Adding default support for Airport remote sinks in PulseAudio

In another case of "what were they thinking?" it has been my displeasure to find that support to discover remote Apple Airport audio sinks is not enabled by default in PulseAudio and, in practice, enabling this requires the user to install paprefs just to enable the loading of two modules (module-raop-discover and module-zeroconf-discover) that really should have been loaded via the global /etc/pulse/default.pa by standard. The question is, why? I perfectly understand not enabling the publishing of local audio sinks by default, but why prevent the discovery of remote audio sinks by default? More to the point, why force the end-user to jump through hoops and Google for hours just to enable something that really should have worked out of the box?


New GPG key released - signatures welcome

Having rediscovered the wonders of GPG, I finally got around generating myself a 4096R key, signing it with my old key and issuing a transition statement. Given this, if

  1. You happen to have signed my old 1E0CB9CD key at DebConf5 in 2005, at Solutions Linux 2008 or at some Free Software event in Finland or in the Baltic countries over the past 7 years and
  2. You're satisfied with the content of the transitions statement,

your signature would be appreciated on my new C4B4D7B6 key.


Ubuntu kernel at 1000Hz with PREEMPT enabled?

Back when Linux kernel 2.6 was released, one of the immediate benefits that I noticed was how beautifully responsive my desktop had suddenly become. As it turned out, Linus figured out that he would create a buzz to accompany kernel 2.6's release by having a default clock rate of 1000Hz. However, the excitement was short-lived and kernel defaults were soon brought back down to a more conservative rate of 250Hz, allegedly because some peripheral chips could not handle such a high frequency bump without producing an increased amount of processing errors.

Adding insult to injury, Ubuntu defaults eventually dropped another responsiveness enhancement, kernel preemption, allegedly because the goal was to have a one-size-fits-all kernel shipping with Ubuntu and preemption was detrimental to the kernel performance when the host is used as a server, which was a problem because Ubuntu had somehow decided to shift its focus from the desktop market towards the more lucrative server market.

While there is nothing wrong with universally-safe kernel defaults or with a corporate decision to shift a distribution's focus towards more lucrative markets, it nonetheless left me pondering what would be the best way to get a 1000Hz kernel with preemption on my desktops, without constantly having to crank out my own kernel packages. As such, I was wondering if there would be enough traction from desktop users to justify producing such a kernel and to make it available as a post-install option from the Ubuntu repository?

PS: I'm already aware that a specialized Ubuntu kernel is available to cater for the needs of audio production, but my understanding is that it has power management disabled, because it can interfere with the real-time operation of MIDI devices, while normal desktop users would definitely want to have power management enabled.


Ubuntu no longer ships debian/changelog since Natty?

Since a few days, I have started to notice that the "Debian" changelog that normally ships with packages no longer appears with a number of recent package updates. Is this intentional?


An old GRSec feature I miss in stock Linux 2.6 kernels

Ages ago, when building my own kernel packages was my main hobby, I used to apply the GRsecurity patch to my kernels. One of the main benefits I found in this patch was that it would make the kernel terminate or, if that failed to have any immediate effect, downright kill any application that suddenly requests an unreasonable amount of system resources. I was wondering if stock Debian and Ubuntu kernels offered any similar feature that could be enabled e.g. via some /sys register?


Batch-editing EXIF data to add copyrights?

I've recently become more serious about my photographic hobby and it dawned onto me that manually editing each JPEG to add my copyright was entirely the wrong approach. Thus, I was wondering if anybody would know of a Free Software tool that can batch edit the EXIF data in JPEG images? What I'd like to accomplish is simple:

  • Add the string Copyright ©$YEAR Martin-Éric Racine where $YEAR is directly extracted from the original EXIF data's day when the picture was taken.
  • Optionally, produce smaller versions of the source images to an output folder as TFCD samples for my models to take home.

Preferences go for a tool that is already packaged for Debian or Ubuntu but, worst comes, I could package the software myself.


X.org video driver Geode 2.11.9

Released just a few hours ago:

We are pleased to announce this maintenance release of xf86-video-geode. It features a plethora of bug fixes, a few documentation updates and one performance enhancement. This release also marks the return of Advanced Micro Devices to the development team. Please read the content of NEWS for more details.

In practice, this Geode 2.11.9 release mostly fixes the growing number of rendering issues that were exposed with each successive release of the X.org server core. Among other things, it restores the ability to correctly view video streams on Totem and other media players, it fixes icon rendering bugs that affected various desktop environments and web browsers, it removes all remaining compiler warnings and, as a byproduct of fixing one rendering issue, the speed of our driver improved dramatically.

This is one release that will definitely please users of the OLPC XO-1 and of thin client hardware running on LTSP!


Hell just froze over a.k.a. Squeeze is frozen

Just noticed about an hour ago on debian-announce: Squeeze entered into freeze tonight. Hurray! What this means in practice is that, unless a new version of something fixes a serious bug, it will not be allowed to trickle down from Sid into Squeeze on time for the actual release.

Still, I cannot help but feel sad that it happened just a few days short of upstream releasing the Geode 2.11.9 driver for X.org, because AMD recently committed a lot of resources towards fixing all outstanding issues on this driver and yet one major Linux distribution is about to release without those fixes, unless the Release Manager agrees to let us squeeze 2.11.9 into, well, Squeeze. Doable? Possibly, if enough people calmly ask the Release Manager for it.


A small death, a big birth.

I dunno why, but hearing bagpipes always gives me the creeps, probably because their melodies sound like a whole country was just brutally slaughtered and is being mourned.

Sure enough, this morning, on my way to pick up my new national ID card matching my new citizenship, I ran into a Scottish regiment warming their bagpipes in preparation for the Police marching band festival of Helsinki and instantly had goosebumps, to the point of running a mental list of everyone among my relatives who might have crossed the Styx during the last few hours. While my mother's recent ailments have indeed been a source of concern, I simply couldn't think of any reason for them to degenerate to a fatal extent, so I mentally crossed that possibility out.

Still, even after marching a few blocks further downtown towards the central police station, I simply couldn't shake the deep sadness that got onto me upon hearing the bagpipes rehearsal.

By the time I reached my destination, an answer came: before I could get my new ID card, I'd have to surrender my old Foreigner's ID card. As odd as it might sound, I felt sad to let go of that pink-tinted little bugger. See, as much as I've hated being a foreigner all these years, that pinkish ID card was my only legal tie to this country and the photo of me it bears represented an important phase of struggles in my life, a phase that I would have loved to document in any possible way. Alas, it was not possible, so I gave one last look at my old card, handed it over and took my new blue-tinted citizen's ID card in exchange.

Walking back across downtown towards my home, all I could do was stare at my new ID card in disbelief: the Citizenship line indeed said FIN. I suppose that was the real message: C'était la fin d'une citoyenneté et le début d'une autre. Une petite mort, une grande (re)naissance. Sehän on hyvä vaihtokauppa, miun puolesta.


Firefox is a CPU killer!

Since a couple of days, the mere act of launching Firefox is sufficient to get my Dell D430's CPU to overheat to the point of shutting itself down, within a few seconds of launching the application. Two questions:

  • Who the heck are the bastards that designed a laptop with such poor ventilation?
  • Who the heck are the bastards that coded such a hideous piece of bloated browser?

I know that I've previously vented out frustration over Firefox's shortcomings, but now this application-specific CPU overheating crap is just too much. Dammit!


On pohjantähden alla, Tää koti mulla mainen, Mä elämästä laulan...

My girlfriend and I were out picking up a cake at the bakery last week, when my phone rang:

  • Hello, I'm calling about your application. I just spent the last hour discussing your case with my boss and there's just one thing that bothers us: do you ever intend on paying your residual taxes?
  • I received those payment slips right after I became unemployed and, as you know, living off unemployment benefits in this country's most expensive city doesn't exactly leave anyone with money to spare...
  • Say no more! Moving to the capital for this job was a real shocker. The rents are so bloody expensive here! Anyhow, do you intend on taking care of those residual taxes as soon as you get a job?
  • Yup, just like I said in my application.
  • Alright, then I guess that everything is in order. We can start processing your application today. We obviously cannot make any promise about how long that's gonna take, but I would think that the decision should come fairly soon.
  • Wow! That's excellent news! Thanks again for your help!
  • You're welcome, sir. Have a nice day!

Without knowing, at that moment, I had just become a citizen of the country in which I have been living for the past 12 years. It was only yesterday, upon receiving the decision in the mail and looking at the date on the certificate that I realized that, when I got the phone call, the decision had already been made and the bureaucracy was only looking for reassurances that I fully intend upon acquitting my civic obligations as soon as humanely possible.

To say that reading the decision was a highly emotional moment is an understatement. Trying to explain the intensity of this moment to my girlfriend, I compared it to the day when a teenager reaches adulthood. This instant brought a similar feeling: suddenly, the whole EU opens its doors to me and I'm free to decide how to best use the opportunities it offers.

What next?

For now, completing this government training to become a bureaucrat. Funnily enough, becoming a citizen resolved the whole issue of background checks, which also suddenly triples the number of possible venues for the on-job part of the training. In my case, it looks like I'll be spending the next few months at the Ministry of Employment and Entrepreneurship, working on EU projects that fund R&D efforts and export sales ventures in each member state.

After that, I'm not sure.

On one hand, I'd like to apply for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' KAVAKU recruitment program for future diplomats. On the other hand, that ministry is extremely picky about whom it accepts and it's not particularly known for favoring naturalized individuals. This being said, our current Minister recently published rather ambitious plans to completely reform the Ministry by bringing in seasoned professionals from the private sector who could efficiently promote Finnish know-how and products abroad, rather than hiring more of the same Public Administration graduates, so, who knows? Maybe the time is right for someone like me to join the ranks of the Finnish diplomacy?

An other option that I'm considering is to permanently move to Estonia. When my last job there ended, I was left with the feeling that I could have accomplished a lot more, if only I were in a legal position to move there, rather than commute a couple of times a week. Beyond the pioneering work that myself and my diplomat friends at the Estonian embassy did in Turkey, there was a demand for us to perform the same magic in other countries of interest to Estonia. Unfortunately, not being in a position to be on-site and no longer having a job that paid for me to be there often enough meant that I had to pass on that opportunity. Now, seeing how one of my friends recently left the diplomacy and is open to new challenges, I'm wondering if now might be a good time to resume our operation and prepare our next campaign?

Wow... So much to think about, now that a whole continent opened its doors to me. Hienoa! Olen suomalainen.


How much does Free Software influence my career prospects?

Funny how life brings those A-HA moments in the least probable of circumstances. Take my career's development, for instance. I'm currently taking a training to become a government bureaucrat. During this training, each student goes through a thorough skill assessment to help the trainer select an appropriate training place in some government office. Asides from covering the obvious aspects of formal education and employment history, we also reviewed achievements and accumulated skills. My A-HA moment came as a result of our trainer asking me to completely rewrite my CV to match some known template. Additionally, she requested that I emphasize my technology background more. I countered by pointing out that the word "technology" tends to mean "engineer" to the average employer and yet I've have always been in Product Management or Business Development, which are more Sales-oriented roles than anything else, hence why I emphasize the Sales aspect and deflate the technology aspect in my CV. Still, while she conceded that difference in emphasis, she insisted that having worked in technology probably influenced my skills or my preferred workflow in one way or another. At the moment, I simply could not think of how it might have.

Boy, was I wrong! Where do I begin?

First of all, it dawned onto me that I simply cannot claim to know Microsoft Office anymore. Until recently, my Open Office skills were easily applicable to Microsoft Office, because Open Office borrowed a lot of concepts from its Microsoft counterpart. However, following the recent redesign of Microsoft Office, I found that I cannot navigate my way around Microsoft Word's menus anymore. While this new user interface paradigm indeed removes a lot of clutter, it also hides too many features in less than obvious places, which resulted in me concluding that I simply have to downgrade my Microsoft Office skills to medium. Given the progressive conversion of several Finnish agencies and ministries to Open Office, I'm not in such an uncomfortable position but, then again, other agencies and ministries fiercely cling on to their Microsoft licenses and have recently upgraded them. As such, should my practical training take place in one of those offices, I would essentially be unable to perform at my job. Redeeming factor: a friend who only knows Microsoft products faced similar frustrations last year when she got back from her summer vacations, after she realized that their network administrator had upgraded her workstation. It took her the whole autumn before she felt comfortable using Word again.

Another aspect of working in Free Software that influences my workflow: telecommuting and teleworking. As anyone working on Free Software projects knows, teams tend to be distributed around the globe, which means that there's always someone somewhere pushing a commit or answering bug reports, at any given time of the day. Simultaneously, work quickly becomes location-independent and flexible schedules are the norm; whatever and wherever works for a given developer, as long as the work gets done. Without anyone really noticing, this work methodology has permeated the whole technology ecosystem, even at fortune-500 companies. Employees come in and out of the office at whichever time suits them, while others choose to work from home and only show up whenever face-to-face meetings are called. Others even adopt a nomad lifestyle, constantly roaming the globe for adventures and connecting to the office network via VPN, from the comfort of their hotel room or from a friend's couch, on the other side of the globe.

In my case, having twice worked for Estonian companies while living in Finland, it meant taking the ferry twice a week to visit the office. This brought in more benefits than one might initially think: first of all, the quick walk between the metro station and the harbor in Helsinki meant that I arrived on the ferry with blood pumping adrenaline and fully alert. Being on the ferry gave me 2 hours of quiet time to grab my first coffee and plan my day. Getting out of the ferry in Tallinn meant another quick walk, this time between the harbor and the tramway. By the time I arrived at the office, I had exercised twice and planned all my workday. It's probably the most productive that I've ever been in my whole career. Additionally, I was frequently on the road, meeting customers and following on sales leads, which meant that I got to close many deals using my laptop in my hotel room. As our CEO used to joke, "I have no idea where in the world Martin-Éric is today but, just as long as the purchase orders keep on pouring in, it's all the same to me."

As a result of this reflexion, I had to explain to our trainer why I am extremely well-suited to government jobs that require a lot of traveling and where Free Software is used on the desktop and, vice-versa, extremely unsuited to back-office jobs where whatever Microsoft products of the day are the norm. I've had to put particular emphasis on what Open Office is all about, because many homeworks were supposed to be submitted in Microsoft Word format. While Writer indeed offers the option to import and export Microsoft formats, it doesn't come with any WYSIWYG guarantee, which is why I took on the habit of sending her PDF documents. Sadly, this did not always work out so well, especially in cases where the intention was to forward selected parts of a document to third-parties.

Conclusion: working in the Free Software industry, even in non-engineering roles, indeed has a strong influence on someone's choice of methodology, tools and workflow. In some cases, it can even disqualify someone from making certain career choices.

Who would have thought?


xf86-video-geode: new contributors shake off the dust

A couple of years ago, the Geode X.org driver lost its main contributor, due to random attrition at AMD after the company experienced severe losses at the end of a quarter. Since then, yours truly and a few random contributors have been trying to keep this driver at least remotely usable, with mixed results.

Over the past few weeks, the driver has seen new contributions, thanks to the addition of two engineers from AMD Taiwan who have been going through the list of outstanding bugs and learning the ropes of collaborating with the Free Software community. This, in turn, had a snowball effect and motivated old contributors from the OLPC project and from the thin client community to return to the driver. Hurray!

Let's give a warm welcome to Frank Huang and Hunk Cui from AMD and, if you notice any issue with the driver that is not already reported, please file a report to help us become aware it.



Correct gLabels template for VistaPrint custom business cards?

I'm currently designing myself a new business card and noticing how VistaPrint has finally established a drop point in Finland and is present in a growing number of countries, I was thinking of using their services this time. However, since they only publish ready-to-use templates for Adobe software and they won't disclose which printing products they use, I'm somewhat confused as to which of the templates offered by gLabels I ought to select. Would anybody reading this happen to know?


Ubuntu building its i386 libc6 with -m686 ?

This is something that makes me deeply worried about the future of Ubuntu.


xf86-video-geode: EXA Composite support broken on X server 1.7

Just a quick note to everyone who recently upgraded their X server to 1.7 on Geode hardware to report that changes in X server since 1.6 have exposed and escalated bugs in our Geode driver that make EXA Compositing fail, resulting in broken image support on GTK2+ applications. As a temporary work-around, add this line to /etc/X11/xorg.conf in the Devices section:

Option "EXANoComposite" "true"

On my Lucid host, this gives me the following minimalistic xorg.conf:

Section "Device"
 Identifier "Geode Video"
 Driver "geode"
 Option "EXANoComposite" "true"

We're currently working to produce new upstream packages that default to EXANoComposite as a temporary work-around, so that the driver at least produces useful results by default, and push this to distributions ASAP, especially keeping in mind pending Squeeze and Lucid releases.

Meanwhile, AMD recently assigned new engineers to contribute to the driver's development and to eventually pick up maintenance, so we should soon have a permanent solution to these recent breakages in acceleration support for both GX2 and LX chipsets.


gThumb: thank you for breaking my workflow!

Just a kind thank you note to the gThumb authors for completely breaking my workflow by re-inventing the paradigm used to save imported pictures. Until now, all my pictures landed in a predictable location, using a predictable filename pattern that was easily searchable. Not anymore. Now, files land into my home directory, according to some recursive folder pattern that further complicates searching for files and requires a few more clicks to accomplish. Dammit! Couldn't you at least make this configurable, so that those of us who prefer to retain the old paradigm can?!

Note: re-inventing an application's paradigms is always a very bad idea. If you're a software developer who is reading this, please keep it in mind and go scratch your itch to change the world somewhere else. Thank you.

Post Scriptum

Many thanks to Damon Lynch for pointing me to his own professional picture importer called Rapid. This is an extremely configurable importing tool and, lo and behold, Damon even offers builds for Ubuntu via his PPA!

Still, the consequence of this mess is that migrating to Rapid means that I'll be loosing gThumb's simple but extremely efficient editing tools. To me, one strength of gTthumb was this unique combination of picture importing with basic editing tools. Now, I'm forced to split these interconnected tasks, simply because someone chose to completely rethink gThumb's paradigms. I'm of course aware of Gimp's existence, but repeated attempts at mastering it made me conclude that it's entirely the wrong software for my needs and essentially overkill. By contrast, gThumb offers just enough tools to enable someone to crop images to useful sizes and to adjust color balances in easy steps; it does the job without hassle, which is not the case with Gimp.

Thinking out loud, it is precisely on days like these that the urge to create my own Linux distribution keeps on coming to mind. Retaining consistent paradigms in the desktop environment and applications that I use, not to mention maintaining the number of duplicate libraries to a bare minimal, has been a constant struggle and, noticing how some developers' urge to re-invent the wheel every other day, using whatever new programming language of the day, persistently takes precedence over keeping system resource consumption to a bare minimum and over preserving user sanity, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that Free Software has veered way too far into the bazaar and urgently needs a copious amount of cathedral to make it usable for mere mortals again.

Some dpkg-based distribution where the only scripting language allowed is Bourne shell and the only programming languages C or C++ comes to mind. Of course, this would also require porting popular application from e.g. Java, Python, etc. which would be a colossal amount of work. Still, I think that the time has come for this to happen. As an added bonus, this would make applications usable again on embedded devices with spartan CPU, RAM and storage resources, so this project could generate huge benefits to the embedded Linux industry. Based on my experience at my previous jobs, I have a rather clear picture (pun intended) of what needs to be done and of who I would hire to make it happen. What I'm missing are investors. Who's with me?


Wanted: unsyndicated web mail service - say Google Mail and you're dead

A few days ago, I woke up to the fact that Google has become yet another MSN. The stupid opt-out policy of their latest gadget, Google Buzz, means that I can no longer entrust Google with anything.

In case it wasn't obvious to the idiots at Google, no, I do not want every single person that ever sent me a random e-mail to suddenly get automated access to whatever on-line content I'm producing; I want to choose who will get access to what and be able to change my mind about what any particular individual will get access to at any given time. Most of all, I want this to be opt-in by default. That is, unless I explicitly enabled access to some specific content to a specific individual, the assumption shall be that nobody has access to anything that I produce. Alas, it seems too much to ask from Google.

So now I'm looking for a reliable no-frills webmail service that is too boring to ever get under the radar of any media content giant. First, it was Hotmail no more, now it's Google no more. I also have another simple request: that the selected e-mail address can include hyphens and periods. If anybody knows of any such simple and reliable on-line webmail service, please drop me a line via this blog article's comments. Thanks!


Ubuntu/Lucid: recovering from yesterday's messy update

Yesterday a silly oversight in the packaging of udev in Ubuntu/Lucid produced a breakage that consistently makes dpkg barf. Here's a simple command line recipe to recover from it. In your terminal application, type:

sudo sed -i 's#copy_exec /lib/udev/firmware.sh#copy_exec /lib/udev/firmware#' /usr/share/initramfs-tools/hooks/udev && sudo dpkg -a --configure && sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude safe-upgrade

...then press enter. You should be able to resume normal operation right after.

PS: as suggested by others, I revised the above snippet to use sed locally, since not everyone has patch installed.


OpenOffice's style editing dialogs suck!

Working on some document today, it occurred to me, once again, that OpenOffice's method for designing and applying documents styling totally sucks!

Granted, this was not the first time that I cam to this conclusion but, today, I've come to realize that OpenOffice's paradigms constantly make me waste time trying to form a mental image of how every style element is suppose to relate to the other one, yet without having the full picture available within a single, easy-to-read document. Also, there is a complete lack of consistency in how style elements work. Some want to be defined in millimeters, while others want to be defined in points, while other still in number of lines. What a mess!

In short: to become remotely usable, OpenOffice needs to approach document styling via the "HTML document with a separate CSS style sheet" paradigm. In other words, I need to be able to edit styles globally, as a group and separately from the document content itself, rather than having to click my way through a multitude of dialogs, for each and every type of text elements.

To compare this with web design, there, I can focus on the actual content, formatted around semantic text elements (headers, paragraphs, block quotes, etc.) and then decide on the presentation styling as a separate global process by attaching a CSS style sheet, in which the relation between each type of text element and how it will be displayed is crystal clear, because it's handled as a unified style editing process.

I think that this is one area in which Free Software could innovate in a positive way, by distancing itself from the Redmondesque practices of Microsoft Word, from which OpenOffice borrows too much. How about having a proper Style Editor application (similar to a CSS editor), within the OpenOffice suite, while Open Writer itself would only be allowed to load the style sheets produced by it and to apply them to semantic text text elements?


Help Wanted: testers for the Geode X.org driver on GX2 "Red Cloud"

A number of small fixes have been committed to the upstream X.org GIT to improve support for the "Red Cloud" Geode variant (called GX2 for late NSC chips and GX for newer rebranded AMD chips) and we desperately need volunteers to test those changes, before we release a new upstream tarball. If you have some Red Cloud hardware on hand and at least basic knowledge of how to compile software on Linux distributions, please contact me to the e-mail address listed in the ChangeLog. Thanks!

PS: if you're on Ubuntu, test packages are available for Lucid via my PPA.