The LUG Slug

Is there any wonder people are put off by switching to linux (rhetorical question). How can I convince people to take a tour of the linux world when the Linux User Group (at least for the North West) is so out of date and … well quite frankly, rubbish.
I have been looking for an active linux user group in the area and here’s what I got from the two potentially closest, first Lancaster, the LUG directory entry last updated in January 2010:

Template Error: The template file must be given

And for Cumbria, the last update for which was December two years ago, it simply takes you to a page belonging to the group’s coordinator with a one-liner advertising his business.

Come on linux users – “must do better”

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Masterful thinking – so full of surprises

Seldom do I ask people to watch/listen to things on the internet (knowing that I don’t want too many reciprocal demands) but I can’t help myself here. This is my favourite TED presentation to date:

(thanks to Keith Edmunds for bringing it to my attention)

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Moody – My latest 8tracks

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Top of google – Data recovery done best – Not!

Hard Drive Data Recovery – No Data No fee. 15yrs exp.
ISO 9001 Student/Non-Company Discounts.

And here’s the link result:

Microsoft VBScript runtime error ‘800a0005’

Invalid procedure call or argument: ‘left’

/keyword_capture.asp, line 11

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Orange turns blue (well my language nearly did)

Beginning with yet another mobile phone mast outage (the price you pay for rural living) I was surprised to discover I had no signal when I went to town. A quick visit to the Orange shop led the ‘specialist’ to determine that my phone was broken. Despite it being 3 days out of warranty (call me unlucky Alf) I made a call to Orange myself (since the store staff wouldn’t do it) and they decided to send me a replacement. A couple of hours later they called to say that there was no need as my phone had been blocked. It took me a few more calls to find out why. Coincidentally at the same time as the mast outage (over 3 days), one person in London had managed to bypass Orange security and order a new phone (on a new 24 month contract), whilst a second person in a completely different place (Dagenham) had managed to order a replacement for a lost phone.  Both were trapped in the system (though I was never contacted to inform me that my account may have been compromised).

Now the only way I discovered all this was because I just received a letter two weeks after the event welcoming me to  my new contract which I thought was somewhat odd, especially as it had gone up by £15 per month.
I tried to sign in online and my password didn’t work. It turns out that someone had reset it. Worse than that I was able to reset it myself over the phone with very basic information – name, address, date of birth and one other simple piece of information from the pool of questions.

My case is currently under investigation since I have also been charged for a new handset (which Orange have kindly refunded), but the lesson is simple:

Get yourself equipped with a secure password system such as lastpass ( and make sure you tighten up where the service provider may exhibit poor telephone security.

Call your provider, reset your password and make sure that they flag it on the system to disallow the bypassing of a password using any other means.


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Google arithmetic not quite up to scratch

My gmail inbox has this at the top right:

1 – 21 of 20

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Bored to tears

I have a ‘homecare’ policy that covers emergencies such as electrical failure, heating breakdown etc and having discovered that my water system was no longer covered I decided to cancel the policy. I explained the “customer care representative” that in our remote location, the bore hole and/or well with the appropriate electrical system to pump water to the house, had been removed from their cover and that each time I tried to talk to someone about it they had no idea what a bore hole or a well was (fair enough, they don’t live in the hills, but I would have expected them to have had something of an education).
The ‘rep’ asked me if there was any way to keep me as a customer, to which my response was “yes, reinstate the cover for my bore hole equipment”. He said that couldn’t be done as it wasn’t in the terms and conditions but he would give me a discounted add-on for just £1 per month to cover the first 7 metres of water pipe to the water main.
I politely pointed out that I lived one mile from the mains water system and that my instinct told me that he hadn’t understood a word I’d been saying.
It was perhaps a shame that the call centre wasn’t located in a developing country where they would have been right on the ball !

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Orange (the future may not be so bright)

In the latest personalised email to me (Lee) from Orange, it starts:

Dear Gary,

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Procreation checklist

Procreation checklist

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Tech Support – don’t go for the obvious, it might be a waste

The week before last I had a hardware failure following a power outage and it turned out to be a major saga. My TV Digibox had effectively died and I was going to describe the pains I had to go through to get back up and running with my 100 or so hours of programmes restored, but no sooner was I poised with pen (keyboard) and paper (admin web page) than another issue arose, far more important than blogging or rescuing footage of Woodstock and Coronation Street (ok the Coro rescue was a very high priority I grant you).

My main server (debian squeeze) developed a problem wherein network packets were being dropped (seemingly randomly) for up to 30 seconds at a time. This might not seem like a big deal but my ssh connections were dropped, all my network mapped drives were disconnected and none of my backups could complete.

So where to start looking. Well let’s take the obvious:

  • network card (no, got two of them in the machine and both exhibit the same problem)
  • network cable (no, got scores of those and they are all good)
  • network switch (no, got two of them and changing over from one to the other made no odds)
  • other machines interfering (powered them all off to no avail)
  • complete power off/on of all machines and switches
  • disconnect / reconnect the ADSL

Now let’s think about the less obvious and more difficult to diagnose – perhaps the motherboard?
Dell were very helpful in that they had a spare motherboard (the server is quite old but otherwise sturdy) but only on an exchange basis (and at £185 not exactly a bargain) but their diagnostics would not determine if there was a fault that matched the symptoms.

I added another linux box to the network and it behaved perfectly well, everything steady as a rock – mapped drives, ssh connections etc. So my conclusion at that juncture was that it was either a motherboard fault or a debian update causing the issue. I had originally installed ‘squeeze’ from a release candidate download but it has had regular updates and has been performing flawlessly.

Next up then, replace the main disk and install ubuntu from a virgin 10.04LTS CD. I had some difficulties with the networking which should have been a clue but finally got it all resolved. My joy was short lived as the problem materialised again within half an hour.

Having replaced the original drive again and left the USB drives diconnected to simplify the setup, I also took one of the switches out of the equation and left all but one (windows) box on. Again it seemed to be fine for about 30 minutes.

I left mtr (My Trace Route) running between the debian box and the windows box. I was able to use the web on both boxes and copy files between them but only for a few minutes before the packet loss occured once again – even just between the two machines on the LAN.

I’ve left out some of the more esoteric things I tried for fear of embarrassment, but this morning, still in a state of despair, the only thing that stopped me buying a replacement server was that is is Easter Sunday.

What are the odds that both onboard and additional network cards might be dodgy? The hardware is all in its sixth year and runs 24/7 – statistically I don’t know what the odds are but it was worth a shot, so I borrowed a card from another machine.  Ok so I might have had more chance of winning a lottery.

I was gazing out at the beautiful sunshine and thinking of writing off yet another day’s work when a thought struck me – only an outside chance, but I had disconnected the ADSL rather than rebooting it – the only piece of kit I hadn’t completely restarted.

You already know then end of this saga …


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