Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A few months ago I wrote a blog post on compiling FireFox for the powerpc on Debian Linux. I had built Firefox 9 when I was writing that post and in the intervening months, thanks to the Mozilla rapid release cycle, Firefox 16 has been released. Does Firefox 16 still build on the powerpc with Debian Squeeze?

  1. I downloaded the latest firefox source code from mozilla
  2. This time I didn’t need to apply any patches for the powerpc.
  3. When I ran ./configure followed by ‘make’ as described in my post on Firefox9 I encountered a compile error.
    syntax error in VERSION script when trying to build libraries in the subdirectories under security/nss/lib such as util (libnssutil).

The issue is that the mapfiles such as security/nss/lib/util/nssutil.def that are included in the source tree are not suitable as input files to the linker but need to be pre-processed first. The rules to process the ‘MAPFILE’ are defined in security/coreconf/ and are invoked by a rule in security/coreconf/ that build a proper mapfile by running the mapfile distributed in the source tree (such as nssutil.def) through sed and grep to produce a file that can be passed to the linker.

The make rule takes a mapfile $(MAPFILE_SOURCE)=nssutil.def and generates $(MAPFILE)=nssutil.def from it. If you try building firefox as I describe above it will put the output files in the same directory as the input files. This means that the sed/grep rule won’t be executed because the target (nssutil.def) is already present and isn’t older than the dependency (nssutil.def), itself.

If you instead

  1. Set the shell environment variable MOZ_OBJDIR to be a directory other than the source directory
  2. Put your configure options in the file .mozconfig, as described in the Mozilla build instructions
  3. Run make -f

firefox 16 will build successfully. The issues I encountered with the version script shouldn’t be specific to the powerpc or debian.

CN Freight Train
Software infrastructure is a lot like municipal infrastructure such as highways, subways, and stadiums. Everyone likes to enjoy the benefits but we seem to have difficulties on when to build it, what to build, or how to pay for it.


Firefox 9 on PowerPC

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Uncategorized
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My main desktop computer at home is a PowerPC based Mac Mini. I have been running it as a debian Linux system since I bought the machine in 2006. One of my reasons for going with PowerPC was to be different. Choice in CPU architecture is important just like choice in software.

Debian Squeeze includes Firefox (iceweasel) 3.6. The Mozilla rapid release schedule means that in the past year firefox 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 have all come and gone. Newer versions of firefox are rumored to be faster and more memory efficient. Speed and memory efficiency are important if your running a 6+ old mac mini.

I don’t want to upgrade my debian installation to something unstable. Nor could I find packaged powerpc binaries at the Debian Mozilla Team Site. This left me with compiling my own.

I am pleased to report that all I had to do was

  1. Download a source tar for Mozilla 9.0.1
  2. Manually apply the fix for Bug 703534 which involved editing one line in js/src/jscompartment.cpp to fix a compile error
  3. run ./configure
  4. run make
  5. run make install

I have heard rumors that the Mozilla team isn’t officially supporting PowerPC anymore. I am glad that firefox still builds and hope people continue to submit patches and take the time to keep Mozilla running on as many platforms as possible including Linux PowerPC.

Looking back on my activities in the past few months I realize that there have been a few occasions where my role has been to help with the troubleshooting process. In the past year I have given talks at PGEast and PGEU on troubleshooting Slony but the process I use applies to most technology problems.


One of the least favourite parts of my job as a software developer is when the project manager comes to me with printout of a project plan done in Microsoft project and asks asks if the plan is okay.

The project plan printout shows a list of tasks, described by a 3-6 word title, along with start and end dates for each task. I am usually asked to look through this and figure out if a) The tasks are taking place in the right order, b) If any tasks are taking place at the same time that shouldn’t be (maybe because they require the same computers, components or people) and if the task estimates sound reasonable.

Making sense of a 100-500 task project plan from this type of list is pretty difficult. It would be much easier to view this as an interactive calendar that lets you view the tasks taking place in a given month, week or day. The other day I found a blog post by Ashish Paliwal on some software to convert a Microsoft Project .MPP file to Google Calendar.

I downloaded the software and spent the morning adding features to it, including

  • Task constraints, dependencies and resources now show up in the event description
  • Events on the calendar run from the start to end date
  • An option to skip tasks that have already completed

The 500+ item project plan I’ve been staring at is now much clearer.
My modified version of the tool is available at github. You can download an executable JAR with my changes from my sourceforge site

To convert a MS-Project .mpp to a Google Calendar just run

java -jar mpp.jar MyProjectPlan.mpp

Then select one of the calendars from the list and the tool will update it to include the tasks from your project plan.

Configuring the alpine email client to send email through the hotmail mail servers for an alternate role was more difficult than I was expecting.

The issues I encountered can be summarized as

  1. Make sure that ‘PLAIN’ does not show up in the disable-these-authenticators setting of your .pinerc file. Hotmail supports PLAIN and LOGIN SMTP authentication. Alpine will disable LOGIN authentication if the server supports PLAIN. This means that if your config file has disabled PLAIN then you don’t have any valid authenticators
  2. Do not specify the /secure option on the options list for your SMTP server. PLAIN authentication is not considered ‘secure’ by alpine (even if your connection uses ssl or tls).

The configuration I used to create an alternate role in Pine to send email through my own domain is:

LIT:pattern=”/NICK=steve/” action=”/ROLE=1/FROM=Steve Singer /\/tls\/”

This is after I’ve setup a free hotmail account to manage my domain ( at

Last Thursday Amazon EC2 suffered a major outage effecting many sites and services hosted on EC2. Friday was a holiday in North America (Good Friday) but the holiday weekend ends on Monday when many I.T. managers are going to to have some explaining to do.


Recently I wanted to make a custom printed map of Peninsula Lake in Ontario Canada. The Canadian hydrographic service has been kind enough to give me some of the lake depth data that they had collected for the recent G8 summit. I wanted to take the OpenStreetMap data of the lake and surronding area and combine it with the depth data to produce a map of the lake.


FOSSLC OpenStreetMap Talk

Posted: August 15, 2010 in Presentations, Uncategorized
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Yesterday I gave my “Intro to OpenStreetMap” talk at FOSSLC in Ottawa. I think the talk went well, no one threw things at me. My slides are available here.

The talks where recorded. I’ll post a URL to the recording as soon as they are put online.

I was surprised at the number of other talks that mentioned OpenStreetMap in one way or another. It is nice to see that the word is getting out there. Unfortunately the the map displayed in the closing session to show attendees how to get from the lecture hall to the restaurant for the dinner/pub night was not based on OpenStreetMap data.

Github and Ingres bought beer and food for us after the conference. They both deserve a thumbs up.

Update: A video of the talk can be found at fosslc, flash is required.

OpenStreetMap CanVec Importing

Posted: August 8, 2010 in Uncategorized
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I’ve been working on importing some Canvec data into OpenStreetMap and thought I’d write about the process.