repak shawahb
the triumph of the grill



Thu, 16 Jul 2009
end of an era; stroker and hoopdisk

The world is a different place.

Last night, after a trip to Fry's, I replaced the last proud vestiges of positron Mk. III, the IBM Ultrastar DNES-318350 U2W SCSI boot drive (a whopping 18.2 Gb!).

Not that it died, or anything; it's still running great, and I'm keeping it as a cold backup of my boot drive. The reason I replaced it is that the SCSI controller was unhappy when I put the computer into ACPI S3 (suspend-to-RAM), or more specifically when the computer resumed operation: it would timeout for almost a minute before doing a bus reset, and I was concerned that this could cause problems with filesystem consistency. Since I'm running XFS, I'm not taking any chances—as far as I can tell, it's somewhat less robust against corruption than EXT3.

The replacement drive is a 500 Gb Hitachi Deskstar, née IBM Deathstar. These days the Hitachis have a better reputation and a 5 year warranty, plus I have my trusty old Ultrastar in case something goes wrong.

Because I don't need much space on the boot partition, I decided to short stroke the drive for a bit better seek performance and thus faster boots. Basically, I made a 30Gb partition at the beginning of the disk, and left the rest to other partitions. Since the partition is small, the average seek time within the partition is much shorter than the average over the whole disk. The rest of the drive I devoted to a swap partition (kind of a waste, but whatever) and—horrors!—a Windows partition.

I haven't run windows on positron since late 1998, which means I broke an even longer standing tradition than my 10 year old SCSI drive by installing it last night. I doubt I'll boot it at all until I start playing some fancy computer game that isn't happy enough on my T61, but it feels really wierd to see Windows booting.

Also, even with a "fully updated" XP SP3 install CD, the install took longer and required more intervention (during and post install when it hadn't gotten my drivers right) than the last Ubuntu install I did (I'm not going to say it was harder than a debian install would be for the average person, but it was certainly more painful for me (in a "guilty conscience" kind of way, really)). I guess most people never install Windows since they just throw away their computer when it becomes too full of viruses, but it's nice to see just how good Ubuntu et al have gotten, especially when reflecting on the computer on whose earliest versions I ran a 1.0.2x kernel. (OK, there is nothing left of that machine but the name, but what's good enough for Theseus is good enough for me.)

Sat, 11 Jul 2009
dude I got a dell

Since I'm going to be doing a bunch of travelling this summer, I decided I wanted a really portable computer. Now, netbooks are all the rage, but I abhor low res screens, and most of them are a paltry 1024x600—utter shit—so I couldn't really get one of those, right? Well...

In the last couple months a new generation of netbooks has become available with higher resolution screens (1366x768) at reasonable prices. (There's also the awesome but stupidly expensive Sony Vaio P with the 1600x768 screen in 9", but I'm not shelling out for that.) At first I dismissed these as lacking, but then I considered that my 14" Thinkpad T30 is ugly but tolerable at 1024x768, so a 1366x768 screen in 10" probably would look pretty nice. Moreover, given that the T30 was previously my best option for travel, I'm going strictly upwards in res, portability, battery life, and modern niceities like USB2. Computing power might be a very small step back from a 1.8 GHz P4-M to a 1.6 GHz Atom Z530, but it's probably not more than 20% or so—plenty for a little travel laptop!

Of the available models, I was most intrigued by the Dell Mini-10 and the Acer AO751h, which are more or less identical. The deciding factor was that I was able to get a refurbished Mini-10 for $330, whereas new both are about $450. Refurbs also have the virtue of shipping really quickly.

The only wart in hardware support is that the Intel GMA-500 video driver is kind of a mess and only readily available under Ubuntu (but it does work for 2d and 3d basically right out of the box). Don't get me wrong, Ubuntu is better than anything RedHat based, but certain pieces of its not-Debianness are annoying as shit. At the end of the day, as long as I can run some combination of fvwm and xmonad (depending on my mood) and apt-get install still works, I'm more or less happy.

Anyhow, for $330 it really can't be beat, and I'm very happy with it so far. Of course, I'll post updates as events warrant.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009
delay this

My Thinkpad T30 had a longtime issue where it would delay for 30 seconds after loading the network card on every boot. I never bothered to debug it until last night, which really makes no sense because I've now got a T61 and (very soon now) a Dell Mini-10 which together obviate the T30 entirely; nevertheless, I'm loyal to this little machine because it's still pretty great.

The issue started after a dist-upgrade several months (or more) ago, so I was thinking it was either the new kernel or maybe udev. After following a couple dead end leads (mostly regarding problems with the Cisco Aironet 802.11 card), I found a couple discussions about udev trying to rename the network cards but getting confused about the dual nature of the Aironet device (i.e., wlan0 and wmaster) and trying to just wait it out. The solution is simple: rm /etc/udev/rules.d/*persistent-net.rules to clear out stale entries from earlier versions of udev.

Note that since I use ifrename I don't care about having persistent network interface names assigned by udev. If you do, your solution may involve deleting this file and then editing the newly created one after a reboot so that your network cards are assigned the right names.

More discussion on this:

Hopefully someone will find this useful.