Monday, May 29, 2006

Moon Landing Hoax.

I couldn't believe what I read in Computimes (now Tech & U) in the New Straits Times pullout last week. A little commentary insinuated that the moon landings were a hoax, and the jury is still out on whether it was a real event or not.

Comment by Ahmad Faiz: Are moon landings America’s greatest hoaxes?

It was a very short commentary on the IMAX new feature on 'Walking on the Moon' in 3D. However the reviewer of the film wanted alot more than that:
But pure entertainment is all that you should be looking for. If you are looking for answers to the question of whether man did land on the moon, you would be sorely disappointed.
He probably wanted something like Fox TV's "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" which was shown a coupla years ago. Of course all the 'facts' brought up by that programme has been thoroughly debunked by proper experts. The best being: BadAstronomy.com on the Moon Landings by Philip Plait

However the NST commentary took an interesting turn. Instead of pointing out evidence of hoaxes, he goes on to define the 3 categories of positions on this issue:
Note that at the heart of this raging debate are three seemingly amorphous factions. The first are the die-hard nationalists who appear hell-bent on asserting that Americans did land on the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The second faction comprises the sceptics, or conspiracy theorists as they have been dubbed, who are hell-bent on denying anything the die-hard nationalists say.
And the third faction comprises level-headed people who try to make sense of the first two.
So we have 2 extremes: The first are pro-Americans and the other, un-Americans. The third group lies somewhere in between. The problem with this assertion is that the issue is NOT about being a Die-Hard American Nationalist wannabe at all! Its about solid science and whether or not the mission to space and to the moon actually happened at all.

He also confuses the term sceptics. Conspiracy Theorists, by definition are not sceptics. We should be sceptical about their claims, as their 'evidence' is poorer than the case against them.
If you really want answers, you are better off sticking with the third faction. The first two have questionable intellectual integrity, in that they pick and choose issues they wish to answer, and thereby talk pass one another – a feat called spin-doctoring. They also tend to descend into mud-slinging matches and bitter personal attacks.
Unfortunately, it is so easy to slip into the muck of things even though you proclaim to be part of the third faction because no one is born into a vacuous state.
So either you have questionable intellectual integrity and make personal attacks, or you are a level headed person. I would like to think Im a level headed person.

HOWEVER the author states that because Im not born into vacuum (??) I will fall into the first category anyway and start quoting untruths and insulting people.

Can't I be a level headed person and yet know that the Americans landed on the moon? He leaves little position for that.
If you love America, you would probably think, “yes, mankind did land on the moon”, or if you have a dislike for Americanism, then you would be more inclined to think, “no, mankind could not have landed on the moon”, even before you look at the scientific evidence objectively.
If people took time to look at the scientific evidence objectively, then this Conspiracy Theory would dissapear. Again, its not about Americanism which makes people believe (thats too weak a word: 'know' would be better) that many people have stood on the surface of the moon, and Neil Armstrong was the first.

The Russians obviously did not LOVE Americans, but yet they conceded that they 'lost' the space race. With their abundant resources, Im sure they would have 'debunked' the American hoax the moment they saw NASA's pictures! They had so much more to lose: National Pride.

Again the two proposed positions are wrong. Logical Fallacies.
And for that reason, there will always be people who believe and people who do not. After all, truth equals belief, plain and simple.
The evidence be damned.
Truth = belief. I would counter with Knowledge = Truth. Because Belief is never necessarily the Truth.



yk.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Xen ... success!

Well, Ive managed to install Xen successfully, and Im actually quite pleased with the results. The new kernel boots up without a problem, and using the xmguest-install.py script which I complained about earlier (unjustly so), I managed to install a FC5 guest nicely. I tried both the GUI-based anaconda and text-based versions and they both work wonderfully. I was pleasantly surprised to see the GUI anaconda via vnc. Cheap thrills.

The purpose was to set up a virtual machine (VM) for dspam.
  1. So that it didnt interfere with the current sendmail configuration. I have been testing dspam for quite some time now, and found it works well with postfix. Also postfix seems alot nicer to administer compared to sendmail.
  2. I didnt want to commission yet another server just to filter emails. The load on the email server is relatively low, so it should be able to handle this task easily too.
  3. to R&D Xen's abilities. Heard so much about it, but never had a real reason to try it out.
  4. A means to easily maintain a server which can be replicated / brought up or down on any available server
So with dspam set-up as a relay (setting up dspam of course is a story on its own), the 'appliance' consists of:
  1. postfix for the smtp transport
  2. the dspam daemon
  3. mysql server running in the VM
  4. apache for its webui for training
  5. webmin for easy admin
  6. no X to conserve memory
i can now 'copy' this machine to any production server (whenever I get 'round to doing it).
Also one of these days, put in ClamAV which I hear is easy to integrate with postfix.

So the R&D server had to be upgraded from 512MB to 1GB RAM because after all GUI and stuff running I only had 100MB left. And this wasn't enough for a guest install of 256MB minimum. With the new 1GB limit, I could run 2 VMs easily, 3 if Im lucky.

Good thing memory is cheap. Bad thing is the R&D server is using the old SDRAM which is getting abit of a rarity nowadays and commands a 50% premium over DDR sticks.

Xen rocks. Its wonderful. Try it. No more uptime 0.06 for my physical servers from now on. They'll now have to work for their keep. Opportunities are endless in terms of consolidating the servers as well as keeping the VM images for safekeeping.

Well, the next Windows Server will be a hypervisor with the ability to run Win2003 and even RedHat.
Microsoft chose WinHEC to talk up its virtualisation software because Longhorn will not be available until next year. At that time the company will be playing catch-up with VMware's ESX Server and XenSource's Linux-based Xen Hypervisor which are both available now.
This for me is good news. At least now we can really think about consolidation and guaranteed uptime for IT services and thats very important.

yk.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Xen

Ive been testing out Xen. Or rather Im TRYING to test out Xen on a R&D server.
Since I have a preference for the Fedora Core project, I assumed that using the FC5 distro would be a great way to test out the new stuff. So I installed it on the server without much problem. I then updated everything using yum and installed the latest xen kernels.

Changed the grub entry to bootup xen, and rebooted.

Everything was fine, and seemed ok until I ran "xm list" which should show the status of the xen server.
But all I got was a silly error message stating:
Error connecting to xend: No such file or directory. Is xend running?


Checked the logs, checked the setup files, checked everything, with no success in getting xen up and running.

Then I found this via google (after about 50 searches):

http://lists.xensource.com/archives/html/xen-users/2006-05/msg00209.html

this is a well know bug, see

https://bugzill.redhat.com/bugzilla/show_bug.cgi?id=191037

Matthias


Great. So the bug entry states that "kernel 2.6.16-1.2111_FC5xen0 breaks xend"
Either download a new 2111 from davej
... using a newer kernel from davej helped. For details, add http://people.redhat.com/davej/kernels/Fedora/FC5/kernels.repo to /etc/yum.repos.d/ and update.

or downgrading to xen-2096. I did the latter using rpmseek.com.

[Of course when you rpm it to install, it will complain that there is a newer version installed blah blah blah, so I had to --force it.)

Updated the grub file and rebooted, and voila, xm list works.

Then I found that the xenguest-install.py script wouldnt install CentOS4.3 even though I provided NFS, and FTP to the base tree. It just gave an infuriating error of: Invalid NFS location give.

Again after the 51st google search, I found out that the darn script was only for FC5 guest installs! Why didnt they say so in the first place?

So I was not impressed, and it looks like id have to create the guest by hand.
To the fedora team:
1) fix the builds of xen so it doesnt break
2) Make it clear that the script is only for FC

[Because Im lazy, Im downloading the CentOS4.3 image from jailtime.org. Its just a 94MB download, but its so slow! another 3 hours to go....]

yk.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Innovation and Open Collaboration In ICT - The Way Forward for Malaysia

On the 11th of May, I attended a presentation organised by the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and IBM, entitled "Innovation and Open Collaboration In ICT - The Way Forward For Malaysia"


The talk was given by a Ms Roslyn Docktor, with a long designation of 'Worldwide Governmental Programs Executive for Open Standards' for IBM. It was held in Cyberview Lodge, which meant me driving a long long way down.

It started late, and when it did, the preamble was given by a MOSTI rep, En. Alihan. From the website he is the Deputy Secretary General for Policies. He spoke about MOSTI's role in "entrusted to lead in natioanl innovation", and he touched on current events like the Austin Texas 'coup' of having a security centre here in Malaysia. Unfortunately for us, his speech was weak and basically did not contain any information of any use. For example, regarding the Texas deal:
.... to form 'smart partnerships' in the basis of win-win principle (sic) ....

He did not garner any confidence from the audience.

Roslyn spoke well, very casual, very informative, obviously she has done this many times to newbie government bodies. Throughout the talk she highlighted (mid 1990s) IBM's realisation of Openness as the way future, where innovation is the challenging of the status quo and the use of the Open Source Community to spawn invention quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Her views on Open Standards were more profound than others; to encourage collaboration and innovation, and in times of emergencies (Avian flu, HIV/AIDS, natural disasters) it ensures that documents and data can be used immediately, with no agreements required (EULAs and $$$), no conversions, and no worries of problems in sending data to someone you never sent data to before.

Open Standards also allows markets to focus on Value Added Differentiation. Meaning that from now on, we dont have to re-invent the wheel whenever we need to create a application to export text or data. The focus is on the innovations and to add value instead of recreating the framework to base the work on.

OStds also allow Global Governence in Choice and Control. Not just saving money, but it also means that their citizens can access information via web, calls, emails, handphones without having to buy computers nor unnecessary licenses for software. Because information is now easily shareable without licensing issues, OStds eventually breaks down silos of information and this is critical in issues like tax and healthcare.

She then talked about how to measure Open vs Closed standards. You have on one end of the spectrum where no one company has veto rights over standards, and all features are based on merits, and specs fully documented for anyone to implement without royalties. The other end is closed where only 1 body controls it and the information is proprietary. Of course its not black and white, there are many in-betweens, like 'Reasonable and Non Discrimatory' (RAND) licenses which allows use for a small fee.

She then goes and talks about the Open Document Format (ODF) which is an option for governments to take up. It satisfies the Openness. It is based on other ISO standards which are just as free.

Unicode (The Characters)
XML (The Syntax)
ODF (The Document)

She highlighted many real world examples which will be beneficial to goverments. Citizens are not forced to purchase licenses, nor a particular type of PC. Historical documents are guaranteed to be readable centuries from today, in times of emergencies, people can share information... etc.

The standardisation of ODF was a first for ISO, in that all 23 nations which voted (including Malaysia) voted for it, which was very encouraging. She talked about the ODFAlliance, and how in just a few months the number of members have increased to 136 or so. She also said that these members are not necessary using ODF today, but they are looking into it and working it into their policies and eventually, given time they will be adopting ODF as a standard.

With that she ended her little talk. I found it very refreshing to hear this information from IBM, and was quite encouraged with their support. She also mentioned about IBMs decision to open up 500 of their patents to the OSS commons. The reason IBM did so was because they realised that they didnt want to extract profit from areas like Government, Education and Healthcare and their interoperabilities. Thus their altruistic motives.

Next up was Q&A, and the first one up was none other than Dzaharudin Mansor who introduced himself as representing PIKOM and Microsoft. He was obviously prepared for this talk: he had 6 questions for the speaker. Which actually just sounded like 6 points he wanted to make: (I paraphrase)

1) "Collaboration is Good. However it is hard to collaborate without a good Framework. ODF does not provide a framework to interoperate..."

I think this is the same meme as the one picked by up by Andrew Updegrove here: On the Art (?) of Disinformation: telling the Big Lie. In this article Andrew finds it strange that a lie (ODF does not interoperate but OpenXML does) is propagated by the big names. We see its repeated here in Asia too!

2) "Standards is good to be defined. 'Reasonable charges' should be allowed too. We need to give back something to IP owners. Standard bodies (like ISO) should be free to adopt competing standards. Business should define the standards" He goes on to higlight the 802.11 (117 patents), PDF, Java ,etc...

This was an amazing comment by him. Here Roslyn proposes a FREE (in all sense of the word) standard, which does not have any charges. And now he suggests to prefer a standard which MAY cost money, or be restrictive to certain licenses? Why should we need to give back to IP owners if the IP owners themselve doesnt want anything?

3) "There are lock-ins even with Open Standards. Proprietary solutions on open standards e.g. in Telecommunications, GSM Base Station: GSM is Open, but the controller is proprietary and to make full use of it, customers prefer the proprietary solutions."

Here he tries to say that Open Standards are no big deal, people will get trapped and locked in anyway for convenience. The examples he talked about re-inforces how bad proprietary-ness can be for customers. The difference between a GSM solution and a ODF one is that the ODF document creating applications (OOo, Abiword, or IBM Workplace) already exist which rival any other proprietary applications. i.e. The customer can now chose Open solutions to read/write the Open standard documents.

4) "Open Standards breeds innovation? The Standard for Smart Cards x years ago was primitive, did not contain info like biometrics and bank details. To propose modifications and specifications to the standards would cost a development company money and time, also the opportunity costs will not make sense, therefore they would roll out the solution as a closed/proprietary card"

This again was very difficult to understand. But he is arguing a case where a small developer would not have the resources to push for a standard. This is where the difference is. It is not up to the developer to define the standards. The CUSTOMER defines it. So if a goverment had a need for a Smart Card solution, they would define the standard for the solution provider to implement. In the case of the ODF, the standard is already defined, we as customers can benefit from the hard work of Sun and the ODF guys. So the argument basically falls apart when you look at it from the customers' angle.

5) "We should NOT have a Preference for Open Standards. Danger to Manipulation! We should be given a CHOICE. We need to be pragmatic as we live in the REAL WORLD. We roll out products which has market ADVANTAGE"

Here again is the same arguments we heard when MAMPU suggested for the preference for OSS solutions in government procurements. The given the Choice suggestion is the most ironic. A standard is a method of making sure that people speak the same language. If everyone was given a choice to choose whatever language they wanted, won't that make it that much harder to communicate? The pragmatism argument is what I like to call the 'lazy way out': don't do nothing, status quo, lets just dig in deeper: changing now doesnt make business sense in the short term!

6) "There is Good News!" (He really said that!) "OpenXML will be standardised soon and it offers all features as a Open Standard, no royalties! It is also compatible with the billions of documents in the world!"

Im not sure how OpenXML can be compatible with other docs, because the application (MSOffice) is the app which should be compatible. Not the New file format. So its just a clever spin to the tale. Ah yes, 'SOON' in Microsoft terms means 'sometime next year... maybe.' Good News indeed!

After the preaching from the MS rep, En. Alihan tried to answer some questions, but all that came out was some mumbo jumbo which I could not understand. Ms Roslyn didnt know where to start, because it is hard to politely respond to these ludricous statements ...

Then En Zamani Zakariah from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) stood up to speak. He asked Of the countries who have not joined the ODF Alliance, what were their concerns, and what are the checklist for a good standard?
He also added that after his 30+ years in the industry, there will never be ONE standard, and correctly so as others should not be stifled, however there should always be a MINIMUM of standards.

Ms Roslyn answered this one well, she said that the countries who haven't adopted ODF were waiting for the process of standardisation to complete, and now that it has, she expects many of them to follow suite. For example France (Tax), Singapore (Defence), USA (Mass.) etc... The checklist was to have a good supplier of applications, i.e. so that the departments can procure the products. People can start testing them by downloading OOo and start using them. She doesnt expect roll-outs immediately but a gradual process.

En. Mansor from Sun Microsystems added that Java is not 100% closed, and its up to JSchwartz to open it up. It took them 2 years to get Solaris open up. He believes that Computing is a utility model, etc... At least with ODF, it has forced Microsoft to open up their schema, and thats a pretty good advancement for us.

En. Alihan then closed the Q&A and added that Goverment procurement is under the Ministry of Finance. So it is up to MOSTI to communicate awareness programmes in the "ecosystem for knowledge based economy" WHATEVER THAT MEANS?!!?

So that was the meeting.

The reaction from the audience was not very encouraging: Very quiet. It was a pity that most of the people who asked questions kept harping on "Pragmatism" and "Dont adopt 1 Standard". It would have been fantastic if the same level of enthusiasm was demonstrated at the SIRIM meeting, but I guess us Malaysians are too shy...

yk.

USB wifi Dongle

Need to get one for a PC for home...
Requirements:
1) Stable (signal doesnt drop after 80ft)
2) Compact (not too bulky)
3) Affordable (value!)
4) Supports Linux (no ndiswrapper stuff)
5) Supports Windows (without the unnecessary 'wireless management software')

Here is a resource:
Linux wireless LAN support

Wireless Adapter Chipset Directory compiled by HJ Heins
Last updated on 14 May 2006


Any good recommendations?

yk.