Category Archives: geek

Blackheath commuters! You need this!

If you have an iPhone and you use public transport in London, you need this app:
http://citymapper.com/

(Update: There’s an Android version too)

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Lewisham council website playing up again

Lewisham Council's website crapping out again at the weekend
By running a web service, I should be able to access the council’s website out of hours. It’s a great idea, because it means that even when the staff aren’t in the office, I can still pay my council tax, or order some green garden bags.

Except that I can’t. For some reason I always end up attempting this task at the end of a weekend. By which time their web services usually look like the screen grab shown above.

Here’s what’s supposed to happen. You’re running some web apps. You monitor the servers that those apps are hosted on. You monitor their vital signs, (are the hard drives ok, has one of the power supplies gone a bit iffy, is it too hot in the server room), then you monitor the services running on that server. Finally you run some sanity checks on the actual web front end every so often. Can you still access the server, is the SQL database still accepting connections, etc etc. If any one of these things fails, someone in your team should be on call, and receive a text message. Then they proxy in, and fix it (or at least reboot something!).

To do this, you use a wonderful system called Nagios. It’s free and open-source, but a bit of a pain to set up, but it’s also highly configurable. You can get it to only fire messages to your on-call person when two minor faults have occurred. You can set it to wait a specific number of minutes to see if a fault resolves itself. You can even start firing text messages and emails to the on-call person’s boss if it’s still broken after a couple of hours!

If you work for Lewisham council, you should ask your IT people about this. It’s not that hard, and if it’s done well, it means that you’ll know about a fault before any of your users do.

Please, for the sake of my untidy garden.

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Filed under blackheath, geek, lewisham

Now and Next for buses is online!

Bus stop in Blackheath, illuminated by the sun
This is really cool. You can now find out where the bus you’re waiting for has got to. The “Now & Next” displays for buses are now available online. So even if your bus stop doesn’t have a display, you can use your phone to find out where your errant 202 has got to.

TfL’s Countdown page: http://countdown.tfl.gov.uk/

It’s only in testing at the moment, but I used it today, and it makes such a difference. Lying on the heath in the sun, check your phone to see when the bus is due, then saunter over to the bus stop two minutes beforehand, and sure enough the bus appears by magic!

You can bookmark your favourite stops – each one has a unique URL, so for example the bus stop next to Shepherds Foods is:
http://countdown.tfl.gov.uk/#|searchTerm=57823
Or the accesible text only version would be:
http://accessible.countdown.tfl.gov.uk/arrivals/57823
There’s also a version formatted for mobiles (thanks for the tip Methers)
http://m.countdown.tfl.gov.uk/arrivals/57823
So you can save separate bookmarks on your phone for your frequently used bus stops.

This is such a great system, and it’s been a long time coming. It opens up so many more possibilites for fun things to do with data & travel. Which are the best/worst performing routes? Which timetables need tweaking for accuracy? iPhone apps that beep when it’s time to run for your bus, and enhanced apps (like the brilliant London Travel Deluxe that no commuter should be without) that can now show real time updates.

Hooray for TfL, and I don’t say that very often…

(Spotted on the excellent Diamond Geezer blog).

Stunning photo of Blackheath Bus Stop in the sun by twitter user Neil Clasper

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More maps of the Climate Camp

Hand Drawn Map of Climate Camp Blackheath 2009
Looking at the ad-hoc maps of the climate change camp in Blackheath is really interesting – here are some overlays of the hand-drawn maps versus the GPS trail that I made yesterday:

Here’s the hand drawn map overlaid onto Google Maps:
Clime Camp Blackheath Map 2009 overlaid on google maps

And here it is overlaid onto the GPS trail that I made yesterday:
GPS trail & Hand Drawn Map of Climate Camp Blackheath 2009

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Help out the Climate Change Camp – free your wifi this weekend!


If you live near the Climate Change camp, and have wifi, you can help the Climate Change protestors out by switching off your wifi password. It’s not that risky if you have decent security software on your PC, and its firewall is enabled – see this explanation.

Amelia Gregory, one of the organisers sent a message out, saying:

Well that was good. Have been totally unable to get online all morning til I discovered we have wi-Fi. Are police blocking me?!

Doubt they are being blocked, probably just a zillion wifi users all trying to connect to one router!

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Google Street View comes to Blackheath

Google Street View in Blackheath village, London

View Larger Map

So, it’s finally happened.  Those mysterious looking black VW Beetles have finally dumped all their data into the Google Hive Mind, – lo and behold – we have Blackheath in glorious pseudo-3D almost QuickTime VR Panoramatastic streetview!

The screenshot (from Google) doesn’t do it justice.  Click on the link, and have a look for yourself- you can move all around Blackheath, step by step, as though you were walking down the streets.  I can see my house!  But the real magic is that you can turn your head.  The 360 degree panoramic stitching is really quite amazing.

Anyway, it renders the poor old Bugle’s Virtual Tour of Blackheath to the dustbin, I suspect… And the various Google Maps 3D views don’t seem quite as shiny any more either.

Anyway Buglers, let me know what you spot as you saunter through the cyber streets of Blackheath…

UPDATE: It goes as far as The Pagoda! Map here

The Blackheath Tea Hut! Map here.

The Princess of Wales pub! Map here.

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Free wifi in Blackheath?

There is no cat
As John asked in the previous squirrelly post about wifi, I thought we should have a specific post about it here. (The squirrels aren’t that interested in wifi).

The only free wifi in Blackheath that I’ve managed to find has been in the Blackheath Royal Standard Pub. It was encrypted though, so you’d have to go and ask the staff for the password… However, I have wandered around Blackheath before and spotted various unencrypted wifi points, but never actually accessed them. (Although, just because they’re not encrypted, doesn’t mean that they will work).

I’ve never understood why the some of the many coffee shops in Blackheath don’t offer it. I would have thought that it would differentiate them from their many competitors, but maybe they don’t want the laptop users eking out a single cup of coffee out all morning solely to soak up the wifi beams.

I first saw the quote above on a website called nocat.net years ago, back when I was at university, and email addresses were full of numbers. The site was dedicated to the idea of free wireless access provided by enthusiasts. The idea was that if you were of a technical nature, and had spare bandwidth, you could offer your wireless router to the nearby community, and by a system of maps, find out who else was offering wifi too.

Sadly the site is quite old now, and hasn’t been updated for several years, but the idea is still a good one I think. So, if any bright spark in Petite Boulangerie Jade, or Handmade Foods is listening – get your routers opened up!

If I hear of any more coming online, I’ll be sure to add them to this post.

Photo of Einstein from Wikipedia.

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