Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Windows and Doors

When you do something wrong with fdisk you can say goodbye to your partition table!
that's what happened to me, but things were made worse by the nasty XFS resize tool which required a mounted partition to work...

anyway i don't want to talk about this little error of mine, but of what came after! I decided to put back Windows on, since there were too many incompatibilities and I wanted to try the Windows Server 2003 downloaded from the MSDNAA.

the installation was just like Windows XP, but only in this occasion i noticed that formatting 80GB with NTFS disk takes 40 minutes, with Reiserfs (or any other linux fs) takes less then 10 seconds...
So, like any other Windows, the first thing to do after a fresh install is to go to windowsupdate.com! I didn't set up a firewall because i tought that a server *might* already have some kind of protection from external threats! yet again, i overesteemated Windows...
In fact while I was trying to set up the graphic card in safe mode the nasty worm of "You have 60 seconds before reboot" show up! And since updates or virus scan weren't working any more i just had to rewind everything!

Yeah, after the usual 40 minutes of formatting and after installing i was prompted with a nice welcome, the ctrl+alt+del for entering! I set up the firewall right away and when I rebooted i was prompted with an even nicer welcome, a blue screen of death! Every time i tried to log in the system crashed and it was all firewall fault, in fact when i had uninstalled it the system went fine again...
Not only the firewall was driving me nuts (instead of Zone Alarm i put PCtool Firewall), but the antivirus as well was nagging at me!!!
I tried the main ones, Free-Av, AVGfree and Avast: AVG said its licence didn't allow installation on a server (are you crazy??? why???), Free-Av said it couldn't install on corporate business machine (I'm not a business, I'm a single person), and Avast simply refused to launch because i was in Windows NT (pure maddness, Windows XP is NT as well)
Lucky was that i found a GNU/GPL antivirus, ClamWin, that allowed installation anywhere, anytime! All hail to opensource!

Would you think that's all? Not at all! The best of all, the ATI graphics card!
Linux users know that Ati is not quite good at drivers for linux, but they would cheer up saying "at least windows drivers are fine" - WRONG!
There is NO driver for the ATI Mobility (chip R200) on Windows Server 2003! The official one would just screw the screen and force to continuosly reboot, the unofficial ones, like DNA or Omega drivers went just crazy (the former refusing to install and the latter setting up strange screen resoultions)

It all ended by cleaning everything up and putting up Windows XP yet again!
You know, i wasn't sure if I was dealing with a Windows or a Linux as they both had the same drivers issue with everything! That proves that it's not the operating system you use, but how well it's supported by third parties! So Windows XP has very good support, while Windows Server 2003 hasn't! So we could say Windows Server 2003 is the same of Linux... just a hundred times less stable :-)

ok we couln't :-D

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Yet another Linux embedded device

a few days ago a nice shiny Netgear WGT634U Router arrived to my place and happily started toying with it right away! Though not on sale anymore, it has very good features, like 108Mb/s wireless and a USB port for external hd.

So, i booted it up and tested with the DS and the WII (as I mainly bought this router for its complete compatibility with Nintendo devices) and they were doing really fine! No encryption (just mac filtering) due to the poor DS security system. Anyway this router also proved a nice range and no lags! good! It was time to check its other options!

Unfortunately there were the usual silver linings! I tested the usb capability with my external usb drive, ntfs formatted - no writing allowed - it was readonly... so, since "linux partition" were supported i tried formatting it in xfs, reiserfs, ext3; noone showed up! cool!
Moreover when I tried to upgrade to the latest firmware the connection was refused and the old firmware kept!
Finally, what turned really me down was that there was no NFS support, but just a plain Samba server! ugly!!!

So these three convinced me to try linux on this router! there were two main options: OpenWRT and OpenWGT! The latter should be dedicated for this router,
WGT634U, but it's not really developed any more; so i tried the former, which has a wider support for routers of all kind!

OpenWRT has two main release: White Russian, stable branch, and Kamikaze, development branch. These two version differ mainly on the configuration method! With Russian you have to play with the nice nvram command, with Kamikaze you can swiftly modify files in /etc to change configuration. Kamikaze was the only to support my router so I had very little choice.

That's it! I put it on the router! Wow! What has changed? mmm let's see the web interface! what? no web interface? well, let's try ssh! password required? what password?

ok the panic ended when I tried by chance to access with telnet! I set up a password and ssh was activated! I was really annoyed that there wasn't a web interface but i was soon proved wrong.
On the ssh consolle, it was like any other linux system, with all the most important commands!
After a while i found this little uselful program, ipkg, which acts exactly as apt-get!
With ipkg you can install any program available on the official repositories! And there are a lot! Kernel moduls, servers of any kind (cups, nfs, samba, ftp) along the normal stuff you find on routers (dhcp, firewall, wireless).

Later on, i also found out that there was actually a web interface, not included in the repositories as still in development, called webif (already installed in White Russian) which you can download from the openWRT site. It was really nice, but it was evident that it need much development (still usable though).

Then I wanted to try out the USB expansion port! I read you could use it not only as external hd, but with any usb device compatible in linux! So you could easily plug a hub and have nfs server, bluetooth device, print server and much more! I made some attemps at building a print server, but the wiki are only for White Russian, so the method provided didn't work (actually there was no /dev/usb/lp0, but if you create the node with
mkdir -p /dev/usb && mknod /dev/usb/lp0 c 180 0 it has been reported to work)

However i wasn't happy enough! It was cool having linux on the router but it was too bleeding edge and having Kamikaze didn't help! I was unsure whether to put a plain White Russian or back the original firmware! Since i tought my router was not supported i opted for the second!
And since i wasn't sure if the suggested method worked, i did so using the most unstable web interface!

Erasing linux...
this was the last output i would ever receive from this router! Yep, i bricked it! I could try to repair it with a serial cable but it's too much of a hassle, and so i decided to ask the vendor if they can replace it!

summing up! Linux on the router is nice, but you need to have an advanced level of linux knowledge, and be ready not to come back! If you have enough time to play with it though i would suggest giving a try to it anyway, as long as you don't want to put the original firmware back :-D

Friday, 15 June 2007

3rd year is over

So, today was the last day of school! Now we can start studying hard for the next three tests and this year will be completely over.
If I had to wrap up this year, I'd say it was quite a good year, especially compared with the previous one! We finally started computer science, at least for the first semester, so we deepened some very funny aspects, like Operating Systems and Networks, the two subjects i liked most), while i less liked the database and programming part.
The year before this was much more traumatic as we were studying so much electronics that we often were found in identity crisis :-D It's true that the electrical part is very important in computer engineering, but if we were to study all the professionalizing subjects for an engeneer in just three years, we wouldn't even know how to turn on a pc!!!

However now it is too late to complain because in a way or another I managed to reach the end of the year in one piece! And to celebrate this event, I published on my Scribd account the two essay about some lab experiences in Phisics

The Wheatstone bridge
The Hall effect

Alberto wrote practically everything in them and he did a very good job by using Latex in both! I basically double checked them and for the second time in my life I approached a Latex document; the first time was while I had to write my degree essay, but I wasn't much motivated, this time though i was able to understand some of the grammar of Latex and I'm likely to use it in the future (as soon as i discover why it doesn't compile docs with images)...
so all hail to Alberto, all hail to Latex!!!

happy reading!!!

Monday, 4 June 2007

Don't FlashMe - a Nintendo DS story

I always told never to flash your Nintendo DS.
It is useless, you run into too many risks, the warranty is voided and so on...

I wanted to try! I was too curious about how to do it, and wanted to try myself the (very few actually) features it enabled, especially the direct boot, as the SuperKey was driving me crazy for not being detected from time to time.

So I took courage and downloaded the FlashMe v8 from the FlashMe Official Site!
I read some guides over the internet, this one in particular, but I already had problems just find the toothpick and the tin foil, but that's because my house is a mess right now!
Anyways, I somehow created that thing and stuck into the DS, so the flashing begun... everything was ok...
at 26% the DS turned off.

ok, no panic, maybe it finished so quickly that it already shut down... no it was not! Black screen if you tried to turn it on!
ok, no panic, no panic, gasp, breathe, no panic, breathe, breathe... ok air pressure stabilized

what was written on the guide? if your DS shuts down during flashing you just have to go into the recovery mode by holding Start and Select (I also pressed A and B just to be safe). So I did and I was welcomed by a charming SuperCard intro!
I resumed the flashing and completed it without no further problems...

Now I've got it running on my DS and already miss the Nintendo DS welcome screen (as well as
the suspend option)... I guess that if I had a slot1 device I would never and NEVER install a FlashMe firmware, as the advantages are way too limited...

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Next-generation DVD: read this to decide

This is my final essay I wrote some time ago as "thesis" for the Politecnico. I'm putting "thesis" into quotes because it doesn't even compare with a real thesis: the real ones are 20 credits heavy, while the quoted one only 2! Anyways, though I'm happy I've writtend this essay (marked 27) I wish I had done something more interesting, while instead I chose the first one and the quickiest.
I'm not regretting this because for the few credits it counts it's ok, but I wouldn't have minded learning how to do something, or having deepened some other subjects. Oh well, I'll catch up with the next thesis, the heavy one.

So here is the long waited essay! You can easily read it online, download, convert to any format from this site.
This work is released under the same old licence: You can copy and use this document as you like as long as you quote the author (and if you let me know doing so I'll be grateful to you)

While presenting my essay I also introduce you to Scribd, a new way to post your documents online! It's actually the equivalent of Youtube or Deviantart for documents instead of videos and images! You can publish stuff, convert it to whatever format you nee
d and keep documents private or public! As you can see the online view is very comfortable!

Scribd is also useful for removing those copy-disabled pdfs! Just put it online and then download it without that useless protection! (update 2007/06/11: feature disabled)

All the projects here are under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence! You can use and distribute them as you like (just quote the author so he knows his work is not useless)!

If you wish to get in touch with me write at projectsymphony@gmail.com