Category Archives: General

I’m back!

This started off as a general, personal blog and pretty much pre-dated the rise of social media. Over the years it turned into a blog about Linux and MythTV because this just seemed the best place to post that stuff. Because of the fact that my MythTV system has been so stable over the past few years, and I’ve had too much going on in my life to mess with it for the sake of it, not much has been going on here.

…until last week! My MythTV installation which I have been running for about 8 years finally gave up the ghost, so I’m going to be building a new one. I haven’t done this for a which so it should be fun. I’m also going to update my guide, of course. That thing is so hard to keep up-to-date without building a system every time a new release comes out. It will be good to get it current again.

iGoogle problems

I’ve recently had a problem with iGoogle not working very well. Most of the gadgets were broken including Gmail and Picasaweb. I tracked it down to the fact that my homepage was set to:

Changing it to the following fixed the problems completely:

iTunes – Filenames with Track Numbers

Yes, I use Linux for most stuff, but I organise my music using iTunes under Windows. I’ve done it this way for years.

Last night I brought the music system in my car into the 21st century by installing a Pioneer DEH-P4100SD. As well as CD and radio it’s got an aux in, iPod compatibility, USB and an SD card slot. I picked up a 16GB SD card for £20 and stuck a few tracks on there. Unfortunately, even though the head unit supports ID3 tags for artist/album/song names, it only supports browsing based on filename. This had the effect of playing albums in alphabetical order! Heresy against the Gods of Metal!

This is where iTunes comes in. It was storing my music without the track number in the filename. In iTunes 8 there is no longer an option for this, so I was a bit baffled as to what to do. It turned out to be very simple… iTunes 8 actually defaults to including the track number, so all I had to do was reimport my library:

Go into Edit->Preferences and select the Advanced tab.
Uncheck “Keep My iTunes Music Folder Organized”.
Exit preferences
Go back into the preferences and recheck “Keep My iTunes Music Folder Organized”.

iTunes will then add the track numbers onto all of your MP3s! Surprisingly it only took a couple of minutes for 3,000+ songs.

WordPress hack update

Well, it’s been a few days since this site was hacked via a WordPress vulnerability and was dropped from Google. I’ve found out more about what went wrong…

The site was cracked using the “magic include shell”. Not only did it put invisible links in the WordPress main page and in one of my posts, but also in the main page of my site. Here are some links on fixing this and protecting WordPress:

I’ve upgraded to WordPress 2.5 and installed a security plugin, so hopefully it shouldn’t happen again.

The more I think about it, the more annoying it is. It’s not really the fact that the site was hacked, but that Google dropped it from its indexes. Sure, the pages only contain details on a few of my hobbies, but they ranked number one for searches such as “mythtv ubuntu” and even “building a shed”! Now they don’t even appear. It’s as if they never existed.

I’ve put a lot of work into them over the years and everything from my Myth TV pages to my Eternity Screensaver project has been affected. I’m sure it will be back up there soon enough, but I can only imagine what affect this kind of thing would have on small business sites – what if this was my livelihood? Imagine if I ran my business from here and 80% of the traffic on the site came from Google?

The fact is that I was naive and stupid, but the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. I know that what Google did was fully automated, but the rules are set by humans. They knew full well that this was a hack as they stated it in the email they sent me. I just think that they should have given me a chance to sort out the problem before taking such drastic action. hacked!

I got an email yesterday from Google informing me that this site had been dropped from their index. Sure enough, instead of being the top hit in a number of searches, it’s now completely disappeared from all search results. Don’t really know why I’m writing this, coz nobody will ever find it…

…and the reason… the site had been hacked and contained a load of viagra links. When you viewed the page, there was nothing unusual, but look at the source and there were a load of links to dodgy sites. It was this WordPress blog which had the vulnerability. Two files in the theme, header.php and footer.php had be overwritten and also in one of *my* posts, there was a hidden font reference which contained a load of spam.

I’ve upgraded to the latest WordPress and removed the offending files. It’s good of Google to let me know – they sent an email to all the usual “webmaster” addresses telling me what had happened. Still, it’s a bit annoying that they dropped the site first without letting me fix the problem. It’s a kind of “guilty until proven innocent” approach.

I’ve learnt my lesson, though. I thought of ditching WordPress and using a hosted blog, but there are too many links to my blog from other sites – MythTV questions and the like, so I’m reluctant to do that. I guess I’m stuck fighting the spammers for now.

House Move

Just a quick note to say that I’m finally moving house on Friday. It’s been a long slog, but it should all be worth it. So, if I’m late replying to emails or posts then it’s because I’m up to my eyeballs in boxes!

Parcelforce Snub Linux Users

I sold a PC on eBay then other week and when it came to shipping Parcelforce 48 seemed like a good deal. They would pick up a 9KG parcel from my house and deliver it, all for £14. So I jumped on their website and started to book a shipment. All went well until I hit the following page:

Parcelforce Error

Basically, everything was present and correct: scriping was enabled, Firefox was compatible, a PDF plugin was available… the only thing wrong was the OS – Linux wasn’t in their list of Microsoft operating systems.
Nor was OS X for that matter.

I guess the reason this shocked me so much was that this kind of thing has been pretty much confined to the past. Gone are the days where Linux users were seconds class citizens on the web. I guess that we have Firefox to thank for that, and the Windows users of Firefox specifically. This is probably the single most important factor in the recent rise of the Linux desktop and Ubuntu in particular. If there were more sites lounging in the Dark Ages like Parcelforce then I simply wouldn’t be able to use Linux half as much as I do.

Thanks, Parcelforce, for reminding me how crap things used to be.

From Here to Eternity

I know I haven’t been posting much here recently… I tend not to blog when I’m very busy, which is ironically when I’ve usually got the most stuff to talk about. The thing that’s been taking up most of my time, apart from my lovely daughters of course, is my new screensaver project, Eternity Screensaver. I came up with the idea when thinking of a screensaver for Ubuntu SE. I’d already created a few raytraced wallpapers with POVRay and experimented with animating them. I thought it would be really cool if I could display them as screensavers. To my surprise, there wasn’t really anything out there which would play movie clips as a screensaver for Linux and loop them efficiently. Even mplayer and xine wouldn’t output properly to the virtual root window (used by screensavers) or quickly play a loop without interruption. The only thing close was electricsheep, which generates fractal images and saves them in MPEG2 format. It had a player called mpeg2dec_onroot which did pretty much what I wanted. I forked this player and hacked it so that it would read a list of clips from a config file and seamlessly loop them. I packaged it up with some animations and Eternity Screensaver was born.

Once the packages were ready, I added them to my APT repository. To be honest, maintaining my own packages and APT repo is becoming a bit of a pain. The new packages are very large and it take ages to shift them around and compile for different architectures, etc. So, my ears pricked when I saw the announcement for the new Personal Package Archive (PPA) functionality on Ubuntu’s open source collaboration site, launchpad. I’d been meaning to start using lauchpad properly for a while, so I took the opportunity to register all of my projects and upload the code to their Bazzar version control system.

Launchpad is a dream to use. It’s a great example of a modern web-based user interface and has a good community feel. It’s taken me a while to get to grips with Bazaar, as I’m used to using heavyweight Clearcase source control at work, but it’s a refreshingly simple and pwerful tool.

Launchpad PPA should be out of beta soon, so hopefully I should be able to move my repositories onto there soon.

Don’t Be Evil


A good few years ago when I was at college and forced to program in Turbo Pascal (urgh!), we used the word “google” for those strange characters which used to appear on your computer screen when you’d made a really bad mistake in your code – you know, smiley faces, stippled blocks and the like. “Bugger, I’ve got a screen of googley characters!”.

Nowadays, of course, Google is spelt with an uppercase ‘G’ and means something entirely different.

Actually, Google the company now play a big part in how I use computers. As a big company, they’ve learnt a lot from Microsoft – and done the opposite. I love the way they follow open standards and use open APIs and give it all away for free, such as 3GB of email space all paid for with a bunch of very subtle targeted ads.

The thing I like most about Google are that their applications are mostly online. This has allowed me to change the way I do stuff quite dramatically. Instead of having one big PC running Windows, the price of hardware has allowed me to have a few PCs all running Linux… desktops in the study and at work, a MythTV box in the lounge, a laptop for lugging around and a PDA for everywhere else (not running Linux… yet). All these boxes can be used to access the same information – bookmarks and news feeds through my Google homepage, photos through Picasaweb, email through Gmail, news through Google Alerts, adds through AdSense, webstats through Analytics… the list goes on.

Sure, some of their stuff isn’t particularly original – YouTube, Flickr and Hotmail were the innovators for some of the stuff, but a bit of healthy competition keeps them on their toes. I like the way all the Google products can be accessed neatly with one account from any PC and just how nice it all is to use. Plus, it all gets updated automatically without having to upgrade every PC I use.

Maybe they’ll turn evil one day, but, until then, I’ll continue to use them for much more than just searching.

Blog Spam is Sick

This blog has been hit by a lot of spam recently, prompting me to activate the Akismet plugin. This works really well, so hopefully the problem is solved.

However,  the spam I was getting wasn’t the usual irritating stuff, it was links to hard core porn sites. This is sickening, as this blog could have belonged to a child. Are these people so sad and isolated that they don’t think or care about things like that?