice replacement.  I did not want another VW and the Focus was at a price point I liked.  But I got the SEL trim level which came with nearly every feature and option available, including the parking assist feature which happily backed the car in to another while parallel parking.  The Microsoft SYNC system was also somewhat frustrating, needing updates and attention more than any of my other computers.  But that was all cosmetic.  What I really disliked was the transmission.  The Focus has a dual clutch transmission.

My guess is that Ford was trying to simplify the car and make it more fuel efficient for the most common driving cases.  That's fine, but this transmission is terrible for city driving.  It is fantastic if you get it on the highway and do highway speed.  Well, not fantastic, but you can tell that's how it expects to be driven.  When driving in stop and go city traffic, it doesn't quite know when and how to shift.  You end up having the car lurch at times, downshifting or upshifting when it thinks it should.  City driving here also means any non-highway driving.  It should really be called local driving.  Variable speeds, stop signs, rolling stops, yield signs, parking lots, and so on.

I took the Focus in for service a few times to see if they could do anything about the transmission issue.  All I got were factory reset to defaults -and- apologies from the mechanics saying they knew what I was talking about but they couldn't change anything.  They also said that Ford probably should not have marketed it as a city driving car.

Winter driving was especially challenging for the Focus and I decided that it just wasn't going to be a good car to keep for a long time.   I settled on a Subaru Forester.  I've never owned a Subaru and I am really not a fan of the Outback, but I decided to try the Forester.

The negative reviews I found for the Forester were around cosmetic nonsense on the interior, highend features like X-MODE or EyeSight, or the fact that the vehicle comes with a CVT.  Car people seem to really dislike CVTs.  Whatever.

The 2015 models were on the way when I was looking at the Forester, so I decided to put a deposit on one and wait for delivery.  I put a deposit on the car on March 26 and I got it April 30.  Considering it's manufactured in Japan and enters the US via Rhode Island, I think that's pretty good.

It's been almost a week with the new Forester and I have to say that I like it a lot.  Those who know me know that I'm probably going to cram a bunch of ham radio gear in the car and I'm to say, that's true!  Here's what I have planned:
  • The dash has a double DIN mounting area for stereo equipment.  I'm going to remove the double DIN sized factory stereo and replace it with an aftermarket Kenwood stereo and my Uniden scanner.
  • With that mounting scenario I can wire the scanner to the car stereo and car antenna.
  • There is a little cubby area below the air conditioner controls that is perfectly sized for a two-way radio.  I am planning on a Kenwood TM-281A there because it has a front mounted speaker, avoiding the need for another speaker.
  • I have a luggage rack now so I can install a luggage rack antenna mount for the VHF antenna.
If this all goes according to plan, I will only need to run one power line to the battery, one power line to the fuse box (for the scanner, not the two-way radio), and one coax line for the VHF antenna.  We'll see.  Once you pry the dash off, you usually find some surprises.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Red Hat Summit 2014 Has Come and Gone

That was a busy week. I worked all days at the event. Demonstrations in the Infrastructure pod in the Red Hat booth, session presentations, and the ever popular and always busy "hallway track". I also had a 3 hour volunteer shift helping out in the Staples-run Red Hat Cool Stuff Store.

I've been to a lot of Red Hat Summits. The conference has changed a lot over the years and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. The really interesting thing to me is the energy level among all present. Closing in on my 10th year at Red Hat has exposed me to many different projects and products at the company. Some work and continue to grow, others not so much. It is interesting to see each year at the Summit.

The Summit this year was in San Francisco (a city and county known to the state of California to cause cancer, proposition 65 warning). Back in 1998 I started making regular trips to San Francisco when I was working for a small company called Walnut Creek CDROM. I worked on the Slackware Linux project and the timing of this work happened to be around the dot com bubble of the Bay Area. I moved out to California at the end of 1999 and left in the summer of 2001. It was a short but interesting time in my career.

I was 19 when I started working with Walnut Creek CDROM and I was 20 when I moved out there. Going back there now at the age of 35, I have a much different view of the place and industry. I moved out of California about 13 years ago and was last there for a conference 11 years ago. Some things have changed and some things hadn't. Here's what I noticed:
  • You still see the silly looking mountain side sign for South San Francisco when leaving the airport.
  • BART goes to the airport.  When I lived out there the closest you could get was Daly City.  Then you got on a samTrans bus.
  • I didn't see the big giant YAHOO! billboard from the highway, but I may not have been close to it.  (Oh, I guess this is why.)
  • The Bay Bridge toll was $6.  It was $2 when I lived out there.
  • Starbucks density rivals Boston's Dunkin Donuts density.
  • There are entirely too many Walgreens locations downtown.  Replace the signs with Duane Reade and it'd feel like New York City in some locations.
  • Proposition 65 warning signs on every. single. thing. ever.
  • Cable cars still have a huge line for tourists.
  • The Sony Metreon is now just a big giant Target.  With a Starbucks.  The theater is run by AMC.
  • San Francisco still has a huge homeless population.
  • Single use shopping bags now have a city-imposed 10 cent charge.
Rasputin is still around and I made a stop in there and did buy some stuff.  They still sell used VHS tapes and laser discs, which is awesome.

It being a work trip, I didn't have a lot of time to run around.  At some point in the future, I imagine we'll head out there on a non-work trip.  Karen has never been and would like to see it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How It's Made: Vaginas

"Vaginas grown in a lab from the recipients' own cells have been successfully transferred to the body for the first time," says this article.