Haul 1.16 Silent Victory

28. April, 2010

Another scene from chapter 1 is ready and I improved an old scene. Don’t forget to post a comment if you like the story (and you must post a comment if you don’t like it!)

1.3 Retreat – In the original scene, it wasn’t obvious how a single person could trigger an emergency jump. Thanks to Martin Geisler for pointing this out to me.

1.16 Silent Victory – While the Haul consider their losses, the Rabit Government plans its next steps.

Table of contents

Previous post

Eine weitere Szene aus Kapitel 1 ist online. Vergiss nicht einen Kommentar zu posten, wenn dir die Geschichte gefällt (und wenn sie dir nicht gefällt, dann musst du einen Kommentar posten!)

1.3 Rückzug – In der alten Version der Szene war nicht klar, wie eine einzelne Person einen Notsprung auslösen konnte. Danke an Martin Geisler, der mich darauf hingewiesen hat.

1.16 Stiller Sieg – Während die Haul ihre Verwundeten und Toten bergen, plant die Regierung der Rabit ihre nächsten Schritte.



28. April, 2010

I just shut down my PS3 after watching Avatar (Blue Ray disk). Technically, the film is great. The plants, nature, everything looks just amazing. As had been said before, the story is pretty obvious and I was disappointed that there were no surprises at all (except for Pandora’s wildlife).

For example, they should have switched bodies before the attack. When the madman crashes the container, the vaults should have been empty.

The next thing I was hoping for was a surprise attack against the base while all the air support is elsewhere, using some kind of trick to avoid the satellites.

The only reason that I can think of for such a shallow script is that the director didn’t want to drag any attention from the fantastic nature shots. The flight scenes are grand, the surroundings look incredible detailed and believable. If there is an animal, it’s not just some puppet; it moves, it flows, it breathes. This guy found much better words than I:

… about 30 minutes in to the film, you realize that the marketing has undersold the movie. In an era when every great moment of a film makes its way to a trailer, Avatar surprised me with an endless amount of unparalleled optical overload.

Recommendation: Must see. Twice.

Monsanto files patent on how to feed pigs

28. April, 2010

Another abuse of the patent system has just surfaced: Monsanto is trying to patent how to feed pigs … er … improved corn: METHODS OF FEEDING PIGS AND PRODUCTS COMPRISING BENEFICIAL FATTY ACIDS

A great day for science and mankind, indeed. Obviously we did fed the poor animals so wrong for the past 15’000 years that a company as caring and social as Monsanto could no longer stand by idly and had to act to the benefit of all of us and the abused creatures.

Useful documentation

26. April, 2010

Documentation is one of the last unconquered areas in software development. The tools tend to get better but the documentation … well, let’s say it could be better. Why?

Part of the problem is that the documentation is written by the developers but the main reason is that they ask the wrong question. They ask “What does it do?” when they should ask “When would I use this?

Let’s have a look at an example. The OpenOffice help says for “Save”: “Click on Save or press the key combination Ctrl + S. The document will be saved … A file with the same name and path will be overwritten.”

That explains what the function does but not why anyone would use it. How about this: “Save allows you to store the current state of your work as a file in your file system. When you exit the application and start it again, you can load the file and continue where you left off.”

Aha! How about “Copy”?

“Copies the current selection to the clipboard” is boring to write (because it’s so obvious) and doesn’t answer the user’s question. Maybe the boring feeling when you write documentation like that is the nagging suspicion “this is futile”?

Try “The Copy operation allows you to save the current selection in the system’s clipboard from where you can use Paste to insert it in a different place in the same document, in a different document, or even another application if it can do anything useful with the current selection.”

Printing: “Print allows you to send the document to any installed printer. If you install a PDF Converter as a printer, you can make your document available to people who could otherwise not access your work digitally.” Suddenly, the help offers strategies and options.

So next time you document something, ask the right question.

Haul 1.15 Show Off

24. April, 2010

Another scene from chapter 1 is ready. Don’t forget to post a comment if you like the story (and you must post a comment if you don’t like it!)

1.15 Show Off – Mark tells his viewers what happened. Rabit from all over the Commonwealth call in to share their joy.

Table of contents

Previous post

Eine weitere Szene aus Kapitel 1 ist online. Vergiss nicht einen Kommentar zu posten, wenn dir die Geschichte gefällt (und wenn sie dir nicht gefällt, dann musst du einen Kommentar posten!)

1.15 Auf-Spielen – Mark erklärt den Zuschauern was passiert ist. Rabit aus dem ganzen Commonwealth rufen an, um ihre Freude mitzuteilen.


The future of data

23. April, 2010

RFid Data Table from a BBC exhibition (CC: by-nc-nd)

People love to share. They share emotions, affection, information, files and personal data. But they don’t want to share that with everyone. Imagine sharing your bank statements with the IRS. Or that you just bought a very expensive TV set with a burglar. Or that you’re not at home for the next four weeks. Or photos and films of your children with a pedophile.

While people don’t talk about their private life in a public form, they do post it in social networks. They don’t want anyone to have a look at the data on their harddisks but they backup the very same data with online backup services. The line between private and the web is blurring.

Unfortunately, data can’t protect itself, so as soon as you put something online, anyone can see it, copy it, give it to someone else or keep a copy even after you deleted it yourself. The Internet doesn’t forget.

So the obvious solution is that data must become active. It must check who has permission to access it and only reveal its details to people who you have permission. How would that work?

Let’s have a look at ssh. At work, I’m accessing a server and work with an account but I have no idea what the password for that account is. How do I login? With my own credentials. I give a public key to the system administrator and he adds me to the list of people who can login. If he doesn’t want me anymore, he deletes the key from the list and I loose access. He doesn’t know my password and I doesn’t know his.

To achieve the same with data, the data must be encrypted. To decrypt it, users must ask a server for the decrypt key and identify themselves with their public key.

Of course, there are a couple of issues with this approach:

  1. First of all, it will bloat the data and make the processing (much) slower. Well, that might be an issue today but soon, progress will solve that.
  2. Users could decrypt the data once and then keep a decrypted copy. While this is true, is it an issue? First of all, these people had once access, so it will only become an issue if we want to revoke the access. Also, if they don’t backup the data regularly, a hardware failure will solve the problem sooner or later.

    Lastly, we could attach a license to data which disallows to share the decrypted copy with anyone. If anyone did, they could be sued for the license infringement. And let us not forget that most people won’t understand how this all works, so they won’t be able to do it. Plus as long as it works and it comfortable enough to use, they won’t see a reason to do it.

    For those who do understand the technology or want to abuse it, no amount of protection will be enough to stop them. This is why we have laws and courts.

  3. People could loose their data or their password. Happens all the time. But wouldn’t this approach solve both these issues? If all data was encrypted and there were servers to distribute credentials, people would have to remember just a single password for all services. The password could be strong and it could be changed with ease. Web sites could add users based on their public keys (just like ssh or OpenID). And there would be no need to worry about losing data since you could back it up with an online backup service since the encryption would happen before it is backed up.


Automatically fix computer problems

20. April, 2010

Microsoft announced the availability of a tool called “Fix-it“. The idea is that many computer users have similar problems and they can be fixed with a simple script (which downloads and installed a bugfix of a hardware driver, cleans a registry key, etc).

Right now, even if you find the issue in the knowledge base, you have to do this manually. So a program will help many people to solve the issues themselves. Also, the scripts can look for problems which the user didn’t even notice, yet.

I think this would be a great idea for Linux, too. For example, if you try to debug a network problem, the steps are always the same: Check the output of ifconfig, ping a couple of known servers, try to telnet somewhere. The script could ask for these values and save them. When you have network trouble again, it could run the tests automatically, examine the values and give suggestions.

Haul scenes 1.12 to 1.14

18. April, 2010

There are three new scenes available for you. It’s three this time since they are relatively short. Don’t forget to post a comment if you like the story (and you must post a comment if you don’t like it!)

1.12 The Show of the Century – The Show of the Century begins.

1.13 Losses – The captain of the RORR tries to make heads and tails out of the reports he got from the surface.

1.14 Last Wills – The Honorable House Haul-Hau receives the last will of General Rowarl.

Table of contents

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Drei weitere Szenen sind online. Es sind drei, weil sie relativ kurz sind. Vergiss nicht einen Kommentar zu posten, wenn dir die Geschichte gefällt (und wenn sie dir nicht gefällt, dann musst du einen Kommentar posten!)

1.12 Die Show des Jahrhunderts – Die Show des Jahrhunderts beginnt.

1.13 Verluste – Der Kapitän der RORR versucht zu verstehen, was sich an der Oberfläche abgespielt haben könnte.

1.14 Letzte Willen – Das Ehrenhafte Haus Haul-Hau erhält das Testament von General Rowarl.


Using Mercurial with Dropbox

17. April, 2010

If you want to take a Mercurial repository with you, you have several options:

  1. Create a server somewhere. Don’t forget to install all the security patches.
  2. Use an USB stick. Don’t forget it somewhere (like at home) and don’t forget to always push your changes onto it.
  3. Use Dropbox

Dropbox is a file server in the cloud. While they swear your data is save (“All files stored on Dropbox servers are encrypted (AES-256) and are inaccessible without your account password.” – see the features), it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, Dropbox can’t really cope with the fast changes to the virtual filesystem done by Mercurial (this will lead to corrupt repositories and missing changesets).

The solution is to create a TrueCrypt container in your Dropbox. Dropbox won’t be able to see any changes as long as the container is mounted. When you dismount the container, Dropbox will check the file for changes (if you write to the container, TrueCrypt just modifies a few sectors). So even if you create a 100MB container, only the initial sync will be slow.

There are few obstacles, though:

  1. You must remember to mount the container, and push your changes into it.
  2. If you forget to dismount and push changes into the container on a different computer, you’ll see two containers. In this case, mount the second container somewhere, merge the changes using Mercurial and then commit to the original container.
  3. You must install TrueCrypt and Dropbox on all computers where you want to use this.
  4. The cycle “mount-push-dismount” becomes tedious over time.
  5. If you use HgEclipse, the plug-in will forget the local paths if you forget to mount the container before you start Eclipse.

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