Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Maple Leaf train – NYC to Toronto trip report

There are a number of trip reports for the Maple Leaf train (such as this one for the return trip), but I noticed a few details were often lacking so hopefully I can fill in some gaps here. I’ll be avoiding discussion of scenery and most other qualitative aspects as I think other reports cover these well. Instead I’ll be focusing on the parts of the trip that a person who hasn’t taken this train before would likely want to know (including a few that tripped me up).
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Toward a better world: priorities in free software and privacy projects

Two weeks ago the Free Software Foundation announced a review of their High Priority Projects list in which the FSF is asking for input from the public. Per the request, there are a number of projects that I feel “are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software and free software operating systems“, which I’ll be discussing here. Along with those, there are a number of other projects I’ve been thinking of over the last couple years that don’t fit into the free software category per se, but would be societally beneficial nonetheless.

FSF High Priority logo

As well as providing input for the FSF’s HPP list, the list of projects here serves as a record of items I would work on given enough time. Since I probably won’t be able to work on all of them, it seems best if I just publish the list, both so that people can think about projects new to them or in new ways, and so that others can see reasons to work on important projects and hopefully make some of these dreams a reality.
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iNum SMS/voice support and pricing matrix for various Canadian and US carriers

I’m a big fan of iNum, as it appears to be the best effort so far to integrate SIP-based, location-agnostic voice calls and messaging with the existing telephone network. For something like this to really take off, an iNum needs to be accessible from most major carriers. There are already some pages posted by iNum showing the reach of voice and SMS support among carriers. Here I’ll expand on those with the results of my own testing, including additional info such as what connecting to iNum costs from various carriers, as well as how iNum support works while roaming.

The results, with analysis and methodology below:

Carrier (country) Plan SMS to iNum Voice call to iNum
Google Voice (US) n/a send failure US$0.03/minute
T-Mobile (US) $30/month web/text US$0.10/SMS recorded error
T-Mobile (US) roam on Rogers (CA) US$0.10/SMS recorded error
T-Mobile (US) roam on Mobilicity (CA) US$0.10/SMS recorded error
T-Mobile (US) roam on Wind (CA) US$0.10/SMS unanswerable ring
Wind Mobile (CA) Pay Your Way send failure recorded error
Koodo Mobile (CA) $40/month data C$0.00/SMS recorded error
Telus Mobility (CA) Prepaid Pay Per Use C$0.40/SMS immediate call end *
Rogers Wireless (CA) [unknown] C$?.??/SMS recorded error
Bell Home phone (CA) [unknown] n/a recorded error

Some notes on the above table:
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Realizing the potential of fiber-to-the-home

In North America, getting a decent Internet connection usually means comparing the two options (for 78% of Americans – see main article), which tend to be DSL from the local telco or cable Internet from the cable company. Providing an Internet connection over telephone lines or cable is a hack, as both were built to transmit specific types of information in analog form: point-to-point voice and broadcast video, respectively. The physical layout of the wires also reflects the use case: a star topology in the case of telephone, for communicating directly with the telco, and a ring topology in the case of cable, used to reduce the amount of wire, since all nodes were receiving the same information. Neither of these is ideal for an Internet connection, as the speed of DSL drops the further you are from the telco building and the bandwidth available to cable subscribers is necessarily shared with your neighbors. Other options exist, but are similarly limited. Broadband over power lines is not widely deployed and satellite broadband has high latency and degrades in adverse weather conditions.

Fiber-to-the-home is gradually replacing these other methods of providing consumer Internet connections. However, not all fiber services are created equal. Here are the main areas where fiber deployments differ (from each other and from cable/DSL), some that you would expect and some you might not:
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i.MX51 Babbage development board details

On April 19, the Release Candidate for Ubuntu 9.04 on ARM was announced. This will most likely be used as a platform for new ARM netbooks, as Canonical previously hinted at. The announcement made several references to a Babbage development board, which piqued my interest. Wanting to learn more about the board, I searched for “babbage i.mx51” but found only a couple pages of results (including BabbageJauntyRCInstall), mostly relating to the Ubuntu 9.04 announcement. Eventually I tried an image search for “i.mx51”, which turned up this image, which I suspect is the Babbage development board:

Babbage development board (?)

Here are some more details about the board with references:
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TEDTalks Downloader 0.1 released

TEDTalks Downloader, which downloads all videos from TEDTalks, is now available:

To use it, you will need a POSIX shell and wget or curl. If you are using Ubuntu or Mac OS X, you already meet the requirements. If you are using Windows, you will need to get a POSIX shell such as MSYS and wget for Windows.

To run TEDTalks Downloader, make sure the script is executable (chmod u+x should do it) and then run ./, preferably in an empty directory. The script will then download the TEDTalks feed, create a videos directory, and start downloading videos to it.

If TEDTalks Downloader is interrupted while running, you can run it again from the same place and it will automatically start where it left off. Also, if there are more TEDTalks available, running TEDTalks Downloader again will download the new talks without re-downloading all the other talks.

This tool was made in response to a request on my TEDTalks download script and MythTV metadata article. You can find more information about getting TEDTalks data in MythTV from there.

If you have any comments or questions about TEDTalks Downloader, please let me know by posting a comment to this article or contacting me directly.

What’s on a CharlieTicket magnetic stripe

I recently received 4 CharlieTickets from a very helpful person on the Stripe Snoop forums and took some time to read them and analyze the data. My interest in the CharlieTicket had been sparked by a presentation from a group from MIT students on security vulnerabilities in the MBTA ticketing and security systems. Here’s what I found:
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Backing up your DreamHost data

Recent DreamHost problems that at one point suggested data loss got me thinking about backing up my data. Though I was not affected by the outage, some of my friends were and as they listed the data they would have lost for good I realized I would be in much the same boat if DreamHost lost my web site. Here I will outline my backup plan, including scripts, so you can get up and running quickly with your own backup strategy. The information should apply reasonably well to any web host, but will be slanted toward DreamHost because that’s the host I use.
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OLPC Give One, Get One on now

The One Laptop per Child project has recently restarted their Give One, Get One (G1G1) program. The last G1G1 program ran from November to December last year. This one is expected to be ongoing, with no end date specified. So you don’t have to worry about missing an ordering deadline.

When I wrote about the last G1G1, they were only shipping to Canada and the USA. This time around, they have added Europe and Australia to the list of shipping destinations. Interestingly, they have chosen to charge in GBP for all non-US shipping destinations. The cost is £275 plus £50 shipping, which works out to CAD$621.63 using today’s buying rate from Citizens Bank. I paid about CAD$450 when I bought two XO-1s in November 2007 so it’s a bit more expensive this time around, but that’s to be expected with the Canadian dollar being lower than it was then. If you live in Canada but have relatives or friends in the USA, I would recommend shipping it to one of them. At USD$399 (CAD$510), buying through the G1G1 program in the US is much less expensive than buying through the G1G1 program to ship to Canada.

To purchase XOs through the G1G1 program, go to If purchasing within the US, you will be able to get your XO before Christmas if you order today or tomorrow. If purchasing outside the US, the deadline for Christmas shipping has passed, but you can still order an XO for later shipping.

I have enjoyed using my XO since I got it this past January. I would recommend it particularly for those with children, as the interface is really designed for them. If you have any specific questions about the XO for someone who has used it for a few months, please reply in a comment to this post and I’ll get back to you.

Why I haven’t installed a Flash player

Since I installed Ubuntu 8.10 three weeks ago, I have not installed a Flash player. I don’t just mean I haven’t installed the Adobe Flash Player, I mean I haven’t installed any Flash player at all, not even Gnash or Swfdec. Those of you who know me as a free/libre/open-source software (FLOSS) advocate may be wondering why this is. After all, I don’t need to use any non-libre software if I run Gnash or Swfdec. I’ll explain why having a FLOSS implementation of a technology is not enough for me to use it.
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