Sitsofe's diary for October 2002

30 October, 2002

Off to Swansea

No diary entries for the next few days because I'm off to Swansea to have a chat with the employment manager at Gareth's company, the SUCS Halloween social and to finally burn off CDs of all those big things that I've been unable to download. I'll be back in Yatton on Friday.

29 October, 2002

Timesplitters 2

Dave has hired out Timesplitters 2 for his PS2 so I've been going over his house and trying it out. It is fairly interesting and quite stylised but the plot is weak and fairly unintelligible.

What do I want for Christmas?

I haven't a clue. Alfie asked me this the other day and I still haven't decided. I need to work on a list divided into small, large and infeasibly expensive gifts.

28 October, 2002

Self defeating advertising

I've been sent a spam email advertising spam free email addresses. The irony of this is not lost on me.

From: "MyEmail.Com" <webmaster@>
Date: Sat, 26 Oct 2002 23:18:29
To: sitsofe@
Subject: MyEmail.Com -100%-SPAM-FREE-GUARANTEED!


Who can trust someone who advertises features to protect against a loathsome advertising technique when they use that self same loathsome technique themselves? This one's so good it has to go to Spamcop.

Job prospects

I'm off to Swansea to have a chat to the people down at Gareth's company on Wednesday, so things are bit calmer around the house.

Gareth tells me that it's a suit and tie place. While I prefer jeans and long sleeved shirts myself I would switch to pressed trousers if the job required it. Here's a related Slashdot discussion on the topic of changes in IT dresswear.

Read YS3

If you like Sinclair Spectrum's (or if you like Sinclair Spectrum magazines) I recommend you read YS3. It is edited by two of my friends (Jon Hyde and Nathan Forsyth) and is reasonably funny. Plus a T-shirt article I wrote for it is slated to appear in the next issue.

Server errors

Yesterday all sorts of YP related errors started appearing on SUCS. After chatting to Arthur this morning, I learned that he reverted back to an old version of YP suite of programs because the version that silver automatically updated itself to has been the cause of various problems. That's the second RedHat security update that has caused things to break in under a month. The previous one was an update of Glibc which caused things like Jabber clients and MySQL to spontaneously explode.

Personally I think I'll run Debian on my servers if I'm given a choice. Their updates tend to be very well tested and even updating between major revisions breaks little and works well...

27 October, 2002

Wired: Spam hits blogger's referral logs.

Hilary Rosen (head of the Record Industry Association of America) lost a debate concerning whether Free music mentality is a threat to the future of music industry. Not so surprising given the audience but access to free music certainly made me buy more music (I have bought two Moby CDs because I was able to download and listen to the music beforehand).

25 October, 2002

Gareth visits!

Well Gareth couldn't have picked a worse day to drive down to see me. Within the short space of an hour there has been thunder and lighting, wind, rain and hailstones. He seems to have made it here in one piece though.

In the evening we popped over to Dave's house and I introduced Gaz to the magnificence that is Metal Gear Solid 2. It is telling that games have been getting closer and closer to cinematic experiences with modern games being almost as fun to just sit and watch as they are to play.

24 October, 2002

Mandrake 9.0 review

Hmmm this OSNews review of Mandrake 9.0 gives it something of a mauling. I still haven't been able to get my hands on it but I'm pleased to hear that it at least feels like the fastest Linux distro out there.


Following a conversation with Gareth I'm currently in the process of chasing a potential job at his company (thanks Gaz). It would mean a move back to Swansea but if I'm being paid enough then this would be fine.

Free Linux games book

Programming Linux Games has been released for free on the net (via Slashdot). This is kind of handy because I'm currently writing the very beginning stages of a vertically scrolling shooter with Dave.

Guy's current affairs theories

Yesterday I was chatting to my friend Guy who is working down in London as an Investment Consultant — there's a grandiose title if I've ever heard one. He also seems to have become something of an expert in the field of pensions and even has a friend who can explain why insurance premiums have go up so much each year (but hey even I can hazard a guess at that). It's always been entertaining to argue and probe his latest insights into current events and extreme ideas (he should probably join one of those think tank groups). Amongst the topics discussed on the phone last night he threw up the following ideas:

  • People should have to pass exams before they can vote (kind of like the driving theory test I guess).
  • The Washington sniper is probably a terrorist but the authorities don't want to make the link to Al-queda in case they are wrong and lose support for current initiatives against the organisation. He also speculates that the sniper is probably the only gunman but is not doing this alone (there is at least a driver and there could be more accomplices).
  • Having Britain dragging its feet before eventually adopting the Euro is the best course of action what with many of the existing countries unable to meet their targets.
  • Mainland Europe needs the cold hard cash of the UK to sort its pensions problems.
  • It's good to have a business card.

Like everywhere except Yatton he has broadband connection but he can't find anything to do with it. However it does sound like they could do with a nice router and someone to wire up all the computers to a switch they recently bought (I stomped down on talk of a computer having an "Ethernet in" — it infers that you need another port for Ethernet out). Sounds like a job for a 486, the IPCop Linux distribution and an expert in the field of network installations (i.e. me)...

23 October, 2002

Just a few quick links:

From Slashdot: Internet Backbone [Distributed Denial of Service Attack] "Largest Ever" and Disabilities act doesn't apply to the web (this last story is a shame — there are too many inaccessible sites out there and I feel that legislation is the only way to change this).

Business 2.0 talks about Counterstrike mod's underground success (via Wired).

Same old, same old

Back to my usual whinging and whining. Yesterday my Mum got back a day later than expected from her trip to Africa (she was supposed to get back on Monday the 21st). I think we've only talked once since she left (for the first week I had no idea what had happened to her because she didn't leave any contact information). I figured that since I had kept the house moderately clean and tidy (I even went so far as to buy a replacement toilet seat to replace the broken one we had) that I would buy a few days of respite from the inevitable barrage of abuse concerning my lack of a job.

I was wrong (see Mum? I even admit I make mistakes too).

Around 2pm I was called upstairs for a "chat". For the next half an hour I had to argue endlessly over my seeming inaction to find employment and what was described as my satisfaction with the situation. I noticed that several adverts concerning accommodation had been helpfully circled in the local paper and the argument shifted over to my moving out. After around another ten minutes I'd had enough and walked down to the Doctor's surgery (my Mum was expecting a phone call) to find out the results of the X-ray I had last month (seems like my skeleton is fine so I still don't know what is causing the soreness).

22 October, 2002

New RSS Validator

Finally there is a working RSS Validator (via Diveintomark) so you can now test whether RSS feeds are well formed. I've been looking for one of these for some time to check whether I was creating my RSS markup correctly.

Unexpected power surprises

I've just read this /. thread about the perils of soft-on in modern PCs and I can recount my own experience of this. A while back I was working on the inside of my PC (probably fiddling with the fan to see if I could stop it grinding when the computer starts from cold). I was happily working away when my friend Kim (who was about 20 miles away) nearly caused me to be electrocuted. You see my computer had left my modem on and the computer had been set to wake itself up when the phone rang (I have no idea why I enabled this option — I don't use it any more). Since that near miss I now turn the power off at the wall before working on the PC. I still leave the power cord plugged in though because Jason taught me that it grounds the PC case which means you can touch the case to discharge any static electricity you might have built up.

21 October, 2002

I've been thinking about buying quieter parts for my computer (I'm worried that the current hum will worsen my mild tinnitus) for some time so I read this How to Build a Silent PC with some interest (found via /.).

Deep Fritz held Kramnik to a tie (or should that be the other way round?). Personally, I was always pounded into the ground when I played chess against my BBC Master's (which only had 128K) White Knight program but I've never been a great chess player (I forget parts of my original strategy as the game progresses).

I've discovered that there's a another Xiao Xiao Shockwave flash thing. The latest one is an interactive beat-em up but I think you will be hard pressed to beat it with less than six lives.

Update: (22 October) I've just beaten it using only three lives :)

Apparently BT Openworld and Hotmail are going to install spam filters.

20 October, 2002

More Tekken Tag (Dave has hired it for five days)...

19 October, 2002

Dave has hired out Tekken Tag Tournament so I have been over his house playing that an awful lot. I think I can tell where most of the extra power of the PS2 has been put in comparison to Tekken 3 on the PS1 — the character's faces. They now scowl, blink their eyelids and generally posture more than in the previous game.

18 October, 2002

Oxford trip

Well I took the train down to Oxford on the 16th to visit Victoria (a friend I met at Swansea University). When I arrived she hadn't quite made it to the train station because the buses were being slow. This gave me a chance to grab a baguette since I was feeling somewhat peckish (I had started early to get to Bristol because I wanted to do a quick bit of shopping before going on to Oxford). When we finally met up she said I hadn't changed a bit (I hope she meant that in a good way...).

It wasn't long before I sampled Oxford's bus system firsthand. At best you could describe them as quirky but downright bizarre is a far better summary. Buses seemingly fly past stops at random, turn up at the strangest of times and go down weird little roads which have trees in the middle of them and roundabouts at the end. All I can say is no wonder the people in Oxford are so smart — you need a high IQ just get about!

We eventually arrived back at her place which is a house amongst a block student accommodation. After all the travelling I had been doing it was nice to stay in one place long enough to grab a bite to eat without having to rush somewhere else before it could be digested.

Over next few hours we chatted about what we had been doing across the summer and what out other friends had been up to elsewhere. I also got to see a few more graduation photos (if Victoria puts her photos online then I will link to them at some point). One thing I have noticed in all the graduation photos I've seen is that Jason always seems to be caught looking off to one side as if distracted by something. Mysterious...

Of course being a (computer) geek meant that I couldn't pass up an opportunity to play about with someone else's computer. I had conveniently brought a network card and some screwdrivers with me since Victoria had mentioned that she had network point in her room. Alas installation of the software was not quite as easy as it might have been since she did not have a Windows 98 CD or the CAB files close to hand. Somehow I managed to fudge enough of the install to get things running by pointing Windows' requests for files on the CD at the Windows directory. We weren't able to test whether things were completely running though because Victoria had not completely registered her computer for the network. Things seemed fairly promising though since the light on the back of the network card was happily flashing away...

In the evening we braved the buses again and made our way in to town for a meal at Pizza Hut and more chatting about how we both ended up at Swansea. I get the impression that Victoria misses Swansea and the friends she made there. From the way she describes Oxford it seems like a far more hectic and densely packed place city even though it is smaller. She also said she spends a large amount of her time studying for her Masters at Oxford Brookes and is often tired after commuting back and forth all day. I certainly sympathise with the commuting part — I spent eight years commuting back and forth from BGS for an hour each way and travelling time is a huge factor in the jobs I've applied for.

Victoria kindly paid for our meal (I still feel somewhat uneasy about this, I did offer to pay but I wasn't quite fast enough when the bill arrived) and we headed off to the train station. For once the train was on time so it was at that point that we said our farewells and I headed back off to Yatton.

17 October, 2002

I'll write about my trip down to Oxford tomorrow.

The unexpectedness of football

I would just like to take this moment to apologise to Adam and David for not being around to watch the match yesterday. Sorry, I double booked and kind of forgot the original schedule guys.

I normally don't do requests but hey, anything for a friend:

An example of a country is Wales. Italy is another example of a country. Sometimes countries come together in the name of entertainment and compete in two halved game called football. Sometimes the wonderfully unexpected happens and a country no one expects to win their match does. Yesterday it was Wales.

Two other countries are England and Macedonia. Sometimes the not so wonderful happens and a country no one expects to do well gets a draw. Sometimes mistakes are made and people are endlessly blamed. Blame itself is fine but there needs to be a limit.

Webmonkey or WSP?

At first I didn't get joke about the Web Standards Project Webmonkey page. The Webmonkey site and the WSP both have different homes. Then I read the posted articles.

16 October, 2002

I'm off to Oxford (to visit a friend)

It seems to be that time of year when everyone has settled down enough to invite me over (which is fantastic from my point of view). Today I'm going to Oxford to visit Victoria, so there won't be any more entries until tomorrow.

15 October, 2002

SUCS account freeze resolved

Following up on the previously mentioned SUCS/Student Union debacle, SUCS received the news that more than 50% of its members had voted in favour of the expenditure on new computers yesterday. Hopefully this will allow the society to resubmit an application for funds. Thanks to all the members who voted in favour of the expenditure.

Blimmen 'eck it's wet

Well I'm supposed to be in Bristol rather than writing this but an unfortunate series of near successes has prevented this and I'm sat at home in my dressing gown waiting for my jeans to dry. Let me elaborate:

I should have been running.

I left the house knowing that I had scant minutes to make it to the train station. The rain in these parts has decided to become torrential and my jeans were so soaked through thanks to puddles and cars by the time I got to the station.

I should have been running.

By the time I got to the station the train had gone. The teletext display on a TV kept rolling so it was a few minutes before I worked out that the next train to Bristol was an hour away. I realised that I had left the top of my bag open and it had filled up with water.

I should have been running.

I started to saunter my way back to my house when I saw a bus going past me. Perhaps it was the 360 to Bristol that goes round the roundabout at the bottom of the Yatton and come back the other way. I dodged another puddle and crossed over to the other side of the road.

I should have been running.

As I approached my house I heard the roar of the bus that had passed me earlier. I glanced up. It was the 360. No point running now.

I should have been running.

I noticed that there was an elderly woman crossing the road up ahead forcing th e bus to stop. I took my lucky break and started sprinting for the bus stop hoping that she would hold it up long enough for me to make it.

I should have been running.

As I approached a small junction before the roundabout my unfit body started to slow down. The roar of the bus filled the air and it swept past me and past the bus stop. I checked the bus timetable — an hour until the next one.

I made my way back to the house again. As I did the 660 came past in the other direction. I've noticed in the past that whoever makes up the bus numbers enjoys multiples of 30. No point in running though...

14 October, 2002

New York Times looks at Slashdot

Site for the Truly Geeky Makes a Few Bucks — A friendly New York Times article about Slashdot (found via Scripting News).

More Slashdot

Speaking of Slashdot here are two of the interesting stories running on it at the moment. The first is a debate on whether colleges are helping Microsoft to maintain a monopoly. The second is the fallout of Richard Stallman's comments decrying the Linux kernel's adoption of a non-free source management system.

RSS 2 specification error

I've noticed that there is an error on the RSS 2 specification page. If you look carefully at the optional examples that that involve time you will notice that the time itself is of the form 0:00:01 whereas it should be 00:00:01 (the examples are missing the leading 0). Personally I am not a fan of using RFC 822 to represent time — it is incredibly frustrating format full of unnecessary text and formatting. Sure it's unambiguous but there are far better (and shorter) methods which are equally unambiguous and much easier to generate.

13 October, 2002

Are all job sites poorly designed?

I have been reminded why I hate job search sites. I sign up and into one job site (HotJobs) and I am promptly redirected to a blank page in both Mozilla and Opera. I sign up to another job site (Fish4Jobs) and attempt to login only for the connection to wait forever (despite four attempts to sign in). I go through the arduous process of filling in all my details on a third ( and only for the following cryptic message to be produced:

An error occured [sic] while processing your request. Please verify that all the information provided is accurate and formatted properly before resubmitting your request.

It helpfully failed to tell me where the error was in the dozens of boxes of information that I had filled in. After a bit of trial and error it turned out the problem was because I had put a "+" in my email address (I have talked about the + syntax before) which is actually valid. Oh well. I persevered all the way up to the point when after filling in another bit of information I was presented with an ASP VBScript error telling me that the server had run out of memory. Three strikes and I'm out.

12 October, 2002

Another rejection letter

Today a rejection letter arrived concerning the job I applied for the other week. This is not good for the following reasons:

  • I have had nothing but rejections (or lack of replies) for the jobs I have applied for which isn't doing my self esteem any good.
  • Without an income the little money I have will eventually run out.
  • When my Mum gets back from holiday she will be livid and will blame my failure to get this job on excessive Internet usage ("I bet they tried to phone you to tell you had the job but couldn't get through and gave it to someone else").

I'm fairly certain that I am a competent and able worker when it come to operating computers but it would appear that the skills I have are not in demand (quite possible) or that I am selling myself really badly (also possible). Either way I need some sort of job so I'm finishing off the local supermarket application form.

Sven's men do it again

This evening Dave and Ad popped over to watch the England vs Slovakia football (or soccer to any American readers out there) match.

Part of me always dreads watching England play because they seem to have a habit of lowering their standard of play to that of their opponents. During the first half sloppy defending by England brought a joke I was making to a very abrupt end. Stunned disbelief continued into the second half and the criticism of Beckham's seeming inability to finish even the simplest of opportunities arose. The football itself briefly took second place to crowd violence as fans and the Slovakian police clashed. One of the TV commentators dug up the statistic that it had been more than a year since England had scored in the second half of a game which didn't help the mood.

The Beckham critics were slightly more muted in the second half when what I assume was actually meant to be a cross flew into the back of the net aided by the magic non-touch of Owen. Owen went on to strike again leaving those in the room with hoarse voices and England clung on for my predicted 2:1 win.

The Shawshank redemption

As usual there was nothing else worth watching on terrestrial TV but Dave had taped The Shawshank Redemption and to put it bluntly, this is the best film I've seen all year (and probably one of the best films I've ever seen). People suffer unjustly but the film successfully meats out retribution to those who deserve it in a manner that doesn't feel overly moralistic and the acting is satisfyingly good.

The film rounded off a great evening the only downside of which was the large amount of washing up that was produced which was a small price to pay.

11 October, 2002

It's been over a week since my Mum left and I hadn't heard anything from her which was worrying me. However after doing a bit of chasing up (it's difficult to find out what's happening to her when she didn't leave me any contact details) it seems she is fine and is preparing to go to a friend's memorial tomorrow.

Wired revamp

When I went to check my usual sites this morning I discovered that Wired News had been redesign. My initial thoughts were "Hey things look different" but it turns out the changes are more than cosmetic. The most interesting thing about the change is that this is seemingly the first high profile site to try and adhere to W3C standards for HTML. In short this means that the site will hopefully validate thus allowing modern browsers to avoid quirks mode (leading to a faster more consistent display) and ensuring that the page will be at least readable in all browsers on the market (it certainly was readable within the text only browser Lynx). Wired do a good job of describing the reasoning and the impact of the change in A Site for Your Eyes article.

Laundry day

Today while I was down the laundrette doing my washing, I had a chance to speak to the manager. Last week I had overheard the washing machine repairers saying that they could no longer get the parts required to fix the washing machines so they would have to be replaced entirely.

I chatted to him about this and he confirmed that this was the case. He went on to explain how the vandalisms and thefts had started in 2001. Apparently the initial vandals prised the tops off the machines to get at the coin slots so he had the tops of the machines replaced and reinforced. This time round, unable to pull the tops off, the vandals had somehow prised back the front panel and punched the coin slots into the machine before reaching in and pulling them free (there was quite a lot of sharp metal about through the hole mind). They have even taken to stealing during the day, as one customer had put his washing in and come back an hour later to find the machine he was using had been attacked.

Apparently bikes which had been left in the nearby children's nursery had also been stolen (in fact a month ago, the cleaner of the hairdresser near my home was telling me how her bike had been stolen) and part of the allure to the criminals was the out of the way location.

I queried the manager as to whether CCTV would help and he replied probably not since the criminals would just wear balaclavas. He said that in the future the machines would be hooked up to the alarm system of the premises that would call him and the police if they were tampered with. The alarm will increase in volume to the extent where it will puncture your eardrums if you are metre away.

It would appear that crime within Yatton is on the rise which is rather sad. I suspect that there has always been some degree of crime but for the most part it has not been so visible.

10 October, 2002


I was browsing some of the magazine coverdiscs that I picked up the other day and noticed a demo of the final version of Jeff Minter's Gridrunner++. I actually tested a beta version of Gridrunner sometime in May and found it ferociously hard to finish the single level provided (I managed it in the end). Since then the game was tweaked and tuned and released (so I'm a bit late to the party in terms of timeliness). Thankfully the demo's difficulty has been toned down from that of the beta.

The game itself has your ship shooting various nasties with a weapon that can be powered up so your firepower does more damage and allow you to shoot backwards too. It's simple enough stuff but it carries on Minter's reputation for fast, frenetic action and um, ungulates (maybe the fact he's Welsh explains that part). As you are blasting away enemies blow up leaving irritating pods behind that if not destroyed explode into a trail of horizontal and vertical lines (turning levels into the eponymous grid). Points appear and vanish with a shatter of pixels and everything is gloriously trancey.

But it gets better.

If you have every played Tempest 2000 you will know about the superzapper. Well Gridrunner++ has it's own sheepiezapper that let's out a sort of "thddddd MEHHHHHEHHHHHHH!" sound, loosing off electric bolts on your enemies thus causing the screen to be inundated with the lethal little pods said deceased enemies leave behind. Add to that a power up in the shape of a sheep's head (nicknamed "The Pill") that makes a "OoOoOoOoOoOooo!" sound as it charged and emits a "Just call me baaaadass!" when it is full and ready to raaampage. Then blend the above together all at once and you can imagine the madness that ensues — "thdddOoOoOoOMEHHEHHHHHHJustThdddCall" (artist's impression of background sound effects).

If twitch gaming's your thing you've got to give it a try and stump up a very reasonable fiver for the full thing. Do it for the little fluffy sheepies.

9 October, 2002

Morning news

Yesterday I was on the phone to someone offering to buy their computer off them for £220. He said my offer was too low. Today I read that Evesham are to launch £249 PCs.

Afternoon drive

Regular readers will know that I don't like driving. Given this crucial piece of information I can't believe that I was silly enough to drive to Bristol today. The logic went something like:

  • Well if I crash the car I can probably get it repaired before my Mum gets back from holiday.
  • I really would like to look through this month's computer magazines.
  • If I went at 2.30pm and come back an hour after I get there the traffic won't be so heavy and I'll get valuable experience.

So I took my week's budget (£20 excluding petrol money) out of my bank account and drove to Bristol.

The journey up wasn't too bad... The main problem seems to be my gear changes which were atrocious. The original plan was to go to a car park right in the middle of the city centre (to give myself more practice) but I failed to get into the right lane on the roundabout outside the bus stop. I chickened out and went to a pay and display car park around a quarter of an hours walk away.

The whole experience was quite new to me (I've been driven to Bristol before but I've never done it myself) and by the time I got there it was 3.30pm. I was feeling pretty nervous and wondering whether the whole thing was such a good idea. However it was a bit late to back out given that I was quite literally there and after buying an hour's worth of parking credit I set off to town.

While browsing magazines in WHSmith's, I noticed that PC Plus were giving away Delphi 7 Personal Edition on their coverdisc. This was really quite serendipitous because yesterday I was wondering whether I should buy issue 143 of PC Plus in order to get Delphi 6 (Borland seemingly no longer provide a non-trial version of Delphi 5/6/7 for download). While scanning the rack I also noticed that Linux Format had Kylix 3 Open Edition on their coverdisc so I blew half the budget on those two magazines.

The next stop were the videogames shops. Unlike Swansea's 5th Dimension, all the games shops sell any GameBoy advance game worth having at £35 (which is quite frankly is ludicrous). I had a quick go on the Xbox Wipeout clone Quantum Redshift which has a rather fantastic water lens splash effect when your ship dives into and the rides across the top of a lake.

I also took the opportunity to wander into a Waterstones bookshop. Unlike the Waterstones in Bristol's Mall, the city centre one has several shelves laden with computer books. Linux Kernel Internals caught my eye as did Jakob Nielson's Homepage Usability but both remained laughing at me on the shelves due to a lack of money.

Time was starting to run out because it was already five past 4 by now. I dashed into Boots to buy some soap and was mildly annoyed to find a large queue of people waiting to pay at the checkout. When the woman who was two in front of me came to buy her items the cashier pointed out that if she spent just one more pound she would get a five pounds discount counter. I was mortified - time was against me and where how long would she be looking for something that cost just a pound more? The woman directly in front came to rescue by suggesting that pound short woman could buy her shower cap she had in her hand (which cost two pounds) and shower cap woman would pay her back. This worked and I jumped to the head of the queue and set off back to the car park.

A very fast walk later and I was back at the car one minute late but thankfully no parking attendants had turned up. I rather hastily made my exit into heavy traffic (I guess the rush hour starts before 5).

I had just muddled way out of the city and on to the dual carriageway when I noticed that a there was a slow moving truck ahead. I checked my right hand wing mirror to see if there were any cars in the other lane. It was about that point that heard a rumbling and noticed that the car was at around 15 degrees to the ground.

I had strayed too far left into the kerb of the dual carriageway and was riding the left hand side of the car up it. There was very brief shock, abject horror and an overriding then the feeling that I had better correct the problem sharpish given that I travelling at around 50mph. I'm not ready want to die (especially not in a car).

By the time I got back home I was tired and I was stressed. After driving for half an hour my arms are usually achy (I've tried adjusting the seat but nothing helps). Now they were incredibly tense. Hours later my left arm was still sore.

I just couldn't get over the disappointment in my own driving ability. How could I be so lapse? The gear changes were one thing but tipping the car up? I need to get to a position where I am either confident in my ability on the road or finally decide not to drive for good. If the later, I need think carefully about living in a rural town where I can not even buy a high speed Internet line to let me telework.

8 October, 2002

SUCS member objections to Student Union fraud allegations

At the end of last week I learned that SUCS has a pending fraud investigation hanging over its head due to what appears to be some administration errors.

Here is my description of what lead to this as far as I can tell:

  • David Chisnall (the SUCS treasurer) bought SUCS new equipment using his credit card during the holiday. The equipment was purchased before SUCS had the funds because of the need to keep disruption to services during term time to a minimum. This also meant services would be ready for the start of term.
  • After term started, new/old members were signed up and paid their annual membership fee.
  • Once SUCS had enough money David filed a request for funds with the Student Union.

Unfortunately the membership fees had not yet transferred to the SUCS account when David put in his request. Further, David was the one authorising the transaction to pay himself the money he had spent on equipment. As far as I can tell, these two mistakes have led the Swansea Student Union treasurer to

  • Freeze the SUCS accounts.
  • Force a referendum among members on whether the money should have been spent.
  • Start a fraud investigation into the SUCS.

Since Monday, there has been something of an outcry from SUCS users (old and new) concerning the treatment of the Society (and David). With permission, I have published some of these emails.

Daniel Hilton, 2nd year Computer Scientist

Dear Lee

As said in my prior email, I'm 100% behind the committee on this issue. The Society was right to spend the money. I will also agree that they spent the money in good faith, unaware that this may have caused problems. If the society were to lose the equipment the society could quite easily fold very quickly.

"Do you agree to the expenditure in August 2002 of £1,003.01 on IT accessories and hardware and the re-payment of this amount to your society's Treasurer?"

I agree wholeheartedly and without argument.

Cheers Dan

Ben Wilson, Materials Engineer:

Dear Lee Biddle

I have recently been informed that I am unable to renew my SUCS account due to fraud allegations perpetrated by yourself. I have been a member of the society for over eight years now and have always enjoyed a high level of service from the admin team and the society as a whole. It is with great regret that I note that you and your colleagues are taking steps to rob myself and other hard working members of these services. Not that we are going to be the only ones who suffer as I have been using my SUCS account to co-ordinate this year's premier corrosion Conference UKCorr2002 to which a number of leading foreign guest have been invited to attend and sample the delights of Wales. With your short-sighted, narrow-minded attitude to recent events my account will probably cease to exist at a rather inappropriate time leading no doubt to untold levels of chaos which will not only create a bad impression of the myself and the University but of Wales as a whole.

So I wish to express unreservedly my disappointment at these events and trust that you will see sense quickly to prevent the situation descending into further farce.

Yours Sincerely

Ben Wilson

Alan Cox, Linux kernel programmer:

Dear Sir,

I am deeply disappointed to hear of the current goings on with the university computer society. It is through that society that I learned many of the real computing skills that made me who I am today (The University describes me as follows:-

Alan Cox is one of the most influential IT innovators in the world. A graduate of the University of Wales Swansea, he has been a key developer of the Linux kernel for nearly a decade.

-- (

It is very sad therefore that the union is pursuing such an unreasonable approach to resolving a minor society dispute. Just how many people's opportunities does the union intend to destroy ?

I am also somewhat shocked to see an executive of the union make what are probably actionable claims of fraud by former society administrators. Even worse you are doing this using University owned computing equipment and networks, exposing the University as well as the Union to potential litigation and in violation of university computing regulations (section 3). Doing this in the same mail as calling for a vote is tainted to a degree normally associated only with corrupt regimes. I believe the union owes a written apology to those it has defamed. It should also abandon its tainted call for a vote.

The society has a strong constitution with its own clear and correct ways to resolve the question you raised - a reasonable question "Do former members have a right to commit the society to spending in the next year". An emergency general meeting will easily resolve the matter. I would note that committing membership funds from future members is a practice that the union itself follows every year. An emergency general meeting of the society, perhaps with yourself present to explain the steps the union took and why they were deemed appropriate, would be a good way to clear the air and resolve the situation smoothly.

Finally if equipment is sold off please ensure I am notified as to the process and location of the auction or sell off as I wish to see that such equipment is sold at a fair price in accordance with the requirements of a charitable body. Please also remember to ensure such systems are wiped of data in accordance with data protection and copyright law should such an unfortunate situation arise.

Alan Cox

Steve Hill, Senior software developer, Navaho Technologies Ltd:

I am writing to you regarding the allegations of fraud that you have directed at SUCS.

While I was in Swansea completing my degree in Computer Science between 1997 and 2000 I was a member of the SUCS committee for 2 years (secretary in 1998-1999 and president in 1999-2000). I firmly believe that my time at the society was much more valuable than my degree - it taught me technical skills and life skills, both of which I use on a daily basis. Without this experience I would not have my current job.

By taking these actions, you are potentially denying other people the same opportunity, and wasting the time of the SUCS admin team (who I might add are very dedicated and hard working) - time which would be better spent looking after the society and doing coursework.

In the 2 years in which I was a committee member, the SU played petty politics with us several times. However, to my knowledge, this is the first time the SU has made such wild accusations. Your email seems to say that accidentally overdrawing or having your cheque bounced by a high street bank is fraud - that is just not true. In fact, such unfounded accusations are probably libellous.

I sincerely hope you will withdraw this overreaction as soon as possible.

- Steve Hill

If you are a SUCS member who has replied to the SU's email and wish to have it posted here, please send it to me (sits) at my SUCS address giving me permission to post it. I reserve the right to edit emails as I see fit, or to not post it at all. It would also help if you could state what are doing (e.g. job or the subject you are studying).

Update: (15th October) The situation was resolved by a vote. You can read about it on the 15th October 2002 entry.

7 October, 2002

I met two of the new SUCS members (the now infamous 133t and rcorbie) today. Given his choice of username I predict an endless stream of harassment for 133t (Why? Because his username is a warez spelling of elite and as such has strong script kiddie overtones).

Each year there are new members and each year someone put a floppy into a sparc and can't get it out (heck I did it when I was new). It may be October but I'm going to link to the September that never ends poem anyway.

Blimey, I've just heard the word Photoshop being used as a verb meaning "digitally altered" on Johnny Vaun's TV show. Ah no worries, it looks like it was a model who used it and given that most pictures of models these days are digitally enhanced these days I'm not so surprised.

6 October, 2002

No escape

It seems that there is never a complete escape from chastisement. Today I received a phone call from one of my Mum's former work colleagues who effectively told that I was using the Internet too much that she had been unable to get through on the phone.

5 October, 2002

For some reason I'm really rather pleased to receive an email from someone I thought had forgotten about me today...

Lots of good articles on the web today:

Tales from BOFH archives

Today while browsing a Slashdot story about yet another Windows virus I came across this hilarious story about getting users to apply upgrades. It is clearly not factual but is entertaining none the less.

(Not?) hip to be a geek

The Register published a guest column pondering whether Geekism was turning into an ineffective monoculture. Helpfully, one of The Register writers has already put up a counter viewpoint arguing that actually the Geeks have a good and honourable point. My take is that Geeks (or at least the people with traits that I associate with the word) are a despised, looked down upon and dwindling group (especially within Swansea Uni — stick that in your pipe and smoke it). Personally, I consider myself to be Geek and I am saddened by other people's attitude towards Geek group.

4 October, 2002

Well I woke up this morning to find that some of the American sites (like Wired) that I regularly read were inaccessible. The initial Freeserve directed bile was misdirected as it appears the problem is not within the Freeserve network at all but could in fact be Worldcom's fault.

Home alone

This morning my Mum left for Ghana. She is officially only going for three weeks but may stay longer if she feels that she needs to get more work done. I was shocked to hear her ringing the doorbell about three quarters of an hour after she left in a taxi. It turned out that Bristol airport wouldn't accept just her Ghanian passport so she had to hurry back to pick up her British one.

Jackie Chan fest

I finally (after got round to watching the Jackie Chan movies Dave gave to me (about a year after I was originally lent them). First there was Shaolin Wooden Men (reasonable kung fu, vacant plot), followed by Drunken Master (unsurprisingly the first in the Drunken Master series).

After returning the videos to Dave he popped over and watched Thunderbolt which was on TV last week. All I can say is that cars and kung-fu don't mix (however it contains a typically crazy Jackie Chan stunt with him hanging out of a portable home which is hanging from a crane).

3 October, 2002

Linus vs Tanenbaum postings

I finally got round to reading the Linus vs Tanenbaum "Monolithic kernels are obsolete" summary. The thing that struck me most was how far off future predictions could be (Tanenbaum suggested that RISC based chips like Sparcs would overtake the CISC based i386 IBM PC). It was also interesting to see a posting by Fred Fish there. His Fish Disks were legion among Amiga users back in days before software was distributed widely on CDs (or the Internet for that matter).

Epson printers are cunningly dumb (continued)

Back to yesterday. I noticed the black ink was running out when printouts began having large white lines throughout them. After setting the nozzles to clean themselves and printing a test page, a nice blank page was printed. I needed to find some way to force a cartridge change. I knew what the problem was (I had made it myself) and all I wanted to do was fix it.

So I brought up the printer control panel (the printer is hooked up to my Mum's Window's machine) and hunted about for a replace cartridge button. I couldn't find one.

I searched the help file hoping there would be something under the replace keyword. There wasn't.

I pulled out the 200 page multi-language manual and flipped through to the troubleshooting page. It said try cleaning the nozzles and if symptoms persist read the online help (see above).

By now I was annoyed. Why hide an option that would inevitably needed behind a game of hide an seek would inevitably wind up with the user having to call/email support? I took measures into my own hands through experimentation. I pressed the button on the printer that causes the printer head to be parked ready for cartridge replacement. Nothing happened. I pressed and held it for five seconds and the printer moved the head to the left (where I could get to it), moved it back to the right and went into a cleaning cycle. Great. I pressed another button and it ejected a blank sheet of paper. Fantastic. I pressed a combination of buttons together (there are only three) on the front of the printer and it promptly crashed and refused to power itself off via the power button. "How very... Windows" I thought. I pulled the out and reinserted the lead to get it going again.

By now I had become reckless. I hatched a scheme whereby I would power off the printer when the head was on the left when it tried to go into a cleaning cycle. The plan more or less worked and I swapped a new cartridge (which is packaged in some space age material that cannot be opened with bare hands) into it. I powered the printer back on and was dismayed to see the head moving incredibly slowly off to the right. After it got to the right it whizzed back and forth a bit before coming to a rest on the right again. Everything seemed fine until I went to the printer control panel and was met with a gauge that thought the black ink was still half full. Was there no end to this vicious cycle of madness? If I did not fix the problem now, it would only come back to haunt me in the future — the computer would inevitably think the cartridge was out of ink when it was not leading me to put it back leading me to take it out and put it back which in turn would lead to this exact same situation AGAIN.

I went to the American Epson support website (one thing I've found by experience is that European support sites are almost always inferior to the American ones) and brought up the information for my Mum's printer. I found a troubleshooting text file ( I'm not linking properly because I don't want to do Epson any favours in their Google ranking) that said basically said I should contact EPSON Connection for further support. It helpfully said that damage could be done to the printer if it was not shutdown properly (I had done this twice by now. I couldn't help thinking that I had heard a similar phrase used before on a different piece of equipment). Another area of the site informed me that an email to support would receive a reply within two working days. This wasn't good enough (I needed the answer now). I searched a bit more on the Epson site and resigned myself to downloading the "Epson Answers (Ink Jet Printers)" PDF file. Unfortunately they neglected to put the size of the PDF on the site and IE also unhelpfully decided to just download the file in the background removing any hint of how long it would take or how big the file was.

A quarter of an hour later the PDF had still not opened and I resorted to a Google search. Of the three results I opened, the third contained an archive of a mailing discussing problems with Epson printers on Linux. Inside it, Robert Krawitz mentioned the following:

You should be able to force a cartridge replacement by holding down the paper feed button on the printer (NOT the cleaning button) for at least 3-5 seconds.

I held down the paper feed button for 5 seconds. The printer head moved over to the left where I could get it. I opened and closed the black cartridge compartment. I checked the Epson status program which reported the black ink was full (as was the case). The ordeal was finally over.

2 October, 2002

RedHat 8.0 ISOs

It turns out that the RedHat 8.0 ISOs SUCS is mirroring MD5sumed correctly. We rather aggressively spent most of Monday hunting for sites carrying them and managed to plunder the files before everyone else got there. If you decide to download from SUCS please be gentle — we don't have that much bandwidth.

Making a site comply with HTML standards

Well today has certainly been eventful. Over the past few days I've been encouraging Dwight Wallbridge to make his weblog Geek's Blog standards compliant after I read that his site was not displaying correctly in Mozilla. It turned out that Moz wasn't entirely to blame as an errant font tag was setting the text colour to red. However while I hunting about for the problem I noticed that the HTML was difficult to pick through and slightly broken in places which could cause more unwanted side effects. Over the last few days Dwight and myself have gone on to squash over a 100 validation errors but the site is not quite there yet (hopefully not too far to go though).

At some point I really need to write about why it is so important for pages to validate (even when they may look OK). I guess part of the reasoning is that although it may look fine in one browser it may look terrible in another if the rules are not followed. Another good reason is that it makes it easier for robots (like Google's indexer) to read your site. If there are errors all over the place it won't do such a good job ranking your pages.

Prospective job

I have finally heard something positive back from the jobs I've been applying for (so I can put the Supermarket job application form on hold for a bit). This afternoon I heard back from the Backwell Medical centre and I'm going for an informal chat at 10am tomorrow. Prior to this I heard nothing back from North Somerset council and other places had turned me down without interview.

Epson printers are cunningly dumb

This evening my Mum's printer (an iMac transparent blue Epson 760) ran out of black ink. Nothing too unusual in that, since the ribbon/ink/toner in any printer is eventually going to run out. What was more of a problem was the printer's refusal to let me change the cartridge even though I knew it had run out.

In order to learn how I arrived at this sorry state of affairs we need to go back a few months to when my Mum ran out of colour ink. This was strange because she never does any colour printing and her PC is set to only print in black and white. After lots of hunting around I came to the conclusion that it had run out of colour ink due to the printer periodically running cleaning cycles on itself when it is started. Each time it does this, the printer uses up a bit of ink and insidiously forces the owner to have to buy more ink cartridges than they would have done otherwise. This is made all the more frustrating by the decision to prevent the user printing even black and white documents if the colour ink runs out (and vice versa) thus ensuring that users who don't use colour will still be forced to buy overpriced cartridges in the end.

Anyhow when the colour ran out I hit upon the cunning plan of putting the empty colour cartridge back in the printer thus conning it into thinking it had a fresh cartridge and allowing the rest of the black and white cartridge to be used. While I was poking about I also removed the still half full black and white cartridge and replaced it for no good reason whatsoever. This act turned out to be mistake since the printer now thought the black was also full. "Never mind" I thought, "I'll replace it when it actually does run out". I also thought "Why, what an ingenious money saving scheme I have come up with — this way I'll be able to squeeze every last drop of ink out of the cartridges and will avoid being ripped off by Epson on expensive cartridges. Sitsofe, you are indeed a most cunning fellow!" because, well I'm like that.

Unfortunately it turned out that the dumb printer was yet more cunning... (continued tomorrow).

1 October, 2002

Darn, I forgot that September only had 30 days... Time to start another month.

Critical TV

Last night I went to put a video in the old TV (it's one of those TV/Video all in one things) when I noticed that The Office was on. Now earlier in the day I had been listening to Jo Whiley's interview with the star and writer of the show and it's been hard to miss all hype concerning the BAFTAs it's won. So I sat down and watched.

I have to say it made me cringe a fair bit which is not to say that it isn't funny because it is very funny. It's just the humour is based around embarrassment — like those awkward silences you get when someone commits a faux pas in full view. Everyone's seen said gaffe but there seems no obvious way to move swiftly on. Now I'm regretting not seeing the first series because from the look of this one it was quite the wittiest thing I've seen on TV for some time.

Music criticism

Anyhow after that finished I poked through a few old videos I had lying around just to see what was on them (which turned out to be quite a varied amount of stuff). Anyhow I rewound one video and found an old recording of a Jo Whiley channel 4 show.

The idea was some musical guests were invited into the studio and they talked about music and the talk was interspersed with various videos and features. This particular show was broadcast in 1998 with the Happy Monday's Shaun Rhyder, Huey from the Fun Lovin' Criminals and Sister Bliss out of Faithless as guests.

What a show it was. I was transported back to a time when I enjoyed most of the music at the top of the charts a time when the Playstation had just been launched... basically a time when I was exceptionally happy. As the Chemical Brothers song almost says life [was] sweet.

The guests played off each well. Huey was laid back, sprawled across as much of his chair as possible. Sister Bliss was more serious, chatting insightfully about musical influences and critically reviewing the music being played upon the show. Shuan F'ed and blinded his way through the whole thing with flippant comments and colourful language. The whole thing was absolutely magic with U2s the Sweetest Thing and Massive Attacks' Inertia Creeps being the week's records. Best of all the showed was played out by Orbital with a live version of Little Fluffy Clouds 98.

But hang on a second. Let's step back from the obvious romanticising of the above paragraphs and see if I can recall what was actually happening from my perspective in 1998:

Well for a start I certainly wasn't euphorically happy. If anything I was pretty miserable what with two hours a day being spent on a carbon monoxide filled coach travelling to and from school. When I would get back I'd be fairly exhausted and would set the alarm to wake me up at 2am so I could try and finish off whatever Maths coursework needed to be handed in. Let me digress for a second for a related anecdote: While copying a friend's Chemical Brother's album (Dig Your own Hole) to tape I became so frustrated with the Maths problem I was working on I hit the table so hard it made the CD jump backwards during the track Piku. Due to the nature of the song though it looped perfectly and is near enough unnoticeable.

I doubt I really knew who Shaun Rhyder was given that the Happy Mondays were most famous at a time when I wasn't even listening to popular music (early 90s). As for the Fun Lovin' Criminals first hit Scooby Snacks, sure I enjoyed the song but I didn't see Reservoir Dogs (from whence most of the samples had been taken) until DaveB lent it to me this year. Sister Bliss? Well I'm sure Faithless had made their massive hit Insomnia by then but I can't say I've ever seen her DJ live (I'm not exactly sure what she does in Faithless either. She always seems to be on keyboards when they are playing). If you asked me to name songs that Orbital have done the only one I can think of is Little Fluffy Clouds. I think that might have also been the year that Jo left the evening session to do start her lunchtime show on Radio 1.

Still I think I enjoyed the Jo Whiley show regardless.

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