Dave Hall Consulting logo

Blogs

Some Call it Art

Let me start by making it clear that I am not advocating aerosol art on private property without consent of the owner, let alone "tagging". At the same time, I am a fan of aerosol art that is done properly.

I generally find the commute to work pretty boring, especially the walk to and from the station/office. I am always on the lookout for things to bring some joy into my day. A little while I ago I saw (photographed on my crappy phone camera) some stickers which I found pretty amusing.

Photo of 'I spray AU sticker' taken near Camberwell Railway Station, Victoria, Australia
Photo of 'Color your city' sticker, taken off Riversdale Road Camberwell

Looks like someone has started an advocacy campaign.

I think both are pretty well done, especially the thought and skill that went into the "color your city" one. In the case of the stickers, I come down clearly on the side of art.

The Warm Glow of the Sun

Last week I received an email from Sun asking if I had seen a previous email. The previous email was attached. It almost ended up in the same place the previous email did - my spam bucket. The subject was "CONGRADULATIONS: Open Performance Contest WINNER - Dave Hall Consulting - TBWEBI_<random numbers>", which looked pretty spammy to me, just like the various bogus sweepstakes and the other 419 messages I get all too regularly.

As usual I am straying off topic. Back to the main reason for my post. The message from Sun contained the following text

It has been some time since you entered the Open Performance Contest and although you were not the winner for period XX your entry was included in period YY and has been selected. We wish to congratulate and inform you that you've been selected as a potential winner of our Open Performance Contest! Your entry was well written, complete, and highly applicable. To proceed, we first need to verify your eligibility. To aid us in this process, please complete the attached Affidavit of Eligibility/Liability & Publicity Release, and email it to: <someone>@sun.com within 5 business days.

If Noah wasn't asleep I think I would have cranked up some Infected Mushroom and had a big happy dance. I had to be more restrained and just look extremely happy. Then I printed, signed, scanned and emailed the paperwork back to Sun.

The server that Sun is in the process of arranging to ship to me is a Sun Fire T2000, with a list price of over 21,000 USD (or almost 25kAUD). My entry in the Open Performance Contest has yet to be published along with the other winners on sun's site, but I am not holding my breath.

I am still a bit shocked about my win. I am enjoying the warm glow from the Sun :) I was already convinced that I would be settling for an ubuntu t-shirt (thanks Canonical, even though it makes me look like I have put on 10kgs) and some "Cool Threads" temporary tattoos (which last 2-3 weeks) and be able to say that I had a T2000 for a couple of months or so.

I am now stuck with a dilemma, what to do with the box. Putting the box straight on ebay or Grays Online would be pretty rude. At the same time, the money from selling the box would be make up a significant part of a house deposit.

I would welcome any suggestions for what I can do with a noisy, high end SPARC box.

Update: Sun rang today to apologize for the delay in shipping the box and to advise me that it should arrive Thursday (or Friday at the very latest).

Murray McAllister

This week has been a little chaotic for me, so I have been a little slack in posting this.

Last weekend Murray McAllister emailed me his resume and asked if I had any work available. Since I started working at SGI, I have been winding things back, as I have very little time available for private work. Unfortunately I don't have any work to offer Murray.

Murray seemed like a nice guy in his email, so I rang him and discussed what he wanted to do. He lives about 30mins from Stawell in western Victoria, but is willing to relocate to a large centre if work is available. Murray's background is mostly in Windows, but he uses linux at home and is pretty enthusiastic about FLOSS. His last job was working for a local consulting company. Earlier this year he spoke at LUV's Ballarat Linux Conference.

If you (or someone you know) is interested in talking to Murray about some work, please feel free to email him.

Should I do a Presentation @ linux.conf.au 2008?

This is a question I have been asking myself a bit over the last week or so, ever since I learned the linux.conf.au call for presentations were open. I am leaning more towards not. My reasons are pretty simple. Here they are in no particular order

The first issue is pretty easily dealt with, I just need to think harder. The second problem involves a sub $100 investment. It is the last problem that worries me.

I did a presentation at LCA in Dunedin in 2006. I had my slides ready to go, I had my demo ready to go, I had my example links ready to go, I had my speaking notes ready to go, I even got to the room about 15 mins early. I hooked my laptop up and it wouldn't work with the projector, I tried a few things (mostly xorg.conf hacks), still nothing. My talk was due to start in a few minutes and I still had no picture, by now I had a few people helping, but to no avail. Almost 10mins after the start time I had a borrowed laptop up and running, but it wouldn't mount my USB key. I borrowed a USB hard drive and copied the files over. 15mins after starting time, I was ready to go. I still didn't have my demo available (which was on my laptop) and I couldn't easily pull up the links.

The me talking part of my talk lasted about 30 mins and I felt like I was dying from start to finish. I was pretty relived by the end of it. I think at least half the audience wished they went to Tridge's talk.

If I do change my mind about speaking at LCA in 2008, the 3 things I will do differently are:

  • Test my laptop during the miniconfs to make sure it will work
  • Have a backup laptop arranged before the start time of my talk and test it
  • Have multiple copies of my slides on paper, just in case the projector doesn't work

Either way I should be attending LCA next year, especially as it in my home town.

Unlocking a Novatel Merlin U530 under Linux

Or another reason why I am glad that I don't use 3 anymore.

I should have posted this some time ago, but forgot and so it has been sitting in my Drivel drafts folder for a bit.

You might want to try these instructions under windows too, if you get a dud unlock. Just use another terminal emulator instead of minicom.

Skip the history and read how to unlock it

I recently switched from 3 mobile to virgin for my UMTS data. I already had a Novatel Merlin U530 card from three. The card isn't fantastic but it works pretty well at upto 384/64Kbps which is good enough for mail and feed reading (my main 2 activities on the train) or ssh.

When trying to get the card unlocked, 3 was less than helpful initially, which is pretty normal for them. Initially the operator told me that my card could not be unlocked, when I asked why I was told it was in my contract. When I read the contract I had signed to the operator I was put on hold. She came back and told me that it couldn't be unlocked, I told her it could as I had read online that it could. Then I hear in the background "just keep telling him it can't be unlocked". When I asked to speak to the person in the background telling her what to say she told me that there was no one telling her what to say. I told her I could hear the guy and that I wanted to either speak to the person or get their name so it could be included in a report to the TIO. I was again put on hold. About 1 minute later I was told that I would be transferred to data services.

After spending a little while on hold I got to speak to someone in data services. First they wanted to know why I wanted my card unlocked, I explained I could get a better deal elsewhere, to which the response was that I could talk to sales to see if there were any new offers available - I declined. Next I had to play 20 questions to make sure I was the account holder and that I was out of contract. After reading the IMEI code off the bottom of the card I was given the unlock code and told that I would be emailed the software - a zip file containing some Windows only application.

I had my content filtering too high so amavis bounced the message the first time. When I rung 3 back, at first 3 told me that I need to talk to my ISP as it was very strange that the message was bounced, I told them I would just use another account - my gmail account. The guy then told me that gmail bounces their messages, so we used my hotmail account.

So now I had the software, so I tried using XP under qemu to talk to the card for the unlocking, no luck. A few days later I borrowed a XP laptop from a friend. By now I had misplaced the unlock code. Back on the 3 merri go round, this time data services was happy to hand over the code. The operator waited on hold while I unlocked the card. I started the application, inserted the card, plugged in the unlock code and got the message confirming that the card was unlocked.

Later that day I tried using a vodafone SIM, no go. Another vodafone SIM no go. My Virgin SIM didn't work either. I tried using the unlock software which kept on erroring.

I thought going to a 3 store might get it fixed quickly. Basically I was told that as the card was out of warranty and I wasn't using a 3 SIM they wouldn't provide any support. The best I could do was pay for a firmware reload from a non authorised service centre.

Back to the 3 call centre merry-go-round. I explained that I was extremely close to lodging a TIO or Consumer Affairs complaint as the card useless and not working as advertised. I spoke to a helpful operator who told me he would escalate the job.

Over the weekend I spent a fair bit of time searching for answers. Eventually I ended up finding a list of AT+C modem commands. In the list was

AT+CLCK

which is for facility lock. I played with it a bit and found that network personalisation was still active, but no other locks were on. This seemed strange to me. I figured this is where my problem was.

This is how I unlocked my card. You must have a 3 (or locking carrier) SIM inserted in the card while attempting this.

I connected to the card using minicom by running the following in a terminal (I didn't need to be root).

minicom /dev/ttyS2
Minicom should then load and output something similar to this
Welcome to minicom 2.2

OPTIONS: I18n 
Compiled on Mar  7 2007, 15:10:03.
Port /dev/ttyS2

               Press CTRL-A Z for help on special keys
                                                     
AT S7=45 S0=0 L1 V1 X4 &c1 E1 Q0                     
OK                                                         

I then entered

AT+CLCK=?

which should return

+CLCK: ("AB","AC","AG","AI","AO","IR","OI","OX","PN","SC")

OK

This is a list of locks available on the card.

Enter the following

AT+CLCK="PN",2

Which means, for network personalisation (PN), query the status (2), which should output

+CLCK: 1

OK

The 1 indicates locked.

You will need your unlock code from your carrier - I do not know how to get it other than via your carrier. This is not a "how to unlock your card with the unlock code" howto. So replace <CODE> with your unlock code.

AT+CLCK="PN",0,<CODE>

The 0 is for unlock. If it works should get OK or something, I forget exactly the response, but ERROR means it failed.

Now your card is unlocked and should work with any carrier.

Use [ctrl] x to quit minicom.

Enjoy!

If you need the settings details for using a Merlin U530 with Virgin Mobile in Australia under Linux try the following

Member's Areas and wget

Earlier this evening I was discussing mirroring restricted areas of sites with wget on #ubuntu-au. The solution is pretty simple.

  1. Install the web developer extension for firefox
  2. Login to the target site
  3. On the webdev toolbar select Cookies > View Cookie Information
  4. For each of the cookie entries add the following to a file called wget-cookies.txt which should be saved in your home directory
<.target.domain.name>[tab]FALSE[tab]/[tab]FALSE[tab]1496836642[tab]<key>[tab]<value>

This is what it all means

  • <.target.domain.name> the domain of the site
  • TRUE the domain wide flag, if the domain starts with . this should be TRUE
  • / the path the cookie applies to
  • FALSE is the cookie secure (or available via HTTPS)
  • 1496836642 the expiry of the cookie (i am using 11:57:22 UTC on 7-Jun-2017)
  • <key> the name of the cookie
  • <value> the value of the cookie

If you just want to pull down a single page use the following command:

wget  --load-cookies ~/wget-cookies.txt <target-url>

Then you should have the target page

If you want to mirror the whole site as an authenticated user try something like:

wget --mirror -w 2 -p --convert-links  --load-cookies ~/wget-cookies.txt <target-url>

I tested this with a couple of my own sites and it seems to work well.

Before doing something like this, check the term of service and the license of the content to ensure that you are not in violation of either.

Yamakasi and Maccas

Some time ago I watched a documentary on Yamakasi, which was shown here on SBS TV. SBS's press release gives a pretty good summary of the doco. For those of you interested in seeing it, a quick search on Google, should turn up a link to it on Google Video - I would post a link to it, but I am unsure if it was posted/approved by the copyright holder.

The doco was pretty impressive. Some parts of it were shot in Évry (just outside of Paris), where Benoit lives and I stayed last year, so a couple of places looked a little familiar. The guys (I think they were all guys) in the video have some pretty amazing ways of getting around. They scale walls, jump between tall buildings and generally have a good time getting between point A and B. Even if I had the physical strength to do half the stuff I saw them doing, I am not sure I would have the mental strength to jump between the tops of 10 storey + buildings.

I first heard about this kind of stuff from a friend of mine, he was telling me about Le Parkour. It all sounded pretty cool, albeit a bit far fetched, so much so that by the end of it I thought he was talking crap. Although Parkour is similar to Yamakasi, in that they believe in not letting physical structures impeded movement through the (urban) environment, there are some differences - primarily Yamakasi more into making it look good. I am sure for people in Australia, the Australian Pakor Association could explain the differences in more detail. There seems to be some other politics involved too, but Wikipedia is hardly an authoritative source for that kind of info.

Tonight I was watching "mainstream" commercial TV and I saw an ad which from about 5 seconds in was pretty obviously for Mc Donald's breakfast. The basic plot is that a young guy wakes up at 10:25 and so he uses Yamakasi style moves to get to Maccas by 10:30 (when they stop serving breakfast at 10:30), this is interspersed with images of "breakfast" being cooked. This isn't the first time a large multi national (has used underground/fringe culture to sell their product, but I did find this one rather shocking. Sorry no links to the ad, this post already adds to word of mouth marketing I am sure they were hoping for.

Being vegetarian, the ad didn't encourage me to head down to Maccas for a egg and bacon roll tomorrow morning, while jumping a few buildings and scaling a wall or 2 to get there. It make we want to watch the doco again though.

Coding has begun and now I get mentoring

Johan has already started coding for his Google Summer of Code project for the GNU Project and phpGroupware. This morning I received confirmation from the FSF that his copyright assignment has been sorted.

I have done a quick review of some of Johan's work, but I hope to spend some serious time on getting things moving this weekend. The new job has really put a big whole in my time available for anything other than work, commuting or my family.

When I read Federico Mena-Quintero's Summer of Code Mentoring HOWTO, I was working pretty flexibly from home and I thought mentoring was checking over code and answering a few questions. My new job has taught me that good mentoring can make a big difference for someone coming into an organisation.

I hope over the next week or so I can establish a good routine which gives me enough time to help Johan find his way and get on with hacking on sync.

The Disruption Caused by Blackouts

In the last 6 months I have endured 2 blackouts at home (which is also my office). Yesterday's was about 13 hours long, easily beating the previous record of almost 8 hours. The power supplier has given me the information on how to make a claim for the food in our freezer which has to be thrown out.

Now that I am working away from home for large parts of my day, I really need a working internet connection in the evenings so I can run the rest of my business. I can use my data card and laptop battery to work at reduced efficiency during the short outages, but anymore than 2 hours and it starts cause major disruption. The problem is that I use my laptop as a MP3 player while catching up on mail and feeds on the train, so my battery is almost dead when I get home.

Although I live a bit over 35kms from the CBD of the second largest city in Australia, theree are times where I feel like I live out the back of nowhere. I have an electric train station 2 mins walk away, I have a "03 97XX XXXX" phone landline number and a 24hour supermarket less than 5mins drive away. On the downside, couriers considering us country, so "next day delivery" means it will arrive 2 or 3 days after it being shipped. The other big reminder is the reliability of electricity supply.

In the last 3 and half years shortish blackouts (1 to 2 hours) have occurred on average once every 3 months or so. When I was living in Footscray (inner Western Melbourne), in almost 5 years, we had 2 outages I remember, both of them less than 2 hours, and one was from someone wrapping their car around a pole just down the road.

The compensation regulations (PDF) (p21) which apply to power companies in Victoria are completely inadequate and encourage poor maintenance. In the past our electricity retailer has claimed that they are not liable for any compensation claims where the outage is caused by matters outside their control, such as possums shorting out lines, cars hitting poles or various other natural causes. I think inadequate staffing levels is something within their control.

Maybe the compensation claims from the local strip shopping centre traders will force the distributor to improve their response times, rather than being rude to customers who call for an ETA.

The following items have been added to the household shopping list:

  • Battery powered lantern
  • Battery powered radio

I just wish I could buy a more reliable power supply for a rental property (so solar panels on the roof is out).

Update Earlier this morning (31-May-2007), I had another 1 hour+ outage. This time the network didn't come back up cleanly. A switch needed to be power cycled and another server decided to swap the network card allocations.

Ubuntu on Dell PCs and XP License Refunds

Now that Dell is shipping Ubuntu loaded machines in the US, there has been some discussion on the Australian Ubuntu LoCo list about when Dell will be shipping them in Australia. The consensus seems to be, not any time soon. I tend to agree, there are many other larger markets Dell is likely to target if Linux/Ubuntu on Dells takes off.

Tom Schinckel mentioned that he is waiting for Dell to offer Window license refunds. I have already obtained one.

About 2 years ago I bought my Dell Latitude D810, which came preloaded with XP Pro. During the order process I asked twice if the OEM copy of XP would run under QEMU (after explaining what it was), I was told both times it would. I was pretty suspicious. After receiving the machine I set it all up, including loading ubuntu on it - I can't remember if I used Hoary or a Breezy Colony. Then I installed QEMU and tried installing XP from the OEM media. So far so good, until it came time to supply the license key. I kept on being told it was invalid and to contact Microsoft. I checked on #qemu on freenode and was told that the Dell OEM version of XP is BIOS locked to Dell kit. No problem, I called Microsoft who (after a 20min hold) referred me to Dell. Another long hold and I was told no go. I started asking for a refund and was transferred to various places. After a while I mentioned that Australian consumer law applied and the product was not functioning as advertised, so I wanted a refund on the faulty part. I was eventually offered a full refund if I returned the whole machine. I wasn't taking that option. Instead offered to contact the media and see if they could be of any assistance, I was then told I would receive a call back in a few days.

About a week later I received a call back from Dell. They made a final offer, I could keep the XP license and they would give me a "goodwill credit" of 150AUD. As I could get XP Pro OEM licenses for about 190AUD, wholesale, I pushed for that. I was told that Dell paid less than 150AUD per XP Pro OEM license, so I could take 150AUD or take nothing. I soon realised that this was the best I was going to get, so I took it. I wasn't required to return the license key as "Dell has no way of cancelling or reusing a license key".

For a bit over 1 hour of effort on the phone, I ended up with an XP Pro OEM license which could be used for dual booting(if I ever wanted to), and 150AUD refunded to my credit card. I am sure Dell doesn't think this sets a precedent, but the NSW Office of Fair Trading might beg to differ. As Dell Australia is based in NSW, NSW consumer law applies to all transactions.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not a legal opinion. I am not responsible if Dell (or anyone else) declines your request for a refund/credit based on your use of the information contained in this post. blah blah, you can't sue me :)