Taphouse 10: The Old Bulls Head

December 28th, 2016

Pubblog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 10, again with a brewery actually onsite- Black Country Ales.

[Photo to follow as mine is terrible]

BCA have made quite an impact around here, with their beer and pubs being held in high regard.

A lovely pub with great food, staff, and beer. Less of a trek than some, with a 2/3 bus journey, not too bad for darkest Black Country. Welcoming, warm, relaxing and a great spot for the end of our tap house tour on a cold day.

Ambience 10
Beer choice/quality 8.5
Architecture 8.67
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 10
Toilets 9.67

Which means an overall score of 9.37, making it the runner-up, behind The Duke William, sadly the hardest to get to….

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2016

It’s Christmas morning. Festivity took a while to kick in this year, but when work was finished, a couple of pub trips with good friends and the traditional Christmas eve curry did the trick. I’m hangover-free, and I’ve had bacon too.

Happy Christmas everyone.

A Day Out

December 15th, 2016

I was off work, and as is traditional, we went off to Birmingham for a couple of pints. A start by dropping off the 51 at The Tennis Court, a diversion to The Woodman, a bus ride to Balsall Heath and the lovely Old Moseley Arms, another diversion (because of gridlock in Digbeth to the every lovely Anchor, and home via a curry. Some lovely beer (though this was perhaps a bit stronger than would be adviseable after 5-6 pints, even if it was delicious), and a pleasant day out.

Make Tech Difficult

December 12th, 2016

One of the things non-techies hate about tech is the complexity of setting some things up, and the rise of IoT, and the ubiquity of smartphones and home broadband has meant that our homes have more and more tech, and that tech is expected to talk to the cloud, and perhaps talk back.

Manually configuring this gear can be a bit tricky, so there’s a bunch of things making it easier. Your ISP may well provide a router, with default passwords. IP cameras will “phone home” to the manufacturer’s site to register themselves, so you don’t have to manually set up dynamic DNS. That router from your ISP will probably use UPnP so it can open ports for the camera and any other devices. Things like Nest or Hive bypass that by depending on a server in the cloud on someone else’s computer to make the connection.

All nice so far. Even better, these things are putting my favourite OS, Linux out there. As Linux is free, and powerful, and efficient on the low-power chips in these devices, it gets used a lot.

You’d think I’d be pleased.

But there’s a problem. Lots of these devices have poorly implemented security. Others depend on a hosted service, so if someone decides to stop supporting it, or indeed changes the API you have an expensive paperweight.

The Mirai attacks first turned IP cameras into a huge botnet, and now malware has got its hands on routers: the very device you expect to secure your home network, and let’s not forget that if your IP camera (inside your firewall/router) is compromised, it could be used as a tool to attack your PC, and the router will happily help out by opening ports for it: many cameras have poor web interfaces and hardcoded “root” passwords (I have one myself with a password of “123456”)

I realise I’m sounding a little like a luddite here; or perhaps the techie complaining about tech doing stuff itself and therefore meaning people need fewer techies, but here’s the rub: the more of this stuff that gets out there, the bigger the attack surface, the bigger the gain, and the bigger the effect on everyone. So, a little advice:

1. Think if you really need that IoT device.
2. Change default passwords.
3. Consider tossing your ISP-supplied router. It’s probably shit anyway. Turn off UPnP, even if that means you have to get help opening and forwarding ports. There’s a fucking good reason a firewall closes ports, so why bypass that?
4. Consider not buying the very cheapest IP cam like mine 🙂
5. If you invest in cloud-connected devices, entertain the fact that you just lost control of them.
6. If there’s updated firmware, use it.
7. Linux does not mean secure. The kernel itself probably is, but a lot of embedded devices are poorly secured.

Some you win

November 4th, 2016

Time I blogged a bit more…

A week of differing days: starting with a very long day, and a failed Internet connection and firewall migration (which had to be reverted), followed by another late finish, followed by a hospital appointment with a long wait (and having arrived early in order to park, that made it a very long one) and a vile, stop-start rush hour drive back through Brum, along with the accompaniment of an ominous rattle from the car, sounding like I was dragging a wind chime.

Today was improved: the rattle went, and after a check by my friendly local VW specialist, we agreed it was probably nothing more than a stone trapped in a brake disc shield, which then dropped out at some point. A grim drive from there to work, but then things start to improve later in the day: I did have a spare PCI ethernet card in my desk to connect a failing wireless network, the IPCop firewall PC did have a spare slot and the drivers for the card, I did know the password, and it all just worked, which meant a 4pm finish, and a surprisingly good journey home.

With a bit more time on my hands, it’s easier to persuade myself go for a quick spin on the bike to Chasewater. Rush hour was still in progress on the roads, but the towpath was literally almost deserted (I met one person, one cat and one fox in over 6 miles) and peaceful, but tough going after a week and a half not riding. The compensation for dragging my corpulent carcass out on a dark and relatively cold night is that I’ve reclaimed my towpaths from the armies of dog walkers, anglers, fair-weather cyclists, and pokemon hunters that are all over the place on the lighter, warmer evenings (though to be fair there was one pokemon hunter at Chasewater itself).

I’m now hoping my plan to leave early today (Friday) comes to fruition. A plan for the cinema, some beer and some food is forming….

Out for a Duck?

October 5th, 2016

I note that The Drunken Duck in Walsall Wood High St is closed and looking for a new tenant, as a business opportunity, and this is probably the time that I can say it was the pub behind my pub lifecycle post, though the concept applies elsewhere.

The Duck was my local pub of choice for some years: it’s nearby, it’s very near to (and the same side of the busy A461 as) the curry house, the shops, and the nearest ATM, it has mostly served good beer, and, if you’ve chosen your time, it can be quiet enough to talk. Basically, while going up and down around the cycle, it’s overall been a pleasant, welcoming pub.

I’ve seen it go through at least 3 landlords/landladies in the time I’ve been using it regularly, and even more in the time I’ve been here, and depressingly, it’s matched the cycle well. The just-departed landlord seemed like a nice guy and seemed interested at first: I remember taking recovery walks past the pub while he was working on it to smarten it up and add a proper kitchen (more of that in a moment), but for the last few months, he seemed to lose interest. The local troublemakers moved in, the real ale moved out, then even some of the keg disappeared. All the signs were there, and it was only a matter of time: I gave up, and went elsewhere. It had a short race to the bottom with discounted lager with another nearby pub, and has evidently lost.

One of the factors may have been that the landlord had ideas of food- Indian food. This is a common thing, and works well in places, given the whole desi pub thing but here in Walsall Wood, there’s the aforementioned excellent Simla restaurant, and another takeaway within 100 yards, and another decent restaurant about 3/4 mile away, so it was going to have to be incredible. It actually turned out to be OK, but not the success it might have been, but it would have been a tough gig, so it probably wasn’t as profitable as was hoped.

I’m now hoping we can get back to the top of the cycle: it’s a pub I like a lot, and with some decent beer I’ll be back- Walsall Wood luckily has held on to more of its pubs than other areas of Walsall and I’d hate to lose it, and there’s plenty of people around here willing to exchange money for beer.

Taphouse 9: The Windsor Castle Inn

September 24th, 2016

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Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 9. Sadler’s Ales. The Brewery (with it’s own bar) is very nearby, but this clearly states itself to be the tap house.

The Windsor Castle

The Windsor Castle

Still not a bad place, but suffered a bit from “modern food pub” makeover like one of the big chains, rather than one of 4 Sadlers outlets. Staff very pleasant though.

Ambience 7.25
Beer choice/quality 9
Architecture 6.75
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 2.75
Toilets 8.25

Which means an overall score of 6.8, which seems a little unfairly low to me, but rules is rules.

Taphouse 8: Green Duck Brewery Badelynge Bar

September 24th, 2016

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Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 8, this time more the bar on the brewery site rather than a brewery on a bar or pub site.

Inside the Badelynge Bar with a view of the brewery

Inside the Badelynge Bar with a view of the brewery

A large converted historic factory with the brewery in plain view at one end. It’s a big open space with a “lounge” in one corner (some sofas), the bar in another, and benches and tables elswhere. It’s make a great place for a party, and indeed, they do hold events (such as Oktoberfest).

Ambience 9.5
Beer choice/quality 10
Architecture 8.5
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 10
Toilets 8.75

Which means an overall score of 9.35, pretty high-scoring.

Taphouse 7: The Duke William

September 24th, 2016

Pubblog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 7, again with a brewery actually onsite- Craddocks.

The Duke William

The Duke William

A thoroughly wonderful pub with great food, staff, and beer. Quite a trek for us but worth it in every way. Just wish it wasn’t the best part of 2 hours away by bus.

Ambience 10
Beer choice/quality 10
Architecture 10
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 9.75
Toilets 8.75

Which means an overall score of 9.7, easily putting it in the lead so far.

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.


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