Sunday, September 14, 2008

BlackBerry Curve WiFi on Belkin router

A tip for anyone trying to get this combination to work: you must disable 802.11e QoS or the BlackBerry will be unable to authenticate.

This setting can be changed within the router's built-in web setup. Once connected, go to the Channel and SSID entry in the side menu (under the Wireless heading). On the page that comes up, it's the very last setting: 802.11e QoS.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stupid Mac bug with Leopard and Spaces

Sometimes, when I move my Macbook Pro from using my external 23" Cinema Display at work (laptop lid closed) to home with the internal display open, the sliding between Spaces is gone.

Instead, it just flips; windows appearing just appear, windows going away disappear, and nothing slides.

I don't know what causes it. I don't know if anyone else has this happen, but it's happened to me with two successive Macbook Pros so it's not just one system.

The way to fix it is to select a different resolution from the Displays drop-down on the right of the menubar, and then return to the old resolution. When this is done, the sliding effect returns.

Tracing back my childhood, via Google Maps – Part 5: Oxfordshire, continued

I went to school in Oxfordshire at Langtree School (image) in Woodcote. We took a bus route through the villages of Nuffield, Stoke Row and Checkendon.

For sixth form, nothing was available at Langtree, so I attended The Henley College in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, for my A-levels.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tracing back my childhood, via Google Maps – Part 4: Oxfordshire

My father got another job when I was about thirteen, all the way south in Oxfordshire, just outside the historic town of Wallingford. The position was as an instructor for Turners Court, a residential educational establishment for delinquent boys.

Again, a house was available for us on-site, just up the hill at No. 2 Brixton Hill. (Several more houses have been built since then; all that was there in the 1980s were the semi-detached pair of homes at the bottom. We lived in the rightmost of the two.) It was next to a small wood of beech trees, which provided endless fun for my brothers and I.

About a year or so later a house on the grounds proper was vacant, and we moved into it, it being much closer to my dad's work and a much newer house. (The only change to this area since I lived here is that each house has had a 2-car garage built for it. Originally everyone shared a row of rather ramshackle garages approximately where the big trees just north of center are now. We were in the house second from the right.) I believe the address was No. 3 Turners Court.

The school itself appears to have been razed to the ground since we left; no trace of the residences or classrooms remain. Houses have been built over most of it. It's not surprising, since after my dad had worked there for a few years the establishment was bankrupt and closed down. I imagine it was sold for housing.

Tracing back my childhood, via Google Maps – Part 3: Durham

When I was about nine or ten my father, having finished his OND(H), got a job with a youth training center in Aykley Heads, Durham (the actual location was somewhere near the center of this map; it appears the buildings they used are long gone).

They trained unemployed youths with some horticultural skills (among other things) in the hope of finding them work. This was the 1980s, after all, the time of large-scale unemployment and displacement, especially in North-East England. Heavy industries, such as coal-mining and shipbuilding, were closing down and the world was changing under everyone's feet.

They found us housing in a set of houses built for policemen's families but at that time sitting vacant in the village of Sherburn, to the east of Durham proper, while my Dad's employment was to the north-west of the city. Sherburn was a scary place for newcomers. I recall many of the kids I went to school with there had never been beyond the visible horizon their entire lives. Scotland was a foreign land, inconceivably distant, alien to their world. The fact that large proportions of the village's inhabitants appeared to be related to one another gave it a horror-movie tone. I hated it.

Things got a little better when I started attending Gilesgate Comprehensive School, though, where it wasn't just the idiots from Sherburn.

After about a year they found my family a permanent residence at a council house in Framwellgate Moor, which occasioned a change in schools, too – we now attended Framwellgate Moor School, just down the road.

Tracing back my childhood, via Google Maps – Part 2: Ayr

When I was about six, my father began a course leading to an Ordinary National Diploma in Horticulture (ONDH) at the Scottish Agricultural College at Auchincruive Estate, near the town of Ayr, Scotland. To pay his way, he hired on as the Head Gardener at Doonholm Estate, a position coming with lodgings for a family. This proved to be a single-storey gatehouse on the A77 Ayr–Maybole–Stranraer road.

This was a bit of an accident black-spot, due to the fast and straight stretch of the A77 yielding suddenly to a dip and sharp blind turn. The dip flooded during bad weather, which in western Scotland is almost continous. There were at least three deaths there in the just over three years we lived there.

We attended Alloway Primary School in the nearby village of Alloway, nowadays pretty much a suburb of Ayr. Alloway's claim to fame is as Scottish poet Robert Burns' birthplace, and the Burns Cottage is close to the school. Being a good five miles from school or more, we were afforded free transportation. Normally that'd be a bus, but because of the tiny numbers of children coming from near us we were instead ferried to and from school by taxicab, the schools contracting with a local cab firm for the purpose. I have strong memories of the taxis, big Ford Granadas (always the most popular taxicabs in the UK, just like Ford Crown Victorias are ubiquitous in the USA). Big plush velour seats, brown upholstery, as I recall brown cars too, with vinyl roofs (this was the late 70s, after all!), the everpresent smell of cigarette smoke and Big Tree air fresheners.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tracing back my childhood, via Google Maps – Part 1: Somerset, Ballantrae

Google Maps (and thus Google Earth as well) now have pretty good high-resolution imagery of the United Kingdom, good enough now that I can pretty much trace back my geographic history, so that's what I'm about to do.

I was born in Hampstead, a district of London, but I'm not sure which hospital. The Royal Free Hospital wasn't open in Hampstead at that point, so I'm not sure. Perhaps I was born elsewhere but my parents lived there, or perhaps it was in a location since closed.

Pretty early on – vague memory from my parents says at about six months of age – we moved to Montacute in Somerset, where my dad took a job at the National Trust's Montacute House. I'm not absolutely sure of the house we lived in, but this one appears closest to my memories.

At five years old, I think, we moved to Scotland, taking the night sleeper from Euston up the West Coast Main Line. Ever curious, I pulled the communications cord, fortunately when stationary. I remember the Guard coming to our compartment while I frantically hid beneath the blankets.

My father had taken a job as Head Gardener at Glenapp Castle, near Ballantrae, which was then the family seat of the Earl of Inchcape; it's now been sold and is a luxury hotel, but this was after my time there. We first lived at a house on the estate, Boartreehall House (I think I have the spelling of that correct, but we'll see) and later in a more modern bungalow, 1 Smyrton Hill, just outside the estate. I went to school at Ballantrae Primary School.

A bit of a refocus.

I started this blog originally with the idea that it would focus primarily on Wikipedia and issues surrounding it. I've found that harder than I expected – both in terms of motivation to do it, and in terms of finding what I wanted to say here incompatible with being a sitting member of the Arbitration Committee.

Come this January, I will no longer be a sitting member of Arbcom; I do not intend to run in this fall's elections. At that time I will feel much more free to discuss issues of Wikipedia without everything I write looking to some as if they are pronouncements of policy rather than personal ideas.

In the meantime, and thereafter, this blog will also contain much more of my personal writing, journalling and recollections. I am feeling the urge to write more, and more personally, rather than explicitly for an audience. If you read this blog (someone might!), you'll see a more eclectic grab-bag of stuff than hitherto.

I also intend, from now on, to publish my commentary on things I read online here, rather than commenting on blogs and the like. That was, after all, the original purpose of a weblog – an annotated stream of stuff one found on the web with personal opinion and commentary.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My camera is fixed…

…thanks to Camera Tech of Anaheim (1347 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92805; just south of Ball). $95 out the door. As I'd suspected, a connection between the main circuit boards and the card reader had failed.

I'd recommend this place. Sole proprietor, and an Englishman to boot; he's a Londoner, been here 30 years. The tiny shop is full of ancient and modern cameras. Behind the counter are piles and piles of cameras and bits of cameras.

Despite being an old-school camera guy, he's also au fait with digital technology, and has a bunch of old digitals for sale, immaculately CLA'd and in nice shape indeed. When I was there the first time, he was espousing the quality of a Sony F717, and the second time, he was taking in a flash to repair from a wedding photographer. Seems to know his stuff, and there are a bunch of online reviews that like him as well.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Finding the umask of a running process in Solaris…

…is inordinately difficult. This seemingly basic piece of information is not available through /proc, nor through dtrace, nor any other supported way. It can only be retrieved by crawling through the kernel's data structures, either with mdb(1) or through using libkvm, an even uglier way to do it.

Chad Mynhier provides the way to do it on his blog, as well as pointing to a thread on comp.unix.solaris about the same topic, showing how to do it in C using libkvm.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My camera is broken

My Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D "felt weird" yesterday when I inserted a CompactFlash card. It then didn't recognize the card, offering to format it, but the format failed. Same with other cards I inserted.

It's out of warranty, and I suspect a fix is going to be over $200. Is it worth it, when it's probably only worth $350 or so? I'm not sure. But a new camera is $500. Ugh.

Update: it's now at a local independent camera shop being looked at. Hopefully it'll prove to be something simple.

Update 2: Fixed at Camera Tech of Anaheim for $95. Recommended to anyone.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Today's boneheaded Solaris admin move

I converted the /var filesystem of a host I was installing to be a DiskSuite mirror, but forgot that I shouldn't attach the other side of the mirror until the filesystem was mounted through the metadevice.

Further compounding the problem, I didn't restart the system until after the mirror had resynced and I'd done a bunch of other work. After the reboot, a flood of errors from fsck; unsurprisingly, since everything I'd done to the system since I added the mirror had only been written to one half, but DiskSuite (Solaris Volume Manager, I guess, to give it its modern term) thought both mirrors were good, and was randomly reading from the good side or the bad side …

What makes it even more stupid is that I know better.

Given that I'd just installed the system, it was quicker to just re-jumpstart …

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Changing the world via Wikipedia?

Too many people come to Wikipedia in order to change the world, to set things right, to tell The Truth about something. I think it's one of the root causes of dissatisfaction among new editors, and one of the things that sets some people on a course to consider themselves an enemy of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia's policy of Neutral Point Of View (NPOV) is an explicit statement that Wikipedia is not out to change the world's opinions. Some have even stated that it's Wikipedia's true innovation, differentiating it from other encyclopedias and reference works. Wikipedia does not attempt to judge the truth of anything; instead, Wikipedia reports accurately on what the state of current belief is.

If there is disagreement, Wikipedia gives space to all sides in proportion to the prevalence of each. (This latter is the prescription against "Undue weight", and is what differentiates Wikipedia's NPOV from journalistic even-handed neutrality. Wikipedia does not have to give equal time to members of the Flat Earth Society against scientific consensus of Earth's rough sphericity.)

Wikipedia doesn't care if you think you know the Truth or even if you can prove it—unless that proof comes in the form of solid citations to respectable sources. This, I find, bothers people who are sure they know the Truth about a subject—any subject.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Macbook Pro ...

My 2-year-old 17" MacBook Pro was getting a little old and tired and flaky, especially recently — the dark spot on the screen it had had since new, and the dark screen pretty much the same, and the problems waking and sleeping had been there from the beginning, but the instability, the crashes and hangs — those were new. As were the occasional USB problems in the right-hand port and the issues recognizing the external screen when connected.

It's been a great computer, overall — one of the best systems I've ever used — but it was from the third week of production of the MBP 17" and had the issues expected on an early production model. Time for a new one.

Got it on Thursday and transferred my stuff. I do have to say that using Time Machine as the transfer medium works really well. The only problem is once you're done and try to do a Time Machine backup; you can't, because there's no space left. Time Machine will not recognize the old system's backups as being in the same set; it must embed the serial number or MAC in the backup set. I basically had to prune my backups down manually to give some space for the new system to back up.

It is way faster — faster than the 2.1 GHz to 2.6 GHz processor speed bump would suggest. For one thing, I think the improvement from Core Duo to Core 2 Duo is actually fairly substantial. Moreover, I think the memory boost (2 GB to 4 GB) makes a big difference, and the video card is quite substantially faster, with twice the VRAM. I suspect having more space free on disk makes a difference to filesystem performance too; this also got a doubling, from 100 GB to 200 GB.

Aperture, in particular, is substantially faster. I've had the system less than a week and I couldn't go back.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Governor Ames


The Governor Ames was a five-masted schooner launched on December 1, 1888 by the Leavitt Storer shipyard of Waldoboro, Maine, United States; named after Adelbert Ames (former Governor of Mississippi), the vessel was the first five-masted schooner and was the world's largest cargo vessel in the late 19th century.

I've been improving its Wikipedia article. There are two nice pictures of the vessel available from the Library of Congress archives, which I've added to the article; I'm also grateful for the New York Times' opening of its archives, which has provided quite a few fine sources.

It's rather disturbing to the modern mind to realize just how much loss of life was involved in the coastal shipping trade back then. For example, all eleven six-masted schooners that were built were lost at sea, and so was the Governor Ames, off Cape Hatteras on the North Carolina coast in 1909, with the loss of fourteen lives and only one survivor.

It's also made me a lot more aware of the economics of shipping and what truly killed off the sailing ship. It wasn't speed; sailing ships were generally faster. The increasing cost of skilled labor was a big part of it. The schooner lasted much longer than other types of sailing vessel because it required only a small crew. Interestingly, such large and economical sailing vessels could only be built because of the steam engine; steam-powered winches were used to hoist the sails, haul the anchor chains, and operate pumps to keep their leaky hulls afloat. With steam winches, a small crew could handle a huge sailing vessel.

These huge sailing vessels were bulk carriers; most were built for the coal trade, taking huge cargoes of coal from the Southern ports to the industrial North-Eastern United States. The Governor Ames could carry 3,000 tons of coal in its giant holds. Similar vessels were built for the timber trade, and in fact the Governor Ames spent about five years hauling timber, including passing Cape Horn twice and visiting Australia and Argentina before returning to the coal trade for which it was built.

What finally killed these ships off was their greater risk of sinking compared to a steamer, their unpredictability since they were dependent on the winds, and the difficulty of building a sailing ship as large as the bigger steamers. Furthermore, good crewmembers saw the future coming and wanted steamer experience, not sail.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Little vertical-boilered locomotive

Delightful little vertical-boilered locomotive. Built by SLM in Winterthur, Switzerland, this is for 50cm to 75cm gauges - approx 20" to 2'6". It's about two meters long and just a little more than that high.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Three-truck Shay

Drawing of a three-truck Shay from the 1906 Locomotive Dictionary.

Narrow gauge contractor's locomotive

I like searching Google Books, as I've said before. This delightful engraving of a narrow gauge 0-4-0 saddle tank steam locomotive comes from Appleby's Illustrated Handbook of Machinery, an illustrated handbook from Jessop & Appleby Bros., published in 1903. It looks about 2 ft gauge to me.

It's interesting how it appears to have, instead of firebox "legs", merely a wider section of boiler barrel at the firebox end. Perhaps a marine type boiler like a Bagnall? Or perhaps it's just a mis-interpretation by the illustrator. Anyone know?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Odd Solaris DiskSuite problem, and solution

One of the systems I admin had a failed disk that was in use by two DiskSuite RAID 5 volumes (IMO insane, given the performance hit, but not my decision). After the disk was replaced, any attempt to run DiskSuite programs such as 'metastat' gave the following error:

Assertion failed: mdrcp->colnamep->start_blk <= rcp->un_orig_devstart, file ../common/meta_raid.c, line 151
metastat: Abort
Abort (core dumped)

No documentation about this error available anywhere, and a Google only found 3 or 4 hits, none of them helpful (one of them involved using LD_PRELOAD to replace the abort() function to allow 'metaclear' to delete the RAID, recreate it, and reload from backups.

I worked out why the error occurred, though. When the disk was replaced, it of course came with a label/TOC with partitions defined. If these partitions don't match the pre-existing RAID setup, the metadisk tools die a death.

All that was required was to build up the proper partitioning, and then everything worked fine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Learning things by writing for Wikipedia

I love learning new things, and always have; I find that writing for Wikipedia is a great way to do that. All the talk about experts often misses the point; articles for a general audience are often best written by a reasonably knowledgable non-expert referring to works by experts. To the expert, it's all obvious, and the true insights are often not already published. Since we want everything to be referenced on Wikipedia and hopefully readable by an intelligent individual not very knowledgable on the subject matter but willing to do a little background reading.

So this week, I've started a few articles, one of which is [[du Bousquet locomotive]], about a rather obscure French design of articulated steam locomotive. I'd vaguely heard of them before, had seen a picture or two and thought them odd-looking, and paid them no further thought.

Then I got to searching Google Books for out-of-copyright stuff about steam locomotives (a favorite pastime; it's amazing how much stuff is out there now, scanned in from university libraries) and came across a photo in an old issue of Cassier's Magazine - an around the turn of the century illustrated magazine on engineering, mostly transportation and electrical engineering. Wikipedia needs an article on it, but that'll keep till later.

This piqued my interest and got me to researching. I found some stuff on the web, a little in recent books, and some more in Google Books, and started an article. Turns out that three different French railway systems had them, one system being almost undocumented on Wikipedia (the Grand Ceinture of Paris; hey, another article to research and write!) as well as two foreign railways; one in Andalusia in Spain, and another in China. Neither of which railway system appears to have a Wikipedia article.

Four new article ideas, not including the one I've just worked on; five, in fact, given that the designer, Gaston du Bousquet, also lacked an article. I knocked up a quick stub based on the French Wikipedia's article on him, and intend to expand it. He died in 1910, so I expect there'll be some obituaries out there in out-of-copyright land that I can easily find.

Researching any topic like this gives the lie to the idea some people have that with two million or so articles, surely everything is documented but 'cruft'? Unless one arrogantly thinks that if a young computer nerd doesn't know of it, it doesn't matter, of course. Obscure history and historical technology doesn't appear to be regularly a deletionist target, fortunately.

Instead, researching one topic finds half-a-dozen undocumented new topics, and each of those will find more, a whole growing tree of knowledge to nurture.

That's exactly why I do it.

Starting a new blog ...

I know - I've done it before. This is far from my only blog, but the others were rather subject-specific; one on photography, one on railways, etc etc. I found myself wanting to write things but finding that it really didn't fit the format of my existing blogs. So, with no apologies, something a bit more generalist.

One subject that will come up is Wikipedia, a project I'm highly involved in.