Category Archives: Travel

Vodafone Australia Mobile Broadband – On Linux

I have just acquired a Huawei K3250 USB wireless modem with a Vodafone prepaid SIM.  There seem to be a lot of "recipes" floating around on how to get similar devices working on Linux, but several which supposedly work with the service from Vodafone Australia, in a word, don't.

My laptop is running Debian Lenny with a 2.6.26 kernel – recent kernel versions supporting the Huawei devices by default.

As I'm a bit old-fashioned and always used wvdial back in my dial-up days, this is what I have used this time around too.

This is the wvdial.conf that works for me:


[Dialer Defaults]
New PPPD = yes
Stupid Mode = 1
Init1 = AT
Init2 = ATZ
Init3 = ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0
Init4 = AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","vfinternet.au"
Modem Type = Analog Modem
ISDN = 0
Phone = *99***2#
Modem = /dev/ttyUSB0
username = vodafone
Password = vodafone
Dial Command = ATDT
Baud =460800

Issues that may be encountered include:

  • The user in question not being in the dialout group
  • /usr/sbin/pppd having the incorrect permissions (should be -rwsr-xr–)
  • Using one of the many example wvdial.conf's that gives a phone number of *99#. This was the last problem I encountered – I would get a connection and then the modem would get fed up and stop pppd. Only when I changed to *99***2# did things start working as they should.

My only complaint is that it ain't half slow after 1.5Mbps ADSL – but I've only got it to keep me working during ADSL outages and for the very rare occasions when I am not at home.

Why did I choose Vodafone? Well, my first choice would have been my excellent ISP, Internode, but their service is through a carrier that doesn't have coverage in this area. The only other carrier with service around here is Telstra/Bigpond – who demand an arm, both legs, and your first-born for the privilege of connecting to their network. They will also add insult to injury with what I would laughingly call their customer service.

And when it comes to service, Vodafone Australia may give itself a good pat on the back both for their sales staff who got my order through despite having a rural South Australian address (impossible online,) and for the chap who helped me out this morning getting the thing connected.

The Brasserie – Happy Circumstance

Preamble

Appointments two days in a row saw me making an overnight stay in Adelaide (South Australia). The choice of the Hilton as a place to stay was almost entirely influenced by this hotels proximity to the Central Market and the innumerable eateries of Gouger Street.  I have reviewed the hotel here.

My original plan had been to dine at Auge on Grote Street but after a quick look at the menu I discovered that there was absolutely nothing there that appealed to me. After having scrutinised the wall-to-wall eateries of Gouger Street, I singled out a Szechuan restauraunt and returned to the hotel to refresh myself before returning for dinner.

When the time came to move food-wards, a long day plus the demon Chronic Fatigue had left me in no fit state to do so, so I writing off my research, I decided to eat in-house at The Grange. Which was closed for Winter holidays. This set of circumstances left me with a Hobson’s choice of The Brasserie – a restaurant the very existence of which I was unaware. (Which made the surprise all the more pleasant.)

It seems that a kindly Fate had put me in the very place where I should have been in the first place.

Local? Yes, We’re Local

(For non-South Australians, this is a former catchphrase of an Adelaide TV station.) The Brasserie brands itself as ‘Seriously South Australian’ and makes a fine job of showcasing the produce of this state – even to the extent of having the provenance of various items printed on the menu. The proximity to the wonderful Central Market makes a restaurant thus themed all the more practical.

(To those who think that Australia is just a country of beer, I would like to point out that South Australia is a producer of many world-class wines, and that’s fussy me saying this.)

On the Table

I was first presented with some hot bread, a small bowl of olive oil and a small bowl of coarse salt – a perfect follow-up to the (definitely not South Australian) Ricard that I had taken for my aperitif. Not entirely sure how I was supposed to handle this dish and having just that day received blood test results that showed my sodium level to be low, I dumped the entire bowl of salt in the oil and dipped the bread. Very pleasant.

My first course was ocean trout from Springs of Mount Barker (a name synonymous with quality fish products) cured and served with an avocado mousse. Unlike the softness of many cured fish, this had a firm texture and was very pleasant washed down with a glass of Alta Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris if you are French).

The main course was the Haute Cuisine version of ‘bush tucker’ – Pepper berry & bush tomato rubbed Macro Meats roo saddle, bush banana salad, quandong & desert lime glaze, crispy saltbush (I quote from the menu.) This was accompanied by a bottle of Dominic Versace Sangiovese (quite excellent.)

My final course consisted of a cow/goat cheese from Woodside Cheese Wrights – producers of Ediths Cheese, one of my all-time favourite goat cheeses. This was served with sour dough bread, butter and quince paste.

A Question of Wine

The Sangiovese that I enjoyed through my main course and cheese was not actually my original choice. My waitress (Meg) took the role of sommelier to the extreme, not just matching wine to food but matching wine to person. A single-blind tasting of two wines gave me what I really wanted rather than what I thought that I might like.

I find this wine service noteworthy because, whilst I have been directed in my wine choices before, this was the first time that it had been done by someone who did not actually know me and my tastes.

Meet the Chef

When I indicated that I wanted contact information and a menu so that I could write up my experience in this humble publication, I was asked if I wished to speak to the chef and was thus introduced to Simon Bryant, the man behind it all. I sincerely appreciate Simon taking the time to talk to yours truly and to be able to deliver my appraisal face-to-face. Excellent food, wines and service and a chef willing to listen make The Brasserie a restaurant to be reckoned with.

I have to say that this rates as one of the best dining experiences that I have had in Australia.

Bits and Bobs

Apart from the bread (of which there was not that much), the food was all but devoid of Stodgy Starch making for a healthy high protein, low carbohydrate meal. The menu does actually mark ‘Healthy Options’, although I tend to ignore such things unless I know the given value of ‘Healthy’. Looking back over the menu, I think that the value here may actually be HPLC.

Yes, The Brasserie is able to serve gluten-free food. In a real kitchen with a real chef, I have far more confidence in this claim than in other places that I can think of where the food starts off gluten-free but ends up otherwise due to poor hygiene and handling. The Brasserie, therefore, is being filed under Life Without Gluten.

The Brasserie is on the ground floor of the Adelaide Hilton in Victoria Square (between Gouger Street and Grote Street). There appears to be an entrance from Grote Street to save traipsing across the whole hotel lobby. As far as I can recall, wheelchair access would be from the ramp at the main hotel entrance.

Telephone (08) 8237 0697

www.thebrasserie.com.au

Opening hours are here to save hunting.

Adelaide Hilton

Adelaide Hilton, seen from Grote Street
View from Grote Street
(Links to larger picture)

Preamble

Two doctor visits in as many days made me decide to stay the night in Adelaide rather than endure the 200-plus mile round trip two days in a row. My choice of the Hilton, booked through Wotif.com, was primarily due to its location in Victoria Square – mere yards away from the Central Market and just round the corner from the wall-to-wall eateries of Grote Street.

My previous experience of Hilton hotels was the Leeds Hilton (West Yorkshire, England) – one of the worst hotels in which I have ever stayed, seemingly designed by someone more familiar with hospitals or possibly prisons. Despite that past experience, I entered into this with an open mind.

The Good

  • Location, location, location – including good communications. Trams and busses run through Victoria Square down King William Street and the coach depot is just round the corner in Grote Street.
  • The staff were pleasant and seemed well switched-on and were not the humourless bunch I have encountered in other large hotels.
  • Hotel bar prices somewhat less extortionate than the norm, friendly and efficient staff. (The bar at the Leeds Hilton was unmanned; after waiting some time we ended up going to the pub over the road.)
  • Two ‘proper’ restaurants in the building including the excellent Brasserie which I have reviewed elsewhere.
  • A pillow menu. I didn’t read this properly at first and assumed it was snacks in bed. However, one can actually choose different types of pillow for optimum comfort. As most of my hotel stays have required the services of a chiropractor afterwards, I found this idea excellent and wish it would spread to all hotels everywhere.
  • Power point right next to bed. Not something that most people would consider important, but as a CPAP user I assure you it is – no scuttling off to the concierge to borrow a power extension cable.
  • Room was quieter than many hotel rooms in which I have stayed.
View of Victoria Square from hotel room
Victoria Square, from hotel room
(Links to larger picture)

Requires Attention

I won’t call this section ‘The Bad’ as these are just minor niggles about information that I feel should be given at checkin, apart from the plumbing. I expect to find fault with hotel plumbing and have rarely found otherwise.

  • As a security measure, the lifts (elevators) require the insertion of a room key to gain access to the guest floors. There is a label stating this, but I am a) not in the habit of reading notices at waist-level and b) am not in the habit of looking for instructions in lifts anyway. The information is also displayed on a small directory of floors, but who would read this if they knew where they were going already? In a lift, you press the button, the lift goes up (or down). But in this case it doesn’t unless you have swiped your card. The simple and obvious fix for this is to tell guests that they need to use their key to operate the lifts when they check in.
  • My 14th floor room had a view – from a window that started below knee-level. I have a serious problem with heights and walking in on this view which I might call vertiginous or even just “arrgh!” made me feel quite ill. I ended up crawling across the floor to shut the curtain to block said view out. I am not the only one bad with heights – a simple warning would have been nice, as the shock was the worst part of it. (In the morning – when I was expecting it – I was able to get close enough to the window to take the photograph shown here.)
  • Plumbing. I don’t know what it is about hotel plumbing – there is nearly always something wrong. In this case the issue was with the shower. Firstly, the control to divert flow through the overhead rose and an adjustable head was very erratic in operation. Secondly, the mixer control appeared to work backwards and used only colour to designate hot and cold. To me, logic says that turning the control in the direction of the red mark should increase the flow of hot and vice-versa. However, moving the control towards the direction of the red mark turned the hot off instead.

If I had to make a single recommendation on how to improve the hotel, I would say to get in a usability/user experience (UX) consultant. Nobody’s going to fix hotel plumbing – it’s a global conspiracy.

Conclusion

The Adelaide Hilton is one of the best hotels in its class in which I have stayed. I would certainly consider it for future visits, definitely over any of the North Terrace hotels, unless I was attending the Festival Theatre. Hopefully this good experience should help me forget the trauma that was Leeds.

Adelaide Hilton on the web

Telephone: +61 8 8217 2000

Location Map (Google)

Chris Jarmer @ Air

Preamble

Up until yesterday, we had thought that there was little in the Rundle Mall/North Terrace area of Adelaide that warranted much attention in terms of dining. Oh, there are plenty of places that offer food, but little that we would want to or be able to eat, with Jane having to eat gluten-free and me being just plain fussy.

Yesterday we found ourselves in David Jones late morning with the plan of action being eat, home. We had been past Chris Jarmer @ air any number of times and decided that this was a good time to give it a try.

We wandered in from the side entrance from David Jones (the main entrance opens onto North Terrace). We stood beside the ‘Please wait here to be seated’ sign for quite some time. And waited. After deciding that the we had either a) become invisible or – more likely – b) that the sign had been put in the wrong place, we walked over to just inside the main entrance, from where we were guided to our choice of table.

Gluten Free? Yes!

It’s the first question that we have to ask, and the answer decides whether we will stay or go elsewhere. We were delighted that our waitress was able to point out gluten-free options on the menu – we have seen our share of blank looks when asking the question. A double-check with the chef confirmed that the vegetable risotto was safe for Jane so she ordered that with chicken (available as an optional extra). I ordered a linguini with prawns with a side-dish of sliced chorizo.

And lo, it was good

The food arrived quickly and was most enjoyable. The linguini was a little light on salt for my taste, but salt can always be added – but not taken away. Whilst the meal was an enjoyable experience, more importanly we now have a good eating spot in the centre, without having to traipse over to Norwood, Central Market, or down the hill to Jolley’s Boathouse. And they serve breakfast. Did I mention that they serve breakfast? For those of us who have to get up at an unholy hour to travel to Adelaide, waiting until noon for a meal can be painful; a good breakfast establishment is a treasure to find.

Opening

…for breakfast and lunch 7 days a week and dinner Friday nights.

Contact

Chris Jarmer @ air – 210 North Terrace, Adelaide, 5000

Telephone: (08) 8305 3271 chrisjarmer.com.au (warning: on-screen movement/Flash content)

Parade Thai Restaurant, Norwood

A Long-Time Favourite

My wife and I have been eating at the Parade Thai for several years now, just about since I first came to Australia. We discovered it whilst visiting the Adelaide suburb of Norwood around lunchtime. There were two Thai restaurants to choose from; from the outside, one was all glass, stainless and glitzy, the other small and very slightly shabby. In my gastronomic travels, I had generally found the latter type of establishment to be a common hallmark of good food, and the Parade Thai, which I chose of the two, proved to be no exception.

We have always enjoyed the food on offer, found the service very friendly and generally quick. It is no coincidence that we try to schedule any appointments in Adelaide for Wednesday or Thursday, when this fine establishment is open for lunch. (Also open Friday, but not a good day to get out of the city.)

Gluten Free?

In the months since my wife was diagnosed with coeliac disease, eating out options have become extremely limited. Not so with our old favourite. After eating the same dish known to be gluten-free on several visits, my wife enquired as to what else might be available – expecting not a lot. We were, however, shown a list of no less than 21 dishes which could all be prepared as gluten-free. Sadly, this does not include her favourite chicken satay, but we were nevertheless impressed by the choices available.

Added to this is the fact that the staff are actually knowledgeable about gluten-free (and they have the list, of course). This is a considerable improvement on all the establishments where we get an “er, I’ll have to ask the chef” – generally followed by a ten-minute wait.

The one thing that I would like to see is for the menus to be marked up somehow to indicate “can be made gluten-free”, which would make choosing easier. (And quicker – important to me when I am already getting hypoglycaemic.)

Conclusion

I have rated the Parade Thai as “highly recommended”, and would now just add “for coeliacs too”.

Parade Thai Restaurant

Contact/Location

128 The Parade,Norwood 5067 South Australia.
Phone: (08) 8364 4243

Hours

To the best of my knowledge, but should be confirmed with the Parade Thai directly: Lunch: 1200-1400 Wednesday through Friday; Dinner 1730-2200.

Other Reviews

Review from Adelaide Now, July 2006.

I Love My Linodes

For the past three years, my Web hosting has been on a colocated server in Brisbane, Queensland (Australia). Assurances from the provider of how this would be replaced should it fail, have been vague and uncomforting. (I have always maintained a copy on a server in my office, which can take over should the worst happen – albeit slowly.) With that same provider not answering questions like why my RAID1 array only had one disc in it and never getting back to me on what was going to happen about replacing the machine at the end of its service life, I decided that it was time to move on.

Since about August 2006, I made various investigations into hosting alternatives, especially virtual Hosting using Xen and similar. After another unannounced network outage, when I was not even able to reach my provider, I realised that the time had come to act, and to do so swiftly.

Unlike colocated hosting, virtual hosting often comes with no lock-in contracts or minimum terms, at least greater than a month. This gave me the opportunity to do some evaluations before I made a final decision and migrated all my sites, mailing lists, etc.

Evaluation Criteria

Evaluation included, but was not restricted to the following:

  • Full virtual server, with root access essential.
  • Must be able to run Gentoo Linux – I was tired of having to maintain multiple distributions. (The old colocated server ran Fedora Core, which I hated from the outset.)
  • Included bandwidth to exceed, by a large factor, the measly 1Gb inbound of my colocated server.
  • Connectivity must be such that SSH sessions from my location in South Australia should not be noticably slower than to the colocated server.
  • Must be cheap!

VPSLink

The first to try was VPSLink. These virtual servers are located in a data centre in Seattle, WA. The major attraction here was the pricing of the packages – really, really cheap.

Unfortunately, VPSLink failed for me in two respects:

  1. The virtualisation used is OpenVz. Whilst, superficially, the client system looks like a normal Linux installation, trying to run regular performance tools like free and top, everything goes horribly weird. For me, this is just too confusing. I want every Linux installation to behave pretty much like every other one.
  2. SSH sessions from my location are just too slow. As this was my first test of a host in the USA, I was rather worried that this would be the case for all; fortunately, this did not prove to be the case.

Linode

Linode was my second system to test; my first Linode is located at Hurricane Electric in Fremont, California. Whereas VPSLink delivered a familiar Stage 3 Gentoo installation, from which I am used to working, my Linode had other bits set up already, which I found a little confusing. However, the speed of my SSH session more than made up for that little annoyance.

Somehow, and I am not entirely sure how, I managed to get an SSH authentication problem within a short time of starting to set up. For a server on the other side of the planet, this could have been a bit of a nuisance, were it not for the fact that by SSHing to another address, one can actually get remote console access, which absolutely rocks. Quick software update and I was on my way again.

Once I had completed installation and configuration, looking around my new system was like looking around a physical Linux server, apart from not being able to touch the kernel. Linodes run User Mode Linux (UML); free and top run as one would expect them to. In addition to these, the virtual file /proc/io_status provides information on disc IO, which is rationed for fairness.

Linode seems to have a more busy user community than VPSLink and, more to the point, the Linode staff are participants.

Conclusion

As soon as my first Linode was up and running, I had already decided that I much preferred this to my VPSLink. After a little more evaluation, I dumped the VPSLink and set up a second, smaller Linode, located at The Planet in Dallas, Texas.

I have now migrated everything from the colocated box, done a data destruction and shut it down. With full redundancy, with better connectivity and an equivalent of at least 25 times the bandwidth to my colocated server, I am delighted that I am now only paying two thirds as much, sparing my clients any price-hikes this year.

I love my Linodes.

Gentoo, I Love You (at the moment)

I had always found my main computer – Athlon XP 2000, 1Gb RAM, 2 x Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 120Gb SATA discs software RAID 1 – to be less of a performer than I might have hoped. Granted, it's a busy machine, running my mail server, weather station, intranet, KDE and any desktop activities that I happen to have on the go. Still, two decades of working with various flavours of Unix gave me better expectations for a machine running a nice, tight, operating system.

That last decade of Unix has been in the form of Linux – for the most part SuSE. Having got to a point where I had totally sickened of RPM builds that did not do what I wanted them to, and with each release of SuSE getting slower and giving me more problems, I started killing off the RPM builds, and building everything from my "essential software" directory with an horrific and hard-to-maintain BASH script. Yes – almost a distribution on a distribution. (And it worked on SuSE, Slackware and Fedora, which was pretty neat.)

When my aged Toshiba laptop died – again, it's a veritable patchwork of repairs – it took me two days to get OpenSuSE working on it; not bad for a binary distribution. Working, that is, for a given value of "working". It was so slow that it was actually unuseable. After a brief consideation of Slackware plus my essential_software solution, which I have found performs quite well on older boxes, I decided that if I was going to do a load of builds, I should consider a compiled distribution. Enter Gentoo. [Note: Gentoo can almost be a binary distribution as well, using Stage 3 tarballs.] Believe it or not, despite the age and a broken RAM socket which leaves me with only half the required memory, that old Tosh is running better than ever before.

Inspired by my experience with the laptop and with increasing frustration with SuSE on my main machine, I decided to put Gentoo on my main machine. No small task, as it meant transferring all of its functions to other machines. The first step was to go to a hardware ADSL router/firewall, rather than using an ADSL modem and kernel based firewall/NAT. (No more upsetting my wife by killing the Internet connection when I need to take the main box down.) The second step was to get Gentoo running on an old Duron-based test machine. After some fun and games getting the Stallion serial controller working (broken kernel .config file), I started transferring functions one by one from the main machine. This took a little longer than anticipated, as I decided to set up fax software (Hylafax) and replace the mail system (was Sendmail, now Postfix) along the way.

To cut an already long story short, I set up Gentoo on the main machine. It wasn't quick, as there was a lot to compile, and I had some fun and games getting the kernel to recognise my SATA drives. However, the performance increase is truly amazing. I can issue a reboot and have it back in under a minute – half of that time just hanging around in BIOS.

When operating, I found that I had a few things missing. A couple of quick emerges later, they were not only there but working (unlike my experience of RPM builds). I love Gentoo, at least until I find something annoying.

Footnote

Kudos to the folks on the Gentoo Forums for helping me with various issues that I encountered. A most supportive community.

A New Kind of Penguin

Several years ago, someone told me about this Unix you could put on an ordinary PC (I was working with IBM RS/6000s at the time). Intrigued by the idea, I made my first forays into the world of Linux. From those early days, my Linux experience has been dominated by the SuSE distribution, now owned by Novell.

For the last couple of years, every time I have upgraded SuSE Linux to a newer version, I have said "never again!". A recent attempt to put OpenSuSE on my old, sick, laptop convinced me that SuSE and I had finally reached the parting of the ways.

I have dallied briefly with other distributions – the dinosaur of a ThinkPad in our kitchen, used to access our recipes wiki, the weather forecast and rain radar runs Debian, my main web server runs Fedora, and a couple of old test machines were – until yesterday – running Slackware.

Move aside all! I have finally found a Linux distribution that I truly like and that works the way that I want it to. Not for the beginner, nor the faint of heart, but perfect for a developer and former sysadmin – welcome to Gentoo.

Installation has given me a few woes but the online documentation, especially the wiki have smoothed the way and made my life much easier. What really draws me to Gentoo is Portage, the package management system. May I never see another rpm build as long as I live! Portage has, so far, obviated the need for the huge tarball and horrendous Bash script that I used to use to install all the essential software that the rpm builders had – as far as I was concerned – got wrong.

Conclusion: Gentoo rocks.

Gentoo Configuration Files Tool

When I emerge –update –deep world on my Gentoo machines, I am left with a number of new configuration files under /etc that need to be reviewed and – sometimes – installed. The ._cfg0000_whatever filename format makes for a lot of typing when I'm doing diffs between them and the exisiting files; ditto when I rename the originals and replace them with the new ones. After doing that twice, I thought that my time might be better employed by doing a little automation.

configthing.pl is written in Perl with a few shell calls and provides a quick way to review and accept, reject, or ignore the proposed new configuration files. The process is simple: configthing.pl is run, will find all ._cfg* files under /etc, and present a unified diff of each old file and the new; options are to replace the old, reject the new or just ignore (leaves things as they are). Actions are logged, and an option to save the log to a file is presented at the end. Please feel free to use this at your own risk. This was written in a hurry, for my own purposes; if it wrecks your system, drinks your precious single malt and runs off with your significant other, don't blame me. You have been warned.

That said, the programme is fairly non-destructive. All files replaced are first re-named to ${filename}.old, and any new files rejected are re-named to a more visible ${filename}.rejected.

Bugs? Probably.