Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Caps lock

I hate caps lock. I've never found it useful, and if my finger hits it when
I'm aiming for the shift key, my typing from then on is ALL CAPITALS and I
don't notice because I look at the keyboard when I'm typing. And then I have
to backspace it all out and retype it.

So I normally disable the CAPS LOCK key on any computer I use regularly. There's a few ways to do that, you don't need to lever it out with a crowbar.

The usual way is with xmodmap.

xmodmap -e "clear Lock"
xmodmap -e "remove lock = Caps_Lock"

Another way is with  setxkbmap

setxkbmap -option caps:none
setxkbmap -option ctrl:nocaps

But none of those worked on my lovely new Lenovo Thinkpad X1. So I Googled.

The first thng I found out is that the keyboard doesn't actually have a caps lock key. That, I heartily approve of. If you want to set caps lock, you hit the shift key twice, an led comes on, and you're in CAPS LOCK.

But I don't want to use the laptop's own keyboard. It's a bit minging. I want to plug in a decent keyboard, with the standard layout that I'm used to.

I remember once I was looking at a new car, and the layout of the controls was ... different. The salesman explained to me "You'll soon get used to it" to which my reply was "I guess you only ever drive one car, right?" Well, I use lots of computers, and my fingers know where everything is on the keyboard, and I do *NOT* want to be fumbling all the time because the layout is different.

So I want to put one of my beautiful old (vintage 1983) IBM "buckling spring" keyboards on it. But they have a PS/2 interface, so the first thing I had to do was use a converter for PS/2 to USB. No problem, I have a couple of those.

Then I wanted to disable CAPS LOCK and that where I ran into trouble. Eventually I found an answer. It's the gnome-tweak-tool, which is useful for all sorts of tweaks to Gnome (the Linux user interface I use). What you have to do is choose the "Keyboard" option, then "Additional layout options", then change Caps Lock key behavior from "Disabled" to "Caps Lock is disabled".

No, I don't have an explanation about why "Disabled" is different from "Caps Lock is disabled". It's just one of those mysterious things.

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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Service Unavailable

Service Unavailable

The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.

This is what I saw when I tried to access my server. So I looked at the log.

Permission denied: AH01257: unable to connect to cgi daemon after multiple tries: /home/drsolly/pub/dbwebmin.cgi

Html files worked OK, it was only cgis. I spent about an hour faulot-finding and trying to diagnose, and I'm pretty sure it was the result of a Fedora upgrade. And I couldn't see how to fix it.

Eventually, I decided to re-download, recompile and reinstall Apache (my web server). And that fixed it.l

Oops brexit

One of the biggest problems about Brexit, was always going to be Ireland. Before I explain the problem, I need to explain a bit about the history.

It all started about a thousand years ago. But moving rapidly past all that (and there was a lot of history, which you can read up on if you want), In 1922, The Republic of Ireland (Eire) came into being. That was the whole of the island of Ireland, except six counties in the north, which we call "Ulster" or "Northern Ireland" which remained part of the UK.

The Irish weren't entirely happy about that, but a majority of Ulster folks wanted it that way, so that's how it went. the usual British understatement. It was absolutely beastly, a civil war.

We had a situation in the 1970s when the IRA, supported by donations in North America (Noraid), was bombing Belfast (the capital of Ulster) and also places in England, because they wanted Ulster to be part of Eire. Meanwhile, the majority of Ulster folks wanted to stay in the UK.

We call this "The troubles", with the usual British understatement. It was absolutely beastly, a civil war.

This went on for years and years, and pretty much everyone was heartily sick of it. In 1988, an agreement was made, called "The Good Friday agreement". This was a compromise between the UK, Eire, the IRA and the UDF (the protestant version of the IRA). By the way, this wasn't really about religion.

And everyone breathed a sigh of relief, coupled with crossed fingers and toes, in the hope that peace would hold. It might not have - there were people on both sides who really didn't like the compromise, but there were a *lot* of people who were fed up with living in a war zone.

And it did hold. From then until now, Ulster is at peace. You can go shopping in Belfast. You can drive from Belfast to Dublin without being stopped for passport, customs or anything else. It's great! We went to Cork (right at the south of Eire) for a holiday this summer, and had a great time. And one of the things we learned there, is that the EU has been really great for Eire.

So, now Brexit. The UK (including Ulster) leaves the EU, but Eire is still EU. Suddenly there's a land border between the UK and the EU. And when we leave the EU, there won't be free movement of people between the UK and the EU, or of goods, or of services, or of capital. So how do we handle the border?
The Eire folks are *very* keen that the border be totally open. We don't want a return to the Troubles. Customs posts would make prominent targets for bombing.

The Ulster folks want totally open borders with the rest of the UK, and you can see their point - they are part of the UK, and want to stay that way
But you can't have totally open borders between the UK and the EU. That's the whole point of leaving the EU. So we have mutually incompatible requirements.
Can we just ignore what Eire wants? No, because Eire is part of the EU, and they can veto any arrangement we make with the EU unless they're happy, and they won't be happy unless there's an ironclad agreement for open borders with Ulster.

Can we ignore what Ulster wants? That's what we usually do, but in this case, Theresa May messed up the recent election so badly that the government is dependent on the ten votes

by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who will not be satisfied with anything less than open borders between the UK and Ulster.

So how did we get ourselves into this pickle? It was always obvious (to some of us) that the Eire/Ulster border was going to be a problem, and we were looking forward to seeing what rabbit Theresa would produce from her hat.

Now it turns out there's no rabbit. And no hat.

Friday, 1 December 2017

New laptop, continued

The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon arrived. I started it up and it booted into Windows 10. I spent a few minutes fruitlessly trying to play with Cortana, then decided to install Linux without further ado.

First, I copied down the product key, so I could put Win 10 back on if I needed to (and I downloaded a copy from the Microsoft web site, and burned it onto a DVD). Then I powered off and on again ... and it went straight into Windows without offering me a chance to interrupt the boot up process. And there are no function keys; they are all soft keys. Um. I need to get in to the Bios to tell it to boot from the DVD.

I powered up the external DVD drive, and put a Fedora 27 64 bit net install CD in the drive. Then I did a bit of rooting around the internet. I found that what you do is power it off, then power it on and hold down the power button. Oh joy! Oh rapture unconfined - the boot menu came up, and it was easy for me to find where it lets you boot from an external USB DVD drive. So I did.

Fedora 27 installed like a piece of cake.

I don't like the touchpad (it's a very good touchpad, I just don't like them much) and the little stick thing in the middle of the keyboard is even worse, but it was happy to use my Microsoft optical mouse.

I'm not keen on laptop keyboards either, the geometry is all wrong compared with what I'm used to. It's good enough for a bit of work, but for any real amount of typing, I want a full sized keyboard, in the layout that my fingers expect. The Thinkpad will accept any USB keyboard, so that's not a problem.

Overall - I'm delighted. For £299 (more like £240 before VAT, £1300 when new)) I have a laptop that's pretty much as good as my usual desktop. 8gb memory, 240 gb of SSD storage, a 2560 by 1440 screen, although slightly cramped on the screen size at 14 inches.

I notice they are still some on sale but the price is now £399.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Samba sorrows

Today's hard-won tip, after struggling for a week.

I couldn't smb-mount one server on another. I've been upgrading all my servers to the latest Fedora 27, but I didn't upgrade one of them, because ... I'm chicken. If that server fails I'm up to my neck in deep water.

I tried rebooting it. I tried using nfs instead of Samba, but that gave me a readonly mount, and I couldn't work out why.

Eventually, I added ",vers=2.1" to the options, and that did the trick. It seems that Fedora 27 tries to use a version of the Samba protocols that Fedora 22 can't understand, and instead of saying "Oh, OK, I'll use an older protocol then" it just fails with the obscure message "mount error(5): Input/output error".

New screen

While I was looking for a new laptop, I also considered getting one with a fairly naff screen, and buying a separate monitor, and that led me to explore eBay's screen offerings.

The first thing I noticed, is that there's a lot of 3840 by 2160 monitors. I'm currently using a 27 inch 2560 by 1440 screen, and 3840 by 2160 would be nice. You can get them for £240 in 27 inch, but I'm thinking that the text would then be really small. And to get a monitor that's 40 inches, costs £560, which is a lot.

I rummaged some more, and found lots of 4k UHD monitors, and then a little light bulb went on in my head.

Back when I was running a Sinclair Spectrum (35 years ago), I plugged it into the TV; that was how they were supposed to be used. Even the original IBM PC (33 years ago) could be attached to a TV, with a terrible resolution (625 lines of PAL was roughly 320 by 240 pixels), and I don't know anyone who actually did that.  But modern TVs can be 4K UHD. Wait-a-minute ... WAIT A MINUTE!

So I rummaged around the internet some more, and I found that John Lewis sold a 4K UHD TV for £329, including delivery. It's a Toshiba television. It has Wifi, 3 USB ports and 4 HDMI ports, and it's the HDMI that I plan to use. If I have a video card that does HDMI 2.0 (and I have at least one such card) then I can get 3840 by 2160 pixels with a 60 Hz refresh rate. The screen is 43 inches, which is a *lot* bigger than my current 27 inches.

It weighs 14 kg with the stand.

Several years ago, I treated myself to a Sony W900 CRT monitor, which was 1920 by 1200 (and in those days, that was *wonderful*. It weighed 90 pounds, I could barely lift it, and it cost about £1000. I loved it to much that when it went dead because of a nearby lightning strike, I bought a replacement. But when the replacement eventually failed, I went entirely to LCD monitors.