Robotic Tendencies
The personal blog of Robert McQueen

April 24, 2005

Things that just don’t work

I’m getting increasingly annoyed with quirks in Rhythmbox’s UI and don’t have enough patience to track them down and patch them by bumbling through the strange bonobo hoops and layers of object abstractions they’ve used at every stage to implement what is at first glance not that hard a problem (although as a disclaimer, I don’t really appreciate the issues involved, it just *seems* highly overcomplicated). I had a browse around for some other music library program for GNOME, and found Sonance, which is fully buzzword enabled with C#, Glade and GStreamer, and initially started as an XMMS-type queue songs and play them thing, but looks in SVN trunk to have grown into a program that quite resembles Rhythmbox’s UI for a music library, but might grate less initially and be much easier to hack. Worth a try at least, so I installed Mono 1.1.6 and Gtk# stuff from experimental (why do people insist on building packages in experimental against eg experimental’s libc? I’d have happily waited for that one to hit unstable), checked gst-sharp (the only remaining dependency) out of Mono CVS, and tried building it. The result?

robot101@alpha:~/projects/sonance/gst-sharp$ ./autogen.sh
**Warning**: I am going to run `configure' with no arguments.
If you wish to pass any to it, please specify them on the
`./autogen.sh' command line.

Running aclocal  ...
Running autoheader...
Running automake --gnu  ...
Running autoconf ...
configure.in:9: error: possibly undefined macro: PKG_PATH
      If this token and others are legitimate, please use m4_pattern_allow.
      See the Autoconf documentation.
**Error**: autoconf failed.
robot101@alpha:~/projects/sonance/gst-sharp$

The line in question just says PKG_PATH= to clear a variable before using it, and has been the same in gst-sharp CVS for about a year, so autoconf must’ve changed its mind about what’s allowable. As a consequence I’m unable to try Sonance or any other gst-sharp based programs such as Muine which I’d have also liked to try. Guess I have to stick with shouting at Rhythmbox for the moment. This awesome t-shirt suddenly becomes more tempting.

Update: Interesting. That *ERROR* actually meant it produced me a configure script anyway. Wow… cool.

posted by ramcq @ 7:50 pm
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April 19, 2005

Low-competence Education Authority (LEAs)

I’ve just been billed by my college for an extra £3300 of college fees which are supposed to be paid on my behalf by my LEA (Local Education Authority). They sent me a form to arrange this during last summer, some time around July, with a covering letter saying it was meant to be with them by 24th May or something. I sent it back to them by return of post, and they lost it. Hence, my college havn’t received the money so they’ve billed me instead. Curiously, my LEA did send me a letter earlier this year asking why I hadn’t submitted a form for this academic year, and so I phoned them and asked them to send me another. Which I’m now filling in so I don’t need to pay college, except for the fact they sent me a PHOTOCOPY of their STUPID PASTEL COLOURED FORM, making it practically illegible, mostly irrelevant to me, half in Welsh, DOESN’T MATCH THE ACCOMPANYING NOTES BOOKLET they sent me, and to top it off, IS REQUESTING EXACTLY THE SAME INFORMATION I GAVE THEM LAST YEAR AND THE YEAR BEFORE, AND THIS YEAR’S FORM IF THEY HADN’T LOST IT. FUCKING SORT IT OUT!

Update: Oh… this piss poor excuse of a photocopied form they sent me is the WRONG ONE, which is why it doesn’t match the notes they sent me along with it. EXCELLENT. SO VERY, VERY GOOD.

posted by ramcq @ 3:23 pm
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April 15, 2005

Debian Planet

NOTE TO THE SLEEPY: This post is about Debian Planet (founded 2000), not Planet Debian (founded 2004).

Sorry about the needless verbosity of the previous post. I’ll try keep this one shorter because I’d like some feedback on it. robster (who founded it) and I are essentially the only active staff of Debian Planet, and neither of us are able dedicate much time to it because we’re both kept busy with all manner of university-related stuff, both academic and not. It’s been suggested by some people within Debian that DWN and especially Planet Debian render it defunct and nobody reads it anyway. However, robster and I don’t really share this opinion – Planet Debian contains opinions, hacks, experiences, recipes and stuff that can be very interesting if you know the people involved, but really doesn’t necessarily perform the function of making Debian’s development more translucent to the outside world if you’re not on the mailing lists (although certain relevant blog posts can be highlighted, as DWN does). DWN seems to be aimed at a fairly technical audience who is generally aware of the projects’ internals but wants to keep up with day-to-day issues – it frequently includes stuff that’s not hugely relevant to the big picture unless you’re inside the project.

As far as we know there aren’t any other sites that are aimed at demystifying Debian for users, and with the advent of Ubuntu, depending on your viewpoint we stand to lose or gain (indirectly) many more users too, some of whom may take (or retain) an interest in Debian development (and we can cover Ubuntu too). The site does something in the region of 30 GB a month, a lot of this down to RSS feeds, so I’m sure articles that are posted actually do get read by quite a few people. Posts to the site itself asking if we should continue, and in what form, have prompted a surprising amount of positive feedback, and have been enough to dispel any ideas of closing down the site, although we’ve been quite lax at following up the resultant offers of assistance thus far (an ESR style list subscription of anyone who shows interest is exceedingly tempting).

What we’d like to do now is make it easier for other people to contribute (our editorial control has been an iron grasp thus far, with most articles being written or mostly rewritten by a very select few), and find some more people to help us out with keeping up with goings-on in the project, and we’ve also potentially got to find new hosting over the next few weeks. Are we misguided? Should we bother securing new hosting for the site and keep it going, or is it as needless as people say? Does anyone who’s reading this agree with our goals and want to help us out?

posted by ramcq @ 2:49 am
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April 15, 2005

Today is not your day, tomorrow doesn’t look good either…

I’ve just been round at robster’s room helping him replace the AMD Sempron 3000+ which he had in his new Biostar 210V (similar to my 200V) and the BIOS apparently didn’t recognise. We put in an SB Live 7.1 because on-board VIA 82xx sound is crap (even if the planets are in alignment, DXS is in the right randomly numbered mode, and you manage to get ALSA and friends to do the appropriate resampling to 48kHz, it still sounds crap as a consequence – although do let me know if you know how to make it sound good), a 60GB HDD I had lying around while he’s waiting for CCL to replace or give him credit for his 2nd broken pair of HGST Deskstars, and swapped the Sempron for an AMD Athlon XP 2800+.

Unfortunately it was recognised by the BIOS as a 1250MHz processor or something… so I looked at the motherboard manual and found some jumpers to set the front-side bus speed. Firstly we were amazed it had jumpers (can’t BIOSes autoconfigure this stuff nowdays?), and secondly how the defauly setting was for a 100MHz FSB speed. The consequence was that the DDR400 RAM was running at DDR266 and the processor was running massively slowly. Setting the FSB to 166MHz made the processor and RAM run at the correct speeds, indicating that probably the Sempron would’ve worked anyway. Oh well, the Athlon XP is a better chip, and given the hassle with the actually broken hardware, CCL definitely won’t refund the Sempron if it’s not broken.

We set about installing Debian, really enjoying the partition manager in sarge d-i rc3, setting up LVM on degraded RAID arrays and such like, although it’s a shame that it falls back to crappy old lilo when installing on XFS root partitions. If sarge had a kernel where XFS wasn’t completely fucked, unlike 2.6.8, then the xfs_freeze/unfreeze hack in grub-install would work. I just switched to the shell and installed 2.6.11 and grub manually before the reboot. I get the feeling joeyh really wouldn’t appreciate any kernel change right now though. Anyway, I digress…

The first boot was a disaster, the kernel was oopsing all over the place in all sorts of random locations, and usually ended up panicing some way into the boot. My assumption was that 2.6.11 was broken somehow, so we booted the install CD again to change it, and the kernel on that was hosed too. Uh oh! I was worried that I’d fried the processor with static whilst installing it, but it’s easier to eliminate the possibility that the RAM wasn’t broken. I removed one DIMM and it started working… but when I tried that DIMM on it’s own, the system worked too. I tried all permutations of the two DIMMs in the two slots, and discovered that when they were both in, the system screwed up, but when one or other was in either slot, the system worked fine. Apparently the CCL value RAM didn’t actually work when it actually got clocked at DDR400, so it needs to go back for replacement or credit too. Interestingly, memtest86 didn’t find any problem with any configuration within any sensible amount of time, and for me in the past it’s either found problems very quickly, or never found them at all.

A few lessons learnt (or re-learnt):

  • Double check for for relevant jumpers on your motherboard if CPUs run at the wrong speed. Apparently some computers on sale now still have them!
  • Don’t buy cheap RAM, it’s a false economy, life’s too short…
  • If you’re planning to set up a RAID1 array in a new system, buy two different brands of disk or they’ll be from the same batch, experience the same wear, and fail in the same way at the same time. This happened to me with my system about a year ago, when both 3-month old HGST drives failed within 24 hours of each other (I now have a Seagate I bought at the time to recover my data onto, use one of the HGST replacements, and sold the other), and robster’s on his 2nd pair of broken HGST drives from the same batches…

Some people seem to be lucky with hardware and it works for them, or fails in obvious or non-critical ways whilst within warranty, and some people seem to be very unlucky and everything goes wrong – horribly, insidiously, and without any suitable recourse. In general I seem to be one of the former people, and robster, my brother and most of my friends are the latter people, embarrasingly including quite a few people I’ve helped to build their own computers. Although saying that, lightning will probably now strike all of the hardware that I own… I’ll keep you posted.

posted by ramcq @ 1:15 am
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April 12, 2005

Pathological incompetence

<rant rage=”incandescent”>I’d rashly assumed that the optician service at Boots would be competent, being as it is a large nationwide corporation who are likely to only hire appropriately qualified staff. This is, I think, true in the case of the actual opticians, who I have seen two of, and have been impressed and had no cause for complaint. However, the woman whose job it was to teach me how to insert, remove, clean, etc my new contact lenses is clearly *not* qualified to do so, and deserves to die horribly after being painfully disfigured in some kind of freak lawnmower accident.

Today was my 5th day of wearing contact lenses, and thus far I’d been finding it very difficult to put the lenses in correctly, have them stay in place and not fall out, sometimes experienced blurred vision, etc. It’s now exceedingly obvious why this is, but I’d been putting it down to lens n00bishness – not being used to them, or being inexperienced at putting them in. When putting the lens in today I noticed it had numbers on, which actually say 123, but I thought they said 125 and indicated the prescription of the lens. This surprised me given my prescription is -1.75… aha I thought… wrong lenses? Looking at the box, I saw they were correct, but that the numbers were there to correctly orient the lens. The diagram quickly revealed the reason for my discomfort and persistent problems – the woman at Boots clearly, explicitly and repeatedly explained to me the COMPLETELY INCORRECT AND UPSIDE-DOWN orientation of the lens, with the edges forming a convex shape rather than the obviously correct concave shape (much like that of the cornea, no?).

If they think I’m going to sign up to their “vision care plan” and give them a penny more after the humiliating torture of having the woman sit and watch me try for an hour to put a lens in when it was upside-down, followed by these 5 days of absolutely inexplicable frustration, they can go and fuck themselves with a cactus. I’m going to go and firebomb them tomorrow. BASTARDS!</rant>

Update: Went to see them today… spoke to a “Team Manager”. She apologised and said she’d talk to the person involved, and gave me 1 months’ free lenses. Not sure that quite makes up for the level of incompetence and the discomfort I faced. I may still write to them, complain next week at my aftercare appointment, or just change optician.

posted by ramcq @ 11:42 pm
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April 6, 2005

Hello? I’m on the train…

My new phone went live last Thursday, and I didn’t really have a chance to play with 3G until now, travelling to a friend’s place yesterday and currently heading home on the train. Without changing any configuration on my laptop except making rfcomm0 point to the new phone’s MAC, I was able to “dial up” with 3G instead of crappy old GPRS. All of the problems I spoke about before are gone – it really must’ve been some combination of buggy firmware on the Nokia 6230, and O2 being crap. With this Nokia 6630 and Vodafone 3G, I get a noticeably faster and very resilient connection – Symbian on the phone does the right magic to keep the connection between the laptop and phone up when passing through brief areas with no connectivity, or passing between 3G and GSM coverage. I’m really impressed, I’m able to surf, IRC, chat on Jabber and download the odd package or two from wherever I am – the only downside I’ve hit upon so far is that in order to visit apparently dubious sites like the IRC channel search engine I need to use a credit card and pay £1.50 (in exchange for £4 call credit) to disable Vodafone’s adult content filter. Shame I don’t have one…

posted by ramcq @ 8:11 pm
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