Millenium Falcon


My old netbook is currently seven years old, and shows its age : boot times up to two minutes, working in Chrome was a drag and took ages. And I'm not even talking about performing updates. All to blame on the slow CPU (never again an Atom !) and the slow hard drive. The last two occasions I used the laptop was on Config Management Days and Red Hat summit, and I can tell you the experience was unpleasant. So a new laptop was needed.

Luckily, the laptop market has reinvented itself after it collapsed during the tablet rise. Ultrabooks are now super slim, super light and extremely powerful. My new laptop needed to be :

  • fast : no Celeron or Atom chip was allowed. An i5 as minimum CPU
  • beautifull : I need a companion to my vanity. No plasticky stuff, well build and good quality.
  • well supportive for Linux : Linux would be installed, so the hardware needed to be supported
  • reasonable cheap : speaks for itself; a lot of nice ultrabooks are available, but I didn't want to pay an arm and a leg.
  • light and small : I carry this everywhere around the world, so the laptop shouldn't weigh more than 1.4kg

Soon, I saw 2 main candidates : first, the Dell XPS13 still is regarded as ultrabook king. It supports Linux nicely, and has that beautiful Infinity display. Disadvantages were that it was on the heavy side, and I wasn't fan of its design either. And a tad on the expensive side as well.

On the other side, there was the Asus Zenbook 3 (UX390) which was stunningly beautiful, had a nice screen as well and was extremely light with its 0.9 kg. However, I saw the silver variant in the shop, but found it a bit on the small side. So when I saw its 14 inch brother, UX430UQ, I was immediately sold. This is a 14 inch laptop - it is advertised as a 13inch laptop with a 14 inch screen, but don't believe that - which is as light as 1.25 kg, has a nice dark grey metal spun outerior and excellent keyboard and screen. Equipped with an i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, it doesn't fail to deliver on the performance field. Shame that Asus doesn't provide a sleeve with this laptop, as it does with the UX390. Also, important, it doesn't has a safe lock hole, so don't leave this baby unattended.

I wiped the Windows 10 and booted the Fedora netinstall CD, but it seemed that both WiFi and trackpad were unsupported. I lost quite some time with this, but eventually decided to boot it with the Fedora LiveCD, to find out all was working out of the box. Probably the netinstall CD uses an older kernel. I baptised the laptop Millenium Falcon, as I switched to spaceship names on my hardware lately.



My old PC has survived for 10,5 years : mostly thanks to Linux and its low resource requirements. That is very impressive, but the box started to show its age : boot times up to two minutes, and a hard drive which performed sub-par. Time for a new machine : Intel i7 Skylake, SSD + 3TB HDD and 16GB of DDR4 RAM. Fast and furious.

I made the switch as well from Debian to Fedora : I must admit that I'm quite charmed by Fedora. Stable and on the bleeding edge side (my previous box was Debian Stable based, so your definition of "bleeding edge" may vary). Anyway, Fedora installed without a glitch, and the subsequent upgrade to Fedora24 was one of the fastest PC upgrades I experienced.

The machine is called Nostromo, to the spaceship in Alien. I guess I ran out of pronounceable Tolkien names, and didn't found any suitable Game of Thrones based names. Science-fiction to the rescue.

Drupal 7


It has been a very long & bumpy road, but I have finally managed to upgrade this site to Drupal 7. Just in time, as Drupal 8 is getting finished and polished. There is still stuff that needs to be converted, most noticeable are the taxonomy_browser and taxonomy_image functionalities, that will be fixed in the next couple of weeks.

If you see anything abnormal, just leave a note in the reply section !

The quest for a new netbook


Netbooks are laptops done right. I had no idea how true this was before I actually bought a netbook myself. While only being slightly larger than a DVD-cover, my eeePC-900 was so portable, I've taken it with me around the world, both for work and holiday trips. My eeePC has been indeed so successful, it has completely wiped out my need for my laptop, which has been mostly gathering dust since the netbook purchase.

However, a (first generation) netbook still has some serious disadvantages :

  • disk is mostly a combination of SSD and SD, and very limited in space.
  • the keyboard is way too small to type comfortably
  • the battery is very limited in life expectancy.

My new netbook had to overcome those three limitations. Not a big deal, since most current netbooks deal with this already. In addition, I wanted a minimum of 2GB RAM and a CPU with virtualization possibilities. As I was very happy with the eeePC line, I almost opted for a eeePC-1201HA, which sports the Z520 CPU, which had Intel-V support. Unfortunately, the netbook got slaughtered in every review because of its slow performance.

My final choice was the Samsung N220 Premium Plus, a N450 based laptop with 2GB RAM and a 350GB hard disk. As the laptop is red, I feared a bit for too much of hardware bling, but the color is nicely darkish red, so it doesn't scream out in a meeting room. So far, I've been really happy with the netbook itself. The following are only (very) minor annoyances, but indeed are things that could have been better :

  • If some netbook manufacturer brands a netbook with a Premium label, I expect the least they can do, is to include a pouch with it. As a netbook gets carried along everywhere, you want a cover for it to avoid excessive scratching, unless it is not made in plastic. No pouch with my edition, though I've heard that latest Samsung netbooks come again with this addition.
  • The Power button comes in some sort of a slide button, which is on the front of the netbook. A true button would have been better, and would have been better if been protected by the lid.
  • If the lid is closed, it is very hard to see if the netbook has been suspended, as the LEDs are hidden by the lid itself.

What is exellent is that netbook is completely silent : the hard disk is perfectly mute, and the fan makes only a slight noise under high stress. The netbook comes with Windows 7 Home Premium Edition, which starts its installation when you power on for the first time. The good thing is that it lets you choose the partitioning, so the hard disk is split by default into 3 partitions :

  • first partition carries the Windows7 OS
  • the second partition is a 14GB restore partition
  • the third is an empty D-drive, which can be used for data & installed programs.

In a next post, I'll describe what tweaks were necessary to install & use a 64bits Ubuntu on the 3rd partition.



We all know the mobility problem : we have a 17" laptop which is all neat 'n dandy, but carrying this stuff around leaves you with a nasty big red stripe on your shoulder at the end of the day : this stuff is *heavy*. So maybe you acquired a smartphone, which allows you to surf the web, either through 3G or WiFi. But using this thing intensively, quickly gets on your nerves : too much horizontal scrolling, dog slow and way too less RAM to load large websites.

Enter the eeePC : a small, sturdy 7" laptop (the 701 model), or the 9" 900 model. Extremely light, cheap, and carrying our most favorite operating system, Linux. I ordered the 900 model in the beginning of the week, and received it Friday evening. First thing I noticed, even while looking at the packaging : this thing is *small*. There is nothing that prepares you at the small size, even after seeing hundreds of pictures on the web, or even after seeing a colleague carrying the 701 model. It is so small it almost looks like a childs toy. It really is not much larger than a DVD case, and that's really small for a laptop.

Second thing that surprised me : it's much heavier than expected. Despite its 1 kg weight, it looks so light on pictures. But fear not, in comparison with your laptop, it's as light as a feather.

I like the screen : neat, offering a good crispy view from all sides. A resolution of 1024x800 is large enough for most webpages. Using the keyboard is more difficult : very small, and I have trouble of pressing hard enough for some characters on the outer edge of the keyboard. But that is something I have on most laptops. The 900 eeePC gets fairly warm, too; in contrast with the 701 model, this doesn't run underclocked.

The default installation of the 900 model is a Xandros Linux based install with 1 GB RAM and 20GB of storage. When I enter an unknown Unix or Linux system, I quickly run through the /etc and /proc dirs to get some feeling of the system. As it turns out, the 900 model has a fast 4GB SSD disk, and a slower 16GB SD card. Xandros boots very quickly, I guess it reaches the desktop from a cold boot in about 20 seconds. The default desktop is a simplified series of screens carrying big application starter buttons. All in all, I think that Xandros did a good job in delivering an easy-to-use Linux desktop for all kinds of users. It has even a nice tool to update the BIOS. Xandros offers a way of obtaining a full blown KDE desktop by first installing ksmserver and kicker. This offers a new option in the logout screen where you can opt for the full desktop.

Xandros uses unionfs for all filesystems, which means COW for all disk access. USB disks get letter notations like on Windows (/media/D:), which I rather dislike. I used Xandros for a while, but quickly found the default desktop too limiting, and the KDE desktop too irritating. So I decided to sweep the disk, and install another eeePC optimized Linux distribution on it. Doing this leaves the user for a difficult task on chosing one : Ubuntu alone has three versions for it (eeebuntu, eeeXubuntu and Ubuntu eee). I chose for the latter because it meant the least amount of thinkering with the system and the fastest way to productivity.

Ubuntu eee boots way slower than the stock Xandros kernel, but I sortoff expected this. The performance is still reasonable, even with compiz enabled. I installed the base OS on the 4GB SSD disk, and opted to transform the 16GB SD disk to a LVM volume group for /opt and /home (I had to manually load the dm-mod kernel module before I could create the logical partitions, apparently a bug in Hardy). No swap to reduce the amount of writing to the SSD device, and for the same reason I chose ext2 as filesystem. I needed to write a small stop init-script which removes the snd-hda-intel kernel module explicitly before shutting down, otherwise the eeepc doesn't cut the power after shutdown.

What still remains is some small stuff like cleaning up the 4GB disk from some unneeded apps, optimize Firefox for the smaller screen, test out Skype and the webcam and install the latest-and greatest TSM server on it.

Taxonomy_image : alignment of taxonomy images


I discovered the taxonomy_image_node_display module, where a site admin can specify through the admin menu of the taxonomy_image module if he wants to display taxonomy images while displaying a node. This results in Slashdot like appearance, without having to manually modify the theme files. This is a great add-on for people who want to tweak the layout of their Drupal powered sites, but who aren't php professionals : Drupal themeing still remains a technical domain.

However, the image is specified as

&lt img src=...&gt

, resulting in an image, followed by a line break, and then the node text. This results in many whitespaces in the page, certainly if the used taxonomy images are starting to get a little big. It would be nice if an alignment attribute is added, (even better yet, though the taxonomy_image module settings menu), resulting in code like

&lt img src=... align=left &gt

(or align=right for that matter).

So I entered a feature request for this module, but that got rejected, because the module provides a div wrapper for image display. Tried that, but for some reason I never got the css working. So I digged into the code, and found a way of doing this, by adding an extra tag to the taxonomy_image_display API :

      $my_attrs = array(
        'width' => $current->width,
        'height' => $current->height,
        'align' => "right",

As you can see, taxonomy_image behaves cleanly again with this code snippet.

Upgraded to Drupal6


I've just upgraded the site to Drupal6. Seems that there is already a Drupal 6.1 security release, so you might upgrade too. Or you might have seen the upgrade notice, cause Drupal now alerts the admin in case of an available upgrade (as it is the case in eg Pivot).

The upgrade self was quite fast & very user-friendly, I just had one issue where after the upgrade is performed, I was invited to go to the Administration pages, but only to find a message that the site was under maintenance. Going to http://mysite/?q=user offered me a login window again.

Drupal 6 seems quite like version 5, but the large part of the modifications is under the hood. I had to remove some modules as the 6-compatible modules are not yet all available. Views is still in experimental stage, so I had to disable the Calendar on the right frame. Same thing for the spam module, but image based CAPTCHA is doing a great job. I still need to check the needed modifications in the theme files for the taxonomy_image module, but that's for later. The Search function may give unpredictable results, as this site is slowly being reindexed, but I think everything will be fine after some hours.

Prepping for Drupal 6


Drupal 6.0 has been released, so I'm evaluating this right now on a local copy of this site. It's looking good, though I still need to make a list of modules I'm using which are not included in Drupal Core, find a way to implement taxonomy_image in the used theme, and most importantly, find some spare hours where I can do all this undisturbed. Tomorrow time to listen to the Drupal sessions on Fosdem, hopefully there are some interesting tips to find out.