Weyhill (VI)

A year ago we had Easter temperatures nudging mid-twenties centigrade and higher, and [quite a few] people in the sea. Today apparently the best we could hope for was 5 or 6 degrees centigrade, which would be about freezing in the open air. Which of course meant that it was time to dust off the 7D and go point it at some raptors at Weyhill.

A few changes to this year’s flying display, with some welcome additions, though unfortunately I found my experimentation with the camera probably wasted more shots than I would have liked. The best of the bunch seemed to come out at 800 ISO, which is why this selection looks a little grainy, but the fault was the user, not the kit [as always].

I had a couple of objectives for this visit… First, I wanted to experiment with centre-spot focus control with the aim of persuading the camera not to resolve distant foliage with precise detail, but to stay with the subject. That was more successful than I would have hoped for. Second, I wante to see if I could balance the “trinity” – the “ISO” sensitivity of the sensor, the shutter speed and the aperture, to get clear effect. In these examples I reckon that I over-played the ISO sensitivity – shutter releases were all in the range of 1/2000th to 1/2500th of a second, aperture was dialled in at around f8.0 or so, and the ISO, at 800, was probably too far. I reckon that I could have dropped the ISO to say 640, trimmed the shutter speed down towards 1/1250th or so and still got good results.

Still, I don’t go expecting perfect, I go expecting to learn – and I think today was an OK day in that regard.

GNUcash and CIFS Protocol Error

In a bit of a break from the usually dull and boring posts of photographs, I thought I’d produce a dull and boring post about a fix for an odd technical problem. Precisely because this is a bit odd, this page might be found by someone looking for a fix…

If you run GNUcash, the Free and Open Source Financial Management package, then well done you – great choice. However, if you ever see a weird error from it, specifically:

“No suitable backend was found for file { my GNUcash data file }”

– then one possible explanation could exist if the file you are trying to access is placed on a network drive, and if you are attempting to access it via the CIFS (Server Message Block, or SMBFS/SAMBA) network file system protocol.

Despite the fact that it should not be the case, it transpires that GNUcash is somewhat sensitive to differences between the two protocols. The gurus at GNUcash tell me that CIFS does not properly implement certain aspects of the file locking part of the protocol, as a result of which the actual program may fail to open the data file. Because the error message is ever-so-slightly confusing, it seemed to be a good idea to post up a short explanation in the hope that search engines will spider it and it will be of useful to someone else…

Their recommended solution [if it is available to you] is to replace the CIFS network file system protocol with NFS, which, unlike CIFS, does respect and support the relevant file locking required by GNUcash.

Here’s hoping!


In 2005, having long been disillusioned with a succession of nasty products from Microsoft’s OS Team, I was running Mandriva Linux, the odd-ball child formed after the merger of Mandrake Linux (a French distribution) and the Brazilian Connectiva Linux. Well, Mandriva was struggling; though they tried hard to put polish on their desktop, they were coding with interpreted languages [primarily perl-GTK] and with the hardware of the day it was pretty sluggish. Then a friend introduced me to ubuntu Linux 5.10, “Breezy Badger”, and I haven’t really looked back since. Until recently, that is.

Mark Shuttleworth, the backer of ubuntu and Canonical, it’s commercial support company, has done amazing, incredible things: not just for ubuntu, but for Linux as a whole. It was Shuttleworth who took the concept of the 6-monthly release cycle for OS versions and made it mainstream, Shuttleworth who brought us the concept of “LTS – Long Term Support” releases; Shuttleworth who took the functional but ill-fitting individual parts of the Linux ecosphere and made them play nice, in a sweetly polished distribution: ubuntu.

So what happened? Well, weird stuff, really. A couple of years ago Mark decided that he didn’t like existing graphical desktops, and announced that ubuntu would drop the GNOME desktop in favour of a Canonical/ubuntu-developed alternative called Unity. If he’d done it when Unity was properly ready, I don’t think there would have been any push-back, but the first few releases were primitive and broke often. It’s getting better, but this was the first sign that Mark wanted to “go his own way”. Recently, there have been two more significant developments. Firstly, back in September last year, Mark announced that searches that user put to the “Dash” [a super-powerful command line] would now be sent to Canonical’s servers and then shared with initially Amazon, but possibly others. Second, he announced that Canonical are giving up on the Wayland graphical toolkit that underpins Unity [which as recently as 2010 was the best thing…] and is replacing it with something to be called Mir, which will be developed by Canonical.

In one sense, I applaud Mark for his courage and his vision and his willingness to put a vast amount of his own cash on the line to further his technical aspirations for the ubuntu distribution. On the other hand, I was deeply concerned by these recent choices: the “Dash” escapade because he does not seem to understand that no matter how harmless “Amazon” might be [and they’re not] Governments the world over will demand access to his aggregating infrastructure, and through it have a form of “remote access” to whatever any ubuntu user types into their Dash command line. Big Brother can definitely watch you, on your own machine… But perhaps more relevant to me: there was already Wayland, and there are others. Did we really need to iterate the N+1 problem and spin up yet another Linux desktop/GUI system, or would it have been better to work with Wayland and sort out the issues that Shuttleworth perceived? [ I suspect that the answer is tied to Mark’s desire to get ubuntu deployed on both Tablets and Mobile phones.]

Anyway, what to do? Stick with ubuntu and hope for the best, or go do something else? Enter Mint. Mint Linux is a relatively new but rapidly growing new distribution which is based upon … ubuntu. The key thing is, it doesn’t have Unity, the Dash… and it doesn’t spy on it’s users. Put another way, it contains all the best bits of ubuntu [which are, frankly, awesome], without any of the scary bits.

I had a couple of challenges getting Linux Mint to work on my main machine [a couple of partitioning issues, sound on web videos took a little tweaking] but it’s sweet, stable and very snappy. I’ve tried 2 variants, one with KDE and one with the lightweight xfce desktop. Both are slick, clean and very easy to use.

What’s not to like?