RFA: utf8-migration-tool -- Debian UTF-8 migration wizard

From the Debian Bug #374997 department:

* Package name    : utf8-migration-tool
  Version         : 0.4
  Upstream Authors: Tollef Fog Heen, Martin-Éric Racine
* URL             : http://q-funk.iki.fi/debian/pool/u/utf8-migration-tool/
* License         : GPL
  Programming Lang: Python, GTK2+
  Description     : Debian UTF-8 migration wizard
This wizard upgrades legacy system locales to their UTF-8 
equivalent. It also informs users whenever files in their 
home directory still utilize legacy encodings.

This started as an Ubuntu tool to enable easy migration to UTF-8 for both locale settings and user file encodings. Tollef says that since Ubuntu has been UTF-8 by default for a few releases already, they are not likely to further develop it and invited me to take over development, so I have.

I have found this tool very useful to help me locate remaining files in my home directory that are still in a legacy encoding and to check system files for UTF-8 locales utilization.

Given how Etch is going to be the first Debian release with UTF-8 locales by default, I figure that it could be a useful migration tool for others as well.

Since I'm currently paring down my involvement in Free Software, I never got around fixing the GTK annoyance reported by Denis Barbier in response to the ITP and thus never uploaded the package to the NEW queue so, if anybody is interested in picking up this package's maintenance, please do so by responding to the above bug.


Life after Etch

This week, following the announce of the freeze, I upgraded most of my home cluster to Etch. The upgrade went surprisingly smoothly, although I had a bit of a scare when the kernel upgrade pulled in a bunch of dependencies that resulted in the forced removal of all previous kernels. This minor scare asides, kudos to everyone who made this new Debian release possible!

My only disappointment about Etch is that we're stuck with Firefox instead of 2.0.1 or Iceweasel. Then again, speaking of Iceweasel: Forget it! Breakages it introduces have been marked as pending or patched for a number of weeks and yet there's still no updated package. At this rate, better wait until Etch r1 or Lenny to introduce it, rather than release Etch with a browser fork that has not undergone several months of thorough testing!

This got me thinking about life after Etch, or more specifically, about what I'm gonna do with the packages I maintain. The Dunc Tank debacle and similar other unfortunate events that overtook Debian this year have prompted me to reevaluate my motivation. Another unrelated issue is, I've been working in software development for more than 10 years and my guts are telling me that it's time to move on so, while my computers will still run on Debian or Ubuntu, I don't intend on doing any more development per-se.

Thus, I have already taken the initiative of soliciting co-maintainers for most of my packages. The Debian GNOME team agreed to be added for Planner, which is nice given the sheer number of bugs that are regularly found against this package. CUPS-PDF, Gaim-IRChelper and NumlockX haven't seen a meaningful bug in ages and can be rebuilt using bin-NMU magic, so they're pretty much taken care of. This leaves the issue of the Estonian and Russian dictionaries (plus a large patch in my personal repository that would upgrade Aigars' Latvian dictionary to generate the Aspell wordlist from his MySpell wordlist) open. For these, native speakers that develop for Debian or Ubuntu would be welcome to join me.

What next? I have a couple of interesting offers, one on the Business side of computer hardware manufacturing in Estonia and another one as the manager of a western company's Latvian office. The tricky part in either case would be the immigration process: despite close to 9 years of living right here in Europe, I am still perceived as foreign labor whose hiring must be thoroughly justified (in the case of Estonia, I even need to request an explicit exemption to the immigration quotas), whereas if I had been granted EC Long-Term Resident status or Finnish citizenship, I could just sign the contract and notify the local authorities of my change of address. Instead, 9 years later, I'm stuck at the passport control queues for non-EU citizens with its disgustingly suspicious border guards. Sigh!

Thus, while I indeed have shares in Linutop (yes, we are finally shipping - stay tuned for details) that might eventually turn into gold, I also have close to zero motivation left in my personal life, because lingering European bureaucrazy prevents my talent from reaching its customers - turning all my attempts at having a career into a neverending series of bitter disappointments. Is it any wonder that I'm so adamant about getting out of the Rat Race to return to more gratifying creative activities like composing and photography, then?

Post Scriptum

Actually, there is a second disappointment about Etch: we are stuck with Evince 0.4.0, at a time where upstream just released 0.7.0 with strong recommendations that everyone upgrade to that. Heck, even Ubuntu has 0.6.0 already. I find the Evince situation way more annoying than the Firefox one, because, from a user's perspective, Evince 0.4.0 fails to display several PDF documents that more recent releases handle just fine.


Linutop in Arvutimaailm and Eesti Ekspress

Yours truly appears this week in computer magazine Arvutimaailm [Estonian] and in the technology insert of newspaper Eesti Ekspress [Estonian], in feature articles about the Linutop. Both articles are signed by Elver Loho of the IT-Neeger team.


ALSA pitfalls ... and a bounty ... or two

Daniel Jacobowitz writes about problems he's having getting proper ALSA support for his desktop computer. Boy, does that sound familiar!

I myself have three computers that are partially or totally unsupported on ALSA:

  • Apple iMac rev.D a.k.a. 333MHz G3 tray-loading iMac.

    Partially supported by snd-powermac, except that some controls are inverted and other controls just plain don't work. Probably something as simple as the wrong offset in the bitmap used to select the control on which to act. Bug filed in the ALSA BTS. No reaction.

    Anyhow, sound support for Apple products is being migrated to snd-aop, which was written from scratch using a modular architecture that enables easily adding support for new sound chips. Nice idea, except that no effort is being put towards supporting pre-G4 products...

    Back when Ubuntu appeared on the Linux scene, Mark Shuttleworth agreed to pay a 500$ bounty to whoever made ALSA work on all PowerMac variants. Nobody took it, as far as I know. Those who are interested in taking on this challenge might wanna check my wiki page for our summary of the ALSA PowerMac situation.

  • HP 9000 series model 712.

    Recently supported, thanks to someone on the PA-RISC Linux mailing list having a go at coding it. Never merged by upstream ALSA, though. It's been a while since I gave it a try but, last time, only output worked.

  • AMD Geode SCx200.

    There is no snd-scx200 driver at all. Bug filed in the ALSA BTS. The issue of sound support on early Geode products was also mentioned on the Linux kernel mailing list, during the big OSS cleanup discussion so, at least, some people are aware of the issue.

    It so happens that the Geode SC is used in a number of popular embedded boards, such as the Soekris and yet, nobody tried porting the old OSS drivers available on AMD's Geode driver source page. Odd.

As we can see, there's plenty of ALSA support remaining to be coded, ported or cleaned up, and some people are willing to pay for the results. Who's gonna grab it?


Linutop - Internet for the masses

I promised last week that I would be telling more on October 1st, about the mysterious Project X that I had been sporadically blogging about over the last few months. Better late than never, so here's the story:


I met Morocco-based French entrepreneur Laurent Bervas via his blog in January 2006, while looking for countries nearby EU with a promising ICT market, because of growing obstacles in getting work in my field, due to my not being an EU national.

By the time the situation had reached the ridiculous extreme that friends were continuously loosing juicy recruitment bonuses, simply because their employer's HR department had issues with hiring non-EU nationals — despite EU policies that clearly favor foreigners married to an EU national — I figured that I ought to do something creative and see which of the countries bordering with EU might offer interesting opportunities.

Laurent was blogging about all the exciting opportunities he kept on seeing, since he relocated to Morocco to conquer the high-end Real Estate market. One day, he wrote about Morocco becoming a rising figure in the outsourcing business for the Francophone market, which prompted me to contact him. After a couple of weeks of discussion, he cautiously dropped his idea for a niche market he had spotted: a simple Linux-based set top box to surf the Internet. He then asked if I would be interested in developing it and in launching a startup with him to promote it. I gladly accepted.


That's when Laurent decided to introduce me to an old friend of his, Frédéric Baille, who spent several years at Compaq, culminating with a role in the team that launched the iPaq. Fred's help was instrumental in defining the market positioning of our product.

Laurent and I discussed the product features at length over IM and immediately agreed that the OS would be based on Free Software. That left the hardware part unresolved... or so did Laurent think.

Years ago, I briefly worked in the management team of an Estonian data security startup. This gave me the opportunity to network with several movers and shakers of the Estonian ICT. Among them was a promising ASIC and industrial design startup that produced really cool Thin Client hardware. The answer to our hardware needs, I figured, could easily be fulfilled by them.

My idea of contracting the hardware to Estonia was initially received with skepticism, so I made a simple proposal: why don't we hold the inception meeting in Tallinn and meet with the potential hardware supplier at the same time? Fred and Laurent accepted, so we spent part of April 2006 there, with me acting both as their friendly tourist guide and as the middleman for the introductions.

Fred and Laurent immediately fell in love with Tallinn's designer bars, omnipresent WiFi network and blond-a-plenty. Most of all, their visit at our potential hardware supplier gave them the answers they needed: Estonia is IT.


The hardware we selected is built around the AMD Geode LX, a nifty Pentium-compatible single-chip computer. It comes equipped with VGA output and four USB 2.0 ports, along with high-quality audio via 1/8" input and output jacks, plus a built-in encryption engine. We added 100baseT Ethernet connectivity (with provision for other networking options) to that, to complete the platform.

For the software part, we used ingredients from Debian's Etch release, focusing on a configuration that would enable easy access to the most popular applications for home and small business use: Instant Messenger (Gaim), Multimedia player (Totem), PDF reader (Evince), Web browser (Firefox), word processor (AbiWord).

The result is this:

Press Coverage

The editorial team at IT-Neeger (an A-level Estonian ICT blog) immediately scooped the story [in Estonian] and it produced such a strong response that the traditional Estonian media contacted the IT-Neeger team to write a feature article (stay tuned for details). The local Slashdot, Minut.EE, also reported [in Estonian] on the IT-Neeger article.

Thus, myself and Laurent Bervas spent the better part of this week being blogged, interviewed and podcasted by a variety of Estonian and French publications, which is how I only got around blogging this bit tonight.


Contrary to our competitors, we fully intend on keeping this platform open, so our initial market will actually be Free Software developers with a penchant for innovation. As such, our first 50 units are exclusively intended for interested developers who want to improve upon our initial idea and participate in defining the final product. Inquiries are welcome!


A: Internet for the masses

Q: What do you get if you combine

  • an A-level blogger with numerous commendable achievements in the Real Estate business and in the Software industry,
  • a business consultant whose outstanding success in selling his first computer game product later brought him to the business unit that launched the iPaq,
  • and a Creative Commons and Free Software advocate whose earlier ventures in the Music business resulted in appearances on two Gold records?

The answer on October 1st 2006.


CUPS-PDF finally works on Ubuntu

For a long time, one of my Debian packages, cups-pdf, could not work on Ubuntu, because Ubuntu runs its CUPS daemon using a low-privilege user. I'm happy to report that this issue is finally resolved: following the release of CUPS 1.2, a simple solution was discovered by Andre Klitzing.

However, I only noticed this recently, after registering myself on Launchpad to respond to Ubuntu bugs affecting my Debian packages. Sigh! Perhaps notifying me earlier, via the Debian BTS, would have been a good idea?

Anyhow, after checking that the solution wouldn't break anything on the Debian side, I committed the fix to cups-pdf 2.4.1-2. Enjoy!


meme: top ten UNIX shell commands

My results for this meme:

history | awk '{print $2}' | awk 'BEGIN {FS="|"} {print $1}' | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr | head -10
     73 sudo
     67 update-web
     53 ssh
     51 nano
     44 ls
     25 dir
     21 upgrade-daily.sh
     17 cd
     13 requestsync
     13 more

Among the more unusual sightings, update-web is a Bourne shell script to update my APT repository and synchronize my homepage, and upgrade-daily.sh is another one to upgrade my whole cluster in a semi-automated way.

Meanwhile, requestsync is a really neat Python script by Martin Pitt to request the synchronisation of Debian packages into Ubuntu, automatically fetching Debian changelogs and other relevant information to justify the request.


Co-Maintainers Wanted

During Debconf5, I voiced the opinion that all Debian packages with a priority Standard or higher, as well as packages with a high Popularity Contest rating and development packages with a priority Optional or Extra that many people rely upon for development work, ought to be team-maintained as a matter of Policy. I justified this by pointing out that Debian's Social Contract puts our users among our key priorities, which implies that keeping the packages that our users value the most in excellent shape ought to be the embodiment of this value, and that the best way of meeting this goal is to enforce a policy of team maintenance and easy NMU for those packages.

While my own packages are rather modest contributions to Debian's pool and few of them rate anywhere close to the top in popularity, I honestly feel like practicing what I preach is the best example I could give. Another reason is that several business ideas that I'm working on are monopolizing my time, which means that I'm not as available as I would like to be to participate in Debian. I however see this situation as only temporary, which is why I have not orphaned my packages. Instead, I am soliciting Debian Developers to come as co-maintainers. Interested parties should check my QA page for packages that might interest them and contact me for details. Thanks!

PS: in case this wasn't obvious, the whole point of enforcing team maintenance and allowing NMU on non-RC but annoying bugs is to avoid unresponsive lone wolf maintainers who let tons of bug reports pile up on their packages without fixing them or even acknowledging them. Ubuntu avoids this by allowing anyone on their development team to chip in, while Debian still clings on to each maintainer's absolute reign over their packages, which leaves users of neglected packages completely in the dust.


Linux 15th anniversary conference - September 4th 2006, Helsinki, Suomi

I meant to blog something about this for the last 2 weeks but other things had precedence. Anyhow, before this becomes hopelessly outdated, I decided to simply paste my notes verbatim, as a bulleted list. Here they are:

  • Lots of Ubuntu stickers visible on laptops!

liw: how did it all start?

  • Main areas of progress have been documentation and user applications, then distributions.
  • Installation improved from manual boot sector hacking to full GUI tool.
  • Linus purposely avoids working for distributors to preserve his neutrality.
  • Major kernel developments took place between 1992-1994 i.e. ports to m68k, alpha, powerpc.
  • Acknowledgement of RMS and ESR contributions to the Free Software agenda.

Maddog: changing, ruling and saving the world.

  • While at Drexel university, a teacher told him "No one will ever make a living writing software". Nowadays, the comment is rephrased about free software.
  • Parallel with 15-year olds that code amazing stuff being used for special effects, medical research, forensics, etc.
  • Parallel with what a 15-year old can learn from previous generations, from own early mistakes, from siblings, from dealing with bullying, etc.
  • In some countries, 15 is the age of consent or passage to adulthood.
  • Creative Commons embodies a society that enables read-write interaction.
  • Linux is already outselling Apple on the desktop.
  • Linux is shipping on over 1/3 of new servers.
  • The thin client market is completely Linux-based.
  • Social Networking and Peer Mentoring foster a creation of acceptance.
  • Malaysia's Computer Science graduates are 70% women and, surprise, it is a Muslim country.
  • Free Software enables localization for niche markets; this is a software freedom.
  • A shoe manufacturer that Maddog met on a plane had a domino Windows license upgrading effect that made him miss a whole production cycle. No longer supported Windows versions had to be replaced with new computers ...On which their custom software did not work anymore, while they worked fine on older Windows releases offering a DOS shell. He wanted to know how he could switch to Free Software and finally rid himself from slavery to Microsoft's licensing schemes that often impose costly hardware upgrades by turning previous hardware investments into unsupported obsoleteness.
  • Driving new standards are: FSG, ODF.
  • Generating local jobs adapting Free Software for local needs. The same cannot happen with closed-source software, because we're stuck with the vendor's limited offering.
  • Showing examples of excellent source code is the best way to teach programming. This is easily done with Free Software; not so with closed-source software.
  • The key to Free Software: have fun!
  • Remember: Software Freedom Day

This was followed by presentations from local Finnish players in the Free Software field. One point of interest: Timo Jyrinki, who is the founder of the Finnish Ubuntu community, emphasized that contributing to Ubuntu really meant contributing to Debian.

Videos are available (in Finnish, except for Maddog's presentation) on the server of the University of Helsinki. Sadly, the media format used is non-free... *sigh* When will they ever learn?

Clean Slate

There are moments in life when I keep on noticing that, no matter how much I try to keep up with whatever I missed while something else momentarily required my undivided attention, there simply is no way I can catch up. That's when a painful and yet eminently elegant solution imposes itself: discard and start on a clean slate.

Today was such a day.

Back a few months ago, when Deviant Art was crawling because of its outdated and blatantly inadequate infrastructure, I had to give up trying to keep up with the latest creations from my favorite Deviants. Recently, having heard that the infrastructure had been overhauled, I went back to have a look. Low and behold, nearly 6000 Deviant Watch notifications were waiting in my inbox! After spending a couple of days trying to catch up, reality dawned onto me: there's simply no way in hell that I can possibly skim through so many images. So, I used DA's nifty tool to delete all Deviant Watch notifications at once. There. Empty. No more deviation to review and therefore no endless white night ahead. Ah! Now, that wasn't so difficult, was it?

Granted, this wasn't so catastrophic. At worst, I missed a couple of truly remarkable works. Anyhow, those Deviants are gonna create yet more magnificent work, so I can rest safely knowing that the best of DA is yet to come. However, there have been other circumstances where the clean slate approach felt infinitely more painful:

Last year, the server which hosted my homepage and mailbox went belly up. Because the friends who own the server had more urgent matters to attend to, resuscitation had to wait for a couple of months. During that time, mail kept on piling up on their delivery host. By the time the server was back online, more than 7000 messages suddenly flooded my inbox. Again, same procedure: first spending nearly a week trying to skim through the From and Subject lines of the index, to attempt locating potentially important messages that needed an urgent though obviously belated response, only to realize that I simply could not make enough time to go through it all. The scary part is that I had been expecting various important messages during the blackout e.g. feedback from job interviews, certification test questions to answer within a specific time, etc. Still, someone can only stay awake for so many days before loosing focus, so I had to make the cruel decision to empty the inbox. Gulp! There. Gone. No more sleepless nights. Cross your fingers and hope you didn't miss any message of crucial importance...

There are yet more circumstances I can think of where the decision of starting on a clean slate imposed itself, despite the fear of perhaps missing out on something cool or important, or of giving up too soon despite clear signs of a dead-end coming. Eight years ago, my decision to relocate to a distant country that offered better career opportunities and a healthier lifestyle was one of those circumstances. What I'm carefully planning over the next few months is an equally important, though noticeably less dramatic step.

Still, I cannot help but wonder if I'm making the right choice?

Starting on a clean slate offers the obvious advantage of getting rid of dead weight. This is clearly a liberating sensation. However, it simultaneously requires letting go of elements that, despite their obsolescence or shortcomings, each contributed something useful at one point or another, which is very painful, because all those elements represent personal or monetary investments that often span several years. Think of retiring your very first computer, leaving your companion of many years or abandoning your homeland. Each element represents a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears, through shared learning experiences, through joy and pain. At the same time as you realize that it is now time to turn the page, you cannot help but remember the good times and yet wonder if you gave up too soon.

They call this perpetual state of reminiscence, growing pains. Ah! That explains it, I guess...

PS: I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the friends who used to host my homepage and mailbox, as well as the one who currently does. I might not often mention it, but rest assured that it's genuinely appreciated. I'd also like to apologize to all the Deviants whose great artwork I missed during the last few months and to anyone whose message got lost in the clean slate that followed the server crash last year.


On entrepreneurship and Tallinn

Lars mentions in the same article that he is thinking about starting a business and that Tallinn is nice.

I agree.

Now, what if we combined both statements?

Not surprisingly, other Finns had the same idea, including former collegues of Lars and I, who took advantage of Estonia's outstandingly welcoming taxation laws, of Tallinn's luxurious variety of restaurants and coffee shops, of Estonia's comparatively more affordable cost of living and of the omnipresent country-wide wireless network.

Given this, is it any surprise that I keep on spending more and more time there?

Now, if someone on Toompea could only take a hint and realize that a québécois kes räägib eesti keelt natukane and who has been living for more than 8 years in the neighboring country very much is a local and ought to be equally welcome to immigrate as any EU national...

GNOME Network Manager annoyances

Having recently gotten around buying a WIFI card for the old ThinkPad 240x that my friend Marcus gave me and installed Dapper on it, I began to look for a simple method for selecting wireless Access Points. Someone on #ubuntu recommended network-manager, which I promptly installed. Well...

The NM version in Dapper wouldn't even cooperate with a common 8139too Ethernet card! First, it would correctly fetch the IP from the router, but then the network-manager-gnome applet would keep on spinning and only stop after resetting the IP to some private network meant for Bluetooth and other similar networked consumer devices.

I then cautiously upgraded to Edgy, just enough packages to get a newer network-manager daemon and a 2.6.17 kernel, then tried again. Ah! It at least finally retained the dynamic IP whenever using the 8139too Ethernet card, but it still refused to connect to a wireless network whenever I switch to the DWL-G650 card. Hmm...

Just to check that the Atheros driver (AR5212 chipset appearing as ath0) was correctly loaded, I did a test by opening a terminal and manually setting the ESSID to the nearest Internet café's AP, using iwconfig, then launching dhclient3. Look, ma! It works!

Inspecting the logs revealed that connecting to a non-encrypted network with network-manager systematically fails, because NM bombards the Access Point with wpasupplicant, then sits there wondering why the AP doesn't request authentication, thus eventually reporting a failure to associate with the AP.

How do we fix this? Any Network Manager developer who is reading this that would care to comment?


GTK2 coder wanted

I'm putting together a startup with some friends. Our product is based on diet versions of GNOME components. At this stage, the missing part is a diminutive control panel, to select the keyboard map (console + X) and to toggle between left/right -handed mouse (gpm + X). This could probably be extracted from GNOME components (e.g. capplets) as well, however keeping in mind the fact that we aim for GTK2 -only applications, to avoid unnecessary dependencies normally appearing with fully GNOME -compliant software. The result shall be published as Free Software, under a license matching whichever code the product was derived from. Our budget is small, but everything you code as a part of this project is immediately contributed back to the Free Software community. If this gig interests you, please drop by my homepage for my contact info and send me a summary of your skillset.


Messidor doing Lanaudière?!

Evan, when you said "Saint-Michel-des-Anges" in this blog entry, surely you meant Saint-Michel-des-Saints?

PS: Maciej is wrong. What people speak in Québec is French, they just speak it with a heavy accent and curiously outdated vocabulary reminescent of their coastal France ancestry. Tabarnak!

USB mass storage support in Linux sucks!

After an extremely frustrating afternoon of seeing the Linux UHCI driver repeatedly shut itself down, following several successive I/O errors while accessing USB mass storage (a 512Mb Compact Flash connected via a USB card reader, in one case, and a 512Mb USB stick, in the other), I spent an even more frustrating evening surfing the Internet for a solution. Conclusion:

USB mass storage support in Linux sucks!

Several mailing lists and user forums report similar failures using USB 2.0 devices on Linux UHCI or EHCI drivers, down to the exact same error messages that I get. Some even report the whole USB subsystem going down, leaving the user without any keyboard or mouse on USB-only systems (this matches my findings on one particular hardware platform that happens to be at the core of a project I'm working on). The suspected cause, in all cases, apparently boils down to either or all these:

  • The SCSI subsystem upon which USB (and Firewire) mass storage is built is utter crap that would need a complete rewrite. The issue has been known for ages, it's even a proverbial elephant in the corner that nobody wants to see, but rewriting the subsystem for a standard that barely has any real-life application left means opening a big can of worms.
  • None of the Linux kernel's HCI are capable of anticipating the quirks present in some implementations of the USB hardware specifications, so they simply panic and commit suicide in syslog-flooding glory.
  • There is apparently a hard-coded limit of 1000 units (blocks?) that, when exceeded, will make the mass storage driver reset itself! Doesn't sound like Willliam Gates the Third's often-mentioned "Nobody needs more than 640k" now, does it?

I can feel for the average user who is just trying to extract a few pictures off a USB stick and who simply ends up reinstalling $commercial_os in frustration. Wasting a couple of days trying to debug support for what is supposedly a well-documented industry standard should never happen. There is no excuse for a broken USB mass storage on Linux. Let's fix it!


Wengophone: VoIP done right

Via Free Software Magazine:

Dreaming about a free software competitor for Skype? Maybe your wait is over

And a very interesting alternative to Skype it indeed is!

Developed as Free Software by a subsidiary of the French telecom operator Neuf Cegetel, WengoPhone comes as either a Firefox plug-in or as a QT-based standalone application. On top of the VoIP features, it also supports other popular chatting protocols, for a seamless integration of all one's Instant Messenging needs.

Lovely! Now, when can we get a GTK2 version of that, messieurs?


Planner 0.14 released

I had the pleasant surprise to notice that Planner 0.14 was finally released last night, more than a year after development had stopped, this time under the direction of Kurt Maute. I packaged it this morning and uploaded it to Debian's repository. There's still 9 bugs remaining and help is welcome towards clarifying whether they still apply to this new release. Enjoy!


Retour sur ma semaine à Paris

In a nutshell: I'm extremely tempted to dump Finland and move to France.


This business networking evening was simply amazing. How about a discussion on the phonetic niceties of Northern versus Central and Southern Vietnamese accents, as a conversation starter? How about another one, on ethnic versus national identities, as the icing on the cake leading towards a business card exchange? Lovely, isn't it? So was the girl...

Xin cám ơn, ông Mai!

I however had the nasty surprise of realizing that I no longer speak French to a native level, when Alain did my video profile. Oh, the hesitations...

Saaks mie puhuu suomee siinä videoesittelyzzä? Eiköha? Hä?

The Food

From Italian pizza to Japanese street noodles ― you name it, they have the real thing, cooked by expats. No way in hell you'll ever find that quality in Helsinki, especially not for that cheap!

The Book Heaven

France gave the world this wonderful language book collection called Assimil and the FNAC had them all... minus Le Lithuanien sans peine, whose publication appears forever delayed. Still, as Антон recently found out, they even offer material in languages other than French.

Combien vous gagez que le duc de Novgorod-la-Grande aura réussi à assimiler la langue de Molière avant Debconf7?

The People

Courteous, smily and easy-going; the exact opposite of the average Finn. What more can I say?

The Crossroad

Of course, resetting the citizenship counter to zero is not exactly my idea of fun, but then again I have a strong feeling that my 8-year venture into Finnish society has pretty much come to a full circle, so...

Y'a-tu quelqu'un dans la région parisienne qui cherche un commercial avec une forte expérience de la gestion de produits basés sur du logiciel libre et de l'exportation vers la Scandinavie et les pays baltes? En bonus: leçons de joual [en] [fr] gratis, tabarnak!

The Paradox

Visiting the South Karelia on the Senate Square event and feeling homesick for my adoptive hometown of Lappeenranta, as I kept on running into familiar faces who are still thankful after all these years that I dared become fluent in what they speak out East (which differs tremendously from normalized Finnish).

Isn't life ironic, sometimes?


ALSA on the old GX1 Geode?

As I'm currently putting the finishing touches to "Project X", one remaining issue is ALSA support on the GX1 core inside the Geode SC2200. I'm just wondering if anybody out there implemented this already? Or perhaps someone would be willing to port AMD's old OSS driver to ALSA?

PS: I am fully aware that AMD considers the SCx200 series as an end-of-line product. However, given the plethora of GX1-based hardware out there, having an ALSA driver for it would still be worth the effort.


Brightness control on an iMac G3 under Linux

I recall Linux/PPC kernel developer Benjamin Herrenschmidt saying ages ago that it would technically be trivial to write a tool that accesses the Open Firmware device tree to adjust the iMac's built-in monitor's features (brightness, contrast, geometry, etc.). I'm wondering if anybody ever coded such a tool? Otherwise, would anyone be willing to study the Darwin source code and port it to Linux?


Networking à Paris

I'm spending next week in Paris, attending the last 6nergies event of this season, meeting business partners and interviewing with potential employers. If there's any Debian or Ubuntu developers that wanna meet for a drink and perhaps for an informal GPG key signing session, please drop me a line ASAP.


Existential politics

Those who read French and who are interested in pondering issues where existential philosophy and politics intersect might find this article on my other blog stimulating.


Alpha debian-installer bounty

From my good friend Eki:

I'd appreciate you informing people that I'm commiting a 100 euro bounty towards upgrading debian-installer images with MILO support for the Debian Etch release. I can personally help with development by testing the upgraded installer images on any of my 11 Alpha machines.

If you have MILO knowledge and are willing to produce updated debian-installer images for Etch and to submit your work to the debian-boot team, contact eki at his regular sci.fi account. Kiitos!


Falsetto à la Fox

The killer feature in Opera, compared to Firefox and other Mozilla products, is the ability to restore the content of all tabs at every browsing session; not just after experiencing a crash, but in a systematic way, whenever starting the application. I have finally found a Firefox plug-in that does that: Session Manager. Why isn't this a standard feature in Epiphany and Firefox?

Epiphany vs Firefox compatibility issues

Meanwhile, I have encountered yet another essential site (online booking for my favorite airline - this time) that blocks Epiphany but allows Firefox. Yes, I know that their webmaster is to blame for resorting to browser-agent filtering. No, I don't expect anyone at customer service to understand and to rouse their javascripting minion into fixing it. Unfortunately, it also means that I still cannot switch to Epiphany.

Even though Firefox and xulrunner are essentially the same codebase, the different browser-agent is enough to make Epiphany unsuitable for everyday use. As I recall, Rosbeh and several others reported this as being one of two reasons for shipping Firefox as their default browser, the other being a question of brand recognition: Firefox had the full-page ad in the New York Times and is multi-platform, while Epiphany is virtually unknown and GNOME-specific.

This must be fixed.


Ubuntu 606

Am I the only one who thinks of a silver drum machine, when looking at the Dapper release number?

Closed for Business: Google, MSN, Yahoo

Today marked yet another phase in my dissociation from closed business models:

I wanted to view someone's photo album on Flickr. However, because this brilliant picture sharing community was recently bought by Yahoo, the service's infrastructure has been progressively overhauled into something that forces users to have a Yahoo passport to logon.

Sounds familiar? Yup, it's the same old tired MSN recipe for shotgun marriage: buy cool service startups one by one and suddenly make them inaccessible to people who refuse to provide oral sex to their whole product line. Not surprisingly, on the same day, I got a similar invitation to view another friend's photo album on My Space, which would have required a similar MSN passport there. Perkele!

Now, which other megacorporation has been quietly adopting trend-setting companies and Free Software projects through the backdoor and progressively forcing people into their own passport model? Hintti: search engine, gay male, gay talk.

User lock-in is not a business model; it is a mentally ill infestation that shall be eradicated.


Standing in the Shadows of Birthday

From a great album that was the inspiration for this blog entry's title:
I'll be searching everywhere
Just to find someone to care.

Yes, again... *sigh* Давай!


Embeded Debian questions

Being in the process of compiling a diminutive Debian GNU/Linux -based OS image to boot an embeded device, I ran into a few problems that, I would guess, have already been resolved by other Debian developers working in the embeded device industry. My main questions are:

Obsolete (c)deboostrap package list for Etch

I notice that debootstrap's idea of which packages to install has never been updated for Etch, which currently installs pretty much the same packages as Sarge. One exemple is fetching dhcp-client instead of dhcp3-client.

Would anyone have an updated package bootstraping list for Etch?

Overcoming the footprint of a default Debian install with Busybox

Reading its documentation, it appears that Busybox can effectively replace about 80% of the packages rated with a priority Standard or higher. However, since neither busybox or busybox-static offer any Provides line, it becomes fairly difficult to figure out which packages can be safely removed without hosing the system.

Would anybody happen to have more details about exactly which packages Busybox can replace while still providing just enough functionality to boot a Debian-based system up to an X display manager? This equivalence list would need to be up-to-date with the Etch bootstrap requirements mentioned in the previous question.

Having clear answers to the above two question would go a long way towards helping me get started on this project. Thanks in advance to anyone who can provide relevant answers!


Kotoisuus workgroup publishes new Finnish keyboard map

Via Michael Kaplan:

I was talking with someone the other day who is working on/with the new Finnish keyboard standard. [PDF in English]

Kyllä vain, suomalaisilla on sittenkin uutta näppäimistön oletusasettelua!

The novelty is the integration of several new deadkeys, accessible via AltGr or Shift+AltGr, that enable the composition of accented characters needed for the minority languages of Scandinavia, such as Faroese and Samé, and for those of significant immigrant groups such as Turkish and Vietnamese. Then the caron, macron and ogonek open the door to Baltic languages, while the double-accute allows writing Hungarian using a normal Finnish keyboard.

Ihanat painomerkit! Lisää! Laitetaanko saman tien consolelle ja X:lle kaikki näppäimistön oletusasettelut uusiksi?

Now, if they could only get around integrating the Russian ЯВЕРТЫ keymap on top of that, I would be such a happy boy...

PS: this post is dedicated to another Kaplan, Mr.RTL himself, Lior Kaplan, for officially becoming a DD. Congratulations!


Buzzword opportunism won't do

Being involved in no less than four different projects, all with excellent prospects for a permanent job, reminds me of why riding the Free Software bandwagon as yet another opportunistic buzzword won't do:

In three of the projects, people insist upon communicating using the closed source VoIP application Skype. There indeed is a crude port for Linux on i386 (though not for amd64, powerpc, or any other architecture), but the dependencies are broken and my friends at Skype emphasize that Linux is a non-market for them, so I should not expect any solution any time soon. Still, the people behind some of these projects regularly threaten that I'm wasting their time by "refusing" to install Skype on my computer.

Free Software promoters who don't understand what "non-free" means.

In two of the projects, the corporate homepage is made as a single Flash animation. Mentioning that Flash support is extremely broken and thus essentially non-existent on Free Software platforms is pointless: the people behind the project are Windows users and yet they insist that their project is about promoting the free circulation of ideas using Free Software.

Free Software promoters who don't understand interoperability.

In one particular project, the product follows the Googlesque model of "the Web as my application and file server". Great idea, except that ―­ once again ― the people behind the project are Windows users and they insist that the Thin Client hardware must have a standard set of applications pre-installed and some storage media, thus defeating the purpose of this business model.

Promoters of "the Web as my application and file server" model who don't understand the implications of a Thin Client solution.

In all cases, the people behind the project mean well, but ― not being Free Software users themselves ― they clearly don't understand the profound implications of the Free Software agenda; they only see it as a license-free technology to connect the masses for cheap and they evidently find it difficult to think outside the Windows PC framework.

Free Software as a business model, in a nutshell: data interoperability and the client-server model. Either get it or you're wasting my time ...and yours too. Nothing personal; just business.

PS: I sincerely hope that anybody who recognizes themselves in the above rant will acknowledge my honest concerns and embrace this opportunity to truly adopt Free Software. Just do it! It doesn't matter where you get the FOSS. Just make sure that the FOSS gets you! (inspired by a great Candy Dulfer song currently blasting through the headphones).


mIRC finally supports UTF-8 ... sort-of

A great day for multilingual chatting indeed! Kenneth Falck mentions that mIRC (the de-facto standard IRC client on Microsoft Windows) finally supports incoming UTF-8 encoded messages, starting with version 6.17. Khaled: how about outputting UTF-8 encoded messages too?


Gratuitous plug

People who understand French and who follow EU policy-making issues might find my other blog interesting.


Open Tuesday in Helsinki

Two days ago, I attended the first occurrence of Open Tuesday, an Open Source event building upon the established First Tuesday concept: people from a given industry gather on the first Tuesday of every month for some informal chat and networking. The meeting usually starts with the company that sponsors that particular month's event presenting their latest business concept or product. For Open Tuesday, this means Finnish players in the FOSS industry.

I was particularly pleased with the wide variety of private and public sector representatives that attended this first event and found the exchange of ideas extremely stimulating. The fact that promising job leads also crept into some of the conversations obviously added to my satisfaction as well. Besides, several notorious developers like icon designer Tuomas Kuosmanen and Debian's very own Lars Wirzenius were also spotted among the crowd, which was very nice indeed. Anyhow, if you are working in the Finnish FOSS industry or if your FOSS business often takes you to Helsinki, you could hardly go wrong joining in on the fun. Definitely recommended!


Award to the Debian community of Finland

Open Source 2006 is a one-day seminar that provides Free Software actors of Finland with a forum to present their work and the current trends in Free Software development to a greater audience comprised mainly of decision-makers from the business and governmental sectors.

Finnish Open Office localization team

This year, a noticeable trend were governmental cases of transition to Open Office and other Free Software solutions on the municipal desktop. Thus, it was only fitting that Finnish localization took greater importance than before and, in concordance, that this year's Linux-tekijä award went to the Finnish Open Office localization team. The jury invited 3 people from the localization team to receive the award on their team's behalf:

  • Pastor Asmo Koskinen of the bilingual Finnish-Swedish parish of Kokkola; an active promoter of Open Office in the Finnish public sector that has given many training sessions on Open Office and helped countless end-users transition to Open Office.
  • Translator Marko Grönroos; a leading Finnish localizer that is involved in the localization of an impressive number of Free Software products.
  • Language Technology Expert Harri Pitkänen; the initiator of the Hunspell adaptation for the Finnish language.

Pastor Koskinen also gave a very stimulating lecture on the collaborative effort behind the localization, mentioning in passing that Czech Pavel Jani­k also plays an important role in building the Open Office binaries for a number of Baltic and Scandinavian languages.

Debian community of Finland

The jury also granted an honorary mention to the Debian community of Finland to acknowledge years of achievements, reaching an important milestone in 2005 when Finland hosted the yearly Debian Conference. Another motivation was a number of nominations for Ubuntu, both as a distribution and for its extremely active local user community. Given how a majority of Ubuntu developers actually are Debian Developers, the jury unanimously decided to honor them collectively from the perspective of Debian and its derivatives. The jury invited 3 people to receive the honorary mention on the community's behalf:

  • Inquisitor Lars Wirzenius needs no introduction; an early adopter and promoter of Debian in Finland, his strong voice has eloquently sung the merits of Debian and Free Software to large audiences and persuaded a significant number of Finns to join the Debian project.
  • Educator and Translator Tapio Lehtonen; appearing himself among this year's nominations for his extremely friendly attitude towards people making their first steps as a Free Software user, he is mainly known for localizing the Debian installation software.
  • Event organizer Aschwin van der Woude (represented in absentee by co-organizer Fabian Fagerholm); personally initiated countless Free Software promoting events and developer workshops throughout Finland, culminating in 2005 with the important responsibility for Debconf5's budget and legal matters.

Lars gave the audience a very interesting perspective of his long involvement with Debian, while Tapio emphasized particular pride in seeing non-programmers that maintain documentation or localize software be acknowledged. Fabian gave a very emotional speech in which he praised the commendable efforts of dozens of volunteer DebConf5 organizers that discretely handled unpleasant tasks that were nonetheless essential to the success of the event.

The Jury

Yours truly was invited to join the jury on behalf of Linux Aktivaattori, alongside representatives from the academic, business and Free Software communities. During the prize ceremony, FLUG chairman Arto Teräs and myself took turns at describing the award's selection process and at introducing the winners.


Good news for those who care about Debian

Via Hector:

Debian, Ubuntu and DCCA joint efforts for improving laptop support and for Linux kernel and X11 packaging on Debian -derivative software distributions.

This kind of group effort is precisely what makes the Free Software development model so great and, as this story demonstrates eloquently, it applies remarkably well to corporate software development, even among vendors that are competing for the same market segment. Awesome, isn't it?


Eesti keele spelleri arendus [2]

The publication of an article by Elver, about my packages of ispell-et on Minut.ee (the Estonian Slashdot) produced an interesting thread:

  • Several people complaining how Estonians are so selfish and undedicated that it took a foreigner to package it,
  • Others praising me for packaging it,
  • Someone noticing that the last upstream release dates back from 2003 and wondering how to help develop the actual wordlist content,
  • Someone else persistently asking how to get Estonian spellchecking working in Thunderbird,
  • Someone else asking if it's possible to test this on Windows, (Täh?!)

...with myself personally replying to some of the posts in the thread.



If these two links [1] [2] don't manage to convince you that Estonia is the place to be if you're really serious about innovating in the ICT sector, then I really don't know what will.


Eesti keele spelleri arendus

As I mentioned in a previous post, I maintain the Debian and Ubuntu package of ispell-et (Estonian dictionaries for the Aspell, Ispell and MySpell spell checkers - plus an hyphenation pattern for OpenOffice). Packaging this software was a natural choice for someone like me who is learning the language and who needs something to highlight obvious mistakes.

This being said, the Estonian wordlists that serve as raw material to generate those dictionaries are in desperate need of Language Love; the vocabulary appears frozen in Soviet time and rather incomplete to begin with: obsolete words nobody can even remember (probably of importance only to linguists or philologists), omission of even the most basic colloquial slangs, complete absence of contemporary technical vocabulary, etc.

Therefore, I am hereby inviting all Estonians to contribute to the development of the wordlist. The procedure is fairly simple: install the Estonian dictionary package for your favorite text editor or word processor (on Ubuntu 6.04, simply install language-support-et), load a few documents and report all words that were mistakenly marked as misspelled to Jaak Pruulmann. As an incentive, please note that all improvements will go into the Estonian version of Edubuntu, providing free language learning tools to Estonian children and thus benefiting the entire Estonian community. Tore homma, eks ole? :-)

Unicode migration issues for ru_RU locale

My co-pilot for the rus-ispell maintenance, Антон Марчуков (whom some of you might remember from Debconf5), has setup a Wiki for cataloging issues preventing the migration to UTF-8 locales for Russian [in Russian] and other languages that utilize the Cyrillic script. If you need proper Cyrillic support for your FOSS desktop and have any issue to report, please visit the Wiki and contribute. Do the same and let us know if you have contributed a patch that fixes an UTF-8 issue for any application. Добро пожаловать!


Tales of positive upstream collaboration

Amaya talks about a case where an upstream developer contributed a patch to the Debian package of his software. I'll take this opportunity to mention a couple of positive experiences of my own:

  • CUPS-PDF is a CUPS backend to generate PDF documents instead of printing out hard copies. Given my complete ignorance of CUPS internals, I figured that I would kindly ask upstream to subscribe himself to the PTS, just in case an RC bug would rear its ugly head.

    Volker immediately agreed and, sure enough, someone filed a number of RC bugs resulting from an audit they had performed. Volker replied and argued every point with the submitter by himself, then promptly released a new tarball which included all the fixes.

    This is the best case of collaborative maintenance I've encountered so far: Volker maintains his code and I maintain the Debian package. Everybody wins.

  • Ispell-et is an Estonian wordlist from which all 3 dictionary variants (aspell, ispell, myspell) are generated, plus an hyphenation pattern for OpenOffice, which upstream also uses to generate compound words.

    Jaak is a linguistic technology developer whose extremely busy schedule leaves very little time for hobbies. However, the appearance of my package in the Debian repository renewed his interest in maintaining his wordlist. He promptly reviewed my package and suggested a couple of fixes to improve the quality of the dictionary generation process. He also proposed further improvements to eventually generate Hunspell dictionaries as well. Once again, everybody wins.

Wouldn't it be great if all upstream developers subscribed to the Debian PTS for their software and answered bugs related to the codebase themselves?


New Blogation

Elver convinced me to start blogging again. This time, instead of bothering with setting up my own blog engine, I decided to go back and try Blogger again.

Hacking the CSS template to match my regular website took even less time than I expected. Elver took the opportunity to ask his pal X-G for a second opinion on the current template. The result is what you see.

Here I go again, blogging in excess. A new blogation.