Aspire One: sshfs and encfs

These are two things I consider essential on my mobile machines, one for accessing my files at work and the other for accessing the ones I keep encrypted on my USB drive. Neither is on the Aspire One by default, and getting them there was a bit tricky. For one thing, the RPMs that are available have lots of false dependencies, and installing them would drag in a ton of stuff including the wrong kernel. Seemed like a good way to break my system, so I aborted that effort. Then I tried to build sshfs from source. To do that, I had to build FUSE from source too, because the FUSE kernel module that’s on the system is OK but the version of the libraries that’s on there is missing stuff that sshfs needs. So I compile/install FUSE, install a few other *-devel packages (the standard way this time), build sshfs, and try to run it. I get this:

sshfs: relocation error: sshfs: symbol fuse_opt_insert_arg, version FUSE_2.6 not defined in file libfuse.so.2 with link time reference

WTF? I start digging, learn a few things about versioned symbols, check out how they’re done in FUSE, but everything looks OK. A few experiments only make things worse. Finally I realize that sshfs is finding the vendor-provided version of libfuse in /lib before the one I built in /usr/local/lib, and that version’s broken. I had to fix that in /etc/ld.so.conf (yuk) but then it worked. After that, encfs was a breeze; I had to install boost and openssl and rlog but those were all very straightforward. And no, I didn’t need dmadm or a new kernel or any of the other junk that the package manager wanted to pull in.

Broken wireless, out of date software and repositories, drastically uninformative error messages – where does it all end? Truly, Linux is only free if your time has no value. It’s been worth it to me, to have a highly portable computer that has the software I need, but I hate to think of how someone less experienced would react when they hit these hurdles.

Aspire One Wireless

Important note (added October 17). Today Acer pushed out an update to the built-in wireless drivers, and it seems to work much better than the old ones. I’ve been able to get strong, stable signals using it both at work and at home (I’m using that connection to type this). Therefore, the instructions below are unlikely to be necessary if you have up-to-date software.

The big negative for my new Aspire One turned out to be the wireless. Using the packaged drivers, I managed to get a connection at work once, but it was soon dropped and I never repeated that success. I was able to get a stable connection to our neighbor’s wireless network, but never connected at home. Why do the open-source wireless drivers suck so much? I’ve had this problem with the Broadcom driver for my Dell at home, forcing me to use ndiswrapper. This one’s Atheros/MadWifi, but just as bad if not worse. Part of the problem seems to be that the open-source drivers will not set the transmit power and sensitivity to their proper values even if you try to set them manually. Yeah yeah, FCC blahblah make all the excuses you want, but the vendor drivers seem to get away with using higher power and besides, that can’t be the whole problem because I can put the machine right next to my access point at home and it still fails. Using the vendor driver with the exact same settings works just dandy; my Aspire One is demonstrating that fact right this moment.

OK, so how do you get the vendor driver working on your Aspire One? Here are the steps I took.

  1. Make sure gcc is installed on your system.
  2. Download the kernel source from Acer. Do not try to get the sources via the package manager; that’s an old version and not the one actually shipped on the system.
  3. Go into /usr/src and unpack the source. Create a symbolic link with “ln -s linux-2.6.23.9 linux” so that module builds and such will work.
  4. Go into the linux directory. Copy /boot/config_080627 (or whatever the latest version is) to .config here. Acer needs to get their source-control together a bit here; there are several config files in the unpacked source at well, using many different naming conventions. I used config_080609v2 and it worked OK for me, but good practice would be to use the one from /boot. Whichever one you use, run “make oldconfig” to finish the kernel-configuration process.
  5. At this point I actually built the kernel because I figure I’ll want to strip out a bunch of stuff some day (there are a surprising number of drivers configured in for devices that are not physically present on the system). For what we’re doing right now, the only value of this is to validate that the build tools are all working. I actually did find some minor breakage, which is that asm-offsets.h is present in include/asm-i386 but not include/asm (which is supposed to be a symlink to include/asm-$ARCH but Acer screwed that up). A simple symlink for that one file fixed the problem.
  6. Get ndiswrapper from SourceForge and unpack it. Go into the directory where it was unpacked and run “make install”; if you did the previous steps correctly this should just work.
  7. Go to the unofficial Atheros driver download site and grab the Windows XP 32-bit driver for this chip. I tried the 7.x-series driver and it didn’t work, complaining about being a WDM driver instead of NDIS. Working backward, I fetched the only 6.x-series driver (xp32-6.0.3.85.zip) and that seems to load without complaint.
  8. Unpack the zip file and run “ndiswrapper -i net5416.inf” to install the driver.
  9. Run “madwifi-unload” to unload all of the MadWifi junk and “modprobe ndiswrapper” to load the driver that works.
  10. Configure your wireless network as you should have been able to do in the first place.
  11. Enjoy your wireless connectivity.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. Certain aspects of this formula are almost certain to change, as Acer ships new systems with slightly different hardware or an updated kernel config. Nonetheless, the basics worked for me and should approximate what you’ll need to do. Feel free to comment here or contact me via email if you use these instructions, whether you succeed or fail, so I can update appropriately.

Eee vs. Aspire One

My Eee 701 never quite got over being doused with Coke (don’t ask) so I decided to get a replacement. This is a rapidly evolving market, and my experience with the Eee was that the screen was just a little bit too small, so I decided I’d take the opportunity to upgrade a bit. It came down to the Eee 901 vs. the Aspire One A110. They have the same processor and screen. Here are some points of comparison:

  • Same processor, same screen.
  • Eee has more memory. Point for Eee.
  • Eee has more flash built in, but Aspire has two SD slots with one transparently increasing capacity on the primary drive (neat trick BTW) and flash cards are cheap. It’s a wash.
  • Eee has 802.11n instead of 802.11b. Don’t care, because I don’t have any other 802.11n gear.
  • Eee has a 1.3MP built-in camera, instead of 0.3MP for Aspire. Big don’t care, since even my celphone can do better than either and I’d really rather not have a camera at all since some of the places I’m likely to visit won’t allow them.
  • Eee runs Xandros, Aspire runs Linpus. Half point for Aspire even before I’d seen Linpus.
  • Eee has a bigger battery. Point for Eee.
  • Aspire is slightly lighter. Point for Aspire.
  • Aspire is considerably cheaper. Point and a half for Aspire.

Before I made another purchase in this area, I did an experiment. I used Xnest to set up a 1024×600 desktop within my real desktop, then ran my email and browser in that for half a day. It was a little cramped, but much more tolerable than 800×480 had been. So I got the Aspire One A110 from Newegg, and it arrived the next day (yesterday). The screen was even nicer than I had expected, glossy and bright, Linpus really was nicer than Xandros, and things seemed to work pretty well out of the box – using the wired connection at work because I didn’t want to mess with wireless yet. I also discovered my first negative. The case is also very glossy, and shows fingerprints like you wouldn’t believe. Oh well. It’s definitely nicer than the machine it replaces, but there is one big negative which will be the subject of my next post.

Crater-pult

Yesterday Cray announced the CX-1, which is supposed to bring supercomputer technology to the masses. (I’d link to Cray’s own product page, but it’s too broken to work in my Firefox install at work so screw ‘em.) Somebody at work quickly dubbed it the “Cray-tapult” in reference to our own SC072 “Catapult” which really does fit on a desktop and which we’ve been selling for a year. My purpose here is not to bang the SiCortex drum, though, except to point out that Cray make a big deal about the CX-1 running on regular wall power and that our SC648 which also runs off wall power spanks the pants off it. I’m not here to comment on the ugly little beast running Windows either. No, I’m here to poke fun a this horrendous Photoshop job, reputedly from a Cray brochure trying to make it look a lot smaller than it really is. I could have spotted that one even before I read Scientific American’s excellent article on digital-image forensics and how to spot inconsistent lighting etc. Given that it’s Cray, and it’s such a non-competitive offering, I’ve invented my own name for it in the subject line.

As always, I don’t represent SiCortex any more than they represent me, they don’t exercise any editorial control over the silly things I write, yadda yadda. I think, though of course I can’t know, that my derision springs from a general knowledge of what was already available in this market and not specifically from working where I do. Oh yeah, and there’s also my well-known antipathy toward deceptive marketing tactics (hi MT/GF/RH/BC) too.

Software Packaging Pet Peeve

Right now, in another window, a package install is grinding away on one of our systems. It’s grinding away far longer than it needs to, because the package actually consists of multiple components, with each and every one doing the same set of configuration checks instead of doing those checks once at the top level and propagating the result. Worse, I’m sure that half of those checks are useless for any particular component, but the idiot package maintainer just borrowed a does-everything configure script from something else they worked on once and never bothered to prune it. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Thank you, Mr. Package Maintainer, for wasting so much of everyone’s time.

Meteor Palin

On NPR this morning, I heard yet another reference to Sarah Palin’s “meteoric” rise to national prominence. It was one too many. The primary referent for the word “meteoric” is to an object that goes down, not up. “Meteoric rise” is an oxymoron. This abuse is common, however, so many dictionary entries will include it in a secondary or tertiary definition, but even then they mention that it’s a reference to a meteor’s transience (Webster) or brevity (American Heritage). Even in that context, referring to someone’s rise as “meteoric” is still not very complimentary.

I hope the linguistic miscreants are right, though, even if unintentionally. It would be a blessing if Palin’s rise does indeed turn out to be brief or, even better, if it ends with a sudden and spectacular crash into the ground – and I mean a blessing not just for me but for the country and in fact the world. All her “moral” crusading is fake, just a brand like McCain’s “maverick” status. They’re just images they use to distinguish themselves from the pack, thinly rooted in real actions. “Keating Five” McCain is more erratic than independent, and “Troopergate” Palin is more ambitious than moral. The only reason they appear to be reaching parity with Obama/Biden in the recent polls is that those polls have been fudged to make the horse-race appear closer than it is. Here are some examples of the disconnect between the image and reality.

Do we even need to go into her attempts to impose her own beliefs and morals on everyone in the form of censorship or abstinence-only education or creationism, or her support for Alaskan secessionist groups, or the sheer abuse-of-office vindictiveness (one thing she has in common with call my wife a four-letter-word in front of reporters McNasty) of Troopergate? No, I really don’t think there’s a lot of popular support for that kind of person outside of a very small echo chamber. Meteoric indeed. I just hope the crater she makes is her campaign and not the country.

Pardus Linux

This morning, in between doing bits of real work, I ditched the greatly-misnamed Foresight Linux. I considered three alternatives:

OpenSUSE
What I use at work. Large user base. Bland. GNOME-oriented, which I consider a minus especially since GNOME/avahi entanglement started screwing up my laptop with Ubuntu Hardy.
PCLinuxOS
A little noob-ish, but pretty well regarded especially with regards to hardware detection and usability.
Pardus
The unknown of the group. KDE-oriented, which I favor. Innovative in some ways, such as their own package manager and configuration utilities, but reviewers seem to think they’ve pulled it off pretty well.

After all the negative things I’ve said about prior Linux installs, here’s what I have to say to the Pardus developers: well done. The install went smoothly. All of my hardware was detected, and it got the right resolution for my monitor. Kaptan, the post-install configuration tool, very nicely walked me through getting my mouse and network set up. I’m not left-handed but I configure my trackball that way, and this is the first install where I haven’t had to remember that myself, so it’s a nice touch. I see that Flash is already installed and working, which is a nice contrast with some of the “we’ll leave stuff non-functional in the name of Free Software Purity” attitude of many distros. I’ve already set up my email accounts in Thunderbird and my essential Firefox plugins (AdBlock Plus, FoxyProxy, Foxmarks).

My only quibble is that the software suite is a bit incomplete out of the box. There was no rsync, though there seemed to be things in my .bashrc that refer to it. I prefer a lighter alternative to konsole, which is built in, but I couldn’t even find xterm and there only seemed to be one rxvt relative readily available. Good enough. I happened to notice while I was in the package manager that gcc and so on were not installed, which I still consider wrong, but at least this time (unlike with Foreskin) the workaround was obvious and consistent with the generally recommended package-management methods.

Overall, though, working with Pardus has been a very pleasant surprise so far. A very auspicious start indeed.

Leaving So Soon?

As some of you know, this blog moves around a lot. Here’s a list of previous homes from two moves ago, and here are some thoughts from last time – when I didn’t even bother mentioning who the new host was (InMotion, so Google will see this). That was only January, and already it’s time again. This post is being made at GlowHost, and if you see it that means I’m already there as far you’re concerned.

P.S. There’s one other change: I didn’t move over the Revivio forum that was the only thing in the atyp.us domain. I have it backed up, but don’t intend to make it live again. The only posts there for months had been spam, and I got tired of cleaning out several dozen of those every few weeks.

Debugging Help

Yesterday I was trying to describe the latest Bug From Hell at work to Cindy, and it had to do with buffer handling. Amy was apparently trying to follow along, and asked what a buffer is. Cindy explained that it’s a place in memory where a computer can store data (or something like that). Amy chewed on that for a while, then asked.

So the bugs eat different parts of the buffer?

It turned out that the bug had do do with eating the same part of the buffer more than once, but Amy’s response was hilarious and sweet nonetheless. The way she tries to apply her current understanding of the world to totally foreign ideas can often lead to interesting insights.

MINI Update

Still loving it. I filled up the tank yesterday for the second time, which means the first time where I’ve controlled all of the experimental variables (e.g. fill level, gas quality) at both ends. I’m getting 33mpg in mixed driving, which is pretty darn good. I think my single-tank range is now a little better than it was in the Subaru, despite the tank being smaller.

The thing I like best about the MINI, though, is the drivers. Did you know MINI drivers wave at each other? Not all, of course, but a fair number. It might sound silly, but there have been a few times when having another driver wave at me has helped lift my spirits a bit at the end of a hard day. The most enthusiastic wave I got, of course, was when my own train of two MINIs in a row met two coming the other way. There are a lot of us in this particular area, forming a sort of “critical mass” that probably keeps the wave thing going better than might be the case elsewhere.