French Customs and Fat Software

Never ever ever tell French Customs that you have just driven from Amsterdam - you will lose an hour of your life. This happened to me at Calais on my way home to UK. I always get stopped by Customs when I'm on my own. Its because I drive a big shiny German car but wear scruffy clothes and don't shave often enough for their liking. If I cleaned up and put a suit on for these journeys, I'd get left alone but I always forget. If I was a customs officer, I'd stop me.

Anyway, due to my arrival from the intoxicant capital of Europe I got the full treatment this time. They even X-rayed my spare tyre (no, the one in the car, not 'round my waist) and it is in fine health. They were very suspicious when I told them I don't smoke - not just dope, but anything. They all smoked - continuously. Then when they found that the 6 bottles of wine I had (only 6, Monsieur?) were from Portugal and not their beloved France, that was it. Out came the back seat of the car, pockets were emptied. carpets were lifted. I just kept smiling - They have guns after all, and latex surgical gloves - far more scary. Anyway, if I'm ever stopped again; I've just come from Lourdes.

I was coming home because remote working isn't working any more: my laptop is broken. Since my daughter peeled all the keys from the keyboard, it has never been quite the same and now one of them is permanently detached - queue renditions of "U picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille", "I'll never find another U", etc. Try working without this vowel - its impossible. So off to the laptop garage it goes.

This leaves me with a 8 year old PC in my office which was given to me as an alternative to putting it in landfill. Bye bye $3500 Ferarri laptop, hello ageing HP Brio. It hasn't much memory (256 Mb), or a DVD drive, or sound and the screen has got pen marks all over it because it came out of a goods-despatch office in a warehouse. But hey, it was free.

I load up Solaris 10 6/06 (Developer install profile), log in to Gnome and it...eh...stops. That is to say the visual element of the great Solaris experience stops - the meat grinder noise continues under the desk. Since then, its taken me a fair amount of performance tuning to get useability out of it - a sort of "back to basics" exercise.

My first suspicion was that the delicious new GUI that Solaris sports was the culprit for all the thrashing below. I used to say that using Unix was fine so long as one remembered that the first ten years would be the worst part. Now? You don't have to know anything about anything to be a performance analyst. You just read Solaris Performance & Tools and you're away. Observability? Look at this:

# echo "::memstat" | mdb -k 
Page Summary                Pages                MB  %Tot
------------     ----------------  ----------------  ----
Kernel                      19522                76   31%
Anon                        20766                81   33%
Exec and libs                7685                30   12%
Page cache                   2095                 8    3%
Free (cachelist)            10547                41   17%
Free (freelist)              2759                10    4%

Total                       63374               247

...then turn to page 646 of the book, distill the content onto a Powerpoint slide and present your invoice Voila! (as the Customs men were dying to shout, but couldn't).

So is the windowing software fat? Well actually no. It is fatter than it was as the graph below shows (the Y axis indicates where my precious 247 megabytes have gone - for all the data points we have one terminal window open on the desktop) but not really podgy like some operating systems window mangers. The real problem though was that unknown to me (then), the web management software starts a honking great JVM - thats where all the memory goes.

So my choice was to go out and buy some hardware or execute a slash and burn strategy on memory consumption. Well the PC was free, the OS was free and the authors gave me the book for free (all as in "free beer"). Enough said. I did the numbers at each stage as you can see in the graph below:

Stage 1. This is my baseline - With Gnome and 1 terminal window open.

Stage 2. With CDE, 1 terminal window open.

Stage 3. Disable the windowing system altogether (dtconfig -d).

Stage 4. In /etc/rc2.d get rid of (i.e rename) S90wbem and S90webconsole: As I mentioned they start a very large (for the RAM I have to play with) JVM. This was the biggest single win.

Stage 5. In /etc/rc3.d, rid yourself of S76snmpdx, S77dmi and S82initsma

Stage 6. Disable "uneeded" (opinions differ here) service deamons using svcadm disable: sendmail, nfs/cbd, nfs/mapid, nfs/server, nfs/status, nfs/nlockmgr, nfs/rquota, nfs/client, network/ssh, system/power, system/picl, filesystem/autofs

Stage 7. Fire up twm(1) using xinit(1). For those who cannot remember Toms Window Manager, you can enjoy its rich functionality by choosing a Failsafe session from the options on your Gnome/CDE login screen and then logging in. In the (only) shell window you are presented type/usr/openwin/bin/twm and there you are. Now run away. Fast.

There is probably more fat I could trim (please email me your favourite culprits: dominic dot kay at gmail dot com) but the effort/mempages ratio has peaked and the day-job beckons.

And so here I am. I have an antique computer running a windowing system no-one can remember how to use but my ps(1) listing doesn't scroll off the screen anymore and it boots up in bounded time and goes like the wind. It runs Openoffice, Firefox, Sun Studio 11 (with special "compile during coffee break" option enabled). My X Windows Users and Administrators Guides (from O'Reilly circa 1992, from my attic yesterday) have new value and I'm high on life - thanks to losing "U" in Amsterdam.

I should make it clear by way of postscript that I was not in Amsterdam because it is the preferred haunt of those who like their tobacco to have a fuller flavour but because my brother has a fabulously comfortable house there with a spare room, a DSL connection and a fridge full of food. As far as intoxication went - I took everything from my cellar dated 1995 to enjoy with him. Most of the claret was starting to fade. I take this as a sign that I should giddy-up and attack the 1996's at Christmas. Mais ne pas les drogues et stupifients. No, I haven't got any. Really.

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