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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 18 Feb 2014

It's been nearly three years since I started using Ode

I took a look back today, and I learned that I started using Ode as my main blogging platform two years and 9 months ago. Call it "nearly three years," because that makes for a nice headline.

I suppose I could wait three months and write this post then. I'll probably do that, too.

But for today, I'd like to thank Rob Reed for all the care and feeding he has put into Ode over the years and all the help he's given me and the others who have used this software.

While Perl-powered CGI is as old as the hills, Ode does blogging in a way that is very satisfying for me. I'd rather write Markdown-tagged text files on my local machine and move them over to the server than work through a web interface (though Ode has one of its own in the form of the terrific EditEdit addin, which I do use on occasion).

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Fri, 14 Feb 2014

Linux init-system shocker: Mark Shuttleworth announces that Ubuntu will follow Debian and adopt systemd

You can knock me over with a feather right this very moment: Mark Shuttleworth announced in his blog that Ubuntu will follow Debian in adopting systemd as its init system, even though Ubuntu itself coded the alternative Upstart:

Upstart has served Ubuntu extremely well – it gave us a great competitive advantage at a time when things became very dynamic in the kernel, it’s been very stable (it is after all the init used in both Ubuntu and RHEL 6 ;) and has set a high standard for Canonical-lead software quality of which I am proud.

Nevertheless, the decision is for systemd, and given that Ubuntu is quite centrally a member of the Debian family, that’s a decision we support. I will ask members of the Ubuntu community to help to implement this decision efficiently, bringing systemd into both Debian and Ubuntu safely and expeditiously.

I thought Ubuntu would fight to the end, but the SABDFL appears happy to offload init-system development to Lennart Poettering and company. A wise move, I think. Canonical's resources are spread thinly enough that anything not directly related to getting their phone OS to market should be seen as ripe for offloading to other parts of the community.

I'm nowhere near qualified to opine on which init system is better, systemd, Upstart or even the old SysVinit, but it was clear in the debate coursing through the Debian mailing lists over the past month that the licensing of Upstart, which required contributors to sign a Canonical CLA (contributor licensing agreement) that allowed the company to make the code proprietary in the future, was a huge, huge nonstarter for many free software advocates.

So Upstart will ship in the Ubuntu 14.04 LTS release, and all derivatives like Kubuntu and Xubuntu, which are due in April. These long-term-support releases will be around for five years, so Upstart isn't exactly dead yet, though it's quite the lame duck.

I installed SpeedFan in Windows 8

In an attempt to get a handle on Windows 8 performance on this hardware, I installed SpeedFan 4.49.

Quick tip. Avoid crapware and get the download here.

SpeedFan isn't pretty, but it works well. I can monitor CPU, GPU and disk temperatures. It also keeps an eye on GPU voltage, CPU frequency, battery charge state, uptime and CPU load.

SpeedFan can also manually adjust your fan speeds. I'm not interested in that so much, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

In case you're wondering, Windows 8 doesn't run any cooler on this HP Pavilion g6 than Fedora 20 with either the proprietary Catalyst driver or the open Radeon driver with Radeon DPM activated.

Wed, 12 Feb 2014

'How to Sharpen Pencils': the documentary

All about the point:

HOW TO SHARPEN PENCILS from Pricefilms on Vimeo.

How I fixed my Fedora 20 system when it stalled before the display manager appeared

This is a rewrite of My Fedora 20 system dies for a day, but I find the culprit. I started the original entry before I figured out the solution, and I wanted to tell it chronologically. And so I do:

Ever since I got suspend/resume working in Fedora 20, I've been rebooting maybe once a week. That's because I love suspend/resume.

I love being able to close to laptop lid to put the machine to sleep and open the lid to wake it up.

But since the battery was running low a few nights ago, I decided to do a full shutdown.

I turned the laptop on the next day, and it wouldn't boot into Fedora proper. I couldn't get to the login screen.

I was able to boot into rescue mode. All my files were there. They looked fine. That's the good news.

But when trying a normal boot, sometime during the process the machine just stalled. There was nothing I can do to get it to finish booting and give me either a console or desktop.

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Tue, 11 Feb 2014

The 3.13.2 Linux kernel is being built right now for Fedora 20

Keeping an eye on Koji, especially for the Linux kernel, is a great way to see when an update is imminent for Fedora.

Today I see that a 3.13.2 kernel is being built for Fedora 20. That means F20 users will start seeing it in their updates sometime in the near future.

You could always grab it early (though the build isn't completed at this particular moment). I'll wait. I just got 3.12.10, and I already invoked Radeon DPM (which will be turned on by default in 3.13.x), so there's no hurry.

Mon, 10 Feb 2014

My Fedora 20 system dies for a day, but I find the culprit

This entry has been rewritten as How I fixed my Fedora 20 system when it stalled before the display manager appeared. I recommend reading that version.

Update: After booting into runlevel 3 (putting the number 3 into the GRUB boot line), I had no trouble logging into a console. Then I attempted to start X, and the system stalled. It was fglrx/Catalyst that was keeping me from getting to the display manager.

I removed AMD Catalyst. The system started working again. But back under the open-source Radeon driver, the laptop was running 20 to 50 degrees hotter than with the proprietary Catalyst driver.

Rather than reinstall Catalyst right away, I decided to try implementing Radeon DPM (Dynamic Power Management). DPM is a feature of Catalyst that is just coming to the open-source Radeon driver.

I'm running kernel 3.12.10, and Radeon DPM won't be implemented by default until 3.13. For now it has to be switched on with a kernel boot parameter.

The last time I tried forcing DPM in GRUB, I didn't get good results. This time it worked great.

I tested it by adding radeon.dpm=1 to the GRUB the boot line. The CPU temperatures and fan speeds were comparable to what they were under Catalyst (cooler and slower, respectively), and 3D hardware acceleration was working.

I did get something else from running Radeon instead of Catalyst: The screen dimming/brightening when running on battery power works (unlike with Catalyst). That means the screen dims when the laptop is not being used but brightens up when you start using it again. With Catalyst you had to manually increase brightness after returning to the machine.

So I modified GRUB to take radeon.dpm=1 permanently (instructions forthcoming).

The Linux gods give. And take. With Radeon (and not Catalyst) I lost suspend/resume. I'm not happy about it.

But having a working system again -- and having it without the bother of an unpackaged, closed-source Catalyst driver -- is a fair tradeoff. For now.

The original, before-I-fixed-it post starts below:

Ever since I got suspend/resume working in Fedora 20, I've been rebooting maybe once a week. That's because I love suspend/resume.

I love being able to close to laptop lid to put the machine to sleep and open the lid to wake it up.

But since the battery was running low last night, I decided to do a full shutdown.

I turned the laptop on today, and it wouldn't boot into Fedora proper.

I can boot into rescue mode, and all my files are there and look fine (that's the good news). But sometime during the boot process it just stalls. And there's nothing I can do to get it to finish booting and give me either a console or desktop.

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Wed, 05 Feb 2014

Fedora 20 is looking kind of mature these days

With the release of Fedora 21 delayed by at least three months due to the ramping up of the Fedora.Next initiative, the project's current release, Fedora 20, is likely to be the closest thing users will ever get to a "long-term support" release from the Red Hat-sponsored community project.

And I plan to enjoy it.

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In the Fedora installer, you can choose your desired desktop (and Debian does this, too)

Fedora's Software Selection spoke in Anaconda

After hearing the Linux Luddites guys talk about how Debian's installer and documentation sort of hide the option to install alternative desktops (though the wiki does cover it) and following the "Fedora.Next" debate on the mailing list about the future of spins, I came across the documentation for Fedora's software-selection "spoke" in the new Anaconda installer.

It's been so long since I've done a Fedora install (I've had this system since about May 2013) that I forgot about the part of the new Anaconda installer that defaults to the GNOME desktop but allows you to deselect GNOME and choose KDE, Xfce, LXDE, Cinnamon, MATE or Sugar and then go back to the "hub" and continue with the installation tasks, eventually (hopefully) ending up with a functioning Linux installation.

Say what you will about the Anaconda installer, especially the new "hub and spoke" version (and much of what has been said is far from kind), but the ability to select any of the major desktops during the installation process is a win.

Not that (as I've noted above) you can't do that with the Debian installer, but amid all the back-and-forth over Fedora spins in Fedora.next, it's nice to know you can download and burn a single Fedora disc or flash drive and use it to install the desktop environment of your choice.

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Mon, 03 Feb 2014

Another Buddy Burden meditation on programming: Perl gets shit done

Buddy Burden released the next post in his series on programming, life and everything.

As I said recently, I'm a huge fan.

This one is about "getting shit done":

I’m one of those people who wants to write code to solve every problem that comes along.  If I could figure out how to make a Perl script make my bed, or clean my room, then those things would certainly get done a hell of lot more often.  I’d put it in a cronjob.

I’ve written code to calculate my kids’ allowances, email daily chores to them, track my hours for clients, keep track of info when hiring employees, reset the database for my music player, search for things in my instant messaging logs, organize my music collection, figure out how much space I have left in my Dropbox, balance my checkbook, query package management systems regardless of which flavor of Linux I happen to be running at the moment, calculate Weight Watchers points, track my todo list, count lines of code, print out certain lines from a file, and make a Gimp plugin to help me make cards for my favorite wargame ... and that’s just a small fraction. 


I write a lot of code, even outside work.  If there’s any obvious way to use code to solve a problem (and sometimes even if the way is non-obvious), I’m going to write a program.  I can’t fix a car, I suck carpentry and plumbing, I’m not very good at yardwork or gardening, and I’m not even particularly useful at administering my family’s eclectic collection of personal computers, laptops, and tablets, but I can write the hell of out of some code.  And I’m the type of person who will gleefully spend days trying to solve a problem with code that I could have probably just done manually in a few hours, because I don’t mind spending days on a program, ’cause it’s fun.  But just because I don’t mind it doesn’t mean I want to do it all the time.  What I’d really prefer is to get in, write the code, and get out.  Just Get Shit Done.  And that’s what Perl lets me do.

That's a programmer, all right. I don't usually drop quotes this big into entries, but there's way more I could have quoted from this excellent entry.

Again, the entire series is essential reading.