Apr 102012

I have been rebuilding my home server machine (using Fedora 16) after having to replace the drive. Enough has changed in the packages I’m using (and enough was inadequate or just poorly understood about my previous configuration) that I opted to start more-or-less from scratch.

Kerberos + OpenLDAP + NFS. I want shared home directories (that just might be capable of roaming) and a shared address book. I am surprised that this remains so complicated and poorly documented. Well, calling it “poorly documented” isn’t entirely fair. The packages involved have ample documentation. But that documentation seems generally to be targeted at someone who has some interest in becoming an expert. I do not want to be an expert at this. There are some “how-to”-style guides written by some generous souls on the net; but most of them are out of date and/or cover slightly different scenarios and/or different Linux distributions (which can have nontrivially different default configurations of some packages).

In the face of this, I dipped my toe in FreeIPA. FreeIPA is a project that’s supposed to simplify a lot of this. But it’s not for me. My biggest problem with it is that it targets the enterprise use case and, as such, does a lot of things that I really don’t care about. I also didn’t care for the fact that, for management, it depends on a Web application that I couldn’t get to work anywhere but Firefox.

So, in spite of my frustration with OpenLDAP, I have opted to press forward with it. And my thick-headedness is finally bearing fruit. I have managed to get Kerberos and OpenLDAP playing nicely together, with Kerberos using LDAP for its database. I’ve even found an LDAP browser that doesn’t suck.

Write-ups on how to string this stuff together on modern Fedora will be forthcoming.

 Posted by at 5:03 am
Jul 052010

I use a Kinesis ergonomic keyboard. I use a mouse as well; but I like having a touchpad handy. They’re especially convenient for scrolling without going to the mouse.

Considering how widespread touchpads are on laptops, they’re rather scarce as desktop accessories. Aside from Cirque’s Smart Cat line (also rebranded by Adesso), there’s really not much out there.

I tried perching a Smart Cat in the (rather abundant) space between the Kinesis keyboards key wells. I had to replace the rubber feet with thicker ones to raise it up a tad; this surface of the keyboard where it sits is slightly convex. But it was never as convenient to use as I’d hoped. I thought this was because, between the rubber feet and the thickness of the device, it just wound up being raised up too much.

I came across ErgonomicTouchpad.com a few months back. This site looks like it could have been adapted from a television infomercial; so someone capable of firing a synapse will naturally feel somewhat embarassed while looking at it. What they’re selling is simply a touchpad with the same characteristics as the Cirque GlidePoint (i.e., tap-click, secondary tap-click in the upper right corner, vertical scroll on the right) with no bezel or housing to speak of—just a velcro backing. Two sizes are available. The larger one fits comfortably in the same spot where I had the Smart Cat; and I figured it would resolve the height issue I had with the Smart Cat.

And I suppose it did. But rather than be easy to use, it just pointed out that the device height wasn’t really the problem. The problem was that I still had to pick my hand up off the keyboard to use it. And if I was going to do that, I might as well use the mouse.

So now I’ve got the little one positioned between the thumb keys on the keyboard. This works pretty well. I can just slight my right hand over a bit to work the scroll area; and if I pivot my hand, I can work the touchpad with my index finger.

Kinesis keyboard with touchpad

Kinesis keyboard with touchpad

Jul 032010

So I’ve been pondering the prospect of building a Linux HTPC using MythTV. Unfortunately, the HD picture looks…bleak.

From what I’ve been able to find out from browsing the MythTV wiki, you can get Linux-supported cards that can read an unencrypted HD signal; but service providers encrypt everything but your local channels. So what’s the fucking point?

It appears that one’s options are to either get a Windows PC equipped with a CableCARD, or TiVo.

Well, I’m not setting up a Windows PC for this. No way.

I’d been idly wondering how TiVo manages to stay in business these days; but now that I look at what they’re offering, it’s not a bad deal. They charge for the box less than it would cost me to build an HTPC that I’d be satisified with. Their box is probably smaller, too. And I see it has an eSATA port; so hopefully that means that it can record to an external drive. Their service fee is a bit less than what Verizon wants to charge me for their DVR. Now, Verizon has waived their DVR equipment fee for the first year; but after that year, TiVo’s deal will look even more attractive.

Jun 212010

I’ve upgraded to WordPress 3.0. I’d like to think that the security holes that have accommodated previous defacements of this site have been fixed; but I’m really not terribly optimistic. We’ll see.

 Posted by at 3:09 am
Jan 232010

I suspected rail had a dodgy stick of memory ever since I set it up last summer. If I tried to run the memory at the speeds it was spec’d for, it wouldn’t count up all 12 GB during POST. By November, things had deteriorated further and I began experiencing Strange Problems (random system freezes or failure to load the kernel). Mushkin swapped out the failed stick.

My machine had been running maybe a week with the replacement stick when I once again began to experience Strange Problems. My first assumption was that they’d sent me a bad stick; but no: upon investigation, it was another stick from the original set that had failed. At this point, Mushkin acknowledged that the part I had was known to be failure-prone (well, they had hinted at this when replacing the first stick) and they offered to swap out the whole lot of six sticks. And they would even cross-ship and cover shipping both ways. Cool.

Unfortunately, the new set of six seems to have included another bad stick. After continuing to experience random system freezes, I think I isolated the problem stick: one of the lot always dumps me into BIOS setup when I boot with only it. Mushkin is replacing this stick.

Mushkin’s customer support has been pleasant to work with; and they’ve certainly stood behind their product. But I can’t say I’m satisfied with the quality control. Or is this just par for the course for high performance DDR3 memory?

 Posted by at 1:04 pm
Aug 102009

A little over a week ago I rebooted hinge after a round of Fedora updates and the RAID card—a 3ware 9550SX—saw neither of the discs in my RAID1 array and failed to load its BIOS. I promptly powered down the system and proceeded to search eBay for a replacement card. A few days later, I swapped in the not-quite-new card I got from an eBay seller; and the machine recognized the drives and booted into Fedora like nothing had happened.

Well, there was one tell-tale sign: on the initial boot-up, the second drive was marked “Not used” in the BIOS boot screen. A trip into the RAID card’s BIOS configuration showed a note by the entry for the array, “Rebuild on F8”. Well, F8 is how to exit the BIOS setup. So I proceeded to do that; and sure enough, the rebuild apparently happened in the background without me noticing anything—because now the array pops up on boot just like it did before the old card failed.

So, props to 3ware for failing gracefully. I set up this RAID array for my home directories precisely because I accept the inevitability of hardware failures. The irony of having the RAID card itself fail is not lost on me; I’m nonetheless impressed with just how smoothly recovery proceeded.

 Posted by at 9:48 pm
Jun 292009

I have finally liberated myself from the mail storage format/layout of a particular mail client: I have set up a dovecot IMAP server. I’m using fetchmail to pull down mail from my SpamCop account and dovecot’s CMU Sieve plug-in for filtering. It seems to work quite well. I can point any IMAP client (including the one on my new iPhone 3G S) at endoframe.net and read e-mail in one centralized location.

The most painful part of this has been (and continues to be…I’m not done yet) moving e-mail from Evolution‘s store to IMAP folders. I am an e-mail pack rat, which means I have several very large mail folders. Unsurprisingly, these can take some time to move. More annoyingly, Evolution tends to crash at the end of moving particularly large folders. Fortunately this hasn’t resulted in any actual data loss (yet?). It seems to crash after it’s copied everything over to the new location, during deletion of the messages at the old location.

Jun 272009

As my last posting was about installing Fedora 10, I suppose I’m due for another now that I’ve installed Fedora 11. Ahem.

I put together hinge in 2005. hinge is a dual Opteron machine based on Tyan’s Thunder K8WE motherboard. It remains a very capable piece of hardware; but it is showing its age. Among other things, the older Opterons in the box don’t seem to support the fancy new virtualization stuff in Linux. So I figured it was time for an upgrade.

The new machine, bolt, uses an Asus Rampage II GENE motherboard in a Lian Li PC-A01 case. This is a really neat compact case that still manages to accommodate a standard ATX power supply. I think Lian Li has discontinued it; but it can still be found for sale at a few places online.

hinge has now assumed the role of file server. It has a 3ware RAID card running a couple of terabyte drives in a RAID1 configuration where I’ve put home directories, source code revision control repositories, and miscellaneous shared files.

At this point I’ve installed Fedora 11 on both hinge and bolt. There were a few hiccups; but things went much smoother than they did when I installed Fedora 10. NetworkManager has improved by leaps and bounds, but still seems to have some rough edges: when using it (instead of the old network daemon), I can’t get ypbind to come up a boot. Oddly, it comes up fine after booting.

Configuring NFSv4 and NIS was a bit rocky, but that was my fault a lot more than it was Fedora 11’s. Having now resolved those issues, I’m pretty pleased with this Fedora release.

 Posted by at 3:57 am
Nov 202008

So Evolution decided to go sideways yesterday. I think this was prompted by me changing my SMTP server password. But rather than prompt me for a new password, Evolution simply froze when sending mail. As in “by-all-appearances-totally-hosed-because-the-UI-hasn’t-been-even-redrawn-in-several-minutes” frozen. Attempts to make Evolution forget the old password don’t change this outcome. Ugh.

While it would be ever so slightly gratifying to report a bug on this issue, I figure the Evolution developers won’t be particularly interested since I’m using version 2.22 and the latest is 2.24. Hell, I’d be inclined to blow me off on that basis. And I figure, “The Fedora 10 Preview has Evolution 2.24, I can just update to that.” What could go wrong, right? Well, if you’re the least bit familiar with these things, you know lots can go wrong; and you’re probably figuring that this is where things really start to go south.

But it’s not. In defiance of the odds, that part went okay. And when it was done, the shiny new Evolution 2.24 installation would send mail just fine. There was only one niggling problem: attempting to compose a new message now froze Evolution. Okay, so it just went mostly okay.

Ugh. But at this point I’m inclined to blame myself. After all, I knew I was tempting fate by upgrading to a partial set of Fedora 10 Preview packages. So I figure there must be some poorly-connected dependency I need to upgrade; and I figure “Fuck it; just upgrade the whole damn thing.” And I proceed to torrent the Fedora 10 Preview DVD image.

Deluge pulls it down at around 1 MB/s. Nice. On my bottom-tier cable connection. And I proceed to burn the disc image.

Hmm… Can’t mount that one. Crap. Try again (with Nautilus), but at a slower burn speed.

Damnit. That one won’t mount either. WTF? Check the SHA1 sum. It’s good. Okay, install K3B and try it. Its interface is a mess; but at least it’s produced reliable results in the past.

Fuck. Number three won’t mount and won’t boot. Another coaster.

Or is it? Stick it in the MacBook Pro. Hm. That reads it fine. Hm. Now let’s try stile (which runs i386 Fedora 9). Well fuck me. stile mounts it and boots it as well.

So let me get this straight: my DVD burner on hinge will burn apparently-valid DVDs that the same damn burner can’t read.

Fuck you, Plextor. Fuck you real hard.

This afternoon I ordered a Samsung DVD burner from Newegg for $28. I think I paid around $150 for the Plextor drive three or so years ago.

Meanwhile, I seem to have updated enough packages over the Internet to make Evolution happy. I’m trying to avoid updating X and the kernel so that I can keep my Nvidia driver happy.

 Posted by at 5:57 am