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ShevekThe day after the PHP UK Conference 2009 was Techadventure in Bristol. This was the second one held, the first being last year, and is the brain child of Shevek. It was held in The Trinity Centre.

Autosentry vs spyder botThe idea behind it is to have a celebration of technology. A chance for engineers, technologist, crafts people and artists to show off their latest technology projects or works based on technology. There were many classic computers from the eight bit era. All of which were modified or expanded to support modern technologies such as MMC. There was a 3D table carving balsa wood. The was a laser guided autosentry robot that fired plastic pellets and a hexapod robot.

It wasn't just technology though. There was also art based around technology. There was a reading of technology inspired poems. There were two musical performances. One piece was composed and performed by a Professor of Music from Boston and the other by DJ Lee Chaos. A large number of puzzle games had been brought for people to play with.

Classic computingWe arrived around midday during a talk about performance in computer systems and the best architectures for high speed computing. I had hoped to be able to demonstrate my BBC ethernet board but due to my broken wrist could not build it before the event. I did prepare slides but didn't get time to give a talk. The idea was to make a talk along the 20 slides in 20 seconds theme. The slides are available online. We all announced what we were doing to the rest of the attendees and I was surprised by the interest in the ethernet board. It was great to talk to other demonstrators about their projects and exchange ideas. I am definitely going to make myself one of those hexapod 'bots.

After the event some of us were invited to Shevek's place for a meal and a chat. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and I can't wait for the next one.

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Better late than never, here's the report of the rest of the canal trip. Select photos are now available on line at my gallery.

The morning of day two we awoke to a frozen canal. This branch of the Shropshire Union canal had little traffic as it was the route between the main part of the Shropshire Union and the Trent and Mersey canal. You only use it if you want to get from one to the other. But this cold morning we were not the first people moving and another boat kindly broke the ice for us. Called "The Original Fudge Boat" it also had "Sanity?" written on the back. I have to admit agreed with the question given the weather.

Eventually, after a hearty breakfast, we go going ourselves. Steering a boat through the ice isn't easy. The ice wants to push the boat in all sorts of directions. This is especially true for the large sheets which hadn't broken up as they would bounce back off of the river back and knock the boat. The cold winter scenery though was truly beautiful.

We continued on the branch of the Shropshire Union before passing through the final lock and small bridge that put us on to the Trent and Mersey at Middlewich. At Middlewich we stopped in to The Kings Locks pub and grabbed a great pub lunch and a couple of pints which set us up nicely for the rest of the day. From Middlewich we headed north towards Northwich stopping when it got dark.

The following day we continued up around Northwich to see the Anderton Boat Lift. This is a fantastic Victorian contrivance which was built to raise and lower canal boats between the Trent and Mersey canal and the Weaver Navigation, some 50 feet below. It has two huge troughs each of which can carry two boats. These troughs, complete with water, transfer the boats between the two water ways. Originally it used hydrolic pistons to raise and lower the troughs but it was converted to cable hoists a while after construction. We didn't get to see it working unfortunately but it looked fantastic.

As I was leaving the boat the following lunch time we finished heading north at this point and turned around. We grabbed another pub lunch on route hitting Middlewich at dusk and as there was no where to stop we were a little naughty and got through the final locks and back on to the Shropshire Union in the dark.

The following morning, as I had done the day before, I got the boat going while the others stayed in bed. It was very relaxing to potter along the canals with no one else around. Over the few days my boat handling skills came back and I was quite happy, for example, to go reclaim the boat and collect the others from the canal side at by the pub. Finally around 2pm we got back to the boat yard where I left the others. They continued on and I drove home some what chilled out.

Originally published at Spice World!.

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Actually it wasn't last night it was the whole of yesterday. Yesterday the worst nightmare of the jet-setting software engineer happened and my work laptop developed a bad fault. The Dell's hard drive became very unreliable! It wouldn't boot properly, spent time just thrashing, and generally was show signs of hardware faults an imminent failure.

Combined with virtualization my MacBook came to the rescue. I dislike Fedora as a Linux distribution however, for the current client, I have to use it. On the Dell I run Ubuntu with Windows XP in a virtual machine so it is a simple matter to run Fedora Core 8 in a virtual machine as well.

So when I realised that my Dell would just not boot I set VMWare Fusion and Slax, a lightweight distribution with XFS support, downloading on my MacBook and headed off to Frys Electronics. At Frys I bought a USB2.0 to IDE/SATA cable, a new 200Gb 7200RPM 2.5 inch Toshiba HD, a 320Gb 2.5 inch Maxtor external USB HD and some blank CDs.

When I got back to the office I set up work e-mail on my Mac and Skyped and wrote e-mails until Slax had downloaded. I then burnt that to a CD and used it to boot the Dell and tried to access the failing HD. I did manage to read my home directory so I copied across the virtual machine files and some other data on to the Maxtor USB drive. This took some time so I then set the download of an ISO image of Ubuntu 8.04 going so that I could install it on the new HD I had just bought.

Once the data had been copied on to the Maxtor I installed MacFuse and NTFS-3G on to my Mac so that I could read and write NTFS (by default OS X can only read NTFS). Fired up VMWare, pointed it at the VM files I had copied, and it just worked! I have to say that VMWare on OS X is a delight. I will write more about this in another post. Having the same virtual machine running meant I could start working again. This was some five hours after starting the working day.

In between waiting for builds, CVS and other time consuming processes, I swapped the Dell's old hard drive with the new one I had bought at Frys. I then set an install of Ubuntu going from another CD burnt using my Mac. Finally I used the USB 2.0 to IDE/SATA cable to connect the old hard drive and recovered more data.

This morning I was back to using my Dell If I had still had my old iBook I would have been held up somewhat more since I could not have run VMWare or the virtual machines on PowerPC architecture. And because it is a Mac it comes supplied with an awful lot of useful software which just made bringing the Dell back up easier. I am so relieved I had it with me.


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