Xpad 2.0

Xpad 2.0 is finally out. After dragging my heels, I fixed the last couple known bugs and packaged it up. This release doesn’t feature much more than a couple minor bug fixes, but the changes from 1.13 to 2.0 are significant.

In particular, this is the first stable release to offer a binary package, in the form of an autopackage. I’ve tried it out, obviously, and it is pretty slick. You get a nice dialog while it installs, and it makes user installs very easy without root access.

I will probably take a break from my pet programming projects for a while to focus on GNOME a bit more. I miss being a part of that. (Well, maybe a little gmult work…)

Splash Damage is Insane

I have recently discovered the joy that is Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. It is a completely free game created by Splash Damage and planned to be published by Activision. However, Activision canned it at the last moment, and not wanting to waste a good thing, Splash Damage released the game for free in 2003.

The game is multiplayer-only, featuring more of the same of Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s multiplayer component. There are not many changes: some streamlined classes, the addition of experience, and more complicated objective-based maps. Experience, while sounding cool, doesn’t work so well in practice, as it discourages class-changing and creates a disadvantage to the new player. Nonetheless, it is an eminently enjoyable game which, again, is free.

Did I mention that it is available for both Linux and Windows? For free?

Speaking of games that are available for Linux, I was enticed into playing Savage, a novel FPS/RTS game whose demo impressed me enough to pay $20 for the real deal. I was also impressed that they let me pay them directly and download the game — a more convenient method for me and a more profitable method for them.

However, I was not impressed when a few months after I bought it, they release a new, incompatible patch only for Windows. There is a workaround for Linux, but it involves third party software and is a little complicated. The rumor is that their Linux developer left the company, and they are incapable or uninterested in picking up his work. Needless to say, I’m disappointed and will take my Linux gaming to ET.

Ubuntu First Impressions

I just downloaded and played with the Ubuntu Linux 4.10 preview LiveCD. (A LiveCD is one that you can boot into a working Linux, without touching the hard drive. A sort of try-before-you-buy.)

I occasionally find myself in the position of helping new users of Linux and try to keep up to date on distributions. The most important question to be able to answer is, Which distribution do I use?

My thoughts on new users is that new-user-friendly defaults, GNOME, and a decent package manager for future tinkering are all musts.

I have not known any distribution that fit all these requirements. Debian had decent GNOME support and a great package manager. But it also had the worst defaults of almost any distribution and requires significant work to get a workable installation. Of the RPM distros, SUSE and Mandrake were OK, but they both had an aura of KDE that I didn’t like. Red Hat was the best I knew, having good defaults and excellent GNOME support. Not only did it use GNOME by default, but it has adopted the GNOME aesthetic of simplicity. However, it also happens to have a terrible package manager. Dependency hell is not something a new user wants to deal with while trying to install a third-party package. It also has a couple annoyances like no MP3 support.

Most often I would have users do a hand-held install of Debian and would remain in constant communication while they discovered all its quirks.

Hence my interest in Ubuntu. I booted it up and was pleased with what I saw. It had the Debian core and thus its amazing package manager, but managed to avoid its most egregious faults. It is pretty and functional by default, has quick release schedules, hides details from the user, has a polished install program (although Iwould have liked to see a graphical one), and has excellent GNOME support.

The default GNOME install was a tweaked version of 2.8.0, which is nice. It allowed all the great system configuration stuff that Windows users have come to expect in graphical form, due to gnome-system-tools and synaptic. I liked the inclusion of synaptic; allowing users to avoid command lines is a top priority.

It also had a few other niceties for migrating users. The default browser was not Epiphany but Firefox, which will be immediately recognizable to many Windows users. It installed OpenOffice by default, which is a great Microsoft Office clone. The regular mix of top-notch programs was there: Gimp, Gaim, Rhythmbox, Totem, and friends.

I noticed the inclusion of HAL due to GNOME 2.8, which I haven’t seen in action before. If it behaves like it promises, that’s a great addition. I’m interested to see if Windows shares will show up without prodding. GNOME 2.8 also has VNC support by default, making my job as tech support guy easier.

I’m not yet convinced enough that I want to switch to it myself from Gentoo, but I definitely want to play with it more. If I do end up installing it, I hope to write more here.

Lock Up Your Votes, You Never Know Where an Independent Thinker May Be

I am very sympathetic to the political parties that are commonly referred to as third-parties. In a feat of line-straddling, I identify with almost all the common third-parties: the Libertarians, the Greens, and even Nader, the much maligned consumer advocate. However, I’m most partial to the Libertarian party as though I like a lot of basic social programs, in my heart-of-hearts, I like small government more.

Small government, by the way, is supposed to be the Republican Party’s game. What happened to that? As a further aside, I note the fact that the Republican web site is gop.com, not gop.org.

But back to the point, which is that smaller political parties are getting the short end of the stick. The country is so divisive right now with half the country trying to run with the Christian-right-agenda-ball and the other half trying to stop the yardage gain. That, by the way, is basically the Democrat platform: reverse what has happened in the past four years. They aren’t pushing for crazy new agendas; they just want Bush to stop because it hurts so much.

In such a tense climate, attention has turned to the meager percentage points usually hard-won by smaller parties. There is a lot of unfavorable talk about these parties, and I want to give my take on some of it.

First off, I find the label spoilers patently rediculous. These parties are on the ballot in enough states to win the presidential election. Let that sink in, because I believe too few people understand that. They are every bit as legitimate running parties as the Democrats and Republicans, merely lacking the tradition of being voted for. They aren’t stealing any votes because their is no one to steal them from. If the Big Two can’t win the hearts and minds of voters, whose fault is that? I find it hard to fault other political clubs for having so reasonable a dissenting voice.

These parties are legitimate, but they have a hard time being recognized as such. Their attempts to get into the presidential debates are common and always rejected.

There is a valid point that a diverse liberal majority could be shouted down by a consolidated conservative minority, but that is so not their fault. I think its the nature of the beast to have many progressive views and few conservative ones. There are several paths to take from any one a particular point, but only one way to stay there. The problem is actually our crappy voting system.

There are two faults I see with our current voting system: the counting method and the elector-assignment method. The counting method we use now is called plurality: the one candidate with the largest percentage of votes wins. This has all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the claim of spoiler parties, and is one of the worst possible voting systems. As I said above, I find it reasonable that there will always be a chance for a conservative minority to override a liberal majority. There are myriad better solutions, the best being approval and condorcet. We need to push for a change, for a system that doesn’t punish ideas for being popular.

The problem of elector-assignment is a commonly misunderstood one. Note that I don’t say the electoral college, just the assignment of the electors. Each state is granted so many elector slots, and each one has complete control over how to assign the slots. The common method of winner-takes-all is increasingly showing signs of wear. For example, witness the embarrassing concept of battleground states, states that get to decide the election. I live in Massachusetts, a traditionally Democratic-voting state. The Democratic party is so strong here that it is hard to not feel disenfranchised. The Democrats are spoiling everyone else here, stealing their votes. All non-Democrat votes typically get thrown out after being counted, which is pretty rediculous when you think about it.

The problem is not the electoral college, but states’ system of winner-take-all. If they were to assign electors proportionately, we would approach a popular vote. For example, if 33% of Massachusetts voted Republican and the other 66% Democrat, our 12 electors could be split four-and-eight. This would let people actually feel like they are voting and be good for the states — candidates would actually fight over the constituents and visit the state.

So, the electoral college is not a road-block to this goal; rather it is an aid! By granting each state sovereignty over its votes, change can happen gradually and in the areas that actually want it. For more information and to find out about the state of proportional voting in your area, the Center for Voting and Democracy can hook you up. Many states have bills making the slow journey through the state legislatures.

So stop blaming the so-called third-parties and start blaming our easily-fixable system. Affect change at a local level and it will ripple up. If one state goes proportional, I’m sure others will follow. Vote for state candidates that want voting reform, and after people are actually allowed to vote as their hearts demand instead of trying to game the system, the rest will follow.

The Logs, They Are A-Moving

Over the past month or so, mterry.name has seen some changes: the WebMake system has been replaced by PHP, the look and feel has been updated, and WordPress has taken residence. Personally, I’m very pleased with the change — WebMake was nice, but PHP is sexier and cleaner.

I highly recommend WordPress as an attractive, easy-to-use web logging platform. I have just begun to experiment with it; hopefully this log will flesh out a bit. My old web log at Advogato is officially deprecated, and all the entries there now live here as well. Today marks the launch of my on-site log.

11 Sep 2004

xpad

Just released xpad-2.0-b2, which is a much better release than beta1. Fixed some crashers that appeared in beta1 and redesigned the preference windows to be more HIG-friendly and sexier. Also, if your notification area restarts, xpad’s tray icon is also restarted. Yay!

On the horizon: Some of that new transparency everyone’s talking about.

29 Aug 2004

Xpad

I just pushed through a new release of xpad, which is actually just a beta for the upcoming 2.0 release. It has lots of goodies, including a new toolbar, text formatting, and remembering pad hidden state.

It is the result of a couple weekends of hacking. It started with the simple desire to object orient some of the code base, using proper GObjects and all. The GObjects library is a simply amazing addition of classes into plain C; kudos developers. About half the code base is GObjects now, with more to come.

Predictably, this broke a lot of stuff, but I also fixed things too. For instance, the long-standing bug where the text insertion cursor was not the same color as the text foreground color. For some reason, GTK+ did not make this simple.

Semantic Web Update

The method of joining RDF and XHTML I talked about in my last update did not pan out. I replaced that article with one detailing more accepted methods for joining the semantic web.

I ditched it after talking around, notably in the #rdfig chat room. My method, while maybe well-formed had some predictable semantic problems. But I do want to warn others about my experiences with #rdfig. I felt that the members of the chat were less than helpful with my ignorant self and after a while of trying to help, they mostly gave up on educating me, which is fair. However, I later discovered via a google search that several of the members were in a parallel chat room in which they were making fun of me. Including my personal appearance, based on pictures from my web site. I feel that this was a little low and want to warn others away from that chat room. And to warn IRC users everywhere that if you make fun of someone, you might want to do it in an unlogged chat room.