Have a great conference folks

Today is the first day of linux.conf.au, the biggest free software conference in Australia and generally regarded as one of the better conferences of its type in the world. There's a bunch of people I know in town for the event, including Dean Wilson, Kim and Janet Hawtin and Richard Cohen (who's staying with us for the duration).

Unfortunately due to work I can't make the conference. It's just too costly to take the time off work as a contractor. I'll be going to the Open Day on Thursday afternoon though.

Hopefully will meet up with a bunch of the attendees for a beer or twelve on Thursday.

Homebrew shop in Newtown

I've just paid a visit to my homebrew shop in Newtown and I'm quite impressed. They're very nice guys and very knowledgable. Served me a lovely example of their brews too.

Just about to put a wheat beer on, using some Wyeast Belgian Wit yeast. I just hope the temperature inside our house is going to be okay for the beer.

I also bought one of those bottle trees, so I can drain bottles more efficiently. I fucking hate bottling, so I also took a look at their pretty keenly priced kegging kits. It's a big leap though, with quite a bit of expense between the keg, CO2 canister, connectors and spare fridge. Matt reckons he's gonna go to keg soon, so I'm keen to see how it goes.

New server is very nice

Plugged in the new server last night and it's a vast improvement on the old one. Fan noise is almost non-existent when it's idling, and no matter how much CPU I used, it didn't seem to power up the fans to maximum even though it was quite a warm evening. Much better than the jet engine roar that the first one had. The only real noise you can hear is a whine from the SCSI disks.

Had some problems installing Ubuntu last night. There seems to be some problem with the CD drive on the Ubuntu server install disk. It can't mount the disk, after booting from it. I noticed last week that Aldi had super-cheap DVD burners on sale, so I might drop in and grab one tonight.

Instead I installed Ubuntu Dapper and attempted to upgrade to Edgy. There's a nasty bug with the current version of initrd-tools that causes upgrades to fail. Worked around it by manually installing a newer version, which seemed to work.

Then there's the problem with the monitor. I'm using a nasty, cheap LCD screen I borrowed from my Mum. The video card in the machine has DVI-out with some kind of adapter attached. Looks like Ubuntu in Edgy does something tricky that causes it to switch back to DVI, as all I get on this (d-sub) monitor is digital-looking noise about halfway through booting. Haven't been able to work out what's going on, but since there's no X installed, I'm a bit stumped.

I need to buy an LCD monitor anyway, so I'll start looking around.

Oh yeah, it also seems to have 900 megs of RAM when it was advertised as only having 500. Very nice. And there's still four slots left, so I can up that even more. It's RDRAM but you can get 256meg sticks reasonably cheaply, so that's at least another gig.

In other geek news, it turns out my Internode ADSL is actually connected to one of their DSLAMs. I had been advised I was on a RIM so my only option was a Telstra port, which means more cost and lower speed. Not sure what went wrong, but it means I can get ADSL goodness. For the same price as 8meg/256k ADSL1 I can get (up to) 24meg/2.5meg ADSL2+ with Annex M. Brilliant! Just waiting for the upgrade to happen now.

So Australia really does have broadband, but it's not offered by the biggest player. Yes, broadband requires fast speeds in both directions, in my opinion. It's not television.

New server arrived

My new server, to replace the jet-engine sounding one, just arrived. It's another dual-Xeon system, but this time it's a workstation model so should be quieter and should be a little more accepting of hardware. Quite looking forward to finally getting some horsepower in the house.

My plans for this machine are for it to be a MythTV backend and to be a server for a couple of thin clients I also bought off eBay. I'm planning to play with Xen to get separation between the services.

The TV aerial at home is going up this weekend. I bought one last weekend at Jaycar, along with some quad-shielded RG6 coax. It's UHF-only and I'm hoping I can get the Kings Cross transmitters. Looking around the area, there seem to be a few other people with UHF antennas pointing that way, rather than towards Gore Hill.

The key thing with digital, though, is that the noise floor is a lot lower. You need a much better signal, with a lot less noise, than you do for decent analogue reception. Here's hoping it works!

El Nino winding down: Lake Eyre visit?

It seems that the current El Nino cycle is winding down, which should end the severe drought much of Australia is currently experiencing. It's common to assume that these droughts are somehow worse than before, possibly because of global warming. In fact, Australia has borne these cycles for thousands of years, and the flora and fauna are adapted to 7-12 year cycle of drought then flood.

A great example of this is Lake Eyre, a large dry salty lake in the desert that is Australia's lowest point. After big rains in Queensland and Western New South Wales, waters flow into the lake and it briefly blooms into an incredibly productive ecosystem. This event only happens once or twice every 5-7 years, but the frequency is highly erratic and is intimately tied into the El Nino cycle.

As the lake fills, enormous numbers of brine shrimp hatch, plants and algae burst into life, fish start breeding and the entire region teems with life. Millions of waterbirds from coastal areas hundreds of kilometres away somehow know that the lake is filling and fly directly to the lake to begin breeding.

These birds, and indeed the fish and plants, have adapted to the cycle. Some birds are capable of breeding more than once in a season when the lake is full, to compensate for the lack of breeding opportunities in the preceeding 5-7 years. They gorge themselves on the shrimp and fish that briefly bloom in the lake.

It's an amazing example of the way this dry country is adapted to its climate. I'm hoping that, as this El Nino cycle ends, I'll be able to witness Lake Eyre filling. It's always been a fascination of mine, and I'd love to see it in full flight. The trouble is, to see it filled you don't get a whole lot of warning, and it only stays filled for a couple of months. It's also quite inaccessible. I think my best option might be some kind of (expensive) organized tour.

Anyone been there and seen the lake have any comments?

Catania Medrano Real Estate: ethics free zone

I know, I know. I shouldn't be expecting ethics from estate agents. It's like trying to find a vegetarian shark. They're scum. All of them. They make used car salesmen seems like paragons of virtue.

We've been completely screwed around by Catania Medrano, estate scum from King Street, Newtown. So I've written about our experiences and their "ethics". These guys have a motto, working with integrity. Fnurt fnurt.

Bloody tired

Don't think I've been this knackered since my last bout of jetlag. Last night was one of those hot, still, humid evenings we get to look forward to in summer in Sydney. At 2am it was still 22° and I wasn't getting any sleep. The fan was just pushing the moist, hot air around.

Fortunately it cooled down soon after and I got some sleep. Gonna have to get used to this!

DVD menus: why oh why?

Last night I installed my grandmother-in-law's (is that a real term?) shiny new telly and DVD player for her, and was tasked with showing her how to use it.

The telly is probably going to be okay, despite being one of these fancy new digital thingamies. Sanity seems to have prevailed and if there's high definition content for a channel, it automagically uses the HD stream when available. What's more, the channel numbering is pretty close to the numbering of the analogue channels.

The hard part is going to be the DVD. With a VCR it was easy to explain: stick in the tape and press play. DVDs, however, have all gone in for these complicated menuing systems. So now I have to explain that she has to sit through the bullshit dire copyright warnings (the UK ones being particularly hilarious), and any other mandatory material the DVD producer deems necessary that everyone watch every time they play the DVD. Then up will come some kind of menu system. But, of course, every menu will be different. And every menu system will use a different paradigm to get to the actual content. And every menu system will use a different way of showing which item you've got highlighted, with varying levels of obviousness.

Whoever thought this shit up clearly hasn't ever had to guide pensioners through usability studies! The first DVD was a Dendy release (thanks to Benj's gift) and the menu was remarkably straightforward. Except that the highlighting was completely non-obvious. Really hard to tell which bit you've got highlighted. Is it the text with the grey halo or the text with the slightly lighter grey halo? Only way to work it out is to mash the arrow buttons and see what moves. Try explaining that to a pensioner!

Eventually I advised that, hopefully, if you stick the DVD in and wait long enough, eventually it just starts the movie. Not sure if her DVD player does this, but it's a Sony and my Sony one does that.

Bob help us if someone goes and buys her some kind of surround sound setup! Imagine trying to explain that she needs to select "Dolby blah blah blah 5.blah blah" to get that to work!

Fortunately she lives just around the corner from my work, so I can drop in if she's having problems. I'll drop in sometime next week for a refresher course.

In other news, I think I need one of these shiny flatscreen LCD things with high definition. Very very nice!

Digital antenna installation

I'm planning to put up an antenna for digital TV reception this weekend. Being in St Peters, I should be right in the Kings Cross transmitter's footprint. I sure as hell hope so because I'm going to buy a UHF-only antenna.

Now the interesting thing will be working out where to point the thing, and diagnosing that as I move the antenna around. I only have a little USB-stick style DVB receiver for my laptop. So far I've not been overwhelmed by the software-displayed signal strength meter in that. Will be difficult with me up the ladder and Holly down the bottom with the laptop.

I guess I could get an installer in, but since we're only renting I'm loathe to spend big money on the antenna. Yes, the landlord should supply an antenna. He hasn't, though he's put up the mast for me and will let me clip the cable down and drill holes in the floor for the cable.

Any tips?

Decibels

In response to yesterday's post about acoustic noise measurements, Matt Palmer, Rog and Michael Greb have pointed out that a "bel" is the base unit of "decibel", with a decibel being a tenth of a bel. That much should have been obvious to me, but wasn't.

Michael reckons 37dB isn't loud at all, which means that computer should be a good purchase. Excellent news!

Thanks for the responses guys.