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Chris Boyle

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One last migration update [Jun. 28th, 2010|08:31 am]


  • I recently finished setting up a blog on my own domain, That's where my future posts will appear. I'll still use this account ([info]shortcipher) for reading.

  • It's an external site like any other, and is not based on LiveJournal, although you can log in there with LiveJournal, InsaneJournal, any other OpenID, Twitter or Facebook.

  • It has a feed, and InsaneJournal syndicates that feed as [info]chris_boyle, which you can add to your friends page as if it were an InsaneJournal user.

  • As of 2010-06-28, there have been 3 posts: Hello, world!, Chrome to Phone CL and Lock on unplug. If you didn't see any of them, chances are you haven't set up a way to read the feed.
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Moving this journal soon, for the last time, to my own domain [Dec. 7th, 2009|05:35 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | geeky]
[Music |Stray - Something for your mind]

The tl;dr important bits

  • If you're reading this on, I'll soon stop posting here. You can friend [info]chris_boyle, which will have the new posts when I move.
  • If you're already reading this on a feed (e.g. shortcipher_ij) or on Facebook, you won't need to do anything.
  • I'll still read and comment on both LiveJournal and InsaneJournal, as shortcipher.
  • I will still not be making friends-locked posts, so there's nothing to miss by using a feed.

Dear InsaneJournal: “it's not you, it's me”

IJ hasn't done anything wrong (and won't lose a subscription from this move; I have a permanent account), but the content and format of what I post has become less suitable for this place. When I started my first attempt at blogging, it was very much a personal journal, whereas if you look at my recent posts, there's some of that, but it's mainly technical discussion, which is what I'm most interested in writing, and probably of more interest to more people than the minutiae of my daily life, even among my friends (although if there are specific things you'd like me to write more about, speak up).

The subject matter doesn't make IJ any worse as a host than any other blog site, but I may sometimes want to do things that no free host will adequately support, such as unusual markup/embedding, AJAX, and analytics. I also want full control of things like comment moderation policy, for example: if you've logged in using an account I've friended on LJ, IJ or Facebook (or Twitter?), or you're on an additional list, then your comments won't be screened. I want the ability to tweak the site style, and integrate with the rest of my website, without faffing about with a baroque LJ-engine-specific language. I hope InsaneJournal survives for a long time yet, but I don't want to depend on their servers or on their ability to provide useful support responses. Most of all, I really don't want the user experience hijacked for enticements to create a local account instead of OpenID, or for enticements to return to the site instead of using feeds, or for advertisements of any kind.

What I'm doing about all this is setting up a blog on my own domain, where I can tweak the implementation and change hosting provider at will without any further disruption for readers. This is what I should have done when I lost patience with LiveJournal, but I didn't have the time. I've yet to determine exactly how I'm doing this; the closest existing software I've found is Zine (and I also like parts of PyBlosxom), but it will be part of my website at, it will be written in Python (I will not run PHP) and it will have at least:

  • full-entry feed
    • does anyone want an additional feed with just first paragraphs?
  • log in (to comment) with OpenID or Facebook
    • does anyone want a Twitter option?
  • threaded commenting
  • optional email notifications of replies to your comments
  • a method for me to easily write posts and moderate comments from Android: I might implement the Wordpress API, as Zine has done
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Virgin on the ridiculous [Nov. 30th, 2009|01:13 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | irritated]
[Music |Iris - Nobody Wins]

So, I'm on Sky Broadband, because it's cheap, and has been adequate so far. Unfortunately they've now set the monthly cap for the cheap package at 10GB, which is not adequate, and they're going to enforce it (by bumping people up to the Unlimited package). Paying for "up to 20Mbit" ADSL, when BT says our line can only do 6Mbit, would be silly. So. The only non-ADSL option: Virgin Media, formerly NTL. How bad is it in north Cambridge? I used to hear a lot of complaints; now, not so much. Did it improve or did you all just get used to it?
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Puzzles on Android updated [Nov. 22nd, 2009|03:24 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | puzzled]
[Music |Apoptygma Berzerk - Maze]

For those who won't have seen it elsewhere: I've updated my Android port of Simon Tatham's puzzle collection. It now includes:
  • native code instead of NestedVM (smaller, faster, I have rebuilt it, I have the technology)
  • a selective on-screen keyboard for keyboardless devices
  • undo/redo buttons on that keyboard (no more Menu/Undo/Menu/Undo/...)
  • saving and loading on the SD card
  • documentation in the package instead of launching the browser
  • Helge Kreutzmann's German translation of the documentation
  • improved crash reporting
  • a bunch of bug fixes for recently-released Android devices, and other bug fixes
If you're reading this on Android, you can go directly to Android Market.
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Upcoming Android devices [Nov. 2nd, 2009|05:03 pm]

[Mood | impressed]
[Music |Capsize - Relent Agrees]

Anyone who's been waiting for better Android phones to arrive hasn't much longer to wait. The next 7 days look interesting: For comparison, here's the new Orange UK iPhone pricing (*cough*).
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What I've been working on for the last long while... [Oct. 20th, 2009|01:45 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | proud]
[Music |Rename - But Now]

It's done! The most visible of my changes in this release is geolocation in TrafficScript and Java. You can now efficiently get the city/region/country/lat-long of an IP address from a supplied data file. Handy if you want to vary your website depending on the client's location, for example.
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Case of the missing parcel, reprise [Oct. 13th, 2009|04:26 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | confused]
[Music | - Fear]

I had a similar call in June 2008 and never worked out why, or what sort of scam this could be the basis of:

A man from "Parcel Point Deliveries" or similar called me at work yesterday, saying they had tried to deliver a parcel last Thursday, and would try again today between 9 and 5. He asked me to nominate anyone who could sign for it instead; I gave one name (see below). He said the parcel was from Manchester, but that he had no further information about its origin. This parcel has not turned up, and somewhat foolishly I didn't take the caller's number (nor was it logged my company's phone system, apparently).

Does anyone want to own up to trying to send me a parcel? The only benefit I can see the caller getting from this call if they made it up is the name of someone else inside the company, but several such names can be trivially found on our website. Also my mobile number, which they were supposed to call, but that's also easy to find.
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Personal use restrictions in software licenses [Sep. 26th, 2009|10:18 am]

[Mood | curious]
[Music |Frozen Plasma - Hypocrite]

I'd appreciate some advice from people who know the law relating to software licenses better than I do. I'm particularly interested in answers that apply to me as a UK citizen, although information for other countries is useful.

(1) To what extent are software license clauses that restrict the actions of individual personal end users, other than redistribution or reverse engineering, legally enforcible? I'm talking about things like this HTC license: You may only load the Google Software onto the Android Developer Phone 1, and [with some exception] you may not combine any part of the Google Software with other software, as it applies to my personal use.

(1b) To what extent would such restrictions stand up (or have they stood up) in court? In particular, do HTC or Google have any history or stated policy on trying to enforce such restrictions?

Here's where things get interesting: (2) What laws, if any, would be broken by someone who distributes a script or instructions to, given a file obtained legally by a user who agreed to that HTC license, extract components of that file and put them on a device or in a system image, the stated purpose being for individual users for their own personal use? I'm guessing this centers on the script not being considered a derivative work. The said components are not currently protected by any kind of copy-protection mechanism as I understand the term. This is not something I even have the time to create, nor something I'm advocating making, but I'm interested in whether someone will be able to do it.

Update: Several workarounds of this form have appeared. This puts Google in an interesting position, in that if they object to this approach, it's somewhat inconsistent for them to recommend in their documentation that developers do the same thing with G1/Dream device firmware blobs to work around HTC's copyright! (necessary to build any system image that can use devices like the radio (i.e. phone), sensors, probably wifi, etc.)
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The future of Android / CyanogenMod: reply hazy, try again [Sep. 25th, 2009|04:57 pm]

[Mood | annoyed]
[Music |The Feeling - I Did It For Everyone]

First a bunch of apps were closed source, then we've seen how lax they are at updating the public git tree, and now this: Google has thrown toys from its pram over the inclusion of their closed-source applications in the most popular unofficial Android ROM. The ROM builder is trying to open communication with them, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Those apps are, in increasing order of importance to me:
  • YouTube (I think I can live without that particular piece of junk.)
  • Google Mail (Meh. Not my main address, and IMAP will work with other clients.)
  • Google Talk (I use that, but again, a Jabber client can connect to it.)
  • Android Market (I've bought a few apps, most importantly FeedR, and continuing access to updates would be nice if the vendors are willing to support some other method of subscription, but it's not vital.)
  • Google Maps (This is where I hope AndNav continues to work and the one operational OpenRouteService server stays up.)
Notably, the Calendar and Contacts apps and their respective synchronisation providers are open source.

Others may have different opinions about the importance of the closed apps, but personally it wouldn't make a huge difference to me if unofficial ROMs no longer included them. I know of no other legal problem with CyanogenMod, since it's based on the Android public git tree, so it can and hopefully will live on (although users might have to do this sort of crazy firmware dance). Some people may return to stock ROMs, but I would still rather have root access on what is, lest we forget, my device, not Google's or T-Mobile's. A short list of reasons:
  • Generally, the ability to tweak things beneath the UI, e.g. for wifi, where the UI can't cope with my employer's WPA2 Enterprise network, but I can edit wpa_supplicant.conf.
  • The ability to fix bugs in all existing open-source applications/components, without all the "it's a completely different application" faff.
  • Early and convenient access to new features from the git tree.
  • Wifi/Bluetooth tethering
  • The ability to use third-party bugfixes and improvements without waiting for Google. Cyanogen has done awesome things with scheduler tweaks that make the device much faster, and he had an update that fixed the recent null-pointer kernel root hole before Google did.
In another 8 months or so, the contracts of G1 early adopters will start running out. Meanwhile, devices with much nicer amounts of memory, internal storage and CPU cycles are appearing, a few of which with keyboards, which is good news for those of us who like to SSH from our devices. Some of them reportedly have fastboot available out of the box (or perhaps that's just for review models). It'll be interesting to see what happens to Android between now and then.

Update: Google's response, and one from Cyanogen. :-/
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London, this Sunday (9th August) [Aug. 3rd, 2009|05:40 pm]

[Mood | curious]
[Music |Playing Rapunzel - As I Roved Out]

On Saturday afternoon through to Sunday morning, I'll be at a housewarming in Hackney. On Sunday evening, I'll be at the Pembury Tavern. Between the two, I don't know if the hosts of the housewarming will be busy and/or exhausted, it'd obviously be silly to go back to Cambridge and I think Susan has plans that don't involve me. If you might be interested in meeting up with me for some of Sunday in London, and/or you know of things a geek should see/do in London, speak now.
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Kitties! [Jul. 11th, 2009|01:54 pm]

[Tags|, , ]
[Mood | kitties!]
[Music |The Feeling - Never Be Lonely]

We can has Normality
...anything you can't cope with in the presence of kitties must be srs bsns.

(With apologies to the late Douglas Adams. Normality is our house name if you've not been paying attention at the back.)

As Susan just said, if all goes according to plan we'll have these two living with us from next weekend. :-) Currently the one on the left is called Biscuit and on the right is Thomaslina. We'll be changing at least the latter. Any ideas? So far I like Susan's suggestion of Brownie.

Update: They are now (from left) Heisenberg, because she tends to run around such that we can't tell how fast she's going, and Schrödinger, because she tends to hide such that we can't tell whether she's there.

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Open Tech 2009 [Jul. 4th, 2009|11:12 pm]

[Mood | recumbent]
[Music |Code 64 – Carry me home]

I'm sure there'll be many better write-ups of this very worthwhile event, but here are my brief impressions of each talk I went to (mostly room 3E) )
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Calling someone with more time than me: AccuWeather Android widget? [Apr. 30th, 2009|11:13 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | too busy]
[Music |Levellers - The Riverflow]

Jeff Sharkey has made a nice weather widget for Android 1.5 (source here), but unfortunately it uses the US National Weather Service, who don't have forecast data for the UK, so the widget won't do anything with a UK location (although they do have current conditions). If there are any bored Android hackers out there, this would be a nice project, for someone who has more copious free time than me… here's the widget's XML parser, and here's some UK forecast XML from who cover .uk, .us, .ca (they publish this data for ForecastFox, and here's what their location search looks like). Doesn't look too hard. You'd need to get permission from AccuWeather, but they said yes to ForecastFox and this would be much the same thing (a free weather forecast, and clicking on it takes you to their site).

Edit: Someone had a better idea: use Google's weather feed (the one they use for iGoogle and Calendar).
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Stinging wildlife of Normality, part 2 in a series of, please, no more than 2? [Apr. 29th, 2009|09:34 am]

[Mood | still intimidated]
[Music |Sting - Don't Stand So Close To Me]

or, Fright of the Bumblebee (see Wasp of Doom for the thrilling first part)

This lost creature has been lurking in my bathroom since some time yesterday evening. It made its presence known shortly after Susan had got into the bath, which was fun. For the rest of the evening it bumbled around, perching near any lights that were warm, before going to sleep on the bathroom curtain. I left the door closed and window open overnight, hoping it would go away at sunrise, but instead it went into hiding, only to reappear suddenly in the sink while I was shaving. When I took this photo it was scrabbling around in the bath. I'm really hoping it decides to leave soon; options otherwise are limited (pint glass + card + release at far end of garden; failing that, vacuum cleaner). Edit: fortunately for all concerned, catch-and-release worked. :-)
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Sponsored singing this weekend [Apr. 17th, 2009|11:15 am]

[Tags|, , ]
[Mood | musical]
[Music |Gilbert & Sullivan - When a Felon's Not Engaged in His Employment]

This weekend, I'll be taking part in Cambridge University Gilbert & Sullivan Society's sponsored 24-hour sing-through of all 13 G&S operettas. The event is part of Cambridge RAG; here's the list of charities.

If you'd like to sponsor me, just email me with an amount and stating whether it's a total or an amount per operetta completed (I've no idea how many I'll manage; it could be anywhere between 3 and 13). I'll email the sponsors with the results on Monday.
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My take on the G20 police fiasco [Apr. 8th, 2009|11:41 pm]

[Mood | discontent]
[Music |Technoir - Manifesto]

Reasonable Force: You're doing it wrong.
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Headphone recommendations please, again [Mar. 27th, 2009|12:38 am]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | distracted]
[Music |Ghosts - Musical Chairs]

Offices are noisy; I work better without a constant background of speech; the off-again-on-again plan to make the office less noisy is off-again for the forseeable future. Wearing headphones for most of the day is an obvious possible answer, but the ones I bought after pondering in June aren't comfortable enough for that much use. I'm looking for circumaural closed-back headphones, and the Sennheiser HD280 has been recommended. Best price delivered seems to be about £80, which is OK if they're as good as people say and will last. I'm no audiophile (and may well continue to listen over A2DP for the ability to get up from my desk without unplugging anything) but I do want something comfortable which will isolate outside noise (or cancel it, but I've not tried that and don't know how well it works). I do need to minimise the leakage of my own music, hence closed-back. Compactness is not an issue, and they must go around my ears, not squish them. The HD280 looks good, so two questions: firstly, where can I try these out? (Clive, I think you mentioned somewhere, but my brain is a sieve.) Secondly, which others should I consider (and relative merits)?

Edit: Just tried an HD201 in the office; the bass is predictably weak, but more importantly the contact pressure gave me a headache just from 10 minutes. With that in mind, look at the HD280 spec, and hover over "Contact pressure". Hmmm.
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Third-party updates on Debian-based distros: a thought [Mar. 11th, 2009|01:15 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | contemplative]
[Music |Sciverus Fey - Fight/Escape]

Why don't third-party deb packages just drop a file in /etc/apt/sources.list.d (and invoke apt-key) to provide updates, instead of rolling their own in-application update notifications? Skype, and others don't need to be polling independently for updates; this isn't Windows; there's already apt, and usually a perfectly good mechanism for polling that, like Ubuntu's update-manager, so the workflow should just be "click on .deb → install → updates will be offered to you with all your other updates". In's case, they already have an apt repository. Am I missing something here?

Alternatively, my previous version of this idea: a mime-type for "file to go in sources.list.d + something for apt-key + list of packages to then install" and a tool to handle it. That would be unnecessary new code; the one advantage is it would play better with the case where a site wants to offer you multiple packages with dependencies.

Update: As of October 2009, Google Chrome appears to have been doing this (as in the first paragraph) for some time. Yay. :-) My one complaint about it is that it does "check for explicit disable flag, else create sources.list.d file" on every update, instead of "check for I-already-put-it-here-once flag, else add the file", where the latter would create less confusion among users who perhaps already had Google's apt repository, and wonder why it keeps reappearing.
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Android Calendar [Feb. 12th, 2009|11:48 am]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | frustrated]
[Music |Ayria - Beta Complex]

I have some patches for the Calendar app; I've finally made a usable build with them for 1.1 (US RC33, UK not out yet). One of these patches I've mentioned before, but the list is growing: If only someone would fork Calendar (like someone did very successfully for Email) so it can be built using just the SDK, rather than having to finagle the semi-private bits of the platform source to a state compatible with 1.1, which, from the point of view of the public git respositories, seems to be between two commits. WTF. Given sufficiently copious free time, I might eventually make such a fork myself.
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New wheels [Jan. 10th, 2009|01:45 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | happy]
[Music |Apoptygma Berzerk - Back on Track]

I am now the proud owner keeper (because of how the cycle scheme works) of a Ridgeback Velocity. It's lovely. The current weather isn't. What do the cyclists reading this recommend I wear to keep the wind (and rain) off my face? I was thinking of a balaclava, but as Susan points out, that would make me look silly, or worse. Some people seem to wear Biggles hats (the ones with ear flaps) and leave it at that, but when it's this cold, which it occasionally is around here, I want more coverage than that. Also, interposing very much material between my head and my helmet is likely to fail, because my head is too big. Edit: I bought a Buff. Somewhat overpriced, but it works.
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