Author Archive

OUCS consuming and aggregating ContEd’s XCRI-CAP

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Adam Marshall posted a nice overview of the Data Flow in the OXCAP Project.

On the ContEd side, I made a basic searchable XCRI-CAP feed of the Department for Continuing Education’s courses. There are a few courses that aren’t in the course database that the feed uses, but most of them are there.

Cunningly, once the system had retrieved a bunch of data out of the database, it was easy to add a JSON feed of the courses as well, which I’ve used in the Sesame backend for looking up course data. I have a vague recollection of a standard JSON-based data schema that might be more useful than my home-grown structure, but will have to find it again before that’s an option…

 

Switching from Windows to Ubuntu

Monday, January 11th, 2010

So, after a long time grumbling about how Windows gives me hassle, I’ve switched to Ubuntu on my work PC.

I had originally planned to dual boot both WinXP and Ubuntu whilst I figured out stuff like Active Directory domain membership, but in the end I got so fed up of Windows getting in my way, one day I just decided to switch. (Our IT team recognises that the developers in our group need administrator access to setup our tools and servers so, on the understanding that we don’t put our machines or the network at risk, we’re allowed fairly free reign.)

It took a while to get set up as I like it, but I think I’m there – so here’s a little overview…

NB: I’ve had only a little exposure to Windows Vista (where I found the continual “security” confirmation dialog boxes incredibly annoying), and to Windows 7 (where the window tiling function looks genuinely useful), so maybe MS have these newer versions of Windows would compare better than XP does.

What’s good?

  • I’ve installed (and use) software for web site browsing, word processing, vector drawing, image editing, version control, remote access sessions, programming, time tracking, and countless utilities – all with a few clicks from the built-in repositories (at zero purchase cost). The wealth of software available is amazing, for which the free software community is justifiably proud, and has my admiration and thanks :-)
  • Easy access to remote files. I can browse Windows shares (without needing AD integration), and even better, I can browse our Linux servers via SSH (really not very pleasant on WinXP), all integrated with the Gnome desktop via Nautilus.
  • Virtual desktops – I’m amazed that Windows still doesn’t support this. I know there are hacks and 3rd party extensions, but the ones I’ve tried were rubbish in comparison to Gnome’s default configuration.
  • Using VirtualBox virtual machines I can use multiple versions of IE in virtual machines, and my old suite of Windows apps if I have to handle proprietary file types.
  • Software updates are smooth and rarely interrupt me.
  • Startup and shutdown are a lot quicker than Windows, never leaving me with x updates to install before the machine will shutdown (which is good as I like to switch off the machine at the socket).
  • No slowdowns due to a virus scanner.
  • All the little things which seem to happen because of Free Software. Simple useful integration that just works, like that Nautlius’ file property dialog shows size and codec information for media files.

What’s bad?

  • Evolution is supposed to be able to connect to MS Exchange for email and calendars, which it sort of does – unfortunately the MAPI connector doesn’t seem to work at all, and the Webmail connector is slow and tends to disconnect often. It’s ok for light use but, if I’ve got a lot of mail to deal with, I’ll often open Windows in a virtual machine and run Outlook.
  • OpenOffice.org doesn’t have seamless compatibility with MS Office files (arguably Microsoft’s fault).
  • Connections to Windows file shares have crashed on occasion.
  • The video is a little unstable, crashing very occasionally, but I’m chalking that one up to the Nvidia closed-source binaries. I’m glad that Nvidia provide a driver at all, but believe they’d end up with a better product if they were more open-friendly.
  • The task switcher (ALT+tab) is slow if desktop visual effects are on. This used to be fine, and I guess it’s the Nvidia driver disagreeing with the kernel about something.
  • A few cosmetic issues like notifications appearing at the wrong position.
  • There are other areas I’ve bumped against at home that are also worth a mention: The lack of decent video editing software, the ongoing transition to PulseAudio/JACK for regular/pro audio use. These aren’t a problem at work though.

Overall I’m happy – my day to day workflow is much smoother, and – at risk of becoming a FLOSS advert – I get warm fuzzies from following the progress being made in various parts of the Free Software environment – like a non-destructive editing version of GIMP, desktop activity awareness, local map applications, pro audio –  there’s too much to mention it all! :-)

System upgrade

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I’ve just upgraded this blog to the latest WordPress. Everything seems ok, but please let me know if you spot anything wrong.

It’s about time we had something better than the old John Hancock…

Monday, September 14th, 2009

New ETSI standard for EU-compliant electronic signatures.

Who needs Flash anyway?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Twitter particle systems using HTML5

Also see:  Die IE6.

Too much dependance on javascript?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I’ve installed the NoScript Firefox extension to protect against XSS and other javascript-based attacks, but am finding that lots of sites are depending on javascript for basic functionality :-(

To all web devs – please remember Checkpoint 6.3 of the WCAG: Ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported.

License awareness, for perfectly informed consumers…

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

These days it’s very easy to acquire digital copies of stories, pictures, music, video, fonts, code – any sort of media you care to mention. Sometimes this is legal, notably through open source/free software, creative commons licenses, and Bittorrent. Sometimes it’s illegal – through Bittorrent*, copying files from websites, lending CDs/DVDs, etc.

Obviously, this is in clear conflict with established media industries, often represented by acronyms groups like the BSA, RIAA, and MPAA, who want to maintain their historical place in the distribution channels. Many others around the web have commented on how these businesses need to realize that they don’t have a right to a profit in their particular part of the market, and I concur, but won’t rehash that here.

Instead, the whole reason for this post is to point to what I hope is the way forwards: License transparency at the client level – nicely demonstrated with the display of licensing information in recent work on the Banshee media player.

I don’t think this feature has filtered out to a release yet, but a suitably enabled Banshee will display the license information for songs, along with the track name, duration, etc.

This may not seem like the sort of thing that would be useful to 99% of the population, but it is relevant to 100% of the population, as many people may not realize that, in many cases, ripping the CD they borrowed from cousin Kev is illegal. For the cases where it’s the artist’s intent that copies should be made, I think it should be advertised and encouraged.

As a both a musician and an open-source enthusiast, licensing rights can be an important tool to help me ensure the quality and longevity of my work in both those areas. I haven’t a solid plan for this, but suspect that outright, no-strings, free-for-all copying won’t help me develop my rock-star career. (Any advice on developing the rock-star career is welcome :-)

I believe that most people don’t currently consider the licensing of the media they use, and just copy it if they feel like it. Rather than taking the futile DRM approach, I think it’d be better to share media quite liberally, and for software to inform people what’s going on, enabling appreciative users to support it – with financial (particularly for music), and direct (more relevant with software) contributions.

If we’re in a market-driven economy, let’s try and work towards perfectly informing the consumers…

Merry Christmas!
Dave B.

* Note the dual use (legal/illegal) potential of some technologies.
† Ok, I’m a drummer – it’s close enough ;-)

Progression in games, learning

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Game Set Watch has an article about progression in games; mainly on character progression, rather than player progression – but still an interesting look at different approached to the tutorial phase.

Open source community

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Jono Bacon, community manager at Canonical (sponsors of Ubuntu) posts about the Ohio Linuxfest, including a video demonstrating a great community moment.

Maps on the internet

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

It used to be difficult to get good quality maps on a website – or at least long-winded and expensive finding them and purchasing a license, or clearing copyright.

In these Web 2.0 days it’s easy to get a good looking map on your website, and I’ve just done that for Vikings: raiders, traders and settlers (one of the 25+ online courses we’re running this term).

We provide simple maps with settlements marked and annotated, as well more complicated maps with tools to investigate the languages from which town names are derived, and detailed exploration of a town’s heritage of defense against the vikings 1000 years ago – still visible today!

Visit the Vikings maps pages to explore and learn about notable viking settlements through text, video and panoramic images, all linked up using the Google Maps API, blip.tv, and PanoSalado.