Archive for January, 2006

Most listened to music

Saturday, January 21st, 2006

I did an upgrade to the latest gtkpod via an apt pinning to the testing release (0.99.2) and had a play around. I still don’t get to see my OTG (On The Go) playlists, but I’m not too bothered about that. I asked it to create a playlist of most listened to music. Of course, much of this is inaccurate as the iPod doesn’t bother to sync these stats to disk often enough that if I run out of juice (which I often do these days) it’ll preserve what I’ve had on. It also doesn’t sync with xmms (yet) and none of this is tied into audioscrobbler either – so there’s room for error. Here’s a list of tracks and artists though:

  • Madonna – The Power Of Good-Bye
  • Runrig – Rocket To The Moon
  • Jefferson Starship – We Built This City
  • The Corrs – Give It All Up
  • Runrig – (Stepping Down The) Glory Road
  • Captain Tractor – Pitcairn Island
  • The Cranberries – Dreams
  • Runrig – Protect And Survive
  • Runrig – Running To The Light
  • Runrig – Canada
  • Runrig – The Greatest Flame
  • Runrig – Amazing Things
  • Runrig – Siol Ghoraidh
  • Electric Light Orchestra – Calling America
  • Runrig – Alba
  • Runrig – Ravenscraig
  • Pet Shop Boys – In The Night

All of these are fantastic artists I listen to all of the time, except for two. Firstly, Madonna has been quite variable over the years – I’m not such a bigtime fan of the material girl any more (but heck, she’s been in the game for so long that that in itself is pretty cool). Secondly, I don’t know Jefferson Starship well enough to say whether I enjoy their whole catalog in general. I have most music ever released by Runrig and Captain Tractor though (much of that is on CD, the rest tends to come from iTunes or similar). In fact, Runrig had better release some more albums soon because in the last year I’ve gone from never having listened to them to pretty much owning their entire 30 year back catalog and a lot of live recordings besides. Hurry up with that.

What’s the Runrig and Captain Tractor connection? They’re both Canadian on some level. Runrig have a Canadian singer these days (Bruce Guthro), who replaced Donnie Munro. Captain Tractor are a Canadian band anyway. I also have a Great Big Sea fascination (thanks Andrew, Telsa and Alan) and they’re Canadian too. Then there’s the Arrogant Worms, who aren’t in this list but I listen to quite often too. So there’s a big Canadian influence in my musical taste these days. Mostly because it’s all damned good. Did I mention that I like Canadian music? I actually also like a growing amount of US music too. The 10,000 Maniacs are on my playlists right now. As are a few others – recommendations for little known US artists are welcome.

Incidentally, the iPod is shittily designed in playlist management terms anyway – clearly I want to be able to edit more than one persistent playlist when on the go and actually delete tracks from that too. But meh. Apple didn’t seem to care enough about that or about the whole let’s use FAT32/HFS+ so we can have things corrupt when the attached laptop runs out of juice. And many other wibbles I could add about technical mistakes made in the iPod design. Who am I kidding? I love these things as much as the rest of you and Joe’s shiney new black photo/video one has made me think mine will be two whole years old this summer…


Edit: For the pedants out there I added a reference to HFS. It doesn’t matter whether Apple use FAT32, HFS, or my_super_dooper_filesystem on the iPod. If the host PC/laptop can trash it when it runs out of juice and the iPod is incapable of doing something about it, then that’s just dumb. At least have it able to rescan its own disk for music if needed. One of the two times I lost all of my music (music still on disk but Apple’s nasty database was damaged) I was running iTunes on OSX plugged into an iPod running the Apple firmware (see, no Linux involved in any of that) when the laptop ran low on battery and went to sleep, taking the mounted filesystem with it. Just before a long haul flight. Thanks. Now I just use gtkpod and keep a backup of my music database from time to time. I don’t trust Apple iTunes or OSX with my laptop/music any more. Use Linux, it’s the only enlightened choice.

Windows WMF vulnerability

Friday, January 20th, 2006

I’ve just been reading Mark Russinovich’s blog posting entitled Inside the WMF Backdoor. From the looks of it, that exploit, the one where graphics files can be used to take over a suitably badly configured Windows PC is actually just bad design. Mark explains the whole thing, so there’s no point in repeating it here. I liked this story because I think Mark expertly explains the situation and calms hysteria – and you probably want to buy his fantastic books on Windows Internals too if you’re interested in learning about the evil enemy in WA (I admit I only use that book as a source for Microsoft-bashing these days).

The story just goes to make one fundamental point. Software is stupid and contains bugs. If you insist on running everything as “Administrator”, “root” or whatever your privileged user account name is actually called, then you deserve precisely everything that is coming to you when one of those bugs is exploited on a webpage you decide to visit. Steve Gibson has been whining for years (shields up! red alert!) – I liked some of the comments about Gibson on that blog, but I’ll let you read them to get the point.


Italian gay marriage debate

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

I was just reading an article over at BBC News entitled Italians clash on gay ‘marriage’. I found the following quote from the pope typical of his outdated and outmoded thinking:

The pope said of gay marriage that it was a “serious mistake to obfuscate the value and functions of the legitimate family based on marriage by attributing legal recognition to other forms of legal union for which there is no real social demand”.

There’s plenty of social demand for gay marriage and it’s only right that we welcome and accept people of all orientations into modern society, including into our insitutions of marriage. Nobody is saying that the Catholic church should be obligated to marry these people, but it is only fair to allow gay people to express their love for one another through a legal marriage if they so choose to do. I really fail to understand how it’s any religion’s right to tell people not associated with that religion what is right or wrong for them to do.

This is one more reason that I dislike organised religion and chose to discontinue any involvement with it myself. I believe that, so long as one doesn’t break just laws and doesn’t actively engage in religious (or other) persecution of others that people should just be allowed to get on with their lives. We live in a time where governments want to tell us what to do, when to breathe, how to raise our families (thanks, Tony) and where the pope still hasn’t understood that many of us are quite happy for him to sit in the vatican so long as he doesn’t stick his oar into affairs that don’t concern him.

Hopefully, the Italians will see some sense and allow gay Italians to have rights that others have in more enlightened countries around the world. The Canadians are already fairly enlightened, the US less so, and then for once the UK is doing pretty well. I find these things interesting because by studying how society treats the minorities amongst it, we can come to understand just how “free” and enlightened we really are.


The Dappy Dapper Drake (12″ PB)

Saturday, January 14th, 2006

Screenshot: Ubuntu Dapper Drake on a 2005 12″ Powerbook (6,8), also known as maple. Here you can see Mac OS X Panther running within Mac-On-Linux.

[ This is an evolving article. Stay tuned for updates. It'll get less crap with time. ]

So. I got this 12″ Powerbook a couple of days ago. In that time, I’ve managed to get both OSX and Dappy Dapper Drake installed, though there’s more work left to be done overall. I partitioned the 80GB disk it is provided with into 7 partitions. Some have GNU/Linux, some have swap or other stuff (not to mention the extra crappy Apple driver partitions OSX Drive Utility creates even if you don’t want them and the wasted space it leaves around):

  • 1GB – swap
  • 100MB – yaboot
  • 20GB – Ubuntu
  • 15GB – Mac OS X
  • 10GB – Fedora
  • 10GB – YDL
  • Rest – Data

Installing Breezy was reasonably straightforward and it booted afterwards. With the vendor kernel, I was able to boot into Ubuntu and connect to my network most of the time. Suspend to disk also kind of worked, once I had fiddled quite a bit with things, although there were various problems. I decided to upgrade to Dapper Drake to get access to the bleeding edge.

An dist-upgrade to dapper does work. The system boots and runs up, but it has obvious problems related to the Ubuntu kernel and the synaptics touchpad driver is now too insensitive in the default Ubuntu Xorg config. Suspend-to-disk doesn’t work and things just aren’t polished enough. But, that’s what I expect from Debian/Ubuntu kernels and hardware support. I’m not trying to be offensive, but I’ve never liked any Debian kernel enough to hang onto it (either stable or unstable) for more than a reboot or two.

Having booted my own 2.6.15 stock kernel, things started to get better. I was able to suspend the laptop (albeit with a few issues on occasion) and generally felt somewhat happier. Next, I configured power management to have the userspace governor (the governator) set my cpufreq dynamically according to system load. Then, I installed the bcm43xx experimental (though pretty much fully working) wireless driver. I extracted the firmware from one of the ones online but that didn’t give me working WEP so I borrowed one from a friend. The Ubuntu networking scripts need some modification (/etc/network/if-pre-up.d/bcm43xx):



modprobe -r bcm43xx
modprobe bcm43xx
#iwconfig $IFACE rate 11MBit
ifconfig $IFACE up
iwlist $IFACE scan

This forces the (nasty unsupportable, vendor no-supplyee-drivers-or-specs) Broadcom driver to scan for my home wifi and then allows the regular scripts to connect to it in the normal fashion.

To get the suspend-to-disk working with the bcm43xx driver and a few other PCI quirks affecting the box necessitated the following script (/usr/local/bin/


chvt 1


ifdown eth1
ifconfig eth1 down
ifdown eth1
modprobe -r bcm43xx ieee80211softmac ieee80211

if (lsmod|grep bcm43xx >/dev/null 2>&1);
        echo "Cannot unload bcm driver. Not suspending."
        exit 1

modprobe -r ohci1394 sbp2 ieee1394 \
yenta_socket rsrc_nonstatic pcmcia_core

modprobe -r genrtc

echo disk > /sys/power/state

chvt 7

modprobe ohci1394
modprobe ieee1394
modprobe sbp2

modprobe genrtc
sleep 1
hwclock --hctosys

ifup eth1

I am using the latest prerelease of mol which supports Panther, as you can see in the screenshot. More on that when I have the time to document it. Not everything on this Powerbook is working perfectly, especially the nvidia FB driver (display has some updating issues) but it’s getting there.


* Note that the Ubuntu documentation repeatedly fails to note that you’ll need room for yaboot on a PowerPC install, so just bear that in mind.


Saturday, January 14th, 2006

So, I got the Powerbook (6,8) from the great folks at Terra Soft Solutions. It was shipped by USPS expedited air mail. This means that the service was great within the US (as you would expect) but that after leaving the US, I was not told it would be handed off to Parcelfarce (until I figured this out through a few google searches), who managed to screw it up as per their wonderfully high service standards. I was able to track it to the local sattelite depot via their website (which doesn’t automatically check international inbounds because that would obviously take a little more CPU time and users are obviously happy to find the check box for that anyway). Pop quiz:

You’ve got a laptop turning up expedited air mail, for which you’ve paid in the region of 250 USD. Your carrier says your package is “out for delivery”. What does this mean?

More than three or four of you thought this meant that it is sitting on a van en route. In fact, Parcelfarce have a different set of definitions than the rest of us. For example, in this case, expedited 3-4 day delivery means that if you have VAT charges exceeding 90 or 100GBP to pay then they will not take the package on the van (because you need to pay VAT and their drivers don’t do that – which is fair enough, I wouldn’t want them having safety concerns) and instead they’ll send you a SNAIL MAIL letter explaining the charges and invite you to pay. How quaint. How British. Now utterly not International Expedited air mail delivery. I asked them why their website couldn’t just tell me how much I needed to pay and let me pay – it knew there were charges, but lied about what was happening with the package and certainly didn’t tell me how much I owed – their own internal staff interface knows this stuff (as the friendly guy in the depot told me, along with the fact that the line they fed me about upgrading is something they’ve been saying for around 7 years *and* that they’ve trained their staff in a new system which is months behind schedule. He said he wouldn’t remember how to use the new system – coming soon to a depot near you!).

So, it’s lucky I was tracking the package on the morning and saw that it was out for delivery at 08:04. When nothing turned up within an hour (I live 15 minutes from the depot) I decided to call to find out where on the route I was. I then learned the package was sitting on a guy’s desk (having gone thousands of miles around the world quite successfully prior to this) and that I needed to pay VAT. Fine. I offered to pay by credit card. Ok. But I won’t be able to get the package the same day because all the vans have left and they don’t have any more (someone start an online fund – seems Parcelforce are short on vans now) so I can pay and wait another day for my International Expedited Air Mail delivery to go the last few miles. Turns out all the vans leave before they bother to answer the phone in the mornings – so there’s a catch 22 situation there. I tried calling just after 08:00 but went through to an annoying voicemail system which I eventually managed to break out of (via the “do not call this number” number) only to go to a voicemail. Fine. I’m frustrated and annoyed at them (but it’s not the guy at the depot’s fault – and I never take it out on them – that’s for the Parcelforce management to deal with). I eventually just paid for a taxi to go pick it up. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m *NOT* going to voluntarily use Parcelfarce and if I end up having to tollerate them, I’m picking up in person.

Anyway. I called their head office and spoke about my issues with their service. I only got my package vaguely on time because I took proactive action. Luckily it wasn’t a business critical package on this occasion. I tried explaining this to the MD’s office but was fed various buck-passing lines about customs and how it’s all not Parcelfarce’s fault (they know that name very well, apparently they hear it quite often, I do wonder why). It’s not acceptable to pass the buck. It’s not the UK government’s fault. It is Parcelfarce’s fault for not living in the 21st centuary and letting customers go onto their tracking site to see where the package really is and giving them a chance to pay. The person on the telephone seemed unwilling to accept these simple facts so the conversation broke down and I had to talk about an ombudsman complaint route. There isn’t one (they’re unregulated, great). I can however complain to them (fat difference that’ll make here) and apparently their relationship with the USPS is longstanding and they rarely get complaints. Well, I’m going to have to pass this on to BBC Watchdog as an example of woeful inefficiency.



Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

So, they announced the McMacs yesterday at MacWorld. I’m not surprised that Apple began by releasing a 15″ Powerbook replacement since that’s their performance portable. I do however continue to be disappointed that they couldn’t get their arse in gear and help churn out a new generation of PowerPC processors (which clearly are superior, from an architectural view) to keep the PowerPC platform going for many years to come. Such resistance stinks of external factors getting in the way of cool technology – but it’s happened now.

This limits my choices in buying a non-Intel platform (I’m not opposed to Intel, I just dislike x86 and would prefer not to have one in a laptop – so I’ve nothing against Apple using Xscale parts in future iPods) quite considerably and means I am more likely to have to consider that now. But this transition removes the technological binding I had to Apple. They’re now just shiny PCs and have to compete with Thinkpads for future sales. Clearly, Apple aren’t bothered about me and my enthusiasm for PowerPC and will do well out of the whole thing overall – but I’m still (mostly irrationally, just because I am) annoyed.

Think Apple, think the same as everyone else.


177 Captain Tractor, 106 Arrogant Worms, 86 Runrig, 61 Great Big Sea tracks

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

I seem to have been listening to a lot of funky Canadian music lately. Today, it’s been bits of the new Great Big Sea album and some of another Captain Tractor album I just downloaded with iTunes. iTunes is evil, evil crack. Paid a few Dollars/Euros/Pounds to lastfm for a subscription – I can now listen to my own or other people’s music via a radio stream, which is quite fun.

My laptop is now somewhere over the Atlantic, having taken a fuel-inefficient trip from Denver to San Francisco first. Obviously there can only be so many hubs (though one on the East Coast would make some sense) but perhaps shippers should have some incentive not to send packages thousands of miles in the wrong direction. Just a thought.