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Sun 25th Nov 2007 @ 23:21 2007: Top Gear at Nuneaton

Nuneaton exit rampTonight's Top Gear programme went to the MIRA test track near Nuneaton. I hadn't seen this before (look on Google Maps for Nuneaton; about 3km directly north of Nuneaton, just north of the A5, between Higham on the Hill and Fenny Drayton). It looks like a fun place to spend a day with somebody else's car.

Still, there was just one key part of the track on which they somehow failed to test (click the image for a better look)

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Sat 24th Nov 2007 @ 01:37 2007: HMRC: 25m personal records lost (and a terrible pun...)

discount tentAs I'm sure everybody knows by now, HMRC lost 25m personal records of UK citizens eligible for child benefit (7.5m families; data including name, address, DOB, NIN, bank/building society details, and the like. Two CD-ROMs were sent in the internal post (via TNT) from HMRC to NAO. The parcel didn't turn up, so the CDs were reburned and resent, and happily (?!) arrived. It seems that this happened earlier this year, in March, but the media arrived, so we didn't hear about it. Tonight, it transpires that the data had subsequently been sent from NAO to KPMG. They claim they've deleted their copies of the data now (honest!).

The media haven't gone into the detail of why password protection means nothing when the data isn't encrypted, but - in a nutshell - when there's no encryption to protect, there's no need to bother with a password.

The analogies to ID cards are too obvious to mention; I can change my bank account number, but I can't change my fingerprints or iris patterns (and even if I could, they would still remain in the hands of the unintentional recipient).

Still, this is all old news by now, it happened a few days ago. It's not really worth blogging, except for this: A listener of BBC Radio 4's Today programme suggested that this was not - as has been suggested - Gordon Brown's "Black Wednesday", but rather, that "Now is the winter of our disk contents"

I said it was a bad pun....

Update:The Child Benefit 'Personal Details' form (found via comments in the above blog - well worth reading)

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Sat 17th Nov 2007 @ 21:20 2007: Jumpstart: Linux Server, Solaris 10 Client

Linux can act as a JumpStart server for Solaris. However, for Solaris 10, NFSv4 is used by default, and you have to be very clever to get Linux's NFS4 implementation working with the Solaris implementation. That is to say, I can't get it to work. So I gave up.

The Solaris 10 client being jumpstarted will use NFSv4 by default. The Linux server (even with "nfsd -N 4", AFAICT) will claim to work with NFS4, and it all goes wrong:

WARNING: NFS server initial call to failed: No such file or directory
install entry: /jumpstart/s10
root entry: /jumpstart/s10/Solaris_10/Tools/Boot
ERROR: Unable to NFS mount
Exiting to shell.

From the /Solaris_10/Tools/Boot/etc/default directory, we can fix this:
jstart:/jumpstart/s10/Solaris_10/Tools/Boot/etc/default# ls -l nfs
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 31 2007-11-16 23:53 nfs -> ../../tmp/root/etc/default/nfs
jstart:/jumpstart/s10/Solaris_10/Tools/Boot/etc/default# rm nfs
jstart:/jumpstart/s10/Solaris_10/Tools/Boot/etc/default# cp /tmp/nfs.hacked nfs

So the system being installed will have /etc/default/nfs being a symlink to /tmp/root/etc/default/nfs, which is populated by the installation routine. What we do here, is remove the symlink, and replace it with our own file. nfs.hacked replaces the line:
with the line:
So it will use NFSv3, which will work fine. If and when I get NFSv4 working, I'll post it here!

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Thu 15th Nov 2007 @ 00:39 2007: 690Mb of Galaxy

The galaxy (I'm not sure what galaxy) is 11.6 million light-years away. The Hubble telescope can resolve individual stars, along with open star clusters, globular star clusters, and even glowing regions of fluorescent gas. You can see lots of stars, gas clouds, and dust.

Absolutely beautiful. Oh, and 690Mb. Follow the link below for the full glory:

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Mon 12th Nov 2007 @ 00:57 2007: 24: The Unaired 1994 Pilot

I've not seen 24, but I get the idea. This is a spoof, subtitled "Jack Bauer saves the world with AOL 3.0.". Those of us who were on the net in 1994 will understand; most of the Western world (and almost all of the whole world) will not understand.

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Mon 12th Nov 2007 @ 00:14 2007: Debian ALSA Sound

More than a month after getting my new laptop (Lenovo), my final problem with Debian Testing ("Lenny") has been resolved.

Audio works fine with ALSA, but Flash plugins don't have any audio. It was one of those minor irritants, relatively low on the list, but I couldn't find the answer anywhere. After lots of trial and error, the solution turns out to be incredibly simple:

usermod -a -G audio steve has the answer (though it was actually a IRC log which pointed me to the solution)

From reversing the fix, it seems that's not the only part of the solution. I had also (by picking through synaptic) installed the following:

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Sat 10th Nov 2007 @ 22:46 2007: RSPG

The Royal Society for the Protection of Geeks is committed to taking geeks away from unnatural desk jobs, and humanely rehousing them in their natural environments. This particular geek has been happily relocated in a datacentre all day for the first time in over two years and is showing every sign of a full recovery from its previous exposure to Administranium

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Wed 7th Nov 2007 @ 14:36 2007: Oh, that 97,000 people over there!

The BBC claimed that about 400-600 people a week visited using Linux.

They've now updated that statement, to up to 97,600

What with caches, user-agent spoofers, and so on, it is difficult to get totally precise figures. There's a big difference between 600 and 97,600 - about ninety-seven thousand.

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Tue 6th Nov 2007 @ 23:10 2007: SUNWjet Error

Here's an obscure one: If you get this error (or similar) when Jumpstarting a Solaris system with JET:

ERROR: Field 2 - Invalid disk name (c)
Then don't spend an hour (like I did) trying to work out what it means. Just go to your base_config_profile_dontuse line, and make sure that you've not copy/pasted your lines badly. Or if not using JET, just check your profile file.

base_config_profile_dontuse=" c1t8d0 c1t9d0 c1t10d0 c1t11d0 c1t12d0 c1t13d0"
base_config_profile_dontuse=" c1t8d0 c1t9d0 c1t10d0 c1t11d0 c
1t12d0 c1t13d0"

Since googling for "ERROR: Field 2 - Invalid disk name" came up with a Googlewhack (and no solution), it seems worth posting here.

The problem was that the profile file, in /opt/SUNWjet/Clients/client_name/profile, (generated from the Template with JET; user-created with traditional Jumpstart) has a set of lines:

install_type initial_install
system_type server
cluster SUNWCuser
partitioning explicit
dontuse c1t8d0
dontuse c1t9d0
dontuse c1t10d0
dontuse c1t11d0
dontuse c
dontuse 1t12d0

dontuse c1t13d0
With the badly-placed linefeed, the word "c1t12d0" was being passed as a two words, "c" and "1t12d0" to the installer, as devices not to be used. The installer bails out because it can't find a drive "c" to ignore.

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Mon 5th Nov 2007 @ 00:13 2007: Windows driving Linux development

Breaking news: Windows technology is driving Linux development! has a list of new ideas for Ubuntu Hardy Heron. One issue is Measuring download / installation success, under which heading, notes:

One area I can already say is a significant problem is the lack of an integrated CD burner for Windows. I've heard many users say they’ve burned a copy of a distribution and then it didn't boot. The primary reason for this is that they simply burned the ISO file itself to the CD, instead of burning the image properly.
So the fact that Windows doesn't include CD/DVD burning software (something that took me quite by surprise during my recent enforced 2-year trip into daily Windows XP use*) seems to be driving the adoption of WUBI, an burn-free installation of Ubuntu.

There are other advantages of WUBI, too; none that I personally find too compelling, but some users might find it useful.

It does seem interesting that the lack of a CD/DVD burn option in Windows is driving extra development in the GNU/Linux camp to compensate. Maybe these developers should claim funding from Microsoft, as it's a workaround to a failure (in a monopoly OS) to support (standard functionality of) commodity hardware? :-)

* Not even loopback mount. I'm serious.

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Sun 4th Nov 2007 @ 21:28 2007: Cool Cash

Cool Cash card

"I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher - not lower - than -8 but I'm not having it."

My local paper is reporting on Cool Cash Card Confusion caused by the latest lottery scratchcards. Apparently you have to get a lower temperature than the figure shown on the card. But when both numbers are negative, that seems to confuse too many of us. Manchester has fairly mild winters, but it does drop below zero often enough for us to know that -2 is colder than -1.


Thu 1st Nov 2007 @ 02:20 2007: Goodbye, Microsoft

I have no idea what will happen if you click under Windows; it seems to be an .exe, which presumably makes some attempt at installing some form of Debian GNU/Linux. According to, it will install Debian Etch.

I'd be amazed if anybody actually made the switch in this way; Windows -> GNU/Linux is one thing; Windows -> Debian Stable is another.

When I left EDS, some of my MS colleagues, with whom I had had very few dealings, asked why anyone would change from Windows to Linux. There's no simple answer, and it's probably not right for everybody (if it were, we may experience the monocultural malware problems which Windows currently suffers from, all over again).

Today's been one of those "it's harder with Linux" days. I've got a new monitor (1680x1050 15.4" laptop LCD, plus 1680x1050 22" external LCD), and had to install the nVidia binary driver to make it work. It works under Vista, Debian, Solaris, but all three now use the proprietary driver (Linux was using the free driver, but it seems it doesn't support Xinerama currently).

I'd already read that you need to hack xorg.conf by hand to get Xinerama working, and that it's difficult. I read the "hard stuff", tried it, failed, read some more, and eventually found out that I just needed to run "nvidia-settings", and it'd be fine. GNU/Linux and Solaris both work fine (though it took a bit of messing to convince Solaris to use the laptop LCD as the primary (login screen, etc) monitor, and the external as the secondary monitor). Windows Vista was shockingly easy; it either recognised it, or it didn't. It was very easy to configure Xineramic view, and just a click or two to get the gadgets onto the 2nd monitor. Windows hasn't scored nor lost any points regarding calendar synchronisation, as I haven't tried it yet. I've got pretty high standards there - I want my work calendar, phone, and laptop, all kept in sync.

Then I read an old article which suggested that Thunderbird can talk calendars with mobile phones - I don't think that's actually the case, but it may be that Wammu can talk to the phone and to Thunderbird, or - if not - that a plugin may be relatively simple, to make the connection. If I could coordinate my work (www) calendar, Thunderbird/Lightning calendar, and my mobile phone calendar, that would be pretty good.

I'm not sure what's currently possible, but it must be doable,surely.

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