Site Upgrades

Now that school is done for a bit, I took sometime for some time off to apply some much needed updates to this site.  First, I have moved the site to a VPS on linode.  I’m very happy with their service so far. Having the freedom to do with the OS as you wish is a very important feature for me.  It also means greater responsibility but that is part of the fun right?.  Second, I have upgraded to the latest wordpress (2.7) – the update tool on its own its worth the work!

So yes, don’t be surprise if things are a bit off now and then. If there are any problems let me know.

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Gnome-Do Plugin – ManLookUp

Instead of working on my Artificial Intelligence assignment I spent some time last night playing with Gnome-Do (Crazy Delicious!).

For those of you not familiar with Gnome-Do, it’s a very nifty way of accessing commonly used files, actions, tasks, etc in your system. It’s a bit hard to explain with words so check out the screencast. Many of you will recognize its functionality to be very similar to GNOME Launch BoxQuicksilver for the Mac, or launchy for Windows. Gnome-Do of course runs on Linux and it is written in C# using Mono.

The plugin architecture is decently documented, and because it is open source, it is very easy to dive into the code and learn how things are setup to get you quickly going with plugin development.

So, after some researching and hacking around, I came up with “ManLookUp”. It is a is a very simple Gnome-Do plugin that allows to quickly search for man pages installed in your system. One can either type the command: “Man lookup” “View Manual Page” “Read Manual”-> hit Tab  to get a list of pages + description of the entry or search for a man page entry directly. Selecting one of the entries brings up the man page entry on a terminal window. Selected text as well as Application Items indexed by Do itself are also supported. I hope this plugin is helpful for others as well.

Monodevelop project, release/debug binary, and of course, sources can be downloaded from:

http://www.loconet.ca/files/ManLookUp-1.0.tar.gz

Screenshot:

Gnome-Do Plugin - ManLookUp

Development site: https://code.launchpad.net/~loconet/do-plugins/ManLookUp

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3G IPhone plans are not the only pricey offerings from Rogers

Consumers might be able to get something positive out of the recent outcry over the arguably pricey 3G IPhone plans offered by Rogers. The massive attention this issue is gaining online is prompting Canadians to question the way Rogers is conducting business, something which I have personally questioned for a while. This new found interest by consumers to inform themselves about competitors and unmask what some might label as monopolistic price gouging behavior, can only help the country’s economy in the long run and secure technological progress for the future. With that spirit then let’s compare another service Rogers offers: The Home Phone.

For those not familiar with it, Roger’s Home Phone service provides residential customers with a land-line phone connection much like that of offerings from Bell, Primus, etc. The service started as two offerings: Classic landline over telephone lines, and VoIP. As of June 2008, Rogers will only be offering the VoIP option (forcing existing classical land-line consumers to switch or cancel) so let’s compare their product with other similar VoIP services: Vonage and Primus.

Since I want to keep this simple while looking at the most features available, let’s compare their high-end options for Unlimited North America calling.

Rogers

How much: $41.95 + $5.95 (System access fee – yes, that mysterious fee again) = $47.9.
Features: Free 4-6 out of 15 available ($4.00 for each additional feature).
Long distance North America: Unlimited North America (+$19.95).
Free Europe calling: None – must add as different package ($24.95).

Total: 47.9 + 19.95 + 911 fees ($0.19) Hearing Impaired Assistance (HIA) fees ($0.22) + taxes = ~$77.13

Vonage

How much: $39.99
Features: All 21 features included.
Long distance North America: Free unlimited calling.
Free Europe calling: Free unlimited calling to: Italy, France, Spain, UK and Ireland.

Total: 39.99 + taxes = $45.19

Primus

How much: $49.95
Features: All 10 features included.
Long distance North America: Free unlimited calling.
Free Europe calling: None.

Total: 49.95 + 911 Fee ($0.40) + taxes = $56.90

I realize there are many VoIP options out there, some more expensive and some cheaper than these but I just wanted to compare Roger’s offering with two of the other popular options. Additionally, I have not taken into account individual international calling rates, which in fact would support my point even further as Roger’s rates are gernally a few cents higher per minute throughout the list of countries.

In conclusion then, much like the IPhone 3G plans, Rogers is not only positioning their service at a higher price but they are offering less for higher prices! Sadly there are a lot of people blindly buying into this. Thankfully for consumers who inform themselves, Rogers is NOT the only available option for VoIP and, at least for now, we are able to choose freely from one of the competitors. Unfortunately for IPhone fans in Canada, Rogers seems to be the only option for now. Not a good idea to have let Rogers buy out the only other GSM competitor huh?

Assumptions: Taxes are for Ontario (5% GST + 8% PST for telecomunication goods), one time setup fees not taken into account. Intangibles such as customer support quality not taken into account – I personally believe Rogers would lose big on this item.

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Throttling is only the beginning. Bell Canada wants to eliminate third party ISPs entirely.

McDonald’s menu style Internet offerings in the future? Here is an interesting (and scary) update:

I have been following the ongoing news regarding Bell Canada’s decision to throttle their reseller’s traffic. To those arriving late, Bell Canada owns the lines used by third party ISPs such as TekSavvy and recently decided to throttle bandwidth usage on those lines much like they throttle traffic from their own internet customers. Bell cites “fine print” in their Fair Usage Policy which, according to the company, allows them to do this if they see “excessive” use of their network. Why don’t they upgrade their infrastructure with the capital from all those record profits instead of giving us the story that someone is downloading too many movies. Oh, that’s right, it wouldn’t be profit anymore. Everyone can clearly see that the true reason Bell decided to throttle ISPs such as TekSavvy was to stop the move of costumers away from Bell services to more quality service where you get what you paid for, that is, the bandwidth you were promised.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago. Bell Canada is now is now lobbying to scrap mandated access by competitors to its network. That is, they want to get rid of a whole chunk of their competition all together. It would ultimately leave us with Rogers and Bell to choose from for Internet access. It is easy to see how this would translate into very bad news for consumers and economical progress in Ontario, and Canada as a whole. Without competition, the “free” market simply does not work. Consumers will not be able to vote with their wallets and the monopoly that is Bell and Rogers will dictate how things play out from then on.

If they can get away with this how can we determine where this will stop? Say good bye to VoIP. VoIP must run through your ISPs network, and if that ISP is Bell or Rogers (i.e. direct competitors to VoIP providers) who is to say they will not choke out the competition in the same manner they are planning to do it with internet wholesalers? Who is to say they will not consider things such as the upcoming high quality Youtube streams as “abusive” use of their network? Afterall, Youtube competes in one way or another with Bell’s and Roger’s TV service. Will we get to the point where internet service is tiered and chopped into nicely designed marketing-approved McDonald’s menu style offerings where I have to pay extra if I want to use SSH or attach large attachments to my e-mail? Will I have to pay extra if I want to use gmail instead of Sympatico’s own web mail? Would you like FTP traffic with that order?

As a software developer, avid internet user, and consumer, the potential for a future as described above scares the living crap out of me. The majority of people see the issue of Netneutrality as something that matters only to geeks. Sadly, what they don’t realize is that this wonderful progress the Internet has brought to the world is largely due to the existence of that openness, of that “neutrality” of the service. The ability for my neighbor to listen to online radio stations or play online games while I surf the web or e-mail clients without our service providers “deciding” for us what form of usage is more “valuable” is what keeps this wonderful progress going. Bell Canada’s move to eliminate competition this way introduces a slippery slope that will see this progress come to a halt.

I am not a fan of the government stepping into citizens’ lives and setting unnecessary and damaging market roadblocks, however, when one considers that the free market cannot work under this conditions, I think it is time for the Canadian government to step in and put an end to this. To many, the Internet has become a utility with importance almost as high as that of the telephone system, gas, water, and electricity. Considering that Bell’s infrastructure was largely paid by tax payers dollars, I think it is time we decide how we use those lines and for Bell to stay off OUR Internet!.

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lget for Firefox 3.0 b3

For those using the latest ff 3.0 b3 release and interested in updating their lget installation, you can get the latest version from mozilla’s official addons site. Note that the linked version will only work on Firefox 3.0 b3.

The most requested feature is to get rid of the download window after submitting the URL (and I agree, it can be annoying). I will address that as soon as I get some free time.

UPDATE: lget 0.4.1 for Firefox 3.0 final is released. Click here for more info.

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Canadian version of the American DMCA considered the worst copyright law in the developed world.

The government of Canada is preparing to attempt to bring a new DMCA-modeled copyright law in Canada in order to comply with the WIPO treaties the country signed in 1997. These treaties were also the base of the American DMCA. The new Canadian law will be even more restrictive in nature than the American version and worse than the last Canadian copyright proposal, the defeated Bill C-60. Amongst the many restrictive clauses, in this new law – as Michael Geist explains – is the total abolishment of the concept of fair use, “No parody exception. No time shifting exception. No device shifting exception. No expanded backup provision. Nothing.”. This new draconian law has the potential of reshaping the whole technology industry and leave consumers at the mercy of copyright owners. Michael Geist provides a list of 30 things that can be done to address the issue.

Via : http://www.boingboing.net/2007/11/27/canadas-coming-dmca.html

The Canadian government is about to bring down Canada’s version of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and it promises to be the worst copyright law in the developed world. It will contain an “anti-circumvention” clause that prohibits breaking the locks off your music and movies in order to move them to new devices or watch them after the company that made them goes out of business — and it will follow the US’s disastrous lead with the DMCA in that there will be no exceptions to the ban on circumvention, not even for parody, fair dealing, time shifting, or other legal uses.

This will be even worse than the last Canadian copyright proposal, the defeated Bill C-60.

But there’s hope. The last two Ministers who tried to push through a US-style copyright bill in Canada lost their jobs, thanks in large part to Canada’s coalition of artists, educators, archivists, and public-interest activists. Selling Canada’s digital future out to a handful of US companies is a bad career move for Canadian politicians.

Gear up for a fight in the New Year. The American record labels, in particular, are said to be well organised and ready to push this through on a fast track (even though they’ve abandoned DRM in the rest of the world, they view Canada as a weak sister they can push around).

If this law passes, it will mean that as soon as a device has any anti-copying stuff in it (say, a Vista PC, a set-top cable box, a console, an iPod, a Kindle, etc), it will be illegal for Canadians to modify it, improve it, or make products that interact with it unless they have permission from the (almost always US-based) manufacturer. This puts the whole Canadian tech industry at the mercy of the US industry, unable to innovate or start new businesses that interact with the existing pool of devices and media without getting a license from the States.

If this law passes, it will render all of the made-in-Canada exceptions to copyright for education, archiving, free speech and personal use will be irrelevant: if a technology has a lock that prohibits a use, your right to make that use falls by the wayside. Nevermind that you’ve got the right to record a show to watch later — or to record a politician’s speech so you can hold him to account later — the policeman in the device can take that right away with no appeal.

If this law passes, it will make Canada into a backwards nation, lagging behind the UK, Israel and other countries that are passing new copyright laws that dismantle the idea of maximum copyright forever and in all things.

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Ubuntu desktop eye candy

I took a little break today to play around with Avant Window Manager and installed it on my Gutsy installation. Like any other piece of software in development, it has a lot of issues that need to be addressed before it can be called “ready” but what is available so far is superb. Projects like this and Compiz will be major players in getting more people to experience Linux on the desktop.

Screenshot of my desktop:
Ubuntu screenshot

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reCAPTCHA

A pretty cool project was brought to my attention today by a co-worker as well as digg. The project is reCAPTCHA, a project from Carnegie Mellon University, and Luis von Ahn, one of the pioneer CAPTCHA developers. reCAPTCHA aims at “recycling” human brain power used when we are forced to enter CAPTCHA text on websites. reCAPTCHA does this by providing website developers with a library, which instead of presenting a random piece of text to the user for processing, uses previously scanned pieces of text from books being digitized. reCAPTCHA creates CAPTCHA images from text the OCR system was unable to identify successfully, essentially leaving the recognizing to the experts, us humans. As a result, CAPTCHA’s ability is extended to aiding in the accurate digitalization of books, ultimately killing two bird with one stone. Brilliant stuff.

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