OpenWRT

September 14th, 2016

The things you do on a rainy Saturday when you really shouldn’t just go to the pub…

I’ve had a TP-Link WR-2543 router for some time now, since I discovered the Cisco I had before was effectively throttling my connection. For the cost (some time ago), it’s a pretty good device- but it’s getting on, the firmware’s no longer updated (a continual problem with embedded systems), and well…hell. I’ll stop making excuses. I was bored and had another TP-Link router lying about for a bit of experimentation, and haven’t done much at-home tech mucking about for a good while.

OpenWRT, DD-WRT, and others are firmware replacements for domestic routers, born from the famous WRT54G having firmware developed from GPL code (and therefore being required to be made public). They offer more up-to-date software, more facilities, and, as is often the case with anything open-source, a price to pay for the power and tweakability.

As it was, my test router, a WR740N, was a breeze. Log in to the OEM interface, apply the file, job done: a nice web interface and a shell interface over SSH, and everything working. This made me brave, so on went the image to the 2543.

I didn’t brick it :-). In fact, all looked good. The wiki page for this device suggested no major problems, and it was all OK, until I came to connect to the Internet: I just couldn’t get the WAN interface to come up, and in fact, it had a MAC address of 00:00:00:00:00:00. In other words, no interface.

There follows an object lesson in open-source software. RTFM. However, TFM was a bit light for the 2543, so I had to think a little laterally- the experience with the 740 had suggested that the WAN port would appear as a seperate interface, but all I had was 2 sub-interfaces. Poking around the Wiki told me something I hadn’t realised: many of these devices are implemented in 3 blocks, the wifi, the CPU/Memory/Flash, and a single ethernet switch. The WAN interface is just a subinterface, with VLAN tagging to seperate the traffic, so setting up the switch like this:

Screenshot from 2016-09-06 20-48-04

(not sure why “enable VLAN functionality” being off has it working, but WTF)

and manually assigning the MAC (copied from the other router, to make switchover on Virgin Media easy) to the subinterface, and up it springs.

I’ve not yet got beyond configuring it to emulate what I was using the OEM firmware- just adding Dynamic DNS support- but quite apart from the fact it is supported, where the OEM firmware is ancient, the flexibility of hundreds of installable packages looks interesting, and according to the wiki, it will route traffic faster than OEM firmware. It certainly flatlines out the Virgin Media 100Mbit (ish) connection on a wired connection.

High Latency

August 25th, 2016

I felt I needed to blog this just because it was so very odd, and there seems minimal documentation of it already on the web: an organisation I help to support has a good few Cisco 3550 switches- WS-C3550-24-EMI. They’re egtting on now, and are due for replacement (having done well, at about 13 years old).

Anyway, we’ve now had three of them fail- not while in use, but after a power failure.

Or so it seemed…

The unusual part of this is that they failed- completely dead, no lights, no fan, no anything, but left alone with power connected for some time (where “some time” could vary between 20 minutes and 3 hours), they would eventually start up and work as normal.

There’s little mention of this online- I could only find this old post, which suggests capacitor failure as a likely cause- a diagnosis I’d agree with. Taking one switch apart didn’t reveal any obvious failures, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any, of course. As it is, the switches are on a maintanance contract and due for replacement- and the one I tool apart was a spare, so I doubt we’ll ever bother with them. PSUs sell for around a hundred euros or US dollars, and a whole switch can be had for less than that, so unless you have spare time, a bag of capacitors, and soldering skills, it probably isn’t worth it.

[edit]

A different search found this article and this Cisco tech note.

The Pub Lifecycle

August 16th, 2016

Some thing I’ve remarked upon with friends but not really covered here before now is the seemingly cyclical nature of some pubs; Andy has mentioned it in a number of posts, and we’ve probably caught pubs at different stages of the cycle during 100pubs.

What’s prompted this post is one of my local pubs, seemingly on the rise about 2 years ago, has seemingly quickly declined and is heading for the bottom of the curve. I won’t name it.

The cycle seems to go like this:

New landlord/owner –> investment/refurb –> interest in the business –> good beer –> increased custom –> better pub.

There may be food involved, though it’s optional (I’ll return to this).

Then the landlord or the pubco lose interest.

pub gets tatty –> fewer customers –> beer quality down –> takings down –> possible closure/landlord leaves.

Some pubs survive at this low point: if you’ve got an established trade of less fussy customers who drink a basic lager such as Carling or Fosters or a keg bitter like John Smiths that doesn’t go off quickly, there’s money to be made. I’d also like to point out that only serving such beer isn’t neccesarily a sign of a poor pub- I can think of sveral fairly decent pubs with no cask ale near here- but here’s a list othings I’d consider warning signs:

1. Cask ale declines in quality or disappears.
2. “Premium” lager disappears.
3. Wine disappears.
4. Food, if it was served, disappears.
5. Basic maintenance/cleanliness disappears. The toilets are usually the worst thing…
6. Choice of the more basic beer/cider reduces.

Once you get to 6, that’s usually trouble. The locals start to abondon the place, so the money dries up, and this is exactly where we seem to be in this case, and the other local pubs (Walsall Wood being blessed with several) are gaining custom, and raising their game accordingly: one one occaision I’ve left the pub in question due to the poor beer choice, only to see 6-8 customers that left before me in another one nearby.

I know that it’s harder to run a pub these days, and the closures have complex and varied causes, but there’s still oney to be made running a pub, and around 12-18 months ago, this pub was very busy indeed: Walsall Wood isn’t a huge place, but there’s plenty of drinkers about willing to be seperated from their money if you do it even half right, and decent beer, decent wine, and bogs that are at least tolerably sanitary would be a good starting point on the way to a perfect pub. Food can spoil pubs done wrongly, but well done it can boost takings and footfall withoout spoiling atmosphere.

What I don’t understand is that I’ve seen all of the local pubs go through this cycle at least once in the last 20 years (and one of them manage it 3 times, at least). There’sobviously potential to succeed, as they do when a new landlord arrives, but why the rapid cycling when some pubs remain stable for decades?

A Noise Annoys

July 28th, 2016

Last night, I was a little later home than other days, and my dear other half suggested a visit to the pub for tea (for those of you of a posh or southern disposition, that’s the evening meal). I was, actually, very slightly reluctant, as I usually don’t drink alcohol in the week, but only for a short while: the idea of a sit with a pint while someone else cooks my food seems like a great idea, so off we went.

When we arrived, there was another group (of 3) in there. The pub was pretty quiet; that early-doors feeling of wind-down. In love pubs at this time, or on Sunday evenings: quiet, relaxing, peaceful. The pub is one that does good business with food, but it is still very much a pub, not a restaurant.

I was a little disturbed, but not too much, at the request to turn the TV on. After all, part of being in a PUBlic house is that it is shared space; and a bit of news or maybe, if you really, really must, some sport doesn’t seem inappropriate, even if not my choice.

This dismay worsened when the TV was put on to The Box, and some dreadful bollocks that I believe calls itself R&B these days was on, and not quietly. Some tracks sounded faintly like someone rapping over a car alarm. Dismay turned to disbelief when the party that asked for it then ignored it, and started playing videos on their smartphones- with sound (which alone should be a punishable crime). The result turned the formerly peaceful pub into a cacophony of noise: something you’d maybe expect on a Friday or Saturday night in a town centre pub frequented by the under 25s, but less in a community pub in Walsall Wood early on a Tuesday evening, and more importantly, a cacophony of noise that the instigators were largely ignoring.

Oddly, while I was halfway through writing this, Pub Curmudgeon came up with this post discussing a “real pub” guide, featuring

those dismal dumps where the only sound is the ticking of the clock and the plaintive miaowing of the pub cat.

[Quote from Cooking Lager]

while a pub trade website detailed a bar that has installed a Faraday cage to effectively disable mobile phones, and of course, we’ve discussed this before.

I can’t agree with the mobile phone blocker, or indeed a mobile phone ban: it is not unusual to find me surfing the web on a phone in a pub- but If I *really must* use sound, I’ll have headphones on, and I go outside if I need to take or make a call: it’s just good manners. I’m not entirely against music in pubs either- one of my favourites regularly has a band on, and at other times tends to have the radio on, but notably the band plays in one of two rooms, and the radio is loud enough to talk over (and Radio 6, so while not my first choice, at least it sounds like music), though at times it’s cursed with bastards standing or sitting at the bar.

Here’s my point: as asked in Andy’s post linked above and discussed here, how much of the noise in pubs is wanted? I’d personally love to see no TVs in pubs, and the quote above sounds perfect. Perhaps we need a return to multi-room pubs, as I can think of one or two like that round here that can accomodate the music or sport and still allow miserable twats like me a quiet pint.

Taphouse 6: The Park Inn

July 23rd, 2016

PubBlog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 6, again with a brewery actually onsite- Holdens.

The Park Inn, with added Pete.

The Park Inn, with added Pete.

I was less enthusiastic than my last visit (but then, I was suffering with a worsening hangover), and we all agreed that while there was nothing wrong, it missed something. Pleasant enough, though.

Ambience 7.3
Beer choice/quality 8.6
Architecture 6
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 7
Toilets 6

Which means an overall score of 6.98.

Taphouse 5: The Beacon Hotel

July 23rd, 2016

PubBlog Link
Whatpub Link
Twitter

Taphouse 5, with a brewery actually onsite- Sarah Hughes.

Beacon Hotel. Image from Google.

Beacon Hotel. Image from Google.

More details in the PubBlog post. It’s still as good as ever, 3 years later.

Ambience 10
Beer choice/quality 8.3
Architecture 9
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 10
Toilets 6

Which means an overall score of 8.66, which I think makes it the leader so far.

Beyond the Northern Wastes

July 7th, 2016

In the over 20 years I’ve lived in Walsall Wood, near to the 39x (previously)/10/10A (now) bus route, I’ve probably only caught the bus northwards towards Brownhills a handful of times, heading instead towards the bright lights of Walsall, and even on those occaisions, I’ve never strayed north of the A5, because “here there be dragons”, obviously.

It was about time for a change. The happy realisation that the evening service is every 30 minutes or so for its full length from Walsall, through Walsall Wood and Brownhills, into Chasetown and Burntwood, and back, means that a whole raft of new pubs are within reach, so off we went. It’s been a while since we had a bus-based pub crawl.

A short trip to the Swan Island saw us outside The White Swan, which was closed, so we continued to The Nags Head, pausing there for a drink en route to The Drill Inn for food. After a walk back, The White Swan was open, so a swift one in there, and as the bus passes right by and stops very near, one at The Junction, before returning safely back south of the border.

Three Wheels On My Wagen

June 23rd, 2016

Almost.

Since we’re talking wheels…

The wandering bolt

The wandering bolt

The picture above is of a VW locking wheel bolt, on my desk at work. You’ll notice it has a decorative black plastic cap, and that my desk is not its natural habitat- that being assisting in retaining a wheel on to a car.

A short while ago, on my first journey to work in the new car, I’d though I’d noticed a slight vibration, but dismissed it as the normal paranoia I go through with a new car- finding things I imagine will go wrong. Upon leaving that afternoon, I noticed one of those caps looked a bit loose, and went to push it on, at which point the bolt came out in my hands. This wasn’t the bolt pictured above- that was already missing, presumed to be at the side of the M5- and investigation found the centre cap to be missing, and the three remaining bolts a turn of so loose. A call to voice my displeasure to the franchised dealer (who I won’t name, but are in a potteries city) elicited differing responses from differnt people, ranging from an apology and a promise to order the missing centre cap and a new set of lock bolts, to “that’s impossible- someone must have tampered with it, trying to steal wheels, everything is checked twice in the workshop”.

I’d like to explore that claim.

First of all, the wheels were swapped on the car. The originals had been refurbed, but apparently weren’t up to scratch, so got swapped while I completed the paperwork.

Secondly, all the bolts- the three loose ones, the one that fell out, and the lock bolt pictured (which was handed to me by a colleague a week later, having been found on the car park) still had their caps.

So, presumably what happened was that someone, without my knowledge, opened my locked car, took the wheel key from inside, took off all five caps, loosened five bolts, put the caps back on, and returned the key.

Or, could it just have been they were in a rush as I was waiting for the car, and just fucking forgot to torque up the bolts?

A Personal Win

June 22nd, 2016

I’m writing this on the eve of the EU referendum. I’m steering well, well away from the politics here, because, frankly, politics, with its byzantine obfuscation leaves me cold. My own views on the topic, and my political leanings, are no secret, but that’s not why I’m here, and I’d like to point out now that any comments attempting to argue the politics or economics, or indeed gloat on the outcome of tomorrow’s vote will be deleted.

Even if I agree with them.

I’d just like to share one small personal bit of gain; a small detail that made life easier for me. The new car means new winter tyres (and yes, I’m aware it is summer- prices will seriously climb from September), and indeed, new wheels, to avoid the problems of using non-approved wheels.

Germany, as I’ve remarked, has strict winter tyre laws, so in Germany it is commonplace to have a winter set of wheels. I’ve ended up with a used, but practically immaculate set of the official VW winter wheels, with a set of quality, little used (Pirelli SottoZero) winter tyres at well below half the price of new ones. From Germany. Direct, with no import duty, no mucking about at customs, and besides having to use Google translate, no more hassle than buying in the UK- the wheels arrived today, just in time :-), by courier, well packed, and exactly as described, within a few days. The alternatives were steel wheels, or secondhand wheels in the UK with tyres I didn’t want, and in need of a refurb.

I feel duty-bound to mention at this point the warnings from the AA and tyre sellers about part-worn tyres, and then point out that I’ve just bought one set- attached to the car, as does anyone buying a secondhand car- and that these are both little-used (with 6mm of tread), and free from any of the scars you get from a careless driver- no scuffs, cuts or other damage, and on wheels that are similarly undamaged. I’d also comment that for those of you on a very tight budget, the cheapest new tyres can be ditchfinders.

Leon Gone

June 17th, 2016

After almost 8 years and around 104,000 miles, the Leon is gone, replaced by a “Golf in a pretty dress“. In that time, beside the consumables like tyres, brake friction bits, it’s had a few parts: the heater fan being surprisingly pricey, as was the DSG selector lever (a gear lever with a software version, FFS), and the ABS module something that shouldn’t have failed. Any other bits and pieces seem fair enough for the mileage- the odd bush or suspension link (thanks, Walsall’s roads), and the ABS sensor that posed a conundrum. Overall I can’t complain- the car literally never let me down, and took us from the south coast to the Scottish highlands and both the east and west coasts in comfort. One sobering statistic is 104,000 miles at around 44 mpg means around 10,370 litres of fuel- around £11,600 at todays prices- though only around 11p per mile in fuel costs.

The new car is rather nice, and it’s interesting that the underlying PQ35 platform is identical, but there’s been much tweaking, and even more electronics added (something I’m not fazed by, particularly) ,and upgrades of the stuff that was there: the engine is no longer a rattly PD, but common rail unit, smoother, quieter, and revvier. The DSG gearbox is smoother too, and the suspension is electronically controlled. Overall, it’s lower, flasher, smoother, slightly more economical, and a little faster. A little less practical, but I don’t have the need for five doors any more, and provided you can get in to it, the back seat is comfortable for two people, unlike the last Scirocco I had, or the two I had in an abortive attempt at a project car.


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