Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Scientifically challenged

Last Friday I had my Physics practical exam, and today I had my Chemistry practical. It's interesting to contrast them. The Physics exam was 105 minutes, and that was barely enough time to carry out the experiments and write them up. In fact, I messed up one experiment because I was having to rush it. Not to mention the fact that one of the experiments really didn't work very well. By contrast, even though the Chemistry exam was the same length, it was far easier, with experiments that worked first time and loads of time to do the writing up. All very strange, bearing in mind that I'm generally far better at Physics than I am at Chemistry. No more exams now until 17th June!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

No toy operating systems, please

I posted my keyboard-death plight to the Oxford Linux User Group, OxLUG, and there was a deluge of suggestions. Apart from the obvious and impractical ones (get a new keyboard), someone suggested using Ctrl-M, which enabled me to get LILO to boot into LFS. Score! Having logged in and loaded KDE, I discovered that Ctrl-M doesn't work as an Enter replacement in X11. Once again, I sought assistance, and someone mentioned xmodmap. I immediately had a poke around, discovered it was a standard tool included with X, and upon reading man page found that it was exactly what I was looking for! So now, courtesy of the command xmodmap -e "keycode 113 = Return", Alt-Gr does the job of the Enter key. I have a usable system once more! But although it's great as an interim measure, I can't live with it permanently. Once my dad gets back from Austria I'll investigate getting it fixed properly. Bet it'll be expensive.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

New look

I want to use the new Blogger features - specifically, built-in commenting and postings on their own pages - but I don't have the time to redesign my nice blue template for them right now. So I'm stuck with this thing for now.

Disaster strikes

After getting KDE working (beautifully) by this morning, I set about downloading and installing OpenOffice in order to facilitate writing some business letters. I installed the dependencies (Java Development Kit 1.4, Apache Ant, etc, etc...), started the build, and left it to run over lunch and the early afternoon. I got back from Chemistry at about three o'clock, brought up the KDE password prompt to unlock the screen, and hit Enter. Nothing happened, so I hit Enter again. After a few seconds, the prompt timed out and disappeared. I brought it up again, typed in my password and pressed Enter. Still no response. Little placeholder stars were appearing when I typed in my password characters, but the Enter key seemed to be having no effect. I hit Alt-F1 to change to a different virtual console, and tried to log in, but still nothing from the Enter key. Rebooting to the BIOS, I found by a process of trial and error that my Enter, Up, Down and Right keys have failed. At least. And without those keys I can't even boot into my LFS system, let alone log in or do anything else useful. I have a feeling I'm going to be shopping for a new computer sometime soon...

Friday, May 14, 2004

Midnight ramblings

Interesting things going on. It was our school Inter-House Music Competition this evening. Although I was nominally in charge of our entry, I delegated the responsibility to my brother, who not only wrote a piece for the impromptu jazz ensemble we put together (in which he played trumpet), but also sang the solo item and set up the the chapel for the event. Leaving me nothing to do apart from turn up on the night and clap loudly when we won. The "sixth form centre" opened today as well. Basically, it's an area in the sports centre with comfy chairs and tables (think starbucks) and a bar. So I went up there and drank some beer and chatted to some people about sundry things, before coming back here... ...and discovering that the new version of Blogger has support for comments built in! So now I don't have to use Enetation (which isn't very cross-browser compatible), and I can have a separate page per blog entry! Tomorrow I'll rewrite my template. I'm not sure if that will be before or after doing my Statistics prep (for tomorrow morning) or compiling an X server for my LFS installation. I just remembered we've got a shooting match tomorrow, so I probably ought to go to bed and sleep off the alcohol.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Next Small Step

I went to the Royal Institution last night to hear a talk by Dr. Kevin Fong, an anaesthetist who actively studies the health problems associated with spaceflight, and who has just returned from a period spent studying at the Johnson Space Centre.

The main point he made was that the best strategy for a Mars mission was a thousand-day mission, entailing a nine-month outward flight. He explained that after that length of time in microgravity conditions, the crew of such a mission would be in no fit state to carry out any science, let alone to get out of their landing capsule and set up a base. He mentioned such problems as motion sickness, skeletal mineral loss (2% per month, apparently) and muscular degradation.

While describing these issues, Dr. Fong also described the differences between going for a ride on NASA's "Vomit Comet" and going for a ride on the Russian equivalent. NASA require you to turn up a week before, and go through all sorts of medical checks and briefings over the course of four days before you actually go for a one-and-a-half hour flight. In Russia, they sling you in the back of the plane, say something along the lines of, "Here's a parachute, if something goes wrong, open the door and jump out and try not to land in water," and then off you go.

He also described the current design for a manned Mars spacecraft. Essentially, it's a fold out scaffold 125 m in length, with a TransHab-type module at one end, a SP-100 class nuclear reactor at the other, and engines and antennae in the middle. He also mentioned that liquid hydrogen is being considered for use as the habitable module's radiation shield, but I remain sceptical.

I felt that the talk didn't really go into enough techical detail for me. Talking to some scientists beforehand, I discovered that I'd missed a very interesting lecture at the Royal Society last Thursday. Oh well.

Dr. Fong made several references to the Space Shuttle being withdrawn from service in 2010, and after the talk I asked him what sort of things were being considered as a replacement. He mentioned the Crew Exploration Vehicle (which I'd already heard about) and also a cargo launcher called Magnum (which I hadn't). Cursory Googling brings up the fact that it's being developed by MSFC, and not much other useful stuff. I'll investigate.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


So, time to reveal what I've been working on for the last week. Basically, I've got so fed up of Microsoft's monopoly leveraging and underhand business tactics, not to mention the ever-present threat of virus infection on such an insecure platform as Windows XP, that I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and switch completely to Linux. To cut a long story short, I've been installing Linux from scratch. I've now got a system that boots; the only issues are a slight problem with my Ethernet connection and DVD/CD-RW drive. Oh yes, and the fact that I've only got command-line mode at the moment. I'm using my Mandrake 8.2 installation as a kind of backup operating system. I'm still amazed by how little space Linux takes up. On my Mandrake partitions, I've got KDE, the Sun JDK, umpteen tools, the kernel, loads of docs,, random other junk; and yet I'm still only using 1.5 GB of my root partition.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Busy again

I'm working on something complicated at the moment, and have no time to write much here.