Update Shocker

I know, I know, I haven’t updated my blog in an absolute age, but I decided to give it a quick spring-clean (albeit towards the end of summer) and apply a very nice theme from Elmastudio. Hopefully nothing looks badly broken, but if it does, please let me know.

In other news, blah blah stuff yadda yadda etc.

Weirdest Mila Kunis Dream Ever

OK, so this was a bit of a weird dream to have this afternoon. So somehow I’m dating Mila Kunis (I know, not much of a stretch, right?), and we’re sharing this house with Natalie Portman and I think it was either James Marsden or Ashton Kutcher. The last bits I can remember were us wandering around this mansion of a house, creepy as fuck, with dark burgundy wallpaper in some, some doorways too narrow to get through, and eventually there’s this bathroom with a white ivory bath in the middle. It’s full of clear water. Mila gets in and gets transformed into a baby. Then Natalie and James/Ashton get in, with the guy carrying a copy of Entertainment Weekly. The comment on how Mila is suddenly like 2 months old and not drowning in the water, and how nothing is happening to them when all of a sudden they’re teenage stoners. I turn around and we’re in some 50s American town, there’s an open air cafe in front of me, full of oblivious people, and I look back and the bathtub is in a shop window, with no water in it. Natalie and James/Ashton get out, because their mother has arrived and is chiding them to come back home with her (yeah, suddenly they’re brother and sister). I look back in the tub, and notice baby-Mila has gone. As I’ve turned round, someone from the cafe has gone in and noticed the 2011 EW magazine in the bathtub and they’ve picked it up, looking all befuddled as people from the past do when they find something from the future. I freak out, grab the EW and bolt out into the street, jumping on the back of a flatbed truck. The truck hurtles down the street until it reaches the gates of some factory yard, with Peter Stormare in one of those SS leather trenchcoat uniforms, guiding the truck inside. Suddenly, air raid sirens go off, and I look up to see US B-25 bombers overhead. Bombing raid! I bolt inside the air raid shelter nearby and find myself surrounded in this huge long curving tunnel with Berliners huddling together for safety. Then I wake up.

What the frak.

I am Magellan

After reading some interesting stories of what life inside virtual worlds could be like in the future, I was inspired to do a bit of writing of my own from a different perspective on Second Life.

Beep, beep. Beep, beep.

Neuro slowly opened one eye, looking towards the red light blinking plaintively on his aging BlackBerry. Beep, beep. Beep, beep. A soft sigh as he picked up the phone and brought it to life.

From: nagios-alert@firstgrid.vw
To: ops-team-monitoring@firstgrid.vw
Subject: PROBLEM - sim391.agni/PING

Address: sim391.agni.firstgrid.vw

“Great”, muttered Neuro under his breath. He climbed slowly from his bed and wandered off to find his laptop. No point in rezzing in-world just yet, this looked like a backend problem. It couldn’t be a failure in whatever virtualisation platform sim391 ran on, as many other sims would be squealing for help at the same time. Maybe just a load problem?

In the early days of the firstgrid, problems in the middle of the night were dealt with just like this, by bleary eyed ops staff, mainlining triple espressos and keeping a supply of matchsticks nearby for emergency eye proppage. Eventually, staff around the world kept watch at times they were actually meant to be awake, leaving those in nighttime to get a good night’s sleep. No more. With the Lab long since gone, and the last remaining firstgrid simulators being powered by the virtual hosts of a cadre of volunteer sysadmins, problems which couldn’t be solved by the automated engineering scripts had to be dealt with by an actual meatbag, and sometimes that meant waking up a sysadmin at 2am.

While waiting for the virtual host management interface to load up, Neuro scanned through the system logs of the troubled host, which were streamed in realtime to a secondary system for eventualities such as this, and hoped something would stick out like bad alpha blending around a transparent prim. Nothing so far, he thought while mashing on the page down key. It certainly wasn’t uncommon for a sim to just lose its way, although to happen in the middle of the night was nothing if not annoy… wait. What the hell is that?

Jul 19 02:07:42 UTC sim391.agni simd[5915]: illegal agent 82e1fc98-7fb3-4dfe-9450-7e3177d2daf2 "Magellan Linden" attempted god mode escalation, blocking attempt
Jul 19 02:07:42 UTC sim391.agni simd[5915]: undocumented operation I_AM_MAGELLAN encountered, checking authorization
Jul 19 02:07:43 UTC sim391.agni simd[5915]: undocumented operation I_AM_MAGELLAN executed, escalation approved
Jul 19 02:07:43 UTC sim391.agni simd[5915]: agent 82e1fc98-7fb3-4dfe-9450-7e3177d2daf2 "Magellan Linden" completed god mode escalation
Jul 19 02:07:43 UTC sim391.agni simd[5915]: undocumented operation MAGELLAN_SAYS_EXODUS executed with parameters "maggrid.vw all no-throttle", beginning process
Jul 19 02:09:12 UTC sim391.agni exodus[15961]: load increasing, throttling to 90%
Jul 19 02:10:56 UTC sim391.agni exodus[15961]: load increasing, throttling to 80%
Jul 19 02:12:41 UTC sim391.agni exodus[15961]: load critical, cannot complete this cycle, commenci

The log cut off. Exodus? maggrid.vw? Magellan Linden?! There had been rumours that Magellan, for all the japes and banter, was something – someone – much more than ever thought possible. Was Magellan attacking the grid that was once his home, or was this something else, something worse? Why now, after years of the firstgrid providing a stable continuation of what went before? Too many questions for 2am.

Neuro paged some of the other ex-Lab volunteers in hope of getting some answers. Only then did he notice since reading that log extract that his hands had been shaking the whole time.


2010 heralds my fifth decade on this planet (and my 3rd on the interwebs). A history lesson, although not necessarily in a completely chronological order, shall follow shortly for your delectation.

For those impatient, tl:dr types: Got born. Got named. Got fed. Got schooled. Got laid. Got job. Got paid. Geeked out. Spent too much. Wrote blog post about it. Cherry.


Born in 1974, got named and then later christened (yeah, I was raised Roman Catholic), burped a few times, and got taught the basics (“the dictionary is over here, the food is in there, and you poop upstairs in that little room with the cold white seat”). Eventually packed off to primary school — although “packed off” implies boarding school; the front door of the school was 4 minutes walk from my home. I travelled abroad too, when I was 4, to either Tenerife or the Canary Islands, I can’t remember which.


This is the decade where computers started leeching their way into my life. From visits to my Uncle and his tricked-out ZX Spectrum (with Microdrive, no less!), hanging around in John Menzies to check out the latest games and footer about with the display micros, to finally getting my own ZX81 (in 1983) and then two ZX Spectrums (a 48K+ in 1985 and a +3 in 1987). I think fascination doesn’t begin to describe my life long interest in computing, and it began here. It still seems so recent, yet when digging out old computers, I can’t help being just a little bit upset at how primitive they are now.

Oh yeah, and I kissed a girl for the first time, figured out what boobies were, watched Star Wars and Star Trek a lot, went to Spain a couple of times, and had a drawer full of Lego.


I guess the big “firsts” happened here, apart from the whole “learning how to control one’s voice, legs and other potentially messy bodily functions” stuff. I started to become more independent from my parents, going out alone or with friends to Glasgow, to the cinema, and so on. I left school. I attempted higher education (and that final score: University 1, Me 0). I found out that the bulk of what I was taught at high school and university was pretty useless for my career choice, although my primary school and college education helped a lot. Weird, that. I earned a “proper” wage for the first time (my £10/week paperboy gig in the late 80s certainly didn’t count). I lost my virginity. I got my own car. And then another. And then another. And then another. Consecutively, that is, not concurrently. I discovered the wonders of alcoholic drink, which led me on a number of adventures.

I got my first real, working, “proper” computer (a 486 thingmabob which ran a very old – although not old at the time – Linux distribution). And then another. And then another. And then another. Concurrently, that is, not consecutively. I discovered the wonders of consultancy, which also led me on a number of adventures, some of them also involving alcoholic drinks. This also led me to discover “the bender”, also known as “the 16 hour office lunch break”.

I got my mobile number in this decade too. If you knew my number in 1998, feel free to call me again: it’s the same number.


I got a house. I got more computers. I lost a serious relationship. I got a big TV. I lost a job. I got another one. I discovered the wonders of telecommuting. And MP3. And high definition. I gained a bit of weight. And then I gained a bit more. And then a bit more. I discovered the joys of a credit card. And then another. You see where that one is going. Reading the news lately, I don’t think I was alone on that one either.

My obsession passion for gadgets wasn’t easily sated, as mobile phones, laptops, music players, squeaky toys, digital satellite TV, DVDs, Pokémon, GPS and blue Smarties appeared. See also: credit cards. I discovered enterprise grade Linux, the pleasures of a cooked-to-perfection medium rare steak, virtual worlds, Asda’s brown sauce (it tastes just as good as HP brown sauce, but it’s a fraction of the price!), and all sorts of other stuff.

I travelled to Europe and the US under my own steam. I discovered that the French are really endearingly French, certain substances in Amsterdam can be a tad overpowering, and that Guinness is not supposed to be drunk in San Francisco when there are approximately 7.1 million microbreweries in the Bay Area. Oh, and that US Immigration officers will quiz you about Linux servers while trying to enter the country for a job interview (“Did you use Red Hat Linux 7.5?” Wait, there wasn’t a Red Hat 7.5, is this guy remembering it wrong, or … is he testing me?!).

Somewhere in there is correlation, but perhaps not causation. Telecommuting, then weight gain, for example … hmmm. However, I can pin that problem starting at my first office job in 1996, where we would sit all day hacking away on websites, stopping only to go get lunch from the Greasiest. Chip. Shop. Ever. A lot. Zero exertion jobs + tasty snacky cakes. The maths on that is not hard to do. As for the other stuff … thrpt.

Oh, did you know that blue Smarties are made blue with food colouring derived from seaweed? Now you do.


One thing I left out from all the decades above was that in each one, I made friends. And then more friends. And then more friends. Some from an ever expanding social circle, some from various jobs over the years. Some I’ve kept in touch with, others I’ve lost touch with, others still that I’ve reconnected with: say what you like about Friends Reunited, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al, they are fantastic about letting you catch up with friends you thought you’d maybe never get to talk to again. I got a friend invite from a high school mate I haven’t seen since 1992, and haven’t chatted to electronically since the late 90s, and now we can more easily organise having a wee Irn Bru together.

And I think our social fabric is essentially what keeps us going. Fuck politics, money, squabbling, and whatever bullshit life throws at us; as long as we have people around us to insulate, protect, defend, share, embrace and learn from, we’ll all get along just fine.

I always say: Christmas is for family, New Year is for friends. If you’re either of those, or even if you’re neither to me, I hope you had a good week last week. All the best for the coming year, and the coming decade too. I’m sure I can find some interesting and exciting things to summarise come January 2020.

Now, what the hell do we call the 2010s anyway?

To be continued† …

† um, in like ten years.

I Won’t Do What You Told Me

Update 2009-12-13 17:54: updated Facebook group URL, charity total
Update 2009-12-13 21:49: original Facebook group is back!
Update 2009-12-14 08:00: It’s Monday! BUY IT NOW!
Update 2009-12-15 13:00: Keep buying! A one day push isn’t enough, it needs to be sustained throughout the week! We’re currently up 10% over X Factor Joe!
Update 2009-12-20 00:10: Well, if the iTunes top 10 is anything to go by, we’re home!

So it’s The X Factor finale tonight, not that I could really care much. I’ve only watched it when the regional auditions are on, which means I only watch it for the first four weeks or so, but they changed the format to have the auditions in front of an audience, Britain’s Got Talent-stylee. This didn’t sit well for me, so I ended up not watching at all; no great loss to my media consumption whatsoever.

Concurrent with all this X Factor bollocks, and the usual notion that the winner will go on to produce a single worthy of making enough sales to reach No. 1 of the charts for Christmas, there’s a concerted online effort by over 600,000 Facebook members to kibosh this trend — they’re urging people to buy Rage Against the Machine‘s 1993 track “Killing in the Name” so that it’ll go to No. 1. You may have heard about this over the last couple of days. Simon Cowell thinks the campaign is “stupid”, “cynical” and will “spoil the party for these three” [the X Factor finalists]. I think it’s a fantastic idea, which pushes buying power back towards the consumers, and away from the moguls who insist on showering us with manufactured pop fluff. I’m not saying there’s no place for pop fluff, but perhaps The X Factor would be better placed to promote jobbing musicians with real talent, not just at singing other people’s compositions, but at actually writing, creating and performing their own, original and passionate music. Hearing another over-produced piece of pap churned out by a dozen songwriters and emitted by the next bland Z-list wannabe is not my idea of promoting musical talent in this country. Honestly, Leona Lewis aside, can anyone point me to the classic music that past winners are still putting out?

And bear in mind that this campaign wasn’t created by some noo-meeja Nathan Barley-style wankers, or some record company execs looking to make a quick buck at Simon Cowell’s expense (Rage are signed to Epic, who are owned by Sony BMG, who employ Cowell, so Sony only stand to benefit either way here); it was created by two people on Facebook — Tracy and Jon Morter — who had decided that enough was enough. At the moment, nearly three quarters of a million people agree. If you’re on Facebook, you should join in the fun.

Anyway, the campaign: it’s ridiculously simple. Put Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” at Number One in the Christmas chart by buying it between this Monday (14th) and Saturday (19th). Some places are saying do it tomorrow (Sunday the 13th), but it’s unclear whether or not sales tomorrow will count towards the Christmas Top 40 data, so better safe than sorry — do it sometime between Monday and Saturday. And yes, downloads absolutely count. Even if you already own the single or the 1993 self-titled album, buy it again. It won’t cost much.

You can buy it from these music outlets:

… or just rock into a record store and see if they have any copies of the single! Note that some of these links link to the album; just buy the individual track. Also, there’s a 29p MP3 version on Amazon — do not buy this. Only sales over 40p qualify for chart eligibility.

Once you’ve done that, the Facebook group is encouraging those of us participating in this stunt to donate a little something to the charity Shelter, which works to improve the lives of homeless and badly housed people. If you’re a taxpayer, an additional 20% of whatever you donate will be added on. At time of writing, they’re over the £12,000 £16,000 mark. That’s just phenomenal.

So give what you can to Shelter (I donated a tenner), and spend less than a quid pissing off Simon Cowell. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Virgin’s 10 Reasons That Wind Me Up

I got a letter addressed to “The Occupier” from Virgin Media this morning. It’s the latest in many advertising missives that I’m convinced I’m only sent because someone has surveyed the street and spied my Sky minidish attached to my back wall.

So this one I got this morning has listed ten reasons to switch from Sky to Virgin Media. Each one of them pissed me off at their tactics, so I thought I’d go through them, like the pedantic, easily-pissed-off bastard that I am.

1. We’ve got all your favourite Sky channels including Sky1, Sky News and Sky Sports News. Yes, and Sky Sports and Sky Movies too.*

But I have those channels already (excepting the Sports and Movies packs, because I cancelled those along with Setanta after I lost my job to save me money). Sky also have Sky1, Sky Movies and more in HD. You don’t. You also charge more for Sky Movies (Sky charge a fixed £16/mo for all the channels, regardless of what other tiers you’ve signed up to; Virgin charge between £19.50/mo and £30/mo dependent on which TV tier you’re on).

2. Only V+HD can let you record two channels while watching a third (Sky+HD can’t).

But various Freeview+ and Freesat+ PVRs can.

3. Only Virgin TV gives you access to a huge, ever-changing library of over 500 movies and thousands of great TV shows, documentaries and music videos stored to watch whenever you want (Sky’s equivalent doesn’t even come close).

Yes, Sky don’t have a “pull VOD” system, where you can watch video on demand by having it streamed to your set top box whenever you like. They have a “push VOD” system, where they send select movies and shows to your PVR’s hard drive, but you have no real choice in what you get. However, Sky does have a VOD website (currently called Sky Player), where you can stream or download hundreds of movies on a pay-per-view/own basis, or for free when you subscribe to Sky Movies. It’s not equivalent to Virgin’s Replay, but it’s a stopgap until Sky complete developing their broadband-based VOD next year.

4. Only Virgin TV lets you watch BBC iPlayer, ITV Net Player and 4oD right there on your telly.

No, I’ve been doing this without Virgin for quite some time. Again with the “only” thing. Yes, Sky don’t have VOD yet, but my laptop has it. As does the Mac mini plugged into my TV. However, the actual necessity of watching anything on ITV Player is very much debatable.

5. And only our TV comes down a state-of-the-art fibre optic cable, not through a dish or aerial. So when the weather’s bad, your picture won’t be.

6. The same fibre optic cable brings you fast, future proof Virgin Broadband at up to 50Mb, that’s the UK’s fastest. (Broadband from BT, Sky or one of the others comes down copper telephone wire, which means your speed gets slower the further you live from the phone exchange).

Two ‘reasons’ talking about fibre optic cable. Bloody hell. Are Virgin still droning on about fibre optic cable? Let’s clear something up. Virgin insinuate they deliver all their services to your home via fibre optic cable. They don’t. Well, not really. Virgin deliver services over a hybrid fibre-coaxial network, using a national fibre network to “headends” in each regional area, just as BT use a national fibre network to interconnect telephone exchanges. “Headends” are akin to exchanges: they slurp in content, phone calls and Internet access using satellite feeds, fibre optic links and network connections, then spit all that out along fibre trunks to cabinets in each Virgin-covered street. From there, coaxial cable (aka copper wire) transfers the signals back and forth from each house to the cabinet.

ADSL, on the other hand, which is the primary thing Virgin are attacking with this component of their campaign, is delivered over fibre optic links — just like Virgin — to BT’s telephone exchanges, and from there to your home using pairs of copper wire. This will slowly be replaced by BT with fibre optic cabling to cabinets in the streets, and on occasion, to your home.

So yes, Virgin use fibre optic cable further up the chain than anyone else at this consumer level of Internet service provision does. But it doesn’t really make it all that “better”. It’s as prone to congestion (aka contention) as ADSL is. They really need to find another way to market this, because leaning on the fibre optic angle just ain’t the truth.

However, at least their “UK’s fastest” line is mainly true: only BT’s “Fibre to the Cabinet” trials could be faster; no UK DSL provider offers more than 24Mbps on a single line at the moment. But is 50Mbps really that important?

7. Servicing and repairs are free all the time you’re a customer.† (Sky charges you £65 for a call-out the minute you’re out of warranty.)

Yeah, but Virgin subscribers don’t own their receiving equipment, they merely lease it from Virgin. Once you’re no longer a customer, none of that equipment will work, and they’ll want it back. Meanwhile, Sky customers own their receivers from the get-go, and once out of their subscriptions, they can still receive all Free-to-Air and most Free-to-View channels, including at least one in HD.

8. Delivering TV, broadband and phone down the same fibre optic cable is better value and keeps everything in one simple bill. Our prices for TV, broadband and calls start at just £14 a month when you switch to a Virgin phone line for £11 a month.

Sky’s package of TV, broadband and phone starts at £17/mo (+ phone line for £11/mo). Virgin undercut this by offering an entry level, no-cost TV package (called ‘M’ as in Medium) which mirrors a list of channels freely available on Sky, Freesat and Freeview. If you want channels like Sky1, G.O.L.D., Hallmark, etc, on Virgin, you need to shell out at least £5.50/mo for the M+ package, bumping the comparable package price to £19.50. Oops.

9. We’re so confident you’ll love it, we’ll give you your money back if you don’t. Everything is covered by our 28 day guarantee.

Or I could just not change anything at all and keep my money in my pocket.

10. Your street’s already connected to our fibre optic network so it’s easy to get switched on.

Well, woop de doo … but I’ve had a Sky dish attached to my house for over 8 years. What’s your point?

Job done? Great, just call …


Revert to Standard Ubuntu Kernel on OVH or Kimsufi Servers

I have a cheap dedicated server running Ubuntu Linux — the 8.04 LTS “Hardy Heron” release — with Kimsufi, the budget arm of French hosting company OVH. All their Linux servers (and FreeBSD servers too, I think) are provisioned with their own custom, static kernel. This, they say, makes it “secure”. It also makes it a pain in the ass to use, since you lose kernel module functionality. So I went through this scary, but straightforward process to put the standard Ubuntu kernel back. Note that I did this procedure on their entry level C-05G server, and your mileage may vary dependent on which server you lease from them, and what hardware specification you have (and ergo what kernel drivers you’ll need). Stuff you should type below is in bold type.

Update 2013-01-01: So using Ubuntu 12.04 makes this process soooo much easier. All you need to do (if you’re not using RAID) is the following:

neuro@valiant:~$ sudo su -
root@valiant:~# apt-get install linux-image-server
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
crda iw linux-image-3.2.0-35-generic wireless-regdb
Suggested packages:
fdutils linux-doc-3.2.0 linux-source-3.2.0 linux-tools
The following NEW packages will be installed:
crda iw linux-image-3.2.0-35-generic linux-image-server wireless-regdb
0 upgraded, 5 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 38.6 MB of archives.
After this operation, 150 MB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]?
Get:1 http://fr.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ precise/main wireless-regdb all 2011.04.28-1ubuntu3 [6,164 B]
Get:2 http://fr.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ precise/main crda amd64 1.1.2-1ubuntu1 [15.2 kB]
Get:3 http://fr.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ precise-updates/main linux-image-3.2.0-35-generic amd64 3.2.0-35.55 [38.5 MB]
Get:4 http://fr.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ precise/main iw amd64 3.2-1 [50.4 kB]
Get:5 http://fr.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ precise-updates/main linux-image-server amd64 [2,618 B]
Fetched 38.6 MB in 6s (5,797 kB/s)
Selecting previously unselected package wireless-regdb.
(Reading database ... 24873 files and directories currently installed.)
Unpacking wireless-regdb (from .../wireless-regdb_2011.04.28-1ubuntu3_all.deb) ...
Selecting previously unselected package crda.
Unpacking crda (from .../crda_1.1.2-1ubuntu1_amd64.deb) ...
Selecting previously unselected package linux-image-3.2.0-35-generic.
Unpacking linux-image-3.2.0-35-generic (from .../linux-image-3.2.0-35-generic_3.2.0-35.55_amd64.deb) ...
Selecting previously unselected package iw.
Unpacking iw (from .../archives/iw_3.2-1_amd64.deb) ...
Selecting previously unselected package linux-image-server.
Unpacking linux-image-server (from .../linux-image-server_3. ...
Processing triggers for man-db ...
Setting up wireless-regdb (2011.04.28-1ubuntu3) ...
Setting up crda (1.1.2-1ubuntu1) ...
Setting up linux-image-3.2.0-35-generic (3.2.0-35.55) ...
Running depmod.
update-initramfs: deferring update (hook will be called later)
Examining /etc/kernel/postinst.d.
run-parts: executing /etc/kernel/postinst.d/initramfs-tools 3.2.0-35-generic /boot/vmlinuz-3.2.0-35-generic
update-initramfs: Generating /boot/initrd.img-3.2.0-35-generic
W: mdadm: /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf defines no arrays.
run-parts: executing /etc/kernel/postinst.d/update-notifier 3.2.0-35-generic /boot/vmlinuz-3.2.0-35-generic
run-parts: executing /etc/kernel/postinst.d/zz-update-grub 3.2.0-35-generic /boot/vmlinuz-3.2.0-35-generic
Generating grub.cfg ...
Found linux image: /boot/bzImage-3.2.13-xxxx-grs-ipv6-64
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-3.2.0-35-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-3.2.0-35-generic
No volume groups found
Found Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS (12.04) on /dev/sda1
Found Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (12.04) on /dev/sdb1
Setting up iw (3.2-1) ...
Setting up linux-image-server ( ...
root@valiant:~# mkdir ~/ovh.d
root@valiant:~# mv /etc/grub.d/06_OVHkernel ~/ovh.d

root@valiant:~# update-grub
Generating grub.cfg ...
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-3.2.0-35-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-3.2.0-35-generic
No volume groups found
Found Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS (12.04) on /dev/sda1
Found Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (12.04) on /dev/sdb1
root@valiant:~# shutdown -r -f now

When installing the stock Ubuntu kernel, you’ll be prompted where to install the grub-pc bootloader; install it to /dev/sda, so you’ll boot from the MBR on the first hard disk (as long as you’re not using RAID). The server should reboot into the new kernel. Remember the instructions below: if it doesn’t respond to pings after a few minutes, try reconfiguring the server from the OVH control panel to netboot from the rescue kernel. E&OE, YMMV, and enjoy!

Update 2011-07-28: I just rented one of Kimsufi’s new 16G servers running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS “Lucid Lynx”, and the procedure below worked perfectly.

Update 2012-06-14: Thanks to Desdenova who had some issues and documented how to get round them. Cheers!

First, let’s check what kernel we’re running:

neuro@hera:~$ uname -a
Linux hera #6 SMP Fri Aug 14 10:29:05 UTC 2009 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Yup, some scary, weird kernel that OVH have compiled and installed themselves — although to be fair, they do provide kernel configs to compile a different variant yourself, but I wanted to use the stock Ubuntu 64-bit kernel.

So after doing sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade to make sure everything else is up to date, let’s install the GRUB boot loader, and the stock Ubuntu Server kernel image.

neuro@hera:~$ sudo apt-get install linux-server grub
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
linux-image-2.6.24-24-server linux-image-server
Suggested packages:
grub-doc mdadm linux-doc-2.6.24 linux-source-2.6.24
The following NEW packages will be installed
grub linux-image-2.6.24-24-server linux-image-server linux-server
0 upgraded, 5 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 24.4MB of archives.
After this operation, 111MB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]?
Get: 1 ftp://mir1.ovh.net hardy-updates/main grub 0.97-29ubuntu21.1 [871kB]
Get: 2 http://security.ubuntu.com hardy-security/main linux-image-2.6.24-24-server 2.6.24-24.59 [17.8MB]
Get: 3 http://security.ubuntu.com hardy-security/main linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server 2.6.24-24.39 [5671kB]
Get: 4 http://security.ubuntu.com hardy-security/main linux-image-server [26.6kB]
Get: 5 http://security.ubuntu.com hardy-security/restricted linux-server [26.6kB]
Fetched 24.4MB in 2s (9414kB/s)
Preconfiguring packages ...
Selecting previously deselected package linux-image-2.6.24-24-server.
(Reading database ... 38251 files and directories currently installed.)
Unpacking linux-image-2.6.24-24-server (from .../linux-image-2.6.24-24-server_2.6.24-24.59_amd64.deb) ...
Selecting previously deselected package linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server.
Unpacking linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server (from .../linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server_2.6.24-24.39_amd64.deb) ...
Selecting previously deselected package grub.
Unpacking grub (from .../grub_0.97-29ubuntu21.1_amd64.deb) ...
Selecting previously deselected package linux-image-server.
Unpacking linux-image-server (from .../linux-image-server_2. ...
Selecting previously deselected package linux-server.
Unpacking linux-server (from .../linux-server_2. ...
Setting up linux-image-2.6.24-24-server (2.6.24-24.59) ...
Running depmod.
update-initramfs: Generating /boot/initrd.img-2.6.24-24-server
Running postinst hook script /sbin/update-grub.
Searching for GRUB installation directory ...
No GRUB directory found. To create a template run 'mkdir /boot/grub' first. To install grub, install it manually or try the 'grub-install' command. ### Warning, grub-install is used to change your MBR. ###

User postinst hook script [/sbin/update-grub] exited with value 1
dpkg: error processing linux-image-2.6.24-24-server (--configure):
subprocess post-installation script returned error exit status 1
dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server:
linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server depends on linux-image-2.6.24-24-server; however:
Package linux-image-2.6.24-24-server is not configured yet.
dpkg: error processing linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server (--configure):
dependency problems - leaving unconfigured
Setting up grub (0.97-29ubuntu21.1) ...

dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of linux-image-server:
linux-image-server depends on linux-image-2.6.24-24-server; however:
Package linux-image-2.6.24-24-server is not configured yet.
linux-image-server depends on linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server; however:
Package linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server is not configured yet.
dpkg: error processing linux-image-server (--configure):
dependency problems - leaving unconfigured
dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of linux-server:
linux-server depends on linux-image-server (=; however:
Package linux-image-server is not configured yet.
dpkg: error processing linux-server (--configure):
dependency problems - leaving unconfigured
Errors were encountered while processing:
E: Sub-process /usr/bin/dpkg returned an error code (1)

OK, that didn’t look so good, but it’s all right. Now, we’ll fix the problem that GRUB was complaining about, then complete the install.

neuro@hera:~$ sudo mkdir /boot/grub
neuro@hera:~$ sudo apt-get install grub
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
grub is already the newest version.
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
4 not fully installed or removed.
After this operation, 0B of additional disk space will be used.
Setting up linux-image-2.6.24-24-server (2.6.24-24.59) ...
Running depmod.
update-initramfs: Generating /boot/initrd.img-2.6.24-24-server
Running postinst hook script /sbin/update-grub.
Searching for GRUB installation directory ... found: /boot/grub
Searching for default file ... Generating /boot/grub/default file and setting the default boot entry to 0
Searching for GRUB installation directory ... found: /boot/grub
Testing for an existing GRUB menu.lst file ...

Could not find /boot/grub/menu.lst file. Would you like /boot/grub/menu.lst generated for you? (y/N) y
Searching for splash image ... none found, skipping ...
Found kernel: /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.24-24-server
Updating /boot/grub/menu.lst ... done

Setting up linux-ubuntu-modules-2.6.24-24-server (2.6.24-24.39) ...
update-initramfs: Generating /boot/initrd.img-2.6.24-24-server

Setting up linux-image-server ( ...
Setting up linux-server ( ...

And that’s that part fixed! Now we just need to configure GRUB to point in the right direction, and install it to the MBR (Master Boot Record).

neuro@hera:~$ sudo grub-install --recheck --root-directory=/ /dev/sda
Probing devices to guess BIOS drives. This may take a long time.
Installing GRUB to /dev/sda as (hd0)...
Installation finished. No error reported.
This is the contents of the device map //boot/grub/device.map.
Check if this is correct or not. If any of the lines is incorrect,
fix it and re-run the script `grub-install'.

(fd0) /dev/fd0
(hd0) /dev/sda
neuro@hera:~$ sudo grub
Probing devices to guess BIOS drives. This may take a long time.

[ Minimal BASH-like line editing is supported. For
the first word, TAB lists possible command
completions. Anywhere else TAB lists the possible
completions of a device/filename. ]
grub> root (hd0,0)
root (hd0,0)
grub> find /boot/grub/stage2
find /boot/grub/stage2
grub> setup (hd0)
setup (hd0)
Checking if "/boot/grub/stage1" exists... yes
Checking if "/boot/grub/stage2" exists... yes
Checking if "/boot/grub/e2fs_stage1_5" exists... yes
Running "embed /boot/grub/e2fs_stage1_5 (hd0)"... 16 sectors are embedded.
Running "install /boot/grub/stage1 (hd0) (hd0)1+16 p (hd0,0)/boot/grub/stage2 /boot/grub/menu.lst"... succeeded
grub> quit

… and now both kernel and bootloader are installed. Time for the scary part. From another machine, ping the server (if you’re running Windows, and pinging from the command prompt, use ping -t instead of just ping to continuously ping rather than just try 5 times; press Ctrl+C to cancel the ping at any time). Now that we’re monitoring whether the server is up or not, we can reboot it to use the new kernel …

neuro@hera:~$ sudo shutdown -r -f now

Broadcast message from neuro@hera
(/dev/pts/1) at 10:14 ...

The system is going down for reboot NOW!
neuro@hera:~$ logout
Connection to hera closed.

You should see the server stop responding to pings, then a minute or so later, start responding again.

If it doesn’t respond after a few minutes, don’t panic, use the Netboot mode to reboot your server, using a network-boot kernel. Once there, you can simply do sudo lilo -v which will re-install the original LILO bootloader, using the OVH-installed kernel, or stick with the netboot kernel if you like.

However, if the server does start responding to pings again (and it should), you can now ssh back in and check things out …

$ ssh hera
Linux hera 2.6.24-24-server #1 SMP Tue Aug 18 16:51:43 UTC 2009 x86_64

The programs included with the Ubuntu system are free software;
the exact distribution terms for each program are described in the
individual files in /usr/share/doc/*/copyright.

Ubuntu comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by
applicable law.

To access official Ubuntu documentation, please visit:
Last login: Sun Sep 20 06:43:01 2009
neuro@hera:~$ uname -a
Linux hera 2.6.24-24-server #1 SMP Tue Aug 18 16:51:43 UTC 2009 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Woo hoo. A standard Ubuntu kernel, that can take kernel modules, and be updated regularly using apt-get, aptitude, etc. Of course, you can mix this up using other packaged kernels, such as the -rt real time kernel, or the -xen kernel to use Xen virtual machines. Go nuts, because at least now you can use your server as Shuttleworth and co intended!

Note: this procedure worked perfectly for me, but as mentioned at the start, YMMV: I can’t be held responsible if it all goes tango uniform, and Bad Things Happen. Proceed at your own risk, and good luck!

Getting the UK Keyboard Layout Right in Mac OS X Snow Leopard

For the last couple of years, I’ve fallen more and more back in love with Macs. One of their foibles is that Apple have decided the standard British English, or UK, keyboard layout should not match that of every other computer manufacturer on the planet. Various characters are just in the wrong place, such as quotation marks, backslash, hash mark (or pound, for my American friends), tilde, and so on. In Tiger and Leopard, I used Phil Gyford’s awesome instructions and the associated .rsrc file as to how to sort this defect out, at least in software.

So now Snow Leopard is out, and it’s fab and lovely and nippy and dices and slices and so on. An immediate downside (apart from having to manually upgrade Xcode to 3.2, and reinstall MacPorts from .dmg to make that bit work again) is that the trusty icle .rsrc doesn’t work any more. Well, it works, but it doesn’t stick; OS X keeps switching back to standard British English, which means when I try to type out quotes, it comes out with at signs. This is ungood.

However, the Internet to the rescue! Some kind soul has posted new keyboard layouts for OS X to correctly map the British English key layout. Just download and extract the zip file linked to from that page, copy the files from inside the zip to either /Library/Keyboard Layouts off the root of your hard disk, or ~/Library/Keyboard Layouts in your home directory, then log out and log back in again. Go to System Preferences > Language & Text > Input Sources, then tick British (PC105). If things don’t seem consistently correct, try British (PC105 alt).

Bosh, sorted, and I can touch type again!

Update 2010-02-13: apparently this works on Dell Mini netbooks too, so Hackintosh people can get the benefit as well. Bonus!

TechCrunch Has Disgraced Mrs. Slocombe’s Pussy

Dear oh dear. The well-loved and well-respected actress Mollie Sugden has died, aged 86. In tribute to Ms. Sugden’s most famous character, Mrs. Slocombe, and to the constant running jokes about her pet pussy cat Tiddles, Jonathan Ross sent out a tweet encouraging one and all to use the Twitter hashtag #MrsSlocombesPussy in their tweets. Unbelievably rude, but also staggeringly apt! However, Twitter has decided (perhaps algorithimically) not to display search results for that hashtag: that, in and of itself, is somewhat disappointing. The hashtag became so immediately popular it appeared in Twitter’s list of trending topics, dominated in recent days by topics like Michael Jackson, and Glastonbury.

What’s more disappointing, however, is how US technology gossip blogs TechCrunch and Mashable dealt with this information. They considered it an attempt to poison the trending topics list with spam, neither bothering for an instant before publication to check and see if perhaps it was legitimate in some way.

Both sites have since been put right by blog commenters, and they’ve updated their posts to reflect that, but their knee jerk reaction was to condemn the tag as spam. $deity forbid that a territory outwith the US with a better sense of humour, and with less instinct to consider mild double entendres as nasty in some way, would gather up the power to invade the hallowed Temple of Twitter’s Trending Topics.

The blogs’ concerns were that the system could be gamed, but are we saying that those clicking through the trending topics list are stupid, and can’t tell the difference between targeted spam, and legitimate trends?

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