Congratulations to SpaceX!

Congratulations to SpaceX for the successful launch of their Flacon Heavy and all the best to Rocketman in his Tesla for his journey through our solar system. Don’t Panic!

Those were truly inspiring moments for any tech- and space enthusiast. Every minute of the video is exciting and time well spent.

I’m confident as never before that I’ll see people on Mars during my life-time.

(P.S.: I just noticed that this is my first new article since July 1st, 2014. Wow! It’s that impressive to me.)

Linux, Western Digital Green & Load Cycle Count

Today when looking at my Munin graphs for S.M.A.R.T. values of my always-on PVR box, I noticed that within a year, my Western Digital Green-line disks had degraded their Load_Cycle_Count attribute to a shocking low level of below 20 (in S.M.A.R.T., low levels are bad). The raw value indicated that the three of the four disks had parked their heads more than a half million times, each:

#$ for D in sda sdb sdc sdd; do sudo smartctl -A /dev/$D | grep "^193"; done
193 Load_Cycle_Count 0x0032 014 014 000 Old_age Always - 559966
193 Load_Cycle_Count 0x0032 200 200 000 Old_age Always - 111
193 Load_Cycle_Count 0x0032 010 010 000 Old_age Always - 572713
193 Load_Cycle_Count 0x0032 013 013 000 Old_age Always - 563615

Munin’s year graph for one of the disks showed shocking truth, the disk was aging fast:

/dev/sdd over the last year

When watching the above shell script with watch over time, I noticed, that some of the disks parked their heads about 2-3 times per minute. As the machine is always on, this sums up pretty quickly.

Research soon got me to several blog posts and forum discussions of the issues. Western Digital itself recommends using hdparm to disable advanced power management of the disk. This seems to be unsupported, by my drives, though.
Another way provided by WD, which has been often recommended, was downloading a DOS tool from Western Digital to set the idle timer of the disks. Not really the way I wanted to go.

Fortunately, I also found a blog entry that directed me to the idle3 project, that provides a way to set it from Linux.

The tool was very easy to compile (just one call to make), and then provided me with the current settings:

#$ for D in sda sdb sdc sdd; do sudo ./idle3ctl -g /dev/$D; done
Idle3 timer set to 80 (0x50)
Idle3 timer set to 80 (0x50)
Idle3 timer set to 80 (0x50)
Idle3 timer set to 80 (0x50)

Disabling the timer was easy enough for all four drives:

#$ for D in sda sdb sdc sdd; do sudo ./idle3ctl -d /dev/$D; done
Idle3 timer disabled
Please power cycle your drive off and on for the new setting to be taken into account. A reboot will not be enough!
Idle3 timer disabled
Please power cycle your drive off and on for the new setting to be taken into account. A reboot will not be enough!
Idle3 timer disabled
Please power cycle your drive off and on for the new setting to be taken into account. A reboot will not be enough!
Idle3 timer disabled
Please power cycle your drive off and on for the new setting to be taken into account. A reboot will not be enough!

The warning should be taken seriously though, the command took only effect after powering the whole system down, even though the drive itself reported idle timer to be disabled right away.

cygwin & Play Framework / Typesafe Activator

I am currently playing around with using Play Framework on cygwin. I noticed that Typesafe Activator, which has replaced the play command in recent Play versions, ruins the mintty terminal of cygwin: you won’t see any echo of your keystrokes after activator returns.

A simple solution is to blindly type stty sane into the terminal, which will reset it. Another way is, to wrap the activator in a special cygwin-activator bash script:

activator $@
stty sane
exit $R

flexget on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS

If you follow the official instructions to install flexget with existing Python 2.6 and python-virtualenv, than you might encounter the following problem:

flexget@host:~$ flexget/bin/flexget
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "flexget/bin/flexget", line 5, in
from pkg_resources import load_entry_point
File "/home/flexget/flexget/lib/python2.6/site-packages/distribute-0.6.10-py2.6.egg/", line 2655, in
File "/home/flexget/flexget/lib/python2.6/site-packages/distribute-0.6.10-py2.6.egg/", line 648, in require
needed = self.resolve(parse_requirements(requirements))
File "/home/flexget/flexget/lib/python2.6/site-packages/distribute-0.6.10-py2.6.egg/", line 546, in resolve
raise DistributionNotFound(req)
pkg_resources.DistributionNotFound: jsonschema>=2.0

At least on my system, there seems to be a jsonschema < 2.0 installed in the system site packages. This can be prevented by altering the initialization of the virtual Python environment as follows:

virtualenv --no-site-packages ~/flexget/

HOWTO: Fully encrypted vServer with Ubuntu 12.04

In this blog post I am going to demonstrate how to easily setup a virtual server at Hetzner. This setup will work for most other vServer operators as well, but some adjustments may be required. Prerequisite is that you are able to access the console of  the server while booting, as you need to be able to enter the passphrase. You also need to be able to boot into some sort of “Rescue System” for the setup. This is no in-place setup. In Hetzner’s “Robot” this is pretty easy.

One thing to consider regarding security: fully encrypting a vServer might seem… senseless, as the host operator can easily copy the whole memory of the VM while running and extract the key this way. True. There is no way around this fact. My reason for wanting a fully encrypted system is more of the way that I want to be sure that the data is encrypted on the storage system. I want to protect from being unable to ever fully wipe the persistent data from disk in case I cancel the VM, the VM gets moved to a new host, or a failed disk is sent in to the manufacturer. For me, this is a compromise I can accept. YMMV.

You can also try this HOWTO under VirtualBox with the System Rescue CD ISO images. Actually, that’s where I verified all steps are working.


The following steps will partition the disk, setup LVM and LUKS, install Ubuntu 12.04 and prepare the system for reboot. Most parts can be copied line-by-line. Please beware that there are some parts in this tutorial that needs to be adjusted: UUIDs of partitions, hostname, username, and most important: network setup.

Continue reading “HOWTO: Fully encrypted vServer with Ubuntu 12.04”

A geek’s unified instant messaging setup

Today I want to present to you my unified instant messaging setup, which enables me to communicate from any of my computers and also any of my mobile devices (Android, iPhone, iPad). Goal for me was to provide a setup where I have single client per platform with a centralized history I can search if I need to. I want one – and only one – client for my communication. I only care about text instant messages, actually; I hardly ever use voice or video services when communicating online. I really like the asynchronous nature of instant messages. At the moment, I have integrated IRC, ICQ, Google-Talk/Jabber/XMPP (which could potentially also include Facebook), and Skype. The current setup also gives me push notifications to my iOS devices on messages directed at me. Today’s posting is only intended to give you a very high level overview. I will add detailed descriptions of individual setups of the individual components in later posts.

The Unified Instant Messaging Schema

Continue reading “A geek’s unified instant messaging setup”

Fix two Ubuntu 10.04 window manager annoyances

When upgrading to Ubuntu 10.04 I noticed two annoyances (which actually are just a matter of personal taste):

  • The OSX-like positioning of the close, minimize and maximize buttons on the left instead of the right of the window.
  • The fade-out (invisibility) of other windows when using Alt-Tab for tabbing through the available windows on the current desktop.

As I tend to forget and need to Google every time I encounter a newly setup 10.04 system, I now jot down the settings to change.

For changing the window buttons:

  1. Start gconf-editor.
  2. Find /apps/metacity/general/button_layout.
  3. Change its value to menu:minimize,maximize,close.

For changing the opacity of inactive windows during Alt+Tab window switching:

  1. Start gconf-editor.
  2. Find /apps/compiz/plugins/staticswitcher/screen0/options/opacity.
  3. Change it to any value you like, where 100 is fully visible and 0 is totally invisible.

The power of git aliases

Based on a recent question on stackoverflow I found the power of git aliases and want so share one I invented for answering the question and after that I found very useful in everyday git use:

git config --global alias.add-commit '!git add -A && git commit'

After this, you can simply check in all new, modified, and deleted files with a simple

git add-commit -m 'My commit message'

I have aliased this command also to git ac in order to save further on typing. I never thought that this combination could be that useful, but actually I think it really is. Thanks to the questioner for bringing the idea up.

OCZ Vertex2, Linux, and ancient nForce 430 chipset

Today I finally received my brand-new Ocz Vertex2 OCZSSD2-2VTXE120G 120GB and eagerly wanted to install it in my 4-year-old HP workstation which currently is running Ubuntu 10.10 exclusively.

After setting up the alignment according to some tutorials I found online, I started the setup process. Shortly after starting the copy step of the installation, the whole process came to a grinding halt with filesystem errors. Looking into the kernel debug messages it seemed like SATA commands were causing errors. After checking hardware, cables and switching SATA ports, I began researching the issue and soon found that the issue might be fixed in the next firmware version of the drive. So I wanted to upgrade from 1.23 to 1.24, which could only be done in Windows…

After installing a trial of Windows 7, I finally wanted to upgrade the firmware, but the drive was not detected, but was accessible. The release notes indicated that I would need to switch to AHCI mode. After several attempts, includig a BIOS update, I realized that there was no way to do this with my old hardware, as my nForce 430 chipset simply doesn’t support it.

So my only remaining option was to simply try the kernel arguments I read to be the fix for 1.24 with the 1.23 hardware.

So, if you add the following kernel option during installation and afterwards for every boot, the disk seems to work quite well (source):


Actually, this forces the ATA driver in Linux to not issue any reset commands on the bus. I really don’t understand why this improves/fixes the problem, but it seems the device has issues when being reset on my chipset. I can also notice this that in 2 out of 3 attempts if I reboot the PC the disk is not recognized any more before I reboot again.

Despite these issues, the SSD now runs with astonishing performance with the suggested 32 head / 32 sector alignment, and a 512kB partition alignment scheme. After an initial TRIM with hdparm‘s I enabled -o discard for my ext4 partition and could also verify using hdparm that this results in the sectors being trimmed. Please note, that you need to manually compile and install the latest hdparm version on Ubuntu 10.10, as the included version fails with the very long free block list and doesn’t handle splitting the sectors in multiple requests. The latest version doesn’t have this issue any more.

Remaining Windows Vista/7 “rearm count”

It is a well-known fact, that it is possible to extend the initial grace period for activating your (hopefully legitimate!) copy of Windows from 30 days to 120 days by using slmgr. This is a tool that is intended to allow the preparation of image-based installers for enterprise use by allowing to reset the initial grace period up to 3 times.

If you tend to forget the number of times you already reset the counter, you can easily check for yourself: simply run

slmgr -dlv

to get detailed licensing information, including the number of remaining re-arms and remaining grace time.

If you want to know when exactly your grace period runs out, use

slmgr -xpr

Note: This simply gives you more time, it won’t prevent you from having to buy and/or activate Windows. Re-arming is not a bug, it works as intended and is an important tool for use in corporate environments.