Saturday, February 17, 2018

PDF Product Manuals

I've always had a collection of product manuals in printed form for various things around the house.  Appliances, computer products, radios, power tools...the list goes on.  Keeping track of these requires some level of effort, but I always have trouble finding manuals when I actually need them.  I've decided the best thing to do is start replacing the printed manuals with PDF copies.

Problem is, I need to find all of those.  So does anyone have any suggestions besides manufacturer web sites to find product manuals?  Household appliances are the most difficult at the moment.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

argv[0] name for Firefox processes

I've noticed recent versions of Firefox are creating subprocesses for new tabs but their command name as shown in top(1) and ps(1) is now Web Content instead of firefox.  I can see why this may be appealing for users of Windows or MacOS X, but I would like those subprocesses to continue to say firefox.  Does anyone know how to restore the previous behavior?  I really want to be able to say pkill firefox like I used to be able to do.  I will continue looking through the source to figure out how to maybe turn this off, but so far I have not had any luck.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Be Careful With Your SSD On Linux

My laptop has an SSD instead of a spinning hard disk.  The first laptop I had with an SSD was a company-issued ThinkPad with either a 32GB or 64GB SSD.  It was entirely too small for what I was doing at the time.  After that, I always chose capacity over speed for my laptop hard disk.

Skip to now and SSDs for laptops are entirely usable capacity-wise.  So my ThinkPad now has a 1TB SSD in it.  It came with one when I bought it, but I recently had to replace it because it failed.  SSDs are great, but you can beat them up rather quickly if you're not careful.

On my laptop I also use the LUKS encryption for my /home volume.  I don't encrypt the entire laptop because I don't really care that my man pages are encrypted or my cups configuration file is encrypted.  Just the stuff in /home is important to me.  What I failed to do was make sure I open the LUKS device with --allow-discards on the cryptsetup(8) command.

The --allow-discards option enables TRIM or UNMAP on the underlying device, though it's probably TRIM in nearly every case.  Without getting in to the technical details, this enables the kernel to handle unused blocks differently on an SSD than on a spinning hard disk.  TL;DR, this is important to not wear out the flash memory quickly.

So that's what happened to me.  And the failure was interesting too because the laptop just started acting very strangely until eventually write operations failed and then it started lying and saying the device was full.

Make sure you're unlocking LUKS volumes on SSDs with --allow-discards.  Every distribution is a little different, but a common method us defining the device in /etc/crypttab with the options you need to use.

Monday, October 9, 2017

AOL Instant Messenger Shutting Down

After 20 years or so, AOL Instant Messenger is shutting down.  Not really a surprise.  A lot of instant messaging services have come and gone.  I still have an AIM account that is named after an FCC callsign I was granted in 2000 but no longer have.  At the time it was easy to communicate with less techy friends and family and it was easy to use on Linux with programs like gaim.

I currently use it through a program called bitlbee and then interact with that through irssi.

While AIM is shutting down, I still have Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, and regular IRC on FreeNode.  I also use email.

Remember ICQ?  It's apparently still running and I think people are using it.  Implementations come and go but there will always be a way to do instant messaging in some capacity.  People seem to like that.  Right now I am working on a more integrated and reliable setup for my Facebook Messenger+Google Hangouts+IRC setup so I can move between computers and networks and have everything move between clients.  Yeah, that'll totally work.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hold On Let Me Start the Recording

"Hold on, let me just start the recording...ok, you're good."

During meetings and conference calls, I find it common for large meetings to have someone insist on recording the call.  Or in the case of video conferencing, recording the session as a movie.  But why?

I assume the thought process is that those who can't make the meeting will listen to or watch the recording later.  I can say with 100% certainty that I have never done that.  Has anyone?  If you didn't have time for a 1 hour meeting, what makes anyone think that I will somehow have a separate hour somewhere to listen to the recording?

If the recordings are being kept for logging purposes...ugh, there are better ways.  How much of the call will be people asking if they can be heard, for others to go on mute, and nonsense chatter while waiting for the moderator to join?  ALL CALLS!  The recording is unedited, so the later listener fortunately has an opportunity to relive this hour of unproductivity.

Stop recording calls.  If you're trying to catch people up later, write up minutes.  It's far more effective.  If you're recording it because someone is giving a demo or presentation, have them make an edited webinar recording elsewhere and pass that around.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Encrypted /home Volumes

On my laptops and workstations, I keep my /home volume encrypted using LUKS (Linux Unified Key Setup).  This is the sort of thing that you should do, regardless of your operating system.  I set up my systems to carry a separate /home volume from the rest of the filesystem.  I leave everything else on the system on unencrypted volumes because I see no value in keeping executables, libraries, and system configuration files encrypted.  For configuration files I do care about, I put them in /home/etc and link them back to the expected path.

Recently I upgraded the kernel on my laptop to a newer version.  I build and install my own kernels because I'm a Linux greybeard and that's what I've always done.  I also like to stay moderately up to date on happenings in the kernel.  I used to read LKML, but I just don't have the time anymore.

When I build a new kernel, I start with the configuration file for the one I am currently running.  I do make olddefconfig and then run make menuconfig to look through any new things.  Occasionally this process will cause existing configuration options to be lost.  The defconfig step isn't flawless, but that's ok.

My recent upgrade had this happen specifically with regard to the AES-NI modules in the kernel.  Intel processors come with CPU instructions for AES encryption functionality and software using these instructions significantly speeds up encryption operations.  It's instructions like this that help LUKS volume encryption work transparently and not impact overall system performance.  If you lack these instructions, the kernel will continue to function for LUKS support just fine, but you will notice things move more slowly.

When I rebooted and entered my passphrase to unlock /home, the system just waited.  And waited and waited and waited.  I had never had this happen to me before, so my first thought was the filesystem was damaged or the LUKS header was damaged or something like that.  I was able to boot from USB media and unlock everything and ultimately tracked it down to the missing AES-NI modules.

So, today's lesson is when using LUKS volume encryption on Linux on an x86_64 system, you want CONFIG_CRYPTO_AES_NI_INTEL set to either y or m depending on how you run your system.  Setting this option in the kernel config will bring in more things, but that's fine.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Informed Delivery

I know the idea of receiving email from the post office is probably not high on your list of things you'd like to get working, but I came across Informed Delivery yesterday and the idea looks interesting.

In the United States, the Postal Service is the sole authorized agency responsible for and required to provide uniform postal service to all citizens regardless of geography and at a uniform price.  Your opinions of whether or not this is a reasonable agency to have or how the US Postal Service is run are of no interest to me.  I have opinions to that you likely don't care about.  One thing we can probably agree on is that the Postal Service has to compete with technological advancements while still meeting their legal obligations and that can be very difficult.

Things that didn't exist when the Postal Service was created:  UPS, FedEx, DHL, email, or telephones.  The Postal Service has to compete with all of these and still provide what are effectively baseline services that many people take for granted.

So enough of that, what is Informed Delivery?  I don't know, but I signed up.  As explained, it seems to be a system where you can get emails (opt-in) indicating what mail is headed your way.  Expecting something important?  They could, in theory, scan it and notify you on the sending end and you'll know it's en route.  The possibilities for this service seem interesting, but I'll remain somewhat cautious as to what they will implement.  What would be nice is if I could go to a web page and uncheck the things I don't want delivered, say, on a weekly basis.  Reduce what the letter carriers have to move around and let me filter my physical mail somehow.  We'll see.