directhex-grub-themes 00000010 release announcement.

I’ve just made a new release of my GRUB2 gfxmenu themes. This time, there’s an Ubuntu Lucid theme. It looks like this:

Download it from here as always.

MonoDevelop 2.4 available now

I’ve finished uploading the latest version of the cross-platform MonoDevelop IDE to Debian Experimental. MonoDevelop is a full-blown IDE for working on software written in C#, Visual Basic.NET, Python, Vala, Java (via IKVM.NET), C, C++, and Boo. It also integrates support for debugging (both of C-based apps via GDB, and Mono-based apps via MDB or the new Soft Debugger), GUI design of C# apps, version control via Subversion, database querying, unit testing, and more.

Oh, and for good luck, I’ve also uploaded it to badgerports.org (which should now display okay on smaller displays), for use with Ubuntu 10.04, where support for authoring with Moonlight is included. It’ll be in the main Ubuntu 10.10 repository at some point in the future, also with Moonlight support.

Enjoy.

badgerports/lucid now open for business

For those of you who like new shiny toys, there are now packages with version 2.6.3 of the Mono Framework available for your local friendly Ubuntu 10.04 system. Visit badgerports.org using your advanced web browser technology for more info.

I know monodevelop-debugger-mdb is busted – it’s temporary (until this evening). Or you can install this package manually as a workaround until then. There’s still no support re-enabled in Monodevelop in Lucid for Mono 2.6′s Soft Debugger – this will happen at a later date, once I decide on how to do it.

Election 2010 is over – but what did it mean?

It took a while, but the 2010 General Election is now more or less over, and a victor crowned. David Cameron of the Conservative party has been given the job of Prime Minister by Queen Lizzie, at the head of a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. And it seems a lot of people are a bit miffed about this.

If you look around, there are a lot of messages saying things like “I voted Lib Dem to keep the Tories out – never again”. Clearly, some people didn’t understand what they were voting for, so I’m going to look back a bit at this election, and explain why – for now – we should wait and see what happens, rather than screaming blue murder.

The result and the choices

Nobody won the election – not the Conservatives, not Labour, not the Liberal Democrats, nobody. Our electoral system in the UK assumes the election of an undefeatable majority, which is why both Labour and the Tories spent so much time warning of the end of the world if a majority was not reached. In the absence of a clear majority, there are three possible outcomes – a coalition between multiple parties (traditionally seen by the public and the media as weak and unstable); a minority government which could be toppled by a single vote of no confidence (traditionally seen by the public and the media as weak and unstable); or going back to another General Election to see if a do-over would result in a majority.

So, in 2010, with the results we had, there were a number of possible options:

  • A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition (363 seats, majority government)
  • A Labour-Liberal Democrat-Scottish National Party-Plaid Cymru-Social Democratic & Labour Party (or similar) coalition (327 or so seats, majority government) – the so-called “losers’ rainbow”
  • A Labour-Liberal Democrat minority coalition (315 seats, minority government)
  • A Conservative minority government (306 seats, minority government)
  • A new General Election

Now, those are in order of number of seats, but not necessarily order of stability. But those were the choices we had. I don’t think anyone disputes that.

Vote Clegg, Get Brown

So, under the laws of this country, the first right to form a government when there’s no majority goes to the incumbent, which means Gordon Brown. People who were complaining about Gordon “squatting” at 10 Downing Street seem not to understand the law – it was the correct place for him to be, up until he either successfully formed a government, or failed to form a government and resigned.

So, from the numbers above, you can see that either the best Gordon would achieve would be a minority *slightly* larger than the Conservatives – something easily overturned if the Conservatives and any of the minor nationalist parties were to gang up – or the rainbow, which would be too unstable to last a week.

With the numbers the electorate came up with, there was never a feasible Lib-Lab option The pure Lib-Lab coalition would have been toppled trivially – and the rainbow coalition, fueled only by anti-Tory hate, would have lasted as well as any other political regime based purely on spite (i.e. it wouldn’t).

Vote Clegg, Get Cameron

So, how about the other options – the Liberal/Conservative alliance, or the Conservative minority? Well, as the clear least-losery party of the election (given nobody deserves the title “winner”), they had the most “right” to be in charge, like it or not. This is borne out by the number of seats the current system gives them – and the subsequent options it would provide (including the near-viability of a Conservative-only government). Whether Labour like it or not, it’s not people voting for the Liberal Democrats (who only got a 1% increase in vote share) who lead to the large number of Conservative seats – it’s the droves of people who abandoned Labour.

During and after the campaign, Nick Clegg said that in the event of a non-majority, then his party would speak first and foremost to the party which did best – which in this case was the Conservatives.

Vote Clegg, Get Clegg

Here’s the thing. There seem to be a lot of people who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the belief that it’d be a vote for “not Tories”. These people shouldn’t have voted for the Lib Dems, because clearly they’re against the main Lib Dem policy of vote reform. Vote reform in any form would increase the likelihood of hung parliaments – which means an increase in the number of coalitions and deals. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for coalitions and deals. And no, that doesn’t mean coalitions of “anyone but Tories”, that means any coalition or deal which helps push the individual parties’ manifestos with a minimum of compromise – which sometimes might mean the Conservatives, and sometimes mean Labour and sometimes might mean SNP and sometimes mean DUP and so on. Not only that, but electoral reform would help the small parties too – full STV, the preferred system as far as the Lib Dems are concerned, might well give commons seats to UKIP or even the BNP, as a “fair” representation of their voters (over a million votes between them).

A vote for the Liberal Democrats has resulted in the Conservatives dropping some of their policies entirely (such as the inheritance tax changes).

A vote for the Liberal Democrats has resulted in the Conservatives adopting some Liberal Democrat policies (such as the move to a £10,000 income tax free band).

A vote for the Liberal Democrats has resulted in the Conservatives going against their own future chances at power, and secured movement on vote reform (a first step system called AV where the winner is the least hated candidate).

And, whilst the specifics of the deal haven’t come out yet, we can assume that a vote for the Liberal Democrats has also added the farcical Digital Economy act to the Tories’ “Great Repeal Bill”, a laundry list of Labour laws that the Tories want stripped from the books.

A seventh of the coalition is Liberal Democrat. Five members of the new cabinet, including the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, are Liberal Democrats (though only Clegg and Danny Alexander as Scottish Secretary have been announced so far).

Vote Clegg, Get…

So, here’s the thing to take away from all this: if a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition were the same thing as a Conservative majority government, then there wouldn’t have been any need for five days of negotiation. If a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition were the same thing as a Conservative majority government, then there’d have been no change in the income tax threshold – but there’d have been a change in inheritance tax. The Lib Dems will keep the Tories honest, and achieve more of their manifesto than they’ve ever been able to before.

My advice to anyone stewing that they voted for a “coalitions are good” party believing them to be an “anti-Tory party” is: wait and see.

It’s bloo!

For the first time in 6 years, my personal site has gotten a makeover.

In 2004, pretty much directly after graduating, I felt I needed a presence online which wasn’t defined by my education – especially since my old ecs.soton.ac.uk address was gone, and using the alumni zepler.net domain seemed like a cop-out. I spent a few days pondering a nice, new, unique name for my site, equal parts enigma and stupid, and settled on APEBOX.NET. And in order to flex my newly graduated programmer muscles, I spent time creating a design from scratch, on top of a very simple Java Server Pages platform of my own design.

The observant amongst you may have noticed a discrepancy in the TLD, and you’d be right – I had some disputes with my web host over the topic of “blithering incompetence”, and ended up jettisoning the entire APEBOX.NET domain (which it appears had been registered in someone else’s name) and moved the whole shebang to the only slightly different APEBOX.ORG, a mere 6 months after starting up. With the change of domain and change of webhost, I found myself unable to find an affordable JSP host, so ported the whole effort to PHP instead.

Around September 2007, I made an executive decision that running my own publishing platform was silly – that I was relying on security by obscurity, and that needing to edit text files via SSH was an annoyance for posting new material. Subsequently, I settled on the much-maligned WordPress platform as a new way to run things, transplanting all the existing content into WordPress posts and pages, and recreating the original design as pixel-perfect as I could manage moving from <TABLE> and HTML 4.01, into CSS and XHTML 1.0, and growing fancy-pants things like comments boxes in the process.

Now, jump forward again to 2010, and I’ve run out of scope for the site’s old “grey on brown” style. The last 2.5 years have really been using WordPress in ways it wasn’t designed for – and attempting to shoehorn my 2004 approach into a modern web. This is especially visible with the old “RANTBOX” and “PENGUINBOX” links, which provided an un-dated list of blog posts, in an effort to mimic the old “which .blog files are in this directory” approach – I found myself avoiding blogging about other topics of interest such as politics or games, purely because I could see neither how to shoehorn them into an existing category, nor how to extend the list of categories without making compromises in my never-to-be-questioned new-graduate aesthetic.

So here we go, a new post in a new category, something which I would never have gotten away with under the constraints of the old “this is a site not a blog” blog. The theme, for the curious, is a wonderful happy-feeling creation called Monkey Island, which I’ve mildly tweaked to accommodate the width of images in existing blog posts.

A dull post on a topic nobody gives a shit about – and it feels great!

Don’t Vote

Don’t vote if you support war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Don’t vote if you support tax evasion by billionaires.

Don’t vote if you support ID cards.

Don’t vote if you support fox hunting.

Don’t vote if you support 90 day detention without charge.

Don’t vote if you support disconnection from the Internet on the basis of accusation.

Don’t vote if you support tax rises and/or cuts to public services.

You get the idea.

The way democracy works in the UK, the election is decided by the biggest voting bloc – the non-voters. Non-voters who elect not to vote are not, in fact, failing to vote – they are casting a vote of “I’m with Stupid”, a vote of “whatever that guy says” – and they are casting that vote loudly. If you decide not to exercise your right to vote, you are directly supporting the minority decision to pick the party that wins – and your vote of confidence in their ability to vote on your behalf is a ringing endorsement of whatever comes next.

The usual complaint from the non-voters is that their vote doesn’t count – that one vote doesn’t matter, that there’s no material difference between the candidates, and so on. However, this is an entirely self-fulfilling prophecy. To demonstrate how wrong these people are, let’s have some fun with maths!

The population of the UK is about 62 million. Of those, at the last General Election, about 44 million were eligible to vote. Under 27 million people DID vote – the rest, about 17.5 million, did not. That’s 17.5 million “my vote doesn’t count for anything” non-voters. How much influence could they have wielded? Well, Labour’s total popular vote was 9.5 million. If one in twenty non-voters had voted Conservative, then the Conservatives would have won. If one in five had voted Liberal Democrat, then the Liberal Democrats would have won. If five in nine had voted Official Monster Raving Loony Party, then OMRLP would have won.

Clearly my numbers are a gross over-simplification, because that’s not how our voting system works – but it goes to show just how powerful the “I’m with Stupid” voting bloc is, and how much influence they could wield if they so chose. If you feel all MPs are the same, then stand for election yourself (there’s a £500 fee, refundable on 5% of votes received). It really doesn’t take many people voting together to overturn even the safest seat – it requires only a removal of apathy by the voters who decide the elections by not casting a vote. And surely, in a population of 62 million, we can find 640 or so individuals who can serve in public office WITHOUT being a corrupt git? Can we really not scrape together 0.001% of the population who are worthy of support?

Oh, and a spoiled ballot is not a vote for “none of the above”, it’s a non-vote. If you want to mix things up, then cast a vote for a third party – even cast it for a joke candidate. Because there really are enough people out there that they could change the landscape of politics completely. Convince just one out of five non-voting friends to vote Lib Dem, for example, and UK politics is changed forever.

So in advance of the voter registration deadline next week, and the General Election in May, think about what matters or doesn’t matter to you. And remember, if you really support the 2-party duopoly, then don’t vote.

Introducing Larval Editor

In my last post, about GRUB2 theming, there were a few people who were unhappy at the perceived difficulty of creating GRUB2 themes, largely based on the lack of documentation. And to be honest, those people are right – if the documentation were complete & correct when I started, then I wouldn’t have ended up bumping into all the bugs I did. So, to help on that front – and to help kick-start GRUB2 theming in general, I’m announcing Larval. More GRUB2 themes means more awesome-looking systems in the wild. Hopefully the GRUB2 upstream will embrace it as a project to help raise the profile and potential of GRUB2.

It didn’t take me long to realise the most obvious way to develop such an editor: GRUB2′s canvas-based layout system has an awful lot in common with XAML, so the obvious choice was to develop using Silverlight (or, more specifically, Gtk.Moonlight). Larval’s internal theme format is XAML files, which are then exported to (and imported from) GRUB2′s simple text based files.

The biggest piece of work, to be honest, is the Managed implementation of a PF2 font reader/writer, so you can design a theme using the regular TrueType fonts of your choice, then have them automatically ported to PF2 format as required.

I look forward to plenty of community input on Larval, once it reaches a point where I’m sufficiently pleased with my (Ms-PL licensed) code to share it with the world. Until then, you’ll have to make do with the above screenshot!

[Edit: If it wasn't obvious, this was mostly an April Fool. Mostly. I DID knock together a Gtk.Moonlight UI, and I *DO* think it's a good idea. But there's no code, and no real desire to write the required amount of cruft]

directhex-grub-themes 00000001 release announcement.

There’s been a fair deal of talk on the intertubes lately about prettifying the boot process. The first I saw was a post from Lasse Havelund regarding a proposal for Ubuntu Lucid, and the second was regarding a forked version of GRUB2 called BURG, which adds some theming abilities. A tiny bit of research revealed that despite the existence of BURG, the regular upstream GRUB2 project already has graphical theme support, courtesy of a Google Summer of Code project by Colin Bennett (albeit with a few less features at time of writing). Since Lasse had gone to the hard work of actual design, I decided to try my hand at chopping his design up into a usable GRUB2 theme, and the result can be seen here.

I ended up speaking with the upstream GRUB2 team (which has certainly lead to a strange alliance in one case) about Colin’s GSOC themes, and as it turns out, the main reason there’s no theme supplied with GRUB2 is that Colin’s themes use non-Free elements (proprietary fonts like Helvetica are used heavily). Since I had learnt the theme format to a basic degree in doing my Ubuntu theme, I proposed making a genuinely Free theme – starting with a Debian theme, and moving on to a generic “GRUB2″ theme afterwards.

As I went along, I found a handful of bugs and feature oddities, which have almost all been fixed with incredible turnaround by Vladimir Serbinenko, the current maintainer of the “gfxmenu” code (there remain some questions regarding RTL support in themes, and how to gracefully deal with different aspect ratios) – and I want to extend my thanks to him for his help. However, at this point in time, I’m pleased to announce a theme I’d consider ready for public consumption.

It’s obviously not perfect, and it uses the old visual style from Debian Lenny, but it’s a fully Free starting point, which hopefully can be deconstructed by others seeking to make their own themes. It ought to scale fully to any 4:3 resolution. And it may explode and eat your disk on any version of GRUB2 Experimental other than r1499. Generally, the README is a good starting point.

Oh yes, an URL. Try http://retro.apebox.org/grubthemes/

I’ve been speaking with some folks on deviantART regarding using their Debian-themed wallpaper in future releases of my themes package, but for now, this should be enough for gfxmenu to get a little more exposure and a little more testing. And, hopefully, shift artist focus back from the theme-incompatible BURG fork to the real GRUB2 project.

FOSDEM 2010

I will be at FOSDEM in February next year. It should hopefully be awesome. Anyone who packages Mono on any distro should definitely come, or does any Mono-related stuff in general, since not only will I be there, but the fabulous Mirco Bauer too – and perhaps other wonderful people.

Definitely a fine use of your moneycash.

Taking a back seat

I’m making a few changes to my online interactions.

  • Chicken Little Remix will no longer be updated. There will be no 10.04 from me.
  • I will no longer be visiting certain websites, under any circumstances, courtesy of 127.0.0.1 entries in /etc/hosts. This includes sites such as Ubuntu Forums, some blogs, and some “news” sites.
  • I will be blocking some people from Twitter, in order to avoid their @mentions from appearing to me.
  • I may (this is undecided) opt to change my anything-goes policy regarding comments on my blog. Redacted comments will have their content deleted, to make it clear that a comment is redacted, not held in moderation

Some things, however, will NOT be changing.

  • I will continue my efforts in Debian. In fact, these efforts will be redoubled.
  • I will continue my efforts in Ubuntu. In fact, these efforts will be redoubled.
  • I will maintain my existing IRC, Twitter, email & IM presence.
  • I will, when the opportunity arises, combine sweet and savoury foods.

Thank you for your time.