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Archive for March, 2011

Outperforming PCA, Revisiting MATLAB

Post-denoising small

I currently work on a very fascinating project which deals with 3-D face recognition, as already stated back in January. Progress has been noticeable recently (easier to get coding done when the Internet is mostly unavailable due to Bad Telecom [1, 2, 3]) and the accompanying text is now about 50 pages long.

A few observations about MATLAB: the programming framework has not really developed much since 2003. It’s either quite stagnant or improved only in unseen places. I did not forget how to develop a GUI environment very rapidly.

A few observations about PCA: the method is a little antiquated and it can probably be outperformed by more problem-specific implementations of algorithms we explore.

A few observations about Bad Telecom (or Bastards Telecom, although some people view the word bastard as too strong): they only ever serve the customer properly if he/she becomes a threat to the reputation of the business. It is sad that customers must be seen as a risk before they can actually get progress made.

What It’s Like to be a BT Customer

Bastards telecom

Being a Bastards Telecom customer means a lot of things, some of which include:

  • Waking up every morning for two weeks only to test a phone line
  • Being told by a Bastards Telecom agent that it’s OK if the line is not working, it’s just part of how it’s supposed to work (it’s not, they made an error and then arrogantly disregarded my advice)
  • Taking two complete days off work to wait by the intercom from 7AM to 6PM, thinking that perhaps within a minute the delivery person will arrive (but in vain, surely)
  • Waiting on line (in a queue) for one hour to reach an actual person. This is not like holding the phone for one hour knowing that after one hour someone will answer it. This is a case of a one-hour anticipation for answer on the other line (you don’t want to miss an actual real person who doesn’t just ask you to enter digits after waiting for half an hour).
  • Not doing proper exercise for a week, just making phonecalls at the gym and waiting for calls back (nearly having to apologise for being a polite (but mistreated) customer
  • Having to travel for half an hour just to get to a phone with a working line so that about 20 phonecalls (like the above) can be made
  • Having to ask friends and business ownerz for an apology for using the line for hours and hours, draining battery, taking up their time, and costing them telephone charges
  • Not being able to get in touch with friends (except using slow medium like E-mail)
  • Having your friends receive unwanted and unexpected phonecalls from Bastards Telecom, which somehow decided one’s friend can also be treated like someone’s secretary
  • Bastards Telecom contacting someone’s friend on the work telephone, which in turn causes this friends problems at work
  • Having general problems at work not just due to lack of an Internet connection (I do both my jobs primarily from home) but a telephone line, too
  • Being told a 12 month contract is suddenly an 18 months contract despite being told and then confirming contradictory information by sales staff and signing a deal based on that information
  • Being put on hold for 15 minutes while one agent listens to the recording of an older call with another agent, only to then misrepresent the customer and put all blame on the customer, obviously to defend Bastards Telecom. Humility is a disallowed term among Bastards Telecom.
  • Having an agent hang up despite the customer being patient and polite
  • Friends arrive and leave in anger because they cannot get in contact and therefore cannot access the building or discuss times
  • Missing a few nights out for being off the telephone grid and thus unable to coordinate
  • Being away from some of one’s crucial belongings, such as work equipment
  • Being unable to wish the parent a “happy birthday”
  • Failure to contact businesses for crucial transactions, which leads to a lot of trouble
  • Having to travel by foot to a lot of places because there is no other way to make contacts
  • Having to leave “telephone number” fields blank in a lot of place, then having to come back later to fill those missing parts
  • Making family and friends worried that contact cannot be made (which leads to false assumptions)
  • Failure to accept the shipping of a hub (for broadband) because there is no working line at home for Royal Mail to get through to the customer

In conclusion, don’t choose Bastards Telecom. Their monopoly is far from deserved, it’s more like a government franchise and they will also Phorn your phone, spying on your every activity online for for benefit of marketing companies that will pressure you to buy things you do not need and share personal information about your life and your loved one.

Bastards.

And the worst part remains ahead. They may bill me for someone else’s phonecalls, in which case more bureaucracy will be required to resolve issues relating to refunds.

What does it mean when Bastards Telecom makes false promises about broadband services and due date? It’s getting late, so the following list will be very incomplete (imagine being offline for 3 weeks when all your work is online, employers included):

  • pay through the nose for mobile broadband, having had to spend hours finding an appropriate package at the shop (25 British pounds or nearly 40 dollars for just 2 gigabytes)
  • struggle for hours to bring back up a failed mobile broadband connection
  • work on single-head rather than dual-head display for a while, being away from one’s crucial files for several more days too (impossible for getting work done)
  • not being able to make VoIP calls and make up for lack of landline (which worked fine until Bastards Telecom botched it, then claimed it’s just fine)
  • not being able to blog, manage sites, etc.
  • not being able to transfer any large files
  • changing one’s browsing habits to account for caps
  • being throttled and taking an entire night to upload just 2 audio files while the computer stays connected and uses up valuable resources
  • many other Internet-related implications, as expected (I’m getting tired just thinking about it)

Bastards.

The whole thing is confirmed to be BT’s own fault. They admit it now, albeit shyly. Their staff totally messed up (maybe at risk of being fired), so right now one of them is constantly phoning my friend’s work phone (4 times today), asking urgently to meet me on Saturday, some time between a range of 5 hours (great! A fourth day having to be stuck at home, without connection to anything). So he now puts my friend’s work in jeopardy, not just my own. I don’t want anybody fired, but I know BT has been running around with the axe quite a lot recently (given their poor standards, no wonder). I am not asking BT for much, all I want is my life back, please.

N.B. – In case anyone from BT reads this, please look up VOL011-479058023564 and VOL011-47251182944.

BT is Rubbish

Bastards telecom

Summary: One malicious and incompetent monopoly that everyone (where applicable) ought to avoid even more aggressively than Microsoft

tO REMOVE any misinterpretations or rumours, nothing has changed at Techrights. The reason there has been so little going on since the seventh of the month is that BT is so bloody awful. When the IRC logs get posted (hopefully this month) some of the details will be made visible, but until then there are these messy notes of mine and reassurance that when all wired connectivity is back to normal, everything in Techrights too will be back to normal. Until then I will carry on coding and complete my 50-page paper about this research project that has occupied a lot of my time. Here is an out-of-date screenshot (it looks a lot nicer by now):

GMDS/PCA

This post would be off topic unless some connection was drawn to items we typically covered here. What the experience with BT shows is that a monopoly — and just about any monopoly for that matter — is a very bad thing. BT has a monopoly on my line and all its competitors must go through BT to rent the line. This gives BT a lot of power and my assertive attempts to cancel the order with BT after nearly 10 hours on the phone (and two entire days waiting at the house for a delivery that never came) are pointless at best. They make it impossible and hold the line as a hostage type of tool, in order to prevent the customer from going elsewhere. As Richard Stallman once put it, when support is a monopoly no wonder it is so bad. It turns out that under my name BT even activated the wrong line, which means that some stranger somewhere is making phonecalls at my expense. What an irreversible mess! Boycott BT. Avoid is like the plague and suggest others do the same.

N.B. – In case anyone from BT reads this, please look up VOL011-479058023564 and VOL011-47251182944. For shame, I want my life back.

My BT Nightmare (and How to Choose an ISP in the UK)

Executive summary: One has to be fortunate to get set up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) within days, must prepare for dozens of agonising hours as average/worst case scenario

I wanted to have my Internet connection sorted out upon my arrival at the new apartment. I really did. Weeks before moving in I repeatedly asked everyone involved to leave the connection working and do the pass-over in the simplest way possible. It could not be so simple though. You see, the UK (and perhaps other countries too) has this funny procedural complexity which means that in addition to having to reassign accounts, e.g. closing one account, returning equipment, then opening another account and deploying similar equipment, there is a need to rent a line from BT. People here will attest to the experience of spending up to a month (if not more) trying to get an Internet connection running. If they feel unhappy with their current supplier — and some are said to be so atrocious that even weeks off-line is a worthwhile and acceptance exit barrier to cross — a switchover is likely to occur over and over again. Barking mad.

Here are bits of information that I found out for myself, not by reading anything on any other site (which may contain false/impartial testimonies).

O2

O2 are not so bad. In fact, most people I speak to (friends) share positive stories about O2 as an ISP and I have been using their decent mobile broadband (dongle), whereas others’ was a no-no. T-Mobile/Vodefone were too clueless, unlike O2 where few members of staff are knowledgeable enough to advise a GNU/Linux user. One member of staff in particular — a young man in a T-shirt unlike his buttoned-up colleagues — was extremely helpful; the others just gave a lot of grief, caused delays, and chose to argue rather than realise that the old saying, “the customer is always right”, probably means that the customer will eventually get his/her way anyway. So it’s a mixed bag there really.

What made O2 unacceptable as an ISP (yes, despite the good pricing) is that they started by lying about discounts for existing clients, conveniently calling the owner of a dongle a “customer” even though later on its turned out not to be the case. When a company overstates its special deals to the point of deceiving people, it is likely to disappoint through followup deceptions in the future, adding caveats, caps, and hidden fees. O2 also resorted to fairy tales about being connected within 24 hours (citing the extremely rare exception). The truth is, it often takes them weeks and there may be high charges for setup. ISPs in general compete over who is lying/spinning the most; they exaggerate setup time of their competitors (as Virgin did).

Virgin

Virgin and Sky are expensive, but maybe when cable TV is considered a necessary part of the bundle then they may turn out to be a decent deal. I visited Virgin’s shop a couple of times (and visited O2 about 5 times, for the sake of comparison), however it was not terribly helpful and the pricing for line plus broadband was not particularly appealing. Sky — like Virgin — just mailed me (unsolicited by post, i.e. snail mail) various brochures and other marketing material, but it stressed entertainment, not productivity.

TalkTalk

TalkTalk, despite all that they did to oppose the MAFIAA (although later they did some customer-hostile things well, e.g. DPI), are said to be absolutely atrocious in the sense that disconnections occur even minutes apart and their low prices can be justified/explained by their offshoring of support to poorly-paid Asian workers who merely read from the same list/script, trying to blame customers for TalkTalk’s known flaws. It is an attempt to exhaust the customer and not actually help. The bottom line is, even though I was enchanted by TalkTalk’s response to bad policies like the Digital Economy Act, TalkTalk appears to be the worst one can get. Several people said this to me, even today. Some are getting excited by the price (initially), only later realising why it is so cheap.

BT

Contacting BT is hard. Very hard, except on the phone (free calls, but hard when one’s line is not enabled, which is a sort of a recursive issue). They no longer have shops around, at least not here. They treat people like numbers and they do not keep track of customers’ problems. One agent says “do X” and then another agent knows nothing about it and says “do Y”. When one is asked to contact BT to give approval of an action, the next agent knows nothing about it (they are actually called “consultants”, which is a fancier name for people who absorb anger from customers all day long). The E-mails are almost robotic, the Web site-based forms are too. No replies to E-mails are possible. They fancy one-way communication, not in the sense of ignoring queries but in the sense that they make no queries even possible.

At BT, the gigantic size takes its toll. There are huge queues, too many members of staff who do not know what other staff said or did, and this morning I spent almost one hour just waiting in the queue to speak to a real person, which is actually not that bad after wasting dozens of hours with BT. Some lines and exchanges have better “waiting line” mechanisms/metaphors that give an estimated time until an agent becomes available. Actually, this whole fragmentation and separation into many departments is somewhat of a curse too as one hand does not work with another; for instance, BT made a mistake in the sense that one person says the contract is for 12 months, another one says 18, and it is not even possible to argue over this and point to what some other unnamed person said previously. It’s an endless battle when one speaks to a dozen different agents on a dozen different occasions about one single case of one single customer. Assignment would work a lot better (assigning an agent to a case for example). Otherwise, just as BT may record every call (to “improve the service” or something along those lines), the customer too should hold BT agents to their words by recording and playing it back later.

My story with BT is very long one and rather vexing; typically it seems better to just forget about it. But if it’s really that bad, why not share it to warn others? It might be tiring, but if others can be warned, there is a point in doing so.

To explain some basic things about the connection problems I have been having, additional background may help. I am using a machine at the computer science department at the moment, but I also temporarily use cellular-based Internet connection, which is expensive as O2 costs 7.5 pounds per gigabyte.

First of all, the reason BT is the ISP I went for is some hurried mention from a neighbour and other tenants. But BT is a monopoly, or at least a former monopoly pretending to play fair. Can it at least deliver a service to justify market leadership? They also handle the phone line, which means no messy line rentals/transferrals should be needed if one sticks with BT. Well, in theory at least! I have pressured them since the first day at the apartment (having pressured people who were there beforehand, in vain) and got an agreement with them after 2 days, over the phone. They arranged for my connection to be up 12 days from the time of the agreement (it usually takes 1-2 weeks for some unknown reason). Until now I have had no phone line or Internet at home; to make matters worse, after about 10 very long calls to them over the past two weeks it seems like my line is botched and they are sending out an engineer to fix it by Monday. The line worked fine until the day after I had made the agreement. How strange. Did they break it while trying to make modifications at some level (modifying phone numbers)?

To put this long story short, I have been very angry and disappointed with this time-consuming experience. I have never had to work so hard to get a wired, which means high-bandwidth, connection. Fortunately I have had fallbacks, but that does not justify anything (and a fallback may be hard to find, even when it’s critical for one’s job, as in my case). I hope my phone line and Internet will be up and running very soon, maybe Friday if I’m very lucky. I have not blogged or microblogged properly since the 6th of this month. Tomorrow I visit Sunderland and Newcastle, so no progress can be made on setting up the Internet at home (Royal Mail, for example, cannot come to deliver the hub).

The bottom line is, O2 seems like a reasonable option, but none is a great choice; nothing really stands out and the bottom line is, even if one is determined to get connected as soon as possible it is unlikely to be simple. Here we are in the 21st century and getting connected using 20th Ethernet seems a lot more complicated than using a dongle; likewise, buying a mobile phone seems simpler than setting up one’s landline. It’s like trying to give some old gramophone a kick, or playing VHS.

TechBytes Episode 35: ASUS returning to Linux and Other News

TechBytes

Direct download as Ogg (1:55:10, 33.6 MB) | Direct download as MP3 (52.7 MB)

Summary: Tim and Roy talk about GNU/Linux for senior people, ASUS returning to Linux, and Microsoft’s struggle to evolve

THIS episode was probably the last one to be recorded over a mobile network and it is also the first one to have two music tracks in it.

RSS 64x64The show ends with “Zombie Baby” and “Endsequence”. We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an Identi.ca account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date. ?

As embedded (HTML5):

Download:

Ogg Theora
(There is also an MP3 version)

Our past shows:

November 2010

Show overview Show title Date recorded
Episode 1: Brandon from Fedora [cref 41364] 1/11/2010
Episode 2: No guests [cref 41585] 7/11/2010
Episode 3: No guests [cref 41669] 8/11/2010
Episode 4: No guests [cref 41695] 9/11/2010
Episode 5: No guests [cref 41843] 12/11/2010
Episode 6: No guests [cref 41854] 13/11/2010
Episode 7: No guests [cref 41885] 14/11/2010
Episode 8: Gordon Sinclair on Linux Mint [cref 41924] 15/11/2010
Episode 9: Gordon Sinclair returns [cref 42019] 17/11/2010
Episode 10: Special show format [cref 42089] 19/11/2010
Episode 11: Part 2 of special show [cref 42186] 21/11/2010
Episode 12: Novell special [cref 42317] 23/11/2010
Episode 13: No guests [cref 42520] 28/11/2010
Episode 14: Patents special [cref 42577] 29/11/2010
Episode 15: No guests [cref 42605] 30/11/2010

December 2010

Show overview Show title Date recorded
Episode 16: No guests [cref 42693] 3/12/2010
Episode 17: No guests [cref 42788] 5/12/2010
Episode 18: No guests [cref 42949] 11/12/2010
Episode 19: No guests [cref 43118] 16/12/2010
Episode 20: No guests [cref 43164] 18/12/2010
Episode 21: No guests [cref 43265] 20/12/2010
Episode 22: No special guests [cref 43501] 27/12/2010

January 2011

Show overview Show title Date recorded
Episode 23: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 43673] 2/1/2011
Episode 24: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 44053] 10/1/2011
Episode 25: Tim and Roy [cref 44327] 14/1/2011
Episode 26: Tim and Roy [cref 44507] 18/1/2011
Episode 27: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 44772] 22/1/2011
Episode 28: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 45179] 30/1/2011
Episode 29: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 45235] 31/1/2011

February 2011

Show overview Show title Date recorded
Episode 30: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 45557] 7/2/2011
Episode 31: Tim and Roy [cref 45777] 13/2/2011
Episode 32: Tim and Roy [cref 46108] 22/2/2011

March 2011

Show overview Show title Date recorded
Episode 33: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 46504] 6/3/2011
Episode 34: Tim, Gordon, and Roy [cref 46566] 13/3/2011

Fedora, Importance of GNU/Linux Competition, and Technological Freedom

FEDORA 11 is a fine distribution of GNU/Linux, but my session got stuck (frozen) today. Generally, scheduling on the desktop in this out-of-date operating system is somewhat deficient. Windows sometimes do not respond for a period of several seconds. The bug where a text selection cursor is made permanently visible and allows no real interaction with any applications kicked in… againtoday. It happens quite rarely with other distributions and there’s an escape route out of it, e.g. if the terminate signal can be sent to the application causing it, assuming it can be identified. But not this time though. Bearing in mind that it’s not the very latest version of Fedora and having used the fourteenth release since it was made available (even installed it for others), it does seem fair to say that for a smooth experience on the desktop, one is still better off going with the Debian family. Mandriva (predominantly but not strictly RPM-based) has been very good too, probably a lot better than Fedora.

The problems with Fedora are not really caused by adherence to freedom. Some creases and bugs, however, might not be addressed early enough because Fedora’s adherence to freedom (not strict adherence, but better than Ubuntu’s for example) limits the extent of its userbase, which in turn reduces the incentive Red Hat has to concentrate on the desktop side of things.

I have been working with Fedora 11 since last Friday (just waiting for my home computers to get back online with the new line activated) and as much as I try to love Fedora, I cannot help feeling that Kubuntu and Ubuntu have been giving me less hassle. Deep inside I wanted to declare that Fedora was better, but the experiences simply suggest that any such claim would be wishful thinking, even deceptive. The problem is that Canonical was made quite arrogant (hello Hubris!), which harms Ubuntu on technical and communal grounds alike. Canonical could use more competition.

It may be true that Linux in the mainstream is all about Android, Google, Ubuntu, mainframes, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux these days. That’s fine. As long as Fedora uses and reuses the same pertinent packages, there is no risk of Fedora truly falling behind. The wonder of Free software is, as long as one is allowed to copy the competition or branch out of it, unfair advantage is harder to gain. Canonical and Google have both attempted to produce “added value” (or enhancement) which is hard to emulate, replicate, or even get involved in. They are using some very vendor-specific code, which changes the balance of control not just with copyright assignment. It’s not progress and it is usually counter-productive.

Next week I will resume GNU/Linux advocacy and do a lot less programming (below is a new screenshot of the application I have been developing, but it’s unfortunate and regrettable that the code depends on a proprietary framework) and there is a lot of thinking to be done regarding strategy. Generally speaking, the world’s population loses control over technology at a very rapid pace* and software freedom is no longer the only freedom worth pursuing by a developer with passion for humanism. The head of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has just stepped down and it is hard to blame him; maybe he too reached similar dilemmas and came to realisations that software freedom is not enough. Collaboration too is crucial (GPL encourages it), not to mention education in general.

Expressions GUI
____
* I spent half an hour this morning chatting with a lady in her 70s. She too — not too surprisingly — feels as though mobile phones are a burden rather than a blessing. In general, she is also concerned about today’s society which lacks face-to-face interaction and intimidates her generation that’s not at all accustomed to a technological control grid. Free/libre software is being used a lot in this context (primarily for companies to bring their user-hostile proprietary layer to market immediately), not as much is being produced though. If technology is not built to provide the user some more control, then it usually tries to control the user. But people are not made sufficiently aware of it, unless the FSF speaks out, as it recently did against Android.

Developing With Fedora 11

GMDS/PCA

FEDORA 14 was a bit of a mixed bag, but it was definitely an improvement compared to previous versions. I’ve used it since it was released (and blogged quite a lot about it). At the moment I use an older version:

bash-4.0$ uname -a
Linux [XXXXX] 2.6.30.10-105.2.23.fc11.i686.PAE #1 SMP
Thu Feb 11 07:05:37 UTC 2010 i686 i686 i386 GNU/Linux

Not to worry, it’s up to date and it runs the latest KDE. The general impression has been positive, having worked on this operating system for the past week or so (still awaiting my Ethernet’s return, so working from a lab, not via SSH). A few remarks about the weak spots:

  • X (org/server) blows up under particular circumstances where a newer version of X might be expected. If an attempt is made to invoke it from a remote host (SSH with X forwarding), the whole of Fedora blows up and the session must be restarted. If run locally, the same type of X issue simply raises a hardware-based exception and produces a major warning, then gives the option to gracefully shut down the affected program. It’s not good, but it’s definitely better than the former scenario, which is reproducible by the way.
  • Dual-screen handling is fantastic. It is still a plug-and-play experience, even with Fedora 11 in place.
  • There are far too many visual artefacts and drawing bugs (direct rendering is lacking). Again, this may just be the fault of old X and nothing whatsoever to do with the drivers of this GPU (Fedora seems to favour free drivers).

Aside from X rants, this platform is fantastic for development. Everything has worked well so far, except Firefox with occasional crashes (occurring at least once a day).

Is Fedora ready to become the most widespread GNU/Linux desktop? Probably not yet. But for development? Sure, why not? Fedora 14 is more mature, but that too has some wrinkles which I covered here before.

By the way, the screenshot at the top (click to zoom) shows the application I’ve been developing recently. More details will be published shortly as blogging distracts from persistent coding, and vice versa.

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