2016-08-07

Debian within a Windows partition?

A few years ago, I remember that Ubuntu had a trick that allowed the distribution to be installed as one large file within a Windows partition. Does the same thing exist to install Debian?

2016-06-22

Batch photo manipulation via free software tools?

I have a need for batch-processing pictures. My requirements are fairly simple:

  • Resize the image to fit Facebook's preferred 960 pixel box.
  • Insert Copyright, Byline and Bylinetitle into the EXIF data.
  • Optionally, paste my watermark onto a predefined corner of the image.
  • Optionally, adjust the white balance.
  • Rename the file according to a specific syntax.
  • Save the result to a predefined folder.

Until recently, I was using Phatch to perform all of this. Unfortunately, it cannot edit the EXIF data of my current Lumix camera, whose JPEG it claims to be MPO. I am thus forced to look for other options. Ideally, I would do this via a script inside gThumb (which is my main photo editing software), but I cannot seem to find adequate documentation on how to achieve this.

I am thus very interested in hearing about other options to achieve the same result. Ideas, anyone?

2016-02-04

xf86-video-geode 2.11.18

Yesterday, I pushed out version 2.11.18 of the Geode X.Org driver. This is the driver used by the OLPC XO-1 and by a plethora of low-power desktops, micro notebooks and thin clients. This release mostly includes maintenance fixes of all sorts. Of noticeable interest is a fix for the long-standing issue that switching between X and a VT would result in a blank screen (this should probably be cherry-picked for distributions running earlier releases of this driver). Many thanks to Connor Behan for the fix!


Unfortunately, this driver still doesn't work with GNOME. On my testing host, launching GDM produces a blank screen. 'ps' and other tools show that GDM is running but there's no screen content; the screen remains pitch black. This issue doesn't happen with other display managers e.g. LightDM. Bug reports have been filed, additional information was provided, but the issue still hasn't been resolved.


Additionally, X server flat out crashes on Geode hosts running Linux kernels 4.2 or newer. 'xkbcomp' repeatedly fails to launch and X exits with a fatal error. Bug reports have been filed, but not reacted to. However, interestingly enough, X launches fine if my testing host is booted with earliers kernels, which might suggest what the actual cause of this particular bug might be:


Since kernel 4.2 entered Debian, the base level i386 kernel on Debian is now compiled for i686 (without PAE). Until now, the base level was i586. This essentially makes it pointless to build the Geode driver with GX2 support. It also means that older GX1 hardware won't be able to run Debian either, starting with the next stable release.

2016-01-31

Stupid Design: Facebook's Selling Something feature

Over these past few months, I've been going through my personal belongings to reduce them to the bare essentials – more-or-less following the rule "If I cannot remember that I had it, I probably don't need it" – with an explicit goal to make it easier for me to relocate in the near future.

Part of that iterative process has involved selling surplus items via Facebook groups. While I initially rejoiced at the invention of the new Selling Something feature, the more I use it, the more I end up cursing at the lack of thought that went into designing that feature:

For instance, in the feature's most recent implementation, it has become possible to post the same ad in several groups. Great idea, right? Actually, no. What this option does is post individual copies of that exact same ad in each group. Managed to sell a particular item? You'll have to sort through each and every duplicate post in each group to mark the item as sold. Need to edit the ad to lower the price or add requested information about the item? Same thing: go through each individual copy of the ad in each group. Seriously, Facebook? Who the fuck designed that senseless implementation?!

Here's a better implementation: centrally manage all items via the user's account preferences, and let the user tick checkboxes besides each item to decide which groups will see that particular item. Ditto whenever editing the ad's content or marking an item as sold; do everything via the user's account preferences. Rather than making the content group-centric, make it user-centric.

You're welcome.

2015-10-28

xf86-video-geode: Last call, dernier sévice

I guess that the time has finally come to admit that, as far as upstream development is concerned, the Geode X.Org driver is reaching retirement age:


While there have indeed been recent contributions by a number of developers to keep it compilable against recent X releases, the Geode driver has accumulated too much cruft from the Cyrix and NSC days, and it hasn't seen any active contribution from AMD in a long time. Besides, nowadays, Xserver pretty much assumes that its runs on an X driver that leverages its matching kernel driver and thus won't require root priviledges to launch. This isn't the case with the Geode driver, since it directly probes FBDEV and MSR, both of which reside in /dev and require root priviledges to access.


On Debian, as a stopgap measure, the package now Recommends a legacy wrapper that enforces operation as root. Meanwhile, other distributions are mercilessly droping all X drivers that don't leverage KMS. Basically, unless a miracle happens really quick, Geode will soon become unusable on X.


Back when AMD was still involved, a concensus had been reached that, since the Geode series doesn't offer any sort of advanced graphic capabilities, the most sensible option would indeed be to make a KMS driver and let Xserver use its generic modeline driver on top of that, then drop the Geode X driver entirely. Amazingly enough, someone did start working on a KMS driver for Geode LX, but it never made it as far as the Linux kernel tree (additionally, Gitorious seems to be down, but I have a copy of the driver's Git tree on hand, if anyone is interested). While I'll still be accepting and merging patches to the Geode X driver, our best long-term option would be to finalize the KMS driver and have it merged into Linux ASAP.

2015-05-20

xf86-video-geode 2.11.17

This morning, I pushed out version 2.11.17 of the Geode X.Org driver. This is the driver used by the OLPC XO-1 and by a plethora of low-power desktops, micro notebooks and thin clients. This is a minor release. It merges conditional support for the OpenBSD MSR device (Marc Ballmer, Matthieu Herrb), fixes a condition that prevents compiling on some embedded platforms (Brian A. Lloyd) and upgrades the code for X server 1.17 compatibility (Maarten Lankhorst).


Pending issues:

  • toggle COM2 into DDC probing mode during driver initialization
  • reset the DAC chip when exiting X and returning to vcons
  • fix a rendering corner case with Libre Office

2015-03-23

This and That

I haven't blogged anything in months and figured that now might be a good time to get around that. Here it goes:


Free Software


While I occasionally upgrade the packaging of the software I maintain at Debian to keep up with best practices, my activity downsizing goes on. Simply put: I never had any ambition to become a Debian Developer. My involvement has always remained pragmatic and mostly from the perspective of packaging software that I found useful. Even then, my motivation for doing that keeps on dwindling into nothingness, because key pieces of software keep on breaking, whenever someone upstream decides to reinvent the wheel.


For instance, GNOME no longer works at all on Geode chipsets and it barely works on Nouveau chipsets. This happened as soon as GNOME 3.14 was uploaded into unstable, right before the freeze started. Then again, I wouldn't jump to a conclusion that GNOME itself might be at fault, since Plymouth also stopped working on the same two video platforms at the same time. For all we know, this could be caused by some changes in the X.Org server code. Bugs were filed, additional information was provided, but no fix has taken place.


Given how Geode and Nouveau represent 80% of my hardware investment (my Intel laptop being the sole exception), it essentially means that the upcoming Debian "stable" is useless for me. Now try and remain motivated, even just as a mere Free Software end-user. At this point, I'm done.


Politics


Finland is holding national elections this April. I still have no idea who I'll vote for this time. The guy I voted for last time has become a career politician with an inflated ego and zero connection to the average Finn's aspirations and worries. Meanwhile, two friends are standing as candidates: one who is a razor-sharp fact finder and who is a proven pragmatic decision-maker, but whose values are slightly off with mine, and one whose actions come straight from the heart but whose concept of today's Finnish reality leaves a lot to be desired.


National Defence


There's been a lot of recent articles about how former hardware and locations of the Finnish defence forces and border guards have been sold, often for peanuts, to Russian interests. In some cases, we're only talking about buildings formerly used for on-site staff accommodations. In other cases, former patrol boats and navy harbours changed hands. Now, to top it all, it appears that our north-western neighbour, Norway, has sold a former submarine base to German investors who, in turn, leased it to – you guessed it – Russian interests.


Looking at Russian actions in Ukraine, I cannot help but feel great concern that strategic locations are falling into potentially dangerous hands. Just seeing the picture of a former navy harbour with a handful of patrol boats on standby, right on the Finnish coastline, half-way between Helsinki and Turku, was a sobering experience. While the whole idea of shooting at people – even invading armies – gives me the creeps, at this point, I cannot help but start pondering whether defending this country might in fact be an occupation worth training for.


Employment


It has now been 6 years since I held my last dayjob. Since then, the only thing I've found is an unpaid training in the national bureaucracy. I've also freelanced as an actor and model, but that barely brought me pocket change, if even that. Seeing my face on posters advertising a movie I participated in last year was indeed nice, getting some media attention in connection to that too, but it hasn't lead to additional gigs. As far as I can tell, this was just my Warholian 15 minutes of fame.


However, there's a larger issue at stake. Newspapers recently published an employment statistics map for Nordic countries and the truth couldn't be more bleak: while Norway and Sweden's employment figures are nearly spotless for almost every province, those of Finland are – save for a couple of mildly successful provinces – outright catastrophic. Given this and despite feeling relatively happy living in Finland and having developed a will to defend this country from an eventual Russian assault, I've come to the conclusion that I would be better off going West, with a strong preference for Norway.


Now, the main question is, doing what? 6 years later, I have strong doubts that I would be remotely considered for any high-tech job. Besides, come to think of it, I wouldn't want any new office job. Off the top of my head, my idea of a cool job that would allow me to stay physically fit would be working as a tourist guide in Lapland. However, if Norway is anything like Finland, someone probably needs a dozen of permits of all sorts (first aid certification, C or even D class driving license, college degree in tourism, etc.) that I cannot afford. What then?