Saturday, December 20, 2008

Socks and awe

Following last week's shoe throwing incident in Iraq someone with too much time has created this sock and awe game, presumably for people with too much time on their hands.

Meanwhile, here is a related pic of the US embassy in Ottawa:

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Saturday, December 6, 2008


Word of the week is prorogue. The PM here in Canada asked for Parliament to be suspended, to avoid losing a confidence vote.

I'm feeling a strange sense of deja vu here. I first came to Canada in June 1993, within 3 months there had been three prime ministers: Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Jean Chretien.

I just moved back here and and since then there has been an election and now this week's excitement.

Meanwhile, OJ is back in the news, just like he was when I arrived here in 1993.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm stuck in a time warp.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tim Henman finds his level

If you've been wondering what Tim Henman is doing nowadays, the good news is he has found his level at last.

Tim Henman's new job

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Credit crunch solved

I just bought some electronic equipment and took a look at the bill:

It seems that even though my credit limit is zero, I have $1001 shy of $99 trillion of credi available.

So if my local electronics store has access to this sort of financing, is there really a credit crunch?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book meme

Some people on Planet Debian and Planet Ubuntu are doing this meme

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

It was not until the fourth day of the campaign that a major
labour movement figure spoke out in defence of Scargill and

This came from The Enemy Within, Seumas Milne

Meanwhile, I'm wondering if this is a way to index geek books within
the bounds of fair-use ;)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Emphasizing safety reduces the number of cyclists

The Irish Times has an article on cycling safety

The basic thrust of the article is that enforcing use of helmets and recommending reflective jackets just creates a false perception of how dangerous cycling is.

In cities where cycling is more the norm (Copenhagen and Paris are mentioned) there is less emphasis on helmets and reflective gear. People ride in normal gear and there are more cyclists.

There is even a website devoted to cycling fashion in Copenhagen

Having ridden in Dublin I have to say I'd be wary of not using a helmet there. Whilst there are bike lanes they are not well thought out, they invariably come to an abrupt end just where a cyclist needs protection. The roads are in poor condition in many places and there are many wheel swallowing potholes to contend with. Finally, drivers are not really cyclist aware or cyclist friendly.

The contrast when I was in recently Paris was marked. Parisian drivers are not noted for patience and care, but like most French drivers they are very aware of cyclists and invariably treat them with care and respect -- the Tour de France no doubt plays a part here.

I'd guess it is a slow process changing the cycling culture in a city from what it is in Dublin to what it is in Paris, but as the Irish Times article suggests, the authorities can really help by emphasizing cycling as a safe and healthy activity.

I was also interested in the "slow bicycle movement" mentioned in the article. One of my pet hates in Dublin is cycling behind some racer who doesn't have mudguards -- or worse still one who has one of those flimsy guards that protects himself, but does nothing for the poor cyclist behind.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dove rescue

This poor dove managed to get itself stuck in the drainage outlet of the pool where I am staying at the moment.

Fortunately, my wife spotted it. It was in a pretty bad way at that point. The following pictures were taken over a period of about four hours, during which it slowly stopped shivering and eventually started to groom its feathers, before finally taking a little walk and flying off.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Check your software license before you park


We don't want your cars here if they use that stinky GPL license ;)
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Paris free bike scheme

I'm currently in Paris. As I love all things two-wheeled, the free bicycle scheme was something I had to try.

For 1 euro you can get a day pass to use the bikes. For that, you can use bikes for free, so long as you return it to a velib station within half an hour. You can get a weekly pass for 5 euro, or a full year for 29.

Here is a velib station:

The stations are rarely more than 300 metres apart, but tend to be on side-streets and can be a bit tricky to spot as you ride through the traffic. The velib site has pdf maps to help you find them.

Here are some pics from a recent site-seeing tour:

For those concerned about riding in the Paris traffic, there are a lot of fairly quiet side roads you can use. Further, the Parisian drivers seem to be very aware of cyclists and more considerate than most.

Since you can drop a bike off at any station, bikes do tend to migrate downhill, towards the river. I'm staying in Montmartre, and the ride out there gets a bit sweaty on a hot day, so it is tempting to bike into town and get the metro back.

To combat this, the Parisians have invented anti-gravity:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

How to stop Vernon Coleman killing you

Vernon Coleman is a prolific writer, much of what he writes is complete nonesense.

This piece in his latest book on peak oil, gives a good idea of what his writing is all about.

One of his more popular books is, "How to stop your doctor killing you". The book rambles on repeating the same ideas. Whilst it has some interesting comments, such as the extent that drug companies influence the medical profession, it contains a lot of dangerous ideas.

Unfortunately, my 77 year old father read this book a little while back. He picked up a number of crazy ideas from the book. He became very concerned about cancer (if you're 77 years old and haven't got cancer yet, then actually you probably don't need to worry too much about your diet -- much more important to get a good balanced diet than follow the Coleman diet).

Vernon argues against having unnecessary X-rays. Yesterday, my father was seriously ill, bleeding internally and needed 10 pints of blood during the day. The doctors urgently needed to do an X-ray. Five doctors could not persuade him to have it done. Fortunately, my sister was there and managed to persuade him to have the X-ray.

Vernon Coleman, as the title of your 1994 classic goes, "I hope your penis shrivels up".

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Controlling the fan on a Dell

A couple of days ago the fan on my Dell Latitude D410 (running Ubuntu Hardy) started behaving strangely.

Once the fan started up it would stay on. Very annoying.

I did the usual checking for runaway processes but there were no such problems.

So I then checked the CPU temperature:

cat /proc/acpi/thermal_zone/THM/temperature

Next I discovered that the sensors screenlet can be used to display the temperature.

Watching this the cpu temperature steadily rose, the fan clicked in, the cpu cooled but the fan never shuts down.

A bit of googling looking for others with the same laptop and this problem came up with the dellfand project.

This is a simple daemon to control the fan on Dells. Works great, and now I can control just what temperatures the fan clicks in, goes into high speed and shuts off.

I'm still puzzled what broke/changed the other day, but at least for now I can control the problem.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

OpenSSL security issue and Ubuntu response

The big news of the day is the openssl security issue with debian based systems.

A bit of an embarrassing story, the code involved in generating keys was patched to stop valgrind complaining about some uninitialised memory.

Unfortunately, this resulted in less entropy feeding into the key generation (as far as I can gather) and so there is an easy attack on the vulnerable keys.

Now whilst this is unfortunate, I think some praise is due to the way Ubuntu has handled the issue. After hearing about the problem this afternoon, I just fired up the update-manager and checked for updates.

Sure enough, there was a full set of openssl and ssh related updates to install.

I installed these and was greeted with a helpful dialogue which explained that the host key on my machine was one of the weak ones and had been regenerated. Further, it pointed me at a new command, ssh-vulnkey which can be used to check for bad keys.

So, whilst it is more than a little unfortunate that this problem has been around 2 years, kudos for getting out the fix so quickly and for the pain free way it has been rolled out.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Prism apps in Hardy Heron

I've been using the Google Prism apps since moving to Ubuntu Hardy.

This blog has a good summary of how to install these applications in Hardy and what they are good for.

The short version is that prism runs web based applications as standalone applications.

I've found these prism apps a mixed experience. On the plus side, having gmail, google reader and the like separate from the browser is handy:

  • No longer accidentally closing the tab for one of these

  • More real estate for the application

  • Icons in the panel for the individual applications

  • Able to launch the apps from launchers such as gnome-do

The big down side is that you no longer get all the functionality that you get in the browser. For example, keyboard accelerators to increase/decrease font sizes. On the other hand, this can be a good thing if the web application itself is really well designed, since it is no longer restricted to the key and mouse events that the browser doesn't grab.

One other down side I've found is opening links from these apps. Sometimes they open a new prism window, sometimes they open in my browser. I haven't quite figured out how to control all this and it can be annoying not being sure where and how things are going to open.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hardy Heron goodness

I've been using the Hardy Heron betas for several weeks now and it has been a joy to use.

I used a different strategy to previous Ubuntu upgrades. This time I did a fresh install with a fresh home directory (in a separate partition) too. I then created links to the key directories in my old home directory. In this way I was able to use Hardy, without worrying about clobbering old config files and so have been using on the machine (Dell Lattitude D410) I use for work.

Some highlights:

  • xrandr at work I dock the laptop and have a 1280x1024 screen. This is the first release where I have been able to suspend the laptop, head into work, issue a few commands and have the X session change resolution and use the external monitor. Added bonus I can get it to use the laptop as a secondary display, all using compiz fusion.
  • gnome-do I'm finding this really useful and fun to use. Love the way it spots the things you frequently launch. After using it for a few weeks most of the common things I launch can be fired up in 2-3 key pushes
  • tracker I've tried google desktop and beagle in the past, but found them hogging resources too much. Tracker seems to be indexing stuff well without hogging the cpu
  • pulse audio is the new sound server in Hardy. I don't know too much about it, but one feature I really like is you can use it to configure machines to enable network access to the server. Other machines on the network using pulse detect available servers and you can then use any available machine as the sound sink. To configure this I had to aptitude install pavucontrol and fire it up. This gives you an icon in the notification area that you can use to select the sound sink. So I can now play music on the laptop and have the sound use the decent speakers on my desktop system.
  • firefox3.0, much snappier than 2.0.