Monday Aug 18, 2008

Intercontinental demand load balancing (outsource your carbon footprint!)

PearseStationDuringAug2008SolarEclipse
While visiting family in Wisconsin last summer, I learned that a Sun Ray client attached to servers more than 3500 miles away performed at least as well as a client at my home 8 miles away and nearly as well as clients right in the Dublin office. So, I was able to use Irish wind energy while working in a coal powered corner of Wisconsin. I wondered if this technique could be formalized into demand side transcontinental IT energy load balancing GRID? I wrote up the idea and with Sun's help, it was published in the September issue of Research Disclosure. At a time when oil prices are soaring and some are predicting that up to 50% of electricity load might eventually be devoted to IT, I can think of quite a few possibilities for this kind of grid system:

  • Efficient alternative to carbon tax and trade:Wisconsin and many other parts of the world is not suitable for solar, wind, tide, hydroelectric or geothermal energy. When carbon taxes are enacted, places such as these could be at a severe economic disadvantage compared to Nevada, California and other places where carbon neutral energy sources are abundant. Industries in these places have few alternatives. They could wait for superconducting electricity grids and buy energy from elsewhere, they could pay the carbon tax and buy credits from other states, they could send jobs and industry to where energy is cheap and clean, or they could use demand load balancing to keep jobs and outsource the energy demand.
  • Failsafe UPS:When I worked in South Florida, we could almost set our watches by the daily summer thunderstorms. Sometimes it would knock our power out five times a day. Even if the power glitch lasted only one second, it took the DEC servers a half hour to reboot and certainly disrupted our work day. Ideally, our servers would have been hosted somewhere where electricity was more reliable. A small solar panel (~3500 Watts) on the roof would have been sufficient to power 150 Sun Ray clients and their monitors. The lack of servers in our office would have also made it easier for our HVAC system to cope with the Florida heat.
  • Shifting peak demand: Our least efficient, most expensive and most polluting power plants usually come on line during periods of peak demand. I've heard that some utilities paid as much as $0.45/kWh for peak electricity transferred over the conventional "supply side" electricity grid. Ever since air conditioning became popular, Wisconsin electricity demand peaks during late afternoon on the hottest days of summer. By contrast, Florida power demand peaks during the coldest winter nights because thats the only time of year when simple but inefficient electric heating systems are necessary. While there may be some occasions when both Florida and Wisconsin are at peak demand, IT demand load grid balancing could transfer load between northern and southern hemispheres if necessary. Use Australian solar energy to power your data center during a cloudy Irish winter night. Use Irish wind to power your Australian data center during a windless day.
  • Optimizing peak load across timezones:One of the reasons Dublin's Sun Ray servers seemed faster to me when I was working from Wisconsin is that by noon Wisconsin time, many of the local users in the Irish timezone would have gone home. If the global grid load balancing system were smart enough, it could predict when and where server resources would become available. As timezones approach the end of their workday, they would advertise that resources are becoming available for timezones to the west. This could help flatten the daily energy demand peaks and allow us to use more efficient power sources.
.

If anyone has suggestions or alternative ways of using energy, I'm open to comments. Or you might want to consider writing up the idea and submitting it for possible publication at Research Disclosure. This is a useful publication service which allows the free exchange of ideas, while discouraging patent trolls.

August 16, 2008 Lunar Eclipse from Malahide Ireland

Lunar Eclipse, Malahide Aug 16, 2008
We had about three minute long cloud break during Saturday's lunar eclipse. The photo shows the moon rising in partial earth shadow. Malahide's St. Sylvester church is in the foreground. Moments later the clouds closed in and the mosquitoes descended upon us. It was time to go home.

Monday Aug 11, 2008

Angry about your personal data being "lost" to criminals? Tell someone about Sun Ray!

Another day, another laptop stolen, another 106,000 personal bank account details release to a criminal via theft of a laptop. Sigh. The first time a businessman offered to enter credit my card details into his laptop in the parking lot of his company, I cringed and my wife (who was then a loan officer) sternly reminded him of the dangers of identity theft. A few years later I learned that the blood clinic where I donated lost records on an unencrypted laptop, and now an Irish government laptop containing thousands of personal records went missing. I'm beginning to lose my patience about the lack over government and business stewardship of personal details. It's even more frustrating working for Sun and knowing that if the SunRay/Gobi laptop or any of the Sun Ray clients in our office were ever stolen, the criminal would get nothing, zip, zero, nada.

[Read More]

Tuesday Jul 15, 2008

Thanks to the organizers of GUADEC 2008!

Istanbul Sunset

Many thanks to the organizers, volunteers and Gnomers who helped make GUADEC 2008 possible! There were a few glitches (please open up SSL and VPN ports next time!), but overall it was a success. I also appreciate being able to present my talk on measuring the GNOME footprint. If I'd anticipated the interest, I would have gone into more detail regarding the extensive use of dtrace in this study, but John Rice covered that well in his talk. I'll try to post the details here as soon as possible. I also appreciate the fact that my friend Andrei, a Google Summer of Code student, is eager to use some of my techniques in his memory profile study. It was great to see my friends again and I look forward to seeing them again at a future GUADEC!

The attached photo is an QtpfsGUI tonemapping of a RAW image I took from the roof of our hotel one night. Istanbul is truly an amazing city and though this image doesn't exactly capture the experience of being there, I hope it captures something of the mood.

Friday Jun 20, 2008

My OpenSolaris for Developers talk at the Irish Opensource Technology Conference

I should thank the sponsors and organizers of the Irish OpenSource Technology Conference (IOTC) for giving me the opportunity to present OpenSolaris as an Open Source Developer Tool to some of Ireland's brightest and most energetic open source developers. There were quire a few university attendees and Barry was able to bring in people from small and midsized Irish companies such as openApp and hosting365 as well as multinationals such as Microsoft, IBM, RedHat, Sun and AIB (more about this later!)

My talk seemed to be well understood by the audience and I managed to empty out a heavy backpack full of ¨Free as in Free" OpenSolaris 2008.05 CDs afterwards. I didn't have enough time to talk about SMF or PKG(5) in detail, but I did spend some time on ZFS and Dtrace; both of which I'm certain would be useful to any Open Source developer. Even if your pointy-haired boss demands that you must code your application in VisualBasic and deploy on Redhat 3.5 via Wine, you can sneak OpenSolaris onto one of your QA department's test boxes and run your software in a zone where you can dtrace it. Or you could set up an OpenSolaris file server with ZFS snapshots as frequently as necessary (perhaps every keystroke for some UIDs?) I won't tell anyone... honest ;-)

[Read More]

Saturday Jun 14, 2008

How to keep gam_server from doing too much

The Gamin file monitoring subsystem was introduced to OpenSolaris a few months ago. Since it monitors file changes, there are cases where it can become very busy and consume significant system resources. Most of the resource consumption issues will probably be fixed by build 92, but for those of us running OpenSolaris 2008.05 or Nevada builds before build 92, or those of us with special requirements such as remote NFS mounted home directories, AlekZ's Scratchpad has a very nice workaround to put gam_server back in its place. I'd recommend the following slightly modified workaround:

   1. Create /etc/gamin directory:
      # mkdir /etc/gamin

   2. Create file /etc/gamin/gaminrc. It may contain the following lines (this is just an example, you can set your own polling intervals):
      fsset nfs poll 15
      fsset ufs poll 15
      fsset lofs poll 15
      fsset zfs poll 15

   3. Restart gam_server (let me know if there is a better way):
      # pkill gam_server ; rm -rf /tmp/gam_\*
    

Friday May 23, 2008

HDR Images with Qtpfsgui

Blossoms near estuary Malahide Castle woods photo

I've been experimenting with tone mapping RAW images with the Qtpfsgui OpenSource tool. It's always difficult to get the sky and foreground things (like spring tree leaves or cherry blossoms) to be simultaneously exposed properly. In the chemical photography days, you'd have to dodge and burn in tiny areas of the photo to properly compress reality's tonal range onto the limited dynamic range of paper prints. I'd like to build Qtpfsgui for OpenSolaris, but it looked like the GNU/Linux versions depended on a particular development environment. Now I see that some versions seem to have been built with cmake which is portable to OpenSolaris. I'll let you know if I figure out how to build it.

Google streetview goes to Wisconsin


View Larger Map

Google's GPS equipped cars visited Southeastern Wisconsin last summer, during some of the best weather Wisconsin has to offer. They visited my home town during one of the brightest days. It's amazing how thoroughly they've covered southeastern Wisconsin, practically every road and even the blue sky above in photos that are much sharper than those I've seen taken nearer to Google's California headquarters.

It's strange to be sitting over 3000 miles away and see neighborhoods I never visited while growing up there. I understand the privacy concerns. When virtually touring narrow streets in Racine such as Gideon Ct., you almost expect people to come out and yell at you for stepping on their flowerbeds. It is useful to see a destination before driving there for the first time and it's nice to be able to show friends the house I grew up in and also the brick houses overlooking Lake Michigan that my Pomeranian ancestors built when they emigrated to the U.S. in the mid 19th century.

[Read More]

Wednesday May 14, 2008

Spring in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Spring 2008 photo

I recently returned to a visit with the family in Wisconsin. After more than 100 inches of snow in what was one of the snowiest winters since 1979, very few people were happy to see April snow showers. But we were. After a few grey wet Dublin winters, we enjoyed the April snowfall. The snow only lasted a few hours and spring came back in full force a few days later with temperatures in the 70s.

[Read More]

Friday May 02, 2008

Linux crash at 35000 feet (what happened to QA?)

The Aer Lingus Airbus 330-300 that my family took to the U.S. a few weeks ago was equipped with video screens on every seat. Each passenger had the choice of several video games, songs, TV shows and movies. My wife watched Cecelia Ahern's tearjerker "P.S. I love you", and after checking the options, I started the same movie about 30 minutes later on my screen and started a Snoopy/Charlie brown cartoon on my daughter's screen. It's pretty impressive when you think about it. The Airbus 330-300 can hold over 200 passengers and I'd expect that decent quality small-screen video requires about 1MB/sec. Hmm, come to think of it, 200MB/sec isn't that impressive, I think my old G3 powerbook usually managed to keep up with that speed of video data on its firewire port, but somewhere, one or more CPUs is very busy uncompressing up to 200 streams of video data.

The most interesting part of our experience came when my daughter decided that the sardonic "Peanuts" cartoon wasn't what she wanted so I hit the home menu button about 3/4ths of the way through her movie. The very instant I hit the home menu button, her screen went black and began booting a version of Red Hat Linux. Then I noticed that my screen and my wife's screen were also booting Linux. I looked around me, everyone's screen was scrolling the ugly text of the Linux kernel boot sequence, a tiny penguin peered from the upper left corner of each screen. "Did I do that?", I wondered. A few minutes later everyone was back to their movie as though nothing had happened. My wife commented that people have become so accustomed to computers crashing that this didn't surprise anyone. It looks like I'm not the first to have seen Linux crash onboard a flight. Another friend told us of a similar failure which wasn't resolved even after someone came from the cockpit on their flight in a failed attempt to repair and reboot the same entertainment system. Now if it might be necessary for someone to come from the cockpit to fly an entertainment system, shouldn't that entertainment system go through some good A?

Even with the occasional crash, X86 hardware running Red Hat Linux with MythTV or some other PVR software may be adequate for an in-flight entertainment system. Let's just hope the software used for fly-by-wire and air traffic control is more robust and more well-tested.

Tuesday Apr 22, 2008

All time environmental boondoggle awards

It isn't always obvious to people outside of the U.S. why Joe-sixpack seems to have such a powerful allergy to conservation, efficiency and sensible environmentalism. The reason is that pseudoenvironmentalists have tried to pull the wool over his eyes many times in the decades since the first earth day, and because of the abysmal level of Joe-sixpack science literacy, they've usually succeeded. Wisconsin's Bill Proxmire was known as the founder of Earth Day and for his "golden fleece" awards for wasteful Congressional spending. In his honor, here are my nominations for the all time greatest environmental boondoggles:

  • Magnetic gasoline mpg enhancers. (Add to this the German device which detects the "tachyon signature" of nuclear generated power and stops such energy at your outlet.)
  • 1970s rooftop solar heating. Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair here. Some of these actually did produce heat, some even produced enough to pay for themselves over a decade or two. But because the qualification standards for President Carter's eco-subsidies weren't well enforced, many hideously inefficient devices were constructed. Sometimes the cost of the electricity to run the water pumps, the leakage of home heat on winter nights and other issues caused these devices to waste more energy than they saved and gave solar a bad name which hasn't yet been overcome in many parts of the U.S.[Read More]

Thursday Apr 03, 2008

Serving Sun Rays from inside a VirtualBox

Imagine you have some Sun Ray[tm] clients and you'd like to use them with some hardware which doesn't support Solaris. Or maybe you're running OSX, Windows or Ubuntu on some hardware which has some spare cycles but isn't running an OS which is supported by SRSS.

  1. Download a copy of VirtualBox for your operating system.
  2. Download a copy of Solaris 10 which is supported by SRSS3 and SRSS4.
  3. Download a copy of Sun Ray Server Software. I used SRSS 4.0 09/07. Note:Some GNU/Linux distributions are also supported, and SRSS can be forced to work with some unsupported Linux distributions and versions of OpenSolaris. But I'll stick with Solaris 10u5, it's reasonably lightweight and solid. [Read More]

Published OpenSolaris desktop FAQ

I gathered questions and answers from the OpenSolaris desktop mailing list, other forums and other places and people and published the first version of an OpenSolaris Nevada Desktop FAQ here:

http://www.genunix.org/wiki/index.php/Desktop_FAQ_for_Solaris_Nevada_(JDS)

This FAQ is focused on the GNOME and other desktop components which are available in recent Solaris Nevada distributions. Though it should be noted that "Indiana" shares most of these components. I would appreciate any help in keeping the document accurate, up to date and complete. Once the default desktops on other distributions become as well defined and well used, I plan to publish additional FAQs. I also hope to move the document onto an opensolaris hosted twiki once such a twiki goes online. Thanks to everyone who contributed questions and answers!

Friday Mar 28, 2008

lights out for earth hour

World Wildlife Federation (WWF) is sponsoring the first earth hour. If you'd like to participate, just turn of your lights (and other excess energy consuming devices)...

[Read More]

Thursday Mar 20, 2008

7 years in Ireland, 7 years at Sun.

Today marks my 7 year anniversary of arriving in Ireland and working for Sun. I should thank my wife for talking me into it, my kids for making it a fun, wonderful adventure. I should thank my Sun friends for helping make it work. And finally I should thank the Irish immigration department and my other Irish friends for tolerating my reverse emigration even thought they may think it's a totally daft idea altogether.

dtrace getenv and GNOME

While tracking down the root cause of intermittent hangs (often > 1 second) when traversing the panel menus on GNOME 2.20.1, I found some interesting things about how GNOME works. On one of my installs, the gtk-update-icon-cache hadn't been created correctly and doing anything which read an icon crashed the application (e.g. clicking on a panel menu.) This led to me to searching for the cause of this failure. I wanted to make sure gtk-update-icon-cache wasn't unnecessarily failing on assert The code looked O.K. but I thought I'd look at the system with dtrace. This led me to a nice putenv.d dtrace script. gtk-update-icon-cache doesn't seem to set G_DEBUG so that question is answered. But I decided to make a small change to script to look at getenv during a simple launch of eog. This gave me some interesting results:

bash-3.2$  dtrace -s ./getenv.d -c "eog" 

CPU     ID                    FUNCTION:NAME
  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[LANGUAGE]= LANGUAGE

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[NLSPATH]= NLSPATH

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[LANGUAGE]= LANGUAGE

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[NLSPATH]= NLSPATH

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[G_MESSAGES_PREFIXED]= G_MESSAGES
_PREFIXED

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[G_DEBUG]= G_DEBUG

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[CHARSET]= CHARSET

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[LIBCHARSET_ALIAS_DIR]= LIBCHARSE
T_ALIAS_DIR

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[G_RANDOM_VERSION]= G_RANDOM_VERS
ION

  0  66661                     getenv:entry env[LANGUAGE]= LANGUAGE
...
Then lots of redundant getenvs.
getenv LANGUAGE 1832 times 
getenv NLSPATH 1679 times
getenv TZ 432 times
aggregating on ustack shows that a good share of these come from these backtraces:
  getenv
              libc.so.1`getenv
              libc.so.1`getsystemTZ+0x1c
              libc.so.1`mktime+0x24
              libc.so.1`__strftime_std+0x3c
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_time_val_to_iso8601+0x60
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`timestamp_to_iso8601+0x24
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`bookmark_item_dump+0x68
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_bookmark_file_dump+0x16c
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_bookmark_file_to_data+0x70
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_bookmark_file_to_file+0xbc
              144
  getenv	
              libc.so.1`getenv
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`guess_category_value+0x24
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_get_language_names+0x68
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_key_file_locale_is_interesting+0x1c
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_key_file_parse_key_value_pair+0x2b8
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_key_file_parse_line+0x178
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_key_file_flush_parse_buffer+0x80
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_key_file_parse_data+0x104
              libglib-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_key_file_load_from_fd+0x1fc

Now, here is the weird part. The application seems to continue polling getenv when you're on an active menu. I tried this with gnome-panel. The good news is that when I'm not touching panel, it doesn't seem to be polling environment variable. But when I hold the mouse over or traversed the launch menu, it continually tried to grab ESPEAKER and DISPLAY environment variables. These were all coming from this section of code:
             libc.so.1`getenv
              libesd.so.0.2.38`esd_open_sound+0x44
              libgnome-2.so.0.1999.2`use_sound+0x48
              libgnome-2.so.0.1999.2`gnome_sound_connection_get+0x18
              libgnomeui-2.so.0.2000.1`relay_gnome_signal+0x1cc
              libgobject-2.0.so.0.1400.4`signal_emit_unlocked_R+0x69c
              libgobject-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_signal_emit_valist+0x784
              libgobject-2.0.so.0.1400.4`g_signal_emit+0x1c
              libgtk-x11-2.0.so.0.1200.3`gtk_widget_show+0xb8
              gnome-panel`panel_util_query_tooltip_cb+0x20
              libgtk-x11-2.0.so.0.1200.3`_gtk_marshal_BOOLEAN__INT_INT_BOOLE

Whoah, I had system sounds enabled for tooltips? I checked the preferences and sure enough system sounds were enabled. I never heard any so my audio hardware must not be supported. I still don't know for certain if this was the cause of the hang, since the hang was intermittent. But if you haven't tried it already, install GNOME on a machine with dtrace capability and look around a bit. If nothing else, you may learn something new.

Wednesday Mar 19, 2008

Gobi Sun Ray client laptop and kids

At the moment, my daughter is quietly playing a playhouse Disney game on a (quiet, diskless and cool!) Accutech Gobi laptop.

Under Construction

This Gobi 7 is an early evaluation model and is not without its kinks. I've been trying to configure as an alternate Sun Ray client for work. After reading Dan Lacher's blog some documents and a few helpful emails, I still didn't have any luck getting the Gobi go connect via VPN through my router to Sun's servers. So I thought I'd try connecting to a Sun Ray server on a local network. As this is a holiday weekend and I didn't plan to go into work, I needed to configure a Sun Ray server at home.

Don't try this at home

O.K. do try this at home, but try to find a better computer. Alternative hobbies, the cost of everything in Ireland, kids and other priorities turned me into a late adopter of home technology. Our best home computer is still an 8-year old Apple G3 Powerbook which was a hand-me-down from my brother who is a video and 3D animation artist. Our only desktop PC is an EOL'd Dell GX110 with 512Mb of RAM. I had previously installed Solaris Nevada Build 50 on this in order to play with ZFS and provide temporary storage for some iMovies and photos. Also if anyone breaks into the house, the last thing they'll want to haul out is this heavy piece of scrap. I hadn't upgraded because the installer for S10U4 and many of the newer Nevada builds gave up at the pitiful amount of memory. Fortunately, SXDE 09/07 was slightly more compassionate, and I was able to run a text install. After the fresh install (being careful to preserve my video and photo slices), it was simply a matter of:

 zpool import bigdrive
 zpool import exporthome 

This imported and created permanent mounts for my iMovies and photos on /export/home and /bigdrive. Cool!

O.K. SXDE 09/07 installed, but can I put SRSS on this? I won't know if I don't try. I downloaded SRSS 4.0 for Solaris and ran

utinstall
. I had chosen the end user install cluster so it turned out I had to manually install some dhcp packages. Then:

/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utconfig  {answer a bunch of questions}  I defaulted everything except enabling a dhcp server and web admin.
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -c
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -A 192.168.1.0   (My LAN network address)
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -L on
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -n
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utrestart

Next I enter my wifi parameters into the Gobi laptop, tell it to use DHCP and for some reason I don't understand, don't tell it the IP address of the Sun Ray server (it figures it out). There it is, the dtlogin prompt! I login, browse to Playhouse Disney to test the ability to run flash games. Hmm, it looks a bit jumpy as I would expect. A 600Mhz 512MB PC running SRSS 4 on an unsupported Nevada build delivered via a 54MBps Wifi connection to a thin-client laptop. Do you see what I mean by "don't try this at home?"

I go back to the Wired VPN Sun Ray terminal to try to read email suggestions about my Gobi VPN problem. When turn around my 4-year-old is playing flash games on the Gobi. She has no idea this isn't a real laptop nor does she care that the PC it is displaying is hopelessly underpowered. In case you haven't guessed, Nintendo/Playstation and other hot and powerful video game boxes haven't yet entered our humble home. That might have set her expectations a bit high. We do give her toys though. And not just sock puppets and cattail dolls. Now that we've proven there is nothing wrong with Gobi's local connectivity, I'll have to pry it away from her so I can figure out how to connect the Gobi via VPN. But that's a story for another day.

Friday Mar 14, 2008

Workaround for nautilus/panel crashes in Nevada 84, 85.

A number of people have encountered a bug which causes nautilus and panel to crash on login, preventing the desktop from being used.

The symptoms are:
  • Nautilus crashes immediately on login, bringing up bug-buddy dialog.
  • Panel crashes immediately after the user clicks the Launch menu.
  • Any application which makes use of gtk icons crashes.

The bug is only experienced on some hardware and may not occur on every install even on hardware where it fails. It is caused by a file access race condition during the post install phase. The file access conflict causes an ASSERT in the gtk-update-icon-cache which forces this application to core during install. The user is left with incomplete and corrupt icon cache which causes failures of all applications depending on the gtk icon cache.

The bug is described in more detail here: 6631419 - gtk-update-icon-cache dies on first boot after install/upgrade

Fortunately, there is a very simple workaround:
  • Login as root
  • Run the following:
    for d in /usr/share/icons/\*; do
           [ -d $d ] &&
                   gtk-update-icon-cache --force $d;
    done
    

This bug is intermittent and is known to exist in Nevada build 84 and build 85. It may exist in earlier builds on some hardware. The GNOME community's decision to enable application cores on ASSERT may have made some of these subtle underlying problems suddenly become much more frequent and obvious. A fix for bug 6631419 is committed for Nevada build 86.

CORRECTION: There was a discussion over enabling fail on assert within the GNOME community, but no change was recently made. The behavior is that on unstable (odd numbered) versions of gnome-session, fail on assert is enabled, but on even numbered builds it isn't.

Friday Feb 08, 2008

Laptop data confiscated at U.S. border - another reason for Sun Ray

Slashdot highlighted this Washington Post article on Confiscation and copying of all electronic data at U.S. borders. From the article:

She said the federal agent copied her log-on and password, and asked her to show him a recent document and how she gains access to Microsoft Word. She was asked to pull up her e-mail but could not because of lack of Internet access. With ACTE's help, she pressed for relief. More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation.

...

As chaotic and lawless as the early internet is, we've come to a time when it is already a safer place for your data than your briefcase or laptop. Of course, if you like the weight and coolness of a laptop to remind you that you are traveling for business, but don't want to risk your corporate data falling into the wrong hands, the Sun Ray 2N or Naturetech's Sun Ray compatible laptop are ideal for you. I'd like to see the look on the face of the customs guy when he asks to copy all of your laptop data and you tell him, "Data? There is no data here."

[Read More]

Monday Jan 28, 2008

xlincity, another opensource S\*mC\*ty fork, now runs on OpenSolaris

Now there are two OpenSolaris options for those who spent many long hours playing SimCity in the 1980s and 90s, or those who would like to experiment with city simulations and contribute to the project. The first was micropolis, a port designed with the XO One Laptop Per Child project in mind and promising extensibility via Python modules.

And now I've checked in a spec file and patch which builds xlincity (a.k.a. lincity.) which looks to be a rather old, but ready to play X11 port of the classic game. Xlincity on OpenSolaris For some reason, parts of the lincity source code seemed to have been written with notepad, edlin or some other Windows/DOS text editor, as they had to be run through dos2unix in order to get them to build properly on OpenSolaris. But the SFExlincity spec file sorts that out for you and it applies a small xlincity-01-solaris.diff patch.

The easiest way to build it on OpenSolaris (and possibly Solaris 10?) is:

  1. Install the OpenSolaris Common Build Environment (CBE) from http://opensolaris.org/os/project/jds/contributing/building
  2. Checkout a copy of Spec-files-extra: svn co https://pkgbuild.svn.sourceforge.net/svnroot/pkgbuild/spec-files-extra/trunk SFE
  3. Set your proxy (if needed): export http_proxy=http://your.proxy.server:your_proxy_port_number
  4. pkgtool build-install --download SFExlincity.spec
Have fun!

Thursday Jan 24, 2008

Micropolis (a.k.a. S\*mC\*ty) runs on OpenSolaris!

A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, Don Hopkins ported Maxis's C64 game "SimCity" to Unix, using the NeWS desktop user interface. Unfortunately Sun canceled NeWS (even though it was decades ahead of other \*nix desktop GUIs.) Many years later Don Hopkins revisited this code, now open sourced and contributed to the OLPC project. With a few tweaks and kludges, I built this codebase on OpenSolaris. This is what it looks like:

Micropolis on OpenSolaris

I checked a new spec file, SFEmicropolis.spec and a patch into spec-files-extra. These along with the help of the CBE, build micropolis-activity.

Known bugs:

  • MicropolisCore Python modules aren't built so any part of the game dependent on this won't work.
  • Micropolis hostname and DISPLAY handling is a little borked so it might not work via ssh -X or other X forwarding.
  • Micropolis depends on shm extentions so it doesn't seem to work on Sun Ray.

To be done:
  • Build a spec file for the Python modules (micropolis, cellengine and tileengine) in MicropolisCore.tgz. This should be easy for anyone who has a little time and an OpenSolaris build with CBE.
  • Clean up the spec file. There are a few kludges in the way I build it for Solaris, but whenever a proper config build is incorporated into the Micropolis codebase, some of this work won't be necessary.
  • Find someone who has played S\*mC\*ty who test can test the Solaris build (I haven't)
  • Try to get OpenSolaris patches accepted into Micropolis codebase.
  • Work with the micropolis community. (We might be able to use dtrace and other OpenSolaris tools to solve problems.)

    Feel free to help if you can, the code is out there!

Wednesday Jan 16, 2008

Racine High School Sophomores discover Asteroid!

Comet Hale Bopp over racine

Congratulations to the students at Prairie High School in my home town of Racine Wisconsin for discovering an asteroid and having the opportunity giving their newly discovered asteroid "2008 AZ28" a nicer name. As far as I know, this is the first time an asteroid was discovered as part of a high school science project. Yeah I know, the photo above is of a comet. I took that photo of comet Hale-Bopp over a Racine county farm a few years back. Asteroids aren't quite as photogenic amidst the light pollution of the Chicago->Milwaukee sprawlopolis. Anyway, I suspect an asteroid is just a comet that's out of ice and out of gas.

Monday Jan 14, 2008

OpenProj 1.0 project manager runs on OpenSolaris Nevada!

OpenProj on Solaris Nevada build 80

I must confess that I've used Microsoft Windows at work a few times in the past 6.5 years. Three MS Windows only applications have occasionally been part of my job. The first was a proprietary browser test suite which is now very outdated, the second is a CD/DVD burning server which would definitely be more usable on a stable OS such as Solaris or NetBSD, and the third was Microsoft Project, an application favored by project managers. Now thanks to the people at OpenProj, I hope the Sun can set on Microsoft Windows at least within my daily work life.

I first learned about OpenProj from my friend Ron at inventors garage. OpenProj is "A desktop replacement for Microsoft Project. It is capable of sharing files with Microsoft Project and has very similar functionality (Gantt, PERT diagram, histogram, charts, reports, detailed usage), as well as tree views which aren't in MS Project." OpenProj is a Java/Swing application but a minor incompatibility between the Solaris and Linux tail command prevented the OpenProj launcher from working on Solaris. When I mentioned this, the helpful people at Projity fixed it a few days before OpenProj 1.0 was released. Thank you!

[Read More]

Tuesday Nov 27, 2007

Obama steps into the open file format debate

During a talk at Google, Barack Obama mentioned that he would like to promote "universally accessible formats" for government information. News analysts are wondering why Obama would want to enter this debate. Government de facto support for proprietary standards owned by Microsoft impacts nearly everyone by forcing us to buy Microsoft's products. But this is understood only by a small technical minority and so normally wouldn't get any play in an electoral culture centered around "sound bites" and visceral reactions to pseudo issues which impact virtually no one but which make for emotive campaign advertisements. The fact that Obama mentioned file formats is probably an accident, but it would be nice to pretend that he is trying to drag electoral debates up to a higher level.

Friday Nov 16, 2007

Comet 17PHolmes with Pentax \*IST-DL digital SLR normal lens

Comet17PHolmes50mmF2.8ISO1600

As an amateur astronomer with a limited budget, I normally wouldn't pay much attention to a 17th magnitude periodic comet. There are thousands of comets, asteroids and other bits of space dirt out there. Most are dimmer than the 16th magnitude which puts them far beyond the reach of my F5.6 Celestron 500mm Maksutov here on the outskirts of a light polluted city. But when on the night of October 23rd, one of those spaceballs named 17P Holmes conveniently brightened a million times to magnitude 2.5, suddenly it was worthwhile looking at.

[Read More]

Monday Nov 05, 2007

Six-sigma Identity?

After all of the trouble we went to thinking of a name for our new baby, we ended up picking a name that didn't make the top 1000 in the U.S. but is common enough in certain parts of the world. I'll have to admit I was disappointed today when the health service sent an immunization reminder regarding our son, Nina??! who had a completely different name and birthday than the one my wife and I remember. [Read More]

Thursday Nov 01, 2007

Wrong Keyboard US<->UK Solaris install

Wrong Keyboard

I appreciate the new look and improved common sense defaults behind the new installer that appeared in Solaris Nevada build 70. But it isn't yet foolproof. Because I often switch between a laptop with a U.K. keyboard, a Sun Ray with a U.S. keyboard and my home P.C. with a U.K. keyboard, I often go too fast through the "Default layout?" choice in the installer and choose U.K. when I should choose U.S. or vice versa. I'm left with a system which almost works perfectly except that the " and @ are swapped, sometimes #, $ and / aren't where they belong and | is nowhere to be found.

[Read More]

Friday Oct 05, 2007

Big Green, ecology isn't just hippies living in methane powered VWs anymore

VW micro bus Great photo by kesselring

It looks like Big Blue (IBM) stepped aboard the green bandwagon, welcome Big Green! It still amazes me that arguments against ecology in the U.S. (particularly by certain A.M. talk radio hosts) quickly drift into disparaging sensible environmentalism by using the "environmental wacko" meme. If environmentalism is wacky, then I guess we're in good company with other wackos such as IBM and General Electric. When did environmentalism become so boring? I sure hope I won't have to wear a blue suit, white shirt and red necktie in order to save the earth.

UPDATE:As a counter balance to my "IBM dresscode history" link, here is a link to the history of Sun's CEO and his ponytail. I don't see anything about a VW microbus.

Wednesday Oct 03, 2007

The Hunt for Cool October

I'm not entirely sure what magnetically activated microbladder pumps have to do with magnetohydrodynamics except that both use magnets and both can be efficient, quiet and cool. It's an interesting technology for Sun to hold a patent on and probably far more efficient at moving heat from the chip than Peltier devices which only move heat out of your device with 5-6% efficiency and turn the other 94-95% of the energy into more waste heat! If they weren't so god-awful noisy, we'd probably be better off cooling our CPUs with hilsch vortex tubes.

The magnetic micropump sounds like a good idea until the time when we can recruit Maxwell's demon to haunt and cool our PCs.

Tuesday Sep 25, 2007

Strato:Carbon neutral webhosting by 2008

Blackbox next to wind turbine

I love this quote from Strato's CEO Damian Schmidt, "Bad code is a climate killer." It might not be easily visible to individual laptop or Sun Ray users, but when the power load of a runaway applet, inefficient webserver or poorly designed database engine is multiplied across the world, eventually you do see an impact on profitability, oil prices and ecology. Strato is doing the right thing by planning to be the first company to power its data centers with 100% renewable energy by 2008. Awesome! I especially like the fact that Strato is making use of Sun's Niagara technology. [Read More]

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