Diary of a geek

August 2009
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Andrew Pollock

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Sunday, 30 August 2009

Finding out about conferences

Paul Fenwick says he finds out about conferences by word of mouth.

Not that I ever do more than skim the page, but the Announcements page of Linux Weekly News (a fine publication well worth more financial support) mentions upcoming conferences. I've just learned that this page is derived from the LWN.net Community Calendar

[21:52] [tech] [permalink]

ISC DHCP 4.1 package progress report

It's been a while since I last wrote about where I was up to with the DHCP 4.1 packaging for Debian.

I'm pleased to report that the packages are now ready for upload to experimental.

The main delay was doing some basic testing to make sure that the transition from the v3 packages to the new v4 packages worked properly. I'm glad I took the time to set up a Xen test environment, because I found all sorts of problems, and fixed them.

The only reason I'm not uploading the packages today is because my testing uncovered a bug (#544371) in the way ifupdown is invoking dhclient. Until that is resolved, there's not a lot of point in uploading, as dhclient won't work.

Oh, and the DHCP server LDAP patch still needs to be sorted out, but I'm not going to wait for that to do an experimental upload.

[19:03] [debian] [permalink]

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Reminiscing

We're attempting to do a bit of a clean up and cull of accumulated crap around the house at the moment. So far we've got our bedroom looking more like a bedroom and not a junk storage room of last resort. Unfortunately we achieved that by moving all of the extraneous junk to the spare room, which now looks like a bomb hit it.

So this weekend, I've been slowly picking through the rubble, trying to decide what to keep, what to get rid of, and where to put everything.

I stumbled upon some tapes I made when I was in high school in the early '90's, when I used to tape songs off the radio. Since I don't have a cassette player any more, I spent a lot of time this afternoon making a record of the songs so I can throw the tapes out. (You could also call this procrastinating). It was a great trip down memory lane.

YouTube is great for this kind of thing.

[18:10] [life] [permalink]

Monday, 17 August 2009

Having your cookie and eating it too

Russell Coker seemed to be of the impression that Firefox lacks support for manual cookie acceptance, whereas Konqueror has it.

Never fear, Russell! They just hid it very well:

Firefox 3.5 Privacy/History preferences

I must admit I had to do a bit of digging to find it, but I just couldn't believe that they'd take away a feature like that.

[21:07] [tech] [permalink]

Saturday, 08 August 2009

Funny People

We wanted to go see the latest Harry Potter movie tonight, but we got there right on screening time, and the lady in the box office was good enough to point out that it was already 80% sold, which made the odds that we'd be stuck right down the front better than we'd like (we hate sitting down the front) so we saw Funny People instead.

I'm not a huge fan of Adam Sandler movies. I think the last movie of his that I really cared for was The Wedding Singer, but I really enjoyed this movie. Maybe it was because of the strong supporting cast. Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill are very up and coming. Eric Bana must have had a ball being able to play an Australian, and he was very funny. I have to wonder how many of his Australianisms were lost on a US audience though, if my conduct at work is anything to go by.

It was good for a giggle, even if it was a bit overloaded with male genitalia jokes. It's always fun seeing movies set in California and in particular the Bay Area.

[23:51] [life] [permalink]

fit-PC2

The fit-PC2 looks interesting. As say a MythTV front end, I think it would be more promising than a Zonbu Mini, at a similar price. It certainly looks sexier.

If my current front end wasn't also a back end and therefore had a cable tuner card in it, I'd be more interested in exploring this. That said, I could investigate more seriously discontinuing using the cable tuner card and just using the HDHomeRun for all my tuning needs. Then my MythTV setup would be crazy distributed.

In fact, for my own edification, let's do a side-by-side comparison...

 Zonbu Minifit-PC2
Price$299 USD$359 USD
Processor1.2 Ghz VIA C7-M1.6 Ghz Intel Atom Z530
GraphicsVIA CX700M2, VGADVI
RAM512 MB1 GB
WiFi802.11bg optional extra802.11bg standard
Storage4GB Compact Flash160GB 2.5" SATA

If you opt for the diskless one for $245 you get a 1.1 Ghz Intel Atom Z510 instead. Not sure if the WiFi chipset is different as well. So if you scrap the storage, you can undercut the cost of a Zonbu Mini considerably. I'm not sure how the Atom compares with the VIA CPU in terms of actual performance.

Interestingly, it seems if you want a device capable of automatically booting when power is restored, you have to order a specific model, the "instant on" one. Sheesh. You'd just make that a BIOS setting and be done with it.

It sounds like the display is something proprietary. Pain.

Sadly the miniSD port doesn't seem to support SDHC, so I guess you'd have to use a USB stick if you wanted to go for a non-rotational-disk-based solution.

It's good that they're up-front about all of this.

Despite some possible short-comings, there's something very appealing about a device small enough to be able to bolt onto the back a TV using a VESA mount, although that would make the integrated IR received kind of pointless, which is a shame. This looks like a device worth keeping an eye on.

[16:37] [tech/gadgets] [permalink]

Mountain View to Atlanta in 4.5 days


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The problem with driving 4,175 kilometres in 4.5 days is everything blurs together. I need to get this written down while I can still remember anything. (Incidentally, this about the distance driving Brisbane to Perth, which is not something we'd ever have considering doing in Australia)

Mountain View, CA - Barstow, CA (Saturday night)


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We got away a bit later than planned, around 5pm. As a result, we didn't quite make it to Needles as planned by the time we were ready to call it a night. We stopped in Barstow instead. This ended up for the best, as Needles isn't really anything much to phone home about. We didn't cover any territory we hadn't already covered before on previous road trips, so it was no big deal that we were driving in the dark.

Due to a miscommunication, none of Sarah's unmentionables got packed, so we had to make an emergency stop in Gilroy to go to Target. The Gilroy Garlic Festival was happening that day. I don't know where it was, relative to Target, but the smell of garlic from the Target car park was amazing.

We passed countless truckloads of garlic and apples heading in the opposite direction once we got past Gilroy.

Barstow, CA - Roswell, NM (Sunday night)


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The next day, we managed to make up for lost time (partly by driving until really late) and made it to Roswell (we made the right turn at Albuquerque). We drove through a phenomenal electrical storm in New Mexico. It was right on top of us. I miss decent storms. At one point it was raining so hard, we had only a few metres visibility.

The part of Arizona we drove through was at too high an altitude for cacti, which was a shame. I love the cacti in Arizona. The mountains reminded me of Road Runner & Coyote cartoons, though. We stopped for lunch at the Roadkill Cafe in Seligman, Arizona. There was a definite cultural change here. The cafe had some hunting cable channel on the TV (I didn't even know such things existed) that was busy showing people shooting grizzly bears for sport. It was quite disturbing.

We flirted with Historic Route 66 for about as long as it took for us to get straight back onto the I-40 again. The road surface was terrible.

Roswell, NM - Oklahoma City, OK (Monday night)


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We were rudely awakened the next morning at about 6:30am by someone's car alarm going off for an extended period of time. Not the way you want to start your day after a long day's driving and only a few hours of sleep.

Roswell was fun, but they weren't capitalising on the alien/UFO thing anywhere near as much as I'd have expected. We went to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It was cool (the library was particularly comprehensive). I have to say, based on the photos they had there, that the thing that crashed really did look like a weather balloon...

Roswell had a frozen custard place, but it wasn't the same as Goodberrys/Rubees.

We left Roswell in the early afternoon, after changing plans and heading for Memphis instead of Dallas. We got as far as Oklahoma City, after dining in Amarillo, Texas (great BBQ ribs at the Texas Roadhouse).

Oklahoma City, OK - Memphis, TN (Tuesday night)


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Tuesday morning we went to check out the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. We just toured the outside parts. It's a nice memorial that they have made from the site. We then walked a few blocks to check out Henry Overholser Mansion, but they'd just changed their days of operation, and weren't open unfortunately.

Memphis, TN - Atlanta, GA (Wednesday night)


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We made it into Memphis by early evening. It wasn't very exciting at all, and was decidedly run down. Derelict buildings abounded. Beale Street wasn't that exciting. Not being Elvis fans, we didn't see the point in parting with $30 each to visit Graceland. Sarah was very disappointed, so we left straight away the next morning, and made it to Atlanta by 8pm that night. We stopped for lunch in Birmingham, Alabama, at Chick-Fil-A, the In-N-Out Burger of the South.

We spent Thursday and Friday in Atlanta, in the Marriott Towneplace Suites in Atlanta Northlake, where Chris and Briana were staying, along with Chris' mum, until they closed on their new house.

On Thursday we went to check out Stone Mountain, which was a conveniently short drive from where we were staying. Prior to embarking on this road trip, we'd had no idea there was another carved mountain in the US. We thought Mount Rushmore was it. The whole Stone Mountain Park was really nice. There was a glassblowing place there, and we watched a couple of glassblowing demonstrations. I've always found glassblowing to be fascinating. It was great to get an opportunity to see it being done.

There was a bit of a downpour while we were there, but after it passed, we took the cable car to the summit. It was still a bit hazy from the rain, which made the view not as good, but you could make out the skyscrapers of Atlanta to the south west.

On Friday, we went with Clara and her grandmother to the Georgia Aquarium while Chris and Bri sorted out the belated closing of the house purchase. The aquarium was absolutely awesome. It's the biggest one in the world. Clara had an absolute ball.

On Saturday morning we flew out to Sacramento via Phoenix, for our next engagement, the first birthday party of Zack Harvett with some of our other former neighbours from Building 4.

On Sunday we took the Capitol Corridor train back to the Bay Area, followed by the VTA Light Rail back to Mountain View. The train ride was pretty good. All it needs is WiFi. The route around the bottom of the bay is interesting. There's the train track, and there's marshlands on either side. You do get to go right alongside the salt evaporation ponds that you see from the air and on satellite imagery of the bay.

This was a good trip. We'd never planned on doing a west-east road trip, so it was good to get a few more states under our belt. I've now visited 15 states in some form more than just passing through the airport.

US states I've visited as of July 2009

For most of the time we tuned into various NPR stations where we could find one. On one occasion (I think it was when we were driving through Alabama) we happened onto some FOX Radio channel, with some guy called Glenn Beck ranting about stuff. Apparently days earlier he'd created a bit of controversy by calling President Obama a racist. His sensationalist ranting was good for a giggle for a bit, but it got a bit much after a while.

We stayed in Days Inn motels every night except in Memphis, where Google Maps failed us a bit and didn't seem to be up to date with what was a Days Inn and what wasn't. Days Inn offered free WiFi and gave a AAA discount. We stayed in a Quality Inn in Memphis, and it wasn't as good.

Photos from the trip are here

[00:44] [life] [permalink]

Friday, 07 August 2009

On Squeeze's release goals

I'm very excited by the recent announcement of the release goals for Squeeze.

Specifically multiarch. I didn't realise large file support was still an issue, nor IPv6. It's mainly multiarch that I'm jumping up and down about.

Multiarch is something that Debian has been lacking for so long, and is a necessary bridge to full 64-bit userland.

We switched from i386 to amd64 at work with Ubuntu 8.04, and it certainly hasn't been all beer and skittles. The ia32-libs package, which is a gross hack, is very necessary. Flash is still problematic. Multiarch won't fix everything, but it should put Debian on a more level playing field with the likes of Red Hat. Does SuSE do multiarch?

[22:49] [debian] [permalink]

It's nice to be appreciated

I've been a volunteer sysadmin for Linux Australia since some time after linux.conf.au 2005

My enthusiasm (and therefore output) has waxed and waned over this time period, but to my totally unexpected delight, on System Administrator Appreciation Day this year I received a $100 ThinkGeek gift certificate.

So that was nice. Now I'll just have to work on my motivation...

[22:08] [tech] [permalink]

Wednesday, 05 August 2009

On the new time-based freezes

Something I am more happy about is Debian's decision to make time-based freezes. This is a great step in the right direction, and a good compromise between feature based releases and time based releases.

For about the last two years now, my day job has involved the consumption of Ubuntu, and I can say from a quality point of view, its time based releases leave a lot of room for improvement. We've seen time and time again, bugs in an Ubuntu release that never saw the light of day in a stable Debian release.

What will be more interesting is how Ubuntu adapts to Debian's freeze and what that means for the 10.04 Ubuntu release (assuming it's another LTS).

I'll be watching this with interest.

[23:33] [debian] [permalink]

There goes the neighbourhood

So Debian is going to follow Ubuntu in making /bin/sh be dash by default.

The technically correct side of me welcomes the change, but the realist in me doesn't think it's such a good idea.

It's all fine and dandy to have the entire Debian distribution behaving itself correctly with /bin/sh being dash, but the distribution is never the end of the story, there's always third-party software, and in large Linux shops like where I work, there's going to be bogloads of in-house scripts.

When Ubuntu 8.04 came out with /bin/sh being dash, we tried, valiantly to keep it that way, under the ostensible cover of technical correctness, and not wanting to deviate from the distribution default. We even had a massive fixit and tracked down and fixed all of the scripts that has bashisms in them and made them explicitly use bash.

The problem was we could never track down 100% of the scripts. It got a lot harder when you had to take into account shell code embedded in scripts of other languages. That was when we threw in the towel and just made /bin/sh be bash instead, and as long as it stays that way, people will keep writing #!/bin/sh scripts with bashisms in it, so the problem will never go away.

So if we can't do it, when we've got all of our scripts in a central repository and can do all sorts of analysis across it, then I pity the people in smaller organisations with a greater hodge-podge of scripts. It'll be a nightmare.

It's also unfortunate that popcon is unable to report how many users change /bin/sh back to bash, so we'll have no idea how many people reject the change for pragmatic reasons like we did.

I think some of the arguments for doing it are flawed:

It'll speed up boot times
Really? How much? Show me the numbers. Who cares anyway? Laptops suspend, servers aren't supposed to get rebooted frequently, and I'd really like to know how much of a dramatic difference it makes. I question the value. Also, the set of init scripts within a distribution is more defined than all possible shell scripts in the world, so why not make all of Debian's init scripts use /bin/dash instead and get the same outcome with less collateral damage?
It'll use less memory
Really? How much? Show me the numbers. So what? Do it on embedded systems where memory is tight and third-party scripts are less like to be a problem, sure, but on a modern desktop or server? How about focusing on how much memory Firefox uses instead?

So yeah, I'm not terribly overjoyed by this decision. We'll see how it pans out.

[23:28] [debian] [permalink]