Archive for June, 2006

I made that

Friday, June 30th, 2006

So I just noticed that Oxford Instruments have announced that the MQC Quality Control NMR system runs Linux. There are various photos.

Anyway, I helped to design the hardware platform(s) and was in charge of porting the Linux kernel and userland for that device. Heck, I even wrote the firmware and bootloader. I spent quite a lot of my working life on that product for a while and found some very nice kernel/processor bugs in the process. Of course, that was a while ago now that we did the original R&D but I enjoyed working on it and I haven’t been able to talk about that product until now (but now it’s public, clearly I can mention that it exists!).

I won’t talk about the technical details or anything that’s not been published already, but suffice it to say that I learned a lot about NMR while working at that company and enjoyed working with such amazing people (they know who they are) on projects like the MQC. Unfortunately, the acquisition didn’t result in the same challenge for me personally, but I hope they use Linux in more future projects.


4th July, baseball, other Americanisms

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

It’s the 4th July next week. I’m going to be hanging out with some friends in London to celebrate. In fact, I’m going to be in London for a picnic this weekend to celebrate Canada day too – check out the Canadian embassy for more information about Canada day. I just think it’s really cool that we can all come together and not particularly hate one another, in spite of the history there. And yes, I was invited to participate.

I was watching the Boston Red Sox playing last night on channel 5 at around 3am (having never really considered channel 5 useful for much). I’ve decided to go and see a game next month, if I can book a ticket – it’s looking a little tricky if the website is to be believed, but maybe I can pick up a ticket somehow (any of you Bostonians got suggestions?). It was pretty random that I ended up watching that, but I had just gone all the way to Bournemouth to spend 10 minutes on the beach at 1am (random road trip, option of a ride was there, I wasn’t doing anything much by 11pm when we left…) and ended up watching TV when I got back until I fell asleep. The cool thing is, next year I can drive to New York or similar places when I get bored and restless, especially on weekends.

Aside from watching baseball last night, I caught a little 24. I’m now getting very annoyed with that show. The plot is crappy and the technobabble utterly shite and unbelievable (did you forget to “update your protocols”? What about your databases? Oh no! Not the database!) – but that’s only true if you think about it on any level or can see through their technoshite. Anyway, I got bored and used the plot spoiler on wikipedia to find out what happens at the end of the series. I was otherwise spending the last couple of nights watching too much of that crap – it’s addictive crap, even though it is utterly crap. Like I expect crack would be.

Amazon should be furnishing me with a Dummies guide to baseball shortly. I’ve played a long time ago but decided that a necessary part of living near Boston is to understand the mechanics of the game. This is unlike football (which I also understand and have played in the past) because I’m actually interested in playing from time to time :-)


Flag Waving

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Ever get that feeling that you just need a rediculously fucking large flag for no particular reason? If I’m going to ever really fit in the US, I’ll need to get more into the flag waving thing (and you Canadians are no better when it comes to having twenty miniature flags where one discrete flag would do). To me, it makes a lot more sense seeing random flags everywhere in the US (than in the UK) since the flag helped to define and build the country, it forms part of the pledge of allegiance (to the flag) and has had a profound effect on the country in history. That doesn’t stop me laughing when I see Uncle Sam fire hydrants complete with flag.

It’s unfortunate that Wallmart America has gotten into the flag as a marketing tool – go check out your nearest car dealership in the US, you’ll find a bazillion flags on the building, grass, anything that’s vaguely nailed down… shopping malls are the worst places for flagitis, but it’s pretty much overdone as much as possible in consumer-facing settings (because if you stick “patriot” in a product name and slap a flag on it, you’ll unfortunately sell more of $product – even if it’s actually made in China by staff that work 25 hours a day in crappy conditions…). We use flags in this country too – but mostly as a football related marketing gimmick. Anyway, rant about abuse of the flag for modern day marketing aside, back to the point…

So I decided to order one. A hand made US flag of the kind you stick on a large pole. It’s not of the $3000 variety that they also sell – for those who just need to cover the entire side of their building in the largest flag ever made. I’ll hopefully have it in time for the July 4 events I’ve been invited to in London. This is the point where my sister finally disowns me. Finally, for historical ironists everywhere, this one’s made in the UK (Wales, I believe, but interestingly most of the England flags are made in China…) :-)


Update: I do realize the hypocrisy of wanting a giant flag and moaning about flagitis. But the point here is that I’m criticizing the number of flags that are used and the commercial exploitation of the flag for marketing purposes. That’d be like me slapping a US flag on a Tux and setting up a Patriot Linux distribution, or something. I’m sure it’d sell…

OLS Itinerary

Monday, June 26th, 2006

I’ll be at the OLS next month. I just got around to booking parts of the travel. Turns out, it’s no more expensive to fly LHR (Heathrow) -> IAD (Washington) -> BOS (Boson) -> YUL (Montreal) than it is to fly direct to Ottawa (YOW) for a whopping 672GBP direct. So I get to tack on a couple days of meetings and catch up with folks in the Boston/Cambridge area – and check out Arlington rent prices for future reference. I might take the wekend out in NYC and do the train ride up to Montreal again – or just go via NYC anyway.

Why Montreal? Aside from the fact that I enjoy visiting random Canadian provinces – and why the heck not – I guess I should mention that we (a friend and I) are thinking about cycling from Montreal to Ottawa over a period of a couple of days. Last year, I took a 3,000 mile train ride to get to OLS so it’s lucky that this is only a couple of hundred miles – but it’s still quite enough for me to contemplate cycling. In the future, I’d like to be one of those people who can cycle entire continents in one go – but that’s for some time in the future. Whether we bike back or take the train is an open issue and one that I think will be influenced by other travel plans.

While I’m blogging stuff, I guess I could mention that we had a BBQ on the weekend up in Nottingham. I enjoyed seeing the folks that were there, but I came away feeling that I’m glad I don’t live in Nottingham itself any more – it’s ok as towns and cities go, but it’s nothing special and very negatively affected by the local nightlife. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in the middle of town and was just very appalled by the experience I had on Saturday evening. Luckily, the Sunday BBQ made up for all of that. I think I’ll refrain from trying to BBQ salmon in the future – that didn’t really work out too well for my digestion.

Finally, I’m writing. I’ve got lots of other stuff going on but I’m also finishing up this book. We should get done in the next couple of weeks of evenings and weekends and then it’ll be done! Wow! I guess I’m already looking forward to the next one (despite the pain of trying to produce so much content within the alloted time). I’m just so totally psyched that it’ll hopefully be on sale next year (go pre-order it on Amazon today!). In another life time, I could have just been a writer – I’m sure that one day (when I decide to take things easier in life) then I will be.


P.S. Check out the speaker list at the UK 2006 LinuxWorld. I’ll make a special trip back for that one if necessary.

Giant squashing machine

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

Update: Total now stands at over 322 England football hooligans arrested since yesterday. Like I said, they’re a giant waste of space and earn England the reputation it apparently deserves.

I’ve got an idea for those 100 England football fans who decided to engage in racist hate violence against Germans last night. I call it the “giant squashing machine” and its operation is simple. We ask those football fans to volunteer for re-education about how not to be pointless wastes of time and space, then put them inside a giant hole with a huge piston suspended above them. By squashing them all into tiny pieces, they can understand how pathetic and rediculous their actions are – football as a whole is a waste of time and energy but those England football fans are the absolute pinnacle of disgust that I have with the whole thing.

Now if they’d just volunteer and sign a waiver…


American Revolutionary War

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

The United States of America - The Star Spangled Banner

Image: The Star Spangled Banner.

So I started reading “1776 – America and Britain at War” by David McCullough after a random browse at my local (crappy, but almost adequate) Waterstones bookstore. This book, unsurprisingly documents some of the highlights of the American Revolutionary War that ultimately lead to the founding of the United States and the (first, second, and third) Continental Congress that preceeded the form of government that exists to this day. Why do I know this stuff? Because I don’t get out enough and (more importantly) because I have some kind of passionate interest in this particular aspect of history.

I’ve never been much of a historian, but I do have a lot of time for the histories of former British colonies such as those in Canada and (especially) the United States. This isn’t out of some quaint British pining for the golden days of the British Empire – quite the inverse. I view the British Empire as a terribly evil side effect of the British exploitation of the world that occured throughout history and I’m especially fond of battles that lead to the British being told (in no uncertain terms) to fuck off. Of course 20/20 hindsight will often mean things are looked upon in a different light – for all I know, I’d have been one of the people on those British ships had I lived in that time. So, I’m aware of the need for perspective when thinking about history. Anyway, meanwhile in rant land…

Long before there was war in Iraq, long before US foreign policy was frowned upon by much of the wider world, there was an empire that controlled 1/3 of the known world. The British Empire fucked over the New World, royally screwed what later became India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and generally did nasty things for King (Queen) and Country. Loyalist patriotic songs like “Rule Britannia” concealed the great evil of the Monarchy and the entirity of the British Empire and when the Americans said they’d had enough and wanted representation, the British commited a series of Intollerable Acts that built up to their declaration of Independence. But that still wasn’t enough for the British to actually fuck off, things would turn very ugly before they got a lot better.

I like US history, precisely because they were telling the British tyrants where to go and I have a great willing to study it in further detail as a result. The reason for my Washington trip last year was to see the Baltimore flag first hand – to witness one of the only US flags with 15 stripes (modern flags only have the original 13 founding states, not the 15 at the time of the battle at Fort McHenry, which predated that directive). When I first visited Boston, I thought a lot about the early revolutionaries having their meetings in the meeting house, and my interest has only grown over time. Once I move, I can see a lot of exploration of the original 13 states in the name of personal historical interest.

Perhaps it’s obvious that I like telling British rulers where to go. There’s just something very fun about telling the Monarchy to fuck off and deciding to elect a set of representatives instead. Oh, I dunno, maybe it’s just this concept of a constitution and fully elected government that I like in US history or maybe I’m drawn in to former colonial history because of the fact that former British dominions now have their own constitutionally elected representation, while the UK itself still does not. Nor will it ever be fixed – too many people around these parts fail to see the problem with the antiquated UK system. There’s something inanely pointless about the way the British are willing to accept rule from their masters without any collective consideration “I could do that” or “why should the Queen be calling the shots and not me” and so on. But it’ll continue forever more.

While I’m extolling certain aspects of US history, let me just add that it does really bother me, however, seeing such an apparent lack of knowledge in some Americans that I meet in my travels. Over the past year alone, I’ve had to educate some natural born American Citizens about the fact that there are 50 US States, I’ve had to explain the flag stripe thing, how the stars are laid out, what the US national anthem is all about (ok, I don’t know all four verses – most people I meet don’t even know there are 4 verses – but I at least do know the one anyone cares about) – really basic stuff. It doesn’t speak well for the US education system as a whole, but I guess the US isn’t the only place that has such problems.

Many British people are unlikely to know that Ode To Joy is the official anthem of the Council of Europe (I don’t give a fuck about the National Anthem here – too many references to God and the Queen) but they are probably able to tell you about the latest remix of some anti-German war song respun in the name of football – something that has already caused me to lodge one complaint with the BBC thus far during this world cup (no, it’s not humourous on any level to equate some pointless football game with “Dad’s Army” and release songs that are solely designed to stir up hatred amongst football fans). See, I managed to get football into this blog entry somehow. Hey, England still haven’t lost yet – if I have to endure it on my TV, you can endure a few words in this blog until they lose.

Anyway, I’ll continue reading that book, though I’m not far into it yet. What I would like is more advice on books to read and (especially) places to go visit for their historic interest.


My values

Sunday, June 18th, 2006

So I just finished mailing a couple of people about their views on my various blog posts. Obviously, not everyone agrees with my take on life, but isn’t it cool that we can agree to disagree? Or that we can have reasoned discussion on the issues? I like that. I think it’s what sets us apart from the bad guys out there that want to destroy the democratic process. That said, I figured it might be useful to summarize a couple of my views on life (so I can get more email on the topic!):

  • I am a liberal minded person. I’m not always a “Liberal Democrat” (although I’m a paying member in the UK) and I’m not always aligned with the US Democrats, but I am fundamentally liberally minded – most of the time. I believe in Freedom in society and dislike the current trends for increased government interference with our lives. There are exceptions to this – for example, I supported a ban on smoking in public places where it may interfere with my own health – but in general, I’m not one to jump and down in favor of government monitoring, centralization, or many other things happening in the world today.
  • I am Religiously agnostic tending towards being an atheist. I have no time for religion in my own personal life – it’s a waste of my time – but I have a lot of interest in religions of the world nonetheless. I don’t need to feel uniquely special in the Universe, I don’t need to think there’s a devine entity looking out for my own welfare amongst trillions of other lifeforms, and I don’t need to thank God for the good will and hard work of people. The bottom line is that I feel my time would be better spent doing other things and that people could get a lot of satisfaction from meeting to pick up trash/litter once a week instead. Just because I don’t need God in my life, doesn’t mean I’m a lower form of life or that I’m not deeply passionate about many things that some religious groups would claim I could never really care about.
  • I believe in being nice. I dislike war in general (but I understand it in some cases – for example, I understand the dangers posed by rogue nuclear states and I don’t necessarily think instant nuclear disarming is the best solution to that problem) and I don’t think it’s appropriate always to look after yourself before other people. But I’m aware the world is unfair – life is unfair – it’s everyone for themselves on some level, just so long as that’s done in a “fair enough” way that I can one up my neighbour but still care about the wider world without choosing to be a “fiscal republican” or somesuch. Just because I believe in being nice to other people as a substitute for some religiously mandated niceness in life, doesn’t mean I’m a sissy or that I don’t get very pissed off with some people/things that happen in life.
  • I don’t eat meat in general. I’m not a hard liner here, but I’m trying to reduce the number of animals that needlessly die at my expense on a daily basis. I’m aware there’s a long way to go before I can have the moral victory that my sister has in this area – though I admit there are limits to how far I think I can personally go. See, I’d like to eat a greesy burger and have a rack of ribs, or a slice of turkey – I used to spend a lot of time in KFC – but all I can see when there’s a plate of that kind of food in front of me is a dead animal that had its brains blown out for my personal eating enjoyment. The bottom line is that I feel anyone who eats pre-packaged “doesn’t look vaguely like an animal” meat should be willing to kill an animal and eat it. If they’re willing to do the killing bit for themselves, then by all means eat the carcas.
  • I don’t believe guns are the answer, but outright banning them probably isn’t either (national sporting teams in the UK can no longer compete and have to go overseas to train/get special dispensation for actual events – yet it’s possible to buy knifes, bows and arrows, or millions of other potential weapons in regular stores every day). That said, I think the US constitution never intended for everyone to go out and stock up on personal arsenals either. It’s a moot point these days anyway – the federal government has weapons many times more powerful than those the average guy can go buy so it’s hardly practical to consider owning a gun as a way of preventing the government from becoming too powerful. The bottom line is that I don’t have a reason to own a gun and doubt I ever will – I’d like it very much if other people could think long and hard before arming themselves too.