Archive for September, 2005

Paranoid Security

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Photo: An example of some of the frightening posters on the underground now, citizen.

Put simply, the only choice an officer may have may be to shoot to kill in order to prevent the detonation of a device
— Sir Ian Blair (chief of the London Metropolitan police) in a letter to the Home Office.

I was watching the news this week when Mrs. Menezes, the mother of the 27-year-old Brazilian who was gunned down by our police forces as he went about his daily life, came to visit London. She was shown the underground station near Tulse Hill (I was at a party nearby earlier in the year) which police stormed and the platform where they entered the train before shotting Jean Charles in the head a total of 8 times. Her tour included the control room with many cameras which apparently were conveniently out of operation at the time of the event. Quite rightfully, her story has featured in the news this week (although not as much as it should have) as she calls for Sir Ian Blair to resign (he should). Ian Blair represents one of those dangerous elements in our paranoid society today and his many statements continue to bother me greatly. He states that it is somehow reasonable to expect to have to murder more innocent people in the fight against terrorism, something which until now I had only heard the US and certain Middle Eastern countries outwardly sanction. Certainly not something I expect where I live. I’d rather take my chances as a free person than live in a police state which thinks dangerously like this.

A question of sanity

I was in Germany again last weekend, as you perhaps saw from my writeup of the Oktoberfest. While that was all really enjoyable and I found the weekend to be wonderfully diverting, it wasn’t quite enough to prevent me from feeling angered by what happened at the airport. After going through airport security twice (once to get through to the gate, once to go back through and purchase a bottle of water because no provision was made for water beyond security – utterly disgraceful) at Hannover and almost completing my transfer at Frankfurt, I reached an extra security checkpoint. A sign before it stated that due to increased US security we would need to go through this extra check. I of course objected and approached one of the security personnel, stating that I was not planning to travel to the US on this occasion and so was uninclined to pander to their hysteria in order to get to my UK-bound flight. They told me I had no choice and must subject to the procedure regardless. When I then repeatedly asked who was reasonable for this farce and how I could put my compliant into writing, they were unable to tell me who was reasonable for the security measure. [Added clarification: what I'm getting at here is that I had a complaint and was not allowed to make it, not that I was interested in causing hassle for the people at the security point.]. Staff at the gate later agreed with me and told me that the UK had also asked for this – who in the UK? I hadn’t. I never elected anyone with the intention that they ask for special treatment. I certainly didn’t expect the UK to allow the US to take all blame – if we’re going to be nationalised fuckwits then we might as well have the UK take some of the credit.

The truth is, I didn’t need to go through security an extra time at Frankfurt. If the authorities are unhappy with the security checkpoints at other airports, then they should redress that particular issue and not make passengers suffer the indignity of a pat down (which I and everyone else also had to have on this occasion). I of course was as unhelpful as I could be without obstructing their process – if they won’t tell me who is in charge and allow me to make a complaint then I’m not inclined to make their job any easier. It’s as simple as saying “I don’t know, but I can call someone to come and speak to you about it” – but instead I’m expected to shutup, stand in line (like a good Briton) and just take whatever they throw at me without making any particular objection. No thanks. I don’t trust my government to make decisions which are to my general benefit and I really dislike it when they deem those decisions so important that nobody can question them. Call me whiney if you like.

Underground adventure

I went to the Indian embassy yesterday to pick up a visa for my friend’s wedding. On the way, I was on an underground train sitting opposite a Montreal guy who lives in Ottawa. Wondering what the chances are of having a random discussion about one of the best places I’ve been too, I gave the guy some advice on how to maximise the time he had available. When I got to the High Commision of India at India Place on Aldwych, I got my first exposure to a notorius beurocracy of which I have heard stories. Surprisingly then, it took only around an hour to get a visa sorted – not too bad really. As I waited in a musky old room filled with old metal furniture (some of questionable safety) I looked around and spoke to one or two people, trying to get a sample of the kinds of people who were there. You had travellers, businessmen, families, people visiting sick relatives, the whole cross-section one might expect. I learned a few things too – they have no change machines so when you’re waiting you’ll need change to use any of the facilities, they don’t take credit cards (luckily I had my 30GBP in cash) and they seem to default to 6 month visas for tourists like myself so there was really no point asking for 1 month and 1 entry.

After I left the embassy and had more sushi for lunch (I really quite like it now) at Kanton, I headed over to the British Museum and took a stroll around the Egyptian and Greecian permanent exhibts. I enjoyed seeing the Rosetta stone and must admit to generally being awestruck by such things, and found learning more about the questionable activies of Lord Elgin to be quite interesting. I have been to Athens, so seeing bits of the Parthenon at the Acropolis strewn all over the place was made even more interesting. I had decided not to spend long in the museum but would recommend popping by if you’re in the area – there’s also what looks like a nice little cafe there and the building itself is fascinating (I asked some of the curators about the building itself). There’s a recommended 3GBP donation when you leave but no entry fee for the main exhibits – and a BP sponsored Persia special exhibit which is discounted if you go buy enough coffee at Cafe Nero.

I headed over to Oxford Street, checked out the new ipod nano at an Apple reseller and went into Foyles for some book relief. I left the store having met another Linux person who is into some of the same things that I myself an in to. I also managed to leave with a couple of books – one copy of the 911 Commission Report (bedtime reading) and a Teach Yourself French Grammar title which I hope to use to improve my basic understanding ahead of any potential TEF I may take in the future to prove this. On the way back to Paddington, I boarded a train which was subsequently boarded by a few police officers. Got me thinking again about how I’d handle being one of their random search victims.


UPDATE: What else is wrong with this country? Banning a radio advertisement because it has a “squish” sound of a man having a prostate exam. Some conservative British idiot probably made that judgment without bothering to exercise any particular level of thought.

Life 10 years on…

Monday, September 26th, 2005

Photo: Reading Evening Post report on my entry to University.

Ten years ago this week, I became student number 95173623 at Oxford Brookes University at the age of 13. I had completed my A-Level in Computing in the summer (and called up the school from holiday in France to find out my result – they made an exception for me and let me know by phone) and my father and I had spoken about taking this to the next logical step and applying to college. Few institutions will take students who are under the age of 18 these days and it was hard enough even at that point – but we did find an open minded institution willing to take me on. I was given an associate membership of the University in September 1995 under the condition that I must pass the two modules I was enrolled for in order to meet the requirements to become a proper student at the University. I took two courses (and wrote a paper on Mondex for one) and got an average somewhere around 80-85 percent, and in January 1996 was enrolled onto the degree.

On or around the 25th of September 1995, I turned up at the University for my first day of “college”. I was still a schoolboy, still going to regular lessons when not on day release from the school I was attending. This somewhat bizzare arrangement saw me studying with students a good deal older than myself on one-two days of every week (I usually picked modules which would co-incide with Art or Sports afternoons at school) and cutting my teeth on my first SunOS timesharing system. I would later intern at Comlab and discover Linux in summer of 1996 while writing test harnesses for the Bulk Synchronous Parallel programming libraries (the BSP International project has all but dried up since) and even getting my first long-distance look at a Cray T3D supercomputer when one of the guys let me near a keyboard.

Oxford Brookes represented some fun years in my life. I decided later to quit the University and go and do the “normal” thing by attending Nottingham – something I thought I regretted later but now realise was one of the best things I could have done with myself. I wouldn’t exactly recommend others do what I did, but it was quite an experience. The 15 minutes of fame was certainly pretty damn fun – for one day I was in every national newspaper and on TV! Look at the hair in that photo! There’s less of it to worry about now.


Oktoberfest Hannover

Sunday, September 25th, 2005

Photo: Oktoberfest Hannover (photo uploaded to wikipedia).

I went to the Oktoberfest in Hannover last night. This is inspired by the famous Munich fair and is pretty good in its own right. There is an interesting mix of beer, rides and other attractions – and lots of different kinds of food. I rode some dogems (bumper cars), went to the funhouse, a hall of mirrors, and various things I never actually got around to doing when I was younger for whatever reason (though I’ve been on bumper cars). The beer was pretty damn good, as was the live entertainment which was laid on and the event probably is very suitable for family visitors (as they had claimed). There seemed to be some security on one of the biergartens but I don’t know if that was caution, keeping out underage drinkers, or whatever else it might have been about.

Photo: Live entertainment in one of the biergarten tents.

Looks like the Germans are considering having the government go half and half – one election “winner” gets to have 2 years, then the other does. Ok. I wonder if that could work in the US too – Bush could get two years to fuck everything up as much as possible, then the Democrats could have two years to try to undo it all. Ultimately they’d get nowhere and all would be good. In fact, one could extend this to most countries where there are two strong political parties and use it as a new model to keep government from doing damaging things (like passing many laws designed to inhibt my personal rights and freedoms to walk down the street without being unlawfully detained for 90 days, for example – thanks, Westminster, for being fucking stupid).

Photo: Bored? Lonely? Why not head to your nearest McCafe!

I can’t decide what’s more wrong: a McCafe, a McWalk (literally a walkthrough service) or a McClean (take a shit in a McToilet). Views on a postcard.


(v)free the (v)mallocs!

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

I’m in Germany again this weekend, having been here during the week for work related reasons. I’m going to Hannover in a while and hope to have another reasonable weekend of touristy stuff combined with some writing. I need to get a bunch of articles written up soon and am looking for something fun to feature – so far it’s looking like a bit of debugging is going on in this month’s kernel column. I’m prolly gonna briefly look at Reiser 4 but much of that can wait. Spent last night (after some weissbier) going through airo.c on this Powerbook, looking for fucked up uses of ioports when the PCMCIA slot adapter goes away during suspend/resume. It’s a crash issue and I personally prefer my wifi working without random forced reboots. Also might look at the usb storage fuckup with my USB card media adapter.

I ended up knee deep in ARM VM recently, which was quite fun. I think I’m getting to like rmk’s weird sense of humour and the cleanness of the ARM code does really impress me. But still, there’s no documentation on some of this stuff. It took some figuring out to understand why modifying PHYS_OFFSET and hacking up virt_to_phys/phys_to_virt doesn’t allow me to build a kernel which can use memory at funky offsets. Turns out that another header (vmalloc.h) controls the board specific VMALLOC_START/VMALLOC_END and bases this on the offset of physical RAM (so you can have no virtual memory region if you’re not careful here). It’s all ok once you spend hours figuring it out (thanks Deepak for the IXP arch/arm/boot/Makefile entries for weird offsets – did you do that?) but the docs are painfully lacking. I will address some porting issues in a series of articles I’m proposing at the moment.

I had a McCafe last night and went for a McWalk around the industrial town I’m staying in. Then had a weird breakfast conversation with some guys who were discussing Reading (where I live in the UK) and Newbury (a town very nearby). They turn out to be hardware/software engineers and we ended up talking about all manner of crap while having our continental breakfast.

I am in my hotel room as I write this, listening to more American Idiot (Green Day). I am enjoying some of it, more for the message than the music. I need to charge my ipod (one side started to pop out the other night again – looks like a design defect to me) and head out. I could always listen to iFIRSTAID should I be really bored on the train to Hannover later on. I’ll be in Hannover until tomorrow and then I am flying back (via Frankfurt) at 14:mumble.


Things Todo

Monday, September 19th, 2005

So today I officially signed a book contract, which is about to eat away at all of my spare time over the next 8 months. But hopefully, it’ll be worth it, my vanity will appreciate me more for it, and I’ll be able to say “give me a job in Canada” to more random people with some kind of credible justification. So, goodness. I enjoyed calling up FedEx to have that particular wodge of paper expressed over to the other side of the pond – hopefully I’ll be other there myself in a couple of months when my co-authors are about. I won’t go into the details here but suffice it to say that I will likely make it known when you can actually go and buy this thing at some point in the future. This would be one of the reasons that I am about to become a US Taxpayer – I need to acquire an ITIN as an external non-citizen author for this work. Should be very educational.

I’ve never written a book of this length before so I’m looking forward to it with some sense of trepidation and lot of excitement (that kind of youthful excitement one can have) but mostly hoping I get off my arse and actually stick to deadlines I set for myself and my co-authors. I have some excellent friends helping me on this already (and if I didn’t already talk to you about it don’t assume that I’m not going to) – my main area on this is in the lower level stuff so I’ve got a few people helping out with the higher level, more abstract stuff that I know less about.

Also did some judging for some awards and had a good old conversation with a few people I’ve not spoken with in a while. Sorted out some advertising for a friend and generally tried to do nice things as much as I could while living with some other more general irritations that I won’t ellaborate upon much here.


Upgraded Wordpress

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

I just upgraded to the latest release of Wordpress since I wanted some of the newer features and didn’t feel like learning how to do my own non-crap looking theme (I really wanted Kubrick). Anyway, let me know if I missed any glaringly obvious stuff in the upgrade – I might turn on comment posting again if I’m happy it won’t be abused too much by evil spammer types (mostly I’m just annoyed at the time it takes to clean up the blog – I don’t much care about the spam in general).

As part of the upgrade, I have changed the default article view to 7 days (there seems to have been a behaviour regression in this release – 28 days seems to now mean 28 days of articles and not the last 28 days in a sliding window). Meh. I’ve also changed the home of the blog so that Google and other services all know it’s meant to live at It’s also worth pointing out that the same goes for my other domains – people really should be mailing me at my address(es) at this point, even though the other ones obviously work too. I may not notice if you mail and it’s not working since I hardly ever use it.

[added after the post] I’ve added a spam plugin called “lr2spam” which is really simple (in terms of code) but should do what I want. Most importantly, it doesn’t rely on CAPCHA image techniques (which the W3C and others have marked as unholy, given their inaccessible nature as being designed assuming all people can see the image generated) and doesn’t need JavaScript to be enabled on the users’ machine either. So it’s good for Lynx, Links, etc. etc.


Visited States and Provinces

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

Map: States in the USA that I have visited.

Toby provided a link to Visited Countries ages ago (according to which I’ve only been to around 4% of the world – but there are countries obviously missing from that map and I also hope to visit more soon) and I randomly decided to fill in the 8 states I’ve visited so far on their Visited States page. If I go back at Christmas then I’ll possibly get one or two more done – but I’m seriously considering the US66 option as a roadtrip worth doing for fun next year. Probably worth seeing “flyover country” once.

Map: Canadian Provinces and Terrorities which I have visited.

World66 provides a tool for making maps of visited Canadian provinces, though they confuse “province”, “terrority” and “state” (so probably it was written by a USian). Still, it’s pretty useful and as a hack is based on the above.