Slashdot 10th Anniversary Party

On Friday night, I attended the Slashdot 10th anniversary party. Well, I attended the one in Dallas, anyway. There were others all over the world. It was a fairly uneventful event. For reasons known only to himself, the organizer chose to have it in a small, noisy bar despite many suggestions of better (i.e. bigger, quieter) alternatives. So for about an hour and half 20 to 30 geeks shared a cramped space and engaged in conversations that went something like:

“Hi, is this the Slashdot party?”
“What?”
“IS THIS THE SLASHDOT PARTY?”
“Yes”
“What?”
“YES!”

Most people either shouted into the ear of the person immediately next to them or just gave up on conversation as not worth the effort and sat around staring at each other and waited for the organizer, who had the free T-Shirts. He eventually showed up shortly before the event was scheduled to end and passed out the shirts. A lot of people had given up and left already, so there were plenty to go around.

At a couple of points, the loud music stopped long enough to have some quick conversations and I learned that: 1) I was the only one there who ran Linux on my workstation or laptop 2) most people I talked to ran CentOS Linux on their servers 3) Everyone I talked to had tried Ubunutu and hated it 4) In every case where I could get specifics about what they hated, it turned out to be something I do on Fedora all the time (I’m pretty sure most of what they wanted to do could be done easily on Ubuntu as well, so I don’t know why they were having troubles) and 5) I was the only person there who actually wrote code for Free Software or Open Source projects.

Once I got my free T-Shirt, I headed home. It was too dark to snap a photo inside with my phone (no flash) so I shot one of the exterior of the Inwood Theater. The dark, noisy bar is attached to the theater’s lobby.

I haven’t forgotten the Austin Makers Faire. Full account coming soon. Stay tuned.

Fedora 7 on my Dell Laptop

I updated my Dell Inspiron 8600 to Fedora 7. I debated about switching to Ubuntu this time around but a number of developments made me stick with Fedora. One particular issue for me is my laptop’s nVidia card. Ubuntu appears to be using proprietary nVidia drivers while Fedora is strongly supporting free drivers like nv and nouveau. Unfortunately nv was rather buggy and very slow on Fedora Core 5. It frequently crashed. It didn’t support any 3D acceleration. The best glxgears rate I ever got with it was 130 fps. The good news is that with the new version of nv and X.Org on Fedora 7, nv is completely stable so far. Even though there is still no 3D acceleration support, performance is twice what it was on Fedora Core 5. Glxgears reports over 300 fps and everything seems significantly faster. I don’t know if this is due to nv or X.Org improvements. Better still, the Fedora folks are working to get the nouveau driver in as soon as possible, which will bring free, 3D acceleration for nVidia hardware.

The install went smoothly and everything worked right out of the box; even things that required a lot of custom setup in the previous version like sound, 1920×1200 LCD resolution, and WiFi. Even suspend works. The only customization I needed was to turn on NetworkManager.

Which leads me to my one gripe so far. With both WiFi and Ethernet, odds are good that only one will be able to connect at startup. For some reason Fedora considers this a startup error and switches out of the nice GUI startup mode into the old-timey text-mode startup about half through the bootup. If it’s plugged into Ethernet, the WiFi usually isn’t needed and doesn’t connect. Fedora thinks this is an error. If I’m using WiFi, the Ethernet cable usually isn’t plugged in. Fedora sees this as an error too. Why not just assume that neither is an error condtion, stay in GUI mode, and let NetworkManager sort out which network connection to use after everything is loaded?

Anyway, I’m very happy with Fedora 7 on my laptop overall.

Random Free Software Stuff

Subversion

One of my longer term ToDo items made it to the top of the list this week. I’ve been setting up a Subversion repository for the Dallas Personal Robotics Group. The DPRG has a number of programming projects in various stages of completion ranging from working code to idle talk. Having a repository like Subversion will make project development easier, particularly for projects with multiple programmers. All projects hosted in the new Subversion repository will be Free Software and/or Open Source.

I used Subversion v1.3.2 for the initial setup. ViewVC v1.0.3 was added to provide a web-based interface to the repository. Last, I added Highlight v2.4 to provide some nice code highlighting for the ViewVC code browser. Everything is running on a CentOS Enterprise Linux box that also hosts the DPRG website.

At this point, everything seems to be working but I still need to customize the ViewVC templates to tie the look-and-feel in with the main DPRG site.

In addition to DPRG projects, I’m going to keep the mod_virgule codebase there too. Mod_virgule is the code used on robots.net and Advogato. Getting mod_virgule into Subversion was a good learning experience. I used the trunk, branches, tags layout recommended by the GPL’d O’Reilly Book, Version Control with Subversion. I used the last 2004 release of Raph’s codebase, version 1.41 as the initial commit. I created a separate branch for Raph’s code and also tagged it as release 1.41. Then for each of my releases since 2004, I committed them and tagged them as a release.

Ubuntu and Proprietary Drivers

Seems like everyone has been talking about Ubuntu’s decision to start including proprietary graphics drivers in the Distro to support flashier eye candy on the desktop. There’s been a lot of discussion and some flame wars over the issue. Rather than joining in flame wars, how about an an alternative? Why not put that energy into making sure there are free drivers for ATI and nVidia?

There are currently free ATI drivers with DRI support for 3D acceleration. Maybe someone could find out why the free driver is not suitable for the Ubuntu folks? Not fast enough? Missing a critical feature? Maybe it can be improved enough that the Ubuntu developers would reconsider their decision.

The free nVidia driver doesn’t support DRI so there is no free alternative yet for nVidia cards. The nouveau project is working on the problem. They’re making fast progress but they could use your help. They’ve developed a tool called called REnouveau to assist with reverse engineering the nVidia hardware without violating the license on the proprietary driver. If you have an nVidia card, you can help by downloading the proprietary driver and using this tool to generate dumps of test data for your card.

For a few more ideas on how you can improve Free Software support for 3D accelerated graphic cards in general, visit the Free 3D wiki.