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No Food for Thought

Food is something you should provide to your brain long before coming to this blog. You will find no food recipes here, only raw, serious, non-fake news for mature minds.

Bugs

admin Wednesday May 27, 2015

So after a long time, summer is back in Quebec... what we call summer anyway. With these high temperatures, bugs are back too. Yesterday I came back at 1 AM. With the street lamps, I noticed that - obviously - bugs were also back on the door, just waiting for me to open it before infesting the basement. At that time a great idea came to mind, which resulted in me coining Chealer's architectural law:

Filipus Klutiero wrote:
One shall never install a white external door.

Cloutier's architectural law can be generalized - external doors and door frames should reflect as little light as possible on their outside part. Unless insects would seek darkness to sleep safely.

Yes, I hate bugs. I must have become an adult the day a summer camp destroyed my childhood dream of a bug-free world, presenting insects as an essential link of the food chain. Bugs should be small, but they're stealing a big part of my life.

Thankfully, I'm mostly an inside person. A few minutes after enunciating my architectural law, I was enjoying the insect-free inside by eating dinner in a well-illuminated but very silent kitchen. At some point, I realized there were some noises coming from one window. After nearly starting to get scared, I realized one awful huge bug was repeatedly trying to go through the windows.

Fortunately, the kitchen stayed bug-free despite the stupid bug's tens of impacts. Bugs can't go through windows, right? Unfortunately, even though I rarely open Windows, my PC attracts lots of bugs. In fact, an important part of my contribution to free software is to report bugs I hit when using or trying software.

I certainly file several tickets per week, but many are never resolved or even investigated. That's why the following view hit me today:
Issues.png
packages.debian.org has been lagging a little more lately. I take more time to confirm resolutions, so now the 7 latest mails in my inbox are bugfix notifications in 7 different projects/packages, which all arrived in less than 100 hours. If that rate was maintained, all of my open bugs would be solved by 2016. Unfortunately, I experienced 2 bugs just in the process of writing this post, one which was already fixed, and one which I reported (my fifth ticket against Debian's issue tracking system), which made me hit a Thunderbird bug (which I didn't report this time). So that schedule might slip a little with the software I use - or should I say, test.

Debian developers don't always treat tickets diligently, but now is an occasion to send a big kudos to my squashing colleagues. The bugs above weren't the most difficult, but there's one which has already started making my desktop less buggy.

I won't surprise anyone announcing that my favorite Firefox extension is Firebug. But as Firebug doesn't apply to Thunderbird, my favorite Thunderbird extension is FireTray. FireTray works around Mozilla's biggest issue on GNU/Linux - new mail notifications.

FireTray still has some way to go before reaching maturity, but my biggest issue with it was by far #119, a show-stopper if a show is expected to be attractive. I expected an easier fix - all I wanted was a non-broken notification icon. But I didn't expect the result to be so pleasing:
FireTray.png
After hard work by Foudil Brétel, I now get this superb new icon (at least until I switch back to KMail, to which I'm hoping to give another chance soon). And you too will with version 0.5. Thanks to you too, foudfou! The next bug-squashing spree will be even more enjoyable smile

Now, let's just hope that shiny new icon won't attract more bugs... otherwise, it will take the door.

Update

A couple of years after writing this, I found an image about bugs I had forgotten I had created:
In French, the colloquial verb 'to bug' means software is misbehaving due to a software bug.
In French, the colloquial verb 'to bug' means software is misbehaving due to a software bug.

13 years later, after many more started offering such certifications, it is well overdue to put this timeless work of art in the public domain so it can be adapted to your favorite(?) software provider.

Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees Elections 2015

admin Sunday May 17, 2015

I voted in this year's Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees Elections. I had only interacted with 1 candidate and since I was almost focusing entirely on governance, I was neutral for almost all candidates, except:

  • Supported Dariusz Jemielniak, who has spoken against bureaucracy (although I consider his specific proposition of setting a firm limit to the volume of policies as a bureaucratic proposition... despite its anti-bureaucratic purpose).
  • Supported James Heilman for his general impression
  • Confidently supported Tim Davenport for being reform minded and critical of bureaucracy, and his intention of oversighting WMF.
  • Opposed Samuel Klein, simply because he is proposing term limits (we need less rules, not more arbitrary rules!)


By the way, WMF, please make it easy for voters to fix or at least report problems (such as the large number of broken links (anchors) to candidate presentations). And allow us to modify our vote (or at least warn us we would need to start from scratch to do so).

And as for candidates, most of your presentations say a little too much about your past and too little about your intentions.

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A proposal for a populist party in Canada

admin Wednesday November 12, 2014

Competition has always been a fundamental element in capitalism, and elsewhere. In Canada, the Competition Act aims to promote competition. Unfortunately, the Competition Bureau (the government agency tasked with applying the law) lacks the resources to increase competition. Most of the little resources it has are wasted in anti-competitive practices aiming to restrain businesses. Thankfully, Canada has been governed by the Conservative Party of Canada for years.

Lately, the transaction fees requested from merchants by some credit card networks have been growing. The Competition Bureau, which justifies its existence by populist attacks against successful businesses using practices portrayed by the Bureau as anti-competitive, has threatened the Evil Visa and MasterCard with legal action, blaming the very same practices the State has been adhering to for years.

But these threats have been dropped. Surely, the government has reasoned its agency in order to avoid market interference, right? Unfortunately, reality is quite different. Even with the Conservative Party of Canada in power, Visa and MasterCard feared impending interference to a point where they both "voluntarily" reduced their fees by some 10%, which sufficed to satisfy mister the Minister of Finance.

Visibly, after creating the Competition Bureau and backing its abuses, the Conservative Party of Canada cannot claim it promotes liberal conservatism. It would also be surprising if it was green conservatives who had won a ’Lifetime Unachievement’ Fossil award. And a government funding an agency which reduces competition with a > 50 million CAD budget - while pushing a "stimulus package" - is certainly not fiscally conservative. So if the conservative party is not conserving the free market and the confidence of investors, nor the environment, nor wealth, what is it conserving? Perhaps it is trying to conserve its seats.

Here is a proposal for a populist party in Canada - namely, the Conservative Party of Canada. Stop interfering with the market, or stop pretending to be conservatives, and rename yourself to what you truly are - one more Populist Party of Canada.

The paradox of password complexity requirements

admin Tuesday July 8, 2014

Users often choose unsafe passwords. Administrators wanting to prevent that will sometimes implement requirements on passwords. While these usually try to enforce complexity, any computer scientist will see why they also ease cracking, theoretically. And as Matthew Palmer explains, theory is quite right at times.

Ah, if only users would always choose passwords as complex as heuristics.

ASUS F2A85-M

admin Tuesday May 6, 2014

Last month I bought my first desktop in a decade. Ordering and getting the parts from DirectCanada was already an experience. I expected some surprises as this was my first SATA PC, my first SSD and my first APU. Assembling was fairly uneventful. The parts are:

AMD A10-5700 APU Quad Core Processor Socket FM2 3.4GHZ 4MB 65W Retail Box$128.56
ASUS F2A85-M/CSM mATX FM2 85X FCH DDR3 2PCI-E16 1PCI-E1 1PCI SATA3 DVI HDMI USB3.0 Motherboard$93.75
Samsung 840 Series 120GB 2.5in SATA3 MDX Solid State Disk Flash Drive SSD$99.37
ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24X SATA DVD Writer OEM Black$17.79
Corsair Vengeance CML8GX3M1A1600C10 Low Profile Heatspreader 8GB DDR3-1600 CL10 Single Memory Module$55.33
Corsair CX Series CX430 430W ATX 12V 80 Plus Bronze Power Supply 120mm Fan$42.06


The ASUS F2A85-M/CSM uses a RTL8111F/8168 Ethernet controller and a Realtek ALC887 HDA chip. The A10-5700 uses a Radeon HD 7660D (Northern Islands series).

The first surprise was realizing my HDDs wouldn't fit on the motherboard - there's no IDE on the F2A85-M. Oops :-/

On the first boot, I wondered whether I had forgotten to plug in a fan. But no, the PC was just really quiet. Of course, I don't have any extension card, not even a graphics card, so I just have 3 fans (the PSU's, my case's old 120 mm fan and the CPU's). Even though I use the stock CPU fan, it's generally very silent. Good thing I bought the 65 W A10-5700 rather than the 100 W A10-5800K. The most noisy component was the 120 mm fan, which I set to medium speed. Now the PC is a quite a bit more quiet than I expected (i.e. very quiet). No HDD helps, but this is very satisfying considering that I didn't choose any part specifically to obtain a silent PC. Even with the 4 cores stressed, the PC remains silent.

BIOS-es surely evolved a lot in 10 years. The F2A85-M's BIOS is impressive. The only problem is it wouldn't detect my SSD. It turned out that one of my SATA cables has a partial defect. One of its connectors sometimes fails to connect, even if it is clipped. The other connectors don't have this problem. ASUS is not very generous in its F2A85-M accessories - with only 2 SATA cables, having a faulty one is a little annoying. But well, it may be an isolated case. All I have to do is to push on the connector when I plug it - and avoid touching the cable after.

At this point, I installed Windows 8. That was easy, almost completely bug-free. The driver disc from ASUS is cumbersome (basically forces you to install all of them), but since no extra drivers are needed, this is not a big deal.

With so few problems up to that point, it was time to get to the real thing - Debian. I installed Wheezy (then testing). The install went without issues (see #708019 for details). Even though the installer says the Ethernet card requires non-free firmware, it does not.

The real challenge started when I first booted Debian. Boot messages were horrific and GNOME (installed by error) was unusable. When I got to a tty, I realized there was a pulseaudio/Linux bug. I upgraded to experimental's Linux 3.8 and everything was fixed. You won't want a pure Debian wheezy on an F2A85-M. I don't know when the Linux bug was fixed, but other F2A85-M users should get a Linux version higher than 3.2, perhaps as high as 3.8.

With 3.8, the boot got quiet and GNOME got usable, but the screen resolution remained poor, since X used the generic vesa video driver. As I found out, current Radeon cards require (non-free) firmware to be installed to run with the radeon X driver. After installing firmware-linux-nonfree and rebooting, X automatically chose the radeon driver, which has been working as well as it ever did since. I'm curious to try with a newer radeon driver and mesa, but I already get decent 3D acceleration with the stock driver. Nothing great, but Neverball has fair fluidity. I tested a bit on Windows, and it seems the GPU itself is quite limited, more than I expected. I may decide to buy a graphics card if I want to actually play 3D games.

With the basics right, I went to install Flash and Java support. Java turned out to be already supported - yay! As for Flash, there is a Flash player in development by default, but I opted to install Adobe Flash Player. There were some sound problems remaining. The hardest one caused the Adobe Flash Player plugin for Iceweasel to be quiet, while sound worked everywhere else. I eventually found out that the default sound card is by default an HDMI sound card! Which is apparently not supported in Wheezy (even with radeon.audio=1). For some reason, KDE doesn't use that one, but Adobe Flash Player only tries it and speaker-test uses it too (see #709106).

If you have the same problem and wonder if the cause is the same, you can test by reloading the snd_hda_intel module with a parameter:

modprobe snd_hda_intel index=1,0

The more difficult part is to unload the module so you can [re]load it.

If that works, the permanent workaround I used should work for you, i.e. making the motherboard's card the permanent default by creating an /etc/asound.conf with the following content:

defaults.pcm.card 1


With Debian 9 (Linux 4.9), HDMI audio is now supported.

Sensors

The basics working fine, I tested the components. The motherboard has a sensor, which can be read in the BIOS. The motherboard uses ITE's IT8603E chip, even though ITE does not even acknowledge that chip's existence. As for ASUS, it doesn't even say the F2A85-M uses the IT8603E. But Linux supports it8603 from version 3.14 (Debian 8). Unfortunately, the CPU's temperature is not clear. The it87 module reports a temp1 around 40, which looks like the CPU temperature reported by the BIOS. But CPUID HWMonitor shows a "Package" temperature around 47-62 °C usually, 87 maximum (under Stress testing), as of version 1.34, and, after upgrading to 1.40, between 0 and 37 °C, which is definitely broken, as the PC is inside. Version 1.40 also has a "Cores" reading between 49 and 86 °C, which seems to match version 1.34's Package reading. And, its "CPU" reading varies between 30 and 52 °C. Core Temp, for its part, indicates completely ridiculous temperatures (version 1.11 and 1.14, 2019-07-11). As for the k10temp module, it reports a broken temperature between 0 and 23 degrees. Good luck...

Conclusion

I won't order from DirectCanada again. As for my choice of parts, I do not really regret my choice, but I was expecting better from ASUS, in particular due to the missing specifications of the CPU thermometer. I'm very happy with the silence. The non-free firmware needed by the Radeon HD 7660D is a disappointment.

To summarize, it's easy to get most of the F2A85-M working almost completely on GNU/Linux once you know the issues. From a stock install, you need to:

  • Install firmware for the Radeon HD (previously firmware-linux-nonfree, now firmware-amd-graphics).
  • If you install an old distribution, upgrade to a recent Linux version. Good news: since my install, Linux 4.19+ is now in Debian stable.


After this, everything but sensors should work: USB, SATA, audio output, Ethernet, graphics, ODD writing. Untested: audio recording, eSATA. See the Debian HCL for more details on the devices.

Even though this is a blog post, I'll try to keep this state of things up-to-date, perhaps via comments. Comments from other users are also welcome.

Microsoft - Left-handedness is evil (but less so if your hand is holding a Microsoft mouse)

admin Monday March 10, 2014

Today appears to be my Microsoft rant day. Sorry, that might have been prompted by an awful experience claiming the warranty for a broken Microsoft keyboard. Readers who are free of Microsoft products have my apologies (and much luck).

As Ned Flanders brilliantly illustrates in The Simpsons, left-handedness is an economic problem. Mass production of artefacts for a majority of right-handed consumers disadvantages left-handed people. Keeping 2 items in stock - for one thing - comes at a price.

On the other hand, when a company produces software, being friendly to left-handed people shouldn't be costly. There is no marginal cost to a software sale, right? Well, it appears that the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center isn't right at the center on the issue of handedness.

The ability to invert the mouse buttons has been present since at least Windows 95. Not a surprise, since handedness is possibly the most important mouse setting. However, when I bought my Microsoft keyboard, Windows automatically installed the modern Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center. I had previously noticed that the center was a regression for people often moving their mouse to the other side like me. Rather than controlling a checkbox in the control panel, inverting the buttons requires to redefine the behavior of each button via the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center. Microsoft's configuration center removed the checkbox from the control panel.

What I hadn't noticed is that if your mouse is not supported, it does not appear in the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center. And the control panel's checkbox is still gone. So if you own a Logitech or some even rarer mouse like I do, you're not dreaming. There is actually no way to invert your mouse buttons with this software installed, even in Windows 8.1. And this is not a new problem! Worst, I believe Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center had at least one feature. When you invert buttons with it, your RDP sessions will handle clicks correctly, as opposed to the default behavior from Windows, which I will be forced to live with.

In a sense, I'd like to think that this is an abuse of vendor lock-in. Because if it's not, this is proof of terrific incompetence.

Microsoft Outlook 2013 and IMAP - ouch

admin Monday March 10, 2014

After catastrophic issues with our file server caused by Outlook PST files, I've been trying to move from POP to IMAP at the office. A few months ago I did a first step, migrating my own mailbox. This was a very painful process.

Even though I'm using version 2013, which has had "a significant investment in IMAP", the result is impressively bad. The system tray's envelope icon, which shows when you have unread mail, now appears every few minutes. This feature becomes worthless and I gave up on it.

2 weeks ago, I started working from home thanks to our VPN. I was amazed to see huge bandwidth usage on the VPN ever since. I realized yesterday that the culprit was Outlook, which wastes close to a megabyte of bandwidth per minute, even when it's merely idling. That's right - even if I'm not using Outlook and not even receiving mails, Outlook will download about 28 GB per month, which is about half of my bandwidth limit. This happens even though I reduced my number of folders below 50 and my mailbox's size just above 1 GB. It doesn't depend on whether the server interval is 1 or 10 minutes (the latter being the maximum). Traffic shows that Outlook is doing something at a regular interval, about 18 times per hour. Yet, it seems to support IMAP IDLE (that is, mail is fetched instantly).

To be fair, I haven't tried to reproduce this with a fresh profile. I'll just dump Outlook for the time being.

Update: There is a pretty straightforward workaround: changing the send/receive interval. One way to do it is via the Advanced options, Send and receive section. Click "Send/Receive..." and adjust the interval for the default group.

Unfortunately, even though I thought my inbox showed mail instantly, it apparently doesn't. After changing the interval to an hour, it now takes time to notice new mail.