New Jersey Day 2 – RU COOL?

Actually at the Rutgers University Coastal Observation Oceanographic Lab Station (also known as the RU COOL Station) today . I found out what the old Leo15 station used to run on. A Sparc 5 workstation. Though considering some of the old computers are old DELL machines, I think the Sparc 5 was probably a fine, fine choice at the time.

Apparently this place used to be an old coast guard station. Its a huge building. I can’t understand why there is no one here. Unless, of course, they all took a day trip to Atlantic City. Ah well, from the looks of things, if there are any hardware problems that will require the hardware team needing to take things offline for several hours that I will at least be able to try my hand at fishing.

The New Jersey Adventure – Part 1

Note: I am now into day 3, but all the entries are going to be at least 2 days behind

So today I flew to New Jersey. I am, as you can imagine, both excited and a little nervous. Not as much as I was earlier, when it was 15 minutes before boarding and my supervisor, and the only programmer not on vacation, has yet to show up. I’ve been told that it is usual for him to show up right before the flight takes off.

Then Montreal: I managed to make my way through customs. It was pretty easy actually. The customs officer asked me about my wire, and when I told him that it was a cochlear implant, he knew what it was and had a little chat. Once I answered a few of my questions, I was through. One of my coworkers went right after me. He apparently told the custom’s officer “Oh, I am working with Sean” and the custom’s officer just said “Ok, have a nice trip”. I thought that was amusing, but after thinking about it, it is a little scary how simple a person can potentially get through.

We decided to head into Atlantic City for dinner. As all of us wanted to drink to a degree, we got a cab. The cab driver was not only the cab driver, but the owner of the cab company and the dispatcher. Listening to him talk to us, take calls, and dispatch cabs was like listening to a “Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie” skit (many of which I think are funny).

Next up was a mexican restaurant that was a large step above Mexi’s in service and entertainment. This is probably due to the fact that it was a REAL mexican restaurant with actual Mexican oweners. Chips were replaced when they ran out. Serving sizes were the same as Mexi’s. Live mexican singing, which was performed with much spirit.

And then the boardwalk. With casinos, tourist shops, fortune tellers, and massage parlors. And its beach bars, one of which had this awesome band that played a nice selection of 80s music. The sights, the sounds, the plethora of people, it was fun.

I have already decided I want to save up and go on a vacation somewhere…….. different from Nova Scotia, when I don’t have work, class, or any other responsibility other than to have fun.

Scientific Linux – Distro Updates Done Right?

For my trip to New Jersey, my boss dropped off an old Dell Inspiron 2500 and a set of Scientific Linux 4.0 CDs. Since I didn’t have any other install CDs except Fedora Core 3, I figured I would give this new distro a try. The first thing I noticed is that it appears to be based on Fedora (a deeper inspection seems to indicate it is actually based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux). The second thing I noticed is that it had zero problems installing on this laptop. Some small problems have been encountered, such as not initially being able to set resolution to 1024×768 (fixed by changing the default monitor to a Dell 1024×768 Laptop Display Panel), not being able to put the laptop into hibernate or standby, and the media buttons not working (though do any of those special buttons work properly out of the box on any distro?). So far so good.

Going to their site, I noticed that Scientific Linux 4.1 has been released. Also, they have instructions (though kinda out of date) of how to upgrade from one minor revision to another. This I must try. Step 1) Set up proxy access at work. Step 2) Realize that the proxy is screwing up the compressed yum metadata files. Step 3) Hey, it’s a laptop, I can take it home. Step 4) Start updating.

Final verdict: After rebooting, I have an updated system behaving as expected! A big difference over my botched Fedora upgrades. If only more distros had such a well defined, documented, and tested transition between minor revisions, instead of primarily through downloading the latest 4 (and becoming 5) CDs, I am sure a lot of users would be happy.

They Sure Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

Here’s an e-mail I got in my work inbox today:

Laptop users: Recent Dell machines are showing a trend towards disk failure.

Make backups to cd-rom !
(and I don’t often use exclamation marks)

Since I am taking one of the Dell laptops to New Jersey with me, I thought I would follow up on this. Apparently 2 out of the 5 Dell laptops here have died. But I shouldn’t need to worry about mine (and Inspiron 2500), as it is a fairly old one and it is only the NEW drives that are having problems.

I was about to say “You would think that it would be the OLDER hardware that would fail” but then I thought about it for a minute. How many people out there have old hardware that runs fine? I mean, right now my firewall is running on an old(ish) computer running linux using a fairly old 4 GB hard drive. Granted, I am not going to be running anything critical on it, but it does get the job done. In comparison, any large hard drive I get these days is going to be from Seagate, due to their awesome 5 year warranty and the fact that drives I have gotten from Maxtor and Western Digital haven’t lasted even 3 years (but haven’t died when they were my own property thankfully). The network admin here agrees, apparently only getting Seagate drives cause everything else is junk and the 5 year warranty is a very nice bonus.

Also, back in Ontario, the home workstation for my mom is still a Pentium 90 (unless my mom actually went and bought a new computer for herself, which I doubt) which still runs fairly well (you know, for a Pentium 90).

So what is wrong with hardware these days? Are companies banking on the consumer to keep up with the ‘latest and greatest’ in hardware? Or are the latest hard drive enabled devices (MP3 Players, Game Consoles, etc) causing companies to push faster speeds and greater capacities in order to land cushy mass production contracts? With news items such as Spyware Removal: Drop PC In Dumpster showing the intelligence of the general consumer indicates a little of the former. Recent rumors of Samsung attempting to sell Apple on the idea of flash memory for iPods seems to indicate a little of the latter.

In the end, if you haven’t figured it out by now, shop smart, don’t shop Dell.

Google Code Jam: Aftermath

So today I participated in Google Code Jam ‘05 qualification round. Despite my being a 4th year CS student, this is actually the first code competition I have ever been able to participate, mostly due to work. The questions reminded me of Sedgwick’s homework assignments. The exception being that you only have 1 hour to complete both questions, and points are awarded based on time as well as completeness.

Question 1: 185.63/250
Question 2: 319.50/750

Total: 505.13/1000

My points for the second round would have been much better if I hadn’t of miscounted while iterating through a vector. Miscounting errors have always been a problem for me, and something I have to watch out for in the future.

Ah well. I mostly wanted to see how I would fare (and the answer there is better than a lot of people). Even if I had scored high enough to qualify, I will be in New Jersey when the real first round would occur, making it impossible to actually participate.

For Better Or For Worse

If you hadn’t heard by now, Novell is releasing ‘public betas’ of the SUSE linux distribution (openSUSE). This is a similar to Red Hat’s Fedora program.

How is this different from Fedora? From the FAQ:

The openSUSE project explicitly looks beyond the technical community to the broader non-technical community of computer users interested in Linux. The openSUSE project creates—through an open and transparent development process—a stabilized, polished Linux distribution (SUSE Linux) that delivers everything a user needs to get started with Linux. (SUSE Linux is consistently cited as the best-engineered Linux and the most usable Linux.) To fulfill its mission of bringing Linux to everyone, the openSUSE project makes SUSE Linux widely available to potential Linux users through a variety of channels, including a complete retail edition with end-user documentation. Only the openSUSE project refines its Linux distribution to the point where non-technical users can have a successful Linux experience.

I haven’t tried out this new version of SuSE (I used to use 9.2), but from looking at the package list and reading some commentary, I am somewhat leary. Some of the packages seem to be bleeding edge builds (including Samba, Xen, Openoffice, GCC) and it looks like they are going to use openSUSE as a testbed for items to include in their corporate distribution. Just like Red Hat. Granted, Ubuntu has become successful being based off of Debian Unstable, but……..

Regardless, I plan to give it a spin as soon as 10.0B3 comes out (which, if it comes out as soon as Beta 2 did, should be shortly after I get back from New Jersey) and see how that goes. My past experience with SUSE was not bad by a long shot. Here’s hoping that SUSE doesn’t drop the ball.

If I’m Not Working Or Sleeping, I’m Working

Reporter: “Sean Smith, you have just finished correcting 12 semi-critical bugs, what are you going to do now?”
Sean: “I’m going to Disney World New Jersey!”

So……. I have just finished a large stint of bug testing and fixing. Some last minute testing turned up a crop of bugs that were semi-critical and required resolution. The more frustrating part was that several of them were hardware problems, not software problems, due to someone blugging in an obviously damaged ethernet cable into the communication bus.

Due to my efforts, my relative familiarity with large sections of code, and the fact that most of the programmers are now on vacation (one on Maternity leave until the 4th, one on Vacation until then, and my supervisor just started a one week vacation so he could spend some time with his family), I was asked if I could possibly go to New Jersey with several other members of the team, to help with the deployment at Rutgers University.

Hmmm…….. let’s see……. I haven’t traveled anywhere besides to Ontario and back since my high school years. If I DIDN’T go, I wouldn’t really be doing much except waiting for bug reports and probably finishing up my work term report. I am supposed to move, but thanks to my compliment of truly amazing friends, I am putting my stuff into storage early and then moving into my apartment when I get back.

So yeah, I am heading down to New Jersey from the 27th to the 2nd. It should be an adventure.

Buskers – Part 2

Halifax International Buskerfest

Day 2 of what started here
Patrick Drake

Sleight of hand, or magic? This CS graduate turned magician (yeah, you read that right) makes me wonder. I really have no idea how he accomplished some of his tricks. Especially the one where he empties a pop can, squeezes the sides together, and then later restores the can, seals it, reopens it, and poors a cup of pop out.


What do you get when you take drums, a set of bagpipes, people to play them, and turn it into performance art? The answer, of course, is Squid. One of the best performances I saw in my two days of buskerfest, Squid conveyed a high level of energy and entusiasm in their performance. The kitchen stools as drums bit was interesting, as was the juggling of drum sticks (as well as stopping to do push ups when they screwed up). They reminded me of Blue Man Group, or Windom Earle. Oh, and the Homer Simpson chicken spin was amusing as well.

Dragon Knights

Storytelling art without words. All I really have to say is that their animal harnesses are amazing in their degree of movement, and the people that use them are astounding in how fluid they operate. Whoever designed them were amazing. I want one.

Astar The Fire Dancer

Set things on fire, play music, spin flaming objects around really fast in various directions. What’s not to like?

Afro Jambo

I would also have to put this among my favorite performances. Of course, I could be biased, since I was actually involved with this performance. Yeah, you heard me, I got selected from the crowd to get up in front of all 150+ people and jump rope. I like to think I wasn’t terrible, and in fact, maybe a touch better than the little kids. At least I hopped on one foot for a bit. Afro Jambo, of course, blew my antics right out of the water (hey, they’re professionals after all). Doing flips while jumping rope, human pyramids where the top was balancing on his hands, with his feet in the air, fire eating, dancing, and the flaming limbo……… yeah I would have to say this was one of the best shows at Buskerfest.


Picking up my mail today, there happened to be a big paper tube accompanying the regular catalogs/bills/junk. Even more curious, it was addressed to me. Odd…… I wasn’t expecting anything.

Inside was a letter from the Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science, as well as a sheet of paper that had the words Sean Smith and Citizenship Award in big, fancy lettering.

While I can’t say this comes as a COMPLETE surprise, the timing was somewhat unexpected. I knew Mike had written up a nomination form (and Mike, reading this letter, you obviously put in a lot), and that Jon and Mark had signed it, but the e-mail that requests nominations each term also states that “Students who are nominated for an award will be contacted by the Scholarship Committee so they can provide a résumé, transcript and any other information which they think the Committee should consider in its decision.” Now, I haven’t heard anything about it since I was told by my nominators that I had been nominated, and in fact, have been asked by some of them if I have heard anything, cause they hadn’t when the summer term nominations request went out.

In the end, I am honored to have been considered, and selected for this award. I would like to thank all of those who helped make this possible, including my nominators, and all of those who actually came out to the events I arranged.


So I decided to move from my old Livejournal to WordPress.

Why? I feel limited by LJ’s options, I want the ability to script my own content as necessary. I want better options for visual presentation. I want more control. WordPress wasn’t actually my first choice. Since I have been doing a bunch of Ruby programming as of late, I really wanted to give Typo, the Ruby on Rails blog software, a go. However, I also need a somewhat stable place to keep this thing, and torch is probably a teensy bit more stable than some of the other systems I have access to. As it doesn’t have Ruby or the Rails framework, PHP and WordPress it was. (Since there are tools to convert straight from WordPress to Typo, switching is still an easy option in the future).

The other reason is that I am becoming more focused and mature. No more of those drunken rants. No more angsty posts. No more barely understandable rambling. As I am changing, so is this blog.

Of course, this apparently messed up Planet CS when I started putting in backdated entries. Which is slightly odd since I would expect the aggregator to follow the PubDate tag correctly. Maybe it is just a caching thing and will fix itself in the next iteration.

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