Category Archives: Tech

Peapod 0.7

A long weekend is always a good time for a new release. So without further ado I give you Peapod 0.7

Notable bug-fixes include improved syncing with ipods and some clean-up of the verbose output so that it makes more sense.

For those of you who don’t know: peapod is a command-line podcast downloader written in python.

Free as in Freedom, Bitch

Most people will no doubt have already seen this delightful interview with Bill Hilf. In this interview Bill, who I had previously taken to be an energetic and eloquant linux engineer working on Windows/Linux integration issues, reveals himself to be not so much the Devil, as the man who goes and gets the Devil a pack of cigarettes. In my more charitable moment I imagine Bill dragged around south-east asia by a brutal MSFT minder, forced to say things he doesn’t really believe: “It spreads the FUD or it gets the hose again.”

“The Free Software movement is dead. Linux doesn’t exist in 2007. Even Linus has got a job today.”

OK Bill, I’m surprised no-one has told you this, but when people say Free software they mean it was released under a Free Software license. It doesn’t mean that the person that wrote it wasn’t paid.

“most customers run a distribution – RedHat, Novell, Suse or Mandriva. Most of the work on maintaining the Linux kernel is done by developers working for these distributions”

Indeed most people don’t build a linux distribution from scratch bootstrapping everything from the compiler on up themselves. In other news: if you stand outside in the rain you’ll get wet. Jonothon Corbet’s recent study for LWN shows that Bill is indeed correct that most kernel code comes from paid developers. But, and I hate to keep banging this drum, that doesn’t mean it isn’t Free Software. This just shows that real companies with real business models can write free software without the world coming to an end. This stands in stark contrast to what some people think.

“Hilf accused his former employers, IBM, of starting a standards war simply because they wanted a part of the Office market. People do not want ODF (Open Document Format), but they want a way to control the information they create, he claimed.”

ODF has been open since Star/OpenOffice was open-sourced in 2000. In order to make it as easy as possible for people to write their own implementation of ODF the time was taken to properly standardise it. This process involved at least IBM and Sun, and happened before OpenXML was even talked about. I can’t even begin to grasp how this could be characterised as a standards war.

There is more in a similar vein, but I’m going to choose to assume that Bill contracted cerebral malaria while he was in Thailand.

Project Indiana

As reported by ZDNET. Apparently a version Solaris that will be more friendly to linux admins. I can’t help but be under-whelmed by this news. Isn’t this what Nexenta are already doing?

In other news my Solaris 10 V880 is apparently not cursed. The problems all stem from a quad-gigabit card that is slowly dieing and spewing noise accross the PCI bus.

Big Disks?

We’re probably going to need a large amount of disk space shortly. It’s basically somewhere to back things up so it doesn’t need to be terribly fast. I’ve been having a look around and I’ve come up with two possibilities.

Sun X4500

  • 24TB SATA
  • 4U
  • Software RAID (ZFS)
  • well engineered
  • Sun support
  • 20k with academic pricing

DNUK Teravault

  • 27TB SATA
  • 6U
  • Hardware RAID (Areca 110)
  • DNUK rails are usually horrid
  • 13k full price

The x4500 is smaller and I know it will be less hassle to physically install. But the DNUK box is a lot cheaper and has more storage. From looking at the hardware specs I think that the x4500 is the superior product but I’ve no reason to believe the Teravault won’t get the job done.

If anyone has had hands-on experience of either box I would really like to here about it.

Poisonous Potatoes

This weekend the Independent has run an article about an environmental pressure-group GM Watch publishing a report that claims that Genetically Modified (GM) potatoes are unsafe for human consumption. Upon further inspection this report was actually published by GM Free Cymru which I think puts it fairly in my patch. Why do I care about this?; I’m living in Wales and I used to be a molecular biologist.

The headline of the Independent article “Suppressed report shows cancer link to GM potatoes” would lead one to think that this report shows GM potatoes cause cancer in Rats: It doesn’t and they don’t.

So what does the report show? The first thing to mention is that this isn’t a full scientific paper. There is a great deal of detail missing from the description of the experiment but even without those details it is possible to draw some conclusions, although those conclusions differ markedly from those drawn by the Independent. To make us even more confident in the results the report leads off with

“The analysis of the relevant part of the Institute of Nutrition Report showed that the studies were not carried out according to the accepted protocols for the biomedical assessment of GM food and feed (1). Many of the conclusions drawn by the authors do not correspond to the obtained data and therefore they are incorrect.”

Three groups of 10 Wistar rats were fed on different diets for 6 months. These groups were:
Control – normal feed.
RB – normal feed plus boiled Russett Burbank potato.
RB-GM – normal feed plus boiled genetically modified Russett Burbank potato.

After six months the animals were killed so they could be autopsied. Both the RB group and the RB-GM group had lost weight relative to the Control with the RB-GM group having lost the most weight. Both the RB group and the RB-GM group showed pathological changes in their livers. The RB-GM group is described as having the worst changes but it is not described how that determination was made.

Taking this at face value it clearly shows that Russet Burbank potatoes and genetically modified Russet Burbank potatoes are poisonous to Rats (and by extension to humans). There is one small problem with this: the Russett Burbank has been in commercial cultivation since 1871 and is one of the most widely grown varieties of potato on the planet. If it’s as poisonous as the report makes out then people should be dropping dead of potato poisoning left,right and centre.
So why are these rats showing pathology? My suspicion (there aren’t enough details given of the protocol to know for sure) is that the various diets were either not calorie controlled (i.e normal diet plus loads of potato) or they were calorie conrolled without compensating for nutrient changed in the diet (i.e reduce the amount of cereal/grain to keep the calories constant but now the rats are missing out on lots of vital vitamins and minerals which are not present in the potato).

Which brings us on to the bit about cancer. Nowhere in the report is cancer mentioned. It doesn’t even mention the word tumor. So I can only conclude that the Independent made that bit up out of whole-cloth.

In short, both the Independent article and the report it cites are trash from start to finish.

For a more reasonable take on these particular GM potatoes one can read the report from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which licensed these genetically modified potatoes for sale in 1996. You’ll note that this report mentions toxicology studies in mice which showed no adverse effects. I’ve emailed the agency to see if it’s possible to get the details of these experiments.


So it’s sunday and I decide to run apt-get on my Debian box which hosts this here blog and the peapod project page. Mysql 5 gets an update. apt-get stops it: apt-get starts it: and it dies on it’s arse.

Feb 11 15:54:02 hlynes mysqld[707]: 070211 15:54:02 [Note] /usr/sbin/mysqld: Shutdown complete
Feb 11 15:54:02 hlynes mysqld[707]:
Feb 11 15:54:03 hlynes mysqld_safe[6754]: ended
Feb 11 15:55:46 hlynes init: Trying to re-exec init
Feb 11 16:01:45 hlynes mysqld_safe[10043]: mysqld got signal 11;
Feb 11 16:01:45 hlynes mysqld_safe[10043]: This could be because you hit a bug.
It is also possible that this binary
Feb 11 16:01:45 hlynes mysqld_safe[10043]: or one of the libraries it was linked
against is corrupt, improperly built,
Feb 11 16:01:45 hlynes mysqld_safe[10043]: or misconfigured. This error can also
be caused by malfunctioning hardware.
Feb 11 16:01:45 hlynes mysqld_safe[10043]: We will try our best to scrape up som
e info that will hopefully help diagnose
Feb 11 16:01:45 hlynes mysqld_safe[10043]: the problem, but since we have alread
y crashed, something is definitely wrong
Feb 11 16:01:45 hlynes mysqld_safe[10043]: and this may fail.

After much googling it turns out to be to do with the fact that this is a Bytemark virtual machine running under UML. Apparently the tls library which is part of NPTL does some very strange things with memory that work just fine on a normal kernel but not one running under UML.

Anyway the workaround is to move /lib/tls out of the way. Apparently this can fox apache also.