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Andrew Pollock


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Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Getting back into it

Tonight I met Eric House, who wanted to get his GPG key signed, as we was interested in becoming a Debian Developer. We had an interesting discussion about packaging and sponsorship and the general mechanics of how Debian works as a distribution.

It's motivated me to get my act together and get back into things a bit more actively. I've been having a bit of a hiatus since moving to the US, generally because I've been far too busy with real life. I think I've only made a very few uploads in the last 3 months.

It also made me think as I was madly brain dumping all my tips on how to package stuff, that I should write it all down, so for any future people, I can just refer them to the document, rather than again brain dumping at them, or trying to write it all down in a lengthy email.

One of the biggest problems now is plain old spare time. In my old job, I had enough idle time because things went so slowly at work, that I could sneak in a bit of Debian stuff during the day. In my new job, I'm always busy on something, so I don't have the time or inclination to be doing anything that isn't work related while I'm at work. So that leaves my evenings or weekends for Debian. Evenings have seen me tinkering with Asterisk, and will probably see me tinkering with MythTV soon. Weekends have involved doing sightseeing and other touristy stuff. So I guess the sooner I can finish my other projects off, the sooner I can devote a bit more time to Debian again.

I think in the meantime, to ramp up again, I'll try to get back into doing QA work and upload one orphaned package with the wrong maintainer field a night. The list has grown long again. I think I had it down to the single digits when I last stopped. It'd be cool to get it down to zero.

[20:54] [debian] [permalink]

Monday, 27 February 2006

Asterisk with the OpenVox A400P

The OpenVox A400P02 I'd ordered arrived during the week while we were away.

I installed it last night and had a brief play, but wasn't able to get things working with our Vonage ATA. Tonight I made a bit more of a concerted effort, and got everything going with both the line coming out of the Vonage ATA, and the SBC PSTN line. In the end everything just worked, but for some strange reason I had to swap the ports I had the SBC PSTN line and the Vonage ATA plugged into. Very weird.

Driver and configuration-wise, the A400P02 walked and talked exactly like a Digium Wildcard TDM02B, only much cheaper.

All that remains is some serious tweaking of dial plans, to punt the appropriate calls out the appropriate links, and setting up voicemail properly, and I think I can call this project sufficiently completed to move on to MythTV... At a later date I'll get an FXS module so I plug in one of our existing cordless phones.

[22:45] [tech] [permalink]

Sunday, 26 February 2006

Best. Picture. Ever.

[20:22] [geek] [permalink]

2700 kilometres (1700 miles) later...

We have returned from our brief sojourn in Phoenix. We had quite an eventful week and a bit, and I've sat down a couple of times to attempt to write it all up, but I've been suffering a bit of writer's block (blogger's constipation?), and I haven't got around to it. So I'm going to just do a longish post covering the everything. It's probably not going to do anything any justice, but if I don't write something down now, it'll never happen...

It also gives me a chance to test out my modified seemore plugin (only does a fold for RSS feeds, leaves my blog alone). After I just spent 15 minutes grokking how it worked, and making the one-liner I needed, it seems someone beat me to it. Ah well. C'est la vie.

The Friday night drive down

We made it to Rialto, to the east of Los Angeles, by about 12:30am and called it a night at the first motel we found. Not the greatest lodgings, the walls didn't offer a lot of sound insulation from the neighbours. The people in the room next door wanted to play the same track of a CD over and over and over. Fortunately there was a rent-a-cop doing the rounds, so we proxied a "turn it down!" via him, which made it more bearable. The main highlight of the drive was seeing snow on the mountains a bit south of San Jose on the 101.

Rialto to Glamis

We saw more snow on the mountains nearby. We Also saw an enormous wind farm. Unlike the one we'd seen on the way to Tracy when we picked up the Prius, this one was actually going at the time we drove past, which an impressive sight. I think I'm an infrastructure junkie. Power stations, dams, anything that is a big engineering feat, and I like to just look at it in awe...


We got to Glamis by about midday on Saturday, which was about bang on when we guessed we'd get there. We had a way cool couple of days there. I don't know where to start. So I'll just braindump. It was like Summernats, but in the sand. I guess people who are in a landlocked state spend their money on sand rails instead of boats. They sure seem to put some money into them, and theme them and name them like people would with boats.

There would have easily been a few tens of thousands of people camping out in the dunes on the weekend. Craig said it wasn't normally anywhere near as crazy, but because it was a long weekend on account of President's Day, every man and his dog (literally, photos here) were out with their sand rails.

It was a lot of fun. Craig and Sarah's RV/fifth wheel/bloody huge caravan was an extremely comfortable home away from home. It had three queen sized beds in it, two TVs, hot and cold running water, toilet and shower facilities and a fully functional kitchen, including microwave. You sure don't need to rough it, you just need to own a 7 miles-per-gallon pickup truck to drag the enormous thing around.

They also had an Arctic Cat, a little 4x4 for fanging around in the sand in. It went inside the RV for transportation to and from the dunes.

The campsite was really close to some train tracks, that had some seriously huge freight trains go past at all hours (with the requisite honking at the level crossing). When we woke up on Monday morning, there was one just sitting there, and it stayed put for hours, so I snapped a few photos of it.

Arriving in a Prius immediately got us branded as tree huggers by all of Craig and Sarah's friends. The duners are a bit apprehensive towards environmentalists because they seem to like to close down chunks of the desert for conservation reasons.

Glamis to Phoenix

On Monday morning, we broke camp and headed to Phoenix, where Craig and Sarah live (in Peoria to be precise). It was a fairly uneventful 4 hour drive. We did go past the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station from afar, which is apparently the biggest reactor in the US. I would have liked to have checked it out more closely, but time didn't permit. I also don't know if any men with guns at the gate permit... I was a little surprised that it was so clearly signposted from the highway. It took a bit more work to find it again with Google Earth.


Phoenix was quite a nice place. Sarah and I both liked it. On the downside, it had pretty ordinary public transport (buses were about it), but on the upside, the roads were really good, with the exception of a few extremely confusing cloverleaf flyover things that defied comprehension, even with GPS navigation. Our navigation system's maps were pretty lacking, for no apparent reason other than the manufacturer hadn't kept them up to date. Housing was cheap a couple of years ago when Craig and Sarah bought, and they have a beautiful, huge house out in the first thing that resembles what I'd call typical Australian suburbia that I've seen in the US.

My sightseeing was limited to what we could do after work, and still had daylight for, so we went to the Desert Botanic Garden and took a heap of photos of cacti. Sarah also went to the Phoenix Zoo.

On Friday night we headed back for Los Angeles for a day's sightseeing in Hollywood on Saturday.

Phoenix to Hollywood

This was a fairly uneventful drive. We left Phoenix at 4pm, and arrived at the hotel in LA at 10pm (this was with an hour lost when we crossed the California/Arizona border and switched back to PST from MST). One of the interesting things was seeing the California State Prison. We saw this enormous brightly lit area to the left of the highway long before we saw the signs (that included warnings about picking up hitch-hikers).


I wasn't really all that impressed by Hollywood, to be honest. At least not in the bit we stayed in, which was apparently in the thick of it all. It just seemed pretty grotty. The air was really hazy/smoggy/foggy (take your pick). We did a couple of tours on Saturday, one that just basically drove us around to a decent vantage point of the Hollywood sign, and another that took us around Beverly Hills and showed us a few of the celebrity's homes. After that we wandered around the Kodak Theatre, got a photo holding an Oscar, had some dinner, checked out Grauman's Chinese Theatre's forecourt and went home. I don't believe we saw any real live stars.

Hollywood to Mountain View

We left the hotel at about 9:30am, and made it back home by 4pm, with a bit of a lengthy stop for lunch at Casa de Fruta.

All in all, it was a good trip. The car performed well, and we've doubled the number of miles it's done. I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we had to refuel, and it still performed fairly efficiently on the open road (as opposed to city stop-start driving, where it's supposed to go better).

Oh yeah, one interesting observation was how bug-free the trip was. We drove the equivalent of Canberra to Brisbane and back, and if we'd done that trip, the car would have been completely covered in bugs from the trip, whereas we came away more or less unscathed from this trip. No complaints there.

[20:16] [life] [permalink]

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Send in the clones

I was recently lamenting the cost of Digium's Wildcard TDM400Ps, when today I discovered the latest in Chinese craftmanship: the OpenVox A400P at a price point (for two FXO interfaces) much closer to the hobbyist budget.

Still not as cheap as an X100P, but I have a limited number of free PCI slots (i.e. one) so to get two FXO interfaces, this is the only way to do it.

[22:20] [tech] [permalink]

Damn I wish I studied history

Tonight Sarah and I went to see Munich.

It was a long, interesting flick. I enjoy movies that tell a story, and boy did this one...

I really wish I'd studied modern history at school. I find the Israeli/Palestinian conflict interesting, and I'd like to better understand the origins of it (I guess a day's Googling would achieve the same result).

[22:04] [life] [permalink]

Monday, 13 February 2006

My Asterisk configuration for use with Engin

This is the relevant bits of my sip.conf:

register => 073117xxxx:passwoid@byo.engin.com.au


Obviously the number is the number provided by Engin, as is the password (as opposed to the password you provide when you create your website account).

This sends inbound calls to the default context in extensions.conf, which for me looks like:


exten => s,1,Wait,1                     ; Wait a second, just for fun
exten => s,n,Answer                     ; Answer the line
exten => s,n,Goto(menu,s,1)

exten => t,1,Goto(s,1)

For routing outbound calls via Engin I have:

; for standard Australian 8 digit numbers
exten => _01161XXXXXXXXX,1,Dial(SIP/engin/0${EXTEN:5},60)
exten => _01161XXXXXXXXX,n,Hangup()

; for 1800/1300 style numbers (10 digits)
exten => _01161XXXXXXXXXX,1,Dial(SIP/engin/${EXTEN:5},60)
exten => _01161XXXXXXXXXX,n,Hangup()

; for 13 style numbers (6 digits)
exten => _01161XXXXXX,1,Dial(SIP/engin/${EXTEN:5},60)
exten => _01161XXXXXX,n,Hangup()

And I make my internal SIP handsets use the internal context like this:

reinvite=no     ; this
canreinvite=no  ; and this may be unnecessary

I'm fairly happy with everything now. When I get time, I'll implement QoS, for what it's worth, and tweak the dialplan to send telemarketers to hell. I also need to get a card to hook it up to the PSTN. So far an X100P via ebay seems the cheapest way to do it. I'm actually surprised at how difficult it seems to be to purchase a Wildcard TDM400P online (none of the resellers seem to offer online purchasing), and how expensive they are (at the Digium store).

[23:00] [tech] [permalink]

Sunday, 12 February 2006

IP phones

Yesterday morning the IP phones I'd ordered turned up, so that wrote off a few hours of the day.

I ordered a Grandstream GS-102 and a Sipura SPA-841. They've both got their pluses and minuses, but I think overall, the Sipura comes out on top.

Grandstream GS-102
The good
  • Backlit screen
  • Passthrough Ethernet port (built-in single port hub)
  • Does remote syslogging
The bad
  • Pocket-calculator style screen
  • Doesn't seem able to work behind a NAT without hardcoding the address of the gateway
  • Won't sync with my NTP server
  • Central configuration seems to be a paid-for extra
Sipura SPA-841
The good
  • Extremely comprehensive web-based configuration
  • 2 line support
  • Oooh, does remote syslogging as well
The bad
  • No screen backlighting
  • Out of the box, DTMF didn't work with my Australian phone banking, so I don't know if it's generally not right (but it was fixable, the default tone length was too short it seemed)
  • XML central configuration file format documentation seems to cost extra

Overall, if I'd just bought a Grandstream, I think I'd be quite unhappy with my purchase. If the Sipura just did backlighting, I'd be totally happy with it. A passthrough Ethernet port would be a bonus.

[22:33] [tech] [permalink]

Massive road trip coming up

Given that next weekend is a long weekend on account of President's Day, we've decided to go visit our friends Craig and Sarah in Phoenix. My manager has kindly allowed me to work from Phoenix for the remainder of the week, so we'll head back again on the following weekend.

I just fed all the relevant data into Google Earth, to get a bit of a perspective on how long and how big the trip is going to be (and it looks big). I've never used Earth for routing before, and it's really cool to "play" the trip's route and have it zoom into each turn.

So from home to Craig and Sarah's place is 727 miles (1169 kilometres), but we're going to meet up in the desert, which is only 575 miles (925 kilometres), and then we'll do the remaining 216 miles (347 kilometres) on Sunday night after we've stayed with them in their enormous caravan (or trailer as I guess they call it over here) and fool around in their dune buggy.

Here's the direct route from home to Craig and Sarah's place in Phoenix, for perspective. The desert stopover (marked) is a little bit south of this route:

Route of our road trip to Phoenix

We're planning on stopping over in Los Angeles (Hollywood to be precise) on the way back so we can briefly check it out.

[11:24] [life] [permalink]

Friday, 10 February 2006


Tonight Sarah and I went to see Cirque du Soleil's performance of Corteo at San Jose.

It was excellent. Really really good. Words cannot do justice to the description of it.

We were both amazed and awestruck at the performers' gymnastic abilities. The music and the song were excellent as well. Money well spent on good seats.

[23:40] [life] [permalink]

The Social Security Administration strikes again

I'd been planning on waiting to blog about the issuing of my Social Security number until I actually received the card, but as it seems that it has been lost in the mail, I could be waiting a while...

So I was doing my regular weekly "what the fuck is going on with my Social Security number application?" phone call to the San Jose Social Security Administration office on January 12, when for a change, they couldn't actually find my application by the reference number that they'd given me. Lo and behold, my number had been allocated two days earlier.

They told me that my card would be mailed out in 10 working days from the date of allocation, or that I could come into the office and get a bit of paper that told me what the number was.

Let's just say that I'm glad I didn't wait for the card, or I'd still not be getting paid...

So ten working days passed, and then some, and no card. This made me somewhat concerned, since everyone's been telling me how the SSN is the Primary Key of All Things, and that if it gets stolen, you're screwed as your identity can be stolen, with all the bad things that accompany that.

So I rang the San Jose office back, to see if they had anything useful to say for themselves, and of course, they didn't. They couldn't tell me anything. They couldn't even tell me what address they had on record to ship the card to. They couldn't offer any postal tracking information, and they said that if it bounced for some reason, it would go back to Baltimore, where it would be destroyed. Oh goody.

So after the trip to the DMV today, I thought I'd drop into the Mountain View Social Security office to request a new card.

Well, let me just say that I can see why they zip-tie the chairs together...

After waiting for over an hour and a half to get to speak to someone, they said that they would need to request secondary verification of something or other before they could issue me a card, and that it could take up to four weeks (the same secondary verification that took nearly 2 months in the first place). Or I could go to the San Jose office, where they already had the verification on file, and they could request a new card for me immediately.

I was so flabbergasted that I just walked out of there. In hindsight, I should have told them to just go ahead and request the secondary verification, as so far I haven't actually needed to present the card to anyone wanting my SSN, and it's a lot more convenient (I think) to have to deal with the Mountain View Social Security office than the San Jose one.

What absolutely blows me away is that there is no trust, no communication between offices. The fact that one Social Security office has already requested (and received) secondary verification of my existence from Immigration isn't sufficient for another office. They can't even ship a copy of that from one office to another? The mind boggles at the inefficiencies. I want that hour and a half of my life back.

[23:36] [life/americania] [permalink]


Last Monday, Sarah and I visited the fine institution that is the California Department of Motor Vehicles, so that we could get ourselves California drivers licences.

We had to do both a written test and a behind the wheel test. The written test was your standard multiple-guess exam (36 questions, maximum of 6 incorrect answers to pass). Annoyingly, all the material on the exam was not in the California Driver Handbook, which the handbook tried to make out was the case. Fortunately it was largely a case of common sense. I got two wrong. The funniest thing was that Sarah and I both got the same exam paper, and Sarah did her test just after I finished mine, and we were allowed to keep the paper, so she could see which two I got wrong.

One of the more unusual things I found about the process was that they allocated me a licence number before I'd even sat the test.

Last Thursday Sarah had her behind the wheel test, and today I had mine. It was pretty easy. No reverse-parking, no emergency stopping. I just had to drive around for 15 minutes. I passed without any faults.

Given it took me four attempts to get my original licence in Australia, I was pretty pleased with this. (I failed my Queensland licence a number of times due to nerves).

The other thing that I was amazed to discover was that I don't get the licence for another four to six weeks! They mail it out. The DMV processes over here are just mind boggling. The fact that you can't get a licence on the spot, and that it takes something like three months to get licence plates for a new car just blows me away. It's nothing like the process in Australia.

[23:22] [life/americania] [permalink]

SSL protected mailing lists are usually a waste of time

Amaya points out to Jonathan why people like to use SSL for their mailing list archives.

The silly thing is that quite often people still have the monthly password reminder emails switched on, which go out in the clear.

The same hypothetical bad guy who might be sniffing your password when you might log into the web management system just has to sniff at the right time of the month when everyone's password is being emailed out...

[23:09] [tech] [permalink]

Wednesday, 08 February 2006

Donated blood

Google does a lot of nice things for its employees, and its good to be able to pass that on when the opportunity arises.

Today, the American Red Cross visited the 'plex, and I made a donation. I think they did pretty well out of Googlers today, and it'd be cool if they published some statistics on how many donated, and how many litres/gallons of blood they got out of it, and some sort of statistic on how many people that is likely to help.

I haven't donated blood in Australia for ages. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever donated in Canberra, it was too inconvenient, and the Canberra Blood Bank didn't seem to have the same sense of urgency about it that the Brisbane one did.

Certainly it was a very similar experience to donating in Brisbane. The usual questionnaire as long as your arm. The iron/red blood cell count. The main differences I noted were that they actually asked you all the questions in your interview, rather than asking you to fill out a form beforehand and going through any red flags with you. They also spun the pipette of blood to get a red cell count, rather than using copper sulphate and looking at the colour change (apparently it's a cost thing).

For the actual donation, they didn't use a rocker thingy like the Australian Red Cross did, they just let the bag hang there beside me while it filled.

Apparently they come out every four months or so, so I'll be happy to donate again given it's so convenient. I'd often mused about seeing if the Red Cross mobile donation unit could come to our workplace in Australia, but I doubted there'd be enough takers.

[21:04] [work] [permalink]

Tuesday, 07 February 2006

Feed fixing finale

As I mentioned yesterday, I noted that Blosxom was misbehaving with RSS feeds where a flavour was used to customise the character set of the feed.

Tonight I made time to look under the hood, and found:

      if ($content_type =~ m{\Wxml$}) {
        # Escape <, >, and &, and to produce valid RSS
        my %escape = ('<'=>'&lt;', '>'=>'&gt;', '&'=>'&amp;', '"'=>'&quot;');  
        my $escape_re  = join '|' => keys %escape;
        $title =~ s/($escape_re)/$escape{$1}/g;
        $body =~ s/($escape_re)/$escape{$1}/g;

Which I promptly changed to

      if ($content_type =~ m{\Wxml(; charset=.*)?$}) {
        # Escape <, >, and &, and to produce valid RSS
        my %escape = ('<'=>'&lt;', '>'=>'&gt;', '&'=>'&amp;', '"'=>'&quot;');  
        my $escape_re  = join '|' => keys %escape;
        $title =~ s/($escape_re)/$escape{$1}/g;
        $body =~ s/($escape_re)/$escape{$1}/g;

and now I can have my cake and eat it: UTF-8 encoded RSS feeds.

[23:13] [tech] [permalink]

Monday, 06 February 2006

Our rabbit made the front page

Our neighbour dropped a copy of the local rag around this morning, because of this story on the front page.

Maybelline is now back at the animal shelter because she got big enough to be desexed, and is now awaiting adoption.

[23:37] [life] [permalink]

Asterisk and Engin, preliminary working config

I've fiddled and tweaking, Googled, read the book, swore a lot, rang lots of people in Australia and made nuisance calls where they couldn't hear me, and finally got both inbound and outbound calls working. Two different sorts of IP phones are currently on their way. Couldn't have done it without X-Lite. The fact that they make a Windows, Linux and Mac soft-phone that is functionally the same (and gratis) is very cool. Props to them.

So this setup is very cool. People in Brisbane, Australia can dial a local number that costs them whatever their telco is charging them for a local call (let's say it's between 10 and 20 cents) and it pops out over here in Mountain View, USA on my Asterisk box, and they get an auto-attendant asking them what extension they'd like. Dialling 1111 gets them the X-Lite on my laptop, and dialling 2222 gets them the X-Lite on Sarah's laptop.

Conversely, I've setup a few dial plans that match the three main types of Australian numbers that sprang to mind, which routes them out via Engin, and depending on where in Australia we're calling, costs us between 10 cents (local and national calls) and 27c per minute to mobile phones. That is so sweet. That knocks the socks off 5 cents (US) per minute to call Australia via Vonage.

Engin, you guys rock so hard it's not funny. I'm buying some shares.

Once I've cleaned up my config a bit more and worked out exactly what I need and what is cruft, I'll do another post explaining it all.

Now I just need to figure out how to do QoS...

[23:30] [tech] [permalink]

Finally, a fully fixed feed (almost)

So after much swearing at things, and some musings on #debian-devel, I've managed to mostly unfuck my blog's feed.

[Valid RSS]

The problem came down to my recent fiddling with Blosxom's RSS flavour, in an attempt to get the RSS feed to be encoded in UTF-8 instead of ISO-8859-1. I created a content_type.rss file in my flavours directory, and put in it text/xml; encoding=utf-8, which had the desired effect of influencing the encoding, but then caused Blosxom to stop escaping all the HTML tags as HTML entities, which rendered the feed totally bogus.

If I ditch the ; encoding=utf-8 part, the escaping problem goes away, but then the encoding is no longer utf-8. Smells like a bug to me.

[23:17] [tech] [permalink]

Sunday, 05 February 2006

Holy broken blog feeds, Batman!

Gack, what a mess my blog feed has been in. It's still not 100% okay, but at least Firefox now parses it without complaint. Maybe someone with more XML-fu than me will read this and tell me how to fix the rest...

I've always gone to a fair bit of trouble to ensure that my blog's HTML is syntactically correct, at least in terms of HTML, and everything is spelt correctly. To achieve this I use a fairly involved script to perform a bunch of sanity checks when I make a new post. Unfortunately, I've been neglecting the state of my blog's feed, and as I've recently discovered, it's been in quite a bad way for quite some time. Given that more people probably read by blog via the feed than the HTML, I've probably been focussing my attention disproportionately.

It seems that whilst the native HTML I'm writing may be valid 4.01 Transitional, the XML that Blosxom generates from it isn't valid XML, mainly in terms of tag closure. So I guess this is going to mean that I need to go for a stricter and/or newer standard. I might need to move to XHTML or something.

I've also found that a lot of the HTML generated by the various blog meme generators is utter crap.

[22:57] [tech] [permalink]