Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

Visitor stats for WordPress

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Sat, Apr 7, 2007 at 10:59 IST (last updated: Thu, Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:46 IST)

I've just found a visitor stats plugin for WordPress. It's called Quick Stats and it can be found here. It shows fairly up-to-date statistics and it appears to be quite light-weight as well. I thought I would share it here because it's quite a handy, easy-to-install stats tool for those who don't have Cpanel or Awstats installed on their server.

Although it's not extremely detailed and doesn't show pretty graphs or track history, it's quite adequate for people who just want to know where their visitors are coming from on a day-to-day basis as technorati or google are not always up-to-date with backlinks.
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Stand up and cheer

Filed under: Humour and Nonsense by Hari
Posted on Mon, Apr 2, 2007 at 16:27 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 @ 08:06 IST)

In case you don't know what you're cheering for, this blog has completed all of 200 lovely, wonderful, thoughtful, mind-improving, well-conceived, delightful, entertaining, brilliantly executed and produced entries embossed and wrapped in lovely XHTML 1.0 (as prescribed by W3C). Please stand up, applaud your champion of justice, your Creator, your mentor, your friend, your teacher, your guide, your conscience, your daily news bulletin, your hero and your unquestionable source of envy.

Your awards and testimonials speak for themselves. Papa Hari thanks you for the kind words. Here are a few of them as received by Papa Hari. First, the awards

Awarded the Best Blog of the year for three successive years in every single category available, by the Papa Hari Foundation for the Promotion of Papa Hari's Fame and Fortune. (PHFPPHFF)!

Awarded the Best Blogger of the Century by the same Foundation.

Also awarded the Best Blogger within a radius of 50,000mm of his own house.

And now, the testimonials:
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Linux ATMs in rural India

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Fri, Mar 30, 2007 at 08:02 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:44 IST)

I read a piece of news yesterday in my local newspaper about Linux-based ATMs which might soon become a reality in rural India (I am unable to find any online source for this news). With Linux-based ATMs being much cheaper than traditional ATMs using proprietary software, I can see how this can help banks gain a competitive advantage by being able to serve a larger number of customers at a lower cost. The cost-benefit advantage is *huge* when you consider the scales of population involved and equally, the benefits for the people are enormous. It also shows that there is still a large, untapped market in rural areas for such technological amenities. I do wish there would be more coverage of such news in the mainstream media - it might help convince those who continue to believe that Linux is merely a competitor to Microsoft on the destkop and doesn't have any utility beyond that. I think the West particularly isn't able to appreciate that the real action for Linux is in the so-called third-world countries looking to modernize technology as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.

The real power of Linux is seen not by elite desktop or power users sitting in their air-conditioned homes or offices, but by organizations looking for cost advantage and competitiveness for commercial and community projects like this. And this is how Linux helps in truly empowering people - by providing freely available technology that is truly inexpensive and accessible by all.
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Air Deccan's pettiness hits a new low

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Wed, Mar 21, 2007 at 12:08 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:44 IST)

Air Deccan is supposed to be India's first low-cost airlines. But surely their already sagging reputation will take a nose-dive with this latest episode exposing the level to which they stoop to save a few bucks. It's absolutely disgusting even by Air Deccan standards.

See this, this and this for more information.

I have first-hand experience of the pettiness of Air Deccan once and I have absolutely no respect for this so-called "low-cost" airlines and no hesitation in accepting the authenticity of the CNN-IBN report. Their stinginess has to be experienced to be believed. Their insensitivity to passenger needs is an institution by itself and their penny-pinching ways are too well known to the public for their denials to sound credible and genuine.

What they should learn is that low cost does NOT mean low quality. Low cost does not mean being behind schedule almost all the time. Low cost does not mean making passengers pay more for carrying even 0.001 kg of extra baggage. Low cost does not mean having a repulsive, customer-unfriendly attitude and poorly trained staff. And low cost certainly does not mean taking the public for a ride by bending the rules to suit their business.

I think there's a case for taking this airline to the cleaners in a Consumer court. Punishment should be severe and harsh for this errant airline.

It seems that the management at Air Deccan have no idea about this concept called "corporate branding". Their image will now sink even further below zero, if it hasn't already.
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Geeky and Meeky 3 - getting Gentoo

Filed under: Geeky and Meeky comic by Hari
Posted on Wed, Mar 21, 2007 at 09:54 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:25 IST)

My third Geeky and Meeky cartoon. It's entitled getting Gentoo. :)

Geeky and Meeky - getting Gentoo
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Kernel re-compiling in Linux - general tips

Filed under: Tutorials and HOWTOs by Hari
Posted on Tue, Mar 20, 2007 at 22:11 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 21:52 IST)

A lot of people new to Linux would have got the impression that every Linux user should learn how to recompile the Linux kernel to configure it to their needs. I've also noticed that a lot of Linux users tend to think that having the latest kernel is always a good thing.

Before you decide to get yourself a custom compiled kernel, you need to know why you need one in the first place. Here are some of the situations I can think of which might warrant a kernel reconfiguration and recompilation. Before you proceed with a kernel recompile, be absolutely sure of the process and then understand what exactly you're looking for in a new kernel.

This article is mainly targetted at fairly experienced Linux users who know the basics of building a new kernel, but don't know exactly what situations warrant a kernel recompile and how to approach the problem of building a kernel configuration that is fairly reliable.

The whens and the whys

Here are some of the situations I can think of for compiling a custom configured kernel.
  1. Your computer has a specific piece of hardware that's not supported by the default kernel which ships with your distribution. And you are sure that the Linux kernel does provide a driver module for it.
  2. Your kernel needs to support a strange hardware setup where the default kernel just doesn't work.
  3. You have special performance requirements or you need a specific flag set on your kernel for a particular purpose.
  4. You want to do it purely as a learning exercise. In which case, you'd best conduct the experiment in a non-critical box.
The trickiest part about compiling a custom kernel is knowing your hardware properly down to the chipset level. This is very critical because otherwise you'll be groping in the dark when choosing options in the make menuconfig (or the make xconfig) stage. You will definitely have to do some research on the web to find out the exact chipsets used by your hardware. Just knowing the model number or brand name is not enough. Lots of hardware models with different manufacturers tend to share the same chipsets.

What you should look out for

Even after this, there are some vital steps to building a working kernel. In most cases I'd advice building a kernel from an already existing kernel configuration provided by your distribution rather than using a vanilla kernel configuration provided by a kernel downloaded direct from kernel.org. That way you ensure that the customized kernel closely resembles the default kernel provided by your distribution along with the changes you need.

Before you begin, then, take stock of the following:
  1. A list of your hardware chipset models. This will greatly reduce guesswork on your part and you can avoid compiling unnecessary drivers.
  2. A list of your own requirements - for instance, video for Linux, MIDI support, OSS emulation for ALSA, support for special USB devices, support for large memory systems, support for RAID and so on.
  3. A list of must-have configuration settings. A typical example might be ACPI options. Or essential file system drivers. Or drivers for the hard disk controller chipset (which greatly improves DMA performance).
In case you decide to compile a fresh kernel from the vanilla setup, you need to make sure that:
  1. You have an existing kernel to fall back to, in case the new kernel you're building fails to boot properly. This is very important unless you don't mind the possibility of ending up with an unbootable machine.
  2. You go through each and every option in the "make xconfig" stage and double-check and triple-check it before running the compilation. I know this is a pain, but on more than one occasion I've been caught out by not checking every single option out there. It is time consuming and painful, but you also learn a lot this way.
  3. Most of the hardware drivers you've chosen are built as modules (M) rather than being compiled into the kernel itself. For some reason or the other I've found that modules are just better - autodetection of hardware is much more reliable this way.
  4. You keep a backup of the last working kernel configuration file after you find that you can successfully boot into Linux using the new kernel.
  5. Last but by no means least - make sure that the drivers for the filesystem you use on your Linux partition are compiled directly into your kernel (and not as modules) unless you rely on initrd. Otherwise your shiny new kernel will throw up a panic message and freeze the system while booting.

Working kernel - what next?

After you got a working custom kernel, you need to make sure that everything works as expected. Check for the following:
  1. Boot up time - if the booting time is significantly different from your older kernel, you should probably look closely at some of the startup messages.
  2. Unusual CPU usage - if you're experiencing a high CPU usage while "idling" the system, you might be missing some essential video drivers or hard disk drivers. You might be using some generic driver which utilizes the CPU more.
  3. The boot up process messages. dmesg can give some clues here. You should look for anything unusual or any error messages thrown up by the new kernel while booting up.
  4. Loaded kernel modules. This will give you a clue whether your hardware has been detected properly and the required drivers have been loaded correctly as modules. This will also let you know whether you've enable module dependency checking in the kernel.
  5. Broken drivers from a previous kernel setup. This can happen with the proprietary ATi or nVidia video drivers. In most cases, simply reinstalling the proprietary driver will fix the issue.
Even if everything looks fine at first, you should still keep your older kernel around for a while just to ensure that the setup is 100% correct and that the system is stable under all conditions.

Newer kernels?

My personal experience is that newer minor kernel versions do not offer anything significantly better in terms of performance or hardware support. This is particularly the case if you have an older machine. In most cases, you're better off using the stock kernel provided with your distribution unless you're 100% sure there's a new feature you absolutely need. Most desktop users will not need a new or custom compiled kernel.

However, over a period of time, once you're fairly familiar with your machine's setup and you really want to squeeze the maximum performance and hardware support from your Linux box, you can think about building a custom compiled version. In that case you'll have the advantage of knowing exactly what configuration you need - based on experience. For instance, on my own desktop machine, I'm very confident of the hardware setup because it was a hand-assembled machine. On the other hand, I'm still not 100% sure of the hardware chipsets on my laptop and therefore am less confident about building a custom kernel that meets its requirements.

Kernel configuration is easy to learn, but difficult to master. The limiting factor will be the lack of knowledge of hardware and system specifications rather than the process itself. So if something does work the first time, keep it.

With most Linux distributions providing a solid, working and reliable kernel setup 90% of the time, custom kernel compiling should be best left for the time when it's absolutely required.
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