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KDE's UI To Bend Toward Simplicity

frisket Re:Gnomeification? (170 comments)

I thought KDE was touted as being more "Windows-like" than Gnome, but maybe that's just my ignorance (I did use KDE once, many years ago, in the early releases of RH/Fedora). If it needs simplification, they have only themselves to blame. The problem with all GUI approaches to configuration is that they present what the designers believe are the options most people want, but I see no evidence that this has ever been tested or quantified. Usually the one key option you need fixed is absent, meaning you have to dig through the ludicrous syntax of dozens of config files. If a GUI is going to be presented as THE way to configure things, it has to be comprehensive (eg Evolution, although half of that seems to be broken still because it's immature, but a good start). Otherwise the designers need to get off their high horses and agree of one single common compulsory syntax and vocabulary for ALL config files, preferably in something obvious like key=value or XML.

9 hours ago

Proposed Law Would Limit US Search Warrants For Data Stored Abroad

frisket Re:Black letter law (110 comments)

Whether or not they have implemented anything yet, "addresses concerns by the likes of Microsoft and other tech giants" should read "addresses concerns of non-US populations"...about the ability of the US Government to pry into the private affairs of non-US citizens.

Not that the US Government gives a flying fuck about the views of non-US citizens. If the US Government finally starts to behave decently and respect the views of non-US citizens (even for the most bogus of corporate-funded reasons), it's a start...

9 hours ago

Drought Inspires a Boom In Pseudoscience, From Rain Machines To 'Water Witches'

frisket Re: A fool and their money (266 comments)

It's very fashionable to decry things we don't understand. Dowsing clearly works; my father called the local dowser in for his house in a remote part of SW Ireland. I watched him walk back and forth across the land, rods twitching, and eventually he hacked his heel down and said to "drill here" and we'd get "water for a family of five and to spare". Drill he did, we dropped down a remote-control DanFoss pump, and sucked on an aquifer that never failed, even in the drought years.

OK, they guy knew all the land thereabouts: he lived locally. Maybe he just knew the exact path of every underground watercourse in the neighborhood, but I doubt it. As a scientist, I want replicability of the observation (no problem here: he and several others do this for a living: no charge unless the water flows), and I'd like an explanation of why (none yet)...but equally I refuse to dismiss a phenomenon simply because it has no explanation yet. If we did that we'd still be living in the dark because we couldn't explain sunlight.

about three weeks ago

A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes

frisket Re:Any two-dimensional shape? (56 comments)

...and here we have a new replicator nanobot...oops

about a month ago

Scotland Could Become Home To Britain's First Spaceport

frisket Re:Hardly viable... (151 comments)

... they also have ground requirements much closer to 'airport with atypically long runway' ...

If that's what they need then the Irish government should look at creating a spaceport near Shannon, which has a gigantic runway,suitable both for the frequent US military stopovers to and from the Middle East, and (I was told) for the Shuttle, should an emergency ever have arisen requiring a landing in Europe if Edwards or elsewhere was unavailable. But that may just be local pride :-)

about 2 months ago

The FBI's Jargon List: Internet Acronyms Galore

frisket Re:BFF (124 comments)

And please feel free to add any useful ones to our Acronym Database.

about 3 months ago

Unicode 7.0 Released, Supporting 23 New Scripts

frisket Re:Klingon in more useful (108 comments)

The lack (or not) of speakers isn't the reason. According to one of my moles, the official dead-pan response to the question why Klingon and Elvish aren't in Unicode is that they are not human languages :-)

about 3 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Do 4G World Phones Exist?

frisket Re:Scotland? (259 comments)

Don't bother. Buy a US phone to use in the US, and buy a prepay phone in Scotland (which will work all over Europe and most of the rest of the world as well).

about 4 months ago

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter Earns One Million Dollars In Less Than a Day

frisket Re:Well done, sir (164 comments)

Presumably "everywhere" means "everywhere in the USA". Which is fair enough, seeing as the literacy rate needs improving. I've never heard of "Reading Rainbow" unless it refers to atmospheric conditions over Slough. But LeVar Burton is a dude, and if he supports it, it's OK by me.

about 4 months ago

Driverless Cars Could Cripple Law Enforcement Budgets

frisket Registered Keeper (626 comments)

Here (Ireland; and in the UK, I believe) the person with ultimate responsibility is the registered keeper of the car (basically the name and address on the car registration document). If that person lends the car to someone else, who then gets a speeding ticket, it's the registered keeper who gets the fine.

about 4 months ago

Emory University SCCM Server Accidentally Reformats All Computers Campus-wide

frisket Re:What kind of crap software... (564 comments)

Why wasn't the development of such a tool a graduate research project ?

Oh please goddess no. You'll end up with some arcane piece of experimental theology written in a private version of a language no-one has ever heard of, undocumented and unsupportable. Have it written by someone with a suitable track record, a suitable number of decades experience in whatever, and with proven implementations and documentation skills. It will be expensive, but it will cost far less in the long run.

about 4 months ago

Emory University SCCM Server Accidentally Reformats All Computers Campus-wide

frisket Re:Backups (564 comments)

Bad news most likely on this front. I have worked University IT, and I can guarantee they are going to have problems.

For one, no matter how many layers of backups you have, when you are working with a bunch of 90 year old academics, they will always find a way to miss every single one.

And more grievous, Universities tend to have important data that absolutely cannot be backed up in any normal way. Data that is legally obligated to stay on one specific computer in one specific room and never leave; under penalty of legal action.

That level of insanity is why I am laughing. The bold parts specifically. When you allow people who have no clue how a system works to legislate how it works, you get this.

You have no idea what you are talking about. Restrictions like these are usually imposed by the legal IT people in the funding agency that funds the research, and they do very much understand exactly what they are doing (there are plenty of people in these agencies who are clueless, but the legal IT people are usually pretty good). Or suppose the project was doing research for the cops into identifying the makers of child porn; believe me that stuff would be locked down REAL tight.

about 4 months ago

Data Mining Shows How Down-Voting Leads To Vicious Circle of Negative Feedback

frisket Plonk (293 comments)

On Usenet there is the killfile, so at least people who know what they're doing can trash the crap, and these would typically be the kind of people the negatively-rated posters would have been trying to impress. The problem remains that newcomers and those unaware of the 'k' button remain exposed to the idiocies of such posters.

Elsewhere, it's not clear whom the negatively-rated posters are trying to impress — if anyone. More likely they're just trying to get something, anything, out on the interwebs, so that their visibility increases.

The ones I'm most familiar with (from running lists and web forums) are like the loudmouths in bars, with an opinion on everything, and almost all of it wrong; but it's not clear if this is the type of poster the researchers were dealing with.

about 4 months ago

Did the Ignition Key Just Die?

frisket Re:If not... (865 comments)

A mechanical lock that wears out the tumblers due to age or use is acceptable: you use it, it wears, you replace it after x years.

A lock that randomly decides not to work because of unexpected component failure (read: shoddy quality) is unacceptable. What is also unacceptable is the ludicrous price of electronic lock/key replacement, and the reluctance of manufacturers to provide at least one (preferably) two spare keys with the new car, and their apparent inability to provide replacement keys (on their own) at all.

Cars need to have a mechanical-only standby door lock/key, if only to let you into the shelter of the interior in emergencies, whether or not you can then start the engine. If manufacturers move to keyless operation, it will probably take many deaths before they provide a mechanical fallback.

about 5 months ago

Boeing Unveils Cabin Design For Commercial Spaceliner

frisket Fat passengers (74 comments)

Looks scarily like the passenger facilities in the spaceliner in WALL-E to me...

about 5 months ago

Canonical (Nearly) Halts Development of Ubuntu For Android

frisket Re:Damn, saw that coming. (55 comments)

Canonical is doing what Nokia did, and will pay the same penalty.

I wrote some years ago about how Nokia was missing the point, having developed a pocket computer before knowing what they had done. Their blinkers said "phone" on them, so they never saw the giant road sign that said "computer". As one veteran of a firm then free-falling out of the Fortune 500 put it in The Cluetrain Manifesto, "The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery."

Now Canonical have developed another Maemo/Meego: a life-size OS that runs on a pocket device. And Mark Shuttleworth seems to have inherited Nokia's set of blinkers that say "phone", and Lo! and behold! he too cannot see the sign that says "computer". As I said in that article, 'the current pox of "partnerships" is a particularly Good Clue, because it means management is spending more time schmoozing on the golf course than down on the shop floor making or selling.'

I truly hope this doesn't apply (mutatis mutandis) to Mark Shuttleworth, but if you have invested your money, time, or life in Canonical, you need to consider if your forecast of the future concides with theirs.

about 5 months ago

An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

frisket Speak another language (264 comments)

What other essential knowledge or skills should we add to this imaginary 'toolbox'?

One that sets many apart: learn to communicate in another language.

about 5 months ago

One-a-Day-Compiles: Good Enough For Government Work In 1983

frisket Re:1983 was not the "punched card era" (230 comments)

Twilight certainly. In 1983 I was working for United Information Services, a data-processing bureau service in London, subsidiary of United Telecom of Kansas. We did have a few machines that still ran punched cards, but my dev work was interactive database front-ends for engineering and finance applications, coded in Fortran on an A-J VDU attached to a DEC-10. We also had private network access to a couple of Crays and some IBMs in Kansas, and a basement full of DEC-10s somewhere in PA. We would occasionally get customers come in with a deck of cards, but the last time I had had to deal with them (the cards) in anger was when I dropped a box of them in college years earlier. However, I can well see that government computing would then have been a considerable way behind the curve.

about 5 months ago

GNU Mailman 3 Enters Beta

frisket Wot no LDAP? (57 comments)

It is still missing LDAP support for list *owners*. AFAICS if you use LDAP for authentication, that means all list *members* must validate through LDAP, which is exactly the wrong way round. What I need is to enforce list *owners* to be members of my university (ie they appear in AD and can only login with their campus credentials), whereas list *members* (subscribers) can be from anywhere. Or have I missed something?

about 5 months ago

Finding the Next Generation of Teachers With "Innovative Microsoft Ads"

frisket Re: Gates wants your children (122 comments)

BS. 50k isn't even peanuts.

about 5 months ago



Digital Humanities articles to be published visually

frisket frisket writes  |  about 6 months ago

frisket (149522) writes "Digital Humanities Quarterly is making its articles available as a "set of visualizations which will be published as a surrogate for the article", according to editor Julia Flanders of Northeastern University. "[This] helps address a growing problem of inequity between scholars who have time to read and those whose jobs are more technical or managerial and don’t allow time to keep up with the growing literature in DH. By removing the full text of the article from view and providing a surrogate that can be easily scanned in a few minutes, we hope to rectify this imbalance, putting everyone on an equal footing. A second, related problem has to do with the radical insufficiency of reading cycles compared with the demand for reading and citation to drive journal impact factor.""
Link to Original Source

Chocolate celebration for the new Mayan calendar-cycle

frisket frisket writes  |  about 2 years ago

frisket writes "As the new Mayan baktun starts, amid all the bogus apocalypse rumours, surely we need to celebrate this event with the Maya, as it won't re-occur any time soon. As chocolate was so important in their culture and religion, how's about we all bring some chocolate to our co-workers, friends, neighbours, relations, etc? Or do Slashdotters have even better ways to celebrate?"
Link to Original Source

Faulty patch leaves thousands with no banking service

frisket frisket writes  |  about 2 years ago

" rel="nofollow">frisket writes "The Register reports: "RBS and Natwest have failed to register inbound payments for up to three days, customers have reported, leaving people unable to pay for bills, travel and even food. The banks — both owned by RBS Group — have confirmed that technical glitches have left bank accounts displaying the wrong balances and certain services unavailable. There is no fix date available." Customers of NatWest subsidiary Ulster Bank in Ireland have also been left without banking services. RTE reports that "the problem had arisen within the systems of parent bank RBOS when an incorrect patch was applied.""
Link to Original Source

Which Android phone from which phone company?

frisket frisket writes  |  more than 2 years ago

frisket writes "My current phone contract is about to run out, and I'm due a phone upgrade. My HTC Hero has been fine except for the notorious lack of Android proxy support for wireless connections, so I want a new Android phone which provides this. None of the phone companies hereabouts (Ireland) seems to know anything about this, and the forums offer conflicting advice. Is it true that wifi proxy support is disabled to force users to use their phone company's IP connection? What choices do I have (if any)?"
Link to Original Source

Review of JIRA 4 Essentials

frisket frisket writes  |  about 3 years ago

frisket writes "The JIRA issue-tracking system has been around for seven years and has proved popular in commercial as well as open-source environments owing to its licensing arrangements (free of charge to certain classes of organizations, and source code available to developers). The release of v.4 in 2009 (now at 4.4) brought some major changes to the UI and searching, a new plugin architecture, and the ability to share project dashboards outside the system. Patrick Li's JIRA 4 Essentials is a comprehensive guide to the interface and facilities that both presents the material straighforwardly and avoids the trap of just being a guide to the menus. Although it is aimed mainly at the administrator, it will also be useful for the desktop user wanting a standalone system.

JIRA is an tracking system for issues arising in software project management and development (the vendor, Australian software company Atlassian, seems to avoid the use of the phrase "bug-tracker".) It's written in Java and runs on all three main platforms, and can be downloaded for server or desktop, or run hosted, and there is a 30-day trial period.

Pricing is scaled by number of users in bands, and is for a perpetual license with a year's support. Although it is commercial software, Atlassian provides it free of charge to open source projects — one reason for its popularity in the movement — and a limited set of non-profit organization types. Academic and developer licenses are also available at a reduced rate.

JIRA 4 Essentials: Track bugs, issues, and manage your software development projects with JIRA is aimed at the administrator who needs a comprehensive description, explanation, and reference to JIRA that goes beyond the online documentation. Patrick Li has also provided a book that the end user can use and learn from (I administer systems, but not JIRA; but I use it for several applications).

So why this book? JIRA's online documentation is very good, and fine for reference and searching, but the book explains the features in much more detail, with more background on factors like why you might want to use one particular feature rather than another. Patrick Li has done what few authors of the "About..." style of book do: produce a readable yet detailed explanation of how to use an application, without simply reproducing each menu in turn.

The book is divided into ten chapters, approaching the topic from the project management and issue management point of view. This approach means that newcomers learns why they might want to do something rather than just how.

Chapter 1 covers getting started: a description of the JIRA architecture (I did say this was for admins and developers), followed by installation options and the installation process itself (Java, MySQL, and JIRA). The examples and screenshots here are for Microsoft Windows users of the standalone version (which comes bundled with Tomcat): experienced admins on Unix-based systems are assumed to know how to install Tomcat and deploy an application. Very sensibly it includes a section on installing HTTPS, something neglected by many web-based systems.

Chapters 2 and 3 are on project management and issue management as dealt with in JIRA. They take an outward-in approach, describing the overall management facilities (project administration and configuration) before going on to the finer detail of components, issues, priorities, and resolutions. This can be a little frustrating for the admin taking over a running system, and needing to perform individual tasks; or for the user wanting to add an issue rather than configure an entire project, but the four-level table of contents provides enough overview to let you find the right section. The running example used for illustration is a project support desk, and the many screenshots are detailed and accurate. Chapter 3 ("Issue Management") in particular is very detailed: this is one area where most users will spend most of their time, so it merits this approach.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with field and screen management respectively. The fields available in any interface are always an annoyance to the end user: the one you need is never there, and there are dozens that you can't imaging ever wanting. Getting the fields and their configuration right is critical to the success of any installation, and Li rightly spends a lot of the chapter on customising the field set. A similar approach pays off in Chapter 5 on screen management, although it would have been useful to cover some of the concepts of usability such as field order logic, data entry types, and flow logic between screens, which tend to be neglected by busy admins, only to raise issues later with the interface to the issue management software itself.

Chapter 6 is on workflows and business processes: how to adapt the concepts of Chapters 4 and 5 to the business logic of your organization. This is possibly one of the most important configurations, as it forms the interface with the rest of the company, but it is the only chapter I would take issue with, as the writing seems to be less coherent and convincing than elsewhere, as if it was done in haste. It's perfectly accurate, so far as I can tell, and the screenshots are carefully detailed; it's just slightly less easy to read, particularly the central part on transitions and conditions. But this is a small defect overall.

Chapter 7 is on setting up email notification and SMTP. As with most collaborative systems, email can be used both as an input and an output, and there is a set of templates that can be edited to reflect the way your company wants users to be notified. (I live in hope that some company will say "Thanks for submitting ticket XYZ. I'm sorry we screwed up on that one: we're fixing it and we'll let you know." which would be much more honest than the usual marketing claptrap.) Mail submission is an often-neglected way of communicating, and it's good to see it get decent attention.

I mentioned earlier that it was good to see HTTPS being covered: the same is true of Chapter 8 ("Securing your JIRA") which covers the benefits and shortfalls of signup, captchas, the permission hierarchy, and the roles of JIRA sysadmin and JIRA admin.

The final two chapters cover searching and general administration. Searching is one of the biggest bugbears in bug^H^H^Hissue submission: people have so many different ways of expressing what they feel to be the matter that no amount of urging will make them write the same topic when they submit the same bug. Dev teams have to deal with repeated duplicate submissions which would be avoided if search engines would only let people find earlier reports of the same thing, but this magic continues to elude us. JIRA introduced JQL in an attempt to help: this is based on a field=value query syntax which is fine for token list fields, but not much use for freetext searches, where a thesaurus would be more useful. However, Li explains the problem and the solutions available, and also covers setting up stored filters, and creating dashboards and reports. The last chapter (10) deals with customising the general look and feel, colors, logos, date and time configs, and the use of plugins (the Google Docs Connector is illustrated).

Each chapter has a summary, but they are rather short. It would be more useful to see a whole page summarising the material covered, rather than just a few lines: this would then provide a valuable resource when using the book for training. Perhaps a re-issue of the book for v.5 could address this.

There are some minor cultural/linguistic problems with the use of "a software" and "softwares" as nouns, and the occasional appearance of "manual" for "manually", which indicates that some tighter copy-editing might be appropriate for a future edition. There is a good two-level index, but it is unclear from simple capitalisation what the semantics of entries are (a reserved word or phrase? a key value? a prompt or GUI widget?). A minor annoyance is the otherwise very good Table of Contents, which appears to have been done by a Powerpoint user, with the font-size continually shrinking and the margin indenting as the depth increases (for the page numbers as well as the entries!): better control of the design is needed.

Overall, I found the book both readable and useful. It is well illustrated with very clear screenshots, using tooltip-yellow callouts to explain fields and prompts. The writing style is light and illustrative, explaining why an action is needed before how to do it.

On the subject of training, the book would probably be useful to trainers for the same of its detailed procedures (go here, click this, type that, click there). Li does state that JIRA can be used for managing issues outside the software issue-tracking field, which implies that it could be used by non-IT people at some stage, and training would certainly be needed. The HelpDesk application example, which recurs throughout, will probably be a useful point of reference for the majority of readers. If the future plans for JIRA are to extend its reach outside the IT issue-tracking field, it might be useful to develop a non-IT application example for another edition."

Link to Original Source

Where to get a 4:3 laptop

frisket frisket writes  |  more than 3 years ago

frisket writes "My 4:3 screen laptop won't last for ever, but when it dies, how will I replace it? In my line (document engineering) vertical screen space is essential. Wide-screen is fine for video, but it won't cut it for document preview. Hi-res will show the full height of a document, but only if you use a magnifying glass. The big makers have switched to wide-screen, but is there anyone else out there making 4:3 laptops? There's still a big professional market for these."
Link to Original Source

Book Review: DocBook 5 (Norman Walsh: O'Reilly)

frisket frisket writes  |  more than 4 years ago

frisket writes "DocBook 5: The Definitive Guide
by Norman Walsh
Edited by Richard Hamilton
ISBN: 9780596805029
Published by O'Reilly in conjunction with XML Press.

Definitive guides by the authors or maintainers of software systems tend to have the edge over other documentation because of the insight they provide. DocBook 5 — The Definitive Guide comes well up to scratch. DocBook has long been the de facto standard for computer system documentation in XML (and SGML before that), and Norm Walsh has revised and updated both the language and the documentation in a concise and valuable form, usable both by beginners and by tech doc experts.

DocBook is a rich XML vocabulary, primarily for the documentation of software systems. It provides markup both for the structure of your documents and for the descriptive detail of your writing, to an extent that few other XML systems match. Like XML itself, DocBook's popularity rests on its robustness, scope, and extensibility; and Walsh makes it clear that the Technical Committee has tried hard to balance stability and adaptability in releasing a new major version which does have a few backward-incompatible changes.

This is a reference book, so the initial chapters (1-5) are short (70 pages) but full of clear explanations of how DocBook works, what it does, and how to use it. Part II is 400 pages, covering every element type in the language, with a detailed description of what it is for, how and where to use it, and how it interacts with everything else. Both for the beginner and the expert, these descriptions are the key to effective use, and Walsh's explanations are clear and comprehensive.

For those of you who have been using DocBook in earlier incarnations, the changes are not deal-breakers, and many of them are welcome rationalizations of the way things have grown organically over the years. It still walks like a duck and quacks like a duck (and the book still has a duck on the cover), so it immediately feels like the same format that you're used to — the changes to element types are relatively few. Chapter 1 (Getting Started) has a brief history, a summary of the changes, and an explanation of the namespace and availability.

If you've never used DocBook before, its structure will still be familiar: in Chapter 2 (Creating DocBook Documents) Walsh explains the division of reference material like books, articles, and manuals into chapters, sections, and subsections, with all the conventional features like lists, figures, tables, and references, as well as the technically-oriented features like equations, programming constructs, interface descriptions, and code samples.

There is help in Chapter 3 (Validation) for those who construct or generate DocBook documents without the use of an XML editor (or even with them: more on editors below). The most common problems with misplaced markup (and the error messages they create) are clearly explained with examples.

Chapter 4 (Publishing) very briefly explains the role of stylesheets (CSS, XSL, and XQuery) in displaying and transforming your documents to other formats, but as these all have their own books and manuals, this book doesn't go into them in any detail.

Customizing DocBook is fairly commonplace, either to avoid the need to commit tag abuse, or to extend its structure into other fields (I added a new element type for typographical examples for my book on LaTeX, and it only took a few minutes). Chapter 5 provides some rules and explanation of customization layers and modularity for those who design schemas and DTDs.

The five Appendixes cover Installation, Variants, Resources, Interchange, and the GNU Free Documentation License — yes, you can read the whole thing online at, for which Tim, Norm, and many others are to be thanked. It is a rare publisher who groks the need to be able to point someone at a reference, or quote it in email or a tweet, where a paper copy doesn't cut the mustard.

There isn't anything here about actually using an XML editor or about how to choose one. Editors do of course all come with their own documentation (much of it written using DocBook) and editor selection can be a complex business. However, there is a list of some common tools in Appendix C (Resources). Editors are a minefield, as my own research into the usability of editing software for structured documents is showing, so I can understand the omission, but some pointers to editor resources would have been useful.

The chapter on Publishing is useful for those who haven't been in the publication process before, but it could have emphasized more the need for accuracy and consistency. Experienced technical authors know this, but many other writers don't see the need for it, assuming that the publisher (or some elf) will automagically heal everything before publication. DocBook 5 and this book will help enormously, but author-edited documents sometimes unwittingly misuse or abuse the markup, no matter how exhaustive the manuals.

If you write computer documentation, or anything related to it, from a conference paper to a thesis to a book, DocBook 5 is probably what you should use if you want the document to survive and to be usable and reusable; and this is the book to help you do it."

Link to Original Source

Web forum software

frisket frisket writes  |  more than 5 years ago

frisket writes "A research project has asked me (as webadmin) to set up a web forum for them, with password protection, topics groupable by category, and time-limited threads. I've run phpBB before, but it's a time-sink on maintenance and very clumsy to administer (and PHP has its own problems; although I do have Tomcat and Cocoon available as well). What FOSS forum software do other /.ers prefer or recommend?"

Ethics of website adverts

frisket frisket writes  |  more than 7 years ago

frisket writes "I run a number of pro bono tech information sites. I've been approached by a (perfectly genuine) internet marketeer wanting to pay for a link. My suspicion is that they are just looking to boost their page rank, rather than actually get leads or business. I already fund the sites from Google Adsense, but there's no conflict. So I though I'd ask /.ers: do I bow to the almighty $ or keep my site aloof?"


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