Thursday, 28 January 2010

Ubuntu Desktop 9.10

For a project recently begun, I needed a Linux virtual machine and I downloaded the excellent Chrysaor VMWare appliance pre-built with Ubuntu Desktop 9.10 (karmic koala) and the VMWare Tools (which actually work as specified - you can cut/paste text and even entire files between your host OS and the VM).

NB I was only able to download this using a direct internet connection, because our company firewall blocks BitTorrent. There don't appear to be any FTP or HTTP mirrors of these VMWare images.

There were just a couple of problems with this virtual machine image, for which I have discovered workarounds.
  1. Timezone persistently defaults to EST, no matter what I do in the time/date control panel. It turns out that certain system files need editing by hand (change to reflect your actual location and language):
    • sudo rm /etc/localtime
    • sudo ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/Europe/London /etc/localtime
    • sudo vi /etc/timezone -- set it to Europe/London
    • sudo vi /etc/profile -- add the following line at the end:
      export TZ=/etc/localtime
    • sudo vi /etc/default/locale -- set it as follows:
  2. Login crash: for a while I thought I had broken the system by installing some upgrade or enabling shared folders. The symptom was that when I logged in, the progress bar would be displayed for a few seconds but instead of displaying the desktop, Ubuntu would restart the windowing system and display the login prompt again. I eventually discovered by trial and error that this was due to starting up in full-screen on my second monitor. Provided I always login while the VM is running in a non-maximised window, it seems very reliable. If you're suffering similar problems, look in your vmware.log file for messages similar to the following:
    VMXVmdbGuestLaunchMenuCB: buf is null.
    VMXVmdbGuestLaunchMenuCB: failed: ret = VMDB failure
    GuestRpc: Channel 3 reinitialized.
I recommend that the first thing you do is create a new user ID for yourself with admin rights, and log in under that user to do everything else.

I upgraded Mercurial to 1.4.1 and TortoiseHg to 0.9.2 by downloading the following Debian packages and installing them manually using dpkg -i:
  1. mercurial_1.4.1-1_i386.deb and mercurial-common_1.4.1-1_all.deb from
  2. tortoisehg_0.9.2-1_all.deb and tortoisehg-nautilus_0.9.2-1_all.deb from
Note that Tortoise doesn't work unless you install the python-iniparse package. Version 0.3.1-1 works with Tortoise 0.9.2-1.

I was able to get Eclipse (Galileo) as a Ubuntu package and installed the excellent HgEclipse plugin from using the Eclipse "Install New Software" option.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Craftsmanship for Teams

Very interesting discussion thread on Software Craftsmanship as a team exercise. In response to Cory Foy's posting, Steven Smith makes an interesting analogy with coaching a sports team and says how that is actually carried through in his practice.

Mercurial - managing a repository

Last Autumn, I set up a repository server with Mercurial. While not particularly difficult, it took a while to get all the configuration exactly correct, in particular, to leave no security loopholes. With some assistance from Zuhlke's IT centre, this was satisfactorily completed and the server is in production use.

It takes a little while to get used to the idea that you can't just access files directly from the repository server, as you can with CVS and Subversion. Instead, anyone wishing to get hold of the repository contents has to install a copy of the Mercurial software on their own machine (on Windows PCs, my choice would be TortoiseHg) and "clone" the repository. While this makes it a bit tedious for someone who just needs one or two files out of a big repository, it's great for teams of developers who can each check files in and out of their local workspace before merging a consistent set of changes with the central development branch.

I was quite surprised, however, by the lack of web-based admin facilities. There ought to be a control panel to allow suitably authorised people to create and delete collections of repositories with specified access permissions, set up and delete repository user accounts etc. Currently you have to use the shell commands and in some cases, this involves superuser privileges (e.g. to change ownership of new repositories to www-data so that the Apache FCGI scripts can access them).

Because I was unable to find such a facility either natively or under Webmin, I have embarked on developing some scripts to provide these functions. I have adapted the Python scripts and modules, HTML templates and stylesheets of Mercurial itself for the purpose. Anyone keen to help or to get access to this code is invited to contact me - immo.huneke _a_

Unimaginative train operators

I was infuriated by the actions of the railway company SouthEastern and London Underground this morning, which added to the aggravation caused by the weather.

Due to an accident (I assume) Stafford Road between Wallington and the A23 was gridlocked, so my usual bus into Croydon was not likely to run any time soon.

I trudged through the snow to the nearest railway station and did manage to catch a train into London Bridge. It took nearly twice as long as normal, and when we arrived, London Bridge station was very congested. The Underground station entrance had been closed "due to overcrowding" (due to lack of trains I think). Everyone went to Platform 6 to try to get on a service to Charing Cross or Waterloo.

Several trains came and went, too full to take more than a few passengers. Then a half-empty one came in and stopped but the doors did not open. Eventually an announcement was made that this train was not due to stop at this station. But since it had stopped anyway at a red light, why didn't they open the doors and clear some of the backlog of frustrated passengers?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Making Life Hell?

A friend, who I think is a Moslem, sent me the attached "quick and dirty" translation of an article in Milliyet by Semih I'diz. He asked for his name not to be published. My response is shown below.

They are Making Life Hell for Moslems

Semih I˙diz

Monday, 4 January 2010

First, a Nigerian madman called Ömer Faruk Abdulmuttalib is caught while trying to blow up an American passenger plane. After that, a young man from Somalia, whose name was not disclosed, tries to kill the danish cartoonist Kurt W Estergaard, who caused indignation in the moslem world with his Mohammed cartoons.

Then, life becomes unbearable again for the moslems in the west. There are increased signs that this is not a transitional but a permanent condition. The congregation leaders of millions of moslems living in the west remain spectators while their living space shrinks.

Basic reason is "cultural differences". The aforementioned congregation leaders cannot bring themselves to demonstrate the condemning stance that would satisfy the western public, although they live in the west and share the benefits of doing so.

They limit their reactions to a few "politically required" public statements. When they try to explain the situation by referring to Israel or to the US invasion of Iraq, they only increase the indignation felt against moslems.

We are talking about the psychology of the western society within which millions of moslems are living. The fact that people walking on the streets in the west are killed in the name of Islam cancels out the "explanatory arguments" of the moslem congregation leaders.

Under these circumstances, the "man on the street" in the west, who is not very sophisticated to start with, cannot see the difference between the few madmen misusing religion and the millions of moslems going after their business and who want to live without upsetting anyone.

To summarise, one cannot explain to a Dutch person the killling of Theo Van Gogh in the name of Islam, irrespective of what an unpleasant person he was. One cannot explain the knife-and-axe attack on Westergaard while he was sitting at home with his grandson, even if he was beginning to show extreme right-wing tendencies.

In the meanwhile, we can also see that the aggressive madmen we mentioned are providing the opportunity to the extreme Right in the west for developing its anti-moslem arguments. Indeed, after the attack on Westergaard, calls of "Throw out the moslems that do not adhere to our laws and customs" have immediately started in Denmark.

One also needs to see the minaret referendum in Switzerland in the same framework. Actually, Switzerland is one of the countries in Europe with the least of issues with its moslem minority. In spite of this, the terror being carried out in the world in the name of Islam has caused even the Swiss public to take an anti-moslem stance.

A study carried out recently by the "European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights" disclosed the negative developments in Europe regarding moslems. According to this study, if you are a moslem or you "look like a moslem", your chances of finding a job, moving to certain neighbourhoods or even moving freely within society is becoming increasingly difficult.

Some even see the plans for installing "naked body" scanners in European airports as a result of the attack of the Nigerian madman in the same framework. After a certain point, being naked is not such an issue for a western person. There will be many who will say "I accept it for security".

The situation among moslems is totally different due to the understanding of privacy as well as religious and cultural values. The covering up of women already shows the sensitivity there. According to some voices, once this equipment is in operation, moslems will give up travelling to the west or travelling outside the countries they live in the west.

Thus, the factors of security and control will increase. Those who do not accept these factors will "return to where they came from and remain there". This is the largest consequence from the deeds of the 9/11 criminals, the madmen from Somalia and Nigeria.

They do not contribute to improving the living conditions of moslems in the Gaza Strip or Iraq. Just the opposite, either consciously or intentionally, they play into the hands of the extreme-rightists in Europe, such as Geert Wilders.

To put it in a nutshell, they bring about the conditions for making life hell for moslems in the west.

Hi xxxxx,

Thanks for the article. Thought-provoking reading first thing in the morning! I will think carefully about forwarding it. I think that particularly the point about the full-body scanners at airports (and major rail stations as well, quite possibly - did you know about that?) is well made. I hadn't previously considered their likely impact on members of certain religions, though I don't feel particularly comfortable myself even being "patted down" and wouldn't relish the thought of effectively being inspected without my clothes on.

It isn't only Moslems who are being impacted by the extra "security" measures. They make life more expensive and less convenient for everyone, though possibly to a greater degree for members of certain races and religious minorities in the West. In some ways, this plays into the hands of the extremists. During WWII, the British public was determined not to let the enemy destroy their way of life, so beyond taking a few precautions such as a blackout against bombers, and evacuating children from the big cities, they cheerfully carried on regardless of the war. I think it's time to rediscover that resolve to live proudly according to the values we believe in, keep our eyes and ears open, and take a few risks for the sake of a well-balanced society.

Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wisely warned (in 1934!) that safety and security are mutually exclusive. What he meant was that if nation states entered a race to build up their defences in the name of peace, they would endanger everyone by exposing them to a greater risk of war - and how right he was. We are facing a similar situation today. There is a global threat to civilised society from some sadly deluded religious fanatics. Those who think that the threat can be averted by military means are similarly deluded and similarly threaten civil liberties. Another way must be found. For almost 30 years, the United Kingdom faced fanatical Irish nationalists who were prepared to sacrifice innocent lives on a massive scale to pursue their political ends. It was only when we abandoned our entrenched positions and began to negotiate that an accommodation became possible. It even turned out that at least some of the nationalists were not such odious individuals after all.

Instead of expending prodigious resources in the "war on terror", we should all be pulling together to face common threats, such as climate change and mass extinction of rare species. Also see this story. Let's hope that the world can come to its senses in the nick of time, as it usually seems to manage. Is that a hopeful message with which to begin the year 2010?

Best regards,

Software Engineering Best Practices

Tom Gilb recommends Capers Jones's latest book Software Engineering Best Practices. From my quick reading of the preface and introduction, it certainly looks like a thorough piece of work!