Apr 282011

I know a couple of people who are on the pessimistic side of the Peak oil hypothesis, and a couple who are equally fervent in their optimistic belief (the idea being that we’ll always find more and/or technology will save the day). As is my wont, I’m somewhere in the middle, thinking we’re likely to find more oil and natural gas, but that it should still be conserved, at least until we have more progress on the various replacement technologies. Someone (I forget who) recommended I read James Howard Kunstler’s book “The Long Emergency” (Amazon US link, Amazon CA link). It’s an interesting read, albeit a little dated (it was published in 2006). He tends to skim over some issues such as the importance of the transition from lots of oil to little oil, and the writing does tend to the breathless (although it’s far better in the book than on his blog). I’d recommend at least skimming through it if you’re interested in the issues, maybe borrow it from the local library as I did.

What the book did accomplish was to make me think about the consequences of a world in which oil is much more expensive than it is now. It doesn’t need to be the case that we can’t find any more; a serious insurrection in Saudi Arabia that caused major disruptions to the flow of oil is not out of the question these days, and China is using an ever-increasing proportion of the world’s oil, which will automatically result in price increases.

Some of the questions are easy to ask: What happens if the cost of shipping cheap goods from China trebles, or quintuples, or worse? What happens to commuters when the cost of getting to work is multiplied by 3, or 5, or 10? As the cost of heating goes up, how many more people will die of the cold in unheated, uninsulated, houses? What happens to the cost of food (a large factor of the Tunisian uprising) as the cost of the fuel rises, given that the Green Revolution that saved so many lives depends on cheap petroleum-based fertilisers?

The price of oil hasn’t gone below $50 per barrel for the last 5 years (according to http://www.oil-price.net/). We don’t know what’s next: it may hover around $100 per barrel for a while, or leap to a much higher level; either way there should be at least some discussion of what oil is best used for, what we can substitute other technologies for, and an investment in those technologies before we need them. There are options already for power generation, even if most of them also have issues, but there seems to be less focus on food and transport (both people and goods), and if anything, there seems to be an ever-increasing use of petroleum-based plastic materials. I don’t see much productive discussion around these issues – anyone got good pointers that don’t veer off too much into apocalyptic fervour?

Apr 272011

The next stage in the great project to migrate back from Debian from OpenSolaris: installing Debian. Wow, it’s so much easier these days! Here are my random notes from the install. I chose the network install option and burned the .iso to a CD. Then I booted from the CD on the bootloader (on a Sun Ultra 20, you hold down the F8 key while booting to get to the loader). Then it was just a matter of picking the options.

First option: graphical installation. It’s much easier to work on other things and occasionally glance at the installing system when there’s a graphical user interface. I wasn’t sure what to use for the domain name, since this computer will be used inside the home network, so I left it blank for now. I can always change it later. I also picked the easy “one partition” option as I saw no need for multiple partitions. Then, I just let ‘er rip.

These days you get a nice list of predefined collections to install; I chose the graphical desktop environment (yes, it’s a server that I’ll mostly access via ssh, but why not?), web server, SQL database, ssh server. Then it was time to wait and do other things, like noticing how it’s raining outside. Again. April in Vancouver, sigh.

Some time later… Debian’s installed, and now I’ve decided to try The Debian Way to install WordPress, rather than installing it by hand as I did last time I set up WordPress on this box. apt-get update, followed by apt-get upgrade and apt-get install wordpress installs a bunch of stuff into /usr/share/wordpress, including a file, wp-config.php, which doesn’t appear in the stock WordPress installation. Sure enough, it’s a Debian-specific file. Guess I’d better go and read some documentation. I want to set up separate blogs with separate domain names, not just separate sub-domains, and WordPress MU doesn’t do that by default. It will be interesting to see if the Debian version of WordPress tackles that configuration.

Apr 212011

Given the current state of OpenSolaris (precarious, judging by various posts I’ve seen over the last few months) I decided to move the basement development and blog hosting machine back to Debian. I mostly use it for a couple of small WordPress blogs, and trying out various things (the odd Django project, Ruby on Rails, etc), so Debian is eminently suitable for that.

Step one: move the WordPress blogs on to an interim hosting solution, namely the same host where I currently host this blog. My package allows infinite add-on domains, so that works. To start with, I made sure I had no broken links on the blogs in their old home — I didn’t want to try to hunt down errors in the new blogs that already existed on the old ones.

The whole process worked fairly well (install new WordPress system on new host, export the old blog, import to the new one) except for a couple of wrinkles, which I’m detailing here for next time I need to do this.

  1. when setting up the new blog, before you’ve switched the DNS, don’t put the final URL in the settings dialog. This just means you can’t log in to the temporary site and you have to go into PHPMyAdmin and fix the URL back to the temporary version. Get the site set up properly first, then switch the blog URL and the DNS settings.
  2. The image attachment probably won’t work. If you import the posts and check the “import file attachment” box, some of them will attach properly, but not all, and you’ll have to manually upload a certain proportion of your images using SFTP or something similar. If you don’t check that box, none of the images will be attached to the right posts and you’ll have to manually upload all of them. If you’ve used standard markup to show photos, that works anyway, but if you’ve used the gallery shortcode, you’ll have to manually attach the images to the post. The best plugin I’ve found to help with this is the Add From Server plugin, where you can attach the images after you’ve uploaded them all. It’s still a lot of work if you have a lot of images.

Apart from that, step one went well. Now I have to make sure I have all the other useful files saved somewhere, and get on with the OS install.

Apr 182011

Every year, when we start organising Northern Voice, the question comes up about keynotes. Keynotes set the tone of a conference, they indicate something of what the organising committee is thinking, or what they think the community that supports the conference might want to hear about. This year, I wanted to find someone as a keynote speaker who could talk to us about the less sunny side of life, and remind us that some of the personal stories people share online aren’t about good things happening, they’re about life happening, and life isn’t always fair, or easy. The rest of the organising committee agreed, and we’re glad that April Smith agreed to present. “Storytelling From the Heart of the City” opens Northern Voice on Friday May 13th.

The Saturday keynote is a different slant on the web, from Chris Wilson, who’s played a key role in building many of the web technologies we use every day. I’m not actually sure what he’s going to talk about, but I have no doubt it will be an interesting view of the web world so many of us now inhabit, sprinkled with interesting anecdotes. I’m looking forward to it!

Two keynotes, two different slants on what the web enables, two different journeys. I’m not very good at chronicling my own journey, but I admire those who do, and I hope (and expect) that the Northern Voice keynotes will give strength and inspiration to all of us.


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