Global Connections. Foxton, NZ

Bar-tailed GodwitPhoto Credit: Andreas Trepte

At a recent work gathering, we were told about a site in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region of international significance. A so-called Ramsar site located at Foxton Beach, roughly two hours north of New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. Apparently the name Ramsar comes from the city where a conference was held to decide on these internationally significant sites – along the same lines as the Kyoto Protocol of which we often hear.

This particular site is the southern migratory destination of the Bar-tailed Godwit which makes the journey from sites located in Mongolia, Siberia, and Alaska in the Northern Hemisphere. What makes this all the more special is the fact that these birds are not sea-birds; meaning that – while they have a single stop off on their journey between these sites – they have no feeding ground along the way. Approximately 90,000 birds make this journey twice each year (although, there are other species of migratory birds that can also be found at this site).

Work is being undertaken at each location to maintain the site, and control other predatory wildlife to protect the Bar-tailed Godwit and its habitat. We were fortunate enough to witness some of the pest-control initiatives underway at Foxton Beach.

Horizons Regional Council, which oversees the environmental protection across the Manawatu-Wanganui Region, runs various plant and animal pest control programs. Animal pests include possum, stoat, weasel, ferret and rat species. The Mustelid varieties are the focus of attention at this Ramsar site.

The work underway at Foxton Beach includes some new initiatives designed to engage the community in a much more tangible and long-lasting way. This initiative, in a large part, owes its origins to the work of John Girling from the Wildlife Foxton Trust1. John approached Horizons Regional Council via its public submission process. Within six weeks, Horizons and the Wildlife Foxton Trust had begun work within the community, engaging volunteers to manage set traps, and working with Foxton Beach School.

The work with the school involves pupils “adopting” a trap, designing and painting a message on it, and keeping a tally of what pests have been trapped in it. The innovation here is three-fold:

  • Decorative traps are less likely to be accidentally run-over or destroyed
  • School pupils involvement should reduce the likely of traps being vandalised (hopefully piquing the conscience of would-be vandals because children are involved)
  • Pupils have increased awareness of the natural value of their community’s environment

In learning about all of this, it struck me that – even in these times of increased ‘connectedness’ at a global level – there are far flung places across our planet that have been connected, in the natural world, for thousands of years. It’s heartening to see communities and local government working together to protect these key habitats. Huge props to all involved.

This is true global connectivity.


  1. Donations to Wildlife Foxton Trust can be made via their website. I have no affiliation with Wildlife Foxton Trust. 
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Interesting realisation today.

I was investigating the use of an iPad, Bluetooth keyboard, Jump Desktop+Swiftpoint GT mouse as a replacement for thin clients at work. This includes connecting up to an external 1920×1080 display via the Apple Digital AV Adaptor.

Previously, we’d had trouble doing this as most users baulked at not having a mouse but having to use the touchscreen instead. With the addition of a Swiftpoint GT bluetooth mouse, this may now be a reality.

I also tried using my iPhone 6S Plus instead of an iPad and it worked great too. I even paired a Bluetooth headset to the iPhone and was able to make a call via Siri – while still accessing the RDP session with mouse+keyboard. *Very* cool – and something I’ve been dreaming of for a while.

We’ve got an HP Elite x3 and Continuum dock coming later this year to test this same capability with and see which would present less friction for the users.

Anyways, back story aside, this kind of thing really spins my wheels – I love seeing technology be able to be used to help people and do things in clever ways.

Not an unsurprising declaration coming from a technology geek.

The interesting realisation occurred after this, in a meeting between two teams who have embarked on a journey of increased collaboration and working together. We had a wonderfully useful time; sharing concerns, ideas and efficiencies. I realised then that this *also* spun my wheels – seeing people coming together for a common goal to provide better service to our mutual customers.

Managing people working together has become just as rewarding to me as gadgetry. Excellent.

That whole "PANIC – WiFi Assist will eat all your dataz!" thing, yeah – nothing to worry about..

Following is the text of an email I’ve just sent to all the iPad & iPhone users at the organisation I work in:

Within a couple of days of iOS 9 being released to the world, the media began running stories about how iOS 9 would consume all your data and you should turn off the WiFi Assist feature. A couple of days after that, a class action suit was filed against Apple – demanding $5 million in reparation because of increased cellular data use…. Yeah, ‘MURICA!

A few people kindly pointed the issue out to me in case I hadn’t seen it – I advised them I’d prefer to wait to see what the actual impact would be.

We’ve now got to the end of the billing month and while our data usage has increased by 12GB overall (that is, an average of 160MB per iPad/iPhone running iOS 9) – the feature doesn’t seem to have impacted us at all. The higher users – most of which have upgraded to iOS 9 (as have 57% of our users by the way) are all typically high users anyway (all of whom have been contacted…)

In a nutshell, the feature looks at your WiFi connection and, if there is little or no internet connectivity available, the iPhone will automatically use cellular data (essentially so you should not need to disable wifi just to be able to do whatever it is you are trying to do).

Obviously, the phone will still adhere to whatever settings you have as to which apps can and cannot use cellular data. It won’t try to do anything silly like iCloud backups or software updates over cellular (unless you’ve turned that facility on of course).

The official detail from Apple on how this feature works can be found here.

In summary, use the feature – or not – it’s up to you.

The main thing is to keep an eye on what you are trying to do over data – basic rule of thumb is that watching a video or using streaming audio services over cellular data is not a good idea.

Most of all, don’t panic.

the unthinkable has happened

I never thought I’d see the day when I would lay aside the excellence of linux and actually enjoy using another operating system – a proprietary operating system at that!

But it has happened. Through various events, an opportunity arose a couple of months back, to use an early Intel model iMac at work. My quad-core i5, 4GB RAM, 64bit debian running workstation was flattened and redeployed with Windows 7, to someone requiring the horsepower.

The iMac, a spare loaded with XP, sitting unused for many months, became my workstation. Needing to run iTunes, and refusing to use Windows outside of a VM or RDP session, my only option was OSX as the spec wouldn’t cope with a VM running atop linux.

A good opportunity, I thought, to see how an increasing percentage of the other side live – to see what all the fuss was about.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

At first, it took a little time to get used to the slightly different keyboard layout & the plethora of new, sometimes unwieldy hotkey combinations. However, I did feel at home though with the familiarity of the interface having come from a GNOME environment – it was uncannily similar.

Slowly but surely I felt a growing sense of wonder of just how simple it was to use, of how things just worked. I enjoyed that sense of the technology getting out of the way and just letting me get on with what I needed to do. And yet, a bash command line was just a click away…

I discovered I *could* have the comforts of a commonly used mainstream OS and UNIX too. I did a little investigation and found that, completely by happenstance, I had all the right hardware at home to make a Hackintosh. So, for roughly the same time as having the iMac at work, I’ve also had an almost-Mac-Pro at home.

Of course, my Apple-loving friends all nodded knowingly, tut-tut-ed and wondered why it had taken me so long…

I began to understand that it’s not just about a single device, or the OS, or an App Store. It’s the eco-system that all these things exist in that is so appealing. It is all there, designed to work together – not perfect, but much closer to completeness than anything I’ve previously come across – either proprietary or non. And I really like it.

What has ensued is a philosophical crisis of sorts: How can I *like* a proprietary OS? Is this nice, easiness worth giving up some freedom for? Where is my loyalty? If I like this, does this mean I might like Microsoft one day? How am I ever to afford the ‘real’ hardware to run at home?

Of course, these are all questions of which I’m willing to spend some time on getting to the answer of.

I know there are many among the FOSS community who have tread this path before me – some of whom are much cleverer and whose opinions are valued much more highly, than mine.

But I still can’t help but feel a little guilty.

Ubuntu LTS Server upgrade – really difficult?

At my place of work, we use a Java-based trouble-ticketing system from Atlassian called Jira.

It is hosted on a LAMP server virtual machine in our production VMware environment. The system has been in daily use (well, week day use) since near the end of 2008 – requiring minimal maintenance in that time (the occasional reboot after security updates have been installed).

Up until yesterday, we had been using Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Server. I decided it was time to move to the latest LTS release – 10.04 – which was released earlier this year and had just received it’s first .1 refresh.

Some googling around revealed the potential for various issues with the process so I took a snapshot before beginning – just to be safe.

I then found this link which detailed how to upgrade the server to the next LTS release.

I was shocked at how simple the process appeared to be – surely not?! This is that crazy technical, awful command line operating system with a really high cost of ownership isn’t it?

So, SSH’ing into the server, I took a copy of /etc (just being extra safe again), fired up a screen session and ran the command as instructed on the page above.

sudo do-release-upgrade


Various lists were obtained from the internet and upgrades calculated, I then had to press Y to show my acceptance of the results.

Everything slowed down at this point due to our internet connection speed (changing soon, yay!). I disconnected and went to sleep.

This morning, I connected back to the server and screen session to find a reboot necessary. So, Y again and a reboot later the 10.04.1 based system was up and running.

I fired up a browser and pointed to the Jira system – fail. Oh noes, I thought, now it gets difficult.

Well, no, not really. Over the course of various Ubuntu releases since 8.04, the sun-java6-* packages were moved into the partner repository.

So, I uncommented the partner repository in /etc/apt/sources.list, ran an apt-get update and reinstalled the sun-java6-jre package.

A reboot (only to test that everything would start by itself as it should) and Jira is running again, no data lost and inbound email requests to the system are working. Awesome.

Just so you get the significance of that, imagine doing an inplace upgrade (eg not a fresh install) of a Windows 2000 Server running IIS5 and SQL 2000 and have it coming out running Windows Server 2008, IIS7 and SQL 2008.

Two reboots, no data loss, no restores necessary and all done remotely. And Jira was actually still running and available for most of the time except when the box was rebooting and having java re-installed.

Yep, *really* difficult. Watch out.

KDE team removes support for underscore, starts enforcing STD3 from RFC1122

Interestingly, the latest build of KDE 4 (4.3.90 aka 4.4 RC1) no longer supports the underscore character in host names.

While this was allowed in previous KDE4 versions, the KDE team have removed support for the underscore as “STD3 requires all DNS domain names to be limited to Letters, Digits and Hyphen.”

Here are two examples of bugs that have been filed and subsequently closed with a ‘WONTFIX’ resolution: 220500 222291

So, any of you sysadmins out there who have the audacity to have hosts (or DNS aliases/addresses) on your network with the underscore character in them, you’ll no longer be able to connect to those hosts using KDE4 apps like KRDC (Remote Desktop) or the Konqueror web browser.

what a difference an AHCI makes

Last week, I noticed how, whenever huge disk IO was taking place on my Quad-core – with 4Gb of RAM and 64bit Ubuntu – workstation at work, the whole desktop environment would pretty much grind to a halt.

SSH’ing in from a remote machine and using top, iotop and nethogs didn’t show anything particularly heart stopping going on either.

I googled around and found that this seemed to be a fairly common problem with any of the newer kernel releases.

One post in particular said that a person had fixed the problem by disabling the SATA disk controllers AHCI mode in the BIOS – switching it back to IDE.

Cool I thought – let’s have a go! Interestingly, the BIOS was already set to IDE. I decided I’d try enabling AHCI instead.

Wow – what a difference that made. I then remembered one of the other posts I came across that just said to switch the BIOS setting as that forces the OS to load a different disk controller driver.

It certainly did the trick – said work-beastie is now much faster and more responsive under load.