Archive for the '#noapple' Category

♫ It’s Hard Out Here for a (Free Software) Pimp ♫

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

In thinking about a title for this particular screed, I almost went with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Phone” but that didn’t really encompass what I was after as much as a play on the Oscar winning “Best Original Song” by the Three 6 Posse.

When I first got involved in free software, I thought it was too good to be true. I thought “free” implied “no work” but I was confusing free (gratis) with free (libre).

Sometimes freedom takes work.

It takes effort and no small commitment to run as much free software as possible, and no where is that more evident than when it comes to choosing hardware.

I used to be a big Apple fanboy, and thus my personal technology decisions were easy: buy the newest shiny from Apple. When I decided to divorce myself from them, it took awhile to adjust to the fact that, quite frequently, the new shiny is not the best choice for a free software advocate.

But I’ve been stymied time and time again. When looking for a new laptop, I bought the latest Lenevo X1 Carbon and ended up sending it back. It was just too new to support my operating system of choice, whereas my old, second generation Dell XPS 13 “Sputnik” runs Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) just fine.

So I tried a new tact.

When I was in the market for a new phone, I figured the best bet was to work backwards.

I had been using a Samsung Galaxy S3 running Cyanogenmod. However, right after I upgraded the baseband to run Kit Kat, the phone would constantly and randomly reboot. I tried everything I knew of to fix it and tried out just about every major ROM there was but it would still crash. Only by running Jelly Bean could I mitigate the issue somewhat. Then instead of bouncing every hour or so, it would only reboot once or twice a day.

Now I play a game called Ingress … a lot. It is a heavy user of the display, the CPU, the network and the GPS. While these reboots might have been acceptable to a casual user, they were killing me. While I may have somehow corrupted my S3, it was probably due to some other hardware problem, so I decided to get a new phone.

One of the pluses about putting in the time to use free software is quite frequently you learn how things work. I would never have even known about baseband versions, bootloaders, recovery, etc. if I hadn’t played with my phone. I also get a lot of options, such as which ROM to run. In all my research I decided that my philosophy matches up best with the team behind OmniROM.

OmniROM doesn’t have as many options as, say, AOKP, but they are dedicated to keeping it as open as possible and I admire that. Plus they have a pretty decent OpenDelta update application that makes staying on the latest release pretty simple.

Once I decided that I wanted to run OmniROM, I just worked backwards to pick out a phone.

Here’s where I had to make a choice about freedom.

What I loved about my S3 was that it had a replaceable battery and a microSD slot. Some days I’m a heavy user of my phone and even the best phones can’t last the day on a single charge. The microSD slot made it easy to transfer data from my phone to my computer as well as easily and cheaply expanding the available memory.

Not many phones have these two features. In fact, the only modern phones I could find were both from Samsung: the S4 and the S5.

The S5 is not supported by OmniROM, so my choice was simple: get the S4. I ordered an unlocked S4 from Amazon and got ready to enjoy the new-ish shiny.

It was not to be.

While the description on Amazon said that it was “unlocked” it turns out that Samsung has decided to block third party bootloaders, even on the S4, with an update issued last November, so it is impossible to replace their default operating system with a free one. While there are some ways to “dual boot” the phone, this was unacceptable to me, so I sent it back with the reason “item did not match web site description”. Just being carrier unlocked is not enough to merit the term “unlocked”.

In looking over the remaining options, I ended up settling on last year’s HTC One (m7). And I do mean settle: the One has no microSD slot nor does it have a replaceable battery. But these are things I can work around in the pursuit of freedom. I got a microSD to microUSB connector and an external battery pack that can keep my phone running for days. It also has a somewhat lo-rez camera at 4 megapixels, but it seems to take pictures just fine.

You do have to jump through an extra hoop in order to unlock the bootloader, but HTC made it pretty simple. You just have to log in to their developer site and post a code and they’ll send you back a file to run to unlock your particular phone. Not as easy as, say, a Nexus phone, but it isn’t too much extra work.

Now I have the latest Kit Kat running flawlessly on the phone. I’m able to remove the Google search bar, which in my case just takes up space, and I can modify the number of icons displayed per page.

It’s pretty awesome.

Is the HTC One a perfect phone, especially for playing Ingress? No – it is not perfect. But it is pretty darn good. At the Gettysburg anomaly it held up all day with zero reboots, whereas other people were reporting them with usually stable phones such as the Nexus 5. Note that if I didn’t have any other considerations I would have gotten a Nexus phone, but since I play Ingress with my spouse and she has one I wanted another brand in order to diversify the radio technology. In some places her phone gets signal where mine does not, and vice versa, and thus we can tether if needed.

I like to vote with my wallet and I buy products from companies that support freedom. I don’t understand why Samsung felt the need to lock down their devices. In part I think it is Apple-envy, but they just lost out to those of us who want to truly own their hardware. I’m not sure if it is enough to affect the bottom line, but it has soured me on Samsung products as a whole and I do buy a lot of technology.

So, remember that freedom takes work, but it’s worth it in the end.

Upgrades? Upgrades? We don’t need no stinkin’ …

Friday, April 25th, 2014

I am incredibly behind on blog posts, for which I apologize. Three weeks ago (sheesh) I was in the UK for the OUCE, and I owe a post on that. The week after that was filled up with meetings, mainly exciting meetings that I hope to be able to talk about in the near future, and this week I am supposed to be on vacation.

Unfortunately, I caught a nasty cold while in Southampton that I haven’t been able to completely shake and this week I hurt my back, which makes it even hard to type. As George Bernard Shaw said, youth is wasted on the young.

Anyway, apologies once again for disappointing my three readers (one of whom I met on the plane ride back from the conference, hi Greg!) and I hope to do better.

This quick, vacation week post concerns upgrades. I’ve been a bit of an upgrade fool and I thought I’d share some of my stories, most of them actually pretty positive.

The first concerns OpenNMS 1.12.6, which was released this week. That upgrade was the smoothest of the three I did. Upgrading from 1.12.5 only involved two configuration files changing: datacollection-config, which added Cisco Nexus metrics, and magic-users.properties, which added a new permission “role” for accessing the Asset Editor UI without being an admin user.

This release also addresses a security bug where an unprivileged user could get a list of user names via ReST. While not a huge issue for most OpenNMS users (How many of you still have admin/admin as the username and password? Be honest) it is still a recommended upgrade if just for all of the other fixes included.

The second upgrade I did was to the latest Ubuntu LTS, Tasty Trollop. It, too, went pretty smoothly.

Many years ago I got frustrated with my laptop and laptops in general. First off, they seemed to be expensive for the performance you received. Second, I would often have to make the “laptop drive of shame” when I forgot it on my way to the office. Finally, I just hated to have to lug it around when I wasn’t traveling.

So I saw a deal on woot for an HP desktop with pretty nice specs, and I bought two of them: one for home and one for the office. While I do have a small laptop for travel, for the most part I use these desktops, and with modern network speeds I can usually access any information I need from either machine.

Now the office machine, which is the one I use most of the time, gets a lot more attention than the one at home. While they both started out running Ubuntu 12.04 (Pastel Pederast), I upgraded the office machine to the newer, non-LTS Ubuntu releases and wasn’t as happy with them. I ended up switching to Linux Mint on both that machine and my laptop, but I left the home machine running Ubuntu.

My initial thought was to wait until Mint 17 came out and then switch to it, but I figured there could be little harm in upgrading to the new 14.04 LTS release in the meantime. The first challenge was actually getting the operating system to realize there was a release out there. I ended up running “sudo do-release-upgrade -d” with the “-d” option finally finding it and getting it started. I run a pretty vanilla setup at home, so there were only a couple of configuration files requiring attention and otherwise the whole thing went smoothly. Took about two hours to download and complete.

So far I’m pretty happy with the new release. No huge new changes, and everything seems to work well together. I did have to re-enable workspaces, and I took advantage of the new option to move application menu bars back to the window versus being in the title bar (I use a 27 inch monitor and it can get a bit tedious swiping the mouse up to the top) but other than that, I don’t see too many changes. Empathy has gotten worse, at least for me, but it was easy to switch to Pidgin. The only bug so far is that if I let the lock screen kick on automatically, a good portion of the time I can never get it to come back up: the screen just remains blank. I usually have to ssh in from another machine and reboot. Other people are reporting the problem (search on “lock screen freeze”) and I have yet to try and restart lightdm (suggested as a way to bring the desktop back), but as a workaround I just manually lock the screen whenever I leave, which is a good habit to be in in any case. I figure they’ll fix this soon.

I still prefer Cinnamon to Unity, but I’m happy using either, and due to the ease of upgrading I’ll probably stick around to using Ubuntu at home for the foreseeable future.

The final upgrade I did this week concerns OS X. I still have three Macintosh computers at home. There is an older Mac Mini that solo boots into Debian that I use for a web and file server. There is an older 24-inch iMac that tri-boots OS X, Ubuntu and Windows 7 that is usually booted to Windows since that is what my wife uses, and there is a newer Mac Mini that runs Snow Leopard and acts as my DVR using the EyeTV product. It also gathers and publishes my weather station data via wview.

I was cleaning up the DVR when an “Upgrade to Mavericks” window popped up. Now I really hated Lion and never used Mountain Lion, so there was no real reason to upgrade, except that I’ve been having an issue where I can’t add any bluetooth devices to the Mini. I really wanted to add a mouse, since some times stupid windows pop up that ruin the DVR aspect of the setup and they can be a pain to close if I have to VNC in. I figured, what could go wrong?

Of course, the first thing I did is make sure I had a full Time Machine backup. I really wish I could find a “bare iron” restore app for Linux that was as easy to use. I do like the Ubuntu backup integration with Déjà Dup, which seems to be missing in Mint so I use BackInTime, but neither offer the ease of Time Machine.

The upgrade to Mavericks didn’t go as smoothly as the others. At some point close to the end, the monitor went blank and wouldn’t come back, so I had to power cycle the system. This caused the install to start over, but the second time it finally completed. I then had to go through and turn off all of the “spyware” that seems to be on by default now. It automatically signed me up for “iCloud” which I turned off (good thing I didn’t have any contacts, etc., on this system or Apple would own them) and I also disabled Facetime, which required deleting a plist file out of the Library directory. My weather station software didn’t start because of a missing USB to Serial driver, but once that got installed things seem to work. I was even able to add a bluetooth mouse with no problem.

Then I found out that Front Row was missing.

Now when I had a Macbook, I hated Front Row. I was always turning it on by accident. But for my DVR, it made a great interface to EyeTV. Apparently Apple has dropped it since Lion, so I spent a couple of hours trying to find a replacement. When nothing I found was acceptable, and with my growing distrust of Apple with respect to the information it was going to capture on my computer, I decided to go back to Snow Leopard. Should be easy, right?

Wrong.

Both the version of Snow Leopard I have on a USB stick and the install disk that shipped with the computer would now gray screen when trying to boot. I know that Mavericks futzes around with the disk partitions, so I figure that is to blame. I was just about to boot to an Ubuntu disk just to repartition the disk when I decided to try and boot into the new “recovery” partition that Mavericks installed. While I didn’t have much hope that it would be able to access a Time Machine backup made with Snow Leopard, I was pleasantly surprised when it worked.

Another surprise came when I found out that my bluetooth mouse was still associated with the computer. I’ve always thought of the term “backup and restore” to mean one puts a set of bits into storage and then puts those same bits back. Apple has a weird interpretation of this, especially when it comes to the iPhone, where “backup and restore” can mean “perform a complete operating system upgrade in the process of putting back user data”. Apparently Time Machine is similar, and my new device settings were remembered.

So in summary, I guess the time I spent playing with Mavericks was worth it. I know now that I don’t ever want to upgrade from Snow Leopard, and I got my bluetooth issue addressed, if not fixed. Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is worth checking out, especially if you are looking to get rid of Lion/Mountain Lion/Mavericks, and do upgrade to OpenNMS 1.12.6.

You’ll be glad you did.

Steve Jobs is Dead and I Miss Him

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

As much as I dislike Apple’s walled garden, I don’t impose my will on my teammates. If they are more productive using Apple equipment, so be it.

On Friday Seth mentioned that his laptop had been having issues since upgrading to Mavericks. Snow Leopard was fine, but now it would crash frequently, especially when it was cold (i.e. had not been running for awhile). Now the policy at OpenNMS is that everyone gets a brand new laptop when they come on as an employee and we always buy three years of service, so if anything goes wrong in those three years it gets fixed for free and then it’s time for a new laptop.

I asked Seth if he had taken it to the “Genius Bar” and he had, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with it running the test disk and since it was 30 days outside of Applecare so they wouldn’t explore it further without charging us for it. I hadn’t realized that his laptop was that old, so it was time to get him a new one.

We visited store.apple.com and configured a new one. Nothing special, just a 15-inch Macbook Pro with retina display, 16GB of RAM and the 512GB SSD (it’s ridiculous to pay an extra $500 for the 1TB disk). Unfortunately, it wasn’t scheduled to ship until November 22nd, and looking at availability at the stores nearby it also showed a November 22nd date.

This struck me as odd since the laptop had been out for awhile, so I called the Apple Store at Southpoint Shopping Center and talked to Christoph (not Chris – Christoph). I mentioned that I was a business owner and I needed a new laptop for one of my guys as soon as possible and what did he have in stock. Turns out the online store was wrong and they had several of the laptops Seth wanted on hand. Cool. I told him I was on my way and that I’d be there in about 30 minutes.

Now, I hadn’t been in an Apple Store in a long time, even longer since I’d made a purchase, and the first thing I noticed was the counter was gone. There used to be one counter about 20 feet from the door where you could run in, make a purchase and run out. After wandering around for a few minutes, I found a lady in a blue Apple shirt holding an iPad. I told her I had called ahead and talked to Christoph about a laptop I needed for one of my employees. She smiled, took my name, typed it into the iPad and said that there were a number of people in front of me so could I just “wait over there by the Macbook display”.

So for forty minutes or so I loitered near the counter listening to all of the people in front of me ask questions like “How does Facetime work?” when I knew exactly what I wanted and was ready to make a purchase. Luckily, there were a number of Ingress portals within range so at least I could hack them while I waited (and answer questions from Apple fanboys such as “What game is that?” with “it’s not for you”).

Finally it was my turn to get a sales associate. This is when it gets worse. He couldn’t find “OpenNMS” in the system and so he insisted on collecting all of my business information.

I asked “will this get me a discount?” No.

I asked “can you just you my Apple ID?” No.

(sigh)

Fifteen minutes later I was walking out of the store, fuming, with Seth’s new laptop. The whole process should have taken less than five minutes. Not only does it gall me that I had to waste an hour of my time just to turn over $3000 to a company I dislike, I couldn’t help but think that this wouldn’t have happened under Steve Jobs. He was a devotee of “form follows function” and he would have never let some fashion whim such as “no Apple Store shall have a counter” interfere with the purchasing process.

Now my hope is that I’ll never have to buy another Apple product for my team, but if I do, it surely won’t be through a walk-in store. This was one of the worst shopping experiences of my life, and definitely the worst one at that level of spend.

Odds and Ends

Monday, October 28th, 2013

I swear I had three small things to talk about, but I can only think of two. Oh well.

The first is the new topology map in OpenNMS. As someone who really, really hates network maps, I love the direction the team is taking with them in the application. We have a geographical map which is just plain awesome, and now the topology map is starting to come together.

The topology map’s job is to show you how devices are related, and the beauty of it is that there is an API so you can determine exactly the relationships you want to see. For example, you could show Layer 2 connections, or, in a VMWare environment, you could display how host and guest operating systems are related to each other and to network storage. In the future we could have relationships between devices and applications. The possibilities are limitless.

Even Papa Johns Pizza has put it on the big screen.

The second thing, which is probably obvious but I still want to complain about it, is that iOS 7 sucks.

You might be asking yourself: Why do you care? True, Android is my mobile platform of choice, but my current phone is locked to the AT&T network. I tend to fall on the opposite side of the “unlocked phone” debate within the open source community in that I believe if you accept a discount on a device in exchange for being tied to a particular network for, say, two years, then you shouldn’t break that contract. So, when I go overseas to Sweden, I take an iPhone 3GS that is unlocked.

Now that my spouse has moved off of iPhone to Android, her iPhone 4 was up for grabs so I decided to get it unlocked.

The process was pretty simple, but Apple decided to force me to upgrade to iOS 7 in order to do it. So when Cult of Mac boasts that 71% of phones that can run iOS 7, do, they don’t take into account those of us who were dragged kicking and screaming into it.

And you can’t go back (Apple seems to have an odd definition of “backup” and “restore” in iTunes).

I hate almost everything about it. I hate the thin Sans font. I hate the Windows Metro icons. I hate the needless animations.

And I can’t find anything. It took me forever to figure out how to unlock the screen rotation. It used to be simple: double click the home button and swipe right. Now I found it buried on some settings page.

Anyway, since the biggest thing anyone is saying about the new iPhone is that “ooh, it comes in gold” I think Apple is in their twilight years.

While I didn’t always agree with him, I miss Steve Jobs. Not as much as I miss Lou Reed, but still.

Mint with a Dash of Cinnamon

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Since switching to using Linux as my primary desktop, I’m always curious as to what options are available to me besides my default go-to distro of Ubuntu.

While Ubuntu 12.04 (the LTS version) is one of the best desktop operating systems I’ve ever used, I’ve grown less enchanted with each subsequent release since then. Part of it comes from some of the choices made by the Ubuntu team (such as the tight integration with Amazon) and I can work around most of those, but I’ve had numerous stability issues with Unity that didn’t really exist in the older releases.

When Debian wheezy came out, I decided to give it a shot as a desktop operating system. I’ve used Debian as a server O/S for over a decade, but the main thing that makes it great for servers, the cautious nature of changes and inherent stability, kind of suck for the desktop. I’ve discussed this with Eric, who is both a Debian user and a Debian committer, and his reply is to ask if you really need to have umpteen updates to firefox, etc. I can see his point, but if I’m using, say, Gnome, having access to the latest release can have a huge impact on the user experience.

So I didn’t like wheezy as a desktop, but before going back to Ubuntu I decided to check out Fedora. It does support Gnome 3.8, but I ran into another issue that affects almost all distros outside of Ubuntu, which is the ability to easily encrypt one’s home directory.

Ubuntu, in the install process, let’s you choose to encrypt your home directory. While I’m firm believer in xkcd’s interpretation of what would happen in the case of someone wanting access to my data, I still like to take some precautions.

I don’t like whole disk encryption for a couple of reasons, namely the possibility of a performance hit but mainly the fact that I can’t remotely reboot my computer without having someone at the keyboard typing in a passphrase. I figure encrypting /home is a good compromise, especially since the key can be tied to the user’s login via pam.

I tried to get this to work on wheezy, but I found the performance was spotty and sometimes I’d login only to find nothing in my home directory. I didn’t spend too much time on it, since I was eager to use Gnome 3.8, but was disappointed to find that Fedora didn’t allow one to easily encrypt their home directory either.

Before giving up, I decided to take a shot a Arch Linux. I’ve been hearing wonderful things about this distro at conferences, but the installation process taxed even me. It it seriously bare-bones, but that it supposed to be part of the appeal. The philosophy around Arch is to create a distro with just the things you, the user, want and with access to the latest, greatest and, supposedly, most stable code.

It appealed to me as a great compromise between Debian and getting the latest shiny, but I couldn’t get it installed. You end up having to create your own fstab and somehow the UUIDs got screwed up and it wouldn’t boot. It also didn’t support the encryption of the home directory as an option out of the box, but I was willing to try to create it as I did under Debian if I could get it up and running. I don’t think it was impossible for me to get working; I simply ran out of play time and decided to try Arch another day.

On my way back to Ubuntu I decided to try one more distro, Linux Mint. I never made it back to Ubuntu.

Linux Mint 15 is a fork of Ubuntu 13.04. It removes some of the choices made by the Ubuntu team that raise the hackles of privacy advocates, and it introduces its own desktop manager called Cinnamon.

I quite like it.

I can’t really say what I like about it. It’s pretty, with the exception of the default desktop background (seriously Mint, yeah I know there’s history there but, sheesh) which is easily changed. The Terminal theme is one of the nicest I’ve used. There’s a pop up menu like Gnome 3, but then there’s these little dashlet thingies that let you launch things quickly, and a notifications system that is easy to access without getting in the way.

Running applications and open windows show up in a bar, like Gnome 2 or Windows, but I don’t find myself using that all that much. It is pretty easy to customize the whole thing, such as changing the location of things as well as setting hot corners.

There are a couple of issues. The menu doesn’t seem to index everything like the Dash in Unity, and I had gotten used to just typing in a few characters of a file name in order to access it. It does seem to remember files you use, so once you have accessed a particular file you can find it via the menu, but it does impact workflow not knowing if it will show up or not. The other issue is that it is still bound to Ubuntu, so they have some common bugs.

For example, I use the screenshot app a lot. Under Ubuntu 12.04, when I’d take a screenshot a dialog would appear asking me to save it. A suggested filename, based on timestamp, would be highlighted followed by the .png extension. I could just start typing and it would replace the highlighted text with what I had typed. That got broken in 12.10, so I’d have to reselect the text in order to set the filename. Not a big deal, but a little bit of a pain.

When I switched to Mint, it had the same issue. Note: in the last day or so it seems to have been fixed, since I am not seeing it as of today.

Of course, you get a lot of the Ubuntu-y goodness such as encrypted home directories out of the box with Mint, but Mint may end up being on the winning side of the Wayland vs. Mir argument, since Cinnamon isn’t tied to Mir (or Wayland for that matter).

For those of my three readers with a life, you may not be aware of either of those projects. Basically, for decades the control of graphical displays on most computer screens is based on a protocol called X11. Under Linux that implementation is currently managed by the X.Org project, a fork of the Xfree86 project that was the Linux standard for many years. The next generation display server arising out of X.Org (well, at least many of the developers) is called Wayland, and in the next few years one can expect it to become the default display server for most Linux distros.

Ubuntu, however, has decided to go in a different direction by launching its own project called Mir. I believe this is mainly because their goal of having a unified user interface across desktop, tablet and phone devices may not be easy to meet under Wayland. My very elementary understanding of Mir is that it allows the whole display space to be managed like one big window – easy to resize under the different screen resolutions of various devices – which differs from Wayland, but I could be making that whole part up.

I’m a huge fan of Ubuntu and I believe that those that do the work get to make the decisions, but I also believe that Wayland will have a much larger adoption base, ergo more users and developers, and will thus be more stable and more feature-rich. My own experiences with Unity’s stability on later releases indicate a trend that the first Mir releases will have some issues, and I’ve decided that I’d rather stick with something else.

For the time being that seems to be Mint with Cinnamon. Not only can I get work done using it, the underlying Ubuntu infrastructure means that I can get drivers for my laptop and still play Steam games. I still run Ubuntu 12.04 on my home desktop and laptop, but that is mainly due to lack of time to change over to Mint.

So, if you are looking for a solid Linux desktop experience, check out Mint. I am still amazed at what the free software community gifts me with every day, so my desktop of choice may change in the future, and I’ll be sure to let you know if I find anything better.