Archive for August 2005

Apes or Lions

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Coinciding with the talk about zones in Silicon Valley OpenSolaris User Group meeting,
here I release another vintage poster or wallpaper titled “Apes or Lions”.

It shows two mighty beasts can coexist in a system
separated from each other.
No prizes for guessing what “Apes or Lions” really is!



Written by chandanlog

31 Aug 2005 at 12:47 am

Posted in Art

At the Palo Alto Art Festival

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This is something quite similar to the Bangalore’s Chitra Santhe (painting market) – a street filled with artists selling their paintings and sculptures. The University Avenue in Palo Alto was bustling with people, paintings and variety of other things.

There was a shop selling lots of crafted of board games.
I was delighted to see a board that is quite familiar to me. I have known that as A-La-Gu-Li Ma-Ne. A game apparently introduced to Indian coast by Arab merchants centuries ago, which in Africa is known as Mancala. Unlike the 14 hole board that I have at home, this one was with 12 holes. That was the first computer game I had written, complete with my brother’s voices and an animated hand.
There was an old artist who made fairy tale creatures, which all looked like his self portraits. There was a lady selling
enchanting boxes that looked just like an old book.
While most of it was
“over priced and practically useless things to fill your house”, I liked the painting on the T-shirt from previous year’s festival, and to my surprise a few stalls later, the artist who painted that picture, had setup a shop. She was happy to give me an autograph over her painting on the T-shirt!

Last week while trying to buy a notebook computer at Fry’s electronics, I was so disappointed at number of models that absolutely have no design sense in them. Most looked as if they were turned inside out or ugly and unsymmetrical surfaces. I never really liked the Apple boxes. Those to me look like white tin boxes with no room for design or expression. Comparing Acer Ferrari laptops to Apple boxes is like comparing Ferrari cars to Ambulances.
Laptops were just an example. I see ample other places where commercial household items and utilities lack a sense of art or design – anything from electrical sockets to soap boxes.

Now looking at the old artists who were sitting in the sun trying to sell their own work, makes me feel sorry for them.
There would have been far better designed consumer merchandise if those artist had designed them for mass production.

(BTW, I bought an AMD Turion 64 LiveStrong notebook, finally)

Written by chandanlog

29 Aug 2005 at 1:11 am

Posted in General

Security of Password Truncation

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There might be many who consider this a bug, but I see it as a security feature: The ability to enter extra characters immediately after your password! Try that on Windows or Gmail, it refuses to authenticate the password if there are extra characters around it. On default Solaris you can type in more than 8 characters and the authenticator ignores the rest. (Note that you can configure Solaris to use a much longer password length)
In case you are sitting in a place where there are other people close enough (say in a plane or a conference), you can obfuscate your typing with ample backspaces and extra characters.

Since I change my passwords often and use a different password for each situation, I can’t really type my password fast (as opposed to people who are habituated to a single password for years). So this typing obfuscation feature helps (or I think it helps). BTW, even if people recognized my keystrokes it is hardly of any use to them, unless they stole my laptop. I don’t use it elsewhere, and I don’t run any remote login services (sshd, telnet, ftp,) on my laptop.

Written by chandanlog

17 Aug 2005 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Security

Hight of Un-usability or The Front-end for a Front-end

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This is a story that makes me sigh with both relief and grief.

A couple of years ago we bought (what we thought) a state of the art XYZ software, from the no.1 vendor for that domain Zoofrel Inc.,
for internal use. (real names changed to protect their identity and reputation). We paid tonnes of dollars for that (may be several hundred for each user). When the attractively marketed and nicely wrapped box arrived, we were very happy to replace our decades old software with the new one.
It was a typical application software – a database at the backend and a web based user interface as front-end.

On the day of its deployment, most people got disappointed!
While it met our functional requirements to a good extent,
and had a really good performance and scalability, people had
really bad user experience. The user interface was so badly
over engineered
that no one could make real use of it without
having to pull down a dozen menus and clicking a dozen buttons.
The tool literally hid the information that was in the database backend.
I don’t know who to blame – either the developers at Zoofrel Inc., or the folks who assembled it for us.

I realized that instead of spending my precious time futzing with
menues and buttons I can save myself some time writing a 100 line
perl script to query the database and list things I would often want
to see. [many thought that my pathetically slow and hurriedly written 100-line
perl script, saved the day for Sun, and I got a “People’s choice award” from Glenn Weinberg (VP of Operating Platforms Group), that year].

We couldn’t throw away that software, we had paid lots of
money and hired people to integrate that for us. That is like eating
an expensive but fowl and rotten dessert, since you paid for it.
While most people now really hate Zoofrel Inc., and we would never
buy another piece of software from them, we had to live with what ever we bought.
Life perhaps made a little easier with my perl script that displayed what I needed. However since we had no direct interface to modify the backend,
we had to still use the unusable web interface.

Recently Venky wrote another perl script
that actually automatically logged in to the Zoofrel Inc’s horribly bad web-based front-end, automatically clicked all the required menus and buttons and
successfully posted updates to the back-end database.

What he wrote infact is a front-end for a front-end. A really simple and usable front-end that uses the real front-end as a proxy to update the databases.
Finally we were all so happy! We don’t have to use the ugly and unusable tool! Venky got a “People’s choice award” this year!

Moral of the story: usability is far more important than most people think.
Usability applies to everything – APIs, command line parameters, configurations or programming languages, not just for GUIs.
Usable software makes the people love it, unusable software makes people hate the vendors. For e.g., Google’s main asset is usability, there is hardly any other serious technology.

Thinking from a OS and software vendor perspective, many of Sun products
might have actually suffered the fate of Zoofrel Inc’s software. Our customers could have written their own scripts on top of our software to do their daily jobs, or might have just rejected our software since they found it unusable (it is more easy to throw a rotten free cake than an expensive one!). If you had come across such unusable Solaris software please speak – we are listening. We have a team for Approachability or Keep It Simple Solaris.


Written by chandanlog

10 Aug 2005 at 12:22 am

Posted in General

Power of Sharing

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No sooner I posted my home grown GDM themes, variations and improvisations of these themes have appeared. My themes had been lying in my backyard (aka /usr/share/gdm/themes) for months. Never really thought they were worth sharing nor had time to tidy them up for publishing.

Paul Hendrick has done OpenGnome,
K. Grygoruk has done Health. both derrived from OpenWorld theme!

Written by chandanlog

5 Aug 2005 at 10:27 pm

Posted in General

Solaris Express Poster

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Since a few asked for a printable version of the Solaris Express poster,
here is a pdf version of the poster. Somehow gradients did not display well
in pdf, so it has plain colors. I have reduced saturation on colors to
make them look old.


Written by chandanlog

5 Aug 2005 at 9:05 am

Posted in Art

OpenSolaris GRUB boot splash screen themes

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After hacking GDM themes for OpenSolaris, GRUB is the next victim. Here are some splash screens in a format required for GRUB. To use them, save the .xpm.gz file to /boot/grub/ directory,
and make sure that /boot/grub/menu.lst file has entries like: (needs separate
background and foreground colors for each screen)

splashimage /boot/grub/sx-boot.xpm.gz
foreground  = ffffff
background  = 444444


splashimage /boot/grub/os-blk.xpm.gz
foreground  = ffffff
background  = 444444


splashimage /boot/grub/os-red.xpm.gz
foreground  = ffffff
background  = dd0000


splashimage /boot/grub/os-choice.xpm.gz
foreground  = 5381a1
background  = e0e0e0


splashimage /boot/grub/os-boot.xpm.gz
foreground  = 5381a1
background  = e0e0e0



Written by chandanlog

4 Aug 2005 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Art