Monthly Archives: December 2010

Welcome to the World

to my new nephew, Philip, born 27/12/2010 in Auckland, NZ.  And best wishes to your parents, my brother and sister-in-law, too.

It’s rather a long way to follow a star to your cradle, but I look forward to meeting you in person … umm … sometime.  And maybe online once you’re old enough to venture into L-space.

Debian breaking Apache


Debian has a history of going its own way and confusing its users.  So when someone @debian writes this, I fear what might follow, and I want to suggest they at least read and consider this before breaking expectations and invalidating the documentation/manuals all over again.  But there’s no comment facility 😦

Anyone at Debian reading this?  I know at least some of you appreciate the issue.

Windows revisited

I’ve recently had an enquiry about something on Windows Vista.  A day or two later I realised I do have a machine with a Vista partition, so I booted into it to investigate.

First impression: my god, this takes forever to boot, and then to do anything!  I guess that’s why ‘they’ say the Atom processor is underpowered.  Firing up MSIE to go and download the things I was to investigate also took a very long time.

Second impression: wow, this takes me back!  On Ubuntu a year ago I had to download a graphics driver capable of driving the Sun monitor.  This time it was only the smaller monitor that every modern driver should be fine with, but I got a different problem.  Vista’s driver was fine with the 1280×1024 screen size, but the whole screen image was offset from the physical screen, leaving a black band bottom+right of the monitor, and the top left of the display off the screen.  That’s something I haven’t seen on a desktop OS[1] for many years!

Anyway, I was able to answer the enquiry.  Enough Windows for one year, I think.

[1] The nearest I can think of in recent years is when connecting an OHP to the laptop for a conference talk.  I had serious problems with that as recently as 2005, and moderate problems comparable to the above still happen from time to time.

Dismal light

Last night at 4a.m. came a big clap of thunder.  I got up to go and disconnect all electronic equipment from the mains power, in case of a damaging spike.

Going back to bed, I notice it’s a lot lighter than it should be.  My window is lit up, almost bright enough to be daylight through thick cloud.  Not in a healthy colour, rather a dirty grey shade of salmon pink.  Looking more closely, I see it’s snowing: the light is just the usual streetlight pollution reflected off thick, falling snow.  Why the **** are we burning so many ugly bright lights at 4 a.m.?

Going out today, I’m disappointed to find it’s nothing like last winter’s real snow, but rather classic English mild-weather slush.  Ugh.  Still seems to have brought half the county to a halt.

ARM in the server

I’ve done a fair bit more hacking on ARM lately. This is entirely for my own satisfaction, but it’s good to see that a great deal of server software ports cleanly to it with very little effort.

In the absence of an ARM-powered desktop (or laptop) box, my dev platform is the pocket-puter, but driving it from the desktop monitor, keyboard and mouse for comfort.  Now I’ve added to that a regular desktop disc, rather than do builds in/on solid-state storage.  The disc is actually a 2GB file formatted with an XFS filesystem, mounted as a loop device and exported to the phone with NFS.  The NFS, being run behind a firewall and for a single client under my control, is optimised for speed over integrity and security, including running it async and with nolock on the Nokia client.

Seeded with gcc/g++, this is now a sustainable development platform on which I can build pretty-much anything at the application level, even where packages are not available.  In some ways it’d a little like going back to Linux of yesteryear: a great system but with relatively few out-of-the-box packages.  For example, the available Tcl package on maemo is missing Tcl-dev, so I had to build that from source before I could build Apache TrafficServer (that’s a sharp contrast to TrafficServer on OpenSolaris, where porting was non-trivial but didn’t require me to build its prerequisites from source)!

I don’t expect ARM to topple Intel’s crown in the server realm, but I’m sure it’s capable of driving a lot of server applications, and the power saving should make that worthwhile for a lot of users!  It should be nicely suited to “cloud” applications based on large numbers of small nodes.  And basic ‘net applications like web and mail servers.  Why are so few of us working on these?  Is this a good niche to be getting into?

The miniature mountain

Today we’ve seen fog in the valley.  Freezing fog, forming ice in my hair and beard, though not quite the icicles in the eyebrows my teenage self grew in the colder winter of 1978-9.

As I walked up Whitchurch Down on the edge of Dartmoor, a woman coming down told me the sun was shining up the top.  It seemed a little unlikely from the cold, grey surroundings, but plausible given that the fog was clearly a frost-hollow effect.  And indeed, when I got up to the top I saw the sun gradually appear through the fog, and then with startling rapidity in its full glory as the fog became the merest of wisps.  It was the effect of emerging above the clouds usually associated with real mountains – or flight.

Visually it was strikingly beautiful looking down upon the clouds.  Indeed, one of many fine effects we’ve seen this autumn/winter, starting with an exceptionally rich and gorgeous display of autumn colour from the trees in October/November. Today’s bare trees through the fog made a striking image, as did the sun over the very small range between invisibility and full brightness.

On the way up, snaps of the emerging sun through the bare trees …

On the way down, the sun rapidly diminishes …

Along with this, my thermostat is now telling me it’s the coldest weather we’ve had since I moved to this place in 2005, and my gut feeling is that it’s the coldest since I moved to southwest England in 1998, notwithstanding a spot of real winter last year.

The webserver on a ‘phone

Yesterday I successfully built Apache APR and HTTPD (the webserver) on my pocket-‘puter, a Nokia N900, also known as a smartphone.

The prerequisite to that was to install a development environment.  I wanted something native running on maemo, and while the tools don’t run entirely smoothly (apt-get fails to find many of the packages), a bit of googling found me ossguy’s page leading to the necessary packages and repositories to set up a working GNU toolchain.

Having installed gcc and a couple of other packages from the repos, building APR, APR-util and HTTPD went mostly smoothly.  For the record (and I may update this post when I’ve figured out more about it):

  1. Configure’s detection of grep and egrep fails, despite both utilities being available in standard places and working fine.  This may be an artifact of the GNU-toolchain-derived configure script’s syntax failing with the “ash” shell.  As a workaround I removed the broken detection and replaced in each configure script with
  2. There were a number of assembler warnings.  To be investigated.
  3. APR-UTIL failed the xlate test.  This may mean that iconv is not available but APR_HAVE_ICONV is incorrectly detected/set.  I recollect a similar issue with OpenSolaris, and I suspect a bug in the configure/build scripts.
  4. A few extra prerequisites were required, like zlib-dev for mod_deflate.

All in all, remarkably straightforward, and I was much surprised to see only the one failure from the test suite.  The webserver is up and running, and in future I expect to treat it the same as any other dev-platform server.

Furthermore, if it’s that easy on Maemo, I’d expect it to be similarly straightforward on other ARM/Linux platforms such as Android.