How to survive a coffee cup - guide for laptop (and cat) owners

Yesterday my cat spilled a full cup of hot coffee on my 2k$+ laptop. Today, there is no trace of the incident and the laptop is working perfectly again. This is partially thanks to luck, partially to Dell laptop engineering and partially to my instinctive actions within first 10 seconds of the incident. I will recap it here so that if you happen to have a mishap of such kind you would know what to do to save your laptop.

The first thing I did is pick up the laptop (so that extra coffee from the table would not go into the vents at the bottom of the laptop) keeping the corner that was soaked with coffee downwards. With one hand I held the notebook and pressed and held the Power button to turn the laptop off as soon as possible. With the other hand I removed the power cord and tried to remove the battery as well. It took a couple seconds, but when that was done and the laptop was placed on a towel on the floor the time sensitive part was over.

After that was the clean-up. Coffee from the table and floor (so that other things don't get soaked), coffee form the outside of the laptop (with a damp cloth), ... After that I disassembled my laptop down to removing the motherboard and checking it for damage. Where ever I found traces of coffee, I cleaned them up with cotton swabs and spirit (clean water would also work, but would require more drying time). After I cleaned and dried every part off with a fan, I put the laptop back together. It took around 2 hours (more like 4 because I had to ask my girlfriend to pick up a new screwdriver on her way home as I lost mine). Everything was working, except the keyboard.

Bits of coffee got inside the keyboard and were shortening the wires so some lines of buttons were not working and some were activating other keys when pressed. On an advice from a fried, I took out the keyboard and ... washed it. I simply put the keyboard under a stream on running water and made sure that the water got into every possible and impossible opening. After 5 minutes of washing I got the hairdryer and proceeded to dry the keyboard. After an hour I put it in, but it still did not work, so I left it on a heating radiator overnight. After around 18 hours of drying the keyboard started working again. Oh and it was cleaner than it ever was :D

Summary: Do not panic! Get water out of you laptop, get it turned off, disconnect power and remove the battery. If you manage to do all that in 10 seconds or less, you might have a chance of seeing your laptop boot up again.

Voting on emails?

What does it sound like when a commission is reinventing a wheel? Much like this. Guys, the technology you are looking for is called (*gasp*) a forum, with moderators and poster carma and such ...

It would not be too hard to implement a gateway that would receive emails posted to any list and republish then in a web forum where then moderation and voting can take place. Email is unsuited for this because it is impossible to moderate and vote after the message has been sent out (and delaying emails for moderation/voting is a huge burden on communication).

iPhone review from a free software guy

I got an iPhone on the very first day it was available officially in my country. I have used it every day since then and am now ready to decide how good it really is. Summary: it is a great piece of technology and the only tradeback is the locked down platform. I have abandoned my Palm and am not looking back.

Hardware: the hardware is just perfect. 4 buttons (Home, Power, Volume Up and Down) and 1 switch (Mute) are all very clear, easy to find and press and frankly are enough. The touchscreen is reasonably fast and very precise nicely corrected by software that guides your presses toward UI points of interest if such are within your finger. The casing is absolutely solid - there is no gaps, no wobble, nothing. All glossy surfaces attract fingerprints, but a couple passes with a microfiber cloth (included) clean it up easily. The loudspeaker is phenomenal - all sound comes from a single small hole, but it can easily fill a small room with music. Call sound quality is impeccable. You can plug in any headphones, but if you use the included headphones you get a microphone with a button that can pickup and hand up calls, start/pause music and skip to the next track. I also love that the only charger included is a very small power brick that provides a power-only USB port and a USB charging cable. That is a good way to reduce number of power bricks for gadgets. The iPhone 3G (that is what I have) also has a GPS build-in, but let us be clear - it is not good enough to replace a car GPS, the iPhone GPS is slow (takes several seconds to refresh the location and tens of seconds to find it first time) and the precision is measured in meters or even tens of meters. The WiFi is very good at getting a connection and doing it very fast. Oh and there is an acceptable camera.

Out of the box software: the software included surely is better than on any other phone I have seen (including Palm). The UI widgets are nicely written specially for a touchscreen interface - the best example is having click wheels instead of drop down menus. It is much easier mentally to flick a wheel up or down then to click on a list, click to scroll the list and then click to select an entry. And the click wheel makes it much easier to correct off-by-one errors. Switches that look like regular physical switches instead of checkboxes is another very useful UI concept. I think a lot of this can be reused on the desktop as well.

iTunes: and here comes the bad spot, the lock-in part. To get anywhere with the iPhone you need to associate it with an installation of iTunes. It fails to work in Wine or even in a virtual machine - apparently there are some errors related to avahi or something. Unfortunately, this means that you need wither Windows or MacOS to do nything with your iPhone. iTunes is the only way to backup, restore and upgrade your iPhone, it is the only way to get contacts and music on the iPhone (there is an iTunes Store app in the newest version that allows purchasing music over the air). Even after doing a jailbreak (see further) it is currently not possible to add music to the iPhone from any third party applications, because the iTunes database has a hashed checksum that the build-in iPhone music player (and iTunes) check before doing anything. If the checksum is wrong the only thing you can do is a full restore of the phone from backup. Crypto geeks - please help decrypt that hash, so that we can sync iPhones to amaroK. The iTunes itself is a bit weird - to get music onto the phone you need to create a playlist and then you can sync that playlist over. One of the playlist options is a smart playlist with a random feature and a limit on number of matches. That is the way to get random music from your collection onto the phone. I do dislike the fact that iTunes syncs all the contacts from Google to the phone and not only contacts for a certain group or only those that have a phone number, for example. Search and favorites do help here.

Third party software (iTunes Store): it is very easy to install new software on the phone over the WiFi and there is plenty to choose from. You do need a Mac to develop this software which restricts the developer base a bit. The main bases that I needed (or did not know I needed) are covered: player, TwitterFon, LockBox password storage, Stanza ebook reader, Shazam music identificator, Wordpress client, BigOven cookbook and lots of fun games. Have not used any paid-for apps due to the fact that iTunes store is not available in Latvia and the official documentation recommends registering with a fake address in UK or US. :) Most of the software is rather stable and useful, but there is also a lot of fluff. User reviews and ratings help a lot, can we have those for Debian packages?

Jailbreak and third party software (Cydia): thanks to some anonymous hackers, we have the ability to break the software jail on the iPhone and install software that Apple did not approve. The process is made very simple, but again it does require you to boot into Windows or MacOS X. The main thing the jailbreak process does is install an installer on the phone. Currently the best one is Cydia which is built on top of ... apt-get and dpkg! After that is done, you can install a terminal, a ssh server and BossPrefs advanced preferences. There are also other interesting programs there - a different dock, file manager, caching youtube player, quake, themed app launcher with categories and startup page (winterboard). Theoretically the ssh server allows you to manage your music over WiFi from any platform, but unfortunately until the iTuned database hash algorithm is decoded, we can only copy music from the phone to the PC and not back. It is possible to copy files over using ssh and then play them using third-party players, but those players are very crude and featureless.

To summarize: an iPhone is a great phone and a decent application platform. To make using an iPhone with Linux easier we need to make iTunes run in Wine (and allow it to see the iPhone) and reverse engineer the iTunes database hashing algorithm so that we can get music on our phones with Linux tools. I also wish there was a way to develop iPhone apps in Linux, but that really is reaching for the stars.

Copyright infringement is like walking into a concert without a ticket

In light of Ted's post on copyright, it is clear that we are bogged down by a hostile terminology.

Copyright infringement is not piracy - gunmen on seas killing people, looting ships and holding hostages is piracy.

Copyright infringement is not theft. When my bike was stolen, I no longer had it. Stealing a bicycle is theft.

Copyright infringement is more like sneaking into a concert. You enjoy the show, but did not pay for it. If the concert is held in a small venue then it is easy to spot someone who gets in without paying, but if you hold a concert in an open field, then expecting everyone in the surrounding area to be forced to pay you is rather absurd. If you have a concert in a field with a fence around it and someone makes a hole in that fence (posts a a recording to a P2P site), then the one making the hole might be punishable (property damage), but can any person that enters that hole really be prosecuted for theft, property damage and enabling further theft by not closing the hole (uploading that is inherent in the P2P protocols) ? I do not think so.

A similar analogy is using public transport without a ticket. If there is a bus that goes from A to B and I get on it without buying a ticket from the driver, then in the current copyright enforcement world I would get arrested by the police, prosecuted and get a fine that is tens of thousand times more than the price of the ticket. This has multiple problems - 1. the police has no way of knowing if I have some kind of legal right to use the bus without a ticket (monthly ticket, free ride for seniors, ...) before arresting me and bringing me to court, the police has no business wasting their time and taxpayer money until it is 100% certain that a crime has actually occured; 2. if a hacker disables the ticket composters in the bus and removes all signs about prices how am I to know that the bus is not free (like the park and ride buses in many locations); 3. the fines are excessive - I've not seen a public transport fine that is much more then 10 times the price of the ticket, and it only applies to one ride - you can not be retroactivelly fined for all free rides you took in the last year; 4. it actually is not possible to be 100% certain who is the person doing the act - you can only trace the IP which can be used by any number of computers and additionally the computers might be infected with a botnet acting as an unwilling proxy zombie. There is no way (except a confession) to prove that a particular person does a particular download.

Now we just need a short and simple word or phrase that describes that. Any ideas?


I have just encountered a bug in Gnome that is much more visible when the hard drive is slow or overloaded and responds slowly. This gave me an idea - how about a simple transparent FUSE filesystem that does nothing else than delay, slow down and possibly reorder filesystem requests? Such a filesystem would be very useful for debugging. We developers tend to have high-performance systems and that hides many bugs, but if we could have a slower system on-demand, it will give us the ability to debug our applications better.

Even better would be a virtual machine where one could arbitrarily slow down any specific aspects of the system - slower CPU, slower hard drive, slower RAM, slower network, ...

I know that engineers of network hardware have special devices that emulate long distance and noise - you take two wireless network cards and plug cables into their antennae sockets and then plug those cables into the device. The device then makes a connection between those cables, but with emulation of a variable distance, variable antennae and variable environmental noise, so the wireless cards can be tested for distance and noise resistance right in the lab. We could do the same in software for HDD, CPU, RAM and networking - imagine having two Xen instances and putting an emulated network between them with 10 hops, 1 second latency, 20% average packet drop traffic shaping and limited top bandwidth of 100 kbit/s. Now that is a real test platform for any kinds of applications that have anything to do with networking (or HDD, CPU or RAM).

Anyone up to making that? Could someone of you use a system like that?

Following the US finansial problems OR elections

Lately following the US elections (and lately the finance collapse) is an interesting thing, I have been watching the following (in the order of importance):

  1. NBC Nightly News

  2. NBC Meet the Press

  3. NBC Countdown

  4. The Daily Show/The Colbert Report

Additionally, if you watch it in this order, the fear and maybe even panic that sets in watching the news is slightly relived by the common sense and a bit of humor.

And to the people that say that that the above is very anti-Republican leaning - I admit, it is a bit, but when Democrats fail, they cover it as well. It just does not happen as much lately. I mean, Republicans manage to contradict themselves inside one sentence, entertainment TV loves that and Democrats actually have hard time competing for air time. A Democrat gets an oral relief from his secretary? A bunch Republicans are selling government oil-rich lands for sex! Beat that! Poor Democrats :D

24th September as a day against software patents - Debian support?

According to the Slashdot article and the website itself and on Digg, the anti-software-patent activists are attempting a world-wide event on the 24th of September as a world-wide day against software patents. USA has them via a weird court ruling, Japan has them as well (not sure why), there have been efforts to force software patents on EU, India, Australia and many other countries either by Microsoft lobbies or even via US trade treaty pressure.

While lobbying by local Microsoft branches and their pet companies can be countered locally, like I and many others did in EU a couple years ago (mostly thanks to FFII), trade negotiations are very secretive affairs and it is very hard to lobby there directly. The public needs to be aware of the issue, otherwise the politicians will not be aware of its importance to their voters.

Software patents are a threat to free software as it circumvents the power of GPL and other copyright licenses if enough money is thrown at the lawyers. If a software patent is generic enough, it can easily stop development of a whole class of free software applications on a whim of the patent holder. And there are plenty of granted software patents with a very broad scope (progress bar, anyone?).

I am aware that to get Debian support for such an initiative, a GR is needed, but how about a personal word of support from the DPL or support from the SPI? It is in direct area of interest for SPI - software patents create an ever present threat of legal action against any and all software in Debian (in USA and Japan, at least) and, as the legal umbrella of Debian in the USA, SPI would be a prime target.

What do others think about this?

Paris Hilton

... I find that I am actually respecting her after this.

Note: her energy policy is actually equivalent to Obama's "last resort" energy policy.