Services-Admin and Istanbul

I’m looking forward to Services-Admin hitting my desktop. I think Ubuntu users in particular have been aching for this for some time.

I’m also looking forward to Istanbul hitting my machine as it will be useful when recording stuff for use in demos and tutorials. I ought to look at vnc2swf as a comparison.

Fixing my PC with initrd

Fucking hell.

So as people might know (hell, I’ve complained about it enough), my main workstation broke down. Removed all of the components from the board and no difference. So it was either the CPU or the motherboard itself. I put all of the parts into another machine and it ran fine.

Well I have work to do and I need Windows for some of it and I don’t have a spare machine good enough to play some of my games, which meant I needed a new motherboard and/or CPU. After some faffing I spotted a tiny burnt out component on the board so I took pot luck and bought a new Socket A motherboard that fitted the bill as closely as I could find at short notice. Seems most people aren’t stocking many Socket A boards these days as everyone is moving on to bigger and better things, but being skint as usual I decided it was better to just buy a replacement board than a replacement machine while I wait for 64 bit support, PCIE and ATI graphics etc to be known to work well together. Not much point in buying a 32 bit machine now when I would have upgraded to 64 bit next year anyway.

So I bought a board with SATA as I need the extra disk channels. I have 3 PATA disks, one for Windows which needs to go on hda, my Linux system disk which needs to go on the SATA controller as my other disk, my enormous Linux /home doesn’t work with the SATA converter I have and so needs to go on hdb. I also have 2 optical drives which of course need to go on the other PATA channel.

So, I install Windows and I boot from a live CD to alter the grub and /etc/fstab settings accordingly. All works fine. Nice boot menu, Windows boots fine. Try to boot Linux. Umm. No. pivot_root error and can’t find initrd. Shit. But it works fine on hda. Try all possible permutations of disks and controllers, but one always fails.

So I post to Wolves LUG mailing list about whether I will be attending the meeting and say I won’t as I’ve been fixing my PC and I need to get it up and running but the SATA controller is being an arse and Linux can’t boot from it. Dave Goodwin pops up and offers some advice. I follow through and explain what I have done so far and he says do this:

You should just need to do the following to “fix” your problem :

Edit /etc/mkinitrd/modules and add in the sata modules necessary for your card, as well as probably scsi_mod and sd_mod. (Just list the modules, one per line).

Then, try running :

mkinitrd -o /boot/mkinitrd.img.custom `uname -r`

(Where the output of `uname -r` looks pretty like 2.6.10-5-K7.

Edit /boot/grub/menu.lst (or edit it at bootup) and get it to use your new custom image, and cross your fingers ๐Ÿ™‚

And it worked. Gawd bless him. I’m so grateful to him for picking this up. I was expecting to spend the rest of my days swapping disks over to do any work. It took me a week of testing and diagnosing to get this far and probably 3 weeks before that of working out where the problem lay and getting a spare machine to work on.

Life can now continue, but what a ball ache.

1 day to go

Until LUG Radio Live 2005 ๐Ÿ˜€

Now all I have to do is:

  • Decide which distro will be best for sound recording on the server my employers are lending me for the weekend
  • Install it
  • Get my soundcard out of my desktop and put it in the server
  • Make sure there are no sound recording problems on that distro
  • Build a machine for the Wolf ET clan gaming
  • Get all of my spare monitors out of the garage
  • Pack up my network equipment and tools for transporting to LRL
  • Get a shiny game show host outfit from a fancy dress hire shop
  • Borrow my dad’s digital camera
  • Set up a Coppermine repo for photo sharing on the day
  • Meet the LUG Radio massive in the pub

Not too much to do in 4 hours then…

Good Days

Heh, many reasons to celebrate.

Today was my first day at my new job and Debian Sarge was released about 2 hours ago. Oh and the LUG Radio team took this piss out of me on air again.

More details when I don’t have to get up in 6 hours.

Good days ๐Ÿ˜€

Waiting for Christmas

Well not quite, but it seemed like that.

My replacement hard disk arrived on Tueday so I spent all night juggling disks and partitions. I moved around 70GB of data around and now have my 160GB hard disk as /home. The next step is to move the rest of the system onto the 60GB disk that used to be /home without doing a reinstall. If my calculations are correct, this shouldn’t be too bad. I’ve never done this before but it should essentially be a case of booting from a live CD, mounting the partitions and moving the data across as I did before with /home. I will need to edit /etc/fstab and /boot/grub/menu.list and then make sure that whatever will be primary master hard disk has grub on it. I will also double check that /boot/grub/ makes sense for how the disks are layed out.

The next morning, after just over a week of waiting, my broadband connection got upgraded to 2Mb. Woo! In that afternoon I downloaded Fedore Core 3, FreeBSD 5.4 for Sparc, OpenBSD 3.7 for Sparc, BeOS Developer Edition 1.1, Windows XP SP2 and Windows Services for Unix (both free via uni ;)), VM Ware Workstation 5.0 for Linux and Crossover Office 4.2. Most of this is just to play with :). In a week I will get Debian Sarge for Sparc and x86 and Fedora Core 4 provided there aren’t any further release delays.

I’m getting close to sorting out my uni mess. I have now been passed on to a 4th person who is the Associate Dean of the school. Can’t get much higher without a resolution. I also have a doctors note to back up my claims. With a bit of luck this will all be resolved by Wednesday morning. It looks like I will be allowed to finish my project over the summer and my remaining modules next year. God damn it’s been a long haul to sort all of this out, nearly 2 months. At times I thought it would all just fall apart and I would end up debt-ridden and unqualified. Thank fuck it’s nearly over and I have a new job.

My current todo list is 50 items strong. They’re not all critical to be honest and a lot are just little personal projects, but at least 8 require either immediate attention or attention within a week and probably another 10 or 15 are for my project. Meh.

Well anyway, I have to go. Item #51 is revise for my exam tomorrow afternoon.

News and Progress

Well, I’m not feeling well today, but thats a side issue. I have made some moves in various directions that are quite interesting (to me at least, nobody else will gve a crap probably). I can’t imagine why my good friend Holdsworth described my blog as self-obsessed and boring techno-bollocks ๐Ÿ˜‰

I spent most of the weekend celebrating my new job or recovering from celebrating, so last night and today have been groggy affairs. I did manage to install Coppermine and have a look. At first glance it seems pretty cool and I may well end up using it. I should probably install Gallery for a comparison though.

I also have concluded that I need to learn the Red Hat Way of doing things as I’m going to be using it at work. I know the Debian Way reasonably well, but I’m going to be administering Red Hat boxes. This means I need to hurry up and finish the crap old P200 machine so I can take the disk out and swap the box in for my current Smoothwall, thereby releasing my Celeron machine back into interactive service. I will either be using that or my Dell P3 machine to play with Fedora Core on, unless I doing even more machine juggling and move my uni project over to the Dell box and put Fedora onto the Athlon 1200 box. But thats dangerous, I might lose my project if I fuck it up. I’ll have to think about how I’d do this. I guess I could just image the drive. I also need to decide whether I should start with FC3, which is out now, or wait until FC4 comes out on the day I start work, I would have preferred to look at FC before I start, but is there any point when the new release is a week away. Ooh, also Debian Sarge should be out tomorrow which means I can install my Sparc machine with something useful.

Oh, a random conversation also reminded me to try to install Return to Castle Wolfenstein on Linux. Following these instructions it was a breeze, I’m really pleased. I finished the first 2 levels in just under 2 hours. Thats one of the few games I really like.

Among the other minor triumphs was having a look at Eclipse. I’m going to need a good IDE for work. Jono was demoing it at the Wolves LUG meeting the other day. I also noticed on his desktop a load of Bluetooth icons, so having tried and failed to send files to my phone via bluetooth, I phoned him up and he suggested gnome-obex-send which worked a treat. Little did I realise at the time was that he was in Stuttgart attending GUADEC. The conversation ended pretty sharply when I discovered that, but I still think an international mobile to mobile call is going kill my phone bill.

The Hackers FAQ for Managers made me laugh. It’s a guide for managers who are trying to manage a hacker. Hackers just don’t seem to make sense to the business oriented mind of a conventional manager. It made me laugh because I recognised some of my own traits in there, like ‘percolating’ which is where you sit there playing games or other non-productive things while you leave your subconscious to mull over the technical aspects of a complex problem. I do that all the time, do something unrelated and let my subconscious take care of things for me. You can’t force ideas out if you’re not in the mood, they come to you when you’re not thinking about them.

In other news, I got an Ubuntu t-shirt. Wow. Thats soooooo cool. Also Liverpool won the European Champions League. Big congratulations there. Aq’s book, DHTML Utopia is out, but his cat died. Congratulations and commiserations.

The final thing I wanted to say was that Jono I have started trying to think of something really cool to do for something for What the Hack, assuming that it goes ahead. I was thinking of maybe an open Gallery or Coppermine server that people can put their weird photos on, Jono thought of an SMS thingy hooked up to a speech synthesis thing so we can all just sit there and crack up at other peoples photos of weird stuff, or this croaky Hawking-esque voice saying freaky stuff. Whatever we do we will broadcast the hell out of it at WTH so other people will join in. We really hope to make our tent a bit of a cool party focal point for people to come and hang around and do interesting stuff. If you have any suggestions, put it in the comments or mail me direct.

A few other things have happened too but I have real world things to do, I can’t sit here all day. I’ll let you know as things happen.

Looking at Coppermine and WTH

I’m looking at Coppermine. I’ve been looking for some kind of gallery to go with with my blog and website, just as a pic dumping ground and Coppermine looks like it does this, looks nicer than Gallery and also acts as a subject catagorised file repositry. Thats great. I haven’t actually installed it yet though. This post, like many of my recent ones, is just to remind me to look at it when the uni stuff is over and I have a job lined up.

This kind of thing is more useful since I’ve been thinking about stuff for What The Hack, assuming it goes ahead, for places to dump photos and other so that people can see what I’m up to while I’m there. Other things include a a wiki for me to scratch my ideas down on and maybe a live webcam but I don’t fancy carrying my webcam around when I’ll already be loaded down with stuff and I certainly don’t like my chances of trying to secure my username and password to an ftp server while sitting in a field full of some of most capable computer security experts in Europe who are all drunk and stoned…

Still I’d like to think of something really cool to do at or for WTH. Something really cool. Ideas to the usual address or in the comments.

What The Hack Under Threat!

Yes. The Mayor of Boxtel, the Dutch municipality under which the juristriction for the location of What The Hack falls, has informed the organisers that they must apply for a permit for the event and that he fully intends to reject any such application as it will endanger law and order and public safety.

I found this story on The Register first of all, then read the What The Hack anouncement and the press release. It doesn’t seem to have hit Slashdot yet.

Maybe I will be here for my girlfriend’s birthday after all ๐Ÿ˜‰

Damn I’m prolific today, thats my 8th post.


I’ve been looking at VoIP recently after hearing a lot and then reading Ade’s VoIP posts and have installed the Ubuntu Linphone package. It didn’t seem to work at first as I couldn’t contact the sipomatic test program, but then, the manual didn’t say that I had to start sipomatic manually before making the test call. So I did just that – started sipomatic manually, called it and it worked. Yay. Sadly I don’t have anyone to talk to that I know of and I have to work out how to get it through my smoothwall. I don’t fancy trying to set up a sip proxy so that the outside world can talk to me.

I might have a look at Skype, just to see what the difference is. Yeah, yeah, let the free software people rain down on me with complaints. I just want to see how it compares. I’d also like to look at asterisk@home at some point, as it’s all employable skills, but I’m a little too busy at the moment.

What to run on Sparc64?

I have a Sparc64 machine, a Sun Ultra 10 which I installed Gentoo on but it’s just a little too much aggro to look after. Who wants to set a machine to recompile everything overnight and hand-merge the new config files once a week when a Debian dist-upgrade takes a fraction of the time. Frankly I prefer ease of use over speed of use first of all, I can strip a system down if I need to. Anyway, I digress.

I’d like to run Debian on it but I’m waiting for Sarge and also to hear if Sparc64 will get axed after Sarge. It’s also a good opportunity to look at FreeBSD and OpenBSD. I’d like to look at OpenBSD first of the two, just to see more of the Unix world and I looked at FreeBSD briefly once before, but OpenBSD doesn’t seem to support my PCI Sun Happy Meal 10/100Mb ethernet card and I can’t find any CD isos. Yes, it’s lazy, I can’t be arsed putting another card in there and trying to work out how to boot the installer from floppies or a network. I just want to plug in and go. I might be hideously wrong of course, more research involved there I think.

Debian it is then, probably, unless you think I’ve missed another free, non-obscure minority Linux or Unix for Sparc64. I Suppose I could look at Open Solaris or even Solaris Express

Beloved Mailing List Frustration

I’ve been growing disconcerted recently with the Wolves LUG mailing list, the lifeline of our LUG. We have a growing amount of new people which is always good, but we also have a small number of people that persistently post rubbish. Some of the new people got annoyed at the amount of posts and suggested a forum as an alternative. Thats not an unusual thing to suggest by new people, but being new to the list and list culture, they didn’t really understand the way things work on a list and consequently flooded the list with repeated statements of the same points which ended up in several near flame wars. Personally, I was probably a little hot-headed in my approach to the issue of list flooding (JUST STOP!) but also quite reasoned I thought on the forum debate.

Essentially, I put the issue down to the large amount of useless and meandering non-technical discussion that has been increasing steadily over the last 6 months. Many of the large contributors to the list have backed away almost completely from posting on there and have noted that the list is ‘a bit shit these days’. I also put it down to the really bad readability of some of the posts on the list. About a year ago, one newish poster got a serious roasting for repeatedly ignoring direct personal requests to adhere to some kind of readable posting format and he responded in an equally volatile way. After some consideration and some reconciliation, the flamed party saw the sense between the flames and became reformed and the flamer became quite good friends with his flamee. As a side effect of this we became more tolerant towards poor email technique, html posters and top posters were politely asked not to do so, but we let most other things slide.

We’ve always prided ourselves in the fun side of the list and always been proud of not being a dry, technical list. Jokes and banter have always made up a large part of the discussion. However in recent times, the not so funny jokes and unproductive chatter have begun to drown out the useful technical stuff and the witty repartee has disappeared with most of the long-time list members.

So now we find ourselves in a situation where the list is full of crap, I could quite happily killfile a small but prolific number of people there and I’ve gone from reading every email on the list to deleting 75% of it on arrival. It’s a sad way to be. With the silence of most of the people that used to use the list I’ve found myself filling in with a lot of the technical assistance, but this recent row was too much for me. I lay awake all night thinking about how to temper the poor state of the list content with the unintentional and likely to be repeated bollocking that got given out to an unwittingly naive poster with appalling list etiquette. I wrote out several different mental replies to the recipient of my wrath after he complained that such attitudes to new people, not just by me, would put people off both us and Linux, which is a terrible thing to happen. As he stated, idiots can use any operating system, which runs directly parallel to what I was thinking, that bad manners aren’t operating system dependent, but nevertheless, he pissed me off for his bad manners and we responded by giving him and some other new people a terrible impression of Linux people.

As I said, I lay awake trying to verbalise my feelings about his and others’ bad etiquette, our reactionary response and the solution to this continual problem. In my flame I had said that we can all help stop people feeling overwhelmed by making our posts more readable and not meandering way off the point within a thread, leaving several different strands of the same thread talking about different things. I also pointed that he had arrived in the middle of a large technical thread and a large number of other heavily discussed non-technical threads. His lack of a threaded email client, the unusually high traffic of the list in the few days since his arrival and the lack of readable threads meant he felt overwhelmed and thought a forum would help. Mostly people disagreed but his continual flooding of the list, saying the same thing pissed me off. The solution is, in my opinion, better readability, less drivel, better manners on his part and more tolerance on mine. But I said that and the problem of useless posting persists. It’s strange how I’ve gone from enjoying the off topic posting to hating it. It used to be funny or useful and now it’s neither.

Anyway I’ve trying to formulate all of this into a post that would be readable on the list in such a way that people would stand up and take notice, rather than fan the flames of the ill-feeling. Instead I’ve just decided to stop posting there altogether for the time being and delete most of what is posted without reading it. I will in the future, read the new technical threads and post assistance where I can help, but for now I just don’t care to read or post. At the moment, the content of the list isn’t worth the effort of writing something like that.

This is of course just my disappointed and slightly reactionary opinion. I feel bad for saying this publicly as I know it will appear on Planet Wolves and for not saying something on the list itself, which may appear cowardly (it’s an effort and aggro thing, not fear of conflict). Some people will agree and some won’t, but I really care a lot about the LUG and particularly the mailing list as the primary source of our community spirit and the publicly archived version of our shared knowledge. I’d hate to think that people might read our archives and think we talk a load of rubbish and don’t actually know anything useful.

Whatever you think I welcome your opinions either as comments or as private emails, though don’t expect me to go into it with you if you start to rant about how wrong I am. I’m looking for a solution to how we can make things better without ramming etiquette or ‘stick to technical discussion only’ down people’s throats.

Even More Famous

A long, long time ago, in a far away galaxy, I wrote that I had suddenly discovered by reading my domain stats that people actually read my website. Quite a shocker at the time. I was even more shocked later that day to discover that the mighty comic genuis and Ubuntu hacker that is Jeff Waugh had linked to my blog regarding my then vapourware (en_gb sp.) Ubuntu Jingle, inspired by the LUG Radio joke about the Um Bongo advert. Jeff, being syndicated through Planet Gnome, Planet Debian and Planet Ubuntu caused a pleasant flurry of hits over the following weeks that meant I had to produce the jingle.

So then I checked my stats a few weeks ago to find the domain stats control panel for in my referrers list. Hilarious. So now I’m watching them watching me watching them. Thankfully they don’t seem to be upset by the jingle, well I haven’t heard from them anyway. I don’t know, maybe it’s free advertising or something. Relieved.

The jingle itself was included in LUG Radio episode 25, with Aq doing the words over the top.

Forward to today. I check my domain stats again, I like to know whats going on, it’s good to see where you hits come from, check for 404 errors, see what google search terms point at me etc.

I see a referral from ubuntuforums and investigate. Maybe someone checked out my blog after reading a post on there or something. Nope, it’s a LUG Radio listener called Saik0 (sadly I can’t find a web address, so no link) pointing out my jingle and doing some good LUG Radio advocacy at the same time.

And check this: he made it his Ubuntu login sound. Thats gonna crack him up after a while, but wow. I feel all important. I just wish I had been able to do a better version. By the time I did it, I’d had so many hassles I just wanted to get it out of the door. It sounds muffly to my ears. Maybe I’ll do a better one soon.

But for the uninitiated, here’s my original (~3MB uncompressed .wav).

You can download LUG Radio episode 25 from here (aka Season 2 Episode 13). The jingle appears at just after 57 minutes, but you should just listen to the whole show anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰

Or just get the snippet of the LUG Radio version of the jingle from here (104KB .ogg in .tar.bz2).

So, thanks Saik0 ๐Ÿ˜€

Oh, incidentally, if you want some other Um Bongo goodies, like a Windows screensaver, the Um Bongo theme tune, mobile phone ringtones and wallpapers, have a look at the Um Bongo downloads and the Um Bongo mobile phone downloads. There, that should keep the lawyers happy.

And drink it in the Congo ๐Ÿ˜€

LUG Radio Live Blog

Jono from LUG Radio has kindly allowed me to post on the LUG Radio Live Blog.

It looks like I might be helping out with a few things, particularly the Clan Gaming section, so please go and have a look to see if you can help out. A few links:

Also, consider putting a LUG Radio banner on your website.

If you are coming, how about shooting you fellow man in the back with large balls of paint at LUG Radio Paintball which will take place the day after LUG Radio Live?

Finally, another mention for, if you can’t shoot at your fellow man in person, consider doing it over the net.

Hardware Problems

I think I’m starting to have hardware problems. A few times recently, my PC has just turned off without warning. I put it down to the long hours it spends on every day as it goes on when I get up and doesn’t turn off until I go to sleep. I bought the best parts I could afford at the time and put them in the largest, cheapest case I could find so it might be to do with cooling, my room heats up quite a lot when it’s on all day. I lost a newish drive not long back and I’d noticed a few weeks before that the drives were almost too hot to touch, theres very little space between them, so maybe it’s too hot in there. I ought to investigate a better case or some extra fans.

Recently another problem has started appearing. In Windows, though I haven’t used it in ages, the PC used to freeze hard whenever I played a game. Championship Manager, Wolf ET or whatever. Couldn’t even ping it. Well I don’t use Windows any more anyway so I just thought it might be a driver bug and forgot about it, but recently it’s started happening in Linux too when I play Wolf ET and the other day when I played Tux Kart with my 6 year old neice. It locks up hard, can’t ping or ssh into it or anything. I have to reach for the power button.

I hate hardware problems like this. I’m pretty good at identifying hardware problems but these kind do my head in. Theres nothing in the logs to help identify the problem. Maybe my graphics card is dying, maybe I have a dead spot in my memory that the increased usage of the game hits. Sadly for me, I normally check things like this out using spare parts but my desktop machine is the one machine I don’t have suitable spares for. I have a spare graphics card, but if thats the problem the nVidia GTS 2 is no replacement for my ATI Radeon 9500 Pro, a rough ร‚ยฃ100 price difference.

I’ll try the other card and run a memtest I think.

On a software note, I’ve managed to solve the annoying problem that meant my WolfET menus were in French. I moved the WolfET_Fr_Alpha2.pk3 from out of my ~/.etwolf/etmain directory and I’m back to English.

I’ve also noticed that Kaffeine doesn’t exit when I close it (even using the residual system tray menu, which I believe should be final). Instead it lurks without trace, using up ~95% processor time and memory until I run top and then kill the process. My 2GHz, 1GB RAM system starts to crawl if I watch a few video files one after another. It sounds like this has been fixed in the next Ubuntu Kaffeine package. I’ll just have to wait.

I prefer Kaffeine as it has playlists and works with a lot of codecs thanks to the Xine backend, unlike Totem.

Windows is Shit

Shocker ๐Ÿ˜‰

Really, it is. I haven’t used Windows properly in a few months now, I’ve been using Ubuntu. But today I had to. I have to set up an Apache server on a Solaris machine at uni, via ssh. Compile it yourself etc and run it on a weird port that has been assigned to me. Cool. Done. Except it doesn’t look like they’ve allowed access to the port from outside of the uni network so I can’t see my server working unless I’m there. I can do all the set up from home, I just can’t see the results. Nice one.

So I was in uni today and I decided to check it out. Yep, it’s running. There were problems with the permissions so I set about fixing them. I could ssh in to the server and change this but I decided to look at a few other things too. Changing some of the config requires a text editor. This is a university Windows network, I can’t install stuff so I had to use notepad which can’t understand Unix file endings and it turns all Unix files to unreadable mush. Is it that hard to make a text editor that can detect the kind of line ending? Or are Microsoft just being awkward?

Also on these machines, the default browser is unsurprisingly Internet Explorer. Ick. What do you mean, “popup blocker”, “block images from…”? No such luck. Ugly ugly ugly. The Mozilla suite is there, but it’s the whole suite: click… wait… wait… splash screen… wait… wait… get bored… wait… Ping there it is. No Firefox here. In fairness, Firefox probably wasn’t really ready when these machines were installed. The presence of Mozilla is a reasonable improvement over recent years but this isn’t my biggest gripe, it’s the fact that the preferences and bookmarks aren’t persistent. Everytime I log out they disappear. Annoyed.

So anyway, I’m using IE and it sucks ass big time. It takes me ages to do anything because it feels slow, awkward and swamped in adverts. God, how I love Firefox by comparison. Also as I don’t have my own set of bookmarks, I can’t find anything and half of the module links on the uni website point at the wrong place.

Also context sensitive menus have been disabled on my open windows on the taskbar. Can a Windows system be so easily hamstrung by right-clicking open windows in the taskbar? Is there such a disaster waiting to befall Windows 2000 that I’m not allowed to right-click and close my browser windows using their taskbar entries?

I know most of this stuff is just to do with the fact that the uni button monkeys have disabled certain functionality to harden the system and it’s reasonable to expect IE as a default browser and to be unable to install stuff on a organisation’s machine, but damn. I so hated using Windows with it’s uncomfortable feel and crap software choices that I gave up and went home after an hour.

It seems the only thing I could do using the uni Windows machines that I couldn’t do better under Ubuntu at home was use the uni Outlook Exchange webmail faciility. Using Firefox on Windows or Linux means that I have to supply my username and password everytime I want to read an email, open a folder or indeed do anything at all. Even though I save the u/n and pass, it still asks me every time I do anything. Firefox 0.92 and 0.93 were ok if I recall correctly but since v1.0 I’ve had this problem, though I’m told this is to do with the Outlook Exhange server configuration at the uni.

This is as much a rant about the uni configuration as it is about Windows, but I’ll be avoiding the uni computers in future, or at least taking my Ubuntu laptop.

Webcams and PHP assignments

Hmm I seem to have gone from 3-a-day topic based posts to once every few days, all-in-one posts. Maybe I’m getting lazy, or maybe it’s 3:30am again and I realise that I have something to blog about when really I should go to sleep and wait until the morning.

Well my PHP assignment is going a bit wrong and I have to submit it by 7pm today (today in the after ‘it’s after 00:00am’ sense, not the ‘new day when you wake up’ sense…)

I have to create an Apache Log Viewer thingy which takes user input via an html form for start and end days and times and then produces wonderfully detailed reports on various things from the logs. Which is fine except I don’t really know PHP and I’m a weak programmer. Plus we haven’t been taught more than basic syntax, commenting and variable manipulation in this module.

So, my thing is going ok, we were given an extension because several facilities weren’t working that we were supposed to use and I have all of my form and log file reading working ok except for one thing.

My form values are being POSTed fine across to the results page which does all of the validation before doing any calculations and whatever on them. I can echo them out no problem, except that as soon as I try to assign $_post[“whatever”] to any kind of variable or manipulate it with any kind of function, all I get is the same values every time, no matter what I enter into the form:


This is just the output of me echoing the variables’ content after trying to do anything with them. Same every time regardless of what I enter. The first 3 are the start values for day of current month, hour and minutes, the second 3 are the same for end times and the final one is a report interval in minutes. I have to produce separate reports for each interval of the specified size for the time between the start and end times. Apart from all being wrong, the minute based ones are 00 while the rest are 01.

I don’t know what the hell is wrong. All I have done with them before this is check that they are in the right range (day is not less than 1 or more than number of days in the month, minutes between 0 and 59 etc), I can still echo the posted variables correctly after this, as soon I try to do anything else they go weird and I get the same values as above each time.

I need to put them into 2 digit day or time format, eg 00-09 and then 10+ and so on but I can’t touch them because I get the above output, I can’t think why this could be, unless it’s because they’re strings and I have to cast them to ints, longs or some kind of date/time type, but I thought PHP did this for you. It would also be nice to find a checktime function, like checkdate that just checks that your values are valid times and formats them according to your whims. I’ll have to play with strftime more. Until I can solve my weird variable problem and format my days and times to be 2 digit I can’t do any date/time analysis or create separate time based reports, which means I’ll struggle for a D. Shit. Maybe I have this all wrong.

On another note, I’ve been playing with my webcam today. I’ve never really bothered with it much before because I hadn’t had much luck with it under Linux until I started using Ubuntu, even though it is supported. It’s a Philips webcam so how much longer it remains that way I don’t know.

Well anyway, I wanted to record a video clip. Couldn’t. XawTV will display the stream but won’t save it to disk. Back to Windows to give the old driver CD a whirl. Installed the utils that came with the camera way back when and recorded an extremely long clip without a problem, no dropped frames or anything, apart from that I had let it run too long and the software stopped recording at 4GB. It occured to me that this was a home-user product from the Win98 era, quick check on FAT32 file sizes and yep I was right. Max file size is 4GB. Obviously to prevent the software hanging and the OS having to intervene to stop itself going down too, the video capture app cuts the file off at 4GB. Shame, what I wanted to record would have been about 45GB. Don’t know why it didn’t get the max file size from the OS or the filesystem type. Win2k had just come out at the time (ie NTFS – 16 terrabyte max file size). There are no newer versions of this software available either unless I’m paying I guess and it’s an OEM product, probably tied to the camera model like some optical drive manufacturers do with copies of Nero.

So I’ll have to put more work in on XawTV, I’d much prefer to use Linux anyway, Windows was just a case of having to make it work quickly. I just want to be able to use it as a cheap and nasty ‘capture a moment’ type device that is easily portable with no file size problems.

After this I decided to play with setting up a webcam page on my desktop’s Apache server. I’ve been interested by this idea for a long time. I came across some useful links by chance today. I used the webcam utility (can’t find a link, you try searching google for linux webcam utility) and this tutorial and I was up in minutes. Delighted.

Whether the drinkycam ever goes live to the world is another question. I don’t really fancy having my every move publicly available (unless there was money or sex involved…) and I don’t want to have to remember to turn it around everytime I get dressed/undressed, go to sleep, pick my nose, scratch my arse or whatever people do without thinking about it when nobody is around.

In the mean time, I have to go to sleep, have a look at the Video 4 Linux resources and the Webcam Howto.


Hideously disconnected 4am thoughts

This is going to be random…

First of all I’m in a whirlwind. I have so much uni work to do I don’t know what I’m going to do. After a serious period of inactivity I’ve actually started and made some progress with my uni assignments. The major ones at the moment are my Web Based Information Systems PHP assignment and my dissertation draft report, both conveniently due on 8th April. Shit.

WBIS has been slow since I am pretty much learning PHP from scratch. Thankfully Jono from Open Advantage, Wolves LUG and LUG Radio gave me a 2 days beginners course in using LAMP in January (people looking for a pre-configured version of Apache, MySQL and PHP, Perl and a host of other stuff with a nice installer for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X and Solaris should check out XAMPP). The bad thing about this is that I haven’t been able to make the most of what I learned until this assignment and I’ve pretty much had to start from scratch. Fortunately the one thing that has stuck in my head is the syntax. My knowledge of available functions is pathetic however. I discovered late last night as my girlfriend slept beside me that I have spent about a week trying to use drop down boxes to limit user input so that I didn’t have to faff with various date formatting and then validation, when there is a function that checks if a date is valid called checkdate() which will pretty much (I assume, haven’t had chance to try it yet) take any input and give you a yes or no on whether the input is a date and whether it is a valid date (ie it picks up Feb 29th on a non-leap year). I also spent a day trying to work out how to get PHP to give me the first and last line of a ~500MB log file so I could explode them and work out the first and last date/time entries. In dispair I posted to the Wolves LUG mailing list asking if there were PHP functions similar to the Unix head and tail commands and was informed that I should use head and tail from within PHP. A quick google and there I was with shell_exec(). I’ve been going for a week and I have a week to go, I still haven’t got a D grade :-/ I’ve still got to do all the DNS lookups and chart drawing in PHP and if it it takes me a week to get a web form that doesn’t link to it’s results page yet… I just wish I had someone sitting on my shoulder to assist when I get stuck. It would speed me up by 100% easily. My girlfriend (not computer literate at all) has had to endure hours of relentless ranting about things she doesn’t understand, which usually culminates in me explaining the intricate details of things she will never understand, or need to. I know quite a lot about programming theory for an almost non-programmer and she just looks at me like a light that went out. Poor girl.

Oh, btw the way when I say I have been working on something for x units of time, you should take for granted that this time is liberally sprinkled with cigarette smoking, head scratching and frustrated swearing…

I’m really enjoying this assignment though, I haven’t written any code in maybe 2 years, I’m a terrible programmer, mainly because I’ve never taken the time to sit and learn any language properly, just enough to hack an assignment pass together and forget about. As a consequence I’ve started tentatively rewriting my site in php, I’ll do the lot before it goes live, it’s too big a job to do in public. Just working with the raw code lays bare how bad all of these WYSIWIG web editors are at writing html. I’m a real beginner at this but I can see how bad it is. Bascially Frontpage and Dreamweaver have made paragraph, font, bold and whatever else tags with alignment added for good measure to pretty much every individual item of text on every page. I’ve cut the page sizes (in KB) by around a third while keeping the same layout. Appalling.

The assignment I’m doing means I have to learn to use a language that fits in with my idea of the kind of things I need to know, which is that to be a good Linux sysadmin, I need a scripting language and some decent web coding to start the money rolling in when I finish uni. I think I’m going to have to fix Windows machines for ~รƒโ€šร‚ยฃ20 a throw when I leave uni so I have some money while I wait for my first proper job. I’m very good at hardware and software issue resolving to be honest. It’s a valuable skill to have.

I have been surprised to see that my html is pretty good, if basic. I’ve never sat and learned html, it’s amazing how much you pick up without noticing. Not that it’s hard of course. I’m certainly no web guy like Jono or Aq though. The good thing about this assignment though is that it will be easily portable to my project as an end-user style log reporting web interface for a black box internet firewall appliance. It will also be very easy to move to different log files so I will be able to display simplified log information for a range of network services to the kind of person that just wants to see if it works and if anyone has done anything nasty to their machine.

My draft dissertation is in a worse state. Because I’ve spent all my time on the PHP assignment, I’ve hardly touched my report and I now need around 8,000 fully researched words in a week. Fuck.

In other news… I bought a V Festival ticket. I went last year, it should be great. I just missed the selling out of the tickets though, we had a power cut and my alarm reset so I didn’t get to the box office, I tried to get one online but they were all sold out so like last year, I had to pay probably a third on top of the retail price to get one from ebay.

I’ve been scan reading some blogs tonight, trying to get my unread count down below 2,000 (I’m subscribed to a lot of Planets). I’ve decided that I should get up to date with some cool Mozilla Firefox extensions, like Google and ebay search extensions. I read some stuff the other day but I lost the link, so I can’t say what. It was a list of cool Firefox search extensions with feature comparisons. If anyone knows what this blog link is please let me know. It mentioned an academic one for searching ACM etc.

I finally wiped the evil that was my OEM Windows XP Home installation from my laptop and installed a preview of Ubuntu Hoary, prompted by the need for mobile tools to do my PHP assignment like Bluefish, gFTP, Apache and PHP to test it in a disconnected environment (ie my girlfriends house). It’s great apart from the installer barfed on my 2GB /var partition while downloading updated packages, so I reorganised the partitions and redid the remaining steps only to see it refuse to install GRUB. I lost about 3 hours to that and had to leave it overnight and finish up in the morning. It’s been great ever since though, I’m using it now. It sometimes feel a little sluggish but it’s a 1GHz Celeron with 256MB SDRAM, so it’s going to feel that way whether I run Windows or Linux.

I have to say, I really like Bluefish and I think gFTP is the best FTP client I’ve used on any platform.

As it went so well and it’s so close to official release time, I upgraded my main workstation from Warty to Hoary, I wanted the newer Bluefish, Gnome and Firefox and also an end to the boot slowing PCI hotplug errors that seem to be common to Warty, along with the ACPI_Power_Off called message that signifies that my machine isn’t going to power itself off. It went ok, there are a few cosmetic issues like a missing Home icon in Nautilus (fixed by a dist-upgrade about 8 hours after this post), a new Debian submenu that I don’t want and a load of KDE packages I didn’t ask for (now removed). The major bitch is that I seem to have done it at a time when various PHP packages including the apache module have been held back and can’t be installed due to dependency issues, so now I’ll have to do my assignment on my laptop until it’s fixed (fixed by a dist-upgrade as above). Xorg, which was my big fear works fine with my ATI card. I can now play Tuxracer and Tuxkart without extraneous polygons making it unplayable ๐Ÿ™‚ I also seem to have been infected by Gnometris at a time when I could do with it the least. I had to uninstall Wolf ET and Bygfoot for this very reason. Hopefully the PHP stuff will be ok in a day or 2.

Incidentally someone has taken the last free release of Tuxracer and built on it to make Planet Penguin Racer. Sure to be worth a few wasted hours. As should Thunder and Lightning, a flight sim similar to FlightGear, with added aerial combat.

I still have to decide if I’m more productive in Linux or Windows. I think the main issue is my motivation to do the work, but after moving to Ubuntu as my main OS, I set off at a trail-blazing pace for a few days, citing the joys of Open‘s turned-on-by-default word auto-completion as a major factor, but I’ve really done little written work since, I’m not sure of this is environmental or just whether I don’t really want to do the work. On this note I have to say I am really looking forward to seeing Open 2.0 hitting my desktop and hopefully, that of many other people besides.

On the topic of work again, I’m really stuck with the practical side of my project a (Linux) black box Internet firewall appliance, with local network serving (web, mail, Samba, DNS, DHCP etc) capability and web admin interface (yes I am aware of the risks of having a firewall do this kind of thing). All that remains is spam/virus mail filtering (ClamAV and Spamasassin), firewall/NAT, web interface and a specialised kernel. Oh and probably tying fetchmail into the mail system.

The firewall I will probably do in Guarddog, not a problem, I just need to finish the rest first. A kernel and fetchmail I will do at the end if I have time. The web interface is in progress, thanks to my other assignment. The problem I have is that probably since Christmas time I’ve been trying to find a simple to read guide on tying ClamAV and Spamassassin into a Postfix mail system on Debian. There doesn’t seem to be such a document. I’ve read quite a lot (not enough as it seems to be written in Hebrew to my eyes) on the subject and still don’t have a a good understanding of what I have to do. A lot of the things I’ve read seem to be for Red Hat 8.0. And Debian do things differently. I had to abandon Cyrus-IMAP for this reason. Mail filtering is pretty core to my project, I wish someone would just fall from the sky and show me how to make it work, but I guess I’m just going to have to sit and read all of the ClamAV, Spamassassin and Postfix docs and work out what applies and what doesn’t. As if I wasn’t short of time already.

I think all this uni stuff adds up to the fact that I’m in deep shit and if I don’t fail, I’ll be lucky to get a reasonable degree at all. 6 years and รƒยฏร‚ยฟร‚ยฝ25,000 of graduate debt doesn’t seem worth it for a 3rd class degree and a crap job.

I think I’m near the end now. Aside from uni work, I have no money. Which is bad, I’m having to live off my Barclaycard at a highest-in-the-country ~19% APR. And it’s my best friend’s girlfriend’s birthday this weekend. My friend Lindsay is coming from London for the weekend, Chris wants me to accompany him on a night out, all on the same night and another friend, Rebecca who I used to work with is having a birthday drink on Sunday. Sadly I don’t have enough money for my friend’s girlfriend’s birthday as they’re taking a train to Birmingham (รƒโ€šร‚ยฃ30 return taxi fair), going for a meal and a night out. I feel bad but I just can’t make my empty pockets stretch to that. My friend from London is visiting her mum for her birthday which I can afford (ie no cost ;)), but I’m not sure if I can stretch to a night out afterwards with Chris or Rebecca. I’m back at uni after Easter on Monday so Sunday night will be panic night. Sorry to everyone who loses out (ie is pissed off at me for not going to their thing), but I just don’t have any money for these things, nor do I have the time to take out to do them. Saturday night is the one night I do take out for chilling (aka partying), but I’ve hardly been out in weeks with the cash shortage, so much so that when I bumped into Chris and Holdsworth almost by chance the other day, they hugged me like a long lost friend and looked at me with amazement that I was in front of them.

On one or 2 final notes. I attended the Wolves LUG meeting on Wednesday briefly, which was cool because I haven’t been able to go for some time. And also, I ought to trumpet LUG Radio Live once again. Linux stuff, Linux people, Linux jokes, getting drunk with Linux people and playing LAN games like Wolf ET are all up for the taking on June 25th 2005 at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, UK. Tickets are รƒโ€šร‚ยฃ5, people are coming from as far as France, Canada, Sweden and erm… Wolverhampton to be there. I am, are you? Read the Lug Radio Live forum, people are even trying to help you find a hotel in the area.

Speaking of events, Aq asked me at the LUG meeting if I was planning to go to What The Hack. I certainly am, it will be my first proper computer festival, in the music festival kind of way (ie sitting in a field with a laptop and a load of stoned geeks). I just have to raise some cash.

I think thats it. It’s 5:45am. If you read this before 3pm Friday 1st April 2005, I’ll add all of the links in later… I’ll also probably fix the typos and add all of the other things that my Swiss-cheesed brain had forgotten. I still have about 6 unwritten/unfinished articles waiting to be posted on here, some of which as are actually quite intelligent, unlike this one. This is just a bulk update.

It’s been a while since I last said anything useful on here so, this accounts for the last 2 weeks of blog inactivity, sorry to give it all to you at once, in no particular order and without suitable headings. God help Google when it tries to pull anything useful out of this lot for search results.

Oh, ok, that reminded me, one last thing. The search terms people use that have caused people to read my site and my blog are hilarious and quite impressive all at the same time. The impressive ones are the stuff about Linux, networks and computers in general, I never thought people would actually use them as any kind of authoritive resource (thats not say that they did). The funny ones include ‘Does Posh Spice take it up the arse?‘, ‘Prague Street Prostitutes‘, ‘ ‘most scorpios are murdered‘, ‘hopeless bastard‘, ‘world record ejaculation’, ‘world record for semen swallowed‘ and a worrying amount of hits for ‘ladyboy‘. I might link to the relevent pages when I get up so you can all read it again and see what pages people actually got.

Shit, I just did a word count on this post, about 2,600. That would do for one of my assignments.

I’m going to bed, goodnight ๐Ÿ˜€

Gentoo Sparc kernel 2.4 Xorg and Sun Type 5 keyboards

I noticed from the web search terms in Awstats for my blog that some of the hits I’ve been getting is from people searching for help with Sun Type 5 keyboards, 2.4 kernels and Xorg 6.7/6.8 on Sparc(64), in some cases, using Gentoo.

For that reason I’ve decided to make another post on this as I’ve done some more digging around, but still don’t have a solution. The point of this post is to point people searching for this problem at the stuff I’ve found.

It seem this is a known issue with Xorg, 2.4 series kernels and Sun Type 5 keyboards. I refer you to Gentoo Bug 61940. I’ve read the bug report and all of the comments and it seems theres no quick workaround at the moment.

The issue is that for Xorg 6.7/6.8, the old keyboard driver is deprecated and people needing that driver should use the new kbd driver. Unfortunately, the kbd driver doesn’t work properly with Sun Type 5 keyboards.

The best solution seems to be to use a Gentoo 2.6 kernel (apologies if you have this problem and aren’t using Gentoo) but this doesn’t look straightforward (but possibly easier than installing Gentoo in the first place ;)), or compiling Xorg with the deprecated keyboard driver, but I haven’t looked into how to do this yet. I guess it’s just a question of having the time to do it for me. I guess using XFree86 is another option but I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere, I’m not sure if Gentoo are still shipping it.

In the meantime, I offer a list of Gentoo Sparc links:

Misc Sparc Wiki.
Gentoo Sparc Development.
Gentoo Sparc forums.
Sun Type 5c keyboard Sparc forums thread.
Ferris McCormick (Gentoo Sparc guy).
Ferris’ notes on the keyboard problem (at the bottom).

I aim to make more comments/updates as I work out how to sort this out.

Ubuntu Jingle released

It’s not great, it’s not pretty but I have finally made the Ubuntu jingle for LUG Radio. To be honest, after all the fanfare thats been made about it, it’s not even very good.

You can download it from here.

Well it’s been a nightmare to produce. 3 soundcards, 5 machines and 3 operating systems have been used during the process (Ubuntu, Dynebolic and ahem… Windows (for testing my soundcard against Linux)). It’s taken me 3 and a half months to get around to finishing it. Mostly due to other commitments, but there was a great deal of hassle with soundcards and machines.

The final version was done under Dynebolic Linux, although the drum track was made under Hydrogen in Ubuntu. It’s a completely open source project. Unfortunately Ubuntu just did not like recording a live voice from a microphone.

Well there it is. It’s done. Maybe sometime in the future I will get around to cleaning it up a bit. The vocal tracks need compressing and probably a bit of EQing as the B’s of Ubuntu tend to boom a little. In fact I just remembered that I didn’t add any echo or reverb so it will sound pretty dry. Perhaps for v 0.2?

In short it’s a bit crap and it’s been a pain in the ass to do, but I did it. At last.

Soundcards, disk imaging and life in general

My new Creative Labs Soundblaster Live 5.1 soundcard arrived today and… It works. Kind of. I have sound and no boot errors so thats a good thing. What I don’t seem to have is 5.1 surround sound on my 5.1 surround sound speakers, I just get left, right and bass woofer, all of which are on speaker output 2. Outputs 1 and 3, which are front and left and right rear respectively don’t seem to get any output. Maybe ALSA doesn’t do surround sound or you have to pass parameters to the module or something I don’t know.

The mic input, which is the point of buying a new card, seems OKish, but not perfect. I can hear myself through the speakers, but when recording in Audacity I get the same deeeeeeep, bitty ouput I had on my old Dell machine under Dynebolic when I mounted the hard disk as /home. Imagine a cross between an audio cassette being played back slowly and a video clip that is playing at the right speed but dropping frames like nobodys business. Something like that. Weird. I am optimistic however. The main problem under Dynebolic on my Dell machine was that it only had 128MB RAM and it ran out after about 4 or 5 audio tracks. At least on my main machine I have a GB to play with and should be able to do a reasonable job.

As a side note, Woo from Wolves LUG brought Agnula to my attention the other day. It’s a European Commission funded project to create an Open Source audio and multimedia development platform for both business and consumers. I’ll have to take a look some time when I’m not trying to escape the ever growing list of university work I should be doing.

I spent ages today trying to create a disk image of my laptop so I can just wipe it and install Ubuntu. After all of the aggro I had with Tiny, I’m keen to keep a disk image of the OEM Windows install they did in case they ever give me problems about it again. So, first off, Norton Ghost doesn’t do PCMCIA network cards so I can’t do it that way, so I’m down to my 2.2GB mini USB hard disk. This was kind of ok, just slooooow. Plus the disk images were bigger than the USB disk so I had to unplug the USB disk move it to my desktop, copy the image over and then put it back in the the laptop to get the next part of the image. The pain in the ass was that for the last part of the process, it asked for the first image file, which meant copying the last part onto my desktop, putting the first part back on the USB disk, letting Ghost do it’s business and then copying the image back across to my desktop. This is fine but each transfer took about 8 minutes or so. Nevertheless I made a pretty comprehensive backup set. A little extravagant even.

I made an image of the restore partition, an image of the main partition with my own preferred setup, then one of the entire disk, should anything ever go wrong. The only problem was that the last image took something like 3 hours to create, including the copying process and then when I had to put the first image back in so Ghost could (I assume) write how many image files the whole image spans into the first image, it couldn’t recognise the USB disk again no matter what I did. I had to reboot it in the end and lose the image. I’ll try again at some point when I have time to burn (some time next century).

On that topic, I’m seriously getting snowed under with uni work. I think I might be in serious trouble soon, I’m getting further and further behind and I’m getting really worried. I would have tried one of the open source disk imaging options I listed the other day but I just didn’t have the time to learn the idiosyncrasies of a new piece of software, I needed to get it done, this wasn’t quite the case in the end of course, but that wasn’t the point…

As a final thing, I notice that U-Turn is on TV as I write this. Thats one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. The first time I saw it, my friend and I just sat there looking back and forth between the TV and each other going, “???”. We thought it was just shit. Or we had completely missed something and it was in fact a work of genius which we just didn’t get. But we were pretty certain it was the first option and told everyone who would listen. Then I saw it a few years back and it’s actually pretty good, if you can surivive how odd it is. It’s a really weird film crammed with huge names and uncomfortable cinematography. The opening paragraph of the above review captures the film almost perfectly. Weird film…