Ravioli and More Electrical Disasters

This afternoon, I went to my parents' house to make Pasta for the Christmas Eve dinner. It's one of the few family traditions we have; almost every year we dust the dining room table down with flour, get out the pasta rolling machines, and make a few hundred ravioli. It takes the best part of an afternoon, you have to work quite fast, and the final product doesn't keep very well. They need to be stored separated on floured trays, and turned twice every day to avoid sticking to each other or the trays. However, they should taste delicious tomorrow night. Some past photos.

In-between making ravioli (and fixing computers), I was dispatched to fix the broken light above our work table. As suspected, it was the dimmer fuse that had blown (in fact, decimated). So, in with a new one, and I had to re-mount the dimmer. I could see that the dimmer was terribly designed — the top mounting screw comes really close to the circuit board, and right at the edge of the board is the un-insulated fuse holder. This got me mumbling something about bad design, and very gingerly using insulated tools on the screw. Here's a diagram:

Dimmer Diagram

Obviously, during the mounting, the mounting tab will come really close to the board and fuse holder. Naturally, that happened, and there was a very loud bang. The circuit board trace next to the holder had burned through. Hmph. How one earth did they get this certified as safe for home use?

I suppose it's also another reminder not to work on live circuits. I've had enough of those reminders in my life...

Dimmer Back Dimmer Top

Graduation isn't straightforward

I haven’t blogged in a while, since exams are now over, and I have less urgent procrastination needs. I maintained an average of more than 1 post / day at the hight of my studying :-(. In fact, I’ve been recovering from exams, and trying to catch up with the rest of life that I had to put on hold all year. And more recently, an insane RSS feed and e-mail build-up from a week of ignoring them while I was catching up with my life.

So, no posts doesn’t mean life has been uneventful. I’ve been:

  • out almost every night last week
  • picked up wall climbing again (thanks Ken) and through it found some people I haven’t seen in ages (Hi Chris)
  • elected the Chairman of CLUG
  • involved in a spat with ICTS (the topic of a future post)
  • spending at least a day encoding GeekDinner videos (using Makefiles to allow encode video in parallel on dual core machines, and using a handful of machines to do the work saves a lot of time), and finally
  • almost not graduating. (the rather ranty point of this post)

This was my third your of an Information Technology BSc (specifically Computer Science and Electrical Engineering). I’ve had good results most of the time, but I’m not class medal material.

In first year, I slept through almost all of my Statistics lectures (3rd lecture in day, after an insanely early start - I was usually exhausted, and well primed for sleeping). Come the end of the year, somehow, I didn’t realise how meagre the exam’s formula sheet was going to be, and failed the course horribly. I swore I’d never do Stats again, making up the points with another, more interesting course. I didn’t get a chance to do this in 2nd year because I failed and had to repeat another course due to bad timing between deadlines and my best friend’s tragic death in a hiking accident.

This year, I had a reasonably heavy course load, with the 3rd year CS courses, and a composite EE course made up of two 3rd year, and a 4th year course. On top of this, I had to fit in something extra to make up Stats. The only extra course I could schedule was… Stats. I spent an afternoon running around, and computing schedules, but there was no alternative.

This time around, I actually enjoyed the Stats - it was (partly) very well lectured, and I already knew the basics of the course-work. I read the textbook, crammed the necessary formulae for the exam, and wrote it, all a monstrous 6-hrs-of-exams day. And that, I thought, was that.

I kept myself busy for the next couple of weeks, and then wondered to UCT on results-day, to see what I’d got. I was top of the (admittedly small) class for my EE, and scraped a 1st in CS, great! Next I head to stats, and I see “DPR” next to my name instead of a mark.

DPR means that I didn’t complete the require coursework. The list of who got DP (Duly Performed), and who didn’t (DPR) goes up a week or so before exams begin. Somehow I hadn’t noticed that I hadn’t got DP (I’m pretty damn sure that I checked the relevant noticeboard, I’m good like that). DPR means don’t write the exam, it won’t get marked, you’ve already failed. But somehow it’d escaped me, and I’d written it, and now I was not going to graduate. I couldn’t believe that I was DPRed, but it was possible - I’d screwed it up before, and could have failed all the tests (I’d hadn’t seen all the test results yet).

So, the next morning, I raced off to see the Stats course convenor. We sifted through paperwork, and found the problem - I didn’t have a mark for one of the tests, and for DP you need to write all the tests. Eventually we found the attendance slip that proved I had written it, which meant either I’d escaped the test venue with my test-paper, or the department had lost it before it was marked. Fortunately, my exam had been marked, I’d passed, and they believed that I’d written the test. So after an agonising day’s wait, I heard that the Head of Department had approved passing me, as if I’d missed that test on medical grounds. I’ve since heard that University policy dictates that the department must take the blame unless they can prove it was me (it wasn’t).


That doesn’t mean everything is solved yet, I was recommended to do an elective in 1st year, that is now no longer sanctioned for my course. It usually causes me hassles during registration, and might come up again now, but I think I can safely assume I’m graduating…

Planet Geekdinner for *camp

I’ve updated planet geekdinner to pick up *camp posts.

As usual, as long as your post mentions the words *camp or geek-dinner, it should make the planet. We can no longer use tag feeds, as “geekdinner” and “*camp” are generally separate tags.

For regex geeks, the regex is ([gG]eek[ -]?[dD]inner|([sS]tar|\*)[ -]?[cC]amp)

On another note, I don’t know if I’m going to make star-camp - I might well be away that weekend. But hopefully I’ll be there.

CLUG Talk videos

CLUG is one of the more active LUGs around, and has had fortnightly meetings with technical talks consistently since at least 1999 (the extent of our records, and my involvement).

While this heritage is a testament to a strong LUG, there are only about 20 people who regularly attend meetings, and thus get the benefit of these talks. With a LUG membership of around 800 (my best estimate from mailing list figures), this is a tiny fraction of our community. People who can’t make it have been requesting videos of talks for a while, and recently Jonathan Carter brought his camera, and we started playing with videoing them. He has been stuck in Johannesburg for a few weeks and left me his camera, so I’ve been playing around with encoding.

So far, the lessens learned:

  • Video quality: A camera, high up at the back of the room produces reasonable, compressible video without having to have someone pan around following the presenter.
  • But the built-in microphones on a cheap camera just aren’t effective at that range (especially when you’ve got a quiet speaker).
  • Audience questions are hard to record.
  • Audio editing is do-able, and necessary. But so far, we haven’t ventured into video editing (on linux, this isn’t trivial).
  • You can’t normally read all the slides (or demos) with SD video. At full PAL resolution, most slides are legible. Screen-capture is an option, but most presenters make their slides available, which is far more bandwidth efficient.

Our progress so far is these procedures, and these videos: UK, ZA. We are using Ogg/Vorbis/Theora, and 3 different qualities of video. The three qualities are overkill, but I’m still experimenting with settings. I’d like some feedback - especially from a codec expert :-)

We lost Wikimania 2008

We lost Wikimania 2008, quite badly (by points). I’m obviously sad, because I was hopeful, and had invested the odd weekend into comparative flight pricing, bid editing, and sitting on the phone…

According to the published criteria, we should have done well. Somehow we managed to score lower than Alexandria on “rotation” which is odd because Wikimania has never been held in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’d have liked too see the IRC log from the judges meeting, to see where we lost our points, but of course that isn’t going to happen, so we’ll have to work it out ourselves, by comparing the bids.

In retrospect, our bid wasn’t that great. We were pinning more hopes on our location, and Cape Town’s attractions, then on the bid itself. It was expensive, last-minute, and lacking sponsership & good accommodation. By losing, we got our chance to get it right next time.

The good news, is bidding opens for Wikimania 2009 almost immediately. I don’t know what the chances are of 2009 being in Africa again, but I’m assuming we are going to bid, if everyone can pick themselves up and get going on it. To do it, w e are going to need firm sponsors. Find any friends you have corporate contacts, and twist their arms.

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