Archive for December, 2007

Happy 1200000000

December 31, 2007

You all have fun celebrating the rollover from 12/31/2007 to 01/01/08 tonight. Me, I’m waiting for 01/10/2008 9:20pm GMT when time_t rolls over eight digits to 1200000000. Woo hoo! 🙂


My Ubuntu Experiment

December 24, 2007

[ubuntu logo]

My 71 year-old father has agreed to try Ubuntu on his home PC. He has used Windows for years, but after his XP system became so infected with viruses and other malware that I needed to wipe his system, he’s willing to try Linux. I’ve promised I’ll reload XP if this experiment fails.

His needs are basic. He has already been using Firefox to surf the web, check stock portfolios, and read his email via a web interface. He has used Microsoft Office occasionally for simple spreadsheets and documents–requirements that OpenOffice should meet without a problem. He likes solitaire and that is included with Ubuntu. He prints. That’s about it. I’m hopeful that Ubuntu’s user experience and functionality will be acceptable to him.

I wiped his system and installed Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) last night. I’m starting to wonder if it is the administrative aspect of the Ubuntu switch that will be the gating factor on how acceptable Ubuntu is in this case, rather than the user experience. As his de facto system administrator, I need to consider how much ongoing work it will be for me to keep his system working and healthy. Based on my initial experiences setting up his system, I’m not so sure…

The installation process itself went very smoothly except at the partitioning step where it wasn’t clear to me that I needed to use the manual option to repartition the disk rather than using the Guided/Use Entire Disk option. Selecting the Guided option resulted in an error creating the root ext3 filesystem for reasons I didn’t explore. Once I got past that problem, the installation proceeded without any further issues. I then restored his Word, Excel, and other files from the CD I’d burned and configured Firefox as it had been on my father’s XP system.

The problems started when I checked that YouTube videos would play okay on the system and Firefox reported I needed a new version of the Flash plugin. After some research, I was able to modify the package system configuration to include the packages in the “metaverse,” which includes Adobe’s flash plugin. While I did also find an open-source flash plugin, I decided to start with the Adobe version. After more reading, I issued the following command:

sudo apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree

to download and install the plugin. This failed repeatably with an md5 checksum error. Yet more reading led me to the developer forums where I learned this is a known problem that is currently being worked. Pending integration of the fix into Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, I now know I can fix this by manually downloading the latest package from Adobe and installing it, like so:

sudo apt-get remove --purge flashplugin-nonfree
tar -xzvf install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz
cd install_flash_player_9_linux/

None of this is particularly difficult for a person with UNIX background–it just takes time to figure everything out. And it is definitely the case that by giving my father a Ubuntu-based system I am signing up to be the sole administrator for this system with no hope of anyone else helping him. But that’s essentially the situation now and when I ask myself whether I want to continue having to deal with Windows problems, especially with Vista now rearing its ponderous head, or whether I’d prefer to spend my time learning more about how Linux administration works, the choice isn’t really a difficult one.

So now the real question is whether my father will be happy with Ubuntu as his desktop user experience. I’ll deliver the system to him next week and report back on how that goes.

19 Billion Catalogs

December 21, 2007

Approximately 19 billion catalogs are mailed to US consumers every year. If you are like my family, we don’t need or want most of them. And you are probably appalled to hear that printing those 19 billion catalogs uses 53 million trees and requires about 38 billion BTUs to turn those trees into 3.6 million tons of paper. And let’s not forget the 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide produced by all of this. And then there are all those nasty colored inks…

Finally, there is a way to opt-out. Catalog Choice is a free service that lets you decline paper catalogs you no longer wish to receive. This effort is a sponsored project of the Ecology Center and it is endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So far, members have declined almost four million catalogs. We’ve opted out of 25 catalogs so far and I’m looking forward to trimming the list even further.

Apple Release Fix for Leopard Keyboard Problem

December 18, 2007

Apple has just released a fix for the intermittent keyboard freeze problem I and many others have been seeing after upgrading to Leopard. In their words:

This update addresses a responsiveness issue on MacBook and MacBook Pro notebook computers. Some MacBook and MacBook Pro systems may occasionally experience a temporary suspension of keyboard input which can last a minute or longer. The Mac OS X 10.5.1 update is required before installing the MacBook, MacBook Pro Software Update 1.1.

EPHAM 2008: Call For Papers

December 12, 2007

Call for Papers – EPHAM 2008

Workshop on Exploiting Parallelism with Transactional Memory and other Hardware Assisted Methods
to be held in conjunction with CGO 2008 April 6, 2008, Boston, MA

EPHAM 2008 will provide a forum for compiler and processor architecture researchers to exchange ideas for leveraging hardware assistance to break down traditional barriers to exploiting parallelism. The workshop will focus on compilation techniques for exploiting parallelism in emerging multi-core and multi-threaded architectures with a particular focus on the use of transactional memory to overcome traditional barriers to parallelization. Current trends in micro-processor architecture clearly point to a tapering off of clock frequencies, and a shift toward supporting many cores and threads. This change makes the compiler’s task of extracting and exploiting parallelism in applications even more important. Recognizing various difficulties in parallelization, implementations are emerging that attempt to provide various forms of hardware assist for the same. One of these techniques, transactional memory, has drawn significant interest in both industry and academia. Transactional memory will be a focus, but other techniques to solve this problem are also of interest. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to the following.

  • Novel optimizations using transactional memory
  • Speculative parallelization and other speculative methods
  • Ideas for implementing transactional memory in hardware or software
  • Hybrid techniques for designing and using transactional memory
  • Language constructs to enable programming with transactional memory
  • Run-time techniques to overcome memory aliasing using transactional memory
  • New ideas for transaction failure control and avoidance
  • Debugging programs that exploit transactional memory
  • Performance analysis and tools related to transactional parallelization
  • Other hardware-assisted methods for extracting and exploiting parallelism

Important Dates

  • Extended abstract due: Monday, January 28, 2008
  • Acceptance Notification: Monday, February 18, 2008
  • Final version due: Monday, March 3, 2008

Submission Guidelines

Extended abstracts of 6-10 pages may be submitted using any format. The abstract should clearly state the problem being studied, the methods used, and the results. If the results are preliminary, the authors should state their expectation for the final results. To submit, please send a pdf of your submission to Final submissions should use the standard ACM conference format (two columns with 9 pt Times Roman font, etc.).

More Information

Questions? Send e-mail to: ephami @

Ripping Apart an Apple

December 6, 2007

[josh rips an apple in two]

Perhaps it was my frustration with Apple’s Leopard OS that drove me. Whatever the reason, I was finally able to rip an apple apart with my bare hands last night–a feat my sister-in-law demonstrated to me two years ago.

Apple Success Disaster?

December 3, 2007

I’ve been accused of being an Apple fanboy and that may be true to some degree, but even this fanboy’s patience is being tried by Leopard, Apple’s newest OS release.

Ever since upgrading, my MBP’s keyboard freezes for 10 seconds or so every few minutes until I either sleep and wake the system or reboot it. Sometimes I don’t have the problem for days and then it descends on me again, making the system unusable. Every day more people contribute to this Apple Discussions thread about the problem. Some say Apple is aware of the issue and that a fix is coming soon. Many are getting very, very frustrated.

Time Machine is also having problems, though thankfully it has worked for me without issues so far. After having used Leopard for awhile, my colleague Eric erased his pre-Leopard disk backup and switched to Time Machine. Which then failed to back up his disk, leaving him without a viable backup of his system. When we last talked, he was going to use Carbon Copy Cloner or an equivalent to do an interim backup, but he had run into Leopard compatibility problems with at least one of these tools. This Time Machine problem is apparently also affecting many people, though I don’t have a Discussions link for you.

And then there is X11, which I need to run OpenOffice, the GIMP, and Inkscape. To say Apple’s transition to the Xorg X server has been less than smooth would be an understatement. I’ve had to download and install an unofficial version of X11 to work around some of the problems and get the above applications running again.

Another small issue: /usr/bin/emacs was broken on my system after I did an in-place upgrade to Leopard. After some poking, I found that the Leopard installer had left the Tiger version of the emacs executable on my system. Luckily, emacs can be rebuilt in place with a simple command and that fixed the problem. Go here for how to fix this problem.

And then there is the fact that I can’t run SecondLife on my machine without starting the program using the OpenGL Profiler utility that ships with Xcode. Failing to do this can wedge your machine so badly that one’s only recourse is to power-cycle the system. This is apparently a graphics driver problem and isn’t Leopard specific, but I tripped over this at about the same time all the rest of this nonsense was happening and it has contributed to my annoyance with Apple. For details on the SL problem and its workaround, check here.

This morning Google Earth died mysteriously on startup and found I needed to install a new Leopard version. Thankfully, one is now available.

Apple usually fixes some significant issues in a dot release soon after their initial major release. Unfortunately, 10.5.1 did not fix any of these problems.