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]

Wednesday Aug 29, 2007

Rosetta code (I knew how to do that in FORTRAN but...)

I've lost track of the number of computer languages I've worked in since I first saw a snoopy ASCII printout on a teletype machine. FORTRAN 66 and 77, various flavors of BASIC, 650X, PDP, VAX and Atmel AVR assembly languages, C/C++/Objective C, D, Pascal, Java, Perl. Some things have become easier over the years, others have become more complex and there are always minor annoyances. How do I do X in language Y?

[Read More]

Friday May 26, 2006

Do we need a product rosetta stone?

Even before I saw Bart Muijzer's blog responding to a customer's parody, I knew that Sun doesn't always communicate our direction or product line effectively.   It must be frustrating for customers and partners.  There are many reasons for this. When an internal development product name becomes public knowledge, partners, customers and Sun engineers know the product by that name (madhatter, BrandX, APOC, Zones).  Then for various reasons (legal trademark issues, google uniqueness and inclusion in a related product stack), the product is released under different names. (Java Desktop System, BrandZ, Sun Desktop Manager, N1 Grid Containers).  To add to this confusion, sometimes product names are changed between versions or the same product acquires more than one public product name over it's lifetime (e.g. SunOS 4 == Solaris 1, Java 1.2 == Java 2.) Between product name aliases, the whispers game and FUD from competitors with much larger marketing budgets, it's no wonder things are confusing out there. So my question is, could we clear up some of the namespace confusion with a webpage showing the history and name aliases for all of our products?

Monday May 15, 2006

Bono vs Solaris (google trends)

Did you ever wonder whether U2's Bono was more popular than Solaris? Neither did I, but with google trends we can find out, or at least we can find out which is the more common target of google searches There you have it. Bono is much more popular than Solaris in Caracas, Venezuela but globally and here in Bono's begrudging home town of Dublin, Solaris is more popular than Bono, at least by this measure. Bono does get more press coverage though and he does use it well.

Wednesday May 03, 2006

Niagara vs Showdown

I stumbled upon Colm MacCárthaigh's blog describing his experiences with a Niagara T2000 server. Colm describes Heanet as:

"one of the single busiest webservers in the world. We handle many millions of downloads per day, but unusually for a high-demand site, we do it all from one machine. This is usually a bad idea, but as a mirror server has built-in resilience (in the form of a world-wide network of mirrors), and as we can’t afford 20 terabytes of ultra-scalable, network-available storage, we use a single machine with directly attached storage, and rely on our ability to tune the machine to within an inch of its life."

I can't reach to see what it is at the moment so heanet might need the 3X transaction performance the T2000 could give him! (And judging by the rapidly rising electric rates we're experiencing in Dublin, the energy savings are becoming significant even for one machine webservers such as Colm's.)

Colm seems to really know tuning. He's done quite a bit with one dual itanium Linux box and Apache. Imagine if he had more time to play with the T2000, Solaris and Cherokee. It would be fun to get Colm, a few of the Sun Ireland Performance guys and Alvaro together over a pint. The next Irish OpenSolaris Users Group meeting might give us that opportunity. Of course this is Ireland, do we need an excuse to get together for a pint?

Friday Dec 02, 2005

Windows may eventually update without reboots!

Windows Vista is rumored to have a feature which allows upgrades without reboots. The guys I worked with at a Milwaukee company will appreciate this. In 1999 they were installing 21 applications and security updates onto Wintel PCs. This required 21 scripted reboots on each of several thousand corporate desktops. As you can imagine, this took a long time and 60-70,000 reboots presented many opportunities for failure. "Restart Manager" sounds like a pale imitation of what unix has had for decades and not even close to what Solaris has with live upgrade, hot swappable CPUs and Solaris service manager. But you have to start somewhere right?

svcadm disable gloat
pkgadmin upgrade SUNWgloat
svcadm enable gloat

Clarification:What to do with Sun Grid

I signed up for a test account on Sun's grid. I burned 0.043 hours calculating the first 1.2 million primes with the same horrible dumb inefficient algorithm I first typed into a Commodore 64 a couple of decades ago. (At the rate the C64 chunked out primes > 100, It might not reached 1.2 million even if I'd left it running for 20 years.) I still have some time left in this account. Does anyone have a suggestion on an algorithm which would be more interesting and possibly somewhat practical? I don't want to run a screensaver, do accounting for a multinational real-estate firm or do nuclear blast simulations. What would be an interesting problem to throw at a grid?

Clarification: Thanks to those who left a couple of interesting comments (sorry I accidently zapped them while updating with this clarification.) I just want to clarify that I can't submit anything on behalf of anyone else. If you have an idea of how to exercise and improve the grid, sign up here.

As for me, I'm just looking for ideas on what other people use high power computers for. I'd like to stay away from encryption and consider things like classical physics simulations (n body?), mathematics, medical applications, astronomy, image processing and computer animation. The caveat is that a B.S. in physics (a.k.a. me) should understand the algorithm enough to know that it is mostly harmless.

If only he had used his evil genius for niceness -- Maxwell Smart

Monday Nov 28, 2005

S10 Patch for low bandwidth Sun Ray environments

Thanks Paul for pointing out this set of patches which could be useful to Sun Ray users over low bandwidth networks:

120339-01    (Solaris 10 Sparc)
120340-01    (Solaris 10 X86/X64)

These patches change the login background image to allow Sun Ray to more efficiently compress it. This may make login screen refresh noticeably faster over low bandwidth connections.

Wednesday Oct 05, 2005

Marketing? Who knows Sun's products?

Roumen asks, who is behind Sun marketing? I don't know, but I appreciate the reference to SWaP, a unit of efficiency in this advertisement.

The old ads which tried to sell "the sizzle" were amusing and did gather attention. Several friends asked me about "those weird dot in the conference room ads". The techie in me would prefer to see more emphasis on selling "the steak", the really cool stuff that most people haven't ever heard of. I know this is quite a challenge when Microsoft and others seem to outspend our marketing team by orders of magnitude. But it's still frustrating. A few weeks ago when I noticed that there were no Sun servers in a school system's rack of X86 servers, I asked if the sysadmin knew that Sun sold (small, efficent, inexpensive, fast, 64 bit...) X86 servers. No. A cousin who used to resell Sun Ray and other Sun products didn't know that Sun Ray is available on linux. Another friend seems to have confused Sun with one of those tech companies involved in securities fraud. No, no, no!!!!

Just when I was almost convinced that we are working on cool products that no one outside Sun will ever hear about, something strange happened. Yesterday my wife was teaching patchwork quilting to a nice young lady. I was trying to stay out of their way. I pried open the 600Mhz Dell P.C., installed memory and booted a recent Nevada build. The young lady looked up from her sewing project and saw my silly default background colour and asked, "what version of Solaris is that?" I didn't know what to say, "Uh, it's called Nevada, it's beyond Solaris 10." It turns out she worked in the IT department of a well-respected Irish university. It was really tempting to completely change the topic of the patchwork quilting meeting, but I tried to avoid monopolising the conversation. I think this is good news.

Tuesday Sep 27, 2005

OpenSolaris on a 600Mhz Dell GX1

They said it couldn't be done! Somewhere around build 21 of Nevada when we switched to a grub-based boot loader, something broke with these older Dells. But the problem was solved by build 23. I'm entering this from JDS3 on Build 23 of Solaris Nevada, on a rather dated piece of X86 hardware:

# psrinfo -v
Status of virtual processor 0 as of: 09/27/2005 17:26:20
  on-line since 09/27/2005 15:43:53.
  The i386 processor operates at 600 MHz,
        and has an i387 compatible floating point processor.
# uname -a
SunOS greystar 5.11 snv_23 i86pc i386 i86pc

It isn't the snappiest machine I've ever used, but it isn't bad, at least until I can save up the $895 or so (don't we all hate the E.U. markup on _all_ techie hardware?) one of these.

Update: Here is a description of an experiment to reduce the memory requirements of this part of the boot process.

Friday Sep 09, 2005

Intel finally to guzzle less!?

Intel is finally thinking about CPU performance/watt and fooling some analysts into thinking they invented the concept. If you read this "Motley Fool" article and you know anything about the history of Sun Sparc, AMD, Transmeta, VIA even PowerPC chips you'll wonder how the author of this article was able to get it so backwards! I first heard "performance per watt" at a Sun customer engineering conference several years ago. I wish someone had published the graph I saw there. Intel was winning the CPU clock frequency race, but how many of us know the SPECs/Watt figures for the P4 and Itantium? Here are a few observations: I didn't know there was a fan on my G3 (PowerPC) powerbook until I set a hot-burning Wintel laptop on top of it. The powerbook fan kicked into high gear and the wintel 'dry heat' seems have partially fixed a powerbook display problem caused by the high humidity here. The Wintel laptop occasionally overheats and shuts down, especially when running a CPU intensive program in summertime (outside of Ireland.) My Powerbook grinds for hours on a video compression, but it has never overheated. When new, the powerbook boasted 10 hours on a set of batteries. Today it is nearly impossible to find a laptop with this much battery life. While I'm frustrated with the inaccurate implications in the "Fool" article (not to mention the fact that Sun stock price and my livelihood are influenced by such nonsense), I don't hold anything against Intel. They must know that consumers aren't going to buy baskets of MHz anymore, they're going to buy solutions. And while Intel promised an efficient multicore CPU sometime in the future, Sun employees stood outside the forum with servers based on more efficient AMD chips which are ready to use today. Welcome to the efficiency club Intel.

Ermmm, More power to you!

Wednesday Aug 24, 2005

dtrace and process name table

Kernel experts and dtrace experts probably know about the following, but not all of us fit into this category!

The pid provider is quite useful when you decide to narrow your dtrace investigations to a single process. But what if you want to look at a short lived process or muliple processes from a single executable, for example, the dozens of instances of mozilla on a Sun Ray server? Dtrace allows you to filter probes on execname. For example, if I want to look at the syscall entries of an executable and surrounding user call stack, I could do something like this:

#!/usr/sbin/dtrace -s

/execname == "nautilus-throbber" /

I called the script whodo.d, chmoded it 755 so I can run it:
# ./whodo.d
Now I browse a directory or two in nautilus and...nothing. Absolutely nothing prints out when I should be getting stack traces from every syscall. Well, that's unfortunate. When I ps -efl | grep nautilus-throbber it appears:
$ ps -efl | grep -i nautilus-throbb
 0 S bn128650 21415     1   0  40 20        ?   8500        ? 14:43:31 ?    0:01 /usr/lib/nautilus-throbber --oaf-ac
When I pgrep it...
# pgrep nautilus-throbber   
#                                {nothing?? What the???}
# pgrep nautilus-throbbe
#                                {still nothing}
# pgrep nautilus-throbb 
21415                            {aha!  A clue?}
I man pgrep and find out that: Both utilities match their pattern argument against either the pr_fname or pr_psargs fields of the /proc/nnnnn/psinfo files. The lengths of these strings are limited according to definitions in sys/procfs.h. Patterns which can match strings longer than the current limits may fail to match the intended set of processes.

The -f flag selects whether pgrep matches pr_fname or pr_psargs. The default is pr_fname which is limited to 16 characters by PRFNSZ in /usr/include/sys/procfs.h. Is this a case where Solaris's strict backwards compatibility is hurting us? I login to a 2.6 kernel linux box and man pgrep:

       The process name used for matching is limited  to  the  15
       characters  present  in the output of /proc/pid/stat.  Use
       the -f option to match against the complete command  line,

       pkill and pgrep were introduced in Sun's Solaris 7.   This
       implementation is fully compatible.
Well, linux's pgrep isn't strictly compatible since 15 != 16, but wait a minute, nautilus-throbb is only 15 characters so pgrep's limit defined by PRFNSZ is one more than the real limit. I ran the whodo.d script with the 15 character truncated process name:
/execname == "nautilus-throbb" /
and... it didn't work! Now what? I add an "e".
/execname == "nautilus-throbbe" /
and it finally works! It seems that dtrace sees all 16 characters of the execname. Fortunately dtrace allows execname to be matched as a regular expression so when in doubt, add an "\*". I know this isn't rocket science but problems like this can be vexing for newcomers to dtrace so I hope this post is helpful to someone else and a reminder to me.

Sunday Jul 24, 2005

Skype on JDS...possibilities

Yesterday I learned that I'm an uncle again. I chatted with the proud father over skype. I also tried skype on a recent JDS3 linux build. It works! I've used IchatAV in the past and I know other messaging clients have voice capability, but what impressed me about skype is that it is freely available on Mac, Windows and Linux platforms. This helps maintain harmony in my family which is about 50% Wintel, 45% Apple and 5% other. gcclinux's JDS application list has a link to versions of skype which are compatible with JDS. I sure hope skype is ported to Solaris soon!

If government regulations don't crush peer to peer technology, Skype (and other successful Voice/Video Over IP products) present some wonderful new possibilities. It could reduce the isolation between grandparents who move to low tax areas and retirement communities and the children and grandchildren who must live where the jobs are. Retirement communities might choose to have a shared community skype box. I didn't yet test skype accessibility, but it seems that skype would be useful for people who are visually impaired. For these situations, Skype could be a cross-platform "killer application." A box dedicated to skype needn't do anything else. So why would anyone risk wrecking a good thing by running an bloated, virus-prone operating system?

Here are a couple of quick tips which helped me use skype:
  • The built-in microphones and speakers in powerbooks and iMacs (and probably a few high-end P.C.s) might be too close together. To avoid subjecting the callee to echo and feedback, You should consider buying a separate mike and headphones. Skype has one on offer.
  • Make sure your computer isn't full of adwar, spyware, worms or viruses. One of the machines I called the other day had horrible sound quality, a similar machine at the same household was fine. I suspect the "bad" P.C. must've been running adware which created enough network latency problems to cause skype issues. (Yet another reason to run Skype on an alternative operating system whenever possible!)
  • Make sure your computer is fast enough and has plenty of available RAM. My sister's G3 iMac seems to echo slightly more than my dad's dual pentium striped disk video toaster box.

Update: Well, Skype works on JDS but the Skype GUI isn't accessible. I'm not surprised that a statically linked QT/KDE application is invisible to ATK applications such as Gnopernicus. It looks like it may be possible to bridge from QT to ATK though with this.

Wednesday Jul 20, 2005

Analyzing an Analyst

I wont bother linking to it. But if you happen to encounter an analyst's commentary on Sun and Sun Ray in a semi-popular tech magazine well... I'm thinking of the rule I learned in high school journalism, "check your sources."

Yes, I could spend all day refuting inaccuracies, exaggerations, omissions and FUD from technology publications. But this one was particularly humorous. This analyst suggested that Sun should abandon years of solid engineering development, efficient and managable technologies which are years beyond what the industry is buy Yet Another Grey Box Assembly Company (YAGBAC). Right.

Update: O.K. I got the whinging out of my system and others have said it much better. Some "analysts" have such a strong attachment to X branded X86 grey boxes with a particular mediocre O.S. under the hood, that they refuse to believe anything could be better. I've met these people. Some are so blinded by brand or OS religion that they will never consider alternatives. Others are followers, they'll wait until 95% of the industry moves to a platform and then proudly recommend the platform as a solution to all problems. But there are also free thinkers out there. Sun can learn from you and I hope we can continue to work with you as customers, developers and partners in building a future where painting a grey box dark grey isn't considered the ultimate in technical innovation.

Thursday Jun 30, 2005

Busy solstice week

I haven't had time to blog much recently, beyond penning a quick response to some speculation about Sun's desktop future. Some jokers on slashdot were even claiming we were dropping GNOME. Surely anyone reading this blog knows that not everything they read on the internet is true!

Shortly after GUADEC we had a mini-reunion of globe-trotting Sun desktop engineers here in Ireland. I enjoyed seeing gman and Yippi and others again. Gman lives in the country where Hobbits, Trolls and other creatures were filmed for Lord of the Rings. Yippi lives not far from my grandfather's home town of Ohlman, Illinois (Population 0.)1 Yippi gave me some tips on taking the Irish driving exam (next time I'll remember to watch "The Dukes of Hazard") and he gave me a quick refresher on how to use Sun's collect tools for detailed user and kernel time profiling of functions and lines of code. I would highly recommend this tool for anyone interested in performance. So far I've only looked at the behaviour of the resize benchmark in various themes, but I'll publish more if I find something interesting to GNOMErs. As Calum noted, the fact that we're spending more time on the Solaris desktop could help us contribute more to the GNOME community. Yippi first demonstrated forte collect and the analyzer GUI shortly before our team was tasked to focus almost exclusively on JDS linux where these tools don't exist, so some of us had forgotten about them. Before I forget, I also wanted to point out Richard McDougall's article's on using dtrace and vmstat for memory analysis. That's about all the news I have at the moment.

1Anyone who has read Huckleberry Finn or seen "Oh Brother, where art thou?" would have some understanding of my Grandpa Delmar's south midwestern accent, expressions and humor.

. . . there warn't anybody at the church, except maybe a hog or two, 
for there warn't any lock on the door, and hogs likes a puncheon 
floor in summer-time because it's cool. If you notice, most folks 
don't go to church only when they've got to; but a hog is different.
   --Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. 
   --Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

(2\*B) || !(2\*B) Linux under the hood?

I wasn't at JavaOne to hear what John Loiacono said about the future of JDS on linux. But the only quote I could find was:

"You're going to see less of an emphasis on JDS on Linux," Loiacono said. "The strategy has changed slightly."

Tech news writers are jumping to some wild conclusions based on these 17 words. First of all, Sun certainly isn't abandoning the open source applications and libraries above the kernel that non-technical folk seem to think of as Linux. And Sun just introduced a slick new desktop workstation and a slick new laptop, so they will certainly need a desktop (few of us would recommend polluting it with that expensive but popular O.S.) Sun continues to make Sun Ray server software (SRSS) available for Solaris X86/X64, Solaris Sparc and several flavors of linux. And, especially with the help of Tarentella, Sun Ray clients don't care what O.S. you want to display on your desktop (even that expensive one, it's your money!) So the question remains, does a long term refocus on Solaris and Open Solaris necessarily mean the end of a linux kernel based desktop? Smart business leaders are still looking for alternatives to expensive desktop operating environments and Sun has the technology for several viable alternatives. But whether Solaris, Open Solaris, Linux or something else best meets the needs of Sun customers is something Sun customers will decide. Solaris 10 is now available for X86/X64 and Sparc. Solaris has some awesome enterprise class provisioning, instrumentation, scalability and stability. Solaris's performance is close to (or surpasses) that of linux. Once drivers exist which allow Open Solaris to support most enterprise class hardware, will there still be a reason for a linux kernel under the hood? You tell me, you're the customer, I just work here.

Update: Here is an attempt to unravel the media spin and FUD surrounding the original comment. Customers will decide what "general purpose desktop" means. There are some who can't conceive of a general purpose desktop without Microsoft ABIs, but others may just want a browser, a JVM and the ability to securely run a few applications. Solaris (especially with Sun Ray) is already a cost-effective desktop for these users. On a lighter note, here is an interesting article about the origins of urban legends. It includes the legend which led Mark Twain to quip, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Saturday Jun 18, 2005

Sun Ireland sailing, kayaking and windsurfing

Sun Ireland employees learn new skills on the water This weekend's weather was very unusual for Ireland, warm and sunny with a light southerly breeze. The members of Sun Ireland's sports and social club met at Fingal sailing school, beside a thatched cottage in Malahide. The instructors gave us brief lessons and practice in uphauling the sailboard sail, turning the sailboard, righting the sailboat, and a few other things. Our little girl watched from shore and laughed "tip over!", "tip up!" There were quite a few capsizes and we were thankful that even the murky water of the broadmeadows estuary was relatively warm.

P.S. Yeah we were sailing uphill ;-)
P2.S. What does this have to do with OpenSolaris? Oh, it was fun to see Java and Solaris engineers in open boats on the open water and later hear them openly debate in a pub.

Friday May 20, 2005

Enabling core files on the Java Desktop System

My wife thought "Kernel Core Dump Analysis", the title of a course I took here, sounded like something a janitorial detective would do after Wisconsin state fair. Kernel core files can be used to diagnose problems with the kernel, though I must admit that I can't remember the last time I saw a Solaris or linux kernel crash. Application core files can be used to diagnose application crashes, but they are not be enabled by default in many GNU/linux distributions.
To enable core files on Java Desktop System on Linux:
1) Edit /etc/profile with gedit, vi or your favorite editor.

uncomment this line:
    ulimit -c 20000             # only core-files less than 20 MB are written

comment out this line:
#   ulimit -Sc 0                # don't create core files 
Now you have to make sure the application can write core files in the process's current working directory. To find the working directory of the process:
2) Get Process ID:
ps -e | grep {process name}

3) Find process's working diretory: 
ls -l /proc/{pid of process}/cwd

4) chmod the working directory to allow the process to write a core file there.  
Note for processes such as gconfd-2 which use '/' as their working directory, 
you might have to do something really horrible such as 'chmod 777 /'.  Yuck.

5) reboot
To enable core files for Java Desktop System 3 on Solaris:
Use coreadm
1) coreadm -e global -g /var/tmp/core.%f.%p
2) There is no step 2.
P.S. If you want to look at a core file without crashing your application, have a look at Solaris gcore(1).

Update:Added "-e global" flag to coreadm ensures that global core files are enabled.

Friday May 13, 2005

To all our friends at Micros..always welcome?

Everytime someone from Sun talks with someone from Microsoft, conspiracy theories make the rounds of the tech blog sites and forums. (For that matter every time Sun does anything the theories make their rounds.) Well imagine my surprise when I saw a handwritten thank you note in our canteen which read something like this:

To our friends at Microsoft, thank you. You are always welcome here.

When I first saw the note I just assumed that it was a personal note to a talented former Sun employee who joined Microsoft a while back. Yesterday I looked more closely and saw that it was a thank you note to volunteers from "Microsoft" a.k.a. Sun Microsystems. A few weeks ago volunteers from Sun Ireland worked on some Dublin community projects. It seems the author of the thoughtful note just spelled "Sun Microsystems" with too much "soft" and not enough "Sun." Which, coincidently is exactly the problem we have with the weather in Ireland. I can imagine it now, "Who were those volunteers?", "They were from "Micro-uh-something." "Microsoft?" "Yeah, that's it."

Oh well, kudos to the volunteers from Sun Microsystems Ireland, and hiya K.B., how's the craic at Microsoft?

Monday Apr 25, 2005

Optimize Java Desktop System 2 for Sun Ray

You might have heard that Sun Ray Server Software 3.0 will run on both Solaris and GNU/linux. You might also know that Sun's Java Desktop System 2.0 (JDS 2) is built around a GNU/linux kernel. So you might wonder why you can't run Sun Ray Server Software 3.0 on JDS 2 and serve this alternative desktop to multiple users on Sun Ray ultrathin clients. Well, you can. Here is a tech tip which explains how to install and optimize JDS 2 for use with Sun Ray Server Software 3.0

Step 6 of the above howto refers to the Java Desktop System online update. Here are some details on exactly how to apply the update and which updates are applicable to Sun Ray environments:

First, launch the Java Desktop System online update utility (jsupdate). If this is the first time you've run it, online update will ask for your serial number and then download an update for itself. The next time you run the online update utility you will see a list of available updates. I would recommend applying all of them, but at the very least, apply the security updates and those which improve Sun Ray/multiuser performance such as:
  • 118904-02 Recommended update for gnome-session This patch allows the user to disable the logout fade effect. This improves logout responsiveness on Sun Ray and other thin client environments, especially over broadband/WAN connections.
  • 118906-01 Recommended update for metacity This patch provides Wireframe window-move mode. This is particularly useful for improving Sun Ray performance over broadband and wide area networks.
  • 119477-01 Recommended update for Evolution This solves a problem which causes the Evolution wombat process to remain running after logout. This and the related bonobo reference leak caused inefficient resource usage on multiuser environments (e.g. Sun Ray.) And could cause failures on relogin.

Friday Apr 22, 2005

unbashing Sun

I don't think any of us here at want to sound like a television commercial, but we write about stuff we think is cool and sometimes that includes things related to work at Sun. Whether we're up against legitimate competitors or monopolists, we strive to point out advantages of the cool technologies we have. We work here because we think the people and technologies are cool. And while I might be reluctant to criticize Scott McNealy on his golf swing, I might point out that he should be out there promoting Sun Rays on Earth day just as HP is encouraging recycling their hardware. Heck, I'll even encourage recycling HP hardware. Replace every fat X86 client out there with a Sun Ray and how many coal power plants can we shut down?

Anyway what inspired me to write this blog at forever-o'clock was a "Solaris review" in a supposed technology magazine, and some really weird comments in a Slashdot article regarding this. Before you brand me as a computer religious zealot, I'll say that I've worked with VMS, Windows 3.1-XP, Solaris, Irix, Cray Unicos and I use OSX, Linux, Solaris and (gasp) Windows XP1 on an almost daily basis. But it really bothers me to see an incomplete review followed up with such baseless nonsense as this slashdot comment:
I ask Sun, where are you innovating now? Are you providing leadership in LDAP / Directory Services? Nope. Are you providing leadership in distributed computing? Nope, that would be Linux and Open Source. Are you providing leadership in software development? Well, you developed Java, but it took the Free / Open Source guys to make Ant, Junit, Jmeter and other tools to make it really usable.
Where do I start? How about using your LDAP infrastructure to manage and lockdown desktop configuration (Java Desktop System Configuration Manager a.k.a. APOC). Distributed computing? JXTA. Now wait a minute, no useful tools from Sun for Java? What about NetBeans or a dtrace provider which will allow you to see exactly what your Java application is doing. Then there's the old "Sun is Proprietary" or "Sun is closed" meme. Both JXTA and NetBeans are opensource as are the hooks in GNOME, openoffice, and mozilla which allow APOC/LDAP to do it's magic.

As someone with a long interest in science and technology I appreciate Slashdot for trolling up interesting news. Some of the comments are really humorous. But on everything from basic science to technology, Slashdot can get it spectacularly wrong and urban folklore is modded up just because it is popular urban folklore.

1The XP box is a very recent acquisition. I've been meaning to write an "outsiders review of Windows XP Professional." But right now I'm going to bed.

Wednesday Apr 13, 2005

Should we really support _THAT_ hardware?

You're better off not knowing how laws and sausages are made... and certain P.C. hardware. For a good part of my career, I've used Sun, DEC and SGI hardware at work and Apples/Amigas at home so I avoided some of the hardware mess in the P.C. world. I didn't pay much attention when my brother told me to look for a good audio card. It's a DAC for goodness sake, any grade school kid can put together a reasonably good sounding 8 bit audio frequency DAC. Well, my brother was right, quite a few of the sound cards out there were terrible. I don't know how they made them sound so bad. When Linux moved to the 2.6 kernel, someone noticed that a certain manufacturer's CDROM drives were ceasing to function. It seems that the vendor (name witheld to protect the silly), decided to implement a standard "reset bus" command as "upload firmware." Somehow they hacked/kludged MS Windows to never reset bus when this device was installed because this basic bus command would make the drive permanently non functional. More recently I encountered a vendor who used another vendor's PCI vendor code in one of their popular devices. Most linux kernels kludge around this by saying "if Vendor=X AND Device=Y then run code for vendor Z's (the imposter's) Device." This worked O.K. because the true vendor X never used device code Y. Unfortunately, vendor Q recently decided to use Vendor X's vendor code and exactly the same device code as vendor Z. So the Kernel has no way of knowing which of these devices is plugged into the PCI bus. The vendor supplies a "driver" disk which kludges Windows to do the right thing but if anyone ever plugs one of these devices and it's doppelganger into the PCI bus, there is no way any O.S. can sort out what goes where.

Solaris 10 is making great strides in X86 hardware support and in some cases (SATA) is beyond the most popular enterprise linux distributions. My question is, will Solaris X86 have to support the even the most broken "Wintel" hardware in order to gain market share, or do enterprise customers understand the importance of reliable standards-complient hardware?

Correction: The command which the CD drive manufacturer implemented as "UPLOAD FIRMWARE" was "FLUSH CACHE", not "Reset Bus."

Wednesday Apr 06, 2005

I just noticed this: Thanks to whoever took advantage of a Sun trademark which predates Microsoft Windows 95 by about half a decade. I'll leave discussion as to whether this might be a more appropriate name for our alternative desktop as an exercise for the reader. And apologies to those with fond memories of the advantages of the original OpenWindows(tm) in integrating postscript based NeWS(tm) with X11. WYSIWYG.

Friday Apr 01, 2005

Not a bug

I thought I had found the holy grail, the hole in dtrace which would restore my faith in Heisenberg's uncertainty priciple, that you can't observe anything without messing it up. But dtrace had nothing to do with the weirdness on this machine. I just found that on this (appropriate) day, I made a simple mistake. I attempted to run several memory guzzlers such as Mozilla and Nautilus on a memory deficient machine with inadequate swap space:
swap                   118M   664K   117M     1%    /etc/svc/volatile
swap                   172M    55M   117M    33%    /tmp
swap                   117M    24K   117M     1%    /var/run
I don't know why it worked as well as it did running GNOME, Sun Ray Server and a number of other things on this box. Windows XP wouldn't do too well without a page file. But it was easy enough to fix. If anyone else has made the mistake of configuring too little swap space during Solaris installation:
mkfile 2000m /new_swap   {I'll take 2 Gigabytes please, unleaded, ethyl}
swap -a /new_swap        {add it to my swap space}
The machine looked hopeless, it couldn't fork, I couldn't login or run any new process, but after I fixed the memory and ran utrestart, my session came back as good as new. I didn't have to reboot.

Friday Mar 04, 2005

Wallace&Grommit and A11Y Magnification

I wanted to grab a screenshot but to get the full effect you have to see it in motion. I found an MPG clip of a Wallace and Grommit's close shave chase scene, put it on laptop with a recent JDS build and turned on Gnopernicus and screen Magnification. Then I opened the clip with Java Media player and moved the mouse cursor over the mediaplayer window. A magnified Wallace&Grommit was rendered full speed to the magnifier pane. We tried to break it. We turned on bilinear interpolation, inverted the video, magnified 4 times. There was a tiny bit of tearing in the magnified pane and an almost imperceptable delay between the source window and the magnified pane.

So we have: (Java) Media Player doing the decoding GNOME (gdk pixmap) doing the rendering to the magnify pane Xorg with the DAMAGE extension drawing the magnify pane.

Do you notice anything here? Do a google search on "Gnome slow", "X11 Slow", "java slow" and you might find a lot of urban folklore but when I see this clip or looking glass running on JDS on a several year old laptop, it sure doesn't look slow. Alan Coopersmith or others can better explain how DAMAGE and other new X extensions work. I can just tell you that it works and may potentially help in everything from Accessibility to 3D to thin clients.

Speeding up JDS Sun Ray hot desking

Just a quick tip one of our accessibility engineers gave me for configuring the gnome desktop manager (gdm) so that the login screen redraws faster when you're hot desking. This could be especially useful if you're hot desking over a WAN or DSL.
  • Login as root
  • Open a terminal and run gdmconfig
  • Set the tab to General
  • Set the login banner for Local to Standard instead of Graphic. logout
  • Restart gdm (O.K. I go kind of brute force here:) init 3 /opt/SUNWut/sbin/utrestart
O.K. the "Standard" gdm login doesn't look as pretty but it redraws much faster if you have a slow network.
There are already a few patches available on the JDS online update server which allow wireframe window moves and a few other features which help make Sun Ray work better.
I'll post a link to the Sun Solve article and JDS Sun Ray patches when they become available.

Monday Nov 22, 2004

Persistence of technology... Part 3: Binary compatibility

A tale of three Operating Systems.

We spent the last couple of weekends moving house to take advantage of a slight softening in rent prices. Moving gave us an excuse to purge our belongings but occasionaly we regretted getting rid of something (like selling grandpa's red mandolin for $15!) I also found some things that were lost for a very long time. One of these was a digital media backup that was stored in a Wisconsin attic for ten years. The data from 1993 was still readable despite my less than ideal storage conditions (attic temperatures range from 0 to 130 degrees fahrenheit.) I found the amiga iff ultrasound image my brother emailed to me and I found some old Solaris binaries. Hmm.

Will SunOS 3.5.3 binaries from 1993 run on Solaris 10???

What was happening in 1993? Microsoft Windows was still at version 3.1 with almost no support for networking because Mosaic and the internet were just passing fads. Two immigration lawyers from Sarasota were plotting to send the first commercial SPAM and I was spending weekends scuba diving and windsurfing with dolphins just offshore.

On November 22, 2004 I moved those binaries built in 1993 for SunOS 3.5.3 (Solaris 5.3?) onto a Solaris 10 build 70 sparc machine. Then I pointed my LD_LIBRARY_PATH (yuck) to an ancient version of libXext and ran it via ssh with my display forwarded to an 256 color JDS linux laptop. Did I mention that I was once in the Society for Creative Anachronism?

1993 Sun binary running on Solaris 10

In other news...a tale of Windows XP binary (in)compatibility

The friend I sail with is partial owner of a wind farm. When he updated Windows XP to the latest service pack his wind farm monitoring software stopped working.


My first linux was Slackware 1996, running on a butterfly thinkpad. I was hooked when I saw that the Java wireframe 3d demo running on linux ran circles around the same program under Windows 95 on the same hardware. But when I installed my first version of Red Hat, some of my Slackware binaries didn't work. The wifi card I'm using at the moment has a driver for kernel 2.4 but not for kernel 2.6. I am still a linux fan but I do wish it had more stable ABIs and a stable hardware abstraction layer. Maybe I'm being naive, but wouldn't a stable open hardware abstraction layer be good for all alternative operating systems?

Just for fun

Other than the simple Java applications I was running in 1996, are there any binaries from these old linux distributions that would work unaltered on say RedHat 9?

Wednesday Oct 13, 2004

Active Directory and Java Desktop

How to use Java Desktop in a Microsoft Windows network with Active Directory.
Stephen from Sun's desktop group in Ireland has a detailed howto on configuring JDS for use on a Microsoft Windows network with Active Directory(ADS).
How to use Solaris gcore
Fintanr has a short blog on how to use Solaris gcore for example, to capture a snapshot core of a running gnome-vfs process.

Thursday Oct 07, 2004

Sun Galway weekend away

rainy Galwaypub dogConnemara house at coral beachconnemara coral beach Sun Ireland sports and social club members and guests enjoyed a weekend away in Galway. We bought a tin whistle and small bodhran for our music-loving little girl then we accidently found coral beach while looking for Roundstone. On the way home we visited the Ballinasloe (slow) horse show where I picked up a sextant It wasn't a bad price for a working model and it suits my interests in astronomy, sailing and scientific instruments. This one is similar to some Stanley replicas but without the Titanic plaque and mirror collimation screws. I guess I'll have to collimate with a hammer ;-). Some antique dealers try to pass these inexpensive brass imports off as real antiques, worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. Don't fall for that!

Tuesday Sep 14, 2004

How to use JDS's Evolution Email client with Microsoft Exchange and as blog viewer

Tip #1: A new connector allows the Java Desktop System's evolution email program to receive email from a Microsoft Exchange server. Launch Applications->System Tools->Online Update and install:

patch-118241-01 oxygen2 1.4-5b New feature: Connector for Microsoft Exchange Server.

The next time you configure Evolution, you'll see a new option: house

Tip #2:Blog from the South explains how to view RSS blog newsfeeds in Evolution's Summary page!



« June 2016