The Song of Lunch

Just watched The Song of Lunch on BBC iPlayer. Catch it before it disappears. An excellent little mini-film, starring the classic and highly-talented Alan Rickman and the beautiful Emma Thompson, it is based on a poem by Christopher Reid. It’s almost entirely sensuous: based around the sights, the sounds, and the baser senses of revisiting a former lover. I really enjoyed it, and it didn’t bore me for any of its 45 short minutes. I related to many of Alan Rickman’s observations about the little nuances of visiting a restaurant, being a very frequent visitor myself, from the silly ritual of wine to the waiter-watching. A few laugh-out-loud moments in the script combine with the many emotional twangs it evokes to make for a powerful drama.

Turning off Resume from Hibernation in Ubuntu 10.04

I use dm-crypt on all my machines now, including laptops, to provide full-disk encryption. I also use it to encrypt swap partitions with a randomly-generated key. All of these are features that Ubuntu 10.04 provides out-of-the-box, at least when you use the alternate CD to install.

I also recently installed µswsusp on one of my laptops, a userspace hibernation facility. I didn’t really connect the dots until one day I left the laptop running, coming back to find it hibernated. When I tried to resume, the boot process hung as the kernel complained it couldn’t resume the image. After a facepalm moment (of course this wouldn’t work - the encryption key isn’t constant across boots -  you have to use a constant key if you want to get hibernation working), I eventually figured out how to book the machine: use the noresume parameter when booting the kernel.

The only thing blocking me from using this now was getting the Grub menu to come up so I could change that kernel boot line. It appears that in the switch to Grub 2, the key to do this changed to the Shift key, from the Esc key as it had been in Grub 1. After I managed to bring up the menu, I could boot the kernel without resuming the image. I then deinstalled µswsusp.

Huawei K4505 with Ubuntu 10.04

I just acquired a new Vodafone Mobile Broadband modem to replace an aging ExpressCard version I had that wasn’t working too well. It came in the form of a Vodafone-branded Huawei K4505 USB stick. It didn’t work completely out-of-the-box with Ubuntu 10.04, at first appearing unrecognisable. After some hunting, I discovered that these sticks initially present themselves as USB Mass Storage to allow you to install the Windows drivers. You have to give a few magic incantations on Linux to make them switch into modem mode:

sudo aptitude install usb-modeswitch
sudo usb_modeswitch -v 0x12d1 -p 0x1521 -M \
 55534243123456780000000000000011060000000000000000000000000000

Once the modeswitch command is executed, the USB stick will present itself as a modem and you can use the standard Ubuntu NetworkManager mechanisms to define your service provider and set up the connection. The stick should remember its state, and so you should only ever need the above utility (and command) once.

HTC Desire - Bad Points

Recently I acquired an HTC Desire, when seems to be the de-facto Android phone of the moment__. Generally, I love this phone - I wrote part of this blog post on it, and the quality of the hardware is frankly astonishing. Irritatingly, one can’t help but feel a little smug comparing it to the iPhone. However, I don’t want to become yet another mindless gushing fan. So instead of raving about it, I thought I’d provide some provide some constructive criticism on the aspects of the phone I don’t like so much:

  • The battery and power management needs some work. Like all smartphones, the Desire has plenty of battery-sucking components, such as GPS and WiFi. I spend more time than I should really have to turning these off and on manually to conserve power. For example, Google Maps should be able to turn the GPS on by itself, rather than rely on me to do it. Most software based solutions, such as Locale, JuiceDefender, and so on, simply don’t work reliably enough (for example, mobile data connections frequently won’t turn off or on): it’s obvious that Android isn’t exposing enough APIs and these applications therefore have to rely on hacks. Better built-in power management would be welcome.

  • The volume switch is really annoying. In theory, it’s nice to have a hardware control. But I find myself hitting it accidentally when holding the phone, and reducing the ring volume down to vibrate. Sometimes I don’t even notice. I’d prefer to see a soft volume control, less easy to hit accidentally.

  • The openness of the platform is in question. I can install whatever applications I want. However, I still have firmware on the phone that’s been mangled by both HTC and (in my case) Orange. The HTC modifications are fairly nice, but the pre-installed Orange applications are just irritating, and cannot be removed easily. Orange has a bad habit of mangling phones they ship; presumably they think they need to do this to ‘differentiate’ themselves.  Worse still, it turns out one can’t simply ‘reinstall’ the firmware: the closest process is to root the phone - an awkward and unsupported process I’ve yet to be brave enough to attempt.

  • Many of the pre-installed widgets are far too large (witness the SMS widget, which consumes an entire screen), with a lot of unnecessary chrome.

  • The Music app is a bit flaky and crashes once or twice a day.

Turning off Sametime Pop-ups

I use Lotus Sametime a lot at work, but it has an irritating feature that by default brings all conversations to the front whenever something new is added to them. Nevertheless, this can be turned off. You just need to know how to navigate the labyrinthine preferences menu:

This screenshot is from Sametime 8.5.1 on Linux, but other platforms are probably similar.

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