6 Months in 6 Minutes

It’s occurred to me how long it’s been since I posted something about myself, not about software, Linux or LugRadio. So, here’s an update to bring you back in sync, though, as you might expect, much of it might be about software, Linux and LugRadio. Well first thing, I’m off work on leave for 2 weeks, my first time off since the miserably unrestful week in June. It’s been a tough year, barely time to stop and think. A lot has been going on, a lot of changes have occurred and it’s been my job to move everything from A to B and replace all of the old stuff with the new stuff. So, much so that I’ve been barely able to sleep since August as I was working and thinking about work from morning until after I should have gone to bed and couldn’t get my brain to switch off. Add the new season of LugRadio, my first as a full-time presenter, into the mix and I’ve been spending more time working outside of work, in one way or another, than doing anything else. So much so that I’ve been forcing myself to take one evening a week, as my weekends are spent shopping and cooking and doing household chores, not doing anything, apart from sitting in front of the TV with Jenny and a laptop, working. It’s gotten so bad, that the few times I’ve not had anything that I had to do, I didn’t actually know what to do with myself, so I ended up working.

Well, as I’m off for 2 weeks now, I should let you know what I’ve been up to. I turned 31 at the end of October, never thought I’d see the day. I’m so boring these days, if I met myself of today 10 years ago, the me of 10 years ago would have laughed at the me of today for being an old man and the me of today would have thought the me of 10 years ago was a pointless idiot.

That said, I’m quite happy with the way things have panned out, I think I have a cause to hang my hat on and a drive to get to where I want to, I should just take more time out now and again.

I went to see The Sex Pistols on Saturday and I have to say, my fears were wrong. I suspected, having seen a clip on YouTube, that they might look and sound like a pale caricature of themselves, but they were fantastic, everything that I hoped they would be – loud, rude, brash and ballsy. John Lydon was excellent, intelligent, witty, snarly and aware that his age is at odds with how the Pistols are remembered. In fact he ridiculed himself for needing over the counter treatments to get his sore throat through the gig. Steve Jones’ guitar sound was infuckingcredible, though he seemed a little subdued, frequently retreating to the drum riser with his back to the crowd. I could barely tell that we were 30 years on and I can pay little better compliment than that. They looked older, but great. It was funny looking around and seeing the aging punks littered around the place, in their zippered and studded leathers and spiky hair and it was strange hearing Pretty Vacant being sung with a Manchester accent. It was a good gig and I’m glad I went. I did feel like I was being repeatedly shot in the face with every song, such is the ferocity of the sound and the delivery, after about 6 tracks I was praying for an interlude. They played every pre-split song I know of (with the exception of ‘I Wanna Be Me’, ‘Satellite’ and ‘Don’t Give Me No Lip, Child’), everything from Never Mind the Bollocks and stuff like Stepping Stone and Did You No Wrong. EMI, New York, Holidays in the Sun and Pretty Vacant were blistering. A great gig.

LugRadio has been doing well actually, at least from my point of view. I was worried, as a new presenter, that the show might struggle with 2 much loved and established presenters departing and 2 new ones arriving but so far I think we’ve done some of the strongest shows in a long time, not to impune the work of Matt and Ade and I think some of the ideas I’ve contributed to the show have gone down incredibly well. It’s been going so well that we came top in Linux Format‘s roundup of Linux podcasts in the Christmas 2007 edition 🙂

Aside from moving offices, data centres and customers this year and then in the last week getting 7 servers unpacked, installed, configured and in the racks in time to hit a product launch and in time for me to be able to take my leave, I’ve been playing with a few things. I managed to get an Asterisk box on my business PSTN line at home, this was an abandoned work project that I didn’t have time to do properly. It did what I wanted but my VoIP phones weren’t good enough and couple of callers said the sound was muffled and made it difficult to hear me, so I dropped it after a day.

Getting these 7 servers installed and in the racks within a week was largely down to Kickstart, which I finally found the time to investigate. I played with it while looking at Xen and spent a morning or so pinning the kickstart file down so now I can have a machine installed and partially configured within around 15 minutes and most of that time is spent waiting for the disk formatting. So, cool for me. I hope to add a few extra bits to the kickstart configuration which will mean I only have to reboot the machine after installation to make sure everything is ok, no configuration required at all. I have a list of other software to check out to make my life easier, like daemontools (not the Windows optical drive emulator), RT, Varnish, Cfengine, Puppet, ISconf and so on as well as SNMP traps.

On the subject of Xen, I’ve been working with it quite a bit recently but there seems to be this impenetrable inner world of knowledge which I don’t seem to understand, like why, every time I build a new VM, it seems to complain that there is no space left on the device (does it mean the local disk, there’s acres of space there, or does it think there’s something wrong with the disk image I created?) and tells me the hotplug something is unavailable so I have to shutdown the working VMs, stop xend, move /var/lib/xenstored/tdb and then reboot, which is driving me nuts. Or how to create LVM disk images so I can resize the disk sizes should people wish to change their package (do the LVs live on the host machine and get passed to the VM, or do you create multiple disk images and create the LVs in the VM?) or how xen networking works – despite reading the docs repeatedly, or how the hell am I going to back up a 20GB disk image when it changes constantly? or what to do if a disk image becomes damaged in the same way a hard disk might, say GRUB get’s messed up, or the VM won’t boot, or the disk image gets corrupted. Of course these are all questions which will be answered over time as I get to look at them properly, it’s just a steep hill ahead and not much time to climb it or research alternatives like Virtuozzo/Open VZ and the VMware products on a cost, ease of use, managability and performance basis.

On a final technical front, despite now being in position to cruise at work after all of the hard work I’ve put in, I have a growing list of things to deal with at home, like my monster of a laptop needs to be reinstalled as Gnome doesn’t finish loading on login sometimes and I have to reboot, or my wireless card won’t start and again I have to reboot. I’ve not had these kind of problems under Linux before. I suspect that the 2 things are related as we have a wireless TV thing in the house which means I have to sit next to the wireless gateway for my laptop(s) to connect before I can go sit in the front room (turning the wireless TV thing off would be one technical intrusion too many for my more than patient partner I think), but even still, it’s not been the same since I had to return to WEP and I had to delete the Network Manager config file for my network to make it realise that the network with my SSID isn’t a WPA2 network any more, as I have some devices which aren’t capable of WPA and some which I’m not willing to pay to upgrade. Before I can do this, I need to move the 8GB disk images off my USB disk so I can back up the laptop as the resolution of the Ubuntu installer was too large to be able to choose anything other than a default partition layout, meaning /home is on the same partition as / (my graphics card was too new for the drivers at the time of the installation). To be able to do this, I also have to fix the disk problems on my main desktop which have cropped up over the weekend, which amount to the disk with my / partition on is showing hardware errors and struggled to boot, so I’ve had to leave it on and spinning while it’s ok while I wait for the chance to fix it. It also sent me a message saying that one of the disks in my /home partition RAID 1 pair has failed, so I have to fix that too before I can copy the disk images to it. Before I can do any of this, I have to write a set of slides for a talk I’m giving to Wolves LUG in 2 days and sort out my remaining CCNA work as I have to visit my lecturer tomorrow in preparation for the new semester which starts in around 2 weeks. Jeez, if it’s not one thing…

On the work front, I decided a while back that I will look to move on next year, but while I am happy to see that there are the kind of jobs I want to do, offering the kind of money I want and I have the skills to do them, almost none of them seem to be near where I live and Jenny is at college until next summer and has just started a new job herself, which is a very good step for her. So, decisions to be made.

Finally, it is now more than a year since I quit smoking and nearly a year since I last got drunk. Am I happy? Yes, of course. Do I miss it? Getting drunk, definitely – as you might notice, I don’t get to let loose very often these days and I really enjoy getting drunk as a means to just forget everything ordered and sensible that I carry around in my head all the time. I only miss cigarettes when I’m drunk, which hasn’t happened in a long time and is a good reason not to drink. Was it worth it? Absolutely, the hangovers were just far too much to deal with on an ongoing basis, 3 days of feeling like shit isn’t worth it for an average amount of alcohol to most people.

I think I’ll leave you to digest all that for now, speak in another 6 months 🙂

LUG Radio Season 5 Episode 4: One From Four

In what is becoming a depressing ‘LUG Radio comes out more often than I blog’ situation, I am pleased to announce that Season 5, Episode 4 of LUG Radio, One From Four has been released into the wild:

It’s been a good few weeks for distro releases with Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Fedora (beta) and Mandriva all releasing new versions but which ones best? The LUG Radio team talk to Adam Williamson from Mandriva then don asbestos suits and put all four through a series of real world tests in the LUG Radio Labs. We also discuss Internet Freaks, this week in the form of The Otherkin who believe they’re animals trapped in a human body and then the film BloodSpell – a film from the Machinima genre which uses a 3D game engine to create the animation, before we read out a selection of emails and forum posts from the LUG Radio hordes.

Before I leave you gentle reader, I must point that I as primary distro downloader for the test and also the reviewer of Mandriva, I downloaded and reviewed the wrong version. I downloaded the Mandriva Free edition which contains no proprietary drivers (NVidia, Intel wireless etc) or non-Free codecs, when I should have downloaded Mandriva One edition which contains the drivers I needed when I was bitching about the wireless support.

So with that in mind, download it from http://www.lugradio.org/episodes/87, Digg it here and vote it up the Slashdot Firehose here.

LugRadio: Season 5, Episode 3 – Divine Digits

In Season 5, Episode 3 of LugRadioDivine Digits, we interview Quim Gil from Nokia about Maemo and the new Nokia N810, we turn to the Lugradio Finger of God to determine the ultimate truth with electrifying results, ask if software vendors should be legally responsible for security flaws and Jono bores everyone about his recent flu-fuelled voyage of discovery into the world of software packaging, along with a hearty selection of your emails which include Nokia 770s and 800s, open source web applications, the KDE 4 release event, being too tight to buy a printer, Enlightenment live CDs, OOXML, Miguel de Icaza and a kick in the ‘nads for the LugRadio team.

Download it from http://www.lugradio.org/episodes/86 and don’t forget to Digg it.

LugRadio: Season 5, Episode 2 – Lock, Stock, and One Smoking Barrel

“In the latest episode of LugRadio, “Lock, Stock, and One Smoking Barrel”, the team talk to Greg Kroah-Hartman from the Linux Driver Project, explore the potential of Open Source online office suites, discuss how the Free Software community approaches criticism and takes another mystery tour to find a long-lost free software project, all presented with the usual humor, colour and flourish that you have come to expect from the LugRadio team.”

Download: http://www.lugradio.org/episodes/85

Digg it here.


Sex Pistols Tickets

I have some for Manchester 🙂

I came across the fact that The Sex Pistols are touring in November purely by chance and that all of the tickets for the shows had been sold in 15 minutes, so they announced 2 more shows with tickets to go on sale 2 days later. I set an alarm for 5 minutes before they went on sale and managed to bag 2 for Jenny and I. Woo!

Of course I will have to slightly overlook the fact that we are all swallowing our punk credentials by being old, fat and doing it for the money, but as this might be the last chance I get to see them play live, I’ll have to live with that. And that fact that I’ve just screwed my finances for the month will have to go down as a worthwhile hardship.

I just wish I had been able to see The Clash play before Joe Strummer died.

Neuros OSD – A Further Review

Recently I reviewed the Neuros OSD in LUG Radio Season 5, Episode 1 and I was barraged with questions almost as soon as I started so I didn’t get to say half of the things I wanted to and also, I didn’t give an entirely fair representation of the OSD, given that I hadn’t had much chance to try it out, so here is a further review.

The most important thing I missed out was that the OSD can record and encode from pretty much any source, digital/analogue/cable/satellite TV, DVD, VCR etc. If you don’t use the same plug as the US then you’re going to need an adapter. If you live in a PAL area, which is most of Europe, South Asia and most of Africa (apart from much of west Africa) then you need to change the signalling to PAL, as it comes as NTSC by default.

I’m running the latest beta firmware as of 30/09/2007. I use European date format and so should you. Europe invented the rest of the world remember 😉

On LUG Radio I said that it either didn’t play my media at all or that playback was jerky, further testing show that it plays around 80% of my movies and video files without a problem. In fact, after a firmware update, a few files which suffered from jerky playback now play properly, though some still don’t. AVI files worked best, WMVs played audio but no video, Ogg Theora video isn’t supported, though Ogg Vorbis audio is, say 8 out of 10 of my FLV video splayed ok and my single MP4 file didn’t play at all. Yes I know there’s a whole lot more to a codec than the file extension. For codec playback quality, you’re best off reading this page.

So far the problems as I see it are:

  • Jerky playback on around 15% of video files, quite a few people complain about this on the forums and most seem to say it improved with newer firmware, browse the forums for this one. Neuros invite people to send them clips that don’t play well. I also have clips that didn’t play at all. This seems to be an issue with decoding rather than either hardware performance or network bandwidth so far as I can tell. I am copying video files to my USB hard disk as we speak for a playback comparison.
  • No audio track support that I can find. I have a film where Spanish is the default language and I can’t change to the English audio. I haven’t tried movies which use subtitles.
  • No support for DVD menus I don’t think though I did get them to play by using the ‘next file’ type button.
  • Playback on multi-file movies (ie DVD files on a hard disk) didn’t work well for me when forwarding or rewinding across the files. They seemed to keep playing from the beginning of each file or starting from the beginning of the previous file and they lost audio sync.
  • The remote control seems very hit and miss, you have to put it in the right position, like with a TV set top aerial, for it to work.
  • I seemed to get occasional hangs where the thing tried to open a file and it didn’t start playing.

I haven’t tried recording yet.

I hope to update my blog when I have worked out how to fix some of these issues.On the other hand, when playback worked, it was fine. The audio player was fine and the Youtube viewer was great even though it is marked as beta status. Your can get a shell either using the beta application via the TV screen, using the serial console with the supplied cable or telnet. SMB browsing worked fine, although it’s hard work using the remote to key in your username and password and NFS worked fine too, although it’s recommended to use it in TCP mode and it wasn’t picked up automatically, I had to do it via the console (I have this problem on my Linux machines too, so I’m not sure if NFS can be ‘detected’ in the same way that SMB can, or whether I just don’t have it set up).

I believe they are hoping to release a new Neuros next year which will include wireless support and maybe local storage, but I might be making that up, so don’t believe me, read the Neuros website.

For now, I’d say that if you want a device which works almost flawlessly either wait for the issues I have outlined to be fixed or consider that it’s not for you. If you’re happy, like me, to support people making devices that do things the way you want them (ie no DRM, no hardware or software tie in) and you understand that there are problems to resolved which you will have to spend talking to the developers and on the forums to get resolved, then maybe this is for you. Mine cost around £100, at a special LUG Radio Live discounted rate.

My feature request forum post is here.

UPDATE: It seems FLV video is supported, I appear to have been playing the same 1 or 2 bad FLVs each time I tested. Also it was suggested on the forums that DVD playback, including that of DVDs that have been shrunk to below 4.7GB is beyond the hardware of the OSD, which is a shame, but I guess I can rip them down to 700MB AVIs or something.

It’s Coming

The new season of LUG Radio, my first as permanent presenter, starts on Monday 24th September 2007. That’s Season 5, Episode 1 in 3 days from now 🙂

Go listen.

Nice Support, Dude

A colleague of mine just told me of his encounter with Virgin Media tech support yesterday evening. He’s on cable broadband and we need him to have a static IP address to be able to access certain work facilities, so he phoned them up.

It took an hour and a half for Virgin Media’s broadband tech support, including supervisors, to conclude that they didn’t know whether he had a static or dynamic IP address, or if he was dynamic, how he could get a static IP address from them.

They also told him that if he needed to transfer some files from home to work and back then he should just copy them on to a CD and take them with him. This wasn’t a failing of their system in being able to tell them, they just didn’t know what their addressing scheme was or which was provided by which product in their range.

Now let’s not forget, call centre staff are mostly poorly trained and badly treated by their employers and their customer alike, so let’s not shoot them for it, but somebody should at least train them in the benefits of their different packages and whether a certain product provides a dynamic or static IP address. This is supposed to be technical support.

Personally, I found that shocking, so I thought I’d tell everyone. Every service provider in the world has it’s proportion of dissatisfied customers, so remember, don’t shoot the call centre staff, shoot the policy makers and please don’t take this as an opprtunity to make my blog a focal point for venting your spleen about service providers 🙂

UPDATE: In a second call to Virgin Media broadband support, at 75p per minute, my colleague was bounced around from department to department again, before finally being put on to someone who knew about this sort of thing who told him that you can’t statically address connections (and by connection, I assume they mean a cable broadband end-point) otherwise the Internet wouldn’t work. Shocking.

Happy Viewing

After talking with the Neuros guy, Joe Born, at LUG Radio Live 2007, I decided to buy a Neuros OSD at a special LRL discount of £100 including delivery from the US (you need to know the magic code…). I ordered it on Friday and it arrived today. Now that’s service.

The Neuros OSD is essentially a networked audio/visual device, which plays your music and video files and displays your photos from any number of sources, be it across a network using NFS or Samba, from a removable disk over USB and Firewire, from compact flash, SD, MMC and memory stick. It also records and encodes incoming signals from TV, DVD, DVD, PVR, cable, satellite, camcorder etc. The ability to browse and play videos from Youtube was announced in June.

This sounds like a bargain to me. Think Apple TV without the price tag. Admittedly, it doesn’t have built in storage or wireless (though it can allegedly use a USB wireless dongle), it relies on your having USB, Firewire or networked storage but this suits me to the ground. I don’t like my media stored all over the place, I would rather keep it on my desktop and pull it over on demand; and I’d rather do that over 100 Mb ethernet than wireless.

For me, this box just does what I want and a little more. I don’t buy in to the Apple/iPod suite of applications, devices and wallet taxing (Apple announced $200 price cuts on the iPhone today, 2 months after release, in a move which looks a lot like shafting it’s hardcore fans with an early adopters tax). Yes I could have bought a hard disk PVR for a little more, maybe a lot more I don’t know, but this device is small and it means I don’t have to carry a PC from the computer room to the bedroom any more. I also means I don’t have to try to work out why the soundcard isn’t outputting sound to the TV or why the picture from the TV out on my PC is sometimes grey and fuzzy on the TV regardless of OS, resolution or colour depth. And it has a remote control, so no more carrying a keybord to login and mouse to click stuff with.

And another thing. It runs Linux and there is a bustling development community adding new features to the built in software, which you can upgrade at any time you choose, or you can set it to upgrade automatically so you get the latest features at your convenience. It fits in with my recent thought that I should support devices I believe are doing the right thing for their users, or at least are running Linux. I bought a GP2X for the same reason, though admittedly it’s gathering dust since a week after I bought it because I can’t play half of the games I want to without a keyboard or a better controller. There is no DRM here to determine what media I can play on my device or what I can do with media I play on my device like with the iPod, the Zune, and probably the Apple TV. It’s my media, my way.

I’m delighted with this at the moment, but admittedly I haven’t turned it on yet as I’m at work and it cam with a US power adapter, so I’ll have to buy a converter or find a power adapter with the right size plug, ampage and voltage.

Whether this kit is ready for the non-technical user, I’m not sure, but for technical people this is great. Maybe it is if you know how about file sharing and IP addresses or USB disks.

I’ll tell you more when I get the thing turned on.

SNMP and Other Good Stuff

I wrote a basic SNMP and MRTG tutorial for Windows and Linux on my wiki last night, just to collate most of what I’d picked up in the last few months, so go feast yourselves.

Also, I found myself repeatedly referring to a site called Linux Home Networking, which was written by a guy who decided to stop paying for hosting and do it at home instead, so I thought I should share the link with you. The site assumes you have experience with Linux but are a novice sysadmin and covers the basics from networking and interface management, to Apache web hosting, DNS, mail, MySQL, NFS, Samba, NTP, quotas, software RAID, LVM, centralised logins, centralised syslogging, kernel tuning and network monitoring and management with Squid, SNMP, IP Tables, and VPNs.

It’s quite a read for the novice Linux sysadmin or people wanting to set up home servers. It is also available as a paid for PDF and was expanded upon for the book The Linux Quick Fix Notebook. The best thing about the material is that it’s fast to read, much unlike the O’Reilly books on Samba and DNS, where you read 4 chapters on protocol descriptions and background before you touch anything (they still have their place though). It’s a great getting started and as a quick reference manual. No, I’m not on commission. I recommended it to one of my colleagues and I recommend it to you if you’re a budding Linux sysadmin.

While I’m here I’d also like to pimp Howto Forge, a site which publishes constantly new and updated howtos for almost any server or system application, though primarily focused on server stuff for the novice. I keep it in my RSS reader and look at anything I think I might have to do in the future. Again, great for beginning a new learning curve or for one off projects.

But read my SNMP howto first.

I am a Mole

Apologies to those who won’t care in the slightest…

Despite being far from green-fingered, I have an enormous garden. I, or at least Jenny, also has an enormous trampoline. Due to not being very keen in the garden it is frequently hugely overgrown on the top-half which is thankfully hidden from view from the house by several large trees. The bottom half however is a source of pain. It’s visible and that means I have to do something to keep it in some kind of condition, which due to both Jenny and I working full-time and hating gardening, is rare.

So yesterday, for the second time this year, we set about belatedly trying to mow and strim ourselves room to sunbathe and generally enjoy our oversized garden and trampoline. My parents came round with an extra lawnmower and strimmer and about 4 hours later we had a garden again.

We discovered a few interesting things about our garden in between. The first was that we share it with numerous frogs, toads and newts, a number of whom I had to carefully avoid or guide away from danger. We also share it with a small bees nest, which unfortunately I accidentally mowed through as it was hidden in the grass. It seems that came as as much of a shock to the bees as it did to me and I had to spend the rest of the afternoon avoiding 2 or 3 irritated bees who had been out of the nest at the time and were looking for their home. My bad.

The other thing, and this is still amusing me, is that we have a mole. And he lives in a hole. In my garden. So now I keep hearing this daft voice in the back of my head singing “I am a mole and I live in a hole” and it frequently leaks out of my lips, accompanied by mental images of a singing cartoon mole and the Jasper Carrot stand up routine. It has now replaced Jenny’s most disliked phrase of mine after I drove her nuts exclaiming, “Comedy Gold!” in a loud, irritating, borish voice every time I said something sarcastic, which was quite often.

The lower end of the garden, until yesterday covered by a large trampoline and mounds of long grass, is covered by mole hills, which my mother proceeded to flatten with a shovel and tell me that we will have to get rid of it or it will destroy the whole lawn. My reaction was that I don’t really mind sharing my lawn, as we both need somewhere to live and it didn’t deserve to die just so my hardly bowling green standard lawn could look nice.

After being flattened, it looks like a mud patch and despite being slightly amused about having a mole (especially as Jenny mistook my count of the number of molehills for the number of moles, “15 moles?”), I thought nothing more about it apart from planning to tell everyone that I had a mole.

This morning I awoke to see around 6 new, quite large mole hills and a couple of near-surface passageways. So, now I have to decide what to do with my mole and I’d like your opinion, the dafter the better, but perhaps with some useful ideas.

So, with the fact in mind that I have little time to invest in doing it, I ask you the following question:

Do I kill the critter, have the pesky varmint scared away somehow, or just leave it munching worms and laugh at its molehills?

And That Would be Me


Yesterday was Sysadmin Day, the one day per year where you get to show your thanks for the people who set up your PC and network and keep everything working to bring you all of the things you use your PC for. Thats the Internet, E-Mail, your word processor and maintain the networks which allow you to watch Youtube and so on.

We’re the people who answer the phone at 2am on Sunday morning when the E-Mail server dies and we go in to work to fix it. We’re the people who get to ferret around under your desk, dealing with your irritation and frustration at not being able to do what you want as you stuff your face with your lunch while we fix your problem at 1:15 pm, dizzy with hunger, because you did something stupid. We’re the people that Administer the Systems, thats the servers, the networks, the desktop computers. We’re the people that stop you getting spam, viruses, we weigh up thousands of options, possibilities and alternatives to bring you the best service we can and you only bitch when it goes wrong.

And yesterday was your day to say thank you. And I bet you didn’t, but I guess you didn’t realise. I’ve long told people that as a Sysadmin, people don’t really care whether I live or die until something goes wrong, in which case they would like to execute over the phone. It wouldn’t hurt you to show your thanks when one of my fellow Sysadmins saves your day as very few people ever do. It’s a job where people don’t know you exist while things are going well, they only know about you when things go wrong, so in many cases it’s the Chinese doctor approach – it’s my job to make sure it doesn’t become ill, which is of course impossible, just a sliding scale of reducing problems to a minimum. There is a great page on how to help save your sysadmin’s time.

Just say thank you next time and let your sysadmin eat their lunch in peace.

First Thoughts on Fedora 7

So as I said, I installed Fedora 7 and that I’d complain later. Well I installed F7 on a decent box to play with Kerberos, SELinux, LDAP, to give Fedora a shot to see what it’s like on the other side of the fence and to play with stuff like Evolution and a load of other apps which I’ve never given a chance (Evolution irritates me for a number of reasons so I’ve never used it properly). Fedora are doing some cool stuff and I’d like to familiarise myself with some of the stuff that would be useful at work and useful in the future. Besides I think Red Hat are putting together a fearsome stack of middleware, which doesn’t mean so much to me at the moment, but maybe it should and maybe it will in the future.

It seems like a really nice desktop and the theme is great, though I thought the FC6 theme was nicer. I took the tougher path by leaving SELinux in enforcing mode and it hasn’t been a problem yet apart from when it wouldn’t let kadmind, the Kerberos admin daemon touch it’s own log file and after a bit of dithering, I took the SELinux Troubleshooter’s advice and ran restorecon -v /var/log/kadmind.log which solved the problem, guess I should look at what that actually does and whether it’s a bad thing from a security point of view.

A few things I noticed about Fedora:

  • No graphical package manager, or none that I can find.

Why not? Ok, well maybe I missed it out in the installer, I picked all of my own packages. Most people including me know that I can use yum or install synaptic or whatever else the Fedora people use, but well that means people who are new to Linux won’t have a clue what to do to install stuff. Most people don’t know how to search google in way that gets them a specific technical answer, such as how to install software on Fedora. It’s only one thing, but I think this might be among the reasons why Ubuntu seems to be getting more of the new users. Aside from getting it’s name in the headlines and into people’s heads, these things are easy straight off in Ubuntu. Maybe grabbing new users isn’t part of Fedora’s primary objectives, but it ought to be. New Linux users mean mind share, exposure, community and developers and contributors of the future.

  • The fonts don’t look as good as Ubuntu.

Don’t know why that is, they appear to use the same font and the same rendering scheme. It’s a trivial issue but one that bugs me.

  • Gnome starts fast as hell.

Almost immediately after login, I have a desktop. Unbelievable. No splash screen or anything.

  • No installer CD iso

DVD or a Live CD only. This isn’t a biggie but it took a few mins to figure out. On my designated flaky client machines for my Kerberos etc test setup, they only have 256MB RAM, a 2GHz Celeron and a CD drive, no DVD drive, the Live CD craaaaaaaaawls, I’m talking 20-30 seconds for the next step to load from the CD after clicking the Next button. This might be a flaky CD drive though. The installer makes me initialise the swap partition immediately after creation, which is cool by me but later on, the system froze (flaky hardware I suspect) and so I decided to enable the swap partition as soon as I could after the Live CD booted to make the system more responsive, but then the installer kept bailing saying that my swap partition hasn’t been initialized and that I should click OK to reboot, which I dutifully did and left the machine to reboot. Three apparent reboots and 3 aborted installs later and the installer is still saying the same thing, so now I come to the conclusion that clicking OK to reboot isn’t making the machine reboot, so I’ll have to struggle on with no swap and imagine what I could have done with my wasted evening had the machine rebooted when I clicked OK, as the label suggested.

I should abandon my flaky hardware and just use it as an opportunity to try Xen virtual machines as my client machines, but I want to try out real physically networked hardware to make sure my thing is working as I expect, rather than being some fluke which is down to the fact that things are working by being on the same physical machine. I want the packets to go across the wires. I also don’t want to have to learn too many new subjects as once, which might mean I start to forget details as it all merges into one. It also means I won’t fall into the trap where if something doesn’t work I don’t have to dig into several software stacks that I don’t understand to see which one is causing the issue.

  • Fedora has some great GUI tools which make fiddly things simple.

Like switching MTA without having to fiddle with the alternatives command. I did that once for a self-compiled Exim install on FC4 and it was a pain in the ass. Like having an authentication configuration tool to turn on stuff like Kerberos and LDAP authentication. Like GUI tools to manage DNS, Apache and NFS (though I prefer the raw config files for each of these). Fedora make some of the more complicated stuff easy. No more fiddling with PAM, though I will be doing things the hard way. I could at least do it the easy way and then see what the config files look like afterwards.

  • With a little knowledge, Fedora isn’t as package shallow as it might seem

The one thing that has always bugged me about almost every non-Debian based distribution is the package manager and the depth of the repositories. Hand’s down apt and .debs push yum and .rpms into the ground, but yum is usable. It’s a bit irritating how it updates the package lists every time you touch it, but yum is ok. It’s the depth of the repositories that bugs me more. On Debian and Ubuntu (with Universe) you have around 19,000 packages. On Fedora you have a few thousand and that doesn’t include a lot of the things I want in my repositories. It seems that Fedora has quite a few 3rd party repos, such atrpms, thatfleminggent (formerly Enlartenment), livna, dag wieers and so on, you just have to know about them and then work out how to set them up. Once you’ve done it then you’re cool, but it’s still an irritation that you have to trust 3rd party packages, albeit well respected ones. The thing is though, I’ve found that the 3rd party repos tend to install their packages over the official ones where they overlap when you update and in some cases cause dependency problems, so you either have to install what you want and then disable the 3rd party repos and track 3rd party updates for sensitive packages or just live with a mixed system and sometimes broken dependency situation. Maybe I’m just a crap Fedora user.

  • Fedora machines never seem to power down

I’ve never seen one power off and I have 50 at work. They always seem to say they have powered off but don’t. The first version of Ubuntu, Warty, did this, the second, Breezy didn’t. Thats around 2 years ago. Debian hasn’t done this as long as I have used it (Potato was my first I think) and people say Debian is behind the times. Maybe this is a kernel patch that Fedora doesn’t ship for ideological reasons. I don’t know but it gets on my nerves.

Note to Fedora/RH users before they start blowing flames into my comments: I’m happy to hear you tell me how I should be doing it this way rather than that way. Take these comments as coming from an Ubuntu desktop and Fedora/Red Hat/Centos CLI user. I’ve no recent experience of using Fedora as a desktop.

Well thats all for now, more when I’m not pissed off with waiting for a stupid ass machine to install all night.

Back in the Saddle

OK so I have a few seconds to breathe. I finished my last CCNA 2nd semester exam on Tuesday and aced it, which cheered me up as I hadn’t really prepared as well as I should have done.

Since my CCNA is over until September, LUG Radio is on a break for the summer, the extraordinary month or so of late nights spent emailing people to organise LUG Radio Live has completed and Jenny insists on doing all the cooking (I’m a good cook!), I’ve decided to spend my newly found few spare hours swotting up on new stuff that has been bugging me to investigate it for the last year or two, that’s stuff like Kerberos, LDAP, Xen, SELinux and giving Fedora a good shot at my desktop amongst other things. Who knows, I might even get around to doing some more work testing Jokosher, finish setting up my home studio, setting up an Asterisk box and finally learn Python.

Red Hat and Fedora are really rocking in some cool ways at the moment, they have nailed down things which I’m still waiting to see as part of the distribution on Ubuntu like Xen, SELinux and so on. I think the RH/F way on the server is a lot more straight forward too. It was discussed on a LUG Radio episode (one I wasn’t on I think, like that narrows it down…), whether distros offer all of their work to the wider community or whether they keep stuff in house. For the life of me, I could never understand why other distros didn’t use the Mandrake installer back in the day when installers were all text mode only and I still can’t understand why a lot of distros haven’t borrowed Red Hat’s setup tool, y’know, the setup command, not the installer. It makes life so much easier to configure which services run at boot than reading the man page for update-rc.d every time. Ok so maybe it’s easier when you do it on a daily basis, but I shouldn’t have to carry around in my head how to do that when I can run setup and tick boxes. All of the split config for Exim and Apache pisses me off too, it doesn’t need to be that hard. Oh yeah and the last Ubuntu servers I used fell over almost daily, so I replaced them. No more stability problems 🙂

So yeah I installed Fedora 7 on a spare machine and set about configuring Kerberos and some other stuff, I’m kinda stuck now though cos my designated client machines (a couple of flaky cast-off machines) are being flaky and keep croaking during the install. I put this down to bad hardware than a bad installer, but it’s irritating. I’ll complain about this in another post.

So, yeah, having freed up some time, I’ve suitably filled it again but at least it feels like I’m doing something I think is valuable and rewarding. I get bored if I don’t have something to work on or something to learn.

See you in the Experts Lounge.


Received in a logwatch email from one of my servers today:

--------------------- Fortune Begin ------------------------

You will have a long and unpleasant discussion with your supervisor.

---------------------- Fortune End -------------------------


Too Busy to Post

Hi everyone. Well the title says it all. I guess people are waiting for me to post about LUG Radio Live 2007, the announcement of Ade’s departure, LUG Radio Live USA, Adam Sweet’s Gong-a-Thong Lightbulb Talk Extravaganza and what it’s like to stand up in front of 300 people wearing only a thong and so on. Well I just don’t have time to at the moment but I might soon-ish. The same goes for everyone who has been sending me Facebook invitations.

I’ll get around to them soon.

LUG Radio Live 2007

Is this weekend!

If you haven’t bought tickets already, you can still get them on the door. It kicks off this Friday night with the annual meet and drink at the Hogshead pub in Wolverhampton city centre. Then, 10am Saturday morning the doors at the Light House Media Centre in Wolverhampton city centre will open and all of you smelly, unwashed geeks will get chance to gawp appreciatively at the God’s of Internet podcasting… The rest of the LUG Radio team and I will also be there, with the talks schedule starting at 11am.

The day runs through ’til 6pm on Saturday, when we recover ourselves before reconvening for a night of careless abandon at the Light House, drinking until someone falls asleep upside down, while their friends dance badly to the Macarena.

We then meet again at 10am Sunday, nursing sore heads and hurt pride for another day of geekfoolery, before throwing in the towel and taking our sorry selves home, knowing we had a kick ass weekend. That is unless you follow the hardcore amongst us down to one of the hotels for a relaxing Sunday evening wind-down beer.

I didn’t get chance to blog this before as I was swamped and then away on holiday, but the follow up to the Freedom March video was released. I present the second LRL 2007 trailer:

Don’t Listen Alone

This really was a lot of fun to make.

Also, Roger Light (aka Oojah) produced a spoof on the Freedom March video, entitled :

The One Man Freedom March

Absolutely brilliant. That’s all his own hair too, somehow.

All the details you need are at http://www.lugradio.org/live/

See you at the weekend.

Back From Holiday

Got back from a week away on Saturday and back to work today. I didn’t realise how worn down I was, well, actually I did because I felt it, but I didn’t realise how far from normal I was. I’ve been like a zombie for the last 2 months or so, I’ve been pulling late nights at work, trying to get my Cisco CCNA semester 2 finished and helping organise LUG Radio Live 2007. It’s been an exhausting few months.

So, now I’m back in the saddle and it’s all about to happen, my CCNA stuff is all due within the next 2 weeks, it’s LUG Radio Live this weekend and most of my critical work stuff has been done. So, it’s still chaos as I’ll be occupied for at least the next 2 weeks almost 24 hours a day but it will then be over until the new LUG Radio season starts and my 3rd Cisco semester kicks of later in the year.

See you on the other side, gringo.

Bluetooth in Gnome

Ok, so after my rant the other day about making Bluetooth easy in Gnome, I decided to take a look at the situation for the first time in a while.

Yes, it’s been about 6 months or even a year since I last tried to set up bluetooth on Linux and now I have a new Dell XPS M1710 notebook with a built in bluetooth module. So I took a look in Synaptic, I’m running Feisty so maybe it’s easier these days. I installed bluez-gnome and gnome-bluetooth and was able to use my phone to set up a connection to my bluetooth module, enter a pin on my phone, was prompted by my laptop to insert the pin into the dialog box and bingo. I was able to send files to my phone using Nautilus’ Send-to dialog and send files to my notebook after starting the bluetooth daemon and opening Gnome-Bluetooth.

So, success, but it could be easier I guess but it’s not as hard as I remember. All I have to do now is work out how to use my phone as a modem and perhaps browse my phone over bluetooth.

Oh and work out how to get my internal modem to work, but that’s a job for another day.