Another Blog

Mostly about computers, generally Linux-related

A coward, that’s what I am!

Yes, it’s true… and here’s why. A while ago I saw NixOS on Reddit and I’ve been eager to try it ever since. Various things got in the way and I’ve just discovered that I’m a goddamn coward.

But first: a little about NixOS, from someone who hasn’t used it much, only read a little about it: NixOS is a Linux distribution centered on the Nix package manager. It’s closer to functional programming in a way which I (hope I) largely understand, but with which I will not bore you. The novelty is that packages are specified in a complete and unique manner (Firefox with FTP support is different from Firefox without FTP support), so that you’ll never run into a problem such as emerge failing because, even though you have program X, it’s not compiled with feature Y.

Furthermore, if you screw up your configuration (and who doesn’t), NixOS “remembers” your previous configs and shows them in Grub. You can boot into a previous kernel or a previous configuration alltogether. And a nice thing (which I am completely new to, hence I will just mention it) is that Nix (the package manager) can handle both source and binaries transparently. If it’s the way I understand it, the difference between mozilla-firefox and mozilla-firefox-bin won’t be the name, but whether you use a binary “channel” or not.

Finally, along with trying NixOS (which, by God, I will. I will get myself out of this numbness), I want to go x64. Numerous people (OK, two, but two I trust, not just strangers :) ) have suggested that there is a visible speed difference. I have not tried this before for fear of incompatible software.

Previously I was never afraid to potentially trash my whole computer and try a new distro, or even a new OS. Now I’ve been finding excuses for months. Among the most popular ones, which I invoke to myself daily:

  • I don’t have the time. Well, right now I’m not going to school, only taking the occasional exam. Even though exams have been far from simple (darn electronics), I should have made time to install NixOS.
  • I’ve installed it in VMWare, so I can play with it whenever I want. That is so damn far from the truth. The VM is just rotting away somewhere and the whole fun of being stranded without X or network access has been taken away from me.
  • I’m lurking their list and everything there is way beyond me. That may be true, but how the hell else would I find out more if I don’t use it?
  • They don’t have an out-of-the-box solution for PPPoE. I can help them test one, but no, I’m too much of a coward.
  • NixOS uses a very non-standard way to configure (basically, there’s a single configuration file, all the /etc/* things are built from it) and I’m afraid I’ll lose the little skill I have. But on the other hand, being able to handle myself in Linux isn’t about knowing where various config files are, it’s about being able to find information (usually on the Internet).
  • NixOS doesn’t have a lot of packages. Between compiling manually and (eventually) writing my own Nix expressions, this is a very stupid excuse.
  • I’ll ruin my homework-writing environment. This is no longer true, since I won’t have any more homework until October (OK, so I’ll be doing an internship with Freescale in the summer [very, very excited about that], but hopefully I won’t “bring my work home with me”).
  • I’ll miss Gentoo. This is also marginally true, but there’s nothing stopping me from contributing code to make NixOS tools better (I’m not saying they’re bad, I’ve only used them a few times).
  • I want to read the papers on the site first. This one is actually valid, because there are many things I still don’t get about the distro. But, again, reading a PDF can also be done in NixOS.

Now, NixOS has XMonad and other tools I use daily (I haven’t checked MPD, but that’s not really a life-or-death issue), so moving will be smooth — if only I can give myself the initial kick in the nuts.

I was going to rant about school, but I’ll probably do this in a different post — one post, one topic.

June 26, 2008 Posted by | linux, personal | , | 1 Comment

Rise of Cormyr (Not Without Its Problems)

I long kept silent, but not because life has been uneventful. A few separate posts will describe the past events, because I don’t like long reads.

I bought a laptop, a Dell Inspiron 1520, whose exact specs I am too lazy to post. It’s a Core 2 Duo at 2.2 GHz, 2 GiB of RAM and 120 GB hard drive. It’s quite similar to my desktop machine in this respect. Choosing a name was a bit difficult, and I eventually came up with Cormyr, just because I like how that sounds. Explaining to people why I called it that and what it originally is has led to many weird looks, but that I expected. What I did not expect is everything else.

I installed Windows XP on cormyr, which worked wonders. Half a day of installing drivers and everything was… well… Windows. After a largely uneventful Gentoo install, I realised that Windows had pretty much locked itself out of the bootloader: it had created a very strange partitioning scheme (on a nearly pristine drive at that time, so no whining about fdisk having done it). Cue reinstall, with Gentoo being the first OS I installed, along with a hopefully sane partition scheme. It was then that I also decided to drop the Dell Media Direct partition, which wasn’t working properly.

Gentoo was again fun, with ACPI tricks from both the official website and the Gentoo Wiki, and a short Haskell program I wrote to feed sensors and battery data into dzen2, for use with xmonad. The widescreen is really a pleasure when coding, along with xmonad’s ThreeCol layout. But horrors — between my being a newbie and incomplete support for my wireless card, I couldn’t get wireless to work (more on that in the next post). I tried without any success for almost a week, then decided to install XP beside Gentoo; surprise, the machine won’t boot off the XP CD.

With great angst I reached for Vista, which not only works pretty fine for a Windows (but is completely retarded UI-wise), but also saw almost all my hardware properly. This time around, driver installation took less than an hour and I could finally have my wireless. I am typing this on Cormyr, while in bed.

Bottom line, if anyone is looking for an opinion on Dell, I say go for it! Most of the problems I had were software related. The build is strong, both on the outside and intimately. Though a bit on the heavy side, the looks are to my liking: not exotic, but finely cut. The keyboard is absolutely awesome, and I’ve even learnt how to use a touchpad; I rarely connect the mouse.

A special praise to the 9-cell battery: although I first thought the thing sticking out the back of my laptop was hideous, it’s truly a blessing. After two hours of light Java coding this morning, statistics under Gentoo (a minimal build, I admit), showed 67% of the battery. The same stats go as high as 7 hours with a full battery, and compiling TeTeX and dependencies left the battery a whopping 80% full.

Bottom line, I’m happy with cormyr, a bit frustrated with Linux for not having drivers for my wireless card, but Vista usually means wireless, which means SSH into a Linux shell if need be.

Note: I realise this is not a comprehensive review, nor is it intended to be.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | linux, personal, vista | Leave a comment