Fri, 21 Jan 2005

Cycling again

Seeing I wasn't getting the missing tyres my city bicycle is missing, Kiko gave me a bike that was at his parents' house, and nobody has used in a long time. Thanks!

So I've been cycling again for over a week, and it feels great after 2 months. I had forgotten the amount of freedom an old bicycle can provide. No more caring about how late the Metro will be. No more borrowing my mum's car to go here or there just because when I have to go back there's no more public transport, no more not knowing how much it will take to get to places...

It's simply one of those things you don't really realise you are missing that much until you get back to doing it again, and makes your days a bit more happy.

I need a name for the new bicycle, of course. I will probably stick to something original like the Fletxa daurada, to match the names of her sisters Fletxa verda and Fletxa blanca. If you think giving names to bicycles is silly, well... I won't argue. :) rebuilt

When we moved the Spanish Debian web mirror to a dedicated box, I only thought about the better Internet link, maintenance and resources the mirror would have. I never thought hardware problems would appear soon after we installed the box in the new location.

The move was done back in March or so, AFAICT from the logs in the server. In May, the box crashed for the first time due to some massive SCSI errors in the disk that had the root filesystem. Just rebooting would help it, but some weeks later we would found dmesg full of crap again.

Fernando, one of the operators at the University, found out one of the fans had stopped when he opened the box trying to find out what was going on. We thought that might be causing weird stuff, but soon after, I had to go to the computer room to fix it myself, because the damage in the file system was too big.

During that visit, I finally saw the consoles of a few boxes that I had been using for like 8 years... iluso, gong, and other famous ones like tiberio (once the best computer in the University, used to do some Chemistry simulations, IIRC) or cesar (a very big Sun computer, the current best one in València, if I'm not mistaken.

The other day I had to update httpd.conf as requested by the debian-www guys, but as I feared, the box was having problems: apache was running normally (had been for months, thanks to the binaries being in memory), but the filesystem was read only due to the same errors in the disk, so I couldn't modify anything. I tried rebooting, but as expected the box didn't come up.

Today Sergio and I went to the campus, picked up the heavy box and took it back to the zulex to have a closer look outside the freezing University server room. After booting d-i, which is our preferred rescue tool these days, we examined what the disks still had, and with a few spare SCSI drives we started rebuilding the box from scratch.

Not having a Woody CD at the office, we decided it was time to upgrade to Sarge anyway, so we did our first RAID install using Debian Installer. Man, partman just rocks. After the base system was installed, we found our first blocker: lilo-installer apparently didn't know where to install the boot block, and would suggest /dev/md/0, which failed. After a few tries we learned about the raid-specific lilo.conf parametre, and managed to finish up.

Next, the SCSI BIOS was missconfigured, and it didn't boot from the correct SCSI ID. After some thought we realised what was going on and finally I could take the box home to finish up.

To stick the new disks on the case, I had to brute-force open the lid, a problem that will go away as soon as we get the rack case we've asked for donation to the Hardware Donations team. (hi robster ;) Finding the old data was not so fun, as many files in /etc were corrupt, but I could save the ssh keys and the websync scripts for the web mirror.

Having a nice chance like this to fix things up, I moved the mirror to Apache 2, and it's hopefully working ok now. Tomorrow I'll take the box back to Uni and see if it is. Ideally sto will accept being co-admin for the mirror, as he lives nearby and is University staff anyway. :)

There's some extra-space in the box now, so we are thinking about doing an ftp mirror for the Uni, which I believe has none, while many, many servers run Debian.

I'm finally ready to power it off. This is the noisiest box I've worked on it a long time... it's going to be hard to get rid of the head ache...

Sat, 15 Jan 2005

One year

I just realised this blog made its first year online quite recently, after my first stage at Advogato. I wish I had more time to think about interesting stuff to talk about, though. Sometimes, this feels like the Debian GNOME team's announcement board. :)

Catching up on Sindominio

Lately, my mail problems have not been only my pure lack of time to read it. My main e-mail address is, provided by Sindominio, an organisation which aims to create a space in the net for social and antagonistic organisations which don't want to directly depend on a company to do this. Some members of the more than 130 collectives that are in Sindominio participate in the Sindominio virtual assembly, which rules how the project works and what it does. Sindominio has celebrated its 5th anniversary just a few weeks ago.

My lack of time has prevented me of spending time on Sindominio work (mostly admin stuff), and recently, I stopped reading the lists on a daily basis, but on batches every few weeks. This has the big disadvantage that when there's a crisis (it's not that uncommon to have the Police call someone in the assembly to ask for some suspicious content in one of the hosted websites), I might not know about it until two weeks later.

Today I catched up on really old Sindominio mail, and learned a few things. It seems that ECN, one of the Italian organisations on which we based our project, is about to shut down. As Miquel explained in his post, hopefully the end of ECN will mean that people start other projects with the same spirit in Italy, or join other existing projects to make them better. I've also learned that YOMANGO keeps going without problems. That was great to read about!

Currently, Sindominio has two servers hosted at the Infoespai in Barcelona. Unfortunately, the servers don't grow but Sindominio keeps adding more and more content, and during the last few months we've been having big scalability issues with our older machine, fanelli, despite we moved the mail processing out to the more powerful box a while ago. Right now, it receives mail after it's been cleaned out of viruses and spam in the other box, ada, and runs an imapd for our users and collectives. It hosts the static web pages server, and other minor services like jabber and IRC. Still, the load is too big for this box, and during the last days, it seems to have crossed the line and we are facing OOM killer genocide every few hours.

The other box has suddenly become quite busy, and results in clamav dying every now and then, which makes our mail get stuck in a huge queue. Thus, I've been getting my mail in batches and in weird ordering, which makes it even more difficult to read. While we work on finding out what's going on with these boxes, there's talk about buying a really good box for Sindominio, which will require some serious fundraising as we've never done.

It doesn't help that on Tuesday, when I got home, I discovered that my main desktop box had died. Luckily, it was just a burned power supply, which I could replace in a few hours.

I assume I have missed some mails lately. If you are waiting for a reply from me and it's not happening, please, send it again. Currently, the amount of stuff in my main mailbox is over 1000 mails waiting for action to be taken. Ugh!

Fri, 07 Jan 2005

This laptop is sweet

I had been thinking about getting a laptop for over one year, but never decided to do it because I had gripes on most of the models I saw here and there, or when I saw a model that seemed to be more or less decent, someone else would come and told me "No way dude!". So I just kept saving money without knowing what to buy.

Recently, I've been travelling more than usual: Málaga, Oxford, Mataró, etc. and during the Free Software conferences I've attended I saw more and more people with Apple laptops. Being used to see the normal screens in the average PC laptops, I thought these 15" powerbooks were fabulous, and started to think seriously about getting one. Very recently I finally made up my mind and settled on one of them instead of a Thinkpad, pushed by carlos and sjoerd, with elmo's approval at Mataró, and sto and Pablo at work, and finally knew what to buy exactly. It would be a 15" Powerbook with a 1.5Ghz G4 and a Superdrive.

During mako's stay in València, he suggested that he could buy the computer for me in the states and I could get Paula, one of Kiko's workmates, to bring it back just after New Year. This would apparently save me big money, because the Dollar is currently quite fucked up with respect to the Euro...

On Tuesday, I picked up the laptop at Paula's house, who told me how one of the idiots at the airport nearly tossed the laptop bag as if it was normal luggage, and stared at her like saying "hey, calm down dude!" when she started shouting at him.

The laptop is a US model, so I either need to get the keyboard replaced (not so difficult) or get used to it, and get a new power cord, as the plug is for the US plug model, and I currently have to use an adapter. Besides the keyboard, the hard drive couldn't be upgraded in time for Paula's departure to the faster option, which is a pitty, but it's not that expensive to replace at some point in the future if I really care.

The first night, I had no Debian install CD to start setting my new system, so I played a bit with OS X. Lovely, but after a few hours, I got the same sensation of unproductiveness that you get with Windows: you have nothing useful installed by default, except for a browser and mail program that you don't really want to use. And I wasn't going to bother with Fink so early. So in the morning, I started setting up Debian, and after solving a few issues with X, I've got a GNOME desktop up and running. I feel clumsy, though.

14:19 <@jordim> I feel kind of like a newbie these days.
14:19 <@jordim> can't type, can't config X on my own, can't middle click.
14:19 <@jordim> wtf!
14:19 < sjoerd> you just entered the world of !i386 dude :)

But it's good. :) I need to find a new pcmcia wireless card for now, and need to transfer all my stuff to the new home. I also need to urgently rethink my handling of the stuff I have in /home, because the current incarnation is a big mess, with more than 500 files and directories in the toplevel directory...

I seriously need to rethink my mail handling too, because now I'll want to have a main mail server and some way to sync the mail into and from the laptop. Given mako advertises his greatest talent a lot, I guess I will ask him for suggestions on how to fix my mail setup. Currently it's so bad, that my inbox is about to hit 1000 unclassified mails, many of them which need replying...

Tue, 04 Jan 2005

The Blue Gold Rush

Remember when my bike was stolen two months ago? I was pretty pissed off, and I still remember. :)

The first thing I had to do was buy a 10 trip ticket for València's Metro system. These tickets are quite expensive, more than in Madrid or Barcelona, but fortunately I normally can go everywhere cycling and don't use the Metro much. Actually, when the bike was stolen, it had been months since the last time I took it, but I relied on its unreliable system for a week or two while I got a new bike to get going again.

The first days were a bit painful, because there's not that many trains as in other cities, so it might take either 15 minutes or 45 to do the same distance, depending on your luck with connections and timetables.

After the first week, something changed in my perception of the service. Once I had used my first five trips, I went into a Metro station and inserted the ticket. When it came out, I noticed it had marked over the fifth slot again. That happened a few more times; then the cancelling machines started printing lines somewhere not on the ticket, and finally I got my gift, when on another trip the cancelling machine said I had 128 trips left. Woot! That means free rides for a looong time. The 128 figure is suspicious. Once, I saw one of these machines open, and it was running MS-DOS, so who knows what kind of overflow my card might have caused...

I could take advantage of this when mako came visit València and we shared the ticket for a week. We started calling it the "BLUE GOLD", and people would look at us oddly inside the train when he said "YOU'VE GOT BLUE GOLD, MAN!". The effects have gotten better lately: it now never marks anything and when I use it to open the gates to get out of the Metro stations, sometimes the machines go bonkers and leave the doors open, while their display reads Error, allowing people that haven't paid for a ticket an easy escape from the station. :)

The bad news is that this will end on January 31, as the fees have changed and the old tickets will be obsoleted starting on February. I wonder if I can easily find someone that uses the Metro more than twice a day and sparing the money would help his economy a lot. Or I could try to be selfish and sell it. 51¢ x ∞ sounds like a good deal.

While this happened, I didn't manage to fix up my new bicycle, and I managed to go through the worst part of winter underground. Hopefully I'll start riding it again next week, as this has been the longest period of time with me not riding bicycles at all in the last 9 years and you end up missing it.

Mon, 03 Jan 2005

Freeciv packages available

Following up to my previous post, last night I finished doing the Freeciv 2.0 packages for Debian. They are available in my temporary repository:

deb ./

My first tests unvelied a totally reworked and very much improved UI in the GTK client, which I hope everyone will like (everytime there's a change in the Freeciv client, there's a few users that send a few bug reports about them wanting an option to go back to the previous behaviour...), and there's a few obvious changes in the game, too.

The most noticeable was the introduction of the "Worker" unit, which apparently is a mix of Engineer and Settler, and thir areas of influence drawn in the map. People will also enjoy the fact that most of the popup windows have gone, and have been replaced by a tabbed interface similar to current browsers.

The packages won't be uploaded to Debian officially yet. I want to find out how far away the final release is.

My latest post also triggered a few comments and mails. Johan sent me a nice pic about the funny things that can happen in a Freeciv game. :)

Other plans for Freeciv in Debian include the upload of new tilesets, at last, and sorting out the licensing doubts over freeciv-sound-standard, so people can use a sound pack easily.

I'm still playing too much MAME.

Sun, 02 Jan 2005

Videogame player ethics

I have been wasting a few good hours tonight playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 under MAME while others re-edit the Tetrinet addiction that hit Debian a few years ago already. But this is completely offtopic.

A few minutes ago I was working on packaging Freeciv 2.0beta6 for Debian and realised I have refused to do a few things while playing due to ethical issues.

Freeciv is a free clone of the good and famous DOS "Civilization II" game, for UNIX and Windows. The player starts with a small civilisation and the goal of the game is to either defeat all the enemy civilisations or launching a spaceship that reaches Alpha Centauri before any other civilisation. You do this through population and military growth, and technology advances.

At some point of the game, you discover Nuclear Fission, and soon enough your people develops a nuclear bomb. Using a nuclear bomb against another civilisation has a few effects:

Well, it's a game and all, but until now, I have not been able to use the bomb against my enemies, human or computer-controlled. I haven't been able because "it is not right", and I think if I did, I would just quit the game and start a new one. This sense of not being a total asshole while playing Freeciv has also got me to invest more researchers into developing recycling technologies to keep my contamination levels low and not contribute to global warming instead of trying to discover new, more powerful war devices that would help me not being crushed by nearby civilisations.

I guess this makes me a bad Freeciv player. :)