Category Archives: Uncategorized

Walking and Working vs Living, Learning, Breathing

Since my change of principal job, my use of the treadmill desk has changed, and not in a good way.

Having acquired the desk at a time when I’d been a couple of years in the job already, my work was development and maintenance, without having to tackle the steeper parts of any new learning curve.  Regular development work worked well at the treadmill.

When the job ended, I had to return the less-than-fully-functional Macbook to my ex-employer, and after a brief spell hooking up the ultrabook there, I bought a cheapo new desktop to use at the treadmill.  Unfortunately I’m now finding I rarely use it, and when I do I often feel the need to sit down with the problem at hand.  At first that was due to getting the new box up to speed sometimes standing in the way of a task, so doing it on the ultrabook became a line of least resistance.  But now I think I see another issue: struggling on the steep part of the learning curve for a new project is hard, and I don’t seem to give it adequate concentration while walking.

Or it might just be that the evenings, when I walk/work best, are blighted by wood smoke coming from a neighbour.  In the interest of not unnecessarily raising my carcinogen intake (not to mention inducing heavy coughing) I have to avoid any kind of (physical) exercise in the evenings.

I need another house move, and while I’m here I need to rearrange my computers to have a dev machine I can sit at.

Won and Lost

A distant acquaintance bet good money on a Corbyn victory, back in the days when he was a distant outsider at very long odds.  She now stands to celebrate.

Thought experiment: suppose she had instead bet, at huge odds, on his becoming Prime Minister in 2020.  And let’s also suppose it was a substantial bet.  Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, and she wins a million.  Far-fetched, OK, but not too far-fetched to be the basis of a story.

What kind of a story?  Rags to riches?  Not really – this is Blighty.  Even if it hadn’t already been done, slumdog millionaire fits better in a country where the rags half of the story is genuinely all-too-plausible.  But as a “what if” comedy, it has lots of potential.  Or indeed, an episodic sitcom: each week a different attempt to benefit from her riches is tried and thwarted.

Thwarted?

Well, our scenario is a very socialist Prime Minister.  He bears a passing resemblance to Mr Corbyn, but could also take inspiration from other populist socialists, and from the imaginations of our scriptwriters.  As a socialist, he’s in the business of taking millions from millionaires.  Maybe (at least for the benefit of our plot) even doubly so those whose millions are demonstrably unearned.  Our lucky winner has suddenly found herself on the wrong side of the Class War, and turns out to be worse off than she had been before winning the million.  Oh dear.

Could a populist lefty nut get elected?  Well, there are precedents.  Hugo Chavez was repeatedly re-elected in Venezuela, though he may have been boosted by Uncle Sam’s botched attempts to interfere.  On a slightly similar note, we’ve just seen (Comedian) Jimmy Morales top the presidential polls in Guatemala to go one up on Beppe Grillo’s achievement in Italy.  In the UK we have a range of populists standing in spite of the main political parties, and some of them have won not inconsiderable posts up to and including London Mayor.  And Corbyn’s new deputy Tom Watson may prove a formidable force.

Looking at electorates, we’re just p***ed off with the status quo.  And now half of us are too young to remember how bad things really were in the pre-Thatcher socialist UK, and are being fed alluring messages about a mythical golden age.  However far-fetched it may or may not be, Corbyn PM is at the very least good for comedy scenaria and thought experiments.

And (sorry, different story) we even have George Osborne trying to help.  His recent announcement of a major development programme for the submarine base at Faslane is surely an attempt to hand Scottish parliamentary seats back from the Scots Nats to Corbyn’s Labour.  Osbourne rather fancies an opposition that’s busy tearing itself apart, as opposed to a united party with a strong claim to speak for Scotland.  And the Faslane project will serve to focus Scots voters’ attention on an issue where Corbyn is strongly at one with the SNP and the only UK chance to reverse Osborne’s decision (vote for him to stop it), yet much of whose party takes the opposite view (vote for him to keep it).

Bizarre and interesting times.

The Long Tail

It’s a truism to say that the ‘net is ideal for a long tail, of material of interest to someone, but at best very marginal value or interest to the world at large. Vanity publishing, personal pages, personal blogs, social media, etc, etc.

It even has sophisticated Peer Review processes: a page with Google pagerank 9 is one that the world considers a leader in its field, while a PR4 is a long tail and might be of interest if you are looking to solve a very specific problem it happens to address outside the mainstream.  There’s even a competing hierarchy of peer review systems, with middle-ranking systems like the once-useful but perhaps too easy to subvert Tripadvisor and its peers, niche systems designed to measure one’s own effectiveness, and a long tail of wannabes.

But yesterday listening to the radio I was reminded that a long tail of marginal material and even utter dross doesn’t originate online.  If there’s so much that’s great in the Edinburgh fringe, how come the BBC broadcasts so much that’s – to put it very politely – utterly mediocre?

[correction: not yesterday, it was Saturday the Edinburgh crap on Radio 4 really excelled itself]

Roots

I recently visited my father for a few days.

That doesn’t mean I revisited a childhood house, or even town: neither he nor I has done that for many years.  But one thing somehow took me back: hearing the cooing of pigeons outside.  That’s not even a very nice sound: it can be quite infuriating when it goes on incessantly, and I have some recollections of them being an annoying pest.  Yet that sound gave me a faintly Proustian nostalgia.  Followed of course by the realisation that there aren’t any around here, and faintly wondering why not: it can’t be just the neighbourhood cats!

During my visit I went to an event in London, and stayed on for a concert in the evening.  It was the RPO, at the Royal Festival Hall.  I got a great seat, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  But a little more than that: the orchestral sound was somehow ultimately “right”: the canonical orchestral sound.  What I was actually hearing (apart from a fine orchestra playing great music) was the Festival Hall’s acoustic, and I think that “rightness” must’ve been because that’s where I first ever heard an orchestra when my parents took me to see The Nutcracker there as a small child!

Hmmm ….

Symbiosis

The blackberry season is firmly upon us. Indeed, it’s come exceptionally early: I’ve been getting some good pickings for two weeks in the garden.

In the wild, brambles tend to live alongside nettles. In my garden there are no nettles, but in their accustomed place is is ivy climbing anything that’ll support it, including some of the brambles. It’s got some rather attractive white flowers right now!

As a gardener, the ivy can be a pain: if I try to trim the brambles (or other plants the ivy climbs) back I have two intertwined things to deal with, and they need very different treatment. But for picking the blackberries, I discovered today a bit of ivy can be a huge advantage. Something soft and thorn-free I can grab to pull the thorny bits out of the way and give comfortable access to the berries!

Luxury!

Kafka onna bike

From the Plym Valley trail.  I’ve been meaning to photograph this sculpture for a while, so I took the opportunity when I passed it today.

sculpture of a cycling insect

Did Gregor Samsa ride a bike?

4g broadband

OK, since my emergency I’ve had a little time with my new 4g mobile broadband service.  And my regular service with Virgin appears to be working again, though now with the redundancy of two networks I wouldn’t necessarily notice the kind of downtime that plagued me before.

The 4G router is an Alcatel “one-touch”, and is only slightly larger than a mobile phone, and runs cool – all very nice.  It also has a cradle-cum-power-supply, with micro-USB port for the power supply.  It’s not just the cradle that has a port, the router does too, so I thought this has got to be worth a try: yes, if I connect it to a USB port on the Mac, it recognises “mobile broadband” and is connected.  Great, that leaves only the (SIP) phones needing a regular ethernet port and therefore the Virgin router or other equipment I don’t have or can’t use with the 4G service.

How about performance?  It feels subjectively like a very decent broadband speed, but slower than Virgin during the working day – presumably peak congestion.  I tried a speed test on both connections with some of the online speed check services, using the ultrabook over wifi for all tests.  First try was early afternoon when the 4g seemed slower; second was in the wee hours when all ISPs in this and nearby timezones should have ample spare capacity.

http://www.speedtest.net/ http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/
peak time off-peak peak time off-peak
Down Up Down Up Down Up Down Up
Virgin Cable 31.0 1.96 20.67 1.99 22.14 2.23 32.9 1.89
EE 4G 25.88 5.11 19.64 12.76 9.69 1.07 36.46 9.78

I tried a third speed check service which I’ve used before at http://www.uswitch.com/broadband/speedtest/, but it didn’t work.

What conclusions can I draw?  Not very much.  It somewhat supports my subjective impression that the 4g service is the more variable of the two.  But interesting that 4G upload speeds appear potentially much higher than cable.  I guess cable was developed originally just for telly, where only download matters.

Still evaluating what it feels like to live with.

The new workspace

Since buying the treadmill desk I’ve been enjoying some benefits.  I’m just as fat as ever, and the back is neither better nor worse, but I’m getting a lot less neck and shoulder pain.

I’ve also bought a 27″ monitor and desk-mounting arm to go with it.  I think 27″ was a mistake: 24″ with the same (1080p) resolution would’ve served me better.  Either way, I now have the luxury of sufficient width for three working windows at full height and without overlap, which is very nice.  And the sound surprised me by being rather better than the old monitor, though of course neither was bought with sound quality in mind.

The monitor works fine with both laptops.  As a matter of convenience I’m using it with the macbook.  Here I can use a wired internet connection where it’s needed, and wireless from the ultrabook when I’m elsewhere in the house (or away).  This is a real shame, because it loses me the benefit of the macbook’s own screen, whose display quality is far and away the best of any I have.

As for the treadmill, I felt tired very quickly for the first day or two but rapidly grew accustomed to it.  On a working day now its computer clocks up double-digit distance (measured in Km) at speeds usually between 3 and 4 km/h (all speeds feel faster on the treadmill than in normal life, probably because the stride is much more constrained and one needs to keep the body much more static to use the ‘puter).  The fastest I’ve sustained was 5km/h, though that worked up too much of a sweat for anything more demanding than browsing the ‘net.  Of course, I still always alternate working at the treadmill with other places, though alas the ultrabook’s screen is far from adequate to take advantage of the summer weather and work outdoors.

Walking at work

OK, I have finally bitten the bullet and got myself a treadmill desk.  So now I can walk as I work, and see how much it helps my back, neck and shoulders.  Indeed, I am walking as I blog, and apart from work I can equally walk as I read, browse the ‘net, or play 🙂   Though in practice I expect I’ll alternate walking with all my traditional postures: sitting at a desk, sitting on a sofa, lying down.  The treadmill is good for six hours a day, which I’m sure is ample!

First impression: walking indoors is a lot harder than walking the streets, let alone the green spaces.  The first things I felt were the need to open a lot more window than the small top-windows I always open for ventilation, and a desire to go and get myself a glass of water.  The motor is also a bit noisy, and rather negates having an ultra-quiet ‘puter 😦  I expect I’ll adjust to it with time, and learn how best to use it.

I’m also thinking: this is just the excuse I need to buy a shiny new 24″ desk-mounted monitor, with HDMI input I can use with a laptop.  That’ll also enable me to use the wifi-less macbook as a desktop box with wired connection!  Wondering if I can get a monitor with a mounting frame instead of a stand?  I tried both our local superstores (PC World and Currys) on the retail park, but neither of them has any such thing.

Also, glad to report myself back in the land of the living.  I was originally due to take delivery last week, but had to cancel because I was down with a nasty lurgy, incorporating fever and ague alongside lots of coughing and wheezing.  It was as much as I could do to get myself up the steps to the house, let alone a huge heavy package!

Uh-Oh

Q: When does a stable system start to go bad?
A: When you install a non-open package with privileges.

This morning my laptop with Debian Wheezy has shown its first signs of software trouble outside of my control.  The Cisco AnyConnect VPN client, which I installed to be able to access $employer-intranet from it, refused to start up.  No error messages, just that I double-click the launch icon and nothing happens.

I have some relevant information in syslog:

Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: ClientIfcBase File: ClientIfcBase.cpp Line: 162 Initializing vpnapi version 2.5.3051 ().
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: loadProfiles File: ProfileMgr.cpp Line: 112 No profile is available.
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: fileExists File: Utility/sysutils.cpp Line: 500 Invoked Function: _tstat Return Code: 2 (0x00000002) Description: unknown File: /opt/cisco/vpn/AnyConnectLocalPolicy.xml Error: No such file or directory
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Current Preference Settings: CertificateStoreOverride: false CertificateStore: All ShowPreConnectMessage: false AutoConnectOnStart: false MinimizeOnConnect: true LocalLanAccess: false AutoReconnect: true AutoUpdate: true ProxySettings: Native AllowLocalProxyConnections: true PPPExclusion: Disable PPPExclusionServerIP: EnableScripting: false TerminateScriptOnNextEvent: false AuthenticationTimeout: 12
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: CvcGtkNotifyBalloon File: CvcGtkNotifyBalloon.cpp Line: 87 Invoked Function: dlopen Return Code: -33554427 (0xFE000005) Description: libnotify.so.1: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: connectTransport File: IPC/SocketTransport_unix.cpp Line: 711 Invoked Function: ::connect Return Code: 111 (0x0000006F) Description: unknown
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: connectIpc File: IPC/IPCTransport.cpp Line: 246 Invoked Function: CSocketTransport::connectTransport Return Code: -31522804 (0xFE1F000C) Description: SOCKETTRANSPORT_ERROR_CONNECT
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: terminateIpcConnection File: IPC/IPCTransport.cpp Line: 385 Invoked Function: CSocketTransport::writeSocketBlocking Return Code: -31522783 (0xFE1F0021) Description: SOCKETTRANSPORT_ERROR_NOT_CONNECTED
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: initIpc File: ApiIpc.cpp Line: 299 Invoked Function: CIpcTransport::connectIpc Return Code: -31522804 (0xFE1F000C) Description: SOCKETTRANSPORT_ERROR_CONNECT
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: initiateAgentConnection File: ApiIpc.cpp Line: 214 Invoked Function: ApiIpc::initIpc Return Code: -31522804 (0xFE1F000C) Description: SOCKETTRANSPORT_ERROR_CONNECT
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: attach File: ClientIfcBase.cpp Line: 405 Client failed to attach.
Mar 14 08:43:57 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: run File: ApiIpc.cpp Line: 387 Invoked Function: ApiIpc::initiateAgentConnection Return Code: -31522804 (0xFE1F000C) Description: SOCKETTRANSPORT_ERROR_CONNECT
Mar 14 08:43:58 mimir vpnui[861]: Function: detach File: ClientIfcBase.cpp Line: 288 Shutting down vpnapi

OK, that gives me some things to check and messages to google. Lots of results, people experiencing similar though not identical grief.  Seems often to happen when something gets upgraded.  OK, let’s see if reinstalling the VPN client fixes anything.

But first, ensure the system is fully up-to-date.  Now apt gives me another, rather more worrisome message, repeated many times:

insserv: Starting vpnagentd_init depends on minissdpd and therefore on system facility `$all’ which can not be true!

Dammit, it’s running an agent behind my back.  Grrr …

After that, re-installing the VPN client fixed it, and I may have to repeat that when I reboot in future (which I rarely do – suspend is more convenient).  But now I have a system error.  Is this the start of a slippery slope to an unstable system?

A promising solution is here.  Let’s hope!