Mar 262005

I decided I finally wanted to track down why I couldn’t get the thumbnails working on WordPress. I always get the message “File type not supported. Thumbnail not created.” even when the filetype is supported. I run a standard Debian stable system, with a backport of MySQL, so my first assumption was that it should work. A long weekend is a good chance to try to track down these things, especially when it’s raining as much as it is this weekend in Vancouver. Of course, I start at the WordPress support forums. This leads me to try apt-get install libgd2; the thumbnails don’t work. As a next approximation, try apt-get install php4-gd2; this also doesn’t work.

I dig a bit deeper in the forums and find that a newer version of PHP might solve the problem; the Debian stable version is 4.1.2 and a version > 4.3 is recommended as the GD library is included by default. The other advantage to upgrading PHP4 is that there are quite a few security holes fixed in version 4.3.9 and up; these may have been backported to 4.1.2, of course. So I look in because I already know how to use those; no newer version of php4 there. Next I try; this backport site has a newer version of PHP4 and a newer version of MySQL. I add the magic line deb ./ to the /etc/apt/sources.list file. I also change the pin priority in the preferences file to use rather than This upgrades my MySQL to dotdeb’s 4.0 version nicely, but doesn’t touch the PHP4 installation. Seems odd to me since they should both be upgraded in the same way, I would have thought. Edd Dumbill (Debian guru) gives me a couple of other things to try in the preferences file; nothing seems capable of raising the priority of the dotdeb php4 install over the current stable installed version. Edd suggests installing each .deb by brute force; that breaks on unmet dependencies.

So I think about installing the unstable version of PHP4; maybe that will work better. I set up the pin priorities in the preferences file, and use apt-get -t unstable install php4. It threatens to install lots of things, so I decide to install a little at a time and make sure nothing breaks, or at least ensure I know what has broken if it does. First off, I make backups of httpd.conf, access.conf, the firewall script, and the PPPOE settings. Just in case. Not that I’m paranoid or anything.

  1. I install the unstable version of libexpat1; this installs libc6 and talks about having to restart the X11 server. Since I’m not running X, this isn’t a problem. Then it decides it also needs to restart apache but the restart fails so I have to start apache by hand. For a while it looks like that failed too and I’m mentally cursing but it does eventually restart.
  2. Then I decide, rather than the piecemeal approach, to do the full install with apt-get -t unstable install php4. As a side-effect it looks like I also get perl updated to 5.8.4, and it upgrades apache (just as well I saved those conf files!). The install script tells me about changes to apache config files, which has me a little worried… I decide to install the package maintainer’s version of httpd.conf and add in any needed changes later. Everything seems to keep on running afterwards, though, so this upgrade was better than the last dist-upgrade I did, which didn’t apply my changes to httpd.conf.

Now phpinfo.php shows that I have php4.3.10 installed on my system; time to try out the thumbnail functionality. It still doesn’t work. Reinstall php4-gd2. Thumbnails still don’t work. Try apt-get -t unstable install php4-gd, which also seems to uninstall/reinstall/install a whole bunch of packages. I console myself that I’m half-way to sarge, if and when that version of Debian ever makes it to stable. Hmm, the install script just asked me what size paper should be the default on my system. I guess it has some reason for wanting to know.

Since the thumbnail generation still doesn’t work, and I have no idea what to try next, I decide to give up and post on the WordPress support forum. I hope someone there knows what the problem might be! In the meantime I create the thumbnail I need using Imagemagick’s convert function. This takes one command line and approximately 0.01 seconds.

Later… on the WordPress support forum someone tells me to search the forums. Since I’d started by doing that (and quoted forum searches in my post), that wasn’t particularly helpful. Then I remember I have SpamKarma installed, which has a captcha script (not that I want to use it, but it should be a good test). The error message on the captcha test page says the GD library isn’t enabled. A bit of Googling turns up the idea that maybe I need to restart apache yet again. I hadn’t thought of this before because the Debian upgrade/install process usually restarts everything that needs to be restarted, including apache. I run apachectl restart and find I can finally click the magic button on image upload to create thumbnails!

So the lesson appears to be: if in doubt, restart apache. Three times, preferably. Any less just may not work.

Inspiration 5443

 Crafts  Comments Off on Inspiration 5443
Mar 262005

I’ve been knitting for most of my life, except for a long gap in the 1990s. I took it up again about 3 years ago and, due in no little part to Eve‘s encouragement, am going to start showing off some of what I’ve done and am doing. Maybe blogging will even encourage me to finish things sooner – I tend to do most of a piece but not get around to finishing it for some time.

my version of 5443 pattern view of 5443 All that being said, here’s my first blog entry on the subject of crafts, my version of item 5443 in a pattern book called Inspiration 75. One would think that a book that calls itself “inspiration” could come up with inspired names for the patterns within it, rather than just numbers. In the book the top looks like the image on the left (note the link leads to an online retailer for the pattern books and yarn; I have no idea whether they’re any good or not but they did have all the images). Instead of the recommended yarn, I used Schoeller’s Micro-Cablé in colour 23 (yet another uninspired name). The link there is to Wise Needle, a great site if you want to figure out which yarns to substitute for that hard-to-find yarn from Europe. Tim took the photo of the results on a mini-golf course in Maui, hence the “shot on location” look.

Favourite Recipe Book

 Books, Food and Wine  Comments Off on Favourite Recipe Book
Mar 252005

I don’t usually wax lyrical about recipe books, although I do have a few, but I was browsing through my favourite the other day looking for something to make and figured it’s well worth a recommendation.

Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone features this quote on the front cover:

The 1,400 recipes in this book are those that I like to cook. If you’re a committed vegetarian, you can prepare every recipe in this book. If you are a vegan, you can cook most of them. If you don’t attach a title to your eating style, you can cook everything in this book and serve it with meat, fish, or fowl.

The focus of this book is enjoying cooking and enjoying the food that is produced. There are no lectures on being a vegetarian; there is information on basic cooking techniques and what various ingredients are and how they work. The wide range of recipes covers almost everything I’ve ever wanted to cook (except for meat-based meals, of course). And the recipes work. They’re not necessarily quick, but the clear explanations ensure that the results are worth eating. I was looking through the book while writing this review, and found myself tempted to make things on every page (cottage cheese and nutmeg pancakes, anyone?). Hmmm, I think it’s time for lunch.

Mar 182005

Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There was a reasonably popular bookclub book, at least in part because it’s short and thus most people could read it in full (and some even read it twice!). Several of us had also seen the film (screenplay also by Jerzy Kosinski). Reactions to the book at bookclub varied, from those who found it deeply profound to those (including me) who didn’t quite get it and weren’t sure what they were meant to “get” either.

A brief synopsis: Chance is a simpleton who works as a gardener for an old man (relationship unspecified) and spends his spare time watching television. His existence is completely unknown outside of the house and garden where he lives and works (no birth certificate, no record of existence anywhere), and when the Old Man dies, the lawyers who take possession of the property evict him. Through luck, Chance is taken into the house of a rich, influential couple, who assume he is someone of knowledge and power because of his calmness and the high quality of the hand-me-down clothes from the Old Man. His statements about life in the garden are assumed to be deeply meaningful allegories; his knowledge of human behaviour as shown on television meshes with the expectations of those around him, and he is feted by both reporters and politicians.

Reviews on Amazon talk about the biting satire evidenced in the book; the bookclub members spent more time talking about the metaphors. Chance goes from being literally nobody, with no identification, and no real name, to somebody important simply due to luck – an exaggerated version of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. People see in him what they wish to see – the wife of the businessman invents a romantic past for him, the Soviet Ambassador thinks he speaks Russian and understands Krylov, the US President considers him as the next candidate for Vice-President – despite there being no actual basis for any of these assumptions.

I found the book rather too over the top for my taste; the film was better and more detailed. Peter Sellers made Chance believable where the book shows the holes in the fable. Other bookclub members loved the book though and enjoyed figuring out the metaphors and wondering which bits of the book were inspired by which parts of Jerzy Kosinski’s life. We spent a bit of time discussing what changes would have been required in the book were it written today, rather than in 1971. Television is a lot less coy now and Chance’s reactions to the attempted seductions might be different. All in all, I’d rather see the film again than read the book again.

Mar 102005

Betcha didn’t know that small one-person consulting companies in Canada play a vital role in keeping the US strong, didja? Makes you wonder why I moved to a big US-based company, but I digress.

I found out just how vital these small companies are when an associate producer from a TV production company cold called a few months ago to see whether I’d be interested in taking part in their series called, yup, Keeping America Strong. When I pointed out that I was in Canada and a one-person consulting company, he responded that keeping Canada strong would help the US borders and that small companies also play a vital role. And that the series was hosted by William Shatner, supported by television news anchors and a Navy Admiral.

I must admit, I was intrigued, although I might have been more tempted had it been Leonard Nimoy hosting rather than William Shatner. Still, it was worth spending another few minutes on the phone, explaining what XML does and how it is used by various US government departments such as Homeland Security. XML obviously passed the test of being deemed worthy of the next step, which was to meet the field producer who would write up the proposal for each “entepreneurial company” (their words) that wanted to “move forward in these times” (their words). At about this stage I started wondering just how much this was going to cost, although I was enjoying the polished delivery of the benefits of being on TV with the “American icons” (their words). Eventually I got the answer. The major celebrities were donating their time and energy for this important endeavour, and the only costs were a contribution to the production costs of a mere $US 15,000. A tad pricey for a vanity kick, I thought. So I declined with thanks, got a nice follow-up email, and still have the fax with the details of what I missed out on. Maybe I’ll keep that for posterity; after all, paper doesn’t degrade the same way web sites do.

Then yesterday I found an Invitation for Interview for “Forbes Radio” on American Airlines in my inbox. Yup, another invitation to prove I’m one of these “innovative industry and business leaders, who through effective collaboration, progressive strategies, improved productivity, and increased agility, provide companies and individuals a competitive advantage and better quality of work and life”. This opportunity is to take part in a 3-minute interview to be played on American Airlines inflight program, which has a “captive audience of 3.4 million executive travelers per month”, and offered at the discounted rate of only $US 4,995! So make sure you remember your iPod next time you fly on American Airlines.

Mar 022005

The article I wrote on some of the business uses for blogs and wikis has been published, under the title Blogs & Wikis: Technologies for Enterprise Applications?.

I’d like to thank everyone acknowledged in the article (Bob DuCharme, LexisNexis; Christian Watson, Seattle Children�s Hospital; Christopher Mahan, Health Net Inc.; Dave Pawson, RNIB; Derek Miller, Navarik; Jordan Franks, Traction Software; Leigh Dodds, Ingenta; Malcolm Tredinnick, CommSecure; Norm Walsh, Sun Microsystems; Richard Tallent, Environmental Resources Management; Robert Scoble, Microsoft; Ross Mayfield, Socialtext; Tim Bray, Sun Microsystems; and Tony Coates, London Market Systems). They all spent time writing comments or emails in response to my request or talking to me about what they, their companies, or their customers are or aren’t doing with blogs and wikis. The timing of the article also meant I could put stuff in from the Northern Voice conference.

Before doing my research for the article I hadn’t realised just how widespread the use of blogs and wikis and hybrid systems is in the business world. Even if wikis are only used for bursts of activity, like organising a one-off meeting, or used by one person for research notes, they’re still being used. Blog systems are being used for sites, such as the Seattle Children’s Hospital web site which don’t look like blogs in any way; they’re a cheap, easy to use publishing system. Blogs are being used for quick coordination of tasks, such as at UBC’s Careers Online Project Weblog (this one didn’t make it into the article). There is a lot of blog- or wiki-based coordination and collaboration going on in the business world, much of it probably unbeknownst to people higher up in these companies, a bit like the way intranets started. It’ll be interesting to see where this bandwagon goes next.

/* ]]> */