Using external drives: ext3

Sunday, 5 August 2007

It is quite often that people who use GNU/Linux together with Windows are confronted with the problem of cross platform file system portability.

Traditionally, many experienced GNU/Linux users have encouraged others facing this problem to dedicate a FAT32 partition to moving files from Windows to Linux, and vice versa. That’s because files stored in FAT32 can be read from and written to by Linux and Windows alike.

While this may be an adequate solution for small drives, it has been increasingly the case in the last few years, that the sizes of files typically used have grown beyond the effectiveness of a FAT32 solution.

This may be attributed to several factors: faster computers, larger data storage devices and faster internet connections. For example, many people download or rip DVD movies, games and music, which even with compression techniques still make rather large files. And video-capture and editing may also easily create file sizes in excess of 4GiB. Whatever the reason, storing and manipulating large files has become very commonplace.

But therein lies the problem: FAT32 is ill equipped for efficiently handling a great multitude of files, or extremely large files for that matter. Particularly when performing a lot of file deletions and writing. It greatly fragments the drive and furthermore it has a 4GiB file size limit, so it would be better to have an alternative.

And that is why I recommend using ext3 instead. It offers full journaling capabilities when working in GNU/Linux, and any system capable of reading and writing ext2 will also be able to have full read/write access as well, although journaling will not be available when the drive is accessed in this manner. Nevertheless, it’s main attraction is that you never need to resort to defragmenting the drive, and it supports file sizes up to 2TiB.

For Windows, there is the excellent ext2 IFS for Windows project. This is what I am using right now, and it works just fine. There are some minor problems (e.g. I’ve had to change the partition type of my USB drive, see also the release notes), but on the whole I’d say it performs quite satisfactory.

And for the Mac, there’s the Mac OS X Ext2 Filesystem project, but to tell the truth I don’t know how well it works, as I do not own a Mac to try it with.

Thinking about trying Solaris …

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

When I was studying at the university, we used Solaris (up to version 8) on old Sun SPARC workstations. Oddly, at the time I thought CDE was quite a pleasant environment to work in. Though, due to the limited processing power -these were rather old systems- I was usually *forced* to use with WindowMaker instead. Since then, Sun have made Solaris available to x86 architectures and has started the OpenSolaris project.

So finally, I can try running Solaris on my own computer at normal speed. But I do have some doubts …

For example, I rely on a wireless interface to connect to the internet. While the OpenSolaris project are now developing some kind of auto-magic network managing daemon, it is still quite experimental and accordingly marked “Volatile”, which means it’s configuration can change drastically from the current version to the next.

And then there is the lack of software. The whole point of running an operating system at all, is that it enables you to use your hardware and software to be productive and watch porn. It is merely a means to an end. But when I search for Solaris x86 binaries for MPlayer, PAN or WINE, I find very little, or only SPARC binaries, or nothing at all. At least, nothing on the official websites.

There are, however, some third-party packages you can download from personal homepages. But frankly speaking, simply downloading unsigned packages from third-party websites is not something I prefer, for security reasons. That means I’ll probably need to compile these programs from source, which means reading all the README and INSTALL documentation provided with the source. It means a lot of work, and I don’t want a lot of work.

So does that mean I won’t try it? I’m still not sure. I admit I am very curious, but the lack of a desktop userbase as large as GNU/Linux’s also means you will not have nearly as much luck finding answers via search-engines. And *that* is a very, very big problem. For example: just enter “solaris ipod” in google, and then “linux ipod”, and compare the number of results. Solaris gets around 2.4 million results, whereas Linux gets over 97 million! (By the way, there is no out-of-the-box support for the ipod on Solaris. It apparently just mounts as an external disk, but software like rythmbox has no access to its database).

I’ll have to think about this…

Screenshot to illustrate fonts

Friday, 6 July 2007

In order to illustrate how good you can make Microsoft fonts look on a GNU/Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu in this case, I have uploaded a screenshot of my desktop. See also my recent post on configuring Ubuntu to use Microsoft fonts, for an example of how you can achieve similar results. I should have uploaded it when I submitted that previous blog entry, but I forgot. So here you have it.

A screenshot

The myth that Macs are more expensive

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Yesterday I had an argument with my younger sister, about what kind of new computer my parents ought to buy. I was in favor of a Mac, but my sister (who ironically uses an e-Mac herself) protested quite vehemently.

She claimed that I was being selfish, that I was biased against ‘normal’ computers that run Windows. In short, she accused me of pushing my parents to get a Mac, because what I really wanted is to use it for myself. One of her main arguments for this ridiculous accusation: Macs are far more *expensive* than normal computers!

But then you begin to doubt yourself, and you start thinking: Could she be right? I thought that these days the prices of Macs and PCs where just about evenly matched, but now I wasn’t so sure anymore. I needed to be certain, so I decided to compare a Mac to a PC.

To make the comparison fair, I selected the kind of Mac that closely matches what other hardware vendors are selling: a laptop. I chose the Macbook, because it is probably the kind of Mac I am going to buy myself in a few months, when I begin studying biology. It is well built, very portable and relatively affordable. To represent the PC side of the comparison, I opted to compare it against a laptop from one of the largest online retailers: Dell. And the closest Dell laptop that matches all the hardware on the Macbook is arguably the Dell XPS M1210, with 12.1″ widescreen LCD.

I selected the 2.16Ghz white macbook with SuperDrive for this comparison. Then I upgraded the RAM to 2GB, which is what Dell would recommends for Vista if you are using a computer without dedicated graphics memory. And besides, you can never have enough RAM ;)

All other options remainded unchanged, so the total sum came to €1419,- which includes delivery.

That’s quite a sum of money, so if my sister is correct the Dell should be considerably cheaper. Fearing she may be right, I reluctantly opened the Dell hompage in my browser and set to work.

Well, I selected the same 120GB SATA harddrive (5400 rpm), the same 2GB 667Mhz DDR RAM, the same 2.16Ghz processor, about the same sort of screen with built in camera, the same wireless card, the same bluetooth, the same onboard Intel graphics. I also selected Windows Vista Ultimate, which I think is a fair decision since I am not getting any kind of lesser OS X version from Apple either. The warranty conditions are equally similar, although maybe a little better than Apple’s: one year international on-site.

Now can you gues what Dell asked me for all of this?

The Dell XPS M1210, configured as above, with delivery costs included, costs the following sum of money *drumroll* … €1881,85

Yes, that is a staggering €462,85 more than the Macbook! So even if I’d selected the normal version of Vista, that figure would still have been over three hundred Euros more. So it’s not even close, the Mac wins outright!

Now, I realise of course that the trick with Dell is to keep waiting untill they have a series of discounts on the model you want, like free memory upgrades and free shipping. But the difference I have calculated is so large, Dell would have to offer a discount of around 25%, just to make the prices equal! To be convincingly cheaper, that discount would have to be in excess of 30%. And that is a massive discount, even for Dell.

I realise that this is just one example, but I have performed a similar kind of calculation on the Mac Minis in the past. At the time, I found them to be very good value for money, for the kind of hardware you’re getting (slotloading DVD, powerful Intel CPU in a mini-itx formfactor).

So I think that the claim, that a Mac is more expensive than a PC of the same specification, is not true. Of course I haven’t gone through the whole collection of Macs you can buy, and I’ve conveniently left out PCs that are much cheaper due to having inferior components. But who in their right minds would advise their parents to buy inferior crap anyway?

I can’t wait to rub it in! >:-)

Free broadband internet!

Sunday, 1 April 2007

It seems is now freely distributing fiberoptic broadband connections. That means *you* can become your own ISP! This could be the next internet revolution! Just have a look right here: Google TiSP (BETA)
It includes everything you need, like a high speed fiber-optic cable. And it’s even vacuum-sealed, to prevent water damage. The vacuum-seal is probably also needed to keep the connection fresh, as I have found that stale and mouldy connections are a frequent problem with normal ISPs. It looks like Google have really thought this through.
I urge everyone to try it!

TIP: Opera browser and Flash (TM) on slow computers

Thursday, 22 March 2007

This tip is especially useful for people who surf the web on older hardware (e.g. 500Mhz PIII with 128MB RAM). For example, while editing a post on, I noticed extreme lag between my typing and the text appearing on the screen. Then I noticed one of those fancy-pants flash adds was running, wasting so much precious computing power that I could’t type normally.

The problem is that I do need flash to be able to run when I don’t care too much about the responsiveness of my old computer. For example, when I am *not* typing a reply to a linux question, but instead want to watch a funny flash animation.

So what I need is a way to disable flash only on certain sites, instead of disabling it completely. And this is (almost) what the Opera browser allows me to do: in opera, you can opt to disable *all* plug-ins for a specific site. The disadvantage of this is that you throw out the baby with the bath water: all the plugins that *don’t* cause problems are also disabled! But at least you can control this on a per-site basis, which still makes it a very useful feature, and this is how you access it:

First in the menubar, select “Tools” => “Preferences” => “Advanced” => “Content” => “Manage site preferences”
Then type the name of the site you want to disable flash for, and click on “Add”.
Enter the site’s URL, and click on the “Content” tab. There, you *deselect* the tick-box “Enable plug-ins” and click on “OK”.
Close all the dialogue windows and restart Opera.

And that’s all there is to it.

In the comments below, two quicker methods for achieving the same effect are discussed, as well as one alternative method that may be used when disabling the browser plug-ins is not an option (e.g. when the site contains non-flash multimedia that you want to play).

Various calculations on fuel

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Just watched a video on with some Americans complaining that the gasoline prices have risen to $2.55 per gallon. So here are some (fun) calculations, using google
There are about 3.8 liters per us gallon. So the price of gasoline in the USA is about $0.67 per liter. Here in the Netherlands, fuel costs €1.43 per liter at the moment. This is about $1.88. That means that we pay about 2.8 times as much! So things could be worse. But on the other hand, the average American car gets around 3 kilometers per liter, which is about 7 miles per gallon. While that’s a very small number of parsecs per gigaliter, it’s actually a rather immense number of Angstroms per hogshead. Nonetheless, it’s not quite enough to compensate the lower gasoline prices.

Ok, ok: I may have exaggerated that figure a teensy weensy ;)
But it’s a fact that on average, American cars do not do well, mileage wise. Therefor, I hope that the high fuel prices will make more Americans aware of the need to do as little damage to our planet as is necessary to maintain a comfortable way of life.