Android: some awesome interspersed with gigantic piles of fail

So, I somehow forgot to mention that I got a new shiny: it's an AT&T Tilt 2. Odd choice since it's an American phone and there are several versions available in Canada, you may think, but there's a method to my madness: it has the exact frequencies required to work on 3G networks in both Canada and Europe. This is a fairly rare situation, and doesn't apply to any of the Touch Pro 2 variants you can actually buy from Canadian carriers. The only other decent phones I could find that do it are the Acer Liquid and the LG IQ. The LG runs Windows Mobile without HTC's Manila interface (ugh) and the Acer doesn't have a keyboard and is, well, an Acer phone? Come on. So the Tilt 2 it was.

It's fine. I have it running a third party ROM (EnergyROM) with Windows Mobile 6.5.5 and the latest version of Manila (HTC Sense 2.5). It does everything I need it to, pretty much, and Manila's a nice UI. But still, Windows Mobile ain't that cool these days, y'know.

So I'm tinkering with the Android port that's available for it. It's impressive stuff; most basic things work now - calls, SMS, 3G data, most bits of Android itself including the Marketplace. Sound outside of calls, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth aren't working and power management is dicey, so it's nowhere near done, but it's certainly tinker-with-able.

Most of my frustrations with it are nothing to do with the highly bleeding edge nature of the port, but with Android itself being bloody fucking stupid in places. No-one would take this shit from Microsoft, but since it's Google we're apparently supposed to not care and just feel the love.

Stupid stupid frustration #1: if you want to synchronize with a Google account, that Google account has to have Gmail enabled. Never mind that I have absolutely no use in the world for Gmail and just want to sync my contacts and calendar with an account that exists solely for that purpose. Nope, I need to have Gmail. I can't even set up a dummy Gmail as the primary account and then synchronize contacts and calendar from my real account as a second account; Android lets me add an account with no Gmail as a secondary account, but refuses to sync anything with it.

Google - why? Just why? Why would you consider this remotely not evil? I do not want Gmail. I do not need it. By doing this you are not convincing me to use Gmail, you are just hugely fucking pissing me off. There is no justification in the world for this. If you claim you need an email address for me for some bizarre reason, like to email me about the Marketplace or whatever - fine. Ask me for an email address and verify that it's mine. There is no reason in the world it needs to be a Gmail account. Just quit this stupidity, pronto.

Stupid stupid frustration #2: Google's email client is totally broken. It cannot parse perfectly standard IMAP folder hierarchies. As someone on the bug has pointed out, every other IMAP client in the known universe - including Microsoft's, for God's sake - manages this perfectly well. This has been broken since Android first showed up a year and a half ago and the bug has received not a single word of response from Google. All they've done is reclassify it as a feature request (duh, what?)

Even the IMAP prefix option seems broken for me. Whether I set it when creating an account or after having created one, whether I set it to INBOX or INBOX. (note the period), it just doesn't seem to work.

Grah. Google. Stop being a bunch of doofuses and fix this crap already. Much of Android is nice, but this sort of idiocy just leaves a really icky taste in my mouth. Someone, please, do me a Maemo port...

Running MythWeb on a separate machine from mythbackend

So, here's something about MythTV that people may actually find useful!

MythTV has, as I mentioned, a neat web frontend called MythWeb. Obviously since I have a webserver I wanted to run MythWeb on that; doesn't make any sense to have two of my local machines exposed to the internet. To my surprise, however, these seems an obscure configuration in the Myth world; I could find only two references to it, one from 2004 and one from 2005, both mentioning in passing that it was possible, but no details. So here's a quick highlight reel about how to do it.

First, stick MythWeb on your webserver. It is a very good idea at this point to secure access to it, especially (of course) if this is a public-facing server; there's some example directives in the default config file for an htdigest setup. There's nothing specific to MythWeb about restricting access, so just look it up in Apache docs if you aren't sure. I found I also had to adjust AllowOverride to None to enforce the access restrictions, since I have a .htaccess at a lower level which would otherwise have granted access to the MythWeb directory, so keep that in mind.

Now you're going to need to tweak MythWeb's config a bit. In its config file, look for the setenv db_server parameter and change it to the hostname or IP address for the server. Also make sure the password is correct, of course.

Finally, the trickiest bit: you need to adjust your MySQL database configuration to allow access from the webserver machine...without stopping access from the local machine. This is surprisingly non-trivial. MySQL has a very strict permissions model.

On the backend machine, edit the MySQL config file - probably /etc/my.cnf. Comment out the line 'skip-networking' and add a line:


unfortunately it doesn't seem possible to bind to two specific IP addresses with mysql; you can only do one specific address, or a wildcard. If your machine only has the loopback interface and a single network interface, this line will be fine, as it will bind to just those two, which is what you need. If it has more than that and you only want to allow access on the loopback interface and one of the real interfaces and you can't do it with a more restricted wildcard, you'll have to use firewalling to block off the ones you don't want to have access. Which sucks. If anyone knows different, let me know, I'm no MySQL expert.

The trickiest bit is the MySQL privileges. It's not actually that hard, but there are guides on the Google which hate you and want to eat your configuration. Do not follow things like this, which you can find all over the Google results, which tell you to use things like 'update user set Host blahblah...' commands. These will sort of work to allow remote access, but they will also stop access from localhost, which is a pain, and I'm damned if I can figure out how to reverse them properly. Nightmare. No. What you want to do is this:

grant all privileges on mythconverg. to 'mythtv'@'' IDENTIFIED by 'your_password_here'; grant all privileges on mythconverg. to 'mythtv'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED by 'your_password_here';

where is the IP of your webserver and your_password_here is, obviously, the password you want to use. Even if you've already created the user, these will do the right thing. You'll be able to access the database from the webserver and the backend machine, but nowhere else, with the appropriate password - and that's what we want. Yay. Obviously, if the backend machine has a firewall, you'll need to adjust it as appropriate. Now you should be able to visit , enter the username and password if you set up restricted access, and access a working mythweb interface. Success!

For me, this is enough to make it all work. If you stumble across this page via Google, do let me know if it helps or if I messed it up somewhere.

Neat little logic 'hack': remote control power commands. Also, monitoring and auto-restarting an unreliable daemon

This is the kind of thing I just love. Now I have my PVR setup, it's possible for the power state of the cable box to get kind of 'out of sync', with the combination of two different 'setups' - direct TV, and PVR - that use it, and my Harmony remote control for controlling both through 'activities'. The box could wind up off when the Harmony thinks it's on, or vice versa.

Frustratingly, just like many many devices these days, my box (a Motorola 6200, remember) doesn't have separate Power On and Power Off functions (either in hardware or IR codes). It just has a power toggle button, which turns it on if it's off, and off if it's on. This becomes a bit tricky; I want to make sure it's always on and off at the right times, particularly when you just want to sit down and press one button and use it, and when MythTV wants to record stuff.

The MythTV side of the equation turned out to be simple: there's a neat channel changer script for MythTV called 'mythchanger' which supports switching the box on before changing channels - it doesn't toggle the power, it is able to detect whether it's on or off, so it turns it on if it's off and leaves it on if it's on. The Firewire interface must support that. Neat. That covers MythTV, as MythTV always runs the 'channel changer' script before watching or recording TV. (This one also doesn't need you to specify the Firewire node of the box - it goes off the box's UUID, or just picks the first box it finds. So it works without reconfiguration when my box decides to change nodes. Yay!)

That left the Harmony side of the equation. If you just use the wizard setup, it depends on the remote tracking whether the box is on or off, which isn't going to be reliable now MythTV can potentially change it. The Harmony setup is capable of setting up discrete Power On and Power Off commands and then using them appropriately, but my box doesn't have any! What now?

I luckily found a somewhat obscure forum thread where one Hailey Williamson (no relation) is credited with a great little logic hack. She noticed that, if the box is off and you hit Menu, it will be turned on (and sent straight into the menu system). If the box is turned on and you hit Menu, the menu system comes up. So you can now derive a simple little logic hack: the command string MENU POWER will always turn the device off, whether it's on or off to start with (if it's off, it turns it on (and into the menu) then immediately off again; if it's on, it goes to the menu then turns it off). It follows of course that the command string MENU POWER POWER will always turn the device on. So you just define those command strings as the Power On and Power Off buttons in the Harmony configuration tool (luckily it supports that kind of hackery). Incredibly simple, but I doubt I'd ever have thought of that on my own. Cool trick! I set mine up that way and it works perfectly.

Another little tweak I set up today is to monitor the mythbackend process (that's the MythTV 'server'). It's known to not be really super-reliable; every so often it does fall over, for one reason or another. Obviously you don't want that to happen to a PVR setup. So I found a reference to using a neat little tool called Monit to monitor it. Monit is a fairly powerful generic monitoring tool for *nix systems; it can monitor all sorts of things in different ways and perform actions depending on what it sees. It can be run as a one-time check or as a daemon which checks all the things it's set to monitor at regular intervals. So with monit running as a daemon and the following configuration:

check process mythbackend with pidfile /var/run/ start program = "/etc/init.d/mythbackend restart" stop program = "/etc/init.d/mythbackend stop" if failed host localhost port 6544 then restart if 5 restarts within 5 cycles then timeout

(thanks Thomas Mashos!), every time a monit scan happens, it checks if mythbackend is currently supposed to be running (by checking for the pidfile), and if it is, checks if it really is (by trying to poke the port it should be listening on). If it's not there, it restarts it. If it fails the check five consecutive times, it figures there's something really wrong - it's not just randomly falling over - and gives up until you poke it manually. monit even does email notification, so you'll know when it's falling over and when it hits timeout. Really neat little tool.

(Another) new tweaking project - MythTV Firewire HD PVR

So I managed to find myself yet another 'little' project. I've had an HTPC for years, running Freevo; but that's all it's been, it just plays videos and music. At the very start I had it set up as an analog PVR, and recorded all of two things on it, but then the sound broke and I just didn't care enough to fix it.

Lately I bought a second HD box, as I think I mentioned, and it has a fairly neat feature - if you connect an eSATA hard disk to it, it'll work as a PVR. But of course it's a typical cable network PVR, the files are locked up and there's no commercial skipping or anything. (It is dual-tuner, though). And I don't have any appropriate disks lying around - only an IDE one, and I can't find any enclosure that lets an IDE drive connect via eSATA. So I'd have to buy either Shaw's 'own' disk (apparently it's a rebadged Western Digital), another eSATA disk, or an eSATA enclosure and SATA disk. All those options are over $100, and...meh. I also realized I'm likely going to be in the UK during the NHL playoffs, which is clearly terrible.

So I decided I'd get my HTPC working properly as a PVR again, and see if I can't do something SlingBox-y with it too. (The SlingBox streams live video over the internet, basically, if you've never heard of it). Luckily for me, my older HD box has its own neat feature: it's a Motorola 6200. That box has a Firewire output, and if you hook that Firewire output up to a PC, what you get is the raw, full-quality high definition MPEG-2 stream, complete with audio. Neat, yes? I've known about this for a while but just never bothered hooking it all up. Once or twice Shaw have turned on copy protection on some or all channels, as far as I can gather, but people write angry letters and they generally turn it off again after a bit.

(Apparently, there's a law in the States which says that if you have a box from your TV service which has a Firewire port, they have to enable it and allow you to stream video out of it, if you ask them to. It's been diluted a bit but it more or less still stands. Google it if you're interested.)

This feature is sufficiently cool that people have been using it for years now, and MythTV has fairly mature support for this kind of Firewire input. It even comes with a neat script which changes channels via the Firewire connection (no, I didn't know you could do that either!) The motherboard in my HTPC has no Firewire ports (it's a damn cheap motherboard) so I went out and bought the absolute cheapest yum-cha Firewire adapter I could find - a princely $10, including tax. I followed the MythTV instructions, and damned if...nothing. Nada. Zip. Not a fricking dicky bird. Upon further investigation, it seemed as if the kernel hadn't done anything with the card at all - lspcidrake (the HTPC runs Mandriva) was showing the module as 'unknown'. Crap, I thought. I nearly gave it up as a bad job and got a more expensive card, but happened across a post from a guy who'd had to switch PCI slots to make it work. So I experimented with different PCI card/slot permutations until I got one which got the ohci1394 module loaded and a /dev/raw1394 device showing up. Then started a cycle of twiddling with configuration commands and re-running the connectivity tests, with mixed results. In the end, I think the combination of the super-cheapo card and cheapo motherboard does affect the reliability a bit. I've entirely hung the system by nudging the cable while it's busy streaming TV, and it seems to have an odd habit of switching from node 0 to node 1 (some Firewire thing), which requires a reconfiguration of MythTV's channel-switching script, which is a pain. But basically I've got it working reasonably reliably, now.

Setting up MythTV was actually pretty easy - I just glued together the Firewire instructions and the general MythTV setup instructions from the official docs and pretty much got it working. It has its little idiosyncracies, of course. In a fairly typical way for Linux apps, it's designed to scale to ridiculous levels - it has a client/server architecture and can actually have multiple 'servers', each with multiple video sources, all connected together in a ridiculous giant agglomeration so a single MythTV setup can be recording seventeen shows from ten different cable boxes spread across five machines while simultaneously playing back video on forty different frontends, or something silly like that. Which of course means that various bits of the configuration are way more complex than they need to be, for a simple one-box setup. The options for transcoding recordings down to a reasonable size (the raw HD streams come to 5GB/hour, with surround sound) are pretty bizarre at first sight; only if you imagine configuring one of the ridiculous setups I described above do you suddenly realize 'oh, yeah, that's why it was designed that way'. There's the usual media center knobs to twiddle - getting your remote control set up, setting up the video and music plugins, and so on. You have to set up a third-party TV listings service (it's $20/year, not that terrible). But really it's not bad, certainly less painful than Freevo (which requires you to hand edit its configuration files, which are written in pure Python...) or the MythTV I first tried to set up in 2004 (though you could get listings for free back then).

So right now I'm watching Andy Murray against Mario Cilic in the Australian Open semi-finals; the stream comes into my HD box, gets piped to my PC, and rendered via VDPAU. It looks flawless, just as if I were watching direct via the box (which you can still do even with the Firewire up and running - useful if it all goes pear-shaped). I can do the whole 'pause live TV' thing, and the recording will be available for me to watch tomorrow if I happened to want to, or I can store it for the future. It's really pretty neat and works very well. I also have MythTV configured to let me watch videos and listen to music (though honestly I prefer Freevo's interface for those).

The SlingBox bit may be trickier. There are avenues to explore. There's a neat web interface for MythTV you can set up - it's called MythWeb, it's basically a MythTV frontend that is a web application, you connect to the webserver and can configure recordings and stuff, most of the things you can do from the 'normal' frontend. It also has some neat remote video watching tricks: you can get a direct download or ASX stream of any stored recording. I can actually log in to the web interface from another system on my network and stream a recorded show in full HD quality - pretty cool. Obviously, though, 5GB/hr is far too much for the system to stream over the Internet.

I could transcode a recording down to a reasonable size and stream that, of course, but then you can't use that to stream live TV. What may be the most promising avenue is MythWeb's neatest trick: it actually has an inbuilt Flash streaming server system, so if you click on any recording, besides the ASX and direct download links, you see a Flash streaming player, much like Youtube. There's a configuration widget where you can tell it what resolution and what bitrate to use for that, and MythWeb has the backend transparently transcode whatever it is you want to stream before serving it up through the Flash widget, so it's much more suitable to Internet bandwidth. Some people have reported that they've been able to successfully use this on a currently-recording show - so they can set their box to 'record' something at 9:00pm, then log in to MythWeb at 9:01 and successfully access the Flash stream of that recording, while it carries on being recorded. This is obviously a fairly dodgy chain, but there's no absolute reason it can't work. I tried it briefly and it didn't quite get there, but I'll tinker a bit more and see if I can get it to fly.

So, the final chapter of this little odyssey...when it has fallen over (see above) I suspect it has something to do with resources. My HTPC box is nothing particularly oomphy - it's a Pentium dual-core E2180, which is not a high-end chip (that particular line of 'Pentiums' is essentially the cut-down, 'Celeron' version of the Core Duo), and it's only had 512MB of RAM for years. It never really needed more than that to be a media player, especially since I got VDPAU support working so all the video decoding work happened on the graphics card. But it's pretty borderline for a Myth PVR setup. I noticed it was nudging up against the top end of the RAM.

Then I realized I actually have a couple of gigabytes of RAM lying around the place. Only DDR-1, but the motherboard - being a cheapo one meant for cheapskate upgraders like me - actually does support both DDR-1 and DDR-2 (it's got two pairs of RAM also has PCI-E and AGP video slots, and can support regular old PCI video cards too. You can have one each of all three if you really like. Crazy.) So I yanked out the 512MB stick and threw the 2GB in there. Thought 'what the hell', cranked the FSB up to 266MHz - many people have the E2180 overclocking easy to 2.66GHz, from 2GHz - and hit the big red button. Well, those successful people are obviously using better motherboards than mine, cos mine doesn't even POST at 266MHz FSB. Did the CMOS jumper reset thing, and the board came back up fine. Reconfigured my BIOS settings, and...

the fucking thing wouldn't boot any more. Just sat there with the Blinking Cursor Of Death at the point it's supposed to load up the bootloader. Now, it's 1:30am at this point and I'm getting cranky. I start swearing under my breath and doing all the usual crap. Reset the BIOS again. Twiddle with the FSB some more. Pull one of the RAM sticks. Pull the other. Go back to the 512MB one. Mess with the RAM speed and timings and voltages. Twiddle all the SATA interface settings I can find. All that crap. Nothing doing. I'm halfway through trying to reinstall the bootloader from a rescue CD (not a simple operation on a system with four hard disks, none of which has the same device node in a rescue environment as it does for realz) when I figure that's a bad idea and it's probably something else. Finally I hit on disconnecting the Silicon Image PCI SATA controller card to which my RAID array disks are all connected. Success! the bloody thing boots fine. Of course, the system's not a hell of a lot of use without the RAID array. Finally I discover that setting the motherboard's SATA controller to RAID mode - even though it's controlling one whole disk, which is not a part of any RAID array - inexplicably makes it work. Even though I never had to do that before, the whole time I've had the freaking setup.

Hardware. I hate hardware.

So I put the 2GB of RAM back in, double-cross my fingers and kick the FSB to 233, and - fricking hallelujah - up it comes. Jebus, that was an hour I'll never get back. Still, it's up now, with four times the memory and a modest 1/6th CPU speed bump. Hopefully that'll help keep it stable and make it do the more demanding PVR-y bits a little quicker.

Despite that last icky hardware crappiness footnote, I'm pretty happy with this project - got the whole thing up and running really quite nicely at minimal expense ($20 in total: $10 for the firewire controller, $10 for the cable) in an afternoon. The SlingBox trick may be harder and I may have to give up and just live with watching the games the morning after they happen, but I'll do my best to hack something up. Never surrender!

(Yes, I did some work today too. Honest!)

Kids today

So, Apple's announced their new tablet thingy. There's an angel outside my window even now.

But, that's not what really interested me. Here's a pic from the Engadget story:


Okay, The Lovely Bones I can live with. But yeah, according to whatever online store that is, one of the Twilight books and The Tipping Point are both better than Wolf Hall.

Sigh. Kids today.

More tinkering: eGroupWare

Well, this has been nostalgic - I haven't pulled a packaging all-nighter in a while!

I was still sore about having to rely on Google for my calendar / contact synchronization, so I figured I'd sort that out. Cue eGroupWare. This is a rather nice SOHO/small business-targeted groupware suite; it does contacts, calendars, tasks and a few other bits and pieces, with a decent web interface and synchronization via GroupDAV / WebDAV and SyncML. I spent most of the evening updating the Mandriva packages for eGroupWare, which existed but were extremely old. I got those updated nicely, and set up the software onto my web server. Making sure to follow all the instructions (and make the package do the same, as much as I could) I was able to set up a calendar and contact list and synchronize them to Evolution on my laptop and desktop via WebDAV - very slick! I haven't yet tested syncing with my phone via SyncML / Funambol, but I expect it to work fine.

This may in fact be a good candidate for something I've been working with the infrastructure group to try and sort out for a long time - a Fedora project calendaring (and possibly other groupware functions) system. Everything else we've come across is either broken, obsolete, has a bad web interface / no interface, no CalDAV support, only works with Sun Java, is crazily coded, or any or all of the above. This doesn't seem particularly crazy, is actively maintained, has a nice web interface and CalDAV support, and is written in PHP - so it looks good. We'll see where that goes. The ultimate goal would be to have a Fedora project groupware server where Fedora projects and SIGs could do scheduling and stuff in a collaborative way.

I'm uploading the updated eGroupWare packages for Mandriva to all supported repos.

More fiddling: bitlbee

So my heroic quest not to do anything useful at all continued today with the discovery of Bitlbee, thanks to several other Fedora / RH people. Bitlbee is yet another proxy, essentially; it proxies your IM traffic. Its special trick is that it not only proxies it, but converts it into IRC - it acts as an IRC server, and presents your IM messages as IRC traffic. So you can just connect your client - or your IRC proxy! - to bitlbee, and have your IM traffic show up as 'private messages' on a bitlbee IRC server. Which is great if you use IRC all the time and don't really want to run a special app just for instant messaging. And of course you get all the exciting benefits of proxying. Man, I've gotta find something else to proxy, I'm getting perilously close to having to do some real work over here!

I also re-arranged my backup system to actually work, which is always a good thing. I realized that it was set up to do connections via ssh using keys with passphrases, which not surprisingly really doesn't work when scripted. So I rejigged it - since my 'backup system' is actually my HTPC pulling dual duty, the directories in question are exported via NFS already, so I just set my servers to mount the NFS share and backup the data via 'local' rsync, which avoids authentication hassles.

Speaking of real work, despite my very best efforts I accidentally did a bit recently - see some of the fruits of my unwilling effort here. It's a very basic draft of a Fedora privilege escalation policy. After the big kerfuffle about the PackageKit issue in Fedora 12, we in QA decided it'd be nice to do some kind of testing of privilege escalation stuff for releases, but that sort of requires a privilege escalation policy to exist. And since no-one else seems particularly interested in writing one, I've got stuck doing it (based heavily on spot's legendary blog post). It'll get revised within the QA group and then we'll send it out to other groups for comments, and eventually up to FESCo. Hopefully we can do some level of testing in this area for Fedora 13.

Bip: IRC proxying

Continuing my heroic quest to avoid doing any actual work, I've just set up another Neat Geek Convenience for myself: Bip. Bip is an IRC proxy server. For the uninitiated, that just means Bip connects to IRC and you connect to Bip and relay everything through.

This provides a couple of things I've wanted for ages: I can actually shut down my desktop without missing IRC messages, and I can connect from multiple systems - even simultaneously, if I like - without worrying about clashing nicks and logs getting split up all over the place and that kind of crap.

Of course, me being me, I had to make it over-complicated. Obviously I wanted to follow my usual practice and set up Bip on a single-purpose VM (long-term readers will know I already have single-purpose VMs for my web and mail servers). I run my mail and web servers on VMWare Server on a system running Mandriva 2009.0; if I were starting today I'd probably run them on a Fedora or RHEL machine running KVM, but I have them set up and working great in VMWare Server. But I thought, hey, I'll set this new one up using KVM on Mandriva, if I can, just to see if I can that much working. So off I went cheerfully poking through posts about how to set up KVM on Mandriva, and got through the process of setting up a bridged network connection, before I realized that my VM host system is ancient and has no hardware virtualization support.


So I decided to just do it in VMWare like the others, and - cleaning up after myself like a good little geek - started to take down the bridged network connection. During which process, thanks to a certain Mr. Murphy no doubt, I managed to kill the VM host system's network connection.

Triple arses.

There's probably a way to bring down a bridged network connection which doesn't involve knocking out overall network connectivity halfway through, but I missed it. This means I have to drag my 'server cabinet' (a cheap metal box from Ikea) out from the corner where it lives (otherwise I can't get into it), steal the keyboard and monitor from my partner's system, hook them up to the VM host machine, sort out the problem, switch the peripherals back, close up the cabinet and shove it back into place (it's on carpet and not mounted on castors; not trivial). Which I hate doing. Especially at midnight. Sigh. I realize it's entirely freaking absurd, but I am seriously considering getting some cheap second-hand rackmount equipment whenever we finally move to a bigger place and I get to rebuild all the infrastructure from scratch. (Yes, I know the fact that I consider a three room apartment for two people to have tech 'infrastructure' and actively look forward to redoing the entire thing at some vague future date makes me a terrible, terrible person.)

So after that delightful little interlude, I got the new VM up and running in VMWare Server easily enough, set it up running Mandriva (I dunno why, I could easily have picked Fedora, but hey, Mandriva still rocks :>) and threw bip on it. Bip's nice and easy to set up as long as you follow the (very clear) instructions and don't do stupid things like forgetting you have to set the client password field specially. When you do stupid things like that, you can poke the author on IRC and he tells you very politely how you did a really stupid thing. Oops :)

Now it's all set up and running great. I can log into bip from my desktop, laptop and phone simultaneously, type from any of 'em, and it just comes from 'adamw'. If none of the clients is connected, bip on the server still is, and still logging. When I log in again from a client I'll get whatever stuff happened while I was away regurgitated back to me (that feature's called 'backlogging'). It's super awesome. Very happy with it. Also makes it easy to back up my IRC logs (my backup machine just rsyncs the log directory across daily, like it does with my mail). To access the logs conveniently I set the bip machine up as an NFS server on the local network, sharing the log directory. Only tricky bit with that was that bip creates the log files owned by itself with quite restrictive permissions, so you have to set up permissions properly on the NFS client machines so that they can actually read the log files in the shared directory. But hey, nothing major.

Definitely feels like an improvement in a system I use all the time!

Damn you, Google

Once again I must curse Google for being so good. I try so hard not to let them get their tentacles everywhere, but damn...

I like to keep my cellphone and computers in sync (contacts and calendar mainly). I've written about this before; I actually became one of the few True Adepts of the synce / opensync stack just so I could make my Windows Mobile phone and GNOME desktop make beautiful music together.

Yet even this had problems. I couldn't really sync my laptop too (well, there are ways you could hack it up, but they're all awkward). I had to plug my phone in and run some actual sync application to get the sync done - drag, drag, drag. And opensync keeps threatening to go 0.40 and probably stop working.

So today, for whatever reason, I decided to look at different ways of doing it, and lo and behold...the answer is Google. Sigh. I really wanted to avoid putting much personal info into any of my multifarious Google accounts, but I've given up on that noble goal for this one. Google's calendar and contacts stuff uses open protocols - the calendar actually supports WebDav. This means Evolution is quite handy at syncing with Google, so that's one end of the equation. At first I found a thing called gmobilesync for the cellphone end of things; it synchronizes Windows Mobile's calendar data with Google's via CalDav. You have to run the app manually to make it sync, though, and it didn't do contacts. Looking for something better (and for contacts) I found the rather handy info that Google provides many many sync options of its own - including, very nicely for me, ActiveSync support. You can just configure your phone to sync via ActiveSync and tell it to use Google's server, and it will sync contacts and calendar (and email if you like) over the air, automatically. So the upshot of this is that my laptop, desktop and phone now all share the same calendar and contacts, via Google. If I create a contact or appointment on any of them, it appears on all the others. All over the air. It's like the future and stuff!

My tiny tip on this: the only way you can see your contacts in Google's web interfaces, as far as I can figure, is in GMail. But Google will happily store and sync contact data for an account that's not a GMail account at all - you don't need to setup an empty GMail account just to handle contact synchronization, if like me you don't want to let Google anywhere near your email (I'm still hanging onto that one).