Putting the Hop into Hopen Source

August 7th, 2007

If you’ll excuse the quite appalling title to this post (though you really shouldn’t, it’s an offence to any person’s sensibilities), beer makes the code go round. Open source software is driven by it, to the point where free software conferences are timed to line up with beer festivals.

This intro is really just a poor excuse to set the scene for the rest of this post, a review of Black Isle Brewery’s Red Kite Ale. It’s not so much a review as telling you that I’ve just drunk a bottle of this and it’s nice. You might have got a more in depth review if I’d done the wine tasting gargle and spit type sampling but that would have been wasteful.

Instead I’ll tell you that Red Kite is a very pleasant real ale made with organic hops, giving the catchy strap line “Save The Planet – Drink Organic”. Save the planet, drink beer! Who knew it would be that easy! Plus I’ve just written some PHP code that works, thus vindicating my appalling introduction to this post.

I bought my Red Kite from Real Foods but I bought my first Black Isle beers from their stall at the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market (which we haven’t been to for ages) up at Castle Terrace.

I think that counts as a review. Night!

Browsing like it’s 1999

August 6th, 2007

Finally! I’ve got Internet Explorer to run nicely under Puppy Linux under QEMU!

I call it Al’s Antique Browsing Appliance (virtual machine appliances are all the rage you know). And here’s my abbreviated howto in case anyone should want to replicate what I’ve done (though I’m sure there are easier ways, like not running 64 bit Debian in the first place).

  1. Install QEMU on the host box. The QEMU packages in the Debian repositories work fine.
  2. Download QEMU Launcher (not essential but it does make QEMU nice and easy to use).
  3. Download a Puppy Linux ISO image (I used 2.17).
  4. Using QEMU Launcher (or the relevant command line voodoo if you’re really bored) create a new configuration, put the Puppy ISO in the CD-ROM box, add a new image as Hard Disk 0 (I made my a gig and that’s plenty of room)
  5. Select CD-ROM as the boot device. Boot the new virtual machine and follow the locale choosing stuff
  6. Say hello to Puppy (and let your girlfriend give it a name, like ‘Pinkerton’)
  7. (I needed this step to make the install work properly, you might not) Use fdisk from a shell to create a partition table and one big partition of type 83 on /dev/hda. I didn’t do this at first and the Puppy installer did a “superfloppy” install which then didn’t have a bootloader
  8. Run the Puppy universal installer (from Menu -> Setup).
  9. Follow the installer prompts (I think I just used the default all the way through)
  10. Marvel when nothing gets confused as a virtual CD is installed to a virtual hard disk in a virtual computer
  11. When it’s done, shutdown the virtual computer, change the boot device to the first disk and boot again
  12. Now we’ve got an OS it’s time to install the stuff needed for IE, start with the Puppy Wine packages (download the files and click on them from the file manager)
  13. Next, download Cabextract (used to, well, extract CAB files). I used the Slackware package and it worked fine.
  14. Lastly, download IEs4Linux and extract and run (as per the instructions). This cool thing downloads various versions of IE straight from Microsoft and installs them.
  15. Run IE! Running /root/bin/ie6 from a terminal should give you IE6 in all it’s wonderful crappiness.

And there you go, you have a virtual machine that can run IE5, 5.5 and 6 (and 7 with a beta of IEs4Linux) at the same time! Now go and test your websites!

Here’s the proof:
IE on Puppy Linux on Debian Etch

In other news, I got my Highers results today, I got an A for Computing and a B for Maths. I’m quite chuffed with Maths, it’s not my strong point and the last year has been a bit of a struggle but it worked out in the end. I’ve got what I needed to get into university and it’s nice to have actually completed this and done it fairly well. It’s a nice sense of accomplishment to have worked for something and got it. Oddly the B means more than the A just because it took much more work to get (honestly, if you’re bored next year sign yourself up for Higher Computing and turn up for the exam. If you managed to use a web browser to get to this blog then you should get a C, minimum!).

So now I’ve got four years of uni. Four years! Well, at least I don’t have to sit on a bus for 45 minutes to get there…

Feel the groove

August 5th, 2007

Today we went to see the Edinburgh Cavalcade which pretty much is the start of the festival(s). It’s not every day you see the Lady Boys of Bangkok rubbing shoulders with the Scouts, and the Tay Valley Twirlers following Dr Who (and the Tardis, a Dalek and K9)! We also collected a metric butt load of leaflets and whistles and crap which I think will get a photo for prosperity.

The fine Scottish drizzle was out in force, as you’d expect, so much of the fun was spotting the split in the paraders between those feeling the groove and the ones that were just wet and pissed off. I particularly liked the guy holding the sign for The Edinburgh Samba School and friends who clearly was an ex-raver and was just itching for a glow stick.

In other news I’m still faffing about with emulated Linux. I’m getting somewhere with Puppy Linux now but I ran out of (virtual) disk space because I made the disk image too small. So I’m now growing that with Gparted. In case you hadn’t figured, I’m still not taking the easy way out!

You take the high road, I’ll take the one with potholes and speedbumps

August 4th, 2007

The new site that Sarah and I are working on is going to be developed primarily with Firefox because that’s what we use. We also decided that we should actually test it in that nasty Redmond browser. As most of the browsing population uses IE6 (if this is you then watch your back, or at least watch your PC, if you ever see me in person) we need to find a way to run both IE6 and IE7 to test in both. Of course, being a Microsoft product, two versions of the same browser aren’t designed to be run at the same time.

Faced with this problem we attacked it from two different mindsets:

  • Sarah: Find a tool for Windows that allows you to run IE 6 and 7 at the same time, download it and run it in under ten minutes.
  • Al: Spend most of the night trying to install IEs4Linux (a cool looking bit of software) into DamnSmallLinux (also cool) in Qemu (mit das cool) but get stuck in dependency hell.

Whoever is the smart one here, it’s not me. I’m now abandoning DSL as it seems to die when I try to install the GCC package (yes, it’s getting so bad I’m compiling dependencies) and I’m going to try Puppy Linux.

All this desperation is because I’m using 64 bit Debian and there still aren’t 64 bit packages for Wine which is a PITA. So I’m emulating 32 bit Linux instead. Which is probably a sign from a higher being that I should just pull my finger out and downgrade to 32 bit and be done with it. But where would the fun be in that?! There’s compiling to be done!

More icons, less insight

August 3rd, 2007

OK, so I’m not doing very well at the blogging challenge. I’ve missed two days now and I’m pretty sure someone’s keeping note…

I need to blog earlier in the day when I’m still awake. Mind you, last night was EdLUG and I never really woke up today.

I’ve done a bit more work on the big giant database and it’s starting to come together a bit. It’s funny how even though the todo list keeps growing I feel like it might actually get there soonish. In related news, HSBC are being tossers over getting an internet merchant account for the online booking side of this site, even though the organisation has had a MOTO merchant account with HSBC for >15 years (pretty much the feeling I get as a long term personal HSBC customer where it seems like they’d be quite happy if I died as then they wouldn’t have the chore of posting my bank statements).

Also, my probable choice of payment processor for the new site, Protx, made a spectacular cock up of an upgrade to their system a couple of days ago. I might be looking around for alternatives…

I’ve finally got an excuse to use a couple of icons from FAMFAMFAM‘s Silk icon set. Nice little icons and under a Creative Commons licence.

And that’s today’s exciting news, the time now is a bit past 11 and it’s time for news where you are.

Ecogeek: Tetrapaks

August 1st, 2007

Tetrapaks. They’re excellent at keeping the orange juice on the shelf in the fridge (and not in a puddle at the bottom of the fruit drawer). All well and good. But, after I have full enjoyed my orange juice, can I recycle them? After half an hour’s serious internet browsing the answer is… maybe, possibly and I don’t know.

See, on Sarah’s carton of milk that I was flattening to recycle/bin there was this URL: which leads to some excellent hyperbolic propaganda that told me just how wonderful Tetrapaks are and that if my drink isn’t provided in a Tetrapak then I should be suspicious and prepared for death should the drink not have been shielded from the deadly sunlight. It’s quite dark in my fridge when the door’s closed but I’ll put that aside for now.

The website did tell me that Tetrapaks are formed of a seven layer laminate (this makes them nigh on impossible to recycle into anything meaningful). The recycling process apparently goes like this:

1) Baled cartons are dropped into a pulper, similar to a giant domestic food mixer,
2) filled with water, and
3) pulped for around 20 minutes.
4) This breaks down the packaging to produce a grey-brown mixture.
5) The aluminium foil and polyethylene are separated from the fibre,
which is recovered to make new paper products.
6) The remaining mix of plastic and aluminium can then be used in furniture, to generate energy or even separated out into pure aluminium and paraffin.

So basically you dump them in water and beat the crap out of them and at the end you get two types of sludge, papery sludge and plasticy sludge. You can then make paper out of the paper sludge and pretty much bugger all with the plastic sludge. Oh, but you can always set fire to it! Sorted!

OK, so can I recycle it? Well that depends on your local authority having the right (wet and beat crap out of) facilities. And does my local authority? Maybe. Hop on to and have a look. I found this PDF which helpfully tells me the stuff I can put in the tenement recycling bins. The closest thing to a Tetrapak in the list is “Cardboard Drinks Cartons”, but there is a photo of Tetrapaks (to the right, the central photo is of beer cans, welcome to Scotland!). But I’m not supposed to put in the lids which the Tetrapak Recycling site said I could.

So my final answer to “can I recycle a Tetrapak” is a tentative “mostly”.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a council that will recycle Tetrapaks (and according to the Tetrapak Recycling site the entire UK is “coming soon”) then they have a cunning plan. And it really is cunning. Take all your Tetrapaks, put them in a big cardboard box, print out and affix this label, take the box to your local post office and pay a small fortune to have the box shipped to Somerset! Baldrick would have been proud.

I’m brilliant I am

July 31st, 2007

I’m currently listening to Tenacious D’s eponymous first album and I had a revelation. The D and Tre from the Apprentice both share the same “We’re/I’m brilliant and you’re going to believe it” attitude. Tre was particularly excellent at it, “it’s another thing I’m great at”.

Lewis Hamilton has it too and people just believe it (well, up until the European GP anyway but we’ll gloss over that). I think there’s something to be said for this, so, just in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m awesome I am. Not to mention good looking and intelligent. With some minor assistance from Amoy I make a mean stir fry. And I’m modest too. I’ll let you know how this goes, but I think I’m on to a winner.

Awesomeness aside, there’s something to be said for being more confident in small ways. I made the decision a while back to avoid moving out of the way of other people when walking along streets and crossing roads. I got fed up of being polite and taking really long paths to get to where I want to go because of all the people in the way. This is working out really well, especially with all the tourists around at the moment.

OK, it’s nearly the end of this day of awesomeness (well, this last however long a Tenacious D album is), tomorrow another full day of excellence!

Grow your own coke

July 30th, 2007

That got your attention eh?

I think it’s about time I blogged the current results of an experiment I’ve been running.

When Sarah decided to grow tomatoes and peppers I saw sceptical. Would tomato plants really produce something edible, or even survive, on a windowsill in Edinburgh? I figured as the plants were between 25-99p each there wasn’t much to lose.

After the plants started to grow I thought there might actually be something in this growing your own food lark so I decided to have a crack at it. The difference was that instead of faffing around growing ‘ingredient’ type plants I’ve gone for end products. That’s plants that give you a full meal. Even more, I’m growing a drink! The best thing about this is that you can grow brand name products!

Here’s the proof:

This is growing well, I’m not sure what magic technique Coke uses to turn the green stuff into the liquid but as Coke is black I’m guessing some kind of burning is needed.

Again, I’m very hopeful with this one. Sainsbury’s does a mean canned CTM so hopefully I’ll have a viable food source.

The Jelly Belly bean plant was sadly lost to high wind but I’m still please with the results so far. Obviously I’m keeping some the details secret for now but once my patent’s through watch out!

Book Review: It’s Not Easy Being Green: One Family’s Journey Towards Eco-Friendly Living

July 29th, 2007

“A book review?!” I hear you ask. “Isn’t that just a thinly veiled excuse for Amazon Affiliate links to try and make a quick buck?”. The answer of course is no. It’s not veiled at all. With your cynical questioning out of the way, on to the review…

It’s Not Easy Being Green: One Family’s Journey Towards Eco-Friendly Living
Dick Strawbridge
BBC Books (13 April 2006)
ISBN: 0563493461

This has been an interesting read for the past couple of weeks. I’m a fan of Dick Strawbridge’s past work including Scrapheap Challenge and various programmes about inventions. You really can’t go wrong with that combination of facial hair and welding for a start. The book is a spin off from the BBC TV series of the same name which I managed to mostly miss but did really enjoy when I caught it.

The basic premise is that Dick and the Strawbridge family sell up and move to a run down house in Cornwall to do it up, greenify it as best they can and then live as eco-friendly a life as possible. This book documents their journey but isn’t a howto guide. It’s aspirational rather than an instruction manual. I have to say I liked the balance of this book, the mix of story and technical details was very easy to read and gave what could be stale technical details some life. To be honest though, as a geek I got more out of the technical details and wish the diagrams were just a bit more technical and a bit less cartoony so I could figure out how some of it worked (I just couldn’t figure out the imploded glass greenhouse floor but it might have been getting late when I read that bit).

The Strawbridges managed to cover most aspects of self sufficency: making electricity; growing food; making fuel for cars and more. As a geek the bit that interested me the most was electricity generation. This is something I really want to do in the future (even though leaving PCs running 24 hours a day isn’t the best to run from a solar panel…). I’d like to do it now but I don’t have anywhere to put solar panels and battery banks.

Building a waterwheel and viaduct in the garden seems like an excellent idea to me but might not go down so well with the neighbours. Also, the lack of stream here would make it a bit pointless. Still, it would be nice to look at. It was interesting to see just how much you can actually get “for free” from nature if you’re in the right place.

On the whole the book is a light and fun read (with a few good chuckles), there is a grisly bit though in the food section to do with rearing pigs for food. This really isn’t a section for vegetarians. I struggled to read a few parts of it being the crap meat eater that I am (sometimes it’s best not to know where your food actually comes from). Still, that’s only a small part of the section and the rest is interesting to read.

The best part to this book is the thinking it forces you to do, going through the book you can’t help but score yourself on how much you recycle (8/10), how much electricity you use (6/10) and how much crap you buy (5/10). We’re not yet entirely self sufficent in tomatos just yet, although the bedroom window plants have so far produced one tomato (we count that as a glorious success) and at the latest count we have 14 “in progress”. I think we’re on to a winner here!

Of course, you should really just read the book yourself rather than listen to me waffle about it. Which you can do from Amazon. Or (and Dick would be proud of this), you can do what I did and walk to my library and take the book out on Sarah’s card. I should get my own really, or at least contribute to the fines…

I believe you have my stapler

July 28th, 2007

Wikipedia is a dangerous game. I think it’s actual proof of six degrees of separation, it’s possible to get from anything to any other thing in less than six steps. Without resorting to All articles with unsourced statements. And lo, someone has created a tool to do just that.

This all started by looking up Office Space which I just watched. Before you know it you’ve read articles on staplers and somehow ended up Star Trek TNG. Funny how it works.

Most importantly, I’ve discovered the importance of (Stephen Root’s) makeup…