To FLOSS or not to FLOSS

I am struggling with a decision I never imagined I would have to make. Most of those who know me would be surprised at what I am considering. The question that is weighing on my mind is whether I should buy an iMac.

(All the following is NOT derived with scientific rigor. It is merely the ramblings of a floss purist questioning his ideals via personal anecdotes.)

A long time ago I realized that I am not a typical computer user. I use Firefox to surf the web and emacs for everything else. These preferences, which tend towards a positive feedback loop , have brought me to a small isolated area of the Venn diagram.

However, I do have a wife and son and they fall into the larger section of that imaginary Venn diagram. They browse the web, use email (predominantly through the web), IM (again web based), manage photos via f-spot, watch videos through mplayer, play some time wasting games,etc.

Of course my son does a bit more with various tools like scratch.

The core problem and reason for this post is that he wants to do more, but can’t. Editing videos on linux is near impossible. Cinelerra is about as useful to an impatient ten year old as mowing the lawn with a pair of scissors. Kdenlive looks promising, but crashes constantly with segfaults and other weird errors. After hours or days of stubborn persistence his natural response it to give up. I don’t blame him.

The core philosophy of floss is freedom. Freedom is a hollow concept without pragmatic consequences. “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”, thus for popular systems at least stability is approachable. Of course there are caveats and other problems with this which I will punt. With FLOSS one also has the ability to make an application do what they want (the freedom part). If a package comes close, but not quite, then you have the ability (whether you do it yourself or higher it out) to get the feature you need. This saves you writing a system from scratch.

Non-free systems in the floss view are bad because you can become entrapped in that system. In order for Digital Restrictions Management to ‘work’ it has to be infused throughout the system from the hardware level up to user level apps including network services. Enforcing whimsical industry group policies through fallible systems is always a poor judgement call.

Expanding closed systems through undocumented, broken api’s is an exercise in frustration. While there are exceptions they are exactly that, rare exceptions.

One can easily observe some real world consequences that are surprising for a floss purist. Floss tends to be a copycat of the closed giants. One can easily argue that the closed giants also copy each other.

Another observation that contradicts the philosophy of floss is that the media apps tend to crash. Sure, mplayer and co. will play most codecs perfectly fine. Creating or manipulating media is a different experience entirely.

A naive observer would be forgiven wondering what benefit there is to all this freedom when innovation is not the de facto emergent property.

Bringing all these tangents together I am back where I started: Do I buy an iMac so my son can create media with relative ease or do I hold onto ideals and contribute to an immature ecosystem? In other words do I side with short-sited pragmatism or hold out for potential long term rewards?

why eBook readers are great next year.

I recently succumbed to gadget lust and bought an ebook reader, BeBook to be precise.  I read a lot of books and luckily they tend to be public domain works from long dead authors. My tastes allow me to take advantage of the reader while not compromising my DRM == Evil stance.

The overall experience of reading on the BeBook is quite good. Needing light to view a display on an electronic device is still surprising. The screen is a bit smaller than I expected (though I am not sure what I was expecting exactly.) which means more page turns to read a book. Turning a page does take a few moments, however, it is easy enough to anticipate and click the button while you are close enough to the end. You can then finish reading while the reader does whatever it does to render then next ‘page’.

I often end up reading in bed. It is a habit I got into while I was single and luckily I have an understanding wife so I am able to continue doing this. It is so much easier using a reader while laying down than a book. Unfortunately, the buttons emit a clunky click when pressed. I initially thought this was the death knell for reading the BeBook in bed. Luckily, the wife has yet to complain.

For reasons I have yet to figure out, the default zoom level of some pdfs can be illegible. Zooming involves pressing the number key with the magnifying glass on it. NOT the buttons with the + and -, which are for volume. That took me longer to realize than I care to admit. The zoom button cycles through the various modes in one direction. This means that if you go one step too far you have several more page refreshes to go through to get back to where you want it. This can feel like it takes a while due to the slight delay in display refresh. I don’t really plan on using this to play audio, so it would be really nice to remap the volume buttons to zoom.

There really isn’t much to say about the software. It just works. Which is both surprising and good. As far as I can tell the UI is just a file browser, if there are more ways to browse your library, I don’t know about it. Since the file view has worked well enough for me I haven’t bothered to look.

I read mostly pdfs and epub books. Rendering epub is definitely superior to that of pdfs. If I had to guess, I would say this is because epub is an open standard, pdf is extremely complex while epub has a single purpose, and it appears there is more epub content. I have not tried any other formats since they tend to have DRM and I don’t want to throw away money or support such a horrid concept.

OpenInkpot needs mention. It is a linux distro for the Hanlin v3 (BeBook) and other ereaders. It is an interesting idea and deserves some attention. I want to use it some more before I decide whether to switch. The few times I have booted it, Inkpot seems to be very similar in how the BeBook functions. At least I haven’t noticed any marked difference yet. I am definitely going to play with it again and would recommend taking a few minutes yourself.

Content. The single reason to buy these things is to put books on them. If you can’t do that, they are quite pointless. Sure, you can put feeds into ebook format and consume them that way, but then links are dead and I have found it to be rather constraining. However, I do use and for what it is, it works very well. (more on that in another post.)

If you don’t care whether your soul is sucked into the maw of giant corporate blobs, then DRM is for you. There are two big buy offers on your soul; Amazon and Sony. You can give them lots of money for the privilege of temporarily accessing big name authors and other pop-culture trends. Then they will take it away at a whim. Who wouldn’t want that?

Even if you did decide your soul was worth their baubles you would still have to run a vbox/vmware image of windows. Most of their spyware is not cross platform.

Your other choice is to travel into the world of Public Domain, Tech Tomes, and Unknowns. Lucky for me, this happens to be where I enjoy traveling. Reading authors that were around before the Brimstone Puking Demon was envisioned is extremely entertaining and rewarding. O’Reilly has decided that their customers are not amoral savages so there is a wealth of cool, but expensive, content. There is also a bunch of places offering self-published authors and a few publishers that have functioning brain cells,

There is enough content out there allowing you to avoid DRM altogether. It just requires a bit of work to find. I am still looking for good sources of books. I love that O’Reilly doesn’t have DRM. However, building a library of their material would be extremely expensive at $30+ a pop.

Is the BeBook worth it? Yes. It allows me to easily read classic lit, all the tech tomes I could want and find great unknown authors. Using it for only a week and I am hooked.

Qunu RIP?

First, I would like to apologize to everyone who put so much effort into qunu.

Current Status:

The server has been taken offline. There are no backups which are current, the latest is one month old.


The server that was just taken offline was to be a temporary home lasting one, maybe two months. We were then going to find a more permanent setup. As with most things that have a deadline it received no attention until it was necessary.

Apparently there was some confusion as to the date which the account was to be canceled. It was scheduled to be taken offline on December 21, 2007. However, the server was taken offline nine days before the scheduled time (e.g. today)

A few weeks earlier, Mickaël at process-one had generously offered to take qunu off our hands. So we had finally found the home we had been looking for. I had even started the process of getting all the data off the server. Unfortunately, the transition is not going as smoothly as I had hoped.

Once again, qunu will suffer through a period of downtime before it is finally resurrected again. Maybe qunu should be renamed Phoenix or Lazarus

At some point when all the kinks are worked out, probably next month, qunu will be started at its new home. Don’t hold your breath, but don’t give up hope either.


Selecting whole buffer

Just ran into this emacs key binding. Someday I need to just read the manual and mark all the stuff I wish I knew already for later study. But since I will probably never do that here is yet another cool thing in emacs which I didn’t know about:

C-x h runs the command mark-whole-buffer
which is an interactive compiled Lisp function in `simple.el’.
It is bound to C-x h,


Put point at beginning and mark at end of buffer.
You probably should not use this function in Lisp programs;
it is usually a mistake for a Lisp function to use any subroutine
that uses or sets the mark.

If you didn’t know about this, enjoy.

Emacs, the lisp OS

Not only can you edit videos in emacs now, but you can also create music. My initial response was WTF!? However, after watching the demo videos, I can see the practical uses.

nyc erlang/ejabberd meetup

I am going to be meeting with Mickaël Rémond at an adhoc ejabberd meeting. afaik, the location is undetermined, however, I am flying out in the morning and have decided that Gramstand is as good of a place as any for now. (primarily thanks to stumbling onto a coworking blog). Will probably move onto a more pub-like venue later on.

I am hoping to meet a few erlang/ejabberd devs on this trip. If not, the chance to chat with Mickaël f2f will definitely be worth the 1.2hr plane ride.

I am taking Jetblue flight1 from Buffalo to JFK and landing around 10:00am. Then finding my way from Queens to Manhattan via the subway. It looks like I will have about 8hrs to play with in nyc.

If you have the time or inclination give me a ring at 585-705-1877 I will be hanging out at gramstand writing erlang.

Impressive Incompetence

Open letter to NYSIF:

You should be congratulated. This is a level of incompetence of which I have not seen since ’90s.

My scathing insult aside, what is that? The world has moved on. There are ther platforms out there such as OS X and Linux which have fully capable web browsers. You really should look into hiring a new web team if thats the best they can do.

Lisp Tutorial

This is a good idea.

Lisp Tutorial

I am now a jaiku lemming

I have been avoiding these social hype sites for a while now. I have
simply failed to see the benefit. (besides sucking yet more of my time.)

Today, stpeter posted that jaiku had a jabber interface. Anything that
allows me to quickly utilize their service via emacs is very
enticing. Since I use emacs-jabber jaiku was

While I was able to setup a profile quickly and get it setup
in jabber via I
have yet to find anyone I know on there. I have 348 people in my roster
and not one of them is on jaiku. Oh well.

I suppose the price one pays when they ignore all the social crud
crusting up the edges of the web is that they don’t know anyone
there. (Also, not blogging for a while probably might have something to
do with it.)

presence pendanticity

I just had an interesting chat with hawke about presence and transports. It may seem pedantic, but I think it strikes at an important point. A lot of clients assume that a jid must have a node; miranda,iChat,gtalk come to mind. If that jid lacks a node then it must be a transport, e.g. behave fundamentally different than a typical IM client connection. In other words the jid is being used to determine the basic functionality of an entity on the xmpp network.

Below is the chatlog, but it can be summarized as:

  • hawke asserts that presence is a mutual agreement for communication
  • I assert that presence is a reflection of an entities availability

This post is a solicitation for opinions.

Below is the chat log

[12:11] hawke> since most clients will show the quser
service as a transport, instead of (or as well as) sending the
message, just send offline presence.
[12:11] hawke> then they can just log back in
[12:11] hawke> instead of the ‘status on’ message
[12:12] zion> thats a bit client specific though
[12:12] hawke> How so?
[12:12] zion> quser is not intended to be a transport
[12:12] zion> just because it doesn’t have a node in the jid
[12:13] hawke> I’ve not seen a client that determines
transport vs. other contact any other way.
[12:14] zion> emacs-jabber ;)
[12:14] zion> yeah… that semantic is annoying
[12:14] zion> so I don’t want to encourage bad habits
[12:14] zion> the client should disco to find out what it is, not use
the jid to assume
[12:14] zion> to many clients to that, and it sucks
[12:15] hawke> True
[12:15] zion> the jid is an identifier, nothing more
[12:15] hawke> But even so, the same thing applies to
quser as actual transports
[12:15] hawke> you still log on and off by sending
[12:15] zion> no… there is not log on/off
[12:15] zion> I added that ability because it was requested
[12:16] zion> its a presence aware node on the jabber network
[12:16] zion> it doesn’t proxy your messages to another network
[12:16] hawke> I think the distinction between
“list/delist” and “logon/logoff” is pretty unimportant for this
[12:16] hawke> too many “o”s.
[12:16] zion> it is important actually
[12:17] hawke> oh?
[12:17] zion> if you go ‘away’ on aim/msn/yahoo then you are still
[12:17] zion> you are still connected to that network
[12:17] hawke> How does that relate?
[12:17] zion> so there is a diff between list/delist and logon/logoff
[12:18] hawke> Going “away” is different from logging
off though
[12:18] zion> thats my point!
[12:18] hawke> If I send offline presence to a
transport, I am logged off not set away
[12:18] zion> exactly
[12:18] hawke> if I send offline presence to quser, I
am delisted/no longer reachable to the qunu web service
[12:19] zion> there is NO logoff from qunu
[12:19] zion> you will not be listed
[12:19] zion> but quser can still contact you
[12:19] zion> since you are still on the jabber network
[12:19] hawke> Obviously.
[12:19] zion> qunu is a jabber service, not a transport
[12:19] zion> there is a distinct difference and the semantics of a
transport do not apply
[12:20] hawke> I know that; the logic is the same
though — log off/on.
[12:20] zion> if you log off aim, can the aim network still contact
[12:20] zion> no
[12:20] hawke> Only the terminology is different.
[12:20] zion> no its not
[12:20] hawke> but that’s “can’t” vs. “won’t” isn’t it?
[12:21] zion> presence is significantly different than network
[12:21] hawke> if I log off of quser, it
won’t/shouldn’t be inviting me to rooms.
[12:21] zion> inviting is only one activity
[12:21] zion> and there is no ‘log off’ quser
[12:22] hawke> Sure there is
[12:22] zion> *sigh*
[12:22] hawke> if I send offline presence, I am logged
[12:22] hawke> am I not?
[12:22] zion> if you send me offline … does that mean I am a
[12:22] hawke> I am no longer listed in the web
service, and I won’t be invited to rooms any more.
[12:23] zion> just because your client forces those terms in the UI
does not define it
[12:23] hawke> No. I’m not saying it is a transport.
I am saying that the particular action of sending online/offline
presence that applies to transports also applies to quser
[12:24] zion> right. if you send directed offline pres to quser, then
it will think you are offline and treat you accordingly
[12:24] hawke> Yes.
[12:24] hawke> though it will still respond to
[12:25] zion> I lost track of where we are… we seem to be
disagreeing about something, but saying the same things
[12:26] zion> you want quser to behave like a transport by sending
presence offline instead of using status on/off
[12:26] hawke> Let me restate my suggestion: The status
of quser should reflect the user’s listed status on the quser web
[12:26] hawke> yes
[12:26] zion> my argument is that is not appropriate, because quser is
not a transport
[12:26] hawke> quser is a presence proxy.
[12:27] hawke> (and metadata bot, but that’s not
relevant for this purpose)
[12:27] zion> so quser should send an offline presence to the user
[12:27] zion> which will hide it from the roster ui
[12:27] hawke> I think so, yes. Sending the message,
so that they notice is also valuable.
[12:28] zion> but quser is not offline
[12:28] zion> and the user is not offline
[12:28] hawke> True.
[12:29] hawke> Well
[12:29] zion> imo, pres should indicate the availability of an entity.
[12:29] hawke> the user is “offline” as far as the
website is concerned.
[12:29] zion> not exactly correct. the website is just a jabber
[12:30] zion> so the user is delisted from results, but not offline
[12:30] hawke> and with transports, presence doesn’t
indicate whether the service is available either
[12:30] hawke> it indicates whether or not you’re
logged in to it.
[12:30] hawke> For the purposes of the website, what’s
the difference between being delisted and offline?
[12:30] zion> currently, nothing ;)
[12:31] hawke> QED.
[12:31] zion> qed?
[12:31] hawke>
[12:32] zion> ex: we are going to be incorporating pubsub into the
[12:32] hawke> OK..
[12:33] hawke> Does the users presence have any effect
on pubsub?
[12:33] zion> it should
[12:33] zion> e.g. if they are really ‘offlien’ vs ‘away’
[12:34] zion> if pres != chat || online then they are delisted
[12:34] hawke> OK..
[12:34] zion> if pres != chat || online || dnd || away || xa then send
them pubsub events
[12:35] hawke> So, only send them pubsub events when
they’re offline, or am I missing a status there?
[12:36] zion> only send them pubsub events when they are connected to
jabber, if they are offline don’t
[12:36] zion> there is a diff between ‘I am connected’ and ‘I am
[12:37] hawke> but surely you can send pubsub events
regardless of quser’s status?
[12:38] zion> of course… we could set it to offline and still send
[12:39] hawke> As I see it, the user sending directed
offline presence [to quser] means “I don’t want you to talk to me any
more”; quser then sends its own offline presence confirming that.
[12:40] hawke> So when quser decides “I’m not going to
talk to you any more” it should do the same thing.
[12:41] zion> you assertion is that presence is a mutual agreement of
[12:41] zion> my assertion is that presence is a reflection of an
entities availability
[12:41] zion> regardless of its role
[12:42] hawke> OK, so amend that to add “…unless you
talk to me first.”

unnecessary pain

No plan survives contact with the enemy. This was made abundantly clear when Qunu was released as alpha for the public to abuse. As with any alpha there were countless problems that I dealt with on a daily basis. Clients insisting that a jid must have a node, xdata limitations in iq:register, double subscriptions, broken muc support, etc…

For some of these problems I was able to hack up a work around, such as as a subscription proxy for A few of them had no decent solution and I had to suggest other clients. The wiki page,, has a list of clients which have the bare minimum feature set.

The default gtalk client does not support muc or groupchat. Since a lot of people had a gmail account they naturally tried to use their gtalk clients. Making the brash assumption that gtalk behaved like every other xmpp server I directed them to the above list of working clients to try. After several confusing chats and some poking of my own I quickly discovered that gtalk is not xmpp.

That may sound rather harsh so let me qualify that. While google’s xmpp-like servers may follow the letter of the xmpp RFC‘s they most certainly do not follow the spirit. The reason I say this is that the gtalk servers will block any stanza which their default client will not understand regardless of which client you are actually using. This means that even if you wanted to get cool new features by using another jabber client, gtalk will block the stanzas before they get to your client. Not only do you have to get a different client, but you have to use a different server. *sigh*

The biggest issue, at least for qunu, is muc invites. GTalk silently drops them regardless of which client is on the other end. disco requests are reported assuming the default client. iq:version is always reported as not implemented, again ignoring the client.

Of course there is no bug/issue report system at google. Thus this blog post. Hopefully someone at gtalk will see this and file a bug. Of course, if you need further clarification, feel free test this yourself or ping me at

announcement: open qunu trial

After many long nights and lots of bug squashing we are finally ready to open up Qunu for general abuse. This is an invitation for everyone in the jabber community to try it out. Let us know what you think and how Qunu can be made better.

So what is Qunu?

In a nutshell, Qunu is a Jabber-based ‘ask-an-expert’-style service that you can ‘tag’ yourself with. Qunu allows you to use your existing jabber client instead of forcing you to lurk on a web forum, irc channel or muc room. In essence, people looking for help come straight to you, the expert.

How it works

Someone on our site searches for help in an area in which you have tagged yourself. They can request an anonymous chat with you. We then send a MUC invite to your jabber client which you can accept or reject. We only send thru invitations when you’re online and available, and you can change your presence with us at any time. You have total control.

It’s a great way to give your expertise back to the community in a non-annoying,
non-intrusive way. You can give help when it’s convenient for you, and best of all, you get to see the ‘thank you’.

How to get in

In order to accommodate the various ‘quirks‘ of all the jabber capable clients out there we have setup lots of ways to get in.

The end result of all this is to get on your roster.

Let us know
This is an alpha release. We would love your feedback.

General discussion is in The wiki at and of course using qunu via

making useless things almost useful

Ever wonder what the point of that rss icon in firefox is? Ever go to a blog that you know has an rss feed, but you can’t find that stupid orange XML icon?

It is suppose to make subscribing to rss feeds easier. The problem with firefox’s icon is that you can’t use anything except firefox to read the feeds. Why isn’t there a “copy RSS url to clipboard” context menu?? Features that have such great potential but fail to really do anything are worse than useless, they are frustrating.

How this little icon works is that when firefox sees a <link/> in the header part of the html page pointing to a rss feed, it turns on and allows you to bookmark it. Blarg! I would rather it just go away.

I have resorted to Ctrl+U too many times. I am quite sick of it. So grease monkey to the rescue. I hacked up a quick script that grabs all link elements in the html head and puts them in a simple drop down menu.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.

Script is at:

muc decline invitation second try

here is the second version of the patch.


  • The decline code now checks to see if it is indeed a muc packet via a namespace check.
  • It also verifies that the decline is sent to someone, i.e. there is a to attribute value on the decline element
  • It now determines the real jid of the declinee. Since the inviter’s nick will be used in nonpublic rooms. If the decline@to is not a jid, then it tries to convert the decline@to from a nick to a jid.
  • I moved the hash remove code into the decline function. Since the invitee should only be removed on a successful decline.

I would appreciate it if someone could look at the code and let me know if everything is being freed properly. I am still not sure about the room->member hash table content. It is a duplicated xmlnode. However, if I try to free it a segfault occurrs.

ping me for any feedback,

muc decline invitation

I just hacked this up. It works, kind of

The patch is against 0.6 and not the latest cvs.

Basically, the problem is that when an invitation is declined, it is sent to the room. but the sender is not in the room, so they get an error back. Of course this is incorrect behavior.

Since the jid is added to room->member and not room->remote, mu-conf thinks it is getting a message from the outside. What this does is check to see if the sending jid is a member and try to process it as a decline.

I need to hack some error checking into it before its releasable. Figured I would get some feedback first.

Things I am not sure about:
- does the item in the room->member hash need to be freed? I tried and it causes a segfault.
- is everything that needs to be freed done right in the new func?

what if I want out?

Fred pointed me to Matt’s We Media Deal

Which is all fine and good. What I want to know is; Can I opt out?

I want another value path for the transaction. Sometimes I want to be able to just acquire the content. Especially if its something static like video or audio. I don’t want to give my soul away to watch Fubar.

rss2email with podcast support

The other day I got really tired of While it is a great and simple solution, it has quite a few limitations, namely podcasts were completely separate from my regular feeds.

I like automation, I particularly like automation that I can ignore. I have been using rss2email for a while. I even hacked it to post directly to one of my imap accounts instead of bothering to go through smtp. This has worked out exceptionally well.

My latest hack on rss2email is for it to recognize enclosures (the part of rss that makes it a ‘podcast’). Its quite simple right now. You specify the directory to download to, it makes a subdir based on the feed title, and uses a configured command to download it. Like I said, quick and dirty.

An example

#tuple is:
PODCAST_TYPES={‘application/x-bittorrent’: {‘default’:True,
‘m3uregex’: (“.torrent”,”"),
‘args’:” %u”,

The %f is replaced with the filetype part of the url. The %u is replaced with the url from the enclosure. The args are regex’d and then spawnpve is called. The WAIT variable will determine whether spawn will block or not.

An m3u file is generated at PODCAST_DIR/year-month-day.m3u .

One thing I would eventually like to do is make the config a bit more reasonable. Mainly the PODCAST_TYPES is hairy and not really functional. The m3u file is hardcoded, which should not be.

Oh yeah… how about a link to the hacked rss2email? You can find it at

real ajax

Paul Tomblin is talking about learning ‘ajax’. The project he describes is quite an undertaking, and I wish I could help out. However, anyone who is learning ‘ajax’, should go read Paul Grahams essay on web2.0. Its well worth it.

I would like another one plz

We already are dealing with the fallout of our current monoculture. Why do we want another one? A good post over at

closing the open

A great post over at the Standards Consortium Blog about the latest rounds in opening office documents. You can read the whole post, which I recommend. Or you can simply look at the uml cartoon I made over at my other blog