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#bananapi → On how compressed files should be used

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/25/2014 - 11:37

I am among the lucky people who got back home from DebConf with a brand new computer: a Banana Pi. Despite the name similarity, it is not affiliated with the very well known Raspberry Pi, although it is a very comparable (although much better) machine: A dual-core ARM A7 system with 1GB RAM, several more on-board connectors, and same form-factor.

I have not yet been able to get it to boot, even from the images distributed on their site (although I cannot complain, I have not devoted more than a hour or so to the process!), but I do have a gripe on how the images are distributed.

I downloaded some images to play with: Bananian, Raspbian, a Scratch distribution, and Lubuntu. I know I have a long way to learn in order to contribute to Debian's ARM port, but if I can learn by doing... ☻

So, what is my gripe? That the three images are downloaded as archive files:

  1. 0 gwolf@mosca『9』~/Download/banana$ ls -hl bananian-latest.zip \
  2. > Lubuntu_For_BananaPi_v3.1.1.tgz Raspbian_For_BananaPi_v3.1.tgz \
  3. > Scratch_For_BananaPi_v1.0.tgz
  4. -rw-r--r-- 1 gwolf gwolf 222M Sep 25 09:52 bananian-latest.zip
  5. -rw-r--r-- 1 gwolf gwolf 823M Sep 25 10:02 Lubuntu_For_BananaPi_v3.1.1.tgz
  6. -rw-r--r-- 1 gwolf gwolf 1.3G Sep 25 10:01 Raspbian_For_BananaPi_v3.1.tgz
  7. -rw-r--r-- 1 gwolf gwolf 1.2G Sep 25 10:05 Scratch_For_BananaPi_v1.0.tgz

Now... that is quite an odd way to distribute image files! Specially when looking at their contents:

  1. 0 gwolf@mosca『14』~/Download/banana$ unzip -l bananian-latest.zip
  2. Archive: bananian-latest.zip
  3. Length Date Time Name
  4. --------- ---------- ----- ----
  5. 2032664576 2014-09-17 15:29 bananian-1409.img
  6. --------- -------
  7. 2032664576 1 file
  8. 0 gwolf@mosca『15』~/Download/banana$ for i in Lubuntu_For_BananaPi_v3.1.1.tgz \
  9. > Raspbian_For_BananaPi_v3.1.tgz Scratch_For_BananaPi_v1.0.tgz
  10. > do tar tzvf $i; done
  11. -rw-rw-r-- bananapi/bananapi 3670016000 2014-08-06 03:45 Lubuntu_1404_For_BananaPi_v3_1_1.img
  12. -rwxrwxr-x bananapi/bananapi 3670016000 2014-08-08 04:30 Raspbian_For_BananaPi_v3_1.img
  13. -rw------- bananapi/bananapi 3980394496 2014-05-27 01:54 Scratch_For_BananaPi_v1_0.img

And what is bad about them? That they force me to either have heaps of disk space available (2GB or 4GB for each image) or to spend valuable time extracting before recording the image each time.

Why not just compressing the image file without archiving it? That is,

  1. 0 gwolf@mosca『7』~/Download/banana$ tar xzf Lubuntu_For_BananaPi_v3.1.1.tgz
  2. 0 gwolf@mosca『8』~/Download/banana$ xz Lubuntu_1404_For_BananaPi_v3_1_1.img
  3. 0 gwolf@mosca『9』~/Download/banana$ ls -hl Lubun*
  4. -rw-r--r-- 1 gwolf gwolf 606M Aug 6 03:45 Lubuntu_1404_For_BananaPi_v3_1_1.img.xz
  5. -rw-r--r-- 1 gwolf gwolf 823M Sep 25 10:02 Lubuntu_For_BananaPi_v3.1.1.tgz

Now, wouldn't we need to decompress said files as well? Yes, but thanks to the magic of shell redirections, we can just do it on the fly. That is, instead of having 3×4GB+1×2GB files sitting on my hard drive, I just need to have several files ranging between 145M and I guess ~1GB. Then, it's as easy as doing:

  1. 0 gwolf@mosca『8』~/Download/banana$ dd if=<(xzcat bananian-1409.img.xz) of=/dev/sdd

And the result should be the same: A fresh new card with Bananian ready to fly. Right, right, people using these files need to have xz installed on their systems, but... As it stands now, I can suppose current prospective users of a Banana Pi won't fret about facing a standard Unix tool!

(Yes, I'll forward this rant to the Banana people, it's not just bashing on my blog :-P )

[update] Several people (thanks!) have contacted me stating that I use a bashism: The <(…) construct is specific to Bash. If you want to do this with any other shell, it can be done with a simple pipe:

  1. $ xzcat bananian-1409.img.xz | dd of=/dev/sdd

That allows for less piping to be done on the kernel, and is portable between different shells. Also, a possibility would be:

  1. $ xzcat bananian-1409.img.xz > /dev/sdd

Although that might not be desirable, as it avoids the block-by-block nature of dd. I'm not sure if it makes a realdifference, but it's worth saying :)

And yes, some alternatives for not unarchiving the file — Here in the blog, an anon commenter suggests (respectively, for zip and .tar.gz files):

  1. $ dd if=<(unzip -p bananian-latest.zip) of=/dev/sdd
  2. $ dd if=<(tar -xOf Lubuntu_For_BananaPi_v3.1.1.tgz) of=/dev/sdd

And a commenter by IRC suggests:

  1. $ paxtar -xOaf Raspbian_For_BananaPi_v3.1.tgz Raspbian_For_BananaPi_v3_1.img | sudo dd bs=262144 of=/dev/

Thanks!

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CuBox-i4Pro

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 11:44
CuBox-i4Pro

Somewhere back in August or September, I pre-ordered a CuBox-i — A nicely finished, completely hackable, and reasonably powerful ARM system, nicely packaged and meant to be used to hack on. A sweet deal!

There are four models (you can see the different models' specs here) — I went for the top one, and bought a CuBox-i4Pro. That means, I have a US$130 nice little box, with 4 ARM7 cores, 2GB RAM, WiFi, and... well, all of its basic goodies and features. For some more details, look at the CuBox-i block diagram.

I got it delivered by early January, and (with no real ARM experience on my side) I finally got to a point where I can, I believe, contribute something to its adoption/usage: How to get a basic Debian system installed and running in it.

The ARM world is quite different to the x86 one: Compatibility is much harder, the computing platform does not self-describe properly, and a kernel must first understand how a specific subarchitecture is before being able to boot on it. Somewhere in the CuBox forums (or was it the IRC channel?) I learnt that the upstream Linux kernel does not yet boot on the i.MX6 chip (although support is rumored to be merged for the 3.14 release), so I am using both a kernel and an uBoot bootloader not built for (or by) Debian people. Besides that, the result I will describe is a kosher Debian install. Yes, I know that my orthodox friends and family will say that 99% kosher is taref... But remember I'm never ever that dogmatic. (yeah, right!)

[update]: Read on if you want to learn the process. If you just want to get the image and start playing with your box, you can go ahead and download it from my people.debian.org space.

Note that there is a prebuilt image you can run if you are so inclined: In the CuBox-i forums and wiki, you will find links to a pre-installed Debian image you can use... But I cannot advise to do so. First, it is IMO quite bloated (you need a 4GB card for a very basic Debian install? Seriously?) Second, it has a whole desktop environment (LXDE, if I recall correctly) and a whole set of packages I will probably not use in this little box. Third, there is a preinstalled user, and that's a no-no (user: debian, password: debian). But, most importantly, fourth: It is a nightly build of the Testing (Jessie) suite... Built back in December. So no, as a Debian Developer, it's not something we should recommend our users to run!

So, in the end and after quite a bit of frustration due to my lack of knowledge, here goes the list of steps I followed:

Using the CuBox
On the i2 and i4 models, you can use it either with a USB keyboard and a HDMI monitor, or by a serial consoles (smaller models do not have a serial console). I don't have a HDMI monitor handy (only a projector), so I prefer to use the serial terminal. Important details to avoid frustration: The USB keyboard has to be connected to the lower USB port, or it will be ignored during the boot process. And make sure your serial terminal is configured not to use hardware flow control. Minicom is configured by default to use hardware flow control, so it was not sending any characters to the CuBox. ^A-O gets you to the Minicom configuration, select Serial port setup, and disable it.
Set up the SD card
I created a 2GB partition, but much less can suffice; I'd leave it at least to 1GB to do the base install, although it can be less once the system is set up (more on this later). Partition and format using your usual tools (fdisk+mke2fs, or gparted, or whatever suits your style).
Install the bootloader
I followed up the instructions on this CuBox-i forums thread to get the SPL and uBoot bootloader running. In short, from this Google Drive folder, download the SPL-U-Boot.img.xz file, uncompress it (xz --decompress SPL-U-Boot.img.xz), and write it to the SD card just after the partition map: As root,
# dd if=SPL-U-Boot.img of=/dev/mmcblk0 bs=1024 seek=1 skip=1.
Actually, to be honest: As I wanted something basic to be able to debug from, I downloaded (from the same Google Drive) the busybox.img.gz file. That's a bit easier to install from: xz --decompress busybox.img.xz, and just dump it into the SD from the beginning (as it does already include a partition table):
# dd if=busybox.img of=/dev/mmcblk0
This card is already bootable and minimal, and allows to debug some bits from the CuBox-i itself (as we will see shortly).
After this step, I created a second partition, as I said earlier. So, my mmcblk0p1 partition holds Busybox, and the second will hold Debian. We are still working from the x86 system, so we mount the SD card in /media/mmcblk0p2
Installing the base system
Without debian-installer to do the heavy lifting, I went for debootstrap. As I ran it from my PC, debootstrap's role will be for this first stage only to download and do a very initial pre-unpacking of the files: Bootstrapping a foreign architecture implies, right, using the --foreign switch:
debootstrap --foreign --arch=armhf wheezy /media/mmcblk0p2 http://http.debian.net/debian
You can add some packages you often use by specifying --include=foo,bar,baz
So, take note notes: This board is capable of running the armhf architecture (HF for Hardware Float). It can also run armel, but I understand it is way slower.
First boot (with busybox)
So, once debootstrap finishes, you are good to go to the real hardware! Unmount the SD card, put it in the little guy, plug your favorite console in (I'm using the serial port), and plug the power in! You should immediately see something like:
  1. U-Boot SPL 2013.10-rc4-gd05c5c7-dirty (Jan 12 2014 - 02:18:28)
  2. Boot Device: SD1
  3. reading u-boot.img
  4. Load image from RAW...
  5.  
  6.  
  7. U-Boot 2013.10-rc4-gd05c5c7-dirty (Jan 12 2014 - 02:18:28)
  8.  
  9. CPU: Freescale i.MX6Q rev1.2 at 792 MHz
  10. Reset cause: POR
  11. Board: MX6-CuBox-i
  12. DRAM: 2 GiB
  13. MMC: FSL_SDHC: 0
  14. In: serial
  15. Out: vga
  16. Err: vga
  17. Net: phydev = 0x0
  18. Phy not found
  19. PHY reset timed out
  20. FEC
  21. (Re)start USB...
  22. USB0: USB EHCI 1.00
  23. scanning bus 0 for devices... 1 USB Device(s) found
  24. scanning usb for storage devices... 0 Storage Device(s) found
  25. scanning usb for ethernet devices... 0 Ethernet Device(s) found
  26. Hit any key to stop autoboot: 3

Let it boot (that means, don't stop autoboot), and you will soon see a familiar #, showing you are root in the busybox environment. Great! Now, mount the Debian partition:
# mount /dev/mmcblk0p2 /mnt
Finishing debootstrap's task
With everything in place, it's time for debootstrap to work. Chroot into the Debian partition:
# chroot /mnt
And ask Debootstrap to finish what it started:
# /debootstrap/debootstrap --second-stage
Be patient, as this step takes quite a bit to be finished.
Some extra touches...
After this is done, your Debian system is almost ready to be booted into. Why almost? Because it still does not have any users, does not know its own name nor knows I want to use it via a serial terminal, and does not know how the filesystems should be mounted and made available. And having a Debian system means having its very extensive software repository collection handy! Five very simple tasks to fix:
  1. Set a password for root:
    1. # passwd
    2. Enter new UNIX password:
    3. Retype new UNIX password:
    4. passwd: password updated successfully
  2. Setting your hostname is trivial:
    1. # echo cubox-i.gwolf.org > /etc/hostname

    So you have now a usable root user, and when you boot with it you can create further users.
  3. Now, to get the serial console working (you might not need it, if you use the CuBox-i via keyboard+monitor) add a line to /etc/inittab specifying the details of the serial console. You can just do this:
    1. # echo 'T0:23:respawn:/sbin/getty -L ttymxc0 115200 vt100' >> /etc/inittab
  4. Create a /etc/fstab specifying how the system will be laid out. Right now, it is quite trivial (and in fact, I used my machine for some time without even thinking about this, just using the parameter provided to the kernel, this setting will just give you an easier and even faster experience):
    1. # cat > /etc/fstab
    2. /dev/mmcblk0p2 / ext3 noatime 0 0
    3. /dev/mmcblk0p1 /boot ext2 ro 0 0
    4. proc /proc proc defaults 0 0
    5. tmpfs /tmp tmpfs defaults 0 0
    6. tmpfs /run tmpfs defaults 0 0
  5. Tell your computer where to get the Debian packages. I suggest you use the http.debian.net meta-mirror, which will resolve to the mirror closest to you, but you can of course choose from the worldwide list of Debian mirrors.
    # echo deb http://http.debian.net/debian wheezy main > /etc/apt/sources.list
    # echo deb-src http://http.debian.net/debian wheezy main > /etc/apt/sources.list
    
Boot into Debian!
So, ready to boot Debian? Ok, first exit the chroot shell, to go back to the Busybox shell, unmount the Debian partition, and set the root partition read-only:
  1. # exit
  2. # umount /mnt
  3. # mount / -o remount,ro

Disconnect and connect power, and now, do interrupt the boot process when you see the Hit any key to stop automount prompt. To see the configuration of uboot, you can type printenv — We will only modify the parameters given to the kernel:
  1. CuBox-i U-Boot > setenv root /dev/mmcblk0p2 rootfstype=ext3 ro rootwait
  2. CuBox-i U-Boot > boot

So, the kernel will load, and a minimal Debian system will be initialized. In my case, I get the following output:
  1. ** File not found /boot/busyEnv.txt **
  2. 4703740 bytes read in 390 ms (11.5 MiB/s)
  3. ## Booting kernel from Legacy Image at 10000000 ...
  4. Image Name: Linux-3.0.35-8
  5. Image Type: ARM Linux Kernel Image (uncompressed)
  6. Data Size: 4703676 Bytes = 4.5 MiB
  7. Load Address: 10008000
  8. Entry Point: 10008000
  9. Verifying Checksum ... OK
  10. Loading Kernel Image ... OK
  11.  
  12. Starting kernel ...
  13.  
  14. Unable to get enet.0 clock
  15. pwm-backlight pwm-backlight.0: unable to request PWM for backlight
  16. pwm-backlight pwm-backlight.1: unable to request PWM for backlight
  17. _regulator_get: get() with no identifier
  18. mxc_sdc_fb mxc_sdc_fb.2: NO mxc display driver found!
  19. INIT: version 2.88 booting
  20. [info] Using makefile-style concurrent boot in runlevel S.
  21. [....] Starting the hotplug events dispatcher: udevd. ok
  22. [....] Synthesizing the initial hotplug events...done.
  23. [....] Waiting for /dev to be fully populated...done.
  24. [....] Activating swap...done.
  25. [....] Cleaning up temporary files... /tmp. ok
  26. [....] Activating lvm and md swap...done.
  27. [....] Checking file systems...fsck from util-linux 2.20.1
  28. done.
  29. [....] Mounting local filesystems...done.
  30. [....] Activating swapfile swap...done.
  31. [....] Cleaning up temporary files.... ok
  32. [....] Setting kernel variables ...done.
  33. [....] Configuring network interfaces...done.
  34. [....] Cleaning up temporary files.... ok
  35. [....] Setting up X socket directories... /tmp/.X11-unix /tmp/.ICE-unix. ok
  36. INIT: Entering runlevel: 2
  37. [info] Using makefile-style concurrent boot in runlevel 2.
  38. [....] Starting enhanced syslogd: rsyslogd. ok
  39. [....] Starting periodic command scheduler: cron. ok
  40.  
  41. Debian GNU/Linux 7 cubox-i.gwolf.org ttymxc0
  42.  
  43. cubox-i login:

And that's it, the system is live and ready for my commands!

So, how big is this minimal Debian installed system? I cheated a bit on this, as I had already added emacs and screen to the system, so yours will be a small bit smaller. But anyway — Lets clear our cache of downloaded packages, and see the disk usage information:

  1. root@cubox-i:~# apt-get clean
  2. root@cubox-i:~# df -h
  3. Filesystem Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on
  4. rootfs 689M 228M 427M 35% /
  5. /dev/root 689M 228M 427M 35% /
  6. devtmpfs 881M 0 881M 0% /dev
  7. tmpfs 177M 144K 177M 1% /run
  8. tmpfs 5.0M 0 5.0M 0% /run/lock
  9. tmpfs 353M 0 353M 0% /run/shm
  10. tmpfs 881M 0 881M 0% /tmp

So, instead of a 4GB install, we have a 228MB one. Great improvement!

For this first boot, and until you set up a way to automatically (or configure it to be static) determine the network configuration, you can use dhclient eth0 to request an IP address via the wired network port (configuring the wireless network is a bit more involved; I suggest you install the wicd-curses package to help on that regard). With the network working, update the Debian package lists:

# apt-get update
Get:1 http://http.debian.net wheezy Release.gpg [1672 B]
Get:2 http://http.debian.net wheezy Release [168 kB]
Get:3 http://http.debian.net wheezy/main Sources [5956 kB]
Get:4 http://http.debian.net wheezy/main armhf Packages [5691 kB]              
Get:5 http://http.debian.net wheezy/main Translation-en [3849 kB]              
Fetched 15.7 MB in 1min 27s (180 kB/s)                                         
Reading package lists... Done
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree... Done
Calculating upgrade... Done
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.

Yay, all of Debian is now at your fingertips! Now, lets get it to do something useful, in a most Debianic way!

[note]: I have tried to keep this as true as possible to the real install. I have modified this text every now and then, looking at ways to make it a little bit better. So, excuse me if you find any inconsistencies in the instructions! :)

[update]: I finally followed through the instructions again and produced a downloadable image, where I did all of this work, and you can just download it and play with your CuBox-i! You can download it from my people.debian.org space. You will find there instructions on how to get it installed.

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So ZTE it is

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 02/22/2013 - 09:03

Some weeks ago I posted about the long-expected demise of my old phone. And even given I don't usually don't pay much attention to phones (and could care less about the smartphone fad), I asked for a recommendation here on what to change to.

The only thing that made me look for something other than a ~US$15 phone is that I enjoy having a GPS-enabled device. So, with that in mind, I went to my carrier's offices, with a top budget of MX$2,000 (~US$150), and asked for help. After being a Telcel subscriber for ~10 years (and ~6 with the same device), even though I use prepaid cards only (and seldom pay over MX$100 a month), I expected some advice. So, when the employee told me to go to the phone exhibit they have and pick my favorite, I declined, by telling I just want the cheapest unit with a GPS. He almost immediately offered me the ZTE V791, an Android 2.3-based unit, for MX$990 (~US$75), just around half of what I expected to pay. So I got two - One for myself, one for Regina, as her previous "nice" phone died under the Bosnian rain and had one of the sturdy, reliable but utterly boring US$15 phones for over a year ;-) As a new Mexican resident, she can surely use a GPS as well! (and some other tools in it). So, two nice phones, and still (squarely!) in my projected budget!

I *did* give some thought to the comments posted in my original post, but given I don't want to bite in to the tendency too much, I let price determine what we get. And after all, I do not plan to ever enable data over the phone network (if at all, I use it on wifi). A recommendation for people with similar profiles/interest than me: Maps with me allows for downloading OpenStreetMap data on a country basis (so I get all of Mexico with me). I also got Vespucci OSM Editor, to be able to do OpenStreetMap updates from the phone, but given it has some stability issues I have not used it much (and it's understandably not so disconnected-mode-friendly)

Not much more to add to this. I am writing this prompted by Russell's "iPhone vs. Android" post. My point after getting these two cheap phones? Having a wide range of devices under this same OS (even if it still has long ways to go freedom-wise) makes it a choice for people like me, who don't want to save money for a couple of months in order to get the newest gadget. I hope this phone lasts with me several years as well, without changing my usage pattern!

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Foldable «Universo» bike

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 06/06/2009 - 21:40

Today I went to the La Merced area to finally buy a foldable bike. There were basically four options: Benotto's 20" Utopia, Alubike 16" Foldingbike, Alubike 24" and a custom-made bike at a smaller store, Bici Universo. In Mexico it is also possible to buy a Brompton, although they are not available in larger stores and their pricing is prohibitive. Sergio Mendoza advised me to look for the Dahon bikes at Benotto, but they have discontinued them in favor of their own making.

I ended up buying the Bici Universo one. I must say this: I sincerely hope not to regret this option — I got this bike because neither of the other ones satisfied me, and this one was at about two thirds the price (MX$1800, plus some extras I requested, MX$2100 — That means, US$187 or €113).

First of all, after thinking about it for a while, I decided I didn't want a larger, more normal wheel — The Alubike 24 (which I'd have to build shopping piece by piece, as they had only the frame for sale — Would be a good ocassion to learn more about the whole process!) is basically a great regular bike you can put in a regular car trunk, but is still too large for taking it into public transport or lugging along when travelling, by bus or by plane. Besides, the handlebar1 is not foldable. So it is basically as portable as this venerable Compaq.

The Benotto's manubrium does fold, but the bike does not hold itself together when folded, it is not stable. You have to explicitly keep it folded. Not exactly comfortable.

I had tested the smaller Alubike at another bike store closer to my home. It feels a bit freer than the Universo one (I'll get to it soon), but still feels a bit kludgy... And at a price about MX$1000 higher, I decided against it.

Now, why am I wary with the Universo? Because after all... It is just a bike for kids age 4-7 and 7-12 (?) cut in half, and with a hinge soldered on:

Bici Universo - 4 to 12 year old

It is also a heavy bike (I have not weighed it yet, but comparative guesstimates puts it over the Alubikes), so it might be problematic when travelling... I'll see when in Nicaragua in a couple of weeks ;-) I have yet a couple of adjustments to make to it, but I am very looking forward to travelling with my bike on. I hope it turns out to be comfortable.

And in any case, I can —of course!— donate it to my nephews... who are in the right age group.

Some photos:

  • 1. the original word I used, manubrium, seems strange, but that's Google's suggestion — The bar you take with your hands to steer the bike
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Acer Aspire One fan control

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 10/04/2008 - 12:57

Almost a month ago, Mauro pointed towards acerfand, a daemon to keep the Acer Aspire One's fan quiet while not needed. Thanks, Mauro, you made my life more pleasant ;-)
Today I had some free time in my hands (of course, putting aside everything else I should be doing), so I decided to un-uglify my machine. I hate having random stuff in /usr/local! So I packaged Rachel Greenham's acerfand for Debian. It should hit unstable soon.
Of course, it will not make it to Lenny - which is a shame, giving how nicely Lenny recognizes everything in this sweet machine. So, I have set up a repository for it - Once the package is formally accepted in Debian, and once lenny-backports comes to life there, I will move it to backports.org. Anyway, you can add this to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb http://www.iiec.unam.mx/apt/ lenny acer
deb-src http://www.iiec.unam.mx/apt/ lenny acer

Note that in the future, this package might provide some more niceties... I decided to -at least for now- stash away acer_ec in /usr/share/acerfand, but it does open a nice window to the AAO's EC(?) registers... And could be useful for many other things.
[Update]: Following Matthew's comments, both on this blog post and on the ITP bug, I am not uploading acerfand to Debian. Still, I'm using the program and find it working fine, and quite useful. You can use it from my personal repository, as written above.

( categories: )

Think little

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 09/01/2008 - 22:36

Back from Argentina, back from DebConf. As always, the ~3 weeks I spent there were really great, in as many fronts as I can imagine or describe. But I won't go into that now - For the purposes of this posting, the single thing that I got out of DebConf was looking with envy at all the people that had something that used to be called a sub-notebook some time ago, and now morphed into the more modern(?) name netbook.
Several people were seen with their tiny Asus Eee machines, of various models. And I definitively decided I want one - I was quite close to buying one in Argentina, as they are readily for sale there (surprisingly, in Mexico Asus sells motherboards, but no netbooks)... But I've always prefered waiting or paying a little premium for having an on-country seller and warranty.

Back home, Pooka told me that several stores in Mexico do sell the Acer Aspire One. After a little research, I decided to go for it. Office Depot sells the AAO for MX$4500 (around US$450). The only model they carry comes with Windows XP installed (instead of Linpus Linux), which is a shame I thoroughly repeated to the vendor - But it does come with 1GB RAM and 120GB HDD, much better for my needs than the other model, with 512MB RAM and 8GB SSD. This is, after all, a full (although very small) machine. It has an Intel Atom 270 CPU - I haven't yet measured how it fares, but it feels quite responsive so far for typical desktop tasks.
But what made me really happy about it is the Debian support. The only tricky part was to get the installer going, as it does not have a CD drive to boot from (and I didn't want to completely overwrite my only available USB stick's data). Don't try installing Debian Etch, as its kernel will not support the built-in Realtek RTL8101E network card (maybe etch-and-a-half's kernel does?). My greatest ally in this was, of course, the wiki.debian.org article on the Acer One - I rebooted with Lenny's debian-installer, and everything was smooth from that point on. Propietary firmware is required for the wireless AR5007 card and webcam, but -exactly as documented in the wiki- they are covered respectively by madwifi and linux-uvc.
I did a very regular install, with basically the default desktop and notebook setup. I continue to be amazed... Everything just works! It is not even fun, there are no funny drivers to recompile, no bang-your-head-against-the-wall... Even suspend-to-RAM. It just works.
The only glitch I found so far is that, after suspend-to-RAM, the madwifi module must be removed and reloaded to have wireless network. This is a well-known glitch that can be easily worked around. But besides that, it is... as easy as it gets. And, at such a price, and under 1Kg weight... This computer will get used to go out with me quite often! Battery life is just 2 hours, but for most situations, it's more than enough.

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eSATA, USB and friends

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/18/2008 - 09:24

Andrew asks about Linux-friendly eSATA controllers. A long time ago, I also looked for some - but basically no one seems to know about that, or will try to rip your eyes for it.
In January, however, I looked for (and bought) an external USB enclosure for SATA disks. As portability was more important than speed, I only asked for USB. Good, got the kit, paid for it.
The external enclosure had an external eSATA port. Not only that, it shipped with a standard PC expansion slot bracket and adaptor - Yes, it connects to your internal SATA port, and provides an external eSATA port. And, of course, it will work with your current kernel painlessly. And, of course, it is even cheaper than a SATA controller with an external port.

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And you call them abusive?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 03/05/2008 - 18:06

Madduck complains about the lack of attractive data plans for mobile phone providers in Switzerland. Madduck: As always, you will have to remember there are many people confronted with a much worse situation than yours.
Up to a month ago, I never envisioned using my phone for anything besides... Well, talking. But yes, since I got my new gadget, I keep playing with GPS or using it for simple things that require Web access and do not require much interactivity (the suckiness of a 12-key keyboard is überhuge!) - Provided, of course, that I am near a WiFi hotspot, of course. My mobile service provider, Telcel, just publicly launched its 3G network - this means, of course, prices are well over the roof:
The cheapest plan starts at MX$59 (around US$5.5) a month, and gives you a whooping 1MB of allowed transfer - Anything you do over 1MB will cost you MX$0.06 per kilobyte. Yes, Telcel offers a 1.5Mbps connection, so it'd theoretically take only 6 seconds to exceed the monthly plan. After the joyful first seconds of network access, each second of full-fledged data transfer will cost you 9 pesos - Around US$0.85. How nice!
Now, there are plans for 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 50, 100 and 1000MB. Their price increases at a slow pace up to MX$459, which is still somewhat expensive if you even thought on using your cell phone as a gateway (say, over Bluetooth) for your regular computer's connectivity. Of course, if I buy 1GB of data transfer, I'd expect a much lower price for each additional Kb. Well, no, it only goes down to MX$0.03. Per Kilobyte, yes, you read right. Those little things your Vic20 was full of.
There is even an unlimited plan. Well, yes, unlimited but limited - For MX$579 (~US$55) you get a nice deal, right? After all, I pay MX$350 for my 1024/128 DSL connection - it is on the right range. Well, no - If you get over 3GB in one month, your data rate will drop to 128Kbps for the rest of the month. Nice. No good as a gateway either.
So, I'm not hiring a 3G plan at all. But that's also a danger - If I open a net-using program at the wrong moment, I'll be billed at MX$0.14 per Kilobyte.
Bah.
[update] There is another similar service in Mexico, IUSAcell's BAM. Pricing is equivalent, though.

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Yet Another Ciclotón

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 01/27/2008 - 23:44

Call me reiterative, but yes, it is this time of the month again: Last Sunday. Today we went cycling to my city's Ciclotón. Although Nadezhda already took part in the August 2007 ciclotón, I was flying in from Europe that day. When I did the Ciclotón in October, she was in Monterrey. Then in December, Rodrigo reminded us that we missed it. So, this is the first time I do the Ciclotón with Nadezhda! (To my defense: Yes, I sent a SMS to Rodrigo... But too late - He probably didn't plan it on time, so we just didn't meet once again).

And what, am I going to come and brag each time I take my bike out for a longer-than-usual ride? (40Km is no small feat. Well, not for me at least!) Probably not. But if you remember, I just got a new toy, and I can now prove it to you all:

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Yay, new gadget!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 01/21/2008 - 08:25
A week ago, I got my fourth cell phone so far. This is the first time, however, that I pay for it - even though the first one I had was a very nice smartphone for its time (basically, a not-really-well-integrated Palm Vx and a bulky phone very worthy back in its time. Anyway - Some months ago, I decided I wanted a Wifi-able phone, in order not to need to carry around my laptop for simple tasks such as checking my mail. Shortly after I started looking for phones which fit my needs, I found Nokia's N95. The map-maniac in me found it had a GPS, and... Well, it just became matter of waiting until my phone company brought it to the Mexican market (as I paid about half its street-price... Y'know, points for customer loyalty, blah blah).
Anyway... I've been extensively playing with my new toy, and although I am still often frustrated by Symbian's so very-very-propietary-minded OS and general culture (it's amazing the number of for-a-fee very simple applications!), I'm very happy. So far, my favorite application (and, of course, the one that made me jump for it) is Nokia's Sports Tracker. While it does have some issues (particularly the web application - at least its interaction with firefIceWeasel is somewhat buggy; it abuses AJAX interaction and some pieces of information are just not linkable, they lack a proper URL), I'm delighted at using it - tracking my theoretically daily excercise sessions, be they excercising per se or my bike rides to work, linking photos taken during those sessions, tagging them to the point and moment they were taken (although, I must admit, it is awkward to take photos while running - And next to impossible while biking, of course).
Yes, to many this is not so impressive... But it is really the toy I was looking for.
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