Friday, July 28, 2006

MP3 Player

We got one of our teenagers an MP3 player for her birthday. Based on reviews and such, I'm pretty excited about this one. It's the SanDisk Sansa e250. The price wasn't outrageous and the functionality is just right.

Navigation is with a mechanical wheel, four buttons and a center button. It has the requisite blue LED lighting effects which looks (the requisite) cool. The screen is large, nicely hi-res and bright. A battery charge is claimed to last about 20 hours. It has a built-in FM radio (which you can record from of course), video player, and picture viewer. You have to convert video and images into a special format before loading them onto the player. It works with WMV and MP3 files (and many others through conversion), and it's compatible with subscription services like Yahoo and Napster. It's nicely small but very cool. Also the plastic front is said by reviewers to be a much harder plastic than that used by ipods and others which scratch easily. The back is metal.

You can change the modes it uses when plugging it in so it either talks to Windows Media Player or it just looks like a USB disk/memory device. I used the latter mode, plugged it into an Ubuntu machine and the mounted disk popped up on the desktop. It was trivially simple to drop music folders into it. (You can include album-cover art, too, but those images have to be converted as mentioned above). When you unmount the USB device it rebuilds it's music database automatically. It also recharges via the USB connector.

What I really like is that there's a microSD slot so you can add more memory (we got the 2-GB version but there are 4-GB and 6-GB). As microSD's get larger this provides a way to grow the player's capacity. Also, and this is very important to me, the Li-Ion battery is user-replaceable!

The main problem now is everyone in my house wants one instead of the lower-cost MP3 players they have now. My problem is that I'm last in the line for MP3 players, probably after the dog…

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Kernel Vulnerability

Ack! Watch out for this Linux kernel vulnerability.

From Debian:

Kernel vulnerability

The kernel vulnerability that has been used for this compromise is referenced as CVE-2006-2451. It only exists in the Linux kernel 2.6.13 up to versions before, and 2.6.16 before The bug allows a local user to gain root privileges via the PR_SET_DUMPABLE argument of the prctl function and a program that causes a core dump file to be created in a directory for which the user does not have permissions.

The current stable release, Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 alias 'sarge', contains Linux 2.6.8 and is thus not affected by this problem. The compromised server ran Linux

If you run Linux 2.6.13 up to versions before, or Linux 2.6.16 up to versions before, please update your kernel immediately.

Here are some postings at LWN starting on 13 July. The discussion revolves around this vulnerability being labeled as leading to a DoS attack but, in fact, it's a root vulnerability.

Ubuntu closed this pretty quickly.

More on MySpace

Another note on the MySpace outage.

Monday, July 24, 2006

New Google Site

A Cnet reporter finds Google's new site (physical, not web).

Note the MASSIVE COOLING equipment on top of each building.

MySpace Outage

I read about the MySpace outage on Slashdot this morning. Here's some additional information.

Cursor Kite

Curt showed me this page about a cursor kite! 8-)

Running Dapper Drake

I did it last week. I installed an Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake instance on my main workstation (which is a Fryes GQPC ($170)). I started using it and haven't gone back to the Hoary Hedgehog (Ubuntu 5.04).

To get it all working required setting up some details, things like copying over my book marks from Firefox and address book from Thunderbird.

One thing I had a terrible time with was getting a file manager icon on the top icon bar. On Hoary it was an app called File Manager and it was simple to add. On Dapper it's actually Nautilus and I finally had to create a customer app launcher to put it there. The binary is nautilus.

Another annoyance from this morning is that, when in Firefox and I Save Image..., Firefox insisted on saving a PNG image as a .cgi file. That's a little messed up and different from the behaviour of Firefox on Hoary. I'm sure it's a trivial fix and it might be a decision vs. just an oversight of some sort, but I won't take the time to dig down into what's going on.

Bill Vass on Virtualization

In a recent email from Sun, here are comments by Bill Vass on virtualization and grid computing. They serve as a very high-level, “executive summary” on the topics.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Future of Computing

From Slashdot,
Penn State computer science professor Max Fomitchev explains that computing has evolved in a spiral pattern from a centralized model to a distributed model that retains some aspects of centralized computing. Single-task PC operating systems (OSes) evolved into multitasking OSes to make the most of increasing CPU power, and the introduction of the graphical user interface at the same time reduced CPU performance and fueled demands for even more efficiencies.

“The role of CPU performance is definitely waning, and if a radical new technology fails to materialize quickly we will be compelled to write more efficient code for power consumption costs and reasons,” Fomitchev writes.

Slow, bloated software entails higher costs in terms of both direct and indirect power consumption, and the author reasons that code optimization will likely involve the replacement of blade server racks with microblade server racks where every microblade executes a dedicated task and thus eats up less power. The collective number of microblades should also far outnumber initial “macro” blades.

Fully isolating software components should enhance the system's robustness thanks to the potential of real-time component hot-swap or upgrade and the total removal of software installation, implementation, and patch conflicts. The likelihood of this happening is reliant on the factor of energy costs, which directly feeds into the factor of code optimization efficiency.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Amazing Space Shuttle Videos

Seth sends this link to amazing video. This one is forward looking (basically up along the shuttle during launch). It's also interesting because, after spashdown, you are looking down into the water and under water where you can see the parachute.
Subject: STS-121 Discovery -- Space Shuttle Mission
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 09:24:22 -0400

Booster cam on the recent shuttle launch. Somewhere past 3 minutes, the booster separates and falls back to earth.
Sometime around 6.30 minutes, the chute stabilzes the descent and at 7.30 minutes the booster hits the water.

Curt also sends this link. This video is backward-facing so you can see the trail and water during the ascent and you are looking down at the clouds and water during the descent. This is what it would be like to ride on the outside of the shuttle!
REAL Video- 12+ mins


1:00 launch
1:30 Good view of Cape
3:00 SRB sep & tumble (blue, black, blue, black...)
5:30 Parachute must've deployed (no more black--all blue)
7:30 splash
These are additional videos pointed to in Curt's note.
Launch, SRB sep, descent, splashdown

7/4/2006 launch

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TSM on FC5

Hah! I finally got dsmc for TSM to run on Fedora Core 5. Here's what I had to do to get the library it needed.

Dsmc was specifically looking for It turns out this library is in some compatibility rpms. Actually I'm not sure which one did the trick since I installed both, in this order.
  • compat-libstdc++-296.i386
  • compat-libstdc++-33.i386
I'm sure those are GCC version numbers, so it's almost certainly the second one that probably overwrote the first that fixed it, now that I look at this (as I write about it!).

What's New?

“Sea over llama.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dm-crypt LUKS Howto

What seems to be a straight-forward HOWTO for dm-crypt and LUKS.

Dmcrypt and Cryptmount

Looking at the links from Wikipedia, dm-crypt and cryptmount look like interesting, current implementations.

More Disk Encryption

Wikipedia also has what appears to be a well-done article on disk encryption and software.

Cryptographic File Storage

Here's a bit of information on cryptographic storage.

This article at Security Focus has a nice intro and covers file encryption.

Here are some examples of so-called “volume encryptors”.
  • PGPDisk
  • Secure File System (SFS)
  • Linux CryptoAPI
  • ScramDisk
According to the above article, “Volume encryptors use the device driver layer to encrypt and decrypt information to and from a physical disk.”

Saturday, July 08, 2006

WX Via Google Search

Here's a Google tidbit. Search using the word weather and a city. For example:

weather Atlanta, GA

Friday, July 07, 2006

Real Self-Driving Love Bug

Okay, here it is! A self-driving car
On a race circuit, it drove itself faster and more precisely than the VW engineers could manage - and can accelerate independently up to its top speed of 150mph.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


When specifying the size of a device in bytes (for example) typically we see a number, we'll call it P here, and a symbol K, M, G or T (and there are more). The problem is that folks allow their definitions of the above symbols to vary.

The actual number of bytes (or whatever) will be represented by N.

Generally, all possible meanings can unfortunately be expressed by:

N = 103n 210m P

where n + m = k.

For the symbols, k has the following values.

K k = 1
M k = 2
G k = 3
T k = 4

Hopefully, n = 0 and m = k but, sadly, that frequently isn't the case.

I think the best and most unambiguous solution is n = m = k = 0 and N = P!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


This morning I was thinking about hyperthreading.

I generally think of process threads as more than one program counter executing in a shared address space. If you have two CPUs, e.g., then each of two threads can execute on each of the two CPUs.

Typically with one CPU it's necessary to schedule instructions from a particular thread on the CPU, then switch to the other thread at some appropriate point.

Hyperthreading is a similar idea handled inside the CPU. Instructions from two streams are decoded into microcode instructions (uops). Where possible different sets of microcode are run “simultaneously” on different execution units of the processor. When this simultaneous scheduling of microcode works, you get something like the performance of two CPUs minus the overhead involved in scheduling and management of two logical CPUs. When one set of microcode has to wait on another, then you are back down to single-CPU performance (and still minus the management overhead, thus the penalty for hyperthreading).

I found a nice article that explains hyperthreading at a useable level of detail.


The Linux Terminal Server Project is quite interesting. Basically it's a deployment of Linux where desktops are relatively low-powered machines (e.g., P75, P133 with 24 MB RAM) that boot and run from a server as diskless X-terminals. There is an Ubuntu-based version!

Ogame MMOG

If you are interested in trying out a MMOG that simulates interstellar colonization and war, check out OGame.

One of my family showed it to me this weekend and it's interesting. You don't have to focus on the game continuously but set operations in motion that continue while you may not even be logged on. The technical organization “feels” a little like Starcraft, but without the point-and-click look and feel.

It's the kind of game a system administrator, or perhaps even a manger, could love.

Gmail for My Domain

I was granted participation in the beta of Gmail for Your Domain and finally pointed my MX records there yesterday. Now Google is handling my personal email directly.

I recently switched from Yahoo to Gmail for personal email after Yahoo just became unacceptably slow and apparently less effective at spam handling.

Gmail for my Domain is excellent so far. The management interface allows one to create accounts, set and reset passwords (and force the user to change them), set up aliases, lists (based on the set of users in the domain) and monitor quota usage.

I'm limited to the number of email addresses I requested in my application.

I also confirmed last night that you can share Google Calendars with users in the domain since it lets you specify the full email address of someone you want to share a calendar with. It all just works!

Chinese Smart Mob

Chinese successfully try out the idea of a smart mob. A fascinating idea…

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mac or Ubuntu

For a long time I've had one eye on the Mac laptops (power books and such). First a friend and former coworker pointed out some years ago that many (or most) UNIX admins around him were using the Mac laptops. Then I've observed a number of them at USENIX conferences. Etc.

This is combined with deciding that my 15-in wide screen Inspiron 8600 is too large for some uses. I really like it for desktop work, conference room work, and working at home when not in my office at home, is really great! But it's a bit too big to haul into Starbucks and I find I tire of dragging it into the office every day. (Typically I don't since I use an Ubuntu system for most of my desktop OS work).

Finally, OS-X has a particular attraction since it bears so much of it's ancestral NeXT OS which I knew well and loved dearly.

So I've been thinking about smaller and lighter wireless devices. But playing with them briefly at the ~Apple store embedded in Fry's, I found the new Macbook and older Powerbook harder to use than the Windows machines. And the Windows machines can (potentially) run Ubuntu, which I generally prefer. The Windows laptops I tried were much snappier. Granted this is typically a matter of tuning and such but I looked at the machine specs and they were about the same. I really, really, really prefer more mouse buttons. (I like three buttons better than two which I like better than one!).

(By the way, I decided the coolest laptop I've seen recently is the Vaio SZ, but it's about as expensive as a Mac laptop! Note however the focus here is on screen, keyboard, and portability).

So this morning this article in Slashdot pops up on the radar about switching from Mac to Ubuntu.

Launch on the Fourth?

I know it's just me, but I probably wouldn't choose to launch the Space Shuttle on the one holiday that's famous for exploding rockets…

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Youtube Video

I've discovered Youtube Video!

The original Allman Brothers Band at Filmore East, Whipping Post Part 1 and Part2.

A Stanley Clarke solo on upright bass that is very much like the performance that my daughter and I saw at Symphony Hall here in Atlanta last Christmas, when he played with Jean Luc Ponty and Bela Fleck as Trio. I've seen him perform twice before, once with the original Return to Forever (!) and a second time sitting on the edge of the stage at the Fox in Atlanta just playing his electric bass for a while. But I was completely blown away by the Trio concert.

Here's an older video of Stanley Clarke on upright bass.

Speaking of Return To Forever, here's The Magician by the original band!

And if you've never seen Michael Hedges (1953--1997) play, these are some of my favorite videos of him “reinventing the guitar.”
Finally, the classical-jazz-rock fusion of Emerson, Lake and Palmer! Here are three versions of Take a Pebble that really show off the greatest progressive rock group of the 70s. All are from around 1970.

(Flash! The third version, though I like it least of the three, is from California Jam in 1974!! Finally video of that concert. There are other clips at Youtube from ELP at California Jam, including Karn Evil 9.)