Christchurch

Nostalgia is a wonderful experience. Visiting an old city, seeing old friends, visiting old bars, shops, and reliving the moments is an experience to be treasured. With Christchurch, we have been deprived.

I visited a full 3 years after the most devastating quake (February 22nd, 2011). In that time, much of the rubble has been cleared, and the city is starting to rebuild. But it was shocking just how much of the condemned old city remains, so long after the event.

I owe more than half my adult life to Christchurch, and I have many friends and family still residing there. It’s difficult to describe what it felt like to see it in this state.

Hopefully these pictures tell at least some of the story.

Homecoming

One thousand three hundred and thirty days.

That’s how long I’d been away from New Zealand, and how long since I’d seen my family in person.  But really, it didn’t feel that long.  Regular Skype contact and Facebook updates mean that keeping in touch with friends and family on the opposite side of the world is easier than it used to be.

Still, it’s a long time between drinks, and it’s surprising what’s changed.

A city has been levelled.  Fast food and beer are about a dollar more expensive.  An overweight German geek, whose name sounds like it was invented during a bubble in Y2K, is championing liberal tech policy.  State highway one is slightly less of an embarrassment.  Bars and shops I used to frequent have gone.  My parents have started winding down the old family home in Wairoa.  Brothers and cousins have grown up.  Friends have gotten married, brought houses, had kids.

But Auckland transport is still shit.

Experiences change your perspective and I’ve certainly had a few of those over the past 4 years.  It did feel as though I was looking at things through a different set of eyes.  Ironically it’s not until you go elsewhere that you realise what you took for granted, and the opportunities you missed.

What follows is a set of pictures from a very short 3-week trip back “home” to New Zealand.  In addition to catching up with great friends, my family and getting plenty of sunshine, this holiday also included a wedding in Wanaka, a 30th birthday on Waiheke Island,  Milford Sound and an emotional tour through the destroyed remnants of a city I once called home.  But that’s another blog post.

13″ Retina Macbook Pro (late 2013) – Buyer Review

As with all my reviews, this is a totally subjective personal view and not an in-depth technical analysis. For more mainstream reviews, check out Engadet, Pocket Lint, Expert Reviews, and Casey Johnston’s Air vs Pro comparison on Arstechnica if you’re also considering an Air.

Retina vs Dell

My old faithful Dell E4300 has done its dash. Actually it still works; it runs Ubuntu well, it has an SSD and 4GB of ram which makes it pretty nippy for web browsing and lightweight tasks, but what sealed its fate was my work laptop - a 15″ Retina Macbook Pro. After getting used to that gorgeous 2880×1800 screen, I found I just couldn’t go back to the Dell any more with its 1280×800 TN LCD (ugh), horrible touchpad and 2009-era performance. Continue reading

It’s nice to be right some times

Five short years ago I wrote an article about my desire for a Nokia N900. I was extremely enthusiastic about the device, which I saw as the future of computing and a sign of things to come. I also said:

Personally I think Linux usage overtaking Windows on personal computing devices is inevitable, and this is how it’s going to happen (although the capabilities of the N900 will have to move down to a much lower price point first). We’ll see if I’m right in 5-10 years time.

It’s now 4 years and 4 months later. I was right about Linux overtaking windows on personal computing devices, but I was wrong about how, and it happened far more quickly than I could have imagined. Continue reading

Which laptop to buy, 2014 edition

In what could only fall firmly into the first-world problems category, I’m currently suffering a dilemma as to what laptop I should buy. My requirements are common – a good balance of power, performance and portability. I’ve decided the specification I should go for is:

  • Intel Core i5 (4th generation, Haswell)
  • 8Gb ram
  • 256Gb SSD
  • 13″ display, resolution at least 1920×1080

I think these specs make for the best price / performance balance on most of the laptops I’ve priced up.

Continue reading

Fixing Puppet 3.2 symlinks on OSX Mavericks

Received the following error when running puppet after upgrading to Mavericks:

/System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/2.0.0/rubygems/core_ext/kernel_require.rb:45:in `require': cannot load such file -- puppet/util/command_line (LoadError)
	from /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/2.0.0/rubygems/core_ext/kernel_require.rb:45:in `require'
	from /usr/bin/puppet:3:in `<main>'

Solution is to symlink the packages to the new ruby 2.0.0 directory:

#!/bin/bash

sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/puppet /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/2.0.0/puppet
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/puppet.rb /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/2.0.0/puppet.rb
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/semver.rb /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/2.0.0/semver.rb
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/facter /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/2.0.0/facter
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/facter.rb /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/2.0.0/facter.rb
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/hiera /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/2.0.0/hiera
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/hiera.rb /System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/2.0/usr/lib/ruby/site_ruby/2.0.0/hiera.rb

Should be fixed in the next major version.

Reference: https://projects.puppetlabs.com/issues/18205

Pausing Spotify and playing a random video in Python – A party trick for Halloween

For a Halloween party last weekend I wrote a python script to pause Spotify, play a random video and start music playback again. The videos were basic ogg files I cobbled together which showed a scary image and evil laughs or screaming with OpenShot. I can’t really share them, as I don’t have rights to the media, but it’s pretty simple to recreate them yourself.

The code for this script is on Github, and I’ve reproduced the latest snapshot below. Feel free to fork and improve if you want to scare your guests, or add support for other OS’s. Presently it only supports Linux because I used dbus to perform the play/pause actions.

#!/usr/bin/python

'''
This is a Halloween party script which pauses Spotify and plays a video
at random intervals.
'''

import random
import subprocess
from subprocess import call
from time import sleep
import os
import datetime

start_time = datetime.time(21, 0, 0)
stop_time = datetime.time(23, 0, 0)

video_dir = '/home/alex/Videos/scream/'
videos = { 'scream1_nofade.ogg': 30,
'happy.ogg': 1,
'evil_laugh.ogg': 5,
}

def time_in_range(start, end, x):
"""Return true if x is in the range [start, end]"""
if start <= end:
print("start<end")
return start <= x <= end
else:
print("end<start")
return start <= x or x <= end

def weighted_choice(weights):
total = sum(weights[video] for video in weights)
r = random.uniform(0, total)
upto = 0
print("total: %s\nrandom: %s" % (total, r))

for video in weights:
w = weights[video]
if upto + w > r:
return video
upto += w
assert False, "shouldn't get here"

def spotifyPause():
command = "dbus-send --print-reply --dest=org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.spotify /org/mpris/MediaPlayer2 org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.Player.Pause"
print("pausing spotify")
os.system(command)

def spotifyPlay():
print("playing spotify")
command = "dbus-send --print-reply --dest=org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.spotify /org/mpris/MediaPlayer2 org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.Player.PlayPause"
os.system(command)

def play_video(video_file):
print("Playing %s" % video_file)
#call(['/usr/bin/mplayer', '-fs', video_file], stdout=None, stderr=None)
#result = subprocess.Popen(['/usr/bin/mplayer', '-really-quiet', '-fs', video_file])
result = subprocess.check_call(['/usr/bin/mplayer', '-really-quiet', '-fs', video_file], stdout=None, stderr=None)
return result

def playBuzz(buzzfile):
print("Buzz...")
result = subprocess.check_call(['/usr/bin/mplayer', '-really-quiet', '-ss', '18', buzzfile], stdout=None, stderr=None)
return result

def infiniteLoop():
while 1:
current_time = datetime.datetime.now().time()
#if current_time > stop_time or current_time < midday:

choice = weighted_choice(videos)

random_time = random.randrange(1200,2400)
random_time = 3

video_file = video_dir + choice
print("Chose video %s after %s seconds" % (video_file, random_time))
sleep(random_time)

# Whether to play buzz
buzz = False
if random.randrange(0,100) > 90:
buzz = True

# Continue if outside time range
if not time_in_range(start_time, stop_time, current_time):
print("Not playing video, outside time range")
continue

# Do it
spotifyPause()
if buzz:
playBuzz('/home/alex/Videos/scream/audio/buzz.mp3')
play_video(video_file)
spotifyPlay()

if __name__ == "__main__":
infiniteLoop()

The GX1 is a veritable bargain

Just picked one of these up at the airport on the way through. They have been going for around £350 for the GX1 body and 14-42mm Vario lens, or £330 with the standard 14-42mm lens. Originally an £800 kit, the discount is because Panasonic is clearing inventory to make way for the GX7, which looks amazing by the way. Far from 2.5x the price amazing however.

GX1

The Sony RX100 and Fuji X100S were also on my radar. The RX100 is a great camera and much more compact than the GX1, but it has a much smaller sensor and is still twice the price at around £600. The only snag is that I’m going to have to spend another £200 on a prime to exceed the low-light performance of the RX100, but the result is a more capable kit, and it’s still £100 cheaper!

I also made the mistake of handling the Fuji X100S. It was a mistake because it almost cost me £900, but I quickly realised this and put it down before I could get more attached! That is one sexy piece of kit, and is in a different league IQ and interface wise. I would LOVE one, but at nearly £1000 (!), it’s hard to justify with the GX1 being such a bargain.

The GX1 won’t replace my SLR (no affordable wide angle lens), or my old Canon S90 (not quite pocketable). But it is much much less of a burden to carry than an SLR, will go many places the SLR wouldn’t. I shall be putting it to good use while in Amsterdam!

5 tips on travelling with a wide-angle lens

Three years ago, on a bit of a whim, I bought a Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens. The action was probably symptomatic of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, but I’ve fortunately managed to keep it under control since – I’m still using the same set of lenses I bought around that time!
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-5.6 USM

It was a pricey item, and to this day I don’t really know what possessed me to spend such a sum on a piece of glass that I didn’t really know how to use. What’s more, I wasn’t sure I’d use it regularly. But all the pictures in this article were taken with it, and these days it hardly leaves the camera.

Others have asked me about wide angle photography, and I’ve even loaned my 10-22 out a couple of times, so I thought it was about time I put down some words about traveling with a wide angle lens.

Continue reading

Changing boot order in Ubuntu 13.04 (or Debian) – the easy way

I wanted nice, concise instructions on changing the boot order in Ubuntu 13.04, which uses Grub 2. Being a newbie focused OS however, Googling “ubuntu boot order” results in SEO blogs with lots of fluff, and then the actual instructions start out with “install package from ppa”…

What the hell, I just want to change the boot order!

Continue reading