Computers, bikes and things I’d like to remember.

Cold Canberra morning Commute

June 29th, 2011 Posted in General | No Comments »

Time to break the blogging drought.

Life[tm] has interceded in my attempts to get a lot of cycling done recently. Yesterday I found that the way was clear to ride to work so I set the alarm for Early O’Clock and made ready to ride.

A typical Canberra winter’s morning greeted me with minus four degrees in still air and who-knows-what with wind chill down by the river. Two pairs of socks, shoes, shoe half covers, knicks, longs, a polyprop thermal, windstopper vest, long sleeved jersey, shell top, silk balaclava, helmet, glove liners and gloves. At 7:00am it was still dark enough that I couldn’t read the dial gauge on the track pump as I topped up the tyres.

The dyno headlights and the insanely bright tail flasher gave me some confidence of visibility and I set off.

And the ride was fine. Cold but fun. Watching the sky light up with the rising sun, watching the frost coating almost everything. Breathing the frozen air.

A highlight for me was a magpie bravely standing on the bike path in front of me and warbling. I could see the breath condensing above his/her beak. Beautiful.


Goodbye Rachel

March 21st, 2011 Posted in General | No Comments »

Some years ago Rachel Funari was the partner of my friend Allan Bontjer. She went for a short holiday in Tasmania in early March and has not been seen since. Despite a massive effort from Police, SES, bushwalking clubs, divers and a search dog, no trace of Rachel has been found. The news has been full of reports of her disappearance.

Allan and Rachel first met via a Pink Floyd on-line community. Both were huge Floyd fans. They hooked up in the USA and Allan brought Rachel back to Canberra. A love of Pink Floyd was always a part of their relationship that I could identify with.

Thanks to Spoonboy I recently acquired an Internet Radio (the beers are coming soon Spoonie, I promise). This little box camps on my wireless network and exposes me to thousands of Internet radio stations. I recently discovered that the BBC has a ‘Goon Show’ channel with around the clock uninterrupted episodes of the Goon Show.

Last weekend I found a station out of Russia that streams Pink Floyd 24/7 with nothing at all but their music.

So tonight the kids and I listened to a bunch of Floyd while remembering Rachel. Goodbye Rachel.

LCA2013 - I’m Excited

January 25th, 2011 Posted in Computing, General | No Comments »

At the opening of LCA2011 this week, Linux Australia President John Ferlito announced that the bidding process for LCA2013 would open earlier than usual and he encouraged people to start talking to their friends about running LCA2013.

Well, an enthusiastic crew in Canberra has been at this for some months and has an awesome bid just about ready to go. The core team features people with extensive LCA hosting experience ably assisted by some inspired new blood.

The year 2013 is rather special for Canberra too. It’s the city’s centenary, so quite apart from the awesomeness of LCA, there will be dozens of amazing things to see and do.

So we’re excited to hear that the bid process will open early and can’t wait to see some great bids. Roll on 2013!

Making Makers

December 31st, 2010 Posted in General | 1 Comment »

When I was a kid I was endlessly fascinated by tools and making, fixing, or changing things. My Dad let me use his woodworking tools or mechanical tools to play and learn. I started messing with wires and batteries and lamps then moved on to learning about and building crystal radios then more complex electronics and… well, the rest is a lifetime spent messing with technology.

These days there’s a 21st century term for the kind of kid I was. It’s ‘Maker’ and is exemplified by things like Make Magazine and the growing culture of Hackerspaces. It’s about people taking the trouble to learn about technology with a Do It Yourself approach either to making new things or pulling things apart to see how they work or making things do stuff not intended by their original maker. It’s about learning, sharing and seeing what cool new things can come from curiosity and sharing.

I’d like my kids to have the chance to enjoy the same passion for technology that I do, but with ready access these days to a huge variety of pre-packaged technology, kids aren’t often into understanding it for themselves. So this Christmas, I bought Madeleine (11 years old) and Cadell (7 years old) some simple kits from Jaycar, firstly to get them into the swing of making something for themselves, then to teach them new skills like soldering and workshop safety.

Cadell started with a solar powered grasshopper kit. This is a simple assembly job with a tiny solar panel and a pager motor with a cam on its shaft to make it vibrate. Putting it together took moments and it satisfactorily danced about in sunlight, but stopped when shaded. The initial fun gave way to taking it apart again to glue a propellor to the motor and to strap it to a block of foam with rubber bands to make a boat and then… well, he went nuts imagining new uses for a solar powered motor.

Madeleine started with a solar powered bullet train. This involved some tricky mechanical work with tiny gears and wheels along with cutting fine plastic parts from a molded sprue. She was delighted when the train came together and actually worked. Here is 20 seconds of her following her solar bullet train and trying to shoot video of it.

We followed up the mechanical stuff with a sit down lesson in soldering. As a side note, I did the NASA High Reliability Soldering course (aimed at aeronautics) when I was a student at RMIT in the 80s. Then in the 90s I spent a lot of time at Panasonic working on Surface Mount Rework techniques and I taught advanced soldering to techs up and down the east coast of Australia. I haven’t worked full time in electronics for about 7 years now but I still own at least 8 soldering irons and associated hardware. So I know a bit about soldering, though I am certain there’s a lot I don’t know.

Anyway, teaching kids to solder is fun. They love it and I love it. I started with twisting bits of wire together and getting them to get the feel of making a heat bridge with a clean and tinned iron, then introducing solder to the joint. Cadell immediately intuited the way to make a perfect joint, while Madeleine worried a bit too much to get it right first time. Within half an hour they were both competent.

Today we moved on to soldering on a Printed Circuit Board. Cadell woke me up asking to start on his crystal radio. :-) So we had breakfast then got on to that and he couldn’t be held back. To be fair, the kit crystal radio from Jaycar is complete and simple and inexpensive, but I suspect that unless you live next door to a massive AM radio transmitter, it’s useless. The Chinglish instructions are fun, but worthless. Luckily, Cadell enjoyed the building of it so much that he didn’t care at all when we heard nothing from the finished product.

Next Maddy was super keen to build her Clifford the Electronic Cricket. This tiny PCB would require concentration, a steady hand and attention to detail. Initially nervous, Maddy supplied all of those and more. Her soldering was patient, careful and effective. I did hold the PCB for her and offer advice, but she did the work. We worked through identifying components, deciding what to solder first, being careful about solder bridges, keeping it neat and reading instructions. To Madeleine’s delight, the noisy Cricket worked first time.

I’m delighted with the results of teaching my kids a bit about electronics and soldering and making stuff that works. Now Cadell and I are starting on making a Really Big Antenna. Oh dear.

Linux Conf is only weeks away

December 14th, 2010 Posted in Computing, General | No Comments »

It’s less than six weeks now until LCA2011 and I’m excited. LCA is one of the world’s best technical conferences and if you have even a passing interest in Open Source Software, you owe it to yourself to get along and check it out.

I have finally:

So it’s time to start thinking about what an incredible week it will be. The programme looks fantastic and the keynotes… well, I can’t wait. Where else can you get to hear from the likes of Vint Cerf, arguably one of the pioneers of the internet? As usual I expect to have the painful pleasure of having to choose between concurrent presentations in any given time slot, at least when I’m not helping the Bris crew in any way I can.

If you have been thinking about registering for LCA and haven’t quite gotten to it, now is the time.

Teaching Open Source Software Development

November 16th, 2010 Posted in Computing, General | 1 Comment »

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a member of the School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Ballarat about the existence of teaching materials designed to introduce students to open source software development. Sasha hadn’t encountered any existing work in this area and while I assured him that there are people out there doing it, I couldn’t come up with URLs off the cuff. This post is my attempt to set that straight.

First off there is the course run by Andrew Tridgell and Bob Edwards here in Canberra at the Australian National University. COMP8440 Free and Open Source Software Development was first run a couple of years ago and I was fortunate enough to be among the first intake of students for the course. The lecture notes for the course are all released under a creative commons licence in the hope that they may see some re-use. The course covers the history and culture of open source development along with the practical skills needed to contribute to open source projects.

Next there is which aims to leverage the open source model to collaboratively develop open source teaching materials via wiki style interaction with people around the world. I haven’t been a regular visitor to their site since doing some editing there a year or so ago, but it looks like the project is still going strong.

Just recently I discovered Robert Day’s CrashCourse web site, where among other things he offers a course in Linux Kernel Programming. This course is quite intriguing and is offered for 39 Canadian dollars (roughly equal to Australian Dollars right now) with the first four lessons available free. Judging by the high quality of the free lessons, the course appears to be excellent value for money. I’d urge anyone with even a passing interest in the workings of the Linux kernel to go and read the free lessons.

I’m sure that there must be other worthwhile resources of this type out there on the net. If you know of any, please link them up in the comments.