Life & much, much more

I love whiteboards.

Although it might seem like an awkward title (perhaps even shit-worthy), but I have felt the need to profess how amazing they are.

A long time back when I was still in Malaysia, I owned a little corkboard panel which I used to pin up those important forms I would always lose, and occasionally use it to map out ideas for projects. After moving to Australia, where their customs wasn’t too happy about bringing over wood, it was a while until I used such a board again. When I did, however, it had taken up a newer purpose – as a pin-up of my half-finished, terrible works that were going to be binned. I called it the “motivation-board” – something I would look at and realise which projects had potential and which didn’t, and drive myself towards completing the ones that did. I added stuff quite frequently to that board – which shows a little bit about the easy come, easy go nature of some of my micro projects.

After an academic year was over, I spent the winter in Shanghai where I again lost access to such a board. As I slowly found time to slip into my “work on my projects” groove, I picked up a slightly distorted square A4 book which served as a journal to jot down ideas and work out design problems. It was better than nothing, but lacked the “overview” quality that boards have.

However after moving again early this year back in Australia, I decided to get my board back. I walked over to an Officeworks, right past the chipboards and into the whiteboards section. I bought a decently large one and took it home.

That was when I realised the differences between these boards.

  • The pin-up board is good as a consumption device – a long-term overview of your work.
  • The journal is an on-the-go device, but divides your ideas into very linear and isolated chunks.
  • The whiteboard, at least when I use it, is a absolute gold device for short-term brain-dribble visualisation which makes it a dedicated creation device. There is no consume on a whiteboard. It’s a develop and iterate tool. It’s what I really needed from the very beginning.

So much for noteslate and courier.

Life & much, much more

Testdriving Skydrive

For those unfamiliar with Microsoft’s answer to cloud storage, [Microsoft Windows Live] SkyDrive offers a website accessible online file manager for free. When I first tested Skydrive many years back, it only offered 5GB storage and had a clunky interface that was a horror to work with.

Imagine my reaction when I heard the bozos who work at the University of Sydney’s excuse of an IT department announced that they were abandoning a personal user folder on the  network and replacing it with a SkyDrive account.

Admittedly after brushing up with SkyDrive’s latest updates, featuring a HTML 5 non-uncanny interface along with 100MB per file with a total size of 25GB per person, my interest in trying out the service was rekindled. They apparently also updated photo sharing and manipulation technologies as well as synchronisation with MS Office. Neither feature of which I particularly need or will use, but a nice touch nonetheless that shows at least some departments in Microsoft care about their products.

Apart from playing with it sporadically, this week I had the fortune (that’s right, I wouldn’t say misfortune) to use it within my average work environment, ie. working with graphics and diagrams and scanned images. My other average work environment involves programming, for which anything other than a vcs repository with a local LAMP setup is inappropriate, but that’s something else entirely.

The Good

When working within a relatively small group for a small design project, SkyDrive is great for collaboration. Not only does it solve the issue of always shifting workstations and having to transfer over resources or source material, SkyDrive acts as a replacement for a Dropbox setup. By this I mean that when SkyDrive is operating under an institution, I can very easily tell it to share a directory with 5 of my friends working on the same project as I am, or otherwise interested in my work.

Along with a drag n’ drop interface, it makes it easy to copy over whatever has changed just by looking at the last modified dates and selected the top X number of entries.

SkyDrive is also quick. It doesn’t dally around like other uploaders and gets straight to the point of dumping your files online just like Dropbox does.

The Bad

Unfortunately it’s also completely inappropriate for my uses. The average design save file can very easily exceed the 100MB per file limit, and even when it doesn’t, having to download a ~50MB file, especially when the connection is spotty, is a pain, and can cost you several hours of productive work, or worse, lose a client.

SkyDrive also doesn’t support incremental updating, which I guess is asking too much, but since people have already been spoilt by Dropbox, which does something alike that, I don’t see why I can’t grumble about it.

Brief Conclusion

Apart from not being useful for my usecase I really cannot find much to critique about SkyDrive. Especially when I rarely see other people making use of Cloud solutions other than Dropbox I’m quite surprised not more people are using SkyDrive. With upcoming integration with Windows 8 (of which I have mixed reactions to) and up to 2GB file transfers, I’d say Kudos, MS. Kudos.

Life & much, much more

Another year awaits.

Well, it’s been another month since my last post but my online slumbering isn’t the result of laziness, but rather the shifting of focus towards more of real life and less of the fantastical world wide web.

Since then, I had returned to Shanghai to continue studying Mandarin. Upon my return, my ever-faithful Acer Aspire 4530 had decided it was time to corrupt its hard drive and stop displaying things on the monitor. I am now the happy owner of a Thinkpad T420i, whose notable features include choosing discrete/integrated graphics at the BIOS level, which subverts any possible Linux NVidia Optimus problems, things just working, thanks to the series being a developer favourite, and a very rough-textured nipple and touchpad, which are like heaven to my sensitive hands which suffer from hyperhidrosis. Even when my hands do act up, the keyboard has a drainage system.

Software-wise it runs Gentoo Linux with KDE. Files were easily transferred without any problems from my backup server at rsync.net – whom I’d recommend to anyone in an instant.

I have included a picture of it below (or rather, a stock photo of it). Aesthetically it looks not much more than a black box, but given its reputation as something which just doesn’t give up on you, it’s an appropriate design.

This caused quite a bit of a setback in my office work as well as personal projects, of which the latter got severely cut back upon. Not helping was the fact that in a couple weeks time I moved back to Sydney, Australia to prepare for my second year of university. Also not helping is that I am moving around quite a bit during my first couple of weeks in Sydney.

In terms of personal projects, I finalised and synchronised the latest live.WIPUP design with the stable version. Those who were checking WIPUP would’ve seen the first animation sequence of ThoughtScore finished and posted online on the 24th of Janurary.

Life & much, much more

Back in Malaysia, and other things I have dabbled in.

Blog posting has been slow lately. This is mostly due to real life and connectivity issues, but despite this I have had some time to dabble in the various public projects I juggle. The pace is not rapid enough to be able to keep up a alternate-day post like I used to, but is suitable for a summary post, such as this one.

The ThoughtScore Project

The first project is my ever-incomplete ThoughtScore animated movie. The highlight of this update is that there has been an animation update with a few extra shots added. You can view the ThoughtScore Blender animation here, or click the screenshot below.

You may view more feedback on its BlenderArtists forum thread (page 4).

The project also got awarded its own domain with some content I pulled together quickly in about an hour. See ThoughtScore.org.

I do have a couple more scenes prepped and awaiting animation & rendering, so more updates will be popping up.

live.WIPUP

WIPUP, a way to share works in progresses, has experienced the yearly dip in content due to the holiday season, but live.WIPUP (the bleeding-edge iteration of WIPUP) has received experimental design changes and slight SEO updates.

live.WIPUP -like the projects it was built to showcase- is also a work-in-progress. It’s incomplete, but as always, hopefully a step in the right direction. Text link to check out live.WIPUP – share your works in progress here.

Real Life

Apart from badminton, taking a break from learning Chinese, globetrotting, and client work, this picture says it all.

Well, that’s it for a brief summary of what I’ve been up to. I hope everybody have also had a great Christmas, New Year, upcoming Chinese New Year, and awesome holiday.

Life & much, much more

G’day, mate!

As some might be aware, I’ve recently moved from my nest in Malaysia to the charming country of Australia to begin university. I’m officially a university student now. Well, classes haven’t started yet and won’t for the next 2 weeks, and I haven’t even been to orientation yet, but according to the university’s crappy intranet system I’m enrolled in all my courses for Architecture.

I haven’t posted anything in a while. Normally I’d be able to blame it on my being busy on other things but truth be told I’ve actually just been plain lazy and have taken a liking towards twiddling my thumbs in bed. I still dabble in my projects here and there but there isn’t a sense of over-caffinated hysteria over finishing whatever task I’m currently working on. This means that the KDE-www war is still on hold, my ThoughtScore script is progressing reaaaly slowly, and I haven’t done any composition for the past month. However things are still getting done (yes, live.WIPUP has been updated with a much improved UI!) and will pick up soon as I start settling into a brand new and improved routine. Meanwhile, you can see my work trickle into WIPUP, and despite the horrendous simplicity of my blog design I’ve brought myself together to add a somewhat borked navigation at the top which references my work, hosted on – as it should be – WIPUP.

On the other hand, Australia is excellent. There are weekly $2 barbeques and I’m walking distance away from the harbour, the rocks (where touristy stuff like the Opera house and their iconic bridge are), the SLUG (Sydney Linux User Group) meeting place as well as the central station, which can pretty much bring you anywhere else in Sydney. I’ve also got this wicked view out my window of Darling Harbour which means pretty much unobstructed fireworks displays (so far I’ve experienced two, one during CNY and another during – believe it or not – Valentine’s day.) No, I haven’t yet been to the beach, but plan to in the coming week, and I’m still working on my Aussie accent.

As for open-source stuff, though I haven’t contributed anything in a while I have really been enjoying activites in KDE 4.6 and can’t see how I managed to survive without it in the past. I’ve also been using Diaspora as a sort of “entry hub” when posting social status updates. Now that the newsfeed is starting to see a little bit more activity with people using Diaspora I’ve found their aspects system really awesome, and allows me to share exactly what I want with exactly who I want. I also got myself an Android phone (yes, reflashed with a custom rom) and that’s actually really helped my productivity.

In social news, I’ve met my long-time server sponsor and webhost Tarik from OpticEmpire and talks on new projects have begun (start more than I finish eh?), and somehow formed a weird troupe of acquaintances involving a chilean, italian, hong konger, indian, and miscellaneous.

No, I’m not dead.

Life & much, much more

Goodbye JohnCompanies, hello Gentoo Service Station

A while back I talked about getting a Debian-based VPS from JohnCompanies. I had initially chosen them despite cheaper and more popular alternatives such as Linode due to my having used rsync.net – of which is a child of JohnCompanies. JohnCompanies’ emphasis and excuse for their high(er) prices are their stellar customer support system which is handled through email. Whilst I did have an amazing experience with rsync.net, whose customer service gave plenty of tips for awkward setups, leading to a “set up and forget” which is the way all backup system should be, unfortunately my experience with JohnCompanies’ VPS services has been bumpy to say the least.

Initially there were unexplained server “reboots”, where the server wouldn’t actually reboot, but all of the services would stop working. Their processes would still exist, but no longer perform their function – I had to manually reset the services. This would happen randomly and quite often when trying to update the system. Having no secondary DNS server this led to quite a lot of downtime, frustrated SSH disconnections and dead screen sessions by other users of the server. After a few weeks of fruitless back-and-forth customer support debugging (and JohnCompanies’ blocking of dmesg logging didn’t help at all), they recommended to increase my guaranteed RAM to 512MB (which shouldn’t make a difference, really, except that it should start swapping later, as the burst RAM available was still the same). Oddly enough this did remove the downtime. They then admitted that they might’ve set the memory limits wrongly and reverted back to 256MB RAM with the “correct settings”. At last I thought my problems were over, but soon a real shutdown/reboot happened, which was apparently caused by a “kernel glitch”, of which mine was one of the unlucky ones to be a victim of. Soon after, SSL connections started failing, leading to loss of my email setup. By the end of all this I was not a happy bunny at all.

On the software side, which was outside JohnCompanies’ control, I must say though Debian has its pros and I can see why a lot of people would like it for a server, there were several faults which really irked me, including their webapp setup and their horrible/unreliable/inconsistent apt system (naming scheme? Euurgh.) Unfortunatley they had no current plans to introduce Gentoo to their VPS, so that was really a downside.

Lucky recently Patrick Lauer (bonsaikitten) introduced the Gentoo Service Station. Despite the geographical inconvenience (Australia<->Germany) it offered a package I couldn’t refuse. For nearly half the price I was paying JohnCompanies I would receive more than double the specs, plus it would run Gentoo obviously :) I got myself a vServer baby and within two days I had gotten my DNS server setup, mailserver setup (postfix+dovecot+assp+squirrelmail+postfixadmin), webserver and migrated websites, quassel+bitlbee, with the only delay waiting for DNS to propagate and due to my own flaky router. I must say, it feels good to be back emerging stuff, with that awesome colour terminal, and with gentoo’s excellent documentation around the web.

So far everything has “just worked”, things are great, and for that price I believe anybody who uses Gentoo and has considered getting a VPS (for any purpose, even just to muck about) to stop considering and just get one.

P.S. My experience with JohnCompanies may be just unlucky or that I somehow managed to screw up Debian’s famed stability so badly (no, not really), so YMMV.

Life & much, much more

Presenting the Nagger

Over Christmas one of my more humourous gifts to my parents was to allow them to remotely nag each other electronically. Since my dad is often overseas, this actually has some practical use.

The idea was to create a remotely synchronised dynamic wallpaper with text that could be set by another person remotely. Person A would type in some text, a wallpaper with the text formatted would be generated, Person B’s computer would detect that there is an update, download the wallpaper and set it immediately. (I originally wanted to make a pop up message, but realised that having "Go and exercise!" pop up during a powerpoint presentation with your boss wasn’t the best thing)

The system would operate as such: I would create a html form on my webserver to allow somebody to type in text. PHP would take the text and use GD to generate a .jpg file of an image with the text overlayed on top. Batch file on Windows computer would download the .jpg file (either on startup, or via cronw) via URL2FILE. Batch file will call imagemagick installed on the Windows computer to convert .jpg to .bmp because apparently that’s what Windows likes for wallpaper formats and converting on the server would mean a ultra big file download. Finally, batch file will tweak the registry to change the wallpaper and "refresh" it such that it changes immediately.

Here’s an example :)

PHP code:

<?php
if (isset($_POST['submit']) && isset($_POST['nag']) && !empty($_POST['nag'])) {
$width = 1280;
$height = 800;
$imgname = "wallpaper_blank.jpg"; # The empty blue background template
$im = imagecreatefromjpeg ($imgname);
$text = $_POST['nag'];
$textcolor = ImageColorAllocate($im, 255, 255, 255);
$font = 20;
$font_width = ImageFontWidth($font);
$font_height = ImageFontHeight($font);
$font_width = 10;
$text_width = $font_width * strlen($text);
// Position to align in center
$position_center = ceil(($width - $text_width) / 2);
$text_height = $font_height;
// Position to align in abs middle
$position_middle = ceil(($height - $text_height) / 2);
imagettftext ($im, 15, 0, $position_center, $position_middle, $textcolor,
'/path/to/ttf/fontfile/AllOverAgainAllCaps.ttf', $text); # We're offsetting this a little to give space for desktop icons
Imagejpeg($im, '/path/to/final/image/wallpaper.jpg', 100);
chmod('/path/to/final/wallpaper.jpg', 0644); # Ensure we can download it (depending on server setup)
echo 'Nag done!';
} else {
echo '<form action="" method="post">';
echo '<textarea name="nag" rows="10" cols="50"></textarea><br />';
echo '<input type="submit" name="submit" value="Nag!">';
echo '</form>';
}

Batchfile code:

C:\path\to\URL2FILE.EXE http://mysite.com/wallpaper.jpg C:\path\to\save\wallpaper.jpg
C:\path\to\imagemagick\convert.exe C:\path\to\save\wallpaper.jpg C:\path\to\save\wallpaper.bmp
REG ADD "HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop" /V Wallpaper /T REG_SZ /F /D "C:\path\to\save\wallpaper.bmp"
REG ADD "HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop" /V WallpaperStyle /T REG_SZ /F /D 2
REG ADD "HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop" /V TileWallpaper /T REG_SZ /F /D 0
%SystemRoot%\System32\RUNDLL32.EXE user32.dll, UpdatePerUserSystemParameters

I thought it was cute, parents loved it.

P.S. If anybody knows a sane wait to input code into WordPress/Blogilo and have it immediately embedded in <code> tags as well as not lose whitespace, give me a poke.

Life & much, much more

A peek into the future.

It’s nearing 2011, which means we’re smack in the middle of Christmas, many things are finishing and many things are about to begin, and tradition states that now is the time to stop, reflect, realign, and shape up. I haven’t been blogging regularly as of late (given my 2 week absence) and my usual efforts to try and post every alternate day has evaporated. Mostly it’s because WIPUP has absorbed a lot of my usual verbose documentaries on the current progress of my projects (as was its purpose), but also because I haven’t exactly been doing loads lately. In fact, I’m now proudly spending some quality wasted time, and I feel as though I’ve deserved it.

Let’s take a look at what’s been going on so far. The ThoughtScore project has been relaunched and has some excellent momentum going for it. Pictures are churning out slowly as texturing is a tedious process, but on the other hand at least the storyline is getting a lot of love. WIPUP recently had a big release, as well as an appearance in Google Code-In, which may or may not result in awesome KDE integration. I’ve got myself a VPS, and learned the ins and outs of setting up a DNS server and a mail server, thus migrating thinkMoult and my main email. Various other doodads also popped up including private git hosting for my projects, and a public ADOM game server, which is quite active and seeing regular improvements and updates (and bugfixes!) There has been quite a bit of private enjoyment such as reading, learning C++, photography and music composition, and in time they will mature to see their place on WIPUP. I’ve also been publicly insulting the KDE website and discussing/proposing solutions with the kde-www team, and this is currently very much in progress as well. I also recently received a charming package from KDE eV from the KPresenter design competition, including a wicked t-shirt, a postcard and a sticker. Of course, I’ve also been doing freelancing work with the folks over at OmniStudios and the workload should increase as I start university.

Speaking of university, let’s see what’s coming up on the horizon. I’ll be off to Canada early Christmas morning (Christmas on a plane!), and will likely be having a quick 1-2 day kde-www sprint there in the midst of mingling with relatives. The days are very, very packed, and so I have a short time to reunite with Malaysia and within the same week, off to begin my new life in Australia. In other words, a lot more of "real life" is coming up.

My current plan is somewhat along the lines of "don’t panic". I might tweak it a little later :)

Life & much, much more

WIPUP 24.11.10b released!

For the uninitiated, WIPUP is a way to share, critique, and track projects. Or more specifically, works-in-progresses. Us in the open-source community are constantly working on things, and being open-source, we like to share them.

WIPUP was specifically built and tailored towards sharing works-in-progresses – ranging from a twitter-like update, to a fully formatted document complete with images, videos, and pastebin support. With WIPUP’s new FreeDesktop approved OCS (open collaboration services) REST API, it’s one step closer to turning the advanced Linux desktop into a Social Desktop.

Imagine being able to share what you’re working on immediately from KSnapshot, or finding a "Subscribe to this project" or "Track this developer" in Amarok’s About dialog.

It’s completely free to use and (of course) its entire codebase is open-source.

Check out the release notes, and then try it out if you haven’t already!

Life & much, much more

The browser wars: side with Opera.

I have used many browsers. Firefox. Safari. Chrome. Rekonq. Arora. Konqueror. Epiphany. Dillo. Right down to Lynx and friends. All of their pros and cons, and some are more suited to specific purposes. However I did find a mostly unloved and underpresented browser underneath the big three (Firefox, Safari, Chrome) – and that browser is Opera. Soon Opera became my browser of choice and (suprisingly) haven’t been able to find fault with it until now. I wanted to quickly share exactly what makes Opera special, and why you should consider switching to it in this post. I hope it’s informative for those interested in what’s up with browser alternatives.

Opera is fast.

Blazing fast. Speed is a touchy topic as different benchmarks give different results, and at the end of the day most users (but of course, most reading this are going to be power users, so it most definitely will include you!) are going to find minimal impact with their browsing – but all the same there is a clear point to be made: Opera is fast. You might’ve heard that Chrome is fast, Opera is just as fast, if not faster. If you’re on Firefox and feeling its age, this is something that might lighten your day. Opera even has a “Turbo” mode on slow connections which compresses your pages on the fly to make them load faster.

Opera is innovative and cutting edge.

Despite being closed source, Opera is suprisingly cutting edge. Countless times have they been ahead of the others in producing new innovations (tabbed browsing? Even Firefox’s new design and tab groups were first created by Opera) only to have other browsers copy it and remarket it a while later. You can feel free to use the latest alpha quality and chat with their very open community about bleeding edge updates and changes. A few examples off the top of my head are the integrated tab previews, reopen closed windows, inbuilt cloud tools which I will cover in a bit, and a very nifty UI, including a “fast forward” button which detects the “next” page on what you’re currently browsing.

Opera is feature-complete.

Although Opera also has Widgets (the equivalent of Firefox Addons), Opera is amazingly stuffed and crammed to the top with features already included. Don’t shout bloat yet, as these features are actually useful. Things like being able to completely reorganise your interface, built-in session control, note-taking, private tabs, address bar keywords, account manager, content-blocking, speed dial, tab/window undelete, mouse gestures (love it!), RSS reader, and even an email and IRC client are all builtin. Despite all of this, Opera still manages to load incredibly quickly and handle many tabs constantly (I use 30+ regularly) without slowdown. An even better “feature” is that if you don’t want to use all of this “bloat”, it hides itself away from you and you really won’t notice it’s there.

Opera embraces the cloud.

… and they do it the right way. Other than the previously mentioned Turbo mode which routes your traffic to other servers to compress them, Opera also comes with two very nifty cloud tools – Opera Link and Opera Unite. The former allows you to synchronise all your opera settings, speed dials, notes, history and bookmarks to an online service, and then retrieve it anywhere, or even on another Opera browser elsewhere. The latter, Unite, is an umbrella creation – a set of webapps (which you can add and remove even more available from their repo) which allow you to run your own cloud services and share files from your home computer. Things like web proxies (such as dyndns), web servers (just set a directory and you’re on your way!), photo sharing, and even music sharing where you can access your home music from anywhere through Opera. There is even a messaging service, as well as filesharing (and receiving) services to allow people to immediately upload and download from your home computer. These are dead simple to set up and use, have privacy options, and I must say … they are elegant.

Opera loves developers.

Not only does this closed source company have a very transparent community and listen to bug reports, they also love web developers. Opera comes built in with Opera Dragonfly – similar to Firefox’s Firebug. It allows you to inspect page elements, loading time graphs, mess around with the DOM, and tweaking your Javascript and CSS. Opera is also extremely W3C compliant and implements CSS3. Simply put – Opera is a modern browser.

Finally, Opera is cross-platform.

Opera runs on pretty much everything. Windows, Mac and Linux are covered. Mobile devices have two options – Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, where Mini is a simple smartphone browser and Mobile is a more advanced browser. Windows Mobile is covered. Android – sure, Opera Mobile is getting released for it tomorrow, no problem. iPhone’s have got Opera Mini, and most other phones are covered with Opera Mini. They don’t hold out on their mobile releases either – they’re every bit as faster than the competition as their desktop counterpart is, and still stuffed with features – speed dial and their implementation of tabs are truly amazing.

Well, I hope that short article enlightened you to that in-the-corner browser Opera. If you haven’t tried it out or are feeling the creaks on your current browser, check out their latest beta today – you won’t regret it.

Life & much, much more

Free public ADOM server available!

As a few people know, I’ve recently gotten myself a VPS. I’m not much of a gamer, but I do enjoy playing certain roguelikes, such as ADOM. Many people are familiar with servers for various MUDs and games such as NetHack, and ADOM isn’t much different. Unfortunately the previous ADOM server seems to have gone MIA, and so I decided to start my own.

So here it is after a week or so of testing and adding new features. It runs on a few shell scripts, and so it was a good opportunity to learn some bash on the way. The features are quite bountiful and it’s been great to play co-op with others, as most roguelikes are traditionally single player. It’s been a great learning experience, and I’m sure others who like playing ADOM would love it too. Suggestions are welcome!

In other news, soon I’ll be able to proudly wear a KOffice t-shirt, we’ve potentially got a new contributor to WIPUP, WIPUP will soon get a lovely REST API and following that, its first CLI app, I’ll be photospamming this blog soon, I’m also now a global moderator on the KDE forums. To finish off, I wanted to share this picture of WIPUP in use:

As you can see, it’s great to watch a project develop and critique it along the way. I hope more people will benefit from WIPUP.

Life & much, much more

Design, photography, and servers.

It’s been a hectic few days. First off, I was pleasantly surprised to read on the KDE dot news that the KPresenter template contest winners were announced. I was very happy to hear that my submission had been chosen for 1st place! Here’s a picture for those too lazy to click.

Secondly, I’ve been learning a little bit more about photography, and so here’s a little preview of one of my photos. I decided to burn-in the Gentoo logo on the bottom right so that it serves as a nicely patriotic wallpaper. It’s a vague enough shape to be mistaken for part of the picture, but recognisable enough to be Gentoo (I don’t like in-your-face logos). You can download a high res version here. Here’s a snapshot for the lazy. Perhaps other Gentoo users might appreciate another wallpaper!

Finally, I’ve purchased myself a basic VPS plan from JohnCompanies – of whom is the parent company of a very commendable company called rsync.net, of whom I’m still very happy with. Although not as cheap (as in, cheap + high quality reviews) as alternatives such as Linode (who offers double the resources at the same price), I went on a gamble that my great technical support experience will transfer over into a similar great experience.

Unfortunately, JohnCompanies does not offer Gentoo on their VPSes, only on their dedicated server packages. After some quick debate, I went for Debian. I shall proceed to migrate a few of my sites to this new server as well as a few of my existing hacked-together serverside toys. If you experience any downtime or shoddiness with any of my sites (blog + email included), it’s probably just due to the migration.

Life & much, much more

I’m sick and tired of this ebook nonsense.

No. I like ebooks. At least the concept. I would love to be able to read books in beautiful, standardised print similar to that produced by LaTeX, on any device, on any screensize, without any problems like math reflow, images, and usage of ridiculous fonts. Oh, and DRM too. But that’s hell in itself.

But no. Ebooks are a mess. A big, honkin’ ridiculous pile of crap. A prime example of what not to do when converting a traditional medium to an electronic form. Why? Because of a lack of standardisation. There is no single format, due to (in a nutshell) firms not being able to talk nicely to one another, swallow their egos and agree. So now we’re stuck with 27 major formats (yes, count them) and each with its own little annoyance. Oh, and that’s without considering potential DRM being slapped on each one of them.

It’s not just the electronic format that is a mess – it’s the physical formatting too. Ebooks can be related to the pre-CSS days of HTML, filled with non-semantic markup and tables stuck around everywhere. Anybody who has experienced the LaTeX nirvana that is "this is a title, not a bold, size 26, centered font" can relate to this – whilst creative freedom is good, computers unfortunately suck at this and are unable to tell what is title and what is paragraph. Thus I am stuck with some ebooks doing nonsense like linebreaking at 80 characters, not telling me when paragraphs start and end, and oh yes- every single plaintext ebook with its own flavour of markdown.

Terror doesn’t stop there. It continues by plaguing the now-necessary routine of converting from format to format whenever you want to transfer from one device to another. Every time you format, it is inevitable that more non-semantic formatting is lost. This, of course, only happens if you can even convert it in the first place, thanks to our lovely friend DRM.

So what is the solution? The solution is threefold – 1) force (taunts and physical violence may and shall be used) all publishers to agree to use a single, open format, such as EPUB, and make that format use TeX markup. Thus ebooks will be distributed in plaintext with attached and compressed images. 2) Force (see previous) all publishers to agree to use a single repository to prevent duplication of effort (another of my pet peeves, thank you for noticing) and spend time manually and painstakenly correctly converting existing ebooks to this new format and dumping it in the repo. 3) Fix all the kinks to allow this TeX-structured ebook source to be then rendered or converted to any other format (eg: LaTeX-generated PDFs cannot reflow) should the retailer or consumer want, even if it means the retailer wants to affix some sort of DRM at this stage. If you noticed, this follows a very much source (TeX-structured format) and binary (whatever you render the TeX into) way of distributing ebooks. This is a win-win situation. Anybody can buy from anywhere without fearing incompatibility. Retailers still can satisfy their craving for DRM. EBooks are semantically-marked and rendered beautifully. Even the plaintext looks beautiful.

It turns out I’m not the first to come up with an alike proposal. A firm known as River-Valley has been cashing in on this opportunity by reformatting ebooks for their rather technical clients, and have made significant progress towards this goal, unfortunately though this project has been stalled for quite some time apparently. A few hopefuls at the MobileRead Forums have tried to make a start, but again I think it just died from lack of love.

But recently I had a wondrous epiphany to solve my woes once and for all. It was the sheer audacity to go against one of my joys in life – standards and conventions. The idea can be summed up in the two froody words "why bother?" Life is too short to care if your music collection is made up of oggs and not flacs or mp3s. Life is too short to bother to ensure that your metatags are using the ampersand corrently in place of "and". Life is too short to fix everybody else’s stupid mistakes that don’t fit your mental specification. So if you see somebody walking down the street reading a book where every sentence stops sharp at 80 characters, give them a pat on the back and congratulate them on finally getting their priorities straight.

Somebody please fix Nepomuk to make it do something useful like automagically sort my collections for me.

End rant.