Friday, 29 January 2010

How dumb is Slashdot?

OK that title is a bit provocative.  I enjoy reading Slashdot as much as the next guy, and I'd always laughed at the comments about Slashdot readers being dumb, but this post got me rolling my eyes in frustration: "2 Displays and 2 Workspaces With Linux and X?"

The OP asks about buying a second monitor and setting up two screens - one large desktop or separate X screens.  Firstly, I would expect a question like this from an Ubuntu noob, followed by lots of answers like RTFM, Google it, see this FAQ, etc.

However on Slashdot, there are so many people who still don't realise that one large desktop doesn't mean windows have to maximise to two screens.  So few people seem to know about xinerama and yet they're still giving advice!  Someone said that "Windows 7's easy dual monitor setup lets you maximise to one window - can Linux do that?" (sheesh, only for years now...)

Slashdot users have some fantastic, intersting, and informative posts.  Unfortunately, unlike a regular email list where only the people who might actually know the answer reply, everybody on Slashdot wants to reply.

Quad Erat Rant-astrandum!

Firefox Personas

Firefox Persona's - inevitable Bling Bling or worthwhile (but still Bling Bling)?

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I just upgraded Mozilla Firefox to version 3.6.  The what's new? page is different this time.  Instead of the usual congratulations, security notes and links, I'm greeted with "Thanks for supporting Mozilla’s mission of encouraging openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web!" and "Choose Your Persona".

If you mouse-over any of the "persona" thumbnails, Firefox's theme changes dynamically. Cool.  Note only that but there's been quite a bit of design effort into making these personas look sleek, integrated, and elegant.

From This

To This!

I would be happy with the old Netscape look for years to come (why did they need to keep changing the logo anyway?) but I guess the iPod yungun's of today are attracted to shiny silver objects, and that goes for the software world too.  In the age of "I'll buy anything new from Apple just  because it's cool" it's inevitable that Firefox adds some chrome!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Emerge multiple packages at once

You may or may not already know about this feature, but you can emerge multiple packages at once in Gentoo.  If you have any semi-recent machine (2 years old or newer) you should definitely be using it.

Being source based - and hence compiling everything before you install it - any build time speed improvements are welcome.  We already have the -j option which can be passed to make via make.conf:
Various sources say to set this number j = N(CPU) + 1 or j = 2N(CPU) + 1.  I find the former is sufficient.

But what about configure?  Before you compile a package, you have to configure it, which typically can only use one CPU.  In addition there are other operations that are disk-intensive while not being CPU intensive (for instance, unpacking source code).  And finally some packages are just "broken" and internally set -j1.

So it would be nice to build (unrelated) packages simultaneously.  While one configure script is running, another could be compiling, further utilising those MeGaHurTz you paid so dearly for!  Recently I tested this for the first time.  I ran emerge like so:
$ emerge -vauDN --jobs=2 world

After looking through the output, this is how it proceeds:
Total: 70 packages (66 upgrades, 1 new, 3 reinstalls, 3 uninstalls), Size of downloads: 0 kB
Conflict: 23 blocks
Portage tree and overlays:
 [0] /usr/portage
 [1] /usr/local/portage

>>> Verifying ebuild manifests
>>> Starting parallel fetch
>>> Emerging (1 of 70) x11-libs/qt-xmlpatterns-4.6.1
>>> Emerging (2 of 70) sys-devel/binutils-2.20
>>> Jobs: 0 of 70 complete, 2 running               Load avg: 5.56, 2.53, 1.67

And just to prove that two packages are emerging:
$ genlop -c

 Currently merging 2 out of 70

 * sys-devel/binutils-2.20 

       current merge time: 1 minute and 27 seconds.
       ETA: less than a minute.

 Currently merging 1 out of 70

 * x11-libs/qt-xmlpatterns-4.6.1 

       current merge time: 1 minute and 28 seconds.
       ETA: less than a minute.

A little while later, my load average settles down around 4.8:
>>> Installing (18 of 70) dev-python/pytz-2010b
>>> Installing (16 of 70) x11-libs/qt-script-4.6.1
>>> Emerging (19 of 70) dev-util/subversion-1.6.9
>>> Emerging (20 of 70) dev-lang/python-2.6.4-r1
>>> Jobs: 17 of 70 complete, 1 running              Load avg: 4.84, 4.84, 3.94

You may come across some packages that are interactive, such as skype, which forces you to view and accept their EULA.  In that case the concurrent jobs are disabled.  If you wish to go ahead with all non-interactive jobs (a good idea!) run emerge like so:

$ emerge -vauDN --jobs=2 --accept-properties=-interactive world

Note this feature is not supported in older versions of portage.  I tested with sys-apps/portage-

Listing packages installed from overlays

Gentoo provides an official package repository, and the mechanism for creating third-party repositories, called overlays.  Overlays can be home-made, developer-made, community-made, you name it!

It occurred to me that I wanted to list all installed packages that come from overlays.  (I'm doing some house cleaning, so I'm removing overlays I don't need anymore).  There appears to be no way to generate this list via equery (the "gentoolkit" method of doing various package queries).

This one-liner should do the trick.

$ for i in /var/db/pkg/*/*; do if ! grep gentoo $i/repository >/dev/null; then echo -e "`basename $i`\t`cat $i/repository`"; fi; done

The output of which looks (only slightly messy) like:
revoco-0.5    Orpheus Local Overlay
synce-gvfs-0.3.1    SynCE
synce-serial-9999    SynCE
synce-trayicon-0.14    SynCE
nautilussvn-0.12_beta1-r2    Orpheus Local Overlay
evolution-data-server-2.28.2    Orpheus Local Overlay
gnome-hearts-0.3    Orpheus Local Overlay
nautilus-python-0.5.1    rion
nautilussvn-0.12_beta1_p2    Orpheus Local Overlay
mozilla-thunderbird-bin-3.0_beta2    Orpheus Local Overlay
libgii-1.0.2    Orpheus Local Overlay
grub-0.97-r9    rion
usb-rndis-lite-0.11    SynCE
xorg-server-1.7.4    Orpheus Local Overlay

You can see here that I have various packages installed from the SynCE overlay, the rion overlay and my homespun "Orpheus" overlay.

It assumes your overlay was set up correctly with the file profiles/repo_name containing the overlay name, at the time of install (not available in earlier versions of portage).

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

When Dell Doesn't Deliver

I've never had a "bad" experience from Dell (Australia) with the exception of the outsourced sometimes hard-to-understand technical support.  So it is interesting to watch what happens when Dell doesn't deliver the way they promise.

Here's the sequence of events.  For the record, I do not and have never worked for Dell, nor do I receive any free or discounted goods or services from them.

14 April 2008

Ordered Dell Precision M6300 laptop including a Logitech MX Revolution cordless laser mouse with CompleteCover Guard and Next Business Day Onsite warranty.

November 2009

The mouse stopped charging (charging light flashes red when placed on charger).  I didn't do anything at the time since I was busy.

12 January 2010

My first contact with Dell about the mouse.  Was transferred from their usual warranty number (Indian speaker) to the "premium" warranty area (Australian speaker).  Was told a new mouse would be here in 2 days.

18 January 2010

Received email from TNS requesting I complete a survey regarding my recent call.
Completed the survey on the same day.  I noted in one of the survey questions that the issue was "unresolved" since I had not received the replacement part

<= 22 January 2010

Decided to call Dell again to find out about the mouse.  Warranty told me that the part had not been sent, and it would have to be handled by Logitech.  They transferred me to Logitech who took details of the mouse and told me to expect a new one up to two weeks later.

27 January 2010

Received a call from Dell regarding the survey I completed.  The caller asked if I had received the part, and offered to get the original person ("Nick") to look into it.  He asked if I had a mouse to use in the mean time (I said yes).

27 January 2010

Received a call from Nick from Dell.  He asked about the part and said he would check with Logitech and get back to me.

27 January 2010

The mouse arrived in the afternoon!  I called Dell to let them know they could stop looking for it!

So it took 9 days to respond to the survey.  The replacement mouse was here in around one week, although not in the next business day as the warranty implied.  But then, it was an accessory and not a typical spare component of the laptop.

And in case you're wondering about the Gold Phone Technical Support, apparently it's the difference between speaking to someone in India vs someone in Austrlia.  The "Pro" warranty personnel even answers the phone "This is <name> in Sydney".

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Unlocking Zimbra Advanced Searches

Hi and welcome to 2010!  This year I plan to blog more, read more, do more, learn more, and have more time left over...

This is a quick post to tell you how to do some nice advanced searching in Zimbra - the webmail client.
  1. In your Zimbra interface, select Preferences then General.
  2. Under the Searches heading, select Show advanced search language in search toolbar.
  3. Save and go back to Mail.
  4. In the Search box, select the Advanced link
  5. Choose some options (my favourite is status:unread; status:flagged; and time is today)
  6. By default this ORs some and ANDs the result with others, giving you a very small set of results:
    ((is:flagged) OR (is:unread)) date:-0day
    Edit the search string and replace everything with OR, and change 0day to 1day:
    (is:unread) OR (is:flagged) OR (date:-1day)

    You will now have a very powerful search, that gives you a quick summary of all todays messages, plus any unread or marked message from the beginning of time!

  7. Save the search, and you can access it at any later time.  Note that other preferences such as the sorted-by column is also saved with this search.

Well that sounds easy enough!  Why can't other email clients do the same thing?  Evolution's advanced search folders were unmatched until I discovered this..

Claws has no advanced cross-folder search that is persistent across instances of the application.

Thunderbird 3.0b2 (the last I played with) has persistent search folders, but they can't pull in related emails (up or down the thread) like evolution can.

Evolution is equipped to handle my business and personal email accounts:
  • I have thousands of emails in multiple pop and imap accounts.  I have no choice but to separate my multiple work and home accounts like this.
  • I have some folders with thousands of emails each, dating back years, which helps with long projects, contracts, and a bad memory!
  • I need some way to keep track of important emails, and at the same time see and sort new emails

Evolution can handle large folders with thousands of emails each.  It can of course filter messages based on mailing lists, subjects, sender and even run an external application test over an email.  I've mentioned it's search folder goodness, and it has powerful quick-searches too that can search the current folder or account.
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