Saturday, February 26, 2005

KDE CVS-Digest for February 25, 2005

Since the dot is down for the weekend, here is the announcement:

In this week's KDE CVS-Digest: (all in one page) Digikam adds a film grain plugin. Kexi adds scripting bridge and startup shortcut files. KDE 3.4 is being prepared for release.

Anyone still having issues with horizontal scroll bars, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Raising funds

In Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks described his aunt Lina as "enchanting in company, when she would glitter and coquette, but also listen intently, judging the character and motive of everyone around her. She would draw confidences out of the unwary, and with her diabolical memory, retain all that she had heard."

"But her ruthlessness, her unscrupulousness, had a noble purpose, for she used them to raise money for the Hebrew University. She had dossiers, it seemed, on everyone in England...and once certain of her information and sources, she would lift the phone. "Lord G.? This is Lina Halper." There would be a pause, a gasp, Lord G. would know what was coming. "Yes," she would continue pleasantly, "yes, you know me. There is that little business--no, we won't go into details--that little affair in Bognor, in March '23...No, of course I won't mention it, it'll be our little secret--what can I put you down for? Fifty thousand, perhaps? I can't tell you what it would mean to the Hebrew University.""

A very effective means of fund raising. Hmmm, kde-blackmail?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Legacy hardware

A few months ago we bought a new printer, a Samsung 1740 laser. Very reasonable price. All was well except the printouts had random sections where something was corrupted. A flash of brilliance moved me to get a usb printer cord, replacing the parallel cable. Now it works perfectly. So where is the problem? In the printer parallel interface, the hardware, the linux parallel code? It doesnt' matter. The problem is fixed.

Started reading Uncle Tungsten which is Oliver Sacks autobiography. What did geeks do before computers? He had a fascination with chemistry, encouraged by his uncle. I grew up pre-PC, and had a number of hobbies; rock collection, stamps, cactus garden, woodworking, etc. I read voraciously. If computers had been available (we used slide rules in high school physics and chemistry, my father bought his first calculator when I was in my teens; it added, subtracted multiplied and divided.) I have no doubt that I would have learned programming. As it was, there were many things to fascinate a young inquiring mind. I wonder sometimes if I wasn't the privileged one.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Tools again

I have a confession to make. The small company where I work, a service business, has it's whole business run on paper. The only use of a computer is writing quotes, and printing pdf's from the manufacturer's web sites.

Why is that? Because my employer, who has been in business for decades, in a business where probably 60% fail within 3 years, has a system that works. He knows how much he owes, how much is coming in. The book keeper just writes everying down. We each do billing, by hand.

He tried an accounting program, which was a disaster. The poor lady running it couldn't grasp what the software was telling her, and in a short time the data was useless. Partly software issues, mostly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

I use a palm (or did up till two months ago when mine malfunctioned) to keep track of the myriad of notes I take on the job. Part numbers, serial numbers, notes on various consumables etc. Very useful

Almost all software depends on you fitting your operation to the software. You must change the way you do things. Which is fine if you don't have a way of doing things. But what if your business has specific demands? For our industry, there are a few software packages available, but they are very expensive, and force the users into a mould. For us to computerize the whole operation would cost tens of thousands of dollars, with no realistic payback. Hence we do it by hand. My employer spends the tens of thousands he saves on his hobbies.

The palm became useful to me when I wrote an simple application to do what I needed. I have attempted many times to write something that could run a similar service business, but the time and effort involved is beyond me.

On another subject. The move towards free Windows software seems to be driven by the desire to monetize free software. Yes, people need to be paid, no question. But if developers are paid to develop by companies who also need large marketing departments (and budgets) to drum up sales, and the sales imply support costs, and of course the best way to get sales is bundling, etc. etc., in what way is that different from the old and broken natural monopolizing software business that got us all into the pickle we have today, other than alot of people can use if for free? (Which has always been the case) This headlong rush will force the usually shenanigans of lock-in, purposely incompatible, and of course vapourware and the usual nauseating marketing trash that happens. This is already happening. One of these days some company with clout is going to lead us down a path that we know is a dead end, and most will follow.

Of course these rants come from the same mind that seriously ponders the usefulness of a monthly summary execution of a randomly picked marketing director. I suspect that after a few months it would act as a moderating influence.

A project that I've been pondering for a while is starting to see progress. I don't think I can countenance php and html for a while without a violent physical reaction, so now to start digging into the intricacies of Qt and KDE application programming. It will be a tool replacing the rather tedious process of calculating heating and cooling loads.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Thinking of tools and craftsmen has brought back to mind some stories. Discussing my trade with an older gentleman who had an interest in refrigeration, he asked what tools I had. I described my meager tool collection (embarrassingly so considering the money I make out of them), and he asked whether I had the Whamo-Gizmo-Super-Duper something or other which he considered the cat's meow of tools. I said that I didn't need that, and it probably would be more of a nuisance. He was offended, and in his eyes I had shown my incompetence. My father is a craftsman, a carpenter with vast experience and knowledge, and an equally vast collection of tools. He had a garage that was full of tools and materials, with no apparent order. I would borrow a tool to do something, and would put it back in the garage, usually on the first horizontal surface that I found. Invariably a few days later Dad would ask where did I put the tool that I borrowed. He knew where everything was, and was quite productive in his work. When I started working in construction, I used an inexpensive hammer. At the end of the day my hand was sore, my arm stiff. I purchased a good hammer, and was surprised a how much better it felt. The best tools are those that allow me do what I can't do and don't get in the way of what I can. Derek

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