Sitsofe's diary for November 2002
Updates are still going to be sparse because although I'm back in Yatton today I'm going back to Swansea tomorrow. I just hope that Dave, Dan and Jason can put up with me for another week because I still haven't found a place to stay. It's surprisingly hard to work and look for a place at the same time.
I've tracked down a Joel on Software essay about creating schedules. This could be handy in the new job and I'm posting it here to make it easy for me to find at work on Monday. Other useful essays from that site are Daily builds are your friend and Picking a ship date.
Paul Boutin reckons it's CD burning/portable MP3 players that the record industry should be worried about (not file sharing apps) in his Wired article Burn, baby, burn. Personally I do use my CDRWs for mainly backup purposes (the others hold Linux distributions). I also reckon that the Peer to Peer file sharing programs are more of a problem than a few burned CDs judging by the collections of files some of my friends have. If you have the bandwidth stuffing songs on a CD seems to be irrelevant — it's too much effort.
Went into work feeling very tired. Proceeded to hammer my head against a wall deciphering the Jabber configuration files because conference rooms still didn't work. I even managed to get SSL working by recompiling (why wasn't SSL compiled in by default?). In the end I threw away the default Gentoo Jabber configuration files and downloaded a single Jabber configuration file from the web. After a few find and replaces in vi the Jabber began to work, sort of. The MSN and Yahoo transports failed and the AOL/ICQ transports brought up a large number of errors. However the conferencing worked which allowed inter-office communication. There was a big meeting in the evening and the road map ahead was sorted out. Start investigation into how CVS works and whether it would work with Microsoft Visual Studio. The promising CVSin does not work with Visual Studio .net so for the mean time people have resorted to sshing to the Linux box and issuing commands from there.
Finished off the set up of my machine and turned my attention to the Linux server. Spent sometime fiddling around wondering why the settings in my .bashrc were not working before I realised that my default shell was not /bin/bash but /bin/sh. After poking about and failing to find any distinguishing marks I asked what version of Linux was running and found out it was Gentoo Linux.
Now I've always wanted to try Gentoo since it is source code based and compiles practically everything from said source whenever you install a package. This can make it very fast since everything is tailored for your exact machine. Unfortunately a bit of work still needs to be done on sensible defaults and compiling things takes time. Why have .bashrc and .bash_profile in the skel user home directory if the default shell is not bash? This was also the first Unix computer I've ever used that did not have vi installed. Even MacOS X and QNX (which isn't even a Unix) come with versions of vi. Well the default Gentoo editor is Nano (which is a Pico clone) which is user friendly but not quite as efficient. The situation was slightly remedied by installing the vi package. Then I realised that although I can use vi, what I really wanted to run was Vim. Unfortunately the install of Vim bummed out with an chmod error concerning /dev/pty/s0. Irritating...
I also tried to install and configure Jabber. I got things sort of working (the server was up) but setting up a conference room failed to work. I struggled with this after leaving time and thought I had it figured out when I left...
In the evening I did some washing up (this is my contribution to the DDJ household). Jase and Dave invited some friends over but by 12.30am the sitting room was freed up and I went to bed. Unfortunately at around 2.30am Dan came in and woke me up and reasonably loud music and sound kept me up until 4.30am...
Stared work a bit early (I wasn't expected until lunchtime) but it gave me the chance to meet up with my work colleagues (Gareth, Huw and Ben). The day was spent setting things up. Very big desks were moved about and I was given a nice new computer to install Windows 2000 on.
My Windows 2000 experience
My general day to day experience of Windows up until today was mostly with Windows 98 and not Windows 2000. The times I did use Windows 2000 were at University and mostly to do word processing in Word (why? Because it was always so much hassle to anything working right). Over the past few months I have been mostly using Linux (in the shape of Mandrake 8.2) and working happily within the Unix environment.
The 2000 CD I had was an upgrade and since the computer did not have a version of Windows installed it asked for another Windows CD to prove that I could install it. Attempts to use a Windows Millennium CD failed and there were no Windows 98 or NT CDs available. For the first time in ages, a Windows 95 CD made itself useful and the install accepted it.
After entering the registration key I left the installation reformatting the hard drive (I did leave 6GB at the end for a Linux install though) and left it for a few hours. After finally being able to log in I went to the Windows Update site and started to install patches. After admiring how things had changed a bit from the Windows 98 update I installed a few patches and rebooted.
Then I installed IE6 service pack 1 and rebooted again.
Then I installed some updated driver. And rebooted.
Then I tried to download the Windows 2000 service pack 3 from the SUCS ftp site using IE only to have it fail to download the last 4MB. I have no idea why this happened and I promptly ftped myself a copy of FileZilla ftp program before giving up using IE for FTP ever again. After downloading the service pack and installing it I rebooted.
Herein lies one of the features that I really hate about Windows which is the sheer amount of rebooting that takes place. In Linux land only kernel and glibc updates require a machine to be rebooted. In Windows, even installing a small program can require a reboot. Oddly enough though, installing Mozilla didn't require a reboot.
Wasted the day away by going down to the SUCS room and getting Unreal Tournament 2003 working on one of the computers there. It really needs a a more powerful graphics card than the ones SUCS has. Failed to search for house to live in.
In the afternoon DaveB and I tinkered with his machine to get Windows 2000 installed. He had tried to install it previously but it refused to boot. GNU Parted partition manager suggested that there was some sort of geometry mismatch between what the BIOS was reporting and what it had found on the disk but attempts to use fdisk or parted to fix this didn't fix the problem. What did fix the problem was setting the LBA (Logical Block addressing) option in his BIOS for that hard drive. Now instead of reporting that it could not boot it was booting and moaning there was some other problem. Re-installation sorted that and everything appeared to be working.
Ok I finally did manage to go to Swansea today. In the rush leaving the house I left my GBA at home but it gave me a chance to finally sit down and read the latest copy of Edge (which had an interesting article on whether the Xbox was going to go the way of the Dreamcast).
After getting to Swansea train station I made my way down to the 5th dimension games shop. I was all ready to buy a copy of Yoshi's Island for my at home GBA when I found they had sold out of them completely. The other frustrating thing is that their prices no longer seem significantly cheaper than the big videogaming chains (like er GAME).
I then hauled my suitcase and rucksack to the bus station and caught a bus to the University. By the time I reached the SUCS room I felt like my arms were going to fall off. While I was there Jason turned up online and told me to come up when I was ready. I was kind of hoping for a lift but by the time I thought to ask him he was already gone.
Further hauling took place to get the stuff to Jason's house but when I think I got there a bit quicker than Jason and his mate Chris were expecting. After tidying up I settled down in Jase's sitting room and watched TV.
Off to Swansea again (for a week) to look at places to live. I may also be
starting work down there next week and since I'm not taking my computer I won't
be updating the diary.
I felt too tired to go today (that's what shopping with my mother does to me). I really will go tomorrow.
Slashdot: Is MacOS X slow? Well it certainly wasn't as responsive as some other OSes when I last tried it but nor was it unacceptable. Plus since I last used it Apple have improved the speed.
Linuxworld: Joe Barr gives the Linux version of Unreal Tournament 2003 a reserved welcome. It's a touch sad that Epic would not get back to him. I can't imagine what damage it would have done to their reputation.
TotalVideoGames: Black and White 2 preview. Picking up trees in the first game was considered evil? Sheesh I sure hope they make the consequences of actions clearer in the sequel. I'm highly sceptical about BW2 having fought may way through all five levels of the original. Sounds like things are moving more towards Populous though (which may not be such a bad thing).
Microsoft's Palladium gets Linux on TV
On last night's Channel 4 news there was a short feature about Palladium — Microsoft's proposal to introduce Digital Rights Management to home PCs. It was marketed on the back on Microsoft's recent Trustworthy Computing initiative and we were told that it would actually make computers more secure and reliable. It was fun to see a brief shot of the Ximian Desktop (shown running OpenOffice as an alternative to Windows) and open source activist Bruce Perens arguing against the introduction of Palladium.
I am highly doubtful that this is the real purpose of the Palladium push. I just can't help thinking that this has come largely from large media organisations who have found themselves unable to cope with the flexibility of the modern PC. Piracy has become rampant and the current plan to deal with it is to introduce controls into PCs so that the PC no longer trusts its owner. Parts of the hard drive will be fenced off especially for the purpose of DRM media and since Windows will be the only (PC) OS with support to talk to this hardware it will ultimately become the only choice if you want to watch or listen to modern media. Opensource OSes such as Linux will be ruled out immediately because their open nature would quickly allow users to work out how to circumvent the controls.
I'm all for more secure, reliable computers but Palladium's true purpose is neither of these. It's not there to make the user's life easier — rather to check that the user is only doing what companies want them to with their "licensed" works.
While surfing the web this morning I came across this link bot report which contains a link to the now defunct http://www.sucs.swan.ac.uk/~aswinter/ page. As DaveB said to me the other day it's a small universe (or something like that)...
Ok first the relatively cheap gifts (less that £15):
- Transformers "All fall down" graphic novel or Transformers "The complete works part 2" (none of the new Armada stuff please).
- Rewritable 700Mb CDs (preferably a pack).
- Replacement UHF cable to connect an Amiga/SNES/Megadrive to a TV.
- PC Magazines.
- Official (not download edition and must be latest version) FreeBSD DVD or OpenBSD CD.
- Official GameBoy Advance link cable.
- MegaTokyo comic book.
GameBoy Advance rechargeable battery pack (must be in black)(I bought one to stem the tide of dead batteries).
Moderately expensive (£25-£50):
- GameBoy Advance versions of
Yoshi's Island(I've already bought it), Super Monkey Ball, Street Fighter Zero Upper (not Super Street Fighter 2 Revival please).
- Ultra quiet CPU fan or PSU for an Athlon 850.
- Andrew Tanenbaum's Operating Systems book.
- Amiga PCMCIA network card.
- 2.5" -> 3.5" IDE cable.
- Jakob Nielsen's Homepage Usability book.
- Official GameCube control pad.
Expensive and unreasonable (you probably don't want to know the price):
- 50Gb+ hard drive.
- Pair of WiFi cards.
- 19" CRT or good 17"+ TFT monitor.
- Geforce 4 Ti.
- Good digital camera (must be compatible with Linux).
- New PC (preferably at least 1 Ghz specification) without a monitor.
- Apple Titanium laptop.
Free or very cheap:
- Christmas cards or email (card preferred).
- Hugs, handshakes and season's greetings (please arrange beforehand).
BMG (one of the large record companies) has decided to stop releasing CDs that play in computers (via Slashdot) in Europe. I am tiring of reading about how the big record companies are going to disable a perfectly reasonable use of CDs (listening to them in computers so that one can turn them into files on the hard drive). I am also tired of how companies go away and corrupt a standard and then wish to continue to use the logo that signifies that standard (if you are only going to follow all the rules then the result does not conform to the spec). It's not enough that the majority of new music released is pop that I will not be coerced into buying no matter how much hype I'm subjected to. Now they want to put the small amount of modern stuff I want to listen to beyond the pail too.
101 things that the Mozilla browser (and IE doesn't). A bit tenuous (things like each CSS feature are counted individually) but interesting nonetheless.
Trio of SUCS events
Well this morning was certainly eventful. Firstly I couldn't reach SUCS (this was because the SUCS router had locked up). Then after I do manage to log on my email starts arriving and I learn that the locked cupboards in the room have been forced open but strangely there is nothing obvious missing. Finally, it looks like someone has been downloading what we suspect are huge amounts of Warez on the SUCS connection, which is clearly against our terms and conditions. I'll point out why SUCS cares so much about what its members download. Because we get our bandwidth from the Library Information Service (LIS) which in turn is connected to the Joint Academic NETwork (JANET) we have to abide by the JANET terms and conditions. Well the JANET connection is certainly not cheap and its "raison d'etre" is to facilitate work. You will find it difficult to justify downloading gigabytes of porn or illegal software in the name of serious study and if SUCS turns a blind eye to offenders then it's SUCS who will pay the cost when the LIS cut the connection.
28 days later
Dave, Ad and and another old friend James Hill came knocking at my door this evening to invite me out to see 28 Days Later. They were originally going to take the bus (Dave's car has a flat and the others don't drive) when I suddenly said "Oh don't worry I'll drive us up". I'm unsure exactly where this idea came from (non regular readers can see I don't like driving and Afternoon drive for why), nor why I spent the next ten minutes wasting enough time to make catching the bus impossible, forcing me to go through with my suggestion.
It's the first time I've driven at night and I found visibility so low with the headlights dipped that I turned them to the more powerful option and just left it there. Dave later explained that this was the blind-car-coming-in-the-opposite-direction full beam setting and if I wanted other cars on the road to see what they were doing I would be advised to leave them dipped. Even so he also remarked that the strength of the dipped headlights was very low.
I had been informed that the film itself was a horror zombie-fest putting me in mind of something like the risible Resident Evil (the zombies in both movies are created by a virus outbreak) and the first half of the movie did go for similar in your face shock (when the lead reached to open and empty car most of the audience jumped out of their seats). Initially, the despair of the whole situation stopped me caring about the survival of the few characters still alive but every now and then a ray of hope would turn up.
It soon became clear that it was more British art house than Hollywood big budget blockbuster but I'd argue that seeing an empty London is frightening in itself. The tension was slightly spoiled by the cinema because some parts of the movie were so quiet we could actually hear the sound of the movie playing in the screen next door. By the end though it turns out that human beings have more capacity for chilling horror than zombies ever will, allowing the movie to become truly really creepy (although incredibly confusing). It's certainly interesting but not quite as good as 12 Monkeys (another virus outbreak film but with some time travel twists).
The drive back home was going well all the way up to the roundabout that joins the motorway when I became so preoccupied with whether there was car in the left hand lane that I sped off down the turning to Yatton and noticed that the traffic light was green for the cars queuing on the left (which must have meant it was red for me). Thank goodness the other cars waited...
I know it's the 5th of November but do people have to let off fireworks during the day in addition to the night?
I started writing my experience of Mandrake 9.0 (which I installed last night) in the diary but the entry has become so long it makes more sense for it to be spun off into it's own article. Now I need to finish writing up my article XSLT stylesheet...
Gareth pointed me to Great Britons top ten page on the BBC website. Currently Princess Diana is number one which reinforces my opinion that the whole thing is a nationwide popularity contest.
Today I am reminded of some neoclassical Economics that I did back in the Sixth Form in 1997-98. The part I'm thinking of in particular was discussing why different jobs have different wages (or was it trying to explain unemployment? If you know what I'm on about let me know). One of the reasons given was the lack of a perfect labour market (lots of Economics is based upon theorising under perfect conditions and then rationalising the result with the real world):
- Imperfect knowledge. Someone applying for job does not know about all the possible jobs they could could do (e.g. they may get paid twice as much doing the same job in Canada or maybe the employer is not charging the going rate).
- Imperfect mobility. Geographical location affects which jobs someone can go for. Not everyone who is looking for a job can just up and move to allow them to do the job (for example family ties, inability to find housing due to cost/limited supply of it, travel costs).
- Non-transferable skills. People can't just start doing a job even though there are a shortage of people doing it. Many jobs require training before someone is capable of fulfilling them.
imperfect mobility to the fore. A quick search on the net has only turned up FlatFinders as an agency I can go through and the University has apparently recommended that students avoid them due to a large number of complaints (friends have also warned me not to use them). Thankfully Jason raised the question of where I was staying on mw this afternoon which led to a rapid discussion and exploration of possible ideas, along with the correction of some misinformation that I had — I previously thought that if I moved into a house of students then I would have to pay all the council tax myself but according to Gareth I would only have to pay part of the council tax. If only Jason had brought the topic up earlier in the day... :)
Dave invited me over to watch the DVD of Panic Room which I suppose could be seen to be a tension thriller. While the film uses some interesting camera movement, it is set in an infeasibly big house and failed to evoke the panic that it's title suggested. I suspect that watching it on a small TV with people wandering out to eat tea helped to destroy the dramatic build up.
Tech news links roundup
Someone who happens to be a coder gives his opinion on the Microsoft settlement. What is interesting is the way he feels that the points raised in the original case are now all irrelevant (he feels the battlefield has switched to DRM) and the only thing that would have made any sort of difference would have been the breakup of Microsoft into smaller (competing) companies.
Hey postgrad Andy (who I haven't chatted to in some months) contacted me today. Here's the essence of the email he sent me:
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2002 12:44:28 +0000 (GMT)
From: Andrew S. Winter <andrew@>
Finish your bloody degree!
Er, I'll get right on it Andy (actually I'm waiting for some feedback at this very moment but I haven't forgotten about it).
Andy has also gone and got himself one of those LiveJournal journal's in which he mentions that he does work for helicopter simulations for the Ministry of Defence. To think, I held the incorrect opinion that it was mostly teenagers with nothing that interested me who had LiveJournals... Turns out I was wrong because even ex-Netscape engineer and Xscreensaver maintainer Jamie Zawinski has a journal there.
SUCS party pictures
Today DaveB unveiled a page containing links to the various sites that have photos of various SUCS socials from across the years. It's not complete at the moment but I suspect DaveB will update as and when he gets links to other SUCS social photos like the SUCS 2000 beach party (right DaveB?)
Who manages irc.swan.ac.uk?
I only ask because it appears they have been rooted and perhaps things have been fixed but the front page of the website still displays the cracker's message.
Dave has hired out Vampire Night for his PS2. This is one of those lightgun games in a not to dissimilar vein to House of the Dead. Unfortunately Dave lent his good lightgun to his brother who is in Bristol and his 3rd party lightgun proved to be absolutely useless. We resorted to using controllers which work reasonably well once the movement speed is put up to the maximum. However the game feels like a really shabby arcade port and suffers from a multitude of small problems that detract from the package as a whole:
- Shabby interface. It just looks and feels horrendously basic. Even if it has to work with a lightgun there's no need for it to look pathetic.
- Loading screens that can't be skipped that take you to a screen where you can do nothing but press start. Namco didn't do this on Tekken 3 so I'm guessing this was Sega's influence (it was developed by both companies).
- Uninspired extras. The special mode doesn't really add anything to the game. You just get to play it with more lives, slightly easier difficult and so on.
- The analogue-ness of the PS2 controller's analogue sticks was not used! This, quite frankly, is an epic travesty. Moving the stick slightly should have resulted in slower movement of the on-screen cursor, thus allowing the player to make pinpoint accurate shots while being still able to quickly shoot enemies on the opposite sides of the screen.
- Irritating use of high speed rumble. I like the use of the rumble feature of the PS2 pad in games like Metal Gear Solid 2 where it is often used to indicate something. However in this game it proved to be nothing more than an annoyance that could go on to cause a hand injury.
All the hallmarks of House of the Dead are there in the form of the creepy undead creatures, multiple routes through a level that depend on killing things quickly enough and destructible scenery. There is a nice addition in the form of enemies now having energy bars so you can see how many more shots need to be pumped into them but this game adds nothing new to a genre that was always a bit limiting. Probably a must buy if you want a lightgun game but that's not saying much.
Trip to Swansea - day one
Last Wednesday I travelled to Swansea on the train to stay at Dan, DaveB and Jason's house (I shall refer to them as DDJ for the sake of brevity from now on).
In the morning I walked to the train station to buy a ticket and find out how well the trains were running. It turned out that trains were running even later than usual and attempts to phone the train companies office in Weston were not successful (probably because they were being overwhelmed by calls asking how late the trains were). He suggested that I catch a train from Yatton to Bristol and then seek further advice there. When I whether I would get to Swansea he shrugged (perhaps he thought I asked whether I would get to Swansea on time?) I decided to not catch the next available train and went home to eat lunch first since it looked like it could be a difficult day.
Things lived down to expectations when I ran to the train station (I wasn't going to risk walking it this time) and arrived just in time to receive the announcement that the train I was going to catch had been cancelled.
As I write this I am wondering about the effectiveness of a recorded apology. Having a computer automatically bleat out a "We are sorry for any inconvenience this delay may have caused" seems to somehow miss the point. It is as if the genuine regret and thought behind it is stripped away along with the slight panic that could sometimes be heard in the voice of a real human being struggling under the pressure of a malfunctioning system. Back then you knew they were sorry. Now the only thing you know is that your apology will be more punctual than the trains are.
Catching the second train was more successful — eventually. Announcements about delayed trains were going off every few minutes but things were looking hopeful because they were all for trains I wasn't catching. At least they were all the way up until the time when the train was supposed to arrive. I hoped against hope that they wouldn't call out my train but it was somewhat inevitable that it would be delayed. The most frustrating part was the way they waited until the time it is supposed to arrive before announcing it was late (surely they know beforehand?). At least I wasn't going to Weston (that train had been delayed by an hour an a half).
Things were better by the time I got to Bristol. Trains had been delayed so much that the late trains were arriving and departing on time for trains later in the timetable. This works well for people on the platforms but must have been a nightmare for those on the trains originally.
I actually ended up at Swansea far earlier than expected (on time in other words) and after waiting for the person in front of me on the phone to finish puffing away on their cigarette I phoned up Jason only to be cut off mid way through the conversation (not only have BT put the minimum cost of a phone call up to 20p they seem to have cut the time you get to talk down to fifteen seconds). I resisted the urge to pop into the local games shop and instead leaned against a wall outside the station playing my GameBoy Advance until my lift arrived.
While tackling some particular horrific corners on Mario Kart's Ghost Valley track a woman suddenly walked up to me and asked who I was. I have never seen this person before in my life and I was kind of confused as to why she had approached me. Stuffing the GBA into my pocket I took a look at her in case she was someone I might recognise from a different angle. No, I had no clue who she was so I blurted out the only thing I could think of which was "Who are you?!". She mentioned that her name was Sandra (I think) and then strode off into the train station. Shortly after this Dan arrived and drove us back to his house but I don't think the two events were linked.
I'm not the only one pleased I found a job
Well my Mum was pleased to hear that I had a job (apparently she didn't want to get rid of me, merely motivate me into moving away...) but I'm still waiting to hear back from the people I hope will recommend me to my upcoming employers. I was slack and quite tired and didn't get round to doing this part until this morning.
Even people as far as away as Canada (that's over the other side of that bit of water isn't it?) are also rejoicing about my forthcoming employment! Er, ok rejoicing is probably the wrong word and it's only one person but I'm happy that someone thought it was worth employing me. Plus I have the chance to develop software rather than just administrate Windows boxen (at least I hope it turns out that way :)). Here's hoping that the job yields dividends for my employers, my colleagues and myself.
Life is dense
Sometimes I wonder how other people manage to pack so much into their lives. Perhaps I've been living life too slowly or something but the past three days have been packed with a large number of events all happening one after another. I am feeling a bit tired so I will resort to a bullet point summary for now:
- I (oh so very nearly) have a job. I need to finish the paperwork (apologies to my future employer for my being slow in this department)
- I visited (and stayed with) friends down in Swansea.
- I went to a Halloween party.
- I was offered the opportunity of another job.
- I had a lots of chats with various SUCS members.
- I configured a few more computers and made quite a few observations.
I suppose when I put it like that things sound far less interesting than they really are but there you go. I will put up a better explanation when I'm slightly less tired (lets just say that public transport in the UK has a bad reputation for a good reason).
SUCS Halloween social photos
Dom has put up his photos of the SUCS Halloween Party 2002. Unfortunately the photos of me are very unflattering...