A Week or so with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus

After a couple of good years with my Nokia N900 I’ve come to the sad conclusion that there’s no future for that platform due to the combined actions of Nokia and Intel – Nokia for dumping Linux and going with Windows Mobile for their smart phones after getting a new CEO (ex-Microsoft) and then Intel through dumping Meego and setting up a partnership with Samsung for yet another mobile Linux platform called Tizen (which at least went for the code first, hype second path, unlike Meego). Intel are now on their third mobile Linux project as there was their Moblin project which was merged with Nokia’s Maemo to form Meego (announced less than 2 years ago) so they have form here as a serial abandoner.

Looking at what is left in the mobile space it was really a no-brainer as neither Windows Mobile nor Apple’s iOS appealed at all, so it had to be an Android phone. The timing was pretty good as Samsung and Google had just started shipping their jointly designed Galaxy Nexus with Android 4 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS). It has the advantage of apparently being a phone recommended for the AOSP (Android Open Source Program) should I feel the need once my warranty expires – though I can’t find a reference to that now! I ordered an unlocked Galaxy Nexus with 2 year warranty from Mobicity as I didn’t fancy the rubbish that carriers tend to put onto their phones, nor get handcuffed into a contract I didn’t want. As an added bonus Mobicity let you pick from 3 optional accessories for free – I picked the screen protector (the other were either a charger or a bluetooth headset from memory).

As an amusing aside I did try and see if Dick Smith Electronics would price match with Kogan for the Galaxy Nexus as Kogan was far cheaper and DSE was only selling them online, but with a manufacturers warranty (unlike Mobicity or Kogan). Unfortunately DSE declined to do so on the grounds that Kogan didn’t have a physical retail outlet which was a bit rich given that neither does DSE for these phones. But then I found out they are now owned by Woolworths and so I didn’t fancy supporting the largest owners of poker machines in Australia.

Despite the best efforts of UPS (who said it would take 6 days to cross Melbourne having taken 24 hours from Hong Kong – it actually arrived the following morning) I received it intact and on time.

Samsung / Google Galaxy Nexus

I’ve now been playing with it, er, using it in anger for over a week now and so far I’m very happy. I’d have to say the best description of the overall experience is “smooth”. Android 4 seems light years ahead of Android 2.3.3 on my wifes Huaewei Sonic, though part of that will be the fact that it’s just a much more capable phone with a larger screen and much more powerful processor.

Good bits:

  • Auto-language select – it started up in Chinese characters but before I could really wonder how I’d fix that it detected it had an Australian SIM in it and autoconfigured the locale to match.
  • No extra cruft – I’ve not spotted any “extras” from Samsung on the phone – the Market is the standard Android Market, etc.
  • Good size screen – the phone feels much smaller in the pocket than my old N900 due to its narrowness despite it having a much wider screen.
  • Android Market – heaps of apps, though the usual criticism of it not being easy to search for open source applications applies here.
  • Camera – it’s “only” 5 megapixels, but it’s still pretty good (though I’ve not yet figured out how to turn the flash off).
  • NFC – OK, a little bit of a toy at the moment, but there are a couple of apps that will read it and confirm that the reason my Myki and Uni ID card interfere is that they’re the same type of technology and so interfere with each other. As do my credit card and my bank card (same tech again).
  • Compass – my N900 had GPS and accelerometers (as does the Galaxy Nexus of course) but the compass allows neat things like Google Sky where you can just point your phone at the sky and have it show you a labelled view of planets stars and constellations.
  • IPv6 works on Wifi – I know people say IPv6 has worked on Wifi since Android 2.2, but it certainly doesn’t on my wifes Android 2.3 phone. But the Galaxy Nexus seems quite happy on my home network with native dual stack IPv6 courtesy of Internode.

Of course nothing is ever perfect, so here’s my feelings on the bad bits:

  • No real keyboard – I really miss the N900’s physical keyboard, it made typing easy. The on-screen keyboard that Android has is good, and quite usable for SMS, Twitter, etc, but for things like the Connectbot SSH client you can’t beat a real keyboard
  • No NTP synchronisation possible – you can get root on the phone (and void your warranty) but this *really* shouldn’t be necessary!
  • NITZ sucks – whilst it gets the time right the timezone is out by an hour. Probably a carrier issue but I don’t think phones should be relying on it. Had to set it by hand to fix it up.
  • Short notification sounds – a minor nit but the default notification sounds that are used for things like SMS, etc, are really short and quite easy to miss.
  • Not entirely open source – whilst the N900 wasn’t either it does seem to have been more open than Android, and it didn’t try and avoid GPL code at all costs like Android does.
  • No update to Android 4.0.2 available (yet) – so far it appears that Samsung haven’t pushed an Android 4.0.2 update to the region my phone was intended for – though other Galaxy Nexus owners around the world have reported getting updates at other times (including someone at Mobicity where I bought it). I suspect this is just an organisational delay and nothing more serious, but it is annoying. If it wasn’t for the warranty issue I’d consider reflashing the phone with the stock Google firmware for the Galaxy Nexus and pick the updates up directly from them in future.

To finish it off here are three images taken with the camera in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (as I said I was happy with it), the first one was used on the weather slot as a background by the ABC News people last week!

Melbourne summer morning Swanston St Skyline The Light Side and the Dark Side

Vacation Released

Vacation is a bug fix only release which now complies with RFC-3834 “Recommendations for Automatic Responses to Electronic Mail”. A big shout of thanks to Dr. Tilmann Bubeck, the Fedora packager, for bug fixes and a German translation of the manual page.

You can download this latest version of Vacation from: http://sourceforge.net/projects/vacation/files/vacation/

It includes:

  • a fix from Dr. Tilmann Bubeck to stop Vacation from munging the GECOS information of users and instead pass it quoted to the MTA for it to deal with (fixes Fedora bug #553505 and SourceForge issue #2928189).
  • Vacation now adds the Auto-Submitted: header as per RFC3834 (fix from Dr. Tilmann Bubeck).
  • Vacation now abides by the RFC 3834 header “Auto-Submitted:” (fixes SourceForge issue #3062665).
  • Fixes up some Coverity grumbles (a redundant fopen() and others).
  • Compiles cleanly with GCC 4.6.2.
  • Now includes a vacation.spec file contributed by Magnus Stenman.
  • The old HTML version of the manual page was out-of-date and so it has been removed (along with html2man) leaving the nroff version the master.
  • Added German translation of the nroff manual page (Dr. Tilmann Bubeck).
  • Note that the English man page has been renamed to vacation-en.man and vacation.man is a symlink to it, so German speakers can just change that symlink before installing to pick up the German translation.
  • Clean up of some old directories in the source code that have been made obsolete by source code control (they contained old, applied, patches).

You can be involved in the development of Vacation by subscribing to the vacation-announce and vacation-list mailing lists and/or logging bugs and feature requests on the SourceForge tracker.

First Release Candidate for Vacation

Vacation rc1 is the first release candidate for the first bug fix only release in the 1.2.7 branch.

This release fixes up a warning for orighdr in GCC 4.6.x. It also includes a German translation of the manual page courtesy of Dr. Tilmann Bubeck, the Fedora packager, and some cleanup work (removing obsolete directories).

Note that the English man page has been renamed to vacation-en.man and vacation.man is a symlink to it, so German speakers can just change that symlink before installing to pick up the Dr. Bubecks translation.

Please do grab this and test it out!

If I don’t hear any problems before next weekend I intend to release this as the official Vacation

Old patch for Bonnie++ to use random data rather than 0’s

Way back in 2007 I posted a blog about testing ZFS/FUSE with Bonnie++ using random data rather than 0’s, and I said:

it’s not ready for production use as it isn’t controlled by a command line switch and relies on /dev/urandom existing. yes, I’m going to send the patch to Russell to look at

I didn’t get any feedback on the patch, so I’ve decided to post it here in case people are interested.

diff -ur bonnie++-1.03a/bonnie++.cpp bonnie++-1.03a-urand/bonnie++.cpp
--- bonnie++-1.03a/bonnie++.cpp 2002-12-04 00:40:35.000000000 +1100
+++ bonnie++-1.03a-urand/bonnie++.cpp   2007-01-01 13:03:41.644378000 +1100
@@ -41,6 +41,9 @@
 #include <string.h>
 #include <sys/utsname.h>
 #include <signal.h>
+#include <sys/types.h>
+#include <sys/stat.h>
+#include <fcntl.h>
 #ifdef AIX_MEM_SIZE
 #include <cf.h>
@@ -148,6 +151,28 @@
+void load_random_data(char *temp_buffer,int length)
+       int filedes, numbytes;
+       filedes=open("/dev/urandom",O_RDONLY);
+       if(filedes<0)
+       {
+               perror("Open of /dev/urandom failed, falling back to 0's");
+               memset(temp_buffer, 0, length);
+       }
+       else
+       {
+               numbytes=read(filedes,temp_buffer,length);
+               if(numbytes!=length)
+                       {
+                               perror("Read from /dev/urandom failed, falling back to 0's");
+                               memset(temp_buffer, 0, length);
+                       }
+               close(filedes);
+       }
 int main(int argc, char *argv[])
   int    file_size = DefaultFileSize;
@@ -477,7 +502,8 @@
       return 1;
     if(!globals.quiet) fprintf(stderr, "Writing intelligently...");
-    memset(buf, 0, globals.chunk_size());
+    // memset(buf, 0, globals.chunk_size());
+    load_random_data(buf, globals.chunk_size());
     bufindex = 0;
     // for the number of chunks of file data

Second beta release of Vacation

Vacation beta2 is the second beta for the first bug fix only release in the 1.2.7 branch.

This release just fixes up some issues that Coverity revealed, none of which appeared to be harmful.

NB: If you compile with GCC 4.6 and see a complaint about orighdr being set but never used in rfc822.c don’t worry, its already fixed in git and will be in the first RC (assuming nothing bad is found in this version).

Please grab this beta release and test it and report any problems!

Recovering 5.25″ Floppy Disks

When I was at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth they were just starting to supplement their serial terminals connected to X.25 PAD’s with some PC’s (Viglen I think), complete with hard disks and 5.25″ floppy drives. So I have had two boxes of 5.25″ floppies which dutifully came out to Australia with me when I emigrated from the UK back in 2002. These floppies are now well over 20 years old so I reckoned it would be about time to see whether they were still readable and, if so, what was on them. Labels like “Honeywell Backup Disk #1” only say so much.. 😉

The first problem was that I didn’t have a 5.25″ floppy drive. Luckily my boss at VLSCI was able to lend me one. The second problem was I didn’t have a floppy cable with the 5.25″ connector on it. Fortunately Bernie at work had an old PC that was in bits which did have one, so I was able to borrow that. Then I found that the old Dell PC I was thinking of using had a really weird connector and wasn’t going to be that useful. My even older Olivetti Netstrada (a quad processor Pentium Pro monster) did have IDE, but the cables were going to be rather hard to get to as it has a bunch of SCSI drives and the cables for them were going to make it hard.

My final box was an VIA EPIA V box (originally from EverythingLinux back in 2003) which did have an easily accessibly floppy connector on the mother board, but only a single power connector for a drive. So it was either the internal IDE disk, or the floppy, but not both. I could have gone and bought a power splitter, but I thought I’d take the cheaper way and netboot it (the onboard ethernet chipset has PXE support) – it should be pretty easy.. Hah! 🙂 This is what the box looked like after some careful assembly..

Resurrecting 5.25" floppy disks - hardware

The first test was to see if the 5.25″ floppy disk drive worked. Luckily I had a floppy labelled as “system boot disk” and after some mucking around in the BIOS (it turns out you can set it to boot from floppy without having enabled the floppy controller, which results in it not booting from floppy and much cursing until you discover it) it booted first time – a 23 year old DOS boot disk complete with partly bilingual Welsh/English welcome screen from 1988!

UCW Aberyswyth 5.25" floppy system disk from 1988

This was very promising – the first disk had worked first time and a quick test of swapping it out for another and doing a “DIR” also worked. Now to get the data off these before they went to the great /dev/null in the sky..

My plan to recover the info was to netboot this machine as a Mythbuntu diskless front end box – Mythbuntu makes that easy to set up and with a little fiddling of the DHCP server to make sure it would only every try and serve this box, and do so with a static address, it worked. Or at least it would load the kernel. Which then complained that it couldn’t boot as it needed a CPU which had PAE support. 🙁

This VIA EPIA V has a low power (5W) 533MHz VIA Eden CPU (appropriately the kernel detects it as a VIA Samuel 2) and whilst it is IA-32 it doesn’t have some of the newer features which are selected for Pentium class processors in the current Linux kernel.

Oh well, that’s fine, I knew I could use Debian instead, so I used the ltsp-build-client (creating an /etc/sysconfig/ltspdist file first containing the line VENDORDEF="Debian" first so it would use the right set of scripts), thus:

ltsp-build-client --chroot sid --mirror http://mirror.internode.on.net/pub/debian/ --dist sid --purge-chroot --arch i386 --accept-unsigned-packages

Problem was that all the various kernel command line options for specifying the NFS server for the root filesystem just didn’t seem to work, it would just sit there saying something like “Waiting for root filesystem” and eventually give up and drop me to a busybox shell prompt, and a simple cat of /proc/cmdline showed the options were being set correctly. A little more thought and an examination of the config file for the kernel showed that Debian doesn’t ship kernels with CONFIG_NFS_ROOT set, so it was never going to work. 🙁

Whilst I could have rolled my own kernel I decided to instead have a look to see if I could find a Linux distro that included PXE booting as an option and a Google search for “linux distro pxe” turned up PLoP Linux as the first hit.

PLoP Linux is a small (75MB) distro aimed at data recovery operations that comes as an ISO, tar.gz or zip file for i586, x86-64 and (crucially for me) i486 processors. They even have a separate tar file for the PXE files. It was easy to set up and so I booted the PC with high hopes. Then I got the same error about the kernel requiring PAE support in the CPU that I got with Ubuntu. Whilst there was an i486 tar file there wasn’t an i486 PXE tar file! That was easily solved by grabbing the i486 ISO, doing a loopback mount of it and stealing the kernel and initrd.img files from it instead.

This time it booted, and I found that it had just what I was after – a Linux shell prompt, working networking, mtools (for mcopy and mdir) and (most importantly) ddrescue to let me create complete images of the floppies. I created a directory for each floppy disk and then did ddrescue /dev/fd0 floppy.img to make the image. I created another directory called Contents and from there did mcopy -vms a: (yes, I ordered the options that way deliberately) to copy all the files and subdirectories off complete with their last modification times (from 1987 and 1988 generally).

In all I was able to recover 20 of the 21 floppies with no errors at all, which amazed me as I was expecting them to have degraded over time (especially as one box was just a flimsy cardboard box). I was hoping to have original B source code from HoneyBoard (the bulletin board that Alan Cox and others I knew there wrote) and AberMUD from the Honeywell L66 but sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case. There are 3 B programs but one is just just 3 lines (calling a drl) and the other two appear to be two versions of some sort of shell which I didn’t write as the first has a btidy timestamp from April 1987, before I arrived at Aberystwyth.

The 21st disk was completely unreadable – the drive didn’t seem to want to acknowledge its existence and ddrescue couldn’t see anything as the floppy driver in the kernel couldn’t get the drive to provide any data. I might try ddrescue’s mode of copying data in reverse to see if that manages any better..

Google to acquire Motorola Mobility (Updated x1)

Very interesting news, especially given Motorola’s recent sabre rattling about going after patent victims^W income – hopefully this will put the end to that nonsense.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. & LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. – Aug. 15, 2011 – Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: MMI) today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Google will acquire Motorola Mobility for $40.00 per share in cash, or a total of about $12.5 billion, a premium of 63% to the closing price of Motorola Mobility shares on Friday, August 12, 2011. The transaction was unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a dedicated Android partner, will enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing. Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. Google will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business.

I hope with Google in control we’ll see some better Android devices out there – can we get a real keyboard please ?!?

Update 1:

It appears that patents are part of the reason for Google buying Motorola, but looks like they’re being trailed as defensive according to this TechCrunch article:

During today’s conference call explaining the deal, Page noted that Motorola’s “strong patent portfolio” will help Google defend Android against “Microsoft, Apple, and other companies.” The first two questions on the call went right to the patent issue as well. With Android under attack on the patent front by Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others, buying Motorola is very much a defensive move as well.

GNU/Linux based phones – sic transit gloria mundi

So it’s looking like there’s going to be a real dearth of “real” GNU/Linux based phones from now on, with the Nokia N9 likely to be the last that I can see for some time. For a while it was looking quite promising with the whole Meego idea, but Nokia’s new CEO from Microsoft seems to have put paid to that with their colours now tied to the sinking mast of Windows Mobile. On the Meego handset list changes to how bugzilla items relating to the handset CE were announced, with the disappointing message that:

Handset UX isn’t fully maintained and currently there’s no activities for 1.3. N900 CE project is only who is maintaining / developing anything to Handset UX and when bugs are fixed in CE the fixes are also available to add to the MeeGo release.

There has been some activity from Nokia contributing back some work done on Meego (in general) for the N9, but basically it appears there’s no interest in Meego phones from anyone other than the N900 community. 🙁

That means that for now we’re stuck with either pseudo-open Android/Linux phones (which, I’ve got to say, haven’t really impressed me too much so far) and Apple’s iPhone which I dislike for its extreme walled garden approach (and I’ve even less idea about usability than Android).

I guess what I’m missing is the power of having a real Linux distro (a shell and utilities that you expect with it) on a phone. I’ve been really happy with my N900 – the fact that I can ssh to our HPC clusters and use X forwarding to fire apps back to it has been really useful at times (not to mention vendor provided root access) – and I was struck that the Meego handset UX has full bash and (amazingly) even strace installed by default. Something approaching a real computer.

But then again I’m a niche market that makes most niche markets look positively huge, but having tasted freedom with the OpenMoko and the N900 I’m hungry for more..

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!

NUMA, memory binding and how swap can dilute your locality

On the hwloc-devel mailing list Jeff Sqyres from Cisco posted a message saying:

Someone just made a fairly disturbing statement to me in an Open MPI bug ticket: if you bind some memory to a particular NUMA node, and that memory later gets paged out, then it loses its memory binding information — meaning that it can effectively get paged back in at any physical location. Possibly even on a different NUMA node.

Now this sparked off an interesting thread on the issue, with the best explanation for it being provided by David Singleton from ANU/NCI:

Unless it has changed very recently, Linux swapin_readahead is the main culprit in messing with NUMA locality on that platform. Faulting a single page causes 8 or 16 or whatever contiguous pages to be read from swap. An arbitrary contiguous range of pages in swap may not even come from the same process far less the same NUMA node. My understanding is that since there is no NUMA info with the swap entry, the only policy that can be applied to is that of the faulting vma in the faulting process. The faulted page will have the desired NUMA placement but possibly not the rest. So swapping mixes different process’ NUMA policies leading to a “NUMA diffusion process”.

So when your page gets swapped back in it will drag in a heap of pages that may have nothing to do with it and hence their pages may be misplaced. Or worse still, your page could be one of the bunch dragged back in when a process on a different NUMA node swaps something back in. This will dilute the locality of the pages. Not fun!