The Disruption Caused by Blackouts

In the last 6 months I have endured 2 blackouts at home (which is also my office). Yesterday's was about 13 hours long, easily beating the previous record of almost 8 hours. The power supplier has given me the information on how to make a claim for the food in our freezer which has to be thrown out.

Now that I am working away from home for large parts of my day, I really need a working internet connection in the evenings so I can run the rest of my business. I can use my data card and laptop battery to work at reduced efficiency during the short outages, but anymore than 2 hours and it starts cause major disruption. The problem is that I use my laptop as a MP3 player while catching up on mail and feeds on the train, so my battery is almost dead when I get home.

Although I live a bit over 35kms from the CBD of the second largest city in Australia, theree are times where I feel like I live out the back of nowhere. I have an electric train station 2 mins walk away, I have a "03 97XX XXXX" phone landline number and a 24hour supermarket less than 5mins drive away. On the downside, couriers considering us country, so "next day delivery" means it will arrive 2 or 3 days after it being shipped. The other big reminder is the reliability of electricity supply.

In the last 3 and half years shortish blackouts (1 to 2 hours) have occurred on average once every 3 months or so. When I was living in Footscray (inner Western Melbourne), in almost 5 years, we had 2 outages I remember, both of them less than 2 hours, and one was from someone wrapping their car around a pole just down the road.

The compensation regulations (PDF) (p21) which apply to power companies in Victoria are completely inadequate and encourage poor maintenance. In the past our electricity retailer has claimed that they are not liable for any compensation claims where the outage is caused by matters outside their control, such as possums shorting out lines, cars hitting poles or various other natural causes. I think inadequate staffing levels is something within their control.

Maybe the compensation claims from the local strip shopping centre traders will force the distributor to improve their response times, rather than being rude to customers who call for an ETA.

The following items have been added to the household shopping list:

  • Battery powered lantern
  • Battery powered radio

I just wish I could buy a more reliable power supply for a rental property (so solar panels on the roof is out).

Update Earlier this morning (31-May-2007), I had another 1 hour+ outage. This time the network didn't come back up cleanly. A switch needed to be power cycled and another server decided to swap the network card allocations.

Ubuntu on Dell PCs and XP License Refunds

Now that Dell is shipping Ubuntu loaded machines in the US, there has been some discussion on the Australian Ubuntu LoCo list about when Dell will be shipping them in Australia. The consensus seems to be, not any time soon. I tend to agree, there are many other larger markets Dell is likely to target if Linux/Ubuntu on Dells takes off.

Tom Schinckel mentioned that he is waiting for Dell to offer Window license refunds. I have already obtained one.

About 2 years ago I bought my Dell Latitude D810, which came preloaded with XP Pro. During the order process I asked twice if the OEM copy of XP would run under QEMU (after explaining what it was), I was told both times it would. I was pretty suspicious. After receiving the machine I set it all up, including loading ubuntu on it - I can't remember if I used Hoary or a Breezy Colony. Then I installed QEMU and tried installing XP from the OEM media. So far so good, until it came time to supply the license key. I kept on being told it was invalid and to contact Microsoft. I checked on #qemu on freenode and was told that the Dell OEM version of XP is BIOS locked to Dell kit. No problem, I called Microsoft who (after a 20min hold) referred me to Dell. Another long hold and I was told no go. I started asking for a refund and was transferred to various places. After a while I mentioned that Australian consumer law applied and the product was not functioning as advertised, so I wanted a refund on the faulty part. I was eventually offered a full refund if I returned the whole machine. I wasn't taking that option. Instead offered to contact the media and see if they could be of any assistance, I was then told I would receive a call back in a few days.

About a week later I received a call back from Dell. They made a final offer, I could keep the XP license and they would give me a "goodwill credit" of 150AUD. As I could get XP Pro OEM licenses for about 190AUD, wholesale, I pushed for that. I was told that Dell paid less than 150AUD per XP Pro OEM license, so I could take 150AUD or take nothing. I soon realised that this was the best I was going to get, so I took it. I wasn't required to return the license key as "Dell has no way of cancelling or reusing a license key".

For a bit over 1 hour of effort on the phone, I ended up with an XP Pro OEM license which could be used for dual booting(if I ever wanted to), and 150AUD refunded to my credit card. I am sure Dell doesn't think this sets a precedent, but the NSW Office of Fair Trading might beg to differ. As Dell Australia is based in NSW, NSW consumer law applies to all transactions.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not a legal opinion. I am not responsible if Dell (or anyone else) declines your request for a refund/credit based on your use of the information contained in this post. blah blah, you can't sue me :)


$ cat hello_world.c #include <stdio.h> main() { printf ("Hello World!\n"); }
$ gcc hello_world.c -o hello_world
$ chmod +x hello_world
$ ./ hello_world
Hello World!

I have started playing with C recently. I am still finding it annoying, yet enjoyable at the same time. The PHP developers have spoilt me (and other PHP coders). PHP gives you most of the power of C, without having to deal with annoying string handling, easy arrays, memory management and having to build to test. I am sure there is more.

Unlike OS X, I think I will persist with C.

Other than reminding myself of how to do hello world in C, why did I post this? I thought you would never ask, it is because my blog is now syndicated on Planet Linux Australia. I am pretty honoured by being added. Hopefully there are others who appreciate my rants :)

OS X and Macs - the Windows killer?

For the last week I have almost exclusively been using a PowerPC Mac - claimed by Apple to be a great platform just a few years a ago. Personally, I think that Mac OS X is an interesting platform. The mac hasn't grabbed me.

On the up side, OS X (and Darwin) is based on BSD, so it has some good security foundations, it also uses many tools common to Linux, such as bash and CUPS. The 3D desktop effects are kinda cool for the first day, but then just become part of the day to day experience. I am yet to see a real advantage to the OS X 3D desktop.

The Mighty Mouse is pretty slick. The scroll wheel feels very nice and is well positioned. The side buttons for expose are addictive on the first day. A let down is that you have to change your preferences to enable the right button.

I don't claim to understand the whole Mac software management system, but from what I do know, you drop a disk image (a dmx file) into the applications folder in finder and it is installed. Want to remove it? delete the folder. This is pretty neat, once you understand how it works. It reminds me of the klik package management system.

The file open dialog is a crazy hierarchical beast, that works. Jumping between levels in a tree really works. Pity more than 3 levels down it can involve some vertical scrolling and you need to select a file to get its full name if it is too long.

Now for the downsides of using a Mac running OS X.

The keyboard feels awful, this is one of the times I would recommend a Microsoft product, but as MS keyboard feels far better than an Apple Keyboard. The standard mac keyboard feels plasticy and the key travel doesn't feel right. I have used a range of keyboards over the years and the Max keyboard feels awful. Maye apple should rebrand Logitech's kit, like Microsoft does.

My next complaint is key bindings. For ever since I remember, [home] takes you to the start of current line and [end] takes you to the end of the current line. Many apps even ignore the [home]/[end] keys. Windows, GNOME and KDE all bind [alt] [F4] to close window - but not the mac. There are many other standard combinations ignored by Apple. Another annoyance is the apple key - for most things it functions like a [ctrl] on a PC, but not in a shell, then it functions like an apple key and [ctrl] functions like a [ctrl] key under *nix - I have lost track of how many windows i have closed when trying to delete a word in the console (bash fiends know what i mean).

Inconsistent use of key combinations. In the console and some other apps, [apple] [arrow] loops through the windows of the application, but not Apple Mail, it has decided that the combo expands/collapses message threads, very annoying when trying to compose a message while trying to copy and paste from another.

The maximise button doesn't actually maximise. I am not sure if it is up to the application or the window manager, but clicking maximise (the green circle) may increase or decrease the width or height of the window. When I click maximise, I expect the window to be maximised - or at the very least increased in dimensions.

The real deal breakers for me are the [home]/[end] keys, the inconsistent shortcuts and other crazy behaviour of OSX mean that I won't be switching to a Mac anytime soon.

Over the next week I plan to load more FLOSS on the mac, such as Mozilla Thunderbird for email, which will join Mozilla Firefox web browser and gvim - my referred text editor. I doubt this will be enough for me to stick with OS X.

The indigo iMac G3 I landed last week is likely to be running Copland (a PPC port of xubuntu) real soon now. I am still trying to work out what I do with Julie's Apple Powerbook G3, which currently runs Xubuntu 6.06.1 LTS, as ubuntu has dropped support for PowerPC in feisy. Maybe I can find other PowerPC machines to install Copland or Debian onto :)

I am yet to see how OS X is more user friendly and and easier crossgrade path for windows users than a Linux desktop.

Most homes don't really have broadband in Australia

I am bashing out this post on a unreliable 384/64kpbs UTMS (3G data) connection, which feels painfully slow at times compared to my 8000/384kpbs (which is more like 6500/300) ADSL connection at home. Even when I had 1536/256kpbs at home I felt like I was better off than a lot of other people. Most non geeks I know have 512/128kbps.

According Democrats in the US congress 2Mbit/s should be the minimum speed for "broadband". Although that is now available to many homes in Australia, the cost of anything faster than 512/128 isn't seen as value for money by many people. I know several people who would like a lower quota and higher speeds for the same price as they are paying now. Even for many businesses (less than 5 people), they see 512/128 as being good enough for email and web browsing. 2048/512 would allow business to use new services such as VoIP and cheap video conferencing, which could improve the level of service they offer to their customers while improving the bottom line.

The biggest barriers to affordable high speed connections in Australia is Sol Trujillo and the other untrustworthy Wiggles at Telstra. Hopefully if there is a change of government at the next Federal election, the "Group of 9 Fibre to the Node network might get built and be open to competition.

Who is Planet Summer?

Until tonight I didn't know who Planet Summer was. It turns out she is a young model, who doesn't wear a lot.

Many people wanting to find Planet Summer have been ending up on my site. A google search for planet summer lists my blog post about Planet Summer of Code.

Hint look higher up the search results if you are looking for the model's site.

Using Technology on the train

It has been many years since I have caught peak hour trains. Last time I did it was about 5 years ago when I was working at the City of Darebin. Back then I used to lug a heavy Compaq Armada (I forget the model number) home most nights, but I rarely used it on the train. MP3 players weren't worn as fashion accessories back then.

These days I have a Dell Latitude D810, which has a 15.4" widescreen screen, which runs well at 1920x1200, but it is a too big to use comfortably on the train. The UMTS/GRPS data card hanging out one side and the headphones lead out the other take up even more room. I have quite broad shoulders, so it very hard to type on a laptop which is as wide as my lap, with people sitting either side of me. I have also noticed that my laptop screen becomes communal reading material, just like a newspaper. Maybe I should offer to come to their work and read their emails and monitor their web surfing while they are at work.

Time for me to return to listening to psy trance and catching up on my feeds in liferea.

First day of my new 9 ta fiva

I am bashing out this post while sitting on the train as I head off to SGI. I have landed a 2 month contract position hacking on the web gui for their NASes. I am yet to meet everyone else in the team, except my boss and Russell Coker (sorry couldn't resist naming dropping.

I am pretty excited about the job. I will get to play with some pretty cool tech and work with some really smart people. My body is still adjusting to the 6:45 am start, but in a week I think it should be used to it.

My existing clients and projects won't be forgotten. I will still have some time in the evenings to work on things for private clients.

I am hoping to post a bit more frequently, most on the train, lets see how long that lasts :)

Mugshot, what's the point?

I noticed a few geeks had mentioned mugshot in their blogs (sorry too lazy to dig up references), so I signed up. I am not that impressed so far. I have created a profile page, which sort of resembles a cut down version of my liferea RSS feeds. I joined some groups, and created a phpGroupWare group, which just allows others to join the group and receive the group's feeds via their "stacker". This is very web 2.0 and "cool", but I am still wondering "why?".

In their FAQ, mugshot says, they are

an open project to create live social experiences around entertainment.

There is also a desktop app for Linux or Windows which allows users to view their stacker on their desktop, show what music you are listening to, or chat to users in your groups. The software also offers an opt-in system to allow you to give Red Hat info about which apps you are using. Both the mugshot web app and desktop software are "open source", but the licensing seems a little confusing - even to me.

Mugshot allows you to link various web 2.0 profiles and data sets to your profile. I managed to add my business site, my blog, my AIM account, my bookmarks (sporadically updated), stories i have dugg and my LinkedIn profile. Mugshot doesn't allow me to add my XING profile (XING was formerly OpenBC) or any of my other IM networks. There were other social networking/web 2.0 sites which I don't use which I could have added.

Other than a showing off which projects I like, which web 2.0 services I use and to tell Red Hat what software I use, I don't see the point of mugshot. Am I missing something?

Google Analytics

As some of you may have noticed I use Google Analytics on my site for statistics. I also use webalizer for basic visitor stats. I have found Google Analytics provides more information in a better format than webalizer. The downsides of Google Analytics is that it is non free SaaS, it uses flash and that is lacks the ability to drill down to get more information.

As of today, the flash problem is still there (I am yet to test it with gnash), but the amount of information and how that data is displayed has improved dramatically. For those of you interested in the new look analytics, google has produced a tour.

Here is a quick summary my stats:

If you made it this far you are either a) a very fast reader, b) skipped a lot of the stats, c) unlike 80% of my visitors who leave the site within the first minute (read they got bored with reading my long blog posts).