HARM by Brian W Aldiss: hmmmmm……

This is an angry book written by an old man who had fought in a world war to defend democracy from the imperialist Japanese, and was watching as the democracies voluntarily gave up what had been so expensively protected out of fear of terrorism and the misuse of that fear by lousy leaders, who used it to further their own ends.

It asks a simple question: Why are we so horrible to each other and to the world? And the answer seems to be fear. Fear that rushes up from our animal origins that don’t know anything about climate change or genocide but know all about hierarchy and survival and struggle. But also fear as it is used as a tool by authorities as means of furthering their own ends, which usually amount to little more than maintaining power.

The framework — I’m giving nothing away here — is that we have a man who is being tortured and his mind dissociates and he lives a life on the planet Stygia. Unlike something like, say, Brazil, or other stories with a similar device, Stygia is hardly any better than the life he leaves on Earth. The coverSome of the scenes are pretty brutal. Some are made moreso by how matter of fact Aldiss is about the brutality, is if it is to be expected and therefore neither built up to nor dwelt on. It would not be the first time Aldiss has expressed a rather dim view of human nature, and it would not be the last, despite the book coming out after his 80th year.

The book has pretty average reviews on Goodreads and the like, and it is easy to see why. It is not likeable. No-one in it is terribly likeable, though we must have sympathy for the put-upon protagonist who gets thrown into an interrogation facility for doing nothing more than writing a bad novel with some foolish jokes in. Oh, and for being (descended from a) Muslim.

OK, so it is not likeable; is it good?

I actually think it is. There’s quite a lot of quite interesting SF-style world building, and it is, if not utterly convincing, at least rather alien. The adventures on the planet Stygia have a certain grim fascination, and skip along fairly quickly (it is not a long story). The stuff on Earth is effectively horrible and plausibly unfair, and Aldiss’s gift for the unexpected metaphor or simile remains intact, and he evokes both his off-kilter alien world and his protagonist’s prison and interrogations with power and economy.

Humanity does not come out of it well, though we remain capable of love and looking after those close to us; in some sense though the book is about how our fear controls how we deal with the ‘other’; after all,. being able to show kindness to those who we know and/or who are like us is hardly going to solve the world’s problems, unless we are mature enough to realise that everyone is like us. How one responds to Aldiss’s points I guess partly depends on whether we believe his life experience has left him (a) clear eyed and wise or (b) grumpy and cynical, because if it is (b) we can dismiss it all as a grumpy old bastard’s tirade. If (a), it’s not so simple.

I have always found Aldiss’s books a bit awkward. I think it is partly because he was never happy to write more of the same. He always challenged himself, and therefor his readers. Whether it was Barefoot in the Head or Report on Probability A, he did not take the easy way out of a likeable protagonist in a rollicking adventure — not, at least, after the first phase of his career.  This is a book in that tradition; angular, fabular, angry, unlikeable in places. There’s a quote from his contemporary, J. G. Ballard: “I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit. I wanted to force it to look in the mirror.”

This is one of those books, I think.

I hesitate to recommend it because I don’t think a lot of people would like it. That does not mean it is not a good book.


Mount floppy on Linux as a user

It was giving me bad superblock or unknown file system or something. (This was just clicking on it in caja (file manager).) In the end, the hint was in the error — the disk was fine, but the system was looking for a different file system.

The mount command, if told ‘auto’ will check a bunch of file systems to see what works.

I found I had to make sure it tried msdos before it tried something that apparently would look like it should work, but would then fail, causing it to throw an error.

So as superuser, I created:


And made it look something like this:


(On the assumption that vfat was the problem, as it is the most similar to msdos, I put vfat after msdos).

Seems to work.

eat too much; get vfat

OPfficePro 8600 off the kerb

I wanted a scanning printer with a sheet feeder. No one wanted this one, so I picked it up. Quite a big desktop footprint. Left it in the shed for 3 or 4 days in case it had got wet inside (there was some condensation).

Eventually, plugged it in and it seemed fine. Printed out its status page, and that is imperfect but pretty good, and it’s got a bit of ink too.

OK, so we’ll try to use it. Went to the wireless menu on the printer and put in the wireless networking password. It sits there, looking pretty happy.

Went to https://support.hp.com/au-en/drivers/selfservice/closure/hp-officejet-pro-8600-e-all-in-one-printer-series-n911/4322914/model/4323658

Downloaded the big installer “HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus/Premium e-All-in-One Printer series – N911a-n Full Feature Software and Driver” 120 MB.

Installed it on Windows 10, 64 bit.

Chose what software I wanted from the installer. No thanks to data harvesting.

Choose wireless connection.

Choose the printer from the list that gets populated.

(Note, I can see the printer on my phone, so it seems to be available on the network.)

The main thing I want is actually batch scanning. I do some editing at home, and when I have to markup on paper and scan it, it’s a pain.

Let’s set up the scan to email wizard. Click that button! Oh, it is not supported.

Oh, the printer is downloading an update … they do that, do they?I guess I’ll let it do that thing.

Yep. Not real fast, but works.

Well, that’s that.

Also works on Linux without any trouble. HPLIP seems to be the key.



WOL packets from Windows 10

I used to use wakeup.exe (https://sites.google.com/site/sysutil/wakeup) but that seems to have stopped working. I can wake the machine in question up from Linux, but not from a Windows 10 box. Why?

Rather than think about it, I just tried other utilities, and I found that wolcmd.exe worked. None of them needs admin privileges.


For some reason, it wants more input info than other commands — not just a MAC address, but also IP for the machine (which may change if you are using DHCP), subnet mask (probably and a port number (9 worked for me …??).

So the command was of the form:

> wolcmd 00112233334455 123.456.789.2 9

where 00112233334455 is the MAC address of the computer I want to wake up, 123.456.789.2 is its IP address and is the mask. Can also use machine name, to avoid looking up its IP every time:

> wolcmd 00112233334455 hostname 9

Simplest is to write that to a batch file with a name like hostname.bat or wakehostname.bat or something.



VNC — simple enough for me to understand

Note to self –just in case I have to do it again.

Mostly this follows https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-install-and-configure-vnc-on-ubuntu-20-04, though on Devuan so no systemd (that’s largely the point of Devuan).

Logged in to host/server and:

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt upgrade
$ sudo apt install tightvncserver

then ran (note — not as superuser)

$ vncserver

and set up the password.

Then did as suggested, and killed vncserver and restarted with -localhost flag, though I did not need to edit ~/.vnc/xstartup.

Then on a Windows machine in Cygwin I installed the TigerVNC client using the Cygwin setup program. I then opened an X terminal and ssh’d into the host using the given command:

$ ssh -L 59000:localhost:5901 -C -N -l username hostname

This then sat there, tying up the terminal window.

Then ran the TigerVNC client application from the Cygwin menu (or command line — vncviewer), gave the hostname and VNC password and logged in; that was it. It gives whatever is in the ~/.vnc/xstartup file, which is why it is best to launch a desktop rather than a single application.

So this way of doing it directs the VNC traffic through an SSH tunnel set up by the SSH command above, which should make VNC as secure as SSH. It also, as presented, requires the user to launch the VNC server manually on the host.

This also does not need a firewall rule for the VNC server, because it is going through the hole made for SSH.

If not going via SSH, need to open a firewall hole on the server (not recommended); default port is 5901, so if firewall is ufw:

$ sudo ufw allow 5901/tcp
Rule added
Rule added (v6)

Then can run the vncserver, then tunnel in without the SSH command being sent first, simply by going something like:

$ vncviewer


$ vncviewer hostname:1

But, as noted, the SSH route is more secure. Note also that is something does not work, consider installing the TigerVNC server instead of TightVNC. It’s a drop-in replacement.


Installing VirtualBox on Devuan — one simple way that seems to work

I did not want to do this via a repository. Got the binary from Oracle; this is current as of the time of writing…

$ wget https://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/6.1.32/virtualbox-6.1_6.1.32-149290~Debian~bullseye_amd64.deb

(or whatever is appropriate — use the Debian version parallel to the Devuan version you’re on); tried to install it:

$ sudo dpkg -i virtualbox-6.1_6.1.32-149290~Debian~bullseye_amd64.deb

It complained that various packages are not available and must be installed. But Debian is really clever — it also knew what they were, so now I could can install them automagically:

$ sudo apt --fix-broken install

Then installed some other useful things that are required for the guest additions (note: you must install the correct kernel version headers; but Debian/VirtualBox will probably tell you what to do, if you rad the screen output carefully).

$ sudo apt install dkms linux-headers-amd64 linux-headers-5.10.0-13-amd64

Now repeated the install of the package; all was fine now:

$ sudo dpkg -i virtualbox-6.1_6.1.32-149290~Debian~bullseye_amd64.deb

And — yes — that seemed to work.

I guess it’s not great practice to rely on the repair tools like --fix-broken as an install method, but it seems to work; I should note that as of now I have only use VB with the FreeDOS guest, which does not have guest additions, so I have not tested those out (for example, bidirectional cut and paste, shared clip boards, shared folders, mouse integration, seamless video), nor the VirtualBox extensions.

Then I could set up the guest for interweb.

Bon voyage.

SLP200 Win 10

Want to install Seiko Smart Label Printer on Win 10…

Might be tricky …



OK, find the drivers online



Copied out country.ini and setup64.exe to a separate folder; ran the exe without the printer plugged in.

Then started the software. Plugged it in (USB). Open Windows printers dialog.

Add printer.

My printer is a little older; help me find it. Turn it off and on and search again…nope.

Does not find it.

OK, maybe the label creator software is just that and does not include a driver; try the other file (though it does not say for Win 10); unplug USB again.


Run the installer

Connect printer

In Windows print dialog, refresh the list of printers.

Nope. OK; The printer I want isn’t listed

My printer is a little older; help me find it.


OK, now plug the USB cord into the USB socket instead of the RJ-45-like socket that the thing uses for serial communication and which fits but does not connect to a square USB plug… dolt.

Yep, now it shows u0p automatically as Smart Label Printer 200 & 420

Test page works.

SLP-VTL is the closest size to my labels; choose that and make up one as a test.

Software is not responding …

Wait …

Yep, it’s ok.

But application cannot find a printer.

Well, I installed the driver while the label application as open, so shut it down and reopen it. Nope, but finally turn brain on — can open the software installed by the second, smaller installer — Smart Label Printer It seems to find the printer no worries.

Prints perfectly.

What about the more modern software? (Smart Label Creator Try that again.

Shut down old, open new… Nope, ok, remove it and use the old.

Looking at the newer version, when we do a custom install, we can see that it offers drivers for SLP650/620 and SLP450/440; my SLP200 is 200/420, so it not there. That would explain it!

Random crappy picture


sshd is missing on Linux … or is it?

On Devuan Chimaera, I want to be able to ssh into the box. But when I check for sshd, it’s not there:

$ sudo /etc/init.d/sshd start 
sudo: /etc/init.d/sshd: command not found

Nothing! But this:

$ sudo /etc/init.d/ssh start 
Starting OpenBSD Secure Shell server: sshd.

So sshd is called ssh, which is a little confusing, but seems to work. Then I set it up to allow me to ssh into the machine from a VirtualBox VM hosted on the machine, as a way of doing file transfers when the guest does not support Guest Additions. (See this.) And that all worked fine. But then I could not ssh into the machine from elsewhere on the LAN — attempts to connect just timed out; but the machine was visible (I could ping it). What was with that? In the end, this seems to have been the fix:

$ sudo ufw status 
$ sudo ufw allow ssh 
$ sudo ufw reload

In other words, the firewall was getting in the way.


Vim on Windows and Cygwin

I have a native Windows install of Vim, but I also want to use it in Cygwin; problem is that Cygwin adds the Windows environment when it starts, and goes looking for Vim configuration stuff in some Windows filespace, when I want to keep the two separate.

The key is the shell variable VIM

Windows will set it to something that points to the main Vim folder in Windows world, but I want it to point to:


when I am in Cygwin.

All I have to do is add this to my login file (.bashrc, or whatever it is) then it’s all good.

Academic publishing — kill it all!

Could a consortium of research institutions and universities get together to create a kind of peer-reviewed arXiv, and simply cut out the publishers? The universities and labs supply the content and do most of the reviewing. Take all the money libraries pay for subscriptions and academics pay for open access, pool it, create a multinational organisation run by the researchers that then employ a few publishing staff, web designers and so on, and set up a searchable, truly open database of work that has passed peer review.

Make the publishers work for the researchers, not the other way around. And we’d even pay them for their work, which they don’t do for us.

You kill the predatory open access model — where you have Nature etc at the top charging these big fees (but at least doing a thorough job), and dodgy publishers at the bottom who don’t do proper peer review but will happily take your money and stick your unedited PDF on a random website.

Once the web came along, we entered this phase whereby traditional publishers are not really needed any more, but still exist and are trying to find ways to monetise their names and history. Surely eventually we’ll pass into a true ‘internet phase’ of academic publishing where the traditional publishers are no longer relevant?

Downsides? Access to back issues of old journals, quality control, factionalism in academia…???? But aren’t these already issues for a lot of us?

You tell me.