15 Jan

Oslo and eee

Well, first full day in Oslo. We were bussed to a golf club some 30km south of Oslo for our workshops, and frankly I can’t understand why. The venue was very sweet in a Scandinavian way, but frankly it wasn’t exactly suited to the numbers or the needs. Oh well, it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. I spent some time trying to track down a supplier that actually had the Asus eee in stock. I think I tracked one down, but this is definitely this year’s Tracey Island for geeks, an ultra portable sub notebook that runs Linux and weighs nowt. I know I should wait for the 8Gb version but frankly I suspect I could have days of fun with this, and also take it everywhere whereas my current laptop (Powerbook G4 15″) is frankly bloody heavy.

Listening to the Clash and reading up on the Leica M7, life ain’t too bad..

14 Jan

Off to Oslo

It’s 2008 and the traveling season has begun again. I am off to Oslo on a SAS flight out of Manchester and it’s both good and bad that I am out and about again. Good in that I definitely make my biggest inputs as a networker, manager and project planner; bad in that I can’t do much basic academic work when I am travelling and meeting and doing all the management stuff. Sometime this year I need to get down and write 1–3 papers, deliver on 4 projects (with a 5th about to to start), organise 2-4 FP7 project bids and manage a team that is currently about 4-5 strong at home and 30-40 when you add in all the partners that I am responsible for across many workpackages. I can do the project management, I can do the people management, I might even be able to do the papers if I can squeeze the time, but it is a gear shift change from the first 2 years at Newcastle when it was just me doing all the work and eking out a living on a few projects.

31 Dec


Russia was grim, but not because of the cold, but the money grabbing rudeness of everyone, the studied ignorance, the closure of museums at random by uncommunicative militiamen, the lack of any signs in Russian let alone English, French or German. I suspect that the rampant corruption is why everyone is so down and why in a major city like Moscow or St.Petersburg it takes 45 minutes at least to order a taxi, due to the fact that any enterprise attracts the attention of corrupt officials. On the other hand the Russians themselves seem to react to this with a studied glumness and large quantites of alcohol. so do not expect a sober driver or indeed for any driver at all. I travel everywhere in Europe, including all the old Warsaw Pact countries now in the EU, I have travelled worldwide from the Americas to Asia and I have never ever encountered such unfriendliness, lack of interest, money grabbing extortion and sheer horribleness of Russia and the Russians. Don’t go. They have nothing of interest, their art, architecture, culture and food was either bought by a monarch by mail order or one of the long lost of Italians, English, French and Germans that they hired to make or build it. The only part of their history that is fascinatingly Russian is the USSR and they have obliterated all traces of it, so that you can’t get any grip of what it was like, and the place seems to have been run by a succession of kleptocrats of one kind or another since 1991. It’s scary that Stalin seems to be being rehabilitated as a “Great Russian” (ironically exactly how Lenin described him as a warning to others) and the place reeks of xenophobia. If you want to try Eastern Europe, go to Budapest or Prague, do not try Russia for at least another 30 years.

Ok, now I have offended all Russians and people of Russian descent, let me add that I have known Russian ex pats all my life and it was falling in love with the idea of the place as a kid that made we want to go.. maybe that made it worse for me.. I know that behind the rude ignorant glumness there are happy husbands and wives and children and if I knew them as people they’d be fine.. but that’s true everywhere and nowhere else (not even Poland which was a bit like it in Warsaw) treats visitors so badly whilst gouging every last ruble from them.

The fact that my Leica M4 was robbed from my bag on the St Petersburg Metro, a camera bought for me by Ann for my 40th and therefore both of great sentimental value and a beautiful artefact in it’s own right soured things still further, but be clear, we were so deeply sick of the place before then.

16 Dec


Micro$oft have introduced a new file format in Office 2007 which they claim is ‘open’ but looks to be extremely difficult to support.


If you have an earlier version of Word you’ll need an update from Micro$oft.

If you use OpenOffice or another WP then it’s going to be irritating but solutions are on the horizon: Right now my Ubuntu Gutsy system with OO2.3 can open but not save them.

Personally I am going to ensure I can read and write to the new format but whenever someone sends me one I am going to ask them why they don’t use a more widely supported format like the true open Open Document format.


10 Dec

Open Source for Education

One often hears that schools want Micro$oft products and proprietary software ‘because it is what is used in business’. Notwithstanding the fact that by the time kids reach the workplace Redmond will have totally changed the user interface and menu sequences for all their products, or the fact that it is good to learn about ‘spreadsheets and databases’ more than ‘Exel and Access’, here is a good pressing argument for free and open source software (FOSS): it will lead to it’s use in business and consequently a lower cost business environment..

The Macedonian government is deploying a vast thin client architecture for their schoolkids and chose FOSS for that reason:

Some developing countries can be resistant to open source as they want to use the software they associate with developed countries — that is, Windows and Office. Was this a problem in Macedonia? —
Our product will work just fine under Microsoft Windows as well, but this was purely the decision made by the Macedonian government in terms of wanting to use open-source tools. Microsoft was involved in the programme, proposing using Windows XP Home Edition, but the government decided it wanted to stay with open-source. This was a decision the government made associated with wanting very low-cost infrastructure. [The decision was made] not just for the students to learn technology but, as they transition to the business community, having a very low-cost technology for businesses [is beneficial] as well.

The wider and interesting article is here. Let’s hope a certain Seattle based firm doesn’t use it’s monopoly power to corrupt this..

09 Dec

Sad News

Our friend Debbie died at the weekend. Her car left the road and hit a tree midday Saturday. The weather was awful and I can imagine losing control on that road and in those conditions. Debbie was a good friend that we shared many of the ups and downs of the last few years, ours and hers. Ann and Debbie would have lunch together and we really loved and cared for her. She has a young daughter, who was at least away with her Dad when this happened, and a partner who is undergoing radiotherapy for brain tumour.

We can’t really comprehend that we won’t be seeing her Monday: we know how many times worse it has to be for her daughter, mother, partner and all who knew her.

Death, it seems, encroaches.. we have to deal with it each in our own way.. but hopefully not alone.

23 Nov

Dell Ubuntu Linux and xfermode (err_mask=0x4)

I bought a new PC from Dell and I bought it with Ubuntu Linux installed since I don’t use Windows and I wish to show that there is a market for machines outside the M$ monopoly.

Ironically, having run Ubuntu fine on a Dell PC for 3 years, I have had some problems and this blog is to record how to fix them, in case I need it in the future and in case you have just found this on Google and need help.

If you should need to reinstall Ubuntu on a Dell Inspiron 530n desktop (and possibly other PCs) you should use the reinstall option in the GRUB menu at boot up [http://linux.dell.com/wiki/index.php/Ubuntu_7.04/OS_Reinstallation]. If, however, you have repartitioned the disk and no longer have the reinstallation partition then you may try and use a Ubuntu install disk (you get one with the PC) or one you have downloaded or been given. You may even want to boot from a disk for another Linux distribution or one of the utilities that use the same boot kernel in what is called a LiveCD.

If you do you will be offered a menu, make a choice (install Ubuntu in this case) and may experience a very slow and eventually failed boot up. The screen may then drop to a simple text screen and error messages like this may appear:

/bin/sh: can’t access tty; job control turned off
(initramfs) 34.324022 ata1.00 failed to set xfermode (err_mask=0x40)

If so then you need to turn off your PC, start again and when you get to the first menu you need to add an option to the boot command line. On an Ubuntu install disk you do this by pressing F6 and adding the word irqpoll at the end of the line that appears. You then can press enter and it will install.

I learnt this from these posts on Ubuntuforums:


That explains how to get around the xfermode problem

BUT if you install from the 7.04 disk that is in the box with the PC then you will not have the right network drivers and no network capability.

Read here:


To that end you need to download the remastered Dell 7.04 disk from here:


Which has the updated drivers, although it also has OpenOffice removed, so you will need to then add that by using Synaptic from the System menu.

I then suggest that (as root) you ensure that the installed system is not prone to the same problem (which I did find it often was) by adding “irqpoll” onto the end of the grub boot line in /boot/grub/menu.lst

Ah well, early days, it’s no more arcane than many Windows problems over the years! Don’t let it discourage you getting a Dell Linux box, it will only be a short while before this is fixed..

I would not, however, commit to an upgrade to Gutsy online and certainly not using a standard Ubuntu install CD unless you are comfortable with the above and/or a Dell remastered install CD for Gutsy appears here:


22 Nov

Leo and Matt

I watched Good Shepherd with Matt Damon and Blood Diamond with Leo DiCaprio and then The Departed with both of them in. I have to say what good actors they are, the new generation is here and it’s good.

18 Nov


I am in Athens, doing a reconnaissance trip for the BESTUFS conference 2008. It has been a wild weekend with winds, cold weather and some thunderstorms they’d be proud of in monsoon countries. We explored the Acropolis yesterday and despite my early doubts, vertigo and the building site nature of it all.. it was awesome! The sense of history, of Athens circa 4-5th century BC and the ruins they left, was cumulative and impressive. They don’t explain it well, every sign is a denunciation of the last restoration and details of the current one (no actual explanation of the building) but I’d read the guidebook on the plane so that was okay. We then ate at a very formal restaurant looking at the Parthenon, and I think in one fell swoop I had found the venue for the conference dinner. The skies opened and we watched the lightning strike the rock and ate our food. The food is the other great discovery, we all love Greek food and we never knew it!

We then walked home, since the annual November 17th demonstration meant that all the streets were closed. We ended walking with the demo, which took me back to my youth. Matt was fascinated and I was surprised that are just so many tiny left wing groups left active. It always strikes me as ironic that the Communists, Trotskyists, trade unions and anarcho-syndicalists all march together. The first thing after a revolution is that the Communists seize power, shoot the anarchists, lock up all the trade unionists and the Trotskyists leave the country, arguing amongst themselves as they go..

Athens, for all the weather, has been interesting..

28 Oct

Installation nightmare

I have now spent 2 days installing and uninstalling Adobe Design Standard CS3 on Windows XP FOUR times. Each time it fails. The support page on their website is a labyrinth of registry hacks, permission setting, msizapping and stuff that I barely understand. It seems to be closely linked to previous Adobe and Macromedia products not properly uninstalling themselves and relinquishing registry entries and directory permissions. This is such a mess that I am astonished that Microsoft haven’t had a hand in it. This is so dreadful and it makes me wonder why I paid over 250 notes to buy it. I bet a pirate version would install first time.. This is the worst imstall since DOS days. Of course I need the software asap, and now it’s 7.15pm Sunday and I may have to let people down.. grrr. If only my Dell hadn’t died, I can see from the Crossover Office pages that I should be able to install this on Crossover for Linux. Then again, they claim you can install it on Windows!