Archive for October, 2007

(k)ubuntu: for the love of god stop crippling KDE

October 14th, 2007

Here's the thing. KDE is a wonderful project run by inspired people. It has its problem yes, but all the same it delivers a really outstanding product. It's by far the most exciting happening on the desktop the last couple of years. These people know what they're doing.

You are Kubuntu. You want to bring KDE to Ubuntu users, because it rocks. But here's the problem: you think you know better. You don't. Being a packager does *not* make you an authority on what people want. KDE is fine as it is, stop messing it up.

I use konqueror as a file manager, it's great for that. In Gentoo, this is what my toolbar looks like. Notice the selected button, it's called Tree View. I use tree view 99.6% of the time. The button next to it is called Icon View. When you install konqueror in Ubuntu you only get this button. Frankly I don't care about the Tree View button, I can get tree view by using the drop down list on the Icon View button. (Yes it takes longer but I so rarely switch view mode.) Here is what I do care about. When I set the view mode to tree view in my current tab and then open a new tab, in the new tab I get icon view. Congratulations, you have just reproduced one of the most infuriating behaviors of Windows. I have looked around and there is no configuration setting for this in the dialogs. In Gentoo I set tree view and it "just works", tree view all around. Kubuntu just couldn't help themselves, they had to break it.

Another application I use all the time is kate. It's the most practical editor to view files in, although gvim is a bit nicer when you have much editing to do. When I open a file in kate the document list tab always opens. I don't want it to always open, I want it to save on exit. It also does not remember the size of the tab, so the result is this:

One third of the window size is wasted on the document list, even though the filename obviously doesn't need all of it. Meanwhile I get line wrapping in the document pane. Once again, on Gentoo the size is remembered and it "just works", on Ubuntu it's broken.

Here's the thing about user interface experience. It's a very fragile thing. Even if everything else works as it should, one little problem, if it keeps coming up *all the time* can destroy a good experience. And especially knowing that this has worked seamlessly on Gentoo for years is completely infuriating.

Bug #152621

EDIT: Fix for the tree view breakage.

300: nice use of color

October 13th, 2007

It's based on a comic book, which in turn is based on a legend, right? One can image therefore it's targeted at fans of the comic. Well, there isn't much of a story involved, I supposed the attention span of the audience is estimated pretty low. I suspect a Pink Pather audience would already find the uni-dimensionality of this production disconcerting.

It's basically just a long action sequence. And the action is pretty artsy as they come, it's not meant to be realistic or anything like that, so the physical realities are comfortably ignored. They're fighting off all kinds of attacks, swinging their shields so fiercely that every impact with an enemy is like the collision between a semi trailer and a bicycle. They also use this Matrix-like technique where the action slows down and the Persian soldier is moving in slow motion, while the Spartan navigates the space/time continuum so he can swing his sword in real time during a slow motion sequence. No wonder they were so hard to defeat.

Of course, that being the case, the obvious question is why didn't the Persians just drop some rocks on them? Where were their catapults? Would have trampled the Spartans easily without much effort.

Xerxes called himself a god (there's actually some substance to that claim, there is an xml library in his name, meanwhile Leonidis has no such legacy), but the Spartans were actually more like gods. For starters, they never wore anything over their underwear. I suppose the Greek climate is nice and comfy, but even so you would expect some manner of unkind weather. Then they never ate or slept, and could fight 24/7. And they had no logistics, no supplies of weapons, soldiers, or provisions. Obviously they were no gods, though, no god would be stupid enough to reject the offer to become warlord of all Greece and avoid certain death.

But there are many other curiosities. For instance, why did the Persians make their landing in a place where the Spartans found their ideal strategic position? X marks the spot, right? So the most convenient landing would probably the red arrow. And suppose from that point the only road to Sparta leads through that narrow canyon the Spartans enjoy so much. Well we already saw how the Persians have a gazillion ships, so how about trying some other approaches? I suggest the green arrows, those put you at a proximity to Sparta.

The ending is also very puzzling. Once Leonidis's troops are wiped out, with the promise of Persian massacre onto Sparta, we somehow move one year ahead, Sparta now has found and trained 30,000 troops while escaping extinction. Pink Panther fans are surely shaking their heads.

So yeah, there were some nice artistic images in this movie. A lot of interesting Photoshop-like art, especially in terms of landscapes, skyscapes and lighting effects. Very odd movie, I'd much prefer one about my childhood comic book action hero, the Phantom.

what I don't miss about Norway

October 12th, 2007

Back in Norway the winters are long. And cold. And dark. I don't know which of those properties is the most depressing, but it's probably the darkness.

In college we sometimes had classes at 8am. In the midst of winter I would wake up at 7 all sleepy and dread getting up, because it meant leaving my warm bed and stepping into the zone of cold. And once you wake up feeling cold that sensation doesn't go away that quick. If you wake up feeling cold, you're gonna be feeling cold until you find yourself in a place where you can really warm up for several hours. But it wasn't just cold, it was dark. So I turn on the light and get dressed. I would leave the house at 7:30 and start walking to school. Pitch black outside, all you have is the light from streetlights. And cold. That 30 minute walk was the least favorite part of my day. Better yet if it was slushy with 10cm of soft, wet snow, and sporadic puddles of water underneath that are sometimes hard to avoid stepping into. Then your shoes are pretty much soaked by the time you get there. (At least if it's slushy it's not that cold.)

On a long day I would be in school until 4pm. After the first block of classes there would be a break, which was just in time to witness that it had become light out, at 10. Around noon there was lunch and another chance to enjoy daylight. At 2pm we had another break and it was still light out. But by 4 daylight was long gone, and I was left with the prospect of a 30min walk back home in the dark. At least it wasn't cold, it would be warmer than it is in the morning and I had had plenty of time to defrost from the brutal wakeup.

When you're in college you don't have classes all day everyday, so some days you do actually experience daylight. The working people on the other hand... Understandably therefore, on the weekends people are trying to catch a break from this routine.

After a winter that starts in November and ends in April spring can't come soon enough. Which is why people are super keen to get excited about the first signs of spring, however meager they may be. There is a time every year when spring is just visible on the horizon and people celebrate prematurely on one of those weekend break-aways.

It will typically be a Sunday. The days are much longer now, so when you wake up it's already light out. And people are quick to say "what a nice day, let's go somewhere". That somewhere is a walk. Now keep in mind this is like a seasonal feast, spring is here and we're all excited. So you drive out somewhere, most of the snow is gone, and you don't have to dress that warm anymore. It's noon on a Sunday, the sun is up, and everything is nice.

Except it still sucks. The sun is up, but since Norway is so far north it's like 30 degrees above the horizon, blinding you. And although the snow is gone, the ground is still frozen 1m deep, so the plant life is pretty much disabled. Furthermore, everything that was there before the snow fell is now visible, whether it's firework remains from new year's or old leaves and decomposing plants dating back to the fall or just random trash. And since the ground is frozen it will pretty much remain intact for a month.

Worst of all, there is absolutely nothing to do at a time like this (that's why you're out walking). There's probably some snow left in the hills for those not yet sick of skiing. But every football pitch is frozen, so even though the snow is *finally* gone you still can't play. And this is supposed to be an uplifting experience, yay spring is here. :lazy:

That's what I don't miss at all about Norway. After everything winter puts you through, what people perceive as a glimpse of hope completely sucks. And in some ways that's more depressing than winter itself.

chronicles of a misdelivered package

October 11th, 2007

Dutch people like to have things sent to their house. The concept of a post office isn't very strong, in the sense of a place where you do your business. I'm used to the post office, at times I've gone there so much I practically know the people who work there. The post office is where I would pick up computer hardware (and with the amount of bad hardware I've seen there would be plenty of returns too), merchandise, ebay purchases, the whole shebang. I'm not saying it's ideal, I certainly don't feel much like running that errand at times. But it's sort of *safe*. If you get a package that doesn't fit in your mailbox they store it at the post office for you, and drop off a note saying they have it. You know where it is, you can go and get it.

But it's a brave new world here down south. There is a post office, but they apparently don't get much business. Instead, any shipment with your name on it is supposedly delivered to your house. The post office does this, and all the commercial package delivery companies do this. Now, I have no problem with home package delivery in principle. But in practice it just doesn't effin work. And it's been so many years that it's time for someone to friggin realize that already.

Here in Holland the delivery people supposedly deliver it to your house. What this actually means is that they give it to the neighbor. Now, why the hell would I want my neighbor to have my package? Why not give it to whoever is on the street closest to my door just as well? The package is for _me_, not some other person. If your head is spinning right now, that's normal. If *I* order a shipment, then *I'm* supposed to get it, not my bus driver, my gardener or some random person in my neighborhood.

So now people get packages that aren't for them. Talk about a problem I never saw coming. Housing in the cities is so dense that if all you know is that "your neighbor" has your package, that could easily be anyone in about 50 addresses. And in each one of those there may or may not be some person who knows something about your package. What a fantastic system.

A long time ago I walked in to see a package in the corridor in our house. That was like a month ago. Everyday I open the front door and the package is still there. It's not for us, it's for the neighbor. It's been there all this time and no one has come to claim it. The packaging was also fairly crap so it started actually falling apart from being moved out of the way a bunch of times. Inside there was some shampoo bottles or something. Finally I got sick of looking at it and I put it outside the door of the address written on the box. They open the front door, they see it, problem solved. The following day the neighbor (apparently) comes knocking, looking for the package.

When I say I put it outside their door that's not what she wanted to hear. Apparently despite the location they didn't get it, and most likely someone made away with it. And for some reason now I'm the bad guy. "Why didn't you come and get it?" "I didn't know where it was." "So why didn't you find out until now, it's been there a month." "Not a month! Three weeks." Yeah, huge difference. "There was 100 euro in there."

I am not the post office. I am not responsible for storing or delivering packages. Least of all on behalf of people I don't know, never seen, don't even know the existence of. The package was kept for 3 weeks, or a month, whatever. That's friggin ample time to claim a package you care about. I have no idea who this person is, whether they even live at that address or it's misaddressed, when they might show up or if they ever will. I might as well have kept it there for a year, what's the difference? From the looks of the content, it might as well be some kind of promotional gift that someone ordered and forgot about, useless junk. If it were something valuable then yes I would have more patience. In Norway if you don't claim your package from the post office within 3 weeks, they send it back to the sender. I have never had a problem with this, and with all the packages I've received I've never lost one because I took too long to claim it.

This is friggin ridiculous. If my package gets delivered to the wrong place I don't expect a strange person to store it in perpetuity on the chance that I may one day show up. It's not their responsibility. If my package is misplaced, that's *my* problem. And it has been, I've gotten packages here while I wasn't home. I claimed them immediately.

"It isn't very social." What the hell does social have to do with anything? I have never seen this woman before. I have never even seen that door open. Not even once. In 18 months. I have no idea who does or doesn't live there. So if I decline to serve as a safety deposit box without a time limit, that makes me "not social". So be it.

My other neighbor came calling a couple of weeks ago looking for a package. I said I haven't seen it. She looked very concerned about it. I sympathized with her, I wouldn't want my package lost. I wrote a note to the people in this house to inform them of the situation. Later on she dropped off a note herself, asking us to please give her the package if we have it. This is how you go about finding your valuables. Pro-actively. If I had a package addressed to her I would be "social", because I know who she is. But that's rather different from expecting favors from a person you've never even met. You expect me to be "social" after leaving your package here for weeks on end and all this time it doesn't even occur to you to ask the next door neighbor? Well excuse me for thinking you don't care about it. And if you don't care about it, I definitely don't.

"That's not how we do things in Holland." Maybe it isn't. Or maybe it's more like the other neighbor did.

Windows: patching holes in a fishnet

October 5th, 2007

Windows. I actually don't have to say any more, because just the one word conjures up a plethora of associations and memories in everyone who's alive today. Chances are that most of your memories are... not happy ones.

The thing with Windows is that you don't realize how much it locks you into a certain way of doing things. The fact is that the language we use determines what we are able to say, and even think. We *think* in terms of a language. For most people, Windows is that language. For most people, when they think about what it is their computer does, what is hard to do with it, what is possible to do, what takes a lot of effort, they think in terms of Windows.

And what *is* Windows? It's a closed product which defines your possible actions in a very short set of alternatives. This has fostered two types of users. There is the normal user, and the power user. The normal user can get by on his own, but whenever he gets into something he hasn't faced before, he needs help from a power user. These power users stand out, because they are bold enough to actually challenge the system and desire things that they are not supposed to have.

As a Windows user, I remember being amazed at the number of "tweak" products out there. There are literally thousands of applications like Tweak Manager whose purpose is to tweak Windows to behave slightly different from the way it does. And who are these products for? The power user, of course. And what could be better than for all these people to use their creative energies to subvert the hand cuffs of a monopolist? It's not like there is anything more meaningful they could pour their talents into, is there?

Just today I happened to surf across a product that promises to solve a very annoying problem. You see, when you want to delete a file in Windows which is currently open, you can't, because it's locked. If this file happens to belong to say a virus that is currently running, well too bad.

Windows has thousands of idiotic quirks like this. No wonder all these tweak products exist. If, for example, Internet Explorer is crashing all the time, and the fact that it's coupled with the shell means that it brings down the whole desktop every time and you have to reboot, perhaps as a power user you realize that you want to tweak it so that the two processes are decoupled. I remember doing this with one of those tweak tools.

This is the reality of Windows that we all know so well. The mentality is I'm stuck with it, so let's see if I can tweak it a little bit so it will annoy me less. It's a closed product, you know you can't just change it. You are locked in. All you can do is pick up that chisel and round off the edges a bit.

Consider the companies behind these tweak products. How many jobs has Microsoft created for people who fix the problems they themselves have introduced? The entire security industry, and most of all the anti-virus companies, *survives* on the very premise that Microsoft will *continue* screwing up. Just imagine how much money they make from all those businesses that consider security high priority. And where did the concept of a virus even come from? How was Windows built so badly that the term computer virus is well known even to our grandmothers?

So there you have your computer. You start it up, and your system tray fills up with icons for all the applications you've installed to make Windows usable. First the anti virus program. Then the firewall. Then the program that intercepts suspicious changes to the registry and system files. All this to secure a system that's about as secure as cardboard box. And then other icons appear, all that junk that made it through even despite your security software. You would love to get rid of that stuff, but you don't know how, because every time you try it somehow survives anyway. But now your computer has finished booting and you're ready to use it. Good, because you have unfinished business. Last night you found what seemed to be a really cool security application that would prevent spyware. Except it turned out to be spyware in itself, and now you can't get rid of it. You track down the filename and realize you can't delete it, because the file is open. What good fortune that I just found the Unlocker product a few paragraphs ago. You start it up, unlock the file, and delete it. Let me repeat that, you start up a whole different program just to delete a file. This is normal in Windows language. Your language.

As a power user, you have a dozen of these specials tools, just for those "special cases". You consider them to be tremendous assets. Heck, you're the power user. Kinda feel bad for all the normal users who don't even realize all the things you can accomplish with your special tweak tools. It's like they don't even realize what's possible.

But all that special software is making your computer run pretty slow. You're effectively running the same code twice. One is Windows forcing on you various behaviors you don't want. The other is your tools reversing (to the extent possible) those behaviors. And performance is dropping. It might be time for an upgrade, let's get some brand new hardware in here. Yeah, that'll be a boost for the hardware vendors, they can sell more units. You open the big boxes and unwrap your shiny new hardware. With Windows, of course, what else? The first thing you do is install a virus scanner. You have to have grown up with Windows to understand this. Special software to protect the original software that somehow doesn't work on its own.