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Web Log - General

Double Take

By Andrew Price, 2008-11-02 15:34:02 in General. (Permalink)

I don't know how long the Wallich Centre has been on Cathedral Road, but it took me until yesterday, on a bus ride home, to realise that their logo is oddly familiar.

And Now, The End Is Near

By Andrew Price, 2008-05-27 03:08:38 in General. (Permalink)

It's gone 2:00am and my final exam of my entire degree course begins in about seven hours. What a strange feeling. My life is approaching one of those unsettling turning points where just about anything can happen. At least, it feels that way: the sky's the limit. Realistically my next days will be spent basking in the warm glow of relief that the course has ended, celebrating, and spending some proper happy-time with my friends, who I've missed greatly over the last I've-forgotten-how-long due to the CS Course From Hell effect.

After and during all that fun stuff, as I understand is traditional in these circumstances, I'll be looking for a job. I'm aware that advertising the kind of area I'd like to work in on my blog may be counterproductive but any Sharp-eyed Stanley could figure out my preferences from my website and the sites which syndicate my blog entries. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Somewhat less traditionally, I really want to get stuck in and push my open source projects along now. I've been neglecting Pybackpack terribly for the last academic year, and Gnome has gone and changed GnomeVFS into GVFS/GIO which means the crazy Gnome-dependent bits still remaining in Pybackpack are getting rotten. Its code base dates back to when Dave and I were first learning Python so there's some pretty shocking stuff in there too, and it's begging for a rewrite. Although lately I've been developing some ideas about abstracting away the commonalities of backup systems and encapsulating them in a framework so it may evolve into something different. I should mature those ideas and write them down out at some point.

This last academic year my main focus has been Askant, the Linux file system performance analysis tool I've been developing for my third year project and dissertation. It's not very pretty or useful right now but it'll get there with some love and elbow grease. Askant has been at the centre of one of the most interesting and challenging learning experiences I've had at university. While researching for it, I've learned a good deal about file systems (GFS2 in particular), block IO, the Linux kernel in general, C, extending Python, and to top things off, it taught me enough to let me contribute five whole characters of code in the kernel. There'll be more where they came from, I'm sure.

As for Twyt, well, that's simple and modular so I've been able to hack on it in stolen moments of relaxation. It shouldn't take long for it to reach full API support when I'm free to work on it. It's been attracting a fair amount of interest lately (I think more computer geeks are joining Twitter, you know).

Well, I'd better cut this short and get some sleep. That silly exam isn't going to write itself.

Software From Universities For Schools

By Andrew Price, 2008-04-05 11:54:11 in General. (Permalink)

The idea is simple: computer science/software engineering departments in universities could initiate and host open source software projects to satisfy computer-based learning requirements of local schools. The flow would go something like:

  1. University and school communicate to establish the school's software requirements;
  2. Research is carried out to establish whether open source software already exists to satisfy requirements (no point in duplicating effort, right?);
  3. University sets up infrastructure and recruits interested staff and students to take on the project in their spare time or as part of an assessed course;
  4. The project is publicised to attract wider attention from potential developers and other schools;
  5. The software is developed and releases made, allowing teachers to evaluate it and report bugs and request features until it is good enough for use;
  6. The project hits 'maintenance mode' allowing the university to take on a new project;
  7. The school kids become computer geeks, end up in university and contribute software back to their old schools (ok, maybe just a few).

The obvious benefits here are financial and educational and it would help schools to improve their community ties with local universities while the open source software is distributed freely to benefit schools in other parts of the world. The kids could also take the software home with them. The lack of restrictions means that the possibilities are abundant.

Perhaps it could attract financial backing from local industry, motivated by the possibility of employing graduates with more experience of collaborating and working on useful software projects.

This is one of those spur-of-the-moment brainstorms which I haven't really thought through and it's probably not an original idea, but I'd like to see something like this happening in my local area. No doubt there is a bit of red tape and apathy to cut through to get projects like this established but it makes sense to me.

Chugging Along Happily

By Andrew Price, 2006-12-13 01:52:45 in General. (Permalink)

Things have been rather busy lately. I must admit that I had slightly too much fun on the weekend considering the four coursework deadlines I was supposed to meet this week. A more sensible person would have put their head down and worked like stink all weekend but the temptation of some fun distractions enticed me away from my original path. Here's what I've been up to lately:

All of this and some other, minor sidetrackings led me to run over the deadline for my Algorithms & Complexity coursework due in on Monday and my Functional Programming coursework for today wasn't the best I could have done. I really should have taken a rain check for that fun list of procrastinations but I had fun and I'm happy about the decisions I made. I must remember to recalibrate my priorities before my exams in January, though.

So, just two more deadlines to meet on Friday and then I'll be free to enjoy my Christmas break, which will be filled with coding, partying and shopping. I might even get time to do some Ubuntu work, which I've been guiltily failing to make time for since the end of the Summer. Sorry, Ubuntu! I'll give you some love soon, I promise. I also need to take care of some annoying bugs in pybackpack, do some work on marvin (because it's been vapourware for far too long), write the todo list program I've been meaning to write since the Summer and find a stable source of income before student life empties my bank account entirely.

"More hours in a day" is on my Christmas list this year.

Back To Scrobbling

By Andrew Price, 2006-08-17 14:58:23 in General. (Permalink)

Good news - my lastfmsubmitd sync request got sorted out and I have returned to the world of the scrobblers on last.fm, managing to pass 7000 tracks played shortly after my return. I haven't used lastfmsubmitd and lastmp for a while - since around version 0.21 when I did a bit of debugging for it - and since then it has reached version 0.32.1, gotten into Debian Sid (Unstable branch) and subsequently into Ubuntu Edgy which I have installed for testing on my PC. I'm rather impressed with how smooth it's installing and running these days.

So if you're crazy enough to be running Ubuntu Edgy or Debian Sid at the moment and have a last.fm account (and you like to use the terminal), I'd recommend the following:

$ sudo apt-get install mpd mpc lastfmsubmitd lastmp

mpd 0.12 is due to be released later this month and it's the first new release for quite a while. It's looking quite shiny. I hope it gets into Debian unstable fast enough to be synced into Edgy.

$ if [ food_of_love "music" ]; do mpc play; done

Apologies to Mr. Shakespeare

The Frog That Came To Visit

By Andrew Price, 2006-07-18 23:55:40 in General. (Permalink)

The slightly-too-hot weather has kept me indoors for the majority of today. When evening came and it started to become colder outside than inside I grabbed a book and a cold beer and put my feet up in the back garden to enjoy the cool air.

A photo of the frog that came to visit

As I reached page 232 in low light I heard a quiet, yet sudden, sound of rustling coming from the patch of grass in the middle of the garden (it's too small to be classed as a lawn in my head). I looked down to see a frog sitting still about a yard away from me on the grass. After staring for a while and feeling distinctly David Attenborough-esque I slowly got up and went to grab my parents' camera. After a few blurred attempts and much fiddling with the camera to find the up-close setting, I managed to get one decent photo[Original, 926KB] of it before it hopped off into the overgrown undergrowth.

A bit of research tells me that It's a common frog or rana temporaria and was around 5cm from feet to nose (total guess) with bright green speckling on its belly. I hope it finds somewhere cool/moist to shelter before the hot weather hits again tomorrow.

Birthdays, Barbecues and Large Balls of Plasma

By Andrew Price, 2006-07-18 18:04:38 in General. (Permalink)

Cor, it's been a scorcher the last few days. I was planning on meeting up with some old friends in Cardiff and going into town to do some shopping before I leave but the hot weather has made me a bit lethargic and sleep deprived and I'm inclined to stay at home in the shade wearing as little as common decency will allow. The idea of heading back to Swansea has been made all the more appealing by the temptation of heading down to the beach and swimming in the sea. So I'll probably go back tomorrow.

My mum's birthday party went very well. Lots of people turned up, we all got very happily drunk, I got to see and catch up with members of my extended family and the food was tasty and plentiful. Especially the 5 or 6 desserts I managed to fit into a small bowl and polish off between pints of Murphy's whilst my cousin's daughter continued her physical assault on my skull with party balloons. Good fun.

A silly photo of Andy the BBQ chef

The day after the party we had a barbecue for which I was dubbed chef. Much food was eaten, mostly of the meat variety, and for dessert we had barbecued bananas with old-fashioned style vanilla ice cream. Delicious. I received praise for my cooking skill and two days later everyone is still alive and well so I think I can conclude that it went well.

So, back to Swansea tomorrow and I hear it's going to be hotter still. Someone reserve me a spot in the sea at Rotherslade!

New Phone! Well, Sort Of

By Andrew Price, 2006-07-13 23:54:58 in General. (Permalink)

Anyone who has spent some time with me in the last couple of years or has tried to phone or text me will have noticed that I use an old, chunky Nokia 3510i which has little memory, no camera, has a tendency to forget about receiving messages until you power cycle it and only picks up signal in a few scattered cubic inches of my house.

Due to my mother's impending 0x3C'th birthday I've been back at home-home in Cardiff since Monday. When I got here, mum excitedly showed off the new mobile phone that my dad had bought her - a rather nifty flip-up Panasonic with lots of crazily unnecessary features such as Sonic The Hedgehog on it. It eventually occured to me that mum's old phone was just lying around doing nothing and that it was a hell of a lot better than my old 3510i. So today I nabbed it and plonked my SIM card in it to give it a test and it seems that there's not much wrong with it.

Now, I'm not one to let old hardware die while there's still life in it (especially when it means I get a free upgrade) so I asked my mum to let me have it and she happily obliged. A bit of fiddling later and a call to Orange's customer service line and I've now got the ability to send and receive MMS messages, with the first 30 photo messages free. The photos aren't of a wonderful quality though:

A low quality photo taken with my new phone

So now I'm the owner of a nice and almost-shiny Nokia 7250. The acid test will be to get it back to Swansea and see how well it works in the low-signal environment that is the House of Geek.

Spreading Some Good

By Andrew Price, 2006-06-20 11:18:25 in General. (Permalink)

I notice that my friend Kat is doing the charity run The Race For Life this year with her mum and sister. A few years ago I manned a Sports Council information stall at the Cardiff Race For Life event which saw an awesome number of women and girls (over 10,000 I think) congregating in Bute Park to raise money for cancer research by going on a long run, or walk, should they prefer it. It was touching to see that a lot of them wore t-shirts and things with the names of loved ones that they lost to cancer printed on them.

Anyway, it's a great event and a very worthwhile cause so go and sponsor Kat online. Good luck with hitting your target, Kat, and have a nice jog :)

"What's The Matter Lagerboy...

By Andrew Price, 2006-04-09 23:16:42 in General. (Permalink)

... afraid you might taste something?"

My attempt to wean myself off lager and onto a wider range of beers has been a total success.

I can now say that I've tried a few different "real" beers and I've enjoyed each one of them. My favourite so far is Hobgoblin which tastes ever so slightly like chocolate and has a nice smooth flavour and isn't too bitter. Other non-lager beers that have tickled my palate during this experiment are Marston's Old Empire, Old Speckled Hen, Marston's Double Drop, Worthington Cask Ale and Brains Smooth. (Please note this has been over a period of weeks and I'm not really an alcoholic :)).

A Good Day Part 2

By Andrew Price, 2006-04-05 20:25:53 in General. (Permalink)

Additional to my previous post, I went down to the beach again this afternoon. This time I had a Jo to stroll with and a camera to take a few photos with. I only took 3 but they show quite well how good the weather was today and how nice it is on the beach on a day like today. So here are my "I wish I had my camera with me so that I could take a photo and send it to my family to make them really envious" -photos of the beach today.

DSCF0135 DSCF0136 DSCF0137

Next time I'll take them when the tide is in...

A Good Day

By Andrew Price, 2006-04-05 14:58:25 in General. (Permalink)

Despite it not even being 3:00pm yet, today is turning out to be full of things that make me smile. Somehow I've managed to have decent nights of sleep and wake up around 6:00am for the last couple of days so I'm feeling pretty good anyway. But today the sun was shining and I went out on my bike, first to campus to hang out in the computer society's room for a while and then I headed off down the beach front to Tesco to buy some bits 'n bobs (Including 2 packets of Tim Tams since they were on sale. Mmm.)

Cycling along by the beach was fantastic. It almost felt as warm as summer (if you ignore the chilly April air) and there were people out sunbathing and kicking back on their lunch breaks. It was one of those "I wish I had my camera with me so that I could take a photo and send it to my family to make them really envious" situations. After the horrible, long, cold autumn and winter we've had this bit of sunny weather is very welcome. It also lowers the heating bill. Bonus.

In other good news, external access to the computer society's games server has finally been enabled by the university's LIS department. So now we're all clear to go ahead and provide another fun service to our members. It's taken a while but we got there in the end.

Escaping The Drudgery

By Andrew Price, 2006-01-18 00:24:01 in General. (Permalink)

I shouldn't waste much time in writing thise entry because my Database Systems exam is tomorrow morning and I really haven't done enough studying for it. I'm not the only person I know of who is a sucker for distractions and procrastination at exam times, though. Several of my Computer Society acquaintances are also partial to occupying their minds with other things while perfectly good study time rushes past.

Now after reading around the web (yes yes, while I'm supposed to be revising) I think I've come across the reasons why we are so adept at turning a blind eye to what most onlookers would describe as the "more important" tasks. And they're not my ideas, they're the ideas of a couple of more noteable (dare I say "famous"?) characters from the world of computing. Here are a couple:

Hackers (and creative people in general) should never be bored or have to drudge at stupid repetitive work, because when this happens it means they aren't doing what only they can do — solve new problems. This wastefulness hurts everybody. Therefore boredom and drudgery are not just unpleasant but actually evil. -- Eric S. Raymond

I couldn't agree more. Reading through pages of theoretical notes about database systems is probably one of the most boring activities I've ever had to face. It's no wonder I've been seeking out more interesting things to put my mind to, such as learning python, reading up on YAML, awk, sed and other specifics, tweaking my website's scripts and blogging more frequently than I have done in the past.

I think the way to "solve" the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you'll leave the right things undone. -- Paul Graham

I've been known to overrate Paul Graham's essays, and to be fair they have become quite one-tracked (talking mostly about startup tech businesses) lately but this one seems to hit the nail on the head. My procrastination has certainly been directed at learning things that are more interesting but just as computer science based as the things they want us to learn to get a degree. It also makes me question just how interested I am in computer science as a degree subject.

My first and foremost attraction to computer science was its powerful mnemonic links with creativity, design, language and in-depth problem solving - all of which I have great interest in - along with my fascination with the whole worldwide computing community, open source software and the technology industry. Since I've been at university I've learnt that this isn't the case. The real face of academic computer science has turned out to be a large mass of different notations and abstract theories intermingled with an intimidating amount of complicated mathematical models of what should be simple and intuitive ideas. In short, a lot of it is boring and I can't *use* it. This has left me quite cynical about the academic side of student life but now I've started it I have to see it through.

That's enough reflection for tonight. On with the revision. And maybe when these exams are over I'll do something creative and enjoyable to keep my brain from being dented by the die.

Getting Back On Track...

By Andrew Price, 2006-01-08 10:06:16 in General. (Permalink)

...and no that doesn't involve using Ruby On Rails.

After reading a few planet debian posts about the delights (and bad side) of being an early riser I decided that I might give it a shot and make my sleep pattern sane before my exams arrive. The whole idea is to go to sleep when and only when you're tired and wake up at the same time each morning. For the last couple of days it seems to have worked, with late bed times and early(er) rises, at around 9am. Although, I guess my improved sleep pattern could also be explained by my putting my mind to work on things like revision and a new interest of mine, helping to test out and debug lastmp and lastfmsubmitd (incidently, my first ever contribution to an open source project). I probably shouldn't be doing the latter, but it has provided an interesting and all-to-convenient escape from the stress of thinking about exams, as the SUCS blogs system did last year.

By the way, Sean, how much did that chair set you back? I want one!

Blogging In A Linux Wonderland

By Andrew Price, 2005-12-21 21:10:56 in General. (Permalink)

Today feels like a relatively productive day.

After some helpful persuasion from my Mother I managed to get out of bed before 10am. The whole point of this was meant to be so that I could get up early and get into town for Christmas shopping before the town centre got too busy. Being the lazy geek that I have proven myself to be on many occasions I had breakfast and then hopped onto the computer, predictably getting caught up in tweaking things here and there, chatting about Debian's (and hence Ubuntu's) lack of run level 3,4 and 5 usage on milliways and generally procrastinating. Before I knew what time it was, the NTL bloke arrived to plonk a digital TV box under the TV. So I waited until he was gone, had a fiddle around with the channels to show my mum how the shiny new menu system and remote control worked and then at around 3pm I finally got my arse out of the door and into town. On the most manky bus I've ever been on I might add.

Once in town I headed straight for Spillers to get the CDs that I had thought of for certain members of my family. I said hi to Ashli and Grace who work there and after a brief chat Ashli asked what I was looking for. I reeled off my mental list of 3 CDs but unfortunately none of them were in stock. I was most disappointed. I did remember to pick up a copy of Takk... by Sigur Rós though, which I'm currently playing and chilling out to. Yay for buying myself presents.

I guess the rest of my shopping trip is censored, due to Santa - Patient confidentiality and my family reading my blog (one hopes.) I have to say though, my Mum is not easy person to buy presents for. Mum - get a hobby :)

About four hours later I had had enough of shopping so I bought a sandwich to get bus change (Cardiff buses don't give change, damn them) and headed to the bus stop. At the stop there was a steaming drunk bloke going off on one to a total stranger and making a little old lady visibly nervous. I think he was having a rant about terrorist attacks or something, but he could have been emitting pink noise for all the sense he was making. He liked to use the word "fuck" a lot too.

I arrived home at about 7:45 with a full rucksack of presents, aching feet and a craving for a liqueur coffee, which i didn't hold back on the cream or whiskey with. Perfect winter warmer.

As a result of my earlier poking around on my PC, Linux is now the "family" PC's main OS. At last. Mum has her email and stuff all set up and I've imported all her old emails over so she didn't lose anything. All that's left now is to install the usual plugins for Firefox and a Java runtime and copy some more important files over from the old hard drive and everything will be hunky dory.

I'm really starting to feel the Christmas spirit now, things are getting less stressful.

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