Older blog entries for StevenRainwater (starting at number 214)

Interesting Trademark news today. I've been trying out CentOS 4.1 on one of our production servers as a possible replacement for Red Hat Linux. CentOS is a compiled from Red Hat Enterprise source RPMs, patched to remove any Red Hat logos. I ran into some problems with CentOS related to selinux and posted an email to the selinux mailing asking about it. Someone from Red Hat answered my question and helped me out. In my email I said, "I'm running a CentOS 4.1 (Red Hat EL) box with an Apache..." Today, I got this email from Red Hat regarding my post on the selinux mailing list:

From: Trademark Enforcement, tme@redhat.com

Dear Mr. Rainwater: Red Hat appreciates your interest in supporting and providing open source technology. We recently became aware of your email below in which you state that CentOS 4.1=Red Hat. Of course this is not true since CentOS does not provide the stability, security and manageability that Red Hat provides, CentOS is not equal to Red Hat. Red Hat would appreciate in the future that you please refrain from equating CentOS to Red Hat.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation and your support in open source technology.

Sincerely, Red Hat, Inc.

It then quoted the body of my post to the selinux mailing list. Weird. I guess I need to be careful to say CentOS 4.1 is compiled from the same source as Red Hat Enterprise Linux instead of saying it's "the same as" Red Hat Enterprise linux. I'm curious if there are any real legal implications to this? Can I get into legal trouble for saying "kleenex" instead of "facial tissue" in an email when refering to a brand that doesn't use the Kleenex trademark? Isn't this the same thing? I'm even more curious about the really weird sentence structure used in the third sentence of their email. Somehow I think they meant that to be two sentences.

Apparently, the CentOS folks heard from Red Hat's legal department earlier this year.

Robots.net is now happily running on CentOS 4.1 and Apache 2. I've posted the source and changelog to the new mod_virgule code. Hmmm... what's next?.

I ran into trouble with the TiniArm 2131 board. The recommended flash programmer is proprietary software from Philips that only runs on Windows. After a little searching online, I found lpc21isp written by Martin Maurer that compiles on Linux and might work, however it's not licensed under a Free Software or Open Source license. I don't understand people who release copyrighted source code without some sort of a clear license defining how you're allow to use their code. In this case, I skipped it and moved on. Then I discovered that Paul Stoffregen had written a GTK+ based flash programmer for the Philips line of ARM processors called lpc2k_pgm. It's licensed under the GNU GPL and it compiles and runs just fine on my Fedora-based laptop. Unfortunately, it doesn't yet support the LCP2131 chip. I don't have the time to add support so I emailed Paul and New Micros. They're going to loan him a board in exchange for adding support to his software. That's good news even if it means my TiniARM experiments will be on hold for a little while.

15 Jun 2005 (updated 15 Jun 2005 at 21:20 UTC) »

After a little more hacking on Monday, I completed the port of mod_virgule to the Apache 2 API. It's now running natively using the 2.x APR functions directly - no need for the 1.3 compatibility headers at all. I'm going to bang on it a few more days and then shift robots.net over to it. I'll post the source later this week as well.

I'm doing the work on a new CentOS Linux 4.0 box that I set up to try out CentOS. Most of our boxes still run Red Hat 9 and since Red Hat's demise I've been casting around for a suitable replacement. CentOS seems ideal. It's basically a community supported, free (as in speech and as in beer) clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. So everything is exactly where it should be and works like you'd expect it to.

In other news I just got my hands on one of the New Micros TinyARM 2131 boards. It's a tiny little ARM microcontroller (1" x 1.3") with 32K Flash and 8K RAM. Looks like another gcc cross compiler adventure in the making.

I got mod_virgule working on Apache 2.x this week. I started with the patch for the official codebase that James Henstridge did back in early 2004. While the official mod_virgule hasn't changed much in the last couple of years, mine has continued to diverge due to patches for libxml2 and other requested features. So it took a little tweaking to get the old Apache 2 patch to work but it still saved a lot of time. I'm not planning on keeping Apache 1.3 compatibility, so I dropped some changes from the original patch related to 1.3 support.

I've still got a ways to go before it's ready for release. At present it relies too heavily on the APR compatibility headers. Once I get things cleaned up, I'll move robots.net to an Apache 2 server with the new code and give it some good testing. A release should follow shortly after that.

It's nice to play with some C code again after all the website related Perl coding I do at NCC.

Yesterday Susan and I braved the scattered rain to attend Dallas Artfest 2005. It turned out to be overcast and cool but only a tiny bit of rain fell. Susan found some interesting jewelery and it made a nice break from work.

I've been working with David Anderson in porting his robotics library for the MRM board to gcc 3.4.3. I've added a little code of my own in the process and I'm using Doxygen to produce pretty web-based documentation for the whole thing. We still have a ways to go but I'm hoping to release the completed library as a DPRG project in a month or two (under GPL of course).

We saw Hitchhiker's earlier this month and found it sadly disappointing. It appears to have been adapted to the big screen by people who had no clear understanding of Douglas Adams brand of humor (or British humor in general). It almost appears they didn't understand it was supposed to be a funny story and tried very hard to turn it into an action movie by excising anything remotely amusing from the script. Even worse, they frequently removed the setup for jokes but left in the punch line or left in the setup and removed the punchline, making the story incomprehensible (or at least very non-funny) for those who hadn't read the book, heard the radio version, or seen the TV adaptation. The one redeeming moment was when the real Marvin made brief cameo appearance. I suspect everyone reading this has seen the movie by now but if you haven't, save your money and buy the very nice DVD of the BBC television version which is a lot more fun.

We also saw Revenge of the Sith. What can I say. At least it's finally over. It was better than the last two but I'm afraid the original version of the first movie is the only one that was really fun as a stand-alone story.

I've had some time to start working on mod_virgule again. My highest priority is porting it to the Apache 2 module API so I can finally ditch Red Hat 7.3 on the robots.net box. I've almost got a clean compile but it's going to take a little while to get it debugged and stable before I switch robots.net over.

I spent most of the day Sunday wandering around the Deep Ellum Arts Festival looking at paintings and sculptures by regional artists. Since our office is now in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, the Arts Festival was within walking distance. I took a few fuzzy photos of the arts festival with my little JB1 camera. Susan was suffering from allergies and stayed home. I thought I'd be on my own but I ran into some friends.

Standing in front of the stage listening to a live band, I recognized a dog which turns up at the RBNO sometimes. Sure enough, attached to the other end of the dog's leash was Bill James, a fellow robot builder. He was there with a couple of friends. One of them, Sarah, is a drummer. She was interested in the band that was currently playing, called Cherry Blossom Clinic. By coincidence, the new drummer for CBC is April Samuels, a fellow website designer who I know from a past consulting job. So after the set ended, I managed to get April and Sarah introduced.

The band members had a photographer with them and spent some time after they got off stage shooting the usual sort of eccentric band photos in a nearby parking lot. This was the first time I'd met the other folks in the band, who turned out to be an interesting collection of people. I only became aware of CBC after April joined the band and this was actually my first time to hear them play. If you haven't heard CBC, imagine a sort of insane Mr. Rogers playing guitar; add vocals, another guitar, bass, and drums. They have the energy of an early 1980's garage-punk band combined with music that's a compositional mix the 1960's and today. I liked the music enough to buy their most recent CD, Orange (a new one is on the way I'm told). You can listen to a couple of mp3s on their website.

In the end I stayed out in the sun a little too long but it was a beautiful day and well worth a little sunburn.

Yikes, almost a month since I've posted anything here. Let's see, other than working, I've read a lot of books since my last post. I finished "Physics and Philosophy" by Werner Heisenberg. Interestingly, he recommended that any young people reading the book should go into the field of biology where he thought all the really cool science would be happening next. This corresponds with advice given by Hans Bethe, mentioned by titus in his Advogato blog early this month. Their reasoning was that biology is begining the transition into "real" science just as chemistry had once physics provided an understanding of atoms and molecules.

In honor of Jack L. Chalker's recent passing, I finally got around to reading some of the Well World series. So far, I've read Midnight at the Well of Souls (pretty good for a first novel), the two part story Exiles at the Well of Souls and Quest for the Well of Souls (so-so), and the next two part story The Return of Nathan Brazil and Twilight at the Well of Souls (best so far). I had to stop there until we could get the next few books. Since they all seem to be out of print these days, it took a little eBay and Amazon shopping to track down some used book stores that had them. We now have all ten of the series so I'll pick up on it again soon.

While I was waiting, I read a few other out of print books that were in the queue including Three to Conquer by the always enjoyable Eric Frank Russell (by coincidence Jack L. Chalker wrote the forward in the book). The plot is set in the futuristic year of 1980. And last, I read two John Wyndham books; The Chrysalids and Chocky.

It's been interesting watching the search engine results for robots this month as the movie by the same name slowly gets closer to the top of page one. The mis-named I, Robot movie pretty much wiped out the search term "robot" for a while but, so far, it looks like they didn't spend as much on SEO for this movie.

24 Feb 2005 (updated 24 Feb 2005 at 05:29 UTC) »

A week or so back, the Princeton Global Concsiouness Project made the news again with the usual claims about human consciouness having measurable effects on quantum random number generators. The already questionable research seemed a little more unbelievable this time around with the new claim that the REGs are detecting events before they happen. For some reason I started reading some the papers on the GCP site and got interested in the whole thing.

Basically, what they're claiming is that you can take a cryptography-grade random number generator and influence the output by, well, wishful thinking. The RNG needs to be a real, non-deterministic random number generator, a deterministic pseudo random number generator won't do. And, not suprisingly, the only non-deterministic sources of random numbers appear to rely on quantum effects. The devices are alleged to be fairly simple. Take a semiconductor with a PN junction like a tunneling or zener diode, give it a reverse bias until you get quantum noise, amplify the noise and refine it into a series of ones and zeros.

It seems like it ought to be pretty easy to duplicate, especially if they provided a schematic of the circuit they're using. Oops. Only a general description of the RNG they use is provided. I emailed Roger Nelson and asked if a schematic or more detailed description was available. Interestingly, it turns out they keep the exact plans a closely guarded secret but they will sell you one if you want. Seems like that makes independent verification a bit harder. We blew up a couple of zener diodes at the RBNO Tuesday night playing around with the idea. At one point we did get some interesting looking noise but someone suggested it was probably just thermal noise.

So, I've since looked around on the web for some clues on how these things should be biased to get good quantum noise without killing the diode. I learned that in most commercial RNGs, two noise sources are XOR'd together. This is done to improve the quality of the random numbers. Now, it seems to me this would also have the side-effect of dimishing the ability to detect non-random influences on both noise sources. It would make more sense to me to AND two or more sources together. It would make the device useless as a random number generator but should amplify any non-random outside influence. I think some of the more critical studies of the project support this in that they note attempts to influence the RNG to produce 1s are much more successful than wishing it to produce 0s. If the effect is caused by some sort of quantum activity in neurons of a nearby human brain, as some believe, that would make sense. In other words, running a human brain in the vicinity of a sensitive quantum device may interfere with it in the same way that running a Tesla coil near an AM radio interferes with it.

It's been a long time since I had my last class in physics, so I figured I better read up on the subject. While browsing the local used book store for a book on quantum physics, I ran across one by someone who is something of an authority on the subject, Physics and Philosophy by Werner Heisenberg. It was published in 1958 and includes all the basics of the Copenhagen Interpretation. There's nothing on the newer ones like the Many Worlds Interpretation, of course but I believe the Copenhagen Interpretation is still the one accepted by most physicists. I've been reading the book aloud to Susan and it has turned out to be quite entertaining. A couple of samples quotes:

"One day Plank and Rubens met for tea in Planck's home and compared Rubens' latest results with a new forumula suggested by Planck. This was the discovery of Planck's law of heat radiation."

"I remember discussions with Bohr which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighboring park I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seeemed to us in these atomic experiments?"

Along the way Heisenberg covers all the early theories of matter proposed by the Greeks and discusses ways in which relativity and quantum physics allows science to invalidate or disprove philosophical ideas proposed by Kant and others.

The Slashdot Effect

robots.net has been slashdotted again so mod_virgule is getting a good stress test today. So far it's holding up with no problems. One amusing thing about being slashdotted is that you get a lot of emails from people you haven't heard from in a while congratulating you on the event.

Linux on the Dell Inspiron 8600

Since I last posted about this, I've received my new hard drive and now have Fedora Linux installed on the notebook. A suprising number of things actually worked right out of the box. I've been slowly getting the other bits and pieces of hardware working as I have time. This process has been made easier by others who have already documented the process. One of the best sources of info is the Fedora on a Dell website.

As it turned out, the driver for the NVidia GeForce is included with Fedora and the display worked at least in a low resolution mode immediately. With some minor tweaking, it is now working at the full 1920 x 1200 resolution. The missing piece of the puzzle was the lack of a monitor type for the Dell LCD 1920 x 1200 display. This looks like it would be trivial to patch but I can't tell yet if the thing needing the patch is X or the display configuration program in Gnome. If anyone knows, please email me, I'd happily submit a patch so this worked for the next person who tries it. There is apparently also a non-free, binary-only driver for the NVidia that is a bit faster but I don't plan on using the video for anything important enough to make it worth switching to a proprietary driver. I'm quite happy with the nv driver.

The sound hardware and ethernet hardware worked with no changes needed at all. The battery monitor and CPU speed controls also worked without needing to do anything special. The CD/DVD hardware worked as well, though I needed to download some extra packages in order to view movies on DVD. Intel offers a GPL'd 2200 BG WiFi driver (though the firmware itself is still proprietary). It seems to work fine with the exception of monitor mode which apparently isn't quite functional yet. I also added the latest version of Network Manager so I can switch seamlessly between wired and wireless connections. It's working very well too so far.

So what's left to tinker with? I'd like to get gi8k set up so I can monitor fan speed and CPU temperature. Also, I haven't had time to get the suspend to RAM or disk functions working yet, so I have to manually shut down before closing the notebook. And finally I picked up a little USB to serial adapter at Frys, the BAFO BF-810, because I frequently have to interface with microcontrollers that use a serial port (the 8600 doesn't have any old-style serial ports). I'm hoping it will work without any special tweaking but you never know. Overall, I'm quite happy so far with how well my Dell Inspiron 8600 is working with Linux.

10 Feb 2005 (updated 10 Feb 2005 at 17:36 UTC) »

In June of 2004 when I was participating in the DarkBlue SEO Challenge, I created the Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ. The goal of the contest was to put a page at number one in the Google results for the nonsense search phrase, "Nigritude Ultramarine". As part of my FAQ, I tried mention other things of interest on the web that used one or both of the keywords. Among the sites I linked to was a Australian band called Vivid Ultramarine. After the contest was over, I left the FAQ up but mostly forgot about it.

Around the end of January, I received an email from Dean Catoggio of Vivid Ultramarine. Turns out they'd been receiving a few hits on their website from the link on my contest FAQ. Dean offered to send me a free copy of their CD, Ford Cortina. I'm always a supporter of local bands in Dallas, so why not Australia, I thought. Besides, I could hardly turn down a free CD. The CD arrived yesterday and I stuck in the CD player not really knowing what to expect. It's actually quite good. The title track, Ford Cortina, is my favorite but the other two tracks, Sky Blue and VU Groove are also good. Check 'em out.

Advogato breakage?

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that Advogato doesn't seem to be updating the trust metrics anymore?

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