February 2008 Archives

Sun Feb 24 20:43:02 CST 2008

Sunday's ride, new GPS

Had a good ride today. The Garmin etrex Vista HCx 70.4 km, moving avg. 23.5 km/h. Max speed, 66.8 k/h (argh, so close). The old bike computer went crazy last weekend (even with new batteries) so i decided to replace it with a GPS. The GPS cost considerably more, but i can use the GPS hiking or in the car. Problem is i would want to buy road or topo maps, and they are not cheap. The good news is, it looks like Garmin is supporting Mac OS X now, and they are supposed to release an OS X version of the North American city maps this year. If it's the same price as the Windows version, that'll be like $140. As the saying goes, "Life may be cheap, but accessories will kill you."

Speaking of being killed, a woman in a silver Miata just about took me out today. I was heading South on the Mopac feeder, down hill, probably going about 35 kph, 1-2 km North of 360. Sun was about to set, but still full above the horizon, unfortunately right behind me. She had a tinted driver-side window (rolled up), no sunglasses on, and she just didn't see me until it was almost too late. The main problem is that she never actually came to a stop. She just rolled through her STOP sign, and out into my lane. About 10 feet away, i screamed "STOP," and, surprisingly, she did. She was about 80% blocking my lane, and i was about 3 feet from the side of her car when she stopped.

I really wish people would take driving seriously -- cars kill, and very, very easily when they hit someone not in another car. At this point, i'm all for cranking up fines. As far as i can tell, most people fail to signal turns, and probably at least half never actually come to a stop at red lights and stop signs. I say fine 'em $1000 per violation. Finishing the ride i had a lot of other (vindictive) ideas about how to get car drivers to frequently remind drivers they could kill someone (else). No point in repeating those. A reasonable thought i had is to suspend drivers' licenses if they fail to obey the law and injure someone, and if they kill someone, just take it away forever.

Something really needs to change. In 70km (about 44 miles) this was one of three people who did virtually the same thing: failed to completely stop at a red light or a STOP sign. One of them was on a cell phone.

A good dinner a Casa de Luz calmed me down a bit. Overall route was west through town (from my house), out Far West, then Spicewood Springs to Loop 360, South down 360, West on 2244, to 71, back East on 71, South around 360 to Mopac, and back through town.

Getting over a cold, but it didn't seem to matter much. Had a bowl of cereal and a smoothie before i left, and drank two "Smart Waters" at the quickie mart at 360 & 2244.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: bicyling

Fri Feb 8 01:41:31 CST 2008

"choo choochoochoo beep beep"

Many thanks to jmike for introducing me to a wonderful band, Deerhoof.

So much happy!

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: Music

Fri Feb 8 01:13:55 CST 2008

Linux, the punk-ass OS.

So i started a new job in Sept. It's nominally a "no Microsoft" environment, though M$ is creeping in because of required applications with the office admin types, traders, , and don't let me forget that we have a metric butt-tonne of Dells, which have this remote-access (via TCP) card ("DRAC") that only works with IE on Windows.... but i digress. As i said, it's nominally a "No windows" environment, which is better than most, i guess.

For many years now, i have oscillated between the corporate OSes (Solaris, AIX, MacOS) of my day jobs and the weirdo, uncompromising, but lacking some features types (NetBSD, FreeBSD). Of course, i have a Mac or two at home, too, and they are generally well-behaved and reasonable logical.

So it was with a (foolish) lack of any real concern that i took this new job, where i knew the servers are almost 100% Debian. I mean, in terms of number of installed servers, my perception is that Linux has (rightly or wrongly) left (far) behind the BSDs, and now challenges Solaris for the server market. So it must be pretty good... especially because it's been around long enough now to be mature right? (sigh.)

And after almost five months of doing this job, and about a month of crawling around in the innards of Linux, i now feel ready to say this:

I think it's the biggest, odious, rat's nest of ugly lame hacks i have ever seen in my entire Unixy life, of roughly 17 years. I'm about to start a list of stupid things about Linux that i hate, and the last OS i did that for was AIX, in 1995.

Yes, i know there are many, many things that Linux "does" that the BSDs do not. And i think a lot of the BSD folks have acknowledged this, and consistently asserted that they'd rather do things correctly (or at least well) rather than half-assed. And Linux does run on some really cheap and crappy hardware that other corporate OSes do not, which really seems to make some people happy. And not having used Linux much, i had not come to a conclusion about this, at least until now.

Point in case: With a certain amount of effort, i figured out how to get the latest version (4.0 AKA "etch") of Debian to install directly on to a sw raid-1 partition. Like everything in Linuxworld, it's poorly documented, and when you google, you tend to find poor novices, crawling on their hands and knees through broken glass and dog shit, trying to help each other make their systems work. And they don't even really seem to mind, because they just don't know any better. And somehow they get things running, but it's usually not pretty.

So i have these Dell 1750s up and running. One big file system on /, mounted from /dev/md0. Sounds bearable, right?

Well i just went to build a new kernel from source for the first time, and got an unpleasant surprise -- the new kernel won't boot, because it can't mount /. Or more accurately, the "initramfs" file system has no device at /dev/md0, and so it cannot mount the "real /". (Why Linux needs to boot from a ram based file system before it can mount it's actual / is an entire other rant.)

I build new kernels this all the time with NetBSD and FreeBSD. It's actually kind of fun (yes, i know, i'm odd), except that because i tend to name my kernel configs after food, it makes me hungry. But, after editing the kernel config named something like "MANGOLASSI" and enabling and disabling the features and devices i want, what i do is basically this (in NetBSD):

# edit kernel config in emacs
cd /usr/src
./build.sh -o -U -u -T /local/NetBSD/tools/i386 kernel=MANGOLASSI \
mv /netbsd /netbsd.old
zcat $distdir/netbsd-MANGOLASSI.gz > /netbsd
shutdown -r now "Time for a new kernel."

.. and if i didn't screw anything up, the machine is running a new kernel.

So, back in the world of Linux i find a good page describing how to build a new kernel from scratch, and make a Debian package of it. It's pretty straight forward:

cd /usr/src/linux
# configure kernel
make menuconfig
# mess around in some menus for awhile... i guess i could just edit .config
make-kpkg clean
fakeroot make-kpkg --initrd --append-to-version=-${tag} kernel_image \
# installation
dpkg --purge linux-image-
cd /usr/src
dpkg -i linux-image-
shutdown -r now "Time for a new kernel."

Except that this doesn't work.

After about 4 hours of working on this, i'm reasonably sure that the problem is that the initramfs file system that is mounted before / does not have a /dev/md0. Perhaps this is not so much a "Linux" (the kernel) problem as it is a Debian (distribution) issue. But that goes right to the heart of the matter: Linux isn't one operating system. It's a kernel made by Linus and probably some other people, that's been (sometimes not so cleanly) grafted on to a bunch of other code, largely made by the GNU people, and that's maintained by some other group of people, AKA Debian, Red Hat, SUSE, etc. And some of it -- critical bits like udev, that do "clever" things like dynamically propagate /dev -- may not really part of either group. udev seems to be some thing that a couple of people wrote that some Linux distributions use, but not everyone seems to understand well enough to account for scenarios like upgrading a kernel on a sw-raid file system.

Which is how you end up not being able to boot your machine because the first (ram based) file system cannot figure out how to mount the "real" root file system. And after wasting hours of my life figuring this out by waiting for Dells to go through slow-ass BIOS, and crawling around in the bowels of a poorly-designed OS, what i really want to do is pick up my wireless mouse throw it through the window of the office building. Not that it's really the mouse or the window's fault. But they're acceptable proxies for my fist and some lame Linux wienie "developer"'s stupid head.

So you could say Linux has not really made a favorable impression on me, and that i'm happier with Solaris, OS X, NetBSD, or FreeBSD. Because at least these respective Unixes are maintained by the same respective entities, top to bottom.

Time for a consolation beer.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: unixlike

Wed Feb 6 00:40:55 CST 2008

Ill-advised Prediction

to Clinton v. McCain, and McCain will win. Personally, of the people who have a chance, i'd least dislike Obama as President, but i don't see that happening. At the moment, Clinton seems to be doing better in the most populous states (NY, NJ, CA, MA) primaries. This is mostly just the cynicism talking, so hopefully i'm wrong.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: politics