Upgraded the site to Wordpress 1.5.1, went nice and smoothly. The bears are coming tomorrow. It's a promise.

busy busy busy

Longer post still on its way, I promise! It's all go around here. Both of my jobs are crazy busy and still busy showing the parents Vancouver at its finest, so haven't had much time to spare. Of course, I picked up Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee for my PSP a few days ago and that hasn't exactly been helping either. Off to Future Shop tonight to buy some component cables for the PS2 (those jaggy edges are bugging me, and I don't have an s-video input spare...) and a copy of the new Wario Ware game for Sammy.

Technical note - I fed the box this site is hosted on an extra 512MB of RAM this week, so it's much zippier now, previously it was swapping like hell every time I left it idle for a few hours and came back. I need to upgrade to the new Wordpress release when I get a spare moment. I also need to get myself a proper dedicated server at some point, for extra speed and security and so I can go back to using this box as a bleeding-edge test machine, like my desktop usually is - right now I'm holding off recent Cooker updates as the new RPM revision seems to be dangerous to the point of completely-nuking-rpm-databases, and I don't want to knock web and mail serving offline for a day by doing that.

And finally, never give your laptop to your parents...I lent my father my perfectly functioning laptop to access the internet while he was here, and when I went to their hotel to pick them up last night I found he'd somehow managed to break it so much that it had an entirely spurious eth0 interface and something was being loaded during Xfce startup that caused the display to stop working. Still don't know exactly what he did to it, I've stuck a bandaid on it (forced the eth0 interface down and switched to GNOME) while they're still here and will fix it properly when they leave. Sigh...parents.


My parents are here now - longer post with pictures of bears and so forth to come. However, a quick one - occasionally something happens that really demonstrates the point of open source. The soundcard in my desktop PC is a Chaintech AV-710, which I bought because it has excellent stereo output if you use a certain connector (which is run through a different DAC). However, after I got it, I found out you couldn't currently use this alternative output in Linux due to some kind of bug in ALSA. I filed a bug report on ALSA's site and got a bit of feedback from a developer, but no fix. Now a bit later someone else (unrelated to the project) came across the same bug, but he has more technical expertise than me; he figured out what was going wrong, posted a patch to my bug report, I downloaded the patch, rebuilt my ALSA driver, poked a few modules and bam, nice high quality sound. Can't do that without the source code!


Last night's Naruto was one heck of a show...they've been dragging out the slow, character-driven episodes for a few weeks then this week went for an all-out action-based extravaganza instead. It was pretty much relentless, and it managed to get people going 'holy crap, that's cool'...which in the world of anime, where every little clone show since Dragonball has had over-the-top multiple episode battle sequences, is no small feat. Probably the best episode they've done so far.

My parents are arriving for a visit in a few hours. Spent most of last night preparing the house for inspection. Now am desperately trying to think of things they can do in Vancouver for two weeks...

A quick guide to urpmi --parallel

The Mandriva package manager, urpmi, is woefully underappreciated, I always feel. So here's a quick guide to one of its cooler features...

urpmi parallel mode does what it sounds like; you run an urpmi command and it happens on many machines in parallel. In more detail - the machine you run the command on tests its result on each machine in the group in turn, downloads all necessary packages for all machines in the group, distributes the appropriate packages to each machine, then calls urpmi on the machine to do the actual installation. It's brilliant for quickly installing software on all your machines, or even keeping them all up to date with a couple of commands, and it saves on bandwidth, as each necessary package is downloaded only once. The only drawback at the moment is that you cannot include the server machine in the group, which makes it a little less good for small home networks.

So how to use it? It's pretty simple, really. First, make sure you can ssh from the server to each client machine as root (it's OK if you have to enter a passphrase or password, but cooler and less hassle if you set up keys and use ssh-add so you don't have to). Now install urpmi-parallel-ssh on the server machine. Edit /etc/urpmi/parallel.cfg to look something like this:


the first parameter is the name of the group, make this whatever you like. Leave the second as ssh. The remaining parameters are the hostnames of the machines in the group; as many as you like (but not the server machine. You can try it, but urpmi will just fall over its own lock files).

Next step? There is no next step! Now you can use it. On the server machine, run:

urpmi --parallel local somepackage

As long as urpmi on the server has access to all packages required by all client machines from its urpmi media, everything should now work smoothly. (The easiest way to ensure this is to have all machines - server and client - use the same urpmi media).

The other neat trick you can do with this is keep a group of machines up-to-date. On my home network, which includes zen (the server), toy and htpc, I run this series of commands on zen to keep all the machines up to date with Cooker:

fanout "localhost toy htpc" "urpmi.update -a"

(fanout runs a single command on several machines at once; it's useful. Uses ssh.)

urpmi --auto-select --keep --noclean -v

(noclean keeps the packages on zen after they've been installed; this means when I do the parallel command at the next stage, it doesn't go out and download 'em all again.)

urpmi --parallel local --auto-select --keep -v

...and done. Once Rafael fixes urpmi so the server can be in the parallel group, it'll be even simpler.


Bought a new printer today - a Samsung ML-1740, (very) cheap laser printer. I was a bit stunned at the prices you can pay for a laser printer today...this thing cost CAN$130, which is crazy. Doesn't seem like so long ago a 'cheap' laser was £399. It seems to do exactly what it says on the tin - it's small, neat, quiet, pumps out perfectly good looking pages nice and quick, and works absolutely no fuss with Linux (just pick the ML-1710 driver). Can't go wrong with this thing if you want no-fuss black and white on a budget.


I saw The Decemberists at the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday night - excellent show. It's reassuring to know America is still capable of providing songwriters who can deploy words like 'rastabout' and 'purloined' with effect and accuracy. :) Most enjoyable moment was the epic 'The Mariner's Revenge Song', an eight minute story of one man's lifelong quest for revenge on the man who wrecked his mother's life, which reaches its most dramatic point with the hero chasing his quarry across the high seas before both their ships are swallowed by a giant whale (at which point the audience was encouraged to act as the unfortunate crews, something we did with great enthusiasm), followed by this verse:

Don't know how I survived The crew all were chewed alive I must have slipped between his teeth But oh, what providence What divine intelligence You should survive as well as me

It gives me great pleasure to see your face fill with fear So lean in close and I will whisper the last words you'll hear...

Which is followed by the grisly refrain of the song, detailing the hero's mother's anatomically precise description of the exact revenge she wished to be exacted, but in a touch of genius, at this climactic moment the refrain isn't actually sung. It's just played - in a quite upbeat style - on the accordion. The effect is much better that way. Brilliant song. :)

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together...

Ah, I love it when something just works. I bought a tiny little wireless keyboard and mouse for the HTPC today, plugged the receiver in, did the pairing up thing, started typing, and it worked right off. Range isn't brilliant - it's an RF thing, so just a couple of metres - but it'll do its job nicely. No more yanking the keyboard cable out every ten minutes when I'm trying to watch a movie...

1337 h4x0r

My non-Mandriva job was interesting yesterday; the company's DNS servers went down for a couple of hours, which brought everything to its knees while the IS group's minions ran around with paper lists of IP addresses for important services. However, the neat thing was that everything else still worked, and I was sitting next to a guy who has Google's IP address memorised. We quickly discovered that a) you can get just about everywhere on the internet via Google's cache - just type the URL into Google and tell it you want to visit its cached copy - and b) when you're one of about four people still actually using the internal network of an ISP, you get...really. really. really fast access. :)

Mandriva stuff is also busy. We (finally) got all the Club infrastructure working with the new name and the 2005 release, so it's clear for its last hurrah before we get the new Club structure in place, and believe me we can't wait for the day we can get rid of the old one. It does its job but it ain't pretty.

Also heard that Per Oyvind Karlsen has been hired to do backports for the Club, which is great news - Per Oyvind's been a fellow Cooker mailing list lurker for years and he's a great candidate, and more backports for the Club is going to make the members there very happy, I think.

I'm hoping to write up a couple of little Mandriva mini-HOWTOs soon, one for running a personal mail server setup and one for using urpmi's parallel mode (which entirely not enough people know about). Now if someone would invent the eighth day of the week, I'd have time to get it done!