OpenWest notes

This past weekend, I attended the excellent #OpenWest conference, and I presented Scaling RabbitMQ.

The volunteers that organized the conference deserve a huge amount of thanks. I can’t imagine how much work it was. I should also thank the conference sponsors.

A local group of hardware engineers designed an amazing conference badge, built from a circuit board. They deserve a big “high-five”. There was a soldering lab where I soldered surface mount components for the first time in my life – holding the components in place with tweezers. I bought the add-on kit for $35 that included a color LCD screen and Parallax Propeller chip. It took me 45 minutes to do the base kit, and two hours to do the add-on kit. I breathed a sigh of relief when I turned on the power, and it all worked.

The speakers did a great job, and I appreciate the hours they spent preparing. I wish I could have attended more of the sessions.

Among others, I attended sessions on C++11, Rust, Go lang, Erlang, MongoDB schema design, .NET core, wireless security, Salt Stack, and digital privacy.

I’m going to keep my eye on Rust, want to learn and use Go, and use the new beacon feature of Salt Stack. Sometime in the future, I’d like to use the new features of C++11.

The conference was an excellent place to have useful side-conversations with vendors, speakers, and past colleagues. It was a great experience.

Galago UltraPro laptop: the good and the bad

I’ve had a Galago UltraPro laptop from System76 since August of 2013, and I use it every day at work (thank you, Vivint). Overall, I love it — but would have looked for another option had I known about the bad parts.

The good:

  1. Ships with Ubuntu by default, including drivers for the hardware.
  2. Powerful: Intel Haswell processor with the Intel Iris Pro graphics chip, which means it’s fast, and it can drive a Dell 30″ monitor (using an Apple mini display port to dual-link DVI adapter), an HDMI monitor, and the laptop screen at the same time.
  3. Small and lightweight — easy to carry around.
  4. USB 3.0
  5. The keyboard layout and function keys are designed for Linux, and they work — no tweaking necessary.
  6. The touch pad works well (although it’s not as awesome as Apple’s touchpad and gestures)

The bad:

  1. The screen is too small to use at its high resolution unless it’s sitting on my lap. So I always use external monitors when I’m sitting at my desk.
  2. No backlit keyboard.
  3. No indicators/lights for the caps lock, scroll lock and num lock keys — so you don’t know what state your keyboard is in. I hate this — it’s a huge omission.
  4. The ethernet jack door flips down, and it breaks off easily. When that happens, the ethernet cable doesn’t stay plugged in very easily. Inexcusable. It’s possible to use a USB-to-Ethernet device, but who wants to do that?

The Galago UltraPro is a fantastic Linux workstation, but it’s a poor laptop compared to most other laptops (with the exception of being lightweight) because the screen is too small, the keyboard isn’t backlit, and the lock keys lack indicator lights. A MacBook Pro Retina is a better laptop in almost every way. The screen is oh-so-beautiful, the keys are backlit, and the caps lock key tells you when it’s on (but the function key is in the wrong place — the control key should go there — what was Apple thinking?).

Why can’t Apple ship Ubuntu as an option on the MacBook Pro? It would be awesome, because they’d support the hardware with Linux drivers.

I can dream.

Preventing laptop hard drive from overheating

Six months ago, I replaced the failing hard drive in my Linux laptop, and already, the SMART tools are telling me that I should back up and replace the hard drive — a high number of sectors have gone bad.

Hmmm. What’s this? SMART also reported that the hard drive had reached “overheating” temperature ranges. Why would that be? I did some Google searching, and came up with the following advice:

  1. Don’t close the laptop lid while it is powered up! This is how I had normally run my Linux laptop — it’s a server, and I leave the lid closed. Oops! I’ve changed the power settings so that when the laptop lid is closed, it sleeps.
  2. Edit /etc/grub.conf and add acpi_osi=Linux or try acpi=off to seee if apm (automatic hardware control) will take over. I’ve just started trying the former. UPDATE 8 Feb 2011: Using this prevented my laptop from waking up from sleep, so I stopped using it.
  3. Vacuum the dust off the fan screen (to prevent airflow blockage)
  4. Monitor the temperature with ‘smartclt’

Based on a tip from my father (a long time Linux expert), I ran “smartctl -H /dev/sda”, and it says “SMART overall-health self-assessment test result: PASSED”. I assume it means the hard drive is still okay, but I had better not forget to make regular backups, and monitor the status of the hard drive.

Palm TX: There’s more than one way to install an application

When I got my Palm TX, I didn’t realize that the Palm Desktop software wasn’t completely compatible with Windows Vista. For example, I can’t install new palm apps via hot syncing. Here are some alternative install paths:

1. Attach the pdb files to an email, and send it to myself. Use VersaMail to retrieve the message, and install the pdb attachments.
1. Use the web browser to download and install a pdb file.
1. Have someone beam it using the IR interface.
1. Have someone send it using bluetooth.
1. Install from an SD card. I haven’t verified that this works.

While I’m at it, it seems like configuring Linux to hotsync with Palm devices can be a pain. As an alternative, I think I’ll get an SD card and use [nvbackup]( to backup to SD, and then copy the backup from SD to my Linux box and use it with JPilot.

There’s more than one way to do things, especially for a Palm equipped with built-in WiFi, bluetooth and an SD expansion card.

Laptop lamentations and blissful benefits

At our household, we’ve finally made the leap from a desktop computer to a shiny new laptop — an [HP dv6426us]( A new computer, in theory, should save time because it runs faster, right? Wrong. It takes time to become familiar with Windows Vista and where they’ve managed to hide various configuration options (displaying file extensions in Explorer). HP doesn’t make it obvious how to get rid of their annoying add-ons from popping up in my face. I didn’t buy this thing to run the HP Health Center. I bought it so the OS would stay out of my way, and let me focus on work (err, tinkering).

We’re still attached to our desktop computer until we have migrated our data and applications over to the laptop. Migration requires time, time, and more time. [FireFox](, [Thunderbird](, Quicken, [Vim](, [Password Safe](, [Putty](, [Cygwin](, PrintMaster, Hallmark Create-a-Card, Palm Desktop, [OpenOffice](, [IrfanView](, [NoMachine NX](, an instant messaging client, and the list goes on. I’ve tried Vista’s new [Windows Mail](, and it’s much better than Outlook Express, but my wife and I have our email in Thunderbird, and it was easy to migrate that across — once I figured out where to drop the folder on Vista — in `C:\Users\MyUserName\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird`. PrintMaster 12 didn’t run for non-admin users until I figured out that I needed to grant Full Control access for `C:\Program Files\Broderbund\PrintMaster\Ereg`. Cygwin and NoMachine NX conflict with each other.

I bought this particular laptop because the hardware was likely to work with Linux — it has an Intel graphics card, which has open-source Linux drivers, and Intel WiFi. Open source drivers mean that suspend and resume are far more likely to function correctly than when using proprietary drivers (as from Nvidia or ATI).

I would install Fedora 7, which meant I needed to resize the existing windows partition. Vista’s disk manager made this a piece of cake. Installing Fedora 7 was easy. At first, Fedora didn’t resume after suspending to RAM. After applying all Fedora updates, it worked, although WiFi doesn’t work after the resume. Hibernate always works, and so does WiFi after resuming from hibernation. WiFi and the NetworkManager didn’t allow me to connect to my WPA2-encrypted access point until I disabled SELinux.

Linux has other problems running on the hardware, including:

– Secondary screen output hasn’t worked yet. This is easy and painless in Windows. It sounds like the latest xorg releases may help solve this situation with their Rotate and Render extensions ([RandR](
– Microphone doesn’t seem to work (although it does through VMWare Windows guest). Haven’t figured this out yet.
– Spotty webcam support in applications. Ekiga crashes. But yes, I found a [driver for my webcam]( Too bad it didn’t come with Fedora 7 — I had to download, compile and install it myself.
– Slow hibernate/resume. The [TuxOnIce]( project supposedly remedies this, but I don’t want to spend all of my time tweaking my Linux box.
– Battery life. Even the Linux kernel hackers acknowledge that Windows gives better battery life than Linux. This situation is being remedied, gradually.

It takes more time than I want to spend to get Linux to run optimally on this hardware, and there are some Windows applications that just don’t have equivalents in Linux, like Print Master. My plan is to run Linux under [VirtualBox]( or [VMPlayer](

I now realize that there’s huge value in an OEM preinstall of an operating system for end users. I had considered buying a [Ubuntu DELL laptop](, but let’s face it, DELL insiprons are ugly. HP systems are sleek, beautiful, and cost less while coming with more features (like a webcam).

Having a laptop is changing the way we work. Mobility is a huge win. We took the laptop with us when we went to vote in the primary election, because we had candidate information we could access using a web browser. There are downsides, of course.

We need a new printer and a new scanner with Vista drivers. We get to put up with frequent security dialogs interrupting our work flow. Vista itself consumes more RAM (nearly 500 MB), so we may need to upgrade to 2 GB. Vista runs slower than XP and Linux. Vista’s hibernate/resume is quite slow and gives no visual feedback during hibernation, just a blank screen. Vista’s boot and login experience is slow. Oh well. Life goes on.

Morse Code Tutor

Here’s a morse code tutor I’ve been using. It works on Windows, Linux, Mac and Dos: [](

Sony Clie Fixed

A few months ago, my Sony Clie PEG T-615C stopped hot-syncing and stopped charging. I would have backed up to a memory stick, but the slot was destroyed a couple of years ago when my then-two-year old son tried to jam the stylus into the wrong spot. I lost some data when the battery finally gave out. I used my multi-meter to check that the power supply cable was functioning. It was okay. A connection inside the Clie was probably broken.

Since then, I’ve been borrowing a friend’s PEG-NZ90. It mostly works and runs faster, but is an ugly beast of a machine. I liked the slim, sleek form-factor of my T615C.

Tonight, I decided to open up the broken Clie and see if I could spot anything obviously wrong, but I couldn’t. Still, seeing the innards was fascinating.

I was impressed at how tiny the parts were — the ICs, the resistors, the diodes and who-knows-what-else. The miniaturization is amazing, and seeing it with my own eyes leads me to appreciate the raw power we hold in our hands. This thing is more powerful than the first Macintosh computers were just twenty years ago… or would be, if it worked.

Past experience with computer hardware has taught me that a simple cause of problems can be bad connections between computer cards and their slots, or with cables that have come loose. After twenty minutes of tinkering, I figured out how to disengage a few of the ribbon connectors, and I reengaged them. I disconnected and reconnected the battery. I tried plugging in the power connector, and the charge light came on! I was in business!

Innards of my Clie

My backup plan was to purchase a used Clie on ebay. Looks like I won’t need to do that unless I want a faster device.

Yaesu FT-60R

I received my ameture radio license a couple of weeks ago. My callsign is KE7GQG, and I just purchased a Yaesu FT-60R radio. I’m still learning how to use it, and it makes me appreciate the technology packed into tiny cell phones. I tend to under appreciate the amazing technology we enjoy.