Archive for September, 2005

On randomly visiting Birmingham, Hannover, elsewhere…

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

Photo: Hannover has many very interesting architectural examples of goodness. And a lot more water than one might at first imagine.

I’ve uploaded a few photos from my trip to Hannover a couple of weeks back. I enjoyed walking along the waterfront and found the rest of the town to be quite inspiring. I will be popping over to Hannover again soon and will likely take some time to visit friends in Munich (not even remotely nearby) while I’m over there. I’ve got a trip to Brussels to get in too at some point and of course I am away a couple of times in October. I’m judging entries for some awards at the moment and really should get my nominations done, also probably should start to think about what I’ll say at LinuxWorld next month. I just gave my standard Embedded Linux talk (though quite randomly modified) at the September meeting of the sblug. Fortunately, although I had no idea I was going to be speaking, Hannah had randomly called me to tell me about it the night before – at least someone knew. Fun stuff.

I have to find a place that’ll let me send a prepackaged FedEx parcel sometime before I lose another day. It’d be good to get all this sorted out and get going. Mailed a few people about this over the last week and should have some extra help on hand when necessary. Hopefully I’ll get to go to Boston and New Jersey as part of my Christmas trip – we’ll see. But it looks like there will also be some moving to do before then as I look for somewhere in the Reading/Bracknell area on a reasonably short contract. Dunno exactly what’s happening with all that just yet.

Photo: Some enterprising young guys dressed as superheros charge bystanders for their photo with a random character on a Saturday night.

Wagamama sent me some vouchers, to the tune of 30 quid. But I’m afraid that’s not going to be enough since that’s only a free meal to them. I’m toying with returning them instead. If they’d sent me a real 30 pounds then I might feel less bothered because I could go and buy more Runrig albums with it instead. Meh. Looks like I’ll be nearby this evening anyway – so I might take it up with them if they’re not too busy. We’re going to see the newest remake of that Jane Austin book. Could they have maybe made another story instead for a change? Or maybe just paid Keira Knightly to make another random chick action flick? Still, it’ll be watchable and that’s all they want from the audience – they’ve already sold this to the over 50 crowd and adding Keira means there’s something for the descerning gentlemen who takes his girlfriend, family, or whatever affiliation. Gotta give Hollywood some credit for rehashing old stuff.

Photo: My sister models the latest issue of LU&D. You want to buy it.

The other evening was pretty amusing. I gave a talk on random stuff and had about 20-30 people turn up to listen to it. Good thing I found out about it. I took a few boards along with me with flashing lights and gave some demos – also gave an overview of programmable logic and dynamicly configurable hardware devices and their relevence to Linux. Especially how the IP rights issues affect people working with Open Source (that you just can’t reverse engineer some of this stuff, you need expensive development tools, but you can also have people who are developing open source hardware too). I gave examples of devices using FPGAs and explained how these things benefit Cray, the NSA, and your local nuclear missle or spy place (because the hardware is useless until it’s deployed and an encrypted configuration loaded). I’m glad I strayed from the slides as they were very technical and very boring – and I find that this is a good way to address cases where you have an audience member who seems to know it all.

After the evening formalities, we retired to a nearby bar and discussed random stuff. I’ve invited Tim Williams to join me/us on the little jolly up Snowdon (anyone else?). I went back to Hannah and Joe’s lovely house and had some cake with their next door neighbours (how cool it is having next door neighbours like Kat and David right on your door step). Invited them to contribute some LAMP stuff and then slept very well in the Wriggles’s spare room.

Photo: Ottawa really is south of London (England), by a few degrees.

Just so I don’t go a whole entry without any politics. I took a train back from Birmingham yesterday morning (and wrote a whole entry on the evils of Charles Clarke) and was reading shocking things in the Metro and Independent (I was given vouchers for the new Guardian, but can I even bring myself to buy that? Would I take it if it were free?). We now live in a police state where it’s forbidden to speak about many things or a fuckwit and his cronies might have you sent over to Cuba for an extended holiday. I hate what this country is wanting to become. As I mentioned in the entry I might post, I have decided to read about the soviet purge trails in Hollywood in the early 20th centuary – this is our modern day witchhunt and it is terrorism.


Wagamama – A Vegetarian Experience

Thursday, September 15th, 2005

Photo: A small slice of meat sitting in my Yasai Yaki Udon.

So I went to Wagamama in Reading the other night. I’d just spent far too long in a large USian coffeehouse (with my laptop, for the wifi) and was debating whether to go see yet another film as I had the night before (don’t under any circumstances see Red Eye if you don’t happen to have a free ticket going) when I decided to fill a void in time with the way of the noodle. Unfortunately for Wagamama, it turned out that my vegetarian noodles were anything but that in name and I discovered a piece of meat sitting in the midst. I’ve complained but I won’t settle for anything less than a reasonable recompense for this – they claim to have separate food preparation areas so this doesn’t happen and yet it did happen. My sister would have been very upset if it had been her and I wasn’t best pleased – they need to really want to try not to do that again.

The time spent drinking burned coffee (yes, Starbucks coffee does taste burned) wasn’t all wasted as I got to catch up on various reading material – LWN, various other websites, etc. I think I might signup to a data package when/if I get around to sorting out my mobile (cell) phones and their costs. Clearly there’s some benefit in having cheaper roaming and a certain level of remote access cost covered in one bill – that’s what the network providers are counting on when you signup. I know the game, but it’s the cheapest option in town even if it’s supporting big business. I ended up encoding more Runrig, having bought their 30 years celebration album – 30 Year Journey. I’m thinking about going to see them perform later in the year. While I’m vaguely mentioning shopping experiences it’s worth noting that Whittard don’t keep Maple Tea in stock in their stores – a shame since it’s fantastic and I’m quite sure I’d buy it. It’s probably going to be like trying to find a store around here that sells Jolt.

The other other night, I went into London to see The Woman In Black with a friend – except he cancelled out so I ended up going on my own. Unfortunately the play also was lacking in any real plot whatsoever (though the acting was very good) and I had to deal with the sounds and annoyances of the hoards of people exhibiting signs of “football, innit, wot?” syndrome. Why can’t they just learn not to try going to a theatre if they’re going to just be annoying. Bah. On a related note, I saw a few gun toting maniacs roaming the streets (along the south bank) while I was in town. In the following photo, you can perhaps make out the fairly sizeable weapon one officer is carrying in an effort to protect us from evil terrorists – except I feel more threatened by unidentified people parading around in uniforms with any kind of gun. There is no reason for them to carry such dangerous weapons (they just feel left out because the US can’t learn a lesson) since there are many non-lethal means which are just as effective in practice but can’t be used to shoot innocent people on the streets or on the underground. But they won’t learn.

Photo: London is protected from evil terrorists by burly men parading leathal weapons as they “patrol” the south bank.

Looks like I might be in Germany next week. Would be quite fun. There’s also a need to go to at least three embassies this week for various things, but it has to be on Thursday as that is the magic embassy day – and before noon too.


Playing Catchup

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Photos (from left to right): Use your mobile/cell phone for more than just phonecalls, Paul tries to keep up with thousands of tonnes of moving train, it’s amazing what kind of festivals comics will actually inspire, Andrew demonstrates his ape-like ability to hung upside down.

Playing Catchup with blogging

It’s been a while since a wrote a non-ranty entry here. Sorry about that, I’m just going through this phase right now where I’m severely pissed off with my government and that of certain other countries I will mention. I know I really want to move to Canada (where the grass is greener and I’m sure I’ll find problems too) but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to write an entry that’s more rounded than the last couple I’ve had here. So, here goes. You’ll probably still think I’m ranting by the end of it. First off, this entry has a few photos – I figured I’d just finish off commenting some of these recently uploaded photos from my Nokia 6230 cell/mobile phone. I do not upload these often (requires poweing down phone and removing memory card), so they’re in one block.

I’ve been back in the UK predominately for a month now. Long enough to remember why it is that I don’t want to live here in the longer term (nice place to visit, wouldn’t want to live here long) – sorry I’m not meaning to rant here – but I’ve done a few things. I went to Germany for some work related stuff and ended up touring around the waterfront area of Hannover on a sunny weekend (there won’t be many more of those around these parts this year). I saw some Marc Chagall drawings in a museum in Hannover, which he had based on various topics – from the Bible to various aspects of human life. It’s the first time I’ve consciously seen his work and I went from thinking “I could do that, that’s interesting” to realising that this guy lived around 97 years and drew so many drawings in his life that it’s no wonder they didn’t all look like famous paintings. They look more down to earth precisely because that’s what he wanted to achieve. The guy is inspirational. Hmmm…I’ve been over to London a few times, had sushi, pizza, that kind of general thing. Did a lot of article catchup, called distant people and got a very large phone bill (196GBP worth this month) in the process (but I can tax deduct most of that) for work stuff. I made a bootable DVD for the magazine and am sorting out the next issue too – DVD ideas please! Send me your useful suggestions and I’ll consider using them.

Photos (from left to right): Seriously folks! Please don’t touch the network machines!, Like many other magazines, Linux User & Developer is sold in North America with the optical media removed from the cover (so we’ve redesigned the cover to make it more obvious that it’s missing), ever think USians care far too much about the star spangled banner that is their US flag? (yes, that’s a fire hydrant), armed police at the local football stadium (UK hysteria gone mad).

I’ve booked a flight to India for October. I’m flying into Mumbai on the 13th and back on the 21st. This is for a friend’s wedding ceremony (he’s actually already married) which is being held in Ahmedabad. This is not really near to Agra, but I might consider going anyway (to see the Taj Mahal) and I will hopefully get to see bits of what we British used to call “Bombay” before the Indians rightfully renamed it again. I’m looking forward to seeing India – I don’t know a lot about their culture and I don’t know what I’ll learn from this, but I hope to get some kind of insight. I’m not so sure what to make of their relationship with the US right now but they seem to be getting very pally when it comes to military technology. I don’t know how Pakistan will react to this in the longer term but then, I suppose that’s not really my problem. Interesting times. Alcohol is completely banned where I’m going so it won’t be a problem that I don’t drink much more than coffee – you can get a special permit if you don’t hold an Indian passport. Wonderfully draconian, but then, we do similar things here with other substances.

I ended up on Chinese time recently, having not quite had the chance to get sent over there on this occasion. Still, it’s reminded me that I’d like to see the People’s Republic. They’re the only country that’s executed more people than the US in recent times – seriously, check out the acticles on wikipedia about Capital Punishment for a fascinating insight into this unspeakably sick thing they do over in the USA (no killing is right even if you’re killing someone who murdered people – there are so many other ways to deal with these people than killing them). Did you know that the last time the US hanged someone was 1996? That the last time they shot someone with a firing squad was the same year? But I do digress. Speaking of things I want to see and things I want to do, I’ve decided I really should check out Burning Man next summer. I also probably should budget myself better so I have money for these trips by not spending so much of frivelous stuff in Starbucks and company. Reminds me, I went into a McDonalds recently! Wow! I was with a friend and her family, but it was quite a bizzare experience. I can’t say I like the place, but I suppose they are trying. They had a very limited menu that I could actually eat from but I managed to find a Fish Burger or something that claimed so to be. I’m not desperate to go in there again for another few years (it must have been a good year or more since I was last in a McDonalds and even then I only bought a cup of tea or coffee or something like that) – only other time I’ve been in such a place was buying tea for homeless people when that’s all I can get them (although I try to go elsewhere if possible). Incidentally, I’ve also recently seen a McCafe (yes! yuck!), a McWalk and even a McClean where you can take the McPiss having had enough McCrap.

I just bought a 30 year celebratory album of Runrig music. There’s a new version of The Greatest Flame which is pretty damn good, and of course a tribute track to everyone’s favourite emigration destination of choice. I also bought Green Day’s album, American Idiot (I agree with the sentiment of the song which shares the name – there are a lot of intelligent Americans that I know, but unfortunately the country as a whole has so many educational and institutional failings that the song as a whole turns out to be reasonably accurate). I think I might go to Paris for their November concert – LastMinute are doing some pretty reasonable deals on their website at the moment and I really don’t do this kind of thing, so it might be pretty fun. Now, if only I could actually rip this CD without having to repeatedly give calls to hdparm -Y to force reset the DVD drive in my Powerbook when it refuses to read. I haven’t determined yet whether the problem is that this drive is having problems reading some disks (which it actually is) or whether this disk has some nasty copy protection. Doesn’t matter, I’ll fix either later. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s nasty DRM anti-copy stuff since Green Day’s website is truly horrible – they have a nasty flash animation I can’t see and I mailed their website/label about the irony of their “American Idiot” banner and the requirement for a flash plugin from a large US corporation. No, I didn’t subject it “I don’t want to be an American Idiot either”, but it was tempting.

Photos (from left to right): seriously! don’t use Canadian coins in this US dryer! (thank you for your co-operation, citizen), playing Go with a random person at a coffeeshop at 02:00 am while in Portland (one of the nice things about non-UK countries in general, that this is possible), it’s interesting what you can buy in German bookstores, rml’s book gets translated.

I haven’t donated any money to the Katrina efforts yet and I don’t know if I will. I donated money after the Pacific Tsunami to aid in the recovery from a huge natural disaster which wiped out many thousands of people and destroyed lives, but I don’t know if I should donate money to aid a country which can already afford to send a man to the moon and illegally invade many other countries on a whim. But perhaps that’s putting my political views in front of the needs of average people. They can’t help it that their government makes no provision for a welfare state and doesn’t understand the tremdous power they could yield to do the right thing by all people – black, white, pink, purple, rich or even poor. Maybe I should donate some money. I’d be interested to hear what my friends and family think about it? Should I give money to the richest nation on the planet to help people their government would rather ignore?

I’m sitting in a certain coffeehouse right now (yes, that one), watching all these annoying people. I look at people and many of them seem to be saying “football, innit, wot?” type stuff. It’s annoying. I wish people would learn to think more and stop being so normal – but then, that’s my weird view on life. Luckily they’re quite happy to busily scurry around on a Saturday afternoon buying all this crap or the whole economy would be in a lot more trouble than it is. Meanwhile, I’ve managed to spend 1.60 on a cup of coffee and sit here using wifi for several hours without getting moved just yet. Later, I’ll use one of my free cinema tickets and try to keep my spending for the day limited to the two albums and some wifi. Dunno if it’ll last. I’m trying to think more about spending on random crap because I do a lot of that and it’s really not helping anyone. I was reminded this week how much I rely on little bits of plastic when I had trouble with my credit card again (the bank thought my spending pattern was once again “unusual” – when am I ever considered normal?) while at dinner with a friend. It took many days and forms to pay my Dutch travel agent after that got flagged as odd. I do hope the bank won’t annoy me for too much longer or I’ll have to go somewhere else – and they’re all as bad as oneanother anyway.

On Thursday, I went to Amersham with some other guys from the RUMC (Reading University Mountaineering Club) and got my level 2 card from them – in Amersham speak, that means I can now belay and top rope on their walls unsupervised. Yay! I did a bit of bouldering and some climbing with one of the other guy’s gear. I need to get myself a dynamic rope, a locking carabiner, a harness and that kind of thing. Probably should also talk to Tom about this if I ever get through to him (he’s over in Japan and I keep thinking about calling him when it would be really inconvenient on him) but meh, hopefully I’ll also get to meet up when/if I go to Tokyo. I’ve spoken to a few friends about climbing Snowdon at the beginning of October (I don’t want to leave it too late) and generally am going to try to also go climbing at least once a week from now on. I’ve got to work on my finger strength – maybe it’ll also help me with my violin technique. Looks like I will need to head over to Cotswold Outdoor for gear – one of the girls at the club works there and others have recommended them, but I’ll go check it out and let everyone who reads this know what I think about it.


A question for Bush

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

With thousands left feeling like it’s the third world down there in New Orleans, will you accept that this is the finest example of rich vs. poor in the States we’ve had in recent times? Since the majority of those who remained in the path of Katrina were the poor, infirm and elderly, it’s safe to say they haven’t been given the number one priority they would if they were gun toting members of the House of Representatives. Or am I just watching yet another reality TV show? Come on, get a grip on it, you’ve got enough servicemen and women off fighting wars on terrorism to easily populate the entirity of N.O. several times over in the first place.

It’s not exactly a question of race – that’s a secondary and related issue – it’s a question of wealth. Every time I’ve been to the US I’ve been totally convinced that it’s all about how much you have (money, possessions, wealth, whatever). Try going to New York on a budget or any other US City. I’m sure those cities affected in this incident are no different.

Right now, I’m watching a correspondant on the BBC World who’s criticising the US for a shoot to kill policy on looters and asking whether any mayor in the UK could get away without providing for those wishing to leave a major UK city prior to an incident like an impending chemical attack or other city evacuation. Valid points. But Bush’ll be back off on holiday soon so won’t answer.