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Feb 092019

One of the things that irritates me about fancy new service management systems like systemd is that unless you get everything exactly right, you can end up with things interfering with specific configuration files – specifically /etc/resolv.conf.

Now as a DNS administrator, I have a certain fondness for manually controlling /etc/resolv.conf and it does actually come in useful for making temporary changes to test specific DNS servers and the like. The trouble comes when something else wants to control that file.

The ideal fix for this conflict is to have things like systemd control a separate file such as /etc/system/resolv.conf.systemd, and for /etc/resolv.conf be installed as a symbolic link pointing at the real file.

But back in the real world, if you do disable systemd-resolver which can be done with: systemctl disable systemd-resolved.service; systemctl stop systemd-resolved.service

Then you may also want to make the file immutable: chattr +i /etc/resolv.conf. On at least one server, systemd merrily re-created /etc/resolv.conf as a symbolic link to an empty file despite systemd-resolved being disabled.

Corner Of The Pyramid
Feb 032019

Apple’s stockprice has taken a bit of a tumble just recently, prompted by a statement from them indicating that they’ve made a bit of a mess of the iPhone releases and they’re not selling as many as they expected.

Foolish scaremongers are predicting the demise of Apple. Over a few bad quarters? That’s just ridiculous.

If anything (and you fancy a gamble), now is probably a good time to buy shares in Apple, because they are not going away any time soon. And they will probably come up with an answer to what they are doing wrong.

So what are they doing wrong?

Too Few Products

It may seem a bit strange to say considering just how many different iPhones you can buy, but what I am really talking about here are product types rather than individual variations. After all whether you are buying an iPhone X, XS, XS Max, or XR, you’re still buying an iPhone.

Just take a look at the Apple web site navigation bar :-

Each of those (with the possible exception of a particular keen Mac user of the “Mac” group, and of course “Music”) is a product that a person is only likely to have one of.

And keeping the number of products you sell small makes you more vulnerable to the occasional “miss”. Which with the best planning in the world will happen from time to time.

Just imagine what is missing :-

  1. The Apple HiFi
  2. The Apple alarm clock.
  3. The Apple home/small office network server.
  4. The Apple power-line ethernet adaptor.
  5. The Apple WiFi access point.
  6. The Apple air pollution monitor/smoke detector.

And that’s just a few items thought up by an individual on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Don’t Ignore The Fringe Fanatics

For many years, Apple survived by making products well suited to the audio/visual creator community. And yet looking through the Mac line-up, there is nothing there suited to the real power user.

And yet Apple has fans who still want to run macOS – either compromising on their needs by getting an iMac Pro (usually with huge piles of non-Apple external disks) or by getting an ordinary PC and running macOS on it.

Give them what they want, and no a promise to release a proper Mac Pro “someday” isn’t sufficient.

There may not be a great deal of profit in it, but a small profit is better than none. And catering to power users may well have a greater effect than you suppose – they are or can be influencers. Imagine every photographer, videographer, and sound engineer saying “Forget about Windows; get yourself a Mac”.

Because that’s what they used to say.

Too Expensive

If you ask anyone if they would like more features, the answer is almost always yes, but they can become more reluctant if you ask them to pay a little more money for those features.

And if you ask them to pay more for features they are not interested in, they’ll rapidly lose interest if money is tight and their old phone is ‘good enough’.

And that is what has happened, the latest iPhone has more and better features than any previous iPhone but the price has crept up. For many (including the affluent “middle-class”) it has become a significant purchase rather than something that can be paid off with 2-4 months of minor inconvenience.

Follow The Path
Jan 302019

There are a bunch of people out there who jump on every single piece of ‘evidence’ they can find or construct that supposedly contradicts the evidence that the climate is changing for the warmer (and that it is mostly human activity driven).


In the beginning, some of them may have been honestly dumb, and objected to the notion of global warming simply because it challenged some of their favourite activities. After all who could believe that people could influence the climate?

And after all, what do climate scientists know? They’re just book smart and everyone knows that common sense beats book smart every time.

But over time, something else creeps in (and in some cases is there from the beginning) – a tendency to abuse the human liking for controversy to get more “hits” and a higher profile than would otherwise be the case.

And money of course.

So when you find random people on the Internet throwing rocks at the experts, bear in mind that they might just be innocently dumb or they might have an ulterior motive.

But let’s face it: They’re not after the truth no matter how much they claim otherwise.

Rusty Handrail
Jan 252019

If you are using the right kind of terminal that supports graphics inline (such as KiTTY), then you can write simple (or complex) tools that insert images into the terminal.

Being able to display the flag of a country (if you know its two-letter ISO code) is kind of trivial but useful if you need it.

And a shell function to do that is remarkably simple :-

function flag {
    wget -o /dev/null -O /var/tmp/flag.$$${1}.png
    if [ $? -eq 0 ]
        kitty +kitten icat /var/tmp/flag.$$ && rm /var/tmp/flag.$$
        echo Not found

(that’s a Zsh function which may require adaption to Bash).

Jan 152019

Now that the click-bait is out of the way, vi movement keys are perfectly reasonable particularly to those who have been using them for decades (which includes me). But for ages, vi itself has supported the arrow keys for movement as well as the tradition cursor movement keys.

For the benefit of those who have not used vi and are wondering what those traditional cursor movement keys are, they are H (left), J (down), K (up), L (right). A bit like the gamer’s set of movement keys – W, A, S, and D, except that the vi movement keys pre-date arrow keys.

There are those who will claim that the traditional movement keys are more efficient as they require less hand movement. And they are. So it is perfectly understandable that many tiling window managers and other keyboard-centric software uses these movement keys.

But someone who hasn’t spend decades hard-wiring the vi movement keys into their brain, will find vi-style key bindings inscrutable. And the fix? Just use the arrow keys as well.

There is no harm in having two key sequences do the same thing; no harm in emphasising that the arrow keys work too. And indeed no harm encouraging the use of vi-style movement keys by emphasising their efficiency.

Don’t forget that someone learning a new tiling window manager (or most other things) can be put off by the silliest of things – such as inscrutable control keys.

Rusty Handrail
Jan 052019

Well mine does (which I would recommend, but I’ve no idea what it is), but I don’t know about yours.

Send me it with some cash in it, and I’ll take a gander.

But …

Just how practical is RFID or NFC scanning anyway? The scaremongers would claim that there are people out there, slapping payment terminals to your bum and siphoning off your bank account.

I know from my own attempts at scanning (and you will know similarly from “tap & pay”) that the distance at which you can read RFID or NFC is normally fairly minimal. Sure you can get antennas which can read at distances of up to 700m, but they tend to resemble those old TV antennas.

Which is kind of obvious for someone trying to be at least relatively stealthy.

And if they do grab details they get to make a single limited payment (even a bank isn’t dumb enough to miss multiple payments) and you’ve probably got a good claim against the bank any way.

So it is pretty unlikely, the damage is limited (and may even be none).

So is an RFID/NFS blocking wallet really necessary? Well if you are in need of a new wallet any way, getting one with that feature makes sense. But it probably isn’t worth throwing away a perfectly fine wallet to get one.

But stick your wallet in your front pocket.

Jan 032019

I have been looking at slightly newer cameras than my ancient Canon 1DS III. There are two big things that have happened since I last took a serious look at cameras :-

  1. Serious cameras are increasingly going mirror-less; last time I looked, electronic viewfinders were too low in resolution and suffered too much lag to really replace optical view finders. 
  2. So-called “medium format” digital cameras are becoming slightly less expensive.

Funny thing is that whilst the “film vs digital” argument has gotten a bit quieter, it is still bubbling away. And as a solely digital photographer, my position on “film vs digital” is simply: it is the final print that counts however you got there.

Back in the days when film was the only viable choice the quality difference between 35mm film and medium format film was dramatic. And similarly between medium format film and large format film.

In the digital world, the difference is more nuanced, and there is more choice in the size of the sensor (“film”) – Micro 4/3 (which is equivalent to the old 110 film format), APC, “full frame”, and “medium format”.

The least honest phrase is of course “medium format” – medium format film came in a variety of different sizes; all of which are actually larger than the medium format digital sensors. The largest “medium format” sensor is approximately 54mm x 40mm; the smallest film medium format is 60mm x 45mm.

Comparing digital and film sizes is pretty irrelevant; with film, quality is directly proportional to size whereas with digital many factors contribute to quality; sensor size being just one.

Part of that quality increase in size is simply down to the increased cost – if you have to make a digital sensor expensive because it is big (fewer sensors per wafer and a higher proportion of them won’t meet the quality standard), then you need to make it better in quality or nobody will buy it. Of course there are also scientific reasons why a bigger sensor is better – or the fancy car priced Phase One cameras wouldn’t have big sensors.

But back to digital sensor size – let us stop calling so-called medium format sensors “medium format” and come up with a new phrase – perhaps “super-frame” and give the crop-factor – 1.67 or whatever it is.

The Windsurfer
Jan 032019

It seems Piers Morgan has got in all of a lather about vegan sausage rolls being introduced to a well known pastry shop :-

The funny thing is just how pathetic he is with this comment. Personally I’ve never been to a Greggs simply because the vegetarian selection was so rubbish (it’s been a while since I checked). So that’s one customer that Greggs have missed out on, although now I may pop in for a vegan bloody sausage roll just to annoy Piers (although I somehow doubt they’re actually bloody).

Piers is an example of the kind of person who shouldn’t be put in charge of a waste-paper basket never mind anything more important. He’s under the impression that his choices in life are what everyone should be doing, which can be very dangerous indeed.

Greggs are perfectly free to change their menu at will and offering choices to vegetarians and vegans seems a perfectly sensible thing to do. It increases their potential customer base, and frankly the only meat-eaters who complain are the kind of stodgy thinkers that Piers is.

After all Greggs isn’t going to stop stocking “real” sausage rolls whilst they still have plenty of customers buying them.

Dec 212018

It is quite astonishing just how much stupidity appears during an incident such as the drone “attacks” on Gatwick airport. Here is the answer to just a few of them …

Shoot It Down

Any scheme to shoot down a drone will have to bear in mind that this drone at least is flying on, buzzing around until it gets noticed, and then going away again. Any sharpshooters are going to have trouble because it will be a fair distance away – after all the drone operators are hardly going to buzz the airport with sharpshooters just a few meters away.

And bullets go places; Gatwick is mostly surrounded by dwellings so the risk is high of causing an injury or a fatality (the probability may be low, but the impact is severe so any risk analyst is likely to veto any gun fans).

If they do get the go ahead, sharpshooters are not going to spray and pray but are going to wait until they have a clear shot they are confident of making before pulling the trigger. This will of course reduce the risk considerably, but also be why the drones have not yet been shot down.

It’s A Conspiracy; There’s No Drone

This one is often tied to the next subject. But really?

Unless this disruption goes on for days or weeks, this is all just a flash in the pan. Most of us who do not have a direct connection to Gatwick (such as being there) will forget this as soon as it is over and something else captures our attention in the news.

At best it would serve as a temporary distraction – which is possible – but in no way would work on a permanent basis.

A few conspiracy nuts have suggested this might be May’s way of distracting from the problems Brexit (and she) is currently enduring; it just wouldn’t work for that because the Brexit problems are ongoing, and won’t disappear if we forget about it for a day or two.

Why Aren’t There Photographs of The Drone?

Such comments come from those who have never tried photographing anything like this or the equivalent (probably something like bird photography).

The drones are only going to be flying for a relatively short amount of time, and are going to be very distant from any cameras. No smartphone is likely to capture anything other than a black dot (smartphone cameras typically have wide-angle lenses).

DSLR shooters are likely to have all their equipment packed, and those that don’t are quite unlikely to have the right lens to hand; in fact most won’t own the right kind of lens (I’d choose an 800mm which would be many thousands).

Looking at the likely (as described) behaviour of the drones, the closest match to photographic “genres” is as mentioned bird photography (there’s a reason why the picture in this posting isn’t a flying bird). This is hard; you’ll be stuck in a blind for hours waiting for just the right moment with an enormous lens that weighs as much as a TV.

In addition I suspect that people just don’t appreciate just how big airports are – it would take many hours just to walk around the perimeter.


It’s Obviously ${X}

Whilst it may be fun to speculate on what motivates the drones operators – “having a laugh”, protesting at the presence of the airport, or full-on terrorists.

But being realistic for a moment, there is no way we will know what the motivations were until the culprit(s) are identified and caught.

So it’s not obvious that it’s this, that, or the other.

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