Posts Tagged fail

Another round of Gentoo fun

A little while back I did an “emerge system” on my VPS and didn’t think much more about it.  First time back to the box today to emerge something else, and was greeted with this:

>>> Unpacking source…
>>> Unpacking traceroute-2.0.15.tar.gz to /var/tmp/portage/net-analyzer/traceroute-2.0.15/work
touch: setting times of `/var/tmp/portage/net-analyzer/traceroute-2.0.15/.unpacked’: No such file or directory

…and the emerge error output.  Took me a little while to get the answer, but it was (of course) caused by a new version of something that came in with the system update.  This bug comment had the crude hack I needed to get back working again, but longer-term I obviously need to fix the mismatch between the version of linux-headers and the kernel version my VPS is using (it’s Xen on RHEL5).

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ppc Linux on the PowerMac G5

With Apple’s abandonment of PPC as of Snow Leopard, I began wondering what to do with the old PowerMac. It’s annoying that so (comparatively) recent a piece of equipment should be given up by its manufacturer, but that’s a rant for another day. Yes, we can still run Leopard until it goes out of support, but with S and I both on MacBook Pros with current OS I know that we would both become frustrated with a widening functionality gap between the systems.

I had always resisted runing Linux on the PowerMac, thinking that the last thing I needed was yet another Linux box in the house. I had tried a couple of times, but it was in the early days of support for the liquid cooling system in the dual-2.5Ghz model and those attempts failed dismally. I figured that by now those issues would be resolved and I would have a much better time.

I assumed that Yellow Dog was still the ‘benchmark’ PPC Linux distro, so I went to their site. I saw a lot of data there about PS3 and Cell; it seems that YDL is transitioning to the cluster and/or research market by focussing on Cell.

The next thing I discovered is the lack of distributions that have a PPC version, even as a secondary platform. My old standby Gentoo still supports PPC, as does Fedora (I think: I saw a reference to downloading a PPC install disk, bit didn’t follow it), but every other major distro has dropped it — openSUSE, for example, with their very latest release (their download page still has a picture of a disc labelled “ppc”, but no such download exists, oops). I guess that since the major producer of desktop PPC systems stopped doing so, the distros saw their potential install base disappear. Unfortunately for those distros, I can see the reverse happening: now that Apple has fully left PPC behind, plenty of folks like me who have moderately recent G4 and G5 hardware and who still want to run a current OS will come to Linux looking for an alternative… I guess time will tell who is right on this one.

So I went to install Gentoo, and to cut a long story short I had exactly the same problem as before: critical temperature condition leading to emergency system power-off. I found that if I capped the CPU speed to 2Ghz I could stay up long enough to get things built, but then the system refused to boot because it couldn’t find the root filesystem. Probably something to do with yaboot, SATA drives and OpenFirmware. So again I’m putting it aside.

My next plan was to treat it as a file server. Surely a BSD would support my G5 hardware: after all, Mac OS X is BSD at heart… Well, no. FreeBSD has no support for SATA on ppc, OpenBSD specifically mentioned liquid-cooled G5s as having no support, and I don’t think I saw any ppc support on NetBSD more recent than G3 [1].

This is one of the things that annoys me about the computer industry: that somehow it’s okay to so completely disregard your older releases. What if the automotive industry worked that way?

So I may yet try Fedora, or give the game away for another year or so and see what the situation looks like then.

[1] I may have mixed up a couple of these details.

Edit: Gentoo’s yaboot has managed to make it so that I can’t boot Mac OS X on the machine any more.  Oh dear.

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Asterisk chan_mobile fail

I’ve been struggling with setting up chan_mobile on my Asterisk system.  For those fortunate enough to actually get it working, chan_mobile provides an interface for Asterisk to treat a mobile phone like a PSTN or VoIP trunk–when someone calls your mobile phone it can ring your desk phone or softphone, or you can use your normal handset to make an outgoing call on your mobile.  It works by making the Asterisk system look like a Bluetooth headset or handsfree to the phone.  You can even connect Bluetooth headsets to Asterisk using chan_mobile and have them appear like an extension in your dialplan (although that capability doesn’t seem to be covered very much).

I figured this would be an ideal way to make use of an old Nokia 6230 with a broken speaker.  Somewhat foolishly, on the assumption that it would Just Work (and that all the troubles experienced by others would not beset me) I went and bought a two-pack of prepaid mobile SIM cards and went through the adventure of activating them.  One of these SIMs I threw into the 6230, the other I kept on hand for after I got everything working.  The plan, you see, was to be able to take advantage of free calls between the two accounts by taking one of the phones with me when travelling and leaving the other strapped to Asterisk at home.

I think it’s probably fair to say that I’ve had more success with it than a lot of other folk have.  The process of configuring Asterisk to use the Bluetooth dongle is quite straightforward, and it’s even quite easy to configure the chan_mobile driver to have calls enter your Asterisk system in a routable way.  When I dialled the “tethered” mobile from another phone, I was rewarded with the ringing of my desk phone–and at this point, I think I gave myself the kiss-of-death.  “Wow, that was easy,” I thought…

When I picked up the desk phone, I was rewarded with silence.  Not just the silence of the phone not ringing any more, but also the silence of no audio being passed either way over the call path.  Nothing put the pure, desolate sound of FAIL.

Things actually went downhill from there, believe it or not.  I have tried a total of four different Bluetooth dongles, with results ranging from the aforementioned signalling-but-no-audio to why-the-@#%$-won’t-this-thing-pair.  The three different phones I’ve tried elicited a similar spectrum of results.  “Make sure your dongle has a Cambridge Silicon radio, they definitely work” say the forum experts…  Sorry guys, one of the biggest failures I had–failure of Asterisk to pick up the call–was on the last dongle I tried and, yes, it was a CSR.  I’ve even had two different versions of the bluez stack and (I think) two different asterisk-addons versions.

The one thing that I’ve distilled from all the experiences I read through is that there is a ridiculously high level of sensitivity to particular phone and dongle features.  For example, great success has been reported with the Nokia 6230i.  I figured that I was lucky and that a 6230 would be close enough…  Doesn’t look like it.  There is one model of D-Link Bluetooth device–no longer in production, by the way–generally reported to give the most success.  Tweaking the device class reported by the bluez stack in the Linux host is said to give success too, but led to me being unable to get a connection to Asterisk.  Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the patience to spend too much time trying to go through the motions of getting it working.  I tell you, if it really is that difficult to get two Bluetooth devices to talk to each other it’s no wonder that the majority of folks still use wired headsets!

Luckily all this little experiment has cost me so far is time.  The two-pack of SIM cards cost me the grand total of $2, and they had enough start-up credit on them to allow me to receive calls without a top-up.  The handsets are from that ever-growing pile of GSM hardware that just about every modern household is accumulating now (well, at least the ones that house a gadget-freak who can’t even bear to part with a broken one).  The kernel version I’m running on the system could be an issue, since I get ugly error messages from the btusb module when I take a call, so a kernel update might help.  After that though it’s likely to cost real money–buying a new/different Bluetooth dongle, for example.

If anyone out there has suggestions on something else to try, I’m listening (reading? watching?).  I don’t mean to complain, after all I am one that usually subscribes to the “it’s Open Source, it’s the hard work and dedication of others, you got it for nothing, you’ve got no right to complain” philosophy.  It is really frustrating to come away from a couple of days’ effort with nothing to show for it, though.

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Nokia SIP client: WTF?

I was having a browse around the excellent Nerd Vittles site tonight, and stumbled onto a disturbing conversation about the removal of the Nokia SIP client from S60 Third Edition Feature Pack 2 (as used on recent phones like the N78 and N96).

Nerd Vittles linked to this blog, which alludes to the possibility of mobile carriers putting pressure on Nokia to remove “free” calling capability (i.e. VoIP) from their phones.  Within the comments on that blog post comes a link to a post on Nokia Conversations (I’ve never seen that site before, but it seems to simply be a bit of a PR site…).

“Charlie” from Nokia Conversations tries to spin the changes to Nokia’s SIP support.  Firstly, in what seems to be almost believable at first he says “no, the SIP stack is still there, in fact it is actually better in FP2 than previous versions”.  Apparently, the improvements meant that the integrated VoIP client had to be dropped because it wasn’t ready.  This explanation loses credibility, however, when you see that Charlie’s blog post was made on 27 August 2008: nearly one year ago! And folks are still commenting on that thread, saying “where’s my VoIP client?”.  I cannot believe that it would take Nokia a full year to update the VoIP client and package a firmware update for these phones–especially given that two other S60 3rd-ed FP2 phones released after the N78 and N96, namely the N79 and N85, apparently do have the VoIP client!

On 8 December 2008, Charlie posts a follow-up on Nokia Conversations.  In it he says “well we made some folks unhappy, but we’ve made a fix”.  He points to something called the “SIP VoIP Settings” application that was supposed to bring back what people were asking for.  Problem is, it’s not a VoIP client at all: it’s simply a configuration tool allowing more detailed control over the configuration of a SIP profile.

In the final insult it appears that the new N97, Nokia’s current flagship also has no VoIP client.  The N97 is based on S60 5th edition and not 3rd edition, but 5th is supposedly just 3rd updated for touch-screen anyway (not a significant change in technology).

Looking more closely at the specifications pages for these N-series phones, the tiny-tiny text that says “VoIP” is missing.  It’s probably arguable therefore that Nokia never advertised the phones as having VoIP capability[1], so anyone who bought one without checking has created their own situation.  However, Nokia, why is the “upgrade” to the N95 missing one of that phone’s most popular features?

At one point Nokia’s story changes… it seems that VoIP is a function that doesn’t fit the product direction of N-series and belongs in the E-series phones (indeed both the E75 and the soon-to-be-released E72, reportedly S60 3rd-ed FP2 phones, list VoIP capability).  Why, then, do other S60 3rd-ed FP2 phones like the N79 and N85 have VoIP?

This whole “affair” seems to have been handled really poorly by Nokia.  Firstly, claim a technical limitation.  When that fails (because you discover that your users actually know something about tech), claim that your third-party providers have developed a solution.  When it turns out that the third-party products are steamers that don’t even use the infrastructure your OS provides (something you didn’t know before either), claim that the product has been “realigned” and doesn’t service that market any more–while simultaneously marketing a product in the same series with the same technology that still has the disputed feature.

I must admit to being a lot less angry about this after researching this post than when I started it.  I’m more angry about the survey I completed earlier today when I visited the Nokia website–I was very complimentary about .  My shopping-slash-wish list just lost an item–not that I was seriously contemplating buying the N97, but it’s nice to have a technical reason not to buy it rather than the boring can’t-really-justify-it line. 🙂

[1] Of course it’s easy to make this statement based on what the product pages look like now

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WIP330 progress: it’s a… phone

A while back I posted about my grief with the Linksys WIP330 WiFi SIP phone (it doesn’t happen often, but it’s a surprise when the ONLY hit you get on Google about a problem is your own blog post discussing it).  The unit is still a bitter disappointment, but thanks to a firmware update it seems like it’s finally at least usable on my network.

My previous post talked about problems I was having with the network connection dropping out after an hour on a WPA-PSK network.  When last I checked, the most recent firmware was no improvement in that regard.  However, I checked again last week and a couple of new updates to firmware have been released.  You need to go to Linksys’ US site to download the recent firmware though (Australia only has the 1.02.12S version that is a problem for me, while 1.03.18S is on the US site).

I also had problems using the phone menus to do the upgrade.  The WIP330 has a menu selection that lets you enter a URL for the phone to download its own firmware update, but this didn’t work for me.  I suspect it’s because the Linksys site that the firmware is hosted on is using an expired SSL certificate…  Downloading the file to my desktop and uploading the firmware through the phone’s web page worked fine as an alternative method.

The phone has been on my WPA network all day continuously now, and it makes and receives calls without drama.  I’ve never had the problem that some folks report where the phone ignores incoming calls.  So, as a phone, it’s functional and I’ll be including it in my ring groups and queues now.  As a Wi-Fi device, though, it’s still short.  For something that’s supposedly built on Windows CE, there’s precious little PDA or network function in it.

The two things I thought I could do with the unit (other than just use it as a phone) have both come up busted.  First was to use the “web cam” function to grab rain radar images from the Bureau of Meteorology — but the function only seems to work with actual web cams that generate a Windows Media stream, and not just an image that refreshes at intervals.  Next, when I found that you can use the web interface to upload and download data such as the phonebook, I thought I could write something that dumped my LDAP contact database into the right format to upload to it.  I still could, if I could hack the crappy VB/.NET encrypted file format they use on it.  Bah, humbug.

There’s talk on the ‘Net about folks who load CE device drivers and play with it from Windows, so maybe if I was a Windows user there would be more I could do with it.

One thing I will do with it is try it on public Wi-Fi.  That’s the only differentiator I can see between it and a normal cordless phone attached to an ATA — you certainly shouldn’t buy one of these just to use at home.  If it’s fairly easy to strap up to public Wi-Fi then it becomes much more useful (but then I have to wonder how often I’m near public Wi-Fi and needing to make a call I couldn’t make on a normal mobile… it might have been useful when I was stuck in Melbourne airport for three hours the other week though).

Now that it stays on the network I can use it as a phone.  Fine.  I still regret not knowing in advance about the iPod touch, because I would rather have put that money toward the touch…

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I did it again: damn you ATI!

In this post only about six months ago I berated myself for buying an ATI-chipset graphics card for use in a Linux system.  I titled that post “Why I probably will never buy ATI again…”, as if I knew that I’d make the same mistake again.  Sure enough…

I had problems with my MythTV frontend playing particular recordings; I eventually worked out that it was HD recordings it couldn’t manage (this helped me discover the switch to HD of a previously SD stream coming out of Ten).  I figured that a swap of hardware under the frontend would be nice, to get a better CPU platform and better output capability under it.  I went shopping at my local friendly poota-shop’s website, and came up with a couple of contenders.

Looking at their site (and at the ASUS site), most of the integrated-video boards I saw seemed to be using nVidia chips.  Confident I was going to be making a sound decision, I set off to the store and ended up leaving with an Asus M2A-VM HDMI under my arm.  The clincher was my need for a real S/PDIF output, which the M2A-VM board has on the little riser-card it uses to provide HDMI, S-Video and Component video out.

Some of you will already have seen my error.  🙂

The nVidia board with HDMI I had seen on the ASUS site was the M2N-VM HDMI.  The M2A-VM HDMI is obviously an ATI chipset board.  In my quest for S/PDIF, to save myself a few bucks for a header adapter, I again shot myself in the foot with the ATI bullet.

Sure enough, I had huge problems getting the thing to work.  Frame rates in MythTV, no matter what I did, were abysmal.  I tried installing Mythbuntu again to see if later drivers would help (compared to those on the existing Knoppmyth R5F1 build I am running), to no avail[1].

I was considering lumping it, and sitting on it until things catch up and I can make it work, but I think I’ll just go back to the store and try and switch it for either the M2N-VM DVI (no S/PDIF) or M2N-VM DH (this has onboard S/PDIF but also costs an extra AU$40 thanks to all the WiFi and other guff it comes with).  Unfortunately the store doesn’t have the M2N-VM HDMI, which would let me keep the future capability for  a HDMI-capable display, but by the time I look at needing HDMI I’m likely to be needing to replace the thing again anyway.

To add insult to injury, when I put the old MythTV frontend box back I used a low profile case which meant I had to leave out the old nVidia FX5200 it was running off and go with the onboard Via graphics.  I had heard that some of the Via chips had MPEG2 smarts, and it seems to be true: this old box with what I thought was the crappy cheapo onboard graphics chip now seems to have no trouble with HD output to VGA.


[1] Apparently some victimsowners of the M2A-VM HDMI have had success downloading the very latest drivers directly from ATI rather than sticking with those provided by their distro.  If I get time to give that a run I’ll report.

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Linksys WIP330 – another tale of hardware woe

I was on eBay not long ago and happened across a listing for the WIP330 (big brother to the WIP300) for much less than local retail.  I decided to take advantage of: a) the good price, b) the current strong position of the A$ versus the US$, and c) it was within 1 hour of closing and the vendor was giving 10% off…  and bought it.  I honestly should not have bothered: this is a terrible piece of equipment, and now sits beside my bricked Cisco 7970 as the worst online auction purchase I’ve made.  But first, a little history…

Some time ago I saw some reports of Linksys releasing a couple of Wi-Fi VoIP handsets.  Reviews looked moderately promising, but as one of the devices (the “prestige” version) was based on Windows CE I was disappointed in the lost potential of the device.  But then I saw that eBay listing, and I jumped immediately into Gadget Acquisition Syndrome justification mode.  “Sure, it’s based on Windows CE, but haven’t you always told people that you believe in horses-for-courses?” said my inner gadget-junkie.

So about a fortnight later the thing arrived.  I charged it for a decent amount of time, then configured it for my wireless.

“Failed to connect”.

Google then revealed a litany of people being driven crazy by this device’s inability to connect to a WPA-PSK network.  At this point I began to feel very much like Stuart Langridge of LugRadio fame, who only discovered after buying a new laptop that his research had failed him and he had indeed bought a laptop of “military-grade proprietariness” (as I seem to recall one of his fellow LugRadio presenters described it).  Had I known that in 2007 a manufacturer of networking equipment (backed by probably the biggest name in corporate and Internet networking today) could release a device that would not connect to a secure network created by THEIR OWN BRAND OF ACCESS POINT (a Linksys WRT54GS[1]), I might have researched that issue further.

Some hope was provided in the form of a firmware update.  Unfortunately, like most pieces of networking kit, firmware updates are delivered over the network…  In this case, the thing couldn’t connect to the network!  I had to shut off encryption on my network for the length of time it took to perform the update — which was doubled by the fact that the firmware on my unit required an interim upgrade to a staging release before the final update (to wip330_v1_02_12S) could be applied.

So with firmware upgraded and encryption re-enabled on my wireless, I tried again…

Same error.

At this point I was very keen to follow this advice and eject the rotten device from my life, but on that page I found the hint that got things working: my access point had AES as well as TKIP enabled, and the WIP330 seems to choke on AES.  Disabling AES on the access point finally got the WIP330 on the network.  At this point my son wanted to watch something via XBMC, and I found that the client Wi-Fi device through which his XBox attaches still had AES defined so could not connect to the network…  Turn AES back on, get the other device attached again, disable AES in it, disable AES in the access point again, and I was set.

Or so I thought.  Later in the day, the WIP330 was off the network again.  Trying to re-connect to my network brought failure, but power-cycling the device got it online again.  Sure enough though, an hour later it was off the network.

One hour.  3600 seconds.  The (default) rekeying interval of a WPA-PSK network.  The chuffing thing fails to complete rekeying and drops the wireless connection.  This time Google has been no help — I guess not enough people persisted through the AES problem to have the thing on the network long enough to hit the rekeying failure.

So right now the thing is useless to me.  I’m even contemplating dragging out my old 802.11b access point for the phone (and another couple of old WPA-incapable devices) to run on, but I think the last thing my neighbourhood needs is another 2.4GHz wireless network.

To try and balance this, I will mention a couple of things I like about it.  While it was on the network, it was easy to connect to Asterisk and get talking.  The device is light (bordering on too light) and the screen is just brilliant.  Sound quality was a bit dodgy, but then I haven’t had a chance to use it for long enough to know for sure (and then I was only talking to myself via the Asterisk echo test application).  One other thing that’s nice is that Windows CE is largely hidden.  There is a browser on the device, which uses the Windows flag as its progress spinner, but other than that it’s out of the way and not screaming “look at me, i’m CE”.

Like I said, however, the fact that in 2007 Linksys can release a device that has such problems just getting connected to a network is a great disappointment.  At this stage I think the best that can come of this device is that enough bad press is spread that they don’t sell at their RRP, forcing the price down and making it affordable enough for some crafty Linux hackers who could put an Open firmware on it.  Or, hope against hope, perhaps Linksys will see their channel back-up with units that won’t move, and switch to a Linux firmware themselves to get them going.

In the meantime, I’ll keep Googling for “wip300 wpa-psk piece of junk”…

[1] To be fair, my WRT54GS is running OpenWRT and not the stock Linksys firmware.  But the binary that provides WPA-PSK in OpenWRT does come straight from Linksys’ firmware…

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