Monday, January 25, 2010

What's Worse - Walking or Parking

I just walked 10 minutes to pay municipal taxes in Mapusa. Half the walk was on the main road going down from Court. I kept wondering whether I should have taken the car and struggled with a parking place.

Should there not be a design effort to make walking pleasant or, at least, bearable? I saw the lovely walkway across Miramar beach on the way to Dona Paula. How many people did I see walking on it - Zilch! How many people were on Miramar beach - Lots.

I am not grudging the walkway on Miramar but the absence of similar facility elsewhere. Should we not start with places where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic? Should we not redesign our systems to make driving a little tougher if need be but make walking around safer and nicer?

How about creating parking places a little away and make people move around the narrow roads on internal shuttle services - quite possibly electric vehicles? Why not start with Calangute beach area and Mapusa town :) I want to walk without fear and daydream.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Replicating Arch Linux

I had frequently taken a backup of the root partition, restored it on another system and it would work, with some minor changes to the fstab file. I decided to replicate Arch Linux the same way.

I took a backup of the functioning system in Chandigarh and brought it to Goa. Restored it, made the minimal changes in grub.conf and fstab - and Surprise. The kernel crashed. The problem seemed simple enough.

Chroot to the Arch Linux partition. Reinstall the kernel. Reboot and getting ready to relax with a cup of tea. No luck. Kernel crashed again and again.

Installed the core Arch Linux from a usb image. This time the system worked!

Next step - saved the kernel and the image. Restored the tar backup. Copied the installed kernel and the image. The system worked! Reinstalled the updated kernel (2.6.32) and the system still worked.

I used the EEPC701 as the gateway to connect to the Internet and started to add some packages, e.g. NetworkManager to use the Reliance Netconnect USB modem. Pacman complained. I chose to ignore the warnings and forced the additional packages. And the system stopped working. I was back to kernel crashes.

I had to look at how the packages were stored and realised the issue. Arch Linux keeps installed and available packages as directories and files. Restoring the tar backup resulted in updated and original packages both being listed. It resulted in a very confused package manager.

So, back to installing from the USB drive. This time I removed the package manager 'database', that is the directories in /var/lib/pacman. Now the restored package database was consistent. The system has been working fine.

I have to re-examine the tar backup. I must have missed something.

Arch Linux for Parents

My parents are over 80 years old and have routine needs. I switched them to Linux after moving to Chandigarh 3 years ago. The problems they have faced have been fewer than they faced with Windows. Partly because many of their problems were related to dial up connection failing whereas broadband connection is more reliable. Printing issues are about the same as earlier.

The only reason I had not switched them earlier was because the hardware technicians get nervous with Linux.

I have been updating their system to the new versions of Fedora by updating the fedora release information and then just allowing yum to update the system. However, before updating to Fedora 12, I decided to cleanup some of the old packages. I was not in a hurry as I wanted to wait till the Fedora 12's issues with old intel graphics cards were resolved. Unfortunately, I got into a mess and cleaned up almost everything - including rpm and yum (bug report). So, I had no choice but to reinstall the OS.

I decided to take a risk with Fedora 12 and, as expected, the display and the system would freeze periodically. This was very frustrating/disconcerting for my parents. Hence, I decide to install Arch Linux on their system as well.

The instructions in the Wiki for beginners guide were perfect. Arch Linux was installed fairly quickly but the graphics issues with intel driver were worse. A forum posting guided me to the 5 packages I needed to downgrade. Using pacman for package management was similar to using yum. The names of multimedia packages I needed were known so the installation on Arch Linux was easier.

In order to have the system as close to Fedora 12, I also installed PulseAudio. I had to add the users to audio group to get the sound to work. I haven't had a chance to expore ConsoleKit/PolicyKit to fix the permissions issue.

I copied the Fedora icons and theme and the system looks almost the same whether booted in Arch Linux or Fedora 12. Small tweaks were needed to the desktop icon which started OpenOffice.

I plan to persist and see if I can keep the system current without a major upgrade. But I will definitely miss the delta rpms for updating packages. The key lesson is also that if someone sets up a machine, using any distribution, including one like Arch Linux intended for tech users is not difficult.

Firefox is also moving towards incremental improvements and scrapping version 3.7. I hope Fedora moves soon to a rolling model as well. If Arch Linux can do it, so can Fedora.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Holiday in Goa - Switching to Arch Linux

Overhearing phrases like 'How you did?' in a very pleasing accent makes me feel at home again.

Cab driver drove fast from the airport to Mapusa. The roads seemed nicer. At a few places, the rumblers were replaced by rounded speed breakers.

At night, when I drove, the traffic seemed nicer - more polite. Fewer people honking and fewer headlights on high beam. The addition of reflectors at the edge of the road made driving at night from Panaji to Mapusa more comfortable.

As usual, my first task was to upgrade my old PC in our flat in Mapusa.

The PC has an intel 945 graphics chipset, so the likelihood of the system freezing with Fedora 12 or Ubuntu 9.10 is very high.

Also, this will begin my long experiment with keeping a system used a few times a year current without upgrading the OS again.

I brought a backup of Arch Linux from my parents' system in Chandigarh so that I could be operational very quickly.

It did not turn out to be that way - more about that in a separate post.