The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for June, 2006

X on 720 Degrees Linux

Posted by Deliverator on 30th June 2006

Earlier this week, I finally managed to get X up and running on my Jornada 720 (running 720 Degrees Linux). Before getting a chance to try out any window managers, I managed to royally hose the filesystem, requiring a complete reinstall. I’ve had a number of work related projects on my plate this week, so didn’t get a chance to reinstall 720 Degrees Linux and do all the fidly X configuration until now. I managed to get X up and running and shortly thereafter had Window Maker running as well. The two biggest problems I have run into is the lack of a way to right click and the ginormous fonts used in the xterm. Hopefully, I will be able to rig up a modifier key to treat any screen taps while the alt key (or something similar) is held down as a right click. I am going to experiment with a couple other light window managers in the next couple days to see if there is a better fit for the Jornada’s small screen size and low resources (206mhz arm with 64 MB of ram).

Window Maker on J720

Posted in General, Linux, Operating Systems, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 5 Comments »

Opera 8.6 on Netbook Pro (and possibly other CE devices)

Posted by Deliverator on 30th June 2006

I spent some time in #HPCDEV on Efnet with Monica (Cmonex on IRC), perhaps the most experienced CE application hacker in the world. She was attempting to get the latest release of Opera to run on CE .Net HPC devices. She had no luck with the NEC Mobile Pro 900c, but wanted to try it on a Netbook Pro, as many of the .dll function libraries on the Netbook Pro are far more complete than on just about any other CE 4.2 device. Working remotely, Cmonex diagnosed every error message and walked me through the edits needed to fix them. We (she, really) managed to get the final PPC 2003 build of Opera 8.6 running in just a few minutes. We then tried the WM5 build, which supposedly is a bit better than the PPC 2003 build in a few areas. This one took a bit longer to figure out, but she managed to get it working as well. Expect a post on HPC Factor shortly with instructions on how to DIY. She will likely post pre-edited versions on her site as well.

I am pretty impressed with Opera so far. The rendering quality is better than IE and probably edges out IE in speed as well. Minimo still has win for overall rendering quality, but is much slower than either Opera or IE. I think I will run Opera as my main web browser for a few weeks to get a better sense for its quirks. The version Cmonex hacked to get running on the Netbook Pro is a 30 day trial, but I believe that a modest $24 will net you a registration code to convert it to the full.

Posted in General, Operating Systems, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | No Comments »

2200 mah Newertech Battery Upgrade for H320

Posted by Deliverator on 30th June 2006

The replacement battery for my iRiver H320, mentioned previously in this entry, arrived today from Australia. I pulled out my nice jeweler’s screwdriver set, and searched for a set of instructions for performing the battery swap. As usual for anything pertaining to iRiver, the best source of information turned out to be a thread on Mistic River‘s forums.

Five screws and a careful seperation of the casing later, I had the old battery in front of me. In their great wisdom, or just to make any end user maintainance difficult, iRiver made the battery plug in on the backside of the mainboard, requiring almost complete disassembly to swap the battery. Evidently, they want you to buy a new one every year – sound familiar?

I had to carefully set aside the existing battery, remove two rubber moldings, two metal brackets, the hard drive, 8 further screws and pop off the other side of the casing to get access to the battery plug. After carefully working the battery plug out, you discover that iRiver uses the reverse polarity (although same connector) as the iPod. So, I had to carefully raise two miniscule tabs on the connector to remove the wires, swap their positions and then crimp the tabs down to lock the wires in place. Now came the fun part – I had to put this collection of pieces back together. iRiver crams a ton of hardware in this little package! Part by part I reassembled my H320. My hands were shaking the whole time, half out of excitement, half out of fear. I still think there is no finer HDD based player than the H300 series, especially with all the added functionality of the official international firmware and Rockbox, although some owners of the H100 series and a whole army of iPod trolls (whose posts I will delete out of my moderation que) will argue with me. I was quite fearful of messing up and having to try and acquire a H320 or H340 on the used market. I finally got everything all closed up and put my H320 on the charger and everything appears to work. It is charging now, but I will perform a battery benchmark soon.

Posted in General, iRiver, Portable Computing/Gadgets | No Comments »

VNC on Ubuntu – The Right Way

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd June 2006

After years of enjoying the ease of remote server management using Remote Desktop/Terminal Services in the windows world, I was kinda disappointed with the out of the box remote server management options included with most Linux distributions. Sure, you can do a lot of remote admin stuff through the command line using ssh. The graphical environments for *nix operating systems are after all thin, shell veneers running above a core of command line functionality. Linux seems to have a command line tool for everything, if you can remember them all and their syntax (though you can certainly just look that up). If you know your command line tools, one can build up quite impressive functionality by scripting interactions among them.

I was pretty impressed by Jigdo, short for “Jigsaw Download,” which is one of several ways you can download a Debian CD install image. Rather than download a big iso, Jigdo goes out and fetches all the individual packages from mirror sites, does checksums on all the parts and then assembles all the parts into an iso image that is identical to what one would have downloaded as one big file. This is a bit like bittorrent, except Jigdo is just a scripted conglomeration of common Linux tools like wget. Anyways, my original point before I digressed was that there are a lot of instances where ssh for performing common tasks is just going to take longer than using a gui. So, what are the remote gui options in Linux?

The first option is to use a X client on your local machine to connect to the X server on the remote machine. This requires one to have a X client installed on your local machine, which is a non-trivial task with some operating systems. One also needs to configure the X server at the remote end to allow remote connections. In addition, X is not secure, so one should be tunneling it over ssh anyways. In short, accessing your remote server is going to be a bit of a pain, particularly if you are using some random computer as the client.

With Microsoft’s Remote Desktop feature, one can access a remote server from most newer computers simply by typing mstsc in the run dialog box (Microsoft Terminal Server Client). On Microsoft computers without the client, particularly older Win98 machines, one can still access the remote server by launching IE and pointing it at a web server serving up the “Remote Desktop Web Connection” active-x control. Even if you can’t (or won’t) pop open IE to load a remote desktop client, most non-microsoft OSes these days are shipping with remote desktop clients build in, including most Linux Distros. So, it is pretty easy to access a Microsoft OS running server from almost any OS. Going the other way is not quite as simple.

The logical thing for a Linux distro to do to enable cross-platform remote administration abilities would be to include a VNC server. VNC was originally developed at Olivetti research labs, which was bought by AT&T. At its simplest VNC server encodes the video frame-buffer and sends it to the client, while the client can send key presses and mouse events back to the server. The basic protocol is well documented and open source. While many variants exist, most VNC software maintains backwards compatibility, so almost any client will work with any server and vice versa. VNC clients and servers are widely available for almost any platform. One could easily carry around clients for every major OS on a USB flash drive. Most VNC servers also contain a small web server which can serve up a cross-platform JAVA client to virtually any platform with a web browser. Debian and Ubuntu both include a VNC server called Vino, which is easily enabled. Vino suffers from a number of problems which makes it unacceptable as a remote access solution.

  • Vino has very few configuration options, at least through the gui configuration menu.
  • Vino has low quality (bit depth) video and laggy cursor response, even on a high bandwidth connection
  • Vino only allows connections once an X session has been initiated. It will not connect to the user/session selection menu. One can get around this issue by logging in a user automatically at system start, but that becomes a real issue when mixed with the next problem.
  • Vino will only run as the “local console” session. Thus unlocking the server for anyone with physical access and allowing them to see what you are doing. Far from ideal in mixed-hosting data center. Of course, if someone has physical access to your box, they can probably get into it anyways, but one shouldn’t make it easy on them.
  • Does not appear to serve up a JAVA VNC client. Older clients that I tried to use could not connect. Most VNC server software will have proprietary extensions, but will be able to fall back on older versions of the protocol standard. Big thumbs down on this issue.

One can solve many of these problems by installing and configuring your own VNC server. There are some good step by step instructions as to how to go about doing this on Ubuntu here. This alternate method for VNC based remote access isn’t perfect, but it is a fair sight better than Vino.

  • Fast, high quality server with lots of options
  • Lets one to log in to the user selection screen, allowing one to pick the user and session type (Gnome, KDE, XFce, etc.)

  • VNC Frankenputin

  • Starts as other than local console, so nothing is displayed on the remote server’s monitor.
  • One can start a program, disconnect from the vnc server and log in latter and still have it be running. With Vino, to allow apps to persist between sessions, one would need to leave the server sitting there with the local console unlocked. Its a bit like Screen for X. One potential downside to leaving a session open is that a potential attacker would only have to brute force/find the VNC access password to gain access to your still running session. So, it is probably a good idea to enable a password protected screen saver or something when you disconnect.
  • I don’t believe this particular VNC server is overly secure, so it is probably best to tunnel your sessions over SSH as well.

All in all, the remote management options for Ubuntu, out of the box, are a little disappointing. I have a feeling that being a stickler for licensing issues is holding Ubuntu back, on this point. Maybe we would all be better off if Prof. Farnsworth had invented the Finglonger?


Posted in General, Linux, Operating Systems | 4 Comments »

WordPress 2.03 Upgrade

Posted by Deliverator on 20th June 2006

Upgraded WordPress, the software that runs this blog, to version 2.03 tonight, due to a number of reported security issues with 2.02. As with most wordpress upgrades, upgrading was as simple as uploading the new version files via ftp. Yeah, you are supposed to disable plugins and go through a whole checklist, but when it comes down to it, it is just a matter of overwriting a bunch of files. If you notice any wonky behavior, please post a comment, unless the wonky behavior is that the comment system is broken. Oh, and yes, the colorscheme is as intended. I am colorblind, and it is what looks good to me. Yes, seriously…

Posted in Blogging, General, Rants and Raves | No Comments »

iRiver H320 – Rockbox Battery Testing – After

Posted by Deliverator on 20th June 2006

I ran another battery benchmark last night. This time I used “Koch’s” custom build, based on code checked out from the main CVS on 06/17/06. With this version, I managed to get 14 hours 20 minutes out of my 1.5 year old 1300mah battery. Compare this to the 9 some odd hours the same battery could get using a firmware only a little more than a month old and one has a very good reason to upgrade. It should be noted that the battery benchmark plugin only logs data whenever the hdd is spun up to read more data, or an hour has gone by. The data points on each graph stop at a point corresponding to about 9% battery life remaining, so in actuality, the real battery life is a wee bit better than each of these benchmarked results. I can’t wait to test again once my “Newertech” 2200mah battery arrives.

Here is a graph of both data sets side by side:

Rockbox Battery Benchmark

Posted in General, iRiver, Portable Computing/Gadgets | No Comments »

iRiver H320 – Rockbox Battery Testing- Before

Posted by Deliverator on 19th June 2006

I decided I would test the battery life improvements in the latest rockbox myself. My first test was to benchmark my player using its existing 1300mah battery. This is the stock battery that is standard on all H300 series players. My battery is much degraded compared to its original life, having been in use since November of 2004. I did my first benchmark using firmware that was released just prior to the “suspend usb host controller” patch. I will patch my firmware to a post patch firmware and perform another benchmark after my battery has been recharged. I tried to run the benchmark in as close to a real life scenario as possible, which in my case means a directory of 64 – 128 kbps mp3 podcasts. Playback of higher bitrate mp3 files or files encoded in the ogg format will result in higher power usage and therefore lower battery life.

The rockbox battery benchmark logs quite a bit of data and keeps it in an easy to analyze format, a comma seperated value text file. I imported the data into Excel and whipped up this quick chart.

Battery Life Rockbox Prepatch

The short of it is, that using the old firmware, I managed to get about 9 hours 10 minutes out of my old battery before it shut off.

NOTE – I typoed the date in the title of the graph. It should read 05/06/06

Posted in General, iRiver, Portable Computing/Gadgets | No Comments »

Rockbox on iRiver H320 – Battery Problems Solved

Posted by Deliverator on 18th June 2006

One of the last remaining legitimate sources of complaint about the 3rd party Rockbox firmware for the iRiver H300 series mp3 players has been the rather abysmal battery life compared to the official, manufacturer supplied firmware. Nobody could seem to figure out where all the power was going to until one enterprising Mistic River forum user took a radio shack digital thermometer and held it up against each chip on the H320’s circuit board while performing various normal player functions. It was discovered that the USB host controller chip for the “USB On The Go” / DRM Media Transfer Port was being supplied with full power all the time under the rockbox firmware, while under the manufacturer supplied firmware this chip was held in a housekeeping/suspend mode almost all of the time. Just how much power was this chip using? The best estimate is that this chip was using as much power as the main Coldfire cpu. The developers finally figured out how to suspend this chip and now battery life is much improved. How much improved? Aside from the USB host chip issue, the Rockbox firmware is much more intelligent about how it uses power than the official firmware. For instance, Rockbox caches the directory/file tree information to ram, so that the mere act of deciding what to listen to next doesn’t spin up the hard drive (one of the biggest consumers of power). Rockbox also shuts down the LCD screen, not just the backlight after the controls haven’t been touched for a while (interval is user selectable). Users have been reporting better than 20 hours on the old, 1300mah manufacturer supplied batteries. These aren’t just anecdotal observations, they are rigorously logged using Rockbox’s Battery Benchmark Plugin. Using better batteries, such as the aftermarket 2200 mah batteries sold by Newertech, users are reporting as much as 35 hours of battery life off a single charge!

I have been using my iRiver quite a lot lately, mainly to listen to podcasts during my evening walks. The original battery isn’t quite what it used to be, so I think I will purchase a new one. Replacing the battery scares me a bit, but Galan replaced one in his H320 a while back without killing his, so I feel a bit more confident about taking a stab at it. Now that the battery issue is tackled, the only thing left for Rockbox to do is add video support.

addendum I went ahead and purchased one of the NewerTech 2200 mah batteries from minidigital on eBay. They appear to be one of the only places to get these batteries. The battery is shipping from down under, so it might take a while to get here.

Posted in General, iRiver, Portable Computing/Gadgets | 2 Comments »


Posted by Deliverator on 18th June 2006

Silverfir will shortly be making the move to new hardware. To be specific, this hardware:


The new server’s stats are:

  • Compaq DL 380
  • Dual PIII 933mhz processors
  • Dual redundant, hot swappable power supplies
  • 640 MB ECC memory – will likely be expanded to 4 GB to provide enough overhead for OS virtualization
  • Smart Array 5300 series raid controller with 64 MB cache
  • Three 9 GB SCSI drives in Raid 5 for boot volume, with a fourth drive sitting around doing nothing. Controller supports designating drives as a “hot spare.” In the event of a drive failure, the controller brings the fourth drive in as a replacement for the failed drive.
  • Fourteen 18.2 GB 10k RPM SCSI Ultra 3 drives in external “StorageWorks” enclosure. The 5300 series controller supports a proprietary “advanced data guarding” mode which protects against up to two simultaneous drive failures without data loss. One, possibly two, of the drives appears to have been damaged in transit and the front metal pieces which lock to the server cabinet were bent. I hope I can simply bend them back. All told, the external bay should still have close to 200 GB of very redundant storage.
  • Remote Insight Lights Out Edition II remote management card. Acts kinda like a IP based KVM, giving one local console level remote control abilities. Not only can you use the keyboard and mouse and see what is on the screen, but you can control the computers power state, view the hardware event log even if the server is dead, and even start OS installs using the boards “virtual floppy” and “virtual usb media” features. Just for kicks, I installed Debian “Etch” on the server without ever touching it. A remote management card like this can really make working with a server easier and can save you from a lot of unnecessary trips to the datacenter. The RILOE II card is a much better implementation of the remote admin concept than the 1st generation RILOE card (which was in the server, previously). It is well worth the extra cost.

Aside from the hardware, we are going to try and keep the outward appearance of Silverfir the same. It will still be hosting the same content on the same old domain name. Ryan and I did feel that the server deserves a new name (the current server is named Oasis). I wanted to find a name that made some reference to some important aspects of the new server’s character:

-Hard to kill

Ryan came up with a slew of military vehicle references, but that didn’t seem quite right. I liked the name Rasputin in reference to the politically bothersome Russian who proved very difficult to kill. Somehow, that name didn’t sit quite right with me, either. I eventually settled on Frankenputin, as part reference to Frankenstein’s Monster, as the server is made up largely of individually assembled spare parts, as part reference to Rasputin and putin is slang for computing. Anyways, we should be transfering the data off Oasis to Frankenputin in the next few days. We might do things the quick and dirty way, so there might be some downtime during the next week.

I would like to note that Nate from local surplus server parts dealer Nautilus, was very helpful in getting me some of the more obscure parts I needed. Their parts were reasonably priced and they were willing to stand behind their product when one of the items turned out to be defective. If you are in the market for some used server gear, check them out.

Also, the ebay seller (of the drive enclosure which met with the shipping accident), still_the_same, is shipping me a new enclosure, as well as two replacement drives. All told, she is eating quite a lot of shipping costs, so I would like to compliment her on her professional handling of this issue. My guess is she is making no money on this transaction as a result, so the least I could do is give her some free advertising. She has a number of servers and server related hardware for sale and seems to be the real deal, folks.

Posted in Blogging, General, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Minimo Much Improved

Posted by Deliverator on 14th June 2006

Minimo, the port of Mozilla Firefox to small devices, has been making steady progress of late. Version .16, which is much improved over .15 in terms of its user interface for VGA class device, was just released and is available here. I have been running the nightly builds of Minimo on my Netbook Pro and have been providing Doug Turner with frequent bug reports via email. Doug really seems to listen to user feedback and several of my feature requests/bug fix requests have made it into the release builds, usually only a few days after the report was submitted. I get the sense that Doug doesn’t get enough feedback. Minimo, imo, has surpassed Netfront, Opera and Pocket IE as the leading browser for portable devices, but can get better and more consistent across the plethora of devices on which it now runs, if users help test the nightly builds and provide feedback. The source and compilation instructions are available for Linux (including for the Nokia 770 mini-tablet) and precompiled .cab installers are available (so you don’t have to bother with that activesync nonsense) for Windows CE derived devices.

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Windows CE | No Comments »