DIARY 2004















Thu, Jul 29

<18:25> Last night a Linux driver configuration problem led me into a deeper issue with open source software: a lack of documentation. According to Linus Torvalds, documentation is like sex in that even when it's bad it's better than nothing. Well, in this case there was virtually no documentation whatsoever.

It was the case of getting CardBus Ethernet cards working in the 2.6 kernel series. Earlier I had noticed that the card I'm using (DFE-680TX) has no driver in the kernel. I thought it only worked with the external drivers that are not available for 2.6, and so I stuck with 2.4 for Willow.

But last night I started to notice a pattern.

OK, so this means there are essentially similar cards in both PCI and CardBus formats. I remember reading about this quite a while ago. But it wasn't documented anywhere; in the kernel configuration menu there is a section of PCMCIA NICs, but many of those cards (the cardbus ones) are actually in the PCI/ISA section.

Anyway, Willow is now finally running a 2.6 kernel with proper networking. In fact, I started to look at the driver issue because the card was behaving badly with the other driver; large file transfers in the 100Mbit LAN made the card hang, so that the driver had to be restarted. The 2.6 driver seems more robust, both from the little tests I've run and the 'server-grade' config options that I naturally turned on.

A few problems remain, though; neither ALSA nor OSS sound works, but it's not an issue on Willow anyway, being the 'work' machine. Moreover, the NIC driver bothers me as it has these extra options to work reliably. Why should the default version, and the card itself, be so flaky?

Wed, Jul 28

<18:54> One of the things I bought from Varkaus is my trusted old laptop. It's called Mgt now, as it's online running Gentoo :)

It was quite a challenge, getting it on the Net without NAT (pun intended). As there isn't an Ethernet card, I use PLIP to connect it to another of my machines, Prkl. The straigthforward thing to do is to assign local IP addresses to both ends of the PLIP cable, and do NAT to give Internet client access to the laptop.

However, I wanted a public IP so that my other machines (that don't form a LAN, but instead are directly on the Net) would play nicer with it. I thought I could solve this with a PLIP-Ethernet bridge using standard Linux bridging software (a bridge is basically a switch). PLIP is pretty much Ethernet to the software, so it should be possible. It took a lot of tweaking mainly because I had no experience with bridge software, but it works now :) Here is my current topology:

   and ----------------Hyystmachine/eth0
  switch               (Rigorist's laptop)
    |                   |
    |  Prkl             |
+---+-----------+       |
| eth0          |       |
|               |       |
|               |       |
|      bridge   |       |
|     ..........|       |
|     .         |       |
|     .    eth1 +-------+
|     .         |
|     .         |
|     .   plip0 +------------Mgt/plip0
|     .         |
|     ..........|
|               |
|               |

The hub is needed because the ADSL switch only has four ports. Eth1 and plip0 form the bridge, so Mgt can use DHCP to get a public IP from my ISP.

It looks a bit funny because an IP packet between Mgt and Prkl has to go via the hub. The bridge doesn't have an IP address, it's a more general Ethernet device. However, I've now learned it is actually possible to give the bridge an IP, and ditch the other NIC. One reason I haven't done this is because Prkl is headless, i.e. I can only configure it via SSH. So I like to have it online even when the bridge components go down.

Mon, Jul 26

<01:01> Varkaus. Been here for a couple of days. Saturday was my mother's birthday celebration, the main reason I came over. It was also nice to meet a few relatives after a while. Days have been sunny and fairly active, and I'm feeling pretty refreshed. In fact I've started to have a bad feeling about the lack of natural lighting in me and Rigorist's geek compound.

What's probably geeky to some people is that I've used some of my spare time configuring my machines remotely. Willow's mail system has bee converted to maildir, and Hoo has a new /var partition using XFS. Its root partition was getting full from the use of Portage, and it had a spare partition of about 3.5 GB. Thus it's also a good testing ground for XFS, which is supposed to be even more efficient and featureful than ReiserFS.

I guess this shows my dependence on the Net and other geeky things, which is a little sad. Then again most of my summer holiday's hacking time was wasted for reasons out of my control. Now I'm starting to realize that this holiday is actually coming to an end in a bit more than two weeks.

<19:42> Back in JKL. Regarding Willow's mail setup there's one important addition I did over a week ago, namely DCC. It can work in a similar fashion to Pyzor and Razor, by checking if the message has already been reported as spam.

It has one great advantage though. With the default setup, a message is deemed spam if the same message has been received by 10 other DCC users. That's right, even legitimate mailing lists become spam, so they have to be whitelisted separately.

I noticed this today when a mail from the SF society 42's list had gone into my 'noetkoett' folder -- my first false positive. It was due to a typo in my whitelist file :) I'd written ent_to instead of env_to, which is quite apt for a SF society ;)

Fri, Jul 16

<02:25> I just recently finished reading Stel Pavlou's SF epic Decipher. I think it's 'safe' to start my review this soon, because I've spent quite some time analyzing it while reading through the roughly 800 pages.

To say it is a meta-epic is no exaggeration. It attempts big things and succeeds to a respectable extent. It is hard SF in spirit, even when dealing with linguistics, religion and related soft disciplines. (I'll get to the problems of dealing with so many sciences in the following paragraphs.) It's also impressive to see a work of fiction which includes a bibliography of technical publications at the end.

Decipher is particularly effective for the same reason as, for instance, The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Both are strongly based on fact, and the fictional part is the framework that links known facts together in unexpected yet frighteningly obvious ways. Decipher gets a little further with its basis in current reality. But that's also a source of lots of problems.

Contrary to the back-cover text, Pavlou doesn't quite know what he's talking about. Every major scientific buzzword of today is somehow included, along with other interesting science ideas. This is not bad as such, but it's hard to get everything right. To minimize spoilage, I'll try to describe one kind of problem he makes:

The phenomenon of A, which is given the explanation B, causes the effect C. Problem is, A and B are messed up (basically he gives the wrong name A for a given phenomenon B). Neither A nor B is known to cause C. The root of the fuckup is that Pavlou has chosen to use today's physics for at least A and B. It would have been more credible, strange it may sound, to give more room for fantasy and 'future science', given that he's apparently not a real scientist.

On the other hand, it turned out fun to spot the mistakes (both in science, and military jargon) while simultaneously enjoying the book very much. It may have even added to the enjoyment, because it's something that keeps a scientist on their toes. Besides there was another general problem with the novel.

Pavlou has written at least one Hollywood movie, which shows in this first novel of his. To me, the action film narrative seems appalling for a grand Clarke-level SF scenario. The style was ruined further by cliches of the genre, for example ending an action-packed chapter with cliffhangers like 'And that was when they saw it'. Yet I don't see this novel ever being adapted to a Hollywood movie; it's too complex, intelligent and proper SF :-)

So, don't get me wrong, it's a story of Real Sci Fi by my picky standards, even when it lacks in some ways. I think SF is more about ideas than a good style of writing, so my only slight concern is that the author's ignorance on a few scientific topics shows through. Still it's not a major hindrance in enjoying the story. As for the grandness though, it all fits within the Solar System :-)

<10:46> So I got the net.

Fm   Eb   G# Bb C.
A guy from Kestel came by this morning, and it seemed they hadn't been quite sure how the cabling went after all, but they knew now. It took two fucking months to get this simple fact right. Makes you wonder how any kind of technological progress is possible at all with this kind of corporate inertia :-(

Incidentally, I also got GSM data connections working via my Nokia 6110. It might be handy in some situations, though it's nostalgically slow at 9600 bps :-)

Wed, Jul 14

<16:46> Feast or no feast, the best days of the summer were undoubtedly those of last weekend: Finncon. It was my first time in a con, and made me think about getting more involved with the fandom. Most of the time I've been more interested in good SF itself than any extra cruft, but at least if and when I write something again, I need the audience. Besides, I think there is a community I have something to offer to (in contrast with the Hog Feast), whether fresh fiction or other practical services.

I won't go through everything I experienced there. It was an intense weekend of full days, starting before 10 am on Saturday, continuing with a party at Ilokivi in the night, and finishing around 6 pm on Sunday. The event was a joint effort with which was nice from many points of view, for example the visual pleasures. It seems common for the con guests to dress up as SF characters, and the anime crowd was particularly well represented here — much I believe due to the cosplay contest. I hadn't planned anything extraodrinarily fancy (compared to my usual party attire, that is!) and I started on Saturday wearing a black hooded robe, a white martial arts belt, and plain sandals. It was great for the rather warm weather. In fact it was not an impression of any SF character, but myself as a brother of the order of Sigma :-)

In the evening I went Chinese with my black trousers and golden fortune shirt; with my hair dyed black and some makeup the overall picture was quite effective. My GF had an Egyptian-style dress which meant a heretical cross-cultural relationship for us that night :-) but in fact we were a pretty good match in colour and lustre. On Sunday I finally wore my typical Matrix outfit, ending up posing for a couple of photos :-) It was pretty warm and uncomfortable though, sitting in the lecture rooms throughout the day.

For some highlights of the lectures/discussions I followed, I might start with Osmo A. Wiio. He portrayed the curious relationship between future predictions (SF and otherwise) and the actual development of technology. The hero of his lecture was clearly Sir Arthur Charles Clarke. According to Wiio, it was Clarke's invention of satellite communication that evolved into other forms of global communication and spawned the Internet.

Between the lines I sensed a strange parallel with Clarke and Wiio, though the Finnish Professor Emeritus is not generally known as a SF writer. My main interest with Wiio's lecture was the 'popular mechanics' books he had written and co-authored. Books on building electronic and other fun devices, with plenty of interesting background material. I might say he's one of the people responsible for my hacking trait.

On a less serious note, there were panel discussions on topics like catgirls (the missing link between felines and primates) and the role of the bimbo in popular culture. One discussion that was particularly close to me was that on SF writing competitions. I learned of an eco-SF competition that both serves as the first themed SF competition in Finland, and ditches the short-story format limitation. I've often felt that the 'general' SF competitions are quite sensitive to trends which these days don't have much to do with my favourite of hard SF, but this new competition gives a little hope.

Of course, one of the best things in a con is the atmosphere, with so many SF freaks getting together for some good time. It's unfortunate these are such rare events, with the Glasgow Worldcon following next summer and the next Finncon in Helsinki in 2006. Then again I'm left with so much to ponder and muse upon that it's nice to have a decent break. Maybe to write something in the meantime...

Mon, Jul 12

<18:53> Hog Feast was over a week ago. I haven't felt like writing because of the ongoing pissed-offness due to the lack of DSL. My main feeling towards Saunalahti and Kestel could be described by the single word 'irresponsible'. Since I'm only dealing with Saunalahti directly, I can only refer to my experiences with them, but the local operator Kestel is also involved to a great extent, though I'm not aware of the details.

The responses I get are of the form "We're sorry your connection has been delayed. We'll be working on getting it right." I wonder if I could use the same tactics myself:

Of course this won't work: individual persons can be held responsible much more strongly than corporations.

Now that I let out some of that steam, back to Hog Feast with the pros and cons of that weekend. First of all, it felt like summer and holiday for the first time this summer :-) The weather was great for a change, and the company and the place weren't bad either. On the other hand, I'm feeling increasingly disconnected with the party, like I have nothing to offer to it any more. I've started to wonder what the heck I'm going there for every year. The most important answer I've found is the company, and I feel like it's due to some level of peer pressure and acceptance. I feel honoured to have been admitted into those circles, yet I'm not sure if that's what I want. It's practically the only well-defined group I feel adherence to, which is kind of weird with all the excessive drinking, meat-eating and male-chauvinistic humour that goes with the Feast, all of which I strive to fight against.

More importantly, my principle of conscious deeds becomes apparent here. I've been going to the party since 1997 without always asking myself if that's what I really want. Of course it's also against the Delta ideal to do the same thing every year without questioning. On the other hand, it's very Delta to do something different from your usual lifestyle every now and then. The Hog Feast is a different universe to many of us, a live action fantasy even...

Risto A. Paju