sudo find me a clock

I love Ubuntu and Linux. I really do. Some days, though, it does some tremendously stupid things. Before I left the house this afternoon, I tried to hibernate. That failed and hung up the machine. Annoying, but I can accept that. The fun begins when you reboot and the clock says it’s 2:38PM, but it’s really 4:48PM. Weird, but okay. Open the Date/Time settings in GNOME, and yep, it’s set to the proper time zone, and set to sync against various Internet time servers. Close that dialog and the time changes to 12:38AM. What the heck?

So, being all old-school, I break the Ubuntu use-case and open up a terminal to run ntpdate.

stone@mithril:~$ sudo -s
sudo: timestamp too far in the future: Jan 4 14:16:03 2007


Sudo is so powerful that, despite traveling backwards along the time-space continuum, it is preventing me from obliterating my future-self through some wreckless super-user action. Take that, Vista. Linux prevents you from creating a paradox!

Faith of the Fallen

My long-time friend, co-founder of the Linux.Ars column at Ars Technica, Ubuntero, Ubuntu Fridge contributor, the guy who got me motivated to go to the 2006 GNOME Summit and general Linux cheerleader has announced that he is giving up on Linux on the desktop. The original post, along with Jorge’s entire blog, has been disabled.

The post, while live, was syndicated to both Planet GNOME and Planet Ubuntu, two of the communities Jorge was most involved with. The comments and feedback, mostly from people trying to preach common sense. There were, unsurprisingly, a few trolls.

Ok, that’s it. I’ve had it. My subscription to LWN lapsed, and I was backburnering resubscribing. So I resubscribed yesterday, mostly because I wanted to read the always-excellent Thursday LWN. What an eye opener!

I just read Bruce Perens equate his holy war against Novell to the civil rights movement.

The Open Source community has a real problem. Poisonous People (PDF). Until this problem is fixed, people are going to be continually pushed away.

I’ll go ahead and be one of the ones pushed away. I am sick and tired of being misrepresented by a vocal minority of jerks who dare to tell others what is “moral” and what is “free”. Someone call me when saner people are in “charge” of this community. It’s a shame too, there are so many excellent “leader-types” in Open Source. Unfortunately they’re busy doing real work, getting software shipped, working on documentation, and other thankless work that no one seems to care about at the moment.

I can certainly understand Jorge’s frustration when self-proclaimed “community leaders” spout off at the mouth and make ridiculous comparisons, claims, or statements. We have several such examples. The actions of a few individuals do not paint a picture of what the Open Source community is all about. We have great leaders who lead by example, sometimes making controversial statements but still focused on the best intentions of the community-at-large.

That’s not to say that we don’t have issues. We do, and they are many, but they are human issues. They evolve; they grow; they improve over time or whither away into obscurity.

Oh, and Openoffice’s mail-merge “functionality” crashing over and over again while our LUG tried to do it’s membership mailing over the course of four hours didn’t exactly give me hope in an otherwise sad state of affairs. perkypants reads “I came for the quality, I stayed for the freedom.” I believe that the people who matter believe this, it’s unfortunate that our community is sandbagged by people who “Came because I hate Microsoft and I stayed because … I hate Microsoft.” And here I thought that it was all about Free Software, what an idiot I’ve been.

The thing that Jorge has complained about, almost endlessly, for as long as I’ve known him, is OpenOffice. Jorge thinks we are “going to lose”, presumably against Microsoft, because “OpenOffice sucks”. First, I think that’s a flawed argument which strikes of hypocracy. Jorge has long-claimed to be pro-Linux, not anti-Microsoft. That is something we discussed often and both were firmly in agreement with. We want Linux to succeed, not to spite Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else but because it represents the freedom of choice in software that we believe is important. If you truly believe that, then the only way we lose is by giving up. We aren’t defeated by Microsoft Office 2007, Windows Vista, or Active Directory. We are challenged by them. We see something in them we find appealing. We are inspired. We take what they’ve done behind closed doors and bring them out in the open. Sometimes those efforts fall short and the result is disappointing. Not every software project can be successful, but given the nature of our community, if you don’t like it, fix it.

Jorge, rather than throw in the towel over Mail Merge in OpenOffice (which has 162 open bugs related to Mail Merge right now) you could have vocalized your discontent, convince other people that our solution is broken, and put your amazing ability to motivate people to work in a positive way. I know others have reached out to you. I’m doing the same. Take a break if you need to, but please, take some time to think about your decision. You’re free to choose to install Windows on all of your desktops, but I don’t think you realize the impact you’ve made in the community. If you leave, you will be missed, but we will continue, and we’ll welcome you back with open arms should you change your mind. update

I upgraded the software that powers today. It fixes the occasional problem when parsing Unicode characters.

The following feeds are currently failing:

WARNING:planet:Feed <http ://> timed out
ERROR:planet:Error 500 while updating feed <http ://>
ERROR:planet:Error 404 while updating feed <http ://>
ERROR:planet:Error 404 while updating feed <http ://>
ERROR:planet:Error 404 while updating feed <http ://>

If your site is down permanently, you probably can’t be bothered to contact me, so I’ll just delete you in a week or so. If your site has moved, send me the new link. If you’re surprised to see your site here, better go fix it.

If you’d like to be added to planet.arslinux, the requirements are simple, hang out in #linux on or be a contributor to the Linux Kung Fu forum on Ars Technica. Just send me your handle and the link to your blog/rss feed.

Linux Journal

Dena got tired of me stopping in the magazine section to flip through Linux Journal every time I went to the grocery store with her. Being the smart woman she is, she grabbed a subscription card from one of the issues I bought and signed me up for a subscription. She wrote the check on August 3rd, 2006 and dropped it in the mail a few days later.

So time goes by and it slips her mind, until the next time we go to the grocery store. Then she’s wondering what happened to that subscription.

Another month goes by.

I get an email on October 24th, 2006 (in case you’re counting, that’s about 80 days):

Thank you for your recent Linux Journal order! Your order was
processed today. Your Subscriber ID is XXXXXXXX.

Why thank you for the quick and speedy service!

* Yes, I realize service would have been faster if she’d subscribed online. It still shouldn’t take 80 days to process a check.

SUSE – What the fuck.

So I decided to give SUSE a try. I had a evaluation copy from Linux World. That worked fine, compiz and all, but was out of date. GNOME 2.12 has been out more than a year now and I couldn’t figure out how to upgraded it via yum. Maybe I’m just stupid.

Next I decided to give OpenSUSE a go. They’re related, right? So I grab version 10.1 remastered, because it’s better, right? Useful for new installations, fixed package manager. Great, I think. Maybe I’m smart enough to figure this one out. The installation looks a lot like the Novell SUSE installer. I figure that must be a good sign. Installation finishes, dvd pops out and I reboot. Into FVWM. What. The. Fuck.

Now, I know the SUSE guys like KDE but Novell ships GNOME as the default desktop. I figured, at the very least, I would start out with KDE and be able to switch my session. No, that was not the case. I figured that, being OpenSUSE, I would have some useful repositories in yast (yast? YaST? YAST?). No. I still couldn’t figure out how to install GNOME or upgrade the system. If, as a new user, I have to go through this in order to unfuck the default package management, your distro has serious problems.

Package management shouldn’t be difficult. The Debian guys have it down pretty solid. You want something? Fire up Synaptic, dselect or use apt-get. Out of the box you have at least two of those options and most distros have Synaptic available by default. Install SUSE and spend a few hours trying to figure out what’s going on and why yast doesn’t work, only to find out it’s broken by default. Here, install this alternate package manager to make our shit useful. Now that’s quality engineering.

Compiz and SUSE

I popped in one of the evaluation SUSE CDs that I had from LinuxWorld last night and installed it to a spare partition on my laptop. The installer was decent and I was booting up to my desktop quick enough.

I haven’t used an RPM-based distro since the Red Hat 7 days. I’ve been Debian/Ubuntu ever since. I know about Yast but I’ve had to feel my way around a bit. My laptop has an ATI X1400 video card, which means I have to use the binary driver from ATI. I installed this by hand, generating SUSE rpms with the installer and then rpm -i (and manually resolving dependencies, boo). Once I figured out how to register yast, it added some sources, one of which included ATI.

I was very surprised that, with only a few minutes of work, I was able to have fully accelerated desktop eye candy running. Wobbly windows, rotating cube, transparency, etc. I’ve never been able to get that working on this machine with Ubuntu.

The downside is that SUSE apparently comes with GNOME 2.10 or 2.12 (the latest being 2.16). I have no idea how to upgrade SUSE to a more recent version, nor do I know how to install the full Mono stack so I can do some work. I suppose I need to find a wiki or something that describes the process.

I don’t know if I’ll switch to SUSE or stick with the development branch of Ubuntu. I certainly like the visual effects that SUSE makes look easy. If I can figure out the basics of Yast, I might just give it a run.

Sometimes, dreams really do come true

Last night, I was bemoaning xorg 7.1.1 breaking the ATI’s binary video driver that my laptop requires. Before bed, I said:

02:14 < @StoneTable> i’m gonna sleep, and dream that ati releases a driver tomorrow for 7.1

I was on an afternoon conference call when I saw something new pop up in my RSS reader:

12:47 < @StoneTable> Before attempting to install the ATI Proprietary Linux driver, the following software must be installed:
12:47 < @StoneTable> * XOrg 6.7, 6.8, 6.9,7.0 or 7.1; XFree86 version 4.3
12:47 < @StoneTable> I WIN
12:47 < @StoneTable> I WIN
12:47 < @StoneTable> I WIN

So today, at 12:33PM CST, ATI released a new binary driver that supports xorg 7.1. Their release schedule continues to drop every 4-6 weeks, and the timeliness of this was perfect. ATI beat NVidia in releasing a binary driver that works with xorg 7.1. ATI seems to be the least-preferred vendor when it comes to video hardware (particularly in laptops), but I don’t know how much of that is warranted anymore.

Ubuntu/Gnome Wishlist

Every once in a while I get angsty about the lack of certain features that I wish I had in my preferred distribution and desktop. Instead of bitching about them on irc, I decided to open it up to a more public forum.

The first thing I want to say is that these are things that I want to see, and don’t necessarily reflect the opinion of anyone else. I’m not slamming anyone for these lack of features, but thinking aloud what I would like to see while I consider what effort it would take on my part to make it happen.

I am a slave to my terminal. I typically have at least a dozen terminals active, half of those connected to different machines and the rest assigned to various tasks. I have the single-task terminal, usually to monitor services on specific machines. For that I typically use aterm. For the rest I’ve recently been using konsole. It’s tab support works better than anything else I’ve tried and the keybindings, while not perfect, are at least customizable. That is generally the only KDE app that I use and I’d prefer not to simply for the additional resources required.

There are some interesting ideas floating around about how to improve gnome-terminal. One of them is the integration of gnome-terminal and screen. This is an intriguing idea, but I don’t know how well it would work practically. Like my favorite light-weight, aterm, a good terminal doesn’t need contain an exhaustive feature list. It just needs to do what it does do very well.

Here is my wishlist:

  • Customizable keybindings. I’ve got a certain workflow. I’m flexible enough to change that when warranted but keybindings are one of those things that I’m very particular about (see next).
  • Customizable tabs. Tabs are on top, and you can navigate to specific tabs by “Alt + #”. Completely functional for occasional use, but that interferes with the same keybinding that irssi uses to change windows. I also like to have my tabs on the bottom of the window.

Metacity – The default window manager of Gnome.

Metacity strives for simplicity. It has a limited number of configuration options, aimed more at the new Gnome user. While that’s not a bad thing, I would love to have some more advanced features, such as window memory. There are tools like devilspie that will achieve what I’m after. What sucks is having to hunt down extra software to extend basic functionality.

Language Bindings

There’s been a debate recently about adding [programming] language dependancies to the Gnome desktop. By and large these debates are split across philosophical lines. We tend to take our programming languages very seriously and there is no shortage of opinion about who’s preferred language is the best. Personally, I have no problem with Mono, Ruby, Python, Perl, or O’Caml being added in as a dependancy, as long as the reasoning is sound. Does the dependancy ultimately make for a better user experience? In the case of Mono I would say absolutely yes. Applications like Beagle, Tomboy, Banshee, and f-spot should make that an easy decision to be made.

Now that I’ve bitched, the real question that comes to my mind is, how do you go about making change happen? It’s easy to jump on the soap box and say how you think things should be. Real men and women make things happen. The burning question in my mind is, even if you write a patch to add your pet feature, will it even be accepted? How do you go about working with “upstream”, aka, the people in charge of deciding what should and shouldn’t be, to ensure that your efforts aren’t wasted?

I’ll put my money where my mouth is and write patches but I don’t want to waste my time, either.

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Bound for San Francisco

I’ll be going to San Francisco for Linux World Expo next month, immediately followed by Ubucon. If anyone wants to get together, I’ll be flying in on Monday, August 14th, and leaving the following Sunday night.

This will be my first trip to Linux World. I’m excited to hang out with the Gnome guys and try to suck up some of their knowledge. I’m particularly interested in looking at the virtualization demo and HPC clustering. I have some particular applications where they may come in handy.

I’m still not sure what will happen with Ubucon. We have space at Google headquarters for two days of conferences, but there is no clearly defined schedule yet. Hopefully that will be sorted out in the next week or two. Jorge has been talking about organizing content the way we’ve done for Penguicon the past couple years. If that’s the case, I’ll end up speaking for at least one panel (so hurry up and decide so I have time to prepare).

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Not again…

It looks like another file system bites the dust, this time on my laptop.

Jorge and I were talking about our upcoming trip to San Francisco for Linux World and Ubucon today. We touched on the subject of some of the cool things coming down from the Ubuntu guys, so I decided to upgrade my laptop to Edgy — the current development branch of Ubuntu, aka Dapper + 1. That upgrade went fairly smooth (more on that later). When I went to install the kernel headers, I ran into some weird issue with a file being extracted being turned into a directory, which killed the install. I did some poking around, and started getting the dreaded “XFS internal error”.

Panic ensued. No errors in syslog, no kernel oops, but I’m nervous. I risk a reboot, and the directory that was a file was now a file again. So, I think maybe it was a fluke and try again. Same thing happens. So now I sit, watching reruns of CSI on Spike TV and waiting for my data to backup.

I wasn’t exactly planning to reinstall, but this install was an old upgrade from Hoary. I still don’t know for sure if this was simply more problems with XFS or an actual defect of the hard drive. To play it safe I’ll reinstall with ext3, and have a current backup of my code.

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