Saturday, February 26, 2005

Linux package managers (& autopackage)

So, you're building a package for some Linux software you've written. Do you create a Debian package (also for Ubuntu), Redhat RPM (and separate Suse RPM if you're keen), Gentoo package (whatever that's in), Source RPM, .tar.gz archive, or all of the above? What a nightmare. Debian's "apt-get" is very nice, RPM's are well supported but not really as well supplied with meta-info. Plain source archives are the lowest common denominator but can be a real pain to get working with dependencies and differing target systems. Help!

Well now there's a possible solution nearing readiness. Autopackage is getting closer to v1.0 (so still in beta really) and hopes to solve all these problems by creating a distributable archive that can work with all the existing packaging systems to check dependencies and install files in the right places without problems. I haven't yet had a real look but it could be the answer to many people's prayers. Just one downloadable to develop, one package manager to understand? Great!

Even MS Windows apps can be confusing sometimes with all the archive formats, Windows Installer technology (often wrapped inside a .exe built from one of the many installation/configuration tools).

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Lost on a train? No more....

I love this story from the BBC on BR - they're considering using sat-nav technology on trains. Such comic potential. What, like you're gonna lose a train?

Driver: er... was it left or right here? Oh... Yes... Follow the tracks..

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Hi, yes, I'm Linux-ified again. Hurrah! I don't have to get incredibly annoyed at Windows 98 when it crashes for the umpteenth time that session... Again. I had a nicely setup Suse 8.2 install on my main desktop box a few months ago (god it was too long a break) but managed to screw it up by ignoring my intuition and letting fsck try to 'fix' supposed problems it had found with my ext3 partition - it was actually completely fine. Is fsck ready to cope with ext3 properly?

Non-techies or Windows-only geeks better look away now (and for the rest of this post) - unless you want newbie help with installing it when the CD image ends up broken every time you try writing it. I tried 3 times without luck, my CD drive (or just the apps?) won't write CDs slower than 2x and you need to write them slower to get more reliability. Dunno if it's my 3-yr old drive or a problematic ISO image but it caused problems.

I've heard a fair bit about Ubuntu and my mate Jon has just started trying it out so I thought I'd give it a go - I've never tried a Debian-based distro before so thought it would widen my Linux horizons. I downloaded and installed the Hoary (latest, unproved version) .ISO CD image last night ready to write onto CD and install. I eventually got it working after a bit of messing round in the install. Several other people have (so I hear) had problems getting the CD image to write properly - mine would boot fine, but get stuck when doing the main copying/installing the base system part, due to a broken CD. As I still had .iso CD image on my hard drive though, I used a work-around involving booting with the CD (it got that far fine), and fooling it into using the hard drive image as though it were the CD. A lot faster too!

How? If you need to ask, here's the solution.

  1. Use Ctrl-F2 from the install menus (once it's booted and found the CD obviously) to switch to another virtual terminal, and press Enter to activate it.
  2. You need to unmount the CD where the install will try and read it from (/cdrom) and mount your .iso image file instead. First, run: umount /cdrom
  3. Next, presuming it's on a Windows drive somewhere (type vfat) you need to mount that first to get access to the .iso. We'll use a temporary directory we create to attach it to: mkdir /cdimage; mount -t vfat /dev/WINDRIVE /cdimage (replace WINDRIVE by the partition of your windows drive, you can work this out from the menus where you partition your system - if it's the C: drive it's probably hda1, if the image is on CD and that's in the Primary Slave IDE slot, it'll be hdb and you won't need "-t vfat")
  4. This should return ok (if it's on a Linux drive instead of a Windows one you probably don't need to read this far or you know how to fix it already!). Next, the clever bit (one of the bits that makes you realise how nice Linux is) - mount the .iso image file as though it were a device: mount -o loop /cdimage/YOUR-ISO-FILE.iso /cdrom (again, replace the YOUR-ISO-FILE.iso by the directory and filename of your Ubuntu CD image, tab completion is handy here)
  5. That should return ok without an error, now if you run a "ls /cdrom" (no quotes) you should be able to see the contents of the CD image as though you were listing the contents of the actual CD (if it had written correctly). Now you can switch back to the install menus (Ctrl-F1) and carry on, with Ubuntu blissfully unaware that you're pulling a fast one (literally...) right beneath it's eyes.
  6. Play with your spangly new Ubuntu install. Oh yes, and..
  7. Curse Ubuntu for not having a proper list of options for how to get hold of the source files (at least, when running from the anyone-can-do-it CD image). Maybe it does if you boot from floppy, I don't know.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Won! Hellboy gear from

I got a packet in the post the other day and didn't have the faintest what it was. Upon opening it I was greeted by a t-shirt, girls top, and two chunky logo'd pens... Hmmm. Oh yes, and a letter thank god to explain.. Turns out I'd won them in a Hellboy competition that ran a while ago to coincide with the release of the DVD of the movie.

I don't need the girls top so I shall either give it away or sell it on ebay (if an ad goes up I'll link to it).

Prize gear
Addendum: now for sale on ebay.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Durham and a hired Corsa

I promised last year that I'd go see my (younger) sister sometime at uni, and finally I had the spare time to sort it out. Durham is only a little south of Newcastle so it's not a short trip. About 5:15hrs drive from Surrey with clear traffic actually, if you take out any stops (which you need at least one of for safe alert driving). That's if you know where you're going. Of course on the way up I wasn't as sure of anything past the A1(M), and well... if you know my navigation skills you'll understand (*). It's pretty straight and simple otherwise - just get on the A1 and follow it up to around junction 61. By the way, the signs point you the dual-carriageway route as far in as they can; the quicker route if it's not busy with local traffic is to come off earlier, on the A177 (#61 I just mentioned) and make sure you take the right road from the A1 junction.

I looked into several options as my Scooby's declared off road at the moment (SORN'd) until it has a new clutch, insurance, and general servicing/work, probably including some new tyres (yes, £ouch... ).

  • By Train - £70 cheapest if booked in advance (although I got an online railtrack quote earlier that came up with £45, I couldn't reproduce it)
  • Fly - pre-tax and other charges it looked feasible but by the time you've added it all in, £82 was cheapest and I still needed to get to/from the airports. Fast, & relatively hassle-free though
  • Coach (eg. National Express) - main selling point is, it's cheap. Seriously cheap. Especially with their special offer they're running til end February (I think?) - £18 return between any of the major towns/cities they list. It also has major disadvantages though. Not a lot of in-cabin (er.. cabin's not the right word but you know what I mean) luggage space, slow, particularly if you need to go through their London Victoria hub, a bit cramped, and (I find) almost impossible to get any real rest/sleep on. But if price is prime consideration it's the only real option. Better for shorter journeys
  • Hire Car - 2 local companies, Avis (used before, large name, not much difference in cost from the other local co.) - £70 for 2 days hire (in multiples of 24hrs) of a basic Fiest/Corsa sized car.

After researching the other options pretty thoroughly, I saw something somewhere that made me think about the rental car option and realised that might be a possible choice, what with the cost of the others. Certainly a lot more freedom and if I was going to be using it a fair proportion of the trip (short trip overall, long travel time), it made sense. Plus options of stopping off en route if I wanted/had time.

So renting a car for two days is as cheap as the 1-day-in-advance fixed-booking train fare. Ok, on a train you can sleep and move around but you're limited by times and station locations. Oh and the waiting at stations during changes. And possible other unsavoury characters to annoy you on the way (although you might meet someone nice). But in a car there's just the fuel to pay for and that's it if you don't mind the brain-drainingly long drive (for the UK). So I booked a Corsa.

When I got there to pick it up, they had a green (almost turquoise) brand spanking new (well, 04 reg and only 3650 miles on the clock) 3-door Corsa with the thicker pillar round the rear window.

Hired Corsa

Overall, I have to say I like it more than the old one. The engines are nicer - although the advent of Vauxhall bringing in 16v several years ago much improved the torque at lower revs anyway. I've always kinda liked Vauxhall engines. It was only a 1.2l but it went well, seemed pretty much as fast as my old 1.4i 12v I used to own (the original Corsa model) and a fair bit better handling. I'd heard that anyway from reviews of the new one.

I didn't like the plasticy control-column switches for indicators/lights (this coming from an older-style Scooby owner, not reknowned for hi quality interiors) and there wasn't much storage in the central instrument panel - just one poncy tray almost hidden underneath the dash. They do however make a decent effort elsewhere, even storage to the sides of the rear seats. The diminished rear vision doesn't affect you as much as you think as the side mirrors do a pretty good job, and you always look round to cover blind spots anyway, don't you??... But I don't think it was worth the loss of visibility just to get the more fashionable high level LED brake/other lights (and I suppose differentiate it from the old model). Oh, while I'm on the car's shell, I think the headroom has increased. Good one, Vauxhall. The Corsa was a good one for interior headroom and space when it was released anyway so good to see they haven't lost it in that respect. Most other super-minis nowadays have improved in that area but there are still a few that the 6-footers among us won't want to be in for any length of time.

Of course, being used to a Scooby I stalled it a couple of times pulling away while getting used to the "normal" car dynamics (ie it doesn't have oodles of power). But treat it properly and it'll keep you happy.

Stereo - I brought some CDs to play on the trip, hoping the car would have a player for them; also brought some tapes too in case. Luckily it did have a CD player. The problem with CD units is you can't plug anything else in like tape adapters if you have your own player (like I used to with my portable MiniDisc and my old '93 Corsa). (note: there are solutions, e.g. an iTrip for an iPod so you tune in to your device on the FM radio instead). Proper speakers, a lovely volume and on/off knob at the top-center (knurled, rubberised); but you don't get any indication of what level it's at. Anywhere... Some people might say it's a bit fisher-price kids control-like, but it fits ok with the rest of the interior (yawn yawn black/dark plastic) and it works just great. The old car's styling was a bit like that too. You don't need to look at it to find it or use it, real handy when you're on the road. Stylists avoid this car 'cos it won't do anything for you on the inside.

The outside's not enough of a departure from the old Corsa's original and rather cute shape (playing it safe were we Vauxhall?) - that I was a fan of - to make me love it, but I wouldn't be ashamed to be driving one. Mainly 'cos it does kinda look like the old one. There you go...

* Actually I can navigate just fine, it's when you have to remember where you want to go, read signs, and drive at the same time that I get flustered, my route memory goes out my head and I just make sure I drive ok. Split second mis-decisions can take miles to put right again as a result.

Michelob Ultra

premium 5% lager
if this is what your life is about, this is your drink

Come again? Hang on... Since when did the interests/lifestyle I have dictate my taste in beer? Uh-uh.. This is a touted as an 'image' drink. I don't know about you, but I drink my drink (whether alcohol or squash or pop) based on it's taste (and sometimes cost if there are multiple similar options) which makes me think they're advertising it to stick on that (non-existant) "presentation" shelf in your fridge that you show people when they come round. And that you (or they) don't care much about the taste. Entirely wrong.Go look at their UK site if you want.

Sounds like a cologne anyway. Wear it don't drink it..

Disclaimer: I have never tasted Michelob Ultra and the above comments are my reactions, opinions only, from the TV advertisement only.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Nokia 6230 graphite colour facia for sale

I have a spare facia (front and back cover) for my Nokia 6230, graphite colour I'm getting rid of on ebay if you own one of these phones and are in need of one. In perfect condition (as new), Nokia original product, never been used.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Annoyed with your PC?

You know the times, particularly Windows ME or earlier users - it's crashed for the umpteenth time today and you've had enough. Well, don't take your frustration out on the real PC - it'll cost you (and you might hurt yourself). Instead, take it out virtually. I guarantee you'll feel better afterwards:

Bash your PC