Life the universe and everything

Vauxhall Signum Low Power and Slow

with 2 comments

Vauxhall engine

I have recently solved a problem with my Vauxhall Signum 2004 1.9i Diesel and wanted to share.

The symptoms were:

  • Lacking power, slow to accelerate
  • EML comes on at engine start but goes off after driving a short distance
  • Noisy engine during acceleration
  • If over revved the Signum goes into ‘limp mode’ and the engine management light comes on until the engine is restarted

I found an excellent post titled Poor Performance … Check your boost pipes. Boost pipes are sometimes called vacuum pipes. I bought some 4mm internal diameter silicon pipe from ebay and started checking the pipes in the engine.

Within 10 minutes I found that one of the very short sections of rubber (just above the radiator close to the battery) had a split in it. I removed this and replaced it with a short section of my new pipe. I was doubtful that that was the cause of all my problems though.

I decided to go for a test drive …… what a difference. It was driving like a new car, turbo kicking in, powering away, a pleasure to drive. I have been embarrassed when pulling into traffic as it was taking up to 30 seconds to reach 30 mph before this fix.

On the same forum was another similar post with plenty of pictures called 2.2dti silicon boost pipes fitted (photos included). Thank you guys for posting your solutions which gave me the confidence to do it myself.


Written by barnabyfry

April 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Posted in How to, Personal

Christopher Hitchens life and death in 10 days

leave a comment »

On the Tuesday 6th December 2011 I stumbled across someone that I had never heard of before. His name was Christopher Hitchens. I had been searching the internet trying to find out what percentage of google employees (read ‘geeks’) are atheists. It turns out he gave an atheist talk at google. My question wasn’t answered but I found myself a new hero.

I was so intrigued by this man that I began to search the internet for videos and articles to learn more about him. As an atheist, I found his opinions on people, God and religion so closely matched my own. His passion, intelligence, knowledge, razor-sharp wit and eloquence gave him the public platform he wanted and deserved. In debate he used logic, common sense, reason and knowledge with devastating effect.

It was only a few days after I discovered Hitchens that I learned of his Oesophageal cancer diagnosis in June 2010. I was stunned.

He has been asked many times since his diagnosis if it has made him change his view of religion, a question he despised. Of those that would pray for him he responded “…I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.”

Today, I learned that he is dead. Eleven days ago I had not heard of Christopher Hitchens. Today I mourn his death.

I encourage anyone not familiar with the man to google him now. You will only be the better for it.

Written by barnabyfry

December 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Panic Attack

leave a comment »

At four o’clock this morning I suffered a panic attack. I have had similar events a couple of time over the years but it was Emma that found all my symptoms tied in with a panic attack.

I had a couple of bottled beers the night before but only a couple. I also had a decaf coffee.

When I awoke my first thought was that I’d been given caffeine instead as I felt suddenly alert. I felt slightly breathless and started taking deeper breaths through my mouth. I started to worry that my heart wasn’t beating properly so I wasn’t getting the oxygen I needed. I pressed a finger to my jugular to feel my heart beat … it seemed slightly irregular. I felt a little alarmed. Could this be a heart attack?

I went to the toilet and I noticed that I had sweaty palms. I tried to pace the bathroom to calm myself but started to feel faint. So I returned to the bedroom and woke Emma. I said I felt weird and light-headed. I then laid on the bedroom floor with Emma standing over me. It was in these seconds that I kind of lost awareness or passed out for a second.

When I recovered I felt a bit better but I had pins a needles in my hands and forearms. I got back in bed but started to shiver uncontrollably for a few minutes until I calmed and eventually went back to sleep.

I wanted to write down these symptoms while I still remember them. Having read about panic attacks it is now obvious that that is what it was. I had almost all of the symptoms described.

My previous episodes include a ‘funny turn’ after I got a strange sensation in my groin lifting heavy equipment after a gig (nearly twenty years ago). That incident involved worrying that I had a hernia, feeling weird, getting out of a car and lying in the rain and seeing colourful bizarre dreamlike images during a few seconds of unconsciousness. Apparently, I heaved several times as if to throw up during my unconscious spell.

I have also had bad reactions in the past when having blood taken (nausea, sickness and cold sweat). Last year I had a similar bout after a nasal endoscopy which involved nausea, vomiting, numbness and very strong pins and needles in my hands.

It is strange though, that I had a local anaesthetic to have a small benign lump removed from my upper arm three years ago and watched the whole thing with no ill effects.

I hope that in future I will be able to recognise the signs and calm myself before the panic attack develops. It is clearly mentally self induced although the physiology of a panic attack is real enough.

Written by barnabyfry

December 2, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Life and Health

Tagged with , ,

Virgin Media DNS hijacking for profit?

leave a comment »

Virgin Media DNS Hijacking for direct profit?Overall I’ve been happy with my ISP, Virgin Media. A few teething problems with the so called superhub but nothing a techie geek couldn’t handle.

I usually use google chrome as my browser of choice but today I was using firefox for a change. I’m used to using the address bar to perform normal searches.

The BIG news ….. I just tried to search for ‘hotelopia’ by typing that name into my firefox address bar. I was silently redirected to:

YIKES! I can’t believe Virgin Media just stuffed a commission junction cookie on me. I was so shocked I decided to try again. I typed ‘alpharooms’ into the address bar and received an error page that looked like this:


Guess what that is? It’s a failed redirect via affiliate window to

Cookie Stuffing

For the uninitiated …

Cookie stuffing occurs when a user visits a website, and as a result of that visit receives a third-party cookie from an entirely different website (the target affiliate website), usually without the user being aware of it. When (if) the user visits the target website and completes a qualifying transaction, the cookie stuffer is paid a commission. See wikipedia.

The difference here is that my ISP virgin media is taking my failed search to: (goes via affiliate window) (goes via commission junction) (goes via tradedoubler)

which attempts to redirect me to the various sites having stuffed an unwanted cookie from an affiliate network into my browser. If I book a hotel, they get a commission.

I know about this because I earn my living this way. My hotel website uses these techniques to legitimately direct users to accommodation suppliers when performing an accommodation search.

DNS Hijacking

According to wikipedia ICANN, the international body responsible for administering toplevel domain names, has published a memorandum highlighting its concerns, and affirming:”ICANN strongly discourages the use of DNS redirection, wildcards, synthesized responses and any other form of NXDOMAIN substitution in existing gTLDs, ccTLDs and any other level in the DNS tree for registry-class domain names.”

But this does not mention the use of affiliate cookies. Is it really possible that Virgin Media is really attempting to drop cookies on their customers browsers when those customers search for specific companies or could it be a corrupt employee?

Matt Cutts of google recently tweeted about a similar case in the US but even that did not go as far as dropping cookies.

Either way Virgin Media seriously need to get it’s house in order and be held to account. Any ISP is in a position of trust and as such they should uphold high standards of privacy and decency.

Written by barnabyfry

August 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Posted in SEO

Tin Whistle

with one comment

As well as being a techie geek I have an interest in music and play the guitar and keyboard. I have written the odd song too. My latest purchase is a tin whistle.

I love Irish music and have always loved the sound and style of the tin whistle and most other celtic pipe music. One of my favourite tunes is the Uilleann pipe solo from Riverdance by Davy Spillane.

Anyway … I found some great playing on youtube by Ryan Duns who has also uploaded a great series of tin whistle tutorials for the beginning and intermediate player. He has a great playing style and an excellent teaching style. So I am now addicted to the tin whistle.

I bought a generation tin whistle in D and then read on that the sweetone is a better option so I bought one from ebay. I have worked through to week four in the last couple of days. I have been driving my wife Emma and son Joshua up the walls. Our two cats don’t like it much either. Jack, the oldest cat, has taken to sitting by my shoulder when I’m playing and biting me on the cheek. I guess he thinks I am a giant mutated canary and is naturally attempting to finish me off.

I know I can be a bit faddy. That is I get into a new fad completely and intensely for a short period of time so we’ll see how long this one lasts. I have missed music as I don’t play as much as I used to so it is good to be playing again.

Written by barnabyfry

January 16, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Personal

Tagged with , ,

Poor mans failover

with 18 comments

This ‘How-to’ blog is primarily intended for webmasters with database driven websites (but also covers effective but cheap IP failover for all webmasters) who need to achieve high availability without high expense and is based on my own experience.

So why am I writing this? Well … at the time of writing I am struggling to find any resources for cheap, high availability and fail-over techniques which cover the failover scenarios a web master might face. The articles I’ve found also tend to be highly technical. I hope I can offer you a method which offers effective failover and allows you to maintain high availability using simple, effective and cheap resources.

A word of warning! We all know that 5 nines of availability is the goal (99.999% uptime) but that kind of availability does not come cheap. This article is intended for website owners who can live with a few minutes of downtime now and again but would like to avoid a few hours.

Here is the summary of main points/requirements:

  1. You must control your own DNS
  2. You need multiple websites and/or multiple databases
  3. You pay for a DNS failover service

DNS nameservers

You must have control of your DNS nameservers in order to specify a DNS failover service. I have shared hosting which comes with its own name servers but I use a managed DNS service at ZoneEdit for my primary name server and list my hosts DNS as secondary name server. Experience has taught me never to keep all my eggs in one basket. I use Zone Edit because they offer the failover service.

[update]I have since swapped to as they offer a 2-4 minute failure detection/recovery time[/update]

Multiple Websites

Here’s my scenario. I have shared hosting for my database driven (MySQL) website and I have a server in my office which has the same files. I use this server for development and testing and it makes sense to use it as my failover server for when my main website fails. I also have an installation of MySQL on this server. The office has broadband with a fixed IP address.

OK, so not everyone has the luxury of a development server … but you do have the option of very cheap hosting at a different hosting company!!! If you need high availability you need somewhere else to take over when your primary site goes down. You simply need to ensure that the failover website has a reasonably up to date version of the live site.


I backup my live MySQL database every day and I ‘restore’ the latest backup to my office server as often as I remember.

I learned to my cost that database downtime accounts for the majority of my sites total down-time. Here’s where having a secondary database gives you another added advantage. With most database connections you can write script (php, asp etc) which checks the availability of a database and if it fails you instantly and seamlessly connect to your backup database and the page still executes on the primary website. I use such a script as a global connection which is used on every page. The classic ASP version is:

Set objConn=Server.CreateObject (“ADODB.Connection”) connstring, “”, “”
If objConn.errors.count>0 Then
objConn.close connstring2, “”, “”
End If

If my live database goes down (which it does) my users are unaffected because my scripts instantly switch to the secondary database.

Failover Service

For at most around $11 per year (multi-credit purchase is much cheaper) the ZoneEdit failover service will retrieve a specified page from your website every 10-15 minutes. It uses simple regular expressions to check for valid html content. If it cannot retrieve the page it dynamically changes the DNS pointers for your website to the IP address which you specify in the failover service. In my case the office IP address but could simply be a second hosting company IP address.

What happens then?

New visitors to the site will mostly be directed to the backup site. Visitors who were on-line at the time will lose the connection. This is because their browser will continue to attempt to access the ip address it has cached for the domain. This is another slight compromise.


Given a secondary website and/or database on a different server we can use simple scripting to connect seamlessly to a secondary database should the primary fail. Using a DNS IP failover service can provide high availability (10 mins average detection time at failover) by redirecting users to a specified secondary ip address.

This is my guerilla method for cheap fail-over and it has proved very reliable. I hope it is of use.

Written by barnabyfry

March 22, 2007 at 5:24 pm

Posted in How to

CSS Div vs Table Layout

with 6 comments

OK. I’m going to eat humble pie. I have just migrated my main website to XHTML and Div based CSS layout with hardly a table in sight.

As I stated in my previous post I wanted to find a CSS solution which gave me the flexibility of tables using Divs. I stubbornly continued in this quest and came across Yahoo’s developer network grids:

I found that their template layouts were very similar to my existing layout and offered the opportunity to seamlessly migrate my site quickly with only minor tweaking of the CSS required.

I am very pleased with the result but will have to wait and see if the search engines approve.

Having migrated to Div/CSS based layout I decided to update my HTML to XHTML, a much cleaner markup language. With a very helpful tutorial from I proceeded to clean-up my code.

Although a bit laborious I was delighted to see the pages validating.

So, in conclusion … I DO think that CSS based design is the way forward and I am now a convert. My pages are smaller (around 20% smaller), the content is near the top of the markup (good for SEO as well as for software web readers) and I now find myself with a more flexible website because it is CSS based. I could even give users the option of where they want the menu at the click of a link. I won’t, but I could.

Some people will find their page sizes reduce more or less dependant on the use of tables. For example I had already reduced my page sizes by adopting <ul><li> instead of repeated <tr><td>’s for menus etc.

Written by barnabyfry

December 7, 2006 at 11:53 am

Posted in SEO