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.)