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August 20, 2007

Please move along

From 20th August 2007, this blog will no longer be updated.

You probably want Tim Retout’s website, or perhaps the Atom and RSS feeds.

August 15, 2007

PyGTK bindings & vim syntax highlighting

Python bindings as implemented the PyGTK way use files with extensions ”.defs” and ”.override”. By default in vim these will not have syntax highlighting.

Create ~/.vim if necessary, and in ~/.vim/filetype.vim put:

if exists("did_load_filetypes")
augroup filetypedetect
  au! BufRead,BufNewFile *.override             setfiletype c
  au! BufRead,BufNewFile *.defs                 setfiletype scheme
augroup END

Afghanistan and opium

I heard on the radio this morning that the US have a new counternarcotics strategy for Afghanistan – they’re going to pay rewards to governors for reducing poppy planting, among other measures. 90% of opium production takes place in that country, and it’s a delicious irony that the Taliban insurgency is probably mostly being funded by their enemies’ heroin addictions. Doubly ironic because the Taliban had nearly eradicated opium production by 2001.

August 13, 2007



It was a lot of work to assemble just for a captioned photo, but I think it was worth it.

August 04, 2007

RhythmDB disjunctions patch

I was particularly pleased with the patch I wrote yesterday; it added support for rhythmdb disjunctions to the python bindings, and needed some thinking through. After the requisite planning, during which I did in fact sketch diagrams on the back of an envelope, I went to the pub to numb the pain of the actual implementation. Two pints later, it worked.

What it means in practical terms is that you can now do all the really complicated Rhythmbox database queries from Python plugins; so, I now have search-as-you-type on podcast posts and feeds in my reimplementation. This is my seventh patch to make it into Rhythmbox.

Incidentally, git and git-svn have improved my productivity dramatically since I started using them – it’s great actually having revision control of all my local changes, and being able to easily merge the latest svn commits. Also handy is being able to create separate local branches within which to develop radical new features.

Bzr could probably do this as well, but I have grand dreams of one revision control system to rule them all; I’m worried that bzr won’t scale well to handle projects the size of Linux and X.org. It would be interesting to see a Launchpad equivalent that was based upon git. (Yes, I realise this is probably a crazy reason for choosing git over bzr, but that’s what’s in the back of my mind. It means I shouldn’t have to learn two revision control systems.)

August 01, 2007

Mach & Latin

Thomas Schwinge made a nice analogy in a mailing list post – studying the Hurd on Mach is like learning Latin – even though it’s obsolete, the knowledge you gain will be re-usable.


July 28, 2007

ircservices–church packaged

I finally got around to finishing off the packaging of IRC Services for Debian. Shortly after I’d uploaded it to mentors.debian.org, I noticed that it didn’t even compile on amd64 platforms – so CompSoc would have struggled to use it on our new servers, even if we hadn’t wanted to have it packaged. Still, I patched it up. It is now awaiting a sponsor to upload it properly.

I’m fairly sure I disagree with quite a few things about upstream’s coding – in the end, I’ve only really packaged it because it was the one we were using before. These days, there are many competing services implementations.

July 26, 2007


This blog has problems.

  • BlogBuilder serves RSS feeds with the wrong MIME type. For someone who has a T-shirt about this issue, this is a big deal.
  • While in theory there is Atom publishing protocol support, in practice I don’t think it works – so I have no API for integrating my blog with the desktop.
  • The software running it is not free, so I have no way to submit patches for the above, or add features. Even if I could write the patches, I don’t control the server, so can’t apply them.
  • I suspect my login details expire in four weeks.

What to do, what to do.

July 18, 2007

GUADEC day 4

I discovered today that my laptop can, in fact, do suspend and hibernate without problems. Kudos to whoever fixed that.

I changed my IRC Services package so that it uses cdbs, and added quilt to manage the patches. All it really needs now are some rewritten manpages, and testing.

GUADEC feels different from the other conferences I’ve been to this year – probably because I’m not staying overnight, and aren’t getting absorbed into the atmosphere. I was thinking this morning that we probably need a GNOME UK bof meeting, because it doesn’t feel like there’s a strong UK GNOME community.

Bought a book from Josette Garcia about programming embedded systems in C – every other talk seems to be about embedded devices, what with the new GNOME mobile initiative.

July 17, 2007

GUADEC day 3

So I’m at GUADEC, in the middle of a talk about metadata. I’ve borrowed an N800 from Nokia, and it’s not too bad to type on – maybe a bit pricey, though.

I’ve finished most of the hard work for packaging IRC Services. Lamby noticed that Unreal are forking InspIRCd, so I think he’s packaging that, which may finally sort out CompSoc’s IRC setup in a sane way.

Tonight there’s free beer, win.

July 14, 2007


Writing about web page http://www.gnu.org/software/screen/

My screenrc.

July 05, 2007

OpenWRT client mode

Today, I solved the problem of lack of internet access in my bedroom.

While staying in Derby, my bedroom is on the top floor of a three floor town house. The BT router is on the ground floor, next to the main computer. There is no possibility of a wired connection running up three flights of stairs, but there is a wireless network. My laptop’s wireless card appears to suck (and has crap drivers, damn you Broadcom), so will only receive packets one floor up.

We just happened to have a spare Linksys WRT54G – this afternoon, I tried out OpenWRT for the first time, using the prepared White Russian firmware images (because I’m lazy). Using the documentation on setting up client mode, I was able to connect to the BT router’s wireless from two floors up, and can plug my laptop in using a wire – hence avoiding some nasty repeated crashes seemingly from the aforementioned crappy wireless drivers. The whole process took less than an hour.

This evening, I’m considering making pancakes to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Debian Social Contract, and probably also need to bake another batch of cookies before the weekend.

July 04, 2007

I'm so vanilla.

This morning, I had a hospital appointment about my arm – I was discharged within five minutes of seeing the consultants, who said I wouldn’t be needing that sling thing, or physiotherapy. Apparently my elbow is making good progress, considering I hurt it less than two weeks ago. I still can’t fully extend it, or touch my shoulder; and I’m not to do any heavy lifting or contact sports for the next four weeks.

The software that the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary uses (at least for X-rays) is called Centricity – although from what was described to me, they’re using the ‘Remote Hosting’ solution. Apparently, it gives less than optimal performance, but purchasing their own server would cost too much. Proprietary software is negatively affecting the quality of service of the NHS! Boo, hiss.

With the rest of the day, I baked some white chocolate chip cookies, reducing the amount of flour in the English version of the Wise Guys’ recipe to sensible levels. The results are almost indistinguishable from the supermarket ones, except that mine perhaps taste more strongly of vanilla. It turns out that the expensive white chocolate I bought contained large amounts of vanilla as well. (Insert joke about BDSM here.)

June 29, 2007

Moving back

Today, I failed to transfer all my stuff back from Coventry to Derby. I’ve been making repeated trips over the past week (ignoring the CompSoc LAN, alas), so tomorrow I’ll have to go back and arrange a taxi, I think. I have far too many possessions.

This evening was my stepmother’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, so the extended family went out for a meal. The food was very nice, and there was a piano being played next to us – so we got to play ‘name that tune’ for the whole evening. I ate far too much, I think.

So, back in Derby. My main concern at the moment is that my laptop does not connect to the wireless network from the top floor successfully – this prevents me using the internet from my room, which would avoid waking people up in the middle of the night, I think. My current thinking is that I might be able to modify the firmware on this Linksys WRT54G we have, which has two fairly good antennae, and turn it into a point-to-point relay thing.

Meanwhile, I want to settle down with all my belongings, start looking for a job, and actually get some spare time back to work on things. DebConf was reasonably productive, but there are a couple of projects hanging in the air at the moment.

Also, when I’m in Derby I start paying more attention to the news again. Gordon Brown and the new cabinet look quite interesting.

June 26, 2007

Single–handedly, quite literally.

Today (i.e. Monday), I caught the train back from Edinburgh. An initial plan to alight in Derby was foiled by the fact that the train chose to go via Carlisle and Crewe instead. Still, I made it home to Coventry.

On the way, I mostly packaged ircservices for Debian with one hand, by reading the debhelper manpage and studying a couple of other packages. It needs a patch or two for FHS compliance, and some testing.

Rant Of The Day

Looking at my desktop usage, I have a horrible UI problem. I use irssi for IRC a lot, because running on a remote server in a persistent screen session is very handy. However, this means I have to poll the screen for new messages, rather than receiving notifications or window highlights of some kind, as I would with a new instant message. To fix this, I could use xchat or xchat-gnome, which is fairly usable for the most part – but then I would probably have to set up some kind of bouncer (like irssi-proxy), and I’ve still not got around to it. Argh.

June 25, 2007

Mein armer Arm

Today was the day after DebConf. Early this morning, I wandered around Edinburgh with Pixie and daven – it was epic, if mostly unbloggable for fear of prosecution. Not much sleep.

After checking out of the hostel at 9am, we went up to Teviot to help with clearing up. At this point, I made the mistake of slipping on some rain-soaked decking, twice. The first time, my phone was damaged; the second time, my arm was damaged. I got sent up to the hospital, and was given some X-rays, a blue sling thing to match my fading hair, and a bunch of painkillers. It might be broken, but I won’t find out until I go to Derby tomorrow. This may prevent me from turning up to CompSoc’s LAN this week in any meaningful way, as I am currently typing one-handed.

In the afternoon I caught up on sleep, then went to an Italian restaurant for dinner with a bunch of Germans. (They’re quite entertaining.) I’m typing this from a slow wireless connection in a pub down the road, where we’re all sitting around drinking coke.

Yes, also, I have mislaid my phone charger; don’t expect me to be sending too many messages for a day or two. This, combined with my crushing the antenna with my upper leg, might be the excuse I need to update my five year-old handset.

EDIT: This was really from Sunday. It was pointed out to me that it was “der Arm”. If the wireless weren’t so bad, I would have looked it up. Also, I knew the translation for “arm”, honest.

June 23, 2007

Collectin ur garbage

I’ve swapped my function pointer problems for threading/garbage collection problems. Gragh.

In other news, pancakes are great.

June 21, 2007

Drinking, dancing & debauchery

Yesterday, Nattie and I baked chocolate chip cookies, using the recipe from the English version of the Wise Guys song. We took them along to the night venue – they tasted pretty nice, and hopefully we’ll be repeating that experiment sometime before the end of DebConf.

I’ve been working on cleaning up some of the work I’ve done, and sending it back to GNOME’s bugzilla. I fixed a second bug that I was confused about (by talking to lamby persistently while thinking), so have nearly got all the GUI bits out of the way.

DebConf7 Ceilidh

This evening, the drinking occurred courtesy of Sun Microsystems, and the pizza was paid for by Google. They rock. Currently everyone is at the Ceilidh, but it’s pretty exhausting stuff.

June 19, 2007

DebConf talks start

I haven’t been blogging as much the past few days, suggesting I’ve been busy. It certainly feels that way. DebCamp finished on Friday – the place has been noticably busier these past few days.

For Debian Day (Saturday), I sat on the front desk for twelve hours or so – it’s a cunning way to meet people, and I earned a free volunteer’s T-shirt for it all. The free T-shirt count is up to three, now – sponsor-tastic.

My blue hair is causing lots of people to speak to me, which is great. Some woman with a camera in Edinburgh took my photo, saying she was entering a competition run by the National Portrait Gallery. Outside the hacklab yesterday, someone random offered me the end of a cigarette, which my friends later informed me was probably a joint. Sadly, I’d already declined.

Sunday was the first day of DebConf proper – I went to a few of the talks. Mark Shuttleworth showed up – I’ve got photos of him talking to Sam Hocevar, but haven’t thought of a caption. (Aside: SELinux looks interesting.) In the evening, it was misty:

Edinburgh Castle

Today I slept all day, then made up for it by finally fixing the horrible pointer bug that I’d been worrying about for three weeks. Woo!

June 16, 2007

Can I has hair dye?

My hair is now blue. That is all.

June 15, 2007

More front–desk work

Last night, I had a fried mars bar, which was interesting. For health reasons, it was shared between several people.

Today, I’m sitting at reception, welcoming people to DebCamp, handing them their badges and meal tickets and so on. Today, the building has been really busy, because it’s a university open day. There are lots of sixth-formers wandering around.

Just now, a Debian banner was put up:

Debian banner at Teviot

Hopefully all the people arriving tomorrow for Debian Day will be able to find their way here.

June 11, 2007



May 11, 2007

Americans and Galicians

This was originally sent to me from a Spanish friend, hopefully the humour is not lost in translation.

(FYI Galicia is a coastal region of Spain)

An ALLEGED conversation between Americans and Galicians recorded off the coast of Finisterre, Galicia.

<Transmission begins> 

"This is A-853, please change your course fifteen degrees South to avoid colliding with us. You are coming straight towards us, distance 25 nautical miles."

"We recommend that you change your course fifteen degrees North to avoid a collision."

"Negative. We repeat, change your course fifteen degrees south to avoid a collision."

"You are talking to the captain of a ship of the United States of America. We insist you turn your course fifteen degrees North to avoid a collision."

"We do not consider that feasible or advisable, we suggest that you change your course fifteen degrees South to avoid colliding with us."

American (very angry):
"You are talking to Captain Richard James Howard, at the bridge of the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln of the USA Navy, the second biggest warship of the North American fleet. We are escorted by two battleships, three destroyers, five cruisers, four submarines and numerous amphibious support vessels. We are on our way to the Persian Gulf to prepare military manoeuvres before a possible attack on Iraq.
I am not suggesting, I am ordering you to change your course fifteen degrees North! Otherwise we will be forced to take any measures necessary to guarantee both the safety of this ship and the force of this coalition. You belong to an allied country and a member of NATO, so obey immediately and get out of our way!"

"You are speaking to Jose Manuel Otero-Rivas. We are two people. We are escorted by our dog, our food, two beers and a canary that is currently asleep.  We have the support of Radio Coruňa FM and Channel 16 for marine emergencies. We are not intending to move anywhere as we are speaking to you from the mainland, from lighthouse A-853 of Finisterre on the coast of Galicia, and we don’t have a f*cking clue what our ranking is of Spanish lighthouses.
You may take whatever measures you consider opportune and bloody well feel like to guarantee the safety of your goddamn ship, which is about to shred itself on the rocks, but what we continue to insist and suggest as the best, most sane and more recommendable course of action, is to turn fifteen degrees South to avoid colliding with us."

"OK. Received. Thank you."

<End of transmission>

I like :D 


May 02, 2007

Things To Do After You Die

I don't know about everybody else, but some lists of "Things to do before you die" drive me mad. I am never going to make it to the moon ok?! Nor am I any more likely to see the Titanic in person or climb mount everest. And those are the better suggestions. Some are plain insane. Surely anyone with two braincells to rub together can tell that "lighting a match with a rifle" is probably going to be the last thing they do before they die! It just makes me want to poke the authors in the face with a blunt spoon until they get a nasty looking red patch on their cheek and tell me to stop.

It is rather biased. After all, I'm going to be dead for a hell of a lot longer than I'll be alive; infinitely so in fact. A little preparation wouldn't hurt... Oh well, revision insanity last year helped to compile this list and I've only just rediscovered it, so here it is. If you're sure the exams are going to kill you this year then get reading...

Things To Do After You Die 

  1. Be buried
  2. Be cremated
  3. Be made into a glass paperweight
  4. Be buried at sea
  5. Be fed to wild animals
  6. Have a wax deathmask made
  7. Get stuffed
  8. Be shot into outer space
  9. Be mummified
  10. Be used to stuff a plush toy
  11. Have yourself scattered somewhere
  12. Be served as lunch
  13. Donate your organs for transplantation
  14. Donate your body to science
  15. Have yourself pumped full of resin then dissolved in acid so that only your cardiovascular system is preserved
  16. Leave everything to a cat
  17. Put conditions in your will a la “the Bachelor”
  18. Be recreated as a waxwork statue
  19. Have a monument built in your memory
  20. Poison your wake and bring them all with you
  21. Be set on fire
  22. Be twung from between two trees in a sling
  23. Leave behind a long list of secrets you said you’d take to your grave
  24. Haunt someone
  25. Possess someone
  26. Misplace the family’s TV/VCR remotes
  27. Curse someone
  28. Come back to life three days later
  29. Ask to be carted away like in the middle ages
  30. Be entombed beneath a pyramid
  31. Get shipped off to somewhere tropical
  32. Become a zombie
  33. Be cryogenically frozen
  34. Have your head put in a jar
  35. Be eaten by piranhas
  36. Be turned into a firework
  37. Have you ashes compressed into a diamond
  38. Pre-order a grave statue that gestures obscenely at passers-by
  39. Hire professional mourners to out-mourn your family
  40. Be stuffed with sweets and strung up like a piňata
  41. Be reincarnated
  42. Request a circus themed funeral
  43. Be buried in drag
  44. Undergo saponification
  45. Pre-order a novelty cock-shaped wreath for the funeral
  46. Imply it was murder on your deathbed
  47. Leave a note for someone saying “You’re next”
  48. Hire a swedish deathmetal group to perform at the wake
  49. Have an entire subsection of your will dedicated to the distribution of your porn collection
  50. Invent somebody in your will
  51. Line your coffin with money and take it all with you
  52. Request to be buried with a packed lunch “for the trip”
  53. Have a traditional tibetan burial and be ground up and fed to vultures
  54. Be preserved seated in the lotus position and covered in gold
  55. Have your bones made into a chandelier
  56. Play UNO with Jesus (and win)


May 01, 2007

The Something Random Guide to: Making Vodka Jellies

Follow-up to The Something Random Guide to: Making A Vodka Infusion. from Something Random

I figure it's about time i did a follow-up, especially with post-exam-celebration season looming!

Vodka Jellies

In the interest of thorough scientific practice I’m expanding my collection of alcohol related recipes by adding the immortal creation that is “Something Random’s Perfect Jelly Shot”. This recipe is still largely unknown among my friends, one reason for this being that those who encounter the fabled shots do tend to experience a certain amount of amnesia the following morning. But regardless of the memory-loss everyone agrees that they taste amazing; even if they still can’t understand how they managed to fall asleep on the floor curled up around a small potted plant and with their hand taped to a spatula.

As always read through completely before you start and make sure there is plenty of kitchen roll to hand just in case. It may not be the definitive recipe but it 's fast and simple and hasn't let me down yet.


8 packets of jelly (where each packet is to make 1 pint)
1 x 70cl bottle of vodka (again cheap wodka is fine, you won’t notice)
2 x 225g bags haribo tangfastics
1 clean empty bottle with lid
About 40 shot glasses (the usual size for jellies is 6.5cl = 2.3 fl.oz.)


    1. Open the tangfastics and separate out the cherries. Put these to one side and feed the others to your minions/housemates/dog. At this stage in the proceedings there are usually a lot of minions loitering around – they sense the haribo.
    2. Cut up the cherries, separating the green and red parts. Again, feed the green leftovers to your minions. Further cut up the red bits and put them in a bowl on one side.
    3. Now turn to the vodka. Pour about a third of it into the other bottle to be stored temporarily.
    4. Transfer the chopped up cherries into the original vodka bottle. This is easiest done slowly and by hand because the pieces are so sticky. Any attempts to use a funnel will just result in a mess as it will get blocked and you’ll have to free it with a chopstick.
    5. Run a sink/bucket full of hot water and place this bottle in it. Ensure the lid is on tightly enough to prevent any leakage.
    6. At intervals invert the bottle and shake gently to facilitate the dissolving of the cherries. Vodka is a solvent so this shouldn’t take too long. If at this point the cherries are still not dissolving try putting a bit of the excess vodka back in the bottle.
    7. Once completely dissolved remove from the water and place to one side to cool
    8. Next make the jelly. There are various methods of doing this, using a microwave or a large pan on a low heat. Either are valid but it’s important to use as little water as feasibly possible. This will help to speed up the cooling down when you come to add the rest of the water.
    9. When the jelly is all liquid take it off the heat and add cold water (and ice cubes if you have them) to cool it down. By now the mixture should have a volume of no more than 2 pints. If there are more than two pints of jelly at this point there is a risk that the jelly will not set.
    10. Add the cherry vodka and the spare stored vodka then top up the volume to a total of 4 pints. The best way of doing this is by measuring the mixture&vodka out a pint at a time with a measuring jug (or pint-sized container eg a glass milk bottle) then topping up at the end with the appropriate amount of water.
    11. Set out the glasses in a grid on a baking tray and fill them with about 50 ml each. This should allow for about 35-40 jellies and will also make each of them as strong as a standard 25ml shot of vodka. Let people know this because its hard to judge the strength of the shots from taste alone the sweetness makes it very misleading!
    12. Put the trays of jellies on a level surface in the fridge to set, then take them out and enjoy!

    Points to remember:

    • Most jellies contain pork extract, however there are varieties available that dont. This is something to bear in mind if you are catering for vegetarians.
    • I have also seen sugarfree brands and jelly powders in sachets. These should work fine but unless youve done a test run first consider making them a little in advance in case something goes wrong.
    • If worst comes to worst and the jellies refuse to set it is possible to cheat by chilling them in the freezer until they solidify some more. Be careful, too much time in the freezer and they are liable to freeze round the edges. This ruins the texture of the jelly.
    • If youve really messed up and its staying liquid, it is possible to stage a last ditch attempt at rescue by pouring the jellies back together again and adding a couple more packets of jelly before returning them to their individual glasses. However this is something that would be better off avoided as not only does it make an awful mess of both the glasses and your kitchen but it also wastes a lot of the mix.


    Two rounds of this recipe will use:

    2x70cl cheap vodka £13.00
    4bags haribo £4
    16 packets jelly £3.50
    glasses (100 incP&P) £10.00

    Which should come to about £30.50 in total.

    Or £0.38 per jelly which, I think youll agree, is pretty good going for party fodder - especially considering they're the equivalent of a shot each.

    Ive not yet had the opportunity to work out the calories or weight watchers points per jelly shot but will do so at the next available opportunity.