Archive | 2007

Notes from DLSLUG, 6-Dec-2007

Fourteen people made it to the December meeting of the Dartmouth – Lake Sunapee Linux User Group, held as usual on the first Thursday of the month and in what appears to be our new place, Haldeman 041, in the lower level of the building next to our previous meeting place.

“Nifties” was the theme, for any presentation that might elicit the reaction “Nifty!” from the audience, and they all did.

Roger Trussell presented a firefox extension using Javascript, XML (“XUL”) and SVG (Structured Vector Graphics, yet again more XML, but rendered by Mozilla as graphics) to create graphically complex interactive structures in Mozilla browser. Nifty!

Glen Page, newly appointed leader of the New Hampshire Society for Technology in Education talked about the happenings at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference (which also included presentations by well-known GNHLUG activists Ed Lawson, Bill Sconce and Matt Oquist)

Doug McIlroy showed us some tricks with qsort: qsort is an interface under which each developer could implement their own sorting algorithm, a common homework assignment. Doug argued that a properly designed data set could disappoint anyone who thought they’d created the cleverest quicksort EVER by always returned quadratic (slow) results. You can read the code here. Nifty!

Nick Sinnot-Armstrong: One Laptop Per Child XO-1 laptop: show and tell. A local developer experimenting on a pre-production model of the OLPC with the very capable microphone input (accepts both analog and digital for standard audio as well as measurement data). Nick gave us a tour of the laptop, passed it around for people to get a sense of the size and capabilities. Note that the OLPC charitable project “Get One, Give One” is going on through December 31st. Nifty!

Mike Diehn showed off some very powerful tips and tricks in bash and vi, and pointed to some handy resources at – Nifty!

Bill McGonigle demonstrated Munin, a monitoring and recording tool that’s a great add-on for a facility that’s trying to pick up on problems occuring over time, Built on top of RRDTool, it can record and remember a set of measurements over time. Bill showed how one of his web sites was experiencing a surge that was hurting performance and setting off alarms. By picking a set of parameters to monitor, Bill was able to work out that… well, you should have been there. Nifty stuff!

Bill has an interesting pointer to a project called FON. I’ve been reading through the web site on the FON system. Here’s how I read it: Home/businesses with the proper rights granted by their upstream suppliers can post this access point on their network. Internally, the host can use a private wireless access, encrypted with WPA2 or less. Externally, the WAP advertises itself as FON_AP, an open (no key) wireless access point. Other ‘Fonistas’ – registered members who are actively operating their own FON WAPS – can access the wireless for free. But the great unwashed masses do not get to access it for free. They get to pay for access. A FON pass will apparently let them use any FON WAP for a day. They can purchase it on the spot, or buy a bunch of passes and use them as needed. Not sure of rates or the fine print. The host seems to be able to set it up as a “Linus” and collect no fees themselves or as a “Bill” and share in the dividends that FON makes from paying access. It’s an intriguing business model.

Apparently, on Thanksgiving FON offered their WAP for free for a limited time, and Bill was able to get one, which he raffled off at the meeting.

And last, but certainly not least, Bill McGonigle demonstrated a pair of carol-playing, wireless, dueling-banjo penguins. Nifty!

Thanks to Bill McGonigle for organizing the meeting, to Dartmouth College for generously donating the use of the facilities, and to all who attended and demonstrated Nifties!

OLPC: How do we gauge success?

Larry Dignan asks, “OLPC: How do we gauge success? Will 490,000 units do?… So what’s success here? My take is Negroponte’s project is a success simply because it brought an issue to the forefront and got tech giants on board.”

I believe Negroponte’s goal was to put tools in the hands of children eager to learn to use them. Let’s hope that success continues; there’s a lot more need than the initial half-million OLPCs.

Notes from PySIG, 29-Nov-2007: Django in the real world

Fourteen people managed to find their way to the Amoskeag Business Incubator (it’s on SOUTH Commercial Street, contrary to the directions on the ABI site) for the November meeting, one week later than the usual fourth Thursday of the month, of the Python Special Interest Group.

A number of new attendees arrived this month. We pointed out that the mailing list for the group can be found on the DLSLUG and GNHLUG sites, look for “mailing list” and that there was an announcement as well as a discuss list for the group. We pointed out the main calendar at as well and talked about other resources.

Several members were new to the area or had come up from Cambridge, MA (our fair city) for the SIG meeting. They pointed out the Cambridge Python Group, who usually posts meeting announcements on, which boasts 103 members on their list! We discussed the ideas for mutual cooperation, and will be glad to cross-post their announcements to the PySIG -announce list.

Kent S. Johnson was the main presenter, and showed us how Django is used to host the site. Without going into details on the business aspects of the site, Kent was able to give us a tour of several of the pages, talk about the RESTful URL formats, the model-view-controller model that’s used, demonstrate some of the code used to describe a model and the actions that can be taken on it, and show us some of the templating language that generates the HTML. The built-in administrative functionality, creating simple CRUD pages based on the model descriptions, was an impressive Django feature.

An excellent meeting, with lots of code and lots of ideas. Thanks to Kent for the main presentation, to our Cambridge brethren for making the long trip, to Bill Sconce for arranging, announcing and MC’ing the meeting, and to the Amoskeag Business Incubator for providing the great venue. Hope to see you all again at next month’s meeting, held on the 27th of December, likely just an informal chat due to the proximity with the holiday.

Security firm cracks encryption for Microsoft’s wireless keyboards – heise Security

Ouch! Encrypted communications between your computer and peripherals have to be impractically difficult to crack. The encryption scheme described in “Security firm cracks encryption for Microsoft’s wireless keyboards – heise Security” is beyond pathetic. I hope other manufacturers have more reasonable encryption schemes. In the mean time, don’t type anything on a Microsoft wireless keyboard you wouldn’t want to see published like, say, your bank account password. Disgraceful!

Link via Schneier on Security

Should you buy software from a web-storefront-only operation?

A client had a demo web site developed by someone else and they were really excited about the interactivity. It was a very rich client application, with drag-and-drop and sizers and interactive widgets. The client wanted my team to use the same platform, which they thought was something-Dot-Net. Once we were finally able to chase down the developer, it turned out to be a commercial Javascript library. We looked up the vendor, and it is a curious site.

They have an online store, one of those generic things with box-shots of a product that’s download only (there must be an add-on for Photoshop or GIMP to make these fake boxes, don’t you think?), an “About Us” page that has the usual mission-statement-ish stuff, but no “Who We Are” or where they are, a “Customer Support” page that lets you submit a ticket online, no history, no searching. The only contacts are email addresses (generic, “marketing,” “legal,” “info” not “”) and an 800-number I have no doubt is an answering service. There’s no online forum. It looks like no one’s home.

Searching about them in Google, there’s their web site, of course. There are a couple of mentions about XSS (cross-site scripting) and a few other exploits posted to the usual security sites, a good sign that someone is actually using the code. A couple of echos of their press releases. And… nothing. No user communities, either a forum on their web site or an ad-hoc third party set of posts. No additional information. No one posting anything, anywhere from This is pretty strange.

So, what’s the deal? My best guess is that this is an off-shore operation without any US representation nor tech support, perhaps even no ability to provide support in English. Between a proprietary license and questionable support, I’ve recommended we do some more research and see if some of the open source or openly-available Javascript libraries can fulfill the client’s needs.

Popup panels on mouseover using only CSS

I found this elegant little hack the other day while browsing for something completely different. I see that the code has made the rounds, and appears on sites like and, but the credits seem only to lead to other marketing sites harvesting page views and hosting ads. A sample is available at and consists of a span tag defined as absolutely positioned and block-display, which in turn is inside an anchor tag set to position: relative. That means the block will “pop” at the location of the anchor and can display whatever text (or images or other content) is within the span. Spiffy!

Ivan Krstić, First OLPC deployment: now it’s real.

Ivan Krstić blogs First OLPC deployment: now it’s real.: “This week, Uruguay became the first-ever real, non-pilot deployment site of OLPC XO laptops. And I was there to hand out the first one.” Very cool! Uruguay is due to deploy ninetu thousand and Peru just signed up for a quarter of a million of them. The pundits can say what they want, but the experience in the field will be far more educational than the prognostications. Looking forward to the results.

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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.