Shallow Thoughts

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Mon, 29 Aug 2005

Using GIMP for Paper Prototyping

Sven, one of the GIMP developers, has been interested in setting up a "paper prototyping" system for reorganizing the GIMP's menus (see his blog post.

Since I've been involved with some of the ongoing menu reorganization, we've talked about it a bit, and discussed some tools that are being written to assist with online paper prototyping (since the "get everybody together in a room with slips of paper" model doesn't work for worldwide distributed projects).

But for some reason it never occurred to me until a couple days ago that GIMP itself would make a fine paper prototyping tool. The move tool lets you move the text layers into any configuration you like, you can control colors and fonts, and you can save to your choice of standard formats.

It didn't take long at all to whip up a script-fu to enable paper prototyping, which I posted to the gimp-developer list.

Nobody has actually used my script to comment on the menu reorganization yet ... but what the heck, it was fun to write the script. Maybe it'll be useful in other projects that need paper prototyping.

[ 16:43 Aug 29, 2005    More gimp | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 25 Aug 2005

Dowitcher Photo Published!

I was contacted months ago regarding a photo on my web site asking whether it could be used along with an article on molting patterns in Dowitchers in Birding magazine.

Months went by (print magazines are slow) and I wondered if the plan had been dropped, but last week I heard from the author, Caleb Putnam, and the article is in the current (July/August) issue! Yesterday I received a copy of the magazine and a modest payment. Cool!

Even cooler, the photo is the frontispiece of the article. The author says he's received many comments about how great a shot it is for illustrating molt gaps. That's a pull quote if I ever heard one: "Great shot for illustrating molt gaps."

The article is interesting as well -- I didn't know that molt patterns could identify the two species of dowitcher. Telling long-billed and short-billed dowitchers apart has been beyond my modest birding skills, but perhaps I'll have better luck now. I'll be heading out to Baylands today at lunch to see what the dowitchers are doing ...

[ 10:49 Aug 25, 2005    More photo | permalink to this entry ]

Sun, 14 Aug 2005

Edit sources.list To Get Ubuntu Security Updates

I bet I'm not the only one who uses Ubuntu (Hoary Hedgehog) and didn't realize that it doesn't automatically put the security sources in /etc/apt/sources.list, so apt-get and aptitude don't pick up any of the security updates without extra help.

After about a month with no security updates on any ubuntu machines (during which time I know there were security alerts in Debian for packages I use), I finally tracked down the answer.

It turns out that if you use synaptic, click on "Mark All Upgrades", then click on Apply, synaptic will pull in security updates. However, if you use the "Ubuntu Upgrade Manager" in the System->Administration menu, or if you use commands like apt-get -f dist-upgrade or aptitude -f dist-upgrade, then the sources which synaptic wrote into sources.list are not sufficient to get the security updates. (Where synaptic keeps its extra sources, I still don't know.)

When I asked about this on #ubuntu, I was pointed to a page on the Ubuntu wiki which walks you through selecting sources in synaptic. Unfortunately, the screenshots on the wiki show lots of sources that none of my Ubuntu machines show, and the wiki doesn't give you the sources.list lines or tell you what to do if synaptic doesn't automagically show the security sources.

The solution: to edit /etc/apt/sources.list and make sure the following lines are there (which some of the people on the IRC channel were kind enough to paste for me):

## All officially supported packages, including security- and other updates
deb hoary main restricted
deb hoary-security main restricted
deb hoary-updates main restricted
In addition, if you use "universe" and "multiverse", you probably also want these lines:
deb hoary universe multiverse
deb hoary-security universe multiverse
deb hoary-updates universe multiverse

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[ 21:49 Aug 14, 2005    More linux | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 11 Aug 2005

Linuxworld San Francisco, 2005

There's really not much to say about Linuxworld this year. It was smaller than last year (they moved it across the street to the "little" Moscone hall) and the mood seemed a bit subdued.

SWAG was way down: to get anything remotely cool you generally had to register to watch a presentation that gave you a chance to get something to wear that would enter you for a chance to win something cool later. Or similar indirections. You had to be pretty desperate. But maybe people were, since I saw lines at some of the booths.

I did my annual sweep of the big booths to see who was running Linux on their show machines. This year was the first time that all the major booths used predominately Linux (except on machines running fullscreen presentation software, where it's impossible to tell). It was a huge change from past shows -- I stopped keeping tabs after a while. I saw only one or two confirmed Windows machines each at most of the big booths, like Intel, AMD, IBM, Sun, and even HP. They seemed fairly evenly divided between SuSE and Redhat.

At the AMD booth, lots of machines sported cardboard signs saying "Powered by Redhat" or "Powered by SuSE". One of the "Powered by Redhat" machines clearly had a Start menu, so I had to ask. The AMD rep gave me a song and dance about virtualization technologies, pointing out that although the machine was running Windows, it displayed both Redhat and SuSE windows which he said were running on the same machine. Okay, that's a perfectly good reason to be running Windows at a Linux convention. No points off there. I suspect most of the booths showing Windows had similar excuses.

"Virtualization is the wave of the future! Everybody here is displaying virtualization technologies," the AMD rep told me. Indeed, virtualization was everywhere. I don't know that I'm convinced it's the wave of the future, but there was no question that it was the wave of the present at this year's Linuxworld.

Sweeping the hall, I passed by the Adobe booth, where someone was giving a presentation to an audience of maybe ten people. The projector showed a window which showed ... nothing. A blank window border with nothing inside. "Now, it's connecting to San Jose", explained the presenter with apparent pride, "to get permission to display the document." I kept walking . It hadn't finished connecting yet by the time I was out of earshot. Perhaps the audience was somehow persuaded by this demo to buy Adobe software. I guess you never know what people will like.

A bit past Adobe was the weirdest booth of the exhibit hall: SolovatSoft, offering offshore software development at rates starting at $18/hour. Honest, this was an actual booth at Linuxworld. I should have taken my camera.

Gone were most of the nifty embedded Linux displays of yesteryear. I saw only two: one (, I think) which I've seen there before, showing an array of fun-looking custom embedded platforms of all sizes, and another showing Linux on various cellphones and similar consumer devices. Only one laptop maker (Emperor) made it there, and none of the smaller-than-laptop manufacturers -- I was hoping Nokia, Sharp, Psion or some other maker of nifty Linux PDAs might be there.

The "Dot Org Pavilion", the place where free software groups like Debian, Mozilla, the FSF, and the EFF have their booths, was on a completely separate floor, and would have been easy to miss if you didn't look at the maps in the convention guide. But it wasn't all bad: someone on a LUG mailing list pointed out that this put them in a nice quiet area away from the raucous advertising of the big commercial booths in the main hall, so you could actually have a conversation with the booth folks. Also, the dot-orgs got a nice view out the second-floor windows compared to the cavernous indoor commercial hall.

I only went to one keynote, "The Explosive Growth of Linux and Open Source: What Does It All Mean?" The description made it look like a panel discussion, but it was really just five prepared speeches: three suits repeating buzzwords (Dave and I amused ourselves counting the uses of the word "exciting", and with Toastmasters reflexes I couldn't help counting the "ah"s) and two more interesting talks (well, okay, Eben Moglen was also wearing a suit but at least he didn't spend his whole talk telling us about the exciting opportunities ahead for company X).

I would have liked to have heard Mike Shaver's keynote on web technologies, but it wasn't worth going back to San Francisco for a second day just for that.

In the end, the real highlight of the day was hooking up with Sonja at the Novell/SuSE booth for a nice lunch. Hooray for conferences that give you an excuse to meet friends from far away! Catching up with some of the Mozilla crowd was good, too. That made the trip worth it even if the exhibit hall didn't offer much.

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[ 21:25 Aug 11, 2005    More conferences | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 05 Aug 2005

Second Round of Nestlings

Both the mourning doves and the mockingbirds snuck in in a third round of nesting this year. Rather than make lots of little entries, I kept the timeline all in one (long) file. If nothing else, it's easy to skip for anyone who doesn't like "bird columns" (taking a cue from Jon Carroll and his "cat columns").

Jun 24:

There's a little drama going on on the roof of the house across from the office window. a pair of doves showing extreme interest in the rain gutters at the corner of the porch and above it at the corner of the house (flanking the tree where they raised their chicks last month). She (I assume) will fly to the porch gutter, snuggle down in the gutter for five or ten seconds, then appear dissatisfied and fly over to the other gutter, do the same there, fly to the ground, fly up to the roof, coo for a while, then repeat the process. Meanwhile her mate flies from the roof to the ground to the power line, cooing the whole time.

At one point, one of the dovelets flew to the roof just above the gutter and started pecking for gravel, and mom chased him away furiously. No more parenting for you! Get your own place! Get a job, why don't you? And cut your hair!

The scaly dovelet still looks scaly. I wonder why? The other chick looks like a miniature adult.

Unfortunately we had to disturb the little episode because the porch gutter the dove kept landing on had come loose. Dave went out with a hammer and hammered it back into place, but I guess that spooked the doves. Which may be just as well -- an exposed rain gutter really doesn't seem like a good place for a nest, especially since the youngsters seem to avoid sun, fun though it might be to have the nest right out in plain view of the window.

Jun 25:

The doves seem to have been scared off by the hammering of the rain gutter, and are looking elsewhere for a nesting site. There's lots of ooohaaahing going on while they're up on the power lines, and once I saw the male trying to mate (the female flew away). Haven't seen the dovelets since mom chased one off the roof.

Jun 28:

The doves are back, cooing and nestling in the gutter. Looks like she really likes that site.

Jun 29:

She's given up on the roof and gutter and has decided to nest in the old nest site in the guava tree.

July 2:

One dove now stays in the nest at all times -- I suspect there's an egg there -- while her mate furiously brings her sticks one after another. When he's not bringing sticks for the nest, he's up on the wires singing Oooaah, oooh oooh oooh!

July 3

Turns out there's a mockingbird nest in the pyrocanthus just outside the kitchen window. We can see it from the sink. The mocker hardly spends any time there, though. The dove is still sitting patiently in the nest.

July 5

Dave cleaned the outside of the kitchen window so we could get a better view of the nest. Haven't seen the mocker since; we may have scared her off.

July 7

The mocker wasn't scared off after all. I saw her perched on the edge of the nest, poking into the nest. I couldn't tell if she was rearranging eggs or feeding chicks. No chick noises, though. The dove still sitting. Of course, it's impossible to tell when dove chicks hatch since they are silent and motionless until nearly ready to fledge.

July 10

Mocker perched on the edge of the nest again, but this time we saw the chicks. She hunted about four bugs for them in quick succession, then disappeared. Amazing how little time the mocker spends in this nest compared to the dove, who's always there.

July 12

One mockingbird chick tentatively seen on the edge of the nest.

July 13

The mockingbird chicks have fledged. I say "chicks" but I've actually only seen one, hopping around the upper branches of the pyrocantha. It doesn't seem to be able to fly yet, and still looks very fuzzy and short-tailed.

And the dove-mom, never flitting,
Still is sitting, still is sitting ...

July 14

Drama outside the bedroom window this morning. Apparently there was a chick down in the neighbor's back yard, and I was awakened by squawking as both mockingbird parents buzzed something in the yard just on the other side of the fence.

This went on for about an hour, with breaks for a few minutes every so often. Then the harrassment abruptly stopped. I don't know whether whatever it is they were attacking (a cat? I didn't hear any barking, so I think the dogs were away) went away, or got the chick. But it's possible the chick may still be okay. A little while later I heard some tentative singing, and about an hour later there was a little bit of squawking aimed at a different part of the neighbor's back yard. My hope is that the chick is slowly making its way out of the yard.

July 17

I haven't seen any more sign of mockingbird chicks, but I heard outside the living room window something that sounded remarkably like a mocker chick and an adult talking to it. So I think at least one chick survived.

The dove, incredibly, is still sitting on the nest. It's possible that there are chicks in there too, but I haven't been able to spot any.

July 25

Incredibly, I think there are actually dovelets in the nest. I had pretty much decided that it must be time for the dove to give up sitting and go get a life, but I'm seeing vague signs of movement in the nest, and slightly different behavior from the sitting dove. Doves sure are patient.

July 26

Tonight when we got home from dinner, we were greeted at the gate by a baby bird hopping around on the driveway. In the dim light it was hard to tell what it was, but probably a sparrow or house finch -- too small for a mockingbird fledgeling.

And fledgeling it was: after regarding us for a short time it flitted unsteadily into the top of a nearby bush, which seemed to us like a much better place for a birdlet to spend the night than the driveway!

There are indeed dovelets in the nest. Looks like two again, though it's hard to see them clearly. The parents look tired; one of them spent part of the afternoon sitting on the deck, out in the open, and didn't move when we walked by. (It wasn't hurt, though; I kept an eye on it through the office window in case I needed to shoo away cats, and it eventually flew weakly up to join its mate in the guava tree.)

July 31

The dovelets are sitting up in the nest and looking very alert. Probably only a few more days left to fledging. The parents are no longer sitting with them, and are up cooing on the wire.

August 2

No dovelets in the nest! I found them in the corner of the yard, the same corner that the previous pair liked so much. They stayed there all morning.

Like the previous pair, there's one that looks like a miniature mourning dove, and a second with a scaly pattern.

But in early afternoon, they were gone. A whiff of cat poo in the air suggested doom.

August 3

There was one dovelet in the corner of the yard this morning. I haven't seen the other, but at least one (the scaly one) survived.

August 5

Haven't seen any dovelets since the morning of the 3rd.

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[ 22:15 Aug 05, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry ]

Mon, 01 Aug 2005

Enabling Remote X

Another in the series of "I keep forgetting how to do this and have to figure it out again each time, so this time I'm going to write it down!"

Enabling remote X in a distro that disables it by default:

Of course, you need xhost. For testing, xhost + enables access from any machine; once everything is working, you may want to be selective, xhost hostname for the hosts from which you're likely to want to connect.

If you log in to the console and start X, check /etc/X11/xinit/xserverrc and see if it starts X with the -nolisten flag. This is usually the problem, at least on Debian derivatives: remove the -nolisten tcp.

If you log in using gdm, gdmconfig has an option in the Security tab: "Always disallow TCP connections to X server (disables all remote connections)". Un-checking this solves the problem, but logging out won't be enough to see the change. You must restart X; Ctrl-Alt-Backspace will do that.

Update: If you use kdm, the configuration to change is in /etc/kde3/kdm/kdmrc

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[ 12:52 Aug 01, 2005    More linux | permalink to this entry ]