Narita Express

On a recent trip to Japan we were very nearly caught out by a timetabling anomaly for the Narita Express airport train service from Shinjuku so I thought I’d share it on the blog to save others some of the anxiety of arriving so close to check in closure time!

Basically the frequency of the service depends on the time of day. Up to and including 8am, the service runs almost every 20 minutes (great). After 10am it’s roughly every hour until nearly 8pm (not so great but manageable with planning). However from 8am there is nearly a 2 hour gap until the next service at 9:40am! This means that if your flight is at 11am or earlier, you must catch the 8am train or resort to other means of getting to the airport (including taking the Yamanote line to Tokyo and picking up the express from there where services are more frequent).

In short, either check the timetable carefully for your chosen boarding point taking into account your flight time or elect to always travel from Tokyo station rather than any of the other possible starting points as there are always regular services from this station.

A cursory search on Hyperdia would also seem to indicate that taking the Skyliner service from Nippori, accessed from Shinjuku via the Yamanote line, is quicker than the Narita Express anyway, and more frequent, providing an almost consistent 20 minute interval departure time throughout the day with an end to end journey time of just over an hour, compared with the express which is over an hour and a half door to door.

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Joy of full width

Screens are getting bigger, but specifically they are getting wider. This realisation has, over time, been nagging at me and got me thinking about the idea of a serious overhaul for this site. Despite trying a number of different options over the past month I decided that perhaps it wasn’t the radical that was required, but the more practical.

Behold then, the same fundamental design but sporting wider pages, more flowing text, larger images and more tweaks to come. Those with wide screens or even just plain old rectangular ones should be rather pleased – do let me know your thoughts in comments.

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Venice

Venice

A short summer jaunt to the picturesque Italian city of Venice

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Romania

Romania

A flying visit to Romania, taking in some of the sights in and around Bucharest

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Four80East – Off Duty

Four80East - Off Duty Album CoverHot off the press and into my new albums playlist on spotify this week, Four80East’s latest offering, Off Duty. Frequently blasting out of my car speakers as I embark on another long trip somewhere, Four80East have once again made an easy home in my hi-fi. Their unmistakable style still shining strong and true but the fresh nature of the music on this pressing simply can’t be ignored.

After a few minutes on the turntable I can’t help but draw distinct parallels with Nocturnal, the sultry undertones and softer rhythm section lending its self strongly to that laid back, late night lounge listening with a long tall one and a summer breeze drifting across the terrace.

It’s not all mellow grooves though; the first track on the album, The Walker, brings in a distinct crisp modern edge on the lyrics side of things and Nothing is Written, a track around the mid section of the album, has a distinctly Eastern fusion flavour to it which I feel is certainly a new angle by the group but a foray which seems to have paid off.

It’s rare I find myself consistently impressed by a Jazz group’s offerings over a number of consecutive years but I do believe that Four80East are strongly bucking the trend. For fans who remember their sounds in the noughties I’d recommend checking out tracks from this album “Cashed Out” and “The Walker”, while those seeking something a little more up to date from the group will thoroughly enjoy “Sandbar” and “Gare Du Nord”.

A welcome addition to any jazz-head’s collection, a purchase of this album won’t disappoint.

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Easily Rotating Images

When grabbing photos from my iPhone I often find that it has a funny idea of where “up” actually is and while the EXIF data always allows you to correct the problem I’d rather my image was simply the correct way up to start with and an EXIF rotate tag of 0 degrees rather than upside down with an EXIF rotate tag of 180 degrees!

Luckily I discovered a little utility that can be plugged in to the nautilus file/folder browser on the gnome desktop which lets you simply Ctrl-click the errant photos and then right click and hit rotate, later entering the amount you wish to compensate the images by and away it goes and batch rotates the images for you.

To install on Ubuntu (or any other Debian based system) just run the following

sudo apt-get install nautilus-image-converter

Enjoy your properly orientated photos!

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Hide SQLPlus Password String

Google is somewhat sketchy on what you have to do if you wish to hide the password string passed to SQLPlus on the command line from ps aux to enhance the security of automated processes on servers that may be accessible in part to others.

The answer actually turns out to be quite simple but it is best explained with a snippet of code, the below to be placed in a BASH script.

sqlplus -L /nolog <<EOF >> test.log
CONN user/password@tnsname
@test.sql
EOF

To explain the components then.

  • -L tells SQLPlus to only attempt a login once. This means that if access is denied, the account you’re trying to access won’t get locked after 3 attempts.
  • /nolog on the command line forces a prompt without a connection to a server. This allows you to specify a connection string as part of your script instead of on the command line which would then be visible to ps aux.
  • <<EOF indicates that the input to SQLPlus will be a stream of lines, to be read until an EOF is sent on a line.
  • >> test.log logs the output of the activities of SQLPlus to a named file, in this case test.log
  • CONN user/password@tnsname passes your credentials to SQLPlus and causes it to establish a connection with the server sitting behind the TNS name. Being passed this way the credentials will appear neither on ps aux or in test.log
  • @test.sql tells SQLPlus that it should read in and execute the file test.sql
  • EOF terminates the feed in of lines and causes everything fed in thus far to be executed

I hope this ends up saving some head scratching

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Maggie Thatcher’s Funeral

Maggie Thatcher's Funeral

As my office is just round the corner from Fleet Street I nipped out to see the funeral procession file past and Shweta grabbed a few photos

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Kworker High CPU

After a recent kernel upgrade on my home server I noticed that Kworker was hogging most of the CPU after boot and wasn’t dying down over time. Research online lead me to believe this was due to an ACPI interrupt storm creating a high load. I tested a fix for this by adding the following line to root crontab

@reboot echo "disable" > /sys/firmware/acpi/interrupts/gpe00

This essentially serves to switch off ACPI and upon reboot I found that CPU usage had indeed returned to normal. As setting ACPI to off has no impact on my home server and what it is used for I decided to leave this tweak in place and to check to see if it was still required when future kernel upgrades come around – this has been a widely reported bug on Ubuntu launchpad.

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Removing Plymouth

While recently upgrading my headess Ubuntu home server I came across an issue whereby boot would hang due to some issue with plymouth, the application providing the graphical splash screen shown when Ubuntu boots. As this server is headless I decided that rather than seek to resolve the issues I’d simply remove plymouth, after all it isn’t any use on a headless system to show a splash screen on boot!

Plymouth is unfortunately a dependency in apt for two important packages, cryptsetup and mountall and as such cannot be removed using the usual apt-get remove method. As plymouth is in fact not really required by these components, we can replace it with a dummy package that will keep apt happy and allow us to boot up sans-plymouth.

Firstly configure a dummy package

vi plymouth

Enter in the following details

Section: misc
Priority: optional
Standards-Version: 3.9.2

Package: plymouth-dummy
Version: 1.0
Provides: plymouth
Architecture: all
Description: Dummy plymouth package to allow proper plymouth removal

Now build your new package

equivs-build plymouth

If you get an error running this command saying it doesn’t exist, install it using apt as follows, then re-run

apt-get install equivs

Once you have your dummy package, we can now force remove plymouth and replace it with it’s dummy. To do this without affecting any if it’s dependencies, we do this using dpkg

dpkg -r --force-depends plymouth

Then we replace what we removed with the dummy package as follows

dpkg -i plymouth-dummy_1.0_all.deb

We can now safely reboot the server knowing that plymouth will not be available at boot but all other components will be. For me this fixed an annoying partial boot problem, for you it may just mean the removal of a component you really don’t need in headless mode. Either way, I hope this proves useful.

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