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!

25 Oct

Constitutional Politics and Brown

It cheers me up when politicians try and do big bold long term things, it also scares me.

The Labour governments in the UK under Blair and Brown made some big changes to the UK constitutionally, devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, an elected London Mayor, writing the Human Rights Act into UK law, harmonising the age of consent for all, generally trying to promote regional autonomy (before the locals showed such apathy). Even some of the outcomes of failure have led to some long needed changes such as the separation of the Home Office prison/probation services into a Ministry of Justice.

Of course they also have done some rather nasty insidious things, usually under the banner of counter terrorism. ID cards, detention, banning protest around Parliament, recording all our internet and telephone traffic. But none were constitutional, although I might argue that ID cards are an institutional shift in power between the individual and the state.

So.. what do I think of Brown’s call for a Bill of Rights in addition to the Human Rights Act, and also repealing the ban on demonstrations around Parliament?

I might suspect that part of it is another reflex response to Cameron’s demand to scrap the Human Rights Act in UK law. [[A plan that would put power back in the hands of the judges in Strasbourg that everyone used to berate..]] It’s also includes a strengthening of MP power, some review of judicial appointments, a stiffening of Parliament against the diminishment that both Thatcher and Blair started.

On the other hand, and here I speak subjectively, very few people really care about this stuff, and as such Brown doesn’t have to do it. I hope it’s a real attempt to continue the slow evolution of the British state to one with a more checks and balances approach and less of the organic confusion that is so often resolved by a firm hand and a cross word from whichever ‘tough leader’ is in Number 10.

09 Oct

Unbundle Windows

The Globalisation Institute offers strong logical arguements for the legal unbundling of PCs and operating systems within the EU single market. This simple step, which would both allow consumers the right to choose their operatin system would also make it clear to them just how much the Windows system is costing them, allowing consumers to make informed choices and introduce real competition into a market monopolised by a single supplier for 20 year at 95% dominance.

This is not just a geeky subject, this is a real issue of free competition and improved customer choice. I commend you to read both the two page report and also some additional rebuttals of the points raised against it.

If we live in a global free market world, why should Microsoft be exempt?

30 Sep

Use Afghan Heroin on NHS

Afghan heroin available on the NHS? It may sound far-fetched but that is what two leading doctors from the British Medical Association have put forward as a way of dealing with a shortage of the drug. Heroin is used by doctors under its medical name diamorphine as a pain-killer for the terminally ill and after serious operations. But there is currently a severe shortage of legal diamorphine in the UK.


10 Sep

YouGov market research

Enjoy taking part in market research and want to get paid?


I’ve done this for years and it’s great fun, never intrusive and the money is tiny but cumulative. Yes, I get a referral fee.