31 March 2008

Writing my Google SoC application, part 1

Storytime, kids. I spend most of this week preparing my application for the Google Summer of Code and will tell you a bit about it.

So, on Tuesday, I started looking at the list of organisations and their ideas (they were published on Monday). One definitely stood out for me: One Laptop Per Child. I already wrote about my enthousiasm towards this initiative a few days ago. Although some others had interesting ideas, I decided to stick with OLPC, for two reasons: first, I'm really enthousiatic for it (and would do something for them even without the SoC), and second, with 175 organisations with a dozen of ideas each, you have to narrow it down somehow.

I also registered to their wiki, did a little bit of translating - you can't reach me better than give an opportinity to help with "Only have five minutes?".

On Wednesday
, I kinda picked my project. A few ideas looked interesting to me, namely some language and finance teaching software. But, some people already expressed their wish to write these things and had some ideas about it. I had no ideas and didn't really hope for suddenly having any, as I am exhausted and my creativity is dead. Plus, I decided not to get into competition, these people were there first, but to pick something else.

Then I noticed DrGeo, program that lets kids learn geometry. I loved geometry in high school, know SmallTalk and French (in which the program and the documentation are written), and there's a nice to-do list - I decided to go for DrGeo.

Okay, once the project was picked, I had to write the application, and teherefore figure out what exactly I would do. I knew I was able to do whatever was required (if I can just take the Linux kernel's sources, read them and start modyfing them - is there something I can't?), but couldn't really estimate how long each task would take (if you don't pick enough, you won't get selected, if you pick too much, you won't make it and won't ghet the cash) and still was pretty blurry about what was to be done. I e-mailed one of the authors asking for advice about it.

To be continued.

27 March 2008

The GRB 080319B

I promised you more info on the gamma ray burst GRB 080319B my Dad pictured. Well, as I see, it already has its own Wikipedia entry (and in 4 languages)! It has also a new website and press release (cool for people without astronomical knowledge).

Enjoy your reading!

26 March 2008

Apache Tuscany SDO Java from a Java illiterate's point of view

Today (as yesterday and the day before), I'm working on my team project. I have to use the Apache Tuscany SDO Java thing and write in Java. Well, as I might have mentioned before, I don't know Java, so it's a lot of fun. I don't really get the examples. They often assume (well, why wouldn't they) at least basic Java knowledge. So one tutorial has code samples, and I'm like "Wait! There has to be some imports at the beginning, what are they precisely?" Another one has constructors. Fine, but what's "this"? What's "super"? Time to read an introduction to Java constructors.

The official documentation is a bit incoherent and incomplete. It's also quite divided between the "readme" files and the website and you don't always know where to look for the things you need. So, whatever works for me, I'm writing down here. I'd be happy if that helps anyone or someone has something constructive to add.

Meanwhile, I'm learning Java.

25 March 2008

One Laptop Per Child

One Laptop Per Child is one of the coolest projects I have ever seen. The mission of the One Laptop per Child association is to develop a low-cost laptop—the "XO Laptop"—to revolutionize how we educate the world's children.

Nicholas Negroponte says on the website:

It's an education project, not a laptop project.

Well, my reaction is:
Did somebody say laptop?

Anyway, it's really an awesome project and I've been thinking of participating for a month now, but school has been keeping me very busy all the time. I've actually been thinking of volunteering somewhere for a very long time. I even did it a bit in high school (with elder people, I'm a good listener). However, in college, I could never make time for that. When I'm already overwhelmed by my classes (this two-majors thing ain't easy) and exhausted by all the travelling (it takes me an hour to get to school), I'm not really eager to do some more travelling. I'm also not really able to make some commitments right now with everything that goes on at school: the operating systems lab is not yet over for me, the team is already kicking my pretty little but about the team project...

Anyway, OLPC seems like the best opportunity ever for me. I could contribute form home, evening, whenever I have time. Also, what is really important for me, I could make a good use of my skills. I know that the most important kind of help is not technical and doesn't often look impressive from the outside, but geek volunteers are needed too. So you won't see me walking homeless dogs or something when I can use my tech and lingo skills to do something great.

So, now that OLPC has been accepted for the Google Summer of Code, it' on absolute top of my whishlist. I'm just a bit afraid that this project is really popular (quite a few project ideashave already been taken!) and that I might not be selected (which would mean plan B: get a normal job for the summer ). I only have a week to pick one and write an awesome proposal. Wish me luck!

Installing, installing, installing....

Today is a pretty typical geek day. Basically, it means sitting at the computer all day long.

Having formatted my hard drive on Friday, I re-installed Windows XP from my recovery CD. Then I installed Ubuntu 7.10, only 34 days before Ubuntu 8.04 is out (you can get the beta if you can't wait, but I don't like the word "beta", or read a review here).

Sunday was Easter, so all I did was install The Sims 2, among with the expansion packs: Open For Business, Bon Voyage and Free Time. Then played a lot.

On Monday, I continued celebrating and installed Visual Studio C# and Visual Web Developer, both express editions of course. However, I didn't even have the time to run one of them.

Today, back to the serious stuff. Right now, getting the 204 important security updates Ubuntu has got for me. Then, installing Java and Eclipse. Then, Sugar, because One Laptop Per Child has been accepted for Google Summer of Code and I'd love to do something with them. Then, Thunderbird, which I'd love to see working under both Linux and Windows, using the same mail folders of course. Then, some SVN client, then, the libraries I need for my team project, namely Tuscany SDO and Apache Maven. Then, getting to work.

Ah, an entire day at the computer. I'm feeling so good right now.

21 March 2008

Adventures in disk formatting

Nothing is as cool as formatting your hard drives and installing operating systems. I decided that there was no better way to start my Easter break.

I decide to do so because after installing and uninstalling Linuxes, my partitions got pretty messy, with 24 GB of unusable disk space (not that I nedded them bad, but recovering them meant formatting disks anyway and who wouldn't want 24 GB). My Windows got messy after a year and a half of using it, my Ubuntu was unconfigured and I needed it, so it was a great time to clean everything up.

So, I copied all my files, of course, and tried a Windows recovery CD. Failed with "free space not found". How stupid is that?

Reloaded Windows, removed all partitions but "recovery" and C, and that was as stupid of me as the M-corporation is for not giving normal install CDs but some kinda working recoveries.

Retried the recovery, failed again.

Retried loading Windows, but removing the drives damaged Grub, so it failed.

Tried Super Fdisk. Didn't boot.

Tried Partition Logic. Wanted me to click on "OK" without any mouse. I failed.

Looked for Ubuntu 7.10 CD. It turned out a brother lent it to a friend a few months ago.

Added "downloading Ubuntu 7.10" to my to-do list. At least this one didn't fail.

Tried Suse 10.1 Install CD. Failed, or I didn't wait long enough. I'm usually patient, but not when it comes to watching black computer screens in hope for a change.

Tried Ubuntu 5.10 Install CD. Failed. Don't even remember how.

[EDIT] Linux has some problems with my graphic card. To run Ubuntu on an Asus A6RP-A069 or some similar stuff, add "hpet=disable" to the boot options.

Read the instructions again.

"Take your notebook PC to an authorized ASUS service center if you have problems with the recovery process."

Asked myself where the nearest authorized ASUS service center could be. There had to be one in Warsaw, so it was not that bad, but what if I didn't make it before closing time? A notebook-less Easter? Nightmare.

"Daddy, do you have a Win XP CD?
-Let me check... no.
-Do you have anything that installs something?"
He had a Windows 2000 Professional Install CD. Boyfriend told me to give it a try, remove all the partitions except for "recovery". Listened to Boyfriend and retried the recovery CD. Worked. I got those 24 GB I wanted back. Now just gotta install and configure my applications.

By the way, here's an article on how to fix your Windows MBR with an Ubuntu liveCD, looks interesting. Thumbs up for Ubuntu for having such functions.

My Dad pictured the birth of a black hole!

Guys, this is big! My Dad's project took pictures of the gamma ray burst GRB 080319B, the biggest one ever observed, visible with the naked eye! This thing most probably was the birth of a black hole!

The pictures are on Pi of the Sky's official website.

Polish speaking readers, see also the press release, an article in Dziennik, a radio podcast.

Non-Polish speaking readers, see also here or here and I promise to update as soon as more articles appear.

18 March 2008

Kernel Hacking again

The second part of working on my kernel module is way harder than I thought it would be. It's the fifth day I've spent doing only this and there are still many things to fix. As for tonight, I have discovered:

  • that rw_locks are spinlocks too
  • a dozen of wrong pointers in my code
  • an undeterministic cipher based on DES
None of the above is a good thing.

Still, no matter how tough things are, I found a few spare minutes this morning to buy a new pair of earrings - does it matter that I bought four pairs last Thursday?

14 March 2008

Happy Pi day everyone!

Today, March 14h, is Pi day!

It is of course a great occasion to:

1. Show off how geek you are, for instance by wearing this:

2. Eat pie. Or pi-zza.
By the way, did you know that the volume of a pizza of radius z and thickness a is "pi z z a"?

3. Learn stuff. Never in the world would I have suspected that Wisława Szymborska, Polish poet and Noble Prize winner, wrote a poem about pi! (Original version here.) I don't get that poem, just as I don't get anything else she wrote, but it's nice to see she took some interest in science.

Another geek holiday to look forward to is Square Root day, which is more exceptional as it doesn't happen every year, the next one being 3/3/9. As of today, happy Pi day everyone!

Sources: Pi t-shirt, pi pie, pi pizza, pizza volume quote.

Back to kernel hacking

I'm back to kernel hacking. The module I was writing in December has finally been graded and got a well-deserved zero. Well, it wasn't finished, so it wasn't working, so no wonder it didn't get a positive amount of points. Luckily, I have no "big" mistakes, except for an ooops that need to be investigated, but nothing is to be redesigned. It should go smoothly.

If it doesn't, I just found an evil solution: File Destructor 2.0.You just upload a file and it gives it to you back, but corrupted (so unable to be opened). Too bad I have to send my stuff as tar.gz and this format is not supported... No, seriously, I wouldn't do that. But besides the evil potential of that script, I like the idea.

12 March 2008

The Babbel experiment

I mentioned a few days ago that I started learning Spanish on Babbel.com. Here's more about me, languages and Babbel.

First, I never ever learned Spanish. However, I speak fluently French and that helps a lot. I also speak Polish and German and the more languages you know, the easier the next one is.

Second, I don't like Spanish. It's about my taste and how Spanish sounds. It's something absolutely subjective. Speaking of subjective, my favourite language of all is Arabic.

Third, I know learning a language requires time and commitment. (Except for French for me, which I learned "just like that" when I moved to France at the age of six, lucky bastard that I am.) And grammar exercises and writing and stuff. I did all of that for Arabic in July, when I took an intense class (20 hours a week).

Second and third imply that I'm not really willing to do all of that for Spanish. So here's the experiment: how far can one go with Babbel?

I will not claim that Babbel is the best language learning site ever. It makes you learn words and sentences and lets you meet people to study some language with. No grammar - I rely on my analytical mind here, but the sentences are not very complicated, so my grammar won't go far. No writing - I will only be able to use the structure of the sentences I will have learned, or I will risk being gravely misunderstood.

Babbel is also not the only site of the kind. If you wish to learn a new language, you should consider the following: LingQ, Livemocha and Mango Languages. For example, LingQ does have writing and grammar exercises, even corrected by a teacher if you pay for it. But me not paying.

So why did I pick Babbel? "Picked" is not the word, I started using it before I found out about the others. But I did stick with it, and here's why.

Learning a language should be a pleasure. Like any other thing, if you don't like it, you won't do it very efficiently and will most probably give up. Babbel is cute and shiny and has colorful pictures, so I enjoy it a lot. Let's also not forget that I'm still very busy (and will be until June), I'm tired in the evenings and I enjoy the fact that I don't have to do a lot on Babbel.

So here's what I do. Every other day (I try that to be everyday), I go to Babbel and select a module. I do the exercises on-line, but also write down the words and the sentences in a copybook, so I can revise it in spare moments, like when on a train. I'm curious to see how far I can go with that.

If you're interested in learning a new language, here's a good article to start with.

09 March 2008

Geek ends the week (happily)

I haven't posted much since Monday, day 1 of a tough week. Here's what I've been up to meanwhile.

Day 2. OS study-party. Few were allowed to participate in this exclusive, invite-only event. (I couldn't just say I had a study buddy over, could I? Nor could as just say "friend" now, there is no rhyme in "friend".)

Day 3. OS study after-party. I love after-parties. Never been to one actually, except for this one. Still, I love them.

Day 4. Morning: studying for the OS exam. Afternoon: Taking the exam. I didn't do bad, but I'm not sure I'm gonna pass either.

Day 5. Playing the Sims 2. My boyfriend bought me the newest expansion pack, "Free time". Now, you know you're a geek when your Sims can play "the Sims 3" and you wonder how deep this recursion goes. Or you make a list of the bugs and the usability issues. Or you pick a different language while installing the add-on just to see what happens. (That's a great idea, by the way, as soon as I have revised my French a bit, I'm switching to German.)

Day 6. Staying at my boyfriend's. We went for a walk as the weather was great and later to the swimming pool. Yep, I've really been lacking sport recently.

Day 7. Staying at home and doing lots of stuff that had been pushed away for quite a long time, like making back-ups. By the way, do you know how great ImgBurn is? I used to have Nero and it kept screwing my blank CDs. ImgBurn is the man! (I mean the app.)

Okay, life is getting almost normal. How awesome is normal?

08 March 2008

Bill Hicks on Marketing

That's exactly what I think about marketing.

For those of you with a weaker understanding of low-quality spoken american english, you can find the text here, along with some other Bill Hicks stuff.

03 March 2008

Geek starts new week

Another tough week is starting. This one has two exams on the menu that I have to take again: semantics and operating systems. I'm still waiting for my operating systems lab scores and hope they will be high enough.

So, day 1 of 7, I went to today's classes and took the semantics exam. I was way better prepared this time and solved all the problems. That's a good start.

Right now, it's the evening, I'm too tired to study (the operating systems are on Thursday). So I went to Babbel.com and started studying Spanish. As I'm going to Spain in the summer, the lesson "vacaciones al mar" was an obvious choice.

Now, top priority, those operating systems. I don't wanna have to re-take the test in September and have my vacaciones al mar ruined.

01 March 2008

Geek kitchen stuff

Remember the (unfortunately non-existent) chocolate keyboard? Well, while you still have to figure how to make one, why not opt for keyboard-shaped waffles?
Chris Domino has tansformed a typwriter this way - how cool!

Also cool, those tetris ice cube makers by Martin Žampach:

And of course, Think Geek's mugs:

But I'm sure you knew about them already.