First lectures down…

Well that didn’t go too badly. General course overview and a probably over-long “what is an embedded system” lecture. No-one overtly fell asleep at any rate. And everyone enjoyed the videos of the explosions.

So what the heck, enjoy – Ariane 5 Flight 501. An example of what can happen with unsafe datatype casting 😀

Next talks are on the hardware used in embedded systems, starting with the microprocessors and microcontrollers.

Duct tape considered harmful

duct-tape-prohibited Blogs are a useful and important tool for professional developers and engineers, for two main reasons. Firstly, by and large, we are not free to divulge the details of the work we do while under contract — but at our next interview, those details are precisely what the interview itself is there to judge. So blogs (and I include this one without question) can take on a professional portfolio role, showcasing examples of professional work as applied to side projects, giving professional opinions on relevant products and work practices and so forth, all of which informs an interviewer who does their research as to the suitability of a candidate for a position. This is an old technique that artists and graphic designers are explicitly familiar with.

Relevant professional blogs can also act as a cheap way to monitor your continuing professional development. They’re not training courses, they’re not accredited and they never will be; but observing what your peers are doing is a very old way of watching for trends that you might consider directing your own CPD efforts towards. Through RSS feeds, RSS aggregator sites and a decent RSS reader, it is relatively easy to monitor large numbers of blogs with little effort beyond the actual reading of new articles as they appear.

The problem is that some bloggers, so focussed on the first goal of presenting a good online portfolio, and so obsessed with metrics like pages-served-per-week as a measure of progress towards that first goal, post dross which can then impede others in the pursuit of the second goal because of the lack (and impossibility) of an effective peer review process. In some cases, bloggers seem to abandon completely the goal in pursuit of the metric – chasing after eyeballs without having anything of substance to then display to this newly captured audience. Read more


Okay, I’ll grant you, it doesn’t look that impressive. That’s just the basic ‘Blinky’ first-step demo for the Keil MPC2400 board. Basic light chaser using the pot to set the speed of the blinking.

However, it’s a bit more fun when I note that the Keil environment was run from within Virtualbox on my Debian laptop and it still used the USB JTAG connection to connect to the board and it all worked without a hitch on the first try.

Apart from the obvious convienence this means to me (I don’t have to dual-boot to programme the board, I can run the exercises from within Linux, which I prefer), it’s just downright impressive that Virtualbox is that far along.

Well, maybe not to you young kids, but to someone who was in college when the web came along, this is impressive 😀

Lisbon – what are we voting for again?

YesNo Last time I checked, on October 2 I get to vote for either “Yes” or “No”.

I’m pretty sure the options will not include “Cori”,  “Libertas”, “Ganley”, “Cowen”, “Kenny”, “McKenna” or anything on those lines.

So it’d be really nice if every flipping story written on the upcoming referendum would focus on the choices available, instead of trying to convince me one way or another on the character of the lobbyists. Because unless I get to vote on them, hearing about how they love their mothers or hate kittens is just a waste of space…

Sometimes you get the transparency you pay for…

euro-money First up: get out your wallet, I want your money!

The Story is a new Irish political blog, one which has set itself up in the Woodward and Bernstein mold, and which has so far trumped the press here on pointing out the true depth of the financial mismanagement in FAS. While the newspapers and RTE concentrated on the €600,000 spent on an advert that was never aired and on the €600,000 or so that was simply unaccounted for, The Story dug into the records and pointed out that in fact tens of millions had been misspent due to mismanagement on a level corresponding to gross incompetence. They’ve also dug into the budgets of the Houses of the Oireachtas and found not only that the budget for the Oireachtas is monumentally huge (€654 million over 5 years) but that they’ve also been growing at an alarming rate (the per-annum cost rose by 125% in that 5-year period).

But the initial story which started the blog is a Freedom Of Information request.

For anyone in the US, a quick explanation – you, in the US, own every document your government produces and are entitled to a copy of it, barring national security classification and nominal reproduction fees. We in Ireland do not enjoy this entitlement. We can request any record produced by various branches of the government since 1998 under the Freedom of Information Act, colloquially known as an FoI request; but that Act excludes certain records and allows for the charging of fees to cover compilation and research costs.

Back to the story. The original FoI request was for all TDs and Senators expenses records since 1998.

I think half the Irish audience just started drooling at the prospect, no? Seeing what certain infamous TDs charged us for the free phones they bullied out of carphone warehouse and the like? Seeing how much we paid for John O’Donoghue’s wife’s hat at a horse race, or his limousine ride from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 in Heathrow Airport (for those not familiar with this, there’s a free shuttle bus provided by the airport, but our TD charged us €472 so he could take a private limousine instead). How about Bertie Ahern’s expenses? Brian Cowen’s? John Gormleys?

The hitch is, the inital estimate of the cost of the FoI request came in today and it’s €2,440.

So far, in the first two hours that that blog post has been up, readers of the blog have used its paypal donations button to donate the first €240 of that.

So, got your wallet out yet? We may get the government we vote for, and we may not get to vote that often, but we can at least know just how bad they are by paying for some transparancy here.

Go on. Go donate a few euro.

Legal troubles on the horizon for Cloud Computing in the EU?

lawsuit One of the blogs I most enjoy reading these days is McGarr Solicitors. They seldom fail to produce posts which are clever, in the best sense of that much-abused word. Whether it’s pointing out that NAMA is illegal under EU legislation or pointing out that what you read in a Dail transcript is not what was actually said in the Dail on the day, they always manage to quietly, without much fuss, drop a mental hand grenade on the conference table.

Today’s post is no exception. Cloud computing has become one of the central buzzwords in the IT industry, or at least the web-based portion of it. However, until now, I only know of one case (which I cannot disclose details of) where the ambigous physical location of the data storage device being used by the cloud was an issue; and I’ve not yet come across a case where the physical location of the processors in use was an issue.

The problem lies in the fact that despite the point that some EU member states have a fetish for CCTV cameras and observing every waking moment of their citizens, there remain EU laws on the security of personal data as held online. And if that data is sent to another jurisdiction, with different laws, it’s possible for that data to be comprimised legally in that jurisdiction but illegally in the jurisdiction of the company who transferred that data to the Cloud and thus into the hands of those who comprimised it. And while legal action against (for example) the US is unlikely, prosecuting the offending company in the EU is quite viable.

Given the presence in Ireland of the three main players in the Cloud game (Google, Amazon and Microsoft), this is an issue that we’re going to run headlong into in the years to come. As I see it, we have two solutions – change the code or change the law.

Frankly, I think we’ll all have moved to something better than the Cloud by the time we’d have the law changed 😀

So are we about to see features like “sticky bits” or analogues of them start appearing for the Cloud? And at that point, is it even the Cloud anymore?

And how much of an issue is this likely to be in practical, day-to-day terms? As McGarr puts it:

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s office is under-resourced, having only a handful of investigations officers for the entire country. It is hardly likely that he will prioritise clamping down on cloud computing providers who are creating high-value employment in Ireland. Nonetheless, for Irish entrepreneurs and IT professionals who are considering taking the cloud computing route , it is important that they do so with an awareness of the difficulties it could throw up later in a due diligence situation.

Buying or selling a company is like a house purchase. Before the buyer closes the deal, they’re going to want to be reassured that the last owner didn’t do anything that might see them inheriting a legal headache. It may only be when the first wave of early-adopter companies start to be acquired that we will get a clear picture of the full cost of moving to cloud computing.

As I said, McGarr blog posts rarely fail to make you think anew on their topic…

Maximum Password Length in Coova-Chilli

Bad Day So for the last few days I’ve been banging my head up against the same problem in the lab. We currently use Chillispot to run our access points for the Metakall user trials, which is grand, but it’s also fairly out of date – it hasn’t been actively developed on since 1997 – and it has some serious security issues. So with the new academic year looming, we’re moving over to its successor, Coova-Chilli.

Coova has a few neat features we like, and it’s also being actively maintained, which is important. So I took our testbed server, installed FreeRADIUS and MySQL and Apache and all the custom stuff we’ve written and generally got things set up, and then went to install the latest version of coova-chilli (1.0.14). There was an hour of swearing at iptables as usual (I really am coming to hate that program), and then I thought that’d be that.

But of course not. Read more

Current working pattern…

See, this is why development servers should be real workhorses. When sh bootstrap; ./configure ; make ; sudo make install ; sudo rm -rf /usr/local/etc/chilli ; sudo cp -r ~/chilli /usr/local/etc ; sudo /usr/local/etc/init.d/chilli restart takes twenty minutes, that’s twenty minutes of paid developer time where the developer can’t do any real work!

Oh well. At least this is debugging infrastructural stuff so I can blog about it later…

/shakes head…

Nespresso and Nexpods

So I turned 33 the other day and for a birthday gift, my parents bought me one of these:

A DeLonghi Lattissima 660 Nespresso coffee machine.
For those who are not coffee purists, these are usually catalogued under “Evil” or “Wrong” 😀
….but when you’re bleary-eyed in the morning….kindof convienent….

In fact, they’re pretty much designed for use by the bleary-eyed early in the morning. Take a coffee pod, lift the machine’s lever, drop in the pod, close the lever, push the button, get coffee. Want Cappachino or Latte? Stick on the foamer attachement, filled with milk, and press a different button. All automatic. And while it’s not as good as the hand-made stuff in a decent coffee shop, it’s not horrible, and it’s better than you’d get in a bad coffee shop. And early in the morning, you don’t care so much 🙂

However, there’s a major, major drawback. Specifically, it’s a Nestle product. Now their (rather heinous) ethical record aside, they’re fairly much dead set against the idea that they’d sell you the machine and then you’d buy the coffee elsewhere; so if you want pods for this thing, you can only buy them via Nespresso. This isn’t a major hassle if you find you adore the taste of one of the nespresso coffee blends, but to be honest, I don’t particularly find any of them incredibly good (“pretty okay” seems to be as far as the tastemeter goes with them) — and more, I don’t like the idea that if they decide the pods aren’t profitable anymore, I get stuck with a machine I can’t use.

Nespresso Pod - available only from Nespresso
Nespresso Pod - available only from Nespresso

So I was rather happy when I noticed a post in the coffee forum describing the NexPod, which is a third party pod for the Nespresso machines:

for those who like their own blends and a fresh grind, but who also like the convenience of a nespresso machine, these are now available:

Excellent, I thought, and looked them up. €20 for 80 pods and filters, including delivery. Excellent, I thought again, and ordered some immediately. One of the purists didn’t think I’d be saving a lot of money (the pods work out cheaper than the nestle pods, but that’s before you count the cost of the coffee), however as I said at the time:

Dude, if it was about saving money, I’d drink tap water.
I wouldn’t have gotten the machine myself, but my folks though it was a good birthday present and in the morning when I’m bleary-eyed, it is. I’ll just put better coffee in the pods is all.

Besides, I dislike shopping in Brown Thomas. I keep wanting to grab someone, slap them about the face and yell “YOU DO NOT PAY A THOUSAND EUROS FOR A COAT THAT LOOKS LIKE IT WAS MADE BY A BLIND TAILOR’S APPRENTICE YOU IDIOT!”. I’m getting worried that one day my self-control will slip and next thing you know, I’ll make the evening news…

A few days go by, and then yesterday, the Nexpods arrived. Three or four days, over a weekend. Not too bad, so that’s a point for logistical availability right there.

Nespresso machine, Nexpods and Nespresso pods
Nespresso machine, Nexpods and Nespresso pods

Right, time to test! Read more

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