The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Now to actually change the clocks …

Thursday 23 November 2006 at 11:21 pm

So unless you want to manually set your computer’s clock (which breaks auto-update by NTP), or change your timezone to Osaka (which might confuse location-based services), our politicians have given Perth’s IT community an entire working week to figure out how to get computers to change their time automatically on December 3. And it’s not like this is a trivial issue — wrong time breaks all sorts of things, from Kerberos to log files to sessions in Web services.

Microsoft have kindly released a patch (which was unusually prompt of them) that makes things happy and good for Windows users … though it’s still a hassle if you’ve got hundreds of boxes to update.

In the Unix world, one must play with zoneinfo files, which isn’t impossibly difficult, but does take a bit of work. Fortunately Matt @ UCC has done just this.

Do that note his instructions omit the need to replace /usr/share/zoneinfo/Australia/West as well as /usr/share/Australia/Perth … both files should be identical. In addition, be aware that your average Linux system has several copies of the zoneinfo database generated from the main one. In particular, Java, the Perl DateTime module, and libical have their own copies, and if you have software that depends on those (e.g. Evolution, or Korganizer) then they often create their own copies. Running locate Australia/Perth is a wise move.

Sadly, on Mac OS X, changing zoneinfo files isn’t enough … there is a second timezone data store attached to the International Components for Unicode, built from the zoneinfo data and used in most GUI applications (to make multilingual date display easier). Unfortunately this makes the process of changing the timezone horribly difficult even if you’re an OS X nerd, with the only hope being the 10.4.9 update from Apple — not due till next year.

So Mac users are out in the cold for now. Though of course, our wonderfully competent State politicians don’t concern themselves with such trivial matters.

Meanwhile, in happier news, Flickr’s new Camera Finder is an awesome idea. It warms my heart that there are people out there still using my old Fuji :-)

Updated 24/11: learnt about 10.4.9 and Mark’s quite detailed OS X assessment, and discovered the other Linux timezone files.


When a full post is just too hard

Tuesday 21 November 2006 at 10:03 pm
[Leaders at APEC 2006; note that Creative Commons licence does not apply to this image]

Here are some random and slightly political thoughts:

  • Last weekend’s APEC meeting confirms the argument from my thesis (first suggested to me by Dennis, and seconded by a Lowy Institute paper) that this institution is going nowhere fast. There’s the annual photo of leaders in funny costumes (wonder what they’ll wear in Sydney next year?) and an opportunity to discuss regional issues, but beyond that there’s little real work happening towards the supposed goals of trade facilitation and liberalisation … just more vague promises for an unattainable 21-country free trade area.
  • I’m unsurprised by today’s daylight savings vote, but still disappointed in the whole “let’s start in a week!” thing. And, WTF Matt Birney, since when has WA not been the “lifestyle State”?
  • I was always a cautious supporter of nuclear power in the past (though I’ve sometimes been swayed by my old-school greenie friends). And I’m inclined to trust the work of the committee that just reported, based on the qualifications of its members, even though I don’t trust Ziggy Switkowski after his work (if you can call it that!) at Telstra. However, I’m not sure that nuclear power is so very ideal for Australia as they claim, given our relatively small energy needs compared to, say, China or the US. But I’ve not read the report, and I don’t know how honest the PM was when he asked for an “open debate” …
  • Last Friday was the closing date for submissions to the Immigration Department review that, from my reading of their discussion paper, has probably been told “you will recommend an Australian Values ™ test for new citizens”. Oh, sorry, I mean, they’re carefully reviewing the options (but just happened to think about the content of a potential test in great, great detail). Anyway, my submission is here.
  • Ridiculous media circus #1: so Kim Beazley mixed up someone’s name last week. I do that several times a day. Sheesh …
  • Ridiculous media circus #2: no, Tony Bullimore shouldn’t pay if he were ever rescued again. Not only is it international convention, but fer cryin’ out loud, it’s not like those navy ships would otherwise be sitting in port with their crews all downing some beer. The navy goes on training exercises, kids, which cost money — sometimes even more money than rescues at sea.
  • Finally, my sidebar has a new addition: Houses and Motions, the funniest take on Hansard that I’ve ever encountered. Kudos to Tim, Cameron, and Trent — this is gold.

Loud nonsense emanating from State Parliament

Thursday 16 November 2006 at 9:35 pm

Today has been an insane day for me (albeit insane in a happy way!) but it seems I’ve got nothing on the kids in State Parliament: Aunty is reporting that the attempts by Godfather D’Orazio and “I wanna stay with the cool kids!” Birnie to introduce daylight saving have been delayed by the Libs in the Legislative Council. According to our ever-reliable Treasurer, this means the proposed start date for the first trial (December 3) is in jeopardy, as if it was ever a serious option.

Just in case the Tardis has landed near West Perth, thus encapsulating Parliament in a space-time ripple, I’d like to point out that December 3 is in two weeks.

I’m hostile to the idea of daylight saving, but even if I was in favour I’d still think it wildly irresponsible to demand that two million people change their clocks with an entire fortnight’s notice. Imagine if Transperth said “we’re changing the timetable for every service in two weeks”. Imagine if UWA said (during semester) “we’re shifting the time for every class in two weeks”. Imagine if a major hospital said “we’re rescheduling every appointment, and here’s two weeks’ notice”.

IMHO, Parliament should drop this ridiculous time-waster (pun intended!) and get back to the many real issues faced by the State. You know, things like the terrible state of mental health services across WA, or the gross shortage of transit guards for our trains, or the problems with education in some remote Aboriginal communities …

P.S. It’s scary how many people are saying “whaddya mean we’ve already had three referenda? Times have changed and the young people haven’t had a chance to have their say!”. By that logic, and given the current scuffle over WorkChoices, can we please have another referendum on the Incomes question? Or perhaps on secession from the Commonwealth? After all, young’uns like me didn’t get a chance to vote in those!

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In the innards of upcoming new toys

Wednesday 15 November 2006 at 10:05 pm

As in previous cases, the lack of posts is a sign that announcements are forthcoming. Although in this case, they may not be all that rapidly forthcoming, because I’m still busy wading through, er, bugs. So rather than the other things I was going to write about today (such as the constant sound of planes practicing for the Red Bull Air Race), I think I’ll rant about JavaScript libraries.

The library that is getting all the Apple-style (or more appropriately, Rails-style) love among the fashionable developers is Prototype.js, which is awesome and something that I can’t believe I only discovered recently. If nothing else, $() is like manna from heaven. (well, sort of. And yes, it’s ridiculously easy to re-implement … but I wish I’d thought of it myself or something!)

The problem with Prototype is that it’s enormous — over 60kb of code that I was tacking on to pages of barely 12 or 15 kilobytes. Even with compression (e.g. via Dojo ShrinkSafe) it still weighs in at 25kb, which is a decent download for the lowly dial-up users out there. And that’s before you count the 50 to 100 kb of, which is breathtakingly easy to use but not that well optimised.

So I find myself gravitating towards mootools, which packs an awful lot of punch into a customisable 10 — 20 kb script. Unfortunately, the mootools documentation looks pretty but is profoundly lacking in examples (making it hard to get started) and is also short of detail in a few places that have become important for me. (Hence, another contender is jQuery, which is well-designed and has better documentation … but isn’t quite as full-featured out of the box as mootools.)

I briefly inspected MochiKit and Dojo, which are both nice, but don’t quite do what I want, and are hardly lightweight themselves. It looks like mootools is it for now!

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Some Americans went to ballot boxes yesterday

Wednesday 8 November 2006 at 11:40 pm

And to think, my American politics lecturer said that mid-term elections were always boring.

The House of Reps is in Democrat hands for the first time in ages, the speculators are saying the Senate will fall the same way, and voter turnout is up by a reasonable amount. Wow.

Even more interesting than party control in Congress are the referenda about abortion and gay marriage that were attached to the vote in some states. While some of the results were thoroughly predictable, there were quite a few that caught me by surprise, such as in Arizona. Among the flood of blog posts about the election, Pandagon does a good job covering these issues (also pointing to how a Republican “oh no a woman will be Speaker!” campaign backfired).

So now that it’s clear that G.W. (or maybe just the protracted Iraq war) is unpopular among a good chunk of the folks who voted this time around, I wonder if that sentiment will be sustained up until the next presidential election? Or maybe this result is just because a greater proportion of left-leaning Americans got fired up enough to vote in this “small” election, and come 2008 the vote for president will lure out an equivalent number of Republican supporters …

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Many shiny pixels!

Tuesday 7 November 2006 at 5:16 pm

The one thing I miss most from my old job is the iMacs with their gorgeous 50cm displays.

So what to do? Well, my slush fund had a bit of spare cash, and it’s the time of year to be celebrating … so I bought myself an end-of-thesis present :-)

[My shiny new Philips Brilliance 200W!]

And it arrived just in time to watch the Melbourne Cup, too.
(That quinella by the Japanese pair was awesome! It was plenty amusing to see the emotion on the faces of Delta Blues’ team when they won; closer to home I was also amused to see my sister successfully pick the winner yet again. But I don’t know why all the TV presenters get the idea that this win means there’ll be a sudden invasion and the Cup will be transformed into some sort of Japanese event.)

[Watching the Melbourne Cup on my new monitor]