Category Archives: Uncategorized


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 ….


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!


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.
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, 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!


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: 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!

Born tomorrow

Friday evening.

Text message from my brother.  His missus has sprogged, I have a new niece.  Mother and baby doing well.  Another welcome to the world.

Born Saturday morning, news reaches me the day before by means of the timezone difference.  Mildly amused by this phenomenon, but why do my unbidden thoughts turn to Umberto Eco ahead of H G Wells or other conventional time travellers?

Rookie Mistake

OK, I’ve been investing a few years.  But this morning I’ve learned a rookie lesson.

The hype about Royal Mail being so heavily oversubscribed suckered me in to subscribing for it: a self-fulfilling prophecy.  So far, so good.

But instead of applying direct, I applied within my ISA.  So now I’m a hostage to my broker: I can’t go to another broker to dispose of them (well, would you want to hang on to 227 shares?).  And both Hargreaves Lansdown’s website and their phone lines are unavailable, probably due in large measure to heavy demand to trade those shares.

Bah, Humbug.

New Toys

zenlap laptop stand

I took delivery last week of a new aid to working in comfort.  A laptop stand, that means I can hold up a laptop at a comfortable height and angle when sitting at a desk or table, or in a sofa, as well as in bed.  I have yet to try it on a train, but even that should work if I can get a table to myself 🙂  I went for the largest size so I have some space to cross the legs or curl up under it, which I can to a limited extent.  Still getting the hang of using it, but I think it’s going to improve my working life.

I have another new toy on order: a robotic vacuum cleaner.  The old (1980s) vacuum cleaner is showing its age, and replacing it with a robot will (hopefully) help a chronic procrastinator get around to cleaning rather more frequently than hitherto.