Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Duplicate vs. Replacement

My drivers license qualifies as a government-issued photo ID card so that I am allowed to go through TSA at airports. TSA scrutinizes all IDs that pass in front of them and it was mentioned to me at one point that the corner of my license has laminate peeling off and that might cause some TSA workers to not accept the ID. When I could, I should get a replacement license.

I did that today. Before going to the DMV, I checked the web site to see what I needed to bring. The web site explained that duplicate licenses cost $5. I thought that having a duplicate might be a good idea. Keep it with my important documents should my wallet decide to spontaneously combust or end up in the hands of someone who shouldn't have it.

I went to the DMV and was pleased that no one was there in line. I went straight to the window. I explained the laminate was starting to peel off and TSA tipped me off that I should get this fixed so they don't hassle me at airports. The clerk said no problem and told me to go wait by the cashier for my name to be called. She took my old license.

Before going over to the cashier, I asked for a duplicate as well since those are only $5. She looked a bit confused and told me that's what she was doing. I explained that I wanted my current license replaced, but a duplicate as well since it would be handy to have a backup copy of my license. She said that I can only have one duplicate. I said, "right, replace my current license and give me a duplicate." The clerk next to her chimed in after a while and explained that a duplicate is a replacement.

No it's not.

I asked how I can get a duplicate. I mentioned the FAQ says I can get one and it's $5. They told me that's for lost, stolen, or damaged licenses. I said, "so it's really a replacement then?"


Yes, I am confused by this poor word choice. Using duplicate in this context is ok since my new license is an exact copy of what I had, but the FAQ needs to be more clear. The context implies that you can get a duplicate of your license for $5. Maybe replacement is even a poor word, but it would have made it more clear. What they really meant to say is:
If your license is lost, stolen, or damaged, a duplicate can be issued to you for $5. If you have your damaged license, you must surrender it to receive the new license. If you wish to make any changes to the information on your license at this time, regular processing fees apply.
Now, after all of that, they didn't even charge me the $5 processing fee. Score!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Regions Bank Sucks

That title should drive Google search results high. I hope that someone at Regions customer service finds this post and is able to make some changes at the bank. I cannot believe how hard it was to change one piece of information on my loan account.

Back in 2004 I bought a car in Marietta, GA. I financed the car and the financial department at the dealership offered me 3 different loans. One was from a bank I had never heard of, but its interest rate was really high. The second one was through Audi Financing. But the best interest rate came from another bank I had never heard of called AmSouth. I thought, "well, it's just the car loan. who cares what bank has it?" I went with AmSouth at 5.9% interest.

Shortly after, I received an envelope in the mail from AmSouth that included a bunch of paperwork as well as a loan coupon book to start paying back this loan. Each month, I would write a check and tear out the coupon and mail it to a PO Box in Birmingham, Alabama.

In the front of the coupon book was a slip of paper that had this text on it (or close to it):
Want to save a stamp?

Fill out this form and include it with your next payment to set up automatic draft payments from your checking account. Your loan payments will come out on the due date and you won't have to worry about mailing it in each time.

Routing Number:___________________________
Account Number:___________________________
So I filled it out and sent it in with the next payment. Each month on the 17th, they draft my account for the loan payment amount and I don't have to worry about it. This little form was all they wanted to set up the automatic monthly draft payment.

Sometime after setting this up, AmSouth was acquired or merged with Regions Bank and became the new Regions Bank. My automatic payments come from REGIONS now instead of AMSOUTH when I look at my statements.

Skip to now. I have been moving my checking account over to ING Direct, which means updating things that are automatically paid from my account. The most important thing is the car payment, but it's been the most difficult thing to take care of.

Last week I called Regions customer service and was greeted by a recording that said they are closed. Call back between 5 AM and 7 PM Central time to speak with a representative.

I called back the next day and got a representative. I explained that I was moving my checking account and needed to change the account they were drafting from for my loan payment. Looking back on the call now, I think the guy was confused because he was probably thinking my checking account had been at Regions (I've never had anything at their bank, except this car loan). He told me he can't do that on the phone, I would have to come in to a branch. I said I live in Hawaii and that's not really possible so he then asked why I was living in Hawaii. Way to stay focused. He said he would have to mail me a form that I could fill out and send back to Regions to change the draft authorization. I asked if there was a faster way and he said he could fax m the form, so I gave him my fax number.

After waiting two days, nothing showed up. I was expecting the fax, but even now, more than a week later, nothing has arrived via mail. I called back.

I had to explain the entire situation again, the representative apologized and put in another request for the form to be faxed and mailed. I asked if there was any way to verify that it had been sent. She said, "no, you'll just have to wait."

Waiting a day, no fax. I call back and say this is now my third time calling asking for this form. The guy apologizes and says he'll make sure the request goes through. I'm on hold for a while and he comes back and says it went through.

Waited until today and nothing has shown up. I call back, this is now the fourth time. I get some lady in the Memphis call center. She is totally confused by this request. She first tells me I have to change it with my bank. What? No, you guys are the ones who are taking money from my account. You are who I sent the form to anyway. I explain it again and she gets it (I think). She does say that the form has to be sent to me by mail or fax. I explain that I've requested that three times now over the past week and nothing has arrived. She apologizes and says she will verify it went through. OK, sure. She does that and then tells me that if it doesn't arrive in 20 minutes to call back and ask for her and she'll see what's up. OK, I can do that.

30 minutes later, I call back. I get some lady and ask to speak to who I was speaking to before. The new lady kindly informs me that Regions has NO WAY to transfer calls between call centers or operators. Huhwha? Why did the Memphis lady tell me that? The new lady also goes on to tell me that a form request like that takes 24 hours, not 20 minutes. Is the Memphis lady or the new lady correct? What's going on here? New lady also empathizes with me telling me she used to live in St. Something and knows how difficult it is when you live outside of the states (NEWS FLASH 1959: HAWAII IS NOW A STATE!). I say that Hawaii is a state and she says, "I know, and I lived in a territory." But I think you missed my point.

Basically this call goes nowhere. While on hold at some point, I look up Regions branches that might be close to my parents because I will be visiting them in a couple of weeks. There is one a few miles away. I ask if I can take care of this request at a branch (remember on calls 1, 2, and 3, they told me to go to a branch) and she tells me that the branches have the same level of authority as the phone bankers and they won't be able to do any more for me. So basically I'm stuck. There's no way for me to update the account on the draft.

I decide to try a different angle. I ask if I can discontinue the automatic draft payments. Can she do that for me over the phone? She tells me that doing that will require mailing or faxing me a form that I will need to fill out and get notarized. WHAT? She tells me it's for security reasons. But the form I used to start the draft was nothing like that. Why all these hoops now?

She does tell me she can put a stop on the draft payments for 6 months, but that will cost me $36. WHAT? What are you even talking about now?

She puts me on hold again and somehow the call gets dropped. Ooops. I guess she was getting tired of talking to me.

I call back, now the sixth time. I get a guy this time and explain the entire situation over again. I decide to skip the part about changing the account they are drafting from. I just want to stop the draft payments. Just let me mail in paper checks from now on. Is that even possible? To my surprise he says yes. He has the form, fills it out, asks what effective date I want, and puts in an order for a new loan coupon book to be mailed to me (but, as previously established, Regions is incapable of mailing things).

It took six calls and hours of wasted time. What you just read was the summary. I do not understand why Regions is this way. I have only ever dealt with the telephone bankers and I have only ever had this loan account with them, but if the branches are anything like the phone service, I can't imagine ever considering banking there.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Become a Hater Of

Dear Facebook,

Facebook is a huge waste of time, but I still look at it. I read the things people post and the things people become fans of and the pictures they tag themselves in. WHY? None of this is at all useful to me. Why is it so captivating?

The 'Become a fan' thing on Facebook is somewhat interesting to me. For example, I can become a fan of Linux (which I am) and then everyone who has friended me on Facebook will know that I am a fan of Linux. Again, complete waste of time because everyone I have friended on Facebok, except for childhood friends who I've found again, probably knows I already like Linux. And even if you don't, you can see where I work and probably deduce that I like Linux more than I dislike it.

You can look at my list of Pages and see which ones I have become fans of. I am a fan of Chick-Fil-A, xkcd, Linux, LEGO, They Might Be Giants... the list goes on.

But in order to build a good representation of the type of person you are, I think Facebook should offer a system that is the opposite of becoming a fan of something. I want to build a list of things I hate. On the main page when I see one of my friends become a fan of, say, mayonnaise, I can turn around and add that to my hate list. David hates mayonnaise.

And making a group on Facebook and setting the title to "People who hate George W. Bush" or something stupid like that and then having everyone become a fan of that group is not the same thing as I want. Give me a little link called Hate and put it right under the Become a fan link.

Facebook, please make this happen as it will help me continue to waste time on a daily basis.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Changing Banks and Other

I've been needing a local bank account for a while now. The only checks I write are for rent and the people who get that check really don't like the fact that my checks are drawn on a credit union based in Massachusetts. To me, it doesn't matter. The checks go through and I have a Visa check card and since life takes Visa, I don't care where my money is stored.

I asked our property management company if I could set up an EFT or draft or whatever it's called for rent. They said no and I looked around their office and noticed there only stacks of paper. No computers. No calculators. Not even file cabinets. Just stacks. Nothing modern could be found. I figured they had their ways set in stone, so I wasn't going to push the issue.

On a couple of other occassions, they reminded me that I should have a local bank account for rent and utilities. I guess they have to wait a while for my check to clear and they don't like that. In an effort to stay on their good side, I put a note on my mental to do list to get a Hawaii bank account somewhere. Then I never got around to actually doing it.

Until recently. ING Direct opened a cafe (not a branch) in Waikiki recently and it got me thinking about getting that local account. I went to investigate at the cafe.

The cafe is sort of like a StarBucks and a ING Direct logo store. You cannot do any banking with a person here because ING Direct is all online. They do have free Internet and computers you can use to log in and bank at ingdirect.com. I asked how many people in Hawaii use ING Direct and they said over 25000 just on this island. But it's not a Hawaii bank, obviously. However, much like people here think that Long's is from Hawaii1, people think ING Direct is from Hawaii or either heavily invested in Hawaii. The rent people like it. Haha, fooled them.

So I opened an Orange Savings account and an Electric Orange checking account. Now I just need to get my paychecks to start going there and then get EFTs moved over to there. I didn't stop to think when I was doing all of this: DECEMBER! Worst month to be changing banks. Why didn't I think this through?

And speaking of thinking things through, I need to borrow a place to cut some wood, sand it, and paint it. Maybe a corner of your backyard for some hours? I can offer beer, booze, other drinks, food? This is a problem with living in Waikiki...I have no yard or garage. I know one person in Honolulu with a house and he lives in Ewa and he works on the weekends, so that doesn't really work for me. I also know that Jorge Garcia has a house because he blogs about it a lot, but (a) I don't know him, I only pointed at him at Whole Foods and then blogged about it and (b) I doubt I could use his backyard.

I don't even have a common yard at my condo building I can use! All I want to do is cut a a 14"x16" piece of wood, sand it, and paint it.

Karen and I have not yet gotten our xmas tree, but we have decorated some. More accurately, Karen has decorated and I have observed. But observing is a critical piece of the decorating process.

Oh, and if anyone reading this wants to lend me some space for this random project, please email me rather than posting a comment. Pull up my blogger profile to get my email address. That's the View my complete profile link under my picture on the right.

1 http://archives.starbulletin.com/2008/08/13/business/story01.html

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Car Stuff

Today I got a new safety inspection done on the car because mine expires every December. I also took the opportunity to get an oil change and fluid check done. The last time I had that done was March or something like that.

Most states that do safety inspections or inspections on vehicles tie them to the birth month of the registered owner, much like the vehicle registration. Makes sense because then you just do all the car stuff one month each year. My birth month is March, but my Hawaii inspection expires every December. Why? That's when I got the first inspection done when I moved here. Hawaii inspections are done on all vehicles that operate in the state, even ones not registered in Hawaii (for example, military people can bring their cars here and keep them registered in their official state of residence, but they still have to get a Hawaii vehicle inspection). Because of that, the inspections aren't really tied to anything but themselves. Get one whenever, just every year.

I'm looking at the original inspection paperwork and it says I had 60530 miles (97414 km) on the car when I moved here. When the inspection was done today, the new mileage reading was 62837 (101126 km). That's right, I've only put 2307 miles (3712 km) on the car in the year we've been living in Hawaii.

There's just no where to go. We took the car to Maui and drove the road to Hana. I've driven around the island many times. But most of the driving is around downtown Honolulu and Waikiki.

I think I will be taking the car out more to run it up to full speed, which I can do on H-3, then turn around and come back.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tilted Twister

Probably the coolest thing I've seen built with the Lego Mindstorms NXT set. The builder has posted source code, building instructions, and a 3 minute video of his Tilted Twister solving a Rubik's Cube:

Information is available at tiltedtwister.com.

Friday, December 5, 2008


The last townhall meeting for the Fedora Board elections was held today on #fedora-townhall. It occurred at 5:00 AM in my time zone, which is a bit too early for me to be coherent, so I was not present for that debate.

If anyone has any questions for me, email me or find me on IRC.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fantastic Day For Fedora

Today is one of the most exciting development days for me ever on Fedora. Why?

libdhcp has been removed from the distribution.

It no longer exists. It's a dead.package. Likewise, libdhcp4client and libdhcp6client are gone since they only ever existed for libdhcp. It took too long to get rid of these, but whatever, they are gone now.

Any bugs opened against libdhcp will be marked as CLOSED WONTFIX (because we don't have CLOSED DONTCARE).

That is all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Assortment of Updates

I've been busy. That's the usual excuse that people use when they haven't posted to their blogs. Yes, I've been busy, but more importantly I haven't been able to come up with a good topic in a while. So, here's a collection of updates (sort of like a sitcom clip show).
  • Fedora 10 is done. Mirrors are syncing up and users will soon be able to get the 10th release of Fedora Linux from their favorite and/or fastest mirror. A lot has gone in to Fedora 10 and I am pleased to say that it looks really good. I hope users find it nice as well. It's quite nice knowing that we finally reached the end of F-10 development. Of course, F-11 development is right around the corner, but it's nice to give users something new to use.
  • The revenue product is also nearing a point release in the v5 series. It's also looking nice as well. My team (installer) had a lot of work to, as usual, but I think for each point release we are converging on stability. That is, the number of bugs reported continues to decrease with each point release. To me that means we are doing right somewhere.
  • Chris and I are busy working on new Python bindings for libparted. There have been several iterations of Python bindings for libparted in the past, but we are doing a complete rewrite from scratch and implementing everything available in libparted and adding things that we can benefit from in Python (e.g., exceptions). It's a really fun project because it's totally new code for once. Expect a Trac page on fedorahosted.org for this project once we get to a dot zero release. For now, you can get the code from here.
  • I was nominated for the Fedora Board.
Those are all work updates, what about non-work?
  • I think I posted about this, but what the hell. I saved a ton of money by switching to GEICO.
  • Speaking of GEICO, a gecko got in to our condo the other day. We haven't found him.
  • I got a refill for my prescription today and noticed they gave me a generic medication. This alarmed me as I know my particular medication has a patent protecting Big Giant DrugCo and ensuring their massive profits until at least 2010. If they gave me a generic, that means they didn't give me what I needed. Going back to the pharmacy, I was told by the pharmacist that there is, in fact, a generic for my medication and it became available within the past few weeks. Preferring to talk to my doctor first, I asked for the actual brand. Changing seizure disorder drugs midstream is not trivial. It's probably not a generic, but a reasonable substitute for most people (since my medication is patented). Reasonable substitute means jack when you talk about seizure disorder drugs.
  • I broke a handle on one of our jalousie windows a few days ago and got the part to repair it today. $8.49 at City Mill.
  • Speaking of breaking things, I was trying to rebuild Karen's mom's Windows desktop computer. Upgraded the RAM to make Windows drag along a little faster, but during the course of working on it, the NIC died (rust in the RJ-45 port) and the power supply exploded. Parts are on the way from the mainland.
  • I've decided to let the Dutch manage some of my money. The web interface for ING Direct accounts works with Firefox, which is a plus in my book. DCU, make your site work correctly with Firefox and I'll consider using my accounts more.
Tomorrow evening, Karen and I head to the mainland for a crazy road tour. Starting in Washington, DC and including New York and Pennsylvania. We will probably eat turkey in there somewhere.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christopher Butler, you suck.

November 18, 2008

Dear Christopher Butler,

[To all Christopher Butlers in the world, I speak only of the one who had my cell phone number before it was assigned to me. You know who you are. The number is a US number in the 808 area code.]

You had my cell phone number assigned to you before me and apparently you spent a lot of money and decided not to pay your bills. I take it you failed to pay your cell phone bill too, which probably explains how the number ended up back in the random assignment pool and how I got it.

At any rate, would you please start paying your damn bills? I am tired of the collections agencies calling me at all hours of the day and night trying to find your sorry ass. Seriously dude, how much shit do you have to buy on credit?

Maybe I should give you the benefit of the doubt and assume it's something like identity theft. But I can't really believe that, because it looks like the first things you defaulted on were utility bills and loans and now you're using credit cards and not paying them.

You know what, if you want to keep doing that, fine. Maybe you'll get a bailout bill passed in your name. Could you just do one favor for me? STOP GIVING THEM MY PHONE NUMBER WHEN YOU APPLY FOR A NEW CARD! You might still have the phone you got from AT&T, but you sure don't have the number. Ever notice it doesn't ring? Yeah, I have the number now.


The current assignee of 808-2XX-7XXX

Monday, November 10, 2008

Attaching Things To Bugzilla Entries

This is meant as helpful information for people reporting bugs.

When attaching files to a bug that you file at http://bugzilla.redhat.com, take care to watch the type that the attachment is assigned. Bugzilla seems to do a pretty bad job at figuring out file types. The most common problem I see is application/octet-stream when people attach log files.

If you are attaching anything that can be viewed with more, less, most, or your favorite text editor, make sure the type is set to text/plain, please. It's also helpful if you do not tar up or compress log files and then attach them to bugs. Just attach the log files and set the type to text/plain. Makes viewing them easier.

For patches that you want to attach, here are a couple of suggestions. Make sure you are creating unified diffs with diff -u. When you attach the file to the bug, check the box marked Patch so that it's flagged as a patch in Bugzilla. This makes viewing and saving the patch a little easier.

I have seen a number of odd attachments show up in Bugzilla. People turning log files in to OpenOffice documents (and sometimes even presentations), for example. Or taking photos of a log file they are viewing with more, one photo for each screen of text (yes, that was around 20 photos attached to the bug report).

If the person handling the bug requests some information from you in the form of a log file or something similar, but you don't know how to get it, ask. Don't assume you are on your own for collecting the requested information.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I discovered a problem recently on my MacBook (MacOS X 10.5) where the default browser and default RSS reader would get reset to Safari each time I'd reboot. It was getting a bit annoying, so I dug around online to see if other people were having the problem. To my surprise, I saw a lot of people having this problem.

Consensus was that it's a known bug and happens when you are using the built-in disk encryption in OS X. I'm using that because I wanted to know that if someone ripped off my laptop, I'd at least make it more difficult for them to get in to it.

Apple users tend to be different sorts of problem solvers than Linux users. As a Linux user, I expect to find a patch or be able to make a patch myself and recompile the software. Apple users don't really do that, they tend to find workarounds in other ways.

The recommended workaround was to use Automator to open Safari (which controls the default browser and rss reader settings), open the Preferences window, select Firefox for the browser, and NetNewsWire for the RSS reader. Save the resulting script from Automator and have it run when you log in.

While this solution is clunky, it does work (it's also amusing to watch the script launch when I log in. It's like someone else is controlling my system for a minute). What was more interesting to me is using Automator. It's a drag and drop scripting environment for the GUI. I was able to script mouse actions using this system. I think this is pretty cool. It hides everything from me and just lets me graphically put together a script.

My question for Linux users is do we have anything like Automator for GNOME? Or really any desktop environment?

Monday, November 3, 2008

IP Phone Finally Working

It's taken me weeks, but I finally have a working IP phone. I have my Red Hat extension configured as line 1 and my Fedora extension configured as line 2.

There was a post somewhat recently from someone who purchased a Grandstream GXP-2000 IP phone and got it working with talk.fedoraproject.org. Having had no luck with my Cisco 7960G, I decided to go with the Grandstream phone.

Configuration of the GXP-2000 is certainly easier, but getting an IP phone to work on your LAN behind whatever you're using for a firewall is a royal PITA.

I tried STUN since the phone can do that. The phone was able to register itself and I could make and receive calls, but you'd never hear anything. Someone pointed out that I needed to forward tens of thousands of ports for the RTP traffic. I found some iptables PREROUTING and FORWARD rules that seemed to be correct. Still didn't help.

I fooled around with NAT settings, but nothing ever worked. Other people I talked to suggested running Asterisk locally or running siproxd or some other stack of software that would let the phone connect. The whole point of having the physical IP phone was to avoid any sort of software on my workstations and servers to make the phone work. Running siproxd wasn't really an option because I use OpenWRT on a WHR-G54-HP for my router/firewall/vpnc box. Not enough space to store siproxd.

Digging around online pointed me to an iptables kernel patch. It added the ip_conntrack_sip.o and ip_nat_sip.o modules. I'm using OpenWRT 0.9, the last whiterussian release. One thing that I find irritating is when I mention OpenWRT people, I am immediately told to change to DD-WRT or to upgrade to Kamikaze or something else. Why? I don't care and 0.9 works fine for me. Unless there is something I really can't get working under 0.9, I don't want to change or upgrade.

However, these kernel modules almost caused me to look in to DD-WRT, but I couldn't find any evidence that DD-WRT would make my SIP situation any easier. OpenWRT runs 2.4.30. My device is MIPS, so compiling these modules for 2.4.30 for MIPS was going to be annoying and/or impossible.

Finding the patch was the first trick. The OpenWRT dev team removed the iptables SIP patch about 3 years ago due to licensing concerns. I found that svn revision 3289 was the last time they had the SIP patch. I checked that out from svn.openwrt.org and proceeded to build for my router. It took a little while, but I eventually got the two modules and copied them to the router.

With the modules loaded and the following iptables rules in place:
iptables -A INPUT -m state --state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -p udp --dport 5060 -j ACCEPT
iptables -A FORWARD -o vlan1 -p udp --dport 5060 -j ACCEPT
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o vlan1 -j SNAT --to-source [public IP]

The phone finally works. The kernel modules are making life easier for me because I don't need a lot of iptables rules to get the phone working.

For details on my OpenWRT configuration, go here.

My talk.fedoraproject.org extension is 5100345.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Government Employees Insurance Company

Some of the commercials are amusing. I decided to see what my quote would actually be. I've been a Progressive customer for more than 5 years and have been pleased with their rates and service. Hawaii is the third state where I've used Progressive. The rates were lowest for me in Georgia and New Hampshire and I assumed they would be lowest for me in Hawaii. My thought was if Progressive charged me more in Hawaii, I'd look elsewhere. My six month premium in Hawaii with Progressive was $819. That's lower than what I paid in New Hampshire, but higher than Georgia. As long as it wasn't more than what I was paying most recently, I was happy.

I checked GEICO today and come to find out that the same coverage with them would cost me $356 every six months. In other words, it's $463 cheaper.

So I changed to GEICO today. I started the new policy and set up EFT for payment. I was paying $137 per month with Progressive. With GEICO, it comes out to around $59 per month. Each carrier adds in payment fees or processing fees and nonsense like that, but $59 per month is way less than what I am paying with Progressive.

I called up Progressive to cancel and they asked why I was changing and I told them what GEICO had quoted me. Progressive's attitude has always been very helpful and understanding when they are not necessarily the lowest for you in a particular market. The representative I spoke too was a little disbelieving that $356 was my quote. She went on to say that in her experience, most Progressive customers who change to GEICO end up coming back after the first 6 month policy renews. Apparently the rates go up after the fact. I'm not really sure if that's the case or not. Even if it is, I can always go back to Progressive if they are cheaper.

I now get to say what they say in the commercials:

I just saved hundreds of dollars on my car insurance by switching to GEICO!

Now to go work on my voip phone setup and call people to test out the connection and ask, "can you hear me now?"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Laser Karaoke

Karen and I hung out with some of her work friends last night at a bar in Honolulu last night. They have beer, video poker machines, darts, and karaoke. Karaoke gets its own room and I was surprised at how big karaoke is here. This would never go over well on the east coast.

Being a technology nerd, I was amazed at the karaoke contraption. It was larger than a standard sized Coca Cola vending machine. It had PIONEER LASER KARAOKE all over it and Laser Karaoke was written in the same style they used on LaserDisc players. My guess is the Laser Karaoke system is a huge jukebox with LaserDiscs containing the tracks. When you queue one up select a song, you get a video on the screen (some of which were hilarious) and the words appear on the screen and light up as the song progresses.

There's a vocoder, a mixer, and an entry panel where you select tracks. Disc changes are handled by a robotic arm in the machine that changes disks (behind a severely tinted window, so you couldn't see it that well).

In addition to that, it had a money taker attached to it. Songs were $1 each and it would take notes or coins (I think). Karaoke is free on Wednesday nights, so the bar just kept feeding in $5 notes for us.

I sang Livin' On A Prayer, which was fun. The group sang Sweet Child O' Mine twice.

I also learned I need more practice with darts. No injuries though.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Non-member Purchasing at Costco

In the United States, we have these stupid warehouse sized stores under the names Costco, Sam's Club, B.J.'s, and others. The stores advertise really low prices, but you have to buy in bulk. Few people have a need for a 55 gallon drum of pickles, or a dump truck full of rice, but that doesn't stop people from going to these stores to buy ridiculous amounts of things.

The catch is that these clubs are member-only facilities. You pay some amount of money per year to shop in the store. The return is that you get the super low low prices the store offers. I really don't like the concept and I don't like having to buy huge quantities of things just to save money.

Federal regulations prohibit Costco and stores like it from requiring a store membership to use the pharmacy. Anyone can go in and use the pharmacy and get the low Costco prices.

What else can you buy at these stores without a membership? Well, this one is regulated by states rather than the federal government, but in some states it's possible to buy alcohol without having a store membership. I tested this out on Saturday at Costco in Honolulu.

Getting in the store is a bit tricky since they check for membership cards at the door. I'll leave that one up to you.

Once you get in the store, know that you can only buy drugs or alcohol without having a membership. I tested the purchasing ability with beer. The cashier was unaware of any such Hawaii law that would let me buy alcohol there without a membership. Asking for an explanation, I gave him what the Liquor Commission told me. Section 281-31 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes prohibits class 4 (retail, off premises consumption) liquor license holders from restricting the sale of alcohol based on membership status at the merchant. After calling a supervisor and ultimately the store manager, the store manager was the only one who knew of the law and let the transaction go through.

Now, I knew this would be difficult or impossible, which is why I asked the Liquor Commission if it was possible before going. Armed with their response and vague instructions, I set out to see what I could buy at Costco. It worked, but Costco and I imagine the other warehouse stores want to keep this quiet. It is the cheapest place to get alcohol on island. A 24 pack of beer in bottles cost me $27. A 6 pack here typically costs between $8 and $10.

Aside from some fly-over states and California, I do know that you can do this same trick in Massachusetts. Westford office, enjoy!

NOTES: Every state is different. Some states may allow the retailer to make you go through a different procedure to purchase without a membership.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Paper or ...

Plastic! No, electronic.

I voted early today because we can do that here. I figured it was better to vote early than wait in a long line on Super Tuesday.

Election law in Hawaii allows for all sorts of ballot types. Voting early is a form of the absentee ballot and this year the state is encouraging people to vote as early as possible because they know that polls won't be able to handle the anticipated demand.

I went to Honolulu Hale after lunch preparing to see if it was a long wait or not. If it was a ton of people, I was just going to bail and head back to work. There were no people in line, so I stayed. After filling out a form and presenting your ID to a poll official, you are asked if you want to vote using a traditional paper ballot or if you'd like to use the exciting electronic voting system. I asked if it was made by DieboldPremier and they said no, so I decided to go with the electronic system.

The maker of these systems claims to be Hart. It's not a touchscreen system. It's an LCD display and then a series of buttons along the bottom. The buttons:
  • PREV
  • NEXT
There is also a big knob on the right labeled SELECT. I think they used engineers from BMW and Yaesu to design this thing because every operation requires turning the knob and pushing a button.

To start the voting process, you enter the four digit access code you were given at the front of the line. The system then explains how the process works. Use the SELECT wheel to highlight your choice and then press ENTER (turn the knob, press a button). At the end of the ballot, you will see a ballot summary page. If you like what you see, turn the SELECT knob to highlight Accept and then press ENTER. If you don't like what you see, you can go back (using PREV/NEXT) to change any selections.

The last step is the literal paper trail. After you Accept the ballot summary on the screen, the system prints out on thermal receipt paper a copy of your ballot summary. The printout is behind another screen and it scrolls by and stops so you can read it. Once you like what you see on the paper, press CAST BALLOT and the paper trails off and the big LCD says you voted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Figure Out The State

Dear lazyweb,

When I go to an online store to purchase something, it's the usual routine. You ask me to fill up my shopping cart, select a shipping method, and then log in with the account I made -or- sign up. I give you a billing address and a shipping address, but why do you always insist on having me scroll through a combo box as tall as the browser window to select my state? I give you my city and ZIP code, can't you figure it out from there? I have even been to some sites that figure out the city/location name based on your ZIP code. I *know* you can do this, so how about you stop asking me for my state all the time. Let me give you the ZIP and you go from there.

Is there a legitimate reason that online shopping carts can't figure out the US state based on ZIP code?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Old Desktop Screenshots

Another nerd post.

I was cleaning out some old directories on my laptop and came across a very old picture archive. Among the photos, I found four desktop screenshots from systems I had over the years. It's fun coming across these. I can see how my taste in user interfaces has changed over the years, as well as the set of software I regularly use.

I noticed one thing I failed to do in any of these screenshots. I don't have anything indicating the date. I should have run date in a terminal window somewhere. Oh well. [UPDATE: I meant years, people. And I see now that the clock in blackbox does display the year, so that was nice.]

Without further delay, here are the four in the chronological order I remember:
  • nomex-afterstep.jpg - I was a big fan of the Afterstep 1.0 window manager (note that the 1.0 is important because that was the code base that was closer to fvwm configuration than the newer AfterStep). I ran this window manager for YEARS before finally going with something else. A tour around the screen starting in the upper left corner: rxvt with a background listing my MP3 collection, x11amp, x48 calculator emulator, pine in an rxvt, Slashdot in Netscape Navigator, Licq for instant messaging, and the GIMP since all screenshots had to contain the GIMP. Along the right edge of the screen is the Wharf, which was supposed to look like the Dock in NEXTSTEP. I've got a clock/calendar, network monitor, CPU monitor, a button with a penguin, a button with the Netscape logo, other buttons, and what I think is a pager in the last one. Also notice the lower right corner of the screen. You'll see my system log tailing messages right on to the root window. That was roottail, a neat program that worked by magic I think. (taken October 28, 1998)
  • nomex-blackbox.jpg - Blackbox was introduced to me by my friend Logan. He was in to lean user interfaces and blackbox was quite nice. I used it for a while. You can see I am just running Netscape Navigator, xterms, and Licq for instant messaging. You can also see me running ytalk. Wow. (taken September 25, 2000)
  • goretex.jpg - Still using blackbox here. You can see this is when I was working for Slackware because the top two terminals are logins to accounts on bob, which was our main server for basically everything, including email. On the left, I am logged in as myself. On the right, I am logged in as support. Yes, I answered lots of support at slackware.com email. (taken February 9, 2001)
  • sgi-o2.jpg - In California, I bought an SGI O2. It was an R5000 at 180MHz, so not super speedy. But it was really fun to use. It came with a camera too (think 8 years ago and how that wasn't really the norm yet). The O2 was fun, but eventually I got rid of it.
The system names were part of my naming style. I used to name systems after Dupont fabric names or textile names that I thought were cool. My server was kevlar, nomex was my workstation. I had burlap for a while. Also had mylar, tyvek, and goretex. I also had warp, weft, and woof. Yeah, getting obscure now. The SGI systems I had followed a different naming system for some reason, mostly arbitrary. Originally the O2 was named o2d2 (also attributed to Logan). I cannot remember what it was named after that. I had an Indy at one point named turtle. I also had an Octane2 named aki (anti-knock index, get it?). SGI systems were non-standard, so it made sense for the naming system to be nonstandard too.

What were the specs of these systems. Nomex was a dual Pentium Pro system with 128MB of RAM on an Intel PR440FX motherboard. It was also a 100% SCSI system. The first CPUs I had were 180Mhz with 256KB of L2 cache, I think. I eventually ended up with 200Mhz processors with 1MB of L2 cache each and I think more RAM. Maybe 256MB of 512MB when it was all said and done. I used this system for a very long time.

Goretex was a Sun Ultra 5, complete with all of the design problems Sun was kind enough to put in to the system. The shitty IDE controller, the shitty floppy controller, the shitty CD-ROM drive, and the shitty framebuffer. The system had a 360Mhz UltraSPARC-IIi processors and 256MB of RAM or maybe more, I forget.

The O2 was a 180MHz MIPS R5000 processor. It had 256MB of RAM, a 9.1GB SCSI disk, and an integrated CD-ROM (this was a big deal for SGI as pretty much every workstation they made lacked the ability to have an internal CD-ROM drive). It also had the AV board for audio/video input/output.

What do I use nowadays? I use Fedora Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and MacOS X. MacOS X is pretty easy to figure, I use its interface. On the Linux systems, I am entirely apathetic now. I use whatever is the default, which is GNOME.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Huh...wha? I just don't understand

Nerd post follows.

My job presents me with challenging and, sometimes, annoying problems to solve. I write software, which means I also write software bugs. I work on a number of projects, but the one that takes a majority of my time is the installation program for Fedora and RHEL called anaconda.

Lately, I have been in the process of moving the network configuration code to use NetworkManager. This hasn't been easy, despite NetworkManager's web page promising pain-free networking. DHCP installs have worked for a while, but getting manual IP configuration installs to work was another story. I got those working the other day, but guess what stopped working? DHCP installs. I just don't understand.

NetworkManager insists on starting the DHCP client and then immediately stopping it and taking the network interface down. What? Why? I reported the problem to NetworkManager, so we'll see what happens.

It seems that I can't fix everything, I can only shift around the window of things-that-work. Something will always be broken.

[UPDATE: As of 5:00 PM HST 10-Oct-2008, I have DHCP and static IP configuration installs working again. The problem was not in NetworkManager, it was in anaconda after all. Definitely a difficult one to track down.]

Unrelated, but still nerdy, is a tip for users of RPM. Do you use a Linux operating system that uses RPM for package management? If so, do you run on x86_64, s390x, or another 64-bit platform (perhaps even really obscure ones that no one uses anymore)? If you do, you probably have both 32-bit and 64-bit software installed. When you do something like 'rpm -qa', you might see something listed twice. The two entries are for the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of that package. Want to always see the architecture in 'rpm -qa' output? Add this to your ~/.rpmmacros file:
    %_queryformat \
You should add it all on one line in your .rpmmacros file, I am breaking the line here so it won't wrap on this page. Now type 'rpm -qa' and see the architecture listed alongside the name-version-release (NVR).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Join Failbank, We Have All Time Super Low Rates!

Ever received a pre-approved credit card application from a failed bank? I have! I got one on Friday from Washington Mutual, the latest in a string of failed US banks for 2008.

For the current season rankings, check out the FDIC page on Failed Banks. They list all of the failed banks since October 1, 2000. A failed bank is where the FDIC steps in and does its thing. FDIC insurance is available to nationally and state-only banks, so some of the banks in the list are state only. You can easily tell when you see who shut them down. A national bank is shut down by either the Office of the Comptroller of Currency or the Office of Thrift Supervision. OCC regulates nationally chartered banks. OTS regulates nationally chartered savings and loans. By today's laws, there's not much difference in what you can do at either (that is, you can have a checking account at either type and you wouldn't know it on the surface).

You'll see that Washington Mutual was shut down by the OTS on September 25, 2008. On October 3, 2008, I received a pre-approved Visa application from WaMu. It didn't look like an application. I used to bank at WaMu back in Atlanta, so I thought this was something telling me that WaMu is now JPMorgan Chase and that possibly I still had some account open there. No, it was a stupid credit card application.

Go, failbank!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Safari, Can I See You For A Minute?

As you know, we've been having some problems lately with web site viewing. I know the workload has increased, but we really depend on the reliable service that your department delivers. You can't handle the facebook.com account like you used to, we had to hire additional help for that. And you don't seem to get along with the customers either, constantly changing data on their reports at random. I just don't think we can continue with these problems going forward.

You're fired.

Royal Caribbean and Lost Workers

I saw a group of people today with Royal Caribbean ID badges on asking how to get a taxi. I assume they needed to get back to Aloha Tower (where cruise ships dock in Honolulu) and had managed to get lost while around town. I wasn't in a position to help, but someone seemed to be helping them anyway, so that's good.

I wonder what happens if you work on a cruise ship and it leaves without you. Honolulu isn't a bad place to be stuck, but I have read that if you work on a ship, the company basically owns you. They provide everything you need, so I imagine without that connection you can end up somewhere and not have anything (e.g., money, ID other than your company badge, credit cards, etc).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


When you are too dependent on a spell checker:

Sad.  My sister took this picture at the generic/not-affiliated-with-her-company parking deck she parks at in downtown Dallas, TX.  Then she submitted it to internet.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Whole Foods in Honolulu

Karen and I went to the new Whole Foods Market that just opened in Honolulu.  It's in the Kahala Mall, so we also went to the toy store and Jamba Juice.

Malls here are a bit different than what I was used to on the mainland.  For one, they usually aren't isolated large buildings.  They are usually several connected buildings with relatively little parking and many entrances and exits.  Sometimes stores will have outside facing doors and sometimes they will have inside facing doors.  So you can have a store, such as a grocery store, with an outside facing entrance that is technically part of the mall, but appears to exist on its own.

Neither of us were new to Whole Foods.  I'd been several times in Atlanta and then again in Boston.  It's got some good stuff, but only if your paycheck can support it.  Whenever I went there, it was to buy only a few things.  I couldn't afford to do all of my shopping at Whole Foods.  Funny, that still holds true.

They have a decent selection of Hawaii-grown produce, which is cool.  They also carry Seventh Generation products (but those are also at the store Down To Earth in Honolulu as well), which I bought frequently in Boston.  Here it's a bit more expensive, but that's because it's hauled out here to this island.

We purchased a few things and decided to leave.  On the way out, Karen saw Jorge Garcia coming in to the store.  She wanted to covertly point him out without making a scene.  She called him 'Hurley', his character's name on LOST.  I didn't make the connection.  I thought she was pointing a Hurley shirt or something.  Eventually I got it and I saw him walking up and, like an idiot, I pointed at him and said, "oh yeah, that is Jorge Garcia."

He was on his phone and headed in to the store.  We were headed out.  If we had bumped in to him in the store, I probably would have said hi.  Oh well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

METRIC: Get Ready

Gallon, Inch, Pound - They won't always be around.  Get ready for the metric system.

I'd like to thank everyone who commented on the blog or emailed me regarding my last metric post.  I've already got a list of posts to make and I hope you enjoy reading them.

All of the posts I make on this topic will have a 'metric' label and the title will begin with METRIC: so you can spot it more easily.

Until my next post, enjoy this article from Dr. Wacek Kijewski.  You may also find his book useful.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Many Ounces Are In A Pound?

Karen and I went to lunch today at the deli at Safeway.  Oh yes, eating at the grocery store.  You get a container and fill it with food and the price is $6.99 per pound.  I proceed to fill my container and then think I should weigh it to figure out where I stand.

The scale they provide next to the buffet is in ounces.  I place the container on the scale and it reads somewhere between 23 and 24.  Then it occurs to me that I have no idea how many ounces are in a pound.  I ask Karen and she can't remember.  I look at the scale and see it has units printed up to 30, so I'm guessing this scale can read up to 31.99 ounces or something like that.  Seeing the prices are per pound and the scale is small, I figure they are providing a pound scale.  So I guess that a pound is 32 ounces.

I would be wrong.  A pound is apparently 16 ounces.  I mention this here because it shows the failure of the imperial measurement system in use in the United States.  Everything is arbitrary and you have to memorize conversions.  I know 16 ounces are in a pound now, but I have no idea about any of the other weight measurements.  I'd have to look those up.

"But didn't you learn this in school?", you ask.  No.  I went to grade school in the 1980s and we were taught the metric system.  There was some coverage of the imperial system, but it was assumed that we would pick that up through everyday usage.  The thought was that we all needed to be ready for the big metric conversion.

"But you have to memorize metric conversions too!", you say.  That's true, but the big difference is the conversions are common across all measurements.  You only need to know 3 base units and then know the prefixes.  And it's base 10 too, so it's shifting the decimal point.  What are the three base units?
  • meter - This gives us a measurement for length.
  • gram - This gives us a measurement for weight.
  • liter - This gives us a measurement for volume.
There's also the second and the unit for temperature, but those can be discussed later. [The SI temperature unit is actually Kelvin, but all SI using countries use degrees Celcius for everyday use.]

OK, then you need to know the prefixes.  Kilo- is 1000.  Milli- is one thousandth.  Centi- is one hundredth.  All you're doing is shifting the decimal point.  And those prefixes are the same across the meter, the gram, and the liter.

I'd also like to point out that with metric being base 10, you never need to look at decimal values on measurements.  You can always shift to another prefix so that you are looking at a whole value.  Most people won't do this because you always want to see the same units for a particular task, but it's still valid.

The imperial system is arbitrary.  For length, we have the inch, the foot, the yard, the mile.  Others?  One inch is something, so that's the base I guess.  A foot is 12 inches.  A yard is 3 feet.  A mile is 5280 feet.  How many yards are in a mile?  How many inches in a yard or mile?  Wait, let me get a calculator.  You either memorize or do multiplication and division on a regular basis.  With metric you shift the decimal point.

Volume and weight?  I can't remember them all.  I know we have a US gallon which is 3.8 liters or 4 quarts.  A quart contains either 4 pints or 2 pints, I can never remember.  And then a pint contains some number of cups, I think.  And then the system is all messed up with the notion of fluid ounces.  Using ounce for something else!

Weight has pounds and ounces, I which I now know it's 1 to 16.  I know of nothing else for weight in this system.

We already use many things in the US that are metric labeled.  Coca Cola comes in 2 liter bottles, FDA labels on all food containers use metric measurements, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are sold in metric units, car engine displacement is in liters, injections are in "cc" units (cubic centimeter, which is a milliliter), IKEA manufacturers everything to metric dimensions, the entire automotive industry is metric, and the list goes on.

This is why I joined the United States Metric Association.  They seek to encourage metric usage in everyday measurements and in businesses.  They offer conversion assistance for individuals and businesses and explain what laws are currently on the books in the US.  Did you know you can do business exclusively in metric in the US and it's legal?

The goal is to encourage metric usage rather than forcing the conversion by law.  We all know that failed in the 1970s due to poor execution.

Get ready for more metric blog posts than you care to read.

Apple Store Waikiki Opening September 27

My inbox has a message from Apple announcing the grand opening of the Apple Store in the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki. Doors open at 10:00 AM HST on September 27. The first 1000 or so people in line (line?) get a free t-shirt.

While I don't care about the t-shirt, it will be nice having an Apple Store literally around the corner from me. Now, if the Royal Hawaiian could also get a Lego Store and a Tower Records [sic], that would be awesome.

O'ahu now has 3 Apple crack deal^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Stores for your spending pleasure. The Waikiki store is the largest. The Ala Moana and Kahala stores are the same layout. Mall stores that look like shotgun houses. The Waikiki store opens on to Kalakaua Ave and will probably have a big giant Apple logo hanging from the building.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Software Packaging on MacOS X

When I first used MacOS X, it was version 10.0.  It was a little rough around the edges.  I remember trying to do some pthreads programming and discovered that pthreads hadn't been completely implemented yet.  Ooops.

I then found another problem and started poking around in the kernel source (the kernel project is called xnu, the installed kernel file is /mach_kernel).  What I found was a huge disappointing combination of BSD code with Mach kernel code.  Yuck.  My attempts to submit patches upstream were met with failure.  But I wasn't the only one.

I upgraded to 10.1 shortly after 10.0 and it improved some things, but not much.  For example, I still couldn't have a UFS filesystem and run iTunes.  iTunes would crap itself if it was running on UFS.  It wanted HFS because of its case-preserving ability (I guess the programmers were lazy).  I hear Apple fixed this later on by making it more difficult or even removing the ability to install to UFS filesystems.  That's one way to fix the problem.

I left OS X after 10.1 and went back to Linux for my workstation.  I should point out that when I moved around between operating systems, it was always for my workstation system.  My servers have always been Linux and most likely always will be.  And Linux is still where I do almost all of my software development.

Enter 2008.  I get frustrated with my company-provided laptop.  It's old and slow and can't do virt under Linux (technologies such as Xen or KVM).  I ask for a new one that can do virt and am told no several times.  So I go buy my own laptop and start using it.  I buy a MacBook and load it 4GB of RAM.

Since it is a personal system, I decide to keep OS X installed on it.  That, and I wanted the ability to edit video and easily work with my camera and OS X is just better at that (JWZ sums it up pretty well here).  But I also use the system during work to check email, IRC, IM, and read the web.  In an effort to do more from it, I start installing the few tools I need to access our source repositories from OS X and tools so I can work with the build system from not-just-Linux.  The result is the horrible time wasting project found here.

[Why don't I use MacPorts or Fink or something else like that?  I did and I hate them.  Both systems want to _own_ your OS X system.  If I go to install, say, GNU sed, don't install a truckload of other crap because it's all interdependent.  I am perfectly fine with the system utilities when they work for me.  Look at my osxpkgs collection and you'll see a very short list of what I had to install to do Fedora Linux development from OS X.  With MacPorts and Fink, I had huge trees of basically every single thing you'd find on a Linux system.  WHY?  I don't need it.]

Development on OS X is certainly a lot better now than it was under the 10.0 days.  Lots of recent tools are available as well as a modern Python.  I like it.  For the things that did not come with OS X that I need to do work, I compiled and installed them to /usr/local.  Here is where we get in to irritating things.

I'm a little more careful with how I manage systems now.  First, I backup every system I care about.  My laptop is most important to me, so I have several backups.  I found that JWZ basically has the same backup philosophy as me.  I say basically the same, because here's where we differ:
  • I only care about my home directory.  When the system's hard disk shits the bed, I buy a new one and then do a reinstall from scratch.  I restore my home directory and then install the software packages I have in my home directory.  I find this to be easier than backing up the entire system.
  • I don't want to wait to backup the entire system, which is currently 138GB and like a kid on Flintstone vitamins...growing.
Still, his page about backups is as perfect as you can get.  Do what he says.  It only takes one disk failure to really piss you off.  You will want backups.  As a Digital Unix developer once told me, "In order to move forward, you have to backup."  (ok, he was old)

For everything I add to the system, I keep the bundles or packages in my home directory under a subdirectory titled "Crap I Use" or something like that.  When I rebuild the system, I just drag the bundles back to Applications or I run the installers again.  For my osxpkgs software, I decided to make packages so reinstalls will be easy (this follows the Unix train of thought where if I can use this hack in at least one place, I might as well spend the time and effort to do it).

Packaging software is one of those annoying developer tasks.  Developers tend to have only a passing interest in packaging software.  It's almost like a task that falls between development and system administration.  I hate system administration.  You want to have something to release, but you don't want to learn all of the details of _any_ system's stupid packaging software.  What the hell is packaging anyway?

When you install software on a Unix system, files all go to the same directory structure.  We don't have a "C:\Program Files" notion on Unix (except for /opt, but that's another story), so we need a way to track what files belong to a specific piece of software so we can remove it later or upgrade it later.  Every reasonable Unix system provides a way to do this.  On RHEL and Fedora and many others, it's RPM.  On Debian systems, it's dpkg.  On Solaris systems, it's the SysV pkg* commands.  On AIX, it's two systems: one is AIX LPP and one is RPM (!).  Each system has a set of commands that lets the user pack up the files that belong to their program in to a single file for delivery to the user.

So what does MacOS X have?  Apple wants developers to create self-contained programs where everything is in a bundle that users can drag to anywhere on their system and run by just double clicking it.  A bundle is a subdirectory that is named NAME.bundle.  Everything the application needs is stuffed in this subdirectory, such as libraries, images, documents, and so on.  This works great for software like Microsoft Office or iTunes or Mozilla.  But for command line Unix-type software, the model fails.  Apple provides another system to track that.

The other system is a bastardization of the half-assed system that was on NEXTSTEP (and OPENSTEP and CamelCaseStEp, please don't argue with me about how it should be written).  Apple provides a tool called packagemaker that can create package bundles (a subdirectory called NAME.pkg) that you can install with the package installer.  They also provide a program called pkgutil which sort of helps you see what's installed and maybe do things with those packages.  Problems I've seen so far under MacOS X 10.5:

  • The --root option to packagemaker is a bit picky.  You have a add a trailing slash on the path you specify, otherwise your staging root directory will end up on the target system.  For example:
    mkdir pkg-root
    # put stuff in ./pkg-root for the package
    packagemaker --root ./pkg-root [options]
    The resulting package will install /pkg-root to your system (dumb!). You have to run it this way:
    packagemaker --root ./pkg-root/
    And then pkg-root is treated like a staging root.
  • To show all installed packages on the system: pkgutil --pkgs
    However, this only shows packages that pkgutil can see. It won't show you any installed packages recorded in /Library/Receipts. It only shows packages with an entry in /Library/Receipts/boms. The locations appear to be mutually exclusive. Why?
  • It is possible to remove an entry from the installed packages database.  All you have to do is:

    pkgutil --forget PACKAGE

    This removes the entry from the database, but not what is actually on the system. Why is this even possible? Also note that this will again only work for what packages pkgutil can see. If you want to forget something in /Library/Receipts, just rm -rf the directory.

  • Want to completely hork your system? pkgutil does offer a way to forget a package and remove the files it owns. You can do this:

    pkgutil --unlink PACKAGE
    pkgutil --forget PACKAGE

    No dependency checking is done, pkgutil just deletes whatever is owned by that package. You do this on the BSD package, for instance, and totally hose the system. Great work, Apple.

  • If you pass the --target option to packagemaker, the resulting flat package it generates won't contain anything from --resources. It just ignores Resources. Great!

  • The different package formats created by packagemaker appear to be recorded differently in /Library/Receipts. A flat package gets a bom file in the /Library/Receipts/boms subdirectory. A package bundle with metadata gets a receipt bundle as /Library/Receipts/NAME.pkg with the bom file in the bundle as Archive.bom.

So that's what I've discovered trying to package software on MacOS X.  It's frustrating and annoying.  Packaging is a solved problem.  And uninteresting.  Why can't OS X just use any of the dozens of packaging systems out there that are open source?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Misc Updates

Got back from Europe middle of last week and played catch up during the end of the week.  Lots of work to do and I feel like now I'm basically in good shape with where my stuff is.  When Fedora 10 is released, I may actually like it.  The last release of Fedora that I really thought was solid was Fedora Core 6.  After that, we [the project] hit the gas on development and it's been rapid progress and less testing.  But that's just my opinion.  The releases are good, in general, but when I compare Fedora Core 6 to what we currently have, I just get the feeling that we've traded stability for rapid development.

Over the weekend, Karen and I took our current visitor (Gen, which is short for a name I can't spell, but it's pronounced 'Jen') to Maui by way of the Hawaii Superferry.  I enjoy transportation, especially boats and trains.  I don't know why trains are fascinating to me.  Boats are equally fascinating.  We took the car this time, so I got to experience the process of taking your car on the Superferry.  The quick verdict:  it's definitely much nicer and a much easier experience when you take your car than being a walk-on passenger.

We drove the Hana Highway.  It was a nice drive, but very stressful since it was my first time driving it.  It's single lane in some places.  Lots of tourists as well as locals, who drive way faster than anyone else.  We came up on a single lane portion of the highway and it was about to take a 90 degree turn to the right and a huge garbage truck rounded the corner.  Yeah, that was a close call.  We ate in Hana, then headed to Lahaina for the rest of the day.  Stayed in Kihei the night before.

People complain about Oahu, but I like the roads here more than Maui.  And the roads here are nothing to rave about.  I posted pictures of the trip on my Flickr page.

I saw a strange commercial on TV earlier.  It's for a MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator (which is telephone nonsense speak for a company that masquerades as a phone company, but doesn't actually own network equipment, they just use other companies...sort of like natural gas suppliers in Georgia), called Jitterbug.  They promote it as cell phones for old people.  Even the title of the main page says Senior Cell Phones.  Hilarious.  I only wish they offered rotary cell phones.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Government Spending

In May, I got a $2 note while in New Mexico.  Technically, my friend John received it as change from something, but he was uninterested in the note as much as I so, so I got it.  We do still have $2 notes in circulation, just like $1 notes.  Personally, I think both should be eliminated, and maybe they will, but as long as they are out there, we still accept them as currency.  The $2 note has the lowest circulation count of all notes.

Looking at the note, I thought the paper felt a little strange.  I went to the Secret Service web site for info on what to do if you suspect a note is counterfeit.  Surprisingly, the Secret Service web site was easy to find...haha...I crack myself up.

The paper was strange and the seal looked odd to me.  It was rounded and not really sawtooth like the site described.  What next?  I called the Secret Service field office in Honolulu and they had me check a few other things over the phone and finally they asked me to mail in the note.  Done.

About a week later, they called me and said they have verified the note is genuine and I can come by the field office to pick it up.  The United States Secret Service field office in Honolulu is inside the United States Department of Homeland Security facility near Honolulu Harbor and none of that really sounds inviting to visit.  I wasn't really interested in going through 9 layers of voluntary security scans to get my $2 note back.  I made it a low priority.  If I had a day to spare, I'd drop by and pick it up.

... skip to September ...

I receive a notice that I have a registered letter waiting for me at the post office.  I get this notice before I leave for FUDCon in Brno, so I can't pick it up until I get back.

I went by today and they checked my ID and had me sign my name twice, write my name, and write my address on the credit card signature pad (have no idea what that will be valid for since it looks like I just played with an Etch-A-Sketch for a few minutes).  Then I was handed the letter.

Normal sized US letter envelope.  Says it's from the U.S. Secret Service office in Honolulu.  And it has the big giant registered mail sticker on it.  Once I see Secret Service on it, I have a feeling it's the $2 note.

I open it and sure enough, there it is, stapled to a letter that some field agent wrote explaining that three different field agents examined it and determined it to be genuine.  They stapled the $2 note to the letter they wrote, so I'm going to take that as an OK to staple money from now on.  They also included a copy of the original letter I sent them back in May.

The U.S. Secret Service gets an A for effort and an A for completeness and checking their work.  However, I'm going to give them a C in the things that make sense column.  If you read the postmark on the letter, you will see it cost them a grand total of $13.42 to mail this $2 note to me.  That's right, the government paid thirteen and a half dollars to mail me a $2 note.

I figured they'd just return it to circulation some other way (you know, like buying lottery tickets or booze), because when it comes down to it, I really don't care that much.  I do appreciate them returning it, but damn, $13.42 to send it across town?  Come on.

The U.S. government does things like that, but won't provide universal healthcare.

Back from FUDCon Brno 2008

Left Vienna at 10:10 AM on 10-Sep-2008 and arrived around 9:00 PM on 10-Sep-2008 in Honolulu. Before leaving Vienna, I called home and it was Tuesday night. Oh yeah. I calculated up how much awake time I had and it was a little over 30 hours. I expect it to catch up with me at some point.

FUDCon was great. I am very glad that I got to meet Fedora people in Europe as well as a lot of Red Hat people in our Brno and Stuttgart offices. I have been working online with those people for years and finally got to meet them in person. All great people.

Both Brno and Vienna were very interesting and I wished I had more time while I was there. But I am glad to be back home and am getting back in to normal work mode. I plan on posting something more detailed about my trip later.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Last Day in Brno

FUDCon Brno 2008 is over and I must say it went really well. Hackfests on the first day and last day. The presentations were very interesting too. Martin Sivak and I did a crash course in the Czech language as the last session on the barcamp day. It was pretty fun for everyone. Martin wrote up a possible story that would play out during the social event later that evening. I would read the English, he would say it in Czech, and the everyone else was to repeat. Pictures are on on the Flickr group.

The social event at FUDCon was really good too and we also had a good time hanging out after FUDCon on Sunday night. Met lots of great people from all over Europe. Some people I've been talking to online for a while and finally got to meet them in person.

I am currently at the Red Hat Brno office waiting for our team meeting in a few minutes. After the meeting, I'm going to head back to Vienna taking the night train. I fly back home on Wednesday.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

FUDCon Brno 2008

I haven't posted anything since I got to Europe. Why? Well, Internet access has been harder than I thought it would be. And phone access.

I arrived in Vienna on Tuesday, September 2. I left Sunday night from Honolulu, so it was almost 24 hours of travel. I knew this would exhaust me, so I wanted to get to the hotel and try to nap.

Vienna is very easy to navigate. The map I purchased at Borders before leaving didn't really help that much because the grid quadrant I was staying in wasn't on the map I had bought. You could visualize the roads extending past the end of the map, and that's how I figured out where to go, but otherwise it wasn't a helpful map.

The hotel in Vienna was nice as well. It advertised free Internet access in all rooms....EXCEPT the part of the building I was staying in. Great. I asked the front desk if there was a public area with wifi and was told no. They suggested I try the cafe at the end of the block, but when I went there, they told me they didn't have Internet access and were surprised the hotel sent me there. I tried 3 other cafes before calling it a night.

I was not planning on getting a SIM card for my phone in Austria because that would cost more to use in Brno once I got there. My plan was to email home from Vienna and get a SIM card in Brno. Seems doable, right? Wrong.

The lack of Internet also posed problems because I was planning on finding the train station on Google Maps. I was also planning on emailing the office in Brno so they would meet me at the train station. All of this was fail. Once again, I depended on the Internet and was let down.

I woke up on September 3rd, packed up, checked out of the hotel, and then headed to the train station. It ended up being easier to find than I thought. I took the U4 line to a station that had the word Bahnhoff in it, exited, and followed the signs to the words that matched what was printed on my ticket. There was a bit of a mixup with the signs. Apparently the area around the train station is under construction and all signs were gone once I got to the surface. I walked around trying to find the entrance for almost an hour. Eventually made it.

At the station, I got some water and tried to find wifi. Fail. I found phone booths that would take credit cards, so I called home. I talked to Karen for a while, which was nice, and asked her to contact the Brno office so they knew I was coming. This was the first time I was able to call home since I had left.

The train left shortly after that. I found my car and seat and slept most of way. I bought a Pepsi on the train (it came in an actual glass bottle). Once we crossed the Austria-Czech border, a new guy came on to restamp your ticket. There were a few stops before Brno.

I got to the Brno station and started looking for who was meeting me. I realized I didn't have a clue what anyone in the Brno office looked like. After a half hour, I called home again and Karen said that they replied to her and were on their way, but would be 20 minutes late. They thought I was arriving on Thursday. Not a big deal. Got to the office and then Radek took me to where I was staying for that night.

The day I traveled from Vienna to Brno was when the jet lag really hit me. The entire day I was battling a headache. Finally around 5pm I got really hungry and proceeded to find some food. The Czech language is more or less impossible for an American speaker to grasp. I was doing ok in Austria, but Czech is a different animal. That, combined with the fact that fewer people understand basic English in the Czech Republic compared to Austria. That's not really their fault, I mean, I should be speaking the local language. However, no time for that, I wanted to find dinner.

The lady at the hotel told me to walk 300 meters down the road to a yellow building. Good enough for me. I walked down the road and found the building. It was even marked with a sort of international food icon (circle with a fork and spoon in it). Strange. However, this was fail because it was closed. Exhausted, starving, wanting to call home, and generally feeling not well, I looked in all directions to where I was standing. Nothing. I walked around the corner and saw what looked like a house, but was really a restaurant. I went there and fumbled through the menu and was able to order spaghetti and meat balls and Nestea. The total was 179 Kč. After that I went back to the hotel and fell asleep. At 9pm, two other Fedora guys showed up who were also staying in this room and were banging on the door for me to let them in. They couldn't believe I was asleep, but I explained where I flew from and they understood. I think they left and locked me in the room, but I didn't care. Too tired.

The next day I was fine. Got to the office and did some work for the day and then met up with more Fedora people and we went out for drinks and dinner. Dinner was good, but paying for it was made more difficult because of some people we were with. We had a large party and I was ok with just dividing the check evenly. However, some people only wanted to pay for their share. The waiter walked around both tables and recalculated individual checks by hand for everyone and each person paid. Amazing.

FUDCon is going well. There are some posts from people here appearing on http://planet.fedoraproject.org/. There's also a Flickr group where people are posting pictures they are taking. I am giving a talk at 14:20, so I have some time.

I have not obtained a SIM card for my phone in Brno because I haven't been successful finding a vendor (that is, fail). At this point I don't know if I'll bother. Though it really is annoying not being able to call home.

Some things about Brno that I have to point out. Some of these overlap with Chris' discoveries.
  • The company no longer has the apartment in Brno, so got to stay in two different hotels in Brno. Coming from the US, hotels here are very different. Things you take for granted in a US hotel just aren't present here. For example, a TV, a phone, or even a comfortable bed. Beds are the size of coffee tables and have a rock hard mattress. You get one towel per bed, but the towel is like the size of a large dish towel. Most of the Europeans who came here from other countries brought their own towel. Noted for future trips.
  • Bathrooms are strange here. A lot of places will have a single door in to a WC and inside there is a sink or two and then two different doors for men and women facilities. So, they share a sink setup, but have different toilets.
  • Bathrooms in the hotel are different. The toilet has its own room. The sink and shower has a different room. Both have doors that lock.
  • Hotel rooms have actual real keys instead of plastic magstripe keycards. There's also one key per room, so if you are sharing with someone, you need to work out the key protocol.
  • You don't take the key with you when you leave the hotel. It's the same in Austria. You give your key to the front desk and when you come back, you just tell them your room and get your key. They don't want to lose the keys, which I guess are expensive or they don't want to force you to carry them around.
  • As I discovered on my London and Brussels trip, light switches are backwards and doors open the wrong way. Hot and cold are swapped in some places.
Public transit in Brno and Vienna is useful and understandable. The names of locations in Brno is more difficult for me, but I am slowly getting the hang of it.

The currency in the Czech Republic is also more difficult to get used to. First, there are no fractional amounts. The smallest is 1 Kč (one crown). Typical prices for things are 15 Kč for a 60 minute tram pass, 30 Kč for a beer, and 150 Kč for something for dinner. The currency comes in the following coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50. It also comes in the following notes: 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000. The thing I'm having to get used to is the large amounts. I go somewhere and spend hundreds of crowns and it's just bizarre.

I am giving a talk at FUDCon today on anaconda. It got a lot of interest, so I hope I can make it interesting. I have met a lot of people here who I have talked to a lot online. A lot of the guys in the Brno office have met me now, which is good.

FUDCon is run in a barcamp format. That just means that any attendee can pitch a session. If there's enough interest, you get to give that session. Anyone can pitch any idea, but since we are all here for the same purpose, the topics are usually related to Fedora and software development.

While we were pitching the sessions for the barcamp, I suggested to Martin (on anaconda team, here in the Brno office) that he pitch a session idea on rudimentary Czech language skills. That idea got a round of applause and a lot of interest. Should be fun.

Time for lunch.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Water Shut Off

The Board of Water Supply for the City & County of Honolulu deemed it necessary to replace branch trunk main lines on our street.  The outsourced the job to Ideal Construction.  The first thing they did was back in the spring when they came and marked the street up with spray paint indicating treasures underneath.

Over a month ago now, Ideal Construction started doing work on the street.  Since our street is one-way and in Waikiki, they couldn't just block it completely off.  The road still has to provide access for people driving the wrong way (tourists), Roberts Hawai'i buses, fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, mopeds, and cars for people that live here.  Ideal Construction has been working on segments at a time.  I can't actually tell what they are doing, but casual glances show new fire hydrants installed and new manhole covers.  I guess they are replacing pipes too, though you never see the new pipes or the old ones being removed.

I work from home and the noise generated by this construction crew makes it very hard to concentrate.  They start at 7:00 AM every day and end at 3:00 PM.  They are moving north along our street and the past few days they have been working directly in front of our building, which I guess explains why our water has been shut off.

I don't actually think they are doing anything based on my observations.  Here's what I see happen:
  1. 7:00 AM, crew arrives and starts up the jackhammer and large walk-behind circular saw capable of cutting in to pavement.
  2. 9:00 AM, crew uses one of two Case backhoe loaders to remove the broken up pavement and expose the alluvial till below.
  3. 10:00 AM, crew continues using one of two Case backhoe loaders to dig a hole about the size of an SUV.  The backhoe loader takes forever to do this and makes a lot of noise during the process.
  4. 11:00 AM, crew covers the newly dug hole with steel plates.
  5. 12:00, break for lunch.
  6. 1:00 PM, crew uncovers the hole and gets in the hole.  Workers point at things and I think they discuss how the morning hole digging went.
  7. 2:00 PM, crew recovers the hole with steel plates and packs asphalt around the edges of the plate making it just that much more permanent.
  8. 3:00 PM, end of work day.
Well, that's my observations based on what I hear and what I see when I go to lunch or the corner shop.  I really think they are just digging holes for the hell of it.

The noise just stopped, so I looked at the clock.  Looks like the crew is on step 5.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NetworkManager in Fedora Installer

(this is a work post)

Yesterday, I committed a large number of code changes to the Fedora installer ("anaconda") that change how we do network device configuration. The move shifts us over to using NetworkManager. A lot of Linux users already know about NetworkManager because it's how you change wireless networks on your running system, but it can do more. We're using it early in the installation process so we can gain all of the functionality it supports.

For example, we will be able to do encrypted wireless installs using WPA passphrases or WEP keys. It's not quite ready yet, but I'm working on it. I have a few large items that I want to get cleaned up over the next few days, as well as backend code cleanup (lots of things can go now), and make sure that wireless installs can actually work.

For Fedora 10, users can expect NetworkManager in the installation process now. It's rough around the edges in rawhide at the moment, but it is working.

Also, this means the end of libdhcp, the piece of shit library I inherited at Red Hat that replaced libpump.