Dec 252016

Today, I was trying to explain to someone the difference between entering a Web site’s address in the address field of a Web browser, vs. entering a search term in Google. I was not very successful. In the end, it doesn’t really matter… Google happily accepts a Web site address in its search field, and all modern browsers accept search terms in the address field, passing it on to the preconfigured search provider.

But this experience reminded me of a clip from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It’s when Scotty and McCoy talk to a factory manager and Scotty tries to show the chemical formula for “transparent aluminum”. When McCoy suggests the use of a computer, on old Mac sitting on a desk nearby, Scotty first tries to talk to it; and when McCoy helpfully points at the mouse, Scotty picks it up as though it was a microphone tries talking into it.

What I realized is that thirty years later, we basically gave up on the idea of trying to educate users. If that computer was built today, with users like Scotty in mind, we’d just put a damn microphone into the bleeping mouse. It’s just easier that way.

 Posted by at 10:09 am
Dec 242016

Once again, I feel compelled to use the same image and same words that I have been using for many years, to wish all my family, all my friends, indeed everyone on the good Earth a very merry Christmas: the words of the astronauts of Apollo 8.

I know, I know, it’s the same thing every year. But there really aren’t any better words. Just imagine: three human beings, for the first time in human history, far from the Earth, in orbit around another celestial body. And back on Earth, one of the most troubled years in recent history: 1968. So on Christmas Eve, with about a billion people listening—a full one quarter of the Earth’s population at the time—they greeted us Earthlings with the opening passages from the Book of Genesis, the common creation mythology of several major religions.

And then Frank Borman ended the broadcast with words that are as appropriate today as we are heading towards more troubled times as they were back then: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

 Posted by at 9:10 am
Dec 232016

Last night, after I watched the final episode of an amazing Brazilian television series, 3% (yes, that’s the title) on Netflix, I felt compelled to listen to the immortal song Aquarela do Brasil, especially the Geoff Muldaur version that was the title song for Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil.

As I was listening to the song, I realized that along with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, it’s one of the songs I’d like to listen to when the world comes to an end.

Runner-ups include Nena’s 99 Luftballons and Anita Kelsey’s version (known from the film Dark City) of Sway (¿Quién será?)

As to why I am thinking about the end of the world…

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Dec 182016

I have been so busy this week, I forgot to blog about our latest Maxima release, 5.39. Nothing spectacular, just incremental improvements over 5.38; for me, this was a big milestone though as this was the first time that I used a CentOS platform to prepare the release. (Which, incidentally, is why I haven’t done this months ago.)

And SourceForge, kindly enough, once again designated Maxima as one of the site’s Projects of the Week.

 Posted by at 1:23 am
Dec 152016

I saw this question on Quora and I could not resist: I just felt compelled to offer my take, against my better judgment.

So here is how, in my opinion, you make fastest Everyone Dies™:

My answer is purely hypothetical. It is about a yet-to-be-discovered planet and the civilization that lives there. It is a piece of science-fiction. Any similarities to real persons, be they living or dead, are purely coincidental.

  1. Pick an incompetent, thin-skinned, narcissistic tycoon as the next leader of the country possessing the most powerful military that ever existed on the planet, with a nuclear arsenal capable of killing everyone several times over.
  2. Pick a highly competent, murderous sociopath, a former secret agent of a totalitarian superstate, as the ruler of the country possessing the second most powerful military that ever existed on the planet, with a nuclear arsenal capable of killing everyone several times over.
  3. Let #1 think that he can trust and he can be BFF with #2 and thus go down in history as the greatestest and bestest leader ever.
  4. Let #2 think that he can rely on the naivety, incompetence, and egotism of #1 to accomplish the goal of restoring his country’s lost pride and possessions.
  5. Sit back and watch the show. Consider yourself blessed that you are a) in your fifties, b) have no children to worry about, and c) that you live near the downtown core of a capital city, so that when the inevitable flash comes, you will not even notice it as you are instantaneously vaporized along with your spouse, cats and all worldly possessions.

As I said, this is a piece of fiction, for entertainment purposes only. Any similarities you might notice to real persons or events are purely coincidental. Happy Holidays!

 Posted by at 10:30 am
Dec 132016

This morning, when I woke up, the regular status e-mails that my servers greet me with told me that there is a major CentOS update (version 7.3). Cool. Unfortunately, it meant that I needed to upgrade as many as five servers. This includes my main server, its physical backup, my backup server in NYC, another “in cloud” backup, and yet another server that I help administer. I began this process shortly after 8 in the morning, after I finished breakfast.

And as usual, a major upgrade like this brings to the surface little problems, little annoyances such as folders that had incorrectly configured SELinux permissions. No big deal, to be sure, but several such little things can consume hours of your time.

And then, it was also Microsoft Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of the month when Microsoft releases scheduled updates to Windows and other products. As soon as I was done with CentOS, my attention turned to my Windows machines, including my main workstation, its backup (actually, the same physical machine that also acts as my server’s backup in a dual-boot configuration), my wife’s desktop computer, two laptops, and last but not least, my old desktop that I still keep around as a backup/test computer.

Moreover, I also decided to update three virtual machines (one running Windows 7, the other two, Windows XP) that I keep around both for test purposes but also to have older software, older configurations available if needed.

Furthermore, when I update Windows, I tend to check and see if any other software packages need updating. On some computers, I run Secunia PSI, which keeps track of many applications. But even on other systems, I had to update Java (if installed), Adobe Flash, Chrome and Firefox.

And on older hardware, the process can be painfully slow.

To make a long story short, by the time I finished the bulk of this work, it was 7:30 in the evening. And one computer (a really low powered old netbook) is still doing its thing, even though it’s well past 11 PM now.

No wonder I didn’t accomplish much today.

Of course all of this needed to be done. Since I am a one-man band, I don’t have an IT department to rely on, but it is still important for me to keep my systems secure and well-maintained.

Nonetheless, it feels like one hell of a waste of a day.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Dec 042016

Last night, I went for a nice, long walk, maybe the last before the real snow comes and walking is no longer fun.

My route took me around several government buildings here in Ottawa Lowertown. Here is one of them, with some rather unusual light effects due to some low-hanging clouds and a partially closed bridge that is under renovation:

The picture doesn’t really give justice to the eerie, otherworldly light effects that I saw.

Later on during my walk, I looked through the glass front of an important government building that shall remain unnamed. Why? Because when I looked into the lobby, I saw not one but two uniformed security personnel… with their backs facing the front door, as they were both intently watching a television screen on which a hockey game was playing.

Ah, Canada! What a blessed country we are. And I am not naming the building because I don’t want these good people to get into any trouble, nor do I want to give any bad people ideas.

That said, I was tempted to snap a picture of these two. I decided not to do so… discretion is the better part of valor, and besides, who knows, maybe someone else was watching me, after all, through a security camera.

 Posted by at 11:50 pm