the ubuntu way, part 1

August 29, 2006 under Computers, Linux, PostgreSQL, Software, Ubuntu

This might be the first part in a series. Ubuntu is unlike any Linux distro that I’ve ever used before. Its installation and quick ‘n’ painless and its ease-of-use are (currently) second to none. Ubuntu‘s package management app, Synaptic, is stellar. It allows you to easily install apps (and their depenecies) from a simple yet effective interface. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that when you install software via Synaptic, you’re installing it in a different way than you would when you build from source or even use another package management system like RedHat‘s RPM. Some installations via Synaptic pre-configure the software for you – you never really know when this will be the case. Last night, I discovered this while installing PostgreSQL 8.1.

For the benefit of myself and anyone else who becomes confused when following the documentation and being faced with plenty of errors, here’s what it took for me to make it work.

Once you’ve installed the PostgreSQL packages, fire up a terminal window. PostgreSQL cannot be run as root, but when it’s installed, it’s also not setup to use your regular login account. The installer creates a postgres user for you. So you need to create a password for this user:

$ sudo su postgres -c psql template1

You’ll now have a PostgreSQL prompt instead of a Bash (or whatever shell you’re using) prompt. Issue this to change the password of the postgres user:

ALTER USER postgres WITH PASSWORD 'your_chosen_password';
 
 \\q

Now all you need is a database. If you wanted to create one called, say ‘bestdbever’, enter the following at your shell prompt:

$ sudo su postgres -c createdb -O bestdbever postgres

Now you have a database that you can start creating a schema, tables, sprocs and more for. There’s no need to add anything to rc.local, as the package installer will create the daemon for you. You also don’t have to run initdb. Now when you’re developing an application with PHP, Ruby, C++ or whatever, you would connect with the postgres username and the password that you setup in the ALTER statement. This was mostly for my own reference, but maybe it’ll help somebody else.

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google apps for 'meh' domain

August 28, 2006 under Computers, Google, Internet

Perhaps I’m dense and nobody’s had the heart to tell me. There’s been a whole lotta hoopla about Google offering new services to their “For Your Domain” service. I’ve been using this service for over a month. Albeit, like every other Google offering, it was in beta. But still, the only difference I see between then and now is that they’ve added Google Page Creator. Am I missing something? Should I be excited?

Google Page Creator is probably useful for users without any sort of web development abilities and perhaps small companies without an in-house web department. For myself, I’ll never use this feature. What I’d like to see is the ability to sign-in to Google’s other services like Maps and Groups with my domain email address. Spreadsheet and Writely might be handy, and probably will be bundled in “For Your Domain” fairly soon. But still, I’d rather be able to use my domain email address that Google manages so that I can sign-in to their existing services. It seems so simple.

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speak 'n' code

August 21, 2006 under Computers, Programming

Filed under “Ain’t It Cool?”.Speak-N-Code

The NRC has released an open-source application, called VoiceCode, that allows software developers to code with their voices instead of their hands. Sure there are plenty of consumer applications in existence, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, that allows people to use their computers and enter text by speech. VoiceCode, on the other hand, is aimed at developers’ needs and the actual process of coding. Take a gander at a video demonstration of how VoiceCode works.

Years of hockey, video games, golf and now programming have begun taking a toll on my wrists. It’s not constant – perhaps it strikes a couple times per month – but it’s definitely noticable and uncomfortable. Someday, I envision that an app like VoiceCode will become a welcome relief to me. Although I’m somewhat concerned about voice-enabled applications. Not due to reasons such as the software’s accuracy converting human voice into correct instructions, because I have seen how accurate it can be. My apprehension revolves around the environments in which we work, and by “environments” I’m refering to the offices in which our day jobs exist. Programming in the business world isn’t a solitary endeavour. People are everywhere – perhaps within range of your microphone.

Imagine that you’re a part of a team developing an app that will bury Photoshop and claim the title as the number one choice for raster graphics software. You’re tasked with writing some image format converters. Another member on your team sits directly behind you, working on some GUI code. You’re speaking your code and so is the other member of your team. You’re deep in the middle of a function that will convert your app’s native file format to BMP. As you’re in a block that’s responsible for writing out the file header, the following is entered into your editor:

if (bFillBucket == true)

Ack, keep your code in your own modules….so shut up! Your sweet-ass converting code block is also prone to having things like “who do you think will win tonight?”, “beer for lunch today?”, “as if every meeting room is booked”, and “dude, you should’ve seen this chick I met last night” appear in it. Pass the mic, and get a quality headset, I suppose 😉

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sony burn

August 16, 2006 under Computers, Sony

If you’ve been around me within the past year, you’ll have probably heard me go off on a long diatribe against Sony. Indeed, I have quite the hate-on for Sony, and here’s why.

Dell has had a recent run of bad publicity with laptop batteries catching fire. They updated their website dedicated to battery recalls to include my laptop model, Inspiron 6400, as one of the models that might contain a faulty battery. Luckily, my battery is not on the list of defective firestarters; it’s manufactured by Sanyo. Only lithium ion batteries manufactured by Sony are on the list. Apparently, Sony batteries in laptops made by HP, Lenovo (IBM) and Apple might be affected to. The common thread? Sony.

I had an old-school Walkman when I was a kid and it was solid. I listened to mix tapes full of Elvis Costello, Talk Talk and Squeeze that my cousins made for me. It got a lot of use, and that Walkman was rugged, even in my prepubescent hands.

For university, I wanted a decent stereo for my room. So I went to the Sony Store in the Timmins Square, and found a reasonably-priced stereo. It had a 3-CD tray, two cassette decks and a good range. The salesman even talked me out of the extended warranty due to it’s Sony-esque quality. A little less than a year later, the laser died and the repair would be over half what the stereo cost me in the first place. I chalked it up to being a lemon. Even Wayne Gretzkey missed the net every once and a while, right?

A few years ago, Dena and I were looking for a TV upgrade in our living room. Were were using my grandma’s fifteen year old TV and it was beginning to act its age. Off we go to Sears in the Fairview Mall. We scoped out a 27-inch Sony Trinitron and settled on it. It came with a two-year warranty and the sales person pitched a two-year extended warranty for an additonal $275. In a horrible decision on my part, I declined believing that the Sony-eque quality would shine through. One month after the included warranty expired, the TV gave up the ghost. The power inverter went and Steves, who had two other TVs in for repair that were the same model as mine, said that $400 would cover the cost of the repairs…which is close the cost of the TV in the first place.

People always oooh and aaaah over Sony’s products, and for what? Sure they’re an electronics inovator and their products are easy on the eyes. By my estimate, which might be way off, Sony’s quality control has taken a nose dive at some point between my Walkman and my stereo. That in itself, isn’t what irks me. The fact that they remain smug is what gets to me. The Playstation 3 will cost an arm and a leg, and they’re not courting developers at all. Their music CDs install rootkits on your computer. Now they’re producing laptop batteries that are hazardous to your desk, or worse, your crotch! To use a second hockey analogy, I think Sony’s heads have gotten too big for their helmets.

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place a name to the [inter]face

August 11, 2006 under Computers, Hardware

What’s your computer’s name? It has to have a name; all computers are named something. UNIX and Linux folks (probably Mac OS X folk, too) call their computers by their “hostname”. Windows users just use a plain ol’ “name”. I’m curious about the names that people give to their computers.

Personally, the names I use tend to reflect the hardware or the computer’s role. My main desktop is P4MONSTA, as in “Pentium 4 Monster”. It’s not much of a monster now, but when I built it almost 3 years ago, it sure was. Today it’s not so much a monster, as it is a gremlin now. My notebook’s name, INSPIRON6400, is rather lame. It is what it is; a Dell Inspiron 6400. I’ll probably change it at some point. I have plenty of VMWare virtual machines on both of my aforementioned computers. Again, I follow a similar naming convention. One VM running Ubuntu Linux, which I use for Apache/PHP/MySQL/Postgre development, is known as YOUBUNTU. The VM running Microsoft Windows Server 2003, which I use for IIS/ASP/ASP.NET/SQL Server development, is called WIN2K3SRV. My Windows Vista Beta 2 VM is given a formal salutation with MISTAVISTA. Finally, I have a Windows XP VM that I use for testing apps that I’ve written called SANDBOX.

I’d be the first to admit that my naming convention for computers is pretty lame. Although it must be said that it is not as bad as the default that many computer manufacturers use (and consumers never change). I’ve lost count of the number of nasty Packard-Bell PCs that I’ve had the misfortune of touching that were all named PREFCUST. Or how about the names that Windows setup will choose for you if you don’t enter one; would you want to be named WDF43SE or MSR7R09?

In an enterprise setting, I’ve seen servers named after all sorts of things like Greek mythology (ZEUS, HERCULES, APOLLO), Godzilla monsters (GODZILLA, MOTHRA, RODAN) and astronomy (NEPTUNE, ORION, PHOBOS). Those aren’t bad, but I recently found a computer name that made me laugh a little. On August 4 of this year, I looked at the web server logs for chrisbellini.com and saw that my site got a unique visit from justbadpot.xxxxxxxxxx.com (‘x’ characters added to protect the privacy of whoever that person is). Who calls their computer JUSTBADPOT? Perhaps a stoner, or maybe the computer in question is problematic and exhibits spazzy performance as if it has just smoked a joint laced with PCP? At any rate, I thought that was a pretty funny name 🙂

Maybe I should use Simpsons names for my computers and virtual machines. Server computers could be named after Springfield “bosses” like CMBURNS, QUIMBY and WIGGUM and workstations could go by names like BART, OTTO and MOE. I’m open to suggestions.

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when quarters were like gold

August 9, 2006 under Classic Gaming, Computers, Life

I’m not much of a gamer anymore. If I still had time/money to invest into it like I did in my younger days, I would. Yet, I’m still somewhat sad to see the end of an era – arcades.Canadian Quarter

Growing up, you could find me in one of four places: hockey arenas, baseball diamonds, neighbourhood streets and school. Between the ages of 5 and 12, arcades must be added to that list. The first arcade I discovered was the Fun & Games on the bottom floor of the 101 Mall in Timmins. During the summer months, my mom would take me along for daily trips to the 101 Mall. She’d browse, shop and I was incredibly bored. The squeek of clothes hangers moving on a rack still bugs me to this day. Being young and having no patience, I’d become fidgity in a short amount of time and I’ll follow up with a constant barrage of “can we go now?”. My mom would then go to the restaurant on the bottom floor (whose name escapes me and it’s since been replaced by a food court anyway) to smoke and drink coffee. Again, this is no fun for a young boy. My mom stumbled upon an idea that would alleviate my boredom and her having to listen to my boredom. One day she gave me a couple of quarters and guided me to Fun & Games. It all started there.

To a five year old, that arcade was an amazing new world. I was bombarded by bleeps and bloops from every direction. Super Pac-Man arcade cabinetLights flashed. Button were mashed. Quarters chimed as they fell from the coin slots. People darted from one side of the arcade to the other. It was a hive of activity. The first arcade game that I ever played was Asteroids at the Timmins Airport when I was four years old. But it was by itself; not in an arcade. The first game that I played at Fun & Games was the king of video games; Pac-Man. Pac-Man became an obsession for me. I doodled the characters and mazes on my school books, ate the cereal and religiously watched the cartoon on Saturday mornings. When I was at the arcade, I clung to that Pac-Man cabinet for dear life. However, I eventually started to become curious and checked out the other games. The ones that I recall frequenting were Joust, Vanguard, Robotron 2084, Defender, Bag Man, Satan’s Hollow, Wizard of Wor (whose voice in attract mode used to scare the shit out of me at one point), Phoenix, Spy Hunter, Karate Champ and a bunch of pinball games to name a few. Then one day, Fun & Games got a slew of new cabinets. A few of them like Punch-Out!! and Double Dragon did a fine job of robbing me of quarters. Yet, there was one game that I would come to own at the age of 7. I would dare say that I did more that own that game. Dare I say, I OMFG 1337 pwn’d it LOLOLOLOLOL!!! That game was Super Pac-Man. By my estimates, Fun & Games powered down the cabinets on Saturday evening (these were the times of no Sunday shopping) because “CVB” was always at the top four or five positions on Super Pac-Man every week 🙂 Often while I was playing, a group would gather to watch. The group consisted of kids my age, teenagers, drug dealers and tekkers (Timmins 1980’s vernacular for “metal head” guys with long greasy hair, jean jackets and lean brain capacity). Super Pac-Man was my machine and all who frequented the Fun & Games at the 101 Mall knew it. When there was nobody left to dominate, I got into collaboration with Gauntlet; I prefered to play as the Valkyrie or the Elf. “Valkyrie needs food badly” and other vocalizations from the game became staples of my vocabulary for a while.

Then, for whatever reason, I started hanging out in the arcade at the Timmins Square. Elevator Action, Kung Fu, Dragon’s Lair, and the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game were my faves there. At some point, I stopped going to arcades. I had progressed with game consoles from Atari 2600 to NES to the original GameBoy to SNES. Afterwards, I got my first PC and arcades were going the way of the dodo. Top Hat still existed on Pine Street North in Timmins at that point, however it was more infamous as the easiest place to buy hash and acid, instead for having Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.

I’m not much of a gamer anymore. I play the occasional game of Unreal Tournament, NHL/Madden/Tiger and the latest shooters from id and Valve. Yet I long for the days when the arcades were video game meccas. There’s a certain warmth and sense of community in arcades. Maybe the allure came in the form of the dimly lit rooms, glow of the screens, mesh of sounds, socializing, change ladies or a combination of them all. Now I’m not bashing console gaming on couches and playing with others via online services. But I think kids are missing out on an important social apsect that arcades provide – a sense of attachment to the real world. Internet cafes are the new arcade, but they tend to be prim and proper. An environment that allows people to roam and yell would be more inline with the arcade experience. Here’s an idea: Put the computers in cabinets to force people to stand for a while in the hopes of preventing comp-ass (a term I’ve just invented to describe a flat ass resulting from sitting on it too much while in front of a computer), decorate the room with game art and open it up a bit. Who’s with me? 🙂

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a fanboy perhaps, but one with gripes

August 4, 2006 under Computers, Google, Internet

Last time, I gushed about how great Google has been at handling the duties of managing domain email for Dena and me. I do have one issue to gripe about. Google offers various other handy-dandy services: Maps, Video, Bookmarks, Browser Sync, Notebook, and so on. All of which allow you to sign-in and store personal settings. The catch? You have to be using a Gmail account to do so. Even saving settings for Google Desktop requires signing in with a Gmail account. I’d rather use my own chrisbellini.com email address, which Google manages, than my rarely-used Gmail account (I only use it for filling out web forms on unfamiliar sites or contests). It hardly seems like it would pose a problem from a techie database POV for them to allow this functionality.

I’m not all that starry-eyed after all 🙂

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never thought i'd be a fanboy

August 2, 2006 under Computers, Google, Internet

I use Google as my search engine of choice, and have done so for many years now. I use Google Maps to find driving directions and locations of places that I need to go to for the first time. I’ve wasted many moments of my life seeing what I can see with Google Earth. I’ve even coded some stuff using their Maps API. For the most part I’ve, to some degree, used any number of their plethora of offerings. However one set of duties I haven’t entrusted Google with is my email. That is, until now.

A few months back, Google offered a beta program for people with registered domains (like myself with chrisbellini.com). All that needed to be done was for me to point my MX record away from my webhost and towards a Google server . 10-15 minutes later, the record is updated and Google is now my email host. I still use Mozilla Thunderbird on my desktop at home. Now, though, my email is accessable from anywhere. Well, it was before via Squirrel Mail, which is adequate. However, Squirrel Mail isn’t in the same league as Google‘s Gmail interface and features. I love that Calendar is integrated; now Dena and I can synchronize our tasks and errands that we have to do. And with the integrated Google Talk, we can easily blast each other quick messages while we’re at work.

I’m making myself sick with all of my fanatacism, but Google just made my life easier.

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