Reading

I’ve been reading a lot of novels (on my commute) recently, so I thought it was probably about time I reviewed a couple of them.

Elizabeth Moon

I’ve been reading a lot by Elizabeth Moon recently. She mostly writes Space-Opera/Sci-Fi, athough she has one fantasy trilogy and one Autism related book.

Vatta’s War is a series of 5 books, set in a well-described universe. Some themes and technologies are reminicient of her earlier works, mainly the Serrano Legacy, but it is different enough to be a good read.

Her autism book is called The Speed of Dark, and it has to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. Its very emotional, but based on the authors own knowlegde of Autism. (Her son is Autistic.) If you want to know more about what makes autism different (and why it is part of a sufferers’ [for lack of a better term] identity), read this. Well… just read it anyway. Excellent book.

James Patterson – Four Blind Mice

This is a murder mystery, with a number of twists. A continuation of his “Alex Cross” series… A good read. Not something to shout from the rooftops about, but a good read. Hard to guess the ending πŸ™‚

John Twelve Hawks – The Dark River

The second book in his trilogy. Preceded by “The Traveller“. Awesome book. He has quite a lot of knowledge about surveillance technologies. He’s made a couple of mistakes (one, for example, relating to the technical bits of “ip addresses”, but the only reason I picked that up is because I’m a computer geek, who understands the some of the basics behind the internet.) But, nothing too serious. Most of this technology exists, or is in final stage of development. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7433128.stm < scary.

For a book (and the series) its quite interesting, a mixture of sci-fi and reality. Makes you think deeply, so its true sci-fi.

Round-up

I’d recommend reading Elizabeth Moon‘s The Speed of Dark,Β  John Twelve HawksThe Traveller and The Dark River, to actually get something from the books. The others are just pure pleasure reading, but none the less enjoyable πŸ™‚

I’ll stop rambling here, as my mind is swiming somewhat, and this screen seems to be filling my vison. Its been a long few weeks….

Hidden Ubuntu Gems: Window Selection, Always on Top & Password Gen

I thought it was probably a good time for another Ubuntu-related post, so here we go.

Window Selection

Window controls, selection raising etc

Something I found on one of my explorations, is this really handy feature (handy for me at least), which allows you to give a window “focus” (or selection) merely by putting your mouse over it. To activate it, click on “System”, go to “Preferences”, and then click on “Window”. Up pops a small selection window.

As you can see, I’ve ticked “Select windows when the mouse moves over them”. You can also have windows be raised to the top of the screen if you hold your mouse over them for a certain length of time. As my collegue at work found, setting the interval to “0” is not very useful…

There are a couple of other tweaks you can make here. I’ll let you explore them on your own πŸ™‚

Always on Top

“Always on Top” allows you to basically tell the system that you want a window to be the upper-most on the screen, no matter what else you do. You can’t “Raise” anything above it. I tend to use this little gem with my next tip.

Set a window to be always on top by right clicking on the title bar (the big orange bar at the top of the window, which contains the minimize, maximize and close buttons). Click the “Always on Top” option. ThatΒ  window will now stick on top of your screen. Undo it, by right clicking again on the title bar, and clicking “Always on Top” again.

Password Gen (pwgen)

pwgen is a small, neat, command-line program to quickly generate fairly easy-to-remember, fairly secure passwords. You can install it by clicking here, or going to whichever package manager you prefer (synaptic, Add-Remove Programs, apt-get or aptitude) and installing “pwgen”.a screenshot of pwgen with my preferred settings in use

Use it simply by typing “pwgen” in a terminal (“Applications” > “Accessories” > “Terminal”). I tend to run it with the command “pwgen 8 1”, which generates one 8 character password.

Now, if you’re adding a lot of users to a system or something (I am currently at work), using a combination of these tips will save you time… I’ll leave it up to you to work out how to combine them. (Hint: resizing a terminal window like I did above is a good starting point.)

Trains

I’ve been running around on the Train & Underground system recently for my daily commute into work. (Currently 2 1/2 hours each way… I need to move closer ;))

Firstly, I much prefer Welsh trains. They have a conductor, who’s nice. The best experience I’ve had of a train in Wales, was of the conductor holding the train a couple of seconds to allow the ticket machine to finish processing my debit card and spit out my tickets. The best experience I’ve had in England, was a train that was on time.

I’ve not had a bad experience in Wales, but in England, I was once accosted by 5 toughs, whilst on the train and told to hand them my ticket. At this point I was travelling on a “Permit to Travel”, as there’s no ticket machine or office at my starting station. From the outset, they made me feel like I was a criminal. They phased me enough that I managed to miss my stop. I was late to work that day. Thanks, Southern Trains.

Last week, I had the lovely experience on the Tube, of having a guy sitting next to me lean across/against the seat divider enough that I couldn’t avoid him touching me. I find human contact uncomfortable in the extreeme unless I’m expecting it and I know whom its from well.

The photo is one I dug out of my archive. I will upload the full-size version to my flikr account if requested.

Photos

Yay! I’ve finally finished tinkering with my photos. Unfortunately, because my camera decided to take a number of them in low resolution, I wasn’t able to make them all post worthy, so they’ve been consigned to a digital blackhole. (Some of these are on the borderline…)

I went wandering before I left Wales. This is one of the photos I took then. Click on it to see the flickr page (where you can view a bigger version by clicking “all sizes” and then “Origional”)
Stream

The Ubuntu Hardy Release party. Andrew Oakly had this brilliant idea to make name tags for us all. Shame they were a little small… And mine kept falling off. Oh well, still a good idea πŸ™‚

Ubuntu Hardy Release party

The train, after coming home from the release party. Sorry about the rubbish quality, this was the best of the lot, and my camera for some reason decided to take a number of really low resolution shots. That’s the second time its done that, and I still don’t know why it does it…

night-train

Empty street. Again, my camera being stupid. You can, if you look carefully, see the jpeg compression it used to store the image. I’d love to be able to justify buying an SLR!

street

Constructive critique highly appreciated πŸ™‚

Another Meme

Stolen from http://dannimatzk.co.uk/?p=245

1. What time did you get up this morning?
7:20 am

2. Diamonds or pearls?
Diamonds

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Iron Man.

4. Favourite TV show?
Firefly, Startrek, Doctor Who.

5. What do you usually have for breakfast?
Cereal

6. What is your middle name?
Paul

7. What food do you dislike?
Raw tomatoes.

8. What is your favourite CD at the moment?
ZOEgirl – room to breathe.

9. Favourite sandwich?
Chicken, sweetcorn and mayonnaise.

10. What characteristic do you despise?
Selfishness

11. Favourite item of clothing?
Jumpers.

12. If you could go anywhere in the world on holiday, where would it be?
Germany

13. What colour is your bathroom?
White

14. Do you make friends easily?
No

15. Where would you retire to?
Somewhere warm.

16. What was your most recent memorable birthday?
21st

17. Favourite sport to watch?
Snooker.

18. How many towns have you lived in?
Three

19. How many do you think will send this back?
0

20. What’s on your bedroom floor right now?
Books. Wires. Multigangs. Some clothes. Bag of Books. Some computer parts.

21. Favourite saying?
Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. Terry Pratchet – The Hogfather

22. When is your birthday?
1987

23. Are you a morning person or a night person?
Night.

24. What is your shoe size?
Size seven and a half

25. Pets?
none

26. Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with us?
I’ve managed to process one photo out of the nine I wanted to.

27. What did you want to be when you were little?
A firefighter.

28. Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to pick up different languages quickly.

29. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Aye.

30. What is your favourite flower?
Bluebells.

31. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?
Monday 19th. End of Phase 3 of a project we’re working on at work.

32. What colour are your eyes?
Brown.

33. What was your favourite toy as a child?
Woofy. A teddy. Quite small and fragile. Still got it, somewhere, although its falling apart.

34. Summer or winter?
Summer. I hate the cold.

35. Hugs or kisses?
Hugs.

36. Chocolate or Vanilla?
Chocolate.

37. Do you want your friends to send this back to you?
It would be nice.

38. When was the last time you cried?
A month and a bit ago. Old memories.

39. What is under your bed?
No idea.

40. Who is the friend you have had the longest in SL?
Not played in SL.

41. What did you do last night?
Ate. Read my email. Slept.

42. Favourite smell?
Lavender.

43. What are you afraid of?
Needles. Strangers. Lots of people in a room. Not knowing where I’ll be tomorrow.

44. Plain, sweet, or salted Popcorn?
Salted.

45. How many keys on your key ring?
9.

46. How many years at your current job?
0.1 ish.

47. Do you have any scars?
One on my cheek, and one on my tummy.

48. Favourite day of the week?
Sunday.

You are quite welcome to do this, and please trackback so I can see :)

Move Complete :)

My blog’s move is finally complete πŸ™‚

As I said, my new RSS feed is available from https://kirrus.co.uk/feed/

With the move, my commenting system is now open, and does not require registration. Be patient for comments to be posted – the first time you post, your comment will be moderated. Also, I have a set of spam filters that may be a little too exacting; if a comment hasn’t gone up after a while feel free to contact me.

As well as the blog move to WordPress, had all three interviews. On the final interview I was offered the job and I accepted it. I started two days after the interview (thursday). Yay! Currently, my commuting time is a total of 5 hours a day, so I’m already thinking about moving closer to the office.

Interview – I had to take a brief test, which was interesting. The first section was grammar, one of which we had to find what was wrong with “LCD Display” and “PIN number”. Later, it turned out, that the website of the company which I’m now working at has a very similar error, with “ZDR reboot”. Fun fun.

I will be working on a theme for this blog shortly – this is a stock “K2” theme. I saw that elwoodicious is using K2, and it seems to be quite handy πŸ™‚ (Look at the footer for a link to info about K2)

Photographs – My memory card reader is ready and waiting next to my laptop for me to download another batch of photos from my camera, so the next post will be the best out of that batch.

Computer – I’m back on my laptop, because my new hard-drive has failed in a very similar way to the old one. I’m guessing that theres’ a problem with the PSU or SATA PCI control card.

General Update Ramble

The following is a random update, covering everything from my explorations of Linux to life stuff. Feel free to skip if you don’t care πŸ™‚

Hardy Release Party

Was really nice, once I’d got past my initial reluctance to go and the butterflies in my stomach as I traveled to it. I said on IRC before I left, that the first person to recognise me, would get a drink on me. Daviey failed, he was outside having a cigarette when I finally arrived. To be fair, he wasn’t on the IRC channel when I said about the free drink… I managed to get lost, walking from the tube (Embankment) on the way to the pub – asked directions three times. Had the obligatory chat with Daviey about asterisk (I like asterisk!) and some of the pros and cons of the FreePBX interface add-on. (As suggested by Popey on the mailing list. Thanks!)

I went in with Daviey, and saw Alan Pope. He was in the middle of a conversation, but was about to say “hello Kirrus” to get his free drink, when Josh (Jerichokb) popped up, and nabbed it first :). Funnily enough, we had this conversation on IRC before I left:

<jerichokb>Β Β Β  Kirrus: thank you in advance for the beer :)
<Kirrus>Β Β Β     jerichokb, don't count your chickens...

Heh… I guess he can count them after all πŸ™‚

I had a really nice time, which is *really* unusual for me in a room with that many people in it. (I don’t do lots of people… I normally can’t cope, and leave asap, or sit in a corner hiding…). Sad to leave at 9, but I got lost 4 times(!) on my way back to the tube station, (asking for directions each time… one guy gave me dogy ones…).Β  Next time I find a good map. Missed the train I was aiming for, and ended up taking the last train, got home midnight. (Yes, three hours travel. Missing the train will do that for you.)

Distro Experimentation / Hard Drive Failure

Well, my CentOS install died with my harddrive, about 2 days after my posting about it. CentOS is useable, and is quite nice, though I didn’t reinstall it when my new drive arrived. Unfortionatly, it turns out that my new drive has some bad blocks on it. Repaired the filesystem using “e2fsck -c” on the live cd, and reinstalled gutsy. Upgraded to Hardy RC. A lot of work. I’m going to have to boot back into the LiveCD sometime and check the filesystem again, to see if there’s any more corruption. If so, I’m going to have to get another Harddrive, and RMA this one. Just what I didn’t need with my dwindling savings and no job. Update:(Thanks, as always, to the Ubuntu-UK irc guys for the help and advise as I tried to repair my partitions)

Jobs

I’ve had 2 interviews so far, one at Codian, one at Canonical. I’dΒ  really like to get the Canonical one (working in a datacentre, looking after servers), as it sounds like an enjoyable thing to do, that and giving me plenty to learn. But, I don’t think I will. (Heh – my natural state after any interview. Then getting the job is a pleasent surprise rather than a disappointment.) Millbank tower is NICE, and the commute into Vauxhall fairly simple.. I just take a slow train from a town about 3 and a half miles away… an hours walk, or 15/30 minutes cycle depending on the traffic, and which way you’re going. (To is easier. One big hill up, then mostly downhill to the station.) I’m still awaiting a reply from Canonical HR about blogging guidelines as applied to interviewees, so I won’t go into too much detail about that interview here. Suffice to say, it was interesting.
The Codian interview was by far the most difficult, I was asked a tonn of questions by three different people, over 2 hours. Decimal to binary (on a whiteboard).. I’m a bit rusty at, not having done it much before, but got there in the eventual end. Decimal to Hexadecimal, mathmatics is not my strong point, but again, got there in the end. (6E == 110).Very friendly receptionist πŸ™‚

I’ve one interview/meeting left, at Positive Internet. Sounds interesting…

If you know of any Junior/Trainee Linux/Ubuntu-Based jobs in London going around, let me know.

To Do:

  • Process, upload and blog photos. Recharge camera’s battery (rarely need to do!)
  • Continue Job Hunting.
  • Look at the feasibility of moving onto a new blogging platform, but staying with my current email and domain host.
  • Hunt for jobs.
  • Bug Triage.
  • Think about applying for temp work to tide me over.

Centos

Well, its a couple of days into my trial and I’ve settled into Centos. (I went with Centos instead of Fedora, as its closer to RedHat according to the #ubuntu-uk guys andylockran & popey [Thanks!], which is the OS I really was aiming to play with.)

I’ve had a couple of niggles, like the old version of Firefox (1.5x series instead of 2x) on Centos, the ease of installing java etc… Its only when you step away from Ubuntu that you realize just how advanced it actually is!

So far, I’ve installed 4 rpm packages manually, and compiled one successfully. (I tried to compile the last.fm client, but it wasn’t playing ball. I’ll get it working eventually…)

The package I compiled was pamusb, a really cool utility to allow you to use a USB key for authentication on your system, literally, you can use it to login with, use sudo commands without passwords, etc. I’ll probably post a guide at some point. From looking around on the web, it works better with Ubuntu than Centos as the packages you need are in Ubuntu’s repos. I’m not sure whether that includes the pam configuration you have to do, but I’d expect so.

You can get pamusb here: http://www.pamusb.org/ (or as mentioned, in the Ubuntu Repositories) [Update: Don’t use the Ubuntu Repository version: its out of date]

Centos’s graphical package manager isn’t anything as nice as Ubuntu’s, but the command line “yum” is certainly better, giving more information in “yum search <package or purpose>” than a “apt-cache search <package>” would.

With this reinstall I put /home/ on a separate partition, so that should make jumping easier. I’ll probably try Fedora at some point… and Debian….

</blog-entry>

Bugs, a failed walk, and photos

Bugs

Since my rant about the state of bugs in Ubuntu, I’ve been going over my bugs, one by one, poking them and re-triaging them. I did this to one bug for gweled, 110268. One of the people who had experienced this one tagged it “bitesize” (easy to fix) and “packaging”. I reset it into “confirmed” state, assigned it to the MOTUs. (I tend to set them to “incomplete” whilst poking them to make sure they’re still an issue – that way if there is no response and I randomly disappear, launchpad will automatically mark them for expiration). As a result of my poking it, Effie Jayx was asked to it, and the bug is no-more in Hardy. Nice πŸ˜€

Thinking about it, I probably should have chucked that particular bug upstream earlier. The reporters had done all the work tracking down the bug… there we go, live and learn. I’m slowly poking all the bugs that haven’t been fixed, that I’ve triaged, making sure they all go to the right places…

A failed walk

‘How can a walk fail?’ I hear you ask. Quite simple, I was attempting to find a few geocaches, in a long walk around my local area. Geocaches are basically small hidden caches, which you find with a hand-held GPS.

So, I parked up with my recently repaired car (long story), and set off. However, I managed to go the wrong way (yes, even with a gps with topographical maps of the area), so I didn’t get anywhere close to finding any geocaches. I’ll probably try a completly different route next time…

On the way though, I did manage to take a couple of nice photos, so here are the best of them. As usual, all photos are under the Creative Commons share-alike attribution licence, click on the photos to see a bigger version on flickr.

This one is looking through a wire fence, fairly close to where my next one was taken. Sorry the background is blurry, should have put it into macro mode. The hill was quite steep here and my footing was tenuous so I wanted to move on quickly…

Hillside fence

Went past this wall whilst walking back to my car in the woods. Its falling to bits, but not being kept up, as it’s been replaced by wire fences. There are quite a lot of crumbling dry-stone walls in this particular wood.

Crumbling Wall

Weir

As usual, my water photography continues πŸ˜‰
I took these two at a local park, which is very close to where I work. I go there to eat lunch sometimes, and there’s a artificial pond created by this weir/dam.

Dark Weir Weir

6 Random Photos

I decided it was about time I made another camera card-dump. I also picked a couple of pictures out of my archives and uploaded them. If you can guess the location of any of these, comment here or on the flickr photo page! (Virtual cookies for anyone whom gets it right!)
But no cheating, if you know me in person, and know where these are, don’t say anything πŸ™‚

All photos are under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence. Click on the photos to go to the flickr page. Enjoy!

Steam Railway

Went to a steam railway somewhere in Wales for the day (April 2007), with my cousins. There was a marquee with a wooden floor there.. on which somebody had at some point stuck an Ubuntu sticker! They certainly get around πŸ™‚

This is the bottom of a hose used to refill the steam engines with water. It dribbles a bit all the time, whilst the railway is active. Was a really sunny day, light enough that the shutter time was quick: 0.004 sec (1/250th of a second).

Steam Engine Hose dribble

I then took a photo (second one) of the puddle where this water was going. Wind was blowing it about a bit, took a couple of shots to get a really nice one. Again, really sunny day helped, shutter time was 0.004 sec again

Steam Engine Puddle

Welsh Ponds

My grandparents came and visited me last year. (I have photos of them, but I’m not putting them on the ‘net.) We went and visited a fairly famous place in Wales. If you’re welsh, I would be VERY surprised if you haven’t visited here at least once. Not sure you’ll work out where this is from this photo though. Didn’t spend long there, just enough time to get this photo and have a bite to eat in the cafe.

Welsh Ponds

Christmas 2007

I’ve not many photos of Christmas just gone, because as mentioned, I managed to leave my camera behind when I left Wales for my family home. Anyway, I have a certain urge that fills me every Christmas. never acted on it, never will, but I want to find and use a pair of wire-cutters every time I see garden decorations. Don’t know why, but I do. This particular example has a very visible wire, and I saw it quite regularly over Christmas.

Christmas Sleigh

Night Shots

As you may have noticed, I quite like taking photos at night and in the rain. Well, both of these fill the “night” slot, and one of them also fills the “rain” slot. (It was more like torrential downpour, but there we go.. shame you can’t see it on the photo.)

Cold night, dark, walking home. The water on the road is runoff from the (large) hill about half a mile down the road. Sorry about the blurryness of this photo (the larger version is even worse.) Shutter time on this one was 0.3 sec (3/10ths of a second)

Empty Road

And last of all, this one I took tonight (3rd of Feb). During the torrential rain that stopped me walking to Church this evening. My camera went a little odd on this one, and didn’t take it in its full high-resolution, so there’s not a bigger version, I’m afraid. Shutter time was 0.125 sec (1/8th of a second). I overrode the camera to shorten the shutter time, else it would have been too long, and I’d have ended up with a blurred mess.

Dark Street in the Rain
Hope you liked all those. All comments & constructive critique would be appreciated πŸ™‚