Category Archives: IT

IT related posts, technical stuff

Building and Packaging a Python command-line tool for Debian

python-logo-notext-svgPython packaging has a chequered past.

Distutils was and still is the original tool included with the standard library. But then setuptools was created to overcome the limitations of distutils, gained wide adoption, subsequently stagnated, and a fork called distribute was created to address some of the issues. Distutils2 was an attempt to take the best of previous tools to support Python 3, but it failed. Then distribute grew to support Python 3, was merged back in to setuptools, and everything else became moot!

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find reliable information on python packaging, because many articles you might find in a Duckduckgo search were created before setuptools was reinvigorated. Many reflect practices that are sub-optimal today, and I would disregard anything written before the distribute merge, which happened in March 2013. Continue reading

Mechanical Keyboards – Stop reading if you like your money

filco_tenkeyless_ninja_uk_largeAs a Sysadmin who works on a keyboard all day, I was enamoured by Jeff Atwood’s post about his CODE Keyboard, that he developed in partnership with WASD Keyboards. Essentially, the CODE Keyboard is a pre-spec’d standard WASD keyboard, with Cherry MX Clear switches.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should read WASD’s Mechanical Keyboard Guide, which covers the different types of switches and their characteristics.

I’ll admit I didn’t do a lot of research. After a quick read on the site about the switches, I figured brown would probably suit me best, as I didn’t want to annoy my neighbours too much, and I chose the smaller Ten-Key-Less layout to keep the mouse closer (rarely am I entering large numbers in sequence, so the numeric keypad simply wastes space most of the time).

The problem: I can’t go back. Continue reading

Ubuntu Home Server 14.04

I had grand intentions.

This home server article was to be a detailed masterpiece, a complete documentation of my home server setup.

It hasn’t turned out that way, and many pieces are missing. Turns out, that writing a detailed article on setting up a server is much harder than just doing it! So what you see here is what I finally managed to publish, 5 months after actually building it. I hope you find it useful, and I don’t rule out the possibility that I may update parts of it in future. Continue reading

Ubuntu Home Server 14.04 – A DIY NAS

It’s been more than 4 years since I wrote about home servers, but my Ubuntu Home Server article was, for a while, the most popular post on this blog. Since moving to the UK though, I’ve taken a more appliance-based approach to my home network. For the last few years I’ve been using a Boxee Box for media playback, and a 4-bay Netgear ReadyNAS duo NV2+ for storage, mainly to keep the bulk of my possessions to a minimum.

The appliance approach does have advantages. It is power efficient, easy to setup, and very low maintenance. But after getting an internet connection with decent upload speed, I wanted to run CrashPlan on the NAS without having to have another PC running. I managed to get it running by following directions I found here.

There’s just one problem:

3.3 months to upload 350GB is a little too long

3.3 months to upload 350GB is a little too long

Performance is abysmal, and I’ve only selected the most important data – my photos. I’m limited not by my internet connection, but by the NAS’s anaemic CPU and lack of ram (just 256Mb). Furthermore, it’s always had very slow read and write speeds – generally around 2Mb/sec, and loading a large directory via its Samba shares can take a while.

So I started to look for a replacement. My requirements:

  • Minimum 2GB ram
  • Strong CPU, preferably x86
  • 4+ drive bays
  • Linux based OS
  • Root access to said OS

The best pre-built option I could find which meets those requirements is the Thecus N5550, but at £383 it is a long way from cheap. And it barely meets the specs; an Atom CPU is strong for a NAS but not by modern x86 standards.

While the customised software shipped with a NAS does offer some conveniences, it also gets in the way of using newer Linux features such as BTFS RAID 5/6 (which is currently not considered stable but should be within the next 12 months). You’re also reliant on the vendor for distribution upgrades, and the priority is going to be shiny features which consumers will appreciate, not keeping the foundation OS up to date. The ReadyNAS NV2+ is currently running Debian Squeeze, and will be until the day support ends.

At this point I realised that a pre-made NAS with the level of power and flexibility I wanted doesn’t exist at a realistic price point. And with the end of Boxee support its days as a useful device are numbered, so a HTPC could be on the cards as well. It’s time to build my own server again.

Continue reading

Google commits privacy seppuku at BT’s request

Update – Since this was posted, Max Allan and Damion Yates have investigated further and found that BT are intercepting DNS queries and replying with doctored DNS results, which I didn’t notice when originally researching this article. The title is therefore not entirely accurate, and BT are most probably doing this without any special treatment from Google, but the point that Google is facilitating this (by performing http redirects) stands. Please keep this in mind as you read :)

–Alex 25/11/2014

As I’m currently in temporary accommodation I have found myself without a permanent internet connection. 3G service in the area is pretty spotty, so I bit the bullet and ended up purchasing a single month BT Wifi pass, effectively piggy-backing a neighbours connection. I’m guessing they see very little of the £39 I paid.

It is well-known that BT has filtering in place, supposedly for the protection of children, as required by the UK government. I don’t agree with this policy, but accept that many do.

However when it starts to affect privacy, I feel that BT’s meddling of my internet connection has gone too far.

Case in point, when using Google on BT Wifi I happened to notice a new message on the side:

SSL search is off

This network has turned off SSL search, so you cannot see personalised results.

The security features of SSL search are not available. Content filtering may be in place.

Learn More | Dismiss

After digging into it, I’ve found that statement to be demonstrably false. In actual fact what it should say is; “We have disabled SSL search on behalf of your network provider.”

To which I say, thank you for giving me another reason to use duckduckgo.

Continue reading

Safely running bulk operations on Redis with lua scripts

This article was also posted on the Gumtree devteam blog

If there was one golden rule when working with redis in production, it would be

“Don’t use KEYS”

The reason for this is that it blocks the redis event loop until it completes, i.e. while it’s busy scanning its entire keyspace, it can’t serve any other clients.

Recently, we had a situation where code was storing keys in redis without setting an expiry time, with the result that our keyspace started to grow:
Continue reading

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