Archive for September, 2007

Digital Archiving

September 26th, 2007

It’s more or less been an accident that I’ve come across the massive importance of digital archiving.  Given the masses amount of quality productions that have been lost in the BBC archive over the years (analog version), it’d be sensible to take a look at the structure and policies of the digital archive before it’s too late to change files from a certain format.

The reason that this discipline has been brought to my attention is my memership of the OpenDocumentFellowship.  Despite not being an active member, I strive to keep up to date with issues on the mailing list, and my two years’ worth of archived subscription is a great resource to see the development of the OpenDocument format over the period.

More recently, my Granddad (this is getting tenuous) was elected to a board at the World Ship Society on digitizing their archive.  The society own a number of unique and sentimental documents.  Some of them are valuable, and some of them are sentimental, but the policy of the society is to digitise all their data.  This is where, in my humble opinion, things start to get confusing.

As a true Anorak in his field, my Granddad has created,(over a period of nearly sixty years), the largest archive of Flags and Funnels.  About 15 years ago, I helped my Dad set him up with a computer, running Lotus Smartsuite and Windows 3.1, to catalog his data in a Lotus Approach Database.  Dad created a fairly nice looking GUI for it, so that my Granddad was able to understand it, and since then he’s been able to enter about 6,000 entries a year.  He’s still got the complete collection on recipe cards, but the digital library is starting to catch up.

Back in 1999, we decided that the  486 he was using wasn’t really up to the task, so decided to upgrade him to Windows 98.  There were no massive problems, I remember spending about 4 hours installing Lotsuite from about 35 2.5″ floppies.  It was a boring task, but as always, I was just happy to help.

That upgrade went fine, he’d no masses of data, and what he had was backed up to ZIP drive.  Digital Archive 1 – badluck – 0.

Now, the bigger problem came last year.  He decided he’d like a laptop, and his desktop PC had lasted him well enough, but searching through his database really slowed down the computer.  Since there was so much power packed into laptops, I didn’t think it’d be a bad idea, so for Christmas ’06, we got him a laptop.

Lotus Smartsuite, by now, the product his database was tied to had died a death since it’s fairly widespread usage in the early to mid 90s.  I managed to get a copy off Lotus which was downloaded at home and installed and no problems.  I then installed it on the laptop, restored the database from a backup and loaded it up on screen.  It looked great, all the items came up right, and the flags and the funnels had been pulled correctly from their freelance graphics file.

“Hang on” – says Granddad.

“What’s up?” – says I.

“The colours, Andy.  They’re wrong” – says he.

“How do you mean Granddad?” says I.

Well, as it turns out, his windows 3.1 had only supported 256 colours.  Windows 98 compatibility was similar, but when we upgraded to XP, it decided to render the colours differently.  They were all completely wrong.

Now, for information’s sake, there is a feature in XP called “compatibility mode” which means you can run older programs on XP.  Using compatibility mode, I was able to run Lotsuite in 256 colours – and this fixed the problem.

However, I now don’t sleep at night.

What would have happened if my Granddad had been unable to notice the difference in colour?  Would “Ackers & Grundy” have eternally been granted the wrong colour on their funnel?  (I agree with you all when you say, does it really matter in the grand scale of things?).  Well yes, and no.

For the “maritime vexiologists” (as my delightful Granddad’s hobby is academically know) it is a massive issue – and had he got the colours wrong it would possibly invalidate the authenticity of his entire collection – which would be a horrible way to mark 60 years work.  For the rest of us non-maritime types, it marks a horrible nightmare that we’ve yet to really face.  Even if we are careful at keeping our documents backed up and safe, we are not free from the publishers changing the software that reads them.  To me, there is only one solution.

Open Standards

Whilst there are stories in this blog and anecdotes that other people can relate to, the best way of ensuring your data lives long is to separate it from a single vendor.  If you are able to choose an openly documented standard and an open source application with which to read this standard, not only are you able to save the data that you have spent time creating, but you are also entitled (in most cases, please check the specific license) to also archive the software you created you data with.

Looking back, there is only one other thing that i would have changed in the original design of the database.  At the time, the Lotus Smartsuite database was based upon an open file format of its time.  It was DBF (Database Format).  I’m not sure how much of this format has lasted and been included/recognised by ODB (OpenDataBase) but it had it’s place at the time, and the thing that killed it was the lack of MS compatibility.  Let’s hope that MS do not make the same mistake this time and fail to achknowledge ODF (when they’re finally forced to).

The design change (sorry, I went off on a tangent there) would be to store the 6 digit hash of the colours used, based upon the HTML hex code.  Whilst text can be used to preserve data, it should be – as text can be stored and read easiest by a computer, and probably always will be.  Sure, if I were backing up a first-print of a bible, I’d scan it in too – but where possible, store the text.

I’m currently working on opening up my Granddad’s database so that it’s in a Web browsable format for the benefit of the World Ship Society Membership.  I have been able to open the dbf file with OpenOffice Base, and export it into a mysql database, now I need to work on making sure the pictures render in the correct format (and work out how to pull them into the database).  If anyone is interested (or has experience) in exporting Lotus Approach databases into MYSQL (and I’m hoping to write a php interface once all the data is safe), please leave a comment below.  I’d be happy to hear from you.

How to use a French Toll System (Peage)

September 24th, 2007

I uploaded these two videos on the way back home from our skiing trip last year. I think they provide valuable information for anyone wanting to travel through France on the french toll road. If you, or a friend, haven’t used one before, I recommend you view these two short tutorials.

Part 1



Part 2




If you’re reading this through a planet (or facebook), please click directly through to the site to view the videos… otherwise this makes a very boring, and pointless post.

Request for help with sis190 driver.

September 21st, 2007

Well this is fun. 4 hour battling with Centos 5 to get a driver re-installed that’s already meant to be working.

I’m not going to post all the details here, as it’s really been a very long day and needless to say it’s just not working so I can’t be bothered.

However, if any of you kind souls have got the sis190 driver working with your centos5 release. I’d be _very_ happy to head from you. Please leave me howtos/links in the comments if you think they can be of use.

I’ve never had this much of a problem before with linux (evidently the driver works on on ubuntu and gentoo).. but it’s Centos that I have to install..

please help :(

From Dead Parrott to Holy Grail…

September 20th, 2007

Well tonight was another first for me. I decided to bite the bullet and get really stuck into a project that I’ve been trying to do for ages – Learning to Program.

The only programming experience I have thus far was 35 hours sat at a computer in my final year of Uni to create an online Cognitive Psychology Experiment. I’ve not touched it since then – and the code is now up on launchpad (search andylockran) or you can bzr it directly from http://dev.zrmt.com/psych.

The thingy I’ve created tonight is a simple Decorator’s Calculator in Python. I have a ‘dictionary’ of paints (with their cost per metre squared, consistency and number of coats required). I then simply ask for the number of rooms, and their dimensions.. and then calculate how much it will cost. It’s not exactly rocket science.

However, I’ve probably gone about it in a very roundabout way, so the only way for me to improve is to get down what I think, and then see that it’s wrong. I’ve never done this before so don’t expect it to be right first time.. but this is starting to work for me at least. Hopefully some nice people will take a look at the code and tell me I need to start again. I hope so. Looking at Zeth’s zetact.py – there are lots of things I obviously don’t know as his code looks so much cleaner than mine – but I’m sure that’ll come with time.

It’s amazing how much my limited experience with php and C has actually helped.. I sat down to learn python and actually knew some things already. There was also fantastic help from gord and Daviey on #ubuntu-uk and the guys at #python. I hope it won’t be too long before I too can help guide lost n00bs.

I’m also really impressed with bzr.. though I don’t know why. I haven’t used it really at all for what it’s meant to.. I just versioned by programming as I progressed this evening. It could be quite fun to look back if the current code develops into something a bit nicer. I wouldn’t mind some suggestions for a web-interface.. or maybe a suggestion that I should just stick with launchpad and my commandline & nano (I like the simplicity & do have syntax highlighting implemented).

Anyway.. it’s not a fantastically exciting post.. but check me out on launchpad.net to see what other projects I am hosting (some stuff is abandoned).

Hopefully I can get to a standard whereby I too can joining the quest for the grail.. if not then I’ll just have to start revising the airspeed velocity of the world’s different species of swallow.

YouTube – Student Tasered At Kerry Speech: Longer Version

September 19th, 2007

YouTube – Student Tasered At Kerry Speech: Longer Version

I read this one on “el reg” today. It upset me a bit so I thought I’d share the link.

Please be sensible about viewing. You don’t see much taser, but what you do see if something more fundamentally horrific. The apathy of the powerful to right an obvious wrong.

My FIC neo1973 is now working…

September 18th, 2007

Well what a surprising day.  It’s been a little bit of a shocker to be honest – but only goes to show the ‘power of fate’ TM.

Last week I conceded that I was too busy to continue flashing and reflashing my neo1973 phone and that I would be lending it out to one of my acquaintances in the SBLUG.  Well, unfortunately due to me moving across to a new mail server and losing an email, I was unable to drop the phone over to the winning bidder before I departed to live in Manchester at the weekend.  However, I’d boxed up the neo and brought it up to Manchester with me, ready to post down once my email was returned.

Now, today there was a seemingly unprecedented press release from Trolltech.  They’ve decided that they are going to GPL their Qtopia mobile software stack and port it to the FIC neo1973.  It was only recently that trolltech employees were bad-mouthing the openmoko project, so this turn around in fortune was quite surprising, and puts increased focus on the development of 100% libre mobile telephony.

Qtopia (as you may have guesssed) uses the qt graphical library, whilst openmoko (less obvious) used GTK+.  This announcement therefore allows fast development of gsm-utils for openmoko (as they can now access and reuse trolltech’s source) and provides neo1973 developers with both popular sets of GUI libraries.  It’s a win-win situation.

I think the most startling development is the following though -

I know that Trolltech have been in the business for a fair bit longer than openmoko – but where else (other than FLOSS) could you find a software company that can migrate/develop the software for another companies hardware before the company that created the hardware can do it themselves.

I’m now expecting even greater things with the combined efforts of both projects.  I expect them to be working closely together over the next few months, with this announcement also bolstering the prospect of a larger production run.  Qtopia currently runs some apps on motorola handsets – so will be able to provide much needed end-user-non-geek feedback to the project.

It also means I now have a phonecall-sms-gprs enabled neo1973.  Woo!

http://linuxtracker.org/download.php?id=4613&name=qt_on_neo1973_videos.torrent (videos)

Howto: LDAP Replication

September 18th, 2007

It’s about time that I posted something that’s a little more technically minded than previous posts.

I have to replicated an LDAP database in a backup cluster so that should the main cluster go down, the secondary servers can be brought online. Here are the steps I’ve taken to allow a correctly configured LDAP server (LDAP1) to be replicated on a second machine (LDAP2).

Here’s a little GLOSSARY of terms:

SLAPD – the LDAP SERVER (runs on both machines as this is what we’re trying to replicate)

SLURPD – the daemon that handles replication (runs on the master server).

Master (LDAP1 ) Setup

You should have a working LDAP server in place on this machine – if not then these steps aren’t going to work.

1. You need to specify the replicas in your /etc/openldap/slapd.conf file. binddn= on the slapd server should match the updatedn= parameter on the slurpd server, with write access to the slave database. This should not be the same dn as the master LDAP rootdn (or the slave one).

2. Add a replogfile= directive, from which slurpd will read the changes to slapd.

Example:

replica uri=ldap://slave.foo.bar:389
binddn=”cn=Replicator,dc=foo,dc=bar”
bindmethod=simple
credentials=secret

If you want to use port 636 instead of 389 – simple substitute one for the other. If you are using SSL – set ldap:// to ldaps:// and specify port 636 too. Also note that ‘uri=’ is used instead of the deprecated ‘host=’ option. If you stick with that you get lots of TLS errors.

Slave (LDAP2) Setup

Currently, you’re slave server should have no ldap-server installed on it (you may have some client LDAP scripts, but these shouldn’t interfere with the new setup).

The server needs to be setup identically to the master server, (copy over /etc/ldap.conf, /etc/openldap/ldap.conf and /etc/openldap/slapd.conf,) but with the following changes:

1. Do not create a replica directive*.

2. Do not include the replogfile.

Example:

updatedn        “cn=Replicator,dc=foo,dc=bar”
updateref       ldaps://master.foo.bar:636
3. The updatedn= parameter should match the binddn= parameter of the replica in slapd.conf

4. The updateref= parameter can be used to define the URL the slave should return if an update request is received.

* It is possible to have a slurpd slave pulling information off another slurpd slave, but in most cases it is inappropriate.

5. Chance all references to the original server (ldap.foo.bar) so the new server (slave.foo.bar).

6. For the purpose of ACLS, add: access to *
by dn.exact=”cn=Replicator,dc=foo,dc=bar” =xw
by * none break
to the start of your list of ACLs.

SSL/TLS

If you’re using TLS/SSL – make sure your certificates have the commonName attribute set to the FQDN of the machine they’re on (eg. slave.foo.bar).

Going Live

This is always my favourite bit. It sometimes goes fantastically – but most of the time I fall back on my face. I’m sure this is great reading if you’re following my instructions, but I thought I’d stick it in as some sort of disclaimer.

To make sure that the databases are identical, you must shutdown the master server on LDAP1. I advise against doing this during the normal working day if lots of people use the server. People could get mad. If you need the server to be live whilst you are maintaining it (I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS) then you can restart the LDAP server in read-only mode (which will not allow people to modify it). However, in my experience, saving the work for when no one is about is better.

If you’re running LDAP server on different architectures, it’s better to use slapcat to output an *.ldif file to import into the slave DB (as copying databases across architectures will increase chances of issues).

I hope this works for you – it’s fairly simple and much is borrowed from other guides – but it is a little clearer to me now how to do it. If you know better ways, please notify me using the comments and I’ll update the main article.

(I do not recommend sticking with the credentials on this page).

Troubleshooting

err=49 = wrong credentials (you have got your username/password wrong).

A new beginning

September 17th, 2007

Well I’ve flown the nest. It’s been a fairly good weekend – celebrated my final weekend in Birmingham by going round to both my cousins’ houses for their respective 18th and 23rd Birthdays.  They were both fantastic, and it was great to be able to say bye to everyone before I left.

The flat in Manchester is quite nice.  I’ve got all my stuff setup now and it all fits rather nicely.  The desk I brought from home fits into the alcove with 2-3cm spare (perfect for sending wires down the side).  It’s got a lovely wooden floor – though I think I may have been the first occupant to give it a clean.  The guy I’m moving in with is currently touring Europe – and I think it’s fair to say his last flatmate wasn’t that tidy.  I hope I’ll be an improvement.

I’ve also fixed the door handle on the lounge door – so now if you go into the lounge and shut the door behind you, you won’t end up having to jump out of the window to get out.  I waited in all day for the Oven Engineer to come out – but he didn’t – NOT GOOD!  At least I got some cleaning done.  I’m going to head out for my first shop in a few minutes – should be very exciting.  I’m going to goto the ASDA by Eastlands.  I’ve been there before and it’s good value for money.

I’m also alot closer to all of our clients – which means that I won’t have a four hour commute up and down the M6 – the only big journey that faces me is from Manchester to Nottingham – but luckily I can get the train :) as I’m only 5 minutes walk from Manchester Victoria, and ten from Piccadilly.

I’m going to organise a flat-warming/out-on-the-piss-in-Manchester night for a few people from Birmingham soon.  There’s plenty of room for you all to crash, so could be a good night.

As for friends up in Manchester – I know a few people.  Hopefully within the next few weeks I’ll renew even more acquaintances.  The best thing so far was having Mr Sandeep Jutla come over to help me unpack.  Great to see him :)

Will post some pictures of the flat – but unfortunately no Garden.. – so I’ll go for a window box soonish.

Open Letter to Entrepreneurs interested in “Private Moon Landing”

September 13th, 2007

BBC NEWS | Technology | Google backs private Moon landing

I know that this is far from my capability of completing, yet given that my blog sometimes appears quite high in the Google rankings I thought I’d send this post out for the as-yet-uninformed.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I take it you may be interested in taking part in the aforementioned project for landing a robot on the moon.  Embedded electronics, mechanical engineering and comms experts will probably all be required in order to fulfil the aim of your project.  Though I am none of these myself – I have a proposal for you.

Choose FLOSS to power your computing?

Whilst you may be thinking “Hey – this is a competition for $20 million, not a playground project” choosing FLOSS is going to bring you many benefits.

If you want eyes on the code to make sure that everything you are doing is checked and double-checked – FLOSS communities can help.

If you want eyes on the software to let you know of any bugs/mis-calcuations you can make – FLOSS communities can help.

If you want to have massive (geek) public support for your project then FLOSS users can help.

If you want your project to be the start of something long-term that people will be able to benefit from for long after you complete the project (and hopefully win the prize) FLOSS can help.

If you want some machine operators on the day the rocket goes live, FLOSS can help.

If you want the latest and greatest – it’s FLOSS.

I hope you understand what a big difference FLOSS can make to your project.  If you do choose to go to space, go to space with FLOSS.

Thankyou.

BoroMoko

September 13th, 2007

Well I’ve decided to start my own little side-project with the openmoko. I really haven’t the time to be playing with it at the moment (unfortunately) but also don’t want to see it go.

Therefore… some lucky people are borrowing it over the next few weeks. I’ll get them to write a summary of how they found their experience with the phone. (This is optional, in case you were worried about asking.)

I’m going to stick with people local to the SBLUG or FSFUK Manchester at the moment. If you want to ‘boromoko’ to test anything or just have a play – please email me or leave a comment on this post (simply let me know your interested) and I’ll try and divide the time fairly.

If anyone is reading this, as is based close to Manchester/Birmingham with a debug board for their moko – please get in touch so I can send the moko to you if one of my ‘boromokoers’ should brick the phone.

Hopefully more people will copy the name – I think it’s quite catchy.

If you want to look for someone with a phone – join #boromoko on irc.freenode.net