Diary of a geek

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Andrew Pollock


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Sunday, 28 November 2004


The results for Semester 2 finally came out today. I passed everything.

I managed a distinction for COMP2400, the Relational Database subject I was really slack about, and it turns out I was 1% off getting a distinction for COMP1110 as well, the Java programming subject I had issues with recursion with. I managed an even 50% (so a pass) for the maths and finance subjects (I was particularly concerned about the finance one, I really felt bad about the final exam).

So I've got mixed emotions about the results. I'm happy with the distinction, disappointed I missed out on a distinction by 1%, relieved I got a pass for finance, and surprised I only mustered 50% for maths. But it's all good. I'm sitting on a credit grade point average.

I think that leaves me with another semester of second year, and all of third year. I'll try and go and see the Associate Dean this week and confirm that, and if that is the case, I'll see if work will allow me to do two subjects a semester for next year...

[23:17] [uni] [permalink]

Saturday, 27 November 2004

Everyone needs a Planet

I finally got around to setting up planet.andrew.net.au so I can aggregate all the feeds I read (and ones I haven't been reading) into one place. I have to give big fat kudos to Scott and Jeff for making it so easy to set up.

Now I just need to make it look sexy...

[19:48] [geek] [permalink]

The week in review

Well, the first week back at work has been… hectic.

It's been quite the shock to the system going from full-time Uni student back to full-time employee. 8 hours feels like forever.

I was issued a laptop on my first day, which was rather impressive. The problem was, it was installed with Windows XP according to the new company SOE, which may be well and good for one of the sales people, or someone who worked in one of the company offices, but I'm working out onsite at a client, with a LAN that is nothing like what the SOE expects.

I have two LANs that I can connect to: a management LAN, which has DHCP but no Internet access, and a filtered Internet accessable LAN, from where we can VPN back into the office LAN so that we can read our email, and surf the web and whatnot. This LAN doesn't do DHCP.

Problem number 1 is that as I don't have local Administrator access to my laptop (Power User would probably suffice), I can't statically set an IP address, so I can't get onto the Internet LAN to VPN into the office LAN, so I can't read my work email, and I can't submit my timesheets.

Problem number 2 is that on the management LAN, we have to set a few static routes to access a few networks, and as I don't have local Administrator access, I can't do that. So this SOE is making it extremely difficult to do my job. I'm currently using another random clunky laptop that was spare as my computer on the management LAN, and my work laptop in Linux on the Internet LAN for general Internet access, however as the smartcard software only works under Windows, I'm unable to VPN into the office.

Finally, I can't install software, so to start with, all I had was Office and the VPN software. I needed at least PuTTY, preferably Firefox, and probably VNC to be reasonably productive. There's also a few firewall GUIs that I might need installed. The SOE is generally quite unworkable.

My boss' boss' boss has unofficially told me that I can "take whatever steps necessary in order to do my job". I think that's going to have to entail hosing the laptop and reinstalling it. I'd really like to tow the company line (I'm the first person out on this client's site to be running the new SOE) but it's just not going to be workable for me in its current state. I'm just trying to make sure I'm not going to get myself into trouble company-policy-wise, or license-wise.

[03:51] [work] [permalink]

My first bug squashing party

With Sarah away for the whole weekend riding to Mount Kosciusko and back for the Hartley Ability Challenge, I thought I might as well pop up to Sydney for the bug squashing party.

As it happened, it was also a SLUGCode Fest, and there were more people there code festing than there were DD's bug squishing.

I ended up working mainly on setting the maintainer to the QA group for orphaned packages, but I fixed at least one RC bug in the process. I found it a bit distracting being in a room full of other people. In hindsight, I probably would have achieved more by going somewhere with network access (like the University library) and just dedicating half a day or the whole day to doing Debian work.

[03:18] [debian] [permalink]

Thursday, 25 November 2004

Work laptop

Apparently I managed to be allocated a work laptop in record time (i.e. the day I started). I scored a Dell Latitude D600. It came with the preinstalled company SOE of Windows XP (and it's a shite SOE at that). That night, I shrank the NTFS partition and installed Sarge in the spare space I'd created. I have to say that I think that QTParted is extremely cool. I have some rescue CD, the name which currently eludes me, which has QTParted on it, and I just booted off that, and shrank the NTFS partition, as easy as falling off a log.

Linux seems to work particularly well on this laptop. The video works without any special treatment, the onboard Ethernet is a Tigon3, which seemed to work fine without the firmware, the onboard wireless is an Intel 2200BG, which worked find once I downloaded and built the driver. I think it even has IR, but I haven't tried getting that working yet, and it has a serial port. The keyboard doesn't suck too much either. Apart from the screen size (which isn't that bad, it's 14.1", but does 1280x1024, but apparently according to the webpage, can be coerced into doing 1400x1050, which I must try), it's not a bad little laptop. The battery life is fairly reasonable as well. I've just hit 2 hours with the wireless on, and I've arguably got another 40 minutes remaining.

I only discovered that to get suspend to disk working, I needed to make my swap partition 30% larger than my available RAM, after I'd already installed with a swap partition equal to my RAM amount, so I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that, as I'm reluctant to reinstall again.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. I might consider buying one personally.

[02:06] [tech] [permalink]

Saturday, 20 November 2004


On the weekend I went camping at Pebbly Beach in the Murramarang National Park, with Bec, Mel and Neil from my old Rover crew.

I had a great time. We didn't do a lot, just lazed around. I finally managed to finish of the second half of Dude, Where's My Country?, which I had to put down months ago when Uni started getting a bit demanding.

I've never seen such a wide variety of tame wildlife in the one place. In the 24 hours we were there, I saw heaps of rosella parrots, a huge goanna, a very friendly possum, and some extremely friendly kangaroos. The kangaroos were the most fun. They turned up in the morning, and quickly figured out how to open a bag of unopened chips that were lying around the campsite, and proceeded to make short work of them. As you can see from the photos, they weren't satisfied with the chips, and I had to fend them off lest they get stuck into the bread as well.

[20:17] [life] [permalink]

Thursday, 18 November 2004

Uber RAM

I've decided since I'm going to be administering predominantly Solaris (blerk) in my new job, I should probably brush up on it a bit. I really hate Solaris, and I plan on bagging out Solaris 10 once I've actually had a thorough look at it (it really doesn't seem to have changed much in terms of user-space since Solaris 2.6, but I'd like to check that for myself).

Apparently the minimum requirement for RAM for Solaris 10 is a whopping 512MB, which I was rather taken aback by. The Ultra 5 under my bed, that used to be used predominantly to read me the weather in the morning as an alarm clock (Festival is a wonderful thing) only had 128MB, so today I managed to acquire another 512MB of RAM from the controversial CLUG character who is always peddling hardware. So now what is probably the crappiest box in the house has the most RAM.

Annoyingly, the two 256MB sticks I bought today are double-height, and Sun, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the DIMM slots should be half underneath the floppy drive, so the net result of the additional RAM is that I can no longer put the floppy drive enclosure in the box, and I have a gaping hole in the front. Oh well.

[20:06] [tech] [permalink]

On believing what other people say of your abilities

So I'd been planning on having a crack at doing the CCNA exam, more or less cold-turkey, because several people (including at least two with the CCNA certification) said I'd pass it without a problem.

So with Uni out of the way for the year, and few days up my sleeves before I had to start my new job I thought I'd book myself in for the exam and give it a shot.

I spent yesterday morning doing a spot of Googling to get a feel for the material, and I started to think that maybe I didn't know enough in some of the areas. It was too late to cancel or reschedule, so I had to go through with it. I figured if I was going to blow my money, I might as well blow it trying to pass, rather than not showing up.

I rocked up to the local Prometric training centre and gave it a go. The delivery of the exam was pretty ordinary. It was all computer-based, with a mixture of various types of multiple-choice. I enjoyed the simulator based ones because they're the ones where you actually have to think a bit more and do something vaguely real-life (which is why I enjoy the Red Hat Certified Engineer exam so much). The format of the exam sucked in that you couldn't proceed without answering the question in front of you, and you couldn't go back and revise your answer later, so you had to be damn sure on the spot, or else write the question off as a guess.

Turns out that I failed. Golden rule: take with a grain of salt what others say about your abilities before ploughing into the unknown. In hindsight, my Cisco exposure is broad, but in that breadth, I haven't gone into enough areas in enough depth to pick up the knowledge to pass the exam using my general knowledge alone. Areas that I need to work on are VLANs and routing protocols, particularly OSPF and (E)IGRP. The pass mark is pretty high as well. I think I was about 100 points off the pass mark, and I'm not sure if that equates to an inch or a mile. The possible score ranges from 300 to 1000, with about 850 being the passing mark.

So I think I'll buy a book and focus on how the various routing protocols tick, and have another crack in a few months.

[14:49] [tech] [permalink]


Well I had my last exam on Wednesday. Two exams in one day really sucks. My brain felt like mush by the end of the day, and I think I might be starting to come down with something (it's always the way, as soon as you can take a bit of a break, your body just goes to pieces).

I'm a bit worried I might have screwed up my Finance subject, but I only have to wait anxiously for a couple of weeks.

At this stage, I don't intend to go back next year, but I'll see how I'm feeling once I'm settled into my job, and I've got my results, and I know how many subjects I've got left. I'm entertaining the idea (assuming I have four subjects left to get to third year) of studying part-time next year, just so I can get to third year. Then I'll probably throw the degree back on the shelf until such time that I'm feeling rich enough (or game enough) to take another year off and try and get over the line.

[14:24] [uni] [permalink]

Monday, 15 November 2004

New package

I think I was lurking on #sage-au the other day and someone mentioned dstat, which I hadn't heard of before. I had a quick look into it, and it sounded useful, and wasn't in Debian already (gasp). So tonight I packaged it up, filed an ITP and uploaded it.

[01:38] [debian] [permalink]

Friday, 12 November 2004

Laptop hunting day 1

At the moment, I've settled on getting another VAIO, with the particular model of interest being the VGNA29G.

Since it seems that the Linux on laptop scene has changed a lot since I last really followed it, I'm quite concerned about doing my homework before making the purchase. I decided I'd try running a live CD on one to see how much of a mess it got into. So today, I burned the Ubuntu Warty Live CD and trundled off to the local Domayne.

The sales droids were quite good about letting me have a bash with Linux on a floor model. I had a couple looking over my shoulder because they'd "never seen this Linux thing before". So far it looks encouraging. The CD did all the right stuff, it brought up X, it detected the onboard Ethernet adapter, it made some noises about detecting but failing to load firmware for the ipw2200 wireless adapter. I scribbled down the PCI IDs of the video, wireless Ethernet and audio devices and will do a bit more homework before making the decision to buy it.

It makes me sad how most current laptops on the market no longer come with a serial port, let alone an infra-red interface. I don't know how much a couple of UARTs cost, but it seems the laptop industry has universally decided "to hell with that", which is a shame. In my job I'll be wanting to manage via the console switches, routers, other appliances made by Cisco and Sun hardware. In my limited experience with USB serial adapters, I've found that they just aren't the same as the genuine article, particularly when it comes to sending breaks.

The lack of an IR interface is a real bummer, because I have this funky Polar heart rate monitor, with a watch that has an IR interface for transferring exercise data to a (Windows) application for graphing and general record keeping. It means I'll have to get yet another USB dongle if I want to try and continue using that.

[22:32] [tech] [permalink]


I came home this afternoon to find my Sony VAIO PCG-F590 laptop making loud ominious clicking sounds. It seems that the hard drive has died.

Give the laptop is getting old, and I've replaced the battery once, and it's on its second keyboard, I think I might let it go this time. That said, it's not going to be a total loss. I'll make a bootable Linux CD, and I'll mount a filesystem via NFS, and shove it under the bed to replace the Ultra 5. It's got a significantly better soundcard than the Ultra 5, and will do a much clearer job of reading the weather forecasts with Festival.

Apparently my new employer is going to issue me with a laptop, and I can also salary sacrifice a laptop if I wish, which I might look at doing. Soon I'll have laptops coming out of my ears. All the better to test d-i with.

Now I just need to work out if contemporary VAIOs are worth buying, or if I should consider getting something else. I'm very fussy about keyboards, so one of the 12" X40's is probably not going to be for me, despite all the rave reviews from other people. I wouldn't mind something that'll do more than 1024x768 as well. And the wireless must work properly with Linux, preferably with a chipset conducive to running in monitor mode so I can do a spot of wardriving when the urge grabs me. I can feel a few laptop window shopping trips coming up...

[05:24] [tech] [permalink]


Proving that it's not what you know, it's what people who you know already know about what you know, I've decided to accept a position back from whence I came. Except they've been busy working on changing their name since I departed.

Given that working there nearly sent me insane last time, and I chose to leave the workforce altogether and go back to university for a year to clear my head, why the heck am I going back you ask?

What's that, you didn't? I'll tell you anyway.

Granted, there is no way on God's Green Earth, you'd get me to set foot in operations again (even though I have a higher chance of fiddling with Debian there, because I managed to get it in the door last time I was there), but there are other business units within the company that I'd be prepared to have a crack at. Hopefully they won't break me in a hurry.

I'm going to work in the Professional Services business unit, and initially I'll be working onsite at one of the company's larger Australia Government agency clients, but longer term hopefully I'll be working in the Systems Integration team. Hopefully I'll learn some new stuff. I start the Monday after my final exams. I managed to negotiate three weeks off around linux.conf.au so I can run around like a headless chook.

[05:13] [life] [permalink]

Tuesday, 09 November 2004

Happy 1.1 billion seconds since 1970

Tragic, but I happened to be running pbuilder about five minutes prior, and noticed all the 9's. As I managed to miss when the epoch ticked over to 1 billion, I had to sit back and watch it roll over to 1100000000.

[03:37] [geek] [permalink]

Monday, 08 November 2004


I've just started having a flick through all the paper submissions, and boy, have we got some good sounding material. I can see some logical tracks forming. Can't wait for the next meeting where we finalise who's speaking.

[03:02] [lca] [permalink]

Conference letterhead

So we look a tad more organised, I've knocked up some quick and dirty letterhead for written correspondence. It was my first attempt to really use OpenOffice, and I felt a bit like a fish out of water.

[03:01] [lca] [permalink]

linux.conf.au (the domain) is back

Well it's been a few months in coming, but kre has finally delegated linux.conf.au back into existence. How kind of him.

[03:00] [lca] [permalink]

Saturday, 06 November 2004

More QA work

It never ends (especially when some guy's 71 packages get orphaned because he's MIA).

I made QA uploads of libdigest-md4-perl, wmtz and wyg at some ridiculous time in the morning because I couldn't sleep. More annoying is something is wrong with either my proxy, or PlanetMirror's Debian mirror, because the apt-get update that gets run by pbuilder on each build takes longer than the build itself, which is driving me up the wall...

In other news, the upstream for beecrypt got back to me regarding my issues building on ARM, and it's apparently a known bug with the stack execution protection detection in the configure script, and is fixed in the upcoming release, so I'll hold off uploading that package until the new version comes out.

[06:51] [debian] [permalink]

Friday, 05 November 2004

Some more QA housekeeping

Today I made QA uploads of clig and genparse, setting the maintainer to the QA group.

I also had a fiddle with beecrypt. I broke from my usual practice of not doing anything as intrusive as a new upstream release in a QA upload, because there was a single bug open for over a year, relating to some endianness issues on ARM. I figured that as upstream had done quite a few releases since the version currently in Debian, it was worthwhile updating it, as it might fix this particular bug.

I even went as far as trying to build it on an ARM box, however the build failed, for some strange reasons:

checking for uint64_t... yes
checking for unsigned long... yes
checking size of unsigned long... configure: error: cannot compute sizeof (unsigned long), 77
See `config.log' for more details.
make: *** [configure-stamp] Error 1

with config.log saying stuff like

configure:31469: gcc -o conftest -O3 -fomit-frame-pointer -Wa,--noexecstack -D_FILE_OFFSET_BITS=64 -DOPTIMIZE_ARM -z noexecstack conftest.c -lpthread >&5
gcc: noexecstack: No such file or directory
configure:31472: $? = 1
configure: program exited with status 1
configure: failed program was:

so I am holding off uploading that one until upstream (or someone with more gcc/autoconf juju than me) gets back to me.

[16:28] [debian] [permalink]

Monday, 01 November 2004

A bit of Halloween humour

The SANS Internet Storm Center incident handler's diary has an amusing read. If only it were true...

[18:16] [humour] [permalink]

If I were American...

  • I'd be outraged about the amount of money Bush has spent on a needless war in Iraq, rather than in my own country,
  • I'd be outraged about the number of American soliders who have died in a needless war in Iraq,
  • I'd be outraged that Bush hasn't done more to find Osama Bin Laden,
  • I'd be outraged that Bush won't ratify Kyoto, even after Florida's been half wiped off the map after repeated hurricanes, probably due to climate change (they'll consider towing icebergs up there to lower the water temperature instead),
  • I'd be outraged at how Bush has handled the American economy in general,
  • I'd be outraged at how Bush has negatively affected the world's perceptions of America, and
  • I'd sure as hell be exercising my franchise in this presidential election.

But then again, I was fairly outraged at Howard for some of the above reasons, and yet I managed to be in the minority in the recent Federal election, so go figure. Maybe I'm just out of touch with reality...

[16:24] [opinion] [permalink]