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Jono Bacon: Bad Voltage in 2014

Planet WolvesLUG - Sun, 19/01/2014 - 17:44

In 2013 we kicked off Bad Voltage, a fun and irreverent podcast about technology, Open Source, gaming, politics, and anything else we find interesting. The show includes a veritable bounty of presenters including Stuart Langridge (LugRadio, Show Of Jaq), Bryan Lunduke (Linux Action Show), Jeremy Garcia (LinuxQuestions Podcast), and myself (LugRadio, Shot Of Jaq).

We have all podcasted quite a bit before and we know it takes a little while to really get into the groove, but things are really starting to gel in the show. We are all having a blast doing it, and it seems people are enjoying it.

If you haven’t given the show a whirl, I would love to encourage you to check out our most episode. In it we feature:

  • An interview with Sam Hulick who writes music for video games (Mass Effect, Baldur’s Gate) as well as some of the Ubuntu sounds.
  • We discuss the Mars One project and whether it absolutely madness or vague possibility.
  • We evaluate how Open Source app devs can make money, different approaches, and whether someone could support a family with it.
  • Part One of our 2014 predictions. We will review them at the end of the year to see how we did. Be sure to share your predictions too!

Go and download the show in either MP3 or Ogg format and subscribe to the podcast feeds!

We also have a new community forum that is starting to get into its groove too. The forum is based on Discourse, so is a pleasure to use, and a really nice community is forming. We would love to welcome you too!

In 2014 we want to grow the show, refine our format, and grow our community around the world. Our goal here is that Bad Voltage becomes the perfect combination of informative but really fun to listen to. I have no doubt that our format and approach will continue to improve with each show. We also want to grow an awesome, inclusive, and diverse community of listeners too. Our goal is that people associate the Bad Voltage community as a fun, like-minded set of folks who chat together, play together, collaborate together, and enjoy the show together.

Here’s to a fun year with Bad Voltage and we hope you come and be a part of it.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Imran Chaudhry: Why is Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica one of the best TV shows ever?

Planet HantsLUG - Sun, 19/01/2014 - 09:36
Here are two reasons (there are many more): this http://vimeo.com/51598991 and this http://vimeo.com/51466779
Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Mick Morgan: rage against the machine

Planet ALUG - Sun, 19/01/2014 - 03:02

I know it is futile to rant about banks. I know also that I should not really expect anything other than crap service from an industry that treats its customers as useful idiots. But yesterday I met with such appalling and unforgiveable stupidity and intransigence that I feel the need to rant here. I have left a period of 24 hours between the experience and the rant simply to allow myself time to reflect, shout at the cats and explain my frustration to my wife in the (vain) belief that it might actually be me at fault rather than the banks (I am, at heart, an eternal optimist).

Here is what happened.

Recently I was reviewing my meagre savings because the laughably small interest rate on one of my ISAs had been reduced following the ending of a “bonus period”. Great scam this. Offer a rate say 0.5% higher than that offered by competitors but limit it to a fixed period. Thereafter, drop the rate to (say) 1.0% below your competitors’ offerings. Better still, lock your customer into the agreement for a period (say) two years longer than the initial “high rate” period. We all fall for this, yet in my view it should be outlawed because it takes advantage of those least able to care for themselves – i.e people who do not actively manage their savings. Such people are often elderly, or infirm, and perhaps confused by the finance sector (who isn’t?). Some people are taken in simply because they naively believe that, as long term, loyal, customers they will be treated as such by their bank.

Following my latest review I noted that one of my ISA accounts (I have several, largely as a result of the aforementioned bank policy of varying introductory rates) was paying 3.0% when the one with the now lapsed introductory rate was paying only 2.0% (now to be reduced even further to 1.5% from 1 February this year). On the face of it would seem to be a no-brainer to move the funds in the lower paying account to the one paying the higher rate. But ISA investment is complicated by the need to make 2-3 year decisions now based on current rates when rates may rise later this year and by the fact that you are limited to a fixed maximum investment sum in any one financial year and in any one ISA. Decisions are further complicated by the policy of some banks to refuse transfers in from other (previous year) ISAs and the fact that some ISAs do not allow any withdrawals or indeed transfers out. Little wonder that “inertia” means that they get to keep your money at rates as low as a derisory 0.1% per annum. I kid you not. My wife was getting this from Barclays up until last year when I found out and stood over her whilst she completed the forms to move her cash. My wife is in the “loyal customer” camp.

So, do I move funds now in order to gain 1.0% or wait six months (when rates may have moved and we will in any case be in a new F/Y and sparkly new ISAs with fresh introductory carrots will be in place)? Tough call, but the fact the rate differential was set to rise to 1.5% in February, coupled with the fact that the Halifax (let’s name and shame) on-line banking system said that I could transfer in the ISA in question to their ISA paying 3.00% convinced me to start the process.

Big mistake.

On starting the transfer I checked, and double checked, that the account I was transferring into was the one offering the 3.0% rate. It was. The account number and sort-code matched. On completion of the process, the system even gave me a nice “Thank you for transferring into your cash ISA” page to print which summarised the action I was authorising (“from” account detail, “to” account detail, amount of transfer, National Insurance No. etc). A couple of days later I noted that funds had disappeared from the “from” account so I knew the process must have started. I checked several times over the next week to see if the funds had been added to my Halifax account but was not overly worried that it had not because the Halifax does explain that the process can take up to 15 days, but that they will credit interest to the account for the full sum transferred from the date of application (the “Halifax ISA promise“). Well, I wasn’t worried until I received a letter from the Halifax saying that they could not complete the process of opening my account until I had provided information to verify my identity. Note that this letter confirmed the account details as being the existing ISA I hold with them. The letter concluded by saying that I should “call into any of our branches to confirm” the identity information requested. It also said that if I had any questions I should call a telephone number provided.

I have several accounts with the Halifax, including a mortgage account, but not a current account. My first mortgage in 1977 was with the Halifax. The Halifax has confirmed my identity often, and indeed fairly recently since the ISA in question was opened only one year ago. My nearest Halifax branch is a round trip of 25 miles away. I was at the time feeling pretty grumpy and in no mood to make an unnecessary 25 mile round trip to go through yet another identity check when I could call them to sort out the issue. (I should add as background here that I suffer from both arthritis and a form of inflammatory arthritis commonly known as gout. At the time I received the letter I was suffering from a gout attack. The normal treatment for pain relief in gout is NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or diclofenac. I can’t take any of those pain killers because I am allergic to the damned things. The main drug prescribed for relief of gout inflammation is called colchicine. Colchicine has an interesting set of side effects (look them up). Now figure out why I was grumpy and disinclined to make an unnecessary 25 mile round trip.)

I called the 0845 number only to be greeted by the monumental stupidity of one of those automated systems which requires entry of a specific type of number before it will take you any further. Such systems seem to have been designed specifically to wind you up to the stage that you give up and go away. Mistakes numbers 1 and 2 here are 1, refer customers to such a number on a letter which says “call here if you wish to discuss any questions arising from this letter” and 2, assume that all callers to this number will have current accounts and thus possess the magic number required to use the system successfully. Eventually, however, through persistence, I got to a human being. The human being in question appeared to be a nice helpful young man in a call centre. Unfortunately after listening to my explanation as to why I was calling, the NHYM in question said he was “not trained to answer” my particular question. I know that such calls are recorded, but I found the precise wording he used rather odd, obviously part of a script he was forced to follow in certain cases. I guess that there are certain key phrases which must be used in all transactions for regulatory reasons. As an aside, I find it sad that even in the situation where you do eventually get to speak to a human being after going through a brain dead automated process, that human being is then forced to act and speak like an automaton.

NHYM number one then passed me back to the automated system whilst reassuring me that he was actually passing me to a colleague who would be able to respond to my particular problem. Whilst I was on hold, the automated system asked me if I was aware that I could get nearly all my questions answered by going on-line to the Halifax web site. Mistake number 3 lies in assuming that anyone who prefers to talk to a human being on a telephone is remotely interested in (or maybe even capable of) using a web service. Those people who have got to the telephone are either web users who have found that the site does /not/ meet their requirements or they are people who actively prefer not to use a website. Referring either group to the web is thus both counter productive and irritating.

Having been on hold for a short period and having ignored all requests to press button “X” or “Y” I was again eventually connected to a (different) NHYM in a call centre. I then again explained my situation: viz. I had received a letter asking me to schlepp up to my nearest Halifax in order to provide documentary proof that I was the same bloke who had opened a particular ISA one year ago. I pointed out that the Halifax knew who I was from previous encounters (I listed various accounts in evidence) and that it should be relatively easy to confirm this on the telephone – hence my call. NHYM number two then took me through various “security questions” which will be familiar to anyone who has a UK bank account (give full name, confirm first line of address and post code, give balance of account in question, give National Insurance Number (it is an ISA), state date of birth). Having done all this, NHYM number two then thanked me and said that he would arrange for me to receive an identifying number which I could use in future telephone banking interactions which would prevent me having to go through this rigmarole all over again. However, he said, I would still have to go into my nearest Halifax branch to prove my identity because this is a “legal requirement” and part of “our know your customer programme”.

I confess that by this time my patience was stretched a little thin and I may have been somewhat abrupt with the NHYM in expressing both my incredulity that this should still be necessary and my intense irritation that the Halifax should assume it OK to insist on my travelling to them when I have already been through the necessary hoops more than once. I pointed out that I had just gone through the process of proving I was who I said I was to his satisfaction in order to meet their security requirements. I also pointed out that for all he knew, I could be a disabled old man incapable of leaving his home without assistance (not actually true, but not so far from the truth) and that it was therefore a little unreasonable to expect me to do so. NHYM sympathised, said that he would pass on my complaint, but felt obliged to point out that any formal complaint would not be upheld because Halifax was merely obeying its legal obligations to identify its customers and the source of their funds. (I know for a fact that this is utter bollocks and that banks choose how they should meet their obligations under money laundering regulations, but I did not feel that this would be a fruitful line to take with the NHYM so I limited myself to forcefully asking him to lodge my complaint). Before concluding our conversation, I apologised to the NHYM for venting my frustration upon him and told him that I realised that he was following instructions in a difficult job and that he was in no way to feel himself at fault for the failings of his employer and its systems.

I then made the trip to my nearest Halifax. Before going however, I decided that I should take the opportunity of the visit to close an old branch book based savings account I hold as trustee for one of my grandsons and transfer the balance to a newer account I hold elsewhere which offers a much better rate (they play the same “bonus interest rate” trick on poor defenceless children.)

On arrival I was greeted by a NHYL who listened to my story and then told me that what I had described could not possibly have happened because I was not allowed to transfer in new funds to an existing fixed rate ISA account. What I must have done (according to her) was to open a new ISA and request transfer of funds into that. I showed her the documentary evidence refuting this statement and also pointed out that the money had obviously been requested by the Halifax because it had left my other account about a week ago, NHYL again said that this was not possible because the Halifax would not request the funds until the account had been set up. The fact that the letter I held in my hand said that the account could not be opened until they had verified my identity proved that the account had not yet been set up. I pointed to the account number and pointed out that this number was my existing ISA account which was already open, so perhaps the Halifax had requested the funds in order to place them in my existing account. Again, NHYL said this was impossible. I then asked where my money was because it clearly was not in my other account and the Halifax appeared not to have it. She proved unable to answer this and suggested that I check with my other bankers as to what they had done with the money. So I trotted (slowly) up the road to the other bank and spoke to yet another NHYL (though this one actually /was/ helpful). Apparently, despite the Halifax NHYL’s protestations to the contrary, the Halifax had requested transfer of my ISA funds almost immediately. My bankers had simply responded as they were expected to do and passed the money on. On hearing my full story, and learning that I did not now wish to pass my funds to the Halifax (old account or not) NHYL number two spoke to her colleagues in the bank’s ISA section and confirmed that once the funds were returned to them (as they would have to be if the account opening process was not completed) my old ISA would be re-instated.

I thanked the helpful lady and made my way back to the Halifax where I updated the Halifax version of the NHYL on the position. Whilst there I also asked how I should go about closing my grandson’s account. I was directed to the counter. At the counter I entered what appeared to be yet another banking bubble divorced from reality. My request to close the account and let me have a cheque made out in my grandson’s name was greeted with the response that it would not be possible to provide a cheque for a sum less than £500.00. I was offered cash. I said that I would prefer not to take cash because (bizarre as it may sound) I knew that the bank holding my grandson’s account did not accept cash, dealing only in cheques. (Sometimes I despair). I then asked if the cashier could just transfer the balance of the account to my grandson’s other account and then close the old account. Reader, you will not be surprised to learn that this proved impossible.

I took the cash and left.

As I said at the start of this rant, I really should know better. Despite all the (supposed) huge investment in technology in our banking systems, systems which we rely upon in ways which are deeply fundamental to our society, those systems consistently fail to meet quite simple needs. Frankly, this terrifies me.

Note carefully that all of the problems relating to my ISA transfer described above could have been prevented very simply. All that was necessary was a check in the on-line system which should have popped up a warning when I attempted to transfer funds saying “Sorry, you cannot transfer funds into this account. Do you wish to open a new ISA?”

To which my answer would have been: “No”.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Andrew Savory: Netflix versus Blu-Ray

Planet ALUG - Sun, 19/01/2014 - 01:29

Which is better … streaming content or buying shiny plastic discs?

It’s surely an unfair comparison because the constraints of a service like Netflix (delivering uninterrupted video over a range of network qualities) are very different to delivering content on physical media. But I was looking to justify my purchase of Battlestar Galactica (BSG) on Blu-Ray so here’s some screen captures as a very unscientific comparison. The screen captures are only approximately the same frame on each media, but should be close enough for a rough comparison.

The Netflix screen captures were done streaming on a fibre internet connection using a Mac with Silverlight installed, but with no other adjustments. The Battlestar Galactica Blu-Ray claims to be “High Definition Widescreen 1.78:1” (but doesn’t define high definition further … is it supposed to be 720p or 1080p?).

Here’s the two sources at 100% magnification (click for full-size):

And at 200% magnification:

And at 300% magnification:

In this instance, Netflix does a pretty good job, although it looks a little blurry. BSG is probably a bad choice for showing off Blu-Ray in comparisons: it’s heavily processed to make it look grainy like film, and almost every single scene is very dark. I doubt it was shot on the latest HD cameras, either (the miniseries first aired in 2003, the full series began in 2004). But since more recent series like Game of Thrones aren’t available on Netflix, this is the best I’ve got for comparisons at the moment.

Of course, even if the Blu-Ray and Netflix versions were identical, a big benefit of those shiny plastic discs is they can be used off-line and don’t require a continuing subscription.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Mick Morgan: thrustvps compromised?

Planet ALUG - Sat, 18/01/2014 - 16:29

I have not used thrust since my last contract expired. I left them because of their appalling actions at around this time last year. However, today I received the following email from them:

From: Admin
To: xxx@yyy
Subject: Damn::VPS aka Thrust::VPS
Date: Sat, 18 Jan 2014 03:28:06 +0000

This is a notification to let you know that we need to verify for reduce fraud.

We want your data as soon as possible.

The data that we need is as follows:

Server Username (Included)
Server Password (Included)
Full Name (Included)
Address (Included)
City(Included)
State (Included)
ZIP (Included)
Phone Number (For Call To Verify)
Country (Included)
Paypal Email (If Order With Paypal)
Paypal Password (If Order With Paypal)
Credit Card Information (If Order With Credit Card)
Scan Of Credit Card Front And Back (If Order With Credit Card)

Data is sent to Email : thrustvps@yahoo.com

Thanks in advance for your patience and support.

http://damnvps.com – Damn::VPS – We give a damn

Now, apart from the fairly obvious phishing nature of this email (you want me to scan my credit card front and back and send you a picture? Right…), and the request to reply to an address other than the sender (“Data is sent to….”) it actually looks to me as if the email really came from Thrust. Certainly the full headers (including “Return-Path:”, “Reply-To:”, “Received:” and even “Message-Id:”) look remarkably similar to the real ones I have from earlier mails from Thrust. A normal phishing email will usually spoof the “From:” address and use the “Reply-To:” to capture return emails at the scammer’s address. The fact that this email actually asks (in grammatically poor english) that you reply to a yahoo address suggests that the scammers are not that sophisticated.

I may not have much time for Thrust, but I have even less time for spammers and scammers so I forwarded the email to Thrust with a recommendation that they check it out and let their customers know that there appeared to be a scam going on in their name. I also checked their website to see if they had any alert thereon. The website (as at 15.00 today) appears to be unreachable (and I have tested from the UK, SanFrancisco, NYC and Amsterdam). With a website down and dodgy mail appearing to come from a legitimate Thrust mailserver address it suggests to me that they may have suffered a compromise. Certainly it looks to me as if their customer email database has been compromised (the address I got the email on was not my normal address, rather it was the one I use for contacts such as this). Whether that means any of their other account details have also been stolen I cannot be sure.

But I am glad that I am no longer a customer.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: Some software releases to change the topic.

Planet HantsLUG - Sat, 18/01/2014 - 13:43

Now it is time for me to go silent for a while, and not talk about jobs, unemployment, or puppies.

This past week has also been full of software releases. Some of the public ones include:

Lumail - My console mail client, with integrated lua scripting

After three months of slow work I've issued a new release today. This release features several bugfixes for dealing with malformed MIME messages, and similar fun.

The core set of lua primitives hasn't changed very much for a good six months now, which means I guess rightly what kind of things would be useful.

Templer - My perl-based static-site generator.

This was recently updated to add two new plugins to the core:

  • A redis plugin to allow you to set variables to values retrieved from redis.
  • An RSS plugin to allow you to inline (remote) RSS feeds into your static HTML. Useful for building news-pages, etc.

Although there are a million static-site generators I still think mine has value, and I am consistently using it.

Months ago when I said "I'm writing a mail-client", all I need to do is handle three cases:

  • Display a list of folders.
  • Display index of messages.
  • Display a single message.

Then some new things like "Compose", "Reply", "Forward", I remember somebody commented along the lines of "Yeah, but MIME will make you hate your life" I laughed. Now I know better. Still it works, it works well, and I'm glad I did it.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Jonathan McDowell: Fixing my parents' ADSL

Planet ALUG - Sat, 18/01/2014 - 07:22

I was back at my parents' over Christmas, like usual. Before I got back my Dad had mentioned they'd been having ADSL stability issues. Previously I'd noticed some issues with keeping a connection up for more than a couple of days, but it had got so bad he was noticing problems during the day. The eventual resolution isn't going to surprise anyone who's dealt with these things before, but I went through a number of steps to try and improve things.

Firstly, I arranged for a new router to be delivered before I got back. My old Netgear DG834G was still in use and while it didn't seem to have been the problem I'd been meaning to get something with 802.11n instead of the 802.11g it supports for a while. I ended up with a TP-Link TD-W8980, which has dual band wifi, ADSL2+, GigE switch and looked to have some basic OpenWRT support in case I want to play with that in the future. Switching over was relatively simple and as part of that procedure I also switched the ADSL microfilter in use (I've seen these fail before with no apparent cause).

Once the new router was up I looked at trying to get some line statistics from it. Unfortunately although it supports SNMP I found it didn't provide the ADSL MIB, meaning I ended up doing some web scraping to get the upstream/downstream sync rates/SNR/attenuation details. Examination of these over the first day indicated an excessive amount of noise on the line. The ISP offer the ability in their web interface to change the target SNR for the line. I increased this from 6db to 9db in the hope of some extra stability. This resulted in a 2Mb/s drop in the sync speed for the line, but as this brought it down to 18Mb/s I wasn't too worried about that.

Watching the stats for a further few days indicated that there were still regular periods of excessive noise, so I removed the faceplate from the NTE5 master BT socket, removing all extensions from the line. This resulted in regaining the 2Mb/s that had been lost from increasing the SNR target, and after watching the line for a few days confirmed that it had significantly decreased the noise levels. It turned out that the old external ringer that was already present on the line when my parents' moved in was still connected, although it had stopped working some time previously. Also there was an unused and much spliced extension in place. Removed both of these and replacing the NTE5 faceplate led to a line that was still stable. At the time of writing the connection has been up since before the new year, significantly longer than it had managed for some time.

As I said at the start I doubt this comes as a surprise to anyone who's dealt with this sort of line issue before. It wasn't particularly surprising to me (other than the level of the noise present), but I went through each of the steps to try and be sure that I had isolated the root cause and could be sure things were actually better. It turned out that doing the screen scraping and graphing the results was a good way to verify this. Observe:

The blue/red lines indicate the SNR for the upstream and downstream links - the initial lower area is when this was set to a 6db target, then later is a 9db target. Green are the forward error correction errors divided by 100 (to make everything fit better on the same graph). These are correctable, but still indicate issues. Yellow are CRC errors, indicating something that actually caused a problem. They can be clearly seen to correlate with the FEC errors, which makes sense. Notice the huge difference removing the extensions makes to both of these numbers. Also notice just how clear graphing the data makes things - it was easy to show my parents' the graph and indicate how things had been improved and should thus be better.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Chris Lamb: Review: Captain Phillips (2013)

Planet ALUG - Fri, 17/01/2014 - 13:27

Somalia's chief exports appear to be morally-ambiguous Salon articles about piracy and sophomoric evidence against libertarianism. However, it is the former topic that Captain Phillips concerns itself with, inspired by the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama container ship in 2009.

What is truth? In the end, Captain Phillips does not rise above Pontius Pilate in providing an answer, but it certainly tries using more refined instruments than irony or leaden sarcasm.

This motif pervades the film. Obviously, it is based on a "true story" and brings aboard that baggage, but it also permeates the plot in a much deeper sense. For example, Phillips and the US Navy lie almost compulsively to the pirates, whilst the pirates only really lie once where they put Phillips in greater danger.

Notice further that Phillips only starts to tell the truth when he thinks all hope is lost. These telling observations become even more fascinating when you realise that they must be based on the testimony of the...liars. Clearly, deception is a weapon to be monopolised and there are few limits on what good guys can or should lie about if they believe they can save lives.

Even Phillip's nickname ("Irish") is a falsehood – he straight-up admits he is an American citizen.

Lastly, there is an utterly disarming epilogue where Phillips is being treated for shock by clinical efficient medical staff. Not only will it scuttle any "blanket around the shoulders" cliché‎ but is probably a highly accurate portrayal of what actually happens post-trauma. This echoes the kind of truth Werner Herzog often aims for in his filmmaking as well his guilt-inducing duality between uncomfortable lingering and compulsive viewing.

Another angle worthy of discussion: can a film based on real-world events even be "spoilered"? Hearing headlines on the before you read the newspaper hardly robs you of a literary journey...

Captain Phillips does have some quotidian problems. Firstly, the only tool for ratcheting up tension is for the Somalians to launch verbal broadsides at the Americans, with each compromise somehow escalating the situation further. This technique is genuinely effective but well before the climatic rescue scene—where it is really needed—it has been subject to the most extreme diminishing returns.

(I cannot be the first to notice the "Africans festooned with guns shouting incomphensively" trope – I hope it is based on a Babel-esque mechanism of disorientation and miscommunication rather than anything, frankly, unsavoury.)

The racist idea that Africans prefer a AK-47 rotated about the Z-axis is socially constructed.

Secondly, the US Navy acts like a teacher with an Ofsted inspector observing quietly from the corner of the classroom; far too well-behaved it suspends belief, with no post-kill gloating or even the tiniest of post-arrest congratulations. Whilst nobody wants to see the Navy overreact badly to other military branches getting all the glory, nobody wants to see a suspiciously bland recruitment vehicle either. Paradoxically, this hermetic treatment made me unduly fascinated by them, as if they were part of some military "uncanny valley". Two quick observations:

  • All US—Somali interactions are recorded by a naval officer. No doubt a value-for-money defense against a USS Abu Ghraib, but knowing the plot is based on a factual events, it was perhaps a little too Baudrillardian to ponder how the presence of the Navy's cameras in a scene actually lent weight to the film's version of events, crucially without me even knowing whether the parallel "real life" footage is verifiable or not.
  • The navigational computers not only seem to require lines to drawn repeatedly between points of interest, but the Maersk Alabama's arbitrary relabelling as MOTHERSHIP seems to imply that an officer could humourously rename a contact to something unbecoming of a 12A classification.

The drone footage: I'd love to read (or write) an essay about how Call of Duty might have influenced cinema.

Finally, despite the title, the film is actually about two captains; the skillful liar Phillips and ... well, that's the real problem. Whilst Captain Muse is certainly no caricatured Hook, we are offered little depth beyond a "You're not just a fisherman" faux-revelation that leads nowhere. I was left inventing reasons for his akrasia so that he made any sense whatsoever.

One could charitably argue that the film attempts to stay objective on Muse, but the inability for the film to take any obvious ethical stance actually seems to confuse and then compromise the narrative. What deeper truth is actually being revealed? Is this film or documentary?

Worse still, the moral vacuum is invariably filled by the viewer's existing political outlook: are Somali pirates victims of circumstance who are forced into (alas, regrettable) swashbuckling adventures to pacify plank-threatening warlords? Or are they violent and dangerous criminals who habour an irrational resentment against the West, flimsily represented by material goods in shipping containers?

Your improvised answer to this Rorschach test will always sit more haphazardly in the film than any pre-constructed treatment ever could.

6/10

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Chris Lamb: Captain Phillips: Pontius Pirate

Planet ALUG - Fri, 17/01/2014 - 13:27

Somalia's chief exports appear to be morally-ambiguous Salon articles about piracy and sophomoric evidence against libertarianism. However, it is the former topic that Captain Phillips concerns itself with, inspired by the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama container ship in 2009.

What is truth? In the end, Captain Phillips does not rise above Pontius Pilate in providing an answer, but it certainly tries using more refined instruments than irony or leaden sarcasm.

This motif pervades the film. Obviously, it is based on a "true story" and brings aboard that baggage, but it also permeates the plot in a much deeper sense. For example, Phillips and the US Navy lie almost compulsively to the pirates, whilst the pirates only really lie once (where they put Phillips in greater danger).

Notice further that Phillips only starts to tell the truth when he thinks all hope is lost. These telling observations become even more fascinating when you realise that they must be based on the testimony of the, well, liars. Clearly, deception is a weapon to be monopolised and there are few limits on what good guys can or should lie about if they believe they can save lives.

Even Phillip's nickname ("Irish") is a falsehood – he straight-up admits he is an American citizen.

Futhermore, there is an utterly disarming epilogue where Phillips is being treated for shock by clinical efficient medical staff. Not only will this scuttle any "blanket around the shoulders" cliché‎ but is probably a highly accurate portrayal of what actually happens post-trauma. This echoes the kind of truth Werner Herzog aims for in his filmmaking as well his guilt-inducing duality between uncomfortable lingering and compulsive viewing.

Lastly, a starter for a meta-discussion: can a film based on real-world events even be "spoilered"? Hearing headlines on the radio before you read your newspaper hardly robs you of a literary journey...

Captain Phillips does have some quotidian problems. Firstly, the only tool for ratcheting up tension is for the Somalians to launch verbal broadsides at the Americans, with each compromise somehow escalating the situation. This technique is effective but well before the climatic rescue scene—where it is really needed—it has been subject to the most extreme diminishing returns.

(I cannot be the first to notice the "Africans festooned with guns shouting incomphensively" trope – I hope it is based on a Babel-esque mechanism of disorientation from miscommunication rather than anything more unsavoury.)

The racist idea that Africans prefer an AK-47 rotated about the Z-axis is socially constructed.

Secondly, the US Navy acts like a teacher with an Ofsted inspector observing quietly from the corner of the classroom; far too well-behaved it suspends belief, with no post-kill gloating or even the tiniest of post-arrest congratulations. Whilst nobody wants to see the Navy overreact badly to other military branches getting all the glory, nobody wants to see a suspiciously bland recruitment vehicle either. Paradoxically, this hermetic treatment made me unduly fascinated by them as if they were part of some military "uncanny valley". Two quick observations:

  • All US—Somali interactions are recorded by a naval officer. No doubt a value-for-money defense against a USS Abu Ghraib, but knowing the plot is based on factual events, it was perhaps a little too Baudrillardian to ponder how the presence of the Navy's cameras in a scene actually lent weight to the film's version of events, crucially without me even knowing whether the parallel "real-life" footage is verifiable or not.
  • The navigational computers not only seem to require lines to drawn repeatedly between points of interest, but the Maersk Alabama's arbitrary relabelling as MOTHERSHIP seems to imply that an officer could humourously rename a radar contact to something unbecoming of a 12A classification.

The drone footage: I'd love to write an essay about how Call of Duty might have influenced (or even be) cinema.

Finally, despite the title, the film is actually about two captains; the skillful liar Phillips and ... well, that's the real problem. Whilst Captain Muse is certainly no caricatured Hook, we are offered little depth beyond a "You're not just a fisherman" faux-revelation that leads nowhere. I was left inventing reasons for his akrasia so that he made any sense whatsoever.

One could charitably argue that the film attempts to stay objective on Muse, but the inability for the film to take any obvious ethical stance actually seems to confuse and then compromise the narrative. What deeper truth is actually being revealed? Is this film or documentary?

Worse still, the moral vacuum is invariably filled by the viewer's existing political outlook: are Somali pirates victims of circumstance who are forced into (alas, regrettable) swashbuckling adventures to pacify plank-threatening warlords? Or are they violent and dangerous criminals who habour an irrational resentment against the West, flimsily represented by material goods in shipping containers?

Your improvised answer to this Rorschach test will always sit more haphazardly in the film than any pre-constructed treatment ever could.

6/10

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: So I found a job.

Planet HantsLUG - Fri, 17/01/2014 - 13:27

Just to recap my life since December:

I had worked with Bytemark for seven years and left for reasons which made sense. I started working for "big corp" with a job that on-paper sounded good, but ultimately turned out to be a poor fit for my tastes.

I spent a month trying to decide "Is this bad, or is this just not what I'm used to?", because I was aware that there would obviously be big differences as well as little ones.

At the point I realized some of the niggles could be fixed but most couldn't then I resigned, rather than prolong the initial probationary training period - because I knew I wouldn't stay, and it seemed unfair and misleading to stay for the full duration of the probationary period knowing full well I'd leave the moment it concluded - and the notice period switched from seven days to one month.

A couple of people were kind enough to get in touch and discuss potential offers, both locally, remotely in the UK, and from abroad (the latter surprised me, but pleased me too).

I spent a couple of days "contracting", by which I really mean doing a few favours for friends, some of whom paid me in Amazon vouchers, and some of whom paid me in beer.

e.g. I tweaked the upcoming death Knight site to handle 3000 simultaneous HTTP connections, then I upgraded some servers from Squeeze to Wheezy for some other folk.

That aside I've largely been idle for about 10 days and have now picked the company to work for - so I'm going to be a contractor with a day-rate for an American firm for the next couple of months. If that goes well then I'll become a full-time employee, hopefully.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Jono Bacon: Growing an Active Ubuntu Advocacy Community

Planet WolvesLUG - Fri, 17/01/2014 - 00:13

Like many of you, I am tremendously excited about Ubuntu’s future. We are building a powerful convergence platform across multiple devices with a comprehensive developer platform at the heart of it. This could have a profound impact on users and developers alike.

Now, you have all heard me and my team rattling on about this for a while, but we also have a wonderful advocacy community in Ubuntu in the form of our LoCo Teams who are spreading the word. I want to explore ways to help support and grow the events and advocacy that our LoCo Teams are doing.

I had a conversation with Jose on the LoCo Council about this today, and I think we have a fun plan to move forward with. We are going to need help though, so please let me know in the comments if you can participate.

Step 1: Ubuntu Advocacy Kit

The Ubuntu Advocacy Kit is designed to provide a one-stop shop of information, materials (e.g. logos, brochures, presentations), and more for doing any kind of Ubuntu advocacy. Right now it needs a bit of a spring clean, which I am currently working on.

I think we need to get as many members of our community to utilize the kit. With this in mind we are going to do a few things:

  • Get the kit cleaned up and up to date.
  • Get it linked on loco.ubuntu.com and encourage our community to use it.
  • Encourage our community to contribute to the kit and add additional content.
  • Grow the team that maintains the kit.

Help needed: great writers and editors.

Step 2: Advocacy App

The Ubuntu Advocacy Kit works offline. This was a conscious decision with a few benefits:

  1. It makes it easier to know you have all relevant content without having to go to a website and download all the assets. When you have the kit, you have all the materials.
  2. The kit can be used offline.
  3. The kit can be more easily shared.
  4. When people contribute to the kit it feels like you are making something, as opposed to adding docs to a website. This increases the sense of ownership.

With the kit being contained in an offline HTML state (and the source material in reStructured Text) it means that it wouldn’t be that much work to make a click package of the kit that we can ship on the phone, tablet, and desktop.

Just imagine that: you can use the click store to install the Ubuntu Advocacy Kit and have all the information and materials you need, right from the palm of your hand on your phone, tablet, or desktop.

The current stylesheet for the kit doesn’t render well on a mobile device, so it would be handy if we could map the top-level nav (Documentation, Materials etc) to tabs in an app.

We could also potentially include links to other LoCo resources (e.g. a RSS feed view of news from loco.ubuntu.com) and a list of teams.

If you would be interested in working on this, let me know.

Help needed: Ubuntu SDK programmers and artists.

Step 3: Hangout Workshops

I am going to schedule some hangout workshops to go through some tips of how to organize and run LoCo events and advocacy campaigns, and use the advocacy kit as the source material for the workshop. I hope this will result in more events being coordinated.

Help needed: LoCo members who want to grow their skills.

Step 4: LoCo Portal

We also want to encourage wider use of loco.ubuntu.com so our community can get a great idea of the pule of advocacy, events, and more going on.

Help needed: volunteers to run events.

Feedback and volunteers are most welcome!

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Aq: Posting to Discourse via the Discourse REST API from Python

Planet WolvesLUG - Thu, 16/01/2014 - 21:05

The Bad Voltage forum is run by Discourse. As part of posting a new episode, I wanted to be able to send a post to the forum from a script. Discourse has a REST API but it’s not very well documented, at least partially because it’s still being worked on. So if you read this post two years after it was written, it might be entirely full of lies. Still, I managed to work out how to post to Discourse from a Python script, and here’s an example script to do just that.

First, you’ll need an API key. If you’re the forum administrator, which I am, you can generate one of these from http://YOURFORUM/admin/api. It is not clear to me exactly what this API key does: in particular, I suspect that it is a key with total admin rights over the forum, so don’t share it around. If there’s a way of making an API key with limited rights to just create posts and that’s it, I don’t know that way; if you do know that way, tell me! Once you’ve got your API key, and your username, fill them into the script as APIKEY and APIUSERNAME.

import requests # apt-get install python-requests # based on https://github.com/discoursehosting/discourse-api-php/blob/master/lib/DiscourseAPI.php # log all the things so you can see what's going on import logging import httplib httplib.HTTPConnection.debuglevel = 1 logging.basicConfig() logging.getLogger().setLevel(logging.DEBUG) requests_log = logging.getLogger("requests.packages.urllib3") requests_log.setLevel(logging.DEBUG) requests_log.propagate = True # api key created in discourse admin. probably super-secret, so don't tell anyone. APIKEY="whatever the api key is" APIUSERNAME="your username" QSPARAMS = {"api_key": APIKEY, "api_username": APIUSERNAME} FORUM = "http://url for your forum/" # with the slash on the end # First, get cookie r = requests.get(FORUM, params=QSPARAMS) SESSION_COOKIE = r.cookies["_forum_session"] # Now, send a post to the _forum_session post_details = { "title": "Title of the new topic", "raw": "Body text of the post", "category": 7, # get the category ID from the admin "archetype": "regular", "reply_to_post_number": 0 } r = requests.post(FORUM + "posts", params=QSPARAMS, data=post_details, cookies={"_forum_session": SESSION_COOKIE}) print "Various details of the response from discourse" print r.text, r.headers, r.status_code disc_data = json.loads(r.text) disc_data["FORUM"] = FORUM print "The link to your new post is: " print "%(FORUM)st/%(topic_slug)s/%(topic_id)s" % disc_data
Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Engledow (stilvoid): TODO

Planet ALUG - Thu, 16/01/2014 - 17:11

New year this year passed basically the same as last year, though even more enjoyably.

I decided I'd better review my TODO list from last year so here's a diff :)

My firstsecond new year as a dad was a very pleasant one. The Mrs and I polished off atwo bottles of champage (I never used to like the stuff -I still can't get enough of it now) and put our favouritea wide variety of tunes on all night. Dylan woke up at precisely two minutes to midnightdidn't wake up all night :)

New Year's Resolutions

I don't normally make new year's resolutions but I'll give it a go. Here's my resolution list for this year including those not done from last year.

  • Sort out NatWest

  • Sort out LoveFilm

  • Buy a house

  • Read even more (fiction and non-fiction)

  • Write at least one short story

  • Write some more games

  • Go horse riding

  • Learn some more turkish

  • Play a lot more guitar

  • Lose at least a stone (in weight, from myself)

  • Try to be less of a pedant (except when it's funny)

  • Try to be more funny ;)

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Andrew Savory: Home Automation: buttons on the desktop

Planet ALUG - Wed, 15/01/2014 - 19:49

I want a button on my Mac’s desktop to turn on or turn off the lights I have controlled by the Raspberry Pi. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

First, I wrote a script on the Pi to turn the lights on:

#!/bin/bash
/usr/bin/tdtool --on 1
/usr/bin/tdtool --on 2
/usr/bin/tdtool --on 3

For everything here, I also wrote the equivalent to turn the lights off.

Next, I tested running the script via SSH from my Mac:

ssh -f user@raspberrypi.local /home/user/lights_on.sh &>/dev/null

You can use the Applescript Editor to make pseudo-apps, so I wrote an Applescript to execute the SSH command:

tell application “Terminal”

    do script “ssh -f user@raspberrypi.local /home/user/lights_on.sh &>/dev/null”

    activate

end tell

delay 15

tell application “Terminal”

    quit

end tell

I saved this as file format “Application” in my Applications folder, then dragged it to my desktop (an alias is automatically created, leaving the original in Applications). I can now double-click the app and the script runs, or launch it from Spotlight or the wonderful Alfred:     It works but it’s ugly as I have a Terminal window pop up for ~ 15 seconds. There must be a better way.   After some searching, I came across Use automator to create X11 shortcuts in OSX. It’s similar to the Applescript trick, but uses Automator instead, so there’s no need for Terminal. I put the SSH command into the “Run shell script” workflow action, and saved it as an application:     It works! Now I can turn the lights on or off without the Terminal window popping up.   There’s a couple of issues:
  • The tdtool command takes a long time to execute on the Pi. It takes about three seconds for all three plugs to switch, whereas the smart plug remote has an “all on / all off” button which is instant. I need to find out why the command is so slow, and/or a way to control all three in one go.
  • I don’t really want “Lights on” and “Lights off” apps, I want a single app that toggles the state. This could be done by making the server-side script smarter, but I’d really like the app icon to reflect the status of the lights too.
Room for improvement, but this is good enough for now.   Next up: automating sunsets.   References  
Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Debian Bits: Call for Proposals for the MiniDebConf 2014 Barcelona

Planet HantsLUG - Wed, 15/01/2014 - 19:40

Debian Women will hold a MiniDebConf in Barcelona on March 15-16, 2014. Everyone is invited to both talks and social events, but the speakers will all be people who identify themselves as female. This is not a conference about women in Free Software, or women in Debian, rather a usual Debian Mini-DebConf where all the speakers are women.

Debian Women invites submissions of proposals for papers, presentations, discussion sessions and tutorials for the event. Submissions are not limited to traditional talks: you could propose a performance, an art installation, a debate or anything else. All talks are welcome, whether newbie or very advanced level. Please, forward this call to potential speakers and help us make this event a great success!

Please send your proposals to proposals@bcn2014.mini.debconf.org. Don't forget to include in your message: your name or nick the title of the event, description, language, and any other information that might be useful. Please submit your proposal(s) as soon as possible.

For more information, visit the website of the event: http://bcn2014.mini.debconf.org

We hope to see you in Barcelona!

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Andrew Savory: Home Automation: Turn it on again

Planet ALUG - Wed, 15/01/2014 - 00:55

In Pi three ways I wrote:

what happens when you combine an RF transmitter, smart sockets with RF receivers, and a Raspberry Pi?

I’m still finding out what can be done, but this is what I’ve discovered so far.

This is what I bought:

First, I set up each of the smart plugs, and paired them with the remote control.

This is already a big improvement: my home office has bookshelves filled with LED lights, but with inaccessible switches. Being able to turn them all on and off from the remote is awesome, but I’d really like them to turn on automatically, for example at sunset. So I need some compute power in the loop. Time for the Pi.

The Pi is running Raspian. I followed the installation instructions for telldus on Raspberry Pi. See also R-Pi Tellstick core for non-Debian instructions.

Next I tried to figure out the correct on/off parameters in tellstick.conf for the smart plugs. The Tellstick documentation is a bit sparse. Tellstick on Raspberry Pi to control Maplin (UK) lights talks about physical dials on the back of the remote control; sadly the Bye Bye Standby remote doesn’t have this.

Each plug is addressed using a protocol and a number of parameters. In the case of the Bye Bye Standby, it apparently falls under the arctech protocol, which has four different models, and each model uses the parameters “house” and sometimes “unit”.

Taking a brute-force approach, I generated a configuration for every possible parameter for the arctech protocol and codeswitch model:

for house in A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P ; do
    for unit in {1..16} ; do
      cat <<EOF
device {
   id = $count
   name = "Test"
   protocol = "arctech"
   model = "codeswitch"
   parameters {
      house = "$house"
      unit = "$unit"
   }
}
EOF
   done
done

I then turned each of them on and off in turn, and waited until the tellstick spoke to the plugs:

count = 0
((count++))
for house in A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P ; do
    for unit in {1..16} ; do
        echo "id = $count, house = $house, unit = $unit"
        tdtool --on $count
        tdtool --off $count
        ((count++))
    done
done

This eventually gave me house E and unit 16 (and the number of the corresponding automatically generated configuration, 80):

tdtool --on 80
Turning on device 80, Test – Success

But this only turned on or off all three plugs at the same time. I wanted control over each plug individually.

I stumbled upon How to pair Home Easy plug to Raspberry Pi with Tellstick, and that gave me enough information to reverse the process. Instead of getting the tellstick to work out what code the plugs talk, in theory I need to get the tellstick to listen to the plug for the code.

So this configuration should work, in combination with the tdlearn command:

device {
    id = 1
   name = "Study Right"
   protocol = "arctech"
   model = "selflearning-switch"
   parameters {
      house = "1"
      unit = "1"
   }
}

However this tiny footnote on the telldus website says: 

4Bye Bye Standby Self learning should be configured as Code switch.

So it seems it should be:

device {
    id = 1
   name = "Study Right"
   protocol = "arctech"
   model = “codeswitch"
   parameters {
      house = "1"
      unit = "1"
   }
}

… which is exactly what I had before. Remembering of course to do service telldusd restart each time we change the config, I tried learning again:

tdtool --learn 1
Learning device: 1 Study Right - The method you tried to use is not supported by the device

Well, bother. Looking at the Tellstick FAQ:

Is it possible to receive signals with TellStick?

TellStick only contains a transmitter module and it’s therefore only possible to transmit signals, not receive signals. TellStick Duo can receive signals from the compatible devices.

So it seemed like I was stuck with all-on, all-off unless I bought a TellStick Duo. Alternatively, I could expand my script to generate every possible combination in the tellstick.conf, and see if I can work out the magic option to control each plug individually. But since there are 1 to 67108863 possible house codes, this could take some time.

Rereading Bye Bye Standby 2011 compatible? finally gave me the answer. You put the plug into learning mode, and get the Tellstick to teach the right code to the plug by sending an “off” or an “on” signal:

tdtool --off 3

So setting house to a common letter and setting units to sensible increments, I can now control each of the plugs separately.

Next up: some automation.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Dick Turpin: Gizza loan.

Planet WolvesLUG - Tue, 14/01/2014 - 12:21
Customer: "Hi we bought a cheap laptop from you but it does not appear to have MS Office on it, do you by any chance have a copy of Office we can borrow?"

Speechless
Categories: LUG Community Blogs
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