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Showing posts with label software. Show all posts
Showing posts with label software. Show all posts

19 March 2014

An Introduction to LaTeX

Writing my MSc thesis document was one of the most painstaking experiences I ever had in the computer world. Once the document went over four dozen pages it became very unstable and would wreck the formatting almost every time any substantial text was added. I have the feeling I spent as much time correcting the formatting as I did writing. The worse would come at the very end, by some strange reason Word decided to change all occurrences of the word bacia (Portuguese for basin) to bacio (Portuguese for pee pot); I never noticed it in time and the document went that way for printing. Such frustrating experience compelled me to try a different word processing system; I knew some folk at the Faculty were using LaTeX and decided to give it a try. I never used Microsoft Word again, and almost a decade later, could not possibly conceive going back.

Some weeks ago I administered a short introductory course on LaTeX to a few of my colleagues. Most of them had never seen anything other than Word, but it went quite well nonetheless. Here below I reproduce the contents of this course.

27 November 2013

Help! My blog was plagiarised

Have you ever experienced that feeling when you reach for you briefcase and something is missing? Or arriving at home and understanding someone had been there before you? That feeling of being burglarised was what I felt when I accidentally bumped on an article with the breif title: The real problem with Solar: Panel Prices in Free Fall, and the Fuel is Free: Corporations don’t Know how to Make Money Here (Oprisko). It is published by an Australian web site named The Zero Room and its authorship attributed to George Oprisko, Executive Director of the Public Research Institute in the US.

As it happens, about one third of this article reproduces ipsis verbis parts of The Price of Solar Power post, one of the most popular in this blog, that was also published by the EuropeanTribune and TheOilDrum. Even section titles were copied, but I'm nowhere acknowledged as author. This is in clear breach of the EUPL v1.1 licence under which the contents of this blog are published.

10 September 2013

Why aren't software companies releasing their products for Linux?

profile for Luís de Sousa at Ask Ubuntu, Q&A for Ubuntu users and developers I have recently developed an addiction for AskUbuntu. The Ubuntu Fora have always been my preferred lieu d'exchange with the community, where I dealt with the initial struggles of a novice user trying Ubuntu on a novice piece of hardware. One day though a particular issue proved harder to solve than usual; out of despair I ended up leaving a question at AskUbuntu. Although not entirely convinced with the apparent community division along two different crowd support technologies, I finally got a solution there.

Some weeks ago I ended up at AskUbuntu again from some random web search. Lo and behold, alongside my user name there were these numbers and a funny icon. It happens the question I left had in the mean time got over 1 000 views; in consequence I was warded reputation points and "badges". Isn't that just great? In the fora only the number of messages is recorded, there is no interaction quality feedback. Suddenly AskUbuntu became a challenge, and I end up spending 10 or 20 minutes everyday helping anyway I can: answering questions, editing, commenting, all along piling up reputation points (this is in essence how a gift economy works, but I'll leave that for another time).

One of these days a user left a question that I imagine many Linux newbies probably have: why aren't software companies publishing their products for Linux? The answer was a bit longer than usual, thus worthy of logging.

27 August 2013

Why I had to quit using Chromium

Firefox or Chromium, which is better? I like both, and have used both in parallel for years. Chromium's interface is slightly more appealing, lean and easy to use. But Firefox has all those useful extensions, most especially Firebug, and other utilities like BYM. I got used to do programming related stuff on Firefox, like web app debugging, and leaving the personal or recreational stuff for Chromium. I was quite happy with this, until one day.

In one of those much-longer-than-could-possibly-render-it-useful meetings I noticed the laptop battery being drained much faster than usual. On light work it can last up to 8 hours; with more intensive tasks and internet browsing it can still last 4 hours. This time in two hours the battery was empty. It was easy to find the culprit: a Chromium process was cannibalising the CPU at 100%.

18 August 2013

Solar Power Cost Calculator - SPCC

The Solar Power Cost Calculator (SPPC) is a web application intended to help investors assess the end cost of electricity generated by a solar system. Using a series of inputs that characterise the system it produces a final figure in €/kWh, the same units used by grid operators to charge households and consumers in general. With this result the investor is furnished with a direct comparison to the cost of tapping electricity from the grid. This application is conceived for Photo-Voltaics (PV) but can also be used for other technologies that have similar cost structures.

SPPC is open source, released under the EUPL v1.1 license; the code is publicly available at GitHub. This post is presently using SPCC v1.1.

24 July 2013

Shared work in a SVN versioned folder with Linux

Here's a test case: two (or more) users work on a common project that is versioned through SVN. Each user has the project checked out on their own environment and regularly commits to the SVN repository. Now the project has to be deployed to a server, being checked out at a particular location where some of its assets are served from. Both users must be able to regularly log on to the server and update the contents of the project folder from the repository. The catch is that neither of the users have admin rights over the server. With the default file system permissions every time a user checkouts the project from the repository the files are re-writen and its permissions attributed to the user, blocking access from other users, and most importantly, from any services depending on these files.

This post presents a recipe for this issue based solely on basic file system permissions. In the end both users should be able to work on the project folder without blocking access to each other.

24 January 2013

Migrate a SVN repository to Git preserving tags

I've used SVN for code versioning for as long as I can remember. Both on Windows as on Linux, it has been perfect to manage and store source code and documents, especially in a context where few users commit changes and public access is only considered at the later stages of a project. In the MUSIC project the context has been quite different, there's a multitude of code projects that compose a larger system and public access to the code has been a requirement early on. One of my collegues suggested us to start using Git for the purpose. I remember when initialy reading about it that Git was like colour TV, once you've seen it you'd never want to go back. Although Git is far more complex than SVN, making it easier to mess up, it is indeed quite more powerful. Beyond that, the GitHub web/social repository gives coding a whole new meaning.

So here's a use case: migrate a local SVN repositoy to Git, correctly keeping tags identifying releases and then push it to GitHub. This happened to be not so easy, so here's this log entry for future reference.

06 January 2013

Ubuntu phone OS: a glimpse of the future

I came late to the laptop world. A couple of years into my first job I inherited a battered portable machine from a senior colleague. It weighted over 3 Kg and had a 14 inch screen, but had a profound impact on my relation with computers. It had all the CPU power I needed for my work and in a backpack it could be carried everywhere. Beyond that, at home I could use it to read books, or I could plug it to the Hi-Fi or the TV and use it as a CD/DVD player. Soon I understood that I'd never buy a desktop computer again.

That was some 10 years ago, and this past week I got the same feeling again. With the relatively surprising announcement of the Ubuntu phone OS I'm pretty sure I wont buy a laptop again. A new age in personal computing is dawning and Ubuntu seems to be riding on the crest of the wave. Below the fold is the video announcement of this new OS by Mark Shuttleworth, something that might have a serious impact on personal computing in the following decade.

09 December 2012

Petition for a Better Ubuntu

In this post I introduce an online petition addressed at Canonical requesting the removal from Ubuntu of all default data collection features. The following paragraphs detail a bit further the reasoning that lead me to create this petition. To immediately read and sign the Petition for a Better Ubuntu, please jump to Avaaz.

Not much has happened since I reported on the potential incompatibilities of Ubuntu 12.10 with the European data protection legislation. At the time I got the impression Canonical was not even in tune to personal data protection and the company remained almost silent on the issue, avoiding to address it directly. I find this somewhat strange, for Mark Shuttleworth, the company CEO founder, claimed to have the root password of all Ubuntu users some good weeks before that. When Ubuntu 12.10 was officially released it portrayed an important small change to the Shopping Lens, the addition of a privacy policy note. It addresses some of the concerns I raised, but at the same time confirms that personal user data is being collected and stored by Canonical. This is the crux of the matter and Ubuntu 12.10 effectively does it without user consent.

Update: The text of this petition has been kindly translated into French by Vince.

08 October 2012

Legal questions on the Ubuntu Shopping Lens

Several developments have followed the announcement of the default inclusion of the Shopping Lens feature in Ubuntu 12.10. What seemed at first a surreptitious inclusion of adware in Ubuntu turned into a full blown row when Mark Shutleworth, founder of Canonical, the company that coordinates the Ubuntu development, lit afire the blogosphere claiming that the company had administrative access to every computer running Ubuntu. From there we got to know that even the users that could benefit from the feature are not happy, since the results can not be filtered or customised. A further consequence of this is the possibility of adult oriented products showing up in the results, which puts at risk Ubuntu's usage by children and in professional environments. Answering to all the backlash, Canonical has decided to include settings that allow the user to switch off the Shopping Lens, but it will still be switched on by default.

Actually, this may be just the tip of the iceberg. The inclusion of this commercial oriented feature, more over by default, has the potential to open an unheard of conflict in the FOSS universe.

Update:In consequence of the questions raised in this post I created a petition addressed at Canonical requesting the removal of automatic data collection features.

25 September 2012

Ubuntu sailing into uncharted waters

Every time a new Ubuntu release is out there is always some controversy on this or that new quirk the developers of this distribution decide to take. With a release cycle of only 6 months that's all to be expected for, if you're willing to use the latest Ubuntu you simply have to accept the fact that you're by default also a tester. That's pretty much one of the tenets of FOSS, more so with a product that tries to be as innovative as Ubuntu. About 18 months ago, when the new desktop environment was introduced a good deal of backlash came up. Indeed the first Unity versions were difficult to understand and buggy; but today, after absorbing its logic and with most bugs dealt with, I can only say it clearly improved my productivity over Gnome 2. That's just the way it is: the latest Ubuntu release is a bleeding edge product and you are part of its maturation process; if you don't like it you can always opt for an older release.

But only one month away from the introduction of Ubuntu 12.10 a new Unity feature has been made public that can potentially change all this.

26 July 2012

Loose notes from a conference

Earlier this month I went to an Environmental Modelling conference in Leipzig to present an article on my current professional endeavours. On any field, conferences are mostly important for the networking you build, meeting people from literally all continents and finding new projects to work on. This particular conference was no exception on that regard, but apart from that, there were some interesting points in terms of software worthy of note. Below the fold is a loose collection of thoughts I brought back.

13 June 2012

Getting MySQL back after another Ubuntu upgrade mess up

In my first look on Ubuntu 12.04 I got the impression that everything went fine with the upgrade from version 11.10. And indeed during a few weeks things went as smoothly as before. Until last week. I had to test an old project and got complains about the database connection. This database is managed by MySQL, hence I tried to access it with MySQL Administrator, which, lo and behold, wasn't installed any more. Though zombie icons still remained within the launcher and main menu, all packages related to MySQL had been disabled by the upgrade. There you go Ubuntu, you did it again!

My first reaction was simply to search for available packages, and indeed version 5.5 of MySQL is available in the repositories for this new Ubuntu release. I immediately proceeded to the install command, with it that starting a painful journey to get MySQL back on Ubuntu.

07 May 2012

First impressions on Ubuntu 12.04

It came to life on the 26th of April, it's name is Precise Pangolin.

18 April 2012

An obvious path for Science

I got an e-mail today with a link to a fresh publication in the Science journal. It is entitled "Shining Light into Black Boxes" and while it is mostly stating the obvious, it is quite a breakthrough in this sort of journal. Without further ado here's the abstract:
The publication and open exchange of knowledge and material form the backbone of scientific progress and reproducibility and are obligatory for publicly funded research. Despite increasing reliance on computing in every domain of scientific endeavor, the computer source code critical to understanding and evaluating computer programs is commonly withheld, effectively rendering these programs “black boxes” in the research work flow. Exempting from basic publication and disclosure standards such a ubiquitous category of research tool carries substantial negative consequences. Eliminating this disparity will require concerted policy action by funding agencies and journal publishers, as well as changes in the way research institutions receiving public funds manage their intellectual property (IP).

27 March 2012

Operating systems and philosophical users

Small details lost in the rhythm of the days. The many things that a small number cast to the very end of the daily news roll can tell. The following Ubuntu release is coming out in about one month; expectation is growing, especially because this will be a Long Time Support version, in principle somewhat more solid than regular releases, where developers always like to experiment a bit. These days I try to follow the Ubuntusphere a bit closer, in anticipation of what may be in the menu for the 26th of April.

It happens that another piece of software is making some fuss too. It is called Humble Bundle, a set of computer games wrapped in a somewhat childish package. Childish is also a synonym for simple, which permits these humble games to run on toy like gadgetry such as smart-phones. This bundle is not open source, not even free, but you can pay for it whatever you feel is right, and even choose to direct part of your payment to charity.

10 March 2012

My new search engine of choice: DuckDuckGo

Google has been my web search engine of choice for some 15 years. The first time I used it I was overwhelmed by the cleanness of the interface, the lack of advertisements and the quality of the results. Up until then I had a list of 3 or 4 search engines that I used for different purposes, sometimes with not at all satisfactory results, even when combining them together. Google proved to be an able search engine, no mater what thematics, and I joined the ranks of its followers. Ever since I have been consuming many of its other products: I was an early adopter of GoogleMail, of GoogleCalendar (back in the day when it would spread the panic with random service down events) and of Chromium. Though I'm pretty happy with these newer services, it is interesting to note how those characteristics that made me adopt Google unconditionally as a search engine are mostly gone today.

05 March 2012

Trouble with OpenStreetMap

I'm a big fan of OpenStreetMap (OSM), a collective effort to map the world on a voluntary basis. The idea is simple: anyone possessing a georeferencing system can collected data on the various features of their neighbourhood or the places they travel. This data can then be committed to a central repository and made available to everyone else in the world. With time the OSM data base has achieved a remarkable extension, detailing many parts of the world, especially the most populated of those. This data is also served freely by several instances around, you can try it at the project website OpenStreetMaps.org.

For some time I have been using the OSM data as base layer for the web GIS applications I work with, taking advantage of handy libraries like OpenLayers facilitate their use. Especially during prototyping it is quite convenient, but even in later stages can be useful as well, considering the amount of data it provides for some places: buildings, cultural sites, transport infrastructure and more. Recently I employed OSM data on a European wide project focused on urban planning and the outcome was quite unexpected.

05 December 2011

Inexplicable benefits

On the 23th of November the French government announced a 2 million € procurement programme for technical support on its growing open source software infrastructure, today encompassing dozens of thousands of computers spread by ministries, courts, security forces and other central administration services. Days later at the Portuguese Parliament the communist party (PCP) put up for voting a proposal to prevent the acquisition of any new commercial software license, for which an open source or free distributable alternative exists. According to estimates by the communist parliamentary group, this proposal would translate into savings of some 70 million € in 2012 alone, subtracting to the 100 million € assigned in the state budget for the purpose. The proposal was rejected with the votes against from the government coalition of liberals (PSD) and conservatives (CDS); the socialist party (PS) abstained. The arguments vented by the media for this rejection where three: difficult transition for users and platforms, technical support costs and security. It is worth reflecting somewhat on each of these arguments.