Somewhere in Time

Posted on 27th April 2008

Heroes started again in the UK this week. Thanks to some scouring of the internet earlier in the year, some friends had manage to get hold of the complete series as broadcast in the US before the writers strike. As such I've already watch it all, but it's one of those shows that it's just as enjoyable watching it all again.

Reading some of the reviews earlier in the year, I was surprised that there was a bad reaction to all the new characters. From the first episode the plot lines are drawn very well, and I felt the new characters complimented the stories very well. In fact in some cases they are pivotal to progression of the characters we have already grown to love from the first series.

I'm not going to give away any plot lines, but after the ending of the first series, there was a huge hole in our television viewing, so this series had a lot of expectations place upon it, both to answer some of the outstanding questions and to be bigger and better than the first series. Some of the questions do get answered, and there are plenty more to keep you guessing all the way to the end, but it's a series that actually does exceptionally well at bringing the expectations back up and priming you ready for the third series.

Due to the writers strike, the second series ends after 11 episodes, but they've ended it very well, and like the ending of the first series has you eagerly waiting to see what happens next. There was also meant to be a off-shoot series entitled Origins, but with all the delays and the work now having to concentrate on Series 3, that has been cancelled. It's a shame as I quite like the idea of there being some side stories that don't detract from the main storylines of Heroes. Mind you, there is also the fact that being one of the best TV series around at the moment, we're in dire need of something decent to watch. Although Medium, Dexter and Pushing Daises are doing a good job too :)

File Under: heroes / tv

Legend Of Xanadu

Posted on 22nd April 2008

I should have posted this a few weeks ago, when I was too busy to post a diary entry. Maybe I should save it, but then it's always nice to be reminded of the story. I've come across this story several times over the years, and I always enjoy re-reading it.

Mario is currently working for Sun in Manchester, so next time I see Alan Burlison, I must remember to ask him if he knows him. I expect so. Anyway it's a good story and if you haven't read it, do so now. Then think whether you could ever do the same with a Windows system .....

A Legendary Unix Recovery.

File Under: computers / humour

Blue Monday

Posted on 21st April 2008

If someone was to die through indecision would that be cantdecide?

Sorry, it's been a long week and it's still only Monday!

File Under: humour

We Can Change

Posted on 14th April 2008

Today I had a rather large desire to pretend it was the summer of 1987, whack the volume up (especially the bass) and enjoy my new eBay purchase of Heaven On Earth by Belinda Carlisle. I got to turn the volume up, but was quite surprised to discover Rhythmbox doesn't (currently) have any form of graphics equalizer builtin or plugin. After a bit of searching I discovered there is a plugin in development, but seeing I listen to my music on my works Ubuntu desktop, I'm a bit dubious of trying to build from source plugins and apps that aren't work related. However, seeing as there does seem to be several requests for it and there is active development of it, I'm hoping that we get a stable release in the not too distant future.

I seem to be enjoying quite a retrospective of the 80s at the moment, alongside Belinda I've also got some Rush, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Visage, Kraftwerk, Ultravox among others, having bought several CD versions of albums that I originally bought on vinyl. I used to be a big Belinda Carlisle fan, and can even been seen on her Runaway Live video (recorded at the NEC Arena in 1989) if you look quick :) Alas I never got to see the Go-Gos live, when they toured the UK in 1979 and 1980, as it was them I was originally a fan of. In fact I did beg to be allowed to go and see one of the Two-Tone dates in Manchester with The Go-Gos, The Selecter and Madness, but my mum thought I was too young at the time (I was still 14 at the time). I also bought Belinda's most recent album, Voila, recently, which was a little .. um .. different. Now that she lives in France, she has become rather enamoured by French pop songs, and has recorded an album of them. It's not a bad album, but compared to those late 80s albums, it doesn't have that instant appeal. Then again maybe it'll grow on me.

During the few summer months during the late 80s, I spent a lot of time travelling up and down the motorways of Britain, both working on tours and just going along for the ride. Heaven on Earth was one of the great driving tapes to help the miles fade away. I even remember having summer months back then too! Although more than that I remember some great gigs. I even recall a mad drive from a Belinda gig at the NEC in Birmingham, down to Clacton-on-Sea, via Hitchin to pick a friend up, for a weekend party, and arrived there while the party was still in full swing!

I've already got the kids hooked on Blondie, so I can see our summer holiday drives being quite an entertaining sing-a-long in the back of the car. Ethne is already well versed with Parallel Lines. Roll on summer :)

File Under: music

Icing Sugar

Posted on 11th April 2008

A while ago a friend of mine brought over a bag of sweets to show me, as he knew I'd appreciate the name :)

Unless you're not as impressed, people in the Perl community generally find anything which can be tenuously tied to the Perl programming language amusing. We're like that. Perle Beer always seems to go down well too :)

File Under: humour / perl

When Space Invaders Were Big

Posted on 10th April 2008

A friend pointed this post out to the WolvesLUG a little awhile ago, and it got me thinking. Firstly it annoyed me that this guy managed to be taken to task for asking something that is often a very basic question from new recruits to the Linux way of things. When told that there are a selection of varieties, potential new users are often overwhelmed to understand what they should choose, so asking what the differences are is not an unreasonable question. The answer isn't easy and in this case the guy was asking for pros and cons of each system to best analyse what would work for him. That's something most rational Linux users understand. However, the extremists do no-one any favours. Mark-Jason Dominus once posted an article at, entitled Why I Hate Advocacy, which extremists would do well to read.

After that first reaction, I started to think about why I chose the distributions I did. I tend to use Debian for my servers and Ubuntu when I need a desktop. I also use Windows XP, as that is the default install on my work laptop (I haven't been able to get Ubuntu running on it, but that's another story). But how did I come to settle on those two, Debian and Ubuntu, as my prefered platforms?

Over the last 10 years or so I've tried a variety of flavours of Linux distributions, and they all seem to have something going for them, but there is not really one that manages to be the panacea. Personally I consider that a good thing. My knowledge of Linux came from my long standing experience of Unix System V. I began working with Unix in 1985 when I started at Coventry University (Lanchester Polytechnic as it was then), and carried on with it when I went to work for GEC Telecommunications. At the time it did the job of teaching me the command line, C, network programming among other things. But it was all command line based. In one of the modules I studied at Lanchester Polytechnic, we specifically covered Operating Systems and looked at several different ones that were available back then. We were then tasked with writing our own OS. Being a big fan of curses at the time (as I was writing games such as battleships and othello with it), I persuaded my team to look at an interactive OS, rather than a command line based version. We got marked down because we couldn't print out our results on a line-printer, unlike everyone else's command line based systems. At the time it really pissed me off that the lecturer could be so ignorant of different ways of thinking. I didn't have enough knowledge to design or write a proper desktop OS, but I could see a benefit to having one. A year or so later, I got to see a copy of Windows 1.0. It planted a seed for a number of people that the interactive desktop did have a future.

Until Windows 3.11 was released, I was still working on command line based OSs, including Unix, VMS and the OS (whose name I've long forgotten) that ran on Pyramid workstations. I started to use Windows, but found it annoying. It hid away far too much from me at the command line, when I just wanted to get the job done. That has pretty much carried on throughout every Windows release. It has got better in many respects, but sometimes the command line can get right to the heart of the problem. I still use the Windows command line virtually every day.

The benefit of the Linux desktop is that I can have the desktop, but easily drop to the command line when I want to and have the full power of the OS at my disposal. My first experience of Linux was in 1998 using Debian, however not as a desktop, just as a server. I can't remember which desktop I actually tried first but around 1999, I went through Red Hat, Slackware and Mandrake, coming back to Debian. Possibly due to familiarity. Later I was given a works laptop with Red Hat on it, and stuck with that for quite some time. The actual desktop was originally KDE, but having tried Gnome ended up sticking with that instead. I do remember trying Enlightenment at some point, but it didn't last very long. In September 2000 I installed the newly released Potato from Debian as a desktop. I have to say it was rather nice. It worked without too much hassle and looked nice. I ended up sticking with it for quite sometime.

The brick, an Toshiba Satellite, stuck with me until 2006 when work finally gave me a company laptop. Understandably they weren't too comfortable with me using a personal laptop on the company network. It did get a few comments in later years, but it travelled with me to all my early conferences. At home my 3 servers were all running Debian, 2 of which running with Gnome desktops. At the end of last year Akira finally gave up after many years of service and has now been decommisioned. I now only run one headless Debian server, with another powered off to use in emergencies.

When Ubuntu surfaced I was toying with the idea of using Red Hat, or more accurately Fedora Core. I did try Fedora Core for a few weeks, but I think the Debian way had just got too comfortable, so gave Ubuntu a try. For ease of install and use, I found it much better than Fedora Core at the time. A couple of years ago I installed SUSE 10 on my works desktop, and despite a few learning curves, it didn't seem too bad. However, as time progressed and security updates, as well as general software, were needed, the system seemed to become more and more unstable with each patch. It would occasionally lock or crash, so after a particularly annoying crash, I started with a new install of Ubuntu.

The biggest win for me with Debian/Ubuntu is the deb packaging system. It occasionally had problems with dependencies, but for the past year or so, I haven't had any issues either upgrading the basic version, or with a complete dist-upgrade. Ubuntu now has more and more restricted drivers to enable laptops to just work, and Synaptic is just one of the best repository search engines I've ever had the pleasure of using. Gnome has a nice desktop feel and the layout works for me. However, this is still all just personal preference. I can't remember anything, development wise, that didn't work on one and not the other. Paths sometimes can sometimes be a bit confusing, as all the distros have their own conventions, but on the whole you get used to them.

Maybe if I'd have started with Red Hat, SUSE or Mandrake, and really got into the mindset I would still be using that distro today. I also think the fact that there are differences is a positive part of the Open Source movement, as each distro has a unique style and identity that fits some and not others. However, that does make it difficult to provide a new user with the right information to make the right choice for them, as in the end we all have a personal slant on our view. Anyone trying to make an informed choice is probably best to try all the major distros, and see how they fair installing, configuring and using. LUGRadio recently tried this, and although it wasn't the perfect test, it did go a long way to try and understand what worked for each member of the team. If you have the time to invest I would recommend trying at least Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Fedora and Mandriva as desktops, and include Debian if you want a server based OS. If you really want to go hardcore then Gentoo might be of interest, but it really isn't recommended for a new user.

One thing the LUGRadio boys spotted during the installation, was how often the distros can ask some very confusing questions, that even experienced users could even have problems with. This is perhaps part of the nature of Linux, that it isn't (at the moment) ready for a complete handover to the uninitiated. However, with more feedback and better refinement of the options and questions, I do think we will get there. Interest in Linux as a desktop is continuing to grow and we're going to see more and more posts (like the one that started this post) by people wanting to discover what will work for them. I'm hoping the extremists will burn themselves out, more of the LUG members will get to provide a more reasoned view, and maybe even more articles will appear in more mainstream computing press that will help to give a balanced view of the differences.

So if anyone does ask you to give them a idea of the differences between the Linux distributions, please try and give them a flavour of why you choose what you did, but not to the expense of them experiencing the right distribution for them. This thread on PerlMonks is more in keeping with that idea, and gives several general hints and tips why you might choose one platform over another.

File Under: computers / linux / opensource

Lost Horizon

Posted on 8th April 2008

For the past few months I've been playing Lost Cities on a site called YourTurnMyTurn. I've got into it so much I'm considering upgrading to a VIP account so I can play even more. I've tried some of the other games on there, but none have kept my interest as much as Lost Cities.

I'm hoping that they introduce a few more two player games based on German style board games, as they've certainly scored a hit with me for this. Kahuna and Pick And Pack aren't bad, but for me personally I got a bit bored too quickly. If I was playing them with someone in person, then it would probably have been alright, but playing remote lost the momentum for me.

I managed to get to the Quarter Final in my latest torunament, but unfortunately was up against a good player who managed to just pip me in the points. I'm playing in another 3 and soon to start another, so fingers crossed I can get further in them.

I've been playing it so much I haven't been playing Xplorers (aka Settlers of Catan) on AsoBrain for a while. Might even start entering some tournaments in that too at some point .. if I ever get the time!

File Under: games / website

Down In The Park

Posted on 6th April 2008

Ethne & DanDan

Ethne & DanDan

After waking up to snow, we took the kids round to the park to throw snowballs and build snowmen.

Snowball fight!

Snowball fight!

Up on the hill it looked like a few people were even venturing down the slope on sledges. Seeing as it's a steep hill, they obviously felt quite brave. Some kite flyers were also having a good day up there too.

Meanwhile, DanDan made a snow angel and four snowmen, while Nicole and Ethne made another. Ethne made us laugh by adding a bum to her snowman, although it looked more like a pronounced tail. Should have added long ears and called it a snow bunny :)

File Under: dandan / ethne / family / rubery / weather

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Posted on 6th April 2008

Snowy Rubery

Snowy Rubery

I commented to someone in the US recently that we'd had snow, blistering gales, rain and only a bit of sunshine over the last week. He then replied "all four seasons, wow!" However, the snow we had was only light had gone within an hour of the sun being out.

Not so this morning!

We awoke to discover Birmingham has been covered in a blanket of snow, and not just a light covering, but a couple of inches in places. DanDan was supposed to be playing a football match today, somehow I doubt that now. Ethne got all excited when she saw it all. I think trying to stop them playing outside today might be a bit difficult ;)

File Under: birmingham / rubery / weather

Where The Birds Always Sing

Posted on 4th April 2008

Peter N M Hansteen

Peter N M Hansteen

This week I was at The UKUUG 2008 Spring Conference, where I gave two talks on testing. While I was there I met Peter N M Hansteen. The name didn't ring any bells, and it was only when I was in conversation with Peter that he happened to drop the snippet of information that he was part of Bergen LUG, who implemented RFC1149.

Okay for most people that probably doesn't mean that much, but for real geeks this is one of the guys that implemented RFC1149!

So what is RFC1149? It's full title is "A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers", which also goes by the acronym of CPIP ... Carrier Pigeon Internet Protocol. Yes you read that right Carrier Pigeon. There was a later revision of the RFC which allowed for Sparrowhawks, but in 2001 Bergen LUG took it upon themselves to attempt a practical experiment to prove the RFC1149 actually worked. You can see all the photos and reports of the event, to which they invited Alan Cox along as an impatial witness, on their website. Peter can be seen in this picture, on the far left.

The reason I know all this, is that in the first version of my Understanding Malware talk, I used it as a humous aside. Amusingly, Peter did a talk about Spam and Malware at the UKUUG conference. It's a small world :)

Incidentally my photos for the UKUUG 2008 Spring Conference are now online. Click the links below:

File Under: birmingham / conference / internet / people / ukuug

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