Saturday, December 31, 2005

What ThinkPad for Linux?

I find it fairly unlikely that the legendary (in Red Hat, Linux and GNOME circles anyway) Havoc Pennington is going to read my blog, but over in his latest entry Log for December, 2005 he mentions the need to replace his X-series ThinkPad.

Like Havoc, I've noticed that the rate of progress in laptop design appears to have slowed - the current ThinkPads are not massively different to those that were around, say, 2 years ago, although you generally get more bells-and-whistles such as the funky fingerprint readers and hard disk "airbags". Personally, I think the T-series ThinkPads are impossible to beat. Perfect combination of svelte design and power. I always long for a laptop with a higher memory capacity, of course... my work T40 is ageing somewhat and I'd love to break the 2Gb barrier with my next machine, along with a disk larger than 80Gb. On the other hand you do pay a bit more for the T-series range. Well worth it, in my opinion.

If you are thinking of running Linux on your ThinkPad, don't forget the awesome ThinkPad Configuration Tool for Linux, the Linux on ThinkPads mailing list, and the ThinkPad section of the Linux on Laptops website. Oh, and I ought to add that although I work for IBM, I don't endorse either of these sites in any official capacity - my opinions on these things are entirely my own.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

HP printer vs Canon camera

I'm staying with my wife's family in Poland for Christmas and New Year. Today it is pretty cold. There has been deep snow since we got here. This doesn't usually bother anyone over here, since the Poles are quite used to snow and it doesn't cause total chaos when a few flakes drop from the sky as it can do in the UK (I've been reading the BBC website...). However, today it has not stopped snowing and the transport systems are beginning to slow down quite a lot. I posted a couple of photos from a few days ago to my Flickr account.

Christmas trees Malinka

One of the things that I've done whilst I've been here is to set up the new computer for the family. This has been a fairly smooth process, although my ability to read Polish computer terminology has had to improve greatly... (you try installing Polish Windows XP when you can barely hold a conversation in the language...).

The only issues have been with the old printers. The HP LaserJet 5L had packed up, and there is a Lexmark Z600 which is refusing to print colour no matter how much I try to coax it to do so. After some research, I recommended that we nip to the shops to get a new HP LaserJet 1020. This has been a successful purchase, but for one small problemette. I used to be able to plug my Canon EOS 350D into the USB slot at the front of the computer, and it would be picked up. Now, when I do that the device is detected as new hardware by Windows, but it remains an Unknown device and I can't get the driver installed. However - if I unplug the LaserJet 1020 from the back of the system, the camera works fine again. Conflict between Canon and HP? Surely one of them can't be disabling the products of the other? I wonder... anyway, I wish I knew how to get this working. I guess I need to raise support tickets with both companies.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

MP3 USB devices and Fedora

I just treated myself to a little MP3 player from Tesco. They are down to £9.97 in-store (still £19.99 online). It is a small USB stick, 256Mb with a blue backlit display. Apart from anything else I could do with the extra storage for transferring files, and with the onboard MP3/WMA capabilities this is great... I'm one of the unwashed masses lacking an iPod.

I thought it would be a good idea to record how I got it recognised on my Fedora Core 4 system, since it took me a while...

Using information from the Debian Administration pages I learned quite a bit about the way udev is supposed to work. I think I've got it, now.

I plugged the stick into the nearest USB port and it was recognised by the kernel:

Dec 23 18:26:44 castor kernel: USB Mass Storage support registered.
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: Vendor: SigmaTel Model: MSCN Rev: 0100
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: Type: Direct-Access ANSI SCSI revision: 04
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: SCSI device sdd: 493568 512-byte hdwr sectors (253 MB)
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: sdd: Write Protect is off
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: sdd: assuming drive cache: write through
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: SCSI device sdd: 493568 512-byte hdwr sectors (253 MB)
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: sdd: Write Protect is off
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: sdd: assuming drive cache: write through
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: sdd: sdd1
Dec 23 18:26:49 castor kernel: Attached scsi removable disk sdd at scsi3, channel 0, id 0, lun 0

The next step (actually not directly the next step for me - I spent ages fiddling around with hal before realising this is handled by udev... but if you're following this, it should be your next step) was to create a file called /etc/udev/rules.d/local.rules containing this line:

BUS="scsi", SYSFS{model}="MSCN ", KERNEL="sd?1", NAME="%k", SYMLINK="mp3player"

The information in quotes for SYSFS{model} was taken from a file called model in the /sys filesystem:

[andyp@castor ~]$ find /sys -name model

(the first one of those files - I opened it using vi as I needed to check exactly how many trailing spaces there were)

What this achieves is that when this model of device is plugged in, udev creates a symbolic link /dev/mp3player pointing at whichever /dev/sdX device the kernel has created it at.

Then I edited /etc/fstab:

/dev/mp3player /media/mp3player auto auto,user 0 0

I created a mount point called /media/mp3player.
I restarted udev and unplugged the device. The next time I plugged it in, /dev/mp3player magically appeared. In GNOME I could mount the device. I then assigned a custom icon to the device (an iPod - I can dream!) and away I went.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Extending WebSphere MQ Explorer

The new WebSphere MQ Explorer in WebSphere MQ version 6 is based on Eclipse 3.x, which makes it highly extensible. Dale Lane from IBM Hursley (author of at least two WMQ SupportPacs) has written a developerWorks article on writing tests in Java which can be used in WMQ Explorer.

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On holiday

One of the reasons for the lack of deeply technical posts in the past few days is the fact that I'm now on holiday - not back at work until January 6th 2006.

Yesterday I went to London to finish my Christmas shopping. Took the opportunity to get some shots of London at Christmas time.

Selfridges Oxford Street Liberty

There were more, but I found that due to the bustle and enclosed nature of Oxford Street it is remarkably difficult to capture really good shots from ground level. At least I managed to buy the things I needed.

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Google Earth can see my car

One of the most recent updates to data for Google Earth (perhaps my favourite way of wasting time and expanding my brain all at once) shows my car.

It is definitely my car. I wonder when the picture was taken.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Learning Polish in pictures

My efforts to learn Polish and my love of Flickr have just come together through the efforts of Misiek Beauchamp. He's started an English/Polish visual dictionary on Flickr. There is also a group called the Polish Illustrated Dictionary. Very helpful in expanding my vocabulary. I think that's the main problem at this point... I'm told that my accent is very good, and I can get by in conversation so long as things are kept simple - but I need to learn a wider range of words.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

I couldn't sleep last night...

... and being the techie that I am, decided to have a play with WebSphere Application Server Community Edition. I uninstalled the pre-release software I'd looked at previously, and followed a nice tutorial from the WebSphere Developer Technical Journal to get the Daytrader sample deployed and running.

All works well. The only thing I'm struggling with is that the process of installing the sample "magically" created some JMS destinations... but trying to configure them manually via the admin console causes stack traces in the log and no destinations get created. Probably just my install.

A few weeks ago I learned that Fedora Core 5 is slated to include an Open Source app server called JOnAS. Yesterday the Geronimo blog mentioned that RedHat and Novell are planning to ship Apache Geronimo and Apache Derby (nee IBM Cloudscape) in their Linux distributions. WAS CE is of course based on Geronimo, so this is great news.

Oh, and Sun are planning to ship Derby, too. Naturally it is their own implementation, dubbed "Java DB".

The software scene gets more and more interesting.

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SOA and the IBM product stack

Tempted though I am to weigh in on the recent post by Rich Turner of Microsoft UK on the perceived differences in style between IBM and Microsoft, particularly in the consulting arena, Richard Brown seems to have it covered with his usual mix of good humour and sharp perception. Suffice to say that I believe Richard is absolutely right in saying that we don't all work for Global Services, and that MCS and IBM Software Services have very similar missions. I'll come back to this point later.

So instead I want to talk about the series of articles on The Register by Phil Howard of Bloor Research. The final entry in the series suggests that IBM has a problem with the SOA message - we just have too many products.

I heard this same statement from a customer earlier this week. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

  • Sure, we have a number of products which fit in across the whole swathe of an SOA. Let's talk about at a few of the development tools, for example: Rational Software Architect, Rational Application Developer, WebSphere Integration Developer, WebSphere Business Modeler. These are all based on the Eclipse platform (as are all of our tools), and provide functionality appropriate to their target audience: architect, J2EE developer, ESB integration developer, business analyst. The look-and-feel is consistent. If necessary they can be combined into a single workbench. What's so scary about that? You can choose the products you want, and combine them as you wish.

  • IBM is strongly behind open standards, and we go out of our way to ensure that our products conform to agreed open standards wherever possible. We don't go around evangelising a rip-and-replace strategy. We know that many customers have a technology soup already, and there are heritage applications and platforms that aren't going to be going away any time soon. I've been with IBM for 4 years, working with our WebSphere integration products, and literally every day of my time with the company to date has been about applying our technology to integration problems that customers face. By following a strategy based on open standards, the ability of our products to interoperate with those from other vendors is greatly increased. Again, you can pick and choose what you need from our portfolio to fit in with the needs of your business.

  • What if we just had a single, "uber-product" for SOA? How much sense would that make? It just isn't reasonable, surely? And just how "simple" would such a product be? What we have is a set of software products which cover the challenges which customers are likely to face as they set about building an SOA. I also believe that we have a consistent message and that each of our software brands makes its own strong contribution as part of the SOA strategy. You need a development tool? Look at the Rational brand. You want to look at collaboration? That's Lotus. Monitoring, security, systems management? Tivoli products. We have excellent coverage; it doesn't matter which point you want to start from, we can help you to deliver an SOA.

The final point raised by the piece is that one of the really key aspects of implementing an SOA is that of the cultural impact, which I think we can talk about in terms of governance. Phil Howard argues that since this is more a business issue than an IT issue, it is outside the domain of IBM Software Group. I agree with him up to a point; but this is where we dovetail neatly (I hope!) back into the point about IBM Software Services and IBM Global Services. IBM Software Group may not be able to cause a cultural change simply through the software that we release*, but as a Software Services consultant I certainly go out of my way to talk about the business impact of SOA. It simply isn't going to work if the business decides to build an ESB and then the IT development groups fail to use it - you miss out on the benefits. Strong leadership and governance is critical. As a consultant part of my role is to not only transfer technical skills to our customers, but also some of our experience and understanding of the cultural impact of SOA on both business and IT people.

* unless... we came up with some kind of mind-control software... interesting... I'll have to talk to the guys in the labs... :-)

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Google's new Firefox extensions

Google launched two new extensions for Firefox today. The first lets you see who has been blogging about the page you are currently looking at, and (if you are a Blogger user) to comment on the page yourself. I like this one a lot. The second attempts to warn you if the site you are looking at is a phishing site. Unfortunately, this latter extension will only install if you are in the US. You can still get the extension if you are outside of the US, but it involves some ingenuity. Here's another post, with a screenshot.

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Keyword substitution

As a long-time CVS user, one of the things that has always puzzled me about ClearCase is that it hasn't natively supported keyword substitution. This is a feature whereby you can place a tag in your source code and have the version control system expand it for you. So I could put comment lines like

/* $Author:$ */
/* This is $Revision:$ */

and, if you use the right options with CVS, they will automatically get updated at every checkin with the latest information.

/* $Author: andyp$ */
/* This is $Revision: 1.4$ */

At the last company I worked for before IBM, we used to put a static const char into our C source files containing one or more of these tags, so you'd be able to see the exact versions of the source that a binary was compiled from using the strings command on UNIX. Of course, the new versioning feature in WebSphere Message Broker version 6 also works brilliantly with this kind of function, as you can add keyword substitution tags into the version properties on your flows and message sets, and see the results at runtime.

Time for rejoicing, because Daniel Diebolt has just had a developerWorks article published which describes how to do this using a ClearCase merge manager script.

Incidentally, for those that don't know, I'm one of the authors of SupportPac IC04, WBIMB V5 Change Management and Naming Standards. We are updating this for version 6, but unfortunately the guy who helped to write the ClearCase section has left IBM. This may mean that I get to know ClearCase a whole lot better in the near future, which can only be a very good thing.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I have no idea whether this is directly related to the terrible accident near Hemel Hempstead this week, but I've noticed that the sunsets have been quite beautiful this week. I've usually been in the car or on site, so I haven't had a chance to take any photos.

I used this overlay from the Google Earth Hacks site and discovered that the smoke cloud definitely drifted over our house, so it might be related, or just a coincidence.

Monday, December 12, 2005

PC building

Part of this weekend was spent assembling PCs. We decided to upgrade both sets of parents to newer systems for Christmas, since they are running years-old machines with Windows 98, which I consider to be unsafe to be on the Internet, and definitely unsafe for online banking and shopping.

One of my wife's colleagues recently decided to upgrade his Dell for a newer system (the prices of new machines having tumbled in the past 12 months), so he gave me his old one. I was amazed - it was a Pentium 4, and literally only a couple of years old. He'd asked me to strip out the hard disk so that he could destroy it and any confidential data it contained. That was very straightforward - I ordered a new "PATA" 160Gb disk, cleaned the innards of the machine a bit, and that machine is ready to go over to Poland. Once it gets there I will have the entertaining job of trying to install the Polish language version of Windows XP, which my parents-in-law need for their banking applications (they run their own business).

The other machine was far more fun. Over the past few years I have collected various old PC boxes and spares, and decided to make use of them. I ordered a cheap motherboard/processor/memory bundle from Novatech, running a Sempron 2800 which is probably even more than my mother needs, but should last well. I took the opportunity to upgrade the graphics card and DVD drive in my own home-built machine, so the new machine inherited those. I already had a case, floppy drive, PCI modem, and several PSUs. The PSUs I had either didn't work, or were underpowered for modern CPUs, so I took a trip to Maplin where I picked up a cheap new 350W PSU, and remembered to get an SATA power cable while I was there. I forgot to get the SATA data cable, though, so had to make a second trip.

<rant>WHY don't motherboard and drive manufacturers ship SATA cables? The motherboard bundle came with a bunch of IDE cables, which have now gone into my bits box. Why not include SATA cables? Of course, I know - it's a ploy to get us to spend more on kit.</rant>

As another aside, the other bizarre thing that happened was that the second time I was at Maplin, I ended up translating a transaction between a couple of Polish guys who wanted to buy some SD cards for their digital cameras, and the shop assistant who seemed to not be very interested in trying to understand or assist them. Gave me a bit of a boost to be able to use my language skills, although I know my vocabulary is still pretty limited.

Back to building: the problem that nearly scuppered the whole thing was the case. To be fair, it is an old case. Although it was an ATX motherboard going into an ATX case, it turned out that the main power connector on the board was positioned directly underneath the 5.25" drive cage, which was bolted (not screwed) into the case. I decided that about a two inch by half-inch cut was needed to the back of the drive cage. Fortunately my neighbour owns a grinder, so he was able to cut that portion out for me so the board fitted and the power cable could be plugged in without further issues.

Once the machine was built, I first booted a Fedora Core 4 DVD in rescue mode and had a look at the system via the /proc filesystem. It looked like all of the devices were in good shape. Unfortunately, against my own principles, I then went on to install Windows XP SP2 OEM. Let the Windows-vs-Linux debate (and abuse towards me) commence.

I'd read that Windows XP has trouble installing onto SATA drives, so I was fully expecting to have to load a driver disk with SATA drivers during the install. As it happened, everything just worked first time. I had some fun working out the model of the modem, as the Device Manager simply showed it as a "PCI Simple Communications Device" with no driver. In the end, the OS build went pretty smoothly.

My first acts post-build were to install Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and AVG antivirus.

Weekend photos

We decided to avoid all shops this weekend, and went for a walk in Windsor instead. We parked about halfway along the Long Walk, an avenue of trees through Windsor Great Park that leads directly up to Windsor Castle. From there we walked up into town, had a quiet coffee, and looked at the town's decorations. Didn't think much of the Christmas tree on the main street outside the castle - and none of the photos I took of it were any good, so the only ones I've posted to Flickr have been from the walk itself.

Pony Crows Windsor Castle

By the time we walked back - and it wasn't late - it was dark, and a thick mist had formed in the park so that it was impossible to see more than about twenty metres ahead. Quite spooky, but very peaceful.

My other weekend activity was building PCs, but I'll come back to that in a subsequent post.

Stung into action

I've finally crumbled under the pressure Richard Brown has been placing on me and decided to try blogging outside of the IBM firewall. IBM has been encouraging employees to run weblogs, and over the past few months I've become one of the more prolific internal bloggers. I fully expect to continue to run an internal weblog, as there are many topics which are either not of interest to a worldwide public audience, or otherwise not suitable. I also intend to post some of my thoughts here on the outside, too. Chalk one up to Gendal.

So a brief introduction, beyond what you can learn in my profile - I work for IBM Software Group, in our services organisation. I'm a WebSphere specialist with a background in using the MQ family of products. I also have a cross-portfolio solutions focus, and have an interest in collaborative working and skills management.

As I get this blog off the ground I expect to post some of the older material from my internal blog, suitably backdated. I hope that it will be of interest. Assume that anything chronologically before this post has been exported from my IBM internal blog. This post represents the very inception of The Lost Outpost.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Broker v6 Redbooks

The new version of WebSphere Message Broker Basics is out. It is also worth mentioning that Migrating to WebSphere Message Broker Version 6.0 is also out in draft (this is the refreshed version of a Redbook I worked on two years ago).

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Forgetful phone

My Sony Ericsson T630 has suddenly forgotten all of the Polish words that I had taught it. I had gradually given it a pretty good vocabulary so that I was able to text my wife and in-laws. About two days ago it decided that it didn't know any of them any more. I hadn't dropped it, switched it off, change the SIM card, or anything strange. Now I've got to start again :-(

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Microsoft digs at WebSphere Message Broker

The increasingly-legendary Richard Brown mentions in his weblog that Microsoft's Rich Turner made comments about WebSphere Message Broker in his MSDN weblog. In summary, Turner says:

  1. IBM's ESB product is WebSphere Message Broker (not completely true - it is our high-end, advanced ESB product)

  2. IBM says an ESB should be based on open standards

  3. WMB is based on "MQSeries" (a name we stopped using for the product about four years ago, but I'll let that pass), so can't claim to be based on open standards

  4. the implication being that IBM is hypocritical.

Funnily enough, while Broker does prereq WebSphere MQ, the last two customers I've worked with have had no interest in using MQ itself. Recently I used the TCP/IP nodes with version 5 of the product.

Even more recently, I've used the new JavaCompute node in version 6 to make an IP connection to a proprietary backend system. This system accepts XML over an IP socket. I wrapped the backend with message flows to provide a service interface that could be called either with SOAP over HTTP, or using XML over JMS. We chose to use JMS instead of HTTP for scalability purposes - as it happens, we can scale Message Broker extremely effectively using MQ clustering. Customers are often not particularly interested in this aspect of the system, but we are using JMS as a standard messaging API and the fact that MQ is underneath it is fairly circumstantial.

Much more interesting is the article that Richard B accidentally linked from his blog entry the first time he posted it - this article in CCR2 journal - which talks about the flexibility of Message Broker. I'm excited about WebSphere ESB, but I'm very proud of Message Broker - this comment from the article is spot on:

As an advanced ESB, IBM WebSphere Message Broker provides message transformation and universal connectivity, whether applications comply with standards or not. In addition, WebSphere Message Broker maximizes scalability and throughput. Often, WebSphere ESB works well in individual lines of business while WebSphere Message Broker mediates centrally, near mainframe applications and data.

Monday, December 05, 2005

End of another week, and a weekend

Had a really good day on Friday using the TCP/IP nodes for WebSphere Message Broker (on the prehistoric version 5 of the product, but you can't have everything). No WebSphere MQ involved at all - application integration all done over IP, and very fast. MQ and other protocols may be involved at later stages of the project in question.

Uploaded some old photos from my portfolio to Flickr at the weekend. One of them has attracted more interest than anything I'd posted before, which was pleasing... several people have marked it as a favourite and at least one person has used it as a desktop background.

Bark IMG_2350 Pagoda

No time for taking any new shots though, since we spent both days traipsing up and down Oxford Street and around the Lakeside shopping centre. Then I got home and ordered all my Christmas shopping on Amazon instead :-)