Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Copyright & Disclaimer

Unless otherwise designated the photographs and text on this blog are Copyright © Murray Barton, all rights reserved.

All opinions expressed here are my own they do not reflect the opinions or views of any other individual or organisation real or imaginary.

Everything written here is frozen at a point in time; as I like to think I am capable of learning I reserve the right to disown, contradict or embellish without notice :) Warning: I will occasionally sacrifice my principles for the sake of a joke or story line.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Wedding Crashers

I'm not a big Owen Wilson fan and I really expected Wedding Crashers was going to be cheesy slapstick à la Dumb & Dumber so I was delighted that it was genuinely funny. The humour is raunchy (but not the usual American fare of f-words for the sake of them) and nicely balances the romantic subplot. If you are seeking intellectual stimulation go see something else, otherwise grab a tub of popcorn and enjoy.

King Arthur

I went and saw King Arthur last night. This is not just another retelling of the Arthurian myth. All of Arthur's principal nights are Sarmatians and this Guinevere (the very likeable Keira Knightley) is a woad dyed Pictish warrior. The Merlin depicted is one of my favourites, there were no spells or sourcery though. Lancelot was the only character who fitted the usual mould of Arthurian myth, he was a complete prat, but that's Lancelot.

At the beginning of the movie they try to establish some historical precedent for their version of the story by referring to "recent archeological evidence" yet whilst most of the action takes place on or North of Hadrians Wall at the end of the movie they referred to the battle taking place at Mount Badon which is generally thought to be in Southern England. Whilst I am nit picking there was little consistency in the accents either. It was a good fun rollick of a movie though and as good a guess as any-ones at early post-Roman Britain. Take a suspension of disbelief pill if you need one (it is a fantasy flick after all) and enjoy.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Firefox Stale Pages

The proxy server I have to use at work is screwed, it keeps serving up stale versions from the cache which is especially obnoxious on dynamic sites like Perl Monks. I don't hold much hope of the proxy server ever being fixed but Firefox lets you work around it. Type about:config in the nav bar look for browser.cache.check_doc_frequency and set the value 1. This forces a compare for the page for every page load.

This (mis)behaviour is discussed on Slashdot and the Firefox preferences are documented at

Friday, August 19, 2005

Don Watson Lecture

Yesterday I was lucky enough to hear Don Watson's 2003 National Trust Heritage Lecture "I still call Australia ... what?" on Radio National's The National Interest. Don Watson is a remarkable writer, with works ranging from the script for The Man Who Sued God to speech writing for Paul Keating. You can read the lecture online at The National Trust, it's well worth reading for his insights on the state of our language and, because they are inextricably linked, our culture as well- "In the beginning was the word and in the word was the truth and the heart and the mind. And if you take away from us words, we are poorer culturally and the democracy is weaker." I have picked up a copy of his new book "Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language", look out for the report in due course :)

War Of The Worlds

AKA The Ferrier Family Alien Road Trip

Working class arsehole estranged from his children and their mother evades aliens in a tension filled trip across America. Along the way he proves himself to be a "good dad" and delivers his daughter safely to her mum, grandparents and step father who were all untouched by the alien ravages. He is also miraculously reunited with his now respectful son whom we were led to believe couldn't possibly have survived. The aliens die of natural causes and every-one assumedly lives happily ever after.

The beautiful, evocative music and all the atmosphere which made the CD's was sadly missing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Desktop Refugee

Occasionally you might find yourself like me, a desktop refugee stranded in the dark side of desktops and reduced to the windows experience. Herewith are some tools to make life a little more bearable:

* Cygwin- a fairly complete Linux like environment including a great X emulator, Cygwin's Rxvt is my terminal emulator of choice.
* Firefox- Take back the web!
* Sunbird- great cross platform calendar application.
* LeechFtp- As far as I can tell it hasn't been developed in a while and it does have a few niggling bugs (I can't work out how to display filenames beginning with a dot such as .profile for example) but otherwise I haven't found a better free FTP client for windows.
* Vim- Gvim is looking like becoming my favourite editor on Windows, actually it may even stand a chance of beating Nedit under Linux, stay posted :)
* PFE- the Programmer's File Editor is a great little editor. Unfortunately (and typical of the windows environment) its author has given up development and no source code is available, still it beats the pants off of notepad.
* ActivePerl- a binary build of Perl for Windows.
* PuTTY- a great little terminal emulator. If you could set the ANSI underline colours I would probably use it more. My biggest complaint with !PuTTY though is that it stores all your session settings in the windows registry instead of in some sensible (and editable) text format- if you want to change a setting for all sessions you become trapped in GUI hell where a Perl one liner should suffice.

And of course I usually end up installing AbiWord and Gnumeric for word processing and spreadsheet joy :)

If you know of any others or can suggest a good replacement for one of the above leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Portable Desktop

Lately I have been a Desktop Refugee. There are a number of applications where the primary data source is my Linux desktop but which I also want to be available wherever I am. Storing them on my thumbdrive is a partial solution but data format, ease of access and security are all issues. Here are three applications I am currently using-

1. Wikit. A Wiki in a script. For each environment (Linux, Windows etc) you need a Starkit, the common Wikit script and the common data file. Works well under Windows and Linux.

Whilst Wikit is a fine Wiki but what I really want is a NoteTaker database like the one on the HP200LX palmtop. (NoteTaker is an indexed and sorted "note book" with fields for "Title", "Category" and "Note"). It has to be able to handle hundreds, possibly thousands of notes. It has to be multi platform with an identical datafile format every-where. It has to allow categories and have a good search capability. Import/export from other formats would be handy too.

2. Password Gorilla- Gorilla is a password manager setup much the same as Wikit above but the data is encrypted. Works a treat.

3. Sunbird Mozilla Sunbird is my desktop calendar of choice at the moment. Under Linux I leave the calendar file in its default location. Under Windows I edited the CalendarManager.rdf (located somewhere like
C:\Documents and Settings\foc17bn\Application Data\Mozilla\Sunbird\Profiles\l6feac9w.default\Calendar) to point it at my thumb drive for the calendar.ics file.

Whats still missing? A cross platform address book which is not tied to a mail client but whose data format is usable by mail clients. A NoteTaker replacement as I described above. A safe and easy way to sync up directory trees between my desktop and the thumb drive -there is probably a solution to this out there but I haven't looked hard. A cross platform encrypted file system would make the whole thing just about perfect.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

HPUX Versus Solaris

After more than five years as a professional Unix Administrator I feel I am entitled to an opinion about the various Unixes, if not qualified to give it. Herewith is a comparison of HP-UX with Solaris both of which I have administered in enterprise environments.

LVM vs Solstice DiskSuite: no argument here, LVM is far better and very well implemented, doubly better if you have online JFS with it. Personally I find LVM streets ahead of Veritas volume manager as well, LVM's command line interface is consistant and simple to work with, Veritas is a bit of a dog by comparison. I heard a rumour that HP is considering dropping LVM in favour of Veritas, that would be a tragedy IMO.

ServiceGuard vs SunCluster: I can't quantify this one but my gut feeling is that ServiceGuard is more reliable than SunCluster, I certainly find it simpler to administer.

At the command prompt: Solaris is the clear winner here, why does HP-UX move things like //etc/init.d to /sbin/init.d? Long command lines don't wrap on HP-UX and their ls has some strange behaviours (eg. with ls -F on a symlink to a directory shows it with a trailing "//" ls -aF on the same will show it with a trailing "@" which is what I think it should show). Solaris also ships with a heap of the GNU toolset goodies which I find make life at the command prompt much friendlier.

Any-one who has ever tried to build the Perl DBI and DBD::Oracle modules on HP-UX is probably with me here, those modules just work on Solaris, whilst I understand it can be done on HP-UX it is way way harder than it should be. These kind of problems seem to be much more prevalent on HP-UX than Solaris.

Hardware: I can't back it up with any statistics but in my experience HP boxes have far fewer hardware failures than Sun boxes.

Support: my experience has been that HP take your call a more seriously and are less likely to push back, I spent a couple of months at one stage convincing Sun support that the memory growth I was seeing in a service was a leak and not "normal useage". Whilst I would probably give this one to HP, Sun also provide great support and their field engineers have always been great. As far as community support goes (mailing lists, web pages, newsgroups etc) Solaris does seem to have more of that kind of support and better too.

Where would I rather work? If I am the on-call bunny, I'd probably pick HP-UX but for life at the command prompt day-to-day, probably Solaris.

Update: Someone elses comparisons- Solaris versus HP-UX

Embedding PHP in .html files

One of the little volunteer jobs I do is as webmaster for The Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre. For the most part the pages are static and I don't do much at all. One thing that has bothered me though is that the menu code was embedded in every single page (my fault). I wrote a perl script to update each page for me but I still had to re-upload them all individually (KSP's ISP does not allow shell access...). Along with a desire to implement a few bits of dynamic content I thought PHP might be a good solution but I didn't want to have to rename all the pages to .php. Not only would that mean all the internal links would need updating but any external links would break too. A quick bit of Googling around and I found this trick: create a .htaccess file with the following line in it-

AddType application/x-httpd-php .php .php3 .phtml .html

now all .html files will be processed as php scripts which is exactly what I wanted. Want another item in the menu? Simple, change one line in menu.php and it's done! Not only that but the individual pages are suddenly simpler and will be easier to maintain. Now to write the code for that dynamic content...

Update: and if you or your ISP is not running mod_php you need to add this line as well-
Action application/x-httpd-php /cgi-bin/php-handler