Archive for January, 2010

America’s lack of conservatives

 | January 27, 2010 2:33 am

My mother and aunt Herta called me last night. I forget how we got to it, but I was explaining to Herta how low taxes are here in Switzerland, and how much more the Swiss government provides with that money than the American government manages to provide despite a much higher tax rate. How big is the discrepancy? I have roughly %13 in withholdings, including all taxes and unemployment insurance. Switzerland has a private, but highly regulated medical insurance system (a lot like what Obama is trying to push through), so I do have additional health care costs, compared with other countries. That money pays for an incredibly stable and responsible government, which takes great pains to protect the air and water quality, provide an excellent education system with top class university educational available, virtually for free, for anyone willing to work for it. They have the best mass transit system I have ever seen anywhere. They do a commendable job protecting the environment. Crime is virtually non-existent and emergency systems and infrastructure are second to none.

So we got to talking about how this works so well, and I said I thought it was partly thanks to the excellent system, and partly thanks to the culture (which has its defects, but certainly contributes to the well functioning democracy). Herta made the comment that yes, the Swiss are very conservative, responsible voters. So I took a breath and said, well, yeah, that’s right, the Swiss are conservative in the sense of the english adjective, but not in the sense typically used in American politics.

The problem is, there is no real conservative political group in the United States, if we consider conservative to mean cautious, thinking far into the future, and making sober careful political decisions. American so-called conservatives, i.e. the Republican party, are dangerous radicals. Whenever the Republicans are in power they institute dangerous and radical social, political, environmental and economical changes, whose consequences often take many years to manifest. A real conservative would carefully weigh the merits and demerits of opening new territories for exploitation. A real conservative would have looked at the trends with oil production and the consequences of oil dependence and global climate change back in the seventies, and begun making plans. American so-called conservatives just say “deregulate!”, “drill baby drill”. The Republicans, who call themselves conservatives, essentially follow the greedy-algorithm, which basically consists of the “take the step which gives me the largest immediate gain”. This algorithm leads to dangerously unstable outcomes, both in computational science, and in real life.

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Fedora 12: Configuring it like I like it.

 | January 13, 2010 8:45 am

Well, Fedora 12 is out. I use Fedora, because their target audience is people who would be inclined to, and be able to, contribute to free software. This means the target audience is more savy than the target audience for, for example, Ubuntu. I’m tired of OS’s aiming at the least common denominator. An OS that’s efficient for a skilled user differs from one that attempts to idiot proof things.

Of course there are a few steps needed to get Fedora working like I want it to. They are only slightly modified from my Fedora 11 steps:

  1. Fix the DNS lookup bug. On all the machines I administer, this manifests itself as massive dns lookup failures, with the effect that although you can ping an address, you don’t have any internet access (no web browser, no yum…). This answers the question: I have an internet connection, but I can’t use the web, WTF?
  2. Access to fusion.  Fusion provides all that useful stuff that’s not in the default fedora repo, like mplayer and codecs that might be subject to patents.
  3. Add MP3 support/get Amarok working.
  4. Get Flash working (people need their youtube).
  5. Graphics acceleration
  6. Add ntfs support.
  7. Disable physical file folders.
  8. Enable Ctl-Alt-Backspace
  9. Deal with the “my laptop hangs while booting bug” if applicable

1. Fix the DNS bug
Apparently there is a known bug, which mucks up the domain name lookup with certain ISP’s, of which bluewin (my ISP) is one. In the bug description the complaint is that you get unreliable name lookups, but in the case of bluewin (my isp), you get no successful lookups. A workaround is:

  1. Find out the network interfaces the machine has using the command “route -n”.
  2. Create a file: /etc/dhclient-< your network interface name here >.conf consisting of the line
    prepend domain-name-servers;
  3. Start dnsmasq (‘service dnsmasq start’).
  4. tell dnsmasq to start every time the computer does (‘chkconfig dnsmasq on’)
  5. restart the network connection (‘service NetworkManager restart’)

So on Sunny the Sony I want to get my wireless LAN working right on Bluewin. Running ‘route -n’ tells me my network interface is ‘wlan0’ (which I could have guessed). So I do the following (as root of course):

echo 'prepend domain-name-servers;'  >  /etc/dhclient-wlan0.conf
service dnsmasq start
chkconfig dnsmasq on
service NetworkManager restart

And presto, my internets work again. I don’t put it on this list, but at this point I run a ‘yum -y update’ to get the base install up to date.

2. Access to fusion:
Fusion is a merge of the largest existing repos, and means to be the extra repo for fedora, including (separate) free and non-free packages that Fedora is not able to ship of license or export regulations.  The following will get you both the free and non-free (as in freedom, not in cost) repo’s:
su -c 'rpm -Uvh'

3. mp3 support.

I still use Amarok, which I am still unsure about recommending. I found Amarok 1 vastly superior to the alternatives however, so I’m hoping Amarok 2 eventually becomes awesome. In addition to Amarok, I want lame for when I rip my CD’s for my car mp3 player, mp3 support for Totem, etc. So I do the following:

yum -y install amarok lame* gstreamer-plugins-ugly xine-lib-extras-freeworld

And things seem to be running all right.

4. Get Flash (i.e. Youtube) working This solution comes from here
Go to , get YUM for Linux, and perform the install.  Then,
yum -y install flash-plugin libcurl
yum install nspluginwrapper.{i586,x86_64} alsa-plugins-pulseaudio.i586
rpm -ivh adobe-release-i386-1.0-1.noarch.rpm
rpm --import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-adobe-linux
5. Enable your 3d hardware acceleration.

While it’s possible to just download the nvidia installer and get things running, you’ll have to recompile the driver every time you update the kernel.  So it’s easier to use the fusion repository.  You’ll also have to disable the nouveau drivers, which prevent the kernel from loading the nvidia drivers.  This can be done by recreating the initrd, or by adding a command line option to the kernel.  I do the former with the following command:

mv /boot/initramfs-$(uname -r).img /boot/initramfs-$(uname -r)-nouveau.img
dracut /boot/initramfs-$(uname -r).img $(uname -r)

It’s also necessary to lower the system protection so SElinux doesn’t stop the driver from loading:

setsebool -P allow_execstack on

Finally, you can install the drivers:

yum -y install kmod-nvidia-PAE

Obviously, if you aren’t using the PAE kernel, you’ll have to adjust. You also have to adjust the installed driver if you’re using a GeForce5 or older card. Details can be found here .

6. Make the fat drive writeable, and add NTFS write support, so people can easily work with Windows.
For any fat partition, change the umask in fstab to 000. For NTFS support:

yum -y install ntfs-config.noarch
7. Disable “physical” file folders. This is the annoying behavior, default in gnome, that opens a new window for every folder that you open. Get rid of it by double clicking on a folder, and in the resulting window open edit->preferences->Behavior, and check the box for “Always open in browser windows”. There is a scriptable way to do this, so if someone wants to tell me, please do.
8. Enable ctl-alt-backspace.It always frustrates me when a distro moves away from supporting the power use to supporting the neophyte. I think there are plenty of neophyte oriented OS’s and distros around. I use Fedora instead of Ubuntu because Ubuntu aims too much at the dumb asses, and Fedora tends to support the people who want to learn and be efficient. Unfortunately the Fedora guys do make dumb-ass-friendly decisions, such as the decision to disable ctl-alt-backspace, which I find to be a very poor decision. Who hits this key sequence by accident? Anyway, to enable it in Fed 11 do System->Preferences->Keyboard, choose keyboard layout options and enable the checkbox for “key sequence to kill the x server”.
Fedora claims to be aimed at people who are willing and able to contribute to open source software.  I think people who fall into that category would prefer to have ctl-alt-backspace enabled by default.  What do you say guys?
9. Fix the tpm_tis bug
On several laptop models, including my Sony SZ750N, there is a bug which results in fedora seeming to hang at boot. In fact, it just boots very slowly, forcing me to wait about 6 minutes, occasionally putting out something to the effect of: “tpm_tis: 00:0a 1.2 TPM…” etc. etc. There’s a discussion of the bug here. The workaround is to add “tpm_tis.interrupts=0” to the kernel boot options (e.g. by editing grub.conf).
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