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Thu, 28 Oct 2004

Cache Time stamps - 18:44
This diary entry is about a new blosxom plugin I wrote, you can find the files related to this here (the files are cache_timestamps (the plugin) and (a helper program).

I complained once or twice a while back about time stamp handling in blosxom. My complaints were centred around relying on the timestamp on the file system to work out he date of an entry and the order of all the entries. There are already some plugins that get around this in some manner, such as entries_index by the blosxom author, and entries_index_tagged (not available from the link there, google can find it).

The entries_index plugin keeps a cache of the time stamps of diary entries and uses the time stamps in the cache by preference. It adds time stamps for new files as they are found. This way if the time stamps change at a later date due to an edit or similar the cache retains the old time stamp.

The entries_index_tagged does the same as entries_index and takes it a step further. It allows you to have time stamps in some format in the diary entry header area. Read the code/docs if you want to know the details.

I wanted the capabilities of entries_index_tagged, with a slightly different way to read time stamps from the entries, also using the same format cache as the two already written. This way like entries_index_tagged if the cache is deleted it will still use the saved time stamps in the files rather than the system time stamps when it finds time stamps in the files. The reason I wanted a different format was I had already been adding time stamps to my diary entries since September as an html commented time stamp on the second line of the file (after the heading). For example <!-- 2004-10-28 19:56:32 -->. Also a few people suggested it would be cool if the plugin had the option to add such a tag to the entries if there was not one using the file system time stamp the first time it sees the file.

So I wrote the module, it works fine for all but adding the time stamps to the entries. The problem here is you need write access to the entries in order to add text to them. Also even with write access the utime(2) system call can not change the time stamp back to what it should be after editing the file unless you also own the file.

Anyway I ended up writing a small helper program that could theoretically be run from cron or similar as the owner to add the files time stamps and reset the mtime. This means you have the functionality even if you do not give write access to your diary entries by the web server uid.

With the add time stamps capability you can rely on the first time stamp being added so even if the file system time stamps get messed up at some point all files will have a time stamp and you need not remember to add one to each entry.

[/comp/blosxom] link

That lost feeling of being disconnected - 14:39
Two computer issues to deal with just now. First before heading out for my lunch time mtb ride today, I was unable to save a perl program I was editing on my laptop in emacs. Looking /proc/mounts I found the partition was read-only, /var/log/syslog said something about an ext3 error. Fortunately I was able to save the work I was doing to another partition, I decided to deal with it when returning from the ride and lunch, pretty simple, log out of my account and unmount and e2fsck the filesystem, mostly annoying more than anything else this time, though file system errors are a stark reminder of the need to backup often.

Upon returning from lunch I found I was unable to connect to calyx (, I rang the Co-location people and they said they had some problem with router upgrades (un announced and un scheduled) and noticed the route to the colocated machines was not working. It is now back up, however for a little while I felt all lost and alone, unable to receive email or any of that. Maybe I am too dependant on connectivity, time to go to an IA meeting. <g>

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Wed, 27 Oct 2004

Unable to grok %indexes - 14:17
I am finally writing two blosxom plugins I have wanted to use for a while, none of the existing plugins are exactly what I want. (NIH syndrome possibly)

One of the plugins which creates a new entries sub routine is supposed to return %files and %indexes. Looking at the example code of existing blosxom plugins it is easy enough to work out what %files does, however %indexes is beyond me. Fortunately it is only used with static rendering, so I guess I can just leave a bug in the plugin that it will not work with static rendering.

The documentation for plugin developers is not too helpful, all it says is "The subroutine should return references to a hash of files and another of indexes to be built (in the case of static rendering)." and "When run, the subroutine returns references to the files it found and indexes to be constructed when building statically"

I could of course read the blosxom source (only 444 lines) to work it out, though I do not know if I care enough currently, I don't intend to statically render my blog and this is to scratch my own blog itch.

[/comp/blosxom] link

Tue, 26 Oct 2004

24 Hour Race Solo report - 17:04
I finally put my report online of my experience riding in the 24 hour race solo this year. Fun was had. No photos yet, I may add some later.

[/mtb/events] link

Event season is upon us once more. - 11:34
Every year in October/November/December the number of cycling events and other events that are fun to compete in ramps up and I suddenly find every weekend I have to choose which events I want to do.

My schedule for the next 4 weekends in a row is as follows.

  • Sunday 31st October: Fitz Epic
    Every year Pedal Power host the Fitz Challenge and the easier ride options. This year they introduced the new, longer, more difficult, hillier Fitz Epic. 215 KM up all the biggest climbs that can be found on bitumen in the ACT. The time limit they set is 12.5 hours, many of us who have entered doubt we can complete the ride under that limit.
    From Tharwa, Out to the end of the bitumen up Fitz and up from Glendale crossing, back down and then up to the Orroral Valley road. Over Fitz in the reverse direction and up to Honey Suckle creek, which is arguably the toughest climb in the ACT. Back through Tharwa and out to Cotter, back up Pierces creek roll through to the Corin Dam turn off and do that 12 KM climb, on down to the dam, turn around and head back to Tharwa.
  • Saturday 6th November: 2004 Gravity 12 Hour
    I competed in this event last year (good photos, race report) with Sam and Ben, I made the mistake of not consuming enough liquids and suffered pretty bad dehydration. (35 degree heat all day) Upon my return to Canberra I went to the hospital and was finally able to eat food again after having 3 bags of saline pumped into me.
    This year I am competing with Ben and Mikey, I will definitely be drinking as much as I can all day to avoid the same mistake as last year.
  • Sunday 14th November: 2004 Urban Polaris
    I have competed in this event the last two years (2002, 2003) since it moved to Canberra. Like a mini Polaris in the city, not particularly challenging on the navigation front, but a lot of fun no matter what. I hope to compete with Richard Bontjer this year.
  • Sunday 21st November: 2004 Triple Triathlon
    Again I have competed in his event, doing all three bikes legs, the last two years (2002, 2003)). Though there is no technical challenge to the riding I really enjoy the event, getting huge numbers of people out there competing in different disciplines all over Canberra is simply a lot of fun. I just hope it is not as wet/muddy as last year.
There are more events I could do on into December also, though I may feel like taking it a bit easier by then.

[/mtb/events] link

Mon, 25 Oct 2004

Which doctor? - 15:00
Found a link to one of those online quizzes that seem so popular currently. This one to discover which incarnation of Dr Who you are. My result was

The Fourth Doctor
You are the Fourth Doctor: A walking Bohemian conundrum with a brooding personal magnetism and a first-rate intellect concealed somewhere beneath your charmingly goofy exterior. You are perhaps the most terribly clever of all the Doctors, though your occasional bouts of childishness get you in trouble. You never go looking for a fight, but when someone messes with you... good heavens, are they ever sorry they did.

Which Incarnation of the Doctor Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Which pleased me as Tom Baker was and is my favourite Dr Who, however I begin to wonder if, knowing what the aim of the quiz was, did I answer questions (whether consciously or sub consciously) with the aim of this outcome. Anyone else try, or have thoughts on this sort of outcome with quizzes such as this?

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Hacking code anywhere - 14:03
I had forgotten I found Neil Gaiman's blog until I ran my planet and read the output today. Neil comments that he loves being a writer, as unlike many professions, you can write anywhere. In his words

Some jobs like for example being an astronaut you can only do in special places like in for example space rockets or outer space or somewhere like that eg the moon. If you were trying to be an astronaut in the supermarket people would just laugh at you and say What Is He Doing Is He Absolutely Barking Mad Or What?
Interestingly free software hackers have a similar freedom, more so than those working on proprietary software. Developers working on proprietary software may often be encumbered by limitations on the source code being allowed out of the carefully controlled environments with in the company network/buildings. For free software developers you can hack anywhere, it can be argued you do not even need a computer and network and power to work as you can develop your ideas alone or in discussions in the pub or anywhere else. Being a writer or being a free software developer, you can express yourself creatively just about anywhere.

This all brings to mind the Dr. Seuss story "Green Eggs and Ham".

Would you like them in a house?
Would you like them with a mouse?
Would you eat them in a box?
Would you eat them with a fox?

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Successful blog hints... - 10:54
I found this link describing some points on what makes a successful blog. They seem relevant and accurate, also the comments there tend to agree.

[/various] link

It's official - the Platypus is weird. - 09:25
The above is a headline for a story on the ABC news website. All I can say is, don't we all wish we could have a story about us with a title as good as that.

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Thu, 21 Oct 2004

Minutes online wihin 20 minutes of the meeting close. - 20:52
Yay for Tony for writing them well. We are working on the changes we want to make for the registration system for this year. Of course I felt it necessary to remind people we want some fun ideas for humorous or just quirky things for the conference which may need to be included here. Such as the cool badges they had at the Perth lca. If anyone has any ideas for in jokes, please don't hesitate to email us (, if you suggest a good one we probably wont even tell you <g>

In other news, in what could possibly be a record we got through the business for tonight in 1 hour and 1 minute.

[/lca] link

Thu, 07 Oct 2004

Minutes and copious action items. - 21:17
Tonight's lca meeting is finished, I am sitting in the tea room at dcs still working on getting some minutes and action item data up onto our wiki and fighting sleep. Bob and Andrew are still here working on making debian more functional on Bob's tablet pc. I should seriously consider a large amount of sleep due to the solo effort at the 24 hour mtb race this weekend. However I need to get these minutes and action items out there so I can forget about it for the weekend and the rest of the lca crew can do cool stuff.

[/lca] link

Wed, 06 Oct 2004

Solo Circulation - 23:49
This weekend the Mont Australian 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race is being held here in Canberra. I am competing in the race as a Solo entrant this year. This means it is up to me whether I go fast, slow, rest, sleep, whatever during the race. My current plan is to simply circulate at a comfortable or easy pace for as long as I can and see what happens.

Tonight I had my friend Prue visit who will be supporting me during the race. Preparing food, mixing sports drink, handling charging of light batteries and various other Sundry tasks. Prue seems keen though somewhat intimidated once she realised the size of the event. With around 5000 people at the race site during the start on Saturday, 2176 riders competing in the race, 524 teams, almost 100 of which are solo entrants this is a big event.

Last year over 7,000 laps were completed of a 17 KM course, the distance ridden collectively was over 111,000 KM, or almost three times the circumference of the Earth. The course this year is 19KM to allow for the increase in team numbers from 440 to 520, the stats will go up a bit due to this.

I guess I am rambling to some extent because I do wonder what I have gotten myself into. This race is a lot of fun, I hope it is still fun, though knowing me I will still have fun, I simply tend to redefine my definition of the term fun from time to time.

[/mtb/events] link

Hoping the timing works out - 23:41
So the new CFP closing date is 12th October. Once this closes the CFP committee have until the beginning of November to work through submissions. Then we have until mid November to decide on the preliminary program to the extent that we have filled spots to show people when registrations open on November 16. I am hoping working out this aspect of the programming is not going to be too arduous and the somewhat tight timing of all these events works out in the end. Of course it is likely good practice for us all to try and get stuff done quickly.

Other aspects of the program can still be varied, we are considering running some sessions until 6pm, or possibly some lighting talks or poster sessions while other sessions are on. Brad Hards has been thinking of a whole lot of different variations and the pros and cons for a long time now so it will be fun to see what we decide to do when the conference rolls around.

[/lca] link

More riding to work - 12:34
Returning to the discussion on commuting to work I have been having with Chris, I admit people who really enjoy cycling are those more likely to commute by bike, I still do suggest for many it would often be one of the more effective modes of transport available.

Chris commented that for most people it really would be slower by bike rather than car. As an example he suggested someone living in Belconnen and working in the Parliamentary triangle would be hard pressed to take longer by car for the commute to work. He is correct, however just to be sure I spoke with a cycling friend about it to get some figures. Julie Quinn I should admit is not entirely average, being a world champion in Rogaining and a multiple winner of of the Polaris Challenge and the Urban Polaris, among many other achievements. However Julie rides to work at a slow easy pace, the sort of pace mere mortals like the rest of us can maintain. Anyway the commute from Macquarie to the Parliamentary triangle takes Julie about 30 minutes at this easy pace. If she includes her shower and getting changed and settled at her desk it is 50 minutes from the door at home to sitting a the desk. Admittedly in Canberra traffic if it is not peak time, the drive to work is 15 or 20 minutes for Julie. Shower wise many people will need a shower in the morning anyway, so it may not be entirely fair to factor shower time into a bike commute time. Julie can probably do the commute to work in around 20 minutes bike bike if she really needs to. Just as I can commute from home to the Woden hospital by bike in 20 minutes if I really need to.

Anyway Canberra is a bit of a special case as we have light traffic, which makes bike riding more pleasant, however it also allows cars to get places faster and means there i not such a large parking penalty near work places. Due to this I got some feedback from friends in Sydney as to their commuting details. Again both of them are cyclists and it should be taken into account that they both love riding bicycles. John Stevenson works for Cyclingnews and has in the past 20 or 30 years worked for various bike magazines, and bike shops and other such places in the industry in Australia and the UK. Dave Hughes who I also asked for some data is also heavily into cycling and has done 24 hour races solo and other such things.

It will be easiest to simply quote what John and Dave said to me directly.

John Stevenson

My run is 26.5km. I've done 57:30, door to door for the inbound and a shade under an hour for the run home. Typically more like 1:05 each way. Interestingly as I have gotten fitter recently the difference has reduced, which says something about the effect of hills on commute times, as it's the homeward run that's gotten quicker.

Best case public transport is ride bike to Sutherland station, catch fast train, ride bike from Redfern to office: 50 minutes if I cut things *very* fine. Walk-train-walk is more like 1:15 so the bike clearly wins even when you take ten minutes at the office to shower and change.

I drive in very very seldom. 40-45 minutes door-to-door is going really well and not doable in peak hour, when it can take over an hour, factoring in finding somewhere to bloody park. And then there's the Repo Man[1] effect on my psyche...

[1] "The more you drive, the less intelligent you become"

Dave Hughes.

23 km bike, record 48 minutes, normally around 55 min. Call it an hour even by the time I lock up the bike and get to my desk. Shower happens after an hour or so of checking stuff.

2km walk to station, ~40 minute train, 5 min walk to office. Basically 1:00 to 1:05, depending on Shitty Rail. Need to have a shower before I go, so I tend to leave 10 minutes after I would on the bike.

Car - it's non peak, so if I could park in the building ($$$$$) it's about 25-30 minutes.

I've done it in peak hour, including a bus to the station. It doesn't save much time over walking to the station, by the time you wait for the bus etc. Bike tends to be ~5 minutes slower, at a guess (I'm fitter as well, but an hour was a pretty common time for me back then), and car is around 50 minutes plus parking, etc.


27km bike, more hills, record 1:01, normally 1:10 or so. Need to get changed at the office, so call it 1:15 door to door.

Train - crap time of day, so often end up waiting 20 minutes for the train. Generally somewhere around 1:10, often blowing out to 1:30. Downhill walk from the station, but it's still a walk... Also have to put up with the school kiddies on the train (ie, don't always get a seat, though it's rare not to).

Car - last time I did it by car it was around 55 minutes, I think. I did it by Taxi not that long ago, and it took about 1:00, thanks to Friday afternoon traffic.

If I get straight on a train, with a decent book, it's fairly relaxing. But I've rarely felt as good as I do when I bike. Cars are fun, but not in traffic. You've seen the photos to prove I'm a petrol head...

So yeah in Canberra lack of traffic can make the bike commute less effective, though I suspect more enjoyable due to not having to fight the traffic so much, and having many options to travel on bike paths or even off road to and from work. Sydney evens the times a bit between car and bike, and even with very good public transport it can be difficult time wise. In Sydney one technique that is fairly effective is riding from home to a train station, getting a train, and riding from the other end to the office. This gives a shorter time and part of the trip by bike. Canberra does not have effective public transport so that would never be an option.

[/mtb] link

Fri, 01 Oct 2004

Drug testing not open enough? - 18:40
The US professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton has recently been suspended on charges of blood doping. I don't know whether he is innocent or not, however it is interesting to look at some of the issues related to the new test he was apparently caught by.

When the news first hit Cyclingnews carried some of the details, in particular this paragraph.

Tyler Hamilton's case is the first ever positive for a blood transfusion, as up until very recently, doping via this method has been undetectable. A powerful blood test developed by Australian researchers was implemented at this year's Tour de France. The test didn't look for a particular banned substance, but instead examined whether there were any abnormalities in a person's blood as a result of artificial manipulation. At the Tour, it was announced that homologous blood transfusions could be detected, but autologous transfusions could not.

Of note is that it is a recently developed test and this is the first time anyone has ever been caught with this test. That would not be so bad, however it appears there may indeed be serious problems with this test. Cyclingnews spoke with Dr Michael Ashenden (this interview also contains a good glossary of terms on the issue). In this interview the Dr was very closed about some details of the test. Today some researchers and specialists in the field commented (search for the letters "The new blood test #1", "The new blood test #2", "The new blood test #4" and The new blood test #5) in the Cyclingnews letters columns.

First it is interesting to note "Clinical trials for a diagnostic product used in a hospital require 10-20,000 repetitions for approval", however if the papers on this method are to be believed this test has only been performed on a sample of 45 people known to have had transfusions and it was not tested on people known not to have had transfusions. Thus there is no knowledge of the possible false positive rate. (the letters I reference above discuss this much better than I). A noteworthy quote from one of the letters. attributed to Dr Ashenden of "Science and Industry Against Blood Doping".

He said they will not reveal all the details of new tests, moreover, "Dick Pound [head of the World Anti-Doping Agency] has said that we don't have to announce a test before we start using it," says Ashenden. "Athletes will know when it is developed because they will be caught. If an athlete chooses to carry on using a particular form of doing when they know we are bringing in a test, they will be caught."

This approach is flat out wrong. In order to restore confidence to the cycling world, dope testing has to be open, transparent, and extensively validated by professional peer review like any other medical standard. This essential process cannot be discarded in an effort to keep ahead of the team docs. Cycling cannot tolerate any doubt in the integrity of the process, even less than we can tolerate doubt in the integrity of athletes.

The test development process must be improved. It's true that the development of tests is in the hands of scientists, but its management is not. I would be much more comfortable with the anti-doping process if it were managed by a professional medical body rather than a quasi-political or commercial body like the UCI or IOC. They need to turn over this process to more independent groups before it's too late to repair the damage to the credibility of the tests and our best hope for recovery.

I comment on all of this to a large extent as it appears the information about the test is being kept secret and that is in itself damaging the entire process. This whole episode reeks of what computer people call Security by Obscurity, and as we all know that really never works in the long run.

[/various] link

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