I was a brave boy at the dentist today

Nov 25, 2005 / 0 comments

My main fear in life is pain. I'm a wuss. Nowhere is this more obvious than when I'm at the dentist. I literally start shaking when I sit in the chair. While he's prodding around inside my mouth I can feel myself tense up more and more until I force myself to relax and then the process repeats. Being 6'1" I don't get a lot of people believing me when I tell them just how nervous the whole thing makes me.

Anyway. When I came to Norwich I managed to find a dentist who claimed to be suited to nervous patients. I went and didn't find them that good, but did make an appointment for my next checkup 6 months after my initial appointment. And then they cancelled it and I spent the next 3 years thinking I should really get round to sorting it out again and not doing so. Then several weeks ago I was having a conversation at an ALUG meeting with Becca and she recommended her dentist. So I decided I should give them a go and discovered that Phill also uses the same one and said they were good too.

I finally got around to going today (having filled out all the forms last week). The dentist was nice and friendly and took me on board about being shit scared. And said some consoling words about my teeth being in reasonable shape. I got away with a scale and polish (which I have to go back to get completed in a couple of weeks) and no mention of a drill anywhere. Rock. Now let's see if I can manage a regular checkup schedule. :)

Oh, it's the Guildhall Dental Practice at 9 Upper Goat Lane, Norwich if anyone else is looking. 01603 760032.

Network installing FreeBSD

Nov 24, 2005 / 0 comments

So, Black Cat Networks have a bunch of nice dedicated servers and I've been working on various network installs for them. Debian was of course easy; there's a nice netboot.tar.gz that has everything you need (including configs for serial consoles).

Fedora Core was a bit harder; there's mention about network boots and installs, but not a lot of docs. A pxelinux entry like:

label fedora
	kernel fc4/vmlinuz
	append initrd=fc4/initrd.img ramdisk_size=8192 console=ttyS0,9600n8 serial

does the right thing, with vmlinuz and initrd.img coming from http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/core/4/i386/os/images/pxeboot/. Fedora's a bit annoying in that it doesn't offer you a selection of mirrors to network install from though, so you need to have worked that out for the install.

FreeBSD however, was much harder. Firstly, there aren't any decent docs about it that I could find. Secondly, it really wants to use NFS, even though TFTP will be required anyway for the PXE boot stage.

So, I ended up recompiling the pxeboot loader with LOADER_TFTP_SUPPORT enabled and LOADER_NFS_SUPPORT removed (though it still tries to do NFS mounts it seems). Of course, you can't do this under Linux easily. Nor can you do it on FreeBSD 4.10 it seems (I was recompiling the FreeBSD 6 loader). However you can on FreeBSD 5.4. You need the lib and sys source trees to do so. Or you can have my prebuilt copy, freebsd.0.

pxelinux config looks like:

label freebsd
	kernel boot/freebsd.0

assuming you put it in a boot subdirectory under your tftpboot root dir. You then need http://ftp.uk.freebsd.org/pub/FreeBSD/releases/i386/ISO-IMAGES/6.0/6.0-RELEASE-i386-bootonly.iso to get the rest of the /boot contents from. Burn it to CD or loopback mount it or work whatever magic does the trick for you to get access to the files in that image. Then copy all of /boot on it to boot in your tftproot. You don't actually need boot*, cdboot, loader or pxeboot, but they're all small files. Then, add the following to loader.conf:


So, now you can type "freebsd" at your pxelinux boot prompt and it'll boot up the installer. Rock. I don't quite understand why I had to include the kernel_options line above - I thought setting boot_serial would do that for me. However, it works. With the only real pain being having to recompile pxeboot and the lack of docs. Which I've now sorted for you. ;)

Spamcop Kill Kittens.

Nov 16, 2005 / 0 comments

Dear SpamCop, Please die in a large chemical fire. Don't fucking expect me, as postmaster of a secondary MX, to read every single bounce that comes from it rather than just sending a bounce message. And try educating your lusers (and truely, some of them are lusers) about how to unsubscribe from lists rather than deciding to report them as spam. And while I'm not keen on marketing email, some of it is legitimate and has working opt out systems. Just because you missed the opt out box doesn't make it spam and doesn't mean the way to deal with it is to report it as such.

Gah. I like to think that SpamCop's heart in the right place, but it doesn't avoid the fact that I spend more time dealing with fuckwitted reports from them than I do with spam (because I do actually take the reports seriously as sometimes there's truth in them). Outblaze's FBL is the only other thing that comes close in terms of the sheer stupidity of the reporters.

SpamCop; Just Say No.

No more hardware today, please.

Nov 15, 2005 / 0 comments

So, today has been a day of hardware. Some good, some bad.

First, the good. Take one Via EPIA-M motherboard, add a helping of LinuxBIOS and Etherboot and let simmer for a few hours on a low heat. Then add a sprinkling of Phil Hands' d-i preseeding for the final garnish. Tweak to suit your tastes and lo and behold. A neat little motherboard that does proper serial console, boots d-i over the network via tftp and does a completely automated Debian install.

Of course, it's not quite that easy. LinuxBIOS requires a few out of tree patches that are still under discussion. The latest version of Etherboot (5.4.1) doesn't seem to work (lots of rubbish on the serial console and no boot), but the version that does (5.2.6) requires a backport of the latest via-rhine driver to avoid leaving the network card in a state that Linux isn't happy with. And Phil's documentation could do with some updating (which I should really email him about). Oh, and add to that the fact that numerous things seem to assume that there is a PC BIOS and that it will support standard interrupts. Yeah, like that's going to happen.

Still, I seem to have almost got there and it's quite funky to watch it all happen automatically. Kudos to the d-i team for the ease with which you can preseed.

Flush with success I moved on to the next challenge; scanning some forms before posting them off. Nice and easy, normally. If it weren't for the fact that the machine with the SCSI card for the scanner just happens to be the one I stole for the above, and that the new case it's in doesn't allow any PCI cards. Bah. So, find a spare machine, get it into a state where I can actually drive the scanner, scan away. Took far too long. I really need to get it hooked up to my main machine, but there isn't enough desk space to have it close enough for the cables I've got. Perhaps I should crack and buy a USB scanner. I don't really need high quality, just something as an alternative to photocopying.

After that trial I've moved on to upgrading my PVR box; I got a new 320GB HD today to replace the 40GB that I'd been using - it was getting to annoying to have to either watch or syphon off various series that I'm recording. While I had the box open I decided to upgrade the motherboard to something that might support wake-on-lan, so this turned into a bigger job than it should have been. :( I'm currently waiting for the data to copy across before trying to stick it back together. Bah. Don't suppose anyone has an S370 P-III better than 667MHz and no better than 1GHz they want to part with cheaply? I'm currently running a Celeron 800MHz (which I think is a slight step up from the previous PIII-667), but a little more oompfh would help with streaming over the network. I'd just upgrade to something modern, but I suspect the extra cost of silent cooling would be a killer.

Thinking in the shower

Nov 11, 2005 / 0 comments

I often find I have really great ideas about stuff to blog about, code or do, while I'm in the shower. And then once I'm finished showering I've forgotten all about them. Becca says she does the same, but usually while in the bath. Where do the ideas go? Down the plughole with the water?

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