a poem..

My lovely wife wrote this poem for me – I wanted to share it with ‘the world’.

If I asked for you to hold my hand
And sit with me a while
If I asked for you to see my heart
And breathe with me
If I asked for you to hold
all that I hold, very dear
And cradle it
And keep it safe
Protect it from my fear
I hope you know that I would too
Embrace your humble soul
Comforting and keeping you
For our life makes me whole.

the unthinkable has happened

I never thought I’d see the day when I would lay aside the excellence of linux and actually enjoy using another operating system – a proprietary operating system at that!

But it has happened. Through various events, an opportunity arose a couple of months back, to use an early Intel model iMac at work. My quad-core i5, 4GB RAM, 64bit debian running workstation was flattened and redeployed with Windows 7, to someone requiring the horsepower.

The iMac, a spare loaded with XP, sitting unused for many months, became my workstation. Needing to run iTunes, and refusing to use Windows outside of a VM or RDP session, my only option was OSX as the spec wouldn’t cope with a VM running atop linux.

A good opportunity, I thought, to see how an increasing percentage of the other side live – to see what all the fuss was about.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

At first, it took a little time to get used to the slightly different keyboard layout & the plethora of new, sometimes unwieldy hotkey combinations. However, I did feel at home though with the familiarity of the interface having come from a GNOME environment – it was uncannily similar.

Slowly but surely I felt a growing sense of wonder of just how simple it was to use, of how things just worked. I enjoyed that sense of the technology getting out of the way and just letting me get on with what I needed to do. And yet, a bash command line was just a click away…

I discovered I *could* have the comforts of a commonly used mainstream OS and UNIX too. I did a little investigation and found that, completely by happenstance, I had all the right hardware at home to make a Hackintosh. So, for roughly the same time as having the iMac at work, I’ve also had an almost-Mac-Pro at home.

Of course, my Apple-loving friends all nodded knowingly, tut-tut-ed and wondered why it had taken me so long…

I began to understand that it’s not just about a single device, or the OS, or an App Store. It’s the eco-system that all these things exist in that is so appealing. It is all there, designed to work together – not perfect, but much closer to completeness than anything I’ve previously come across – either proprietary or non. And I really like it.

What has ensued is a philosophical crisis of sorts: How can I *like* a proprietary OS? Is this nice, easiness worth giving up some freedom for? Where is my loyalty? If I like this, does this mean I might like Microsoft one day? How am I ever to afford the ‘real’ hardware to run at home?

Of course, these are all questions of which I’m willing to spend some time on getting to the answer of.

I know there are many among the FOSS community who have tread this path before me – some of whom are much cleverer and whose opinions are valued much more highly, than mine.

But I still can’t help but feel a little guilty.

a donkey by any other name

When I first joined Twitter, back in July 2009, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the closest I could get to my nickname of choice, was nz_d0nk3y. (IRL my nickname is Donkey – after the annoying talking smart ass from Shrek).

Recently, due to two years of inactivity, I managed to score the twitter nickname I wanted. Now, I am @donkey – the only ‘real’ donkey in the world! Muwahhahhaa! (well, on twitter anyway – and it also now matches my account over at identi.ca).

It’s been an interesting ride since then with all sorts of extra followers – like, apparently real people rather than the obviously fake accounts that new followers invariably are.

This past weekend however, it got even crazier.

A couple of tweets came in from some people I’d never heard of – obviously with a friend called ‘Donkey’. I normally wait for it to die down and then reply to them all with a Donkey quote from Shrek – just for a laugh – which I also did in this case. A little later, I noticed that I suddenly had about ~25-30 more followers which seemed odd.

Even stranger was the fact that they were all young ladies – and all from Canada (Oh, Canada). One of them happened to mention a name that had shown up in all of the tweets I’d received earlier. On closer inspection, this twitter account had nearly 140K followers and appeared to be some kind of celebrity.

Turns out this fellow, Jacob Hoggard had been a contestant in Canadian Idol and had gone on to front a band called Hedley.

Apparently, they have a friend called Sean (who also has the nickname ‘Donkey’), and it was he whom all these people had mistaken me for. The new young female Canadian followers continue to arrive at a rate of a couple a day – a few which I have conversed with (Kirsten; Marylou; Tricia) , all of which seem wonderfully nice and very friendly.

Isn’t it interesting the things that happen when you throw millions of people from all around the world into an online community – shared names, perceived shared experiences, mistaken identities and all…

Ubuntu LTS Server upgrade – really difficult?

At my place of work, we use a Java-based trouble-ticketing system from Atlassian called Jira.

It is hosted on a LAMP server virtual machine in our production VMware environment. The system has been in daily use (well, week day use) since near the end of 2008 – requiring minimal maintenance in that time (the occasional reboot after security updates have been installed).

Up until yesterday, we had been using Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Server. I decided it was time to move to the latest LTS release – 10.04 – which was released earlier this year and had just received it’s first .1 refresh.

Some googling around revealed the potential for various issues with the process so I took a snapshot before beginning – just to be safe.

I then found this link which detailed how to upgrade the server to the next LTS release.

I was shocked at how simple the process appeared to be – surely not?! This is that crazy technical, awful command line operating system with a really high cost of ownership isn’t it?

So, SSH’ing into the server, I took a copy of /etc (just being extra safe again), fired up a screen session and ran the command as instructed on the page above.

sudo do-release-upgrade


Various lists were obtained from the internet and upgrades calculated, I then had to press Y to show my acceptance of the results.

Everything slowed down at this point due to our internet connection speed (changing soon, yay!). I disconnected and went to sleep.

This morning, I connected back to the server and screen session to find a reboot necessary. So, Y again and a reboot later the 10.04.1 based system was up and running.

I fired up a browser and pointed to the Jira system – fail. Oh noes, I thought, now it gets difficult.

Well, no, not really. Over the course of various Ubuntu releases since 8.04, the sun-java6-* packages were moved into the partner repository.

So, I uncommented the partner repository in /etc/apt/sources.list, ran an apt-get update and reinstalled the sun-java6-jre package.

A reboot (only to test that everything would start by itself as it should) and Jira is running again, no data lost and inbound email requests to the system are working. Awesome.

Just so you get the significance of that, imagine doing an inplace upgrade (eg not a fresh install) of a Windows 2000 Server running IIS5 and SQL 2000 and have it coming out running Windows Server 2008, IIS7 and SQL 2008.

Two reboots, no data loss, no restores necessary and all done remotely. And Jira was actually still running and available for most of the time except when the box was rebooting and having java re-installed.

Yep, *really* difficult. Watch out.

the inspirational missing fork…

Yesterday, while preparing my rice noodles, tuna and sweet-chilli sauce for lunch, I realised I had misplaced my fork. And there were no other forks in the lunch room drawers.

Blast. “Oh well”, I thought; then grabbed a spoon and went and enjoyed the meal.

Once finished, I realised that, actually, the spoon hadn’t actually been that hard to use. In fact, it had worked well – better than I expected it would.

Then it occurred to me; if the fork had not gone missing, I would never have even tried using the spoon – believing it to be ‘not suited for purpose’ (to use a tech business term, if I may).

I made a mental note to blog about this wonderful thought – the inspirational missing fork – completely unaware that Don Christie (President, NZ Open Source Society) would make a similar comment today on the NZOSS Openchat list:

“..the idea that there are multiple platforms and options is as important as how to use an inidividual platform.”

Indeed, how often do we not even think about the possibility of an alternative being completely worthy of performing a given function only because we always had a ‘fork’ at our disposal.

The trick, I guess, is to look around now for an alternative before the proverbial fork goes missing (or becomes unavailable/unusable for some reason)….

KDE team removes support for underscore, starts enforcing STD3 from RFC1122

Interestingly, the latest build of KDE 4 (4.3.90 aka 4.4 RC1) no longer supports the underscore character in host names.

While this was allowed in previous KDE4 versions, the KDE team have removed support for the underscore as “STD3 requires all DNS domain names to be limited to Letters, Digits and Hyphen.”

Here are two examples of bugs that have been filed and subsequently closed with a ‘WONTFIX’ resolution: 220500 222291

So, any of you sysadmins out there who have the audacity to have hosts (or DNS aliases/addresses) on your network with the underscore character in them, you’ll no longer be able to connect to those hosts using KDE4 apps like KRDC (Remote Desktop) or the Konqueror web browser.

what a difference an AHCI makes

Last week, I noticed how, whenever huge disk IO was taking place on my Quad-core – with 4Gb of RAM and 64bit Ubuntu – workstation at work, the whole desktop environment would pretty much grind to a halt.

SSH’ing in from a remote machine and using top, iotop and nethogs didn’t show anything particularly heart stopping going on either.

I googled around and found that this seemed to be a fairly common problem with any of the newer kernel releases.

One post in particular said that a person had fixed the problem by disabling the SATA disk controllers AHCI mode in the BIOS – switching it back to IDE.

Cool I thought – let’s have a go! Interestingly, the BIOS was already set to IDE. I decided I’d try enabling AHCI instead.

Wow – what a difference that made. I then remembered one of the other posts I came across that just said to switch the BIOS setting as that forces the OS to load a different disk controller driver.

It certainly did the trick – said work-beastie is now much faster and more responsive under load.

fleeting moments

Travelling the 45kms or so to work every day, affords some amazing views of two local mountain ranges – among other geographical features. One particular morning, I was marvelling at the light shimmering on the moving wind turbine blades, the snow capping one of said mountain ranges and the mauve sky behind it all.

As the sun was rising behind the mountains – before it was entirely in view, it’s light caught the edges of some clouds on the other side of the ranges. It was an amazing sight – almost like the proverbial ‘silver lining’ but, instead of clouds, it was the mountains that had the silver lining.

An awe inspiring moment of the wonder of God’s creation. It amazes me that some would choose to dumb down the beauty around them …. but that is their choice after all.

Within seconds, this sight had been replaced by the overwhelming brightness of the rising sun – you could no longer see anything in direction. Not any detail at least.

At that moment, I was reminded of some things:
1) How cool that I happened to glance to the east at that precise time!
2) Our lives are as fleeting as that beautiful sight
3) The Glory of God shines much brighter than the amazing sun which He created

I believe we need to live our lives to the fullest – in Him. No matter what beauty is there, it is because we are reflecting His glory – like those clouds were, the sun. And finally, we should make it our goal that it’s His glory that overshadows us – not try and make it the other way around.

God Bless
donkey

segfaulting multimedia processes -or- The Case of the Badly Cooled……Case

A wee while ago (yes, I’m catching up on things I’d hoped to blog about for a while!), I had a problem with my home PC. This culminated in a post to the Ubuntu Forums.

General stability of this machine is great – it’s normally on for weeks at a time serving the familys various document/web/email/printing needs – and has done this for about four years with the only major hardware change being a new 7600GT graphics card (most recently – about 12 months ago) and a new Socket 478 P4 Extreme Edition CPU about 18 months ago).

So, what do you guys think? Hardware or software? And how do I troubleshoot this one further? (BTW, I’ve been a linux user for about 8 years now, so I’m not really a guru and definitely not a noob. Perhaps more of a goob. 😀 )

Basically, I had an issue where, whenever I’d do some ‘heavy lifting’ tasks – like audio or video encoding, the app would just disappear. Very odd it was – I tried all sorts of things to fix it. New linux distro’s, replacement RAM etc.

Starting the processes from the command line, I was able to see that the app termination was actually a segfault – which I subsequently found in the dmesg log. That and two other distro’s (lenny and a Fedora Core live CD) gave errors in dmesg about the CPU overheating:

Turned out to be the CPU overheating. Interesting, there was nothing in dmesg about the CPU overheating – though, when I had Debian on, it did show messages about that – and, when I booted into the Fedora 10 Live CD, it also complained about the CPU overheating in dmesg.

So, to solve the problem, I transplanted the guts of my box into a new case which breathes better and also used the correct heatsink for my CPU (one with a copper core).

The problem was that I was using the same case and heatsink from my old P4 2.8Ghz which wasn’t cutting it with the new P4EE 3.4Ghz and the amount of heat it generates.

Once the correct heatsink and better case with more efficient thermal dynamics were in place, the differences in internal temperature were quite remarkable:

If anyone is interested, here’s some temps from lm-sensors that show the difference in internal temps between the two cases and heatsinks. These are both just at system idle with no loading.

Before
SDA: 37C | SDB: 34C | GPU: 57C | CPU: 40C

After
SDA: 33C | SDB: 28C | GPU: 40C | CPU: 23C

During loading, the CPU was getting to around 70C, now its able to stay around the 57C – and with no segfaulting going on! Yaay!

The rather cool thing – from my point of view anyway – is that Windows would merely have blue screened under the same circumstances (or just rebooted as the default blue screen setting dictates). Obviously that would make things much harder to troubleshoot.

So linux dealt with the overheating by terminating the offending process. A much more elegant way of handling things – don’t you think?

TTF vs ttf in linux

During a recent migration of a friends family laptop from Vista to linux, I discovered a curious problem.

Said friend had a bunch of add-on TTF fonts in Vista which they still wanted to be available to them in linux. No worries, I thought – I’ll just copy them out of the windows partition and put them in ~/.fonts and away they’ll go.

Or not, as it turned out.

Curiously, some were showing up in OpenOffice, and some weren’t. Several font cache updates, reboots and various google searches later, they still were not showing.

At that point I thought I’d better have a look in ~/.fonts to see if I could spot a pattern with ones that were appearing, and ones that were not.

Bingo! All the non-working ones had extensions of .TTF – while the working ones were lower case.

Right, I thought – there must be a whizbang bash command to fix that! Off to google for help again and I was able to construct this command:

for i in *.TTF; do mv “$i” “`basename $i .TTF`.ttf”; done

Voila! Now all the fonts showed correctly (after a restart of OpenOffice of course).

Capitalisation only makes a difference in a real operating system after all!