Archive for March, 2004

Meanwhile in the UK

Sunday, March 28th, 2004

[ from the random-comments-random-stuff-this-time-in-the-UK-again dept. ]

Meanwhile in the UK

The rest of the past week contained a number of interesting miscallany. Monday evening featured a sponteneous visit from Paul Sladen, who knocked on my window at around 23:00. This would be odd if it weren’t Paul :-) .
I like his Brompton and I might have to consider getting one at some point for town cycling but despite the size it does have some practical constraints like cost incurred when someone decides to borrow yours for an extended period of time. I mentioned to Paul about meeting up later in the week.

I did not go to Go because I felt pretty tired and had had to leave the week before in the middle of a game after I realised I was too tired. However much of this is down to the level of reading and learning I am wanting and trying to fit in at the moment. I have been feeling a little unwell over the last couple of days and there is something going around at the moment anyway. I visited Freuds on Monday evening and Shapla on Tuesday with a colleague.

On Wednesday I had another driving lesson and on Thursday also. I stopped in at the office in the middle of the driving on the latter occasion, and then went in to Oxford for a random walk around various bookshops – I bought A Short History Of Nearly Everything in Borders and visited Blackwells after a visit to Blackwells Music, where I bought “New Film Themes” which is a “Play along for violin”. I have tuned up the violin for the first time in a while and later played the theme from A Beautiful Mind, and also the theme from Gladiator. I would like to find a Violin teacher in the Oxford or Reading area, who is reasonably flexible with time and is willing to entertain my particular penchant for learning.

I went for a wonder through the University Park off Parks Road (opposite Comlab) and did some thinking. Took some photos too. I have decided to take up the violin again, and having finished reading Teach Yourself Electronics, have secretly ordered a copy of Horrowitz and Hill’s famous The Art Of Electronics, I have been reading this for the past week or so but am only reading small amounts each day because I have to ensure I understand everything I am reading if it all possible to do so (although they do make some assumptions which they may not explicitly state. This is a very cool book however and one of those that you can curl up with while drinking coffee, or take to a coffee house on a Saturday night). I am having to reconcile some missconceptions and brush up on my differential equations and some other mathematics to really get the full story.

On Friday, I went cycling around London with Paul. I got in to London at around 17:00 because I had to spend several hours dealing with my bank after BSM had a breakin in their Oxford branch and a thief managed to potentially steal my debit card details. I have complained to BSM that this breakin on St. Patrick’s night (17/03/2004 as per the letter they sent to those affected and not to their other customers) should not have resulted in my details being made available and that I require an explanation. I also feel that the Visa International might find they were somehow in breach of storage requirements. In any case I am considerably annoyed at the whole thing and the inconvienience. To top this off it is likely that the computers stolen also had my address details on although this was not mentioned in the letter (which apologies for any inconvienience this may cause (my emphasis added there)). They also failed to notify me for an entire week after the event.

When I eventually got in to London with my bike, I met up with Paul and we cycled around part of North London before stopping off in Leicester Square for some noodles at Wagamama. The photos show that we went to Kings Cross and saw the work on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which soon results in St. Pancras station moving, and can be seen currently when approaching or leaving on a train from Nottingham. I tried riding the Brompton briefly and enjoyed it. I decided I would prefer to ride my own bike despite Paul suggesting I ride his for some experience of riding a Brompton – because I would prefer to do that on roads I know to start with.

I got up late on Saturday because my throat has been feeling a bit sore and I was up late after my return from visiting London. I went in to town and got some bits from Maplin along with the news that Maplin might be ditching the Components counter in its stores in favour of prepackaged shite according to the trend of not having recent parts in the view of someone I was talking to there about it. A worrying premise that.

Pret gave me some patisserie perishables with a coffee I had bought. I gave most of these to various people around the town. I bought some coffee and went to An American Coffee House for an hour to read my book after having food at Zizzi. I am listening to various music of the instrumental kind – e.g. from A Beautiful Mind tonight and feel like a visit to London Zoo to visit some penguins. I hope my friends reading this are well.


CeBIT 2004

Sunday, March 28th, 2004

[ from the random-comments-random-stuff dept. ]

CeBIT 2004

Last weekend I went to CeBIT 2004 in Hannover, Germay. I originally planned to go with jok but due to a complication with his travel arrangements, I had to go alone instead. We had some food in London on Friday afternoon at Wagamama and then proceeded to Victoria to catch a nonexistant Stanstead Express. It actually goes from Liverpool Street but for whatever reason we ended up in the wrong place and had to get a taxi to Liverpool Street. When I did finally get the Stanstead Express to London Stanstead (STN), it was about 17:00 and the Air Berlin flight was due to take off at 18:10.

The train was suffering from a number of issues, including overhead line damage, ongoing engineering works happening, and general overall congestion. I called the Air Berlin German office twice on my mobile while on route and heard that the flight was being progressively delayed due to the cumulative effect of earlier delays. I arrived in the airport at 18:15 and asked the check in staff if they would please let me on the flight (updated: 28/03/2004. I had only hand luggage with me on this occasion) – they issued me with a late arrival ticket and gave no guarantees. Security allowed me to proceed to the front of the queue and I was at the gate within not too long. As I arrived I saw a final bording call and rushed, but the flight was even further delayed and did not actually take off until a few minutes after I had arrived. For once this was a good thing and I was very greatful :-) .

Yes I should plan for this and be early next time I fly somewhere. The good and positive side effect of this was that I had not enough time to consider my extreme fear of flying in planes at 33,000ft and just got onboard. I met my single serving friends for the evening: one person sitting next to me does research in abstract specification of Real Time systems and had just been to Test Con 2004 in Oxford! Another chap had been playing with cross gcc and we talked about cygwin and binary compatibility of compiled code which has been through the gcc code generator. Abstractly random.

I landed in Hannover and met the friends I was staying with a bit later than originally planned. They have the ability to speak English better than most English people do, and I enjoyed a conversation in the car with a psychotherapist who deals with gifted young people with various problems – she wrote a chapter for the book “Able Underachievers” (which I plan to read sometime – I read the chapter on Sunday but the book does look quite interesting). Anyway I arrived at the house I was staying in and had some soup before bed. In the morning, I awoke and enjoyed a relaxing shower before a very pleasant continental breakfast with meats, good coffee, and generally enjoyable conversation. My hosts provided me with a map of the area and directions for the show halls, before dropping me off to catch a tram.

Hannover seems to be one of the cleanest cities I have seen in recent times. The streets are clean and a modern yet not overdone look greats the eyes most favourably – as indeed does the sheer scale of the recycling schemes they have available. I was impressed with the Tram because it was clean and modern, had very amusing automatic retracting steps, and very useful information flat screens with news and other events in addition to the list of stops in a useful format.

Arriving at the show, I entered through the gates and went straight to Hall 2. I wondered around the Halls incrementally for the next few hours, especially with an interest in Hall 3 and the GNU/Linux stuff in Hall 6. Various companies were at the show this year (IBM had a Linux Cafe – a sure fire marketting gimmick but it probably worked dispite the cheese). I enjoyed seeing the number of companies with traditional Microsoft links who had brought out ports of their software. I also enjoyed seeing the number of companies using GNU/Linux in embedded systems or as part of a larger product – for example AXS security products which explicitly used GNU/Linux as a selling point for their technology. I enjoyed the sheer scale of the show and was quite taken aback at the number of people (yes ok so there were also a number of geek girls at this event but that is not just what I mean) who were passing through stalls. Security had a presense but there were plenty of bins and I am greatful that nobody tried anything at this event.

The LPI Germany guys were there (LPI Germany was announced at the CeBIT last year), and some people with embedded Linux stuff in the LinuxParc in Hall 6 but on the whole GNU/Linux was more of a secondary selling point as was generic Microsoft stuff. Far more focus was on the general ability to speak untold amounts of nothing on bluetooth adapters. I talked to the guys from Omnis about Omnis Studio 4.0 and my experiences from my recent review of Omnis Studio 3.3. I also enjoyed a long conversation with some of the guys from LPI and a very interesting hands on demonstration of the RSBAC security patches available for Linux kernels.

There were some talks organised too – I saw there was a KDE one as I walked passed but I thought most of it was in German and decided that I had been in one Hall for a few hours or so and still had to go through the others before finding Hall 1 for the final major Linux vendor experience (Hall 1 is somehow not as easy to find as perhaps it is presumed. I went straight to Hall 2 on the way in an then visited Hall 1 at the end). I have a large number of cards and bits of paper which I need to reconcile with the information on the press section of the CeBIT website for my official writeup but these are some starting words here. While I enjoyed the various Linux bits which were present at the CeBIT, I would have liked to have seen more focus on Linux tech and business.

The Future Parc was pretty interesting. There was a large robot doing a demonstration somewhat reminiscent of the scene from Short Circuit where the robot makes a glass of Gin and Tonic – although in this case without the crushing of ice, the mixing of drinks, and big pointless lazers. Actually not a lot like Short Circuit but I thought of that film nonetheless. Of the 3D displays that I did see, most had a focal point at 65cm if without glasses and required certain delicate positioning to work. The glasses based stuff was more interesting. BMW had a maintainance technology demonstration using Reality Augmentation and there was a demonstration of reality augmentation with cars which any reasonable computer science student could have done in a few months (therefore I felt not really a suitable exhibit for the future). The visual image processing cum tracking stuff was a little scary…probably tinfoil hat time pretty soon.

IBM, SuSE, and Novell were all playing good bedfellows at this show since their stalls were practically one giant big business Linux advert with a few other bits of technology and business. IBM probably brought a good few million pounds worth of i/p/z Series servers and I enjoyed a free juice at the Linux Cafe. No free beer on this occasion although it might have been on the menu. IBM had some kind of labyrinth upstairs for special customers and the press, and I had a look but there was little in the way of press stuff going on by the time I was there on Saturday afternoon and to be honest I was not too bothered to be given the standard Linux loving big blue stories or whatnot.

I did find CeBIT had too strong a focus on consumer level stuff and not enough focus on the business and technology aspects. Some Halls were a literal menagerie of companies pedelling the same technology in different forms – for example there were about a million people selling every possible combination of DVD writer and bluetooth dongle with some claim of theirs being somehow superior to all the others. In fact some exhibitors are considering leaving the show, and it seems that the debate over allowing pure consumerism to take over was well founded. It is.

I had some difficulty with the exit signage but eventually left later than planned and got off at the wrong Tram stop on the way to meet my hosts. So I was a little late getting to the Opera but they let me in – I probably looked like a tourist. I saw Mozart’s The Magic Flute, performed in German, and since I do not speak much German concentrated more on what was happening than on the vocals. Still I believe much Opera is like that anyway and my German friends said they had not caught every word.

I had some great food again afterwards (I must say that I really was well looked after by my hosts for the weekend) and then went to bed. In the morning we had some food with Robert and his mother before going for a walk around the local area and discussing various random miscellany. After this we had tea and I looked at Barbara’s chapter from “Able Underachievers” before being dropped off at the airport. My flight was on time and I had a single serving friend who had been demonstrating some equipment at CeBIT. On the return to London Stanstead I had a pleasant smoothie from a new juice bar called Love Juice.


Nottingham visit

Sunday, March 14th, 2004

[ from the nearly-three-months-between-visits-is-slightly-scary dept. ]

Birmingham and Nottingham 12/03/2004

Photo: Old Market Square Nottingham 13/03/2004.

Music: Alphaville – Forever Young (Special Extended Mix).

I visited Hannah and Joe in Birmingham on Friday afternoon and had some coffee in Starbucks at the Bullring in a reasonable Borders bookshop, where I also bought The Little Book Of Management Bollocks. One of the guys at work bought this recently and has some inspirational phrases which necessitates that I own this book too. This is the Borders I like to go to when in Birmingham as their Computing and Humour sections are not bad.

On Friday evening I travelled to Nottingham and had some excellent home cooked Japanese noodles with Robin and Beckie. We played a game I had never heard of and then some scrabble which was pretty fun. On Saturday morning I played the Lord of The Rings Risk game and learned that they charge extra for an addon board with Mordor and the tree people characters (see that happens to be known as profiteering on the part of games companies) – and I also happened to lose, but then I always lose in Risk against these guys.
Perhaps I should buy some board games for playing more at home.

On Saturday afternoon we went in to the city centre and had lunch at Zizzi. This Zizzi is very pleasant as it is mostly underground and has made the clay oven a focal point for visitors. We also went to Waterstones for some Costa coffee prior to a little wondering around the various books. I arranged to meet up with some people in the evening a little impromputually and then returned home via London.


LUGs and other miscellany

Friday, March 12th, 2004

[ from the visiting-nottingham-again-today dept. ]

Photos: Hants LUG meeting Saturday on 06/03/2004 and SCLUG meeting on Wednesday 10/03/2004.

I spent most of last Saturday afternoon in Winchester, and had supper with Gran before I got a late train back to Reading. My reading at the moment is mostly focussed on various pocket guides to electronics and so I was studying schmitt triggers and positive feedback on the train. Over the weekend I completed my writeup of FOSDEM 2004 for the magazine and worked on this month’s embedded column too. I wrote a simple LCD interfacing utility for a hardware piece and played around with
LCDproc. I think I need to get some bigger displays with different chipsets so that I can do some rough and ready graphics with them. Also need to start work on nagbot soon.

On Wednesday evening I went to the SCLUG meeting in the evening and discovered that there is a Zizzi restaurant in Reading now. I often have pizza in their other branches and have grown quite fond of olives as a starter, with a Del Contadino or similar based main course (perhaps with a little customisation), and some Earl Grey tea with some biscotti. Hopefully tonight I will be going to either Zizzi or Wagamama.

I setup a stats page for #emdebian on and also for other channels which I am on. This duplicates a few other stats and is mostly for me in the latter case but the Debian one should prove useful for anyone trying to see what kind of cruft we are talking about there.

Trying to get an Embedded Debian meeting sorted out in Cambridge sometime over the next few weeks and sorting out stuff like the Expo (one of the guys I met at FOSDEM is hopefully staying with us and that is pretty cool) as well as my trip to CeBIT next weekend in Hannover with jok.


OxLUG PGP Keysigning Party

Thursday, March 4th, 2004

[ from the wok23-has-changed-ownership dept. ]

We met up for an OxLUG PGP Keysigning party in the Lamb and Flag last night. This was just after a driving lesson and I was still feeling the consequences of the coffee I had been drinking during the day in the office. I enjoyed the keysigning and afterwards visited Wok 23 with Dan and Dom for some nourishment before returning home on the 00:23 train. I stayed up too late and wasted most of the next day.

I am hoping to meet up with a friend in London and attend a TV show filing. Will aim to post an update at some point too.


Visiting Congleton

Thursday, March 4th, 2004

[ from the nice-to-see-you dept. ]

I went to visit twh in Congleton with Hussein and jok last weekend. On Friday evening I went to Birmingham and took another coffee machine which should be identical to the one I had bought previously for Hannah and Joe to make fresh coffee. Travelling by train makes this a bit more amusing, and as I had previously purchased their machine in Witney and carried it back by train, it had been well travelled shall we say. Of course the same machine turns out to be available in Birmingham at the same price but things turn out like that.

Anyway we tested the machine and had a really pleasant evening. The next morning was to feature a visit to a local gym but the Health and Safety monster has bitten Birmingham City local government and they refused to allow me to use the equipment dispite my willingness to accept a disclaimer and my explanation that I have been a member of a gym previously. Unfortunately American Suing Syndrome does this kind of thing and then everyone jumps at once, preventing me from burning off excess carbohydrate while meeting certain people Hannah wants to set me up with… :-) .

We went in to Birmingham City and I bought some new gloves from Marks and Spencer to replace a pair that I had left on a train in Brussels. Since these replaced those bought as a present from my grandmother they needed to be similar (I did tell her I had lost them!). I visited Marks and Spencer in Reading the day before and with the code of the correct pair available, got some in a different colour but otherwise identical and just as comfortable. A good thing because I hate having to find which gloves define me as a person.

Joe, Hannah and I went to CEX and bought some game consoles. Joe got an Xbox to mod for GNU/Linux use or maybe Xbox Media Center (did you decide which?). I bought a Gamecube ostensibly to join the Gamecube Linux development efforts, although I still need to purchase the broadband adapter and Phantasy Star Online. It is then planned to add somehow an IDE interface, and I have already discussed this with certain people who can help. I am going to be working on another bi_records implementation for ppc Linux also over the next few weeks because I am fed up with the number of platform ports needed for trivial differences.

I travelled from Birmingham to Congleton on saturday morning, arriving at around 13:22 or so. I met jok on the way as he joined the train at Stoke station. During the journey I talked to a chap from Bristol who deals with defending taxpayers from various lawsuits which I would guess are often of the American Suing Syndrome kind and not ambulance chasing money grubbing suing kind.

Upon arrival in Congleton, we walked to twh’s house. After an initial direction finding issue caused by my attempt at guesswork, we eventually found where he actually lives and met up with Hussein too. We had a very pleasant afternoon and the area is very asthetically pleasing. Tom is obviously a great deal better than he was and I am glad he is up and about.

I stayed in Congleton and jok stayed also. On Sunday we had a very enjoyable Sunday lunch before jok and I began our return trips interspaced with engineering improvement works. This meant that a normal return time of a few hours was doubled and consequently we stopped off in Birmingham. Photos of the trip show that we walked up to Victoria Square. Here in addition to finding a comical Powerpoint crashscreen in the theatre lobby, we also found a quaint area near the National Sea Life Center. Here there was an area similar to London Docklands with a Zizzi where I could have my favourite Olives, Bread and Pesto Pizza covered in Aubergene, Goat’s Cheese, Peppers, and pine nuts also.