Sunday, April 30, 2006

Suse 10.1 RC-3 automatic wireless networking

I just discovered that wireless networking now connects automatically, at least under the Gnome desktop. It happened when I rebooted the notebook. When I logged back into my notebook account Network Manager automatically reconnected to my home wireless network without any intervention, just like Windows XP does. As a test, I plugged in a network wire to the port on the back. The Network Manager disconnected the wireless connection and then reconnected to the network using the wired connection. When I disconnected the wire it went back to using the wireless connection. All automatically. It Just Works.

This is finally what networking should be under Linux, and what it should have been for some time now. Thank you Suse.

Colin Powell finally speaks out

I've kept my thoughts to myself while the retired generals were taking swipes at the Bush administration over the handling of the Iraq war. Frankly, I didn't know enough about the military or the culture to know how to interpret the back-and-forth except as internal fighting. But now comes word that Colin Powell has gone public with criticism of planning before the war, specifically that there were not enough troops sent to Iraq to oust Hussein and then keep the peace.

Powell is a huge critic to have on your hands. It was Powell who stood before the U.N. with what he said was evidence of Iraq's WMD capabilities. As we all know since then, very little, if any, WMDs were ever found in Iraq. Powell, ever the loyal soldier, always backed Bush while Secretary of State, and kept quiet long after he left. But now he's opened up a bit, and it's going to get very interesting as this latest criticism reverberates around Washington and around the world. I'm just wondering what else he'll say in the future.

Spam statistics

I just checked my Yahoo email account. Over the last 48 hours I've picked up 230 spam emails. I don't know why, but the amount of spam I pick up on all my email accounts spikes up over the weekend, especially Yahoo. I'll still continue to get spam during the week, but nothing like the weekend. And the Yahoo account contains more spam than all my other accounts combined by a wide margin. And the amount of incoming spam is increasing. Since early March, when I'd get just a few dozen at most over the same period, my Yahoo accounts weekend spam has been increasing each succeeding weekend. If they're supposed to be cracking down on spammers, then where is all this other spam coming from, and why is it going up instead of down? I'm glad Yahoo has a spam filter. Else I'd never see anything important arrive.

Sad spam stories

I'm beginning to get Nigerian-style scam letters in my junk folder again. Some of them are getting to be quite creative. Here's a list of the latest, starting with the most recent.
  • Ayisha Haja from Brunei - A 23-year-old young Mongolian woman who was "married out" to a prince of Brunei 30 years her senior. As revenge she managed to "divert $16.5.000.000.00 (Sixteen million five hundrend thousand dollars) as bonds into a private finance house without his knowledgement." She wants your help getting it out of the country, and will pay you "$1.5.000.000.00 (One million five hundred thousand dollars) of the total fund" for your help.
  • CAPTAIN WILSON EZE from the Congo - A former captain in the Congolese army, of unknown age. A procurement officer, he managed to get away with $15 million in funds he was supposed to use to purchase arms from a company in Johannesburg, South Africa. Currently living in asylum in South Africa, he seeks your assistance to invest the $15 million in a "stable economy". He can't do it there because of his current "political status." He's willing to give you 30% of the $15 million for your troubles.
  • MOHAMMED SALA of Dakar, Senegal - A "Bills and Exchange" manager at the Foreign Remittance Department of the Bank of Africa, PLC. He has come into possession of an "abandoned sum of $30,000,000.00 (Thirty Million United States Dollars only)." It belonged to an investor who died, along with his family, in the "terrorist attacks" on 9/11 (no indication where exactly). No one has come forward to claim the sum, and before it's claimed by the bank as its own, he wants you to work with his partners to be the designated heir. There's a complicated scheme to "recycle" the money through the importation of "Agricultural Machineries", which I assume they'll sell at a profit in Dakar. All they need is personal information including your bank account. You get 30% of the sum for your troubles.
  • M/s Marlet Bornwick in Bangkok, Thailand - She's a "Financial Adviser on offshore and real estate investment and management with a private security & finance firm." She comes "to know of you while searching for a reliable and reputable person to handle this confidential transaction", I assume via Google. She's got $4.5 million left by one "Mr. Mahmood Ahmed A. Abdullah, an oil merchant from Iraq", who died in the "war in Baghdad last year." Once again no relative has come forward to claim the money, and she and a number of associates have decided to seek a foreign representative to move the funds out of Thailand. You are expected to travel to Thailand to seal the deal. You get 5% of the fund for travel expenses and another 15% for your troubles.
  • Mr. Danladi Bako somewhere overseas - Seeks a partnership to transfer and invest $32 million that was deposited in a secure account, then never used. Really? It involves payment to "an American Oil exploration company by Eleme Refining & Petrochemical Co. Ltd (EPCL) in 2000." Checking via Google I find there's an EPCL based in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State Nicaragua, and it's doing business with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Mr Bako and his associates want to transfer the money out of the country using you as their agent, to invest the money for two years. You get 25% directly for your troubles, plus 5% for "sundry expenses" in managing the fund on their behalf.
  • Mrs. Fatima Sheikh of Kuwait - A 68-year-old widow of the late "Mr. Abdullah Sheikh, former owner of Petroleum and Gas Company." Dying of cancer, with no heirs, she seeks your assistance in moving $25 million out of a company in South Africa her husband invested before his death. A sweet little old lady, she wants 80% to go to charity and 20% to go to your for your troubles.
  • MISS. RITA NUHAN of Liberia - Once again I was discovered by searching "a human resource profile database on your country in the Internet." Damn Google. Her father, former Issac Nuhan Vaye, Deputy Minister of Public Works in Liberia, was killed by Charles Taylor. She's stuck in a refugee camp in Dakar-Senegal. She's 20, single, and she's got $5.4 million on her. She needs you to transfer her and the money away from Dakar-Senegal.
I started getting these April 21st, and they've been showing up steadily, about one/day, since. Over the years I've gotten a number of the 9/11 abandoned fund stories. Fatima of Kuwait's email showed up twice. The others are new to me and somewhat creative. All of them have large sums of money, in US denominations, and they all want your help (for a reasonable fee) to move the funds from where they are to where you are. So what's wrong with all these pictures?
  • Come on people. You got this from an unsolicited email. Reality check, please!
  • Here's another helpful clue. Google's spam filters (which seem to be pretty good) kicked every one into the spam bucket.
  • I can't speak for other countries, but I believe I can speak for the US when I say that if you suddenly came into very large sums of money from overseas that you'd instantly wind up on somebody's anti-terrorist radar, with a swift visit from someone in Homeland Security. Perhaps they are as bad and bumbling as some stories in the press portray them, but I really don't think that's the case.
I can't believe anyone would believe any of these. But somebody is, somewhere. That's why they keep showing up.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

More Suse 10.1 RC-3 observations

A few more observations as I work longer with Suse 10.1.
  • Since Beta 9 the gcc version has been 4.1. I bootstrapped 4.1 on Suse 10.0 and used it to build everything on that platform.
  • The latest kernel version is 2.6.16.11. This is the same as is currently available (at this point in time) on kernel.org. This is the first time I've seen a distribution track this closely to a kernel release. It was 2.6.16 that provided the necessary drivers for the Gateway's SATA drive.
  • glibc 2.4 is the latest and greatest release on ftp.gnu.org. It was release March 6th. I've been building glibc lately for some embedded work, and I was using version 2.3.6, the last release in the 2.3 series. The 2.3 series is still being maintained. The 2.4 series is for kernels in the 2.6 series and later, specifically greater than 2.6.16, the version shipping with Suse 10.1. Additionally glibc 2.4 now only supports NPTL pthreads.
  • Gnome on 10.1 is still at 2.12 (2.12.2). Gnome 2.14 was released March 15th, which put it back in the beta release cycle. Considering that Suse will standardize on Gnome, I find it surprising that two recent releases, Fedora Core 5 and Ubuntu Dapper Drake, are both using Gnome 2.14.
  • KDE on 10.1 is at 3.5.2. Released March 28th (nearly two weeks after Gnome 2.14, see above), it's been a part of 10.1 since at least Beta 9.
  • Firefox 1.5.0.3 is in RC-3. This is the quick bug fix that was just reported this week (Friday the 28th as a matter of fact).
Just about everywhere I've looked Suse 10.1 seems to be using fully up-to-date applications, libraries, and tools. The Suse developers seem determined to have the most current packages at the time of formal distribution release. This is a quite welcome change from the past, where many packages, such as gcc, were one, two, or more releases back when a new distribution was released. Even the Addons have the up-to-date releases of many commercial applications, such as Java 1.5_06.

The distribution does not suffer from keeping up with current releases. Far from it. The overall polish and performance of Suse 10.1 RC-3. Yes, I have problems with wireless (which I fixed) and sound (which is still broken). And there are some minor quirks that bother me. But overall this is a rock-solid distribution that supported all my core subsystems such as the nVidia Go7900, SATA drive, wired networking and all USB peripherals out-of-the-box. I didn't have to download any additional drivers or perform special configuration file tweaks for the core subsystems just listed to get Suse 10.1 installed and productive.

I believe the reason Suse 10.1 is this close to the edge is that it will be the foundation for Suse 10 Professional. I'm sure that even more hardening will take place before Professional's release, and the wireless issue of having it work right at installation will be corrected. But I don't think it will update any of the packages unless it's for security reasons. I'm well aware that this is the early, Open version, and all that it implies. Suse 10.1 is on track to become the brightest star in the Linux desktop distribution universe. I like it a lot.

Suse 10.1 RC-3 wireless is now working

I finally got wireless up and running, and brother, is it great. I had to find the answer via Google on a forum, though. These are the steps I used to get wirless working on my Gateway M685.
  1. Get the last full Suse 10.1 Addon ISO. The last full ISO is for RC-1, so you'll have to apply the ISO delta to create the Addon ISO for RC-3.
  2. Burn a CD from the Addon ISO for RC-3 and mount it. It's a good idea to keep the CD for other commercial packages it contains, such as Sun's Java 5.
  3. Install i586/ipw3945d-1.7.18-6.i586.rpm from the CD.
  4. Install noarch/ipw-firmware-7-10.noarch.rpm from the CD.
  5. Reboot the notebook.
Logging back in after the installation and reboot, I was finally greeted with wireless entries from the Network Manager applet. Because my wireless connection does not broadcast the SSID, I had to take the extra step of creating an entry using my SSID. Once that single, simple step was complete, a wireless connection was established and everything Just Worked.

I haven't had a chance to try Suse wireless at other locations, but from the initial view of Network Manager it appears the Linux finally has the ability to automatically detect other networks and to track multiple connections. This is the feature that Windows has had for some time, and it makes wireless laptop connectivity such a pleasure under Windows. I first experienced this capability on my Nokia 770. It's one of the few good features the 770 has. I'm glad to see it on a major distribution such as Suse. This one feature alone makes it worth upgrading to Suse 10.1.

Updating Suse 10.1 to RC-3

In the prior post I write about upgrading my RC-1 ISOs to RC-3. That succeeded, and I burned new CDs from them and installed RC-3 over RC-1. The installation went smoothly and without any incidents. Here are some of the new features that now seem to work (for me) on RC-3.
  • I can now easily suspend the computer under Suse. There is a new radio button on the logout dialog. When I suspended the computer I watched the notebook go into text mode and then watched status messages flash across the screen as Suse 10.1 saved everything to disk, then it shut down. Windows, by contrast, flashes a low-res graphic on the screen while a progress bar slowly moves across the screen. I don't care one way or the other for the eye candy. What mattered was the time it took to suspend, and in either case (Suse or Windows) it was essentially identical (no, I will hold a stop watch and time it). And Linux came right back up after the suspend as successfully as Windows does.
  • I can now save my current session (setup) when exiting Gnome. This was broken in earlier releases up to and including RC-1.
And here's what's not quite right.
  • Even though suspend now works, it hooks grub (the bootloader) such that when the notebook is turned back on it boots directly into Linux. It bypasses the grub boot-up menu. I suspend Windows quite a bit, usually to go and do some task in Linux. But it looks like I can't suspend both and use grub to select the one to wake up.
  • Sound and wireless networking are still not working. Wireless isn't working because the driver isn't finding and loading the microcode file for the hardware. It's not obvious how to fix that, but it's certainly not being installed during initial installation. Once again bone-headed ideology triumphs over a good user experience.
One final comment. I noticed that automatic detection and mounting of hardware, specifically USB-based thumb drives and my Western Digital Passport, do not occur unless you're in init level 5. I dropped down to init level 3 (text mode) to install a driver. When I plugged in the Passport it did not automatically mount under /media. I know what the device was, so it was a simple mount command to mount it on /mnt. I would have thought the auto-mount capability would be available from run level 3 on up, but I guess not.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Stupid Suse tricks

I've been running around with Suse 10.1 RC1 on my Gateway since it was released. It's quite nice, actually. Key features such as video, USB, and the SATA drive work, but sound and wireless don't. When RC2 was announced last week I was happy. Perhaps sound and wireless were fixed. Then I read the updates were posted only as deltas to be applied to the existing ISOs. OK. No problem. They have a tool (applydeltaiso) and directions for creating the new ISOs. I can follow directions. Oh, wait. I don't have the ISOs on my Linux system, they're on my Windows system. Ah. The directions say I can just access the CD/DVD device as the input to the tool in place of the original ISO. OK. Now I'm good to go. Except when I attempt to execute the directions using /dev/hda (my CD/DVD device) as the input to applydeltaiso, nothing works. Oh, there's lots of CD spinning and whirring, the disk drive lights up like there's lots of drive activity, but when I look in the working directory nothing's there. Even performing a complete search for the newly created ISO across the filesystem fails to find it (Now where did I drop that 680MB ISO? It's gotta be around here somewhere...)

So I do a quick Google search to see if there are other's out there with this problem, but I can't find anything. Life then intrudes and I put away trying to create new ISOs until I can Get Around Tuit. A week goes by and the merry folks at OpenSuse release RC3, again in delta ISOs only. This time I'm determined to succeed. I burn the ISOs on the Windows machine as five separate files onto a blank DVD. Then I hand carry the newly minted DVD and drop it into my Gateway's DVD player. Lo and behold, applydeltaiso works if I reference the raw ISO as a file on the DVD. Just to be thorough I try once more to use the RC1 CDs I'd burned, but applydeltaiso still fails. I tried with them unmounted (/dev/hda) and I tried with them mounted (/dev/hda and as /media/SU1010.001). The utility still fails.

Now you're asking, "Hey stupid, why didn't you use the equivalent Windows utility if you had them on Windows?" And I answer, "Because I wanted to create a single DVD from the five ISOs using makeSUSEdvd. And it only works under Linux. So I'll create my five new CD ISOs on my notebook with plenty of copious disk space." But here's the final painful bit of humor to this story. On the DVD creation directions page (which I haven't read before this very moment) is a warning, in big red type, that "makeSUSEdvd will not work currently with SUSE Linux 10.1 RC3. All other versions will work correctly." Ain't it wonderful?

Update on the Big Microsoft Drop

There's a blog out there called Infectious Greed. It's written by Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist living out in San Diego, California. I ran across a link to his blog on while reading the great English prose on The Inquirer. One post he wrote yesterday (the 27th) titled "Microsoft's Pig in a Poke Problem" covers a very important issue with regards to Microsoft and explains in part what happened today with Microsoft's share price drop. It's short enough that I'll quote the entire post.
I've been a Microsoft stock booster this year, arguing that the company was heading into the strongest product cycle in recent memory, driven by Windows, Office, and SQL Server upgrades, plus, plus.

But this latest news kills the story. By, in effect, diverting all the windfall profits from these new product releases into much more questionable businesses -- Xbox, Windows Live, etc. -- Microsoft is asking shareholders to buy a pig in a poke. It wants people to ignore how poorly it has done in retooling itself in recent years, and then let it burn an entire product cycle's profits in pursuit of Google, as well as the gaming market.

No mas. Some may buy this, but most thinking shareholders are going to say no way. There are many things you can say about Microsoft, but one thing is relatively certain: The further it gets from its Windows hegemony the worse it does. And by chasing after Google in search and ad serving, and after Sony et al., in games, Microsoft could hardly be further from home turf.
Couple this view with the lower-than-expected earnings announced today, and it explains a bit more (to me, anyway) why so many investors seemed to be voting with their feet and heading towards the exits. Just to make it more interesting, he has another later post titled "Black Days in Microsoft History". In that post he shows the 10 worst trading days in Microsoft's stock history. The two worst were of course from Black October 1987. He has a little contest going on where you get to guess what event was associated with the other seven he has on his chart.

I never realized VCs had such a sense of humor.

A run on the bank of Microsoft

NOTE: I don't own any Microsoft stock. Nada. Zip. None.

I just checked the news wires and stumbled on something quite remarkable. It's a little after 10 am, and Microsoft stock has already traded close to 140 million shares. Let me repeat that. The NASDAQ opened at 9am, and in a little more than an hour it's traded more than twice its daily average of 58 million shares. To top that off, it's down almost 11%, or $3. What happened?

Microsoft reported earnings that missed Wall Street expectations and lowered its earnings expectations. Microsoft reported revenue of 10 billion for the last quarter. The greedy bastards on Wall Street were expecting 11. Right now their stock is trading at around $24/share as everybody cashes out and "takes profit".

For those in the Linux community who take solace in Microsoft's problems, such as today's stock market fiasco, let me warn you that what goes around comes back around, usually with interest. The carcasses of defunct Linux distributors litter the landscape, and those that are left are not too healthy. Novell, while cash rich, is sales poor, especially when selling Suse. Redhat, while the healthiest and with the greatest US market share, is still puny when compared to Microsoft. Redhat's few offerings are dwarfted by the breadth and depth of Microsoft's product offerings, and the $1 billion shortfall for this past quarter is more than Redhat has earned its entire existence, let alone in just one quarter (or even one year). I mean, Microsoft reported a 13% increase in revenue over the same period last year, and that's bad news because it wasn't high enough? Give me a frikkin' break!

As I work day-to-day with Linux on the desktop and constantly compare it with Windows, I have come to realize that 1) Microsoft on the desktop is not that bad and 2) Linux on the desktop is nowhere near that good. I wake up every morning looking forward to being flamed when I complain about yet another shortcoming in Linux on the desktop. Not. I'm tired of fighting the shrill Linux zealots who drag their considerable emotional baggage into defending their holy operating system. And make no mistake, today's drop in stock price will be yet another piece they throw up on their collection of suitcases. I am just waiting to read on the forums about how this is truly the Beginning of the End (TM) for Microsoft. It isn't anything of the sort. Microsoft's markets are shifting, especially over to China and India. Microsoft delayed delivery of Vista. Again, big deal. What's available works fine, and I can wait until it's done right. Paul Thurrott has already gone over in fine and eloquent detail Vista's shortcomings, so I won't belabor those points. From what I've read it will be better in a lot of areas, though it won't have the earth-shattering features first promised. What's more relevant, however, is that it will improve over XP, and Linux distributions will still be chasing its tail-lights technically. It will still be behind the real power curve set by Windows (and Mac OS X).

Update

It's just after 6pm. Checking Yahoo, I find that over 590 million Microsoft shares traded hands today. That's over 10 times (an order of magnitude) greater than the average. Or to look at it another way, out of 2.6 billion shares total that traded on the NASDAQ, Microsoft made up 23% of the volume. That's one company that had nearly a quarter of the total volume on the NASDAQ on a trading day described as having "heavy volume."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I Can Drive 55 Now, part 2

I've discovered I can drive 55, and save reasonable cash in the process. By learning all over again to lighten the foot and to travel at 55 vs. 65 or 70, I managed to add 4 mpg to my last fillup, or average 21 mpg. My average before this past week of driving was 17 mpg street/highway. I know I said here that it was 22. But that was straight highway driving from Orlando to Tallahassee and back at speeds of 65 to 70 mph. Around Orlando I commute 50 miles round trip, driving down I-4 to the 408 and taking surface streets such as Conroy and Alafaya Trail. That's lots of stop-and-go driving mixed with highway speeding.

Although I still paid $49 at the pump for a fillup, I saved $11 compared to the last fillup. I'm hoping that these savings continue and that I won't forget yet again to drive easy rather than like a lead-footed bat out of hell. The only way to save further now is to work one day a week at home. If I were to do that I would save about $9/week. This extra saved from not driving, combined with the amount saved by driving slower, adds up to at least one less tank full/month. And considering that more gasoline price rises are inevitable, every little bit helps.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Time to move on

I've been hit twice already by Microsoft's new anti-piracy tool. Both incidents occurred yesterday evening at home. The first incident occurred on my big home system. I've had that license for nearly three years. I've never had a problem with it. And I've been tested twice already for license compliance. This third time I let it roll on through just to see what would happen. Nothing really happened to the machine, but something happened to me.

I finally got tired of having someone (virtual or otherwise) come into my house (again, virtual or otherwise) and essentially challenging my honesty to run software (the operating system in this case) I had paid for and which they already knew twice before (three times if you count the installation activation) was legal. That put me in a fine frame of mind so that when it happened the second time with my brand new shiney Gateway Core Duo M685 notebook, I only picked up the fixes I needed and disabled the 'piracy' fix. I've reported this to my corporate IT. I'm going to let them deal with Microsoft. And if it seems like they'll roll over, maybe, maybe not. Half my office runs Macs, and there are times I wish I did as well. The other alternative is Linux, and as bad as Linux can be, as Microsoft continues to aggravate me more and more I'm being motivated to permanently move over to some Linux distribution. That moves brings its own set of issues, and I'm still not sure if I want that or OS X. There are no good solutions I see, only the trading of one set of problems with another. OS X is as proprietary as Windows, and Apple can be more draconian than Microsoft. Linux has its cadre of zealots and then there's Linus and the kernel hackers who make hardware support, especially driver support for the latest hardware, a real living hell at time.

No easy solutions. Nothing but politics from all sides polluting the technology.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The chickens come home to roost at Microsoft

John Dvorak writes in his article "The Great Microsoft Blunder":
I think it can now be safely said, in hindsight, that Microsoft's entry into the browser business and its subsequent linking of the browser into the Windows operating system looks to be the worst decision — and perhaps the biggest, most costly gaffe — the company ever made.
You got that right. Microsoft likes to spin that Bill Gates is some all-seeing IT visionary who can guide the company around the shoals of adversity to ever greater heights of success. Bullshit. Bill is highly reactionary, and when he heard Andreessen say that Netscape would become the next great platform and reduce Windows to a collection of poorly debugged drivers, Bill went ballistic. He actually believed it. Nobody, but nobody can replace the operating system. All that capability to render multimedia from text to video requires a lot more than the odd collection of poorly debugged drivers. You need the OS for the client machine, and more importantly, you need the OS to support the network and the servers that serve up all that content. You need computers running an OS with specific tools to manage the network such that it gives the best levels of service for everyone. Bill Gates isn't a visionary. Bill Gates is a 21st century con artist with the nack for concentrating wealth into his pocket and the pockets of his closest cohorts.

So Bill Gates, in hard-core reactionary mode, drove Microsoft to create a browser competitor using technology licensed from NCSA (the National Center for Supercomputing) Mosaic and Spyglass, the same group that spawned Netscape and Andreessen. But Bill didn't stop there. He had to beat a key feature of Netscape, dynamic content provided by Java. So Bill first licensed Java, then went one critical step further. He opened up platform native executables through the browser via ActiveX. When Microsoft did that they destroyed what little security existed on Windows. They didn't realize it at the time, but the creation and addition of ActiveX to Internet Explorer would lead them to over a decade of endless security vulnerabilities and fixes, and that have cost, as Dvorak says, billions of dollars. And untold billions to the users of Windows fighting the consequences of the flaws on the Microsoft software running on their computer systems.

Everyone thought Microsoft got away with murder when nothing much came of the original DoJ indictment. And at first it looked like they did. But Bill had to have it all, and that's exactly what he got, including all the unintended consequences of 'winning'. It has cost more than billions in lost productivity. Bill's behavior surrounding IE and Netscape, as well as his continued reflexive behavior such as that around beating RealNetworks RealPlayer, has greatly tarnished his standing among his peers. During his recent trip to Vietnam they were celebrating his wealth, not his technical prowess.

The sad thing is that neither Netscape nor RealPlayer were anything to loose sleep over. Netscape was a bug-ridden pile of crap code what was re-written by the Mozilla crew, and then finally abandoned after adopting Firefox. RealPlayer has always been a poor third to Apple's QuickTime and Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Everytime I install RealPlayer I get tons of ads and lousy playback of streaming media. I have excellent choice between Apple and Microsoft on Windows. Even with Real on Linux, I prefer boot Windows for the far superior experience. And there are times when I prefer the superior experience of Firefox on Windows over Firefox on Linux.

Windows is still the gold standard, as is Office on Windows. Concentrate on those and let Firefox be the primary browser. Or (finally!) standardise and publish the APIs behind IE and really grow an ecology on Windows for browsers. If Microsoft were truly an easier partner to work with (read: not someone to gobble you up or roll you flat) Linux would never have a chance. And Windows place in the IT world would be really secure.

Pointless political posturing

W (Duhbya) made some moves today designed to help us little folks buy cheaper gas. Unfortunately, what he tried was way too little, and way too late.
  1. W gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to relax regional clean-fuel standards to attract more imports of gasoline to the United States and to make it easier for supplies to be moved from one state to another.
  2. W halted deposits of oil to the nation's strategic petroleum reserve until the fall.
Number 1 means we get to breath even dirtier air for slightly cheaper gas. Wow. What a choice. Number 2 doesn't mean squat. What are some of the real reasons for higher gas? Let's count them.
  1. The global economy is expanding, and that means the thirst for oil is only going to grow.
  2. Daily global demand is roughly 85 million barrels per day. There is less than 2 million barrels per day of spare production capacity.
  3. Oil traders are nervous about geopolitical tensions in Nigeria, Iran, and Venezuela.
  4. Speculative investors are piling into energy markets.
Numbers 1 and 2 fit hand-in-glove. The drivers in the global economy are China, India, the U.S., and just about everyone else. In fact there's a positive feedback loop in which the money flowing in to poorer countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela will feed their economies further, driving their desires for the same resource-intensive consumer goods that everyone else is gobbling down at unsustainable rates. Numbers 3 and 4 fit together quite nicely, too. They either feed off of each other or they are one and the same individual. The quite nasty problem with speculation and a resultant bubble in the energy markets is that we all suffer before there is a correction.

This cost of energy is only going to get a lot worse for a long time. We need to loose our dependence on oil and gas to generate our energy. And as much as it's going to hurt me, if rising gas prices will drive the big SUVs and other gas guzzlers off the road, then I say let's get them prices up.

Gas prices too high? Try buying gas in England.

I like to cry about how gas is approaching $3/gallon here in Orlando. I thank my luck stars I don't live in England. There, gas (petrol) is approaching £1/litre. Sounds like it's a lot less than here, doesn't it? Well, let's do some conversion between metric and English units of volume and a currency conversion for the money.
  1. One U.S. gallon equals 3.785 litres.
  2. One English £ equals $1.79 U.S. dollars (at today's exchange rate).
Now, multiple $1.79 by 3.785 litres (for a gallon of gas) and we come out to $6.94 for an equivalent gallon of gas. Wow. Nearly $7 for a gallon of gas. I can tell you the English aren't too happy about the situation.

I see stupid people flying...

Standing-room only on aircraft. In flight. I guess if you need to travel somewhere bad enough you'll do anything. Whatever happened to passenger safety, especially during an emergency landing? And how about basic customer service? And how long are you supposed to stand?
Airbus denies standing room 'seats'
Airbus disputes report it is in discussion with Asian airlines to offer padded backboards to have flyers stand in effort to increase capacity.

Airlines and aircraft makers are always looking to get the most passengers possible onto planes, but Airbus is denying a report that it is in discussions with carriers about having a standing room "seat" to fit even more passengers on its jets.

The New York Times reports that Airbus has quietly pitched the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none have agreed to it yet. But a spokeswoman for Airbus flatly denied the report Tuesday.

"Our passengers and customers want more and more comfort," said Barbara Kracht a spokeswoman for the European aircraft maker. "We're going in the direction of more comfort, not in that direction,"

The paper, quoting experts who it said had seen a proposal, reports that if the standing room option is used, passengers would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness.

"To call it a seat would be misleading," Volker Mellert, a physics professor at Oldenburg University in Germany, told the paper. Mellert has done research on airline seat comfort and has seen the design, the paper reported. Mellert could not be reached for comment by CNNMoney.com Tuesday.

The paper reports that the use of standing room would allow the new A380 double-decker jet that Airbus is in the process of introducing to hold up to 853 passengers, compared to about 500 passengers if they were given traditional seats.

But Airbus' Kracht said that the A380 has been approved to hold 853 passengers and a crew of 20 all fully seated, albeit all in coach class seating. The lower capacity is if the plane is divided into traditional three-class service with first and business class seating.

I see stupid people...

And I thought folks would be so shocked by the ever-rising high price of gas they'd do something, like drive more fuel efficient cars. Silly me!

Big engines stay popular despite gas spike

U.S. consumers bought vehicles with big, gas-guzzling engines at an unchanged rate in the first three months of the year despite rising gas prices, according to a survey released on Monday.

In the first quarter, about 25 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States were equipped with eight- cylinder engines, according to sales trends analyzed by the Power Information Network, a data tracking service of consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates.

That market share level for V8s -- typically the most powerful engines used in trucks and large sport utility vehicles -- was unchanged from the average of 25 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the Power Information Network.

The market share of six- and four-cylinder engine-vehicles have also not budged in the face of higher gasoline prices, now above $3 per gallon in many U.S. markets, J.D. Power said.

I sue dead people...

It had to happen. The RIAA, driven by greedy stupid bastards, finally decided to sue the deceased for pirating music. From an article by the same name on arstechnica:
The RIAA's ongoing campaign to stamp out file trading by suing consumers is old news. But when details of one of their latest lawsuits became public, it was too good to pass up. A suit filed recently in US District Court named 83-year-old Gertrude Walton as a defendant, accusing her of serving up over 700 songs onto peer-to-peer networks. Now, the RIAA has gone after grandmothers before. In 2003, they mistakenly targeted a 66-year-old woman for allegedly sharing gangsta rap. But this case goes a bit further, as Mrs. Walton actually passed away in December 2004.
I just hope that arstechnica doesn't sue me for nicking their title for my posting.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Updating the Nokia 770's system software

Nokia released a new update to the core software of their 770 this past April 18th. I didn't find out about it until I read about it on Planet Maemo. That news item was posted there on the 20th.

I updated my 770 under Windows XP SP2. Updating is supposed to occur in three steps:
  1. Download the Nokia 770 Software Update image (Nokia_770_SE2005_5_2006_13_7.bin) and save it.
  2. Download and install the Nokia 770 Software Update Wizard for Windows (Nokia_770_software_update_wizard.exe).
  3. Update the Nokia 770 using the Wizard with the binary image.
Installing the Windows software is very straightforward. It comes in two parts, the Windows installation wizard that's run the first time, and the update wizard that is used to update the 770. Follow the directions and accept all the defaults for the Windows installation. There's no reason to change anything. When the Windows installation is finished it immediately starts the updater. This is where the update of the 770 became more difficult for me.

The updater is very clear in its directions for updating the 770. The steps are simple to begin with, so the directions were also simple and clear. The problem occurred during the act of uploading/upgrading the new binary image to the 770. The process hung twice. After the second hang I performed the following steps to get it to upgrade.
  1. I killed the update process with Task Manager. It had hung and was unresponsive.
  2. I disconnected the 770 from its USB cable.
  3. I pulled the battery out of the 770 to shut it down completely.
  4. I plugged the 770 back into its USB cable.
  5. I inserted the battery back into the 770, then turned on the 770 by holding down the home key (bottom-most button on the left) while simultaneously pressing the power button at the top. This put it into USB mode.
  6. I started the updater and then allowed it to upload/update the new executable image for the 770.
  7. The updater successfully finished updating the 770.
Evaluation

First, the broken items. The clock seems to be stuck showing time three time zones east of me. My clock just struck 9pm, but the Nokia shows it's midnight. If I open the clock utility, I can set my home to Atlanta (which is where I was born and it's in the same time zone as Orlando) and set my time to the correct time. The fix, if I want correct on the desktop, is to set my home time back three hours. The second broken item so far is the sound the tablet makes when I flip the cover over it. It only occurs if I have a network connection. Flipping the cover over the face breaks the connection. Letting the screen go dark breaks the connection. I can only surmise that somebody thought it was a good idea to make a noise when this occurred. I don't think it's a good idea, especially late at night when it's quiet and I'm next to my significant other. It's not loud as much as it's quite noticeable. I wish I could turn this so-called feature off.

Now, some possibly good news. I think the browser is faster. It's certainly not any slower. And it behaves a lot more stably under load. It's ability to handle complex sites seems to be better, although it could be that the sites I find better may have become more standards compliant. Specifically, I can load CNN and Google Mail better and faster than before (sounds like the old "Six Million Dollar Man"). The ability to read Google Mail is quite surprising, considering I got a warning and/or bad operation on the older release. Google Maps still won't work, however.

It looks like the browser (and the OS in general) can handle more open instances and more web pages. As a test, I opened the Video player, Notes, the Control panel, Chess, Marbles, Mahjong, and four Opera instances. I then navigated to The Inquirer on one, CNN on another, Accuweather on a third, and a Japanese website that was spawned from an Inquirer story on a forth. I flipped back and forth between the four browser instances, clicking links until I forgot the number of pages I'd passed through. The performance began to slow at this point, but there were no warning dialogs to kill windows like there was in the original software bundle that came with the 770 (December 2005). The overall browser experience is a lot better.

Do I still feel the same way now as I did in this post? That is hard to say. There's more that needs to be tested, such as video playback. And I started over clean with this install; I did not save any settings, preferring to go and see how the 770 behaves as a 'new' device. I won't know how to judge it until later. Another change besides the software is the use of a 1GB Adata MMC mobile card in place of the 64MB that came with the unit. Performance still needs greater enhancement, and multimedia support needs further enhancements. Looks like I've signed up to be a tester for this damn thing whether I originally wanted to be one or not.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Effects of high priced gas hits close to home

My youngest daughter and I went to the movies to see "Thank You For Smoking" (favorite line: "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charlie Manson kills people. I talk.") at 12:30. The route took us past Universal Studios to the theater at Festival Bay. We got there in record time without traffic tie-ups or speeding to get there. When we walked in there were no lines to purchase tickets. When we went in there was hardly anybody in line to buy snack food, and there was hardly anybody watching the movie. I even went over to catch a part of "Silent Hill" and it was just as empty. When the movie ended about two hours later we walked out into empty echoing spaces. I got us home, again in record time, without traffic and without speeding.

Rights? What rights?

In a direct assault on our need to know if our government is acting incorrectly and out of control, the Bush administration made good on its threats to find and fire the leaker of information at the CIA that led to the revelations of our use of "clandestine detention centers" overseas in our war on terror. The New York Times reports that although the CIA won't come out and say it, several other sources in Washington have identified Mary O. McCarthy, a veteran intelligence analyst, as the source of the information. The last four paragraphs of the Times story are interesting:
Several former intelligence officials who were granted anonymity after requesting it for what they said were obvious reasons under the circumstances were divided over the likely effect of the dismissal on morale. One veteran said the firing would not be well-received coming so soon after the disclosure of grand jury testimony by Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff that President Bush in 2003 approved the leak of portions of a secret national intelligence estimate on Iraqi weapons.

"It's a terrible situation when the president approves the leak of a highly classified N.I.E., and people at the agency see management as so disastrous that they feel compelled to talk to the press," said one former C.I.A. officer with extensive overseas experience.

But another official, whose experience was at headquarters, said most employees would approve Mr. Goss's action. "I think for the vast majority of people this will be good for morale," the official said. "People didn't like some of their colleagues deciding for themselves what secrets should be in The Washington Post or The New York Times."

Paul R. Pillar, who was the agency's senior analyst for the Middle East until he retired late last year, said: "Classified information is classified information. It's not to be leaked. It's not to be divulged." He has recently criticized the Bush administration's handling of prewar intelligence about Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons programs.
I agree with Paul Pillar's assertion that classified information "is classified information." What's more, classified information has to be treated the same by all branches of government. The executive branch can't leak to suit its needs, then punish other leakers in other branches because it's damaging to a sitting administration's credibility. Porter Goss, Bush's appointed head of the CIA, is disingenuous at best when he stated that "foreign intelligence officials had asked him whether his agency was incapable of keeping secrets." I think the bigger questions they ask themselves is if we can even find any secrets to keep, and if we know reality from fiction well enough at the highest levels of government before we act upon it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

China owns us

Let's list just a few of the reasons, starting with the most recent.
  • Hu heckler on harassment charge (BBC)
    A woman has appeared in court in Washington after heckling visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House.

    Wang Wenyi, 47, was charged with harassing, intimidating and threatening a foreign official.

    Ms Wang, who had a press pass for the event, had shouted at Mr Hu not to oppress the outlawed Chinese spiritual movement, the Falun Gong.

    An embarrassed President George W Bush apologised to Mr Hu for the outburst.

  • Report Alleges Semel's Yahoo Helped China Again (Forbes)
    Yahoo!, like several other giants of the Web, has seen its share of criticism about the way it juggles both its Chinese business and requests from Beijing. Now the group led by Chief Executive Terry Semel is in the thick of it again, and this for the third time. A free press advocacy group has published a verdict from Chinese authorities that may implicate Yahoo! as having provided evidence for the Communist state to prosecute one of its users for subversion.

  • Google censors itself for China (BBC)
    Leading internet company Google has said it will censor its search services in China in order to gain greater access to China's fast-growing market.

    Google has offered a Chinese-language version of its search engine for years but users have been frustrated by government blocks on the site.

    The company is setting up a new site - Google.cn - which it will censor itself to satisfy the authorities in Beijing.

  • Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft in China (PC WORLD)
    All three of these American Internet titans are doing business in China and bowing to that country's restrictions on free speech. That can mean censoring search engine results (the Times story is largely devoted to examining how and why Google created a China-specific engine that, for instance, erases much information about the Falung Gong sect). It can involve pulling down a political blog that the government disapproves of (which Microsoft did). Perhaps most chillingly, it can involve turning over a dissident's e-mail to the government for use in a trial, as Yahoo has been accused of doing in three instances.

  • Upbeat on Trade, Hu Offers No New Fixes for Imbalance (Washington Post)
    As for the most visible of those problems -- China's growing trade surplus, which soared to $202 billion last year -- Hu explained it as mostly the result of "different industrial restructuring of our two countries and the accelerated international division of labor driven by economic globalization." He noted that at least 90 percent of U.S. imports from China are goods that are no longer made in the United States.
And so it goes. We are bound and beholden to the Far East for much of our manufactured goods and to the Middle East for much of our energy (oil). As a typical American I'm as much to blame as anyone. As a very brief sample, I drive a car made in Korea (KIA) powered by OPEC oil. I take my pictures with a Japanese camera made in China (Olympus). I watch TV on a 10-year-old Sony. And I'm typing this on an American brand notebook computer (Gateway) that was at the very least assembled in China. How long can we keep this up before we're totally bankrupt?

I Can Drive 55, Now

One foot on the brake and one on the gas, hey!
Well, there's too much traffic, I can't pass, no!
So I tried my best illegal move
Well, baby, black and white come and touched my groove again!
Gonna write me up a 125
Post my face wanted dead or alive
Take my license, all that jive
I can't drive 55! Oh No!
Uh!

Sammy Hagar, 1984
I Can't Drive 55
Oil Reaches New High of $75 a Barrel
Crude-oil prices reached a new record of $75 a barrel Friday amid concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions and declining U.S. gasoline stocks.

U.S. pump prices also kept rising, with the average price of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline at $2.855, up 3 cents from a day earlier and more than 60 cents higher than a year ago, according to AAA's daily fuel gauge report.

Analysts say oil prices are likely to climb higher in the weeks ahead as worries grow about how international pressure on Iran, OPEC's No. 2 oil producer, will affect its crude output. Rebel disruptions of oil production in Nigeria also pose a risk to world supplies.

Traders also worry that gasoline supplies may not meet summer demand after seven straight weeks of drops in domestic gasoline stocks, which are now at their lowest level since November.

I paid over $60 for 20 gallons of gas yesterday. I bought my gas at a local Walmart in two transactions. The first was with the Walmart Visa because it dropped the price per gallon by 3 cents (what a joke). When I hit $50, the pump automatically stopped. I tried another transaction immediately after with the same card and it wouldn't take the card. I then used my other Visa to get the other $10 in gas to fill my tank.

During the time of the double-nickel speed limit gas was cheap and plentiful. We dropped to 55 when Nixon passed the NMSL in response to the OPEC oil embargo in 1973 to save oil. It lived on well beyond the embargo because of highway 'safety' concerns. Back then I could afford to buy all the gas I needed on the much lower salary I was earning at the time. And this when I was living in Atlanta and commuting was de rigeur. I used to rail against the 55 mph speed limit along with my contemporaries and I sped everywhere I went, because the only time it cost me anything is if I got a ticket for speeding (and I only got one of those the whole time I was living in Atlanta).

Now I spend more on gas in one fillup than I spent in two months. That was because I was driving Honda Civics. I kept driving Civics until I got married in 1984, then eventually switched to vans. My wife Judy drove a 1982 Nissan Sentra MPV, the first Sentra to be sold in the US. It got a real-life 50mpg on the highway. My Civic got 45. Gas was cheap and cars efficient.

Now flash forward to 2006. She drives a Kia Sedona van and I drive a Kia Sorento compact SUV. Both vehicles get 22mpg. That's less than half what Judy and I got 22 years ago. The only good thing to say about the van is that it's paid for. I still owe a year on the Sorento. And I'm already looking at high-mileage alternatives, such as the Toyota Prius, Toyota 2006 Rav4 with a four-cylinder engine, and other small-engine high-mileage vehicles that have reasonable interior space and are inexpensive to buy. I commute 50 miles/day. I fill up once/week. If I could increase my highway mileage to say, 30 (the 2006 Rav4), I would be over 25% more efficient, and save $16/fillup, assuming I filled up every week like I currently do. Going up to 40 mpg would nearly cut my fuel costs in half on the one vehicle. That translates to $100/month or more, which is nothing to sneer at.

The bigger problem is the fuel surcharge from Florida Power. More than half my power bill every month is due to the fuel surcharge. Between gas for my cars and Florida Power, the steep rise in fuel is eating me up. It's now to the point where alternative power for home and transportation are affordable, if for no other reason than to save real significant sums of cash. The economic incentive to save and move beyond oil has arrived with a vengeance. I just hope I can get through this period.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Booting Ubuntu 6.06 Beta 1

As soon as Ubuntu 6.06 beta 1 hit the servers I downloaded and burned my own copy, then booted my Gateway with it. There's definitely been a change and for the most part the change has been for the better.

Good things that happened:
  • It found all the SATA partitions. I was able to mount everything on the SATA drive.
  • Sound started working. I was treated to the latest audio bootup sequence. It sounded pretty nice.
  • Screen came up in 1680 x 1050 resolution automatically, without tweaking. That happened with alpha 6 as well.
  • The new icons look really good. They're the best Gnome icons I've ever seen.
  • Ubuntu uses kernel 2.6.15 built with gcc 4.0.3. I don't know if this is good or bad, but contrast it with Suse 10.1 RC-1's 2.6.16 kernel built with gcc 4.1.0. The kernel and compiler are more advanced on Suse, but more hardware works out-of-the-box on Ubuntu.
  • Wired networking works. Wireless does not on either Suse or Ubuntu. That's an issue with the Intel drivers, not the distributions.
  • This blog entry was made from within beta 1 shortly after it booted.
The only odd thing that happened was it only booted with one of the cores enabled. I thought Alpha 6 booted with both. I'll need to investigate a little further. This is the best Ubuntu version I've ever booted. My only concern is that Ubuntu saw but one of the cores in the T2500. If it had come up seeing both cores I would have installed it over Suse 10.1, regardless of the 'beta code' warning.

I grabbed some quick screen shots which you can see below.



Nautilus, showing off some of the new Ubuntu icons. It popped up immediately when I plugged in my SanDisk thumb drive. And all the controls are present.



A desktop full of applications. As you can see Ubuntu only sees one of the T2500's cores. I also like Beagle. It was easy to use and quite fast.



More typical applications (latest and nearly greatest, such as Firefox 1.5.0.1). I deliberately set the font to Bitstream Vera Sans to see if there was any change with the default of Sans. There was none, which makes me wonder if Sans is generic name for the Bitstream font. The desktop fonts looked good with Sans or Bitstream.



Playing around with the themes. I definitely like the default window border and icons, and I can't remember the last time I ever said that about Gnome defaults. The performance of Gnome 2.14 is still quite fast. Overall it's become a top-notch desktop, especially as tweaked by the Ubuntu developers.

Ubuntu is quite good and quite the competitor to Suse. In my opinion they're the two best distributions out there. It would be very hard for me to pick the better of the two.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

There's a movie by the same name coming out May 24th. Narrated by Al Gore (you know, the one who, for a short time, was our duly elected president in 2000), it gives a blunt and truthful assessment of our current ecological situation and the global warming that is causing us greater and greater distress. I have not seen this movie, only the trailer. Why see a fake horror film when reality is so much more terrifying? I have a feeling I'll be seeing this one, and more than once.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's not easy being Mean

I feel sorry for Microsoft. I really do. Here they are, a convicted monopolist here in the US. No matter where they go and try a fresh start, their bad luck just seems to follow them. And those mean old Europeans want to fine them 2 million euros per day (per day!) just because Microsoft is trying to earn money the old fashioned way - through absolute market control.

I mean, even the judges over here in America are ganging up with those mean old Europeans to punish poor little Mickeysoft. Look at what mean old District Court Judge Mark Wolf in Boston had to say to the poor pitiful Softies:
"Enforcing Microsoft's ... subpoena to Novell would circumvent and undermine the law of the European Community concerning how a litigant may obtain third-party documents...," the judge said in a harshly-worded 12-page decision issued on Monday.
See? Harshly worded! There was no need for that! I tell you, there is no justice in this world. No justice at all!

Alternate fonts make Gnome easier on the eyes

I have poor eyesight. It's so poor that at times I prop my glasses up on my forehead and stick my face right into the monitor to read. This, of course, leads to great hilarity as my office mates come by and laugh at the blind geek. It's one of the real drivers behind my move to notebooks and LCD screens. With today's sub-pixel aliasing technology in Windows (ClearType) and Linux, reading text off of LCDs is a lot easier for me than reading text off of an older CRT.

Having sub-pixel aliasing and LCD screens isn't enough. You have to pick the right font as well. For Windows XP that isn't an issue. From the moment it's turned on the fonts on the desktop and in all the applications are correct and easy to read. The same is true, it appears, for Mac OS X. The same is not true for Suse 10 or 10.1 (the fonts selected by Ubuntu's live distribution (at least Dapper Drake) are, however).

I've discovered that the best fonts for this combination of notebook display and Suse 10.1 is Bitstream Vera Sans, Bitstream Vera Sans Mono, and Bitstream Vera Serif. These fonts provide clear readable text on the LCD display in just about every point size from 11 on up. It makes working on the Linux graphical desktop easy, especially for long periods of time. And it adds beauty to the overall look of the graphical desktop.



The fonts as they are now. Note subpixel smoothing is enabled.



An example of Bitstream Vera Sans Mono in Gnome terminal.

Note
You have to go into Firefox and set the same fonts explicitly. Firefox doesn't get its font hints from Gnome (or KDE) the way it does from Windows.



The fonts dialog in Firefox. You get here via Edit | Preferences | Content.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I'm not the only one disappointed with the Nokia 770

I feel vindicated. Rob Pegoraro of the Washington Post wrote "It Does Little, and Not Very Well" in which he described his experiences with a demo unit. Everything that I've complained about, from crashing the OS to crashing the web browser to WiFi non-connectivity issues to poor performance to how it compares poorly to other solutions are covered (again) in detail. The one exception I have is to his complaint about the RS-MMC card. I did manage to find a 512MB RS-MMC card at Newegg for $25. And it's a good thing I bought it when I did because just checking back shows they don't even have that in stock any more.

The end of the article pretty much sums up the current state of the Nokia 770:
It's not as if the Nokia 770 will be the first portable gadget somebody buys. It's going to have to earn its way into pockets, purses, bags and backpacks already occupied by phones, Palm or Pocket PC handhelds, iPods, Sony PSP or Nintendo DS game machines or laptops -- often, more than one of those. With that competition, a 770 will probably land in a different place: the shelf.
Update
Worst tech of 2006 (so far)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

We have met the enemy (and he is us)

An article written by George Ou and titled "Linux zombies show platforms don't matter" underscores the peril you take when you decide to point out problems with F/OSS software in general, and Linux distributions in particular. George documented the trials and tribulations of one Richard Stiennon and the trouble he got into when he pointed out how Linux systems running Apache and PHP were compromised and turned into zombies. The ability to hunt down and compromise these types of systems were documented by Richard this way:
The hacker used a common mis-configuration in PHP scripts to take over Linux machines and use them for his army of zombies. What is scary about this is that these machines are typically web servers on broadband connections, unlike the usual collection of PCs on college campuses that are part of a bot-herd. So they are much more deadly, especially when combined into a single force. The PHP script is easily searchable on Google so the hacker automated his harvesting activity by having each infected machine search for more machines to infect using Google results to seed the search.
When he attempted to point out this flaw he was flamed by some of the Linux zealots for being a Windows 'fanboy' and being incompetent. Excuse me? Since when does pointing out a serious flaw in the configuration of an important software stack such as LAMP constitute being a stooge for Microsoft? If it had been Windows and IIS that had suffered this security issue you can be assured that those self same zealots would have been all over the story like ugly on an ape, hooting like apes that here was yet another example showing the dangers of using Microsoft software.

It's behavior like this exhibited by the Linux zealots that over time damage the reputation and erode the credibility of the overall Linux community. And if Linux supporters such as Richard Stiennon can't write about issues and offer constructive criticism of important problems, then fewer will bother to raise their voices on other equally important issues when they appear. Linux is not perfect. Windows, whether the Linux zealots want to admit it or not, is a good alternate choice to Linux (remember how Linux is about choice?). Shooting the messenger is not the answer. Listening to the messenger is the right choice. Acting on the message to fix Linux and make it better is the best choice of all.

Getting to know Gnome

I made the comment that Nautilus under Suse 10.1 was missing the ability to view files as a detailed list. I was wrong. The functionality is still there, it's just buried in the 'View' menu, right at the very bottom. This functionality was visible as a control on Nautilus as released with Suse 10, along with two additional controls that increased and decreased the size of the icons in icon view. Why was this taken off? Who were the Gnome architects trying to save from themselves this time? Nautilus was great in the last release. It was more than great. Why can't Gnome folks leave well enough alone?



Nautilus as it appeared in Suse 10. Nice, clean, and key functions conveniently available.



Nautilus as it appears in Ubuntu Dapper Drake, Alpha 6, to be released later this year.



Nautilus as it appears in Suse 10.1 RC-1. Note the missing controls on the upper right.



Konqeror as it appears in Suse 10.1 RC-1 under Gnome. It's a lot nicer to work with.

A mini-review of Java 6 beta 2

After installing the latest test release of Suse 10.1, I installed the latest build (B80) of Java 6 beta 2. I've been using Java 6 since the latter part of 2005 because it's fast and because on Linux, under Gnome, it enables sub-pixel aliasing on text. What follows are some quick and dirty screen shots of applications running under this latest Java 6 release.



The previous screenshots show a side-by-side comparison between SwingSet2 using the Java native look and feel on the left and the Gnome look and feel on the right. First the good news. This is the first build where switching to the Gnome LAF did not throw an exception. The bad news is the look after selecting Gnome. Frankly I prefer the native Java look. Not only does native Java look better, but the Gnome LAF does not follow the clean lean look that the current Gnome releases provide. This is a far cry from the Windows LAF of Java 6 under Windows. The quality of the Windows LAF under Java 6 is superb.

Ignoring the eye-candy issues, running Java 6 on Suse 10.1 on a Core Duo machine is an absolute joy. The performance of the demo applications is smooth as silk. More significantly is how NetBeans 5 runs under Java 6 on this combination of OS and hardware. From fast startup to working to shutdown, you can't tell the difference performance-wise between NetBeans and a native IDE such as KDevelop.

All of these elements, from Core Duo to the latest Linux distributions running 2.6.16 to the use of Java 6 is converging towards a sweet spot combining excellent capability, performance, and plain good looks. For developers and geeks, this is a very good time to be investing in all of these elements, especially dual-core processor machines.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Installing Suse 10.1 RC-1 on the M685

I managed to pick up the latest release of Suse 10.1 late Thursday via Bit Torrent, and installed it early Saturday morning on the Gateway M685. As always, the first thing that anyone should do after downloading and burning ISOs is to verify the integrity of the CDs created from them. This time I burned two coasters using a bad image for CD 4 (delivered via Bit Torrent). I had to hit the Open Suse website and explicitly download a new image for CD 4. That one burned a proper CD.

The installation over Beta 9 went without any incidents. I did not perform an upgrade. As with Beta 9 the SATA drive was properly recognized. What's more RC-1 defaulted to using the root and /home partitions I'd created under Beta 9 as the installation targets. The only thing I had to do was to select no formating for /home and the use of ext3 instead of Reiser for the root filesystem format.

Installation took about 45 minutes for the entire system. It detected all the hardware, and as before, it allowed me to select the proper screen resolution. After the final startup into the system, the screen Just Worked. I attribute this easy screen setup to having nVidia graphics instead of ATI. Xorg seems to work better with nVidia-based graphics systems out-of-the-box. What follows next are my experiences with various features.
  • Both desktops are very solid and polished. KDE and Gnome were visually cleaned up between Beta 9 and RC-1, especially Gnome. Right now I'm using Gnome as my default desktop.
  • Screen resolution for 2D has always been correct for this distribution on this notebook. For 3D acceleration I downloaded and installed the latest nVidia Linux driver (8756). That was an interesting experience. I had to drop from graphics/X11 mode (init 5) to pure text (init 3), then run the combination script/installation application. Installation, while in text mode, was extremely smooth. I simply started it, selected 'Yes' on a few questions, and it built and installed the driver for this distributions kernel. I then rebooted the notebook and it came back up in 3D acceleration mode. ATI drivers are supplied as RPMs and can be installed under X in a shell. The ATI driver is invoked by logging out and logging back in again. I give a slight nod towards ATI since the driver is supplied as an RPM, but not by much.
  • USB seems to be working and working well, with one notable exception. I have an Olympus Evolt E300 digital camera. When I plugged the camera into the notebook under Gnome, the camera's compact flash was detected and an icon pointing to it appeared on the Gnome desktop. When I opened the new icon, Nautilus was real slow to show the images on the camera as thumbnails. Opening the images under the Gimp was also very slow. Performing these same actions under Windows is a lot faster, especially opening the images with Gimp under Windows. I can only assume there's something going on at the driver level, but I haven't investigated it yet. In the future I'll just stick the compact flash into my USB 2.0 Sandisk reader.
  • The wired network connection works just fine but wireless is still not working. It didn't work with Beta 9 either. Dumping dmesg and grepping for Intel shows that the ipw3945 driver is being loaded, but the wireless capability is still off line.
  • Sound does not work. Like wireless, it didn't work with Beta 9 and it's not working with RC-1.
  • I don't like the default fonts (Mono) on the Gnome desktop. They look crudely drawn, especially capital 'C'. It looks like a capital 'G' with the horizontal bar lopped off. I went into Control Center on the Desktop menu (which, when selected, comes up named 'Desktop Preferences') and selected Bitstream Vera Sans for everything. And while I was in there I selected 'Subpixel smoothing'. My only comment there is that if the installer detects an LCD display (it did) then that should be selected by default.
  • I can't save a default desktop under Gnome. Regardless of how I check the "Save current setup" checkbox when I log out (or shut down) the next time I log in the desktop is clean. KDE still saves the current desktop without asking. This has been a problem since Beta 9.
  • KDE still randomly places the desktop icons on the desktop every time you log in. Most times it won't. But every once in a while I'll log in and see the icons, which I like to keep lined up on the left, suddenly running across the top edge, or even randomly re-organized down the left. This has been a n annoying problem with KDE for as long as I can remember.
  • Nautilus seems to be missing the ability to view folder contents in detailed (list) mode. While having the folder navigation view on the left again is appreciated, I like the detailed view instead of the icon view.
  • Konqueror now comes up without a tree navigator on the left (like Nautilus used to). Fortunately it was easy enough to find and enable the tree view: Window | Show Navigation Panel (or F9). Konqueror has three simple buttons on its toolbar to select between icon, detailed (or tree view), and picture (or image) viewer. For my tastes Konqueror has surpassed Nautilus in capabilities and ease of use.
The final release should be sometime in April. I hope wireless and sound are fixed by then. So far, compared to other distributions, it's a very positive experience. In my opinion the only other competitive solution is Ubuntu, and the reason it's not installed is because it didn't detect the notebook's SATA drive.



Another round trip to Tallahassee

I picked up Lauran from FSU Friday so she could be home with us this Easter. I traveled up to Tallahassee with her young sister, Megan, going along to keep the old man awake so I wouldn't have an accident by falling asleep and running off the road. Megan started the trip off by reading from "Unusually Stupid Americans". I enjoyed the section on stupid cars, especially the Pacer, the Hornet, and the Pinto. Problem is I was in my late teens to mid 20s when those cars were out (the 70's essentially). And my family owned a Pinto. My dad purchased one of the earliest models with an Opel engine in it. It eventually wound up being my younger brother's car.

We picked up Lauran and grabbed a bite to eat at the local Wendy's right across the street from FSU on Tennessee, right between Mike's Beer Barn (with drive-through service) and the local porn establishment known as Rick's Toy Box. It's the perfect stop for the harried FSU student. Cheap beer, cheap food, and cheap sex all next to each other and conveniently across the street from school.

We got back on the round around 3pm and headed back to Orlando. I stopped at a local BP to get another half tank of gas. The gas in Tallahassee was 20 cents more per gallon than in Orlando. I had topped out the tank that morning before heading north. I wanted to make sure I had plenty to get back with. And it was a good thing I did, because we came to a halt on the turnpike headed south right at the I-75 turnoff. Apparently there was a tangle between a motorcyclist and a car "involving injuries." I didn't stay on long enough to rubberneck at the bloody wreck. We got off at the Wildwood ramp before we passed the wreck. We detoured for about 30 miles in the general direction we wanted to head, getting back on the turnpike at US 27 (Leesburg). We finally hit the home front at 8:30pm, and chowed down on some pizza Judy had picked up for us.





Thursday, April 13, 2006

SuSE 10.1 RC 1 released

The next release is available. Looking at the most annoying bugs, the biggest problem seems to be the update of existing systems. I'm going to do with SuSE 10.1 what I did with SuSE 10. I'm going to do a complete re-installation of the OS. My drive is subdivided such that /home is separate from the root. I can re-install with reasonable care, knowing that what is important to save is on /home and will be picked up after the installation (such as my home directory and all my projects). Easter is this weekend so my update probably won't occur until early next week.

Updates

I started downloading this afternoon, right before I took Max for his walk. Azureus (BitTorrent) is a wonderful tool. I can snag all five ISOs at once.

Friday 4/14 3:50 am - After waking up I rambled into the home office to check on the downloads. The ISOs are complete and Azureus is now seeding back out to the network. According to Azureus downloading all five ISOs took five hours 33 minutes. I think I'll be a Good Net Citizen and let the Bit Torrent continue to seed out. It's a good thing I don't have bandwidth limits on Brighthouse, a.k.a. RoadRunner. Or at least I hope not.

New ATI driver for Linux

ATI has just released their latest set of drivers for various operating system. The one for Linux is version 8.24.8 and was released April 12th. What's been added for this release is support for Mobility Radeon X1300 to X1800, as well as desktop versions of Radeon X1300 to X1900. This support has been a long time in coming, especially on the desktop side. Support for X1n00 hardware for Windows has been available since last year when the series was first introduced. The lack of support for Mobility Radeon chips greater than X700 was the reason I got an nVidia Go 7800 video card for my current notebook. Support for that chip was out-of-the-box for SuSE 10.1 Beta 9 as well as Ubuntu Dapper Drake Alpha 6. That's a far cry from having to boot into crippled mode and then installing a kernel driver to get both 2D and 3D hardware support.

Gross humor for Thursday

This came from my sweet sainted little sister in Atlanta.

A tour bus driver is driving with a bus load of seniors down a highway when he is tapped on his shoulder by a little old lady. She offers him a handful of peanuts, which he gratefully munches up.

After about 15 minutes, she taps him on his shoulder again and she hands him another handful of peanuts. She repeats this gesture about five more times.

When she is about to hand him another batch again he asks the little old lady, " Why don't you eat the peanuts yourself?"

"We can't chew them because we've no teeth", she replied.

The puzzled driver asks, "Why do you buy them then?"

The old lady replied, "We just love the chocolate around them."

Windows security and its impact in real life

I found this story Wired News story (Border Security System Left Open) via slashdot. It describes how, in August 2005, the US-VISIT system was crippled by the Zotob worm. As I read the story the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I couldn't believe what I read.

First of all, how is it that a highly sensitive system such as US-VISIT is even tied to the internet? The ideal, most paranoid solution is to use a separate network to tie everything together. Considering all the dark fiber that still exists after the dot-com crash, the feds should have pulled together a government network on which they could have placed US-VISIT and any other critical system. If they needed access to the rest of the next, they could have either provided gateways between the government net and the rest of the world, or else put a second dirty system next to the clean ones for email and surfing the web. I've worked enough time on government contracts to know that if the computer information is sensitive or higher then the computers go on a separate net with highly restricted access to the outside world.

Second is the choice of operating systems. It wasn't just Windows, it was Windows 2000. This was how the worm was able to effect US-VISIT. Zotob targets the flaw that was found in Windows 2000's plug-and-play 'feature'. Having the government use Win2K is not all the unbelievable. I'm on a program right now where the PC sitting on my desk is still running Win2K, and they're just now getting around to upgrading to WinXP (yes, right before the delayed launch of Vista). And I did work for a company that refused to roll out service pack 2 for Windows XP because it interfered with certain corporate applications. But in both cases the IT group maintained and deployed critical fixes. This particular government screwup was amplified because the Zotob patch wasn't applied to systems until a week after it had been released by Microsoft.
Operating somewhat more slowly, it took CBP officials until Aug. 16 -- a full week after Microsoft released a patch for the hole -- to start pushing the fix to CBP's Windows 2000 computers. But because of the array of peripherals hanging off of the US-VISIT workstations -- fingerprint readers, digital cameras and passport scanners -- they held off longer on fixing those machines, for fear that the patch itself might cause a disruption.
The biggest question I have is whether or not the US-VISIT systems were sitting behind a firewall. I remember August 2005, and I remember the Zotob worm. I also recall that none of the major contractors in the Orlando area with which I was familiar had a problem. Why? Because the people running IT in their various shops maintain an iron grip on the various corporate nets with firewalls, anti-virus software, and corporate policies and procedures that prevent this from happening. If something does get through the corporate net, then the vector is a notebook (from someone in management) that was connected directly to the internet, became infected, and then was allowed to be reconnected to the controlled network after the infection. Even then it's rapidly quashed.

Yes, you can blame part of this on Windows' security problems. But the greatest share of blame is rightfully heaped on the government IT group that failed to properly design and maintain an iron-clad network for US-VISIT. On the internet, only the paranoid survive.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gas prices just keep on rising

I fill up once a week here in Orlando. Today I hit $50 for a tank of gas. I haven't paid that much since Katrina back in 2005. I paid $2.69/gallon at a local Walmart (the morning rush hour picture to the right is another gas station on the way to work). That was with their 3 cent discount because I purchased it with a Walmart credit card. Add in my daughter and wife, and my family will easily pay $400/month (or more) in gas prices. That's a stiff driving penalty.

What's worse is that the price is 20 cents higher than what I paid last week at the same station. With the tension over Iran's nuclear program and problems in Iraq and Nigeria, speculation in the futures markets are driving the cost of oil and gas right through the roof. A talking head on NPR stated he wouldn't be surprised it if kept right on going through the $3 mark and added another dollar to the price.

Four dollar gas. I wonder how long the Republicans can hang onto power at that price level. And I wonder how long we can continue to fund two wars overseas: the war in Afganistan as well as the war in Iraq. Let alone afford to live our American Way of Life. We are headed for a very rude economic awakening.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Redhat buys JBoss

Infoworld is reporting that Redhat has agreed to buy JBoss for USD$350 million, with another USD$70 million to be paid later if JBoss meets "meets certain performance goals." JBoss started life as a Java application server competing with similar offerings from Sun, BEA (WebLogic), and IBM. The big difference was that you JBoss started out as open source. My question is this: JBoss requires Java. What version of Java will Redhat ship to support JBoss? And will it ship Sun's, IBM's, or will it go the politically correct route and use gcj and Classpath to provide Java functionality? There is no easy answer, especially when you consider Sun's economic weakness.

And I wonder what performance goals JBoss is supposed to meet? Scalability? TPM? Under what environmental constraints? I've often wondered (but never had the time or resources) how JBoss stacks up against the commercial application servers. And I've often wondered how Linux compares to other operating systems as a platform for running Java server applications. I know from my own limited experience that Java desktop applications run smoother and look better on Windows than they do on Linux (and I'm comparing by dual booting between SuSE and Windows XP on my notebooks, a Gateway M680 and an M685).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Linus 'Liability' Torvalds

Bruce Perens (pictured right) gave a press conference at this years Linux World Expo in Boston. Bruce, as usual, provided a lot of thought-provoking commentary on the state of open source landscape and some of the folks who inhabit it. He had this interesting comment to make of Linus with regards to GPL 3:
Linus Torvalds has publicly spoken of problem[s] with the DRM provisions, in my opinion jumping the gun, since there were ample opportunities for the text to be handled on the four existing discussion committees. But Linus doesn't like politics and policy, and thus he sort of tried to short-circuit the process through the press without first discussing the problem with any of the committees. That wasn't productive. Since Linus doesn't like to work on this, I wish that instead of trying to throw thunderbolts he'd let someone else on his team who has the right aptitude handle it.
In other words Linus isn't a team player with regards to hammering out GPL 3. Bruce would rather Linus go back to writing code and let someone else "on his team" who can be a better behaved and more diplomatic speaker for the group.

If you get the chance read the entire speech. It's definitely worth your time.