Dealing with a Demon-Haunted world


“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time … when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstitions and darkness.”

-Carl Sagan, “The Demon-Haunted World. Science as a candle in the dark.”

Carl Sagan died 10 years ago today. Blogathon or not, it is as good a time as any to remember the scientist that hrough his TV show, though his essays, through his novels (Contact is my favorite novel), and even through his bare scientific accomplishments has reinforced in me the desire to know and that childlike capacity for wonder and amazement that we humans lose so easily when we grow up.
To Carl’s life. Cheers!
[tags]CarlSagan, science[/tags]

Death to MSIE!

Death to MSIECarlos de la Guardia writes in his blog about his most recent misadventures with Internet Explorer and his post proves once again that confusion, frustration and anger are the emotions most commonly associated with MSIE.
I say let’s just put that damn browser to sleep.
No, seriously. What would happen if we developers just revolted and refused to support MSIE with all kinds of crude JS, CSS and pseudo-HTML hacks that will break anyway when Microsoft starts pushing a new MSIE flavor? Imagine a world in which digg, slashdot, Google, and even Amazon received people with broken browsers with a nice “optimized for Mozilla Firefox” button or -better yet- with a full-page “go get a real browser” error page listing 40 alternative browsers. Considering that Firefox already has some serious market share and is heading for more we may be able to pull it off. Heck, I bet that MSIE would be standards compliant within a week. Or they could just take Gecko and wrap a nice Vista skin around it and call it MSIE 7.1 for all I care. The point is that most of us could be back home in time for dinner for a change.
Hardly original, I know. But this may be worth the effort of fighting a war.

?HOWTO: Enable the SATA CD-ROM Drive in the Dell Latitude D620

After a few weeks using the auxiliary battery instead of the CD-ROM drive, I needed to read a DVD. Surprise! It didn’t work. Reboot. Still no luck.
dmesg didn’t show anything about IDE, and /proc/ide was empty. It was like the CD-ROM didn’t exists at all.
The explanation might be that the CD-ROM is a SATA drive, not PATA. Graham William’s GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide holds the key to enable the drive. In short:

# echo "libata atapi_enabled=1" >> /etc/mkinitrd/modules
# cp /boot/initrd.img-`uname -r` /boot/initrd.img-`uname -r`.bak
# mkinitrd -o /boot/initrd.img-`uname -r`
# reboot

(Part of the ongoing Debian GNU/Linux on Dell D620 saga.
[tags]Dell, D620, SATA, cdrom[/tags]

?HOWTO: Run VMware Player under Debian GNU/Linux

VMware PlayerVMware has made available VMware Player for free for a few months now. I had been having problems making it run under the latest kernels in Debian GNU/Linux until I found out about the Czech University vmware-any-any patch. Of course, this is unsupported, so YMMV.

A typical installation run would go like this:

$ cd /tmp
$ wget
$ tar -zxvf VMware-player-1.0.2-29634.tar.gz
$ cd vmware-player-distrib
$ sudo ./

Answer the questions about installation directories, initscript dirs and such, but *do not configure VMware yet*. I repeat: do not configure VMware yet.

Now we’ll patch the source with vmware-any-any

$ cd /tmp
$ wget
$ tar -zxvf vmware-any-any-update104.tar.gz
$ cd vmware-any-any-update104
$ sudo ./

This will patch the script, the kernel modules source code and the VMware binary itself if necessary. Now you may run when prompted. Please note that for this you must install the linux-tree-2.6.xx package for your current kernel version, and the source must be unpacked under /usr/src/linux. This is supposed to work fine when you have installed just the kernel headers instead, but I always go for the full kernel because -as you may have noticed- I compile a bunch of stuff into my kernel anyway.
After module compilation will prompt for network configuration and prompt to enable the Google searchbar (!). The last lines in the configuration should be something like this:

The configuration of VMware Player 1.0.2 build-29634 for Linux for this running
kernel completed successfully.

You can now run VMware Player by invoking the following command:


--the VMware team

Now you may head back to VMWare’s site to download a pre-configured appliance to run in your brand-new VMware player installation. Or go to EasyVMX to build your very own virtual machine. In any case, remember to drop a line to thank VMware for releasing this kick-ass product for free!

[tags]VMware, virtualization, debian, linux[/tags]

xorg.conf configuration for nVidia TwinView on the Dell D620

I managed to get TwinView working on the Dell Latitude D620 under Debian GNU/Linux and I’ve been using it for a few weeks now without any problem whatsoever.

The key section in /etc/X11/xorg.conf is this:

Section "Device"
        Identifier      "Generic Video Card"
        Driver          "nvidia"
        BusID           "PCI:1:0:0"
        Option "TwinView"
        Option "MetaModes"                "1280x1024, 1440x900; NULL, 1440x900"

Section "Monitor"
        Identifier      "Generic Monitor"
        Option          "DPMS"
        HorizSync       28-72
        VertRefresh     43-60

Section "Monitor"
        Identifier      "External Monitor"
        Option          "DPMS"
        HorizSync       28-72
        VertRefresh     43-60

I’m using an external 1280×1024 LCD, and I use the KDE control center (Peripherals/Display) to switch between metamodes. The nice thing is that whenever the X server starts and it doesn’t sense the external display it automagically defaults to using only the built-in display. Moreover, TwinView handles gracefully the “hole” below the 1440×900 display. Now what I’d really like to do is to specify that the primary monitor is the built-in display instead of the external LCD, but that can wait a bit longer.

Of course, you can download the complete xorg.conf I’m using, with my finely-tuned (right) TrackPoint and TouchPad configuration.

[tags]nVidia, TwinView, Dell, D620, Debian, GNU, Linux, Xorg[/tags]

?HOWTO:Get over subversion’s DB_VERSION_MISMATCH error

After running several updates on a particular server during the weekend, this morning I got a report that svn was down. a quick insection of libapache2-svn error log turned out this error message:

[Mon Aug 21 12:24:18 2006] [error] [client] (20014)Error string not specified yet: Berkeley DB error for filesystem /var/lib/svn/db while opening environment:\nDB_VERSION_MISMATCH: Database environment version mismatch
[Mon Aug 21 12:24:18 2006] [error] [client] Could not fetch resource information.  [500, #0]
[Mon Aug 21 12:24:18 2006] [error] [client] Could not open the requested SVN filesystem  [500, #160029]
[Mon Aug 21 12:24:18 2006] [error] [client] Could not open the requested SVN filesystem  [500, #160029]

After googling it I found out that this has been reported as Debian Bug#342508, which promptly refers you to read /usr/share/doc/subversion/README.db4.3.gz. The recipe works just fine, and I reproduce it here for completeness:

# cd /var/lib
# mv svn svn-maint
# cd svn-maint/db
# db4.2_checkpoint -1
# db4.2_recover
# db4.2_archive
# svnlook youngest ..
# db4.3_archive -d
# cd /var/lib
# chown -R www-data.www-data svn-maint
# mv svn-maint svn

In the same document there’s a note that recommends to migrate the repository from DBD to FSFS. Since I’ve seen some serious trouble with OpenLDAP’s Berkeley DB backend before and the SVN database is over 1GB right now, I’ll schedule a mainteinance window for this migration ASAP.

[tags]Subversion, Debian, BerkeleyDB[/tags]