Category: Technology

Technical Writings; Information and Communication Technology Posts

Nontron Knife Festival (Freedom)

The other place of note I visited was the Festival of Knives at Nontron. This was a festival where many of the big knife makers in France gather to display their works and to demonstrate the art of knife making. I went there with my Dad and elder brother and took a look around at their wares. It was a nominal €5 entrace fee each (about £3) and we paid an elderly French lady at the entrace (a simple table) in order to enter the heart of the festival (a marquee with knives laid out over the table, and with more tressle tables around it). The thing that stuck me the most was the lack of any security in the place. There were people picking up 12″ machetes and examining them at their own will – it was a very surreal experience. It was lovely to see the mutual respect that people had regarding these weapons, that rather than have to place a barrier between the weapons and the consumers, the consumers were given the responsibility to do what they want with the weapons. There were no reported stabbings at the festival.

After writing this bit of the blog post (originally part of my holiday blog) I noted that theres a massive parallel here in what we are trying to do in the open source world.  The big proprietary vendors are trying to guide us into believing that we can’t have freedom – someone with do something silly with it and people are going to get hurt.  It’s exactly the same as the British/American attitude to hosting a similar event as the Nontron Knife Festival.  Were that to be held in the UK there would be hundreds of police questioning innocent people and blocking people from entering if they looked a bit dodgy.  In France, the responsibility is with the individual, and unless the responsibility is believed to be with the individual then the individual will not take responsibility themselves.

Free Software and Open Source provides exactly the same challenges.  Use it and sure, there’s the potential to get stabbed – but it is very very unlikely that hackers would put code in their source that would have the capability of stabbing someone.  In my years in Open Source I’ve not heard of a single vendor who has tried that (though have seen it with stuff like the old BonziBuddy and Gator).  Give the individual back the responsibility and the freedom and the users will all end up being happier.

The Holiday

Well it’s been a really interesting week since I’ve got back off holiday, with so many things I wanted to write about that I’ve not actually got round to writing any off.

For those of you that don’t want to trail through my previous posts, I returned to England on Monday from a nice relaxing two week holiday with my close family, — Mum, Dad, John (23), Lorna (18), Simon (15), Richard (6), and Charlie (5) –. Also on the holiday were my brother’s girlfriend Steph (21) and my Aunt and Uncle, and two cousins — Rob (18) and Suzie (14).

We normally go away with a more elderly member of the family (last year both Dad’s parents, and my Mum’s Dad came out, along with a different uncle) but this year we decided to keep it to the younger generation, and hired Chateau Martini in Segonzac, Perigord, France. It was a really big place (can sleep 17) with a panoramic view over the valley and a private swimming pool. The only downside was that it was rather basic – and due to its size it rarely gets a complete occupancy, thus some rooms smelt a bit ‘musty’ on our arrival. It was a lovely place though, built in the early 14th Century and with really thick stone walls. It didn’t have any creature comforts, and the kitchen was about half the size of the one in my student flat last year – but with BBQs being my speciality and the order of the day, we spent little time in the kitchen.

We celebrated my brother’s 23rd birthday when we were out there and I celebrated my break from uni/work with the purchase of a fishing rod. I spent most evenings of the holiday heading down to the river (Dronne) in order to go and spend about 2 hours dipping my rod into the stream. I’m unaware if a rod-license is needed in France (as it is in England) so I made sure I didn’t fish in open spaces (most of the places I fished began with a rather enjoyab le 4×4 ride in the Land Rover to reach the riverbank). However, I think it’s pretty much safe to say that a fishing license would have been a waste of money, as I managed to catch a total of ZERO fish in the 10 nights I spent by the river. Fish 10 Andrew 0.

It’s very relaxing though, and having the time to sit by a river and literally do nothing is now something I realise to be only permissible on holiday – there’s too much to do at home in order to justify spending any time doing nothing.

We also went Canoeing on holiday, down a route that we frequented about 10 years ago with one of my best mate’s family. Unfortunately the river was a little more empty this time and I managed to lose my flip flops after getting out to pull my cousin’s boat over the weird. I was not a happy bunny. It’s nice to swim with the fish though (even if you don’t catch anything). Working in IT does push one away from spending time with nature and being so close to it is something I have always enjoyed – I need to make sure I get enough time out of the office now I am back.

I also visited the Nontron Knife Festival and the car broke down on the way home, but I’ve stuck them in different blog posts.

Out of Office – Autoreply

Those out of office autoreply things really bug me – so instead I’ll just let people know through my blog. That probably will cover very few people who contact me in my ‘professional’ role – but if they google I’m sure they’ll find me in the end.

So yeah, the end of my first stint as a full/part time professional came to a nice close today with a trip up to the datacentre in Manchester to install a few machines for a client. I’ve been setting up the servers for the past few weeks so that the client can pass the PCI regulations (Payment Card Industry) and it’s been a very steep learning curve. I only started working professionally with linux just over 12 months ago, and that was from scratch so to be (semi-) responsible for the installation of such an important system is either credit to my abilities, or reckless. I like to think the former :).

In all honesty it has gone very well, and I’ve had fantastic support from my boss. It’s nice to be able to contact someone to overcome a problem and be shown the easy way through thinks. I think it’s this sort of experience that there isn’t enough of in academia. Sure, I love finding my own way of doing something, but sometimes (especially when there’s a deadline) it can be far better to be taught the correct way, and to then know it right away, rather than having to research many ‘wrong’ ways only for the right way to be presented by someone who knew the answer a week ago. </rant>

I’m quite enjoying the job too, which I think is a major bonus. The next major hurdle is to bite the bullet and to move up to Manchester and away from the comfort of the family home in Birmingham. There are a few complications with that at the moment that I’m having to try and sort out in my head, nothing to do with other people. The first issue is the obvious one about where I want to live. I spent a couple of weeks at the beginning of July living with a friend in Manchester, who I’d hoped to have moved in permanently with. I had a fantastic time, really enjoyed their company, but it opened my eyes to what I can expect when I move up to Manchester. Many people advise don’t live with a friend (or don’t have a friend as a flatmate) and I can see why. The main problem was with me working in the lounge. As I work from home (and the flatmate has a 42″ plasma) I decided to work from the lounge (also because there was no desk in the room) and to be honest my presence make the flatmate a bit claustrophobic. I don’t blame him for this, because had it been the other way round, I’m sure I’d have felt exactly the same way. And credit to him as despite me working back in my room for a token ‘single day’ he didn’t moan at all.

Yeah, so my direction is going to be an interesting one. I’m hoping against hope that I’ll move back up to full time hours when I get back from holiday and then move in with him in Manchester (providing he still wants to after reading this blog).

My only other concern is location. The flat has 24MBps broadband – so that’s a great thing. It’s also a five minute walk from the Printworks – which is also fantastic. And it’s very nice inside (for those with facebook – check out my “Manchester Flat” photo album). The negative is that all this comes at a price. Unless I can be sure to keep my job on full time – signing up to this flat could be a mistake. However, the good news is that I’ll probably sign a 3 month release clause in the contract, so at least I can give huge notice if I have to move out.

So now, back to the holiday. I’m heading down to the middle of France (, the Dordogne,) to stay near the town of Perigueux in what will probably be my last family holiday (take III). I’ll have definately moved out of home by this time next year though, so I’m hoping it’ll be a fantastic holiday. As always I’ll remember to take a load of pictures, and to be even nicer, I may even open myself a flickr account and get a plugin for wordpress so that people outside of facebook can see the pictures (a facebook album/wordpress application would also be welcome from anyone with spare time).

The other “incredibly frustrating thing” is that my openmoko neo1973 is due to arrive next week, and I can track it’s progress online to watch it get delivered 1000 miles from when I am. Well… when I get back I’ll make sure to get my hands on it. And guys at the SBLUG – if I make it to the meeting on the 16th August – this is a fantastic excuse for why I won’t have yet created a killer application for it. If you are writing any programs for the neo (and would know how to upload it to my phone to test) then please get writing and I’ll let anyone with an ounce of knowledge have a little hack.

As I’m going to be away from the blog for the next three weeks – I’ve changed the comments to a free for all. I really hope I don’t get much spam – but if it’s getting out of control – can someone drop me an email to andy at zrmt dot com with the subject line of “camels are amazing creatures” and I’ll get to a PC to turn the SPAM settings back to what they are currently.

Well take care, and I’ll hopefully be back blogging soon!

Openmoko Neo1973 on its way to Brum!

Well I had some good news today at last whence I checked my email.  My credit card has been charged and I can expect to receive the neo by the end of the week.

The only issue is that it’s due to be posted to Manchester, and I’m currently back down in Birmingham – so I’m hoping against hope that my flatmate will be in Manchester to collect it – and as my brother heads up there on Thursday, he will hopefully pop across and collect it to bring it back down to Birmingham before I head to France on Friday for a three week Vacation.  (I’m in Nottingham/Manchester all week with work).  Busy Bee…

HELP! Know a Good MotorHome Insurance Company?

This is just a quick note to see if anyone can give me some advice.

My family have got a campervan, and the insurance has just expired, meaning that rather than renew the policy, the current insurers are being a pain, and are requesting we start a new policy.

Since we’re no longer tied to a single company, I’ve been selected to look for insurers that’ll insure drivers with +3 years driving experience and that are over 21 years of age. It’s a “Fiat Ducato 2.0 CI Carioca 5 from 2003” – for what it’s worth, so if you think you know a good insurance company that would be willing to insure in the 21-25 year old bracket – please leave a comment below:

Thanks in advance.

Order from Chaos

I’ve just started at my first graduate job, and am currently learning how to program by creating some applications using a number of languages. Unfortunately, due to some massive work commitments, the programming has fallen by the wayside so that I can carry on working on the Linux Sys Admin.

One of the things that is quite important to me, is that I don’t get sucked into one language (and it’s important to my boss too) so I want to be able to get to know as many syntaxes as possible. In order to do this, I’ve set myself up a little project:

Back in the early 90s (yes, I can remember that far back) I remember watching the Christmas Lectures on the BBC. They were often science based, and from what I can remember were 45 minute presentations, with the aim of both being accessible, but not watered down. One presentation that sticks in my mind was one by (as yet unknown) on “Chaos Theory.” The general gist was that whilst things may appear to be chaotic, they do indeed have order. He created an algorithm and applied it to a manual board in front of him. After about 26 loops, there was a random mess infront, and it looked as though there was no pattern.

Next, he demonstrated the same algorithm on the computer next to him (bear in mind this was probably not much later that 1994) which demoed the algorithm alot faster. Since I started programming, I always wanted to be able to write this experiment, as I really enjoyed what I saw.

Anyhow, my aim is to be able to create a library of the source code to this experiment in as many languages as possible.

I’ve setup a launchpad project to help organise the project. It’s up at so hopefully I’ll get some people to join me.

The actual experiment is up at (bear in mind it runs javascript as isn’t massively fast at the moment). If you want to download it and run in on your computer – then wget

Wait til ~10,000 moves, then see the magic.