Jon Isbell

Thank you! January 1, 2015

Happy New Year! It seems like months ago now – but I just wanted to once again say an absolutely MASSIVE thank you for sponsoring me to run the London Marathon. In case you hadn’t realised I made it round in one piece! It was an amazing experience – there were people lining the entire course and the crowd was so enthusiastic. All the pain was definitely worth it!

At the end of the London Marathon

What I really wanted to tell you about was the trip to Uganda. This year we were in a village called Kimaruli. During our time there we were able to visit a nursery (Nangalwe Nursery), three primary schools (St Michael Primary School, Nalondo Primary School, Ikaali Primary School) and a secondary school (Kimaruli High School). Yet again we were overwhelmed by the extreme poverty in the area: children arriving to school with worn out clothes; almost no teaching materials; no signs of water or food at school; extremely dilapidated buildings. Basically the worst possible conditions to learn in.

On our arrival to the schools many of the children came charging out of the classrooms and surrounded us! One classroom was jam-packed with about 100 little children who were so excited to see us that we had to cover our ears because it was so loud!

In total £1903.75 was raised! Thank you! Eighty percent of the money was split evenly between the five schools. The money allowed us to buy teacher’s curriculum books, pupil text books, stationery, sports equipment and even a printer for the secondary school. The remaining 20% went to Aid International to support their work with children in Guatemala and Zambia (they provided me with the marathon place).

We also visited the sites planned for the wells – there will be six in total. Our Ugandan NGO paper work is now complete and just before Christmas our first well was drilled in the village of Lwanjusi!

Rather unusually for the region Kimaruli High School had a class room containing 10 old computers which mostly worked. They also had an internet connection – although it had never been used because the network switch was broken. We were able to bring another one down from Kampala and get them up and running!

Children at Nalondo Primary School

Your support has made an overwhelming difference to the lives of the children at those schools. The teachers are now better equipped to teach the children and the children have the resources to learn. Without you it wouldn’t have been possible to touch those children! So thank you! You made a difference!

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Categories: Uganda

Water from a ditch April 1, 2014

The London marathon is now only a few weeks away, which means less training so my body can recover and more bowls of pasta so I’ve got lots of energy! You can see how its going at


I thought you might like to hear a story from my last trip to Uganda. As you can imagine it’s quite a bit hotter than it is in the UK! This means it’s important to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. We can’t drink the well water because our stomachs aren’t used to it – we drink bottled water instead.

We had got to about the middle of our time in Manafwa and had amassed quite a collection of empty water bottles on our bus. One of the local children spotted our bottles and really wanted one. The children are so lovely it’s hard to say ‘no’. So we caved in and gave him a bottle. It wasn’t long before there were lots of kids who wanted bottles too! Word gets out fast!

To us it was just a plastic water bottle, that we’d throw away! But they were all incredibly excited! It meant they could take their own water to school! In the villages, in Manafwa, there are no taps. You have to walk maybe 3 miles to get to the nearest well. That means in many cases the children will spend the whole day at school without anything to drink (or eat) in really hot temperatures. I’m sure you can imagine that makes it quite hard to stay awake, never mind learn!


The day after the water bottle episode I was walking up a dirt track in the area that we were working in and spotted a group of children we’d given bottles to. I went over to say hello and as I got closer I was horrified to see they were filling their bottles with dirty water from a ditch in the track!

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post this year we are taking teaching resources for schools and starting the process of drilling wells. Both of these will help the children get better education and help break the poverty cycle. I’d be incredibly grateful for your support and I know the children in Manfwa would too!

If you’d like to, you can donate at



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Categories: Uganda

Running the London Marathon for Uganda March 20, 2014

You probably know that I’ve been running for the past few years, but this year I’ve taken the plunge and signed up for the London Marathon (its only a few weeks away – April 13th). If I’m honest the training has been pretty tough!

Why am I putting myself through all this pain?! For the last six years I’ve been travelling to the Manafwa district in Eastern Uganda (on the border with Kenya, 250km from Kampala). It’s a remote rural area where poverty is rife and hunger is the norm. We’ve been able to work within the community building up personal relationships and making a lasting difference. Many children eat only a single meal a day (that’s the lucky ones) and have to walk several miles to school often barefoot. Once they get there they are crammed inside a small room with as many as 100 other pupils, a single teacher and maybe a few textbooks – no food and no water.


Each year I’ve visited, with a group from my Church, we’ve taken teaching resources and sports equipment for schools, cooking equipment, blankets and even building materials that people like you have paid for. When we speak to people in the community they are always so overwhelmed that people like you, that they’ve never met, are willing to support them!

Being in Uganda I’m always struck by the stark contrast between England, its like a different world. I always wish we were able to do more, so I’d be massively grateful for your support! This year we are taking resources for schools and we will be starting the process of drilling wells!

Please donate at

Thank you so much!

Jon :)

Ps. Aid International kindly provided me with a spot in the London Marathon. For the last 13 years they’ve been supporting Fountain of Life Church in Lusaka, Zambia to build schools and Gifts of Love International in Brito, Guatemala to house abused children. 20% of the funds raised will go to support those projects.

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Categories: Uganda

‘dd’ Progress July 30, 2012

dd is an excellent tool for low-level copying. It is often used to create disk images, wipe disks and transfer files when used in combination with netcat.

One frustrating “feature” of dd is that by default it provides no output until it exits. I recently discovered that it is possible to get the progress of a dd process by sending it the USR1 signal.

To receive regular progress updates you can use watch to repeatedly send the USR1 signal. As watch normally runs in the foreground you can use nohup to run it in the background. Run the following before starting dd:

# nohup watch pkill -USR1 dd >/dev/null &

Then run dd as usual:

# dd if=/dev/zero of=file bs=1M
239+0 records in
239+0 records out
250609664 bytes (251 MB) copied, 0.466951 s, 537 MB/s
326+0 records in
326+0 records out
341835776 bytes (342 MB) copied, 2.54462 s, 134 MB/s
354+0 records in
354+0 records out
371195904 bytes (371 MB) copied, 4.93833 s, 75.2 MB/s

Don’t forget to terminate watch once your dd process has completed!

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Categories: Linux

UTF-8 in PuTTy February 26, 2012

At work we use Windows on the desktop and so often end up using PuTTy to administer UNIX servers.

Recently I’ve been migrating a large MySQL database containing both Latin-1 and UTF-8 encoded tables. Whilst verifying that the migrated tables were correctly encoded I discovered that by default PuTTy will display Latin-1 even if the remote server’s locale is UTF-8.

Fortunately if you need to work with UTF-8 in PuTTy then you can change the following option:

Configuration -> Window -> Translation -> Remote character set -> UTF-8
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Categories: Uncategorized

Securing MySQL February 21, 2012

Did you know that a default installation of MySQL comes with anonymous, test and remote root user accounts? An attacker with knowledge of MySQL can use these accounts as stepping stones for other attacks. Its definitely worth spending a couple of minutes removing these accounts and make your MySQL installation a little more secure.

# Delete anonymous users
DELETE FROM mysql.user WHERE User='';

# Delete remote root users
DELETE FROM mysql.user WHERE User='root' AND Host!='localhost';

# Delete test database

# Delete test users
DELETE FROM mysql.db WHERE Db='test' OR Db='test\\_%';

# Refresh privileges
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Categories: MySQL Security

Creating a tiny PXE rescue environment using Slitaz February 19, 2012

Slitaz is a very small (base is 8mb) and highly configurable “live cd” distribution this makes it perfect for use in a rescue environment. The following steps were used to create a ‘rescue mode’ version of Slitaz which can be rapidly booted via PXE and includes RAID kernel modules, networking + SSH.

All of these steps were completed on a virtual machine booted using Slitaz 3.0 base (available from When the machine first boots you should login as root (password root) and start ssh (dropbear) then you can complete the instructions via an SSH client.

sed -i 's/DROPBEAR_OPTIONS.*/DROPBEAR_OPTIONS=""/' /etc/daemons.conf
/etc/init.d/dropbear start

Now SSH into the VM and copy/adjust/paste the rest of the instructions.

Get base flavor to work from

tazlito extract-flavor base
cp -a /home/slitaz/flavors/base /home/slitaz/flavors/rescue
cd /home/slitaz/flavors/rescue

Update metadata

sed -i s/base/rescue/ receipt
sed -i 's/Minimal set of packages to boot/base + rescue customisations/' receipt

Add useful packages

echo lvm2 >> packages.list
echo nano >> packages.list

Create directory for custom config

mkdir -p rootfs/etc

Allow root logins

cat /etc/daemons.conf | sed 's/DROPBEAR_OPTIONS.*/DROPBEAR_OPTIONS=""/' > rootfs/etc/daemons.conf

Run ssh on boot

cat /etc/rcS.conf | sed 's/RUN_DAEMONS="/RUN_DAEMONS="dropbear /' > rootfs/etc/rcS.conf

Use interface on private network

cat /etc/network.conf | sed s/eth0/eth1/ > rootfs/etc/network.conf

Set root passwd

deluser tux
cp /etc/shadow rootfs/etc

Install toolchain and kernel source

for i in slitaz-toolchain ncurses-dev perl linux-source; do tazpkg get-install $i; done

Enable storage kernel modules

cd /usr/src/linux
echo CONFIG_MEGARAID_SAS=m >> .config
echo CONFIG_SCSI_3W_9XXX=m >> .config

Build Slitaz package with the new kernel image and modules

make tazpkg

Copy newly built package into local repo (Note: The filename change is important s/slitaz-/)

mkdir /home/slitaz/packages
cp /usr/src/linux/linux-slitaz- /home/slitaz/packages/linux-

Create ISO

tazlito pack-flavor rescue
tazlito get-flavor rescue.flavor
tazlito gen-distro

Copy the kernel and filesystem

scp /home/slitaz/distro/rootcd/boot/rootfs.gz  server:/var/www/html/ipxe/rescue
scp /home/slitaz/distro/rootcd/boot/vmlinuz-  server:/var/www/html/ipxe/rescue
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Categories: Linux PXE

Flashing Belkin APs with DD-WRT without TFTP February 7, 2011

As part of a project to provide complete wireless coverage for a large office building I purchased a batch of 12 Belkin wireless access points. It was decided that replacing the stock firmware with DD-WRT would be a sensible move as it would provide lots of extra functionality. It turned out that the standard procedure for flashing Belkin APs using TFTP was rather hit and miss – it took about 10 reboots to get the first access point flashed!

Fortunately I stumbled across this forum post which described how to modify a DD-WRT firmware image so that it would be accepted by the firmware upload function of the Belkin’s web interface. To simplify this process for the future I wrote a small Perl script which does all the hard work.


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Categories: DD-WRT Wireless

Dirty IT Jobs! June 27, 2009

I definately prefer my job to any of these! Even dirtier IT jobs: The muck stops here

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Categories: Uncategorized

Immortal Computers

Still have some of these things in my house! Where Are They Now? 25 Computer Products That Refuse to Die

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Categories: Uncategorized