Gnome virtual desktop bindings

This might sound like a silly topic, but it’s infuriating.

It’s only very recently (since July) that I’ve adopted the Ctrl-Alt-Arrow Virtual Desktop bindings. Call me an old todger, but up until now, I’ve always remapped Alt-F1 through Alt-F6 as my Virtual Desktop keys. That’s how I always switched desktop, and I couldn’t bring myself to change to the Ctrl-Alt style.

I try to slowly align myself with the new defaults, so that I have to do less customisation to feel comfortable when I sit down at a box. With the MacBook which infuriatingly requires Fn+ for the F-keys, I thought I’d switch. It took a bit of re-training to switch, and now I’m comfortable. But, every now an then, I accidentally press Ctrl-Alt-Backspace and kill X. This combination is supposed to be highly unlikely to be accidental, and used to be. But with the default gnome bindings, it’s quite common. You just finish editing some text, and switch desktop, to find that your right hand hadn’t fully released the backspace key before the Ctrl+Alt went down.

I think either the X kill key needs to be changed, or we have to get rid of this silly gnome desktop-switching binding.

OTOH, I’m almost entirely in line with the modern GNOME defaults. On a foreign machine, I need to set up Dvorak keyboard, change the terminal to grey-on-black, and I’m pretty much ready to go. (My .ssh/config is also nice to have, as are my firefox quick links)

Ubuntu Releases

Is it just me, or is the Ubuntu development tree more stable than the releases?

I don’t know if I’ve just had bad luck, but the few Ubuntu releases have seen me abandon the stable release, almost straight away in search of some stability in the development tree. I remember Breezy being a stable release. Dapper was quite good, too - well polished. However, edgy was (as people said at the time), a little edgy, and for me it went down from there…

My first foray into Ubuntu development was from edgy to feisty. My laptop (Acer Ferrari 4005) was horribly unstable - a new, young chipset. Also, the tifm SD card reader wasn’t supported. I found feisty development to be quite stable and I pushed The Shuttleworth Lab into running it too, as a work-around for a nasty NFS bug which wasn’t going to ever be fixed.

Feisty development was fun. There was one update when mkinitrd broke, and the systems was completely unbootable (I still have a “rescue” monolithic kernel hanging around from that incident). But otherwise, it was pretty much like life on Debian testing: stable enough.

With the feisty release, prism54 broke, so my Ferrari headed for gutsy, straight away. (My secondary WiFi card is a prism54, the Ferrari wifi is broadcom)

Then I bought a new laptop, a mid-2007 Macbook - a carefully considered machine that should mostly contain well-supported hardware (Intel everywhere and Atheros wifi). Feisty was totally unstable on it, and I had to dive into Gutsy development again. Even gutsy didn’t support my wireless, which is only supported in the bleeding-edge madwifi trunk. No effort has been made to bring this driver into Ubuntu, as far as I know.

Now, I find myself wanting to get away from gutsy as fast as possible, because of a string of bugs. When a distribution is still in development, bugs get fixed, but as soon as it released there is too much red tape involved, and more to the point, the developers aren’t personally impacted by the bugs. Gutsy development has been a treat - pretty stable and reliable, and things worked.

Now almost simultaneously with the release, a pair string of bugs appeared that break my Suspend/Resume:

Am I destined to always run the development version?

People ask me if Ubuntu works. I say yes, it works almost perfectly on most machines. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking well - it does during the development cycle, but as it approaches releases, bugs creep in.

Of course this rant could be explained away in a couple of ways. I came to Ubuntu from Debian (which I still use), so I’m a CLI user, who started with the expectation that any laptop-ish support is better than nothing. My expectations have since risen to the point where everything should just work out of the box on a 6-month old machine. And a brand-new machine, should at least mostly work.

The Ubuntu release cycle coincides very badly with my academic schedule. Releases occur during term time, during the peak project hand-ins and tests month. So while I’m quite active in launchpad-crawling during development, as releases approach and the updates reach a fever-pitch, I’ve got less and less time to test them. This doesn’t lead to particularly merry releases for me.

Maybe I should follow Adrian Frith’s (rather ephemeral) lead, and switch to running Debian on my laptop. It might make a grumpy geek happier :-)

An update on Laptop Hard Drives & Linux

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.

There is already the obligatory ubuntu is killing your Hard Drive blog, and a closed for cooling off Ubuntu forums thread, if you want get involved and start swinging your battle-axe.

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.

A serious warning to Linux Laptop users

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

# hdparm -B 180 /dev/sda

Or, the following in /etc/hdparm.conf

/dev/sda {
    apm = 180

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.

And I thought our Ubuntu mirroring was a success

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…

Disk Usage Graph

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