Get off my lawn.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bug Buddy

I saw something interesting this evening while I was poking around in the internals of a Linux machine.

I was playing with the Theme Manager for the user interface, and creating a theme that featured glossy black title bars and other stuff. I had the Theme Manager open while I was doing this, so I could see the results of the changes I was making as I made them.

At one point, I drug a big folder full of icons into the icons folder while Theme Manager was running. Suddenly, a dialog box appeared and informed me that a problem had occurred. It asked me what I was doing "when the crash occurred". Huh? What crash? I typed "Copying some icons around while making a new theme." It prompted me to press the "Send" button to send a report of the problem to the developers so they could fix it. I did so, and went back to messing around.

Later, I got an e-mail that informed me that the crash I experienced had been filed as a bug in a Gnome bug database, with a severity of "Critical", priority of "High". It also apparently signed me up with a "bug buddy"
account, and the e-mail contained a stack trace showing what happened.

If you ask me, that's pretty impressive. I like the fact that this kind of thing is built into the OS and provides me with the ability to conveniently report a problem, but also collects information a developer can use to actually fix the problem.

I don't remember this kind of stuff in Windows. The last time I crashed something on a Windows machine, it showed me an apology, and asked me if I wanted to send them a list of all the software I own so they could inspect it and decide whether to prosecute me for using my computer improperly. I declined, and the machine exploded.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How cool.

This is a picture of the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.

This building is 105 stories tall. Of the top floors, 7 of them rotate. It has 3,000 rooms.

The project to build this hotel was started at a cost of $750M (2% of NK's GDP) in 1987. It was cancelled in 1992 due to lack of funds, severe electrical shortages, and starvation caused by a continuing drought/famine cycle happening in NK. In addition, the concrete used in its construction is apparently of such bad quality that the building can't be certified for occupancy, or finished.

As of now, this 105-story building sits empty, with no windows, fixtures, doors, or other trimmings. It's a gigantic concrete hulk that dominates the Pyongyang skyline and serves as a totally inconvenient storage location for the deserted crane perched on top of it.

It's hard to imagine what kind of dictator runs a country into the ground and starves its people, but who thinks he needs to build a 3,000-room hotel in a country that, at the time the project was started, only let a few thousand people into the country per year, few of whom went to Pyongyang anyway. What a clown.

Still, there's something compelling about this picture. I like the way the building looks in it. I can't put my finger on it. The size is unquestionably impressive. It just dwarfs everything else. It's kind of sinister looking, an interesting choice for a building people are expected to pay to stay overnight in.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Condition upgraded to "Edgy"

I am an Ubuntu fanboy. Well, not exactly that, but I use it, and like it. I have two machines here, both configured with Dapper (the previous release of Ubuntu), and I like what they do for me.

"Edgy", the latest release, came out a week or so ago, and I had been reading about a lot of problems with people upgrading from Dapper to Edgy. Both of my machines are in regular use doing highly-important things (development, e-mail, Tetris), so I wasn't excited about the prospect of having one of them go down because of a botched upgrade. On the other hand, I wasn't excited about installing from scratch and going through the 3-4 day process of getting everything configured the way I like it, either.

Undecided about what to do, I did the only logical thing and upgraded one of the machines after a backup. My setup isn't esoteric or anything, so I felt like I had a reasonable chance of pulling an upgrade off with no problems.

So, I stuck the CD-ROM in and ran the upgrade off of that (rather than upgrading via apt-get, an approach not recommended by Ubuntu's maker).

The upgrade process went smoothly; The machine sat here for about 3 hours, downloading 2-3GB of software, configuring this and that. Occasionally, it would ask me if I wanted to overwrite a configuration file or something.

At the very end of the process, it popped up an error message: "Installation aborts. You should reboot." Crap. I rebooted. The machine came up without any errors, and the splash screen looked really nice. It seemed a little slow once it got going, so I looked around and found that it was running on a 386 kernel instead of the 686 kernel it's supposed to have. I rebooted again, and picked the 686 kernel. It wouldn't boot. I booted into "recovery mode", and found that it was stopping when it couldn't find a file named /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf. Rebooted again, checked, the file was there, tried again, locked up, etc.

Finally, I used my other machine to look up the problem. Mdadm is used for RAID systems, which I don't have. I found a forum where someone found a command you can run to regenerate the 686 kernel. I ran that, and it started without any errors. So now it's running, it doesn't seem to have any problems, it looks nice, and I survived the upgrade.

But the moral of the story, as always, is: If you're going to install Linux on a machine, make sure you have another machine around so you can look up solutions to the problems you're going to have.