Monkey Business

January 20th, 2019

A few jobs have unusually taken me away from my desk to sites around the UK for a bit of network monkeying; the realisation that the old Cisco switches in use at most of them were starting to fail (pretty crap, huh? I mean some of them are only 15 years old!) meant a site visit. This also meant tidying up rats nests of cables, removing old PBXs, changing the IP range so it was actually not duplicating real addresses in Japan (I kid you not), and in the case of the two most remote sites (in Belfast and Edinburgh) migrating phones to a new PBX and SIP, retiring the 15 year old Nortel switches that may cause Mr Sublimeproduct to have a breakdown if he even hears the command LD 49. This work had already happened elsewhere, but the hassle of a required overnight stay to complete the work meant all the work was combined into one visit there.

My last trip to both of these sites involved short notice, expensive flights, with an uncomfortably early start, and a LAN switch as hold luggage in one case, due to the aforementioned failure of one, so it was nice to be boarding one of those toy planes at a relatively sane time with all the business types.

Edinburgh first, and fairly straightforward. New switches in, config errors fixed, everything on a nice new RFC1918 net range. A quick re-use of the old switch to set up multiple IP phones quickly:

Steal someone’s desk. A little bit of “switchport mode trunk”, and Bob’s your auntie’s live-in lover.

then a night in a hotel.

The next day was smooth too, with the only surprise (but it shouldn’t be, really) was BT’s refreshing, innovative approach to mounting a PBX in a rack:

Innovative brackets, lads.

Still, as it was only going in a skip, no worries 🙂

Belfast was a similar story, except the PBX was shoddily bolted to the wall with the screws rounded off, rather than propped up on timber offcuts, and in the evening, having a hardier colleague with me, we managed a pint in The Crown Liquor Saloon (and got a seat!).


January 7th, 2019

The post title is a play on the RDS station name (GrtHits) for Greatest Hits Radio, the latest brand of Bauer Radio to foist itself upon the West Midlands 105.2 FM frequency, and so force it’s way into the many thousands of cars that don’t have DAB radios.

Back in the early days of this blog, I was pretty happy when Kerrang! launched on that frequency, then whinged about one presenter, then disappointed when Absolute Radio got the frequency, after a brief spell as Planet Rock, before that too got pushed off to a ropey, low-bitrate, not-receiveable-in-the car DAB slot.

I’d just got used to Absolute, and could put up with turning it off if they played Oasis, and now they’ve moved my cheese** again.

It’s not *awful*. The music is 60s/70s/80s/90s pop. From the Bauer website :

[engage marketing bullshit filters]

We deliver the most popular music for 45-64 year olds, reflecting the life stage of our listeners and keeping them informed and up to date with the latest news and information where they live. We play the greatest hits from the 70’s and 80’s with a sprinkle of megahits from the 60s and 90s thrown in for good measure. Classic songs that stand the test of time and sound as good today as they did when you first heard them.

Well, I’m right in that age group, and the music is age-appropriate, but it’s just so bland. Lots of very middle-of-the-road pop, and an overall feel of a old-school local radio station of the 90s, with a breakfast DJ, Simon Ross, who calls himself “Rossie”. There’s something wrong about nicknames for the over-40s. In fact, the MOR pop was more bearable during testing, when we didn’t have to suffer the presenters.

Given that Radio 2 has replaced one tedious DJ with an actually more tedious DJ, looks like it’s back to the SD card full of MP3s.

**I’m not posting it again.


December 31st, 2018

Today represents fifteen years of me blogging. Like many things, I’m doing much less of it as I’m nearing 50 :-). Blogs seem to have become deeply unfashionable, but hell, I wasn’t fashionable in 2003. I’m sad to note that The YamYam seems to have stopped working, though not as sad as to remind myself that one of the best blogs (and a really nice guy I’m pleased to say I met a few times) is sadly gone; the local online community seems to be shrinking.

Looking back on this blog, what’s changed? I’ve got more left-leaning, politically, in direct contravention of the old saying, but if anything, politics itself has got less interesting and more frustrating, and seems pointless.

I *think* I try to be a bit less angry generally, although I still have the occasional rant. The one thing I’m deliberately steering clear of on that front so far is Brexit, purely because that does make me really rather angry and sad. I have a number of thoughts on that that may or may not ever reach the “Publish” button, simply because I’m tired and depressed of the whole thing.

I’ve become less vocal about Linux, Open Source, and the failings of Windows, but then Windows has got better (yes, it really has). I’m still *using* Linux, because it’s just easier and does what it is told, and runs well on an antique laptop. There’s been an increase on posts about fixing the Lupo as it ages and some of the bits like electric windows and sunroof need attention, but less car spannering, and more bike spannering, as a rule.

There’s certainly less of my output here now- what might have been a short blog post all those years ago now tends to be a tweet- which is a shame, as here, I control it and it has permanence that Twitter doesn’t provide, unless you look quite hard.

Anyway, I’m waffling. Happy New Year, and as Dave Turner said

Here’s to 2019 not being a total trash fire!

A Place in the Sun

December 6th, 2018

[note: this is retrospective, posted after the event. It’s also had a title change, and some of the more ranty bits removed, for a possible future post]

We’ve been away. Lanzarote, more specifically, Costa Teguise. A resort we’ve been to before, and it largely caters for British tourists (Germans too, but there’s a strong bias to UK tourism).

Very nice it was too, but I have to say the sheer amount of loud televised football and the near-total ubiquity of lager became a bit frustrating after a while; the upside being that you can get a full English and a pint for very little money, and enjoy it in the sunshine. The majority of the bars are run by English ex-pats using that handy freedom of movement thing.

What’s more, for perhaps the last time, we got to do this via a totally frictionless (and by frictionless, I totally mean that- step off plane, wave passport in general direction of border control, collect luggage, step into sunshine) border (crossed with our newly renewed not-fucking-blue passports), enjoying cheap, easy travel to the sun with no queuing. We paid for things with cards like we were at home. For the first, and maybe the last time, we used our mobile phones just like at home, roaming charge-free onto the local telco’s network and not giving a single fuck about charges per megabyte, so we didn’t even have to search out bars with wifi (though they were plentiful). Of course, we got a shit rate for our Euro currency, but low prices over there helped reduce the impact of that: Euro/Sterling rates were as close as makes no odds to 1:1 (actually 1.1 Euro to 1 GBP), so at least the exchange rate was easier than when we first visited when it was around 1.4-1, and a (400ml, typically) beer varied from 1 Euro to about 3, depending on location and time of day. Eurofizz lager, of course, but in the sun…

Compared to our last visit I’m a little less mobile (especially as I twisted my knee the night before we went), so there was less walking up and down the prom, though we did manage a few shorter strolls, only resorting to a taxi once (which was also amazingly cheap).

Not the most adventurous or exciting of holidays, I’ll grant you, but low stress, warmth, sunshine, and (relatively) low cost.


November 15th, 2018

I discovered that the French for catflap is “chatiere”. This I discovered from the instruction manual.

Our return home from a gentle pub crawl (only 3) in Walsall was greeted by QT, on the front doorstep. Now, QT isn’t that bright, but he usually manages the cat flap. Shortly afterwards, Kitty announced her inability to get in by banging repeatedly against the flap and had to be let in.

I had a look at it. It’s about 7 years old, and opening it up disproves the adage that cats are clean animals, so I carefully clean it, lube it, and put it back. QT exits, and it doesn’t register his chip. Looks like it’s fucked. A temporary mod of tape to allow access for anything, and off to Amazon for a new one. There’s a large array of chip-reading flaps, now, but I just bought the updated version of what we had, not feeling like any potential door modification.

So then; programming the cats into it. I knew the old flap was a bit tired- yellowed from UV outside, cracked from getting knocked, but I’d been putting it off because I have a long memory, and aversion to injuries, and don’t like stressing my children.

As it was, leaving the old flap in place, assembling this one inside, using a long extension cable, a bit of patience, and (critically) realising the reader works upside down, and the fact the cats are more settled and older now, meant this passed without any fighting, and just a little initial suspicion of the new device has passed, and the cats can roam without having their food nicked again.

Desi Pubs, Part 2

November 14th, 2018

A day off presented the ideal opportunity to continue our Desi pub tour, so once more, we caught a bus out to West Brom, continuing onwards to Smethwick and The Red Cow. Indian barbecue lunch, and then off to The Ivy Bush (on a very crowded school-chucking-out-time bus). A walk up Spon Lane South

crossing 2 lots of canal (the old and new main line) and the railway, and passing under the Oldbury viaduct works on the M5:

M5 Oldbury Viaduct work from Spon Lane South

There’s a lot of transport in a tight space here: the Metro is only just up the road too. Lots of history too; Chance Glassworks, the canals, and the lovely Kenrick Building.

A interesting crossing of Kenrick Way, and The Island Inn, and finally, a non-Desi pub stop in West Brom: The Sandwell, before a bus home. Our bus mojo was working today, our only significant wait was 17 minutes for a bus home from Walsall.

Lock In

November 13th, 2018

So, back in July/August, while I was recovering from surgery again, I was a passenger in the Lupo more than usual, and noted the central locking unlocking and relocking the door every time we slowed and sped up.

“It’s been doing that. seems to be getting worse”

Given my less mobile state, I just broke out VCDS and disabled the automatic door locking function in the CL module.

Investigation when I was a bit recovered found that the microswitch that tells the module that the door is locked wasn’t working, so it kept trying to relock the door. This is all built into the door latch module, so it was off with the door trim again (and the car retained the stripped out rallycar look for 3 months or more- time pressures, and the non-availability of the membrane behind the trim (which is impossible to remove in one piece).

Stripped out look.

So, in theory, it’s easy. Remove a cap in the back edge of the door. Insert a T20 torx driver, and carefully unscrew just enough to pull out the lock cylinder (don’t unscrew too far, or the pingfuckits drop inside):

Door handle with lock cylinder removed.

Make sure the other door is open (!), and there, in the back edge of the handle, is a cable that connects the handle to the latch. It just flips out with a small scredriver. The internal release, and the button that pops up when unlocked are attached to the latch, which just unbolts with a 8mm spline bit in the back edge of the door. Undo the electrical connector, and lift it out:

The latch mechanism.

So then. Simple, huh? Get new mechanism, a few bolts, job done?


Genuine ones are £160. Aftermarket ones under £20, so off the the tat bazaar for an aftermarket one, fit it.

The door won’t stay shut.

Piss about for ages, mess with the striker plate- still won’t shut. Give up, refit old one. Door shuts.

Lock door, unlock door. Door won’t open from either inside or outside. The fixing bolts, remember, are only reachable with the door open. Contemplate attacking door and/or latch with dremel, decide against that, sleep on it.

Realise, eventually, what is so well described in this video:

(this guy knows his VWs, by the way, and his videos are much better than many- less waffling)

So, after several hours, back where I started. I return the ebay mechanism, and buy a used one from Stevens VW (for about the price of the cheap aftermarket one), and fit that, only to have the same locked-out issue.

Here’s a lesson for you; that cable that attaches to the handle? Adjustment is *critical* – there’s about 4-5mm adjustment where it fits the handle- and they are not all the same. The one I got with the used latch was shorter :-/. If the cable is too tight, the door won’t open *at all*. It’s also hard to get right unless the handle is bolted back into place…

So, with the used latch, the correct cable, and some trial and error, all is well, and the central locking works correctly. Just repair the membrane with some plastic sheet, repair the broken trim clips (the trim is getting delicate, at 18 years old), and refit the trim. I’ll probably strip and repair the original latch at some point.

Hearing You Loud & Clear

November 11th, 2018

I’m going to whinge, like the miserable, middle-aged man I am, with a first-world problem.

On Friday, I had an afternoon off, so we went into Walsall, and for a change to The Fountain.

I used to love The Fountain, but my last few visits have resulted in a change of heart, and it’s people that are the problem. Jeebus, I hate people 🙂

Further people to hate materialised when we went for something to eat. We went to Golden Moments, a Indian restaurant that’s been there forever, and that we’ve used for some 30 years now. It’s a step above the ordinary curry house- not expensive or overly posh, but relaxed, pleasant, and a nice place to be, which made their behaviour all the more…irksome.

It’s something I’m increasingly seeing, and it seems really odd to my late 40s mind: not just taking a phone call in a quiet restaurant, but using speakerphone to do so, and having it loud, and shouting, seemingly oblivious that the whole place can hear the conversation.

What is this? Is it learned behaviour from The Apprentice or countless other “reality” TV programmes (where there is at least a reason for it), or is it just total ignorance?

I’m not the only one to wonder this: from Mumsnet to Reddit, via Digital Spy, people are mystified.

My opinion? Some people are just entitled, inconsiderate fucks.

Broughty Ferry

September 22nd, 2018

Again, I’m posting after the event, but I’ve fudged the post date to suit. We went to Broughty Ferry, effectively a suburb of Dundee. N,ot a bad journey, considering: the furthest I’ve driven in one stretch for a good while, and not too tricky either; M6, M74, M73, M80, A9, A90.

The A9 had gained average speed cameras since our last trip on the “road of death”. I don’t know if it’s lowered the casualty rate, but reportedly speeding has reduced; thankfully they’ve had the good sense to raise the 40 mph limit for HGVs on the single carriageway bits to 50. Fortunately, we only had DC bits to deal with.

A little bit of getting lost in Dundee itself saw us at our cottage by around 4:30pm, so after a short rest we went out to the first pub, then find out what Broughty Ferry is like on a Saturday night (the answer is: busy). It’s a suburb that likes to pretend it isn’t, and it’s a little bit affluent: not as many Range Rovers as Sutton, perhaps, but plenty. It feels smaller though, and public transport to central Dundee was good.

We went to have a look at the new V&A, which had opened the day we arrived: a magnificent building, for one so modern. It’s a shame that one view of it will be blocked by what seemed to be another office or hotel being built near it. Near the V&A was the rebuilt station- Dundee has excellent rail connections, at least until Storm Ali came along when we’d gone to Perth (but then we found the bus service is good too).

Dundee is a fine city: the city centre is quite compact and easy to navigate, there’s good pubs and restaurants. It’s also home to D C Thomson, home of the Beano, and the school that inspired The Bash St kids is still there, right in the middle, near the McManus Gallery, which had a Beano-themed exhibition on, which was a nice surprise.

We wandered about, visited some fine pubs, and had some good food. Even our return journey was decent, at less than 6 hours of driving time.

All’s Well That Sandwell

August 28th, 2018

We were feeling a bit lethargic, so it was a surprise we managed to start on what we’d planned for a while: a look round the Desi pubs detailed by Creative Black Country in their book.

Desi pubs- pubs run by (and to some degree for) Asians are a familiar thing in and around the Black Country- we’ve even visited a few, like The Pool Hayes or The New Talbot, and let’s face it, what’s not to like? Indian food and beer. Sounds awful.

So then, into Walsall, a quick change to a bus bound for West Brom, up through Caldmore, passing very near to one Desi pub, and right past another. Through Stone Cross, lamenting the loss of the old cinema, and into West Brom.

We passed one of our targets on the way in, without realising in time, and continued into town. A slow walk down the High St pedestrianised area, and everything goes a bit Indian; sari shops, Asian grocers, and the pubs, bars and grills. We passed by the magnificent (but very faded) Lewisham Hotel, as was- now Desi Junction, passed The Prince of Wales (to return later), and ended up at The Sportsman for lunch. The return journey took in the Prince of Wales, then a break in the bus journey back took in The Red lion.

I’d not been to West Brom town itself for some time, and not the true centre for the best part of 30 years. It seems (I’m sorry to say) to be better than Walsall- the market thrives, it’s extremely multi-cultural, there’s not too many empty shops in the bits we saw, and there’s clealy been some investment in the High St.