Bog Roll ::

It's Not Magic, It's Work!

29 May 2005

The No-Help Desk

If you don't run Windows, or if you do but you don't run the latest version it's often hard to get support for hardware or web-services from big companies. For example a colleague had a problem sending email via UK ISP NTL. They refused to look into the problem because the computer in question was not running Windows.

To get anywhere he had to pretend to be running Windows, and even then they were quite unhelpful. In the end, their solution to his problem was to use web-mail rather than email, and it couldn't be a real problem as no one else had complained...

While this is often a problem when running Linux, and dealing with Windows obsessed suppliers*, it also applies to the wider world. All too often the people on the other end of the phone are without a clue, and simply instructed to follow a script, if you don't follow their script too, then you tend to get no where.

* Defeating the no-help desk.


28 May 2005

Maypole

Some time ago a colleague at work needed an "Access" like application to run over the company intranet. Though IT are very pro Microsoft and anti FOSS & Linux, they refused to using a Windows server running Microsoft IIS and ASP, instructing him to use one of my Linux Apache boxes.

After some discussion we discovered that he only really needed a CRUD tool, not a full-blown web database tool. After a quite hunt round and some suggestions from Perlmonks I tried out Maypole. It seemed to do exactly what we wanted, and it was free, open source and it would run on my servers without a problem.

I've not really allocated enough time to the project, just some fiddling now and then. Nothing seemed ever to work, all sorts of things did weird things, I got Perl to segfault, and it was not going well, my poor colleague got very frustrated, but was powerless to help - which made him more frustrated. The problem really is that the application was a good idea, got some nice documentation, then it was redesigned, and now a lot of the documentation available is wrong. It's actually better now it's been redesigned, and the bundled documentation is fine, it's just confusing if you are not careful.

This week I actually allocated two days to the project, and got it all working for my colleague, and though he was busy making a training video, when he gets back to the project, I hope he will be a lot calmer.


Windows Is So Random

Microsoft's Windows operating system is so random. They started with some good ideas and some bad ideas. Over the years, rather than fix the bad design decisions, they have just hacked at them, building layer upon layer of patches. The result is that the current version, Windows XP is fundamentally broken. XP is so dangerously insecure that you need to obtain third party software for firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware, just to make it safe.

On top of that you have a GUI design with sound guidelines, that is mostly ignored by Microsoft, such that third party software looks more like standard software than Microsoft's own.

It's painfully complex to administer, the GUI actually makes it harder to do most things, at least on a Mac or Linux box GUIs usually make tasks easier. When you want to do things repeatedly, there usually isn't a CLI option, which means a task that can be scripted once on a Linux box and then applied hundreds of times, has to be done one machine at a time by GUI on Windows.

The Windows desktop user experienc is getting better though, and may be in a few years time Windows Longhorn may be as good as Linux is now*...

* Windows rapidly approaching desktop usability


27 May 2005

VNC To The Rescue (Again)

My father now has a domestic ADSL Internet connection at home. Some fiddling with SSH and route and he was reconfigured from dial-up to Ethernet & ADSL.

Using some neat tips from www.debian-administration.org, I used VNC over SSH to tweak his desktop, and show him some stuff. I use VNC at work too, it's cheaper than other products and cross platform.

VNC is so cool, it's a nice protocol, and what's really clever is that the different versions, on different platforms seem to cooperate quite well without any bad behaviour. It just works...


25 May 2005

Linux Firewall

The Linux kernel versions 2.4.x and 2.6.x come with a really neat firewall technology called netfilter/iptables. It's based on an earlier technology that is it's self based on technology borrowed from the BSD family.

When you first use iptables, it's all a bit odd, but once you get over the basics, it's actually a dead easy tool to use. The netfilter is loaded into the kernel, and iptables is the tool to load and unload rules into netfilter.

After setting up the rules on my own box, I spotted an article discussing various tools that help automate the creation and maintenance of iptables rules. There are actually quite a few projects, some come with GUIs, some without.

I have no idea how good or bad any of these are, as I did my own firewall and don't want to mess with it now, but it's good to see that there are options out there.


24 May 2005

OPALS Go Live

I've started the media-blitz for the creation of "OPALS", Overton's own Linux club. Well I've emailed the local newsletter editor to place an announcement, and I've launched the website. Next I have to finish of some flyers and post them in various shops around the village, and we shall see what happens.


21 May 2005

OPALS

"Overton Parish Linux Society"

I've started to concoct some web pages, and draft a letter to put in the local "News and Views" newsletter. To my surprise there may even be more than one person interested, so I may be able to get enough people interested to actually form a society!


20 May 2005

Netscape 8

AOL/Netscape released their latest version of the Netscape browser. A long time ago I use to use Netscape, but since Mozilla and Firefox arrived, I've not used Netscape. This latest version looks most strange, was launched with known critical security defects (since patched), and only runs on Windows - so it's no use to me.


18 May 2005

Linux Literacy

Today I spotted this nice article by "Debian Jones". It argues that to use Linux, you really do need some education, but you don't need to be a master to use a Linux box properly.

The article also supports my feelings that most Windows users have no idea what they are doing, which may explain why 80-90% of Windows PCs are infected at anyone time. Jones also supports my view that, to say that migrating to Linux from Windows is expensive and hard, is just plain FUD, the costs would be the same or lower if anyone was actually given useful training.


16 May 2005

Ubuntu on HP

Apparently you can now buy a HP notebook computer in Europe, running FreeDOS and HP will send you a "free" ubuntu installer CD. The special installer CD has all the drivers so that all the hardware works properly, and there are no odd bits that don't work. Though this has been in the media for a while now, there is no mention of it on either ubuntu or HP web sites, and I'm sure if I phone HP, the sales droid will have no idea what I'm talking about.


15 May 2005

Perl SAP Article

I've started to write my SAP/Perl article up for The Perl Review but I've not got very far. I'll have to put some more effort in and get it done soon, before I forget what we did!


Train Price Madness

I need to visit my father to set him up with ADSL. It's typically a seven hour car drive because of the utterly awful traffic around Birmingham and Manchester, and as we don't run a car it's a moot point anyway.

The natural choice is the train, I can get a train from Basingstoke to Manchester, it's hardly any distance, but it costs a fortune and takes forever. Plan "B" is to take the faster east coast line to Leeds, visit a friend there, then take a local service to my dad, but that costs a fortune too.

Plan "C" is fly from Southampton to Manchester, it's cheaper and faster than either plan "A" or "B". It's utterly insane that it's cheaper to fly a few hundred kilometres, than it is to use the train.

Plan "D" is to post my dad a fully configured ADSL box, and then configure the machine remotely. It's the cheapest option, and certainally the quickest...


12 May 2005

Debian Ecosystem

Today I spotted an interesting article, Debian Is Different. The author suggests that because Debian's build and assembly process is open and transparent it has become the most popular distribution to use as a base for creating another distribution on top of. Interestingly Debian has become the base of some very popular commercial and non-commercial distributions.

Some argue that the attention the children are getting hurting the parent, however at the moment I think everyone is helping each other, and the greater good of "Debian GNU/Linuxes" is benefitting.

Some of the most popular Linux distros at the moment are Debian based, as are many of the most popular newbie friendly commercial distros. Here are but a few of the many distros based on Debian:


09 May 2005

OPAL Club

I've decided to try and create a Linux club in the village, as part of Hants-LUG. Until I can come up with a better name it's going to be: Overton Parish Armature Linux (OPAL) Club or Society.


08 May 2005

04:00 AM

This morning I got up at 4am to go on a "dawn chorus" walk with the OBS. It was no fun getting up that early in the morning, but it was well worth the effort. It's now just past 8pm, and my body is starting to complain...


07 May 2005

Hants LUG

Today was a Hants-LUG bring a box meeting in Basingstoke. After failing to get to any meeting for the past year, I actually went along to this one. I didn't have a box to take with me, but I was at least to help others, so I feel that I have contributed something to the meeting.


05 May 2005

Anti-Virus

On my Windows PC at work, the process that uses the most memory, the most threads, and has use the most CPU time is the anti-virus program. It's nice that Linux/Unix doesn't need anti-virus - I wouldn't want to waste my home systems resources like that.


04 May 2005

Debian Administration

Today I found this great Debian site Debian Administration. There is a nice article Keeping SSH access secure that is very pertinent, given the various automated SSH attacks going round at the moment.


03 May 2005

Wallpaper Images

Now and then I get the urge to put a pretty picture up as my desktop wallpaper. I've found the images of Yann Arthus Bertrand's Earth From Above to be good in the past. Today someone suggested an alternative source of images, looking outwards rather than in: The Hubble Site, some fantastic images from the Hubble Space Telescope.


02 May 2005

Project DAD

I've had a lot of feedback from my DAD article, all helpful and useful. I will write a follow up article sometime.

I've also been contacted by someone, which has spurned me on to actually think about taking my one off idea and turning it into a real project. I've had a very active discussion with my LUG, and I've even written a draft manifesto here.