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Aitch Tee Tee Pee

Bug and Darb have both blogged about http and what Google's first match for an http search is. They (rightly) do not think it's a good thing that Microsoft has managed to get the top match. After all that that corporation has done to destroy various standards, they definitely don't deserve the match for that one. However, I can't say I agree with Bug's choice of Google itself as the right benefactor of the search. My other option would be the W3C, but if you're going to start a googlebomb to give them "http", then you should damn well make sure that they get "html" and "xml" as well, which they don't.

I'm not sure I really agree with all this googlebombing anyway. Dom has his link to Microsoft's browser that he uses all the time, and there was the famous litigious bastards Googlebomb that worked so well. But that was for fun. You shouldn't interfere with nature. Let Google work in its mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.

To summarise: we're all way too bored and worry to much about arb crap.

iLanga makes the news

There's an article in the Dispatch about our prize for iLanga:

New Masjiens

The Compsci Department is doing it's two-yearly (what the hell is the word? "bi-annual" isn't right. Dodeca-monthly?) roll-out of new PCs. It's come at a particularly inopportune time for me, as this is the point where I'm trying to look like I'm working the most, and to have to install a new machine, and get everything copied across just so, is a bit of a break in the thought process, so to speak.

At first, I installed Ubuntu, because I wanted to see what it was like. And I did. And it was very like. I was really impressed. The installation was smooth, everything worked out of the box, and the configuration tools were all very graphical and easy and impressive. Honestly, my gran could use it with ease. And not the gran that codes MUDs in her spare time.

However, it soon became apparent that if I was going to carry on doing any work, I'd have to go back to Gentoo. Ubuntu didn't have identical packages, and so on, and while I'm sure I could have made everything work, given a bit of time to look around, time is not what I had. With Gentoo at least I could just emerge the same packages, copy the config files over, and be done with it. Which is what I did. I really plan to go back and have a proper look at Ubuntu and/or Debian, but now is not the time.

Having said that, even a direct switch over was not a trivial operation. Admittedly, I could have gone the Yusuf route and basically tarpiped everything from the old machine to the new machine (although that's not the way I would have done it, I probably would have taken an actual hard-drive image with dd), thus directly mirroring my machine. But my old machine was getting messy, and there were one or two things I wanted to get Right. For example, when I installed the new machine, I got it working with a framebuffer bootsplash, and udev/hotplug, and so on, right from scratch. My /dev directory on my root partition has only three nodes in it! That makes me feel leet and geeky.

So, having installed my new machine all nice and pretty like, I needed to get all the vital stuff across. /home was easy enough to do, and gave me a chance to remove the gazillion user accounts that I'd dished out over the year. /etc (where good old Gentoo stores all of its configuration files, unlike FreeBSD, etc, which store them here, there, and everywhere (by which I mean /etc and /usr/local/etc)) was not so easy, but I rsync'd the directory hierarchy across and stored it somewhere that I could get a look at it. Then, every time I installed a service, I could just have a squizz at my old machine's config, and make the necessary changes (diff is a wonderful tool).

My only worry now is whether or not I've got everything across. Most people (you know what I mean. Most geeks, or whatever) would say that /home and /etc are the most important things, but that's not all. For example, I need /var/www/localhost, for my apache stuff. I needed to dump my mysql databases (who remembers to do that!?). I took a copy of my Gentoo World file (/var/lib/portage/world) that stores the packages I've installed. I got all my "data" (i.e. music, etc). Have I got it all? I damn well hope so, because I've taken my machine back now.

Anyway, two days later, I think I've got a machine that's pretty much as functional as the old one (still missing, e.g. the gimp, since it hasn't been necessary in the last two days). And now I can get back to my work.

(A little footnote: The number of people that relied on old-nihil for music, shells, etc, was unreal. It's going to be interesting to see whether I've made the transition transparent. I copied the md5s of their passwords across, thought about keeping uids, and so on. At the most, ssh'ers will notice that the host key has changed. The majority of the rest of people (e.g. the entire journ department, which used my music share) shouldn't notice a thing.)

Mega Weekend

I declare this last weekend to be the biggest of the year, and one of the most fun. I declare it to be the Weekend of the Stantons.

The Jubjub bird

As Pierre describes, a bird got trapped in his boss Toni's office, and tried to contact us on Jabber for help. I obviously give off less of an air of Samaritanity, since I only got the one message:

(08:40:23) Toni: p]''

For those who don't get the title of this post, the Jubjub bird is mentioned as something of which to beware in Lewis Carroll's poem the Jabberwocky. Geddit? Jabber... Wocky? Jabber? Geddit?

National Innovation Fund Contest

Jason Penton entered the iLanga system on which we've been working to the National Innovation Fund Contest. Basically, it seems that if you come up with a good idea for making money in a clever and innovative way, and you tell them about it, and yours is the best, they give you money. It's supposed to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, or something.

The prize-giving was at a lunch this afternoon, up at the Gavin Relly (I always thought it was spelled "Reilly", but both the invitation, and the sign outside, said "Relly") Postgrad village. The winners were announced at the lunch. I don't know how many applicants there were, but the first prize was R50,000 (that's fifty thousand Rand, ladies and gentlemen, fifty grand!), the second prize was R30k, and the third prize was R20k.

Well, to cut a long story short, we won. We came first. I am rather pleased about this, as you can imagine. I don't really have anything else to say at this point.

Marketing oneself

What with me doing the whole leave-Rhodes thing at the end of this year (I swear I'm going to! Why does nobody believe me?), I need to start thinking about getting a job and supporting myself and becoming a productive member of society and paying tax and fitting in and wearing a tie and growing old and being boring and eventually dying without ever having properly learned a musical instrument. Or something.

The point is, I need to apply for jobs.

So, I need a CV. I had one, but it kinda sucked. I mean, it was apparently quite impressive to the first years who read it on my site (it's that winning a six-pack of beer from the Philosophy department, isn't it?), but it's not going to score me a job. So, I needed to rewrite it.

With Ivan (a.k.a. Oryx) Groenewald's help, bless his cotton M. C. Hammer pants, I reworked it, and chopped out the bits about winning the egg and spoon race in Grade 3, and moved the boring bits that nobody wants to read to the end, and added the bits that are actually going to get me jobs, and I came up with this.

I then sent it off to one or two people, and I await results. When I get time (in between going out, watching Scrubs, reading arb crap, IRCing, and basically messing around and being a tosser, I don't have much time) I will go through the list of companies that Darb has mentioned to me, and spam them all with the story of my life, and why they should hire me.

I have already had a reply back from Abraham at Frogfoot. And I've only really sent it to him, Obsidian, and some guy in Cape Town who wanted a perl developer. Abraham's reply, in gist, was that he had a position for me, but I was overqualified for it, and I could do better. However, Frogfoot seems like exactly the sort of place I want to work at. It's small and growing, and it's run by IRC geeks, for crying out loud. They're both Debian developers! They don't even like Microsoft mice in there!

Is it bad that I value the open-source-ity of a job more than the salary, the position, and even the location?

I also spoke to Siv (I'd like to put a hyperlink to Siv in at this point, but where would I link to? And who doesn't know Siv? I mean... It's Siv!) about next year. He was the one who suggested I mail Obsidian (although Darb and Neil had both already mentioned it). And he spoke to some dude there, and gave me a pretty glowing reference. Or gave him the reference, to me. Erm, you know what I mean. He told the dude that I rocked. Which I thought was nice of him. He left out the bit about how I'd wasted three years of my life simply not doing anything for my Masters, and how I wasn't able to stick to any one topic, nor was I able to follow through on any of my ideas. Which I thought was good of him. I have, of course, undone all his good work by blabbing about it on my blog, but I'm cute that way.

The other option that I have right now is, of course, Jaco at Internet Solutions. He always said he'd get me a job if I wanted one. I'd be a bit scrowl to ask him for one, but it's an option, nevertheless.

Oh, yes, and Ivan says he could tell me exactly where to go in Stellenbosch to get a job, and I'd be there like the proverbial bear.

So, from my not-so-certain viewpoint, it seems I'm pretty much assured of a job next year? And now I need to start actually thinking about where I want to go, and what I want to do. It's nice having a future.

Driving Miss Lazy

I'm 25, and I don't have a driver's license. Back in Zimbabwe, you're allowed to get your license when you're 16 - same age you're allowed to get your ID. I'm not sure why I didn't. A lot of my friends did the usual mad-rush-get-your-license thing the instant they turned 16. It was never a biggie for me, I suppose. I did get my learner's at one stage. It was quite a mission. You have to book to be allowed to book the test for the thing. Excessive bureaucracy. Long lines. Hours of waiting. Oral tests that you can't understand due to thick accents. That sort of thing. I did it, though, I got my learner's. And a year and a half later, as they are wont to do, it expired. I don't think I even noticed, really.

Here at Rhodes, you don't need a license, either. For one thing, you can walk everywhere you want to go, and for another, there's a bit of a shortage of cars. Well, no, that's not true, there are cars, but it's a bit off to go borrowing another student's car all the time.

Anyway, it'd be damn stupid of me to leave Rhodes without my license. It's easy to get them here. Not "easy" in the Oudtshoorn sense of "if you can make the car go forwards for ten meters you're through". Easy in the sense that you can pop down to the traffic department in between lectures, and even if the queue is as long as it's going to get in this small town, it's not more than a quarter of an hour wait, as opposed to the waits you'd get in queues garnered from the millions of people who live in Cape Town or Johannesburg. Easy in the sense that it's a small town, and you can learn the route and do it, and there's just not that much bureaucracy to deal with.

I did actually get around to getting my learner's here at Rhodes about three or four years ago. I got it, and started to learn to drive. Ingrid taught me how to drive using her mother's car, and I got pretty good. Then, two or three years later, as they are wont to do, it expired. I did notice, I think, but it didn't have much of an effect on me.

Anyway, I have now obtained my learner's license a third (and final, dammit!) time, and I have been taking lessons with a Real Driving School (tm), and I know how to parrallel park, and I know how to dock, and I know how to do three point turns, and I know how to do that stupid pre-test check, and I know, oh yes, I know how to do those goddamned awful K-53 checks every three seconds as you're driving mirror mirror blind spot intersection mirror blind spot mirror intersection oh my god I just drove straight into the back of the car in front of me because I wasn't bloody looking at the bloody road I was too busy spraining my neck trying to look in the blasted blind spot.
As I was saying, I know how to do the K-53 checks. And frankly, I could probably pass the test now, if I could take it now. Well, not now, I'm pretty tired, and it's dark outside, and I think I'm going to have a glass of wine just now, with an episode of Scrubs, before I get into bed. But, tomorrow, perhaps. Or this morning. No, not this morning, I was rather hungover. The point is, I am ready to do the test.

And, finally, on Monday, Ingrid and I went down to the Traffic Department, and applied, and I have booked a driving test for December the 6th, at 11 in the morning. That's the soonest they could give me. So I just need to remember how to do these stupid checks until then.

app_juke.c - why

Having floundered for some time, I have managed to obtain some focus for my thesis. I think the big problem was that I didn't feel like I had enough to say. I wrote the long paper for Astricon, but that's all I really had to say. Sure, I could talk about some other ways and means to communicate with a PBX, and some services that I've written, but they were all small things, and not really thesis-flesh.

There are three main ways to "do stuff" with Asterisk: The Manager API (a sort of command-line interface), AGI (little scripts that get run when certain extensions are dialled), and Applications (modules written in C that link to the Asterisk libraries, and are dynamically loaded into Asterisk itself. Jason's iLanga system allows a fourth way, to a certain extent: you can modify the database entries, which affect the way his system runs.

The Flash interface which I wrote up for Astricon uses the database method, and the Manager API. I've got enough there to discuss those two methods. I've written some arb AGI scripts - the weather, that sort of thing. I can discuss that at length. However, I haven't really done anything with the Applications, and they are clearly the most versatile and powerful method of manipulating Asterisk, since they run as part of the damn program itself.

At this point, one should ask why I need to cover all the methods of communicating with Asterisk. My thesis is not about communicating with Asterisk. My thesis is (mostly? I think?) about the convergence of old-style PSTN telephones and new-style next-gen network services. But I needed some services to discuss, and I needed enough of a range so I can cover all the angles - discussing seventeen services that are all basically the same isn't enough. In addition, I needed some angle into the system that would get me out of the rut I was in, so I could start writing. I'm a philosopher by training (why did I stop Philosophy after Honours? Why did I choose the Compsci route? Why?), and need a logical structure to my writing before I can actually think about saying anything.

Enter my Application: app_juke.c. In function, it is basically an mp3 player over the phone. You dial a number, it plays you music. You press '3', it skips to the next song. You press '5', it pauses the song, and so on. The interesting bit is that you can go to a webpage, and edit your playlist. Or, and here's some fun, you can load up a GTK application that looks for all the world like XMMS, and control the music that way. Yet it's still coming out of the phone! Old-style telephones couldn't do that. Or, they could, but it took some hardware and some pretty hectic fiddling. So, here's a grand way for me to discuss how a service which can be accessed solely from old-style phones can also be extended to take advantage of the facilities a computer provides - graphical interfaces, web interfaces, extended editing, that sort of thing.

In addition, now that I have an Application to go with my AGI, API and database munging, I have a neat entry to the work: I start off by describing Asterisk, and services, and suchlike, and talk about convergence, and then I say, lo, there are four ways to alter the behaviour of our system, and I will now discuss them one by one.

As far as the nitty-gritty of app_juke.c, and how it does what it does, that's for another blog entry. Tristan and I have discussed various methods of communication, and it always comes back to Perspective Broker, damn its wonderfully intricate callback functions. When I work out who calls whom, from where, and why, I shall blog it. I should actually have a fudge-up initial implementation by tomorrow. (I'd like to make clear that I've already got the music playing over the phone, and controllable by the keypad. It's the adding the web and GTK interfaces that I'm thinking about now.)

To be a Saffie

I have a British passport, but I was born in Zimbabwe, and have been living in South Africa for seven years, studying at Rhodes. I've been to Britain once, for eight months, when I was six, for my dad's sabbatical. I got the British passport because my parents both have them, although it was pure luck that they got them - they basically applied, and got them. I reckon somebody in the British Civil Service felt sorry for them. I had to choose between my Zimbabwean passport and my British one a few years back, and went the British route, unsurprisingly.

People often say how lucky I am to have a British passport, and how jealous they are and so on. Actually, though, I would gladly trade it in, in return for a South African one. This country is incredible, the people are incredible, Africa is beautiful, and there's a lot going on right now in South Africa (particularly with respect to the open source movement) that I want to be a part of. Why would I want to go somewhere far away where I don't know anybody, where the weather is shite?

Anyway, what with leaving the little safe-haven that is Rhodes at the end of this year, and going out into the big wide world, I can't rely on study permits to ensure that I'm allowed to stay in this country. Thankfully, my current study permit is valid until the end of 2005, so I have a fair bit of time, but I need something more permanent. If I got a job here, the company hiring me would sort me out with a work permit, but it would still be a mission to apply for, and it would still be temporary. Obviously, the ideal situation would be to actually get my South African citizenship.

My grandmother on my father's side was born in Benoni, and both she and my grandfather are South African citizens (my grandfather's father was born here or something). Apparently this qualifies me for citizenship. After much questioning and visits to Home Affairs, I worked out that I needed to fill in a "Determination of Citizenship Status" form for my dad (who isn't even in the country), so his parents details are on his form, and then one for myself, so his details are on my form: I get citizenship in some sort of weird syllogistic double-application.

I handed the forms in today, and apparently I go back in a month's time to "determine my status". If I get accepted as a citizen, I then apply for an ID book, and when I get that, I apply for a passport. Baby steps, but I get there in the end.


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