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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

December 31
Doing some disk restoration for the boss, and whoops. Red Hat 7.3 bails out at 4GB files, which I didn't realise until after I'd reconnected everything. D'oh. Actually, it's probably dd or ext2 or something that's bailing out. Anyway. I need to go and drag the disk image off again. Bah.

And off for Happy New Beer!

December 30
Embarked on some of the Resolution over the rest of the house, including cancelling my Bank of Ireland credit cards, yay! Feckers. The less money they get off me, the better.

December 29
Pre-New-Year's Resolution: clean up some of this crap hardware, dammit. It's gotten slightly worse since I took that photo; there's now another keyboard, a hub, and a toasted ISDN modem.

Resolution made, I proceeded to disregard it and hack at my mapping toys instead. Specifically, I dug around in MapQuest some more, and investigated Maporama's scaling through cunning use of Perl.

December 28
Visited my goddaughter (and, obviously, my brother and sister-in-law, and my recently-arrived second niece) to find her whizzing around the kitchen at breakneck speed on the bike that Santa brought her. Eventually hit the road back to Dublin.

December 27
Visited by relatives. Lather, rinse, repeat. Also, Pubcrawling, a board game, is possibly the funniest thing ever. It may have helped that we started labelling each other's playing tokens - and the winos - and John kept up the Ali G-ish joke:
Donal: Which one's John?
Waider: John's black
John: Is there a problem with that?
Surprisingly, perhaps, we didn't have enough drink to play the game as the instructions required, but that was probably for the best.

December 26
Visit relatives, drink, food, hic, etc.

December 25
Drink. Food. TV. Repeat. Hic.

December 24
Wrapped presents, drove home.

December 23
Remember, whatever you're trying to do with Sendmail, there's probably a m4 directive for it. Also, make sure your mail hub responds to mail addressed explictly to your mail hub.

December 22
First, I made the crappy old ppc1 camera work as a webcam, and then I went Christmas shopping, and finished up with LotR: TTT. Yow. Check out that Gollum guy.

December 21
Messing about with link tags again. The tricky part is figuring out what sort of logical sequence to impose.

Woo. On a whim I pieced together the required bits to get my old PPC1 camera working on Linux, and lo, it actually works. Woah.

Reworked my reclaim-nuked-CDDB-files script to use CDDB protocol (rather than hauling off the web site), rotate through the servers, attempt some sanity-checking on the results, and, well, the only thing I didn't do was convert it to a POE app...

Giggle Giggle Giggle. I just found a website offering parts to upgrade the Acorn Archimedes A3010 that I have lying around. Maxed out, this would be 4MB of RAM with a 1.3GB hard drive, woo woo! Mind you, it's currently 1MB with no hard drive (although it does have a high-density floppy), so. Heck, on the uprated spec, I could probably run Arm Linux on it.

December 20
Well, in terms of solving the problem by hook or by crook, the crook definitely has it. I am even MORE convinced that the Cisco VPN client is total ass, and I retract everything I ever said about the badness of using ssh for VPN connections.

Also, got the estimate for delousing Klortho. It's steep. It's not quite as steep as buying a new laptop to the same spec, though. I think. I keep telling myself that, anyway.

Oh, we also had to roll back one of the changes made yesterday. Grr. Lotus Notes, again. Apparently it couldn't figure out that it was authoritative for itself, so tried forwarding mail to itself.

December 19
Hah. Knocked two items off the to-do list today. That's something of a change from previous attempts. Knocking another one off tomorrow, either the right way, or the wrong-but-works-for-me way.

Linux used have this feature, back a few years, where you could have the kernel call a script called request-route when it was trying to figure out where to send a packet. This would be ideal for what I'm trying to do at the moment; I've got a VPN setup that's sitting on top of an ISDN line, and I don't want the VPN to hold the line open. So the idea would be to sit around waiting for a packet to show up that needs to be routed over the VPN, and then fire up the VPN which would in turn drag up the ISDN via its dial-on-demand. Once traffic subsides, everything shuts down again. I'm poking at netfilter but I'm not seeing anything immediately obvious, and the only notion that springs to mind is a pseudo-device.

AH! rrouted looks to be the thing. And there's also diald, which I'd known of but not thought of. HMM.

December 18
Every day something new. Today I set up a VPN connection using PPP over SSH, failed to configure a Cisco box for IPSec over TCP, learned some LDAP basics, and swore at an assortment of recalcitrant systems. The last part isn't new, I guess.

Occasionally I am beset by the question, "WHERE IS $HARDWARE_ITEM?". At other times, like just right now, it's "WHERE DID ALL THESE FRICKIN' SCREWS COME FROM?".

Neither question has a satisfactory answer, of course.

Your CD is well fux0red when:
1008250+163715 records in
1171965+0 records out
dd: reading `/dev/cdrom': Input/output error
1008250+163716 records in
1171966+0 records out
dd: reading `/dev/cdrom': Input/output error
1008250+163717 records in
1171967+0 records out
dd: reading `/dev/cdrom': Input/output error
1008250+163718 records in
1171968+0 records out
dd: reading `/dev/cdrom': Input/output error
1008250+163719 records in
1171969+0 records out
dd: reading `/dev/cdrom': Input/output error
1008250+163720 records in
1171970+0 records out
dd: reading `/dev/cdrom': Input/output error

December 17
Both MapQuest and MapBlast have changed their sites again; MapQuest's was easy enough to work around - the image had changed its name tag - but the MapBlast one is a bit more indecipherable. I really need to go dig at the MapFlow and Maporama data.

Spent much time beating head against Cisco VPN stuff. Basically, I can run an IPSec tunnel over my Linux server + NAT, but I'm not entirely successful in swapping a Cisco box with NAT in place of said dialup. There are fallback options, but I'm trying to work within the toys I've got. Also, the Cisco VPN Client 5000 is complete ass; the 3.7 client is marginally better. Neither seems to have any sort of dial-vpn-on-demand mode which I'd really like but I'm sure I can do something about that once I get basic operation sorted.

December 16
Dug out my "not supported by Linux" USB/Serial gadget to discover that someone has, in fact, written a driver for it, and it's in the stock Red Hat kernel. Woohoo! Now I have two serial ports on the laptop and, erm, silliness beckons.

December 15
Discovered that what RTÉ had done with the movies page was to change it back to what I'd originally been working against. In the spirit of something or other, I decided to change the parser to guess at the format based on what's remained constant.

I'm always amused in the "DIE STUPID HUMAN" sense at the fact that the Pilot's "your battery is low, please HotSync" message can interrupt the HotSync you're doing because the batteries are low. If this were open source...

Aha. Gonzo's crash hasn't completely gone away, and it looks to be something to do with the big drive. I've turned off DMA and unmasked interrupts for now to see if that improves its attitude.

Nope, it doesn't. And it's really tiresome having to reboot the machine constantly. Kernel rollback doesn't help either, which definitely points at a hardware fault. GAH. I've tried pretty much everything short of replacing the disk at this point, so I guess as soon as I free up the 60GB drive I'll sling that in and see what happens. For now, artificially throttling the data rate by using rsync to copy files around seems to alleviate the problem somewhat. Imperfect, but it's a workaround.

Bah. I'm tired, and none of the stuff I wanted to get done this weekend is done. Some of it is most of the way there, but that's still "not done", dammit. And I have a stack trace.

On the plus side, I stumbled across a bug in Samba's smbcacl program, which was fixed within the hour. Go open source!

December 14
Woke up with an idea. Hmm.

December 13
Drove to Limerick. Blew up an ISDN modem. Failed to install things due to a lack of knowledge of Cisco boxen. Drove back to Dublin, annoyed.

December 12
Hacked together a little toy to analyse the output of procmail rather than just mailing me the logfile every day. So now I know that 15% of my mail by counting is spam, but it's 46% by volume. Jeez.

Fedex called me before I called Compaq. They're collecting today, "before 2pm". Gotta love this laid-back country some times...

Phoned up about DSL. So firstly, EsatBT:
"I'm sorry, all our sales people are at a meeting. I'll take your details and someone will call you back."

Ok... I'm still waiting for the callback.


€199.65 connection fee. €107/mo for 512/128 with a 3GB cap, 3.6¢/MB over that. Eircom are apparently working on a package for ISDN folk, but right now it's scheduled for "early in the New Year". I neglected to ask if I'd be charged for a downgrade to POTS for the line test, or the subsequent upgrade back to ISDN if I wasn't DSL capable. Finally, €175.00 for the modem (I didn't mention the €30 plus Linux box option). The funny part was where she kept saying ISDN and then correcting herself to say Hi-Speed, which is Eircom's marketing name for dual-channel ISDN.


Far better phone service, for one. I'd have happily talked to the salesperson all day! €165.00 once-off installation fee, and €169.00/mo for 1M/256k with no limit and a fixed IP address. Tidy. However, there's an additional charge: you need to pay Eircom for the physical line (hello, ComReg, can we get something done about this?) which is about €32.00/mo, although the salesperson wasn't 100% sure of the cost. Fair enough, not her company and all. She mentioned something in excess of €200 for the DSL modem, and said it's a Zyxel, so I presume it's one of the boxes that's been mentioned on ILUG in the past.

Eircom's promised ISDN option in the New Year aside, it looks like I'd have to pay €130 to get a new POTS line in, and even then I'd not be guaranteed it'd be DSL capable since it needs to be in place before they can run the test. All things considered, I'm probably better off cutting back on my Internet habit right now.

I am bemused. Fedex showed up at about 13:55. EsatBT still haven't called back, though.

December 11
Hmph. Looks like RTÉ have changed their movie page again. Damn them.

Every day I find another little thing that increases my respect for Red Hat. Today it was the discovery that the Sendmail SRPM that ships with Red Hat 7.3 will build on Red Hat 6.2, for people who want to upgrade sendmail without upgrading their entire system. The magic to get it to build is to edit the specfile and read the top of it. Probably you can pass a define on the rpm command line, too.

Wow. This is brane-dead: use an arbitrary number to fix a more-or-less non-problem. And make it the default behaviour. Sure, truncates a few messages, but that's all right.

Fedex failed to show up to collect my laptop. Fedex failed to even phone me to confirm pickup times or any such nonsense. I phoned Compaq's repair centre around lunchtime to verify that Fedex were going to call, and the girl on the phone said that yes, the booking had been confirmed and all. So I guess I get to phone Compaq again tomorrow, and spend another day working from home. I don't mind so much, except for the daytime connectivity bills.

I decided at least investigate getting DSL in; there are, as far as I know, three providers at present - Eircom, EsatBT and Via Networks. Of the three, EsatBT is the only one with anything visible on the front of the site that points at DSL, and that's a lozenge advert. On the Eircom site, searching for DSL turns up a few pages, which eventually lead me to a "click here to check that your location is DSL-accessible" or some such. I clicked it, a window opened, and disappeared a few seconds later. I tried again, same thing. Back at the EsatBT site, I read the FAQ, and it said, "fill in the form below to have a sales rep call you". There was, of course, no form below. There was a URL further down which lead to a generic customer comment form, which hardly bodes well. Back to Eircom again. Oh wait, what about Via? Ah. Right. Dial-up or Leased line. I suppose DSL is sort of Dial-up... *click* nope, no mention of DSL, but another fill-out form for more information. Haven't any of these companies heard of email? I guess I can call a few places tomorrow. My primary concern, of course, is the apocryphal tale I heard of someone else with an ISDN-only house:

December 10
PCs are just plain DUMB. Install 60GB drive. Boot machine. BIOS gets stuck trying to identify the new disk. Go to BIOS setup, set disk type to "None". Boot machine into Linux, which says, "Hello there Big Disk!".

*shakes head, mutters*

December 9
Urgh. Looks like I'll have to pay to get my laptop deloused this time. Apparently the warranty doesn't cover immersion in high-sucrose medicinal drinks.

Working my way through the ACL patches to get them to stick to a Red Hat kernel tree; most of the patches "just work", but a few need some massaging. In the process I seem to have scripted an almost transactional patch-applying script, much as the BitKeeper folk talk about. There are 20+ patches; it attempts to apply them in sequence, and backs right the way out if any don't take. In between, it pops up an Emacs session with the broken patches and the files that won't patch.

Gnee. Hacked my PPP post-dialup script to play a wav file when the link is up. It's Morpheus from The Matrix saying, "Bring the ship up to broadcast depth. We're going in.".

Mysteriously, Gonzo the NMI-generating, high-traffic-crashing server is behaving once more. I think maybe I give these machines too much attention sometimes.

This Matrix sound clip is really amusing me. I need to get out more, I think.

Finally got all the patches to stick, so now I'm building kernels.

December 8
Further investigation of Blimp's disk troubles reveals that I shouldn't really have been too surprised at its demise. This disk was the one that ran the DSPsrv until some time in 2000 when it fell over rather messily. I recovered what I could post-crash, and apparently recycled the disk for spare parts. Doh.

Hmm. The 20GB harddrive from Klortho seems to have survived the Lemsip disaster, at least.

December 7
ARGH. I'm really in a hardware-destroying mood lately. I've just apparently killed Klortho through the addition of a bunch of Lemsip to the contents of the case. Guess this is a real test of the "no-quibble" warranty...

December 6
Not a cold, but some sort of ghastly flu-like thing. I already had this once this year, and normally don't get it more than once a year. Ow. Mind you, Lemsip Max Strength with its 1000mg of paracetemol certainly makes things more bearable.

Hacked away at some stuff for the office despite this. Oh the dedication.

December 5
More banging on non-Linux machinery in an attempt to make it Linux machinery. I think I'm coming down with a cold, too.

December 4
Urgh. Finaly fixed up my random .sig selector to cater for work-related mail. It switches on the From address, which means it has to run after vm-multdom, which... oh, just look at the code. If you're lucky, it runs the random siggery twice.

On the plus side, I can now run with multiple quotes files.

The copy-to-tape thing I left running overnight bailed with a duff tape problem. Gah. So now I've found somewhere else to copy the data to keep it safe while I FUBAR the machine.

Reading through some old, old email, where I'm discussing with Lloyd Wood such issues as whether I have a hard disk fast enough to support direct audio recording at 44kHz, and surprise at Guinness' latest advert finishing up with a URL. Times have changed a little...

December 3
After some frustrating abuse of the command line and an amount of reading, I managed to get CUPS, Samba, and a Hewlett-Packard 8500DN into some semblance of order. If you're trying to use CUPS with Samba, there doesn't appear to be a Red Hat packaged version of the former that works correctly with the packaged version of the latter; fortunately, you can just grab the source RPM for 1.1.15, put the 1.1.16 source into it, tweak the specfile to reflect your changes, and build yourself some shiny new RPMs.

Further investigation of the sickly Gonzo reveals that I'm getting NMIs under heavy load. I've tried swapping out damn near everything bar the board and the processor; I may try the latter before declaring the board a write-off. Funnily enough, it only seems to happen under heavy network load.

RTÉ changed something in their layout that stops my films.pl script from working any more. I've partly fixed it.

December 2
Gonzo is going senile, I think. Might be time to replace the old 200MHz AMD K6-2 with something a bit newer. Perhaps even an ATX power supply and no more ISA slots...

December 1
I can't seem to build a Red Hat 8 distribution. The pango section craps out because it can't find libraries which are there, dammit, and splitdistro is refusing to cooperate until I have a full SRPM collection.

Oh yeah. I noticed that my auto-generated list of CDs was, er, empty. This is due to the rm -rf incidents mentioned previously. So, I scripted a nasty piece of Perl to retrieve as many of the CDDB files as it could based on the discid files left behind by Gronk. This should be part of mp3name.pl, of course, except that I haven't touched that code in months now.

Today is World AIDS Day. Go do something positive about AIDS awareness, even if it's just to buy a red ribbon from an official charity.

Solved the pango problem with a little googling: export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/X11R6/lib:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH before you run the buildinstall script.

I decided to swap around the bedrooms again, largely because the smaller of the two gets quite cold at night and thus it's more comfortable to sleep in the larger one. After moving all the computers into the smaller room, I decided that I should do some housekeeping stuff I've been putting off for ages, such as updating Gonzo's BIOS. Haha. Firstly, Gonzo refuses to boot from a floppy. I've tried swapping floppies, disks, and memory, and it keeps dying after reading the first sector off the disk. Also, in the process of swapping things around, I took out the sound card, and put it back in, and now Linux can't find it any more. And to add to the fun, Blimp (the WLAN box) decided that it was time for a disk failure.

It never rains...

Fixed up my gnuserv setup, which had also died. Gah.

And a Micromail update, for good measure.

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For Christmas, I'd like a pony, please.