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Andrew Pollock


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Friday, 30 June 2006

Have FXS module, will go cordless

Recently, I finally lashed out and bought an FXS-100 module for my A400P card, and yesterday it arrived, so I can now plug in a cordless phone. My poor main Linux box now has more cables going into it than you can poke a stick at, and the closet it's in is getting completely out of control. Oh well.

Said module works fine, installation was painless, configuration equally so. I managed to do it all whilst being slightly tipsy from the pub last night, and no-one got hurt. It's so cool getting a dial tone from a Linux box.

There's a few caller-ID issues to resolve for internal calls, but other than that, it's great to be able to call Australia from the couch for 10 cents, rather than sitting on the floor near an Ethernet wall jack.

[21:44] [tech] [permalink]

It's not every day a billionaire blades by

So yesterday I was walking over to the main campus, (to avail myself of the on-site dentist of all things), and I noticed someone gliding down the road that the road I was walking along intersected with. Not seeing his feet, or any evidence of handlebars, I was vaguely interested in the mode of transport this (presumed Googler) was using.

As he got closer to the T-junction, I discovered he was on rollerblades. This was cool, and reminded me that I needed to try blading into work myself soon.

Aforementioned person then mounted the footpath that I was walking along, and as he passed me, I realised it was none other than Sergey Brin himself, out and about. Very cool.

So that's my latest brush with fame.

[21:37] [work] [permalink]

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

changelogs.debian.net source now available

I saw some more rumblings of discontent in relation to changelogs.debian.net, this time on IRC, thanks to my nick highlighting.

I've made the source code available in my Subversion repository for people to pick over, deride, and otherwise poke fun at.

[21:47] [debian] [permalink]

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

First impressions of VMware Server

I haven't played with VMware in ages, and last time it was on Windows. #375552 reminded me that VMware had done some funky free (as in beer) stuff with their products lately, so I took another look, rather than playing moreinfo ping pong with the bug submitter via the BTS.

I grabbed the RPMs, and used the very cool alien to convert them to Debian packages, including the maintainer scripts, and they installed faultlessly.

I ran the /usr/bin/vmware-config.pl script, and it also faultlessly built a kernel module, chucked stuff in the menus, and I was in business.

The VMware console app looks nice and GNOME-like, and installing Debian GNU/kFreeBSD in a VM was a fairly painless experience. The whole thing was very easy and the product seems nice.

[20:24] [tech] [permalink]

WTF mate?

This is just plain weird.

[16:38] [work] [permalink]

Monday, 26 June 2006

So much fun I can't believe it's legal

I haven't written about it yet, but we adopted a cat recently. We've (temporarily) fostered a few animals in our time in the US so far, but this time Sarah fell in love, and we had to keep it.

Genevieve (aka "Stumpy") came to us as a cat that had been in a car accident, had a broken pelvis, and an amputated tail, and needed a quiet home to recuperate in before going up for adoption.

When she first arrived, she'd walk funny, with her back legs splayed out all over the place, and she'd lie on one side rather than sit on her haunches. Aside from this, she was very affectionate, and tried to follow us around everywhere, and purred incessantly.

She's improved a lot in the month or so that we've had her (fostering time included). She walks a lot better, her tail stump has healed pretty well, and she's been desexed. It turns out that she was probably pregnant at the time of the car accident, but had miscarried.

Anyway, onto the reason for this post. Sarah bought a $10 laser pointer today, and it has been such good value for money. Stumpy's been chasing it all over the place, racing around in circles, climbing the walls, tearing up and down the stairs. It's good exercise for her, and hopefully it's helping her get good use of her back legs (and not aggravating her busted pelvis).

[22:16] [life] [permalink]

Saturday, 24 June 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Tonight Sarah and I went to see An Inconvenient Truth.

It was, as expected, quite similar to the talk that Al Gore gave when he visited Google.

From what I can figure out from IMDb, it doesn't look like this movie has been screened across the whole US, it's only had a fairly art-house screening outside of California. That's a bit of a shame really. It also doesn't look like it's going to get a mainstream screening in Australia either. Granted, it's largely aimed at giving America a wake-up call, and according to Gore, Australia only contributes 1.1% to the world's CO2 levels, but it's still worth seeing.

I'm curious as to how many non-Democrat inclined (i.e. Republican) Americans have gone to see it. I don't know if they wouldn't hear the message because of who was delivering it, or whether they'd still go along to give it a fair hearing.

It's certainly interesting to see the number of "make you think" movies coming out. (Fahrenheit 9/11, Thankyou For Smoking, and we saw a trailer for Who Killed the Electric Car? tonight). Good to see.

The word on the street is that Gore is going to run for President again in the 2008 Presidential elections, off the back of this movie. It makes me wonder if we're going to see a new political lobbying vector, where future Presidential candidates pitch themselves at the American public via the movie theatre...

I certainly don't think it's a bad thing if this movie thrusts the environment fairly and squarely onto the candidates' political agendas.

[22:43] [life] [permalink]

Voiding the warranty for fun and profit

A bunch of us Prius owners at work did a bulk purchase of the Coastal Electronic Technologies EV-only "hack".

It's not so much a hack as providing an interface to a feature that already exists in the car and has an interface in European and Asian models.

Anyway, on Friday afternoon, there was a small install fest in the car park, and I installed it in our car, under the guidance of master Prius modder, Thunder.

It was a fairly straightforward operation, albeit a bit fiddly. Apparently the cables were a bit shorter on our car, which made it all a bit more fiddly. You basically have to stick two vampire taps around existing cables, and connect in the module that comes from Coastal to the vampire taps, and you're done. The bulk of the work is just fiddling around dismantling a bit of the dash on the passenger side, and trying to disconnect a block of cables so you can fit the vampire taps (and then fitting the vampire taps) and the reverse the put everything back the way it was.

The other mod that I'm slightly curious about is the BT Tech Chassis, but it's a bit more more expensive, and I can't quite appreciate what it's going to do for us, so I'm not quite ready to race out and buy one.

Oh, and hopefully the warranty isn't really voided, it's not externally obvious that the EV hack is installed.

[01:07] [tech] [permalink]

I am finally a card-carrying, socially-secure alien

The other exciting thing that happened on Thursday is my Social Security card arrived. It's only taken me something like 7 months. Mind you, it's around 4 weeks since I applied for it the second time, so if it only took that long for Social Security to get their blasted secondary verification from the Department of Immigration, I'd love to know why I'm soon going to need my third temporary 120-day drivers licence from the DMV...

[00:55] [life/americania] [permalink]

Google Engineering Offsite 2006

So I went to my very first (and apparently the last ever in this format) Engineering Offsite on Thursday.

I somewhat foolishly, chose to cycle to it, rather than taking a bus, but that probably helped make it more memorable.

I was fairly stuffed afterwards, and so I didn't do a hell of a lot once I got there. I went on three of the rides back to back (the steel rollercoaster, the crusty old rickety wooden rollercoaster, and the Fireball, a nasty spinning, swing you side-to-side thing). In hindsight, that wasn't such a brilliant idea, as I spent the bus ride home feeling rather bilious indeed.

[00:49] [work] [permalink]

Biggest. Ride. Ever.

Yesterday I cycled from Mountain View to Santa Cruz. 50 miles (80 kilometres).

Why? Google had its annual Engineering off-site, and there were a bunch of people riding. One ride was a "no rider left behind" one, so I figured I'd give it a go.

We left Mountain View at about 6:50am, and 5 and a half hours later we finally arrived at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

Man it was tough. I now have a much greater appreciation for the ride to Kosciusko that Sarah did, that one time, at band camp.

I was really grateful for the use of Sarah's 2 litre Camelbak, and even then I was amazed at how fast I ran out water. And steam.

Did I mention it was a tough ride?

One of the highlights of the ride was the fact that Alan Eustace came on it. Here you've got one of the Senior Vice Presidents of the company coming along with the mere mortals. Early on in the ride, one of the riders got a flat tyre, and he changed it for her. He changes a mean tyre. When we reached the summit of whatever mountain it was we were toiling to cross, we came upon a store, and had a breather. He shouted everyone whatever they needed from the store to keep going. That was really nice.

I was also really grateful to Richard, who saw me struggling at one point, and gave me a Power Bar to help keep me going. I really appreciated that. Just goes to show that eating only a banana for breakfast before embarking on a ride like this isn't such a good idea.

The other highlight was the downhill coast once we got over the mountain. That was pretty sweet. Made me glad I was taking the bus back again, and not having to cycle back up it.

Other than a lack of water and a lack of breakfast, I pulled up pretty well. I think I sat around for about an hour after arriving at Santa Cruz feeling pretty stuffed, but I didn't get any cramps or anything, and I cycled to work as usual the next day. I've got some funky sunburn on the backs of my hands where there's a hole in my cycling gloves.

Would I do it again next year? Dunno. Maybe if I've improved my fitness some more, and maybe if it's on a road bike rather than a mountain bike.

[00:41] [life/mtb] [permalink]

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Oops, I blinked

And a good 10 release candidates of Argus happened.

The upside is that I could see the quality of each of them retrospectively, so I've decided to upload the latest release candidates of the client and server packages to experimental, rather than unstable. They're a bit too raw to potentially get into a stable release just yet...

[22:35] [debian] [permalink]

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Something you probably don't want to be seeing from your SIP provider

-- Got SIP response 480 "Device exceeded user license limit." back from

Doesn't seem to be causing me any noticeable problems though.

[23:42] [tech] [permalink]

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Adventures in supporting Outlook

One of my users was having some issues using Outlook to connect to my SMTP server to send mail, so I had a bit of a poke around during the week to try and improve the situation.

I used to work in IT security, so I've got a healthy level of paranoia when it comes to network security. One of the things I don't allow is any clear-text authentication. I make users use an SSH/SCP client rather than an FTP client to upload files, web-mail is SSLed, IMAPS and POP3S only, etc.

For various reasons, the occasional user wants to relay mail through my SMTP sever, rather than using their local ISP. Furthermore, a lot of the time, these users are on dynamic address space, so whitelisting IPs for relaying isn't feasible. So I use SMTP-AUTH. I also support STARTTLS.

During this debugging session, I discovered that one can actually authenticate without using TLS, so I fixed up Sendmail's configuration to only offer AUTH after a STARTTLS (define(`confAUTH_OPTIONS', `p') in sendmail.mc).

The problem that my user was having (and I reproduced myself) was that even with Outlook configured to "Require an encrypted connection" for SMTP, and authentication also specified, relaying was failing.

Turns out that Outlook (and Outlook Express) only support the AUTH LOGIN SASL mechanism, which is obsolete, not the AUTH PLAIN mechanism, which was all I had Sendmail configured for (and works fine for Sarah and her Mail.app on the PowerBook).

So the first thing was to enable LOGIN so that the applicable lines read as TRUST_AUTH_MECH(`PLAIN LOGIN') and define(`confAUTH_MECHANISMS', `PLAIN LOGIN') in sendmail.mc

Then it turns out that Outlook doesn't really handle TLS all that well anyway, it'd rather just talk raw SMTP over SSL (i.e. port 465/tcp), and what was happening was on the first couple of delivery attempts, it would connect to port 25, start spewing SSL negotiation crap, upset the greetpause feature I had enabled, and never succeed in getting anywhere. Then it fell back to using STARTTLS instead.

So rather than having this hit and miss approach, I finally enabled SSMTP, by adding DAEMON_OPTIONS(`Port=smtps, NAME=TLSMTA, M=s') to sendmail.mc

So the following deficiencies in Outlook were highlighted from this exercise:

  1. Outlook does not notify the user if authentication is required, but not able to be performed
  2. Outlook only supports the obsolete AUTH LOGIN SASL mechanism
  3. Outlook doesn't do TLS on port 25 properly

After all this, the user is going to probably switch to Thunderbird, but at least Outlook is now supported as properly as possible.

[10:13] [tech] [permalink]

Monday, 05 June 2006

The Australian System Administrator's Conference 2006

I'm heading back to Canberra in the height of winter for SAGE-AU'2006 in July.

Should be good. This will only be the second SAGE-AU conference I've been to (the last one being the record-breaking one in Hobart). The line-up looks pretty good, and Google is well represented (both in the program, and in attendees) this year.

There's going to be a recruiting gig on the Tuesday evening, so if you're interested in finding out more on what it's like to work in Corp SysOps, and would like to have a drink on Google, block out Tuesday evening in your diary.

There's still a little over a week until the earlybird registrations close.

[23:13] [tech] [permalink]

LVM snapshots of chroots and pbuilder

A while ago I knocked up some scripts that created LVM snapshots for use with dchroot.

Tonight as I was wading through my debian-devel backlog, I discovered that pbuilder can operate in a non-tarball mode, so I was immediately interested in seeing if I could couple the two together. This caused me to iron out a few more issues with the aforementioned scripts, to the point where you can go:

$ sudo create_chroot unstable; pdebuild --auto-debsign -- --no-targz --buildplace /chroots/unstable --bindmounts /var/cache/apt/archives --aptcache ""; \
sudo remove_chroot unstable

And the whole process is a bit faster (I think) than dicking around with tarballs. This is probably throw-away work anyway, given I'm sure cowbuilder will kick-arse, but it was fun...

I need to make the create_chroot script take an option to not mount /proc, as at the moment, if you run the create_chroot script and then pdebuild immediately afterwards as indicated above, the latter will fail because pbuilder will fall over because /proc was already mounted in the chroot.

I really should go to bed...

[00:32] [debian] [permalink]

Sunday, 04 June 2006

How to handle dhcp3-client upgrades?

As #368922 highlights, when you upgrade dhcp3-client, the version that was started whenever the interface(s) were ifuped remains running. So upgrading the package won't necessarily do anything for you in the immediate term.

I guess the best way to proceed will be to parse /etc/network/interfaces and ask the user if the postinst should bounce the interfaces that are found to be running DHCP.

It's a little fraught with danger, so I'm going to think about it more before I do anything.

[20:11] [debian] [permalink]

2099 miles later...

The problem with going away on these lengthy trips, is I never end up blogging about it while I'm there, so I have to write a behemoth post when I get back, and try to remember everything. Oh well...

Aggregator summary

Photos are here. Had a great time seeing more of the country. Seattle was nice, albeit a bit wet. Portland was also nice. We've now covered the whole West Coast.

States we've visited as of June 2006

Mountain View to Ukiah

Despite the generally pessimistic views of my co-workers, we made excellent time through San Francisco. We left home shortly after 6pm on Friday night, and had crossed the Golden Gate in a little over an hour. The worst traffic was just out of home on the 101, where there'd been an accident in the opposite direction, and everyone was slowing down to rubberneck.

We got to Ukiah by about 10pm from memory, and stayed in a nice motel there.

Ukiah to Jebediah Smith State Park

The next day, we backtracked slightly, and took the CA-253, followed by the CA-128 to get onto the CA-1 and follow the coast for a while, before rejoining the US-101 (aka as the CA-271 at that point). Slightly before that, we made a brief deviation at Leggett, to drive through the, well, drive-through Redwood tree.

We alternated between the US-101 and the CA-254 (aka as The Avenue of The Giants) and then eventually wound up at Jebediah Smith State Park.

We had spectacular scenery of both the coast and redwoods galore. Coming from bushfire-riddled Canberra, I'm rather amazed the whole thing hasn't gone up in smoke at some time before now, given the age of some of the trees.

Camping in Jebediah Smith State Park

This was our first "camp-out" in the United States. Prior to getting there, I was a little apprehensive about being killed in our sleep by marauding bears, given that we had to keep our food in a bear-proof locker. My fears were quickly allayed, however, once I saw the campsite. It was huge, and fairly densely populated. I figured there was safety in numbers. Each campsite had the aforementioned bear-proof food locker, a fire-pit, ample space to pitch a tent (I mean for most Americans, camping involves a honking great big RV, so our little three or four man dome tent wasn't an issue), space to park the car, and a fixed picnic table. Each campsite was surrounded by enormous redwoods on three sides, so there a little bit of privacy from your neighbours. It was a pretty darn nice little campsite in my humble opinion.

Unfortunately the weather wasn't so crash hot. It drizzled on and off the whole time. We managed to pitch the tent without getting terribly wet, though. The trees also kept out a surprising amount of sunlight, especially given the overcast conditions. We slept until 9am. No bears were to be seen, but people clanking around with their bear-proof lockers and the rubbish bins at all hours made for a broken night's sleep.

Jebediah Smith State Park to Portland (well technically Tigard)

So the next day (Sunday) we continued along the US-199, over the Oregon border, and connected with the I-5. It was a lovely drive through more redwoods, with winding roads up and down and around mountains. We got to the motel in Tigard at around 4pm I think.

We caught up with Steve and Patty Langesek for sushi, and they took us into Portland after dinner to show us around a little bit, and also showed us Powell's City of Books, a gigantic book store that took up an entire city block (and that's excluding the technical book section, which is in its own building, and was unfortunately closed). The particularly cool thing about this bookstore was that it had second-hand and new books alongside each other, so if you were looking for stuff by a particular author, you had a wider selection of books than you'd get at your run-of-the-mill bookstore with only new books.

Portland seemed like a nice enough city. In particular, it seemed to have lots of new looking high-density apartment buildings in the area around Powell's.

Portland to Kirkland

The next morning, we continued to Kirkland. Portland looked a bit grubbier by day (a lot of the bridges had paint peeling off them, and it generally looked like it could do with a lick of paint). We remained on the I-5, and arrived in Kirkland at around 2pm.

In and around Seattle

After unpacking at the corporate apartment, we headed in to Seattle to make the most of the remainder of the day. We decided on a one-hour cruise around Puget Sound. The narration was pretty lame (a lot of "I guess...") but it was nice to see the city from the water. Clearly, it's a big harbour town, as you can see from the photos.

As I was there for work, the remainder of my sight-seeing was constrained until the evenings. Fortunately, it didn't get dark until 9pm, so we had a good few hours to squeeze a few things in. That said, traffic from Kirkland to Seattle was fairly consistently dreadful, so we spent a bit of time lamenting how the commuter lanes were restricted to cars with three occupants instead of the usual two that California's ones were.

In the evenings, we had dinner in the revolving restaurant in the Seattle Space Needle, which was nice, but not cheap, visited the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, and did Bill Speidel's Underground Tour. I think the underground tour was the highlight, and certainly the cheapest. At $11 a person, for 1.5 hours, it was great. The tour guides were entertaining, and getting to run around underground was cool. It's interesting to see how many of America's cities have burned to the ground at some point in their past and been rebuilt. In Seattle's case, they decided they'd raise the whole place to deal with the fact that they built it on mudflats in the first place. (This image illustrates it nicely). All the sidewalks are hollow as a result.

I didn't mind Seattle, but I didn't like the freeways between Kirkland and Seattle all that much. They seemed to really get congested in the evenings. The weather was variable. It rained on and off, which I'm told Seattle is famous for. It was also very very green, obviously due to all that rain, but that was nice compared to around Mountain View, which is a lot browner (particularly at this time of year) by comparison.

The Google Kirkland office was really nice and Googley, and it was great to catch up with the others in my department in the flesh.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig...

With less time up our sleeves to get home, we didn't muck around taking in the scenery (except for the 2.5 hour deviation to check out Mount Saint Helens (which was a bit disappointing in my opinion)), so we headed out at about 7am on Saturday morning, arriving at Redding, CA at 8pm, taking the I-5 all the way. Three states in 13 hours. The drive went well and was uneventful.

Today, we drove the remainder of the distance in about 4 hours. The car did very well, averaging 46 miles per gallon for the trip. Arrived safe and sound, no speeding tickets, no accidents.

[18:28] [life] [permalink]