Sunday, May 1, 2005

This Blog Needs Photos!

Hmmm... again I realize this blog needs a bit of visual livening-up...

My digital camera is pretty crap (whaddaya expect for ~$US100 a coupla years ago :) )... and I think I've probably fried the CCD (light-sensitive chip wot takes da pickies) due to sun exposure - it has no Iris or shutter :( ... I'd like to get a better one but can't really afford it just now - so whatever appears here will necessarily be somewhat ... er ... 'artistic' :)

I'll start soon with some (pre-existing) photos from my cousin's wedding, methinks.

Once I set things up here properly I'll likely start to do some Audio-Visual stuff and maybe some regular 'driving-around-Auckland' Podcasting ... fer all'a'youse Furriners out there :)

Firewalls - Monowall, Smoothwall

I downloaded a couple of (CD ISO) images of free firewalls last night - Monowall and Smoothwall - after hearing about them from the In The Trenches (System Administrators' podcast) interview with Mike Sweeney, author of Internet Security with Linux (check this and add hyperlinks!).

I'd used vanilla Linux - Debian, RedHat or Mandrake - stripped to the essentials and using iptables as the firewall - but haven't delved into more 'modern' ways of doing things - I'd seen RedWall used at a previous job but not been directly involved. I'm hoping the GUI front-ends on these things will make things a little less tedious to configure.

I want to set up a DMZ with mail, web and possibly other servers - and probably speed up DNS and do some web proxying/caching... and tighten up things a bit - especially since there are Windows machines in here - I might isolate those off onto their own network segment (and if I'm really feeling paranoid, install VPN on all the machines here)...

...oh, and I almost forgot, I want to put up Wi-Fi access for the house (and possibly for guests) without opening a can of worms.

So when I get some spare time, I'll be installing one of the above-mentioned firewalls (maybe some others if they take my fancy) and some NIC's, in a spare PC or 2 here (sidenote: 'twould be nice to shrink it to an ARM-based board to save power costs eventually) and play with configuring and securing them.

Watch this space...

Back Into the Walking...

Went for a decent walk again last night - after a break of about 2 weeks due to general wimpiness and lethargy... we've had a cold snap and I've been flat-out busy (excuses, excuses...)

Went out around 6pm (still twilight) and covered about 8km (9500 steps odd per pedometer)...

...stopped into the local Foodtown supermarket and picked up a vacuum-pack 'brick' of some nice coffee on the way back - Melitta (? -- I'll check) Hazelnut Dream... not half bad (a little reminiscent of an Irish Cream, but "it's a bit nutty!" .... no Austin, not *that* kind of nutty ... [ewww!!] )...

The first section of the walk is maybe a 1-in-30 uphill slope for the first kilometre (~half-mile) or so; I noticed I was breathing 'solidly' - but none of the slightly-panicky breathlesness of the past...

I pushed reasonably hard initially - gradually eased off in the latter stages. The downhill km or so near the end is a welcome relief...

Some pain in the calves and achilles region... this seems to be fading and/or I'm learning to push through it... hard to tell, since I've been a dyed-in-the-wool Couch Potato / Desk Nerd since word go... I still think Sadistic Bastard Phys Ed teachers are a good way to inoculate kids against exercise - an excess of the 'no pain, no gain' mantra in operation...

My feet felt swollen & tender in the soles - this is likely to diminish as I persist, my circulation improves and my weight drops (less load!)...

Listened to a couple of "On the Pod's" on my MP3 player as I went - very enjoyable to walk to - relaxed and chatty, but with a fair amount of info gleaned from the experience... thanks, Cam and Mick!

I'll get a GPS receiver before long, methinks - the cheapest reasonable one I know of is shaped like a mushroom (like those Furuno Radar installations on fishing trawlers)... that'll make an excellent fashion statement sitting on top of my beanie as I stroll, no? :) - and log the actual location of the walk on a map - and calculate some stats... watch this space.

Someone left a Comment -- Huzzah!!!

Kewl - someone left a comment on my blog - a milestone!!! Thanks for the encouragement, Rob!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Cholesterol Lowered already?

Had a blood test session Thursday morning... my GP has the results back, but I only got a brief indirect summary of them so far - it looks like the increased Statin drug regime, with the walking and *some* adjustment to my diet is paying off already. I *think* the other doctor-partner said my total cholesterol was down to 5.9 (mmol/l ? - not sure what the units are here - apparently they are different from the US ones).

I'll see properly on Tuesday arvo', when I have an appointment with my GP.

Hopefully the total triglycerides (fats!!) will be way down - here's hoping.

I would like to minimize the amount of drugs I have to load up on... from personal and national fiscal points of view, but also because I feel the long-term (side)effects of any drugs are likely to be non-beneficial... better to fix the cause(s) than just squash the symptoms...

"The Symptoms".... daaa di di di diiii di di di diii daaahhh"


I must not blog bad puns
I must not blog bad puns
I must not blog bad puns

"Yes there are two paths you can go by..."

I've figured out a couple of alternative 'circuits' to walk - the short one is about 8km (5 miles) by my rough reckoning - the long one maybe 13km (8 miles)...

my son has come with me twice on the long one, IIRC.

It's amazing how much it clears the mind - alternatively, how many ideas occur to me during the journey.

I will need to learn how to use the voice note-taker on my MuVo TX... so I can capture them for later processing and hopefully implementation.

One idea I did retain without hi-tech help, was that I could use GPS and my PDA (under battery repair presently) to plot the course of the walks and measure pretty much exact distance... and a coupla other things which I ain't disclosing here :)


I've been walking about 2 nights a week - still a ways off my target of 5, but definite progress... I'm starting to feel guilty if I miss a night or 2.

I feel stronger and more alert already - though some of this has been offset by the occasional late night...

... Note to self : NO MORE NIGHTOWL!!



I'm working fulltime for a while doing some enhancements to an inhouse database/MRP program in Tcl/Tk ... looks very good so far, the more I read on Tcl/Tk the more I like it.

Nice to be able to put bread on the table, too!

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Tact, n.
The discretion one tends to exhibit more when one is not Hammered...

- Roger Barraud

I've Been Working on the.... Database

The prospect of (short-term) work panned out - since about Jan 6 I've been working on a smallish database project - telemarketing stuff (to businesses, in biz hours only - not that *other* kind we all hate)...

Using Microsoft Access 2000 and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

I used to be somewhat disparaging about VB programming - after all, it's not a *real* language like C or C++ or Pascal (a la Delphi) or Java.... not so sure anymore though. It's taken me longer to get confident with it than I had expected.

I think part of the problem is that there are many ways of doing the same thing with Access (and VBA) - and it's not always obvious which ways are best. The same is true of all programming, I guess.

Books help - I bought a total of 4 to help along with the project - some had code examples which were just plain *wrong* - not sure whether they were tested before being published (as screenshots full of code) - I think not.

The VB(A) environment is pretty nice in some ways - somewhat reminiscent of Delphi or C++ builder... but somewhat clunkier. Some of the completion stuff is annoying - it will give you a list of possible completions when you enter a '.' to start typing a member variable or function of an object - but if you fumble slightly it gives up ad you have to cursor back (or BS) back to the period in order to display the choices again.

There's heaps of stuff listed in the References (add-on stuff with extra controls etc.) - some of it apparently redundant (which version of DAO should I be using? - There are at least 2 - and there seems to be a third one which [replaces/extends?] one or both of the others).

Anyways, it's all a learning curve, and I've certainly learnt heaps in the last 6 weeks or so.

Some ideas floating around in my head (typical!) about how I would improve some stuff in Access - and abstractions of common patterns (how many times do I have to make a slightly-different Enter or Edit form?)... I guess that is where the value-add is in 3rd-party extensions and toolboxes.

Still have heaps more to learn - I hope to take some time to summarize some [IMHO] better ways of doing this kind of project.

Also have been playing with Squeak - a generously-licensed (free-ish) Smalltalk(-80) system for Linux and Windows - see

I'm impressed with a lot of the rhetoric surrounding Smalltalk - it's held a certain aura for me since the Aug 1981 BYTE magazine issue (virtually solely devoted to Smalltalk). Many of the more modern languages have used Object-Oriented paradigms, but have been encumbered with the dogma of strong typing (which I myself swallowed) - Alan Kay, one of the original Xerox PARC developers, thinks that computing has drifted off into side alleys since Smalltalk's inception - and has some scathing words about modern hardware architectures. One Smalltalk 1979 benchmark runs only 50 times faster on a modern CPU than back then - the hardware should run it about 50 *thousand* times quicker! - so something is out of whack by a factor of 1000! So is it the hardware architecture's fault, or are 'modern' programming languages to blame?

C++ seems to have some arcane (baroque, even) features and feature interactions - it's probably one of the harder computer languages to master. I can't help wondering whether a multiple-inheritance-augmented Smalltalk might be a more comfortable environment in which to achieve similar (Simula-r?) things.

I need to put some feelers out for some more work - I'm hoping to basically finish this database project tomorrow (and take a coupla days off).

...And so to bed.

Insomnia... d'Oh!!

I've just been talking (well, IM'ing) to Mick Stanic on Skype for a while - while slowly drifting into brain-blur... now I can't seem to get to sleep (too many ideas racing around inside me bonce)... so I guess I'll blog a bit while my Warm Milk (not TM, AFAIK - yet!) heats up in the microwave.

Quite a few ideas circulating around kicking some life into the Aussie Blogging Conference 2005 - which for the moment is deferred... so kicking a few suggestions around with Mick.

Suggested he get in touch with some NZ people - some of whom would like to be thought of as Visionaries (or in my case, Renaissance Man :) ) - perhaps a little Trans-Tasman Rivalry might spur some more-eager Aussie sponsorship (Don't mention the *Cricket* - I did once, but I think I got away with it...).

Random thought: The problem with being a Silly Bastard is that if you keep doing it and hang around awhile, you become a Silly Old Bastard...

The thought was partly prompted by looking again at my Fresh Petzolds picture below :)

It's time for some change - and hopefully this blog will become the story of a Silly Bastard who becomes somewhat less Silly and hopefully defers the effect of Old for a while longer...
... my main problems at present being high cholesterol and bad sleep habits - both likely heavily contributed to by a lack of exercise (mousing doesn't count)...

I've started (again) on a regime of walking - aiming at 10,000 steps per day, 5 days per week.
Haven't hit that yet - as witness the new pedometer I bought Sunday and clipped to my belt. First coupla days have averaged about 9000 steps each, not too bad... but I ended up with a left foot that felt broken yesterday morning - d'Oh!!

Resting it seems to have helped - last night and tonight. I should probably feel guilty :) - but I dont think that's a good motivator.

I walked maybe 8km around local streets Monday night - listening to the G'Day World Podcast. It sure makes exercising hugely less tedious and boring.

A few ideas involving Radio and Podcasting (but not in obvious ways) whizzing about in the Brain Department. Hmmmm...

The AnzacPad is hatched... watch this space!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Mmmm..... Fresh Petzolds....

These arrived today - my first new Petzold books for a few years (since 1995?).... Mmmmmm....

Programming in the Key of C#
Programming Windows with C# (Core Reference)

Happy Australia Day... and Happy Auckland Anniversary for Monday next!

27 degrees C here today - humid - feels about the same as 37 C in Sydney (with a Westerly at least)... enjoying it! :)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Weird, Man...

OK, just have to show you this...

Freaky, Dude!

(Chip off the old block?)

Monday, January 17, 2005

My Cousin's Wedding!

Went to my cousin's wedding and reception - excellent!

Hanging out with family - my brother and family, and my parents came up from Wellington (700km/440mi south of here) for the occasion.

My two nieces were flower girls and pretty much stole the show :)

I took about 85 pictures - I'll post some soonish.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Looks Like I May Have Some Work

Hmmm... looks like I may have a bit of work lined up - thru a friend locally here on the North Shore (of Auckland)...

A smallish marketing database in MS Access and VBA or VB...

...and some simple-ish HTML work....

...and maybe some technical-assistance work...

...all with different customers.

It all helps :)

I need to clarify what other avenues I don't want to fall by the wayside, i.e. not sacrificing the medium term for short-term gain.

The usual balancing act.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005


What the heck is Podcasting, I hear you ask... or if you ain't asking, I'll tell you anyways :)

Podcasting is the act of producing Podcasts.

Recently (August 2004 ?), several people (including Adam Curry and Dave Winer - now acknowledged as two of the 'pioneers' of Podcasting) formed a small community who produced short audio commentaries, as an adjunct to their blogs (Web Logs -> 'b'logs -> blogs).

These commentaries are integrated as mp3 audio file 'enclosures' into an RSS (Real Simple Syndication) 2.0 'feed' associated with a blog.

This means that essentially anyone with a computer connected to the Internet can 'subscribe' (via a special-purpose program such as iPodder, iPodderX or jPodder) to a number of such feeds, and have these short audio 'podcasts' automatically fetched (say, overnight) into their MP3 players (e.g. an Apple iPod - hence the name Podcast).

Having done this, the recipient is free to listen to (or skip over) the short programs at their leisure, using the MP3 player - while walking, cycling, driving, on airplanes, wherever the fancy takes them.

More recently, interest in this method of producing and distributing audio programs has exploded, and now major players in the broadcasting industry are sitting up and taking notice. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), long known for high-quality and well-researched news and documentaries, now themselves produce at least one (no doubt many more to come) podcast feed - 'In Our Time' with Melvyn Bragg (of The South Bank Show arts review fame).

At the other extreme of the scale, it's relatively simple now for anyone with a computer, sound card and microphone to produce their own Podcasts - and many people are doing just that. Consequently some are saying that this will lead to a democratic revolution in broadcasting - no longer will broadcasting be the domain of the media barons such as Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer and their ilk.

What I would recommend you do is to download and install one of the players available at or - then subscribe to a few feeds (there are preloaded lists in the 'Podder programs, and you can add more feeds as you discover them), download some podcasts and listen to them in the MP3 player in your computer - just to get a sampling of what's out there. Come on in, the Podcasting's fine!!

A warning though: there's no censorship (yet!), and some of the podcasts are more- or less-liberally peppered with profanities - so you'll want to vet these to your own tastes and standards before, say, you let your children start listening regularly. There's also a spread of political view; most of the ones I've heard so far tend to be rather leftish.... Your Mileage May Vary!!

Some of my favourites (you should be able to find these readily in the preloaded lists) are:

In Our Time - The above-mentioned, very eclectic discussion panel programme by the BBC.
The G'Day World Podcast - tech-related stuff, Aussie Slang lessons, and all manner of other tangents.
The Engadget Podcast - more techie stuff :) - about PDA's, smart phones, media players, TiVo's etc. in particular.
The Firesign Podcast - oldish American comedy from the 60's - mostly pretty innocuous from what I've heard so far.
Adam Curry's Daily Source Code - One of the pioneers - profanity alert! - Serves as a 'hub' with references to a lot of what is happening in the Podcasting world.
Career Opportunities - some sage advice on careers in the Hi-Tech industry (much of it valuable in any industry).

Your tastes will no doubt differ from mine - but the thing is, get in there and see for yourself - then if you want, make your own Podcasts and share them with the rest of us!

Happy Podcasting!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

MP3 Players

I bought our 3 children MP3 players for Christmas (belatedly - after our return from my folks' place in Upper Hutt (near the capital, Wellington)).

These are 128MB Creative MuVo's, which are basically a USB memory device as far as the PC (or Mac) you plug them into is concerned. You just drag and drop mp3 files into the folder (directory) representing the device. If you use something like CDex (from - search for CDex), you can convert songs from your personal CD's to mp3 files which you can then put into the player.

We have tried similar things with WMA (Windows Media Audio) files, with less success - the players supposedly support this, but I think there's some weirdness going on with DRM (Digital Rights Management) - as attempting to load the player device with pre-existing .wma files from Windows Media Player results in that program hanging while trying to 'Inspect' a file - Bah!!

Just dragging and dropping the .wma files into the player folder results in the player skipping or ignoring them... go figure!

Perhaps I'll have to do something drastic like read the manual ;-)

Anyway, .mp3 files converted with CDex from their own CD's, and Podcast mp3's are keeping the children happy at present.

We'll keep an eye on the battery consumption - which so far looks OK - other people have reported as little as 45 mnutes out of an AAA cell - mind you, they did say they liked their music really loud, and the battery life will depend very heavily on the volume (louder music, less playtime). I encourage our kids not to blast their ears out...
OTOH, others have said 12 hours :)

Matt reckons he has probably had 7 hours or so playing time so far... not that we're measuring it scientifically. We're still using the batteries that came with the players.

The sound quality is pretty good with the supplied 'bud' earphones.

Nice Day Out

Hello Bloggary....

Had a nice day out today (4th of January 2005 - public holiday in lieu of 2nd of January, which fell on a Sunday this year)... my family (minus elder girl who stayed home watching various drivel on TV) went to One Tree Hill Domain (about 12 miles or so south of home, other side of Auckland city). Had a picnic lunch with friends from Parnell, then climbed to the top of the hill (volcanic cone about 500 ft (160m?) above sea level). I was a bit breathless and tight-chested at times - I definitely need more regular exercise... my intention is to let podcasts and MP3 player alleviate the [potential] boredom of many future long walks.

There's an excellent view from the top - especially on a fine day like today - you can see a large part of Auckland city and suburbs. Dunno why I didn't think to take a photo up there - I did have the el-cheapo digi-cam with me. Tried my son out on local geography, pointing out various hills, the Sky Tower and such things - he has at least some idea of where things are now - if he'll let himself try (I think he's too scared of being wrong :( ).

Walked down the road back to the observatory area where we had lunch, beating the others (who took a grassy short-cut thru one of the breached craters) back by about 8 minutes. It's a lot easier walking down the hill :)

We then all went to a small park at the north end of Parnell, for a picnic tea (dinner/evening meal)... in our case via Subway to get some yummy, healthy sandwiches. Ate, played volleyball and stuff until it got dark... then back to our friends' place for tea (cuppa), then home about 10:30 pm.