Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Upgrading to Fedora 24

Fedora 24 is now available and today I took time to upgrade my workstation to this release.  I have to admit that I was a little lazy and did not bother to upgrade to Fedora 23, so today's task was upgrading a Fedora 22 system to Fedora 24.

I have been working at Red Hat for a long time and have been part of the Fedora Project during the entire time.  A lot of work goes in to each Fedora release and I have to say that this release is very nice and was very easy to upgrade to.  Many non-Fedora users I talk to have the impression that Fedora changes way too quickly for easy upgrades to be possible.  Well, that's probably true when you compare it to more conservative distributions.  Rather than slow things down, Fedora has built a reliable mechanism in for upgrades.  It's taken a while to evolve and I am pleased that my team has contributed a large part of that work over the years.

So, going from Fedora 22 to Fedora 24, here's all I did:
  • Back up.  Seriously.  Everyone says this, most don't do it.
  • Log in on another system and get Firefox open and irc up.  The upgrade is going to take a while and I want to be online while that happens.  Red Hat is very nice and provides me with multiple computers at my desk.
  • Choose your upgrade method.  For me, I chose the dnf system upgrade option.  This is a continuation/evolution of what used to be called fedup in previous releases (and in a way the older yum distro-sync mechanism).  I also chose to upgrade first to Fedora 23, then to Fedora 24.  While an upgrade directly to Fedora 24 would probably have worked for me, I wanted to step it up through the releases because I know that path is actually tested by other Fedora Project members.
  • Execute the upgrade to Fedora 23:
  • sudo dnf update --refresh
    sudo dnf install dnf-plugin-system-upgrade
    sudo dnf system-upgrade download --refresh --releasever=23
    sudo dnf system-upgrade reboot
  • During the reboot the system will upgrade to Fedora 23 and then reboot again.
  • Execute the upgrade to Fedora 24:
  • sudo dnf update --refresh
    sudo dnf system-upgrade download --refresh --releasever=24
    sudo dnf system-upgrade reboot
  • And during this reboot, the system will upgrade to Fedora 24 and reboot again.
That's the process.  It involves more waiting than commands.  And I got my information from here:

As with all systems, there are a handful of adjustments I had to make or tips I collected during the upgrade.  Here's how I modified the steps above:
  • During the upgrade to Fedora 24, I had to add --allowerasing to the dnf command due to some problems with third party repositories.  This did not have a negative impact on the upgrade itself, though some third party packages I had installed were removed (e.g., vlc).
  • Once in Fedora 24, I had to disable the rpmfusion-nonfree-updates repository.  I guess as of now, it does not yet exist.
  • There are some optional commands explained on the wiki page above that are generally good for housekeeping purposes, but I did not find that any of them were required.
I am using GNOME 3 on my laptop and MATE on my workstation with Fedora 24.  Why?  Well, I like being aware of the different desktop options available in our current release and maybe next week I'll move to KDE or LXDE or something like that.  I do try to give each one a week or so of me using it so I can do a variety of everyday tasks in that environment.

And Fedora 25 development is just getting started now, so if you are interested in trying Fedora 24 you should do that now because it won't be current forever.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Simple Sawhorse Plans

These are plans I put together for some simple sawhorses.  It's really a collection of different ideas I saw online and then slightly adapted.  The finished product:


Parts per sawhorse:
  • 246 inches of 2x4 lumber, which is approximately 2.56 eight foot boards, so buy three boards.  I bought Irving premium SPF at Home Depot.  Fewer knots, doesn't smell, cheap.
  • 24 deck screws of length 3".  I bought Deckmate #9 x 3" screws at Home Depot.
  • 8 deck screws of length 2".  I bought Deckmate #8 x 2" screws at Home Depot.
Cost per sawhorse:
  • $12 for lumber and screws
  • Compound mitre saw or your favorite way to make 15 degree cross cuts.
  • Cordless impact driver or a drill and lots of patience with a screwdriver.
  • Speed square
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
Steps for the 1st sawhorse:
  1. The first thing to measure and cut are the three pieces that form the I-beam.  Measure 32", scribe, cross cut at 90°.  Use this board as a template to mark the other two you need.
  2. Assemble the three 32" boards in to an I-beam as you see in the picture.  This is simple.  There should be roughly 1" on either side of the center board.  Use the 2" deck screws to attach the top and bottom boards to the center.  I put 3 screws across the top and 5 screws across the bottom underside, all more or less evenly spaced.
  3. Now measure and cut the legs.  Legs are 29.5" long.  The foot is a 15° cut as you can see in the picture.  Make sure you measure the 29.5" on the longest side of the board.  Cut four legs all the same way.  You can also go ahead and cut four more for the second sawhorse now too.
  4. Attach each leg by pushing the 90° end up in to the I-beam corner as you see in the picture.  Use four 3" deck screws to attach each leg.  Be sure the angle cut foot is going in the correct direction before you attach each leg.
  5. Measure and cut the braces.  These are 16" long with a 15° cut on each end.  It's a trapezoid.  Measure the 16" across the longest side of this trapezoid.
  6. Attach the leg braces as shown in the picture.  Attach them to the OUTSIDE of the sawhorse legs.  Use four 3" deck screws for each brace.
Steps for the 2nd sawhorse:

It's the same as the steps for the first sawhorse with the following changes:
  • Make the I-beam 31.5" long (or 31....just shorter than 32).
  • Attach the leg braces on the INSIDE of the sawhorse legs.
When completed, you can stack the 1st sawhorse on top of the 2nd sawhorse.

I wrote all this from memory, plus what I had jotted down on an index card.  I may have left out a step.  If you do not use an impact drive to run the screws in, you'll need to predrill and take your time.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Several Weeks with EnChroma Glasses


In December 2015, I ordered some EnChroma glasses.  Mine are their indoor lens style with freeform prescription lenses.  You may have seen news stories about EnChroma glasses.  They aim to "correct" color blindness, though that's a bit misleading.  There's no way to correct color blindness and even the term 'correct' is subjective.  We may disagree on what normal color vision is or should be.

Head over to EnChroma's web site for a quick explanation of what they do and then some reaction videos of first time users.

OK, all that aside, what's it like having these glasses?  If you were wondering if there was a WOW moment when I put them on, there wasn't.  So there won't be a reaction video of me putting them on and then looking at a box of assorted LEGO bricks and crying or something like that.  Sorry to let everyone down on that.

EnChroma has an online color vision test that's based around the world famous Ishihara 38 plate test.  EnChroma adjusts what they ask you based on your responses to further refine their analysis of you.  I took the test several times and in all but one instance I was classified as a severe protan with EnChroma warning that the glasses would only have a 30% chance of having any effect on me.

It's worse than that.  The glasses are tinted and make me look like a Visitor ready to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations.  They are only really effective under specific lighting conditions.  They are meant for indoor use, but I probably need more light.

They have taken some time to get used to.  And the frames are sort of crappy.  Maybe at some point my regular optometrist will be able to offer these lenses with frames I buy.


Yes!  And it keeps getting a little better the more I wear them.  Here's a list of things I've noticed, in no particular order:
  1. The first day I wore them I was walking around the house noticing subtle differences in things.  Karen pointed out my shirt and I looked at that and said, "WHOA!  GREEN!"  That's the closest to a wow moment I've had with these glasses.
  2. It's much easier to watch movies and TV on our LCD screens at home.  Everyone is sharper and clearer, which I thought was already the case, but it's even more so with these glasses.
  3. Watching college football is less stressful because the uniforms of each team are different colors.  I usually look for pattern differences in helmet designs or some other insignia on the uniform to distinguish them.  This made watching the Michigan vs. Alabama game with my parents more enjoyable. 
  4. ls(1) coloring is easier to read on my laptop screen.  I liked NetBSD's ls coloring by default, the GNU coloring was all over the place.  But these glasses clean that up.
  5. Barbeque sauce and ketchup are different colors.  I previously relied on viscosity differences to tell them apart.  Barbeque sauce in general is not as viscous as ketchup, btw.  Sitting in little cups at a restaurant, barbeque sauce will tend to level out and ketchup doesn't.
  6. The cafeteria at work has a lot of red.  The serving counters are all red.  Like Red Hat red.  Oh, right.
  7. I noticed the red lights on traffic signals today, around lunch time.  They are bright red.
  8. Oh, and the yellow line on the left side of the road.  That stands out much more.  Previously, it looked sort of like an offbrand post-it note and would register as "solid line".
  9. Cumberland Farms stations around here have a green stripe wrapping their roof top.
  10. The badge readers at the office have an LED that shows red but when you scan your badge it turns to green and beeps.  I've always just tried to open the door when it beeps.  The green light is useful.
So, are there any downsides?  Of course.  Here are some:
  1. It's another pair of glasses.  I have my regular glasses and my prescription sunglasses.  I can't really wear the EnChromas all day because it's dark when I head home and I can't wear these in the dark.  I may be able to use these in place of the sunglasses for at least driving.
  2. Detail on the LCD TVs is harder to pick up.  I can see small artifacts on shows and movies, which is likely due to having more rods than cones.  With the EnChroma glasses on, those don't stand out as clearly, but I can take them off and see the artifacts more.
That's it so far.  Probably another update after I've had them for longer.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Filenames I Remember From Shareware Days

Karen and I were talking about how cool sounding the title Ombudsman is and that caused me to think about shareware back when I used DOS. Like many people, my first exposure to Unix was at university. When my parents thought about getting a computer for the house, the prospect of a $10,000 Sun workstation didn't really even get considered when dad's work was throwing out an old IBM PC.

So I used DOS early on. DOS was pretty boring by itself. It didn't do much and what it could do it didn't do fast. But that didn't stop me from collecting shareware programs from every corner I could find them.

Most shareware came packed up in some sort of archive or on a diskette. There were a standard assortment of files, usually including README.TXT. But there were others that popped up in shareware archives over time.

For example, there was almost always a statement from the Association of Shareware Professionals Ombudsman, complete with 5.25" floppy ASCII artwork. Remember this?

         ____|__     |               (R)
    --|       |    |-------------------
      |   ____|__  |  Association of
      |  |       |_|  Shareware
      |__|   o   |    Professionals
    -----|   |   |---------------------
         |___|___|    MEMBER


This program was written by a member of the Association of Shareware
Professionals (ASP). ASP wants to make sure that the shareware
principle works for you. If you are unable to resolve a
shareware-related problem with an ASP member by contacting the
member directly, ASP may be able to help. The ASP Ombudsman can
help you resolve a dispute or problem with an ASP member, but does
not provide technical support for members' products. Please write
to the ASP Ombudsman at 545 Grover Road, Muskegon, MI 49442 orsend
a CompuServe message via CompuServe Mail to ASP Ombudsman

My other favorite filenames of that time period were FILE_ID.DIZ and DESCRIPT.ION.  Oh, and shareware usually had an order form in a text file.  Maybe DESC.SDI.

When I started posting software I'd written online, I would get frustrated when people would email me with questions that were very clearly answered in the first few lines of the README file.  In one case I decided that instead of calling the file README, I would call it DONTREADME.  Assuming no one reads documentation, if I explicitly name it that way, would people read it and not ask me the question?  The answer turned out to be yes...mostly.  Everyone read the DONTREADME file, but then they emailed me anyway to tell me they read the DONTREADME file and found the answer to the question they were going to ask me, and maybe I should call it a README file instead because the information in DONTREADME is actually useful.  Ugh....users.

Any one remember other filenames that were common in shareware archives?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Never Try To Order Anything From IBM. Ever.

IBM has been around for a really long time and has so many different products and business units, it should come as no surprise that two people could work at IBM for 20 years and never meet or even know what they work on.  This is common in many large companies.  Sometimes it gets a little out of hand.

I am used to dealing with large companies.  Navigating the maze trying to get what you need.  My most frequent one to deal with is Motorola Solutions, makers of various two-way radios and related equipment.  I have an account and order parts from them on occasion.  Placing an order really relies on you know the Motorola part number and obtaining that is a challenge.  The same people that place your order are not the same people that can look up parts.  To make matters more difficult, the people who can look up parts do not know what to do if a part is discontinued.  Motorola thought it would be ok to just not indicate replacement part numbers when a particular part was discontinued.

OK, so that's sort of what it's like dealing with a big company when ordering parts.  My IBM story has to do with a system at work.  A POWER8 server of some variety.  Let's call it an 8247-21L just so we have a name for it.

Now, my company is an IBM partner and we have a process in place to order hardware, open warranty tickets, and generally deal with IBM.  It works well, except when you have an odd request.  Since we are developing operating system software, we tend to need specific addons for the hardware...not things that typical end customers would order.  IBM is not set up for this.  But, our awesome team in engineering operations is prepared for this and knows how to navigate the system.  Sadly, I gave them what amounted to an impossible request.  They really did try and I have to give them props for that.

The request?  I needed to order carriers (sleds, caddies, cages, brackets, whatever you want to call them) to add additional hard disks to this 8247-21L.


First off, when you start talking to IBM about hard disks, they want you to buy a storage solution.  A big enterprise disk array.  Nope, back up.  Try again.  I'm just talking about local disk.  Or DASD.  OK, IBM gets that.  But they want to sell you the hard disk in a carrier.  Not just a naked carrier.  I mean, you might want to install a non-IBM approved part in the server.  Say, an engineering sample for something not yet released to the general public.  Believe it or not, this is quite common when working on operating systems.

Our eng-ops teams tried really hard and came close.  We almost managed to order very small disks just to get the carriers, but IBM wouldn't go for it.  They even tried CDW, but they couldn't do it either.  CDW suggested I call 1-800-388-7080 which is the number to order parts and addons from IBM.

This is where the fun began.

I called that number and began a 1 hour and nearly 5 second transfer chain across different continents, offices, and divisions at IBM all trying to order this mysterious carrier.  The number above was prepared to sell me the part if I had the part number.  They could not look it up.  OK, I know this game!  I have a Motorola account!  Transfer me to someone who can look up parts.

They transferred me to Lenovo technical support, who kindly asked me for the something something something number of the failing system.  No no, just need parts research.  OK, do you have a ThinkPad or ThinkCentre?  Neither, it's an IBM POWER system.  Ah, ok, you need to be transferred over to enterprise support.  Do it, let's go.

Enterprise support, like all previous operators started by asking for my name, company, address, city, state, county, ZIP code, country, area code, work number, mobile number, time zone, preferred language, character set encoding, Coke or Pepsi, window or aisle, and so on.  I get through all this and I give the system type and serial number.  It's not coming up.  Hmmm, that's odd.  Hold on a minute.  Type type type.  Hold more.  That's odd.  Repeat.  Eventually, "are you an IBM partner?"  Yes, I am.  "Oh, ok, well this needs to be handled by IBM Partner World, let me transfer you."

Hooray!  Repeat all of the above and get to what I want.  I want to order hard disk carriers for 8247-21L.  "Oh, for parts you need to contact technical support and they can place an order."  Really, even though I'm an IBM partner?  "Yes, they handle all parts orders."  OK, send me on over.

I'm back at Lenovo technical support in Atlanta, GA.  A woman who sounds like Paula Deen tells me to please pay close attention as the menu options have changed.  I ignore everything and just press zero.  Nothing happens.  I hit a bunch of random buttons.  I get someone.  We go through the personal history above and get to what I want.  But they can't help me.  What they can do is create a service ticket and dispatch a tech to our location so the system can be examined for what parts might be available for purchase.  Oh, and how would I like to be billed for that?  What?  The hell are you talking bout?  I ask if they can look up parts and they tell me know and suggest I go to www.ibm.com and type in the word "parts" in the search field (I'm dead serious, they suggested this).

I ask for an escalation.  I talk to the manager for this office or division or continent.  Can't remember.  I explain what I'm trying to do and how we are a partner and I normally go through eng-ops at my company, but they hit dead ends and they told me to call 800-388-7080 and that started this entire process of how I am now talking to him.  And all I want to do is order this part.

The guy is nice and explains that this isn't the normal process they are used to.  I don't know, something about how usually people in suits are involved and purchase orders and so on.  I don't care about any of that.  But he does mention one thing.  The whole problem started with me not having the part number.  And what seems to be the trend here is that IBM has ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to look up systems it has sold and determine what parts go with it.  Like, they know they need to do this, but their computers just don't have that information.  If I had a part number, they could place the order.  Even Dell has this figured out with their service tags.  And everything has a service tag.  They know what you have and what should go in it.

So he again offers to dispatch a tech (no thanks) to help get the part number.  I pass on that and decide to have someone on my team turn the damn system off and yank an existing drive.  Pop the drive out of the carrier and their should be a part number, right?

Turns out there is.

After all of that, we obtained part number 00E7600.  IBM calls part numbers an "FRU" which stands for field replaceable unit or something like that.  The FRU number is the key to the castle.  If you have that, you can order all you want.

I come in today prepared for another hour or two on the phone with IBM and decide to try a different route.  What happens if I just Google for it.

Bingo.  Dino DNA.

I was able to purchase 5 of these carriers from a vendor on eBay for $17.95 each.  Hopefully they fit and hold disks.  At this point I'm not sure I care.

Don't ever think you can order parts from IBM without knowing the part number.  What will be POWER's eventual downfall is not low market acceptance, but rather the impossible nature of dealing with IBM to actually buy anything.

Oh, and why was I wanting to add a special disk to this server?  Like most problems, we are solving bugs filed by customers and partner companies.  In this case, the bug that prompted this entire ordeal was filed by IBM.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dial Up Internet

It is 2015 and you can still access the Internet by dialing in via a modem.  Find your nearest AOL access number here:

Yes, this is a real.

Remember, dial-up Internet is free when you call from work.

Monday, March 9, 2015

On Not So Old Computers

Maybe it really is an old system, but I still don't consider a system from 2005 to be that old.  In particular, the Power Mac G5.  The last workstation system from Apple that used the PowerPC line of processors.  Apple began a move to Intel processors in 2006.

A had a Power Mac G4 for about 3 years and used it as my workstation at home during that time.  It was a dual processor system and worked quite well.  I did not buy a G5, but always wanted one.  I moved away from PowerPC systems after the G4.

Recently I picked up a dual processor G5 on eBay and have been getting it up and running again.  These things sell for a couple hundred dollars on average and may or may not need some parts to get it going.  They can use USB keyboards, mice, and LCD monitors.  You may need a display adapter as the default graphics adapters spoke DVI.

As I have been working on this system, I have hit a number of hardware problems that I forgot that we used to deal with.  Maybe newer systems have spoiled me, but even just 10 years ago we had somewhat more irritable systems.  Granted, this is Apple-specific, but Apple is not uncommon.  Here is a list of now oddball things I have dealt with in this G5, each reminding me that computer hardware has improved and we don't have to deal with a lot of this stuff anymore:]
  • The battery died.  Macintosh computers from basically the beginning up until the switch to Intel processors used a half AA size 3.6V lithium ion battery, for a more technical name it's the ER14250.  It's called half AA because it's the same diameter as a AA battery, but about half the length.  These are common enough to be able to find at electronics stores and on Amazon, but not common enough to be able to buy amongst batteries at any major retail store.

    The battery is used to back the NVRAM which stores settings for the firmware. At least in the Power Mac G5, it sort of maybe controls the SMU which is the replacement for the PMU (power management unit) in previous models. I find the PMU interesting because it's an embedded computer based on a 6502 microprocessor and controls the NVRAM and ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) for on-board ADB peripherals. The 6502 was the same processor used in the Apple II line (but not the IIgs), but now in the Mac it's been reduced to a very small embedded computer to run stuff for a larger computer. Heh.

    Battery death on Macs was common before the Intel switchover. Owners of systems would be surprised to find the system not working properly after 5 or more years, only to call 1-800-SOS-APPLE and be told to order a $30 or so battery. I think Apple made the battery choice so it would provide enough power for all system types they might make and on the assumption that customers would be buying a new computer before the 5 year mark. Well, not when you charge Apple prices I guess.
    This size battery is still readily available for a few dollars. I bought a four pack on Amazon because it was the smallest quantity that was eligible for Prime.
  • The hardware clock recorded garbage. Related to the battery death problem. Once the battery was not useful, when the system tried to store the system time to the hardware clock (NVRAM), it failed. But that failure also wrote garbage to the NVRAM. Once I replaced the battery, restoring the clock caused it to reset to some time in 1978. Even the system clock was resetting automatically after I reset it using date(1) or ntpdate(8). It was incredibly strange, but I eventually got past this hurdle through various combinations of erasing NVRAM settings, resetting the SMU, unplugging the system, and using a more recent OS to force the hardware clock value back to something usable.
  • The SATA cable for a second drive was broken.  This was just an unfortunate side effect of it being a second hand system.  The drive connector appeared to have gunk stuck in it.  I can probably find a replacement at work or just order a new one.  At least this part is standard, though I have to thread it through the beautifully designed interior of the G5 tower and hope I don't break something.
  • My replacement SATA drive was not recognized.  Here is another gotcha for G5 owners.  The system will fail to recognize a SATA disk that is not forced to operate at 150 MB/s.  Now how do you force the disk to operate in that mode?  A jumper.  Yes, a jumper.  In 2015 it seems there are cases of jumpers still being required in some corner cases.  So corner, in fact, that the disk does not come with an unused jumper meaning I had to find one somewhere.

    There is no error message here either or a failure to boot. It just doesn't see the disk. At all. So your first thought may be that the disk is dead.
The system is now up and running, though I am now experiencing the fun of figuring out the magic kernel boot parameters to make sure the ATI adapter works correctly. So far I've passed radeon.agpmode=-1 to the kernel and that at least gets me console support. X doesn't like that though. Oh well, it's an older system but one that I can get working eventually.  I am glad that current hardware is a little less picky about itself.

And some other notes I've collected:
  • If using a non-Apple keyboard, the Apple key is the same as the Windows logo key.  The Option key is the same as Alt.
  • If using a non-Apple mouse, the left button is the same as the single button on an Apple mouse.  Common mistake is to use the center button.
  • Hold down Option (Alt) to get a firmware boot menu.  It's graphical and presents icons of bootable volumes found.  It will scan for a while and display a wristwatch mouse pointer, but it is working.
  • Apple+Option+O+F gets you in to Open Firmware.  Hold this sequence down on boot up and don't let up until after the chime.  Or keep pressing it repeatedly like you're hitting a chord on a piano until you see the Open Firmware interface.
  • eject from an Open Firmware prompt ejects the optical drive.
  • mac-boot from the Open Firmware prompt boots the system in the Mac-specific way (i.e., searching for a bootable volume).
  • Pressing and holding the mouse button while the system boots up may eject the optical drive.  I dunno, doesn't seem to on my system though people online claim it works.  May be OS-specific, not firmware-specific.
  • Resetting the clock in Open Firmware is possible with the decimal dev rtc sec min hour day month year set-time command.  The values given need to be UTC.
 With the issues I've encountered with this system, I am glad I bought a tower rather than a Xserve G5 system.  It's at least a little easier to work in.