Dead And Bloated

Posted on 30th April 2007

If you've ever bought a desktop or laptop in recent years, that has come with a version of Windows on it, the chances are that there is an awful lot of "bloatware" preinstalled and taking up valueable resources, which often hinder the performance of the machine. It's often a reason why I've heard non-IT people complain about Windows. Now a technical savvy person can generally get rid of most of the unwanted applications, but I am seeing far too many getting in under the guise of helper and support functions.

My sister had a problem with her machine, and asked me to take a look. Apparently it took ages to load up and wasn't particularly fast when it did finally load. Considering it's a 2.70GHz machine, this wasn't a good sign. I did suggest getting some more memory, so before I called round she bought a 512MB memory stick, to compliment the 256MB she already had.

I started by turning on the machine and watching it load. It took nearly 10 minutes! She was running Windows XP, and even though it's sluggish on my laptop, it's nowhere near that bad. Then trying to open anything caused the disk drive to be almost permanently spinning. Taking a first look at the Taskbar and Start Menu items revealed a large collection of apps that mostly just sit there, then come alive to "check things" every few minutes. I immediately removed them all, except a couple of essential ones. I then install TweakAll, which I've often found to be a handy utility for find all the "invisible" start menu apps. Several featured, which on closer inspection where phone home type apps. The worst offender turned out to be Hewlett-Packard. They have a "Motive Chorus Daemon" application installed when you install the drivers and image apps from their CD, which came with my sister's All-In-One Scanner/Printer. I've blocked some of the network traffic, but I suspect there's more.

It really is horrendous how many spyware and intrusive applications are bundled with software these days. All the unwanted apps on my sister's machine were all either preinstalled or installed by driver CDs with new devices. It took 5 hours to clean the machine, after which I'd reclaimed over 1GB of disk space. The machine loaded in roughly 1 minute, and opening a browser window now happened in seconds with the disk drive barely spinning. In fact if you blinked you'd probably miss the orange flash of the LED. Not surprisingly my sister is very relieved, as it's been a cause of frustration for sometime.

I recently bought a new laptop from Dell, and although I specifically said I wanted a bare bones system, I still got bloatware on there. Thankfully not very much, but enough to be a nuisance to uninstall. However, on both the laptop (even though I made a point of explicitly saying 'remove it') and my sisters machine, there was a little app that appears to have different names, but does exactly the same thing. Remote Assistant. If you ever see anything like it on your machine, I would advise you to get rid of it as soon as possible. It allows someone to remotely log on to your machine, without you asking or even accepting, and alter your machine. This cropped up recently on a thread in a LUG mailing list and was thought to be a hoax. Unfortunately not. I'm absolutely amazed that vendors have actually got away with this, but then Microsoft have finally found a way to sell you software to cripple your machine, so why not the vendors too.

Incidentally the BBC reported the fact that Dell are offering XP again on some models. If you email them directly, like I did, you can get XP on any model you want. There is no way I wanted Vista installed anywhere near my machines, and from reports around the internet, there are too many driver and incompatible device issues that would ever encourage me to use it. The fact that it also comes with inbuilt "security protection" of DRM is now just another reason not to go near it. I don't think I've ever seen such a negative response to a new Windows OS. At a recent Birmingham Perl Mongers technical meeting, the comment made about the fancy graphics was that if you wanted XGL that badly, why not just install Linux. I installed Ubuntu :)

File Under: rant / technology / usability

Radio Free Europe

Posted on 26th April 2007

LUGRadio Live 2006

LUGRadio Live 2006

I've been wanting to upload my photos from LUGRadio Live 2006 for sometime, but just haven't had the time to sort through them. The event, organised by the presenters of LUGRadio, was great and I got to see several people I knew and even more that I didn't. I was asked to speak at the event, as I was in 2005, when I had already planned to speak in Toronto for YAPC::NA, and did a presentation about how MessageLabs use Open Source Software. The talk happened after I picked up Ade and took him to a WolvesLUG meeting and we talked servers all the way there. He was quite taken aback with the idea that we manage over 3,500 Linux servers in our infrastructure.

Unfortunately no-one took any photos of me during my talk, but I did get to take several of everybody else. I'll be speaking again at this year's event, so I hope to be a bit more organised and get someone to take photos of me too. The event took places over 2 days with a "disco" on the saturday night. It was a fun packed weekend and lots and lots and LOTS of Linux and Open Source related stuff to talk about. The guys put me up against Mark Shuttleworth, so I didn't get to see all of his talk, but I was quite pleased that I still got a decent audience. Obviously not everyone was that interested in what Mark had to say ;)

Anger, Bald, Beard & Ging

Anger, Bald, Beard & Ging

The second day of the event ended with recognition awards for various members of the community and the crew, leading up to the finale of the live recording of LUGRadio Live And Unleased, which went down rather well. With that the event was over for another year. The Four Large Gents has specially commissioned T-Shirts for the event, and seeing as it was a sunny day, Big Ron, Seth and myself grabbed the lads and took them outside for a fun photoshoot, with the idea that they could use the photos for promotional material in the future.

I've booked the hotel for this year's event and am looking forward to speaking again. This year I'll be talking about Selenium, which I've been presenting at various LUG groups on the Birmingham Perl Mongers World Tour. The benefit of doing it on the tour is that I've been able to see what works and what doesn't and improve the talk all the time. Plus as I've got more familiar with Selenium, I've been able to add more tests into my live demo. All being well it should be all shiny and slick by the time of LUGRadio Live 2007. Hope to see you there.

File Under: conference / lugradio / opensource

Hungarian Suicide Song

Posted on 25th April 2007

The other night Nicole and I were watching QI, the excellent BBC quiz show with Stephen Fry, Alan Davies and a selection of great standup comedians. Stephen asked the question 'What is the most depressing song?'. The answer was 'Gloomy Sunday'. It didn't register anything with me, until he mentioned that it was also refered to as "The Hungarian Suicide Song". At this point I got interested. One of the bands I used to work for, Prolapse, had an instrumental track called 'Hungarian Suicide Song' on their first album, Pointless Walks To Dismal Places. It started me off on a trail to see what the guys were up to these days.

Along the way I discovered an old site about the band. The page that amused me was this one, that lists ten official bootlegs released by the band through the fan club. It amused me as I was the one that recorded and created them. I still have all the master tapes in the loft from the original gigs. In fact there are some good ones I still have from the later tours too. I love live recordings, especially ones I've been to, so was rather enthusiatic to get the band releasing some of the great live gigs. They agreed and gave me pretty much free rein to come up with the titles and artwork. The titles were outtakes of some suggestions I had for song titles. Most Prolapse songs rarely feature the title in the song, and they were trying to think up some unusual titles to use. I can't remember if they used any of my suggestions, but I did come up with a list that filled 2 sheets of A4.

I had a great time working with Prolapse, although I only helped out on a few tours between 1995 and 1997. I was primarily hired as their driver for their European tours, but also ended up being Tim's drum technician and their lighting engineer whenever they did a gig big enough. They played some interesting gigs over the years, and I had a great time working with them all. It was a really shame when Tim told me they were planning to split. Although I could hear the influences, they were quite a unique band and I don't think I've heard anyone quite like them before or since.

I haven't spoken to the band for quite some time, so I was interested to see if individually they were still playing gigs. I knew Tim loved playing, so it was rather unsurprising to find him still playing drums with MJ Hibbett & The Invaders. I was delighted to discover that he has also married Emma, and even recruited her into the band. I'll have to try and keep an eye on their gigs, as it would be great to see them again. It seems I missed them playing The Jug Of Ale in Birmingham last year, so fingers crossed I can get to a local gig this year. I've just looked at the website again today and it looks like it's had a facelift in the last few days. Personally I think the old version looks better.

Of the other guys it looks like they've all got proper jobs and are pretty all following the careers they studied for at Leicester. Maybe one day, when they are revered as much as Joy Division they'll be persuaded to reform. It'll be a great day if they do ;)

File Under: music / prolapse / roadie

Rock 'n' Roll Manifesto

Posted on 24th April 2007

Bleeding Hearts at The Roadhouse

Bleeding Hearts at The Roadhouse

On Saturday night (21st April 2007) Nicole's brother, Jon, and I went along to The Roadhouse in Cotteridge, South Birmingham to see Bleeding Hearts play a local gig. I'd never been to the venue before and was delighted to discover it. Almost next door, The Breedon Bar used to be an old haunt, and I played many a gig with Ark there. Gel, who was the bass player with Ark, is now the bass player for Bleeding Hearts, and incidentally the reason why Nicole and I got together. The venue reminded me of some of the better gigs Ark played in their time, so hopefully I'll have good reason to go along in the future.

Opening band were the German band Lack Of Limits, who have played with Bleeding Hearts several times, to the point where Bleeding Hearts help them to tour the UK and Lack Of Limits help Bleeding Hearts to tour Germany. The bands are well suited to each other, as although they play a similar style, Lack Of Limits lean more towards the folk side and Bleeding Hearts lean more towards punk. LOL have improved immensely since I last saw them, was very tempted to get a more recent album. Towards the end of the gig they got Gel on stage to help with percussion (tamborine) and tomfoolery (a Gel speciality).

After a short break, Bleeding Hearts took to the stage and played an absolute blinder from start to finish. A mix of old and new songs galore featured in the set, from Democracy, My Country, Sirens Song all the way to newer songs that don't even seem to have a title. I spoke to Nick after the gig and mentioned I liked the 'Ego' song, and he told me that he'd had people refused to buy their latest album because that song wasn't on it! They are much more than one great song, as they have plenty liberally scattered over all their albums. In fact at times, it gets hard to take their albums out of the CD player :)

After nearly an hour and a half, they left the stage, only to be called back for more. The calls for 'Caravan Song' and 'Glad 2B Alive' seemed to poll equal votes, so they ended up playing both. Two great songs to end a great set and a great night out.

The band are recording a live album next month, at Boarshead Tap, Worcester Street in Kidderminster on 12th May. During the last live album, Anarcoustica, Nicole can be heard to shout "We love you Gel!". We even had a placard with it on that DanDan carried around at the first Levellers' Beautiful Days festival. The band have now asked that Nicole repeat her performance, so she's thinking of other things she might be able to say. Whether it gets recorded or not remains to be seen. If you can catch Bleeding Hearts on the current or a future tour, do so, they are a delight to watch and listen to.

For those who might be interested, I culled a selection of the 1600+ photos I took on the night and you can see Lack of Limits and Bleeding Hearts in the appropriate photo pages.

File Under: ark / bleedinghearts / music

All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit

Posted on 20th April 2007

DanDan has been going to The Strikes Soccer Accademy for the past year, and had some great football coaching. He already had the ability to drop-kick and aim the ball from as young as 3, so we knew he had a natural talent. Thanks to Neil his coach, and getting the chance to play with the older boys at school, he's come on leaps and bounds.

My only disappointment is that Strikes doesn't seem to be able to market themselves very well. At the moment there are only 4 boys being coached in the under 8s group, which DanDan is a part of. It's supported by Birmingham City FC, Walsall FC and Birmingham City Council, so I'm surprised that it hasn't had a lot more publicity. Having a smaller group to coach has meant that Neil has been able to give each boy much more dedicated coaching, which is good, but it does mean there isn't more of a challenge for DanDan.

There was talk of a marketing campaign earlier in the year, but I haven't seen any evidence of it. It would have been good to promote the football coaching to local schools, as there are several. Callowbrook Swifts seems to be the next step up for some, but they seem much more orientated to playing rather than training, and I think DanDan needs more of the training at the moment.

I was thinking the other day, if we did manage to nuture his talent and help him become a first team player with some (preferably local) club, I wonder whether he'd get labelled as "the next ...."? I hope not, he's DanDan. Our DanDan ;)

And for the youngsters among you, regards the title ... see here.

File Under: birmingham / coaching / dandan / football / strikes

On The Air

Posted on 18th April 2007

Seeing as I live in the area, this got plastered all over the local news. Two people were cautioned for using someone else's wireless network. Now I don't care for the sensationalist reporting, but the heart of the article does convey that we do require better education for home users about this. However, tradition dictates that readers and viewers only care if media scares them enough! If someone is going to put up cardboard to hide their activities, then yes they are probably doing something they shouldn't, but scaremongering that anyone with a laptop outside your house is going to be hacking your network or accessing illegal sites it just irresponsible.

If the network is routed via a broadband network, as is suggested here, as pretty much most of Redditch and South Birmingham have cable, the network owner is paying a flat fee. Additional useage from someone else incurs no extra charge. Admittedly this may be different for some other providers that charge for the bandwidth, and if the user of your network decides to download large files. In pretty much every instance, these wardrivers are not hacking your network, they are just using the transport mechanism to access the internet. While there might be some who are now considering accessing illegal sites, the traditional wardriver is more interested in standard web surfing, email checking or accessing their own servers when they are away from home.

The upshot is that situations like those which Grep found himself in and pretty much ever wardriver are now going to be seen as illegal in the public's eyes. I've used other open wireless networks, and it was extremely useful when I was looking for second-hand cars, as I could search the AutoTrader site and locate maps to figure out where to go next. My wireless network is open by choice as I don't live somewhere where you can just casually drive-by anyway, and it's convenient when anybody stays over for them just to connect, rather than mess about with configuring their secure settings for wireless networking.

However, wouldn't it be much better to try and educate owners of wireless networks, to the implications of running an open wireless network, and how to do basic security? It's not difficult to secure a wireless router enough to be unavailable to the casual wardriver. If someone is dedicated enough to want to crack the router security, then there isn't much you are going to do about it anyway. Although there is an explanation on how to set up security in the user guide for probably every wireless router, it's easy to forget that many owners don't understand it and just want it to work.

Apparently this is the first case of it's kind. It's a shame it's even happened, as the encouragement for open wireless networks (such as SOWN) or wireless community projects is potentially going to suffer. If these people were doing something illegal, then fine they should accept the consequences. The sensationalism attached to the story though is largely illusory as the reporters have no idea what sites or activities these individuals were using the networks for.

The story has now gone national. One interesting point that has been noted elsewhere, is how this might effect owners of Nokia and Motorola WiMAX phones? Members of my family haven't asked yet, but I suspect I may be busy this weekend.

File Under: redditch / technology / wardriving / wifi

Driving In My Car

Posted on 15th April 2007

Yesterday was "The Pride of Longbridge Rally". It started with a large gathering of cars at Hopwood Services, junction 2 of the M42, followed by a long drive around the old MG Rover / Austin Rover works before turning into Cofton Park. It must have been slightly disheartening to see the disappearance of such a large part of the works. I tried to find some old pictures of what the place used to be like, but it's been a bit difficult. None of them really capture enough of the site as it was, so you can see how much has gone.

Then I discovered this photo of the plant from 1978, and this one from roughly the same time. The first photo faces west, whereas the second photo faces east. The large building at the top of the first photo, is the same large building in the lower part of the second photo. The white (it was really grey) bridge (The Conveyor Bridge) over the road in the centre of the first picture was where the car frames would be transported to the assembly line. Thankfully as Google Maps are based on data from around 2000, this satellite photo was taken just before the demolition started and you can see the areas of the site quite well. However, this image helps to identify the areas that have actually gone.

Take a good look at those photos. The bridge has gone, everything from the large building to the west of the Bristol Road has been flattened [West Works], the corner piece between Bristol Road and north of Longbridge Lane has long been flattened (in the Google Map photo it was used a temporary car park), and looking at the first photo, everything north of the white building at the bottom of the photo, north all the way to Longbridge Lane has also gone [North Works]. Also the area to the south of Groveley Lane and to the east of Lowhill Lane [East Works] has gone.

DanDan and I took a wander around the works and recorded how it looks now. I just wish I'd thought to have taken a tour around the site before demolition had begun. As we live less than a mile away from the site, we have been included in the plans for the area's future. There is a site Future 4 Longbridge that has been detailing the plans and recording all the responses from residents. The now proposed plan looks to be quite an interesting prospect. Whatever happens it's going to be a major change to the area.

Taking a step back, as mentioned at the start, it was also "The Pride of Longbridge Rally". DanDan and I had a walk round some of the early arrivals at Cofton Park, as the classic cars and more recent ones all lined up to show off their part in the Longbridge Legacy. I personally love the old classics and have always held a liking for Minis, but the more recent Allegros, Metros and numbered cars have never held a candle in my opinion, so we didn't stick around to watch them line up. Apparently there was entertainment lined up from a live band, but judging from the soundcheck, we didn't miss much. I'm sure everyone there had a good day, and it is great for the area of Longbridge to remember the part it has played in the history of the Motor Industry.

File Under: austin / birmingham / cars / coftonpark / longbridge / rover

Welcome To The Monkey House

Posted on 14th April 2007

Why Grango? That and how do you pronounce it have been asked every so often. I'll answer the latter first. It's pronounced "Gran" as in 'granny' or 'Gran Turismo', and "go" as in "to go somewhere".

The initial question begins several years ago. When DanDan was 2, he started making references to something he called The Grango. We had no idea what he meant, but he kept trying to tell us about it. We eventually got the gist that he was trying to describe the monster in a few nightmares he'd had. It was an odd description and because he didn't know enough words at the time, he struggled to give any clues as to what the creature was. Then a while later we happen to watch a nature programme on the TV and he pointed out The Grango. It was an Orang-utan. I don't think he did a bad job trying to say what it was all things considered.

When it came round to sorting out a new domain name for some server space I wanted, it seemed an obvious choice. It turns out others had thought of the name for other reasons, but the .org domain was available. In time I'll probably give the domain to DanDan, but for now it's proved handy for my Open Source work.

Another obvious choice was the title for this piece. Remember Animal Magnet? No, well it seems all the comments for this clip all remember hearing being played most nights at Edwards No.8 in Brum :)

File Under: dandan / labyrinth / website

I Go Swimming

Posted on 9th April 2007

We took DanDan and Ethne swimming on Saturday to Cocks Moor Woods Leisure Centre near Kings Heath. Unlike a traditional swimming pool, they have a wave machine and huge slide for older kids to slide down into a small deep pool.

It was a shame I couldn't film them as the pair of them were hilarious. DanDan wouldn't let go, despite Nicole teaching him how to doggy paddle. I also took him to the deep end so he couldn't touch the bottom, and got him to swim all the way back to the shallow end. Even though he kept saying "I can't do it" all the way, he still made it. I think was quite proud of himself afterwards.

Ethne on the other hand couldn't let go quick enough. She took great delight in telling everyone afterwards, "I floated, Ethne floated" :) I think she's going to be quite a natural swimmer.

File Under: dandan / ethne / family

Lights Out (Read My Lips)

Posted on 7th April 2007

A number of years ago (during the late 80s/early 90s), I followed a band called Katydids. The first night I ever saw them was at a small club in Coventry on the night England played Germany. As a consequence although they had a crowd, it wasn't as big as it might have been. However, it did mean I got to chat to the band and over the course of a few years I got to see them quite often. Alas as is the way of many great indie pop bands of that time, they broke up after a couple of great albums. Guitarist and songwriter, Adam Seymour, is now perhaps better known as the guitarist in The Pretenders.

During my time travelling around with the band, I got invited on guest lists and backstage, etc so it was only fair I help them out too. At one gig at The Marquee in London, Susie asked if I could do some filming. Seeing as it meant I got to hang out on stage, I jumped at the chance. Susie loved the art of film and had studied cinematography at one point, and had in her pocession a lovely 16mm cine camera. My Dad had one like it years ago. She wanted to capture short bursts of footage of the band playing live on stage, so it meant I got to stand on stage in interesting locations pointing the camera at each member of the band for about 20 seconds. The aim was to include some of it in a video.

Not sure why this crossed my mind the other day, but I wondered whether the film I shot ever got used? Although I've seen the videos to the early singles I'm not sure I ever got to see the later ones, as by that point I was touring with Ark a lot more and was rarely at home. It would be great to think some of it did get used.

After the band split up, I caught up with Adam and Susie a couple of times, but have long since lost touch. It's always great to see Adam on TV with The Pretenders and I'm sure Nicole must be sick of me saying, "I know Adam". The last time I saw Susie she was doing a solo acoustic tour and she gave me a tape she had produced as demo for a forthcoming album. As far as I know the album never got recorded, which is a shame as the demoes were really good.

Having looked at the Wikipedia entry to write this piece, I have now discovered that Katydids have a new website and that Susie Hug got to record her album and is still writing and recording :) This hopefully means she's also touring. I hope she still does some of the Katydids songs :) It's also lovely to read that Susie and Adam got married too, as last time I spoke to them they had just got engaged.

There were some great pop songs from that early 90s era of British indie pop, it was real shame that the music business were too interested in making instant millions.

File Under: music / roadie

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