Festival -1: Walsall Beer Festival

March 9th, 2017

Sad to hear that this weekend’s Walsall Beer Festival is off:

or at least, not really the same:

So while we’ll see a kind of pre-determined pub crawl, the “tons of beer in one place” option is gone, and, I have to say, while the BCA is a fine pub in many ways, it’s not one of my favourites. The Wheatsheaf is a great pub, as is The Victoria, and The Drunken Duck is one of my locals, so they’ll be opportunity to try something new, hopefully.

[edit] The White Lion and The Fountain are also finding a home for some of the beer.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the cause of the cancellation, and depressingly allegations and recriminations aimed at Walsall Council and indeed at the volunteers from Walsall CAMRA who give up their time for nothing to do this. At this time I don’t know for sure where the problem originated, but it seems the venue didn’t have the correct licence:

From Walsall CAMRA’s facebook page.

Whatver the problem, I’d like to thank Walsall CAMRA for their hard work, and the pubs mentioned for taking on the beer, because wasting it would be a disaster…

Old Haunts

March 7th, 2017

We’ve been away: south-west Scotland. In February. I didn’t fancy the warmer options (as it involves a metal cylinder full of bastards), so my better half booked some places, and we hit the M6 to head north and do some B&B hopping.

First stop: Annan. We’d not been here before, and it’s a very noticeably Scottish town for one so close to the border: red sandstone, scottish baronial clock tower on the town hall,

Annan’s town hall clock tower


and the odd other bit of Victorian excess, now faded. We stayed in one, and I walked past another one morning: a glorious money pit of a hotel:

The Central Hotel: currently disused. Copyright Richard Dorrell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The last time it was for sale, it had a guide price of £150K: I’d guess you’d need many times that to restore it, and I strongly doubt you’d make it back: Annan was a nice town, with some good pubs, but it’s not got masses of tourism or masses of cash.

It has, however, got a reborn distillery that Professor David Thomson was brave enough to restore– and the curiously named Devil’s Porridge Museum nearby.

Next call was Portpatrick: postcard-pretty harbour, and a nice hotel for a couple of nights. We popped to Stranraer, which is still a bit grotty, and on to Port William. That’s Port, not Fort. Beware the mistake, and automatic suggestions from websites: we nearly misbooked, and we’re not the first, according to a previous landlord of the Monreith Arms over 20 years ago. Our last stop was Ecclefechan, for no better reason than the hotel is lovely, and a bargain.

We’d last been to South West Scotland in 2009, but not come further west than Castle Douglas: it was well over 20 years since coming this far over, and it was surprising: not a lot had changed, to be honest, but Port William was prettier than we remembered, and Glenluce tattier…

Free the Meraki

February 22nd, 2017

So, around 3 years ago, we had some Meraki access points at work. I was pretty keen on the tech, but less so on the licence model, where you pay the going rate for an access point, and then have to pay for a licence to use it, or it becomes useless, because it will only work if connected to Meraki’s cloud managment.

This is no longer true, and became untrue a while ago, and as the Meraki APs we had have come due for renewal, and have been replaced, I had one thrown in my direction.

A bit of searching threw up a few pages suggesting OpenWRT will work just fine, with a couple of caveats about the difficulty of rooting the device to gain enough access to overwrite the Meraki firmware: they’d really rather not let you do this- they give away sample access points, so maintaining their licence model is the way they make money.

Anyway, I already had a CP2102 USB-Serial (TTL level) converter I’d bought to have a play with one of those dodgy webcams, so I bought a PSU from Ebay, and got out the soldering iron, PuTTY, and an ethernet crossover cable.

The basic instructions are here, but to get root, I had to follow the procedure here, and indeed root the standard firmware (to get a reboot command, as my AP would not boot properly with the UART connected to the laptop).

The first challenge was getting the UART cabled correctly: the phrase

an UART adapter wired to the MR18 (speed is 115200). Pinout (left to right): VCC/RX/TX/GND

was misleading for me: first of all, that is corrrect if you hold the AP with the connector at the top like in this picture, and secondly, the RX/TX desgnation refers to which pins you need to connect from the CP2102, rather than their function on the AP, so I had some fun getting the UART cabled.

The second, but not hard, challenge was installing a web server, and realising that openwrt-ar71xx-nand-mr18-initramfs.bin had changed name to openwrt-ar71xx-nand-mr18-initramfs-kernel.bin in a later version.

The third challange was that the AP got stuck in a boot loop from cold with the UART connected, though a warm boot was fine. That wasn’t a problem for the initial rooting (where you hold down “S”), as there’s enough time during the boot cycle after powering up the AP, but when it came to booting the OpenWRT image, I couldn’t hit “2” in time: I resolved this by rooting the Meraki firmware to get a reboot command, then hitting “2”.

With those out the way, it was as simple as setting an appropriate fixed IP on the laptop, connecting the ethernet crossover, logging in to the newly booted image’s LUCI interface, and applying the full firmware image, which erases the Meraki firmware once and for all, and you have a free MR18 🙂

Festival 1: AMRTM Beer and Buses

February 18th, 2017

Beer festival 1, and this was one for me clearly. Aston Manor Road Transport Museum and the local Rotary Club collaborated with a small festival at the museum, so after a meet-up in The Fountain we got a ride on a Routemaster to the museum. It’s a very small festival, and the venue a bit odd (and cold) for drinking, but the quirkiness pushed it’s scores a little. Great beer form local breweries.

Scores as follows:

Beers advertised 9
Beers available 9
Ciders advertised 4
Ciders Available 4
Venue 60
JC Bonus 0
Friends Present 0

So a score of 86.

I believe this was a trial for a potential larger, summer event- lets hope so.

Festival

February 18th, 2017

This year’s drinking challenge is to be 10 beer festivals. We did consider making it CAMRA festivals only, but given our continual logistical problems, and that basically, it’s just an excuse for some good company and a piss-up, we’ve made it easy: anything advertised as a beer festival qualifies, and three members have to be present. No transport rules this time, but no-one will be in any hurry to drive…

Scoring is going to be a bit odd, I think. The best we could agree on is:

1 point per beer advertised, and one more for each available.
1 point per cider advertised, and one more for each available.
10 point bonus if we get JC to attend.
1 point extra for any bonus people outside of the core membership who attend.
100 possible points for the venue, divided between the core membership- so if 4 attend, each can allocate up to 25 points.

I personally think will produce some totally skewed results, but can’t suggest anything better :-).

Disable Cheat Mode

January 25th, 2017

My newish-to-me car was one of the many vehicles with the EA827 CR engine affected by the VW NOx scandal, AKA Dieselgate, and I got my recall letter. After questioning my favourite local independent VW specialist, and learning that the claims in the recall letter of no adverse affects on economy, power, torque, or noise seem to be true, I booked it in and went to Johnsons VW in the people’s republic of Wilenhall: what used to be Willenhall Coachcraft.

A surprisingly pleasant experience: the staff were nice, the work was carried out, and they didn’t find anything else to try to talk me in to (good, given that there’s a few things due now), and to be honest, all seems the same. Presumably, there’s been a flash of the engine ECU (which I’ll confirm with VCDS soon), but it does make me wonder what has been tweaked? Presumably the rolling road test detection has gone, but has anything affected the actual, real-world emissions? The car has never visibly smoked (it has a DPF, which hasn’t needed regen in the time I’ve had the car), but of course, the one everyone is upset about, NOx, is invisible.

Information on that on the web is hard to find, between all the scandal stories and lawyers looking to get a compensation case :-/. What I can say is that the advice I was given seems correct: economy seems around the same, still no smoke, and it seems to perform as before.

Open the Box

January 12th, 2017

Andy presented me with an interesting challenge:

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to get Linux on this accursed box.

The accursed box was a Sumvision Cyclone Mini PC: an Intel Atom SoC based PC, in a nice little box about the size of a domestic router. It has been quite popular for a Windows Media playerbox, with wireless built in, and a HDMI-out, but this one was hopefully destined for more geeky things: an easily deployable network monitor, so first thing is Linux.

Apparently others had given up in frustration, and powering it up gave me a particularly unfriendly UEFI shell that didn’t have a scroll-lock, so you couldn’t see the available commands. Nice. I found a way into the BIOS-style setup, and checked all the obvious things; secure boot disabled, clear the secure boot keys, etc. What was notably odd was a OS/BOM seletion screen (that is their typo, not mine) that was set to Windows 8, and all greyed out, and no CSM (or Legacy) boot modes.
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Chilly Out

January 5th, 2017

I realise it’s winter, but tonight’s cold snap surprised me: I got changed, got gloves on, and got the bike out, and then when setting off had a surprise: the front gear mechanism literally would not move, and investigation found that it was frozen mud, rather than any mechanical failure. It seems this time I strayed too far the other side of sensible cleaning, and was foiled in my attempt tonight by the fact the outside tap had frozen too…

The ride itself was “bracing”, but it was a lovely still, crisp night, and the cold means fewer disturbances on the towpath: two brave souls fishing, and on the way back, one fellow cyclist, one deer, and a pussy cat that bolted and was about to consider trying to jump the canal at the narrow bit here, but reconsidered, and happily didn’t try to cross the ice, as it didn’t look that thick.

Getting to Chasewater, the gears had re-frozen partially, making the climb to the dam hard going, but a shove freed it, and the park itself was deserted: I would have stopped a while and enjoyed the peace, but the cold was also knackering the batteries in my lights, the front one of which doesn’t last long on full brightness (which would be very antisocial on the road) on a warmer night. Thankfully they lasted out, and I got home, then having to heat the shed padlock before I could lock it…

Thirteen

January 1st, 2017

This blog has just passed it’s thirteenth birthday, and we’re at the start of a new year, a year that’s to be honest, brought little to be happy about in many ways: the loss of many celebrities (and for once, the word celebrity is actually valid here), and, perhaps more importantly for some of us, the unexpected loss in November of Steph Clarke, who should be an inspiration to anyone wanting to do stuff in their community. I was lucky enough to meet her a few times, and her energy and commitment to help people was just unreal. A sad loss to the local community, both online and off. I usually use this post to say how strong the online community is (which is still true), so it’s sad to lose such a big part of it. There’s an ongoing drive to do something good, however small, in her memory- #stuffforsteph, which I’d urge anyone to take part in.

2016 has, generally, been pretty poor- personally, nothing major at all- but we’ve had the idiocy of Brexit, with the corresponding rise of hate crime, a quite spectacularly inept prime minister, and the election of a dangerous halfquarter-wit in the US. In the computing world, we saw the IP Bill pass into law, so someone besides me knows you’re reading this, and the Digital Economy Bill is on its way. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Looking forward to 2017, I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year: let’s hope for a better one: as Brownhills Bob said online recently, we can at least hope that Trump might fall out of an aeroplane and hit Farage on the way down.

Taphouse Tour: Summary

December 28th, 2016

The Taphouse Tour is over, and here’s a summary:

Name Score
The Duke William 9.75
The Old Bulls Head 9.37
Green Duck Brewery Badelynge Bar 8.75
Beacon Hotel 8.66
The Fountain 8.44
Hail to the Ale 8
The Sow and Pigs 7.525
The Park Inn 6.98
The Windsor Castle 6.8
The Gunmakers Arms 6.542

A less hectic pace than 100 pubs, but still presented it’s challenges. We made this mistake of visiting the logistically easy ones first, leaving us with complex trips to the darkest Black Country.


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