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PWN'ed at Egmond

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Jan 19, 2008 10:15 PM |

The 36th Egmond Half Marathon took place last Sunday (13th January). Thirty Six years is an impressive score; they began long before distance running became popular. Anyway - for some bizarre reason, after finishing the Amsterdam half, I signed up for Egmond, regardless of the fact that the last time I did anything cross-country was at school. The Egmond event begins with 3-4 kilometres through the village, followed by a 7 kilometre stretch along the beach. From there, you come back along peat paths through the dunes until you eventually get onto brick paths that take you back to the village and the finish line.


My official time from the chip was 1:56:53, placing me 3339 out of 6174.

The official timing also gave me a split at the half way point (10.5 km) of 57:46.

From my own watch I took splits at 10 and 15 km, as follows:

10km: 53:29:00
15km: 1:22:47:20

so as you can see, it was slow going. I was pleased just to get round the course in one piece.

The event was sponsored by PWN, a local water company (I think). So anyway - I've been PWN'd. Pure water and Nature. To tell the truth, when you're plodding along that beach, you aren't much thinking about the beauties of nature. At one point in the dunes, I looked up and for want of something positive with which to exercise my mind, I paid particular attention to the aforementioned beauties. You've still got to keep putting one foot in front of the other....

Anyway - as it turns out, the last post to this blog was when I finished the Amsterdam half. Time I started writing some technical posts.

Amsterdam half-marathon - a new personal best

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Oct 21, 2007 04:55 PM |

The Amsterdam half-marathon is, like the marathon that's run on the same day, known for fast times - partly because of a generally flat course, and partly because being this late in the year, the chance of the weather being too hot is less. For me, especially when making a comparison with the Great North Run, the fact that it's a comparatively smaller event made a big difference too. For the last two-thirds of the race I was running in open space most of the time. I was therefore able to follow my plan of getting up to a good rate of work early on and sticking to it. Most of the time I had an eye on my heart rate monitor, and kept it in the high 160's. At the end, the average rate was 166. For me that's good steady work. I don't think I could sustain, say 170 over that distance. Something to do with  being an old git. That means that if I'm to improve on my times, I'll need to raise my general level of fitness. That sounds like lots of unpleasant speed work - if I decide to try to improve on this result.

According to the official results page my net time was 1:45:21 - they also quote a gross time (1:48:13), which is presumably the time from the starting gun to when you cross the line. In this modern world where the progress of your "chip" is monitored round the course, I'm quite happy to accept the net time: start line to finish line, as the result. Back in the 1994 Great North Run, I did 1:48, and that was the time from my own stopwatch: start line to finish. Today's time is therefore my personal best over this distance. Um - OK - it's only my third half-marathon ever, so talking about personal bests might be a bit precious, but I'm really pleased with this, as my previous PB was set 13 years ago.

The official results also include some rather bizarre split times. This comes about because the positions of the mats were relative to the start line of the marathon, which was different to the start for the half-marathon. (I don't have any timings from my own watch, as I pushed the wrong button at the 5km mark. Thank goodness for the chip.)

8,9 kilometer 43:05
13,9 kilometer 1:08:27
18,9 kilometer 1:34:28

My position was 2279 / 8439. That will do nicely. I mean you can take this all too far. The memorable image of the day was Emmanuel Mutai crossing the line after running the marathon in 2:06:27. He'd given his all, and as he rounded the track in the Olympic Stadium, approaching the finish line, you could see he was having trouble. As he crossed the line, he promptly threw up. That shows just how much these top athletes push themselves. I'll settle for less.

Great North Run completed

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Oct 01, 2007 06:55 PM |

Yesterday I took part in the Great North Run. According to the official results page, my time was 1:56:49, which I suppose I'm quite pleased with under the circumstances. It was a warm day, and starting back in the green pen, I spent the entire race hunting for a gap to try and overtake people. It really is running in a football crowd. The organisers have done a lot to help with the consequences of having such a large crowd. If you've got an official time from another race which gives credence to your estimated finish time, then you get to begin closer to the front. (I didn't, so I ended up in the greens, although my estimate was pretty close to the truth as it turned out.) Unfortunately, with 50, 000 entries, the start could do with being yet more staggered. Even after walking for the best part of half an hour to the start line, when you get there you're still walking.
Back in 1994 when I last did the GNR, they didn't have chip timing systems, so the only way to get an accurate time was from your own watch. At least with the chip system, you get an official time that's based on when you cross the start line as well as the finish line.
Anyway - if the organisers want to improve things yet further, here are my suggestions:

  • Disqualify people who cheat on their start colour. This could easily be done by putting a chip mat at the front of each colour zone and not giving medals to anyone who didn't cross the mat for their colour. (This also accommodates the rule that allows you to go back a colour but not forward.)
  • Make it explicit in the guidance to runners that if you are walking, or otherwise slowing down to a pace which forces others to pass you, please get over to the left and let people past. Some people were even walking three abreast after only a mile or two.

So - as stated above, my official time was 1:56:49, which gave me a position of 9690. (I guess at this point I should emphasise the 40, 000 people who came in after me!)

They were also kind enough to provide an official 10 mile split, which was 1:29:08

While running I took 5km splits. Here are the timings off my own watch:

5km 27:08 27:08
10km 28:49 54:57
15km 28:05 1:23:02
20km 29:19 1:52:21
Half marathon
5:30 1:56:51

On the 21st October, I'll be doing the Amsterdam half-marathon. That's not really far enough away to get in much extra training, but I still have hopes to come in with a faster time, if only because there'll be less of a crowd. Then again, I alwaystalked a good race. :-)

Specifying a DNS server under Gentoo linux

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Sep 23, 2007 06:05 PM |

I realised this afternoon that trackback pings from this server weren't reaching their targets. A short investigation showed that I couldn't resolve domain names. For name resolution to work, you need to have a "nameserver"  directive in  /etc/resolv.conf ,  but  there wasn't one there. I remembered that I'd solved the same problem a few months ago by adding such a directive. Obviously I hadn't been thorough enough at the time if it was now broken again.

The obvious candidate to blame was rebooting the system. I'd rebooted for some reason a few weeks ago; presumably it had been broken since then. This was indeed the case as it turned out. On a Gentoo system the /etc/resolv.conf file is created by the init scripts. These init scripts use data from /etc/conf.d/net. The problem I had was that I didn't know the correct syntax for a directive in this file which would cause resolv.conf to get a nameserver directive.

After much digging, it turned out that:

  1. There is no documentation
  2. There is a file called /etc/conf.d/net.example which contains sufficient detail to allow you to fix the problem

If you add something like this to /etc/conf.d/net :

dns_servers=( "" )

you'll end up in your /etc/resolv.conf with a line that looks like this:


Hope this helps

CSS3 doesn't look so bad to me (so far)

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Sep 23, 2007 12:55 PM |

By way of my regular dose of Ajaxian, I came across an article by Alex Russel, describing CSS3 as a "giant serving of FAIL". Alex, I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with you.

Firstly though, thanks Alex, for presenting your views in a sufficiently provocative way to get me to go and look at the current standards work. For CSS (or anything that will have to wait for browser support to become useful) I wouldn't usually bother until after a recommendation is out, and it's interesting to see what's coming.

Alex is unhappy that the proposals' focus on CSS namespacesCSS Print Profile and CSS Advanced Layout seems to have taken priority over some things that he would like to see. He's keen on being able to have "mix-in" styles so that you could import the style from another existing style into your rule. He'd also like to see the ability to define and use variables in a stylesheet, for example for defining named colours.

On the face of it, there's nothing wrong with these suggestions, but to me they are frills, and worse yet - any such frills will reduce the likelihood of coherent and reliable implementations by the various browser vendors. Making sure that all the browsers work properly when multiple classes are applied to an element would solve most of the pain addressed by mix-in styles, and variables are probably more suitable for server work, ideally in a CMS.

Now on to the things he doesn't like in the proposal. He describes CSS Print Profile and CSS namespaces as "turds". Well personally I don't have much of a use-case for Print Profile yet, so I'll sit on the fence and say it's probably good for the people that need it. CSS namespaces turns out not to be a turd at all, but a minor enhancement that will remove various headaches from people who are trying to style non-trivial XML documents.

I've saved the best till last though: Alex describes the CSS Advanced Layout module as a "cluster-fsck". I don't know what one of those is, but if it's anything like a cluster-fuck, I don't get his point. One of the areas of CSS most needing attention is how we do page layouts. The normal Internet web site visitor these days expects to see a couple of navigation areas, along with sidebars, footers etc., etc. Now I'm pretty much a middle-hitter in the world of CSS. I know way more than your typical Frontpage man-on-the-Clapham-omnibus kind of guy, but I'm nobody's guru either. I'll be straight: right now, speaking as a middle-hitter, getting a standard three-column layout is hard. Too hard. The solution as proposed for CSS3 looks like it will make sense to ordinary folks and middle-hitters. I wish Alex hadn't attempted to ridicule this as Ascii-art, because it's worth more serious attention than that. In addition to solving the three-column layout problem, there's all sorts of other goodness, like tabbed layouts, and the potential for things like newspaper layouts that you probably wouldn't have attempted without tables.

I have no friends

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Sep 15, 2007 11:05 AM |

So flushed with my success on LinkedIn I joined Facebook.

er.. yeah ... my success on LinkedIn huh? Right - well I've got 136 connections - cool eh? Full of life-changing goodness! Give me a break!

And then on Facebook, they aren't called connections, they're called friends - so I joined, and the first thing it told me was "You have no friends".

What do we do this for? LinkedIn has been completely bloody useless to me, other than giving me another compulsion to feed. To be honest, all it's good for is finding out when former colleagues change jobs. Hey - even if you get escorted off the premises by a security guard, at least you can still spam your contacts eh?

But perhaps enough youthful trendliness will rub off from Facebook on to me to stave off the inevitable mid-life crisis for another year or two. Ain't holding my breath though.

The price of freedom

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Sep 05, 2007 08:55 PM |

via Ned Batchelder, I came across the story of an American student, Star Simpson, being arrested for wearing an electronic circuit board as a fashion accessory while visiting an airport. She hadn't threatened anyone, but the police afterwards seemed to be giving the impression that they had seriously considered shooting her. Where does this craziness come from? When I visit my home town this coming weekend, it's quite likely that I'll be greeted at the airport by a couple of policemen toting machine carbines. This didn't use to be normal.

Let's get this straight. I was born and grew up in a free country. These days I live in a different country; also free. The police here carry guns, which I dislike, but so far I haven't seen them swaggering around with machine carbines. As a kid growing up in the UK, the prospect of seeing the police kitted up like that was unthinkable.  Any applicant to the police force would have been weeded out damn smart if he'd shown the inclination to engage in such machismo.  These days, it's just normal.

Many years ago, I visited Canada, (another free country). The local news on the day I arrived was of a local youth who had gone crazy and charged at half a dozen police officers with a knife. The officers in question were armed with side-arm batons, but they just shot him. I thought: cowards. The locals just shrugged as though it was normal, and it was. A good shoot, eh?

In the UK, we got through most of the IRA years without getting too crazy. If, on a tube train, someone inadvertently failed to make their ownership of a bag obvious to their fellow passengers, you might feel the occasional flush of fear, but there was no danger of them being shot for it.

That's my point. The price of freedom is that we all accept a little fear in our lives. Life isn't safe. Living is fatal. If the sight of public servants in kevlar and gunmetal makes you feel safer, then we should feel sorry for you. You aren't safer - and you just gave game, set and match to the people who would disrupt our "free" existence. Arresting a student for having a techno-chic fashion sense is the same thing. It's meant to make people feel safer. It's meant to justify the existence of the airport swat teams and all the bravado. It doesn't make anyone safer or justify anything. If anything, the more a society relies on gun law, the more likely it is that such injustices happen, and the further from freedom we all are.

If she'd been getting on a plane, her clothing would have been scanned along with her other belongings. If it had been a bomb, she wouldn't have been allowed on the plane, and she would have been arrested. What actually happened was that she was meeting someone. She wasn't even going to fly. So then where's the difference between an airport and any other public place?

Terrorist threats are most effectively countered by quiet unassuming intelligence work. The people who do such work presumably are brave and rarely swagger.

I really hope Star Simpson is exonerated of the phony charges of disorderly conduct and "possession of a hoax device". It strikes me that the ones guilty of disorder were the officers who drew their guns in a public place and threatened her life. The second charge sounds easier. She can easily show that her device was genuine. Not a bomb, but definitely a device.

O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

Now you have two problems

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Aug 22, 2007 07:55 PM |

There I was innocently browsing through a post by phil Haaak, when I accidentally clicked through an off-the-cuff incidental link he'd included along the way.  Lo and behold I found myself at the blog of the esteemed Jeffrey Friedl (the guy who wrote the book on regexes) reading a post on the origins of the gag about "now, you have two problems".


Geekish humour, I suppose, but very entertaining.


BTW - subscribed, even though there's barely a regex in sight.


Posted by Dominic Cronin at Jun 18, 2007 05:05 PM |

Yesterday, I took part in the Vechtloop, a running event held in Weesp, which is near Amsterdam.  I ran in the 15km event, and came in with a (for me) respectable time of 1:18:44.

Although the start involved a bit too much hanging around in the rain, once we got going, the weather improved.

You can see the route here:

OK - so now I'm sick of that chinese-ish guy staring at me

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Jun 15, 2007 09:55 PM |

I'm re-installing the Orcas beta again. That's OK - it's a Beta - you expect that kind of thing. But hang on a second.... isn't that the same sort-of-chinese-guy-but-with-arnold-schwarzenegger's-chin that was staring at me when I installed VS2005? And the vaguely-chinese-ish girl in the lab-coat? And what about the guy with all the teeth that might be sort-of-indianish-but-maybe-southern-european-with-a-deep-tan?

Oh heck - I don't blame Microsoft per se. My own company's stock-marketing-photos are the subject of a previous rant, but honestly - I keep wondering if any of those people have ever written a line of code, and if not, why TF are they staring out at me as I install my tools?

It just strikes me that Microsoft's marketing department has carefully chosen these images to avoid offending anyone, like say with the notion that a programmer might be a white bloke with a bit of a beer belly - in the second half of his forties. Don't want to do any stereotyping there eh? On the other hand - at DevDays this week, the only good-looking people there were myself and ScottGu. I don't suppose he writes any more code than I do, what with his speaking programme and all.

Anyway - enough! I thoroughly enjoyed Scott's talks - in addition to being  a powerful advocate for his products, he manages to pitch it directly at the well-informed-but-caffiene-starved programmer. Nice one Scott.