Launchpad bug 59695 has been gathering a huge amount of activity since I wrote about this issue. The issue seems to be that the hardware manufacturers (BIOS and HDD firmware) set very aggressive values for power management. And every other OS (Windows & Mac OSX) override these values to something more sane. The manufacturers only test their equipment in Windows, so they don’t see any problems :-)
This kind of thing seems to happen to Linux quite regularly - we all remember the ACPI debacle caused by manufacturers using Microsoft’s broken ASL compiler, which worked in Microsoft’s broken ACPI environment (or was overridden with driver updates).
So in my opinion, Ubuntu (and every other distributor) has to step in and override these aggressive settings. And, by the look of the bug report, Gnome Power Manager should provide the user with a slider to set the balance between power savings and hardware lifetime.
Oh, and the workaround I posted last week obviously doesn’t cover the case of the machine resuming from suspend. You have to use an ACPI event script for that.
I’ve just come across a rather scary, and worryingly old launchpad bug, which talks about real hardware damage. There is more on the problem here. But basically, by default, Linux is far too optimistic with spinning laptop hard drives down, and you can reach number of spin-up/downs that your drive is rated for over it’s entire life-time, in a few months.
My laptop (3 months old), is already at 160000 Load/Unloads: Around half it’s rated life.
The easy solution is
Or, the following in /etc/hdparm.conf
Lets hope that this gets resolved soon, or the problem isn’t as bad as it appears.
I see that Matthew Garrett (the Ubuntu Laptop Tzar) is subscribed to this bug, but doesn’t seem to have commented on it. I find that a little odd, considering its seriousness.
I was lucky enough to win a Nokia N800 at LugRadio Live 2007, because I’d come from South Africa. I’ve had it for 3 months now, and the successor was announced last week, so I think it’s time to blog about it, properly.
The hardware is pretty decent. The screen is very bright and vivid (great for photos), and just big enough to read websites comfortably. There are enough buttons to fulfil the basic tasks without reaching for the stylus, but you generally work it with the stylus (or a finger). It has quite a few hardware features:
The battery life is comperable to my cellphone (about a week of non-use, or a day or two of use), and I’m happy with most of the hardware, but I do have a few issues:
The power button isn’t sufficiently recessed for it’s soft carrying case. This means that I can’t carry it off in my bag, it’ll turn itself on eventually, and run it’s battery flat from spurious touch-screen clicks. The solution is to always leave it on, and screen-locked (it supports an auto-lock). For a cellphone manufacturer, I’d have thought they’d get this right.
The webcam’s position at the far left means it gets a good view of the left side of your face. This can be a little disconcerting.
The USB port is (without some serious hackery) only in peripheral mode. I’d really like to be able to plug a USB keyboard into this device (bluetooth keyboards are way too expensive).
There’s a bottleneck in the system (processor presumably), that stops it playing youtube videos at full framerate. Mplayer seems to just be able to handle QVGA video at 24fps, but nothing more.
The software stack of the N800 is everything I could desire. It runs a Debian derivative of Linux, Maemo. Maemo uses proper Debian package management, the GTK widget set (with addons), Telepathy for IM, and Gstreamer for media. This makes it a doddle to port existing X applications to the N800.
When you first turn on the N800, after unboxing (or reflashing), you go through an install wizard. It sets the hostname, timezone, and pairs with your bluetooth cellphone. The bluetooth phone pairing is well thought out, and beats anything I’ve ever come across on any platform. Unfortunately it suffers from the same problem as Windows - it doesn’t set your Home Town, etc. based on the time-zone.
The default web browser is Opera-based, but a Gecko engine is available, and a WebKit one remoured to be on the way. It has a (proprietary) flash plugin, so you can watch YouTube, and the CACert.org root certificate is pre-installed :-)
The device has 4 input modes:
I find the input fine, although slow, for everything except passwords. Multi-case, symbol-laden passwords really bring out the worst of all the input systems.
The default software selection is passable, but not great. The device really ships with “internet tablet” software, with a few decent games thrown in. The major problems are the media player doesn’t play oggs or video, and the e-Mail program’s IMAP support, which is a joke, at best (It uses IMAP as if it was POP).
But I enabled a few extra repositories and soon my N800 became a really cool device:
http://catalogue.tableteer.nokia.com/certified/ bora user http://catalogue.tableteer.nokia.com/non-certified/ bora user http://repository.maemo.org/ bora free non-free http://repository.maemo.org/extras/ bora free non-free http://www.claws-mail.org/maemo/ bora user http://maemo-hackers.org/apt bora main
It’s a cool device for a geek to own, no doubt, but what’s the actual point of it?
I can answer that in a few ways:
But in the end, all that matters is that it runs Linux , and has Python dammit, so it’s a piece of cake to write any software for it that I want to. I think that reason on it’s own makes it a device worth owning.
Due to archive.ubuntu.com’s saturated links atm, I switched to using mirror.ac.za as our upstream, but forgot to take their different URL scheme into account. We don’t use rsync’s —max-delete option on debian mirrors, so voom, our entire ubuntu archive mirror vanished. I’m resyncing it UWC, who we have a 10Mbps wireless link to…
Congratulations to the Ubuntu team, on a successful gutsy release. While gutsy is currently a little buggy for me, the millions of eyes will hopefully find all the bugs responsible… (and I must get around to filing the relevant launchpad bugs)
I run a teeny weeny little mirror (by International standards, for South Africa, it’s OK), so I’ve followed the release process, and been hanging out on #ubuntu-mirrors since last night. Preparing an Ubuntu release is quite an undertaking. In total, each mirror needs to carry around 20-30 CD images, and 4 DVD images. That’s reasonable chunk of data, and it takes a lot of coordination for everybody to get it.
I see many distros release, we normally pick them up automatically, and notice their presence the next day. But there’s definitely something special about Ubuntu releases. They have the feel of a release. The tension builds up the night before, and the #ubuntu-release-party channel fills up (when I popped in, around 500 people). Then, a few hours before the release is announced, people start noticing that it’s on the mirrors. Pointing this out on the release-party channel is not allowed (it would disturb the otherwise rowdy party of 500 users pressing F5 every 10 seconds), but pretty quickly, before the release is even announced, all the mirrors that carry Ubuntu CDs get flat-lined. If they don’t, then it’s a sign that their hardware isn’t up to scratch, and they have to find & fix their bottlenecks. On the #ubuntu-mirrors channel, you can see sysadmins from around the world showing off graphs of flat-lined, multi-gigabit links and sharing server tuning tips. If you want any experience in widely-distributing large files, run an ubuntu mirror at release-time, you’ll gain the experience fast.
I don’t know if this massive assault means Ubuntu is the most popular distribution out there. Most Ubuntu users don’t need the new ISO. They rather need click the big “upgrade” button, and hammer their local mirror to the tune of about a gigabyte. Ubuntu is based on Debian’s awesome package management system, that (if used correctly) should never require a re-install. There are Debian systems out there that were installed once, back in the 90s, and have been upgraded (both distro versions and hardware) continuously since then. Do people not know that, or do they want the thrill of booting up with the new Gutsy CD? Debian is widely considered to be the most popular distribution, and a Debian release hardly raises eyebrows (other than somebody saying “Debian released? Has hell frozen over?”, and scheduling an upgrade for some time in the next 6 months). If nothing else, this shows how different distributions’ user-base can be, while being technically very similar.
I’ve done my bit to help out the Ubuntu release:
Now, as the release traffic dies down again (i.e. heavy but not quite flat-lining), I hope the sysadmins and release-party-goers sleep well, you all deserve it.
A couple of months ago, I was looking at a friend’s laptop. It had definite motherboard problems and a dead HDD. As part of the service, I updated the BIOS. Unfortunately, it died mid-flash.
I tried the local Fujitsu-Siemens service center, but they said the motherboard had to be replaced. On an aging laptop, that’s just not worth it. New HDD, yes. New Mobo, no.
I asked around UCT everywhere, looking for someone with a PROM programmer, but the only one I could find was an ancient device attached to a 286. The “new” programmer (not much newer) was broken… I waited a couple of months, but it still isn’t fixed.
So, I tried a mail-order BIOS flashing service, biosflash.com. They found a compatible chip, programmed it (with the update I’d been trying to install), and put it in the (registered) post within 24hrs. 2 weeks later, I’ve got it, and it installed it in the laptop.
Usually this kind of kind of thing means the laptop is written off. (Desktops normally have some kind of bad-flash recovery procedure, but it’s rare in laptops, and not foolproof anyway). I’m very impressed with biosflash.com: for only €15, the machine is no longer a brick.
Now to replace that HDD…
I remember somebody asking how to do this on the CLUG lists a while back. But here’s the problem:
You’ve got an automated backup system, but you want offsite backups. DVDs are too small, external hard drives are the only option. You want the user to be able to plug in the firewire disk, have the backup start automatically, and let them know when it’s done.
Here’s how I implemented it:
The backups are implemented with backup-manager, they backup into
The external hard drive connects by firewire. Running
udevinfo -a -p /sys/block/sdd on it showed me it’s ID:
I created this UDEV rule file
And the relevant fstab entry:
And the backup script
While this heritage is a testament to a strong LUG, there are only about 20 people who regularly attend meetings, and thus get the benefit of these talks. With a LUG membership of around 800 (my best estimate from mailing list figures), this is a tiny fraction of our community. People who can’t make it have been requesting videos of talks for a while, and recently Jonathan Carter brought his camera, and we started playing with videoing them. He has been stuck in Johannesburg for a few weeks and left me his camera, so I’ve been playing around with encoding.
So far, the lessens learned:
Our progress so far is these procedures, and these videos: UK, ZA. We are using Ogg/Vorbis/Theora, and 3 different qualities of video. The three qualities are overkill, but I’m still experimenting with settings. I’d like some feedback - especially from a codec expert :-)
According to the published criteria, we should have done well. Somehow we managed to score lower than Alexandria on “rotation” which is odd because Wikimania has never been held in the Southern Hemisphere.
I’d have liked too see the IRC log from the judges meeting, to see where we lost our points, but of course that isn’t going to happen, so we’ll have to work it out ourselves, by comparing the bids.
In retrospect, our bid wasn’t that great. We were pinning more hopes on our location, and Cape Town’s attractions, then on the bid itself. It was expensive, last-minute, and lacking sponsership & good accommodation. By losing, we got our chance to get it right next time.
The good news, is bidding opens for Wikimania 2009 almost immediately. I don’t know what the chances are of 2009 being in Africa again, but I’m assuming we are going to bid, if everyone can pick themselves up and get going on it. To do it, w e are going to need firm sponsors. Find any friends you have corporate contacts, and twist their arms.
I’ve just discovered memdisk. It’s part of the
syslinux package on Debian/Ubuntu, and hides in
Memdisk lets you boot a floppy image, via grub or pxelinux. In this modern era of computers without floppy drives, it means you can do BIOS updates without having to go through the whole procedure of turning a floppy image into a bootable CD.
In PXELINUX, the config file would look like this:
In Grub, like this:
Thanks ThinkWiki for the idea.
Caveat emptor: apparently some flash tools don’t like memdisk, so YMMV
The preferred way to do this is with IMAP Namespaces. My natural approach would be to create something like a Maildir tree
/srv/mail/shared, and make this the “public” namespace. Then set filesystem permissions on subtrees of that, to define who can see what. Unfortunately, dovecot uses strict Maildir++, and won’t let you create mailboxes inside each other (on the filesystem)
/Foo/Bar is stored as a Maildir called
.Foo.Bar, so subtrees don’t exist, so this isn’t an option. The up-comming dbox format should allow something like this, but it isn’t usable yet.
My solution was to create multiple namespaces. One for each shared mailbox. Users are given permission to use them via file-system permissions (i.e. group membership), example:
INDEX mean that dovecot’s metadata is stored in the user’s personal Maildir, so users who don’t have permission to see the shared mailbox don’t get errors.
The permissions of the mailbox should be done as follows:
If you want a common subscription list, you have to manually symlink:
Seems to work well. (at least with thunderbird)
Finally, it’s got easy to install the codecs we can legally use in this country:
Medibuntu now has a
non-free-codecs package, an all-in-one virtual package.
Personally, I’m still in favour having them there by default, and the installer removes them if you select a patent-encumbered country as your time-zone, but I can see why people are wary of that approach….