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Andrew Pollock

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Thursday, 25 May 2006

Another massive road trip coming up

It's not a Holiday Weekend unless it involves us putting heaps of miles on the car.

This time, we're going to Kirkland, where I'll work from for the week.

The route outlined on this image isn't quite the route we're going to take, we're going to camp amongst the redwoods on Saturday night, and stop off in Portland on Sunday night. On Friday night we'll stop where we drop, which we expect will be Ukiah.

The following weekend, on the way back, we'll take a more direct route, which will probably be closer to what's on the map.

Rough idea of the trip

[22:24] [life] [permalink]

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Tour de Cure ride

Today was the previously mentioned Tour de Cure ride.

I'd managed to raise the requisite $150, just from hitting up people I host services for, which made it nice and easy (thanks again guys!).

The weather forecast was fairly ominous, but the rain stayed away until we got back. The ride itself was fairly leisurely. The highlight was cycling through Palo Alto and checking out the very nice looking houses.

25 kilometres was pretty easy. It took a little over an hour, so I think I'll try the 50 kilometre ride next year.

Some photos from the ride are here.

[18:32] [life] [permalink]

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Time flies when you're having fun

Half a year ago yesterday, I stepped off a plane in the United States.

It's been an eventful 6 months, as can be seen from reviewing my blog, and I thought I'd summarise the top 10 things I like and dislike about living in this country as opposed to Australia.

Ten things I like about living in California:

  1. Plenty of sunshine

    Love the sunshine. It was a bit wet in winter and early spring, but I'm told that it should be pretty much rain (and cloud) free for the rest of the year. Daylight saving also helps make enjoying the copious amounts of sunshine easier, it doesn't get dark until well after 8pm.

  2. The public transport options, particularly in San Francisco are vast

    Particularly in San Francisco, your options for getting around the city are huge. You've got the BART, the Muni (which covers about three distinct forms of public transport in itself), and the VTA overhead electric and petrol powered buses. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, you've got the Caltrain, and VTA light rail and buses.

  3. Petrol pumps

    You need never darken the door of a petrol station. Everywhere has pay at the pump (with plastic of course), and the pumps all have the automatic latch, so you don't even need to stand at the side of the car holding the handle while it fills up.

  4. Free parking

    This was a big change, coming from Canberra, which has a love affair with pay and display parking. Even the multi-storey and underground carparks in the downtown areas are free.

  5. Pedestrian crossings that countdown

    No excuse to get skittled because you thought you could make it in time. You known exactly how long you've got before you'll get mowed down before you step off the side of the road.

  6. The postal system

    Saturday delivery. Every mailbox is an outgoing mailbox (just put the little flag up).

  7. Right turns on red

    This is a real time saver. I can't see why Australia couldn't adopt this for left turns. The only downside is you can spend so much time looking to your left for a break in the traffic to dart out in, that you miss your green arrow (but that's what the guy behind you and his horn is for).

  8. Corporately run rental apartment complexes

    Instead of having an apartment complex where individual landlords own each apartment, the entire complex (and they tend to be larger) is owned by a mega-corporation that employs half a dozen people to maintain it and run it as a business. The upside is they tend to have better facilities, an onsite office (great for receipting packages delivered during the week), onsite maintenance (some places even have a service-level agreement). This offers some economies of scale that you wouldn't otherwise have.

  9. At least the perception of a low cost of living

    I haven't done the sums, and it's probably partially because the bills come monthly instead of quarterly, but all the utility bills seem fairly low and reasonable. Dollar for dollar, petrol is also cheaper, even though it's jumped a dollar a gallon in the time we've been here.

Of course, one must take a balanced look at these things...

Ten things I don't like about living in the United States:

  1. The currency

    Not a big fan of the notes. I miss the one and two dollar coins, and the distinctiveness between each denomination. I figure that vending machines over here must be so much more expensive because they have to have a note reader, and even then, the treasury decides to produce some new oddball note that half of the readers don't recognise... I blame tipping. If there were no tipping, the utility of one dollar bills would diminish enormously.

  2. The government bureaucracy

    As my blog records, I haven't exactly had a smooth run with the system over here...

  3. The banking system

    The banking system in general is woeful by comparison. The cheque (or check) still reigns supreme, whereas it's nearly obsolete in Australia. There's no such animal as BPay (and oh how I miss it). In fact, the equivalent system here often involves the bank cutting a cheque on your behalf and mailing it to the biller. How ridiculously antediluvian is that? Oh, and I miss vaguely decently authenticated electronic payments. I've been at cafes were I've paid by credit card, and haven't even had to provide a signature. Given that the credit card is actually a debit card, it's pretty disturbing how easily someone can clean out your bank account.

  4. Ex-tax pricing

    I'm so glad that when they introduced the GST in Australia, they required by law that all prices include it. Most prices here don't, but the occasional food outlet does (like Subway for example), so it's sufficiently confusing that you can't budget for how much you're going to actually fork out.

  5. ATM fees

    The ATM fees are more in your face. Instead of the bank charging you a fee at the end of the month for every transaction conducted at an ATM that isn't theirs, the ATM itself tacks on an extra amount to the withdrawal and effectively skims the money. I've seen fees as high as $5 a transaction, but $2 is fairly common. It's kind of weird seeing an ATM withdrawal of $42 on your bank statement... So having a bank account that doesn't charge you feeds for non-bank ATM withdrawals is all well and good, but it doesn't stop the ATM from charging you.

  6. Inaudible pedestrian crossings

    Oh, the number of times I haven't been paying attention and missed the walk light at a pedestrian crossing... In some places, they do make noises like birds, or talk to you when you can walk, but they're definitely not the norm.

  7. The road surface

    For the highways, they seem to have gone for quantity and not quality, or they're too busy to take offline to resurface. Either way, the road surface quality is pretty poor.

  8. Sugar

    Everything is loaded with sugar. Absolutely everything.

  9. Alcohol labelling

    Light beer is low calorie, not low alcohol. I miss Australia's concept of "standard drinks". Makes it very hard to drink and drive responsibly.

[23:25] [life/americania] [permalink]

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Hacking on d-i again

It feels like (probably because it is) about 2 years since I last had a good fiddle around with Debian's installer. It's been fun to have another play in the last week or so.

I've been on a mission to vanquish the ISC DHCPv2 packages, and I can't do this until the installer stops needing to use the udeb for dhclient.

Previously, the dhcp3-client udeb had been way too big for the job (apparently it's the OMAPI stuff that gets linked in, I'm told by David Hankins from the ISC). Matt Zimmerman had thrown around the idea of using ipconfig from klibc-utils quite some time ago, but it's taken me this long to get the spare time to look into it further.

Hacking the netcfg udeb to support ipconfig as a DHCP client was relatively trivial. dhcp.c wasn't too hair raising, and so I rebuilt the installer with my modified netcfg udeb and a udeb I made from the klibc source package, and it worked.

However, it's not as simple as that (it never is). There's a couple of special cases as I discovered when hacking dhcp.c in netcfg:

  1. with the DHCPv2 client, it adds a dhcp-class-identifier attribute (vendor-class-identifier in DHCPv3) set to "d-i". ipconfig is extremely lightweight. It can't add custom attributes, and apparently this attribute does cool stuff in relation to preseeding (although I haven't got a good handle on exactly what yet).
  2. The other problem is related to a bug (I even remember it - #239591), where the hostname is optionally sent in the DHCP request. ipconfig doesn't appear to support that either, although in theory it should. One of the ways of invoking it includes providing the hostname, so I filed a wishlist bug regarding that, after emailing the upstream author.

So, my work in this instance is probably all for naught, but it was fun anyway, and it's something I've been meaning to do for absolutely ages.

It is also hopefully a moot point, as apparently the space issues aren't so bad any more, so in theory the dhcp3-client udeb will now fit. The next dhcp3 upload will provide a dhcp3-client udeb again, so we'll see what happens on that front...

[22:43] [debian] [permalink]

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Copha == shortening

[17:15] [life/americania] [permalink]

Friday, 12 May 2006

Finally, Sarah can work

It's been 5 and a half months, but after another E3D visa holder got her work permit in only a month, we figured it was time to stop waiting patiently.

We went to the USCIS office in San Jose this morning to politely go "what the fuck?", and to my amazement, they didn't hesitate in issuing Sarah with an 8 month work permit on the spot. Apparently the full-blown one will come when its good and ready, but in the meantime, she's all good to go. Well, she can go try to get a Social Security number in 10 working days and see what happens...

While we were in the vicinity, we also went to the San Jose Social Security office, so I could have another go at applying for a Social Security card, after what happened last time.

Again, we waited for an hour, only to be told that no, they didn't keep my immigration verification on record, and I wasn't showing up appropriately on their computer system, so they'd need to re-request verification of my status from Immigration anyway. Argh!

Apparently this happens to other people, not just me, so it seems to be luck of the draw as to whether your vital statistics actually propagate through all the various Government systems or not.

So $DEITY only knows when or if I'll receive my Social Security card. At least I'm not sweating on it to get paid or anything.

[23:03] [life/americania] [permalink]

Dinner with The Reg

A while ago, I read an article on The Register, written by a journo based in Mountain View of all places, which had a tagline at the bottom that said to email him if you wanted to "drink like a vulture" on some sort of corporate drinkies or something. Being in Mountain View and all, I could hardly resist.

Said journalist actually emailed me back, after Googling me, and it turned out he was half Australian himself, so what better excuse to catch up for dinner?

Tonight we had dinner with Ashlee Vance and his wife Melinda, at the Cantankerous Fish in downtown Mountain View, and had a really great time. It's cool when you meet the sort of people you can just chat with for hours and get along with, and they're complete strangers you've never met before.

It was a good night out.

[22:56] [life] [permalink]

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Mission: Impossible III

Tonight, Sarah and I went to see Mission: Impossible III along with Sean and Louise.

It's not very often that the third movie in a run is better than the first, (I can't remember the second one terribly well), but wow, this was a mindblowingly good edge-of-the-seat job, with not one, not two, but three nail-biting, action-packed operations. I love it.

I'm still trying to unravel the plot twist at the end.

[22:10] [life] [permalink]

Sunday, 07 May 2006

Achieving Xen

I've been wanting to have a play with Xen for quite some time, but have a pathological dislike of compiling kernels, so hadn't gotten around to it. So needless to say, I'm very very (very very) pleased to see Xen 3.0 packages in Debian now, and so spent some time today having a fiddle.

Frankly, I'm very pleased with how easy it's been to get everything going.

Mad props to Steve Kemp for xen-tools, it makes the ease of creating a new DomU approach that of falling off a log. A big thanks also to the Debian kernel team for packaging this stuff up at last as well.

So, here's what I did:

I installed linux-image-2.6.16-1-xen-686 and xen-hypervisor-3.0-i386, along with the aforementioned xen-tools and xen-utils-3.0.

The linux-image-2.6.16-1-xen-686 kernel package doesn't create an initrd by default, so I created one by hand with mkinitramfs-kpkg.

I put this in my GRUB config:

title           Xen
root            (hd0,0)
kernel          /boot/xen-3.0-i386.gz
module          /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.16-1-xen-686 root=/dev/hda1 ro console=tty0
module          /boot/initrd.img-2.6.16-1-xen-686
boot

There's a couple of kernel images available that mention Xen, the aforementioned linux-image-2.6.16-1-xen-686 and also linux-image-2.6.16-1-xen-vserver-686. Unfortunately the package descriptions are the same as the stock 2.6.16 kernel package, and I initially formed the opinion that one was the Dom0 kernel and the other was the DomU kernel. It turns out that the linux-image-2.6.16-1-xen-686 will operate as either, and the vserver one will work as a DomU (I haven't tried it as a Dom0).

I'm currently using file-backed storage, but I want to switch to directly using LVM once I get the hang of things. I created the filesystem for the DomU with:

xen-create-image \
--hostname testvm \
--size 2Gb --swap 128Mb --memory 96Mb \
--fs ext3 --dir /srv \
--dhcp \
--cache yes --dist etch \
--mirror http://mirror.linux.org.au/debian \
--kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.16-1-xen-vserver-686 \
--initrd /boot/initrd.img-2.6.16-1-xen-vserver-686

The one problem with this script is it puts SCSI (i.e. /etc/sda) devices in /etc/fstab, but refers to them as /dev/hda devices everywhere else. So to avoid a kernel panic on booting the DomU, I had to mount the image that was created and edit the /etc/fstab file to fix this up. I also needed to add vif = [ '' ] to get an eth0 interface to exist in the DomU instance. There's some other stuff you put here to use a consistent MAC address, rather than a per-instance-boot one.

I also found I needed to edit /etc/xen/xend-config.sxp to use network-bridge instead of network-dummy and vif-bridge. I found I needed to reboot as just restarting xend afterwards royally messed with the networking setup.

That was about it. Creating an instance of the VM then worked. Making sure the loop kernel module is loaded helps avoid some obscure errors.

[19:08] [tech] [permalink]

Friday, 05 May 2006

Calling all Dell D610 laptop owners...

How hot does your laptop run?

I noticed mine was frequently exceeding 60 degrees Celsius, and placed a service call the other day and Dell didn't bat an eyelid in replacing the heat-sink and fan (despite the fan working). The temperature is now being reported as 52 degrees.

Just curious as to what's "normal". The temperature can be obtained from /proc/acpi/thermal_zone/THM/temperature or /proc/i8k (if the i8k module is loaded, or via I8kfanGUI under Windows. I note that the temperature is reported as only 43 degrees under Windows, which makes me wonder whether Linux is misreporting it, or is causing it to run hot...

[22:13] [tech] [permalink]

Wednesday, 03 May 2006

Still no licence

So about a month ago, I discovered that my driver's licence was stuck in bureaucratic hell.

Well the temporary piece of paper licence was due to expire on May 10, and so I called up the DMV again yesterday, and was told it was still pending. So I made an appointment to renew it.

Today, coincidentally, I received a brand new 120 day temporary piece of paper licence in the mail, with a note attached:

Your application for a California driver license cannot be completed. California law (Vehicle Code Section 12801.5) prohibits the issuance of a driver license until your legal presence, as authorized under federal law, has been verified. This information has not been received from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

...

Your application will remain valid for 12 months from the date you applied for your driver license. Your license will be issued and mailed to you as soon as the information is received from INS. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you.

The process inconsistencies are incredible. I know of two other E-3 visa holders that have received their proper licences without significant delay. I seem to be cursed.

[22:12] [life/americania] [permalink]