Diary of a geek

September 2005
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Andrew Pollock

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Friday, 30 September 2005

BAM!

Tonight, Sarah and I went to see the Warehouse Circus' latest production, BAM!, at the Canberra Street Theatre.

The main reason (well the only reason we knew it existed) was because my study buddy Tiane was in it.

I've never been to a performance at the Canberra Street Theatre before, and the theatre itself was really first rate. So was the performance. It was an inspirational combination of dance, acrobatics, juggling and pantomime. I can't remember the last time I went to see a live stage performance (excluding stand-up comedy). Tiane was really awesome too. She's so strong. She was a corner-stone in many of the performances that involved people stacked on each other, and did a really cool solo trapeze act. It was a great night out for not a lot of money. Canberra's own Cirque du Soleil.

The live music the performances was done to was fantastic as well. A good combination of techno and trance, with some really phat bass that really got my innards resonating. Oh and did I mention I thoroughly enjoyed myself?

If you're in Canberra, go see it. It's well worth the money.

[05:37] [life] [permalink]

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Pure gold

Sarah sent me this link about a prank someone played on an eBay scammer...

[21:44] [humour] [permalink]

Kynan didn't break my mail server

Kynan is publicly flagellating himself for allegedly breaking my mail server.

Thing is, while he did manage to create a virtual forwarding loop, he only did for his own domain, not everybody else, so it's not like it actually inconvenienced anybody or anything...

[20:46] [tech] [permalink]

But I don't want to be patent encumbered!

[00:20] [geek] [permalink]

Monday, 26 September 2005

Wow

Ozlabs have a band! Cool!

[13:58] [clug] [permalink]

Friday, 23 September 2005

Thank goodness for irssi's nick highlighting

Or I might never have known about this photo from the SAGE-AU 2003 conference in Hobart...

[06:18] [life] [permalink]

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Oh the humanity!

So I dropped out of Uni this semester, and that included dropping out of a subject on concurrency, and here I am at work trying to deal with a problem of multiple scripts writing to a FIFO concurrently, and I'm trying to devise a solution whereby they'll only write one at a time, and also there won't be starvation.

Ye gods, the practical application of something at Uni. Who would have thought? But I dropped out... Argh.

[19:00] [work] [permalink]

Monday, 19 September 2005

There is no escape

So, I have been officially redeployed back to the client's site I was previously working in. So much for my little sabbatical at the office, and catching the bus... Ah well.

[18:05] [work] [permalink]

Sunday, 18 September 2005

I swear our cat is bulimic

She just barfs everywhere. Well, not quite everywhere. Almost exclusively on the carpet. Tonight, she came into the lounge room pretty much purely for the purpose of throwing up, and left again.

She loves to eat, and I think that's the problem. She bolts down her food, and then tends to throw up again shortly afterwards. I think we'll have to drop her back to a diet of purely dry food, and in strict rations, and see how that goes. We're both getting a bit sick of cleaning up cat vomit off the carpet. So far, we seem to have escaped any significant damage. We'll have to wait and see how the carpet steam cleans up at the end of the lease.

[02:26] [life] [permalink]

Saturday, 17 September 2005

New video card and battling with Windows 2000 to get it to use it

So I ventured out to the Computer Fair at Woden CIT (my least favourite venue), and acquired myself a new video card to replace the one that had died recently.

I don't really follow developments in PC hardware, and I didn't really know what to get. Rick is violently against ATI, so I decided to stick with nVidia, since the previous card was an nVidia GeForce2 MX or something like that.

So Sarah and I set out with the intention of getting a GeForce4 MX 440, which seemed to be nice and bottom-of-the-line. I was expecting to pay through the nose for a new video card, and I really didn't need anything terribly whiz-bang.

It turned out that there wasn't anything of that ilk available, and the prices were a lot lower than I was expecting. We got a GeForce 6200 with 256M of RAM for $95. In hindsight, I probably should have used the list of supported cards that the XFree86/X.org nv driver spits out when it can't find a supported card, but I managed to get the card working under X.org with the nVidia binary driver.

Getting Windows 2000 to play ball turned out to be a far more difficult problem. What ended up being the problem was Windows, in its infinite wisdom, decided to reenable all the disabled devices when it found some new hardware. I have to disable my Fusion HDTV-Plus DVB card under Windows, because (I think due to a card/motherboard/ACPI issue), Windows gives a BSOD on bootup with the driver enabled.

I didn't realise straight away that this card been reenabled, and so I was trying to boot into Safe Mode so I could try and take stock of the situation. The problem was, I couldn't log in as Administrator in Safe Mode, and I still have no idea why. After using the extremely useful Offline NT Password & Registry Editor to attempt to reset the Administrator password from Linux, I still had no joy, and tried booting into Safe Mode with Networking instead. At least then I could log in as myself, authenticating against my domain (which is implemented by a Samba server). I could then disabled the DVB card and boot normally to install the right video card driver.

Windows is such a prat of a thing when it breaks.

[19:57] [tech] [permalink]

Thursday, 15 September 2005

I love devscripts

Every time I fossick around in the devscripts package I find something new and useful. Today's find was the tagpending script.

I've been getting into the habit of the good practise of tagging the bugs I've fixed as pending. Particularly so for dhcp3, as it has a truckload of bugs, and I tend to spend a lot of time working on them to knock off as many as possible before making an upload. Until now, I'd been fixing the bug, adding it to the changelog, and then marking it as pending with the also lovely bts command.

Well tonight, while trying to re-find dd-list, I discovered tagpending, which scans the changelog, queries the BTS via LDAP, and automatically marks and bugs closed in the changelog as pending that aren't already.

Nice one Joshua!

[05:27] [debian] [permalink]

Back at the office - the first fortnight in review

So, as I mentioned previously, my stint working on site at one of my company's clients ended at the end of last month due to contractual headcount reductions. I returned to the general Professional Services pool in at the office.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks, and I get the distinct impression that they don't really know what to do with me. This is partly of my own making, as I have been totally frank an honest with my management about an opportunity to work overseas that arose months ago. That has gotten to the point where I'm just waiting for the visa to get sorted out, and then I'm pretty much going to resign. Problem is, I have no real idea of when the visa is going to be ready, so therefore I can't give anyone, myself included, a better idea of time-frames than "probably November".

So for the first week and a bit, I sat at the desk of a project manager who was on leave, and did bits and pieces of a number of projects. The work was very stop-start though, and I found this a bit unsettling, as Professional Services is all about billable hours, and I didn't want to have big wads of unbillable time on my timesheet where I'd been twiddling my thumbs.

On Monday, when the project manager returned, I relocated to the "hot desk" - a desk intentionally kept vacant for visiting members of staff from other offices. That lasted until about lunchtime yesterday, when I was asked if I could help out with a stack of documentation relating to the old client whose site I used to work at, that needed to be done by the end of the month. So then I relocated upstairs to the NOC.

Then my old boss called me this afternoon and asked me if I'd prefer to go back to the client's site for a couple of weeks to help bail out a hardware upgrade project that had gone off the rails. I'd much rather to that than go batty trying to write gateway design documentation, so I agreed. I just have to wait for a new building pass to be issued.

So, in summary, I feel like I'm a bit... unallocated. But I guess that is the price I have to pay for being upfront and honest about probably leaving the company. I get to keep getting paid until I leave, and they get to throw me wherever suits them. C'est la vie.

[01:17] [work] [permalink]

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

On the price of petrol

Got this via email this morning...

You
know the world has changed when your car's drink costs more than your own.

[15:58] [life] [permalink]

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

So it's not just me...

...who is freaked out by Jon's desire to implant an RFID tag in his hand.

[16:56] [life] [permalink]

Monday, 12 September 2005

The Six Dumbest Ideas in Computer Security

[18:59] [tech/security] [permalink]

I smell some carnage coming up

Or "Don't reboot your net-booting clients if you've just upgraded your DHCP server"

For reasons of RFC correctness, the ISC has changed the behaviour of their DHCP server, within a maintenance release, between versions 3.0.2 and 3.0.3.

Specifically, the next-server attribute defaults to zeros if not set, whereas previously it defaulted to the address of the DHCP server. So, upgrading has the potential to break setups that previously worked.

It doesn't help that the upstream manpage for dhcpd.conf doesn't appear to have been updated to reflect this change. That'd be #327829.

I put a NEWS.Debian into the 3.0.3 release of the package that's just hit testing, but I'm wondering if in the interests of full(est) disclosure, it's better to use a selectively displayed debconf note instead? I think I'll do that for the next revision of the package, just to avoid surprise, as the NEWS.Debian file doesn't get translated, and doesn't really get put in your face unless you have apt-listchanges installed and appropriately configured.

[17:20] [debian] [permalink]

Sunday, 11 September 2005

dh-make-perl rocks!

I had the need for Schedule::At today, and as it isn't in Debian, I thought I'd have a play with dh-make-perl to make a package out of it, rather than just slapping it on my server.

I was very pleased to discover that making a package out of (at least a trivial) Perl module is as easy as falling off a log. It only fell down on dependency determination. It failed to declare a build-dependency on at and so one of the tests failed when built under pbuilder. It also appears to have failed to declare an install-time dependency on at as well.

Other than that, it worked great. I especially liked the fact that I didn't even need to have the source tarball - it just went off and fetched it for me, using the CPAN module.

I'll never use the CPAN module to install Perl modules that aren't shipped with Debian again...

It's kinda weird how it's named dh-make-perl, when dh_make uses an underscore...

[23:54] [debian] [permalink]

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

Who's the most forgotten mirror admin of them all?

This is the way we fill the mirror,
fill the mirror,
fill the mirror.

This is the way we fill the mirror, on a wet and rainy Canberra afternoon.

(With apologies to Playschool)

Cacti graph showing utilisation of /srv
increasing

[00:18] [tech] [permalink]

Friday, 09 September 2005

Discovering the pluses of buses

Or "Taking ACTION"

(I wonder how many more ACTION slogans I can cram in here?)

ACTION is the Australian Capital Territory's Internal Omnibus Network. I was so stoked when I discovered that was an acronym... It's got "omnibus" in it. Yeah!

Anyway, enough of the acronym, and the advertising slogans. With petrol prices bursting through the "ludicrous" level and rapidly approaching "fucking insane", when Sarah decided today to ride her bike to work instead of carpooling with me, I thought I'd give catching the bus to work a go.

We've got it pretty good. There's a bus stop right outside the entrance of our townhouse complex.

The first bus plus I discovered this morning was that you stand a much greater chance of getting to where you want to go if you get on the right bus. There are two different bus routes that go past the bus stop outside our place, but only one of them goes past my work. For some reason, I'd completely disregarded the timetable of the route that was no use to me. I knew that the bus I wanted left the terminus (a couple of stops further from mine) at about 8:01am, so I figured if I was at the bus stop at 8am, it'd all be good.

So this morning, I was at the bus stop at 8am, and at about 8:02am, a bus rolled up, and I got on it. Not paying any attention to the route number. Pretty soon, it was apparent that it wasn't the bus I wanted. I should have been more awake I guess. Fortunately, it still went reasonably close to my work, and I had a brief (and pleasant) stroll from where I bailed out, to my work. Post-mortem analysis showed that both buses leave the Watson terminus at about 5 minutes apart from each other. So when we used to drive to work and leave a bit after 8am, the bus we'd see at the bus stop wasn't necessarily always the same bus...

I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've caught a bus since I've been living in Canberra. I always get anxious, especially today, because not long after I got on, I started to wonder if I was on the right bus or not. I had no idea where the bus I knew I didn't want went, so I wasn't sure where I was going to wind up. It's also a bit of a hit and miss affair with knowing when you've passed the stop before your stop and so should ring the bell.

I caught the bus home after work much more successfully, and in spite of the minor SNAFU this morning, I quite enjoyed myself. I think I'll get a book of 10 prepaid tickets for $21.40, which is a far cry from the near $100 it now costs to fill up the tank in the car, and load up my iPod Shuffle and start bussing it in to work.

[02:22] [life] [permalink]

Thursday, 08 September 2005

Popping the hood on Mailman

I know just enough Python to get myself into trouble, or out of it as was the case tonight.

I was playing around with my new installation of Mailman, and I wanted to have all web interface interaction occur within an SSL encrypted session - problem was, I'd changed "http" to "https" in the DEFAULT_URL_PATTERN in /etc/mailman/mm_cfg.py after I'd already created a mailing list, so this one list wasn't playing ball.

Dumping the list's config out with config_list didn't help a lot, as it just had the hostname part of the URL in it, not the protocol.

Time to breakout the withlist utility. Problem is, that throws you into an interactive Python interpreter at best. So I put my Dive Into Python reading to good use, used the dir() function on the "m" mailing list object at my disposal, discovered, amongst other things, the web_page_url field had what I wanted (including protocol specifier). So I changed it, called m.Save() and got on with my life.

[03:59] [tech] [permalink]

Give me Sendmail any day

Last night I burned a heap of time setting up Debian's packaged version of Exim 4. I wanted to also use Mailman and Request Tracker, and this was where I ended up spending a heap of the time. This was mainly due to me trying to bolt up the learning curve, and running out of steam.

I was also a bit confused by the way the configuration files worked. I figured that because I answered "no" to the "Split configuration into small files?" question, the myriad of files in /etc/exim4/conf.d were the alternative to splitting up into even more.

So after I dicked around with this myriad of config files, with no visible change in behaviour, I realised that /etc/exim4/exim4.conf.template was my actual config file (I was mentally filtering out anything without ".conf" on the end of the filename). I decided that the "split-out" config option wasn't actually all that bad, so I turned around and used it instead.

Next, I was more used to Debian's Sendmail package's makefile driven configuration regeneration approach, so I wasn't sure if I had to do anything special after altering config files. Turns out from inspecting the init script, it regenerates everything on a reload, so that wasn't a big deal. The script named "update-exim4.conf" (which to me sounds like a config file in itself) will do it on demand.

So, at this stage, I had a basic Exim configuration happening. Next, I wanted Mailman, so I chucked that on. Again, drawing on my Sendmail experience, I foolishly thought it would be pretty much the same. Turns out, that Mailman can, with a bit of encouragement, integrate right in with Exim to the point where you don't need to explicitly add the half a dozen aliases that you'd normally have to add with Sendmail after you've created a new mailing list. This I liked. Fortunately, the /usr/share/doc/mailman/README.EXIM.gz file has a fairly comprehensive set of instructions on how to get things going.

At this point, I think Debian's Exim4 package should default to the "split-out" configuration option, and the Debian package of Mailman should, if Exim4 is the installed MTA, plop the relevant files into /etc/exim4/conf.d

So that got me going with Mailman. Sweet. Onto Request Tracker.

Total bloody nightmare

Again, like Mailman, you can (almost) make the alias additions redundant for Request Tracker queues, which is good, because out of the box, Debian's Exim4 doesn't like piping stuff to programs via the aliases. I couldn't figure out how to just enable that feature, and it sounded like a bad idea anyway, so I struggled onwards, and did some Googling, until I happened upon this kind soul who had some pretty good instructions, which I just adapted for the Debian installation of Exim and Request Tracker.

So that concluded the MTA battles of last night. For extra credit, after I've got Drupal working the way I'd like it to work, I'll revisit the Exim config to ensure it's doing all the cool built in spam prevention stuff that Exim is reportedly so good for.

[02:48] [tech] [permalink]

Sunday, 04 September 2005

You know you've married the right woman when...

you wake up at 4am feeling parched because you had (quite) a few too many glasses of red at the neighbours' the night before, and there's a glass of water beside the bed for you.

I love my wife.

[16:43] [life] [permalink]

Saturday, 03 September 2005

Must be the weekend for hardware failures

The last time I was in Brisbane, I retrieved the old daedalus, which is the 4 year old VA Linux 1RU low-end Pentium III that used to serve my website.

It sat in a carton in the lounge room until this week, when I finally unpacked it and chucked it in the study.

This weekend, I started cannibalising the drives out of it. It has 2 Seagate 120G disks, which were software mirrored, but that had been playing up due to some errors on what appeared to be on the second disk. The intention was to take one and put it in brutus, my desktop machine, which has my DVB card in it, so I could record more TV. I'd then keep the other disk in the old daedalus and reinstall it with a fresh install, and it would just be a general purpose sacrificial box/distcc node or whatever took my fancy.

Easier said than done. I discovered the folly of using the LVM volume group name of "base" for everything - you chuck another disk in with the same (but really different) volume group, and LVM gets very upset. No amount of tweaking /etc/lvm/lvm.conf to ignore /dev/hdb seemed to help (perhaps I should have put explicit partitions in the file instead of the whole disk device).

I tried to do all manner of creative things, including plugging the second drive into my laptop via Mikal's IDE-USB adaptor, but that approach didn't seem to have the drive show up properly.

In the end, I booted from a Sarge netinst CD, with only the second disk attached, and did a vgrename on it.

Then the video card started doing weird stuff. More often than not, the video output is all "wonky". A lot of what looks like interference, garbage characters. You can barely make out the display when it's displaying 80x25 character-mode. Sometimes on the next boot it's okay for a while. Sometimes hitting the reset button a few times cleans it up, but it seems to be a temporary fix. I had a boot that started off fine go to custard after a while.

I'm putting this down to the fact that the fan on the video card (an nVidia GEForce2 MX if I recall correctly) being seized (well it's not turning, and is quite stiff to turn manually), with presumably nasty effects on the card.

So I guess my next Computer Fair purchase is going to be a new video card. Thing is, I don't really follow PC hardware, so I have no idea what to buy.

I'm contemplating getting a DVI card that can provide two outputs, or use a DVI-VGA dongle. Then I can keep my honking big 17" CRT for a bit longer, and upgrade to a pair of LCD flat panels down the track if I'm feeling rich. Alternatively, I guess I could just replace the entire box and dice with one of those stupidly cheap Dell package deals, that include a flat panel, and be done with it. Relegate that machine to being yet another sacrificial box.

I don't play games, so I don't need anything terribly fancy, but I do occasionally watch a bit of the TV I've recorded on the box. I guess I should start doing some video card research...

[22:03] [tech] [permalink]

Friday, 02 September 2005

On America's choice of building sites

I haven't fully comprehended the situation in New Orleans. This interview transcript helped improve it a little bit.

The one thing I have to say is, why the hell do you build a city of some half a million people (is it really only half a million? That's what Google tells me it is.) below freaking sea level?

It's up there with rebuilding a destroyed house in a place they call "Tornado Alley". I do not understand the logic. At all.

I can't begin to comprehend the sheer disruption to so many peoples lives. So there's supposed to be something like a million people displaced. Probably without homes to go back to. They're saying it's going to be months before those people can return. What do they do for work in the meantime? Where to do they all go? It's not like every motel between New Orleans and where-ever they all tried to shoot through to is going to be able to cope with that many people. The mind boggles every time I try and think of the sheer logistics of it all.

[23:40] [opinion] [permalink]