Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Florida Cracker Boston Trip: Day 3

Tuesday, May 30th - Back to Salem

We enjoyed the Monday evening in Salem so much we went back to really look around Tuesday. So we got on the road in the morning and headed back over to Salem. This time we parked along Derby Street, across from the Custom House. The girls split up from us, and we went our separate ways for most of the day.

Megan and Lauran went up the street to the House of the Seven Gables. Before they got there they hit In A Pig's Eye for lunch and then Ye Olde Pepper Candy Co. for some sweets. Then they went across the street to the House and took the tour.

Judy and I wondered around the surrounding streets, looking at the Scale House, the Narbonne House, the Hawkes House, and the Derby House. We also wondered around and just looked at many of the surrounding residences, just enjoying the look of the architecture. Judy and I also checked out the Orientation Center next to the Friendship of Salem. While there Judy picked up a small monograph about the Friendship. It turned out that the author was also the manager of the Orientation Center, so she got him to autograph it.

After we got back together we dropped Megan off at Peabody Essex Museum. Judy, Lauran and I went to a local restaurant named Red's Sandwich Shop; Judy and I for our first lunch, Lauran for desert. We got an OK meal there, and we barely finished before they closed at 3pm. While waiting for Megan to finish looking at the exhibits in the Peabody, we walked south on Essex and into a little local bookstore called The Cornerstone. The atmosphere of the bookstore was probably the best I've ever experienced. It's quite small compared to Barnes and Noble or Borders, but it was the best little shop for just sitting and reading.

We picked Megan back up after she'd spent about two hours in the Peabody, and headed back to Tewksbury.

In a Pigs Eye, where the girls ate lunch.

The Hawkes House. It was originally used as a warehouse by the original builder.

The Derby house next door to the Hawkes house. It was the owner of this house that built the Hawkes house and used it as a warehouse.

The Narbonne House.

An interior shot of the very comfortable and well done Cornerstone bookstore.

An interior shot of the Peabody Essex.

Florida Cracker Boston Trip: Day 2 - Memorial Day

Monday, May 29th - To Salem and back


I slept in late that morning until about 10am. I got up and checked on the girls. Lauran was sleeping the sleep of the innocents. She was out on the sofa while Megan was back in the second bedroom. Judy was also snoozing pretty heavily, so Megan and I went out to forage for breakfast for the family.

We found a local store and picked up some supplies: break, peanut butter, grape jam, nachoes, salsa, stuff from the basic food groups. We paid for our groceries and headed back to Judy and Lauran. When we got back everybody got up and had a very late breakfast. Lauran was still zoned out from here staying up since Friday, and Judy's joints were really bothering her. Megan and I wanted to do something, so we decided to go see the new X-Men film.

  • Jean Grey is alive but comes back as Phoenix, the 'bad' girl.
  • Phoenix kills Cyclops when Cyclops first finds her at Alkali Lake (Megan says good riddance to him).
  • Frasier looks good as a blue furball.
  • Mystique looses her mutant powers when injected with a 'cure' while being rescued.
  • Phoenix kills Professor Xavier.
  • Magneto looses his mutant powers when injected with the same 'cure' that robbed Mystique of hers.
  • Rogue deliberately takes the cure so she can lay hands on her hottie, Iceman, without killing him.
  • Megan thinks Hugh Jackman is hot, hot, hot.
  • Wolverine finally kills Phoenix to save the world from Phoenix's 'class 5' mutant powers.
Oh. One other item. At the very end of the movie, Eric Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto, dapperly dressed is sitting in Golden Gate park in front of a check board. The last thing we see is Magneto raising his hand before a chess piece and we see the piece begin to move without him touching it. Are his powers coming back? Can you say X-Men 4? Sure you can!

Heading to Salem

Megan and I got back from the movies around 4pm and found everybody awake - finally. We talked about what we wanted for supper. Judy suggested a trip to Salem and an evening meal there. I said fine so everybody got dressed, we piled into the fabulous Ford, and off to Salem we drove.

It took about an hour to get everybody moving and get to Salem. We arrived around 5pm at the outskirts of Salem, and then started to drive like a tourist (slower than normal) while we wound our way through Salem. Being summer, we still had plenty of daylight so I was able to see clearly as we passed several key landmarks more than once.

When we finally stopped we parked next to the Salem green. When Megan and I were out earlier we'd noticed flags and bunting all out for Memorial day. Considering Massachusetts deep historical roots, it wasn't surprising to see many observances just about everywhere we drove. There were people walking to a number of gatherings, carrying lawn chairs and food and heading to various spots to gather and remember.

We walked around for a while, then got back in the car and headed for the waterfront. We parked in the lot next to the House of the Seven Gables, then walked back towards the waterfront. Along the way we passed the Friendship of Salem, a replica ship based on designs from the late 1700s. In spite of Nathaniel Hawthorn and the Salem witch trials, Salem has a very rich nautical history.

We had dinner at Victoria Station, a restaurant chain that used to be in Atlanta. I was surprised to find it still in business. I thought it didn't exist any more. By the time we finished it was getting dark, so we piled back in and headed back to the hotel. On the way out of Salem we got some local icecream, then finished it up on the drive back to Tewksbury.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Florida Cracker Boston Trip: Day 1

We got up at 5 am Sunday morning. We'd worked like crazy until midnight Saturday cleaning, packing, and generally getting ready to fly up to Boston. I'd even loaded up the van Saturday night so the only thing Judy and Megan had to do was flop in the van for the trip to the airport.

And it was a good think I had. It still took 30 minutes to get everybody up and out the vehicle. It was at that point out next door neighbor Chuck showed up. I'd talked him into driving the van back to our house, and then coming back next Sunday to pick us up. We'd looked after his house many times when he and his wife went on long trips.

We got to the airport around 6am, checked in, and went out to the gate. We sat around waiting for the flight to board. We were finally in the air around 7:50 am. Even though the flight was through Delta we flew up on a Song 757. What was interesting about the 757 flight was the in-flight entertainment system.

Behind each seat headrest, right in front of the passenger seated in back, was a 7"-diagonal video player that was powered by an NSC Geode processor running Redhat embedded Linux via a RedBoot loader. You could tell it was Linux because of the streaming boot messages as every video player was powered on. The players had only two hardware buttons, one for screen brightness and the other a power button. Everything else you needed to do with the video player was directly on the touch-enabled screen.

The system was set up to stream video from movies and TV, and audio. The movies were all pay-per-view, and to support that model there was a slot on the bottom of the player to allow for credit-card swiping. All audio was available via a plug on each arm rest. You could either plug in your own head phones, or you got a complementary pair of ear buds from the flight crew.

Audio and video quality were pretty good. The library was fairly extensive, running a pretty wide gamut in tastes (for an airline). The TV had about a dozen channels that included Discovery, CNN, and MSNBC. If we assume that the aircraft is a 757-300 that carries 252 passengers and every passenger has streaming video to their seat, then this indicates a pretty high-bandwidth delivery system; essentially broadband. Add true video-on-demand capability for pay-per-view movies, and you've got a pretty sophisticated system. Although I counted no more than a dozen movies to choose from, it appeared that the movies could start at any time. This means that worse case you could have 252 individual movie (video) streams. Since the screen was only a 7"-wide (diagonal) LCD, you can get away with cutting raw bandwidth with compression tricks. After all, the screen is small enough and the resolution poor enough with a standard LCD that you won't notice artifacts unless you stick you nose right on the screen.

I bring all this up because 10 years ago I was working on Time Warner's Full Service Network (FSN) in Orlando. Over the last 10 years the technology has gone from our room full of SGI refrigerator-sized servers requiring a large building and $5000+ digital set top boxes to this system small enough to run on an aircraft traveling from Orlando to Boston at 35,000 feet. And this system did it a whole lot better than we ever did.

We finally got to Boston around noon, picked up our fabulous Ford Explorer rental at Hertz, and drove up to our rooms in Tewksbury N.W. of Boston. That brings up another interesting piece of technology, Hertz's Neverlost GPS-based navigation system. We managed to fumble the destination of the hotel into Neverlost, and it then led us on a merry trip up to the hotel from Logan. I'll talk about Neverlost in greater detail later, when I've had more experiences with it.

We were so tired from being wired about the trip and not getting much sleep for 48 hours that we all crashed for several hours of sleep when we checked in. When we got up we started to put together an itinerary for the rest of the week. We had a simply exquisite meal at the nearby Wendys (a #6, a #8, and a Frosty), then went back and rested some more. Finally, at 10pm, we all loaded back into our simply fabulous Ford Explorer and trekked back to Logon to pick up Lauran. She was flying into Boston from Tallahassee via Ft. Lauderdale.

We drove into Logon a little earlier than planned, but that was good, as Lauran got into Logon earlier as well. We drove around a few times, then I stopped at an outer curb and went in with Megan to wait for Lauran. Judy sat in the drivers side so we wouldn't have the fabulous Ford towed away. Lauran came down from soon after we walked into baggage claim. We waited another 10 minutes, then snagged Lauran's bag and headed back out to the car.

Once back in the fabulous Ford we were treated to some of Boston's very best hospitality. Our fabulous Ford, next to the curb, was blocked in the front and on the driver's side by two other vehicles that had arrived after we did and wanted to share the same curb space with us. Once we had Lauran with us we were ready to leave, but we couldn't due to our new-found friends. When a few gentle horn beeps failed to illicit a response, my dear sweet wife went out to politely ask the driver on our left if he would pull up. He refused, and Judy, with the strength of will that growing up in Pennsylvania instills, went back to the state police officer conveniently parked a few cars in back of us. Our blocker, seeing that Judy wasn't kidding, finally pulled away. I pulled out partially lest some other equally minded Bostonian take his place. When Judy got back, the other driver who was blocking us in the front expressed his sentiments and his reasons for not moving. Overall, it was such a wonderful experience that it was a shame it had to come to an end.

We got back to the hotel in one piece. Lauran and Megan stayed up until 2am, then we all finally got some sleep.

Why Nokia may be good for Linux

Let's start off with an article in CNN's Technology section, "Making cell phones simple is hard." The article's primary thrust is that the cellular operators want people to buy more sophisticated handsets so they can sell more expensive data services, and thus make more money. The simple voice-as-business model just doesn't work for the cellular operators any more, so they have to convince buyers to pay for downloaded music, email, and streaming video services. The biggest threat to this? Push back from a lot of customers who just want simple, reliable, and easy-to-use mobile telephones that deliver high-quality voice. And by the way, you can count me in as part of this crowd.

The process of cramming ever-more functionality onto cellphones has made the cellphones ever-more difficult to configure and operate. Tiny screens, deeply layered menus, and the confusing user interface force many users to set up just the basics and then leave the rest of it alone out of sheer frustration. Operators and manufacturers now go through a lot of user testing to see what works and what doesn't in an effort to make the whole experience as pleasant as possible.

How does this figure into something good for Linux? Consider the following interesting observation from the article:
"If you bring somebody in and they have problems, it's not because they're dumb, but we were dumb with the design..."
Consider that nearly everything created for Linux is by Linux geeks for other Linux geeks, not for the average end-user, especially the cellphone end user. That's why, in spite of some distributor's best efforts (Novell and Ubuntu, for example), Linux's use on the desktop is in the very low single digits compared to Windows and Mac OS. And as long as the geeks are in charge of the end-user experience, that's all it will ever be. If you don't believe that usability is extremely important, consider this quote:
"We believe there's a strong correlation between our standard of success and how usable the products are..."
That's why, claims of monopolistic practices not withstanding, Windows has been successful and continues to be successful. And let's not forget Mac OS X. As part of an office where at least half are Mac users (with many of them former Linux users), the biggest reason I hear (and observe) for the Mac's success is the easy to use and consistent interface of the software and the fact everything Just Works.

So how will Nokia help Linux? First, Nokia is one of the major cellphone vendors who want to sell easy-to-use equipment to the providers, who in turn want to convince users to use newer, more cash-rich services. And Nokia is experimenting with Linux, especially on the 770. I've had lots of complaints about the 770, but to give credit where credit is due, the user interface is far easier to use than any full-blown distribution, and with the notable exception of the clock on the April 2006 release, everything Just Worked. The most spectacular example of something just working is the Connection Manager. Until I fired up the 770, I didn't know that Linux was even capable of easy wireless connectivity. The only Linux distribution that's easier is Suse 10.1 with the Network Applet under Gnome. And it's easier because it re-connects automatically when I turn on my notebook, something I wish the 770 would do.

Nokia's gone to a lot of trouble to create the 770's software platform, and to create it open and transparent. Nokia created the Hildon user interface and its specific look-and-feel for the landscape-mode display, and I think it's very good. They've increased the overall performance of the software with each release of the firmware as well as making it increasingly stable. I believe that the 770's user interface is evolving towards the same high quality of usability that Mac OS has attained (I didn't say look because eye-candy does a useful interface make). Since the Nokia 770's software platform is all open source, it should (if the theory works) filter back to the other distributions, and perhaps even show to the F/OSS community what it takes to build really good interfaces, as well as why it's so important. Otherwise Linux will continue to be dead last on the desktop.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hell freezes over: Dell opts for AMD's Opteron

In spite of all the stonewalling, when Dell's numbers fell last quarter, the handwriting was really on the wall. Dell could no longer be a sole-source Intel shop. The business market had voted with its pocketbook, and Dell lost. Dell's first quarter net income slipped 18%.

Note that this win is servers only. According to the article, Dell also said it would be building new servers using Intel's Woodcrest, which will be Intel's start of a long-awaited march back into competitive parity with AMD. I'm a decades-long fan of Intel. I've owned Intel stock since 1988 when I was given my first 12 shares. I've watched Intel stock split 6 times since then. Those 12 modest shares alone have grown to over 400 (not including other purchases over time).

In spite of my Intel stock investment I've purchased AMD hardware over Intel. I've built three home systems over the past four years using nothing but Athlon XP 32-bit chips. All the hardware was purchased from Newegg. I purchased AMD because I couldn't afford equivalent Intel technology. What I could afford I didn't want because of the poor performance relative to AMD at the same price points. I've never regretted those purchases and all those systems still work just fine.

Before the Athlon 64, AMD was the underdog. They priced their chips aggressively (inexpensively) relative to Intel. And the engineering in those 32-bit only chips were second to none, including Intel. But AMD was always seen as not-quite-good-enough when compared to Intel. Then AMD introduced the Athlon 64, and the rest as they say is history. AMD worked hard to get adopted early-on by Sun and HP, and slowly began to win over the business community with its Opteron-based servers. AMD took advantage of Intel's poor 64-bit offering, the Itanium. AMD adopted a page out of an earlier Intel playbook, where it built a seamless 32-bit to 64-bit adoption path in the exact same way Intel did for moving from 16- to 32-bits. With AMD chip technology it was far easier to future-proof your systems for 64-bit software while continuing to run your 32-bit applications without a performance penalty. That was definitely not the case with Itanium.

Relative to Itanium, the AMD64 systems were cheaper. But when you compared the AMD Athlon 64 price with Intel's desktop processors, a bad trend began to emerge. AMD was not less expensive, and when the X2's were released, they were a lot more expensive than Intel. Being the cheap bastard that I am, I haven't purchased any AMD64 chips because I can't justify the premium price. The only way the AMD prices began to drop was when Intel began to introduce Pentiums with 64-bit support and dual cores. And it was a slow drop, because Intel's initial offerings were either power hogs or just a couple of cores slapped together on the same slab of silicon, and weren't seen as a credible competitor.

So here we all are in the middle of 2006. Intel's shipping its Core Duo (which I have in my notebook and is very sweet). They're ready to ship their newest dual-core processors starting in July and August. AMD of course is not sitting still. It just shipped it's dual-core Turian. And I just read that AMD's stock price is up over 14% to about $35 because of Dell's announcement. Everything looks wonderful for AMD. Or does it?

AMD's position has certainly reversed with respect to Intel's. AMD now has the lauded technology. AMD is perceived to be better than Intel on a number of fronts, specifically performance and lower power consumption. AMD is charging a premium for all their 64-bit chips, especially their dual-core processors. AMD is taking advantage of their new-found fame and glory. And in the process they're taking advantage of me.

I'm looking forward to Intel's rise back to the top of the microprocessor roost. Intel has paid deservedly for its hubris, especially the sin of allowing marketing to drive clock speed. And make no mistake. Intel is coming back with a vengeance. Intel doesn't like to loose (no one does who's that competitive). Intel is six times larger than AMD, and Intel knows chip processing like no other (in spite of what IBM and Charter like to say). Intel's dual-core Pentiums have reached parity with AMD's X2 series and their server chips will meet or exceed AMD's Opterons. I'm looking forward to the end of 2006. That's when Intel will rise once again, technically and financially. My Intel stock value will rise again, and I'll be replacing AMD with Intel. And those Dell/AMD servers? Who knows? Perhaps they'll disappear like their AMD 286 progenitors did back in the early days of Dell. They won't be missed.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bush Demands That Iran Halt Production of Long Letters

By Andy Borowitz

Days after receiving an 18-page letter from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President George W. Bush called the lengthy missive “an act of war” and demanded that Iran halt its production of long letters at once.

At the White House, aides said that writing a letter of such length to President Bush, who is known for his extreme distaste for reading, was the most provocative act Mr. Ahmadinejad could have possibly committed.

“Everyone knows that the last book the president read was ‘My Pet Goat,’” one aide said. “Expecting him to read an 18-page letter is really asking for it, and that Iranian dude must have known that.”

According to those close to Mr. Bush, the president was infuriated upon receipt of the 18-page letter and asked aides if it was some kind of joke.

The president then demanded that the letter be boiled down to a one- or two-page format, or possibly adapted to a DVD version, just as he had ordered for news reports on Hurricane Katrina.

In Tehran, President Ahmadinejad said he was “taken aback” by Mr. Bush’s refusal to read an 18-page letter, but said that all his future communications to the U.S. president would be in short, easy-to-read instant-messaging format.

In his first IM to President Bush, released to the press today, President Ahmadinejad writes, “Am building nukes. R U angry? LOL.”

Elsewhere, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden vowed today that as director of the CIA he would push the agency to find new and better sources of false intelligence.

Suse 10.1 and NetBeans 5.5 beta are a great match

After settling in with Suse 10.1, it's time to start back into some interesting development. I've been using NetBeans 5 for a while now, and I'm happy with it and the results. I've tried to go back to Eclipse 3, especially the Eclipse 3.2 release candidates (RC4 has just been released at the time of this posting), but I'm more comfortable with now with NetBeans. I've switched and there's no going back.

Now comes the release of NetBeans 5.5 beta. NetBeans 5.5 will integrate better support for J2EE development into the base NetBeans 5 platform; Java EE 5, JSAS PE 9, Servlet 2.5, JavaServer Pages 2.1, JavaServer Faces 1.2, JAX-WS 2.0, and Enterprise Java Beans 3 session beans. To start with the opening page is much better organized with helpful links to get the new user (and seasoned user alike) up and running as quickly as possible. There are other new features I'm sure I missed, and I'm quite certain that many bugs have been squashed since NetBeans 5 was released. I have just scratched the surface of J2EE development support, but it's great to have everything right there in one package, instead of having to go get multiple packages for J2EE development support like you do with Eclipse.

Thankfully, what hasn't changed is the ease of use and the many features I've grown to like about NetBeans. Ease of use includes the ability to easily import Ant-based projects. As shown in the image to the right I imported OpenMap 4.6.3. It was so simple, and when it was finished (very quickly, I might add) I was able to execute a build and then run the application from the IDE. It's my long term intention to import OpenMap as a NetBeans module, then add OpenGIS map data along with OM2525B symbology to create an open-source wargaming simulation.

When I attempted to import the exact same OpenMap project into Eclipse 3.2 RC3, Eclipse failed. I wasn't interested in keeping Eclipse around long enough to figure out why the import failed. I was just curious to see what would happen.

Although I have Java 1.5.0_06 installed via RPM (from the add-ons CD), I'm using Java 6 build 84 for NetBeans 5 and NetBeans 5.5. NetBeans 5.5 under Java 6 is very fast. Java 6 also provides sub-pixel text rendering, which Java 5 does not. Java 6 combined with NetBeans 5 and higher provides an excellent view of text that equals what I find in Eclipse. The only bad part of this good news is the combination only provides sub-pixel anti-aliasing under the Gnome desktop. Running this same combination of JRE and IDE under KDE gives you the jaggies (how's that for stringing TLAs?).

But I don't care. Novell has worked very hard to enhance the user experience under Gnome. For my purposes I can work equally well with either, and since I need to work under Gnome to get the full benefits of Java 6, it's no loss to me to work under Gnome. The Gnome desktop under Suse 10.1 is the very first I've ever been able to say anything good about. The Novell Suse team has done an all-around excellent job of building the 10.1 distribution, and it shows in day-to-day operations.

Mission Impossible 3 needed more Simon Pegg

I went with the youngest daughter to see M:I-3 Saturday. I'm glad I did, as I got to see Simon Pegg (on the right in the image) again playing the character Benji Dunn. As far as I'm concerned he had far too little screen time. I've enjoyed Simon Pegg in "Shuan of the Dead", "Spaced", and even the new Dr. Who episode "The Long Game" where he played The Editor. Great stuff.

Biggest problem we both had with this movie was Tom Cruise. His Cruiseness was all over the place, doing all sorts of incredible stunts. There was such an overload of His Cruiseness and His Cruiseness Action that there was little time left for decent plot or character development, let alone decent screen time for Simon Pegg or Ving Rhames or Laurence Fishburne. The only reason to see so much Cruise, according to my youngest, is because he kept getting the "living snot" beat out of him in just about every scene. And he even dies. Once. All that, according to the youngest, was "most satisfying."

Additional problems for me were the stolen script ideas that littered M:I-3. For example:
  • I remember seeing the plot device where the spy's spouse is in mortal danger in the movie "True Lies". There, Arnold Schwarzenegger (the spy) had to defend Jamie Lee Curtis (the wife). There are other similarities. Both hubbies have dull jobs for cover (Ethan is in traffic control, Harry is a computer salesman). Both wives are kidnapped by the bad guys. And both wives wind up learning real fast how to handle a weapon and help defeat the bad guys. I'm sure this plot device has appeared elsewhere.
  • How many movies have we had to deal with dooms-day bioweapons falling into the wrong hands? And what's with the keystone-kops chase through Shanghai with the worlds most dangerous bioweapon bouncing through the streets with Ethan in hot pursuit because Ethan dropped it??? He's bright enough to steal it but too stupid to properly carry it.
  • Or breaking into a high-security lab to steal said weapon? What was so funny is that the producers/writers/directory left that as a minor plot detail for the rest of the movie. In the original Mission Impossible, the act of breaking into a high-security building (Langley) was central to the plot.
  • How many movies have we had to deal with the rouge agent/mole betraying and/or killing valiant agents, and setting up the valiant agent so he/she is on the run from their very own agency? And yet they find and defeat the rouge agent/mole and save the world? How about the very recent "Bourne Supremacy" for just one example? Or the original "Mission: Impossible"?
And then there were the plot holes. I'm going to point out what I consider the biggest, most glaring one I saw, and leave it as an exercise for the reader to watch for the others.

At the end of the movie, at a location in Shanghai where Ethan is physically constrained, and after he thinks his wife has been killed by Owen Davian (the bad guy played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), our IMF rouge agent/mole, John Musgrave, walks in to tell Ethan that it really wasn't his wife that was killed (he peels a mask off the victim's face to prove this). He asks Ethan if his moleness has been compromised by information sent by a prior victim. Ethan refuses to answer unless he first talks to his wife, Julia. John agrees to let Ethan talk to Julia. John calls those holding Julia on his cell phone, then walks over to Ethan and holds the cellphone next to Ethan's face so Ethan can talk to Julia. After a few seconds of conversation, Ethan rapidly head butts John several times, knocking John unconscious. Ethan quickly frees himself from his physical constraints, then grabs the cell phone. He puts the first call on hold and makes a second call to Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) back in Washington at the agency to have Benji trace the first call. Benji does, giving Ethan step-by-step directions from where he was located to where Julia is located. Let's think about this situation a moment.
  • It is amazing that no-one at the other end of the line hears the fight that ensues between Ethan and John and comes running to see what happened.
  • It is amazing that there are no local guards that hear the fight that ensues and comes running to see what happened.
  • It is amazing that the call stays up when the cell phone hits the floor. I have T-Mobile, and in the past I had AT&T. In all the years I've had a cell phone, if I fumble-fingered my phone such that it fell while I was talking, you can be sure the call was dropped along with the phone.
  • It is amazing how accurate Benji can trace the cell phone's physical location. I've worked for mobile phone companies in the past and I have some passing understanding of cell phone technology. Triangulation that accurate is sheer fantasy.
I hope Simon Pegg makes another movie as funny as "Shuan of the Dead". He should target the spy movies this time. I know it's been done too many times (Spies Like Us, all the Austin Powers movies, James Coburn's Derek Flint, Casino Royale (the one with Peter Sellers)), but I'd spend as much money to see his version as I did to see this pile of over-inflated action. I think I'd enjoy it a whole lot more.

OpenSuse 10.1 audio problem answer?

Well, looks like I may have an answer as to why audio is broken on my Gateway M685 under OpenSuse 10.1. There is no kernel support. In looking at the file include/linux/pci_ids.h, there is no listing for the 82801G High Definition Audio Controller. I can find it at the Linux PCI Id Repository, and it has an ID of 27d8.

I know from some limited kernel driver work I did in the very recent past on Linux kernel 2.6.15 that if you don't have your PCI ID to search with while enumerating PCI devices, then your device won't get found and returned to you.

If this is indeed the case, then until support is added for the 82801G to the kernel, I'm screwed. And I can hear the Linux fanboyz screaching now, "Add it yourself! You've got the source!" Lovely.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

OpenSuse 10.1 Final installed

I upgraded my notebook to OpenSuse 10.1 Final this weekend. Once again, upgrade is a misnomer, as I actually performed a re-format of the root and a new installation. I used Suse 10.1 RC3 as my 'launching pad'. Here's what I did to prepare for the installation.
  1. I downloaded the ISO diffs that allowed me to upgrade from the RC-1 ISO images to the final release images using applydeltaiso. I ignored the MD5 sum that applydeltaiso produces. I created CD ISOs 1 through 5 as well as the add-ons ISO.
  2. I burned all six ISOs to CDROM using K3b. K3b works fine as long as it's allowed to burn the ISOs undisturbed. I thought I'd be cute and do other work on my notebook while K3b was burning. Turned out that of the six CDROMs I created, three of them failed their checksum tests under initial self-test. I had to boot back up under RC-3 and reburn the failing CDROMs. On the next self-test attempt they all passed.
Once all the CDROMs were burned and they all passed the initial self-check, I went on ahead and installed final over RC-3. The only change I made from earlier installations was to register the add-ons CD during the setup process so that I could choose packages from it and have them installed during the Grand Installation. I also made sure that the notebook was plugged into a network so that the installation update procedure would succeed. Wireless does not work during the final installation stages.

After shuffling all six CDs into the machine and installing all my choices the system came up and I was logged into my account. I have /home on a different partition such that when I have to install a new distribution (or a new version of a distribution) my environment stays intact. It's worked for quite some time now and keeps me from wasting time re-configuring my working environment.

As usual, the only way to get wireless to work was to install the Intel drivers by hand from the add-ons CD. Registering the add-ons CD where the drivers are located during the initial installation did not help. It did, however, help with the firmware installation. I don't know why it helped with the firmware but not the kernel driver. Once the driver was installed Network Manager found the wireless connection and started to manage it.

Although it was provided on earlier release, this is the first time I've had Java 1.5.0_06 integrated into my installation. Older versions of Suse, or other distributions, used older versions of Java (or worse, the Gnu version of Java). It's good to have a contemporary version of Java integrated into a contemporary Linux distributions. Suse 10.1 also has the latest version of Mono (C#) integrated, and I installed the full packages in order to try it out under Linux.

Nearly everything works. Functionality that was partially broken, such as automounting of CDROMs, thumb drives, and my WD 80Gb Passport, now work. Plugging them in causes an icon to appear on the desktop and Nautilus to be launched. The only feature that is still broken is audio. I have no sound, and I don't know why. This is no show-stopper, but I'd like to know why audio is broken.

There were no Nvidia RPM packaged drivers available, so I installed the driver via the package provided on the Nvidia site (currently 87.56). Do not use the instructions for installing the driver under 10.1 beta. Sax2 hangs if you try. Just install the driver and then execute nvidia-xconfig. Reboot the system and it will use the Nvidia driver.

I'm going to continue to use OpenSuse until the commercial boxed version is shipped, then re-install one more time. There'll be more commercial tools and drivers in the boxed version, and it may well be that audio is finally fixed. I've noted in the past that the commercial versions of Suse are always highly polished, especially when support of contemporary hardware is needed.

With the exception of audio, OpenSuse 10.1 is a good, solid performer for me. 10.1 represents further refinement and evolution, with the pace picking up from the time before Novell purchased it. Novell's purchase of Suse has helped Suse tremendously. I just hope that Novell succeeds as a Linux business. I like Novell, their products, and their customer service. That's why I want to purchase my boxed set. I'm sold on Novell and see no reason at this time to consider any other Linux distribution on the x86 platform.

Note: Here's a good link to Linux in general, with a lot of reviews and talk about Suse 10.1.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Suse 10.1 RC-3 annoyance

I don't know what's happening, but automatic mount of USB drives is not working. The devices are being detected and added to /dev, but neither the Cruzer or the Western Digital Passport are being automounted under /media. And I have no idea why.

Nokia 770 update - better than expected

Back on April 23rd I upgraded my Nokia's software load. Since then I've worked with it a bit I've noted some more (good) features. Generally speaking the latest release is faster and uses less resources. Somebody has worked hard to clean up the internals, although I can't state specifically what they are. But here's a few things I've noticed.
  1. Power startup is now twice as fast. Using a digital stopwatch (yes, I did time it), it takes 35 seconds to go from cold start to complete desktop. Now before you think that's too slow, keep in mind the typical multi-gigahertz multi-gigabyte OS (Windows or Linux, take your choice) takes the same amount of time to boot. Besides, the December software drop took nearly a minute.
  2. I've installed a status bar cpu/memory load meter on my 770. I installed it before I upgraded and kept some simple statistics on memory usage. Since the upgrade I re-installed it and checked again. Sure enough, the amount of memory used by the system after boot has dropped from 55% to 40%. Furthermore, the system recovers memory more aggressively after an application is closed, and there is no longer the annoying slow memory consumption that occurred the longer the 770 stayed on.
  3. The browser really is faster. If the wireless link is fast enough, then loading simple pages is no slower than it is on my Windows/Suse Linux notebook. The big fat fly in this ointment are pages that contain animated ads. A good example of a bad page for the 770 is The Inquirer. On a standard notebook you won't notice the impact hit (or if you use Firefox and Adblock Plus with Filterset.G you won't even see them), but on the 770 such web pages slow to a crawl while loading.
  4. Wireless networking. I don't know if this is a new bug, or if it's been this way from the beginning. I reset my entire wireless list when I upgraded. When I walked into a Panera's after the upgrade, I attempted to connect to the shop's wireless network. It eventually did but I couldn't connect to anything. I got nothing but network error dialogs. I opened up the connection and found it was set as ad-hoc. When I configured the connection as managed, it immediately allowed full connectivity; web browsing worked and I could update my news feeds. I remember with the December release it would eventually just work after many attempts. This time I shortened that 'learning' period considerably.
When I answered Doc Searls' question about what I wanted improved in the 770, at the top of my list were performance and stability. The performance increases are measurable and noticeable. While I can't give anything definitive with regards to stability, I can say that I have not suffered any crashes since the upgrade, but the jury is still out. Overall, however, this release is much better than the December release, and it makes the user experience more enjoyable. I believe that there is still a large area for improvement, and I look forward to the next release of the 770's system software.