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Sun, 27 Oct 2013

Saw Gravity today


My wife and I saw Gravity at a cinema on the Champs Elysées this morning. We had heard mixed comments about the movie, but had heard that most critics quite liked the movie.

After seeing it, my best comment is wow. I think it's clearly a must-see movie. Not necessarily for the story, but it is a remarkable movie: the visuals are great, the action is gripping, and Sandra Bullock's acting is just stellar.

Sandra Bullock

Of course, the science isn't perfect and the story is a bit predictable, but they do keep you on the edge of your seat and succeed well in making the viewers suspend disbelief.

Overall a great movie. Try to see it on a large screen in 3D if you can.

/misc | Posted at 15:21 | permanent link

Fri, 18 Oct 2013

Windows 8.1 update: good with a couple of annoyances

Windows 8.1 logo

So, Windows 8.1 is out today.

I upgraded by new PC (oh, I haven't written about that yet... guess it's a good topic for my next blog post) from Windows 8 to 8.1 this morning.

The update went smoothly, with only a couple of annoyances:

  1. During the upgrade, it demanded that I provide a Microsoft Account to associate with my local account. I don't want to link my local account and my Microsoft Account. What I do on my local PC should remain local. I was stuck on that screen, until I found a website that explained that I could enter "a@a.a" with password "a" (or anything else nonsensical for that matter) in that screen and then it would allow me to proceed after determining that the account information was wrong. That allowed me to proceed.

  2. I have the French Language version because I'm in Paris... I don't want Windows in French. I want Windows in English. With Windows 8.0, I was able to download the English language pack and configure it with the US International keyboard configuration and even through the hoops required to make English the default language of the O/S. When I upgraded, Windows 8 omniously informed me that "language customizations might be lost during the upgrade"... and, sure enough, Windows 8.1 booted in French. Well, kind of a bilingual set-up: Windows 8.1 is in French, but my default regional and language parameters still say that the default O/S language is English. I think I should probably download the Windows 8.1 English language pack, but the Language configuration screen (which is one of those annoying dumbed-down New User Interface screens) appears to think that English is already downloaded and is already selected as my default language. Tsssss. Clearly, it's not if it keeps writing in French. So, I haven't figured out yet out to get out of this one: is it just that I should re-download the English language pack (but if so, how can I force it to redownload English, as it thinks English is already there?) or is there some magic I have to do to convince it to active English, when it think (incorrectly) that it's already in English.

Oh well... it still works, I'll play with it further over the weekend. (*)

In the positive effects category, one can now specify that Windows logs in to the Desktop screen instead of the newfangled Start screen (where the first action I took was always to click on the Desktop tile), so I can basically blissfully ignore the New User Interface applications and use Steam, MS Office, Thunderbird, Firefox, VLC, Spotify, Skype, /WoW, _WoT, all of my regular Desktop applications on a regular basis.

Overall, it all went pretty smoothly... I'm glad to have upgraded.

(*) Note to self: I hate software that is too clever for its own good and will disable menu options and configuration options when it thinks something is already active, when you clearly know that it's not. Clever/fancy user interfaces often get stuck in funky states when you have an unsual configuration or if an update aborts in the middle (lack of disk space or power outage)... the number of times in my life that I've found myself having to trick an application into understanding the state that it was truly in is just distressingly high.

/software | Posted at 23:58 | permanent link

A new PC

CMSTORM Enforcer

Some weeks ago, my desktop started freezing on a regular basis when playing heavy 3D graphics games. It wasn't that old, but apparently some part of the hardware was having some trouble with overheating.

I investigated for a few weeks, but could not find the culprit. So, I decided to buy a new PC. I bought a nice configuration at AAC Computers on Daumesnil in Paris' 12th arrondissement.

Here's what I now have:

  • Intel Core i7-4770K @ 3.5GHz (4 cores w/ HT)
  • 16 GB RAM
  • Windows Pro 8.1 64-bit
  • Intel I217-V Gigabit Ethernet
  • CM Storm Quickfire keyboard
  • 240 GB SanDisk SSD
  • 3 TB Seagate HD
  • Hyundai HDIT27W HDMI screen

All of this in a CM Storm black enclosure -- this is quite nice.

The amount of computing power we now have at our fingertips is just amazing... the first computer I have ever used (a CDC Cyber 173 running under NOS/BE), a beast for its time, would pale compared to this PC (*).

(*) if I compute well, the Cyber 173 was a dual CPU machine, running probably at 25 MHz (not counting the 12 PP processors here) with probably 256K 60-bit words of memory (around 2 MB if I count right). So if my back-of-the-envelope calculations are correct, it's about 250 times faster with 8000 times more memory, and I won't even try to count how much more disk space.

/hardware | Posted at 23:20 | permanent link

Sun, 30 Jun 2013

Happy Canada Day

happy Canada day

Hey, it's July 1st. So happy Canada Day to all Canadians, from coast to coast to coast... I hope the weather's nice where you are :-)

/misc | Posted at 19:37 | permanent link

Windows backup software

Windows 8 task manager

I have been using the Time Machine backup software under Mac OS X for a number of years now. It's quite good, and once saved me, as a disk in one of my iMacs crashed, and I was able to restore the machine to a full working state by just changing the hard disk in it, and using the Time Machine to restore it to its last known working state. I did not lose a thing!

Time Machine is also very nice to use: you just plug an external disk in one of the USB ports, and voila: a couple of simple manipulations and you're on your way.

So, given this experience, I decided to try the Windows backup software that came with Windows 7 Ultimate. It's not as nice, and now that it's also ridiculously slow...

I have a relatively fast Windows 8 64-bit desktop machine (3.4GHz, 8GB of memory, and 2 x 1TB of disk space)... well, i've been backing it up to an external USB3 2TB external drive for literally hours now, and it's still at 31% completion!

What's worse, it that it doesn't appear to be doing very intensive I/O to the USB3 disk, as can be seen in the above snapshot from the Windows 8 task manager...

Disks fail. Not all the time, but eventually they do. Being able to back up my PC to a local USB drive would seem like something that should come into the box with the O/S I purchase... heck, Unix has had tar and cpio for years.

Oh well.

Time to go to sleep now.

/software | Posted at 19:16 | permanent link

Online games

The internet is enabling a number of interesting multi-player computer games.

World of Warcraft, World of Tanks, a whole range of games in the Steam universe (Counterstrike, Borderlands 2, Team Fortress 2, and many more), and even more (LoL, StarCraft II, ...)

The first multiplayer computer game I've played was probably VTTREK on the DECsystem 20... I seem to recall having played mostly single player games before that: moria, empire, advent, and more on VAX/VMS and CDC NOS, along with a variety of Apple ][ and IBM PC games (Wizardry, Trek, Decathlon, and more)... dating back to CASINO and TREK on the CDC CYBER under NOS/BE around 1976 or so.

Technology is making this a fascinating age to live in :-)

/games | Posted at 17:59 | permanent link

Sun, 09 Jun 2013

Microsoft Office in 2013: Buy or Rent?


I am tempted to get the most recent version of Microsoft Office for my PCs at home. In the past, I would buy a 'family license pack' of Office for Windows, and a 'family license pack' of Office for Mac, and that would cover all of the machines that I wished to upgrade.

Now, I can either get 'Office 2013 for Family', which will only cover 1 PC and costs 139 Euros, or I can get 'Office 365 Family Premium', which would cover 5 of my PCs or Macs, but which will cost 99 Euros per year!!!
Now, I probably use MS Office at home about 10-12 times a year... so getting a 99 Euros a year subscription doesn't seem very reasonable. On the other hand, I want to be able to use it on my main PC, on my laptop, on my iMac, or on my wife's PC... so paying 4 x 139 Euros to be able to use it across those 4 machines is just ridiculous.


So at this point, I think I will continue with Office 2010 on my 3 main PCs, and see how the licensing for Office 365 evolves. Perhaps, I will find that the corporate 'Office 365' contract at work also allows me to use it at home? I need to check with our procurement department about that.

Infrequently used software should have the option to purchase a 'pack' of 'prepaid usage fees'. There are quite a few models to pay for software licenses:

1) Flat fee: pay once, and then get licensed to use forever (there can be restrictions about moving the license from machine to machines, but basically you pay once for a version, and then can use this specific version anywhere, anytime, on a single machine)

2) Rent: pay on a monthly or annual basis, and then get licensed to use the product for that period of time only. I hate these sort of recurring fees, and generally avoid them as much as I can.

3) Pay per use: everytime you use the software, you pay a certain amount. Ideally, you can buy in advance a 'pack' of 'usage rights' and you try to evaluate how many times you're going to use the software. I would dearly love to be able to use this sort of licensing for MS Office, Adobe Premiere, Adobe Photoshop, etc.
These are pieces of software that I use between 0 and 12 times a year... paying a whole bunch of money for them just seems silly.

4) Actually, there are lots of other models: pay per headcount, pay per annual revenues or profit, etc, but they do not really apply to running software in the home. Perhaps I should also mention 'Free', 'Freemium', and 'Free with publicity' (sponsored) applications...

Anyway, so my preference is the Flat Fee licensing model, except for those pieces of software that I do not use very regularly... in those cases, I would love to be able to use Pay per use, but that doesn't seem to be a very common licensing model for the home.

P.S. as a follow-up, I ended up buying a copy of Office 2013 for my Ultrabook laptop. Too bad, I will not be using it as much as I would have if it had also been on my main desktop. Didn't want to turn Office into a compulsory annual spend...

/software | Posted at 20:40 | permanent link

Wed, 01 May 2013

Happy May Day

May 1st is International Workers' Day in most countries (over 80 according to Wikipedia), therefore it's time for a day off.

So, happy Labour Day... in France, it's traditional to offer a sprig of lily of the valley ("un brin de muguet") to people on May 1st for good luck, so here's for you all:

lily of the valley

/misc | Posted at 02:01 | permanent link

Thoroughly enjoyed Ironman 3

Ironman 3

Saw Ironman 3 at the cinema on the Champs Elysées last Saunday with my wife... we both enjoyed the movie a lot. Also enjoyed teasing my friends in North America a bit since we got the see the movie first over here in Europe... not sure why that happened, but I certainly appreciated it :-)

Anyway, Robert Downey Jr. makes a great Tony Stark.

/misc | Posted at 01:00 | permanent link

Mon, 29 Apr 2013

Upgrading FreeBSD

An interesting script to upgrade FreeBSD (and installed ports) from .

echo "Starting updates: `date`" | tee -a ${LOG_FILE}
echo "***"
echo "*** Checking for FreeBSD patches..."
echo "***"
/usr/sbin/freebsd-update fetch | tee -a ${LOG_FILE}
/usr/sbin/freebsd-update install | tee -a ${LOG_FILE}
echo "***"
echo "*** Updating ports tree..."
echo "***"
/usr/sbin/portsnap fetch update | tee -a ${LOG_FILE}
echo "***"
echo "*** Looking for ports to update..."
echo "***"
/usr/local/sbin/portmaster -a --no-confirm | tee -a ${LOG_FILE}
echo "***"
echo "*** Checking installed ports for known security problems..."
echo "***"
/usr/local/sbin/portaudit -Fva | tee -a ${LOG_FILE}
echo "Finished updates: `date`" | tee -a ${LOG_FILE}

This uses "freebsd-update" and "portmaster" which seem to be the "modern" way for people to manage FreeBSD installations.

P.S. Oh well, I still like to recompile world+kernel by hand...

/FreeBSD | Posted at 19:53 | permanent link

Raspberry Pi, Beagle Board, Soekris, NUCs, ...

I've been using Soekris boards for years now (a few net4801s, a net5501, and a net6501). They're excellent machines for FreeBSD or Linux, and broadly compatible with PCs, as they use x86 CPUs.

However, I must say that I am tempted by some of the newest little boards out there that are quite inexpensive: the raspberry pi, and the beagle board. I might just buy one of those to display various info and RSS feeds on a big mounted screen that we've got at the office.

The Raspberry Pi is nice, but I quite like the fact that the beagle board is Open Source Hardware.

/hardware | Posted at 19:44 | permanent link

Speaking about hockey

The Stanley Cup playoffs are just getting underway in North America. The pairings for the first round of the playoffs in the NHL Easter conference ended up being decided on the last day of the season... the 4-2 win of the Otawa Senators against the Boston Bruins last Sunday means that the Montreal Canadiens finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference, and will now play those same Senators in the first playoff round for the first time since the return of the Senators in the NHL in 1992.

Hockey is an exciting game -- I will try to catch a few games on Internet radio over the coming days.

/misc | Posted at 18:53 | permanent link

I despise 'Automatic Private IP Addressing'

The number of times where a Mac, an iPad, or a Windows machine has caused me grief by chosing to self-assign an "Automatic Private IP Address" is becoming annoyingly large.

I would much rather have these machines inform me that there is a problem with the DHCP server on the local LAN and that I should fix it, rather than trying to self assign an IP address in the range of 169.254.x.y, which generally doesn't work and doesn't let the machine talk with any of the other devices on the network... and of course, because the machine that tried to helpfully self assign an address thusly will not notify me of this, meaning that it will take longer to find out what has gone wrong.

Sometimes, especially on Apple devices, it will also be annoyingly hard to make the device snap out of this mode and actually request a brand new IP address from the local DHCP server. Argh! In addition to that, it is usually distressingly hard to disable this behavior in devices, as they all try to be simple and auto-configurable. Argh again!

Another woe of DHCP address assignment are home routers that do not provide options to manage the list of assigned DHCP addresses or their corresponding leases, and which therefore run out of assignable addresses with leases running well into 2021 or something! Recently, my Livebox from Orange ran out of available DHCP addresses, and therefore stopped giving them out... which caused various networking equipment to fail in interesting ways.

So yes, I know: "use static IP addresses". I do that most of the time, but still have my various mobile devices configured for DHCP, simply because that's what ones does when travelling with ones' mobile devices.

Anyway, here's hoping for:

  1. a simple way to disable 169.254 addresses in Windows, IOS, and Mac OS X
  2. a simple way to edit the DHCP leases table on the old Sagem Livebox

So yeah, I'm not holding my breath :-)

/admin | Posted at 18:52 | permanent link

Wed, 03 Apr 2013

FreeBSD 9.1 panics resolved

A couple of weeks ago, I upgraded this small machine to FreeBSD 9.1. This is a small and very reliable Soekris net4810-50 box with 128 MB of RAM that has been running FreeBSD for years.

Since upgrading, it has been crashing daily around 03:00 with a panic message that I've finally captured today:

panic: kmem_malloc(4096): kmem_map too small: 38060032 total allocated

Some googling around let me to this thread from December 2012 on freebsd-stable.

which explains a similar situation. The recommendation in the thread is to add:

to /boot/loader.conf to avoid loading the new CAM CTL device, which seems to require lots of RAM.

So, is back on its feet, hopefully with its usual stability. I'll write again if I encounter any further issues.

I have to say though that I am somewhat surprised that the GENERIC build of FreeBSD suddenly has significantly higher RAM requirements as of FreeBSD 9.1, though of course 128MB of RAM is small in today's world.

/FreeBSD | Posted at 02:10 | permanent link

I *really* hate gettext

OK, so I know that some of this is certainly self-inflicted, but I seem to regularly run into trouble where I try to upgrade a bunch of ports on a FreeBSD installation somewhere, and bam suddenly I get build errors around locales or gettext shared libraries.


Now, I do like my applications to be able to speak French just as much as the next guy, but somehow the amount of grief that this has been causing me over the years is getting to be significant.

Latest issue is trying to rebuild ports on 3 different machines following an upgrade to FreeBSD 9.1. All went smoothly with the O/S upgrade using freebsd-update, but trying to rebuild the ports after fetching the latest versions using portsnap is proving harder than expected (or warranted).

I have downloaded the latest ports, and am trying to do the equivalent of "portmaster -a", and then I get:

./localename.c: In function '_nl_locale_name_thread_unsafe':
./localename.c:2607: error: 'locale_t' undeclared (first use in this function)
./localename.c:2607: error: (Each undeclared identifier is reported only once
./localename.c:2607: error: for each function it appears in.)
./localename.c:2607: error: expected ';' before 'thread_locale'
./localename.c:2608: error: 'thread_locale' undeclared (first use in this function)
./localename.c:2608: error: 'LC_GLOBAL_LOCALE' undeclared (first use in this function)
*** Error code 1

when compiling /usr/ports/devel/gettext/work/gettext-, which seems to indicate that "locale_t" is undefined and therefore that configure is probably not picking the requirements for locale on my system correctly, or that I have some old dependencies lying around.

So, hunting around in "/usr/ports/UPDATING" seems to indicate that I should rebuild converters/libiconv first, and then rebuild devel/gettext. So, I did that. But still not success. So it seems I would need to rebuild devel/libtool first, so I did that too. But still gettext won't compile.


This whole i18n thing seems to violate the principle of least astonishment.

Anyway, just a rant because I am frustrated. I'll go back to it and attempt to do things right this time... but I really do hate gettext.

P.S. Sigh... even sudo fails with "sudo: unable to dlopen /usr/local/libexec/ Shared object "" not found, required by """... will rebuild it without the NLS option!

P.P.S. Finally solved it by recompiling the world and kernel from source... and then "gettext" compiled correctly. Not sure what changed... this is unpleasant.

/FreeBSD | Posted at 02:08 | permanent link

Mon, 01 Apr 2013

Accessing ZFS snapshots

I make hourly snapshots of the ZFS filesystems on my home server. This is quite easy using a small script called "" (which I found on the web) and the following lines in root's crontab file:

# perform zfs snapshots
3  *  *  *  *   /root/ pool0 hourly 25
13 0  *  *  *   /root/ pool0 daily  32
23 0  *  *  0   /root/ pool0 weekly 60

7  *  *  *  *   /root/ datapool hourly 25
17 0  *  *  *   /root/ datapool daily  32
27 0  *  *  0   /root/ datapool weekly 60

This keeps a day's worth of hourly snapshots, a month's worth a daily backups, and a year's worth of weekly backups (I should perhaps also keep a decade's worth of annual backups?!).

This is useful and can be really easily accessed... For example, I restored "/usr/local/lib/" from a recent snapshot by doing:

cp /.zfs/snapshot/daily.5/usr/local/lib/libintl.* /usr/local/lib

Accessing snapshots through .../.zfs/snapshot is quite handy.

PS. For the record, the script is here.

/FreeBSD | Posted at 15:42 | permanent link

Thu, 28 Mar 2013

An interesting text about Scala

Scala is an interesting language that is built upon the Java virtual machine (JVM) and intended to be "a better Java". Being a fan of functional languages, I am drawn to Scala, but I am also weary of the 'tool du jour' syndrome.

Reading up on Scala around the web, I happened across an interesting text by Coda Hale from Yammer in which he talks about some of the issues that they have faced using Scala (and why they are slowly switching back to Java). The blog article is here and the text is there. A lot of Coda's arguments sound right, even though they were not meant to be widely published.

Anyway, this doesn't detract from the fact that Scala is interesting, but it explains why one is careful about adopting new tools: the availability and maturity of the environment is often as important as the 'appropriateness' of a given tool or language in developing real-world applications.

/software | Posted at 01:26 | permanent link

Sun, 27 Jan 2013

Windows 8 is alright!

Windows 8 logo

Well, as I commented on December 15th that I was irritated with Windows 8, it would only be fair to come back after a few weeks and report that at this point, I am reasonably happy with Windows 8.

I now have Windows 8 running on three of my machines (if you include the new ultrabook), and overall it is operating quite well.

Now, I must admit that I use none of the new UI applications (the interface formerly known as Metro), but as a step up from Windows 7, Windows 8 operates quite competently: bootup is fast, applications and games run just fine, and overall the feel is of a solid and responsive O/S.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that people with reasonably recent PCs upgrade to Windows 8.

/software | Posted at 12:56 | permanent link

Tue, 01 Jan 2013

FreeBSD 9.1 is out

Oh, and the good news of the end of 2012 was that FreeBSD 9.1 has been released (see here for the announcement).

I'll start installing it over the weekend on some of my machines. Before then, we need to fly back home and get back to work. Happy January 1st everyone!

/FreeBSD | Posted at 03:26 | permanent link



It's now 2013 in Canada too. We had a great time at Henri's with the usual gang.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy, and successful 2013... it sure promises to be very active in our neck of the woods.

Cheers from snowy Montreal!

/misc | Posted at 01:36 | permanent link