Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Bit of a Play

This is from a photo I took on Queen Street. The bassist plays on Queen St quite often and every time I pass him I think it's just a slightly surreal scene and so decided to have a play with the surreality of it all. I might expand this a little more and make all of the people much the same....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Couple of Olympics Bits and Pieces

Wow New Zealand! In terms of medals sorted via head per capita, New Zealand comes 3rd. 15th over all. This humble little country at the bottom of the world can be horribly proud of itself. Brilliant.

India, holding the world's second biggest population, ranked 55th with no gold medals, 2 silvers and 4 bronzes. What makes the difference? Funding.

Peter Miskimmin, Chief Executive of SPARC (Sport and Recreation New Zealand) and CEO of High Performance Sports New Zealand, has been on the news more than once talking about funding. It turns out that the government increased funding from $40,000,0000 to $60,000,000 per year for high performance sports from 2010. A lot of this funding went into swimming - an area where we've only ever won 7 medals - the last one being in 1992.

And apparently there are complaints about a funding freeze.

Let's put this into perspective.

The National government attempted to cut costs by cutting funding for technology teachers - something that would result in bigger class sizes (just to be really unambiguous, most classrooms are only really built for 25 students comfortably - 30 feels crowded) - something that would have been felt mostly in Intermediate schools.

In an effort to stem the National debt, National have made the incredibly unpopular decision to sell off state assets (higher electricity prices anyone? I have to point out the fact that they were horribly honest about the fact that this is what they'd be doing during the election).

Pacific Fibre, a company that would have provided important infrastructure, some much needed redundancy in communication channels to the rest of the world and competition, failed citing a lack of investment.

Christchurch suffered earthquakes in 2011 and 2012. The fundraising efforts left the country feeling a little skint and other charities missing out. There are still some very disgruntled people about asking about things we take for granted - like plumbing.

I don't know about anyone else, but I would quite gladly exchange a couple of gold medal moments for the welfare of people in Christchurch.

I had a bit of a laugh this morning when I caught Valerie Adam's coach being interviewed on "3 News: First Line". He wanted to talk about the time difference first. I have Uncles in Canada who do the same thing. Before you talk about anything else you have to talk about the time difference and the difference in weather. But then you could sense the puff piece going oh so very wrong. He pointed out that, while Valerie getting the gold was great, a drug scandal really isn't a good thing for the sport. I laughed loudly when I saw the presenter, Rachel Smalley, panic. Her headline puff piece could go off the rails into something a lot more serious! And then what would she do?!

Oh and the crap tonight! "Everyone suspected the Belarusian of being too masculine". "There was already suspicion of drug use". Let's face it. It's scary woman throwing iron balls about. They're all pretty masculine. Since when was the news about making rubbish up? Very.... little old woman gossiping if you ask me ... but you didn't hear that from me.

I've got to say that I was a little disappointed with some of the attitudes of some of the athletes.

My big Olympic moment of all time is when Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty won the triathlon in 2004. Actually - it wasn't them coming over the line that made it the Olympic moment of all time. It was the guy who came in 3rd - Sven Riederer from Sweden. He jumped around, waved a Swedish flag about, got himself into any and every photo that he could, and was just so incredibly pleased with himself that I couldn't help but feel ... humbled by him.

So all in all, a great Olympics. But there is a reality to deal with...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Giving the Customer What They've Asked For

I've never really been one for job descriptions. I think they're appalling documents. They only take into account what's needed rather than what can be given. They're an attempt to document a need in a particular point of time. I've always been about value add.

When I was 14 I did up a circular for a friend's mother who was a florist. I wasn't asked to do it and I kind of hid the fact that it was just something I was interested in doing by saying it was for a class.  It was never used but I wanted to do it anyway.

When I was in Hamilton, I lived there for 2 ½ years, I was hired as a data entry clerk. It was a factory environment which had varying levels of stress in a single night. i.e. sometimes it was hard to keep up. Other times I was cruising.

In those cruising times, I was looking at ways to add value. I adjusted their printing template. I documented that particular job. Eventually I was asked to document ALL of the jobs around the factory. I became essentially a P.A. I established a way of quantifying work product and mistakes to make the pay structure more fair and was even asked to help with supporting documentation for union negotiations. I did quite a bit of work around quality control. I was doing all of this for around $19 / hour. I had said to my boss at the time that money was not a motivating factor and the only reason I was sticking around was the fact that I was learning off him. When I left, I set up templates and vba (Visual Basic for Applications) code to do all of the tricky bits so that my replacement could just chuck the numbers in.

Enter probably the worst workplace I've ever worked in. I was working on phones in a horribly stressful atmosphere. I was asked to work weekends, had the worst shift (finished around 6:30pm), worked through lunches and other breaks. I did some work outside of my hours to keep some of their customers happy and eventually found that my call quantity dropped as people would call, ask whoever they got to get me to call them (outgoing calls didn't count). I had defined and eventually established the need for a "2nd in charge" role and at the end of this, got a $0.50 / hour pay rise. Money's not a great motivator, but it is a token of appreciation (in a place that showed no appreciation. I remember being raked over the coals after getting a thank you letter from one of their customers).

I got hired (actually - that's not strictly right. The resourcing had been approved but actually hiring people hadn't. The whole team were having to work off USB sticks as we didn't have network access) as what I describe as an "Excel Junkie". During the middle of this project, we held a conference for everyone to get a scope of what was going on project wide. I had to get up and speak - but before doing so, I had counted the number of times my name had been mentioned throughout the day. Around 30 odd. I had moved on from being nothing more than an Excel junkie to being fundamental to how the project ran (at the time). Eventually I managed to make that job redundant.

The "image" has been called into question. Why am I working so hard on it? Because it has the potential to be something awesome. Something I can be proud of. It's been my work product for the last 2 years (I do question the value of those 2 years given the issues I'm currently facing. There's a whole rant in here which I'm not going to get into but right now is a pretty hard time for me). Has the "customer" asked for it to have the functionality that it currently has or the functionality I'm proposing? No. Has that ever stopped me? Absolutely not.

But this does bring up an interesting issue. Intellectual property... If it's something I could be proud of, what limitations are likely to be placed around me if I want to open up the development more?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Spontaneous Artworks

I'm not going to say much here. I've become kind of insufferable.

Anyway - I was doing something today with gimp in one of the classrooms when I had this sudden idea. About 3 minutes later, I had the following:


I really kind of dig it... There's something really kind of .... monotone about it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sticking it to "The Man"

I found myself shocked and surprised when I saw a line on a document the other day about possibly needing to maintain 2 images. This was from people in the know. So to all of those out there reading my blog with rapt attention about "The Image" - if you're not quite getting it, don't worry. Those in the project don't seem to either.

"The Image" (I really need to come up with a name for it) is really incredibly flexible. That stuff in Manaiakalani Shininess Part II - it's real. I mean, really real. Combine it with the stuff about supplements (packages at the moment but I've every intention of extending it to scripts) and there's some REAL flexibility.

For example, to add another site, it is no longer at all necessary to create a new image. Make the packages, throw them into the right folder on the KttC and the site is added. For a simple site, you're looking at less than a week to make up all of the branding packages, get network settings in there, add bookmarks etc.

That's KttC. Need to make some serious customisations? That site definition made while building the packages? Add software. Remove software. Do what ever you please. It's just a text file. I'm now making up a demo for installing KDE and removing Gnome (and the Netbook Interface). Now I'm not saying there isn't a sacrifice here. The bigger the changes, the more time it takes to set up the system when the user goes through their initial login process. That's a pretty big sacrifice - it effects the user's experience BUT it's perfectly possible (read: It may be necessary to maintain multiple images IF there are enough sites with enough big differences to justify it. It would have to justify the maintenance overheads).

The blueprints - it solves a whole other problem. Currently we're imaging. Imaging is fine - it's good. BUT it doesn't really give us any flexibility in partitioning. Look at any imaging system and you'll find that you can image to machines with bigger hard drives, but not smaller (there's absolutely no reason why this same image couldn't be used on a 40GB hard drive BUT the image has been made on a 160GB machine). Resizing partitions is also problematic - they attempt to do it proportionally rather than keeping things sensible (is there any real need to make a system partition bigger if it works just because you've got a bigger hard drive? Shouldn't the space rather be used for user generated files?). So part of this process will be to define maximum and minimum sizes for partitions.

The sacrifice? There's always some sort of sacrifice. The time needed to format a file system for each partition. Given that you no longer need a stick to do this though (except for the initial load of the rescue partition), this is probably less of a concern.

So "The Image" is good currently. It'll be even better soon. So to all of those doubters out there... Stick it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Internet in New Zealand

With today's announcement that Pacific Fibre had folded, I can't help but feel bitter disappointment. It always had challenges - the least of which, from my perspective, was raising capital. Let's consider that for a second. The capital isn't that hard. They needed $400,000,000. That's $100 per person in New Zealand. Okay - that's a little hard, but I don't think it's at all insurmountable.

The bigger challenges? The drivers for Internet - i.e. what gets people using data - are troublesome in New Zealand. In terms of legal content, your options are... well... Sky and Quickflix. Sky has pretty much sewn up media rights here. It still irks me that they got the rights to the Olympics though I have to say, the coverage on Prime has been pretty damn good (with the notable exception of the opening ceremony - which I just couldn't watch. WAY too much advertising). What really had me upset was the fact that 3 News had to blur out a screen showing the opening ceremony in the background of one of their stories.

To put this into context, I could pay another $10 / month for 50GB. I have used up 10GB in the last 2 weeks. It's just not worth $10 / month for data I can't really use.

Quickflix is one of many services offering anti-features. i.e. what really frustrates me about the recording industry is that instead of using technology to add value, they do their very best to take value away under the term DRM (Digital Restrictions Management or, less accurately, Digital Rights Management). Buttons.

And of course, they don't support Linux or other Free (Libre) operating systems. Want to take advantage of their services? Make sure you have Windows or Mac OSX.

The cable has to be profitable... If people aren't using data, the cable is effectively pointless.

But what does this all mean? Pacific Fibre were attempting to add a second cable from New Zealand to the rest of the world. Currently we have 1 cable (I don't think that's technically true but it's true that any lines out of New Zealand are owned by one entity - of which Telecom own a majourity holding) out of the country. It's got huge capacity - our needs are easily served.

The problem isn't technical. Instead, the problem is a social one. The cost of our Internet is a symptom of the fact that there's absolutely no competition. Add to that the regulatory holiday that the government (why the hell did all of those people vote National?!?) gave to Telecom and we're in an extremely bad position.

So the government's 1.5 billion ultrafast broadband project is very likely pointless as well. It's a way to get Sky content and not much else. It's a far cry from the sort of content and services that we should be expecting with that sort of speed. Could we be seeing less tweets as the price of data via the Internet becomes more and more prohibitive? The question is, is the National government going to see this as a failing of the project and make moves to rectify the situation?

2013 Image Blue Prints

The terms has barely started - the imaging hasn't been completed yet and I've already got a fairly good idea of what I need to do for the image next year (It's probably a full time job in it's own right. I do wonder what I did so wicked to still be getting no rest). I hesitate to call it "The Manaiakalani Image" as it now contains a few entities outside of the project and could probably have infinite permentations

So here it is. There are now going to be two elements to it.

The Keys to the Castle will be made redundant and re-purposed as "The Seed". Basically, every machine with have what is effectively a rescue partition that can be booted to (put on there by "The Seed"). The password file will be synced with the main OS so that users can log on themselves AND there'll be a administrators password - so that teachers are also able to get on and do things like reset passwords. What does "The Seed" do? Basically, it'll create that rescue partition and then reboot the machine. From there, the bootloader should just boot into that environment which will do the actual imaging (The aim would be to try and make it as automated as humanly possible. i.e. check the partition table and do it automatically if there is no partition other than the rescue partition). This will probably be based on Debian. I have a whole lot of work to do around reliably updating that rescue partition.

The OS itself will be based on Ubuntu 12.04. I'm not even thinking about the interface at the moment - when I do start thinking about it again, I'll start doing some gnome-shell posts (boring nerd speak stuff). So I have to make sure that the existing scripts work in the new environment and alter a bunch of things such as how default and mandatory settings are processed (Geek speak: provide a migration path from gconf to gsettings).

The new image MUST work with UEFI (as well as BIOS). I've just purchased a machine with UEFI so that I can start development and testing. I'll also be getting the code up onto GitHub at some stage soon (someone has offered to step me through how to use it) so it'll be that much more accessible.

What does all of that really mean?

The kids will be capable of imaging their own machines - further distributing those administration tasks downwards. Term updates would be to that rescue partition only (and the image contained there in). It would be at the children's (and/or their teacher's) discretion to actually do the imaging.

I'm looking to try and make things as graphical as humanly possible so will be replacing grub with burg (and then to Plymouth and finally X11/Gnome?).

So basically, I'll be looking to try and get the main parts (the rescue partition, The Seed etc.) done by the end of this term which should give me some time to work on an Interface...

Feel free to comment...