Category Archives: General rambling

Thoughts on comics and such

Is it just me or are mass-market comics, well, crap?

I’m not talking about manga (Bleach, Naruto, and so on), but pureblood, dyed-in-the-wool comics. Your DCs, your Marvels, Spider-Man, X-men, et cetera, et cetera. Somehow they just seem… well, I dunno, like they’re doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. It’s the same story with the same outcome — evil guy appears, taunts the good guy(s), kidnaps good-guy’s girlfriend, starts destroying half of lower Manhattan, gets defeated (but not before killing or maiming a few of the good guy(s)) and escapes to his Evil Lair until Volume 236 (we’re on 221, didn’t you know that?), when he reappears and does the same thing again in a slightly different way. Rinse, repeat.

Somehow this doesn’t seem to be affecting webcomics. Maybe the lack of editors and general creative freedom (“I think that character should be a werewolf, so by golly, I’ll MAKE him a werewolf!”) has a positive influence on comics? I know from personal experience that introducing managers (especially bad or inexperienced managers) into software engineering projects usually causes the project to implode on itself, it would be better if these site would contact to better their SEO services.

There also seems to be a lot of variety — yes, you can stuff them into genres, but it seems the comics on the shelf at my local OK Comics and Travelling Man fit into one of two: manga or superheroes.

“So,” I hear you cry, “What comics do you read? And why should we read them?”

I’ve been reading [Kevin and Kell]( since the early ’00s, and my reading list has been growing steadily ever since. [GPF]( was the second strip I started reading, then [Gene Catlow]( I still think the first story arc in GC is hilarious, especially Cotton’s “BEAN COUNTER!” response to the appearance of the middle-manager in the first couple of strips. The storyline has gotten a fair bit deeper over time, and has branched off into some pretty interesting directions, but it’s still one of the best webcomics I’ve read to date (and is well worth a day of archive-reading).

[Code Name Hunter]( is one of my favourites — it’s set in a world where “myths and stories have returned to the light of day”. Magic meets World War 2-era (and later present-day) London. The wording of the dialogue is unbelievably well-done — all I can say is that Matt and Darc must have watched a lot of British films and TV… you can sort-of ‘tell’ that the characters aren’t your normal American comic-book characters, nor are they the “stereotypical Brits” you see in most media (hint for new writers: relatively few Brits speak “The Queen’s English”, aka “Received Pronunciation” — we have about a dozen different ‘county’ accents, plus regional variations — and few include Cockney rhyming slang!). This had to have taken some effort. The overall storyline, quite simply, rocks, and the implementation is class-A. Well worth a read, whatever you’re into.

Now for the slightly more unusual stuff.. [Starfire Agency]( and [Night Shift](

HOWTO: Reinstalling the System software on a HP16500B

Device: HP 16500B Logic Analysis System

Problem: Won’t boot. “SYSTEM FILE ERROR”, “Unable to load Module D”, “System File Damaged”, or similar errors on boot.

Cause: The system software is corrupted.

You will need:

  • at least one blank, formatted floppy disk (but it’s easier if you have four or five).
  • a PC or laptop with a floppy drive

Download the System 3.14 software from Agilent’s website. This can be found here. Unzip it into a convenient directory on the desktop. Open that directory — you’ll see five subdirectories: DISK1 thru DISK4 and PVTEST. These correspond to the different disks in the Operating System set.

Insert a blank, formatted floppy disk into the PC, and copy all the files in DISK1 into the root directory of the disk. Repeat for the other four disks.

Now insert Disk 1 into the analyser’s floppy drive and toggle both POWER switches to on (the rear-panel LINE one first, then the STANDBY switch on the control panel). The analyser will try and boot from the disk. Be patient — this takes about 10 minutes.

When the analyser has booted, touch the “Configuration” button, then select “Hard Disk”. Touch “Load”, then select “Format Disk” from the menu. Press Execute. You will be asked (twice!) to confirm that you really, really want to format the hard drive. You do, so confirm both requests.

Touch “Format Disk”, and select “Make Directory”. Enter “SYSTEM” in “New Directory Name”. Press Execute. Select “SYSTEM” with the spinner, then press “Change Dir.”

Now touch “Hard Disk” and select “Flexible Disk”. Touch “Load”, and select “Copy”. Use the Spinner to select the first file. Press Execute.

Remove Disk 1 and insert Disk 2, then roll the Spinner to refresh the file list. Copy all the files onto the HDD as above. Repeat this for all the other disks, in order Disk 3-4, then PVTEST.

Now remove the last disk (this should be PVTEST), and flip the switch to Standby. Count to ten, then flip the switch back to “ON”. The analyser should now boot.

Fedex WTF

Someone at Fedex UK needs to take a look at their call handling system…

“Thank-you for calling Fedex UK. Our main offices are currently closed. Press 1 to leave a message or book a pickup, or press 2 to hear our opening hours.”
“Our main offices are currently closed. *click*”

At which point the stupid thing hung up on me.

For extra giggles, the IBAN number printed on the bottom of the invoice is duff as well, or so my bank’s Online Banking system says. “IBAN number is not valid” it said.

Do they really want me to pay this invoice?

Divergent hobbies and new projects

Hmm. I seem to have found another interest.

Video electronics. More specifically, data transmission over analogue TV (and also video generation, but that’s a sideline at the moment).

There’s been some talk on the bbc-micro mailing list about the upcoming discontinuation of ITV Teletext, and how neat it would be to have an archive of the various Teletext services at a given time, and be able to either view them on a PC (or even a BBC Micro), or inject them into an analogue video signal.

I’ve found a copy of the original “Broadcast Teletext Specification”, September 1976, by the BBC, IBA and BREMA (it’s on if you guys want to have a look). Basically, this is the document that described the Teletext standard as it was at the start. It covers the bare essentials, and nothing more (unlike the ETSI EN 300-706 standard, which covers **everything**).

I figure I might have a go at building a Teletext receiver out of a couple of opamps, some passive components, some RAM, and an FPGA. Basically a box that takes a CVBS/FBAS composite video signal, waits for the VBI, strips the data from the Teletext packets and stores said data in RAM. A microcontroller then reads that data out of RAM and feeds it to a PC for storage.

I’ve also got two books on order from Amazon — “Basic Television and Video Systems” by Bernard Grob, and “Video Scrambling and Descrambling for Satellite and Cable TV” by Rudolf Graf. The latter is more to satisfy my slight interest in TV conditional-access systems, the former to learn more about TV transmission and reception technology.

I’ve got a box full of Philips UV916MD tuners, so I guess I just need to hack together an IF filter and demodulator, and see if I can at least get a valid (if somewhat shoddy) CVBS signal off of one of the broadcast TV channels…

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a fun week. Month. Year. Whatever.

First impressions on Ubuntu 9.04

After swearing that I’d give up on Windows since I started using Ubuntu, I’ve finally taken steps towards my goal. This morning, I hosed my Ubuntu 8.10 install and decided that it was high time I tried 9.04. After all, it’s been around for a good three months, so it should be pretty stable.

Well, it turns out it is stable. Just as good as its predecessor (8.10) in fact. I used the Alternate (text mode) installer because my system uses a FakeRAID, and said FakeRAID was detected with absolutely no problems whatsoever. In fact, the only way I could tell it was using a fakeraid was the prompt that asked me if I wanted to enable the FR volumes. Very nice.

First boot took less than 30 seconds, and the little bit of configuration I needed to do (installing the nVIDIA drivers and some security updates) took about 10 minutes. Most of which was the time it took to actually download the stuff… Installing build-essential, debhelper, Mercurial, Subversion, a few video plugins, and Kaffeine was just as breezy. And I killed off Compiz. Sorry, if I wanted Vista, I’d have gone to CCL, bought a copy and installed it.

There are a few things I don’t like, though. Most of them are to do with the app bundle included with GNOME…

* **The default media player (Totem) can’t handle DVB.** Despite the options in the menu, the DVB functions in Totem just plain don’t work. I think I spent a good half hour trying to make it work, got a channel list, but couldn’t get it to actually play video. I gave up, removed Totem and installed Kaffeine instead (which took five minutes or so to do a full scan of the local Freeview muxes, then displayed BBC One as its starting act, complete with EPG).
* **Sound-juicer seems to have “problems”.** Clicking “Help” in the Edit Profiles window makes sound-juicer exit with neither rhyme nor reason. Poof, gone.
* **Sandisk Sansa isn’t detected.** Pretty much as it says. 9.04’s kernel doesn’t detect my brother’s Sansa e280 media player. Meaning he’s cheesed off because I can’t copy bits of my music collection onto it for him to listen to.

On the plus side:

* The GNOME interface still looks pretty spiffy. One quick-access bar and system tray, one window list and desktop-switcher. Not a single bit of wasted space. Turning subpixel anti-aliasing off did clean it up a bit, though (white text in the Terminal gained a light blue tinge — turning SPA off fixed this).
* Rhythmbox seems to have improved a lot since the days of 8.04 — in fact, it resembles an earlier version of Amarok 1.4. I can’t actually see any point in installing Amarok any more…

So a bit of a mixed bag really… I like 9.04, but I’m going to be leaving 8.10 on my Eee until I can find some updated ACPI scripts and packages for it. I really don’t fancy installing Netbook Remix…

Film or digital?

Well, this past weekend has been fun. I spent Saturday slaving away at work, selling cameras and such to the masses (I feel a little like Hank Hill — “Do you have any questions about propane? Or propane accessories?”). Sunday was, however, considerably nicer — I talked the ‘rents into a ‘family trip’ to the second day of the RAF Waddington Airshow, and took most of the camera gear with me.

Total number of photos taken (digital): 1,358.

That’s right folks, one thousand, three hundred and fifty-eight photos. Spanned across five 2GB CF cards and one 4GB. Did I mention the films? No?

Two 36exp Kodachrome 64
Two 36exp Fuji Velvia 100
One 36exp Fuji Sensia 100
… and a 36exp Fuji Reala that was sitting in the bottom of my camera bag.

So that’s another 180 shots, bringing the grand total to 1,538. Nice.

I’ve spent most of today scooting around Leeds dropping films off — the Kodachromes are off to Kodak in Switzerland, then to Dwayne’s Photo Service in Kansas. Why I couldn’t just send them to DPS I have no idea… Anyway, I’m looking at somewhere between 21 days and (insert infinity symbol here) before I get those back… 🙁

I dropped the other films off at a local pro-lab (CC Imaging, the same guys that nabbed the Fujifilm contract for the process-paid Sensia films), so those should be back for Wednesday. I’m looking forward to seeing the shots on the roll of Velvia I had in for the Red Arrows flyover, some of those shots should be pretty damn spectacular (based on the ones I took on the 40D just before my last CF card filled up).

I’ll stick some of the digi photos on Flickr or G2 soon — i.e. when I’ve dug through them and separated out the “keepers”. My keep-rate on film is usually about 45-70%, on digital it’s FAR lower. Like, 2-10% on a good day. Still, at least I only end up paying for what I print… 🙂

And the 40D’s shutter counter is still in the low thousands. 7292 at last count. Gawd, I need to use that camera more often… And >1300 shots out of a pair of batteries (I’ve got a BG-E2N grip bolted on, with a full complement of batteries) with the battery meter still reading “full or very close to it” as of now is *not even remotely bad*. Especially when I had the 100-400IS on there with IS enabled for nearly the whole day. $DEITY, I love this camera. I love the 33V as well, but not as much as I love the 40D (the former is in dire need of a battery grip, assuming I can actually /find/ one).

Although the icons for the various metering modes *could* be a bit more obvious… That said, hitting INFO twice pops up the “idiot’s guide”, so it’s not that big a deal…

That’s all for now, I promise… I need to go find some more after-sun. Note to self: don’t go out in the blazing sun without high-SPF sunblock. Urrgh.


I am in the process of bringing one more user into the Linux fold… my mother.

Basically she wants to use Skype, but the webcam she bought doesn’t come with Windows 2000 drivers, nor are any available (it’s a Microsoft Lifecam VX-1000… *spit*). Choices are upgrade to Vista or XP (her laptop is slow enough as it is!), or switch to Linux. She’s already using Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice, which all have Linux versions available. In her case, there is no learning curve — Win2000 asks for a username and password when it’s started, so does Ubuntu. All the software is the same; the only thing I’m going to have to do is say “the recycle bin is there, the CD recording software is called Brasero, and this is how you get onto the LAN.”

And she gets to use her webcam. I also suggested that her creaky old laptop (Toshiba Satellite Pro 4600 — upgraded to a 1GHz Pentium III, with a 40GB hard drive and a DVD writer in a very non-standard configuration) might run a little faster under Linux. Well, the antivirus and firewall won’t be sitting there eating clock cycles…

The HDD is backed up, so tomorrow all I have to do is pop the CD in, boot off of it and hit “Install”, then “Erase existing partitions”.

This is going to be fun.

And bringing another person into the OSS/FS community can’t really be considered to be a bad thing. Can it?

Green eggs and spam

I’m seeing rather a lot of spam turning up from Telecom Italia’s netblock.

So much so, in fact, that I’m seriously contemplating blocking their entire IP address range on all the servers I admin. Or at least adding another rule to SpamAssassin: “if it comes from *, give it a score of 2.5 to start with”


Public transport rant

OK, so I’ve been toying with the idea of going to the Duxford Airshow, on the basis that even if it gets rained off, the IWM should still be worth a look.

So I figure “I’ll go by train, it’ll be less effort than driving three hours both ways”.

The outbound journey takes 3hrs 30mins. It involves three trains — Leeds to Doncaster, Doncaster to Stevenage, then Stevenage to Cambridge. There’s a wait of 30 minutes at Doncaster for the Stevenage train, and a wait of 10 minutes at Stevenage.

The return journey takes about two and a half hours, goes from Cambridge to Peterborough, then Peterborough to Leeds. Not too bad. Except you can’t get a return ticket on that route. So you have to hang around Cambridge station for 30 odd minutes, go from Cambridge to Stevenage, Stevenage to Grantham then Grantham to Leeds, which gets me back to Leeds for eleven. Add in a 55-minute wait for a bus and the 40 minute journey, and I’d get home at twenty to one in the morning.

And it costs £67 return. Plus the bus ticket. So about £70.50.
Or if I got two single tickets (to take the earlier train), a whopping £137.40! And that’s Standard Class — First is an insane £385.50! Most plane tickets are cheaper!

I just priced up the same route by car at £43 and some change.

And this is on the current rail fares system, not the “improved” (read: increased) system.

Why would anyone want to use the trains when they have to deal with that kind of crap? Aren’t the trains supposed to be, well, *faster* than the roads?

W. T. F.