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Entries posted in March 2010

This is my land. All that pass through pay me tribute.

1 March 2010 21:50

As previously mentioned I've switched my webserving over to a mixture of apache2 & thttpd.

I chose thttpd as it is simple to configure for my needs, and supports the execution of CGI scripts. Some of the other simple webservers available to Debian's current stable release (such as nginx) don't support CGI so they were ruled out.

Of course prior to choosing thttpd I looked at the state of the Debian package. Distressingly the package has no current maintainer and has several bugs open, including some that have been open for several years without comment.

I've just made my second upload fixing a couple of bugs, including ones that I could see affecting myself, but now I'm done with it.

In conclusion:

  • I've fixed a few bugs.
  • I suspect that many of the open bugs are 100% unreproducable and should be closed after checking with the submitter.
  • The package could do with a volunteer to maintain it.

On the one hand it is "just another webserver", on the other hand it is genuinely small, simple to configure, and has a couple of compelling features (CGI + throttling).

So. Go. Adopt. Maintain.

Pretty please...

ObFilm: Red Sonia



You Greeks take pride in your logic. I suggest you employ it.

8 March 2010 21:50

Tomorrow, all being well, I'll receive a new computer.

I've always run Debian unstable upon my desktop in the past, partly because I wanted to have "new stuff" and partly because I needed a Debian unstable system for building Debian packages with.

However I'm strongly tempted to just install Lenny. I use that upon my work desktop and it does me just fine for surfing, building tools, and similar.

I can use pbuilder, sbuildd, or similar to build packages for upload to Debian, and if I want to experiment with new-hotness I can use a KVM guest or two.

Providing the hardware works with Lenny (and I have no reason to believe it won't) then there's no obvious downside I can think of.

The only potential complication will be restoring my backups, it is possible that my firefox databases, and similar things, might not work on older version. Still we shall see.

I plan to install software RAID, and run the system on LVM because quite frankly it rocks. Unless my current system fails in the next 24 hours I can use that to do the installation (My current desktop acts as a TFTP/DHCP/NFS server so I can use it to PXE-boot).

Anyway now I need to go eat food, tidy my desk, and decide what to call the machine .. At the moment the choice is between "march.my.flat" and birthday.my.flat, as my 34th birthday is on March 10th.

ObFilm: 300



He's so mean he wouldn't light your pipe if his house was on fire.

9 March 2010 21:50

By the time this blog entry goes live I'll be running upon my new machine. The migration process was mostly straightfoward and followed my plan:

  • Using my existing desktop system as a PXE server to install Lenny over the network.
  • Copied over important directories.
  • Restored backups.
  • Turned off old machine.

Of course it wasn't that simple in practise, as previously mentioned the whole reason I was looking for a new machine was because the software RAID upon my old desktop was failing - One of the two drives was completely dead.

As I'd feared the second drive failed partway through my migration. But thankfully I'd copied off the important stuff before then, and the backups I have off-site mostly covered everything else. (The things I lost were things I can find again such as ~/Music, ~/Videos. On the one hand they're too large to backup, on the other hand I should probably do it next time as they never change.)

Unfortunately the version of X in Lenny refused to work with the GeForce G210 video card I had. To be more correct using the Vesa driver I could get a picture and a smooth desktop, but when watching videos with xine I got maybe two frames a second. Both the open nv driver and the closed nvidia driver failed to support the card - so I swapped hardware, and I'm now running with the GeForce 7300 GS card from my previous desktop. This allows me to watch videos at full-screen with no issues. (Desktop size is 1600x1200 FWIW).

So now it's just a matter of tweaking the system. I've installed enough to be useful:

  • miredo - So I have IPv6 connectivity despite Virgion.
  • squid - So that I have a decent cache for surfing.
  • pdnsd - So I have a caching nameserver and am not at the whim of Virgin.
  • kvm - So I can setup scratch machines for play.

I've still got to setup pbuilder, but that'll be done shortly, and I've installed backported packages such that I can watch youtube videos. I'm currently running firefox from lenny but I expect that will change soon enough - not least because that version fails to support "adblockplus", only "adblock".

Two partitions md0 for /boot and md1 used as LVM, from which I've taken /, /home, etc:

Filesystem                      Size    Used    Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/mapper/birthday--vol-root   9.9G     2.8G   6.6G  30% /
/dev/mapper/birthday--vol-home   22G      4.3G  16G    22% /home
/dev/mapper/birthday--vol-music  127G    43G    78G    36% /mnt/music
/dev/md0                         988M    38M    901M    4% /boot
/dev/mapper/birthday--vol-kvm    22G      8.8G  12G    44% /mnt/kvm
/dev/sdg1                        163G    143G   12G    93% /media/disk


skx@birthday:~/hg/blog/data$ sudo pvs
[sudo] password for skx:
  PV         VG           Fmt  Attr PSize   PFree
  /dev/md1   birthday-vol lvm2 a-   464.82G 274.51G

Update: Three irritations with this machine:

  1. As supplied the BIOS was set with "USB Mouse" and "USB Keyboard" set to "disabled". I had to beg the loan of a keyboard from a neighbour.
  2. As supplied the BIOS had virtualisation set to "disabled". Not a huge shock, but it caught me out regardless.
  3. As supplied the system had only a single SATA power connector. Annoying given that the motherboard is advertised as having "onboard RAID" and I'd purchased it with two hard drives. Happily I had a spare adaptor to hand.

I'd still recommend Novatech, but the last point had me swearing for a few minutes until I realised I did have a spare adaptor in the house.

ObFilm: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang



You do know there are more guns in the country than there are in the city.

13 March 2010 21:50

Lenny Backports

After a couple of days I've spotted a few things that don't work so well on Lenny:


gtk-gnutella is a client for a peer-to-peer filesharing system. Unfortunately the version of the client in Lenny dies on startup "This version is too old to connect".


The graphics program, The Gimp, doesn't show a live preview when carrying out things such as colour desaturation.

Although not an insurmountable problem it is moderately annoying if you do such things often.

So I've placed backported packages online.

I expected to have to backport KVM, and I guess I realised I needed a new kernel to match too. So they're available in the kvm-hosting repository; take the kernel with "birthday" in its name - the other is more minimal and has no USB support, etc.

blog spam

Since I last reset the statistics the blog spam detector has reported, rejected, and refused just over half a million bogus comments.

It can and should do better.

I've been planning on overhauling this for some time; even to the extent of wondering if I can move the XML::RPC service into a C daemon with embedded lua/perl to do the actual analysis.

(Right now the whole service is Perl, but I'm a little suspicious of the XML::RPC library - my daemon dies at times and I don't understand why.)

I'd say "test suggestions welcome", but then I'd have to explain what is already done. If you're curious take a look at the code...

ObSubject: Hot Fuzz



Are you sure you don't mind me going without you?

17 March 2010 21:50

Recently I received a small flurry of patches to my blog compiler, from Chris Frey. These patches significantly speedup rebuilding a static blog when using Danga's memcached.

The speedup is sufficiently fast that my prior SQLite based approach is no longer required - and (re)building my blog now takes on the order of 5 seconds.

On the topic of other people's blogs I've been enjoying David Watson's recent photo challenge. I was almost tempted to join in, but I'm not sure I could manage one every day - Although I can pretend I recently carried out my my first real photoshoot.

I'm still taking pictures of "things/places" but I'm starting to enjoy "people" more. With a bit of luck I'll get some more people to pose in the near future, even if I have to rely upon posting to gumtree for local bodies!

ObFilm: Love Actually



I don't like it when people yell at me for no reason at all

26 March 2010 21:50

Ubuntu always gets a lot of coverage in blogs, and the recent controvesy realisation that it isn't a 100% community-made distribution has triggered yet another round of this.

A lot of the controvesy, coverage, and attention can be laid at the feet of Canonical themselves; I think it is fair to say that the visibility, hype, advertising, and the goal of trying to be all things to all men means that even relatively trivial issues can easily get blown out of proportion, and to a certain extent this is a self-inflicted. Live by the sword media & etc ...

I think it is fair to say that Ubuntu has attracted a huge swathe of non-technical users. They want something "easy", "free", and "sexy", but more than that they want to use their computer, not develop the operating system.

When a particular bug report, with 400+ comments, hits the press we're primarily seeing a marketing-fail rather than technical-fail. The realisation that yes bugs are reported, but no the community (of users) doesn't get input into every single thing is as it should be. If you look back over "controvesy" in the past you'll see comments from the non-technical users which are tantamoint to blackmail:

This should be fixed ... or I'm gonna .. install .. gentoo. yeah. really.

(Similarly you see many comments of the form "I agree", "oh noes", or "Please revert ASAP", rather than technical arguments.)

This non-technical nature of the userbase is also readily apparent if you browse through the answers to problems posted in forums for example "Delete this file, I don't know why it works but it fixes it for me!!2!". (I've seen some truly horrific advice upon Ubuntu forums, even so far as chmodding various parts of the system to allow users to write binaries to /bin.)

Similarly you'll see that the launchpad is full of generic linux misunderstandings and bugs that aren't "real". The unfortunate fact is that the Ubuntu bug tracker is a wasteland in many places:

  • Lots and lots and lots of users reporting bugs.
  • Those bugs being ignored for huge periods of time
    • Except for "Hey is this still present in $pending-release?"
  • The issue isn't that Ubuntu developers don't care, the issue is one of manpower.

The tight timescale of releases combined with the sheer number of incoming bug reports means that often issues are overlooked. (For example one bug that bit a colleague is #402188 - on the one hand it is a trivial bug, on the other hand its readily apparent to users. If something like that can be missed it makes you wonder ..?) ObRandom: Ubuntu has 100 bugs open against its Vim package, some of which have been marked as NEW since 2009 (ie. untouched, ignored). By contrast the Debian vim package has way fewer bugs. I'm sure there are packages where the situation is reversed but I think is not an unusual comparison.

Finally in addition to sheer numbers of bugs, and tight timescales, it has to be noted that the relative number of developers to users is miniscule, and this in turn has lead to some interesting solutions. The Ubuntu PPA system (personal package archive) should be a good thing. It should allow people to submit new packages for testing, for bugfixes, and for more visibility. Instead downloading a PPA file is no different than going to download.com and downloading a random binary - sure it might be legit, but there's no oversight, no quality control, and most likely no future updates.

Ubuntu as a distribution is interesting, and I'm not trying to be overly critical - A year or two ago had somebody thrown money at me I might have been inclined to accept it.

I think most of the perceived problems stem from a single common source, which is largely the issue of scale. (e.g. bug reports to bug handlers. developer numbers to user numbers.)

There are many good things to be said about Ubuntu (& Canonical) in addition to the negative ones that we see in the press or that I've perceived and mentioned above. The truth is it works for a lot of people, and the growing pains will continue until it either dies or both its audience and itself matures.

Either way I don't hate Ubuntu, in the same way that I don't hate Microsoft, Oracle, Fedora, Gentoo, or other mass-entities. There are pros and cons to be made for most of them, (and of course Debian itself is no different).

However I will say that every time I see people write "If you want a sexy/shiny/easy to use Linux desktop then install Ubuntu" I glance over at my Debian Lenny desktop, marvel at how sexy, shiny and easy to use it is, and get a little bit disappointed at our own marketing failure(s).

ObFilm: Day of the Woman