Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Constrained disk space, whoops, patents

So I'm setting up a Linux instance under Qemu (actually, under Kju). I want the whole root filesystem to fit in a 2GB-or-smaller qcow file, so the image can be easily carried around on a FAT32-formatted USB flash drive. (NTFS isn't universally available, nor is my preferred HFS+.) I know there are other ways to do this (I could go up to 4GB on a FAT32 volume, or have multiple volumes and use LVM, or...), but consider this a bored geek's exercise in -- filesystem economy? (Man, I remember when a 2GB drive was huge, we figured we'd never need any more space on our Univel UnixWare box (a 486DX2/66 with 32MB RAM and 32 serial ports courtesy an ISA Digi DigiBoard C/X and a pair of DigiCon/16 RJ45 serial port boxes, serving up terminal access to a hundred or so students and faculty)...)

Anyway, getting a modern distribution shoehorned into that space is an exercise in frustration. Even 9.04 Xubuntu won't fit! I went back to Fedora Core 9 and did a completely bare-bones install, customized package load with all packages de-selected (including everything in Base). Whoops. Didn't realize how completely cut off that would leave that instance. Solution: Setup a small (100MB) qcow filesystem under a Windows instance as a FAT32 volume and manually copy some RPMs (ftp, lynx, etc) from a Fedora Core 9 mirror. Shutdown the Windows instance and connect the FAT32 volume to the Linux machine, boot it, and mount the FAT32 volume under /mnt, using `rpm -ivh` to manually install the RPM files.

The things we do when we're bored (and putting off reading the Order Granting Motion for Summary Judgment of Invalidity of '427 Patent in Dealertrack v. Huber et al., CV 06-2335 AG (C.D. Cal., July 7, 2009) (use your PACER login), which evidently applies In Re Bilski (wow, that list of amici reads like the plaintiff list in a Jonathon Lee Riches complaint!) to invalidate a software patent...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Geek-friendly keyboard for the Dell Mini 9

There's something to be said for online forums; intrigued by mention of an "international" keyboard for the Dell Mini 9 (Inspiron 910) in the UbuntuMini group, I set out to learn more about this wonder. Found it. Note the keyboard layout differences -- [{ and }] and the | pipe etc. are no longer modifier-required keys, but honest-to-gods standalone plastic. If you've ever programmed, or authored a document in LaTeX, etc., you'll quickly realize the person who designed the standard US keyboard for the Mini 9 ... hasn't. The "fixed" keyboard is en route to me as I type this, $23 shipped to California, Dell part number U061H, described as: Keyboard,66,US-INTL,Single Pointing,Qiao Hong,Windows. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Your world in your pocket

I've been excited by the idea of a truly portable operating environment for a while. I'd love to be able to sit down at any workstation and fire up my world -- my documents, my web browser bookmarks, everything. We're a long way away from that still (I'd love for everything to be in some sort of reliable, secure, always-on inexpensive cloud, with native-desktop-speed access to that...), but getting closer.

I'm theoretically entering a situation where I won't have access to my personal computers, but will have access to workstations in an unknown but presumed locked down configuration -- pretty typical for many who access the world through libraries, university (or high school) computer labs, want a way to catch up on personal email during lunch breaks at the office, at a business center at a hotel, whatever. (Always adhering to the local usage and access policies, of course!) Being able to fire up my VPN and encrypted volumes to have secure access to my work is a Good Thing.

As such, I want to have an environment (Windows with Cygwin, I guess, to straddle both worlds but still have native access to, e.g., Acrobat Pro and Microsoft Office, two essential tools for a lawyer, though I've used scan2pdf and with some success) I can carry with me and run as an unprivileged (non-administrator) user.

I had high hopes for VMware ACE, but alas it requires the installation of VMware Player, which requires administrator access. MokaFive and its ilk all seem to likewise require admin rights. So far, the only real option seems to be QEMU, through Qemu Manager. So far so good, except I think I found an issue with the "File Transfer" functionality -- when using PASV mode it reports an IP address of, rather than the the client will need to connect to. It's also not quite as fast as VMware, but otherwise appears to be as capable as I need it to be, especially once I transferred it from my fast, but nowhere near native hard drive speed, USB drive onto my laptop's internal drive for the purpose of setting up software. (I'll move it back to the USB drive for its intended use, obviously.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

MAC Address fiddling

Changing the MAC address of your Linux workstation is an incredibly easy task (in this example, from :a9 to :aa)...

  1. Determine the existing MAC address of the interface to be changed:
    $ sudo ifconfig wlan0
    wlan0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr 00:24:2c:e3:c8:a9

  2. Bring the interface down:
    $ sudo ifconfig wlan0 down

  3. Set the new MAC address:
    $ sudo ifconfig wlan0 hw ether 00:24:2c:e3:c8:aa

  4. Bring the interface back online:
    $ sudo ifconfig wlan0 up

  5. Verify the change took:
    $ sudo ifconfig wlan0 | grep HWaddr
    wlan0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr 00:24:2c:e3:c8:aa


Friday, June 26, 2009

Connectivity, ancient Slackware, and other stuff

So sitting in the passenger seat of my brother's sedan, I was able to get online with my (sadly discontinued; it was a great, cheap, Linux portable, and all-important for me, it was the only then-available netbook without a camera; the replacement Mini 10, and the Vostro A90, are both camera-laden, as are all the other netbooks on the market now that I'm aware of) Dell Mini 9 and my Millenicom mobile broadband adapter ($50/month for truly unlimited service, pay-as-you-go), and got some client work done. Nothing huge, just reviewing a contract, adding a few lines to an addendum, and bouncing it back to him. On the way to the family farm, in the middle of nowhere.

While I was there, in the middle of corn fields, I was able to use my BlackBerry to send a copy of a fax I'd sent out using TrustFax to another party via email (downloaded the preview from their web interface and attached it as a file using the standard OS 4.5 BlackBerry mail application). Tech can be, at times, maddeningly frustrating when it doesn't work, or when it connects you to the drama at the office when you'd rather not have seen the flashing red "message waiting" light... But the times it lets you spend time with family and still get done the time-critical tasks that need doing -- yeah.

So while at the farm I stumbled across one of the first Linux distributions I ever used, a Slackware 3.0 CD-ROM from the Linux System Administrator's Survival Guide. This wasn't my first go-around with Linux; that was Slackware 2.2.0 (with August 1995's 1.2.13 kernel; of course, kernel 2.0 wouldn't be released until the summer of 1996, and the first Linux box I put into production went online in January 1996) I got bundled with the book Linux Unleashed. (Eventually I outgrew the books and just started buying dirt-cheap CD-ROMs from Cheap*Bytes. This was in the days before my college had high speed connectivity; I think the entire campus was sharing a 56k leased line. Once, I signed up for an MSN dial-up account -- which came with 100 free hours -- to download a Linux distribution.)

Anyway, with a few magical incantations:

$ sudo dd if=/dev/sr0 of=/media/PNY/Slackware3.iso
$ eject cdrom
$ sudo mount -o loop /media/PNY/Slackware3.iso /mnt

I have an ancient piece of my history I can play around with a little bit. Maybe fire up VirtualBox and see if I can get it to live again (like Arren did with the DV-8).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In-Flight Internet

I was on an old MD-80 last night, flying from LAX to the midwest with American Airlines. As soon as we got the "approved portable electronic devices" go-ahead I pulled out my ThinkPad and fired it up, and as I went to kill the onboard WiFi I was surprised to see a hotspot. I connected to it and sure enough, after clicking through the "try it on us!" greeting, I had a fully working Internet connection. At 30,000'! Gogo Inflight. It didn't appear to be restricted in any real way; I was able to SSH and FTP out, send SMTP messages, access my IMAP server, browse the web, etc. I'm a bad geek, in that I didn't run a connection speed test (instead I hopped on Facebook and posted a bunch of "OMG I'm FLYING and talking to you on Facebook!" inanity) or otherwise determine the parameters of the link...

It was (only?) a decade ago I was totally enamored with the 9600 baud connections available through cabling a laptop's internal model (or PCMCIA card modem) via the RJ11 port provided on seatback telephone handsets, billed at like $2.00/minute, that would at least allow me to check mail / SSH in to an errant server or whatever, while en route to Europe. (I couldn't find a lot of information on this, was kind of a flash-in-the-pan thing that didn't last very long. Here's a blog post with pictures, and someone else remembering that tech...)