A Weekend at Welshmans Reef

Donna and I went up to Welshmans Reef near Maldon in the goldfields area of central Victoria to visit some friends who’d moved up there a few months ago. They’ve got a lovely old miners cottage which they’ve been working hard on doing up (we were their first visitors) and Donna and I had a great time up there. Being so far away from any sizeable city means there is very little light pollution and so we were treated to a wonderful view of the Milky Way with the various dark nebula being easy to see, especially the Coalsack. I also saw, for the first time, both the Large and Small Megellanic Clouds. No astrophotography I’m afraid as I’d forgotten my Nikon and so only had my Nokia N900 with me!

We took a couple of trips in to Maldon and saw the sunset from the old poppet lookout tower on Mount Tarrangower on Sunday night:

Sunset from Mount Tarrangower, Maldon

plus their Easter Parade on the Monday afternoon which had some great vintage vehicles and Ned Kelly on a Harley Davidson, but we couldn’t hang around for the raw egg throwing/catching competition. πŸ˜‰

Vintage Mt Evelyn Fire Truck and Ladder from Maldon Easter Parade Ned Kelly on a Harley Davidson at the Maldon Easter Parade

Instead we took a trip over to Porcupine Flat nearby to see the bucket dredge and dragline crane that were there:

Bucket Dredge at Porcupine Township, near Maldon Caterpillar tracks on old crane at Porcupine Township, Maldon Old crane at Porcupine Township, near Maldon

So a great time away and nice to have a chance to stop and smell the flowers somewhere nice and quiet.

Flower on friends property at Welshmans Reef near Maldon

A Video for Earth Day – Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”

For Earth Day, here is a video of images of Earth accompanying Carl Sagan reading his Pale Blue Dot text.

Here’s the text, courtesy of the Planetary Society which Carl Sagan helped found.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Have a good Earth Day.

SOLVED: Modern kernels fail to boot on old quad processor Pentium Pro server (Updated x3)

I’ve got an ancient Olivetti Netstrada, a deskside server system with quad Pentium Pro 200MHz processors, 256MB RAM, dual power supplies and five 4GB SCSI drives.

It’s been running Ubuntu 8.04 for ages and I found that with my partitioning layout (set up for testing ZFS-fuse ages ago) I couldn’t upgrade it without major surgery so I decided I’d just put Debian on it instead. That’s where I hit problems..

  1. Debian/kfreebsd (Squeeze & daily) – kernel panics very early with panic: vm_fault: fault on nofault entry, addr: c3925000.
  2. Debian/Linux Squeeze – CD boot loader hangs before getting to menu
  3. Debian Lenny – install kernel panics when uncompressing the initramfs, claims it’s out of memory.

Fortunately the Debian Etch install CD boots and installs correctly, only problem is that Etch is now archived and there are no updates for it..

I dist-upgraded to Lenny and found that the latest kernel there still panics on boot, but the user space is OK. Then I went to Squeeze and found that yes, the Squeeze kernel hangs very early, just after saying it was booting the kernel after uncompressing. Unfortunately the udev in Squeeze won’t work with the Etch kernel, but all that’s broken so far is bringing up the network interface and I can do that by hand with dhclient eth0. Oh, and grub2 hangs (which I suspect is the same issue as the install CD).

I’ve tried building my own kernel using starting with an “allnoconfig” to disable everything and only turn on the minimum necessary, but that has the same behaviour as the 2.6.32 kernel that is in Squeeze, the last thing printed to the console is:

Booting the kernel.

which is at the end of the decompress_kernel() function in arch/x86/boot/compressed/misc.c.

Does anyone have any ideas before I go and throw myself on the tender mercies of the LKML ?

Update: Both Alan Cox and Ingo Molnar suggested using the earlyprintk=vga option which I’d not stumbled across before, that revealed that the 2.6.39-rc4 kernel is misdetecting LOWMEM as 16MB not 256MB which could explain a lot. It also reminded me that I’d seen this before and had an offlist conversation with H. Peter Anvin about it in 2008 which tailed off due to work pressures on his part.

Update 2: Thanks to Thomas Meyer and H. Peter Anvin it’s now known what happened – the commit message from hpa for Thomas’s patch describes it best:

When we use BIOS function e801 to probe memory, we should use ax/bx (or cx/dx) as a pair, not mix and match. This was a typo during the translation from assembly code, and breaks at least one set of machines in the field (which return cx = dx = 0).

The patch has been accepted by Linus and will be in 2.6.39!

Update 3: The patch is in 2.6.39-rc6 and that now successfully boots all the way to userspace with the kernel parameters “noapic scsi_mod.scan=sync”! Hooray!

Google Video Closing Down

Watching some random videos on Google Video I saw that they all had at the top:

This video will be removed on April 29, 2011. Learn more.

That says that “On April 29, 2011 videos that have been uploaded to Google Video will no longer be available for playback“, the people who uploaded them can download them (in FLV format only) to be uploaded elsewhere, but that’s all folks. Confirmation comes from this blog post which posts the (translated) text of an email from Google to Google Video uploaders:

Later this month, hosted video content on Google Video will no longer be available for playback. Google Video stopped taking uploads in May 2009 and now weÒ€ℒre removing the remaining hosted content. […] On April 29, 2011, videos that have been uploaded to Google Video will no longer be available for playback. WeÒ€ℒve added a Download button to the video status page, so you can download any video content you want to save. If you donÒ€ℒt want to download your content, you donÒ€ℒt need to do anything. (The Download feature will be disabled after May 13, 2011.)

Sadly this means that Google have gone back on the promise from 2009 when they turned off uploads, saying:

Will all of the videos in my Google Video account be deleted?
No. The videos that are already in your account will remain hosted by Google Video. You will still have access to all the existing management tools for them.

So if you’ve got content there, go grab it before it goes away!

Peter Norman, Australian Ostracised Olympic Hero

In the 1968 Mexico Olympics a famous image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos who had won gold and bronze in the 200m giving the black power salute on the medal podium was taken.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos give the black power salute at the 1968 Mexico olympics

It has become an iconic image of that time, but little is known these days of the role of the silver medalist in that photo. Peter Norman was a new star in running and broke the world record in the heats, but he was also brought up in a Salvation Army family and to think about looking after his fellow humans. This excellent BBC news article about both the 40th anniversary of the event and the 2008 film “Salute” says, his choice on that day had lasting effects:

The three were waiting for the victory ceremony when Norman discovered what was about to happen. It was Norman who, when John Carlos found he’d forgotten his black gloves, suggested the two runners shared Smith’s pair, wearing one each on the podium. And when, to the crowd’s astonishment, they flung their fists in the air, the Australian joined the protest in his own way, wearing a badge from the Olympic Project for Human Rights that they had given him.

The American’s were kicked out of their olympic team immediately, but the repercussions for Peter Norman were more subtle. As the article says:

Seen as a trouble-maker who had lent a hand to those desecrators of the Olympic flag, he was ostracised by the Australian establishment. Despite qualifying 13 times over and being ranked fifth in the world, he was not sent to the following Munich games, where Australia had no sprinter for the first time in the Olympics. Norman retired soon afterwards without winning another title.

This continued right through to the 2000 Sydney Olympics where Peter Norman was the only Australian Olympian excluded from the VIP lap of honour, 36 years after his original action. Whilst the Australians may have ignored him others decided that this was too much.

But the US athletics team were not going to ignore this omission. They invited Norman to stay at their own lodgings during the games, and welcomed him as one of their own. In an extraordinary turn of events, it was hurdling legend Ed Moses who greeted him at the door, and that year’s 200m champion Michael Johnson who hugged him, saying: “You are my hero.”

He died in 2006, after that having seen an early version of the film his nephew had made bringing all three athletes together for the first time to tell the story of that iconic event. Both Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at his funeral.