Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fedora 11 beta on europa

In spite of swearing off (and swearing at) Linux (especially openSUSE 11.1), I downloaded Fedora 11 beta, burned a CD on the Windows XP side, and then booted trusty old europa into Fedora 11. The primary reason is I have a lot of material on the Linux partitions that I need to back up, and I had heard that with Fedora 11 I could once again look at all existing Linux partitions including everything under /home. One of my biggest complaints in the past was that at some point somebody decided that allowing the viewing, let alone mounting, of home partitions was Not To Be Allowed for Security Reasons. Right. With Fedora 11 you can mount everything, including home, and see everything. I was even able to su to root and modify files on those forbidden file systems as well. All in all, from a rescue standpoint, Fedora 11 beta was very useful. I'm sure someone somewhere will note this and consider this feature to be a bug and 'fix' it so it won't work on release. It always seems to work that way.

What follows is some screen capture porn.

This was the desktop after boot. Note the lovely kernel failure message in the lower right corner. It didn't seem to effect the operation of Fedora 11, and I clicked on the "Yes" button to send it off to where these are supposed to go. I got a message a short time later signifying that the message had been successfully sent. The background is the default Leonidas wallpaper.

This amusing file-not-found message was presented by the Firefox browser. This is just to remind us it is a beta after all.

Screen resolution was at an odd 1792 x 1344 resolution at 60 Hz. I was able to quickly and easily set it to 1600 x 1200 at 65Hz refresh rate, which made the vintage Dell CRT easier to view and read.

After selecting browser-style viewing in Nautilus I can more easily see and navigate all the existing file systems.

My digitized movies, just a small part of the data I need to back up. I've had this collection since openSUSE 10.2, where I ripped most of them with the tools (K3b primarily) supplied with that release. I'll back them up to a portable USB drive. And of course, double clicking any of them starts a Totem fail where I'm informed I don't have the necessary codecs installed. Lovely.

A closing desktop. I miss being able to right-click on the desktop and launch a shell. Instead I have to find the shell command in the Applications | System Tools menu, then right-click that entry to "Add to launcher panel". That's because I sometimes like to have more than one shell window open (rather than multiple tabs on one shell window). Like when I want to view side-by-side output.


Normally at this point I wax poetically about the wonders of this latest distribution. Not this time. Based on my Linux experiences since mid-2007 I find it's a wonder that Fedora 11 works at all, and works the way I need for it to work, which is to allow me access to my data without having to install the bloody thing. That is, after all, what the promise of live Linux systems was supposed to be about, first popularized years ago by Knoppix. I've modified the Grub start menu on the busted hard-disk-based openSUSE 11.1 to automatically start Windows XP first, and I'll just limp along with that until I have more time to do a full purge and installation of Windows 7. In the mean time I'll keep Fedora 11 around as the rescue disk until everything I need is fully backed up and off the system.

I will say this about Fedora 11: bitter I might be at the moment, but the quality of Fedora 11 is the best in three releases. The rise in Fedora quality began with Fedora 9. Perhaps this rise is due to Fedora's proximity to Redhat. I would like to think that Redhat would want to maintain a solid reputation for quality in both its commercial as well as its 'free' versions of Linux.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The new hotness

It's amusing to watch the Flickr view counts go up on the recent Honda Insight images I shot on Saturday. Flickr does a pretty good job of tracking daily hits and of tracking back to who looked. While some of the hits came from my Saturday posting link, the majority seem to have come from folks searching for the Insight. One track-back in particular seemed to be an automated collection of anything posted about the 2010 Honda Insight. While comments will always vary, the general consensus seems to be how hot the new car is. I don't disagree with the sentiments over the exterior styling of the car. I think it looks pretty sharp as well, better, perhaps, than the Prius. But that doesn't mean the Prius is ugly by any stretch, at least not to these jaded eyes.

Perhaps the 2010 Prius will will excite the New Hotness crowd when it finally comes out. According to most who've test driven it the new 2010 Prius is even better than the 2009 Prius (of course!), but with the New and Shiny badge applied to the outside in order to compete better with the new kid on the block, the re-introduced Insight. That's not to say there won't be better engineering applied to the 2010 Prius. It will be more gas efficient, lighter, better... It has to be in order to remain competitive and desirable in the growing hybrid market.

It's good to finally have this head-to-head competition with two leading Japanese automakers. This competition will force both to introduce better models over the coming years, leading to benefits for both brand's owners. I had wanted to wait for the 2010 Prius, but sometimes you just have to break down and buy a car. It's the same issue with cameras or computers; if you continue to wait until the 'best' version of any product is introduced then you'll never buy anything.

And I strongly believe it's going to drive a stake through GM's fetid heart. I still can't believe all the press generated over the Chevy Volt, a car to be introduced not this year but late next year, as if it's the second coming of hybrids. I don't doubt that GM has deep and impressive R&D capabilities; look at the EV1, a pure electric introduced in 1996, over 12 years ago. Honda's original Insight didn't show up until 2000, and it was canceled in 2006. The Prius was introduced in Japan in 1997; it was and still is a gas/electric hybrid. GM was literally right there at the forefront of automotive technology with the introduction of the EV1, and they threw it all away to concentrate on SUV and big truck production. And in the process they threw away their future.

The only American auto maker who I believe will survive is Ford. They've got hybrids to sell right now, imperfect though they may be, and the fact they haven't gone to the government for bailout money is significant. I don't know if I'll every buy a Ford in the future, but at least they'll have vehicles I believe will be competitive with Toyota, Honda, and just about everybody else.

All this hybrid excitement, especially in this economic down cycle, represents a fundamental shift in transportation. And that shift is away from large inefficient vehicles run strictly on hydrocarbon-based fuels to smaller hybrids or fully electric vehicles. Even though gas is down to just $2/gallon right now, it will go back up. Higher energy prices are going to not only push us towards more efficient vehicles but back towards living closer to where we work in order to reduce the amount of travel time and distance. And this will push us further, in a more virtuous cycle, to use smaller, more energy efficient vehicles. The future is an electric vehicle more along the size of the Smart car or Tata Nano rather than the past's Hummers, Tahoes and Yukons. We can't afford them any more, not as individuals, not as a nation, nor a species. Today's and tomorrows hybrids, while not perfect, are certainly a very good evolutionary step towards full electric vehicles.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Six hardy souls run Linux

In an article on Ars Technica titled "When every student has a laptop, why run computer labs?", the IT department of the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, conducted a study and discovered that over 99.9% of their 2007 freshman class came with their own computers. To quote an interesting breakdown from the study:
According to the school's Information Technology & Communication department, 3,117 freshmen enrolled in 2007, and 3,113 of them owned their own computer. Nearly all of the machines were laptops, with 72 percent running Windows and 26 percent running Mac OS X (six hardy souls ran Linux).
The real winner in this is Apple. The real loser in this is Linux. I wonder if David M. Williams for iTWire will call all Linux rejectors dumbasses too?

I'm now a proud Prius owner

Toyota Prius 2009 car lot shotAfter spending the night debating the merits of purchasing the Honda Insight, Jude and I decided to go to the Toyota dealership just down the street from the Honda dealership and look again at the Prius. The last time we'd checked Prius prices was back in mid-2008. At that time they were carrying a premium (some might say exorbitant) price, a price we weren't ready to pay. This time around it was far different; not only where there models on the lot to choose from but they were willing and eager to deal. That's why I now own one.

It took us three hours from test drive to final purchase, but the time seemed to fly by, and we were treated quite well. What sealed the deal for us was the lower interest rate (less than 5% from the same bank Honda was supposedly using) as well as the drop in price of the Prius from where it was just nine months ago. Simply put, the Toyota dealership negotiated, the Honda dealership would not. And so we pulled the trigger on the Prius. I drove back to the Honda dealership in my shiny red Prius and got my Insight deposit refunded.

The Prius has one key feature that is missing in the 2010 Honda Insight; interior room and comfort. The Prius is far roomier than the Insight, and it's far more comfortable to drive or ride in, both in the front as well as the back. While Jude and I give the nod towards the Insight's exterior styling, it was the overall quality and utility of the Prius that won us over. And to be honest, the Prius' styling is more than adequate. It may cost a little more for the Prius but you get a lot more with the 2009 Prius than you do with the 2010 Insight.

On the way home with my shiny red Prius I managed to average 41 MPH in stop-and-go traffic, including my lead-foot ways. I guess I need to learn a few hypermiling tricks to boost that even higher. I haven't seen 40 MPH since I owned my first Honda, a silver 1978 CVCC Civic. I would average 45 MPG driving around the Atlanta metro area. I replaced it four years and 120,000 miles later with another Honda Civic, then traded that Civic in on a Nissan Axxess in 1989.

Once again my photos are posted on Flickr.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's not easy being Green

Honda Insight 2010 Front SideBack in January I went to a local Honda dealership and put $500 down on the then-unreleased Honda Insight. While in Kansas last week I got a call from the dealership telling me they had a silver one for me to look at. So today, after unpacking and general cleanup, the wife and I went over to take a look at it.

When we got there there the Honda dealership had a black Insight in the showroom. Judy and I went over and started looking at it, sitting in both the driver and passenger side to get a feel for it's fit and finish. It is built with typical Honda quality, which is to say it's overall fit and finish are excellent. When I finally got a chance to look at the engine it looked like a minor engineering masterpiece.

The Insight was sitting next to a Honda Fit Sport; the Fit seemed to tower over the Insight. But that's due to the Insights stronger aerodynamic shape, which reminds you a lot of the Toyota Prius.

At $20,000 with nothing special it's a tad expensive, unless you want to consider the technology under the hood and inside the skin of the vehicle you're purchasing. This is, after all, a brand-new hybrid. And it's a good $5,000 to $10,000 less than the Toyota Prius in this market, so you could consider it a 'bargain' at $20,000.

Honda Insight Digital Speedometer GreenWhen the salesman came back Judy, the salesman, and I went out for a test drive. I drove it first, then Judy drove it second. Both times the vehicle was peppy, especially with three adults in the vehicle. The ride was quite firm and when turning corners the vehicle was firm and nimble. When I drove it I did notice that when I took my foot off the accelerator that the vehicle seemed to want to stop itself, decelerating a little quicker than normal. I don't know if this is a feature of the dynamic braking system, but the Prius doesn't slow down like that. It was a bit surprising at first, but I could easily get used to it.

While driving I had the vehicle in Econ mode; that's where the vehicle's speedometer changes its background color to indicate how efficiently you're driving. It changes from blue to green, with blue indicating you're burning too much gas and green indicating that, well, you're driving more greenly. The car's official mileage is 40 city, 43 highway, which is backwards from the Prius and somewhat lower.

After the test drive the salesman took some more personal information from us to determine how much it would cost us to drive away right then with that car. We were going to put 10% down in cash and pay for a new tag. It wasn't long before we were ushered in before the finance officer, where we were told the best we could do with financing was 6.4% and a $504/month car note for four years (48 months); all this with our excellent credit rating. Judy and I both sat there for a moment, then informed them that we'd check with our local credit union as well as our bank and see if we could shave off a point or two. For $500/month I could buy a whole lot more car at a far lower interest rate. What bothers me a bit is they said they were going through the same bank we bank with. Before we left they informed us that in spite of our deposit, they couldn't wait until Monday for us to get a better finance deal, and that if anyone "walked in the door and wanted to buy that car" that they'd have to sell it to them. Gee, thanks.

Right now Judy and I don't know if we'll get the Insight or not. That's a lot of money to tie up in a purchase, especially in this day and time. Yes, gas has been creeping back up; I paid $2.05/gallon before heading over to the Honda dealership. But that's still over $2/gallon less than what I was briefly paying last summer before the bottom fell out of the economy. Both Jude and I are reasonably green, Jude more than I, and Jude wants to purchase a hybrid. We'd contemplated the Prius last year before the nearly $30,000 price forced us to drop the idea.

Our enthusiasm for the Insight has been considerably dampened due to the way we were treated by the Honda dealership as well as practical economic reality. I have to wonder if we aren't doing more to help the environment by not driving or making unnecessary purchases rather than buying a green-tech car. Of course there is the issue of my commuting 40-plus miles round trip every time I have to go into the office, but I can control that by just working from home whenever possible.

For Jude and I, buying this hybrid is not nearly as cut-and-dried as we first thought. Not at the current costs. Not when it's cheaper (and a lot cheaper in many cases) to be dirty than it is to be green.

I took a few more shots and posted everything on Flickr.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This old geek

Back Atcha MuzzLife is always throwing down cruel milestones to mark your passage of time; birthdays, your marriage, the birth of your children and their subsequent life milestones, thinning hair and thickening wrinkles. You know you're old, for example, when you watch your children drive off in your old white Volvo to head back up to college in a car that's old enough to drive itself if it could.

But I digress.

Those milestones are merely biological. Today I got a geek indication of my increasing irrelevance with the announcement by Western Digital of their 2TB My Book portable storage. It was 13 years ago this month (March 1996) when I started to work for Time Warner's Full Service Network. One of the technological marvels at their facility was their 3.5 TB disk array that stored hundreds of digitized movies and then streamed them to up to 1,000 simultaneous users. That entire array was built up from 2GB IBM SCSI drives, and filled multiple 6 foot tall housings in a fairly large room. When I saw the new My Book I realized I could exceed the overall storage of that array with just two My Book's, in a fraction of the space and powered with a fraction of the electricity and for a fraction of the price. And oddly enough for the same reason; to hold lots of digital movies, in this case all those you've purchased from places such as iTunes.

Ignoring the piffling details of how the FSN's array was engineered to be shared across 1,000 simultaneous end users streaming their movies, there is just something truly awesome about that much personal portable storage. I could go off and build a petabyte-sized disk array from a bunch of those 2TB sized drives, and feel all cool until Western Digital released a 2PB My Book. At which time I'd digitize my consciousness and download it to one of those new drives.

Monday, March 16, 2009

End of the line

I'm pulling the plug on openSUSE 11.1, and in the process, on Linux in general as a home system. I've been a Linux user for 15 years, but the last two (since mid-2007) have been a rapid fall of the cliff with regards to deteriorating quality and usability. What will I use going forward? Windows (XP and 7) and OS X. What finally pushed me over the edge? A one-two punch of KDE 4.2 and a kernel upgrade.

When I first installed openSUSE 11.1 I was reasonably happy, especially with KDE 4.1.3. It was fast and stable, if still a bit incomplete, on europa. I was happy. Then I made, what I see in hindsight, as the fatal mistake of upgrading to KDE 4.2. Desktop performance went from reasonably snappy to slow, and at times, down-right lethargic. The desktop themes I enjoyed and appreciated were replaced or changed. The analog clock went from being simple and attractive in 4.1.3 to gawdy and ugly in 4.2, much like the themes themselves. For example, with regards to the analog clock, I would size it and place it in the upper right corner of the desktop. I'd log out and shut down the machine, then log in at a later time only to find the clock re-sized and sitting on the left edge. The hope I had for KDE 4 growing into the desktop it needed to be was pretty much killed by my experiences with KDE 4.2.

Then there was the kernel upgrade as part of the last group of upgrades. I use the ATI binary driver for my ATI video card. I always have, on every distribution I've installed on this machine. The free versions of the ATI driver are vastly inferior to the ATI release, regardless of the what the fans of those free drivers may say. There was a comment in the kernel upgrade release notes that the ABI had changed and that all drivers needed to be rebuilt. But I accepted the upgrade, hoping that perhaps, this time, openSUSE would automatically upgrade the ATI driver as well. Apparently it didn't happen the way I hoped. Restarting the machine after a shutdown produces a system that comes up with a black screen.

I could go into the forums and find out what happened, but to do so would require me to boot into Windows XP and browse from there. There is a rich irony in using Windows to rescue a Linux installation, but I'm in no mood to appreciate it.

So, like Béranger, I'm defecting from Linux to Windows as a rational act. No more spare cycles and spare patience. No more downloads of oversized ISOs to test yet another distribution. No more purchases of boxed sets, or consumer devices that use it if I can help it. My use of Linux is now limited to where I work, only because it's Redhat (RHEL 4 and 5) and my customer bought into the argument to do so five years ago. They were on Solaris 8 back then, and there's no reason why they might not migrate back to Open Solaris in the future.

But I'm done with Linux.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A bit more fame and glory

Circuit City Going Out Of BusinessMy Flickr stats went through the roof today when one of my lovely images was used in an engadget story about the final closing of Circuit City.

This is different from the three shorter NowPublic articles that used my photos in the past. I liked how NowPublic asked me before using them. I had no quibbles about NowPublic using my work, and I was quick to agree to their use. The fact NowPublic went to the trouble to ask first is a nice and classy touch.

But beggars can't be choosers, and I am certainly a beggar to this game. I was given attribution at the bottom of the engadget article, and there is the undeniable fact that its inclusion is driving a lot of traffic towards my Flickr account, and that image in particular. And if I'm going to take pictures of topical subjects then there's a far greater chance they're going to be cited than, say, some of the prettier pictures of flowers and clouds and what-have-you.

There's no doubt I'm contributing to the gawking and staring-at of this on-going train wreck known as the liquidation of Circuit City. But I made a resolution to follow the effects of this deepening recession and its effects on Orlando, of which the demise of Circuit City is but one small part. I don't know how much worse it's going to get, but when I hear stories like today's that unemployment has risen to 8.5% in Florida, life seems to grow a little darker, a little more depressing. And I feel more compelled to cover this ongoing story in my own small way.