The Freedom March

LUG Radio Live registrations are now open. Tickets are 5 GBP up front or on the door, 3 GBP if you can mail show @ lugradio . org with the lamest reason you can think of and free entry for international travellers with a valid airline ticket and exhibitors. If you want to be part of the exhibition, do a 5 minute Light Bulb Talk, or tale part in the hour of power, then mail show @ lugradio . org.

There are forty speakers on three stages, Birds of a feather sessions, an exhibition, Adam Sweet’s Gong-A-Thong Lighbulb Talk Extravaganza, the Mass Debate, The Hour of Power, a dedicated evening event and some of the coolest, friendliest bunch of people in the world. LUG Radio Live really is all about the people and the community around the event. You’d be missing out not to be there.

In another announcement, we are proud to announce the The Freedom March video.

Please go ahead and link to it. Details on the page for downloads and links.

See you there ๐Ÿ™‚

What’s Missing from Your Gnome Desktop?

I know people have their pet hate, peeve, or thing that isn’t there on the Linux desktop and the guys discussed this on LUG Radio recently. Everybody knows about binary 3d accelerated graphics drivers, suspend and resume, wireless LAN drivers and so on, but I’d like to propose another which, I suspect, shouldn’t be too hard to fix, since it’s only an interface issue as far as I can see:


Everybody has a mobile phone. A lot of us geekier types would like to send files back and forth between our phones and our PCs, sync phone to PC (where there is a suitable standard) and back again, I would like to be easily able to use my phone as a modem when I’m in the middle of nowhere to make running repairs on remote servers, or use my bluetooth earpiece as a microphone. I know all of this is possible because I’ve done it on my work Powerbook (apart from the microphone thing) and I’d like to be able to do this easily on my new Linux notebook (which I’m about to blast a small fortune on) without having to spend an hour or two searching for howtos, configuring Bluetooth, sorting out pin numbers and using gnome-obex-send from the command-line, or searching Google to see how on Earth to use a mobile phone over Bluetooth as a dial-up modem under Linux.

Pairing, configuring with PIN numbers and so on should be easy, the Bluetooth stack should be as easy to set up as installing it and configuring params in a GUI. Sending files in Nautilus should be as easy as right-clicking something and choosing Send -> Using Bluetooth -> To DeviceName. I know some of this is there, but what I mean is that this could all be easier. Doing this on a Mac is easy, but it could be even easier. It could be there from the beginning, it could be built right into Gnome. No installing your Bluetooth stack, then Gnome-Bluetooth and fiddling with gnome-obex-send. Everybody has a mobile phone these days, it should be really easy.

Of course I have no intention of helping as I’m can’t program for shit, in any language, (maybe some shell, tied to Zenity ;)) and it may well be harder than I am suggesting, but well, it’s just one thing I think which should be fixed.

For some reason I seem to be the only one that I have heard mention this. Apart from Bastien Nocera that is. I think we could be the best at this quite easily.

What do you think is missing from your Gnome Desktop?

Crappy Machine

Dear Lazyweb, I need your help. My main desktop has started falling over under heavy load. That’s when playing games and when encoding video or some other computationally intensive task. It switches off, the monitor goes black and all parts stop spinning/whirring, though the power light is still on.

I tried a PSU tester and it shows no fault. I tried memtest86 but it switches off after a short time. I don’t think I have suitable spare RAM to hand and I don’t have a spare motherboard or CPU. I may be able to lay my hands on some but I think they may be borked.

I’m normally excellent at identifying hardware faults but this time I need your suggestions.

Hello LUG Radio

So, the cat is out of the bag. Tiny Matt Revell is leaving LUG Radio to persue other things. Jono’s accouncement is here and pics are here. I was expecting to have to keep this under my hat until after Monday’s episode, but it seems to have been announced in advance. I’m truly sorry to see Matt leave, I thought he offered a perspective that often hadn’t been considered by the others or myself and was also the perfect counterweight to the 2 loudest presenters. I would have liked to have said this in the show, but the conversation ran away from me. Best wishes Matt.

So, that leaves a space on the team and having been hovering around since the very beginning and then stepping up to fill in when one of the guys couldn’t make it, the guys offered me the spot. I must say I’m delighted to take over and more than a little intimidated about what I have to live up to, I hope you’ll be patient with me.

I feel a little like the Sid Vicious of LUG Radio, the superfan since the beginning, several of my comments appeared as quotes on the very first LUG Radio website. I have been a listener since the first episode, I just hope that unlike Sid Vicious I am able to cope with moving from the audience to the team.

So who am I? An introduction is here, but for now, my name is Adam Sweet, I’m a 30 year old Linux Sysadmin from Wolverhampton and go by the slightly crap IRC nick of Drinky for historical reasons. I was a professional musician for around 5 years and then after a few career changes, I came to computers late at the age of 23. I had a Spectrum and ZX81 when I was a kid but music pushed that out of the way in my teens. I’ve had to learn fast and within a year of getting my first PC, I decided to do a Computer Science degree and discovered Linux. I realised at university that I was a crap programmer and became more interested in the systems and networking side. I’ve been using Linux for around 6 and a half years now. I use Ubuntu at home and Debian/Fedora/Centos on various servers.

And what can I bring to LUG Radio and why did they choose me? Well, first thing is that I live nearby and have known Jono and Aq through Wolves LUG since before LUG Radio and Ade since before he joined the team, again through Wolves LUG. I remember Matt, Jono and Aq, discussing the idea at a LUG Meeting. I appeared briefly in Season 1, Episode 5 as a silent guest and then filled in for the first time in the last episode of Season 2. Since then I’ve filled in on numerous occasions and hopefully, learned to break through the barrage of noise that is a LUG Radio recording. I have to say that, normally when I’ve filled in, I get less than 24 hours notice so don’t get to do much research and don’t know who most of the interviewees are at all until we interview them. So, I’ve been hanging around since the beginning and share a similar humour to the rest of the team which I guess is why I have been asked to join the team.

Being a sysadmin means I spend my days staring at terminals and am focused on technical implementation rather than the greater philosophies of the Free Software world, it remains to be seen how that will influence the show or my participation in it. I’ve always been a facilitator rather than a leader, I’ll hold things together and provide you a platform to build on rather than win you the game. At football I’m a goalkeeper, at cricket I was wicket keeper, as a musician I was a bass player and at work I’m a sysadmin.

So, here I am, it’s a big role to fill and we have a fantastic community of people around us, I hope I can do it justice. I’ll see you for Season 4 Episode 20 as my first episode as a full-time presenter. I’m sure we’d all like to wish Matt the best.

Greetings Planet #Lugradio

Hello to everyone on Planet #LUGRadio ๐Ÿ™‚

While you’re here, I need your help. As some of you may know, I’ll be hosting Adam Sweet’s Gong-A-Thong Lightbulb Talk Extravaganza at LRL 2007. An hour long segment of 3 minute talks. Thats a lot of talks. And I need you to speak. I need people to get in touch with submissions for quick 3-5 minute talks about something cool, something you’re working on, something you can’t live without and things people need to know. You can rant if you’re not just talking shit, you can promote your favourite app or distro, or project or worthy cause. I just need to hear from you so I’m not going to be standing there scratching my nuts for an hour.

Oh and I need exhibitors for, well the exhibition. I don’t know yet how much space I’ve got or how many exhibitors I need, but I need people to get in touch about possible stands in the exhibition area. We’re looking for something a bit cool this year, so if you have some mind-boggling demo, some hot booth-babes or booth-dudes (albeit booth-dudes will have limited appeal with this audience ;)), something impressive to show off I’d like to hear from you.

And finally, if you haven’t already done so, I need you advertise the event. If you haven’t already done so, we have some logos and images for you to post on your blog or as a banner on your website. If you’re coming or not, you can help make this a bumper event by telling everyone you know. Got a machine with a lot of log in accounts? Change your motd to let everyone know about LUG Radio Live 2007. I might try to convince the guys that there should be a prize for the best guerilla advertising campaign.

You can send your submissions and suggestions to

Thanks for listening. I look forward to seeing you there ๐Ÿ™‚

Nostalgic Shocker

Every year I seem to go through a nostalgic phase when something pops up to remind me of a TV comedy, a film or a band that I really liked in my teens and I go on a hunt for all of the albums or episodes that I used to have on poorly copied audio cassettes or video tapes recorded from the TV.

A few years ago it was tracking down the Who video that changed my whole view on what being a bass guitarist meant, the Sugar album Copper Blue and Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub. Then it was getting the sci-fi series V on DVD. Last year it was buying up stuff by the Boo Radleys (bizarrely released by my own former record label) and now this year, the song Away From Here by The Enemy reminded me of Mega City Four. That’s how indie rock should sound. So I decided to go buy some Mega City Four stuff and while I was at it I tracked down Trains, Boats and Planes by The Frank and Walters.

The Frank and Walters had just released Happy Busman and were on Channel 4 show The Word, the week before I went to my first ever concert – The Inspiral Carpets at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall, supported by Airhead (anyone else remember Funny How?) and the Franks themselves. I was deaf the next day.

A few months later I saw Mega City Four and they were excellent, however I was shocked to discover tonight that lead singer Wiz died just before Christmas. Shit. More eloquent words fail me.


I got a totally unexpected surprise the other day when I got a parcel delivered to work that looked like it came from Amazon. After a few “What the fuck? I haven’t ordered anything”s I opened it and was almost knocked over to see that my mate, Matt Yallop had bought me a copy of “Redemption Song”: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer from my Amazon Wishlist.

Wow. I can’t imagine a better unexpected gift. The gift tag reminded me that, although unintentionally, I hadn’t actually spoken to most of my best friends since Christmas. I’m not so sociable these days, I feel like I spent that last 12 years being super-sociable and now I’m all socialised out. It’s like I’ve been to every bar, pub and club in the country and I’m too absorbed in what I’m doing these to poke my head above the screen or the pillow long enough to communicate to people who aren’t within my field of vision. Also most socialising involves consuming incredible amounts of alcohol and well, it makes me too ill to be worth it. When the up isn’t worth the down, it’s time to retire from the game.

And that’s pretty sad really, perhaps a little unhealthy even, but I’m completely satisfied with my little piece of the world’s jigsaw. I should try harder to take time out but I’ll always be thinking that I should be reading some article on securing DNS updates with dnssec, sleeping off my hard week’s work or pinning down all of the phone and ethernet cables that litter my house and getting them out of sight; or some other random work/home task nonsensia. Sad, but I’m striving hard and I’m happy doing it. It’s a trait I inherited.

So anyway, I received this book from Yallop and well, big Internet thanks man, I was genuinely taken aback. I read the first 2 or 3 chapters as soon as I got home. I already have a couple of books on The Clash, A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the “Clash” by former Clash roadie Johnny Green and Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of the “Clash” by Pat Gilbert are excellent in-depth books which shatter some illusions I had. Don Letts DVD, The Clash – Westway to the World is also excellent. All 3 are serious recommendations for anyone interested in people that made up The Clash.

Such is my obsession with The Clash and the characters within the band that I had to suppress the risk of leaky eyes 3 times in the first 2 chapters which dealt with his death and his funeral. It was really poignant. Joe Strummer was complicated, an outsider and an everyman with an incredible work ethic and view of the world which he was able to present to people and have them internalise as their own beliefs. I’m one such person. I wouldn’t believe in the things I do without Joe Strummer. My senses of right and wrong and what is important and what isn’t would be infinitely less attuned.

As I was only just born when White Riot came out, I missed them first time around, I was a new fan, the scourge of the old fans. I got into The Clash when I was 14 and Should I Stay or Should I Go was on the Levi’s ad. I bought The Story of The Clash vol 1 on vinyl and thought it was a waste of money for a week, but carried on playing it as it was the most money I’d spent on a record at the point. 2 weeks pocket money or something. It sounded so alien and esoteric compared to all other music I’d heard before and then it began to make sense. As time went by I became more and more absorbed by the music, the band, the people and the message until I became the encyclopedia I am today. (Note to self: really must make definitive Clash website and re-write Wikipedia page).

When Joe died I didn’t take it in for a few days and then maybe it took me nearly a year to realise the affect it had one my thinking. As a new fan I still had dreams of seeing a re-formed Clash play just once as a swan-song. It really tugs at me that The Clash are definitely over.

So, my oldest, closest and dearest friends, I haven’t forgotten you and you don’t have to buy me things from my Amazon Wishlist to remind me that you’re still alive, but thanks for caring and thanks Matt for one the best, most tuned-in surprises I’ve ever had. I’m touched.

Dell Goes Linux

After weeks of speculation, Dell, the second largest PC manufacturer in the world, have finally announced that they are going to ship desktops and notebooks pre-installed with Linux. This is great news, regardless of what you think of Dell.

It’s great news because Linux geeks will be able to get their OS of choice pre-installed, even though the geeky amongst us would still prefer to build our own PCs and install Linux ourselves. It’s great news because maybe we can get notebooks which contain components known to work with Linux, without having to resort to using ndiswrapper, binary userspace daemons and all manner of other crap to get wireless support.

It’s great news because, although it took a long time, maybe other PC manufacturers will want to make sure that Dell don’t corner the pre-installed Linux market, which is likely to see a tidal wave of purchases (we’ve been waiting for this for yeeeeeeaaars) and want a piece of the action themselves, which leads to competition, which leads to a better deal for customers and an array of choices.

It’s great news because people will be able to buy Linux PCs off the shelf if they want to. It’s great news because a vendor has finally stood up to Microsoft regarding their discounts on Windows licenses for vendors who refuse to ship anything other than Windows. Yeah maybe Dell did this a while ago, but still…

I don’t care whether you like Dell or not, but at least we have a choice now. Maybe your choice won’t be Dell, or even Linux, but at least we have the choice and hopefully soon we will see similar announcements from other manufacturers.

Whatever you views, having the second largest PC manufacturer in the world agree that Linux has enough demand to provide it on the desktop is a large step towards becoming a real option in normal people’s front rooms and workplaces at a time when most businesses are deciding whether to stick with Windows 2000/XP for as long as possible, move to Vista or try Linux.

O2 Aren’t all Arseholes

I’m still on O2, despite my rant about them a few years ago which is still attracting comments. I compared the respective offers from the O2 store sales guy and the one in Phones4U and frankly, the O2 guy won on technique, or lack thereof, alone.

The deals cost the same (although the Phones4U staff tried to ‘up-sell’ us), the phones were the same, but the O2 guy let us ask him questions and let us make our choice or leave it. The Phones4U staff were forceful, kept us there for half an hour or more, making ever more confusing offers and trying to convince us to sign the deal without leaving. I had to stop the senior sales girl (who had joined the original sales guy) twice and ask her to slow down and stop throwing numbers at us. We were offered all sorts of things, cash back, ยฃ40 in cash before we left the store, thousands of free minutes and hundreds of texts, all for more than we wanted to pay, provided we signed the deal. I explained politely that I refused to sign anything without first comparing with the competition and when I explained this they stood up and turned their backs on us so we left. I have since been informed that you never actually get any cash back, you get more free call credit. Something wrong with the wording there I think.

The thing was, the deal was better than O2 were offering, but O2 let us choose our deal, Phones4U took what we wanted and then tried to sell us a more expensive deal which was too complicated to follow and then blanked us when we asked if we could continue on our research mission and then return when we had made a decision. So, as annoyed as I was that O2 didn’t know my tariff details and took more than half an hour to come to that conclusion, their sales staff are polite, friendly and helpful while the Phones4U staff were aggressive and rude in their sales technique. I did a short course in sales techniques so I knew why they were being that way – to overwhelm you with impressive sounding figures and get you to sign before you get chance to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. It’s all about the money. Get the sale. Fuck what the customer wants.

Fuck you, to coin a phrase. You don’t get my money if my university educated brain can’t follow your deal or you try to overwhelm me with figures. Clarity and giving me what I want is the key to getting my wallet open.

No News is Good News

That’s because there has been no news. Or at least I haven’t told anybody any of the news because I’ve been busy.

So, here’s the news:

I passed my CCNA first semester with flying colours. Always a relief ๐Ÿ™‚

I got a new phone, a Sony Ericsson k800i and got a free 1GB iPod Shuffle.

My good friend and work colleague Graham Jones died of cancer. Graham was the nicest, kindest most sincere bloke you could wish to meet. A lot of people say that about a lot of people, but it’s true of Graham. There were more people outside trying to get into his funeral than there were inside the packed out hall. RIP brother.

I have given up cigarettes and alcohol. Really. I stopped smoking in November and I’ve been out drinking once since October and it reminded me why I hadn’t been out since October. I don’t enjoy it any more and I feel ill for 3 days afterwards. Really ill. It just wasn’t worth it any more. Most of my friends will think I’m joking when they read this, I’m not. That’s not to say I won’t fall off the wagon at some point of my own choosing, but it means that it will be fruitless inviting me on nights out any more, at least until somebody invents an instant cure for hangovers that works. Besides, everybody gave up inviting me out on nights out ages ago because I always make excuses about not wanting to go.

On final note, I have been made a company director at work. Yes, Adam Sweet, Technical Director. That’s me. You may bow ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you’re all well. There is probably far more which I have missed out, but that’s it for now.

IPMI on Linux. It’s Good for Me, it’s Good for You

At work I have been setting up IPMI support under Linux so that we can have local facilities when working remotely. By local facilities I mean being able to shutdown or restart the machine when something nasty happens and the machine locks up, being able to view and alter the BIOS, the bootloader, the boot-up sequence, the shutdown sequence and the kernel output when it panics.

This basically means that you see what happened, press the bug red button and then watch it come up again as though you were working on the machine locally. You can’t do this over SSH. Normally you would pay a couple of hundred or over a thousand GBP for an IP KVM, depending on how many ports you required and again for a remote power control device.

To use IPMI you need a machine with an IPMI BMC in the machine, preferably v2.0, you need a BIOS which lets you do console redirection and you can set the rest up in software, using OpenIPMI and IPMItool. What you can do is setup a serial console over the BMC and have the BMC redirect that over it’s own LAN interface so you can talk to it remotely. You also set up your bootloader and init to setup a console over the same serial port and then all you have to do is talk to it. The BMC is OS independent and works whether the machine is powered on, powered off and operational or not, so long as there is a power source connected to the server.

To help other people do the same thing, I wrote an IPMI howto on my wiki, there is already some other stuff on chrooted DNS, DNSBLs and greylisting. I admit, that I have yet to make it completely comprehensive, but all of the details you need to do it are there and the links will fill in any gaps while I finish it off.

This is my first real wiki article and was inspired by Ade opening up his secret wiki. It made me realise that I really ought to have some kind of config and howto repository to go back to myself.

Anyway, if you’re managing remote servers or plan to, think about using IPMI and then look at my IPMI article.

Don’t Let Your Product Die

It seems that the once popular Windows and Netware mail client Pegasus Mail and the accompanying Mercury mail server are no longer with us. Pegasus developer David Harris announced on 3rd Jan 2007 that development and distribution has ceased.

Why let this code die? I have to admit, I’ve never used it, but why let it just die? Why doesn’t he just make the code available under the GPL to allow anyone that cares about it do what they want? It doesn’t need to just stop existing. It may well continue to serve it’s users well in a new guise, led by people who care about the product, or maybe assimilated into other Free Software projects in the same way that Eudora and Netscape did when they decided to cease development of their mail clients and web browser. The results of which are now known as Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird.

For non-techies, Free Software is the software movement which makes all of its software available to anyone, free of charge and allows you to take that code and do what you want with it, change it in any way you like, provided of course that the code remains freely available. Free Software is also known as Open Source, referring to the fact that the source code of the program is available, but the term Free Software perists as the correct term as it implies the freedom of choice, freedom of use, freedom to modify and the political and legal freedoms that Free Software provides. The software license used to ensure these freedoms is the GPL, or GNU Public Licence.
Free software is not the same as freeware. Freeware is commonly simple Windows programs that don’t have enough appeal to be worth charging for. In some cases, freeware may be useful software which is made available at no cost by the good will of the developer. However the distinction is that Free Software allows you to download and change the code that makes the program do what it does. Freeware does not.

I’m not at all sure why freeware isn’t Free Software, only perhaps that the developers of freeware don’t want other people to change their programs so that they can retain control and maybe one day charge for it.

But anyway, if anyone knows how to contact David Harris of Pegasus Mail, please ask him to consider making the source code to Pegasus Mail and the Mercury MTA available under the GPL, it may well keep his products alive.

Don’t just let projects die when you decide not to carry on, make the code available so that other people can carry on your work or use it to improve existing Free Software.

UPDATE 24/01/2007: Ok, so the guy decided not to quit following the deluge of pleas he received following his announcement. He has decided to continue to with revised funding.

Say No to Software Patents

While I am by far the one of the least able to explain this topic to you if you don’t already understand it, you need to say no to software patents. Just in case you get lost, hang on until you get to the end and then just read the bullet points…

Why? Well, think of this way, it means that people will be able to patent software ideas and ensure that nobody else can implement them without paying a license fee to the patent holder. While in most spheres of human endeavour, this might seem reasonable, but the problem is this: only large companies can afford to register and maintain patents, which means that they can (and do!) patent everything they can think of in case somebody else comes up with the same idea and tries to market it, to make everybody else pay to use their version and to sue anybody else who has a competing product.

This means that you can only go to one company for your office programs, your web browser, your email program, your zip program, your PDF reader and so on. Well, in most cases that kind of thing won’t happen because all of these examples have what is known as prior art or are so widespread that the patent isn’t enforceable, but for the non-techies listening here, the point is valid even if the examples aren’t. Valid examples are things such as encryption algorithms, filesystems and file-sharing technologies or to put it bluntly, the complicated things that most people don’t understand about computers but need to do all of the things that they do on a daily basis.

What would you do if you had to pay extra to click on a link on a website? In 2002, BT (yes, good old British Telecom!) tried to sue 17 ISPs for the use of a patent it held on clickable links on a web page which, when clicked, take you to a new page, which are hyperlinks as most people know them, the main way the web is navigated these days. Thankfully that patent claim was thrown otherwise your Internet connection charges would be higher to pay for this ability to click on web page links.

What if you had to pay over ร‚ยฃ100 for a copy of Microsoft Office just so you could read the Word document your friend emailed to you? Well most of you are already doing that because you don’t realise you could use Open Office for free. But if a Microsoft patent claim were upheld regarding how those files worked, it would mean that you no longer have the choice to use something other than Microsoft Office to open your files. They’re YOUR files!

Or how about the fact that all of your lovely USB memory sticks or camera memory cards come with the FAT32 filesystem on them? A filesystem is a set of rules about how files are laid out on a disk and FAT32 is the standard filesystem for such file storage devices. Did you know that Microsoft had a patent claim upheld regarding the FAT filesystem, despite the claim being thrown out previously due to the fact that the filesystem had existed for some time prior to Microsoft’s patent filing. This now means that Microsoft can charge all manufacturers using the FAT filesystem on their devices, a charge which is in turn passed on to you, the consumer, even if you don’t want to use FAT. It stands a chance that Microsoft isn’t in fact charging for it, just holding it in the background as a legal deterrent to it’s competitors should they themselves claim that Microsoft is doing them wrong in some way, either way, you’re funding the legal battles or the license fees for the patented technology.

Did you know that the most popular digital music format in the world, MP3 is subject to patent and which ever MP3 player you use, be it an iPod or Windows Media Player, requires a royalty payment from the manufacturer (be it Microsoft or Apple in the examples given), which again is passed on to you.

If you don’t understand my rambling techno-bollocks, imagine if there was only one company in the world that was allowed to make Baked Beans, or bread, or toilet roll and everybody else who had to make bread or baked beans or toilet roll had to pay the patent holder first and so their bread, beans or bog roll are more expensive or perhaps inferior due to the license cost being added to the manufacturing cost. What if you like beans but didn’t like company X’s beans? Well, you wouldn’t know anyway because there wouldn’t be another brand of beans.

The main problems are that patents crush the little guy. We’ve all had ideas for inventions we think could make us money but the first hurdle is patenting it to protect it. You can’t afford the ร‚ยฃ1,000 or whatever it costs per year, but big companies can and that puts you out of the market straight away.

The second thing is that where there is only one supplier of an item and no competition, then you get a monopoly where the company can produce their product as shoddily as they like, charge as much as they like and innovation is stifled. This is already evident in the software market. Everybody uses Windows because everybody uses Microsoft Office. Windows is a leaky piece of shit. I don’t use Windows for these reasons. I don’t use MP3 either, or Microsoft Office.

Internet Explorer is what happens when you have a software monopoly. Get a lot of viruses? PC running slow and you don’t know why? It’s because Internet Explorer gets shot to pieces every day on the Internet. Most spam is generated by virus infected PCs and many of these viruses get onto your PC through Internet Explorer. 98% of all emails are spam. That’s billions daily. Because for years there was no competition to make Microsoft try harder. Until Mozilla Firefox of course, which I implore you, for the safety of your computer to download, install and use as your default web browser.

Get viruses via email? Well maybe not so many now, but it was the dominant way of viruses passing themselves around for a good few years because Internet Explorer’s sister program, Outlook Express was shit at dealing with dodgy emails and opened everything by default. That’s what happens when there is no competition. Until of course Mozilla Thunderbird came along, which I implore you to install as your email program for the good of mankind (email is still a risk, but not like it once was and Outlook Express behaves a little better these days, but still do it for the moral value of turning your back on monopolistic software companies that want to stop you thinking you have a choice, rather than blindly accepting everything that is placed in front of you like readers of tabloid newspapers do).

The main proponent of software patents is Microsoft, who have been convicted of anti-competitive practices in the EU and in several other countries. They are fighting anti-competition battles in courts all over the world including the US, EU, South Korea and so on. A software patents bill has already been defeated in the EU parliament last year after being being brought back from the dead several times due to insistent pressure by defenders of the patent system (aka Microsoft amongst others).
If you value you the freedom you have to do what you want with your own files then please go sign the petition to the British Prime Minister. This is not some noddy computer hippy website, it is a site set up by the Prime Minister’s Office to solicit petitions from the public on issues they believe in. It is already gaining press attention.You can sign the petition at

Oh and if you care about the freedom to do what you want with your own files, you should be very afraid of DRM (Digital Rights Management) which is in Windows Vista, recent versions of Microsoft Office, Apple iPods, the iTunes music store and is being built on to the motherboard of modern PCs. It allows companies (Microsoft, Apple etc) and the Motion Picture Association of America amongst others to provide restrictions on what you can do with your files, your DVDs, the music you paid for and downloaded from iTunes and your Microsoft Office documents. The DRM included in Microsoft Office is capable of refusing to open documents created in it unless you have a copy of Microsoft Office, which again rules out any choice to use any other office software other than Microsoft’s. Which means you would be shit outta luck sending me Word documents. Although it is possible, it hasn’t been done yet thankfully, but there are many other restrictions in Microsoft Office there that are more real. Have you tried to play the music you downloaded through iTunes on any other portable media player yet? You can’t.

Read more on DRM here and here.

The concept I am asking you to petition on, is not that plagiarism should be considered acceptable, but that the ability to take an existing idea and then take it a step further, to improve it, or to take it in another direction should be allowed. That is how the Internet developed. One person had an idea, then another person thought, “It would be great if it could do this…” and then somebody else added something else. It was evolutionary. No one organisation could naturally have had all of those ideas themselves. It is a feat of collective thinking. Also, having an idea separately from somebody else should not preclude you from acting upon it.

Computer software is not a patentable idea. It is at it’s most basic, algebra. Instructions to perform lots of calculations sequentially. You can’t patent maths because it is an indisputable idea that 1 + 1 = 2 and always will be to every person. No one person can claim that concept because it has always existed.

What this petition is asking for is for software patents to be made unenforceable in the UK.

Just in case you got lost:

  • Patents reduce competition, degrade product quality, increase prices and tie you to the apron of a single supplier which doesn’t have to try hard for your money.

Or, more succinctly:

  • Patents bad, freedom good.

Anyway, please sign the petition. And download Firefox, Thunderbird and Open Office.

It’s From When I Was Famous

Every now and again I get an email from people about my band, Passion Star. I was almost famous you know. I was on TV, a film soundtrack and we played from one end of the country to the other. We played in front of crowds as big as 35,000 people. The one thing we didn’t do however, was break into the the UK top 40 singles chart, instead our 3 singles bumbled around the 90 mark, but we still meant a lot to some people. The story is here.

Anyway, recently I got an email from a guy named Chris Fox who came from Wolverhampton and saw us a few times and later came across us playing in Dundee where he now lives. Well he writes for and was writing an article on another band, Spare Snare who hail from Dundee. Seeing the connection between Passion Star and Spare Snare both coming from his home towns he then saw more parallels and contacted me about the article as he prepared to write it.

I like the article myself and it matches much of how I remember things. What he kindly doesn’t mention is that the Dundee gig was an absolute stinker and his sister, who also saw quite a few of our early gigs, saw us play at Strathclyde University, which as it happens was quite possibly the worst gig we ever did.

Anyway, enough of my rambling, the article is here. Thanks Chris.


Well, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m ill and alone as I don’t feel well enough to go anywhere.

It’s been the quietest Christmas period for me since I was a kid I think as I haven’t felt much like going out drinking this year. I have been pretty much in bed or on the sofa trying not to puke for the last 4 days. Apologies to anyone who was expecting to hear from me in the last week, but I’ve not been up to it.

Yeah well it’s all “Woe is me” at the moment and I’m revelling in self-pity. Aside from my sorrowful attempts to have you feel sorry for me, Happy New Year ๐Ÿ™‚

New Music Stuff

Woo. I got more new stuff.

First of all, I got a 12 string electro-acoustic guitar for Christmas, though sadly I’m not allowed to have it until Christmas which prompted a large sulk on the part of your truly.

Also, I picked up an old Hammond T500 organ yesterday via Freecycle. Wow, it’s huge and reeeeeeeally heavy. It looks and sounds like a church organ and I have no idea how to play it, though I have enough musical knowledge to know how to play chords etc. Will sounds great if I can find a use for it and get the sound how I want it. Think ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, ‘The House of the Rising Sun’, The Doors and more recently, The Inspiral Carpets.

I may also be getting a drum kit on the cheap. Hopefully I will be able to find a bigger house on Freecycle for all of my crap.

ADSL Irritation

I’ve been having problems with my ADSL line since maybe April/May, but never severely. I’ve been with my ISP, Freedom2Surf for perhaps 3 and half years and I’ve never had a problem, ever.

In May or so 2006, I had a few connection drops and the line wouldn’t come back up, sometimes for between 4-6 hours or even 24 hours sometimes. As frustrating as it was, I figured that having a few dropouts wasn’t a big deal as the service had been impeccable for 3 years. The the dropouts became more frequent and also longer in duration. In the interim period many ISPs stated that the move to ADSL Max had caused some network instability for many customers, but the worst was over.

By September I’d had enough and submitted a support ticket. I was asked the standard questions, to which I replied and heard nothing back as in the mean time, my line was changed over to ADSL Max. ADSL Max offers up to 8Mb connections speeds and I was theoretically capable of up to 6Mb as I am around 3km from my exchange in Fordhouses.

With ADSL Max, the line synchronises at the highest possible speed and then over a 10 day period, changes occasionally, so the fastest error free connections speed could be worked out. During this period, I received a solid 7Mbs, which was incredible. After the end of the 10 day period, my bandwidth dropped through the floor to 16Kbs, which is around 500 time slower than I was getting up to that point. I went on holiday after a few days and thought the speed would sort itself out while I was away. On my return 15 days later it was the same so I submitted another support request. After a few days the speed came back to around 2Mbs, which although not in the dizzying heights of the line speed training period, was the same as my pre-ADSL Max speed and was certainly workable. After a few more days it dropped to 16Kbs again so I submitted another support request. Again the speed came back to 2Mbs after a few days and then dropped to 16Kbs. I think I submitted another support ticket, this time including the results of a BT linespeed test, which stated that my ADSL profile was set to 16Kbs and that I had already submitted 3 previous tickets about this issue.

I also explained that I had done everything possible to exclude problems at my end, changed modem cables, changed microfilters, moved the modem to nearer to the phone socket, no power cable interference, in fact the only thing I hadn’t done was try another router as I don’t have one. After a few days my connection picked up and then dropped again, so I phoned up.

The support guy was very helpful, I explained my situation and he agreed that there was a definite problem, performed some tests and then told me it was a suspected line fault for which he would report a fault with BT (the British phone company which supplies ADSL and telephone lines). He also said he would call back before 7pm on that or the following evening to tell me the results of BT’s tests.

A week later I called back to see what the results were as my man didn’t call back. Another support guy explained that BT had concluded the problem was with my equipment. So now I have to find another ADSL modem and router to check the problem out. Which is irritating because I don’t have one. Even worse is the fact that I might have to buy a new one if using a different router solves the problem.

I have to admit that my telephone line is quite noisy with what sounds like dialup modem signals just about audible on it, which may well be my ADSL modem spitting out signals which aren’t filtered out by the microfilter properly. Not being an ADSL geek, this obviously sound dodgy but I’m still not convinced that my router is at fault. The line has always been slightly noisy I think, but I have little option to try a new router, so Carl, bring your router next weekend to the LAN party if you can make it.