Archive for the ‘Geek’ Category
A few weeks ago I was at the annual FSF conference in Budapest. I was helping at the BalaBit stand and also the organizer of the openSUSE stand. To attract more visitors to the openSUSE stand, I asked people to bring interesting machines running openSUSE. As Linux gaming lags a bit behind other platforms, we had a big machine running the freshly released native Linux port of Steam on openSUSE. The rest of the machines were miniature. As I’m still receiving questions about these mini machines, here is a short summary of my experiences with them.
The smallest one was the Raspberry Pi. It’s an ARM system on chip (SoC) based machine, barely larger than a credit card. Actually it’s just a board, there is no case or power supply, as it can be powered from a micro USB port, just as most modern mobile phones. It comes with a Debian based OS and focuses on education and programming, but of course, it’s a perfect machine for all kinds of hobby projects. It can play full HD movies and simple 3D games, so there are also XBMC images available. The openSUSE port is at the moment quite limited, as the upstream kernel does not support video output yet, but it will hopefully change soon.
The next one is CuBox, which a complete machine with its 4x4x4cm size. It’s also an ARM based machine, but with a more modern SoC. It can also play Full HD movies, but also has an eSATA and a gigabit Ethernet port, making it a perfect candidate for a NAS system. It has the usual ARM problem of not having all drivers upstreamed yet, so openSUSE and most other distributions are missing a few features which are other way supported by the hardware. I’m using it now with ArchLinux, as I read about it quite a lot relating to syslog-ng (it’s one of the distros, where syslog-ng is installed by default) and it serves now me as an NFS server. The HDD in my laptop is small and slow, so I’m testing if running virtual machines from NFS solves my problems. Results are quite promising. And unlike a traditional NAS system, it can easily be extended with additional software.
The strongest mini machine at the stand was a FitPC3. It’s an x86 machine based on an AMD APU. It’s barely larger than a 3.5” HDD, but has a huge selection of ports. It can comes pre-installed with Windows or LinuxMint, but it’s easy to replace it with openSUSE. And in my experiences it’s worth to do the change, as it feels to run faster and I had less media playback issues.
Actually media playback is an issue with all of these low powered machines. They have acceleration for many codecs and are able to playback high bitrate movies without problems, which caused problems even for high end machines a few years ago. But once a given codec is not accelerated, there is no CPU power to decode it in a timely manner, resulting sometimes in 0.1 FPS video playback…
Last, but not least I need to mention the EFIKA smartbook. It’s no more available, but still many people were asking about it. The machine is based on a Freescale SoC and extremely thin and light. It comes preinstalled with an ancient version of Ubuntu, but also runs Debian and one can hack also openSUSE on it, but there is no accelerated 3D or video playback there. One can use it for a full working day from batteries. Next to openSUSE ARM hacking I use the machine as an audio player, as it has an excellent headphones output.
For years I was using miniature PowerPC and ARM machines as gateway for my SoHo network. A normal Linux install using openSUSE or Debian, with iptables, proxies, sometimes an IDS or even a torrent server to seed openSUSE alpha/beta/release CDs. While it was fun, these machines were never intended to do this job, additional Ethernet interfaces were on USB, could not keep up with today’s broadband speed increase, and did not like the near 7/24 operation. Now I got a chance to try a machine, designed to be run 7/24, passive cooling and multiple Ethernet ports, so a real gw machine, an eBox 3310mx instead of some nice hacks.
As a FreeBSD maniac, the first firewall distribution I tested on the machine was pfSense. In addition to being a flexible and powerful firewall and routing platform, it can be extended with many add-on packages for IDS (Snort), VoIP, caching proxy (squid), etc. All these arrive with convenient and uniform web interface extensions to the base web GUI.
Using pfSense I had some mixed results. The machine is based on the Vortex86 SoC, which also includes an Ethernet port. In theory FreeBSD is supported, in practice it did not work, only the additional two Ethernet ports. On the other hand, this was the fastest networking stack on the machine: I often measured faster downloads than theoretical maximum on my ADSL line.
As I also wanted to test a three Ethernet setup, so I also downloaded a Linux based firewall distribution. I was recommended to try ZeroShell, but after a few hours I gave up on installation. Then I tried IPCop, a simple, easy to use firewall distribution. Still it had many more features and yet easier to use than my SoHo router box. It has some nice graphs, traffic shaping, VPN connections, a lot more flexible firewall and logs about network activity. On the other hand, while there was support for the on chip Ethernet, its speed was less than optimal.
The best Linux experience I had on the machine was using it with Debian. Installation was quick and easy. Network speed was close to theoretical maximum on each interface. And as it’s a general purpose distribution, I could easily add NAS functionality using USB hard drives and necessary software.
Talking about Debian, I have some good news for you: Zorp GPL packages are available for Debian, as it was announced on the Zorp mailing list recently. This makes installation of Zorp GPL a lot more easy on many different versions of Debian and Ubuntu. Still not as easy as the web GUI based firewall distributions I tested, but thanks to its proxy based architecture, it can provide a lot stricter and fine tuned protection than any others I tested. For details on how to get started read announcement or the maintainers blog.
Reading PDF files on my e-book reader is not much fun. Well, it’s possible, but very-very slow, so my original aim of reading technical documentation on the e-book reader instead of the screen did not succeed. I am looking for content in epub format, which renders at a reasonable speed on the device. There is a catch: I’m not looking for warez The Internet is full with that, but as I’m running (SuSE) Linux and FreeBSD, I also try to stay clean and free on the content side.
This weekend I visited Heed Audio‘s partner day. For those, who don’t know it: Heed is a Hungarian company, just like BalaBit, but with a different focus: high end audio. They introduced a new USB 2.0 based DAC. As usual, I had my laptop with me – with Linux running on it. I asked, if I could test the new DAC from Linux, as if I ever have a chance to buy one, I’ll use it from Linux. It turned out, that it was already tested from Mac and Windows, but not yet from Linux, so my test was very welcome. I did not have to install any new drivers, just connect it and use it. Actually, it wasn’t this smooth, as there was a problem between keyboard and chair: I forgot, that sound is muted by default on my machine and it took a couple of minutes, before I realized it So I was the first to test it from Linux, and it sounded great!
A few weeks ago I described my first experiences with a Linux based tablet: http://czanik.blogs.balabit.com/2012/03/the-new-ipad-why-i-dont-want-it/ Of course I also tested the freshly released Windows 8 preview. Both were a kind of disappointing as soon as I started apps not designed for tablet environments. So I planned to test Gnome3 and KDE Active Plasma, as both are planned with tablet users in mind.
Last week a new iPad was released. It has a standard 10” screen with almost twice the screen resolution of my ThinkPad mobile workstation. Still, I plan to write write about an Intel Atom based tablet, the ekoore Python. Looking at the technical specifications, it can’t even remotely match the specification of the iPad. On the other hand it has a great feature, few of the other tablets have: freedom.
For a long time I was a KDE user, but around 4.5 it became too fancy for me and was in my way instead of helping my work. So I switched to Gnome 2. It provided me with a sometimes over simplified, but convenient and consistent GUI. Then suddenly Gnome 3 destroyed the whole thing with a completely redesigned interface. Also, pulse audio became mandatory with Gnome, which has a noticeable impact on sound quality (I have above the average good ears and headphones )
For many years, I was looking for a good and affordable e-book reader. I read a lot on the computer, as many text I read are not available in a printed form. Some of them would be even obsolete before I could print them But being environmentally cautious, I try to avoid printing anyway whenever it is possible. Reading from the screen has many disadvantages: it’s not so friendly to the eyes and also one can easily be disturbed by incoming e-mail, instant messages, etc. But this Christmas finally brought me an e-book reader!
One of the most popular e-book reader, the Amazon Kindle, uses syslog-ng to log events on the device. It runs version 1.6, which is many years old. As many million Kindle devices were sold, this is most likely our most widely used syslog-ng version, even if its users don’t actually know about it.
You can find syslog-ng in the Kindle sources published by Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200203720 It would be an interesting challenge to update syslog-ng on Kindle to a current version
Last week I received a nice little package from Genesi: an EFIKA MX SmartTop ( https://www.genesi-usa.com/products/efika ), and an EFIKA MX SmartBook ( https://www.genesi-usa.com/products/smartbook ). As I already wrote about a previous version of the SmartTop, which I use as my music server ( http://czanik.blogs.balabit.com/2010/08/a-tiny-music-server/ ) I’d like to concentrate now on the SmartBook (SB).