PacMan: Stabilising life as we know it!


Owned and operated by Syd Bolton and a team of 40 volunteers, the Personal Computer Museum  is located in the back of a residential property in Brantford, Ontario.  The focus of the museum is home computers. On display are retro computers such as the Commodore VIC 20, Commodore 64, Amiga, TRS80, and others.  The game systems include Atari 2600 and Vectrex.  Additionally, rarer computers like the Coleco Adam can be spotted.  The museum spans 2 levels, and a total of about 1000 sq. ft (~100 sq. metres)!

What makes this museum different from other similar retro computer museums is that patrons are welcome to touch, test, and operate the computers on display!  It’s a very interactive experience.

The PCM opens its doors to the public monthly. On November 12, the museum held a fundraiser PacMan Tournament. The event was a pretty big deal, attended by the local MPP Dave Levac (Member of Provincial Parliament for Brant County), who reminisced about how PacMan helped shaped the lives of many people and “stabilised life as we know it!”

The museum had so many PacMan versions that I’d never seen before!   Brantford’s official town crier, David McKee, announced the beginning of the tournament.

Participants included children of all ages, adults, and seniors.  Yours truly found herself on the leaderboard for a very short time, until being knocked off by some mad PacMan playing skills of other players.  The winner was Corey Guest, who received the 2016 trophy.

In addition to the hardware, participants got a tour of Syd’s personal video game collection!  This is the largest video game collection in Canada and separate from the museum.  Console games include PlayStation, PS 2, Xbox, and Xbox 360.  It spans many rooms, and is the result of collecting games over time and space. It is an amazing collection!

It was a great day, and all participants had a great time catching the ghosties.  Maybe the next fund raiser can be a Tetris Tournament?  It’s worth the drive to Brantford.


Kids on Computers and Unleash Kids at LinuxCon North America!

Kids on Computers is a non-profit organization made up of volunteers — adults and kids. Founded in 2009, KOC sets up computer labs in locations worldwide, providing access to educational content which they otherwise would not be able to access. The computers have FOSS installed on them. Unleash Kids helps volunteer groups who work with kids by providing Internet in a Box (IIAB) community kits. This brings much of the online-educational content (such as offline Wikipedia, Khan academy, e-books and world-wide maps) to children in areas where there is no access to the internet.

Earlier this year, Linux Foundation partnered with Kids on Computers which allowed KOC to have a booth at this year’s LinuxCon North America, as well as hold a workshop for children ages 7-15 on Kids Day. This was KOC’s first conference-based workshop. The kids worked on HP EliteBook laptops which were donated by the Linux Foundation, as well as 2 other laptops which KOC had from previous donations. In total, we had 15 computers for 19 children, so some had to pair up with a sibling or a buddy. We were that popular! The kids did their first Linux install by installing Ubermix from a flash drive. We had 20 USB flash drives, so each child was able to take one home!

Once the system was installed, an introduction to Scratch programming took place for beginners, and an activity where they wrote a program to write their own name, for those who already had some exposure to Scratch.

Tim Moody of Unleash Kids demonstrated how networking worked using an Intel NUC with IIAB. The kids connected to the IIAB access point, accessed content and then used the local network to ping each other, SSH into each other’s machines and transfer files using SCP.

Additionally, in order to get ready for the afternoon workshop run by a local group called MakerKids, the children had to install the Arduino IDE (using Synaptic) and then download Ardublock.

Graham Steele of MakerKids did an amazing job teaching about Arduino, LED’s, buzzers, batteries and everything Arduino! You could feel the excitement and positive energy in the room as lights lit up and buzzers buzzed!

Many thanks to Linux Foundation, as the day would not have happened without them. A personal thank-you to Stormy Peters for connecting me with KOC! I cannot thank you enough. It was a great experience meeting and working with Avni Khatri, Adam Holt, Gustavo Silva, and Tim Moody! An incredible team through and through. A big thank-you to Miriam for allowing the team to hack at the rooftop pool overlooking mid-town, and opening up your home to us. Also, I would like to thank Ethan (7) and Chase (6) for volunteering to beta test our workshop by performing an Ubermix install and allowing us to introduce them to Tux and Scratch the night before the Kids Day workshop! They have been running Ubermix ever since! I would also like to thank Tim and Doina for hosting a lovely dinner party for the group in their home. Awesome food, company and chats.

The work of KOC is made possible entirely by volunteer effort and donations. We also have KOC stickers available here.

One less mutagen in my life

In order to be able to visualise DNA, one genotyping technique employs Phosphorus-32. This technique is called the Southern Blot. Phosphorus-32 is radioactive. Working with P-32 is a bit awkward, as one not only has to work in a fume hood designed for working with biohazardous material, but also behind a shield. Additionally, laboratories using P-32 must take care in disposing of all P-32 properly.

There are products available which claim to be as effective as P-32 in producing results. I had some experience with one such alternative a few years ago. Many weeks of attempting to troubleshoot the process yielded no useful results at all. Eventually, I gave up when I heard that others had similar difficulty with P-32 alternatives, so I had decided to stick to the radioactive method.

Another genotyping method in very common use in molecular biology is the Polymerase Chain Reaction. This method amplifies the DNA, and then the product is ran through an agarose gel containing Ethidium Bromide using electrophoresis. The EtBr allows the amplified DNA strands to be visualised under UV light.

EtBr is mutagenic, carcinogenic and tetratogenic. In a first year biology lab, only the teaching assistants were allowed to handle it, and they dealt with it in a fume hood. The students were not allowed to even be near the fume hood when the EtBr bottle was being opened!

Recently I was asked by a co-worker to test out a new alternative to EtBr, which is advertised as being safer. It also promised to give better results than EtBr. I thought to myself “Here we go again. It’s not going to work, you know, right?” Looking at the beautiful pictures included in the product pamphlet I wondered what wizadry was used to create these images.

I decided to divide the product of a PCR between two agarose gels. One agarose gel made with 5ul/100mL of EtBr, the other with 5ul (20000X)/100mL of the safe stuff. After placing 8ul of sample in each well, I ran the gel. Placing it on the UV light box, and switching on the light, I beheld the results:

So from now on, there will be one less mutagen in the lab. o/

Warning: The safe stuff can cause skin irritation and eye irritation.

Cost analysis:
– Ethydium Bromide: negligible really
– Safe Stuff: ~ $200 for 1mL, so enough for 200 100mL gels. (Shelf life of one year at room temperature, 2 years at 4C).
– Not having to expose oneself to EtBr daily: priceless

RIP Bug #79348

I just wanted to say thank-you to the many GNOME developers and documenters who contributed their time and skills to helping us close an almost 10 year-old bug today. As I stated in the comment on the bug, I think work on should remain a work in progress. In this spirit, I hope more ideas and thoughts can be put towards this effort as we approach the Doc Sprint at the Developer Conference 2012 in Brno next month.

Montréal Summit – GNOME Strategy

I am at the GNOME summit in Montréal. This morning Robert Ancell ran a discussion about GNOME strategy. The three main areas covered were:

1. What are we building?
2. Who is it for?
3. How do we get there?

The answers, of course, are multi-fold. We are building a desktop shell, applications, an active community, an ethos, a brand, a developer story, and an OS. There are side-effects to all this building such as libraries, middleware, stable API’s, and the emergence of a viable market and ecosystem.

Form factors (the form in which a consumer gets GNOME) include the traditional desktop, workstations, laptops, tablets, in-car systems, set tops and mobile devices.

GNOME is for enthusiasts, ourselves, family, friends, businesses, and in general, people. We discussed that it is still the case that GNOME tends to be in the domain of the technically savvy user. Our friends and family who use GNOME call us up for help. Occasionally it may take a couple of hours on the phone to sort out problems. Sometimes, they are ready to pack up their computer and hop on a bus or drive out to see us, even with easy to fix issues. Such trivial fixes are not obvious to a general user. It would be great if friends and family could depend on us less for technical support, and call us to talk about other things.

The effort put into localisation/internationisation and accessibility is put forth because it is important to us as a community that our product(s) can be used by all people. Meg Ford brought up an interesting point about the use of computer systems in businesses. If there is an employee who requires accessibilty features, the business is legally required to provide them and would want those features to be available in the system that is already used by the rest of the office. Therefore, it is important that our product can be accessible to as many people as possible.

At the moment, we seem to be reaching the enthusiasts, the people willing to take the time to download and install GNOME. A large percentage of the population will not do this.

So how DO we get there? Modules and tarballs…by delivering our modules and tarballs to distributions to pass on to the consumers.

Robert Ancell, re modules and tarballs: “There it is, that’s GNOME.”
Ryan Lortie: “We heart distributions.”

Can we change the strategy from being an application to being an OS, and then from OS to OEM (indirectly)? GNOME OS would be three things:

1. A set of minimum requirements we call GNOME. It includes the full package of vertical integration.
2. A nightly build.
3. Mobile reference build (for tablets).

I was new to being involved in this type of discussion within GNOME, which involved terminilogy that was new to me. These slides from a talk given by Rob McQueen at the Software Freedom Day in Boston (thanks Marina for pointing me to this) helped explain many of the concepts related to mobile devices running free software. I include it here for anyone else who may benefit.

What I learned and took away from this lively discussion is that we are building a set of complete yet modifiable products, not just a “box of bits” that others turn into products. It seems that the only way to get there is through hardware pre-installs. In order to accomplish this we need money and contributors. Contributions in the form of development, documentation, art, translation, community building and marketing will help GNOME reach more people with its products, ethos and brand.

The Eye of Gnome is getting Mallard Documentation!

I have been wanting to write Mallard docs for EOG for awhile, so
when I came across bug #633522, I decided now is as good time as any.

I committed an outline and some topic stubs yesterday.

You can:
$ git clone git://
$ cd eog/help/C; yelp $PWD/

to have a look at this outline. If you feel there are topics
that need to be covered that you do not see in the outline, feel free to
comment on the bug, and I will do my best to include them.