Connection Reset by Pier

March 21st, 2015

We decided to have a few days away, and to continue our pier-bothering, we went east again, to within easy distance of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, so it was a high six to Norfolk, via that old favourite, the A14.

The Cambridgeshire speed nazis have at least now replaced the Gatsos with average speed cameras, with the result that the speeds are now even, rather that 85-brake-to-60-back-to-85. I’ve often said that if you find dual carriageways or motorways boring, then either you’re going too slow, not paying enough attention, or both, but miles of straight, flat, surprisingly quiet DC at 70 mph on cruise control tests that maxim. Mind, if the truck at the end of the M6, just before the infamous Catthorpe Interchange, had been paying better attention, we’d have had an even quicker journey. Fortunately, no one seemed to be seriously injured, but it won’t buff out.
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Pelsall Pub Crawl

March 8th, 2015

It was time to push up the pub count for #100pubs a bit, so a meet up with Andy and his good mate JC and his neighbour saw us in Pelsall for a few drinks, and in our case, a curry.

One aborted visit to The Queens, a curry, and then a wait in The Old House before meeting at The Scratter- which surprisingly both my better half and I had never been in before- it’s a pleasant, surprisingly large club, with decent beer.

On to business: push up the pub count: back to The Queens- amazingly packed- and then the Railway, now, I reckon, the undisputed best pub in Pelsall. After that, taxi home before the locals set up the wicker man on the common; even being in the company of three natives is no guarantee of safety.

He Slimed Me

March 8th, 2015

My continued effort to cycle more is working: I manage to drag myself out several times a week now, but this is noticeably having an effect on the bike- my sketchy cleaning and lubrication regime combined with the grit and mud of canal towpaths means I’ve been through a good few cables, and had a few instances of gears misbehaving. On top of this, the pedals I fitted almost a year ago have developed a nasty click and some play, so they’re next on the list, having spent some time yesterday cleaning and lubing things, and putting slime in the tyres, after having 2 punctures in as many days. I don’t carry a pump (in fact, I don’t have one, as I hate pumping tyres, and use an electric compressor), so I’ve been very lucky up to now and not got stranded, although I’ve ridden home on a soft tyre a couple of times- I’m hoping the slime will prevent the risk of a long walk.

Pier Review

March 1st, 2015

We continued our pier-bothering this weekend: another short break saw us down the M40, M25, A23 and A27 to Worthing. We’d done all the closest piers, and it being February, south seemed like a good choice- and so it was, on Friday: glorious sunshine saw us without coats outside a seafront bar in brilliant sunshine. Sadly, Saturday saw rain, mist, and wind, and I’d forgotten to take the camera out on Friday, so the Pier’s art-deco amusement arcade only got a hurried pic in the rain:

Worthing Pier's amusement hall

Worthing Pier’s amusement hall

In addition to the amusement hall, the Southern Pavillion has been refurbished- nicely so- and houses a tearoom/music/wedding venue: they’ve done a great job of that, but their website’s a bit lacking- unlike the array of (mostly blues) acts they have on.

Generally, the pier is in quite good shape: while we were there, decking was being replaced, which is nice to see, after the horrors of Colwyn Bay. Nice to see a council-owned pier being maintained, and busy, and making money.

On to the town itself: walk from our hotel in the east towards town along the seafront and it’s looking affluent and a bit la-di-dah, but elsewhere, like most places, it varies; we had an excellent Turkish meal in an area that, in politician-speak, would be described as “vibrant” (to be fair, the dark, wet evening didn’t do it any favours, but the meal was fantastic).

As you’d expect in the south, prices were a bit high in some places: north of 11 quid for a pint and a large wine give me a bit of a shock, but this was a seafront bistro/bar- back in the “vibrant” end of town it was just over six quid at the architecturally wonderful, but slightly rough Grand Victorian Hotel. Generally, I liked the town a lot.

A Bad Apple

February 12th, 2015

Andy, Ross and BrownhillsBob may be expecting me to have a pop at Apple here (as is my way), but I’m not going to, or at least only a brief whinge, with the main target (again) being idiots that claim to know a product, but don’t.

Those of you with long memories may remember this lengthy rant. A short swipe at OSX, and a big load rant at fucking Symantec (as a colleague commented, is there *any* company Symantec have bought and not fucked up the product?), and a big rant at fuckwits who don’t understand what they are being paid to do.

The OSX server mentioned in that rant failed. To be completely fair, it’s worked completely reliably for six years now, which is impressive. So I’m not going to complain, and it was clearly hardware that was bost.

A few attempts by colleagues and myself to resurrect it failed, so we called the support company (sadly the same fuckwits from the story back in 2009). They wander in, (bringing a manual, which sets off alarm bells- I’d expect a field engineer to not need it….) say the server’s not supported by Fruitco any more, that parts are a nightmare, briefly try (and fail to get) Target Disk Mode, (which, I note, doesn’t work with disks attached to a hardware RAID card, so wouldn’t have helped), shrug a bit, say that our diagnosis of a buggered RAID card might be right or maybe it might be the logic board (as there’s little more than those 2 fucking boards in it, this is hardly advanced diagnosis, and leave.

At this point, I begin to wonder what we’re paying the fuckers for, and I start restoring the files to the only place we have a Backup Exec agent and 1TB of spare storage: a Windows Server 2003 box. Most of the data restores, but some recent work is lost as it didn’t make the tapes (the Mac workstations being too old for Time Machine), and some initially didn’t restore due to file naming incompatibilities (take it from me, anyone using mixed operating systems (our backup is Windows-based) should read this, and this: most of the restrictions are with Windows, but you never know what OS you may be sharing files with. I personally think it all went downhill once spaces were allowed in filenames :-), and here’s my brief whinge: I know the limitation is Windows, but allowing “:” and “\” in a filename is just fucking wrong, and supporting your hardware a bit longer would be nice.

Now then, what to do? The users are (mostly) working again. First of all, the original support co is ditched. We call another supplier, and the difference is incredible: engineer arrives, asks all the right questions, listens to what diagnostic steps we’ve tried, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, diagnoses a logic board failure, and offers to take the server back to the workshop to attempt recovery of the recent data for a very modest fee. Guess who’ll be getting the support contract, and potentially an order for new machines in a while?

It also makes me think I should have taken better note of the warning signs six years ago: these people claim to be supporting us (and originally claimed to know the product, but, as is so often the case, don’t. I’m glad to say that I didn’t arrange their involvement.

#100pubs

February 8th, 2015

A challenge has been issued by @agm1960: when visiting that fine pub The Black Eagle, a pledge was made: we will attempt to visit 100 pubs together this year. This will be documented by the man himself right over here, and maybe it will get tweeted too.

5 down, 95 to go.

Debian Again

February 5th, 2015

The “server” I built back in 2008 suffered a nasty accident at my own fair hands: a cack-handed attempt to patch the GHOST vulnerability, compounded by a previous, similarly cack-handed (though succesfull) approach to patching bash previously taught me a hard lesson in package managment on Debian-based Linux: Don’t fuck with the rules, and when you see a confirmation that says you must type

Yes, do as I say!

or the operation stops should be taken as n indicator it’s about to break. It did.

The handy bit was that the system stayed up, but I couldn’t start or stop services. This wasn’t going to survive a restart, so I got the data and config files off with SFTP, IMAP’d the email into a folder on mylaptop, and shut it down. Then work got in the way and I had to rely on gmail for a few days.

Rebuild was a bit fraught: Ubuntu Server no longer comes with a suitable kernel for the very old Celeron laptop i use as a low-power server, and I thought I’d have to use a desktop variant, but returning to Debian provided a install CD that worked, and after a few false starts with postfix config, it’s up and going again. The lesson learnt here is to be cautious (don’t break dependencies), but not too cautious (if I’d kept Ubuntu up to date, the 2008 build would have been upgraded by now, and \i wouldn’t have had to bodge the patches).

Volumio

January 14th, 2015

I already mentioned my plans for a media streaming server with my Raspberry Pi, and finally got round to it: a friend donated an external disk enclosure that took a pair of 1TB SATA disks, and presented them as a 1TB RAID 1 volume over USB. A cheap USB hub, a case for the Pi, a £2.49 USB wifi dongle, and a quick download of Volumio (a modified Raspbian image) and all the bits are present, fitting them together was pretty simple, and I have a working media server with great sound quality, that uses little power and is completely hidden from view: all the hardware worked, with the only tweaking being a quick edit of /etc/network/interfaces to set a fixed IP on the wireless network.

Volumio is cool: it’s like IPCop in that it’s an open-source appliance based on Linux with a web interface to configure it and use it, but you can delve “under the hood” with ssh. It uses the mpd server, and presents itself on the network via SCP or a SAMBA (Windows network) share for uploads, and advertises on Airplay or DLNA. You can control it with a wide range of clients for all sorts of devices as well as the web interface, and it just found my DAC with no tinkering, and the sound from a FLAC file is as good as the original CD, even with the Pi’s limited horsepower.

I have a good amount of ripping to do…..

A Frosty Reception

December 31st, 2014

Having fixed my bike on Christmas Eve, I thought I’d take advantage of the daylight and fully functioning gears and go to Chasewater for the first time in months. The canal was frozen, and the towpaths covered in frost, but the only time I had a slip was climbing Ogley Junction bridge, making it neccesary to walk over it. Other than that, the frost hissed away under the tyres harmlessly, though I took it very carefully over the railway aqueduct, with it’s exposed brick path covered in frost.

I’ve biked a bit in the recent cold and since the fix, but only short hops on main roads, and it was nice to get back on the canal: few people were about, the sun was bright, and while it was cold, the sharpness of it felt good.

The local swan family were about, but split by the icy canal between Clayhanger and Anchor bridges the cygnets now pretty much fully grown but still grey in places, and hoping for food from me:

A fully-grown cygnet at Anchor Bridge

A fully-grown cygnet at Anchor Bridge

The neighbourhood cats around Ogley Hay were making use of the ice to cross the canal and extend their territory, but didn’t stay still long enough to get my gloves off and photograph them.

Chasewater itself was almost deserted: a couple of joggers and dog walkers- and the seats were all covered in frost or water, so I didn’t hang about. I didn’t even attempt to ride up Ogley Junction bridge this time, but it was still a bit of a game: evidently my cheap and nasty “whatever it came with” bike tyres, while a conmpromise most of the time, are better than one would expect on ice: perhaps bike and car tyres have some similarities at the budget end of the market.

I ended up home by 9:30- with cold hands and face, but feeling better than when I left out.

Into the Digital Age

December 28th, 2014

Regular readers will know that I’ve got some prejudices about audio: for years I didn’t have an MP3 player, eventually relenting, although I still don’t do actual MP3s, and buy music almost exclusively on CD, though it has to be said, my views on downloadable music 10 years ago are starting to be disproved: MP3 at a highish bitrate (which is more practical with increasing bandwidth and storage) is good enough for most people, on most systems, at most times, and lossless formats are becoming more common, especially since Fruitco introduced their lossless format (though of course, they should have introduced it as an open format…).

One thing* has kept me away from using a computer to play music in the house: the analogue outputs of most consumer PCs (and I’m including Fruitco in this) hardware is a bit ropey- but then again, it was never intended for high-quality audio.

Enter the DACMagic. It’s a proper (though very small) hifi component with TOSLink, S/P DIF and USB inputs, and it’ll do the high sample rates that may not be neccesary, but more importantly, it’s a decent DAC chip with the compromise pushed a bit towards quality, and some initial testing sounds as good as the CD with a FLAC file (and, pleasingly, the device was recognised and working within seconds on Ubuntu).

The plan now is a Raspberry Pi and Volumino: the Pi’s analogue audio output is particularly compromised (hardly surprising given it’s a £35 computer) and the ‘proper’ stereo doesn’t have HDMI. There are cheaper ways to get better Pi audio with a Wolfson DAC, but as a bonus, the DACMagic’s inputs can link to my existing CD player too; a respectable but budget Marantz, and also, it comes in a nice black case that looks decent next to the other gear: initial comparisons sound like the DACMagic has improved sound here too, but that could be the confirmation bias- I’ve just bought it, so it /has/ to give an improvement :-).

*OK, two things. I’m an awful luddite, it would seem.


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