Repurposing laptops

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/17/2007 - 10:10
Russell argues (when talking about Mark's proposed high-end Free Software-based laptop) that laptops are hard (or expensive) hardware to modify and repurpose - Maybe your laptop will one day go to your child or something like that, but it's hard for it to be a server.
I disagree.
One of my most faithful and most beloved home servers was my old laptop, a Compaq Armada 4120 we originally got (used, for that matter) in 1998 and that was my main laptop until 2002, when I got my first Dell. 120MHz Pentium, 16 MB RAM (later upgraded to 32), 2GB hard disk.
From 2002 and until around 2005, it was my home server - Think about it: A low-power, compact machine you can store anywhere, and that has (still today! Wish I could say that for ~2 year old machines...) a two hour battery with the LCD on. We swapped the hard disk for a 40GB one around 2003, and it was just perfect for DSL sharing, Samba file serving to our internal network, and simple, personal HTTP server. Of course, it started aching when Nadezhda and I started running our blogs - MySQL and Apache didn't fit in the memory at the same time :)
For some months, we had an old 1GHz Athlon as our server, but it was too noisy and ate too much electricity - We now have a nice Mac Mini, but share the UPS with Nadezhda's main machine. Which is fine, but takes a bit off the coolness factor :) Oh, and -of course- it does not have a built-in screen anymore. Nadezhda uses an iMac, so whenever we need to directly use the server, I have to go find our clunky 17" CRT and work sitting on the floor...
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On collaborative maintenance

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 07/14/2007 - 00:07
Following Zack's and Lucas' posts regarding group maintenance of packages: Do I have to AOL with you guys? Yes, I also agree with Zack's both 1 and 2. And I also want to share the bit of experience we have got in this regard in the pkg-perl group. In our case, group maintainership has often saved our collective butts. We have also debated somewhat which way should our packages' maintainership be handled. In the end, our packages' maintainer will (most usually) be the pkg-perl group itself, subscribed through an alias that reaches all of us. Then, every group member that feels identified with the package lists himself as an uploader (note that this does not necessarily have a relation with the last uploads, at least not as strongly as in what the KDE and Gnome groups do, according to Lucas' post - it's closer to the pkg-ruby-extras handling). Of course, there are some packages which I have NMUed in the group's pool - packages I prefer not to have listed in my maintainer page, as I don't usually care too much about them, but I happened to be able to fix a bug with them.
Now, what about the roles of the different group members? Each of us has some skills that make him better for part of the task - i.e., we have an amazingly knowledgeable member, Niko Tyni. He just fixes all the bugs that baffle us. Honest, my best kudos to Niko, he is a good part of our team's success. And then, we have hard-working people as Gregor Hermann, who not only fixes also nice amounts of bugs, but also writes and runs general QA tests throughout our over 300 modules. Neither of them is a DD yet. And of course, many other hard-working folks. Some of us are DDs and try to upload promptly - and, of course, also try fixing bugs. So far, we are in good shape, and we tend not to lag too much. I have taken some vacation periods (both announced and unannounced - sorry :) ), but to my surprise and amazement, my packages tend not to be buggy - Why? Because there is a real team looking after them, and in the end, we keep an eye on each other.
For the pkg-perl group, group maintenance has really worked. We collectively maintain more packages than it would be reasonable for all of us added together as individuals, and they are in a better shape. There are several things we can make better, and we do try to address them - it is not yet heaven, but... :) I'll elaborate later, when I finish a text I'm preparing for presenting at YAPC (it's not that long, of course - During Debconf, I showed advances of it to several people... I just have left it aside). Right now... Well, I have 3hr of sleep left before we leave for a daytrip to the beautiful (but hot and humid!) Veracruz Huasteca. See you on Sunday/Monday!
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Keep rolling!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 07/02/2007 - 08:02
It seems that I've held up -at least for half a year- what I stated back in January - I come by bike to work almost every day, and really enjoy the time spent on two wheels. My times have -of course- improved, as has my dominion of the bike - I make ~10 minutes each way (must be a bit more on my way to work than on my way back, as it is uphill).
My city's government seems to be seriously promoting people to consider using the bicycle as means for regular transport and not just as a recreational device - I see some of its measures as quite silly, but some are just perfect. One week ago, while I was on the plane from Edinburgh, we had the first Ciclotón, a 32Km ride open to everybody (and of course, Nadezhda was among them). Over 70,000 people took part, reportedly, and it seems it will be held monthly. Besides that, yesterday we had the paseo dominical in Coyoacán very close to my house - What's that? Something similar to the ciclotón, only much smaller (14Km), much less publicized, and in a different place of the city every Sunday. Well, we started up the day at 8 AM by cycling from Metro Copilco to Miguel Ángel de Quevedo, Av. Universidad, Río Churubusco, División del Norte and Henriquez Ureña back to Metro Copilco. We later learnt that around 10,000 people took part. 14 Km, 30 minutes - not bad, and quite enjoyable!
We didn't go for the second round, because we wanted to be by ~10 AM at Reforma, probably the city's most emblematic avenue, to be part of the demonstration marking one year of the electoral fraud. But... Well, we didn't want to just leave the bikes at home and go by metro - What can we do? Yes, take the open streets. We followed a bit of the path we had taken a bit earlier, then took Minerva, Insurgentes until Reforma (~45 minutes). And once we got to the meeting point, we didn't want to step down and crawl the bikes along... So we both found out that not only we dared take the main streets where people are not really used to cyclists and where taxi drivers will often try to make a point that if you don't own a car you should use a taxi and not a bike - We were able to cycle most of our way to Zócalo, going slowly and moving through people, in what seemed to be almost an unthinkable feat for me just a couple of months ago. We can now control the bike, we can even be almost still while riding it, and not crash into anybody!
Of course, the way back was similar - We took our bikes across Obrera, Doctores, Algarín and Álamos, then took Av. Universidad all the way down to Copilco, and -after some three hours riding, with my arms quite red and of course somewhat dehydrated and sore-butted- got home.
It feels great to have a well-deserved siesta! And... Well, biking is just too enjoyable. I guess we had ~45Km yesterday, plus some ~5 extra zig-zagging through the crowd. It rules.
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Nonstandard monitor setups

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 04/04/2007 - 22:59
Russell blogs about his new 22" cheap TFT monitor. You lucky bastard.
I use a 17" Dell LCD monitor at work (sorry, cannot recall the model), and I've been quite pleased with it. Granted, 1280x1024 isn't what I had gotten used to (1400x1050 on my previous laptop and previous work machine), but it does the trick - And for my current laptop, I went for a smaller machine, with a 12" wide-screen 1280x800 monitor. I still find the monitor somewhat small, and the missing 224 pixels _are_ noticeable - but the size is well worth it.
But what I've been playing at work with is changing the monitor orientation - This 17" Dell monitor can be set up vertically (1024x1280), and xrandr will merrily change the orientation. So far, I'm happy with this setup. I still feel there are some video-related quirks, and maybe the pixels are a bit off (i.e. black letters in a white background have a bit of a shadow), maybe it was visible as well in the regular configuration, but not as noticeable. But well, I feel it easier to work with for most of my work cases - For having a full-screen browser, each row is smaller and more rows fit on screen - It's quite pleasant. For doing Web development, having a horizontally split screen (one above of the other) between Emacs and the browser is quite natural. And when I use more than two frames (i.e. for following logfiles or debugging multi-factored breakages on servers ;-) ), well, they are small enough that it's similar to having the ol' regular layout.
I'd still like to get a second video card and monitor. I remember working that way in the job I left four years ago, and it was very comfortable.
BTW, Russell, for your needs I suggest you to try Ion. After all, who really needs to have a root window/background after all? :-)
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Alive again

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/12/2007 - 13:14
Due to the extreme stupidity of the bank that holds my money whenever I have some, we were unable to pay my main domain name ( together with two others - I mean, the fscking bank mixed up the secret questions/answers, and we were unable to confirm our identity in order to pay to my favorite registrar (do you know they sponsor Debconf? I've been their customer for at least five years, and they rock). As of this Sunday, went off the net. Of course, being it a sunday, it was impossible to get a human in the right area of the bank. I must really thank Nadezhda: Despite being quite busy today, and after spending a couple of frustrating hours Sunday night trying to reach somebody, she managed to take the needed steps. Our domains are back to life. If you sent me a mail during this weekend, please send it again.
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Say no to petroleum-powered vehicles - Make Mexico a better place!

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/02/2007 - 12:36
[ Yes, entry written for my Mexican fellows. My blog is in English. Don't rant about that, your pleads won't be listened ] Damog just ranted (in Spanish) about too many people coming to Mexico City. I completely agree with him, but not with his conclusions. We are a ~25,000,000 people city, in a ~100,000,000 people country. The inequity we face every day is huge (Cd. Nezahualcóyotl, among the poorest in the city, is the most densely populated region in the whole world, but you can easily spot over 2000 sq mt houses in Bosques de las Lomas or similar regions - And the whole Santa Fé region just scares me, it is an unknown planet I don't even want to think of). But what's really terrible is how living in this city changes our collective moods. Sometimes it strikes me to understand how people in other countries can live in one town and work in another, over 40 minutes away. Well, for many years I worked at places over one hour away from home - and I didn't even cross the city. Mexico City is, or was last time I checked, 40x70km, and without enough adequate main ways. Of course, people get grumpy and aggressive while driving. What's my answer? Don't drive. Seriously. Yesterday, for example, I chaired three talks at Linuxworld Mexico. In friggin' Hipódromo de las Américas, a convention center located in one of the worst-connected pieces of land in Mexico. Usually, it would take me 40-90 minutes to get there by car, depending on the time of day and phase of Deimos against Fobos. Of course, it took me 70 minutes to go by metro+bus. I took two nice books (La región más transparente, a beautiful book by Carlos Fuentes no Mexico City inhabitant should skip, and Laurence Rosen's Open Source Licensing). And I didn't get bored, and I didn't hate the people I was riding with. Even though I crossed the most crowded metro stations. Not only I saved a fair amount of money (MX$6.50 each way against probably something close to MX$120 between the gas and the parking fee of that unholy convention center), but I used my time much better. Some years ago, when I regularly travelled one hour back and forth to work, I learnt most of what I know today of Computer Science during the long time I spent sitting on small microbús seats. Not the most luxurious way of travelling, but still a very good way of moving around our messy city. Of course, today I have learnt even more, and I want to advocate it: don't work far from your house, or at least, don't work far from a place reachable by Metro. Sometimes it sounds impossible, but really... How much do you value your time? Do you think that it's better to get MX$20,000 a month in a Santa Fé office than to get MX$15,000 in an office in Insurgentes? Do you think nobody will pay you decently if the offices are in Ermita Iztapalapa? Good work done brings a good salary. And seriously, the extra MX$5,000 in my first example is not worth the daily anger you will get by crossing the city to get to Nowhere Land and work for the corporate overlords. I might be extremely lucky, but I work 3Km away from home. I come by bike every day. And yes, I was scared at first - Even in Ciudad Universitaria people drive aggressively. You have to take care where you drive. Taxi drivers are among the worst, as they are always in a hurry. And, yes, my elbow has an ugly scratch, as I prefered to stop and fall off my bike than to land over a car whose driver was in a hurry. I've just had my bike for ~6 weeks (after over 10 years of not riding one, and back then, just for a bit), but I'm confident enough to get off the safety of a protected University with no cafres driving their microbús as they damn well please. Last weekend I had a ~6km drive (Copilco-Miguel Ángel de Quevedo-Loreto-Alta Vista-Copilco) using several high transit vialities (Universidad, Revolución, Insurgentes). I crossed three times the San Ángel bus hub, which scared my ass as I approached - But it's perfectly doable, far easier than what I expected. It was fun. It is a decent excercise. And we need more people to take the streets with their bikes. This morning I heard on the radio that Marcelo Ebrard (Mexico City mayor) is pushing a plan to boost bycicle usage in the city. Something similar to what has been done inside Ciudad Univeritaria, but -of course- in a larger scale: Useful ciclovías along the main roads, city-owned bike rental places (where you can rent your bike at one and drop it at another spot), all this well connected to the main Metro stations. In this interview (in this morning's 98.5 FM news program - sorry, I don't know who heads it... Martín something IIRC) they said that today, ~0.7% of the trips outside home in Distrito Federal (where only 8 out of our 25 million people live) are carried out on bycicle, and they expect to raise it to 5% over the next six years. We will see about that, I can only wish this program best luck. Damog complains that we drive like shit because dealing with too many people for too long pisses us off - Ok, Damog, here is the recipe: Don't get pissed off. Each of us will make a minor but tangible contribution. Don't drive so much. Quit your job so far away, get a decent (even worse paid) job closer to your house, closer to the university. You will be happier. Get a bike. Use it, you live close to UNAM as well. You will be happier. And we will be one step closer to total world domination. (yes, we the bikers, not we the Debianers ;-) )
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Free KQemu - Yay!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 02/06/2007 - 10:34
I've been feeling dirty lately - For my netadmin tasks, I've been heavily relying on running virtualized instances of the various MS Windows flavors, to check for compatibility with my work. Of course, being a zealot, I would not run VMWare (as it is grossly non-free from every possible angle) - I used Qemu. I'm also, however, impatient as hell - If I'm going to suffer from the sluggishness of the typical Microsoft desktop OS, I just don't want to suffer from emulation slugishness as well! Of course, the KQemu kernel accelerator module came to my rescue. I felt tainted, as it was just free as in beer. Well, today the sun rose, and the world looks shinier. Yes, it's chilly in Mexico City (around 5 Celsius), but great news always make the sun shine brighter: First thing I read in the morning,">KQEMU 1.3.0pre10 released - under the GPL! Of course, it's echoed at Barrapunto. Even better, it took little time for Mike Hommey to post it into Planet Debian. Better still, Daniel Baumann has already packaged and uploaded it to NEW (and has an APT repository already set up with unofficial packages). Ftp-masters, please, issue the dear green light soon! :-D /me does the dance of joy
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But it does!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/30/2007 - 17:54
Bastian: I'm unable to provide the about:config key to prove it, but clicking on a link on my Iceweasel does open a Mutt mailto dialog. Maybe network.protocol-handler.external.mailto or network.protocol-handler.expose.mailto will do? They are booleans, so I cannot get much insight out of their respective true and false values... Keep peeking around ;-)
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Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/30/2007 - 10:12
I had this planned for over a year, but for whatever reasons, I didn't get around to doing it until last week - Knowing that my Institute was moving to almost the opposite edge of Ciudad Universitaria, and would now be located at over 3Km from home (from around 300m that it was before), I decided to get a bike. And, after having it in my to-buy list, I bought it last Sunday (January 21), and Nadezhda got one for herself as well. I had had a bike before, over 15 years ago, and we rode a bit when we were in Amsterdam, but that was back in 1996. Since then, I cannot recall using a bike - So, of course, I was quite shaky and afraid to begin with. I must admit, I envied Nadezhda, as she seems to be natural - While I was still trying to get the bike moving without crashing into something, she was literally making circles around me. On Sunday, we went for a short ride in the main circuit of UNAM. On Monday night, we went most of the way to the gym/running lanes where we go to make our excercises - Yes, mostly uphill, and I managed! (she had already done that road earlier the same Monday). Thursday and Friday, I rolled early to do my excercise, and we basically crossed each other on the way. On Saturday, finally, we came all the way to the new Institute. Sunday was amazing: We went with her family (two sisters, one brother and five pedalling nephews, plus one nephew in a basket in his mother's bike) along the Ciclopista. The Ciclopista goes on the path that used to be the Mexico-Cuernavaca railroad, and starting at Contreras, it goes uphill to cross the Ajusco/Chichinahutzin ridge. I cannot find a decent map, and I don't have a clue on what distance we rode, but it was just great - We crossed basically all of the Magdalena Contreras part of the Ciclopista and part of Tlalpan, until maybe 500m past the market at Calle 8. Of course, after the ride, we feasted with quesadillas at the market, plus some tacos of a delicious chicharrón prepared by Nadezhda's mother. It was a long ride anyway - I got quite tired, and the way back (fortunately, downhill) was still long. We had promised the four year old nephews to take them to the zoo that same day, although we counted on them being tired by that time - Well, a child's will is stronger than being tired, so we still went to Chapultepec to dive in a sea of people and look at some nice animals ;-) ...Finally, yesterday and today I have come by bike to the Institute. There are a couple of hard parts, and I still have not mastered the techniques for being an effective rider, but the way back is just delicious. Besides, yesterday I made 15 minutes on my way back, today it was 20 minutes coming here - almost the same time that going by car! Oh, and on the way back, I get to enjoy a beautiful view of my beloved volcanos, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. And, as Mauricio already pointed out, thanks to the light rains we had in the previous days... They just look amazing, covered in snow from their very bases. Not much to add to it... But I'm delighted :)
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On Trusted Computing

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/23/2007 - 12:40
I came across this excellent video clip on what Trusted Computing means, and why we should stay away from it. CC-licensed and all, of course.
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Then fix the software, not the format!

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 01/18/2007 - 14:17
Erich: Of course that I know XML's obstination on manually matched closing tags is intentional - That and several other points simplifying SGML were what in the end allowed SGML to succeed (and wildly). However, I still not agree. If you have a tool that generates broken files (which are expected to be read, no less, by any other arbitrary tool which does not require to be very bright), whose fault is it? The file format? No - The generator's. Besides, if you have a configuration format that's expected to be used by al kinds of tools, and sent over every conceivable type of configuration channel (including slow and expensive ones, such as mobile phones), or that can contain arbitrarily deeply nested structures and become just huge, shouldn't your priority be to make the protocol less repetitive instead of more? If you want a format to be robust, yes, you should insist on well-balancedness (what's the last time you were able to compile C code with unmatched braces?), and reject unbalanced documents (possibly even, yes, pointing out where the match was probably broken - Yes, this last point favors XML over simple braces, but still, a compiler often makes a decent job at finding where a nesting problem lies)... Yes, I don't have the authority to question what has become a world standard - But I still have to be persuaded XML is the way to go for many (no, of course, not all) of its uses. No, I'm not pushing YAML too hard - I just happened to like it for several uses, but I'm far from an informed fan. I'm just bashing XML, which is fun enough for me ;-) Oh, and about your blog: Right, it seems the culprit is Google Reader. Planet links just fine, and using RSS 1.0, the only link I get is the right one. Planet's RSS 2.0 generator should be to blame then.
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Are we evenly distributed?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:38
Russell: I don't think so. I do think that most Free Software people, even more in settings such as Debian, will tend to be in the lower-left quadrant of the political compass. Personally, I ranked Economic Left/Right: -8.00, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.87 - No surprise for me ;-) And yes, we do have some more upper- or right- sector people, but I think our center of mass will surely fall in the lower-left quadrant. More samples needed ;-)
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Those who owned the Bible

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 01/12/2007 - 17:40
I came across a very nice story by Leonel Rubio (Leonel, please correct me if I'm misattributing this to you), licensed under the Creative Commons license. It's in Spanish, but quite worth a read - Aquellos que Poseían la Biblia (Those who owned the Bible). It starts with the supposition that Disney, at the end of the ever-recurring cycle where they ask the US Congress to extend the duration of copyright (so that Mickey and Donald don't fall into the public domain), they push boldly for a new record: Not just 20 more years, but 500. Of course, this would be easily torn apart in little pieces in the laxest of law courts, but still, a nice read :) Thanks, Leonel! :D
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Comments in blogs

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 12/19/2006 - 21:14
Many people have recently posted in Planet Debian regarding the use, usability and usefulness of having comments enabled in blogs, of using comments as the right way for following discussions, of dealing with spam, and so on. I'm sorry I'm not linking to more of them, but I'm too lazy to look them up. This is one of the down-sides of not using comments - Ideally, if I were interested on commenting on a topic, I would just leave the comment on the blog that started it. It goes somewhat against Joey's logic of posting both the comment and the posting itself - Of course, we all want everybody and their dogs to read our comments, don't we? And, given we know that (most of) our target readers regularly follow Planet Debian, we continue ranting on our personal blogs (as I'm doing now). Besides, that will rank our page higher. We all want Google to love us, right? Of course, following discussions on a bunch of blogs is not optimal, as it's easier to miss parts of it (hey, would somebody volunteer on writing threading support for Planet? It'd have to be multidimensional, as postings often refer to different threads... Bah :) ). Besides, many of us are syndicated on different planets (and many people read our blogs as individuals as well), so many of my postings start with a stupid amount of background information so the martians understand the terrans. But still, here I am, writing a post that provides nothing but a braindump, serves no purpose, and links to your posting. So there, the world is not ideal. QED. As always, MJR rants against captchas (and yes, thank you, you have commented on my blog that most captchas are trivially crackable by automated means). They do reduce spam, but they are REALLY not a strong barrier against it. I have thought of some ideas, or thought about implementations for other ideas I've read here and there, but I'm too lazy to implement them on my blogging software. I could switch, but I happen to like Jaws. I would like to contribute to making it better, but have had a permanent lack of time for a long time already :-/ I do get swamped by spam comments, and every now and then mass-delete whatever looks like spam (hundreds to thousands of comments, for crap's sake!), but anyway... It's not too important for me. I like having comments on my entries, but sometimes a long time must pass until I even read them (I read my own blog syndicated via the Planets, on a RSS reader). BTW, Lucas: I used to have trackbacks enabled. The amount of spam, and the control I have over spam in my blog, makes me favor comments against trackbacks. My trackbacks used to be so wildly abused that it almost made me cry. I hope it is not your case :)
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Nice map!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 12/13/2006 - 12:20
Thanks to H01ger for linking to one of the coolest map-like things I've seen in a long time: Yet another map of Internet - this time, an IPv4 allocation map. Useful? Maybe not, having tools such as Geo-IPfree. But quite nice to print and have as a poster ;-)
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