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Chris Boyle

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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
Link1 comment|Leave a comment

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*).
LinkLeave a comment

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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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) )
LinkLeave a comment

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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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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Python bug? (urllib2.HTTPDigestAuthHandler) [Dec. 12th, 2008|10:10 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | confused]
[Music |Iris - New Invaders]

This script, when edited to fill in valid LiveJournal credentials (or InsaneJournal, if you change the URL and user list) fails for me in a very odd way. It fetches the first two URLs quite happily, and returns a 401 on the third after querying my password manager about 6 times. Even if you shuffle the user list around, increase the sleep, etc etc... I seem to be able to request as many such URLs from LJ as I like, in separate Python executions, or with different HTTPDigestAuthHandler objects, but any given instance of HTTPDigestAuthHandler will always fail on the third use. Failing on the second use would be more understandable, but three? WTF?

Edit: Filed as Python bug 4683, comments go there.

How to get Voice Dialer on your UK G1; how to fix a Google app on your G1 [Nov. 15th, 2008|12:27 pm]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | confused]
[Music |Wir sind Helden – Guten Tag (Die Reklamation)]

By way of a couple of mini-howtos to save the next person some time: you're probably all bored of this by now... )
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Quick G1 review, after 36 hours [Nov. 2nd, 2008|01:38 am]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | impressed]
[Music |The Amateur Transplants - Paracetamoxyfrusybendroneomycin]

I have a shiny new T-Mobile G1, at long last, and people keep asking me whether it's any good. So, in the interest of reducing duplication of information laziness, here is a brief review )
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It LIVES! [Oct. 21st, 2008|02:28 am]

[Tags|, , , ]
[Mood | giddy]
[Music |XP8 - Waiting]

Simon Tatham's puzzles on Android. I has released it. Before any Android devices were released (sort of). Happy now. :-)
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Coming soon: Simon Tatham's puzzles for Android/G1 [Oct. 4th, 2008|10:06 pm]

[Tags|, , ]
[Mood | pleased]
[Music |Assemblage 23 - King of Insects]

Once upon a time, [info]simont wrote some very nice portable puzzles. Then I bought a Palm, and noticed someone had done a Palm port, and distraction ensued for many a happy hour. I'll soon be buying a T-Mobile G1, and want it to run these puzzles, so I'm porting them.

Android applications are Java-based, so I'm very grateful to Michael Schierl and the NestedVM project for previous work to make the puzzles run as Java applets, meaning all I have to do is change J2SE applet bits to their Android equivalents. Still to do: erm, rather a lot actually. I currently only have the bare minimum required to produce what you see to your left (drawing callbacks and not much else; no interaction yet).
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Google phone to be announced today [Sep. 23rd, 2008|10:09 am]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | sick]
[Music |Code 64 - Starchaser]

Google and T-Mobile will be announcing (text version) the G1, the first Google Android device, later today. I might be slightly more excited about this (and slightly more optimistic about it solving my various ongoing phone complaints) than is strictly sensible. On the other hand, this gives me something to bounce about today while recovering from an ear infection.

Edit: looks good, shame about the curvy (fragile?) slide and lack of 3.5mm socket but I'll probably buy it anyway, depending on what the UK contract looks like. All I've heard about that so far is that it'll be free if you pay £40+/month. It'll be available here early November; you can request spam about it from T-Mobile.
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Phobile moans again: satnav [Sep. 16th, 2008|12:03 am]

[Tags|, ]
[Mood | frustrated]
[Music |VNV Nation - Secluded Spaces]

Some recent bad experiences with satnav have prompted even more consideration of my choice of smartphone. My biggest complaint against my current setup is that starting TomTom, if the separate GPS receiver has been turned off, is a fiddly, glitch-prone, lengthy process; it usually involves turning both the receiver and the phone's Bluetooth function off and on several times. Once that's done, I have to wait for the receiver to get a fix, which can take several minutes if I haven't used GPS for a while. Also, my map is at least 17 months out of date, and the frequency with which it doesn't match reality has become just high enough to be annoying. The decision to buy a system that uses a locally-stored map seemed obviously correct at the time, when I didn't have an unlimited* data service (indeed, there may not even have been any sensible products that used an online map), but it's less so now.

What I would like, ideally, is a non-Windows smartphone with built-in GPS. Edit: Such devices seem to be able to obtain a fix more quickly than my current device, though they don't maintain a fix at all times as that would kill the battery. As previously mentioned, the Palm platform seems dead, its successor doesn't look likely to ship any hardware soon; I'd hoped the first Android phone (appearing in the next couple of months) would be worth looking at but apparently that might not even have GPS. [Edit: it will have GPS and is launching on Tuesday 23rd...] As far as I know, if I'm looking to buy within the next few months, that just leaves the iPhone. Unfortunately, its Maps application doesn't look suitable for dashboard use. It won't even follow the route as you drive, let alone replan if you take a wrong turn or give you voice directions (which I used occasionally, until TomTom inexplicably lost the capability recently). There are vague rumours that TomTom are working on something for the iPhone, but I'm not holding my breath. Even if true, I would expect it to still use a local map so you must pay them per-update.

Table of options: Treo too buggy, iPhone too expensive and not hands-off )
I don't like any of those options. Does anyone have a better idea (other than a separate device or Windows)? :-(
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On the inability of smartphones to bilocate (a short review of recent purchases) [Jul. 4th, 2008|09:35 am]

[Mood | pleased]
[Music |Ayria - Beta Complex]

I don't particularly approve of the apparent extinction of no-frills mobiles, but I'm one of those strange people who actually find smartphones (at least the ones that are at all smart) useful, simply because I'd otherwise carry a PDA and a phone. Unfortunately, on those occasions when I want to use both functions at once (e.g. a phone call involving looking at my calendar) until recently I found myself switching awkwardly between phone-to-ear and phone-in-front-of-me where I can see the screen. Obviously, having a headset solves this, but for most of my day I'm at my desk wearing headphones, listening to music, so to take those headphones off and, either at the start of the call or during it, put on different ones, is doubly inconvenient. Enter the A2DP device I mentioned previously, and some convenient headphones built into a lanyard. tl;dr )
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Notes from a disk rescue [Jul. 3rd, 2008|04:09 pm]

[Mood | annoyed]
[Music |Mesh - Not Prepared]

For 9 or 10 months, I've had a media server at home running MythTV on Ubuntu. It does the usual DVR operations and network streaming fairly well (there's only one tuner, so we can only receive one channel at once, but it's quite possible to, for example, watch two recordings at once in different places). On Monday, we noticed that machine was complaining of disk errors in syslog.

Rescuing 500GB is not fun, but ddrescue works - details mostly for my own reference )
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