Christmas Day

It’s a beautiful day here in Wellington – a nice surprise as the weather hasn’t been so great over the past few days. After breakfast we hiked up through the Town Belt to Mount Victoria lookout in an attempt to walk off a mild hangover from the traditional Christmas Eve over-indulgence.

[View over Wellington City with the Marina in the foreground]

The views over the city and the harbour are worth the trek up the hill. The wind was pretty fierce though, and I didn’t envy anyone doing the crossing today on the Inter-Island ferry we saw departing the port.

[The Ferry with hills in the background]

On our way back we walked along the sea front at Oriental Bay where there were a few people relaxing in a suitably festive manner on the new and improved beach (which hasn’t quite washed-away despite some predictions and has been the subject of some fascinating controversy over municipal spending priorities).

[Three sunbathers in Santa hats]

It really doesn’t feel like Christmas Day, despite all the decorations, Santa outfits and our own best efforts to be as festive as possible (can’t have a roast, though – the oven here is broken, so we’re going native and having lamb and fried kumara instead). I think that it’s the climate. Even though I’ve spent Christmas in hot places before, I think there’s something hardwired into me that just can’t quite believe that it’s the right time of year. Ungrateful it might sound, but part of me does pine a little for a bit of frost (cue cries of disgust from friends and relatives back home). OK, well, maybe not that much. Have a good day, wherever you are.

Slight Adjustments

I’ve made some very slight adjustments to the writeback plugin which allows you to comment on or trackback to my posts. This is based on Fletcher Penny’s version of Rael’s original writeback plugin. Any comments you might leave should be formatted with the paragraph and line breaks you type, without the need for you to include any HTML. In fact, any HTML left in comments at all will now be escaped and rendered visible.

Please feel free to give this a try and let me know if you have any trouble. Thanks!

Linux in Iraq?

There’s an interesting article by Adam Davidson in Linux Journal about two Iraqi Linux advocates who are trying to preach the benefits of Open Source to their compatriots before proprietary software lock-in occurs.

Ashraf Tariq and Hasanen Nawfal are the founders of the Linux Users Group of Iraq, and are asking for any help that people can provide. Follow the link above to Davidson’s article for more specifics.

It sounds like a great idea to me, but I suspect they might find the struggle quite difficult. After all, founding a new Iraqi IT infrastructure on Free Software might be just a little bit more freedom than some might like.


I thought it might be useful to post a few notes on the process of getting connected to the CafeNET WLAN here in Wellington. It will help me in absorbing everything that I have read about and might prove useful to someone else one day. Be warned, this is a fairly technical post!

Hardware and OS:

Software Requirements:

The package references in parentheses above are Slackware specific. I can’t imagine that there is a major distribution that does not supply any of these packages, but the links will take you to the source if you need it. There are alternatives to dhcpcd you might use, and there is an alternative solution (in part) to the one I am going to describe using a different driver and toolkit.

The ZoomAir 4100 uses the PRISM II architecture with a MANFID of 0x0156, 0x0002. This architecture is listed in the know cards database (/etc/pcmcia/config) and bound to the orinoco_cs device driver, so upon card insertion the cardmgr daemon loads the relevant drivers and logs this in /var/log/messages.

Once cardmgr has identified a card and loaded the device driver(s), it performs some further configuration using the scripts in /etc/pcmcia. The scripts called depend on the device class of the card (see the PCMCIA-HOWTO for more information). In this case cardmgr calls the network script which in turn calls the wireless script. Specific configuration options can be added to the scripts by editing corresponding *.opts files in the same directory.

I had not altered any of these scripts when I began experimenting with the ZoomAir card, and it turned out that the scripts as distributed with Slackware don’t do anything untoward – but neither do they do anything particularly useful, so the final steps needed to be performed manually.

The CafeNET website gives their SSID as ‘cafenet’ and tells us that they do not use WEP (encryption). Armed with this information, we can manually configure the interface using iwconfig. It turns out that the default setup has encryption turned off and sets reasonable values for everything else, so all we need to do is set the SSID:

# iwconfig eth0 essid cafenet

Then you can fire up the dhcp client daemon and hopefully get connected:

# dhcpcd eth0

(I’m going to use eth0 as the interface throughout these examples, but this might not always be the correct option for everyone. If your interface is eth0, you don’t actually need to specify it to dhcpcd as it will use that by default. I’m specifying it for clarity.)

This was enough to get connected to the network. To ‘hang-up’, firstly cleanly kill dhcpcd:

# dhcpcd -k

Then you can eject the card:

# cardctl eject

So – very little needs doing to get connected. But there are some tweaks I’ve made to automate the whole process – even geeks get bored of typing in the same old commands all the time, and what are computers good for if not automation, anyway?

As implied above, Card Services comes with a ready-made system to help automate managing cards. By adding some code to the scripts in /etc/pcmcia we can automate the entire process of connecting to and disconnecting from CafeNET.

I created a scheme for connecting to CafeNET by customising network.opts and wireless.opts. There is no card-specific configuration that I’ve found necessary, so this scheme may be of use to you whatever your card type. Before customising these scripts it is worth reading through the comments as there will probably be sections you will want to remove or comment out.

Here is the case to add to wireless.opts:

    INFO="Scheme for connecting to Wellingon's CafeNET"
    # Turn off encryption as suggested:

And here is the one for network.opts:

     # Leave it all up to dhcpcd:

You can now connect to CafeNET by inserting your card and changing the scheme to cafenet:

# cardctl scheme cafenet

Schemes are described in the Card Services documentation. They’re are a handy way of packaging configuration options for different circumstances which can then be called with a single command on the fly.

It is worth noting that Schemes persist across boots. This is useful for me at the moment as I can leave the scheme set to ‘cafenet’ and get connected simply by inserting the card which will automatically try to connect – I don’t have to type anything at all. But this might not be the behaviour you want. You should be able to set a variable ($SCHEME, funnily enough) in your init scripts to set the scheme at boot time, under Slackware you can set this in /etc/rc.d/rc.pcmcia. There are various ways of controlling this, check out the docs.

To disconnect you should just be able to eject the card using cardctl. Unfortunately there is a slight problem with the network script supplied with Slackware 9 – it sends dhcpcd a SIGTERM when it needs a SIGHUP to exit cleanly (see the man page for more). This is easily fixed. In the network script in the section of the ‘stop’ case dealing with killing dhcpcd replace the line:

kill -TERM $PID


kill -s HUP $PID

This is line 182 in my original network script.

This small change will make sure that everything is left nice and tidy. You could, of course, kill dhcpcd by hand and then eject the card, but why type two commands when one will do?!?

So, there we are – it all works quite well and working it out has taught me quite a bit about the Card Services tools and about both wireless networks and networking in general, all areas I didn’t know a great deal about before. Perhaps this stuff will be useful to someone else.

One final point: while researching all this stuff, it became apparent that there is at least one other option for this particular card in terms of drivers. The orinoco_cs driver is a generic solution – it supports several types of card, and is distributed with the Card Services package as a standard module. According to the orinoco page at Jean Tourrilhe’s site (a great resource for Wireless and Linux stuff generally), the support for Prism II cards is ‘not yet fully functional’, and for Prism 2.5/3 cards the alternative linux-wlan-ng system should definitely be used.

The linux-wlan drivers and subsystem provide an alternative to the orinoco/wireless extensions system described above – not only is the driver different, but the wireless extension tools (e.g. iwconfig) are not used either. Right now, I’m still using orinoco_cs (it works), but I might take a look at the linux-wlan package if I’ve got the time as it is specifically designed for the Prism-type cards of which the ZoomAir 4100 is an example.

Wifi Wellington

Turns out that Wellington has quite extensive wireless coverage in the CBD. A local broadband access company, CityLink, which already provides a fibre-optic network also operates an 802.11b network called CafeNET. Turns out that today the whole of Lambton Quay has gone live as a ‘Hot Zone’.

The company is a commercial concern, so you have to pay to log on. They charge on bandwidth usage, NZ$20 for 70 Megs, NZ$80 for 350 (c. 7.50 and 30 pounds sterling), although they are doing a free promo each weekend in Dec. I have no idea whether the rate is reasonable or not, but if it ain’t I might find the motivation to install the gzip plugin on this site to try and cut back on bandwidth, seeing as I reload the damn page about ten times every time I update.

So, motivation to get the wireless card on the laptop working! And after an hour or two fiddling, a bit of head scratching, a trip to an internet cafe and a forehead slapping later, it’s all done, and I’m posting this from the laptop, sitting in the Courtenay Central Entertainment Complex! More details in a separate post in a more appropriate category when I get around to it – tomorrow, maybe.

Lord of the Rings – The Final Post

I promise. Well, at least until I see the film itself. The weather held out for Wellington’s big day on Monday, and the sun beamed down on the thousands of people who turned out hoping for a glimpse of their favourite LotR actors. Most weren’t disappointed, as despite the crowds it was possible to see what was going on even if it proved more difficult to get any good photos.

[Elven Warriors make their way through the crowd]

The parade, which ran all the way through the centre of the city, made me think of a US ticker-tape parade or a Royal occasion back in the UK, but with far less security than you’d expect given the numbers involved. Interspersed between groups of costumed extras, the stars of the film slowly made their way to the cinema for a round of speeches and the Premiere itself. They all looked pretty blown away by the whole event, and all seemed to have big smiles on as they drank in the adulation surrounding them.

[The Black Riders attempt to terrify some fans]

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get any good shots of the stars themselves. I had a reasonable vantage point, but the sheer frenzy that greeted them proved beyond my capabilities to penetrate. I’m not too bothered really, as I’m sure we’ll all see plenty of them all over the coming weeks as the hype continues to build for the film’s general release. In the mean time here’s another shot of some of their escort.

[The Men of GOndor march past]

The parade was fun, and seemed to live up to the city’s expectations. There was a general sense of carnival throughout the day, and I don’t think anyone really expected to get a lot of work done (I had a job interview rescheduled for Tuesday). Even the phone company got in on the act (I hope you can make out the screen, it says we’re in ‘MiddlEarth’)

[The cell is renamed MiddlEarth (sic) for the day]

Should you think that the whole country was united in LotR celebration, I should mention a few signs of dissent that were present, albeit almost swamped, on the day. As the band which concluded the parade marched past the spot I’d found for myself, a handful of people unfurled a large banner:

[Banner reading 'Our Mayor Jailed Homeless People For This']

A little further down the road was another small group standing around some graffiti-covered cardboard boxes haranguing the crowd on the same issue. There was some debate with a few of the surrounding crowd, but I didn’t stay to watch for long. There weren’t many people protesting – a tiny number compared to the crowds happily watching the parade go past – but it’s worth a mention, especially as the latest issue of The Package mentions something similar in a short piece on some of the consequences of increased tourism to NZ. There is some concern over these issues here, even if it doesn’t seem to rate much of a mention in the mainstream media outlets.

We watched the speeches in a bar, although for some bizarre reason the local media kept interrupting their coverage of the days events – even in the middle of the speeches – to report on mundanities such as the sports results, or some piece of dull local news. This was actually the subject of complaints in the letters page of the paper later in the week, so it wasn’t just us that found this a bit odd. After the speeches were concluded and the stars enjoying the fruits of their labours in the cinema, the crowds began to disperse. We headed down to Taranaki Wharf to watch some of the entertainment laid on, but it quickly became pretty cold and we ended up heading home to bed rather than sitting up to watch the Two Towers yet again – after all the bloody hype, we plebs still have to wait until the 18th to watch the damn new film ourselves!

Seasonally appropriate

Logged into the Sony Vaio this morning and was greeted by the following seasonally appropriate fortune:

Some of you … may have decided that, this year, you’re going to celebrate it the old-fashioned way, with your family sitting around stringing cranberries and exchanging humble, handmade gifts, like on ‘The Waltons’. Well, you can forget it. If everybody pulled that kind of subversive stunt, the economy would collapse overnight. The government would have to intervene: it would form a cabinet-level Department of Holiday Gift-Giving, which would spend billions and billions of tax dollars to buy Barbie dolls and electronic games, which it would drop on the populace from Air Force jets, killing and maiming thousands. So, for the good of the nation, you should go along with the Holiday Program. This means you should get a large sum of money and go to a mall.
— Dave Barry, ‘Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide’

Just thought I’d share that one with ya. Especially seeing as it was Buy Nothing Day a few days back. Get real, people 😉

NameProtect web crawler

I got a hit in my logs recently from the NameProtect web crawler. Perhaps not such a big deal on the surface – the user-agent string provides the above URL for more info, and a quick visit reveals some fairly standard crawler documentation, including a claim that the NPBot will honour your site’s robots.txt file.

(For the uninitiated, web crawlers (aka robots, spiders, bots, etc) are automated programs which wander the great network of links that makes up the web for a variety of tasks – some helpful, some nefarious. Possibly one of the most famous is the Googlebot, which helps keep the Google search engine up to date. A well behaved crawler will first read a file on a website called robots.txt, and follows the instructions that it contains – you might not want a site to be indexed by a search engine, for instance.)

So what, you might think. Well, NameProtect describe themselves like this:

NameProtect(R) is a Digital Brand Protection company that provides a comprehensive suite of Trademark Research, Trademark Watching and advanced Online Brand Monitoring services that assist trademark professionals in meeting the evolving Intellectual Property challenges of the digital era.

And they describe the reasons for their crawler activity thus:

As a Digital Brand Asset Management company, NameProtect engages in crawling activity in search of a wide range of brand and other intellectual property violations that may be of interest to our clients.

So, they are sniffing around the Internet looking for any copyright infringements they might be able to make a bit of cash from. Even so, you still might think so what – people who infringe copyright deserve what they get, right? Well, that’s a discussion for another day, but I felt sure I’d heard of these guys before, so I did a bit of surfing. Sure enough, they’ve been shown to have lied in the past about the behaviour of their web crawler – it has allegedly been known to ignore directives in robots.txt files – and to have used unidentified crawlers to harvest websites alongside their documented ones. Now that just shouldn’t be encouraged 😉

Since the info I’ve dug up isn’t exactly recent, I’ve decided to create a robots.txt for this site, and chuck them in it:

User-agent: NPBot
Disallow: /

and to keep an eye out to see if the NPBot or anything that looks like it returns. If it does, I’ll ban their IP Address range as suggested on the sites linked to above.

Lord of the Rings – Premiere Day

The much expected day is here, and Wellington is well and truly gearing up for the fun. The parade is due to start in about half an hour and the crowds are already gathering along the rails marking the route, the sun is shining and there’s a carnival atmosphere throughout the city. Best costumes I’ve seen yet are the two Ents and the Elf Maid wandering up and down Lambton Quay.

I expect to see a few more before the day is out! Right, I’m off to join the fun.