linux sysadmin

Week 15 – Outstanding in our field

I had a lovely empire event. It had nice weather, nice people, and things that I wanted to happen happened, and happened well.

Most of what I’ve done other than that, though, has been dribs and drabs.

I’ve turned my dust-gathering RaspberryPi into an OpenVPN server for the house, enabling me to get at my media server and desktop files and folders from anywhere in the world without opening the services up to it. This required a bit of playing around, because OpenVPN didn’t work though my Fibre router, but putting the router from Virgin into “Modem mode” and moving all router duties to a nicer Belkin box stopped my kettle talking to the wifi (also my Kindle and media server).

Some playing with radio settings and configuration later, and the Belkin box is running the roost, with everything connected to it. Of course, the public story on that is just that I can turn on my kettle from anywhere in the world, because that’s the obvious bit.

The other bit was implementing recaptcha on a quotes service. I’ve been running quotefiles for channels for eight years or so, but I’ve never found a service that didn’t suck. Rash and the other QDB lookalikes have ownership, maintenance and being-awful problems, which pushed me towards Chirpy, a perl-based system written for Mozilla. I don’t generally work with perl, which meant that Chirpy didn’t really work for me. When it would crash with obscure templating errors that repaired themselves in a few minutes, I had nothing to do. Plus, as we drifted away from its 2007 last release date, and the 2010 last code-commit, I trust it less.

So when it failed for the last time, as I upgraded the server it was on, I honestly couldn’t be bothered to go through the CPAN dance again, and hacked my own together in PHP. It doesn’t have the features, or tagging, or any of the other things we didn’t use. But it worked.

Well, nearly. When I checked the queue for quotes to approve, as I do every few weeks, I found a spambot had hit the form, so I’ve added very basic recaptcha support, which took 45 minutes only because I can never spell captcha the same way twice in a file.


dreams Personal

Sense Sleep Tracker, Part II: Doth Murder Sleep


The glowing black orb that watches me while I sleep says I only got half an hour’s deep sleep last night. This doesn’t surprise, but disappoints me. It’s not the device’s fault, but it does provide information on what (tossing and turning) if not why (No environmental factors). Sleep score 81, because it counted the time after I got up as the deepest sleep I’ve ever had.

2015-05-20 09.22.56Wednesday:

There’s an alarm clock trick I recognise. After an early night (Well, a theoretically early night. Accidentally an entire book) I woke up about 30 seconds before the alarm clock detected a shallow point in my sleep cycle and set off the alarm. – Sleep score 77


It’s less great at two people, it seems. Looking at the spare Android I set up the app on for Fyr, it’s tracked “bed time” from whenever the first of us went to bed (me, normally. I do mornings), to whoever got up latest (Fyr. As I say, I do mornings) and correcting that assumption has no connection to how much sleep it thinks we got (It moves “Went to bed” down the timeline, but doesn’t change the clock). Additionally, it doesn’t appear to be able to tell who’s moving, since a lot of the time it registers as both of us, even when there was only one person asleep at the time. – Sleep Score 79


Sleeping on our own is one of the lost treasures from Martin Guerre the musical. It was cut from the rewrite, but the rewrite wasn’t enough to save the show. Not relevant, except that since Fyr’s wandered up to Empire, so I’m trying the sleep tracker on my own.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday:

Slept like a dead log, according to Sense. Inaccurate. Slept like legal information documents: Briefly, and in a specific field. I hate fucking camping.

Actually, Sense said “No Sleep Data Recorded” for these days. When I came back, it was complaining that it hadn’t heard from the sleep pills for three days. The troubleshooting advice says that you can shake them (like maracas) for three seconds to test they still work, which made the sense ball glow blue, but the phone app still didn’t register them as being connected. Eventually I deleted and re-paired the Sense itself to get it to pay attention again. Not a great experience.

This turned out to be partly my fault. The device paired to the Sense is my iPhone, but I generally check sleep scores on the iPad, because it’s on my bedside table, whereas my phone charges on my desk. The iPad can do most of everything, but there’s no indication that some things require the direct bluetooth connection instead of the via-wifi connection of the non-paired iPad. It’s confusing and not indicated on the UI or in help documents, but if I hadn’t been trying to use two devices it would probably have worked better.


…but all that meant I missed the data for Monday night too.


2015-05-28 08.58.35Early to bed and early to rise. I’ve caught something dreadful from the field while camping, which is knocking me out somewhat. It’s still failing at different sleep/wake times for us, though. Sleep score 68, 0.9 hours solid sleep

2015-05-28 09.07.02Thursday:

Called in sick again (Two days, two jobs). Fyr went to bed before me, which is unusual, but the Sense counted from her sleep time again, crediting me with an hour of solid sleep that’s just pure lies.

Changing my bedtime on the app doesn’t seem to affect what score I get, so I don’t think it’s properly taking that into account. I’m wondering if the stats would be better without the second sleep pill. Might try that over tonight and see how it changes.


2015-05-29 07.41.33_croppedHealthkit is Apple’s collection point for health data. In theory, it’s the central API where info from the Sense, from the Watch and even from my Pebble can come together and be tracked and analysed by good little data nerds. One of my central problems with using the Fitbit/Misfit sleep tracking was that it didn’t end up here in any way (Fitbit doesn’t use Healthkit at all, and Misfit – which can use the Pebble watch as a tracker – will put your walking and fitness stats in, but not sleep, which it does measure).  The Sense does integrate with Healthkit, but data is somewhat spotty – I’ve got four data points since I started – and there’s a conception leap (Sense’s app adds the data against the day you woke up on – like this article – whereas Healthkit tracks it as the day you fell asleep on. So changing your bedtime to be before or after midnight changes where the stats are).

2015-05-29 07.01.19_croppedLast night, however, I slept well for the first time in the last fortnight, and the Sense agrees with me, giving me a sleep score of 80. Its opinion on bedroom conditions hasn’t changed much – still thinks it’s too light in the mornings, still questions the humidity of the room – but those are things I think summer will bring changes to.

And So:

There are tests I’d still like to run. I need to find my fitbit and see how all three (Fitbit/Pebble/Sense) analyse the same night’s sleep. But on its own merits, it’s… nearly there.

The setup is smooth, but brittle. Everything worked fine for me, but I know some others who had massive problems, especially with the requirement for a low-power Bluetooth device per sleep pill which didn’t ever make it to the Kickstarter. The Support staff – post shipping, at any rate – are useful and helpful, though.

I think the tracking is a bit oversensitive – it doesn’t seem to be able to distinguish between me moving and Fyr moving, even when it has both sets of data – and the inability to detect getting out of bed as something other than restful sleep is a bit crap, but they’re aware of these issues and have indicated in Twitter replies or support requests that they’re working on the data. I’m interested in some of the features that didn’t quite make it to first release, like recording the noises that nearly woke you up, pollen counts and sleep aids (They talked of broadcasting low levels of white noise on request, which some people find help them sleep).

You probably can’t buy this. While they attempt to fulfill the Kickstarter completely, they’re not taking Preorders outside the US yet, which is absolutely the right decision. The hardware feels finished and polished, the software needs some work, and the back-end analysis needs rolling improvements. On the whole, though, if you’re going to get some bits that need improvement, that’s kind of the order you want them in.

I can’t in all honesty recommend you get a Sense, even if you could, right now. It’s very cool, and very shiny, but until they can track “not being in bed” as something other than “being very asleep”, it’s not actually tracking your sleep; and while it’s not tracking your sleep it’s a crap sleep-rhythm alarm clock. It’s just a very cool looking environmental monitor, which is a really nice thing of itself, but a couple of steps short of where it needs to be.

As they improve this, I’ll update.


Rocky Frisco

It’s weird to see someone you knew as a person revered as an icon, especially someone who I disagreed with as much as Rocky.

But he died last night, after a long life filled with music, and I’ll miss him being wrong on the internet.

He played with everyone from the likes of JJ Cale, Clapton, Mark Knopfler, down to The Beer Monsters and – once – me.  More recently, as many live gigs as he could fit in. The above is the best video on Youtube I could find of him.




Reflected sound of underground spirits

So I get a new shiny device that will primarily be with me during my trips into the outside world, and first I go “Oooh, shiny” and second I go “Would this be covered if I fell on it?”

So I phone up my insurance people and say “Is this covered under my personal contents insurance?” and they say “What personal contents insurance?” and I say “Bwah?”

Because it turns out that when I renewed the house insurance in November, I did not renew the personal contents insurance; and since then any tripping and landing on iPad, or theft of Laptop on train, or anything like that would have resulted in a large hole in my wallet. I’ve no idea if I just didn’t pay attention during the renewal, or whose accident it was.

Fortunately this was discovered before I took my laptop to a larp field, I guess.

Today is National Insurance Awareness Day, which is brought to you by the people who brought you National Backups Awareness Day.

Which is still every day.

dreams Personal

Sense sleep tracker: Perchance to Dream

Sense, by Hello Inc. is a sleep tracking thing, which I backed on Kickstarter last summer.

I’m a fan of Kickstarter. Enough to need to develop a spreadsheet tracking where projects I’ve backed are at, and then to turn it into a web-app that’ll get out of soft-release at some point.

For full disclosure: I kickstarted this project.
For full disclosure: I kickstarted this project.

Projects have many and variant qualities in communication. Some fall into the famed “silence trap” where the project stops sending out updates because they don’t have anything to say, and then feels they can’t send a small update after such a gap, and the gap grows in proportion to the desire for more information, so nothing ever gets said again. Some produce weekly updates, even if those are “We fell down a rabbit hole. It was dark, so we came back up. That was this week, sorry”

Hello Incorporated did fairly well at communicating until Christmas, when they announced a reasonable delay on a tight deadline project. Then they stopped communicating. Eventually we got the shipping notification, and then a short note about having some quality control issues, and then nothing again. This in addition to a late-stage decision to split delivery into “USA first, international later” after the originally announced “Backer Order” delivery stages did not make their community any happier. With a recent £25m investor round (Which – because of the laws of tech journalism – is possibly more likely 5m) the primary purpose of their Kickstarter was to create a community around their products, and by not communicating they’ve shot that in the foot somewhat. On the opposite end, you have people like Pebble, who despite a series of Grade-A fuckups, both avoidable and iceburgy in nature managed to keep an interested and dedicated community engaged enough to stay with them. There were malcontents – there always are – but Pebble handled their five month delay with greater aplomb than Hello has.

But that’s a dig at the process, and the process is only a part of the experience. In fact, what the world needs is to split Kickstarter product reviews into three parts, I think. First, the management of the campaign itself, for which I’m going to give Hello a fairly reasonable 5 out of 10. Good on the take-off, engaged on the landing, but a little shakey on the dismount.

The second score doesn’t apply here, because it would be for extras beyond the original product. A lot of Kickstarters go heavily into Stretch Goals, which split into Enhancements and Distractions. Both Order of the Stick and Doublefine got into trouble for having too many Distractions – T-Shirts and physical items took up a lot more of their time than expected – whereas project which have focused on a limited and planned set of possible Enhancements have done better, although that’s not without its own set of rabbit holes to fall down. Hello’s Sense campaign stuck with its offering, got 2.5 million of it’s 100k original request, no distractions or enhancements.

Which leaves us with the product itself.

The packaging displays an almost apple-like dedication to presentation
The packaging displays an almost apple-like dedication to presentation

The packaging for the sense is very much inspired by the Apple first-bite-with-the-eye method. A solid black cylinder opens up to a plinth display of the product, all of which lifts to reveal the cables and stuff underneath it. The object itself has a high attention to detail: The product glows with a soft green light when its happy, and a moderate red anger when less so.

Custom-moulded USB port
Custom-moulded USB port

Even the Micro-USB cable is custom moulded to sit flush against the case. A simple procedure via the app (for iOS and Android, both respecting their respective UI guidelines, and both well crafted) sets up the device over Bluetooth to connect to Wifi, and then over bluetooth with the sleep pill (Small bluetooth thing you connect to your pillow which does the actual measurement bit).


The glow is only animated while its trying to do something. In this case, it is booting
The glow is only animated while its trying to do something. In this case, it is booting

Though setup, the only problem I had was that the secondary pill for my partner (the packaging for which is the white disc under the black block above) requires a second install of the app on another device, which isn’t compatible with her iPad 2 (because it requires low-power bluetooth, which the iPad 2 & Mini don’t support). I ended up digging out an older Android device to set fyr’s account up on. For two-smartphone households, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not ideal.

But then only sleep remains. It arrived this morning (I was, not without irony, woken up by my sleep tracker arriving. Thanks UPS), so apart from setting it all up I’ve no idea how the tracking does in real life. Right now it’s happily telling me the room is too bright to sleep in, slightly too humid, slightly too bright. None of which is a massive surprise to me. I’ll try it for a week or so (over a fortnight, because we’re out for Empire this weekend) and see how well it works.


computing Projects

Week Fourteen: A fortnight is just like a week, but l

I missed week 13, because it was unlucky.

(And I forgot)

A fairly productive fortnight, all told. I blew the dust off and wrote one of the larger puzzle pieces between it and the fabled fiction archive section, and upgraded the server it’s on in the process. I attacked my PC with a screwdriver and fixed several of the noisy fan issues it’s had since Wk12, and did prep for some larp games.

In the world of computer games I spent a long time on Cities: Skylines, about which I should write, about 6 hours on The Magic Circle, about which I did write, and some time in The Secret World’s new issue, which I’m still processing. I’m aiming to finish that off tonight.

Next weekend is Empire, so that’ll be fun. With any luck I’ll have finished writing up Falling Down by then…

Previously on Aquarionics:





EDC 2015 edition

Previous editions: 2009 2012 2014

I’ve got into the habit of photographing the contents of my bag & pocketvomit every so often. Partly as a personal “Where you were” thing, but also because one of the early times I did it – the 2009 bag photo – ended up being a couple of days before a car my stuff was in was broken into, and the photo was a handy reference of all the stuff that I now needed to replace. (That week, where I spent five hours on trains to get across London to pick up a laptop from a depot in Barking, had my bag (with the laptop in it) stolen, then got in to work on Tuesday and was fired; does not rank within my top weeks ever).

So, pocketvomit:

Pocket vomit, as of this morningL-R, T-B:

  • Vanacci card slip-case, Kickstarted. RFID shielded, and looks neat. Oyster, card and paper cash go in an elastic strap at the back.
  • Zippo
  • Pebble smart-watch with custom strap
  • iPhone 5S with Surfacepad case
  • Declan microfibre screen/glasses cloth
  • Insufficient money
  • Kingston USB key, Gerber Shard (airline safe, though I’ve never tried it) & bottle opener.
  • Keys
  • Cotton nose/other things cleaning cloth.

This post was a lie exactly forty minutes after I took this photo. I’ll explain why next week.



The Magic Circle

Not the band of wizards, the game.

The Magic Circle is the the closest thing to an advancement of whatever genre Portal is since… well, since Portal. It’s not Portal, though. It’s kind of an RPG in the same way that Portal is a First Person Shooter. The trappings of its mechanics are within the recognised mechanics from a million first-person RPG games, but that’s wrapped inside a well-devised universe with well-written characters, and the actual gameplay is spun out at 90 degrees from that. If I had to add another game’s influence to cite, The Stanley Parable is where I’d go next.

And I can’t say a lot more than that about it. The game is a metafiction, as you can see from the mostly-in-universe website. In-universe, The Magic Circle is the long awaited, long delayed sequel to a massively beloved twenty-year-old text-based adventure game (Real-world touchstones: Ultima, Bards Quest, Fool’s Errand). The author of that game is a classic games-autor white-bearded-male, who has taken on the avatar of the great God within the game – the Skyfather – but whose twenty-year promises of future games are starting to ring hollow. Veteran gamers will instantly recognise the heavy flavours of Richard Garriott in the character’s history, along with strong notes of Peter Molyneux and even to people like Cliff Johnson, and here you start, as a player given early access to this massively long awaited sequel to a hugely popular game. Except there are some assets which look… strange in context. Something isn’t quite right. The trailer hints at this fairly well.

The game plays a lot with concepts of game space, of being inside which game. It has a lot to say about narrative vs mechanics (coming from former Bioshock developers, there’s an air of critical catharsis which I would suspect more of being dirty laundry if they hadn’t got Ken Levine to voice a character), game development, fandom, actually getting things done and the sorrow of half finished universes.

It took me about 6 hours of playtime to get through it, and while that’s quite short, it’s fully formed and… complete, really. There’s a lot there, and a late twist that spins a lot of the game on its head.

It’s in early access at the moment, but as I say the game is complete. Early Access is an early release before they’ve got the translations down, which will take a while to finish and collate – there’s a lot of there there – and as far as I could tell all the glitches were intentional (it is, in part, a game about inserting your gameplay crowbar into the cracks of the world).

You should play this game. I hope they release a demo too, but don’t watch Lets Plays, don’t watch it streaming.

… And that’s it, really. There’s some deeper stuff about the mechanics, about juxtapositioning, about commentary that I’ll get into eventually, but so much of what’s cool is tied heavily narrative-based modification of the mechanics, and I like the story too much to spoil it for you without giving people a chance to buy it first.

Go buy it on Steam, it’s £13.49 for the next 5 days.

computing linux sysadmin

apt-get dist-upgrade

The release of a new Debian version is one of those Deep Thought moments. The great machinery has been churning and grinding for seven and a half million years to produce this single result, and it pops out and stands there for a while, while everyone looks at it to see who will bite first.

This weekend, I upgraded to use redis as a caching later, more for practice than because it desperately needs the speed boost, but the php-redis package doesn’t exist in Wheezy, so it was time to upgrade to Jessie, the new version.

The server hosting is, which is almost pure webhosting right now. Specifically, it hosts:

So a mix of stuff that nobody would notice if it died forever, and stuff people will send me messages about when it goes down.

First stage was to RTFM. Debian’s release upgrade process is deceptively simple, and I’ve successfully updated servers though four releases – that’s nearly ten years – with just an apt-get dist-upgrade, but one of the ways I’ve done that is to read the release notes and see where the iceburgs might be.

Here, a few security updates (Root logins disabled by default), but nothing major for anything I use… go forth.

The biggest problem I had was Apache, in fact. The 2.4 release Jessie upgrades to I missed as a big release, and the biggest problem was the previous permissions system’s “allow from all” declarations were not legal under the new system. This, coupled with a few changes to SSL config, caused me mild panic. A simple read-though of the Apache 2.2 -> 2.4 upgrade guide soon set me right, though.

The upgrade of PHP to the numerically pleasing number of  5.6.7 seems not to have broken anything major.

The packaging of web apps, however, is still moderately fucked. Mediawiki’s stable version is going to be abandoned at some point during Jessie’s lifetime, which will stop security updates of it. Mediawiki’s upgrade process is horrible anyway, and the Debian package solution of complex mazes of symlinks which break every point release hasn’t helped keep people on it, but I think the security release abandonment is the final nail in the coffin of me using it at all.

At some point soon I’ll need to upgrade my other server to Jessie as well, a more complicated process, since while Atoll is almost entirely my stuff, Cenote hosts over 100 sites for a couple of dozen users, as well as things like a Mumble server. Time to schedule some downtime there, I think…