Oh yeah, we released, didn't we?

Mar 11, 2009 / 0 comments

Nearly a month has elapsed since Debian released Lenny. The interesting thing for me about this release was that I failed to get to the point where running etch was causing me pain. This became even more evident when Katherine commented on my Lenny T-Shirt - I'd forgotten to mention our release to her! Previously there have been a bunch of features coming that I really wanted, sometimes to the point of using backports. It's probably something to do with the way I run Debian; I use stable for remote machines and while in the past this would have meant quite a few work boxes these days it's just a box at my parents' and my colo.

Where I felt the pain during this release cycle was on the boxes where I run unstable (my home desktop) or testing (my work box and my laptops). Development on new shininess slows down significantly while we're preparing for release (not unsurprisingly). And there are things coming up I quite like the look of, largely aimed at the desktop arena. I've been running Network Manager 0.7 from experimental on my EEE, for example - I need the HSO 3G support to avoid unnecessary faff on a daily basis. I've got ATI cards in my work and home desktops, so I'm watching the Mesa developments with interest - roll on OpenGL 2.0 support hopefully. The Intel KMS support that doesn't seem to be quite there yet but RSN, no, really, will be nice for my laptops. Experimental VDRs are looking interesting and perhaps worth upgrading my PVR to.

For a long time I haven't really understood the point of view that Debian shouldn't release. Or rather, I haven't understood why people would think that was a serious option. The first Debian box I installed went into a colo facility shortly afterwards. This is the first release I've not been running Debian on a commercial colo box and while I treat my personal colo in a similar fashion it's not quite the same in terms of priorities. However I still think regular releases are hugely important to the project. Some pain for those of us more interested in new shiny is a small price to pay for producing a flexible, reliable distribution, be they server administrators (though I see a worrying number of people decide to install testing on their production servers and then rarely/never update it), derivers or appliance vendors.

Mind you, now we've released I'm going to have to do all those things I've been putting off. I should probably start with moving my Perl bits into pkg-perl. And maybe I should switch over some sources.list files to point at squeeze instead of lenny...

Bachelor Pad

Mar 10, 2009 / 0 comments

Translink are breaking the trains for 3 months at the end of March. This is manifesting as the line between Ballymena and Coleraine being entirely shut (it's only single track, so it's not like they can do one side at a time), but will hopefully result in a smoother, faster journey. Not much good for the 3 months when my journey goes from a single train ride to a train, bus, then another train ride. And gets longer by 20-30 minutes (so potentially 5 hours a day commuting. Yay!). I think not.

So I have rented a flat in Belfast, conveniently only 3 minutes walk from work. 3 month leases are hard to find so I have it for 6 months. I'm a bit freaked. I shouldn't be really; I lived alone when Katherine first moved back to NI. But that was in a house I'd been in for ages rather than somewhere entirely new to me. It proved its worth last night when we were able to walk to Do You Remember the First Time? in a couple of minutes though. Being in the city centre is damn handy, though I'm having to get used to the regular noise of traffic again. :)

(This post primarily a test of Drivel; it's not worth the hassle of dealing with Virgin or BT to get a broadband connection, so I'm going to end up continuing to use my Orange 3G dongle and trying to do things in local clients where possible.)

Recording application sound output with ALSA

Feb 24, 2009 / 0 comments

I wanted to record a conference call for a colleague who couldn't make it. Normally I'd cheat and run Wireshark to capture and dump an unencrypted VOIP stream, but for various reasons that wasn't an easy option and Skype was going to work better for the call. But how to record it? IRC suggested various ALSA magic options, which looked like they'd do the trick if I could only understand the fine manual. It actually turned out to be much easier than it looked. I dropped:

pcm.fileout {
	type file;
	slave {
		pcm "hw:0"
	}
	file "/home/noodles/pcmout";
	format "raw";
}

into .asoundrc, restarted Skype and told it to use the fileout device for audio out. That led to a pcmout file being created, as well as the sound going to the sound card.

sox -r 44100 -s -2 -c 2 -t raw pcmout -t wav foo.wav then converted that file into a WAV that could be played back. For some reason setting format to wav in the ALSA config resulted in an error - throwing sox at the problem was the easy answer but I suspect that step could be eliminated with some more doc reading.

Yet another missed FOSDEM

Jan 14, 2009 / 0 comments

I managed to go to FOSDEM in 2005. I enjoyed myself. I'd like to go again. No, really, I would.

In 2006 I drew the short straw while working for Black Cat; Simon and Dom went, I remained the person on the same landmass as the servers.

In 2007 I had a wedding to go to.

Last year I was too disorganised to sort out suitable transport from Northern Ireland.

I'd resigned myself to having to take off the Friday and Monday this year and fly. Except it's been moved to near the start of February, which thus conflicts with an annual dinner that gets to have higher priority. Bah.

Maybe I'll manage 2010, but I'll not be holding my breath.

Life with the Google/T-Mobile G1

Jan 12, 2009 / 0 comments

I've previously mentioned my desire for a new smartphone. I'd been eyeing the G1 since its release, with the main factor stopping me from going ahead the need for a T-Mobile contract. They don't have any 3G coverage north of Belfast that I've seen and I'm very happy with my £20/month O2 Simplicity contract and don't have any need to pay twice that. Luckily Katherine decided to get me one for my birthday, and after some confusion involving it going to Norwich (always remember to update your Paypal delivery address as well as the card address when you move home, folks. Oh, and your Amazon wishlist address too; it's different than your primary address and I've been bitten by that myself in the past) it turned up the weekend before Christmas.

I have a UK spec T-Mobile G1. First step was to get it unlocked for use on O2. I used Unlock G1 - they weren't the cheapest, but I'd seen them recommended on a few G1 news sites and they had a helpful guide on their site about activating without a T-Mobile SIM. They claim a code within 2 business days. I ordered at 19:30 UTC on a Saturday night and had a code by 21:00 that worked first time.

Once the O2 SIM was working I needed to check if the phone was easily rootable. I typed reboot and was rewarded with a rebooting phone. I had the RC7 UK firmware release, which still had the bug. I followed the android-dls.com guide to keeping root and upgraded to the RC8 release. With that out of the way I could start to actually have a play.

The screen is lovely. I'm used to the high res E70 screen and have been disappointed at the number of phones that only do 320x240. 480x320 is probably the minimum I'd want (if I can't manage an 80 character wide SSH session I'm not really interested) though obviously if HTC ever get round to a Touch Pro with Android I might be tempted... Touch aspect is perfectly responsive, as is the interface in general - while I don't use a phone that much day to day my mobile is the only number I give out so it tends to be the only phone I use. This means that the ability to make/receive calls/sms is the most important feature for me (it's odd having to say this, but I know people who've claimed to love phones but on further probing reveal it's a great PDA but dire for calls and they have to carry something else for that). The G1 performs admirably for my needs.

The built in apps are good too. The browser is much better than the E70. I don't know if that's the bigger screen (though the resolution isn't much different) or a faster processor, but browsing on my mobile is a much more realistic proposition now. I've only played briefly with the iPhone browser and I wouldn't say the G1 was any better, but it's certainly good. Calendaring is functional too and copes with multiple Google Calendars as you'd hope. Shame it doesn't deal with anything else, but for the moment this suits my needs. I haven't used it for email; I prefer to ssh to my colo box and run mutt. Contacts are mostly ok, though I have a few gripes I'll mention later.

I haven't felt the need to install many apps. The connectbot ssh client was an obvious one and is pretty nice (main missing feature is UTF-8 and there's a feature request for it raised already). I've installed a few games off the Android Market, as well as Barcode Scanner (does what you'd think) and CellFinder (displays your location and which mobile cell you're using; it's a bit scary how few O2 masts there seem to be near my house). Installation from the market has been a breeze and it's nice to be able to flick through what's available. With my E70 it was always a real pain to go and hunt down Symbian apps (especially when S60 3rd Edition was new) and install them.

Before I start on my gripes, let me clarify that I am very happy with this phone. I wanted something with a keyboard that was functional and this fits the bill. It's a definite improvement over my E70 and I feel it's much more responsive than any of the recent Windows Mobile devices I've encountered. Also the battery life hasn't proved to be an issue - from articles I'd read I'd expected to have difficulty getting a day out of it, but in general I can easily get 2 and have had 3. Maybe my usage patterns aren't as heavy as everyone else, but that's fine for me (I remember my 9000i Communicator which really was a case of having to charge it every night).

The first issue I hit was the contacts system. Google have tied this into GMail and it really seems to have been a last minute thought process, perhaps along the lines of "Where can we stick this? Oh, hang on, people have email contacts, how about there?". Trying to move my contacts over from my E70 I was surprised to find that there's no way to import a vCard. The only option is CSV. WTF? I'm not saying vCard is perfect, but it's pretty much what we have as a standard method of contact interchange. I ended up writing some Perl to crudely parse the vCards and output CSV. I shouldn't have had to.

Then again, maybe the issue is that Google know their contacts system is a bit lacking. You'd think a company with online calendaring and contacts would be able to cope with things like birthdays, tying them together between contacts and displaying them in your calendar, wouldn't you? They can't. I can't see any way to store a birthday or anniversary with a contact. Nor a home page. The contacts system is the one area that the E70 outshines the G1.

I miss an onscreen keyboard more than I thought I would (ie at all). I understand this should be coming in the next release, which will make things like quick replies to SMSes much easier (there's no point opening the keyboard for a "Nearly there" response).

The use of only a single APN for internet access and MMS is a bit troublesome; I haven't managed to get this to work properly with O2 - either I have fully working 'net or fully working MMS with only web seeming to work. I haven't played with the settings very much though and I spent 7 months without MMS even enabled on my O2 account, so it's not high priority. Also something I understand is being fixed upstream.

I'd like a way to see the next calendar event on my home screen. I may just be missing how to do this, but it was a nice feature on the E70.

I haven't played much with the camera, but I get the impression it's pretty typical of the average mobile phone; ie not great. Not a problem for me, but don't expect this to replace a compact digital camera.

While I accept this phone isn't for everyone I think it's pretty much what I'm looking for in terms of what's on the market today. There's nicer hardware out there, but a large part of what makes this phone is the Android software. I look forward to seeing new phones in the coming year making use of it, hopefully leading to a decent selection by the time I need a new phone again. :)

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