SOPA Blackout: 18 January 2012 (Updated)

Normally, we don’t discuss politics here on the blog. Followers of our Twitter account, however, will be unsurprised to learn that we are speaking out against the SOPA (H.R. 3261) and PIPA (S. 968) bills before the US Congress. (Our Twitter posts cover a much wider array of subject matter than the blog: freedom of speech, internet freedoms, productivity, organizing, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, …)

There has been a lot of talk about these bills – bills that promise to kill the Internet as we know it and bring corporate censorship to America, and to kill the right to due process of law. Not only the very fabric of the Internet, but also the rule of law is at stake. These laws will basically criminalize the very tools used by dissidents world-wide – the tools that are promoted by the US State Department for avoiding censorship regimes.

There are a huge number of places you can go to get more information – but if SOPA were to pass, many of these sites would likely not be available. Today, January 18, you will get a glance at what that could be like: many popular sites will go “dark” and become unavailable for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. These companies have stated they will be a part of the SOPA protest:

These sites have more information on SOPA and PIPA and why they are such a horrendously bad idea:

There is more detailed information on these bills at OpenCongress – there is a page on SOPA (H.R. 3261) and on PIPA (S. 968). Propublica also has a page on who supports and opposes SOPA and PIPA in the US Congress. A good central location for information is sopablackout.org.

Updates: Pardon the updates – there is a ton of good information out there, and many, many, many sites are taking part. I’m trying to gather the best information and put it all here (though that may be impossible!).

A Christmas Carol: A True Delight!

I don’t talk much outside of technology news – but I thought I would today.

Christmas may be past, but the spirit of giving and compassion is timeless – and in this spirit, it is a joy to experience Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. And by far, the best experience of this story comes in these three tellings of the ageless story (in recommended order):

I just finished listening to Patrick Stewart’s one-man show – and it is a delight – highly recommended!

…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Rediscovering Life

The other day I was walking and found myself in the local cemetery. This is not as morbid as it might sound; there are several things that one can learn from a visit to the local cemetery.

One thing is to look at the names and markers: think about what these people are missing – and the joy that comes from just being alive.

One can also practice calculating in your head by figuring how old the deceased are given the years of birth and death. If you keep this up, you’ll certainly find some who died young. One family I discovered had three children die over a period of a couple of decades.

You may also find that some markers are uncared for; do something for the deceased and clean them up!

After a walk among the deceased, you may find that life is much more vibrant!

Browsing the Web on the Tungsten C

I had just about figured that browsing the web using Palm’s Tungsten C was impossible. It comes with a browser, but that was never usable as far as I could tell. I tried numerous other options, and finally found one that worked much better than I had dared to hope.

I tried using Xiino. This browser just looks ugly to start (with decidedly low-resolution graphics), and has completely incomprehensible icons. It wasn’t usable at all; most pages would result in a blank screen. It also uses a proxy server for images (though it doesn’t call it that): the “DataServer” – pds.mobirus.com – no longer exists, which means that you can’t display anything at all unless that setting is cleared. There’s no way to set or unset it; just clear the name entirely.

I tried using Opera Mini. This requires using the old IBM Websphere Everyplace Micro Edition (WEME) – which in reality is the J9 Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The word is that IBM WEME 5.7.1 is much more stable than IBM WEME 5.7.2 (neither of which are supported or available any longer). No matter – Opera Mini v4 (the current) did not work at all, but froze during initial operation; Opera Mini v3 works but crashes reliably and frequently.

I even tried something called TeaShark; that didn’t get past the startup stage (which was buggy at the outset). This wasn’t too surprising since it was running on IBM’s J9 JVM like Opera; word has it that the IBM JVM was crippled on PalmOS in some way.

I love Opera Mini, and used it on my Nokia 6265i (and later the 6165i) – and missed it. However, running it on the J9 JVM gave a completely different experience (I never did try using Sun’s Java Manager – but that was for MIDP 1.0 only) I started thinking to myself: the NetFront browser on my Samsung Caliber is ever so much better…

Then imagine my surprise when I found that there is a NetFront browser for PalmOS. It turns out that the Sony Clie (a PalmOS device) used NetFront for their default browser, and that it would work on a Palm device as well. There are copies of it available on the web, but the one I saw came with something called MaxX to make it work with a different screen resolution than the original browser expected to find (on the Tungsten T I think).

After downloading and installing via HotSync – using Linux (with GNOME’s gpilotd) – the browser crashed when run. However, running on the Tungsten C, MaxX is unneeded; removing it solved the problems entirely.

Running with the NetFront browser has been a delightful (and unexpected) experience. The only problem seems to be a connection-related problem; for some reason, the WiFi connection seems to “age” and loses connectivity even though the device doesn’t think so. Reconnecting seems to fix this.

For more details on using the NetFront browser – and people’s experiences with it – check out this forum thread over at 1src.com.

If you use Google for RSS or for news, try m.google.com in NetFront; it’s the best experience I’ve had yet. You can also use Google’s mobile gateway directly by going to www.google.com/gwt/n and entering the URL that you wish to go to.

Upgrading a Palm Tungsten C to New ROMs

I had problems with my Tungsten C – with the WiFi not working and the bottom 10 pixels or so of the screen being unresponsive to taps. I had just assumed that this was a sign of hardware failure – after all, the system was used and sold at half the going rate for used Tungsten C models.

However, upon further research, it turns out that upgrading the ROM was a possible fix. This was ultimately a resounding success. As part of the upgrade, all data was erased.

The upgrade was basically a three step process: 1) make sure the system can be upgraded; 2) prepare the system (which could include removing applications or files); and 3) install the update application and run it. The process includes many more details, but that is the essence of it. I used my Ubuntu Lucid Lynx installation of GNOME Pilot to remove the files, then made sure they were erased on the Tungsten with FileZ.

After running the update, the system is cleared of all applications and data. There were several problems that came up; I wound up clearing the Tungsten of all applications and installing fresh (to remove the cruft from old applications).

One problem was applications that absolutely refused to be deleted. Presumably, this is because there is some hook into the system or otherwise which prevents it from being deleted. Reset the machine while pressing up-arrow key, then release the key after seeing the Palm logo. This starts the system without any extra software hooks. Go into FileZ (or other file manager, such as TealMover) and delete the application – removing the ReadOnly bit if necessary.

Another problem is applications that may need a setup to install, in contrast to the usual installation of a couple of files. SplashNews was one such application. Don’t restore the file; best is to get the original files and reinstall (using the setup applications).

Yet another problem was the TealMaster or TealScript applications (or other similar applications). While the application will work fine, the backed up version of the file does not work. Again, get the original files and install from there. The backed up files are not the correct ones.

After doing all this – I decided to upgrade a few things, the launcher primary among them. I’ve switched (for the moment) from Launcher III to Propel for my launcher; very nice – recommended! Only drawback is Launcher III is free (although web site is gone) and Propel is $15. However, Propel is much more current, so it is more likely to have fewer bugs and more capabilities.

All in all, this upgrade to the Tungsten C ROMs has solved both problems and has resulted in more space due to removing all the unnecessary files. Do it if you have problems with your Tungsten C.

An Ode to English

There are many reasons for writing a blog. For me, there are several: 1) to pass on knowledge of system administration (including technical tips, career tips, industry knowledge, and so on) – while creating a moderate level of permanence; 2) to “thicken” the web, adding links and knowledge; 3) and lastly, for the love of writing.

Over at the blog Jenn in Japan, the author mourns her apparent loss of the finer aspects of English usage and grammar after spending so much time in the Japanese language instead. It is a beautiful read; go on and check it out.

We’re on Twitter!

I finally gave in and got a Twitter account. Twitter is, in short, public SMS for the Web.

I’ve been posting already, including messages about OpenVMS, UNIX happenings, Sun/Oracle events, and other things of interest (including privacy issues, Internet freedom, and more).

Not everything I post on Twitter will be discussed here; however, eventually I plan to put notices of posts onto Twitter. Check it out! I’m @ddouthitt.

Are MUDs and MOOs dead?

I was never one for playing with MUDs (Multi-User Dungeon) or MOOs (MUD, Object-Oriented). Yet, the retro feeling of being in a MUD or MOO is amazing, and I never have tried it before. (Note: users can program in a MOO!)

MUDs and MOOs are text-based adventures, but on a remote server and multi-user. Some are purely game oriented, and some are social – and many are both. If you liked Zork, you’ll like MUDs and MOOs – although Zork and its descendants have a more powerful language parser.

On a whim, I went for it – why not? – and logged into perhaps the oldest MOO around: LambdaMOO. I was unprepared for how much it was like Zork and the other text adventures I’ve known – and also how much it could be like being in IRC (but in a world, not a “room”).

Granted, one has to be careful – many MOOs and MUDs may not be suitable for children, and I wouldn’t look for technical assistance there – though you may find it.

If you want a fun romp, go check out LambdaMOO. You can use telnet or a graphical client like GnoeMoe (part of the Ubuntu repositories). LambdaMOO is at lambda.moo.mud.org and port 8888.

You might even find me there – or maybe not…

March Holidays You Might Have Missed

There were a number of holidays celebrated recently that are relatively unknown. I mentioned several, but thought I would put them together here.

One such holiday is March 14, Pi Day. Pi Day is 3/14 which is the first three digits in the mathematical constant pi.

Another which I neglected to pay attention to was March 24, Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating women in computing. For me, the most significant women in computing would include:

  • Grace Hopper – inventor of COBOL
  • Adele Goldberg – one of the developers of Smalltalk, and a writer about Smalltalk
  • Susan Kare – who gave us the Macintosh icons
  • Aileen Frisch – a long-time writer about system administration
  • Dru Lavigne – a long-time writer about FreeBSD and all-around FreeBSD advocate

Another important recent holiday was on March 15: National Freedom of Information Day, which is also included (by design) in Sunshine Week. Both are focused on the transparency of government and public access to governmental documents.

Yet another “holiday” went by very recently: No Tech Day, sponsored by the UK charity Practical Action. Practical Action helps bring technology to developing nations, such as those in Africa. The concept behind No Tech Day was to see how you fare without all the technology in your life, just as many in Africa do.

No word on whether No Tech Day was a singular event or if it will be annual.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • March 14 – Pi Day
  • March 15 – National Freedom of Information Day (part of Sunshine Week)
  • March 24 – Ada Lovelace Day
  • March 27 – No Tech Day

A Lawyer Follows His Passion for LEGOs

Over at Above the Law, as well as the New York Daily News they are talking about Nathan Sawaya, who gave up a lucrative career as a New York lawyer to become a LEGO Master Model Builder.

The folks at Above the Law (and perhaps elsewhere) can’t understand the passion that would lead someone to give up a lucrative career to follow a dream. However, I’ve always felt that one should follow one’s passion – which I’ve done in my career. If you are in your chosen field just for the money, you won’t be able to do your best, and you won’t enjoy your work.

Follow your passion, wherever it goes: I’ve been fortunate to follow my passion into a lucrative field. Nathan, for his part, seems to have taken his passion to the next level and is now an independent artist.

I wish I could do more with Legos; the Mindstorms product is most fascinating – build and program your own robot!

UPDATE: Over at the always interesting hackaday.com, just a few days ago, there was an article about self-propelled Lego NXT projects; I especially liked the one inside the wheels.

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