Simon Fowler's Crappy Home Page . . .


Me . . .

I've been working as a systems administrator for CSIRO for the last few years, originally at the Division of Entomology, but for much of that time I've been working in CSIRO IT; initially in Business Support, but for the last year in Server Operations.

I studied physics initially, and then computer science to finish my degree at the ANU (Australian National University) in Canberra, Australia. I finished my degree in December of 2003, after far too long. The actual piece of paper I ended up with is for someone named "Simon Joseph Fowler", but it's close enough ;-)

I've been married now for four years (our fourth anniversary was at the end of June 2007) - we met online (in #crfh on the Nightstar IRC network). Sandra is from Oregon in the north-west of the US - this has made for some interesting times dealing with the Department of Immigration, but we're sorting that lot out . . .

She's crazy about insects, spiders, and all manner of things like that. She doesn't like vegemite, though, which makes me sad.

I'm a Linux nut (though also a relative newbie - I came along at kernel 2.0.36 (RedHat 5.2), in December 1998). I used to be something of a kernel hacker, too, though that's fallen rather by the wayside since I got a full time job. I've been doing various bits of random hacking at home and at work, though, so I still consider myself a programmer at heart.

My random hackery used to be largely in C, but over time I've been converted to a number of other languages: Perl (of course - it's hard to miss), but also Objective Caml, and Python.

Perl is evil, twisted, and neurotic, and (arguably) absolutely marvelous . . . It's like a snapshot of Unix, condensed down to a programming language, which is what makes it so wonderful, for Unix nuts like myself - it's like coming home, particularly if you've spent too much time fiddling with things like Eiffel (which isn't a bad language in itself, just frustrating for someone used to having the full power of a POSIX system available to you) . . .

Unfortunately, Perl is also absolutely insane if you're trying to do things involving complicated data structures - it's brilliant for text, but more complex data ends up being painful. I've recently written a DHCP configuration system using Perl, and writing a full-featured parser for the ISC dhcpd.conf format was extraordinarily difficult. Had I known how hard it'd be beforehand, I'd probably have written it using Python.

Objective Caml is a variant of the ML family of (pragmatic) functional langauges. It's main claim to fame seems to be it's system of type inference: it infers the most general type of a function from the code itself, rather than having the type specified by you. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's less of a stretch than you'd think . . .

O'Caml's other claim to fame (aside from all the normal run of the mill functional things) is that it's fast - the native code the compiler produces is comparable to C/C++ in speed. This is partly due to good compiler writers, but mostly due to the fact that the language itself is very well designed to allow for optimisation. Excellent proof that C or C++ isn't the only language out there that's suitable for performance critical stuff . . .
Python, of course, is Perl's nemesis, or rather antithesis: its clean and simple, and is proud of the fact that there's generally only one obvious way to do anything (and more often than not that way is right). I came to it after learning Haskell and O'Caml, which, being functional languages, offer various things like lists, tuples, and other similar data structures that make many problems wonderfully simple. So I felt quite at home when I discovered Python supported lists natively, and that you could handily pack and unpack things into tuples, and even use dictionaries (which are exactly analogous to Perl's hashes, without the '%'). I've come to the conclusion that Perl is for text processing, and Python is for data processing. This distinction probably sounds rather bad for Perl, since text is just data, after all, but I suspect Perl is still more powerful for straight text processing, and probably more convenient; if you want to handle complex data, though, Python will almost certainly stomp all over Perl.

Both have their uses, of course ;-)

Despite all of that, and the fact that I haven't used it too much recently, C is still probably my favourite language. That's largely because it's the first language I learnt, of course - that first language shapes how you think about programming, so that nothing afterwards really compares, even if it's technically superior.

But enough of this language rambling . . .

I've done contracting work this whole time for a little company Dreamcraft Pty. Ltd - we recently changed our name to Vandrad Research Labs Pty. Ltd. We do computer systems and security consulting for various people - my official job description used to be "Research and Development Programmer", which basically amounts to hacking on potentially useful "stuff". I also get to acquire scarily large amounts of arcane knowledge, which will probably result one day in a host of tentacle beasts spurting forth through my foramen magnum and devouring the world . . .

Or something like that.

Maybe . . .

I like it (the job, that is - the tentacles are a bit strange ;-) - I get paid to work on stuff that I'd probably be doing anyway, which is really nice. And I get interesting problems thrown at me . . .

Being paid to think is fun.

I've worked on a wide range of things over the years, ranging from network management tools to mobile phone banking; at the moment things are a bit less ambitious. We're currently running a Xen based virtual hosting system that pays the bills moderately well - we're aiming to expand over time.

I've spent far far too much time on IRC over the years, generally on the Nightstar network. This is a spinoff of my interest in webcomics - I used to read a number of webcomics religiously, and a lot more rather less religiously. A number of these comics have their own IRC channels on Nightstar, and I still hang out in a couple of them, primarily #crfh, #fleet and #avalon.

My webcomic habit is another of the things that's fallen by the wayside as I've become busier - I used to read dozens of them daily, but these days that number has fallen back down to three: Schlock Mercenary, a brilliant hard-ish SF comic about a band of space mercenaries and their escapades; Girl Genius, a Mad Science story set in a wonderfully written steampunk Europe full of clanks and giant zeppelins; and xkcd . . . which defies explanation. I also read Dresden Codak, which is made of awesome in a way that can only be marred by updates that come along every few months rather than every few days . . .

A couple of comics I've read that are now defunct (amazingly, not defunct because they simply stopped, but defunct because they reached their conclusion: Narbonic, another tale of Madness and Science mixed in ways that Nature never intended, and A Miracle of Science . . . um, yes, it's another Mad Science comic, only this time it generally takes a more serious approach. It's not that long, and well worth a read.

Narbonic is in the process of re-posting the whole six year long archives, along with commentary by the author - read it, if only for the sake of the gerbils.

Historically my favourite webcomics were College Roomies from Hell, Sluggy Freelance, Elf Life and Bruno. They're all well worth having a look through the archives, even though I don't read them regularly any more. There have been any number of other comics that have come and gone, far too many to list them all here . . .

I read Slashdot, of course, Linux Weekly News, Ars Technica and a number of other sites for my general hits of technical news and such like. I tend to read The Age and the Beeb for my general news needs, and I've been reading Mumble for an interesting view of Australian political life.

I've recently developed an interest in millitary history, specifically naval history, and even more specifically battleships. I'm not sure why I've gotten so into this stuff, but it's become one of my more enduring obsessions.

I have an interesting project relating to this, which I've been documenting over the past year and a half on my Live Journal. I'll probably get around to putting up proper documentation on here eventually (but considering it took me a couple of years to finally do a proper update to this page, writing lots of new content will probably take me a while . . . .

I don't have a diary at all, let alone one on the web. You see, I'm not insane, nor do I do anything that anyone might be interested in, so I don't qualify for that peculiarity on either of the justifiable causes . . . ;-)

This was what I said ages ago when I first wrote this page - ironically, as of now (July 2007) I've had an online 'diary' for more than six years. Live Journal has gone from being a place for me to vent to being a way for me to keep up with people I haven't seen in ages; despite some flaws, after all this time I'd have to say that it was a good decision to get that account . . .

As a final attraction to this place, I've got some of the writing that I've done over the years up here - only a few bits, sadly, because there isn't much that's completed, but it's still better than having them sit on my hard drive never even having a chance of being read.

The main one is a story that I wrote waaay back when, started in 1994-5, and finished in 1996. It only acquired a title as of about 2001, courtesy of a friend on #crfh - it's now called A Gift of Laughter.

If you feel you need to know what I'm doing with my time, then email me [no spam please], and I'll probably ignore you(1).

If you want to send me something really private, my pgp public key id is 0x144A991C, or you can download it here.
Fingerprint: 467C 8996 F252 79B9 433F BCA2 40F9 5F99 144A 991C.

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(1) I'm attempting humour here. I'm not really such a bastard that I wouldn't answer fan mail ;-)


Stuff . . .

2007-07-14

After posting an updated version of wmacpi (2.2rc1, for anyone who's counting) I figured I'd sit down and update some of my web content, too - the previous date stamp on this page is 2004-08-18, so it's been nearly three years. A lot has changed, some stuff hasn't, and all in all this stuff just needed to be refreshed.

I won't claim it's much better, really, but it's certainly pleasant to go through this old stuff and make it feel a bit less stale.


2004-08-13

I've finally renamed the wmacpi-ng to wmacpi, so that people don't get confused. With any luck moving things around won't confuse people too much . . .


2004-07-18

wmacpi-ng turned into wmacpi, got picked up by the current Debian wmacpi maintainer, and is now in both unstable and testing. There are still a few fairly big bugs, but wmacpi 1.99r5 is pretty good, I think.


2003-07-19

I got married! Woohoo! Lots of pictures, but without a scanner I can't put them up. When I can get hold of one, there'll be a new page linked from here with them all up there.


2003-07-19 part deux

Having recently got a new laptop, one which only supports ACPI, I've been hacking madly on some code I found. I wanted a Window Maker dockapp to track battery usage, and the only one I could find was wmacpi. Problem is, it didn't work . . .
So, I started hacking on it, and a few months later this is the result. It's rather good, I think, even if I'm saying that myself. I've announced it on the acpi-support list, and I'm going to post my latest release to the linux-laptop list. Hopefully I'll be able to get some good feedback.


2002-10-06

Well, I just spent the last eight hours or so learning CSS and how to actually use it for real layout . . . Take a look at this nifty page to see a simple clean structure created with not a single table - it even looks good in lynx!

Very nifty.


2002-10-05

I just updated this page to use CSS for layout and the like. It hasn't changed the appearance, just made it a tad more "proper" . . . I also updated it to valid HTML 4.01 strict. Why, you ask? Because it's there! ;-)

I also finally got around to updating the content (well, adding stuff, mostly, since I'm too lazy to do a /real/ rewrite). Probably it should be broken up into multiple sections, but hey, that sounds like work . . .


2001-06-15

There's a real pics page now - real html, no less! ;-) You get to marvel at my amazing ability to say boring things about bad pictures ;-)


2001-01-30

I've put up some pictures of me and my family and (most importantly ;-) my family's cats . . . It's just pictures in a directory at the moment, but I'll clean it up and make it a real pictures thingy one of these days . . .


2000-11-17

I've decided to link to my writings page, finally, after getting some nice reviews of the story I've got up there. Enjoy! ;-)


2000-11-17

KBB now has a homepage! Whee!!! ;-) Check it out here, and be awed! ;-)


2000-10-10

Me and several other moderately insane people have gotten together to create a web based bulletin board, roughly equivalent to the (seemingly ubiquitous) UBB. I say roughly, because UBB sucks, and KBB definitely won't, so the equivalence is in the functionality, not the quality . . . ;-)

We've got a mailing list set up, running from this server - the archives can be seen here, and the general list information is on this snazzy page.

There's no KBB homepage yet, but that will probably change one of these days . . .

As you might have guessed, it's called KBB - it stands for Keen Bulletin Board (though some argue it's actually Keenspot Bulletin Board - I think they're wrong, and this is my page, so I can say what I like ;-P ).

It's written in Perl, and designed to run as efficiently as possible, avoiding CGI whenever possible, so that it doesn't need things like mod_perl or a really hefty server. It also doesn't need any DBMS, so you don't have to become a DBA to run a bulletin board . . .

If you want to contribute, just join the list and post away - we could do with some Perl gurus here, because none of us are exactly experts . . . This is almost as much a learning exercise as it is a serious project. Almost . . .


2000-07-10

I've started a site about dealing with depression. There's not much there yet, but that will hopefully change reasonably soon . . .


2000-03-30

I've just added a mirror of the cphack stuff (the article and all the associated source and stuff) . . . I got it from a site linked from this interesting site.

I could come up with some wonderful editorial on subjects like censorship and the whole DeCSS shebang, but you're probably better off looking on sites like slashdot, linuxtoday or even just searching on google for these things - my views aren't particularly well thought out or even entirely consistent . . .


2000-02-27

I have a mirror of the allegedly illegal DeCSS and related stuff on my ftp server (though as my network connection here seems a tad unreliable, you might not be able to access it).

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