04 Sep 2005

how to get dial up (the hard way)

so ever since i moved into the new place, i've been trying to get some sort of internet connection working. so the idea was to wait for adsl to be installed while we applied for a free 1 month trial of aol to quench our network thirst. turns out that its been much more difficult that i imagined.

how do i use modems in this country??

it took me nearly a week to figure out why i couldn't dial out of the telephone line. at first, i thought it was the modem on my powerbook, but i tried it with all sorts of modems on pc laptops, pcmcia modems, etc, all of them couldn't dial out, so i thought it might of been the line. after looking at it more, i spotted a difference in the lines that go to the telelphone and those that go into a modem. difference being that the lines that the modem uses only have the middle two wires connected, and the ones that go into the phone line have the outer two plus one in the middle. i suppose the inner two carry data and the outer two carry power, or something like that?

finally solved the problem when my adsl modem arrived, included was a dongle splits the wall socket into two lines, one that is the elongated uk telephone plug and the other is the standard square plug that you see on the side of laptops. so apparently you just can't use the normal telephone line that plugs into your handset and plug it straight into your modem.


aol on windows is a piece of shit. it doesn't appear as a normal ppp connection, so you can't actualy right click on anything and say "share this connection."

on mac, there is this nice tool called aol connect which is a 1.7M download (compared to the 30M download for the ful blown aol client), and it is a little dodgy because it doesn't expose a network device either, however, because the base is BSD, i can just use natd and ipfw to do internet sharing instead of using apple's interface. sweet!

i also booted up a laptop using knoppix (actually it is the auditor live cd) and tried to get the modem to work. to my surprise, the modem is detected as the SmartLink Agere SoftModem (on the intel chipset) and is actually working, however, it fails to detect the dialtone. reading some of the archives on the net seem to suggest that they only got it fixed properly on kernel. funnily enough, the modem is somehow connected to the alsa device (smart guys, using the DSP on the sound card for the modem as well .. very cunning!) and apparently the bug is within alsa, and not the driver itself. so i didn't have any luck getting the modem working. even if i got the modem working, i still had to make sure i could get pengaol or penggy to work, which is the aol compatible dialer that uses either tun/tap or some weird mechanism to dial up to aol. in the end i gave up because it was just too hard to get all the pieces together. someone really should make a linux live cd version of the famous aol cd!

one other thing that happened, while i was sharing the internet connection through my mac to other computers in the house, i discovered that it was not possible to correctly use the aol website from any comptuer other than the one that is directly connected. seemed quite weird, because i couldn't download the full client off their site on a windows machine. not that eventually it helped at all.

finally, do i have network?

well, right now we have a 46777bps link serving the house, which isn't so bad, except that the only working telephone cable i have can only reach around 1.5 metres, so i'm stuck using my mac near a wall next to the bed. really sucks. so i might have to go back to setting up the laptop with knoppix and routing free (but unstable) wifi to the house until adsl is installed mid week. seemed not worth the effort to get a knoppix cd to work with the modem and aol.

but at least now i have enough access to actually let you know about my woes!

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02 Sep 2005

album art widget 2.3 released

finally got around to fixing all the outstanding bugs reported by users that i'm aware of! and plus 3 new features! get it while its hot, or .. well, maybe don't .. doesn't really matter!

new features include allowing users to save the fetched artwork to all the songs in the album, find song in itunes music store link and fancy autohide song info for those who like their album art to be pure and untainted.

bug fixes include radio album art caching bug, corrupted artwork, unstable album art saving (total rewrite of backend using EyeTunes framework) and alot more.

too tired to explain everything now, so i'll leave you with a screenshot.

album art 2.3

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01 Sep 2005

blog maintenance wastes so much time

i've just spent upwards of an hour pruning nearly 800 comment spams, approving comments that have been binned into the "please moderate" category that i couldn't see because of the flood of spam that has consumed my blog. lucky for the viewers out there, you can't see any, because i have to spend about 10 minutes each day pruning them.

unfortuantely, with all my moving and lack of internet at home, i've accumulated around 2 weeks worth of comments that i haven't check out. so sorry for all those people who have had their comment in my moderation queue that i hadn't had time to get around to. something is not working though because usually it is able to let people who only occassionally comment thru the filter and stop all the high volume spammers.

now to get around and think of some new strategies to deal with comment spam, figure out a least-effort comment-rss hack for drupal and also answer some of the comments!

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01 Sep 2005

sorry for broken feeds

for those who use the atom feed, you'd prob find that the feed is mostly broken. i don't know what is happening, but the latest drupal cvs is having some major api problems that haven't been totally sorted out. as a result, my atom feed is pretty shot. i attempted to fix it last friday right before happy hour because google desktop 2 was barfing on it. it turns out that self referrential url generated in the atom feed was relative and that cause google desktop to go into a loop appending more and more to a broken url. i've fixed that but that wasn't all the whole problem.

tangential to this, i've been flirting around with the idea of writing my own blog in django after working with the framework for a month or so and really liking it. in fact, the basics of a blog is already implemented and open sourced, its just a matter of improving on it and implementing the features i want such as tagging and some smart wiki style linking with internal and external pages, better blogging api and at least non-broken rss/atom feeds!!!

using a popular cms system for you blog is an invitation for spammers to use their automated attack-drupal/wordpress/mambo scripts to generate heaps of traffic to your site. for instance, zombie bots in asia have been sequentially trying all 900+ posts on my site for trackback support. "hey, if its not enabled for one post, it won't be enabled for all the other ones!!"

also, due to running the latest drupal cvs, the blogging api seems to be broken again, so i can't use ecto to post. which is quite frustrating. maybe i'll write my own blogging software that has only the feature i want and not anything more. i'd wish ecto had all its preferences on a single pane rather than spread out all over the place. despite apple mail getting alot of flak for not working, at least have all their preferences in one place!

anyway, back to fixing the atom feeds (yet again .. for now, you can switch to the rss feed)

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01 Sep 2005

"mate" banned in australian parliament!

you just can't make up news like that. maybe they've also banned it in the australian cricket team, thats why they're losing to england at the moment!

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28 Aug 2005

no internet at home!

well, been around a week without internet at home now. we're awaiting for ADSL to be activated on the phone line, but its been a long wait.

1. been shopping around earlier this week about what broadband packages to get in UK. turns out NTL cable is by far the cheapest option (£25/month) compared to all the ADSL options since it doesn't require a phone line and also is 2Mbps. downside is that you get NTL's famous service and there's a 1GB/day limit. most ADSL plans go from £20 to £30 plus you have to pay for a phone line (another £10/month), so its around £30-40 altogether. however, we found that ukonline did a deal for £15/month for 1Mbps so it works out to be similar to NTL's pricing.

2. the previous tenants installed ntl and possibly forgot to cancel their telephone line, and also cut all the BT lines in the house, so BT had to send and engineer over to fix the line.

3. i haven't been able to get any modem in the house to find a dial tone on the line, so i'm a little worried about the quality of the telephone line in the house. however, i've also not been able to get the phone line in my office to dial out through my modem on my powerbook either, so i'm not sure what is to blame here. for the record, i've tried an aussie powerbook, a hong kong samsung laptop, a couple of united states modem pc cards and also an hongkong ibook. the phone itself works fine, but i did notice that all modems use the middle two wires of the phone plug where as the handsets use the outer two wires plus one of the wires in the middle. so maybe one of the wires aren't working?

4. i had been under the illusion that there were no wireless networks around on the street that i'm living in. except on saturday, i suddenly discovered (after using the samsung laptop) that there are actually 4-5 wireless networks around here! my aluminium powerbook must not be good for the 2.4GHz antenna on it :) however, our of the 5 networks, 4 of them are encrypted with WEP (i think one very weak one is with WPA.) the only one that is unencrypted, i can only get reception around 30% of the time in one corner of the house. so i've been able to quickly check my email, do some online shopping and check up on whether i can crack the closer encrypted networks using some sort of kismet livecd! to my surprise, there are a couple of them, called knoppix-std and auditor. not that i'm able to download them yet because of the flakey connection, and plus, i'm not that far from the lab :)

5. also discovered that when you are one a bad link, one that drops in and out alot, using your browser to download large files is a stupid idea. bittorrent rules in this case because it is able to gracefully handle disconnection, nodes dropping in and out and resuming with ease. whereas things like firefox and safari just truncate the file at the wrong place, and more often than not, just restart from scratch. its really frustrating when you have to start over after spending an hour to download 10M!!

so i'm still waiting for proper net connection at home ..

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25 Aug 2005

disappearing mail messages (ConcreteMessageMall)

in the hope of helping other people who have been bitten by this apple mail bug or apple software update bug -- if you see this in your console log (/Applications/Utilities/Console.app):

Exception raised during monitored invocation of _backgroundMergeMessages:, exception: *** -[ConcreteMessageMall compareByNumberMessage:andMessage:sortedAscending:]: selector not recognized

then it is because your apple mail version is too old. check your "About Mail" item in your menu, if it says 2.0, but you are running 10.4.2, then something has screwed up with software update and you've been left with an old version of Mail.

Mail 2.0 is the buggy verison that comes with 10.4.0, and has since been replaced by each iteration of 10.4.1, 10.4.2 and security update 2005-07. the most stable version should be 2.0.3 (at the time of writing). if you don't have it, follow the instructions at this apple discussion about using pacifist and downloading the apple combined update and security update. in short the steps are:

1. download the combined update and security update.
2. backup your existing mail.app by copying it somewhere.
3. open pacifist, and then use it to open the 10.4.2 combined update.
4. find /Applications/Mail.app and then click "Extract To", extract it to the default location
5. when prompted for you password, give it to them, they're not evil.
6. click on the "Update" button when the choice comes up.
7. repeat the same procedure for the 2005-07 security update package.
8. run mail again!

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25 Aug 2005

mac is bac

so after a day (and night) of backing up and copying things over the ultra slow 100Mbps ethernet (400Mbps Firewire is the way to go), it turns out that the road to recovering from an uncurable kernel panic on booting was extremely easy -- in the mac sort of way.

so the problem is that the kernel or some of its modules were corrupted during the last security update. i'm not quite sure how that happened, but it happened. i tried a couple of ways of recovering, such as copying a fresh copy from a known working 10.4.2 machine. that didn't work due to something about unable to find drivers for PowerBook64. then i tried moving all third party kernel extensions (apple terminology for kernel modules) away and nuking the cache, that didn't work either. then i started removing the kernel extension that it was panicking on -- nah, made it even worse.

so i booted it up on firewire target disk mode, plugged it into another mac and then proceeded to copy my 50G home directory to my external firewire drive. this wasn't really done because i was going to nuke my data, but i was going to try the mac os x install option : archive and install.

turns out that this is a great way to recover from a corrupted kernel. it takes note of all the files that it knows how to manage, backs them up in a separate directory (which you can delete later) and installs the new files in their place. it keeps all the network and user settings (user home directories and i suppose some things in /etc or the netinfo databases.)

so it took me about a day to move 50G of stuff around to make space for the backups (using xtar and samba) and around 1 hour to do a complete recovery from a non-booting mac to the original mac os x setup i had 3 days ago! pretty impressive.

although i'm still annoyed that the kernel got corrupted when i installed the system update. dunno what happened there.

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23 Aug 2005

just moved to a flood zone

so over the weekend, we completed the moving saga which i will go into in a later post (that is still trapped on my poor old powerbook!)

but being bored and waiting for fsck to run on the mac, i've been searching online about the street i just moved to. seems like i've just moved into a flood zone. here are some pictures of where i'm living, but during the 2001 floods:

from chris browns photos.

from bbc cambridgeshire

from edkins family.

from Rosenstiel Family

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23 Aug 2005

osx tiger security update 2005-07 1.1 woes

well, a combination of things has rendered my powerbook unbootable at the moment with a kernel panic somewhere in com.apple.iokit.IOHIDFamily.

there were a couple of things i suspected was causing the problems, but after moving everything out of the way, it is still dead. the thing i'm narrowing it down to is me installed AOL for OS X (more on that later) and the new Security Update 2005-07 1.1 from apple. i've tried moving alot of extra kernel extensions out of the way so that they won't load, but it still seems to be quite dodgy.

does anyone know how to run the security update again from the cached copy on my hard drive?

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