Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Linux or Windows

Last week I finally got a motherboard transplant to work - from living in an absolutely outrageously oversized case (big, rounded, scarlet, and with hips, no less) to living in a normal beige ATX box. I had to transplant some of the fans, of course, and there's an 8-inch fan that I'd like to put in too but can't find a good place for it (maybe I'll cut a hole in the case!).

This thing used to run Windows XP-64, which I got about 3 months after it escaped from Microsoft. It's been a good OS, although lacking in drivers initially. For example, HP never upgraded many of their drivers for it, but Brother and Konica-Minolta both did, so those were the printers we bought. See here for a review of it.

It's a reasonably powerful machine - 2 GHz AMD cpu and 2 GB of RAM - especially so when I bought it in the late summer of 2005. I ran a lot of virtual machines on it. So, once I re-housed it, I was faced with the obvious decision to make - which OS to use. Anything less than Windows XP was obviously out. I wanted a change from Windows XP/64, and, having regretted giving my son a machine with Vista on it for the last 16 months, Vista was definitely not going to be it!

Windows 7 isn't out yet, so that just about writes Windows off. I don't think it'll run Leopard, so I took a look at the Linux alternative. Ubuntu 8 looks nice - I've created a few machines with it and had a good result. I have a copy of Solaris, but who knows what IBM will do with it (why would they kill AIX in favour of Solaris?). I looked at a few others, decided I rather like the new KDE desktop and its features, and then found the Ubuntu 9.04 was out.

So I read all the reviews and, as it looked good, downloaded both the Desktop and the Server editions (there's a Netbook edition too, but I'm not buying hardware just yet!). I burned CDs on my trusty Windows laptop (the Acer Aspire 9300). Neither would load properly. Bad burns ? I tried. No - same error. Bad downloads! So I pulled them again. Burned again. Went to bed!

Next morning, I put the Server disc in to the reader and booted. After about 20 questions and enough time (just) for me to eat my morning bowl of porridge (see later), it was up and asking me to log in. Wow! I haven't seen an OS load that fast since we put Windows NT 4 onto a 4-cpu DEC Alpha machine! Up it came with a pure character interface. Oh sugar! I really don't feel like learning Linux command line this morning! So I Googled how to install GNOME, found the instruction (last post):
/etc/init.d/gdm start
and re-booted the machine. Now I get a black screen with a little graphic asking for name, and then password. After that, I'm in to GNOME's default background (light blue with a stylised "G" logo). Very clean, very nice. Off to work.

By the evening I was really ready to try things out, so I went exploring. The install seems to take up about 13 GB of space, including GNOME and all the applications that Ubuntu comes with, so the OS itself probably takes less than half that. Windows XP Pro takes over 8 GB and it's ten years old, so anything less than that is quite good, considering.

So, what have I been using it for? Well, so far I've been using it to burn backup CDs. I ran into a problem with my original Benq 1640 drive - Ubuntu doesn't see it as a burner - just a reader. I replaced it with a $30 Lite-On (five years newer and faster) and burns fly. What I'm doing is backing up all the stuff from the old disks that used to be in the Windows XP/64 machine but that's rather complicated. I mount the disk in a Firewire-connected carrier that plugs into an old Sony VAIO laptop (old enough that it runs on Windows 2000, and a coupon for Windows XP came with it!). The VAIO shares the drive, so my Acer can see it, and I pull the files onto the Acer and organse them. After that I grab them from the Acer with the Linux machine and drop them onto the disc symbol and burn them. As easy as Windows has been promising but with little helpful things like telling you if it thinks that the folder tree is too deep before just burning it and failing half-way through the disc.

I've been playing with the OpenOffice.org product. I also have it on my Acer, and also on the baby Asus machine, running under Windows. In both of these the JVM takes a long time to load and start, before the app. (Writer, Base, or whatever) is loaded. With Ubuntu 9.04 almost all of that wait vanishes. I can only think that the JVM is permanently loaded, but it's much faster.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Do you know where you are ?

Well of course you do! You open your phone and use the GPS receiver to tell you , complete with map.
But what if it doesn't, one day ?
It'll never happen, you say. It's a government project and things like that don't fail. . It's too big and too important to fail you say, as the words "Lehman Bros." creeps insidiously into your brain. A small shiver crosses your skin as you think of being out alone in the desert , broken down, phoning for help, and not knowing the answer when the operator asks you where you are.
Why this beginning to my blog today, you ask. Am I honing my art for writing the first in a series of blockbuster B-movies ? No. What caught my eye as I was at the Haddonfield Stitch 'n' Bitch this evening was a headline on the TV about a problem with the GPS system. Apparently the Air Force has been having such fun chasing bandits in Irak and Afghanistan that it hasn't managed to keep up with repairs on the small constellation of satelites that provide the signals for the GPS system.
The system is made up of a constellation of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use. Periodically satellites fail and are replaced - this is normal.
However, right now the US Air Force, which has responsibility for maintaining the system (which is also used by the US military, of course) has apparently been having problems in designing and lofting replacement satellites. The satellites have multiple redundant backup systems, so failure isn't very frequent, but apparently many are down to and using their last set of spares for several functions, so just one failure might take a satellite out of the system.
One satellite won't kill off the entire system, but to get decent accuracy your GPS device needs to have four above the horizon to see.
Next year is predicted to be the year that satellites start dropping off without being replaced, says a government report out in the last few days. If you want to be really bored, it's here. Basically, it says that the Air Force hasn't been replacing satellites fast enough, hasn't coordinated development of new versions with purchasing and launching schedules, and hasn't been successful in building ground control facilities to control the newer satellites. To put it even more bluntly: the Air Force was tasked with maintaining and developing the system, and hasn't done so.
Is there an alternative, one asks (thinking again of the cold Arizona desert at night). Well yes, there kind-of is, but not yet. It's about three years late and is now due to enter service in 2013. It's called Galileo and is a constellation of 30 satellites due to be lifted by Ariane over the next few years It is supposed to have better resolution than the civilian GPS, but who knows when you'll be able to use it in the USA, as the phone makers probably won't make bi-system phones.
Finally there's another European program, Egnos, that's supposed to improve the accuracy of the GPS system. However, that may not fly if the GPS dies out!
So, if you want to find out where you are next year, keep up those donations to the Air Force
The picture at the top is from an AP site, and they got it from NASA. It's t
he Sombrero galaxy as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Rather cool.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some Tech Before the Yarn Resumes

Last Thursday there was a rocket launch in South America, close to the northern coast of the continent. On the planet the location is 5.239668 North, 52.768471 West. Its local name is Kourou, and the rocket launch last Thursday took two astronomical instruments into orbit.

Planck is a telescope that will map the fossil light of the Universe - light from the Big Bang – with more sensitivity and accuracy than any other instrument that we have used before. Herschel is a large far-infrared space telescope designed to study some of the coldest objects in space, in a part of the electromagnetic spectrum still mostly unexplored. The two instruments will not be satellites of the Earth: they will occupy the L2 Lagrangian point (there are 5 stable points in any orbit, and Earth occupies one, of course - L1).

The primary mirror of the Herschel telescope is 1 1/2 times the size of the Hubble Space Telescope's main reflector. The replacement for Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, should get to one of these Lagrange points in around 2013. Hubble should last unil then.

And the people who launched Herschel and Planck? The European Space Agency, of course.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Remnants and Code

MD S&WF #4
I promise - this is the last one ! (You thought that this would be like Coronation Street, didn't you?).
Let's start off with the last of the wool and pretty much the only sheep (well, a ram, actually) in the affair. In one barn we met Linda O'Brien from Mill Branch Farm in Huntingtown, MD. The light wasn't too good, so I don't have a picture, but they had a couple of their Katahdin sheep with them. Here's a sample photo of a ram of the species.
So what's so strange about a ram, you might ask. Well, normally you take shears or clippers to get the wool off a sheep. With this breed it just pulls off! Honestly! You can just reach over to the animal and pluck some off, just like taking cat hair off your clothes. Well, anyhow, Linda was nice enough to promise to send us some wool and the AG in return promised to see how it might spin up and to try to knit something with it. We brought about 2-3 grammes home, put it in some cold water, rinsed it a couple of times, and let it dry. It's got heaps of lanolin in it and smells really nice (i.e. not of "old damp sheep"!). Katahdin sheep are usually kept for meat, by the way.
We'll bring you more when we have some pictures to show.

Back at the Sheep & Wool for the very last photo
G&W Sharpening (Manahawkin, NJ, is just a few miles north of Atlantic City, so you might get your luck sharpened before checking out the slots!) is where we took our scissors for sharpening. They did a great job, so we have to be careful now! Mine were three pairs of german scissors from Solingen in the Federal Republic, and are pretty much razor sharp now. Definitely not kid-friendly. Definitely kid-friendly, on the other hand, was the range of wooden toys sharing the stall. These are made by madebyewe, and really really cute.

Ok. That's it for the show. Saturday evening we spent with friends in Sykesville, about five miles down the road from the fair, and it rained. Boy oh boy did it rain! So we didn't go back on Sunday, and we didn't go to the May Day Faerie Festival in Glenrock, PA (next year!).

On the way home we noticed this shop, the Knitters Nest, in Eldersburg, MD. Apparently it caters for knitting and crocheting, stocks yarn, and holds classes. Unfortunately it wasn't open on the Sunday we were in the area for the Fair. Oh well ... next time.

Now, as most of you know, I'm a programmer by trade, so here's the return of the "Geek Section"!
[Geek Section]
Tip: If you're moving a database from Access to SQL Server then you have a choice of using an explicit user ID (not "sa" !!) or else using Windows Trusted Authentication. If you have lots of users and may want to know which does what, use Windows Trusted Authentication! If you started of using SQL user IDs then making the change means you will have to go through all your code setting the default datasource prefix to "dbo" (or whatever your SQL Server scheme is called) and, likewise, make all stored procedure calls from datasource definitions of comboboxes also be prefixed by "dbo.". Otherwise you run the risk of suddenly having unbound controls.
Tip: When writing T-SQL always use table aliases in order to make the code easier to read
Tip: When writing T-SQL always use schema identifiers (i.e. "[dbo].") to speed things up some and to ease migrations of software.
[/Geek Section]


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mexico and MD Sheep & Wool Part 3

or ... Swine Flu, Celebrations, and Wool.

Firstly, it was May the Fifth a few days ago, but much of Mexico was under lock-down because of the swine flu. Mexico appears to recovering now, but the US has over 2000 (mild) cases (and climbing) reported and Australia has reported its first case. There is a small number of items to consider from here:
  • What happens when it hits the poor countries of the third world? We already saw the difference between the US and Mexico.
  • What happens in China and India if the virus hits them hard ?
  • What happens next winter when flu season starts up again?
One not-so-nice example that we have in front of us is this: in 1917 there was an outbreak of early flu here in the USA. It appears to have started in Kansas, where a large number of US Cavalry were stationed. The available DNA from that flu seems to indicate that it had equine DNA included, indicating that it may have started in the horse population. However it started, it was mild, and the cavalry went off to Europe in 1918. From there, research the 1918 flu outbreak - about 100 million people died.

This 2009 flu appears to have two versions - mild and severe. In normal life the mildly-affected people go to work and the really sick stay at home. In Mexico it may be that the really sick (those with the severe version) had to go to work to make a living, so that version got spread far more than here in the USA.

Anyway, I'm getting flu jabs this winter - I normally don't, but this year I think I'll do differently!

Now here's some really good news. Let's see what Man. U. think about that, then!
Liverpool !

West Ham 0 - 3 Liverpool

And Now ...............The Yarn You've All Been Waiting For !

Well, pictures of it, anyway.

To the left, yarn from Hill Farm in Maryland.

To the right, Toni Neil of The Fold had a shop, featuring a lot more wool that I had time to take pictures of here. There's Blue Moon silk shown, along with some of what looks like Alpaca, but I'm certainly not certain (the AG will correct later if need be).

I think that the lady to the left is re-arranging hanks in The Fold, but I'm not sure. The wool on the right is from the same shop - same labels !

I'm afraid that, while I really loved some of the colourways throughout the fair, TESS' seemed, to me, to have some of the most vivid and striking offerings.

Here, on the left, in front of a nice blue sweater example is yarn of a hue of orange that I have rarely seen, except on this year's Renault F1 cars.

Just around the corner I found a soft, muted blend of pinks and blues. Somewhat appropriate for the drizzly day we were having.

Here on the left we're still outside, and the colours are a little muted because of the amount of cloud-tinted light. The variety of shades of blue, however, are just a harbinger of what was to come.

I moved inside and found this wonderful array of blues. The colours benefit here from the use of fill flash, so they're really rendering as they actually appeared to my eyes.

Finally, almost an entire rainbow of colours on yarn.
By the way, you see a few hands and elbows in some of these shots: that's because TESS' store was pretty packed. The staff there were busy both times we passed by, unpacking things to replace what was sold, so I guess they were selling pretty successfully.

There'll be one more blog with MD S&WF stuff later today, after I've done some programming and some video editing. Meantime, if you're into giving photographs as a present, take a look here. It's a rather romantic take on personal messaging and something to think about the next time you want to send a birthday card, I think.


MD Sheep & Wool Part 2

Going a little nuts here, with pictures! We left you in the last post at about noon. We'd seen the Ravelry group and met some friends. I kinda messed up the picture, but here's the good part. The AG, Brenda, and Donna seen having fun!

I think this is still at Carodan Farms, although I may be wrong. I was mainly interested in colours, as you can see!

If you think it's crowded on Sundays when you go to church, you should have been in these barns. Packing density approached a London Tube train during rush hours.

Where to Go Next ?
There's always a place for a well-placed sign.
Then we found this young lady in a tent stand, selling Monica Lenox spinning wheels. The AG, of course, went slightly gaga over the wheels, but why not. Then we found out that she was, in fact, the very real ML in person!

More Yarn

Next, we called in at Tintagel Farms. Again, great yarn and wonderful hues.

Here are some of the yarns they were offering. Once again, the colours are what I was looking at.

Unexpected Friends
So there we were, just walking along innocently after ducking out mid-afternoon, when the AG spots a badge, reads it, and recognises a pen pal from Ravelry, Jenjerpeach. She can be found at Rosie's in Philly. Whoops and greetings happened, of course.

Wheels for Yarn

Then we ducked back into a barn to find The Merlin Tree, Manufacturier de Rouet, with some really neat things for sale.

More Yarn !

Of course, it didn't take long for the AG to find yet more yarn!

And I couldn't resist these colours either !

I have no idea what the Blogger is doing to the layout, but what this looks like in Compose is waaay different from how it shows up when published. So I had to put all the pictures in at small-size. Oh yes, and don't put text between pictures if your viewers are using IE 7. Sorry !

That's all the pictures for now - one more batch and we'll be done!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Oink!, and More Sheep & Wool

Aah! the insanity bred by modern (?) humanity. Despite declarations by any and all of those who might be even remotely considered to know that you cannot get this swine flu from eating pigs, the Egyptian government seems to have decided to kill every pig in the whole country. Not worrying that nobody in Egypt has actually fallen ill from the disease yet, of course.

In Beijing a group of Mexicans is being held under guard, apparently just because they're Mexican. In Hong Kong an entire hotel is under armed guard, all visitors and staff inside, just because one (yes, one) guest has possibly come down with the flu. In Mexico I can understand this, but in Egypt and China ?

Like I said, last blog, we went to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Fair last weekend. We did, of course, bring the trusty camera, so you're in for some pictures.
Firstly, we saw a gentleman making and selling straw brooms. Interesting to watch and a great and useful product - quite a few were being sold.
You'll see lots of interesting things here, and some people appeared to be in two minds about whether they wanted to be where they were when they were there. Signs of appeals for help appeared in places you'd never expect to see them!

Despite being firmly dedicated to agricultural things, the fair also featured some high-tech gadgetry, such as these looms. I know that they appear to be two species of especially Heath-Robinson-style rat-traps, but, to the cogniscenti, these are excellent examples of "weaving machines", with which you create cloth - in fact, machines somewhat like these are used to make the shirt on your backs !

Here (on the left) is the shop for Carodan Farm, where the AG (The Better Half to you !) bought some sock yarn. The next barn was full of food (yippee!) - all to go away and cook with. A great variety of sheep cheese (I bought some Stone Man cheese - really nice) and then got some info goodies from the trade association, The American Lamb Board. Nice and very friendly, giving stuff away!
Now here on the left we found a folk group (really! I could have found that music at any fair in England). The players were really good, and many seemed to be young teens, which is a great message for the future of music.

Here's a quick clip from the Rabbit Building, which was taken over by Ravelry for a few hours. Like everywhere else it was packed, and here's a snap of the very principals of the community.

Just after leaving here we ran into our friends Joanna (just married, so many congrats), Donna (just better, so many congrats), Brenda (recently a granny, so many congrats to her too). Unfortunately I didn't do too well with the picture, so better not to publish it here!

Through another barn to the Main Drag we bumped into Hope from our Tuesday group at Haddonfield, and then the AG's friend Tan. After chatting, Hope had to leave, but then Tan's daughter Cherry (right) arrived.
This didn't seem to be anything unusual - greetings and re-unions were happening all over the place.

Here endeth the first part of this blog on the MD S&WF. More soon.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Quick One, While I'm Away!

We made it to the Sheep & Wool yesterday. Great fun, even for a non-knitter, just so long as you join in and "go with the flow". We saw lots of different types of sheep, naturally, including even a couple of South Downs', which are the locals from where I was brought up. After you've wandered down the aisles of pens you start to realise that the different breeds really do look different! Especially when you get to one breed with what looked like a Mohawk hairstyle and brown skin! No; not aboriginal American sheep, but a breed used mostly for meat and whose hair just sheds, rather than having to be clipped or sheared. What's more, it doesn't just "shed", but you can just pluck it out like cat hairs from off your coat! Weird to watch isn't in it, as the owner was doing it and the animal really didn't seem to mind in the slightest. The (wool? hair? fur? stuff?) has oil on it (great for dry hands) and some of it, at least, looks spinnable, although we think that you'd really need to mix it with some other type of wool to do best.

After the sheep there were barns and barns of exhibits, and more in tents, and Ravelry in the Rabbit Building (that's what it was called, but I think that the rabbits had gone elsewhere for some quiet by the time that we got there). And people! Thousands of people! All sorts of people (about 95+% women, of course, but why not?), but long people, short people, skinny people, round people, people of all shades of colour (basically brown to white, but that became brown to various shades of pink and red as the morning rain turned into afternoon sun and winter skin soaked up the rays!). All happy and friendly people, who were a really fun crowd to be one of, and that, I think, really made the day.

Next post will have pictures, but for now I'm signing off to get a shower and head home.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Sheep, Wool, ....... and Flu ... ?

So here we are, The Better Half and I, in Laurel, MD. Staying the night in a Super8 before heading out to this year's MD Sheep & Wool. Why Super8 ? Well, it was near, cheap, and we hadn't been to Laurel. The MD Hotel Guide entry looked good while TripAdvisor's entry was very mixed. We noted the dates on the user comments on Trip Advisor and chanced it. The renovation and new staff definitely are a change from the old comments. The main worry here, aside from the volume of traffic on the main road outside, is the danger from the school buses that use the car park to turn around in. I almost got nailed by one!

I was, I'll admit, tired last night, so I went to bed early and slept well. The Better Half came to bed sometime later. This morning I looked for the (old, white, cotton) socks I was wearing yesterday (to put them in the dirties bag - honest!) and couldn't find them. Eventually found them in the bed! Now, I never ever wear socks to bed, so this was puzzling until The Better Half admitted to having had chilly feet last night ... "and, well, your socks were just sitting there, on the chair, and they weren't doing anything, so I put them on".
Ok. Fine. Far be it from me to criticise her for that - aside from the fact that I wanted them this morning for padding around the room in before taking a shower, and the other small fact that she came well prepared for cold feet - with no fewer than four pair of self-knitted woollen socks for today ! I suppose all that Venus & Mars stuff might be right after all.

Swine and Influenza
In Mt Laurel, NJ, near where I live, there's a guy who went to Mexico recently, got the flu, came back, and gave it to his two school-aged children and a friend (not his wife, interestingly !). PhillyBurbs has a good release and article on the case, which includes a description of the symptoms. On the other hand, here in Laurel, MD, the council issued this, somewhat panicky, statement on Thursday, followed immediately on Friday by declaring closure of its elementary school because of its first “probable” case of a child with the H1N1 virus. (their quotes). Mt Laurel, NJ, OTOH, seems unfazed.

MD Sheep & Yarn today. It's 6.40 and, as soon as we escape from the clutches of the shower we'll be breakfasting and getting on the road for West Friendship. I'll blog from there when I have time.