Logikal Blog

Thoughts and words from Roland Hughes

March 26, 2015

First Look at Chakra RoboLinux and Linux-Lite

The search for a Linux distro where BOINC and the NVidia drivers allow access to all 384 CUDA cores without causing the infamous “NVidia Crash” has lead me to discover a new KDE based distro called Chakra. This is a fork from Arch. It’s a rather unique concept, if, they can pull it off.

Stable core, bleeding edge apps.

It appears to be the inverse of most other distros which continually pump out new kernels which cause previously installed packages to burst into flame or the kernel itself doesn’t run without a lot of tweaking. In short, they have opted to stick with a fully functioning kernel hurling out individual package updates which may burst into flame but at least the system shouldn’t crash.

For those of you who don’t know what the infamous “NVidia Crash” is, you will see it manifest in one of two ways.

  1. The mouse will move all over the screen but not actually do anything with a click. SSH into the box and terminal commands will run just fine. Just the GUI is dead.
  2. After leaving BOINC run overnight with some project capable of using GPU you will be greeted by power saved monitors and the three indicator lights of your keyboard turning on then off in sequence as if they are trying to simulate a Cylon eye.

If you have headphones or speakers plugged in you can sometimes get an audible warning bad things are about to happen. There will be a noticeable clicking type sound which happens a little faster than a Huey helicopter sound but definitely slower than “power drifted into the cable in the cooling fan” sound.

At any rate, I bought that video card to better participate in BOINC. Actually I purchased 3 different NVidia video cards with 384 CUDA each. Two of the are 16 with 1G of RAM and one is an 8 with 2G of RAM. I keep my pair of “spare” machines healthy by letting them run BOINC 24×7. When I need one of them for a client project I swap the drive out do the client project, then replace the drive. (My client projects aren’t “just a few minutes” we are talking months at a time and sometimes I leave the machines on site during that time.)

Finding your machine hosed up each morning is most annoying. Having your machine grind to a crawl then lock up while you are editing source is way beyond annoying.

Yes, I trimmed the RAM in both “spare” machines and installed 32-bit versions of Mint on them. Yes, they run fine for days on end. Yes, this appears to be yet another of the many times the Ubuntu crowd didn’t bother to test 64-bit stuff before releasing it. This is obviously a resource leak. It gets worse over time. Given the projects I participate in, the longest time it seems to last is roughly 18 hours. My main machine has 24Gig of RAM and I want all of it. I don’t want to leave 20Gig sitting on a shelf just so I can let BOINC run. More importantly, I shouldn’t have to.

So, I ordered 3 DVDs to try, all 64-bit. Chakra, RoboLinux, and Linux-Lite. In truth, I ordered Linux-Lite because they had a cool looking graphic for the desktop. It is YAU (Yet Another Ubuntu) and I’m positive the bug follows the distro.

Let’s start with the worst.

RoboLinux refused to install. When I booted it the first time I mistakenly chose the install option instead of live. This brings up what almost reminds me of 1980s software. It got as far as “loading partitioning software” or something like that then seemed to hang. I went and had breakfast. It was still stuck there when I got back. Stupidly assuming the graphical installer will be better I rebooted via reset button and launched the live version. Didn’t see an obvious “install RoboLinux now” option. Guess I didn’t care. It couldn’t find my second monitor.

Linux-Lite gave me high hopes given the wonderful feather screen shown on the site. Those hopes were flushed down the toilet when I changed the live settings from duplicating content on both monitors to left and right orientation. Great sadness then ensued.  The desktop is based on XFCE.

I swear, every developer working on XFCE has only one monitor. They have to. There is no way anyone could want the primary monitor forced to be the one on the left otherwise. I’m like most users I’ve seen who have two monitors. The one on the left is my “spare.” It is where I keep reference stuff open. The one directly in front of me (but to the right of the other monitor) is my primary. I have even worked with a small number of developers who get those flex arm monitor mounts so they can visually stack monitors above one another. Your two 26″ wide screens then become more like a really large version of old style monitors then.

Yes I did install Linux-Lite, but, I have yet to boot it. I can tell you the Grub menu is pretty ugly looking. Sadly, it is the last one I tested so it is still occupying my SSD and the other “test” install of Mint17 Cinnamon is on an actual hard drive.

Chakra is the one I tested first. It is based on Arch Linux. It looks beautiful. The default graphics driver made my displays look even higher end. There Grub menu is graphical and pretty. It is the first Grub menu I’ve ever encountered which remembers which OS you chose last time. It is a “pure KDE” distro. The default repositories don’t have any GTK software. There is an EXTRA repository you can enable during the install which contains GTK based stuff.

Thankfully, they inform you early on that the installer is rough. They have plans to completely replace it but are busy working on other things. It is a very pretty installer though. The rough refers to functionality, not looks. It took me three times to get it installed. Since they were up front about the issues I was willing to put in the time.

The first failure came because I had deleted everything off the SSD. Most installers will happily identify an empty disk, partition it the way they want, and move on. This installer needed me to click the drive, then click a button to bring up a partition editor. It was also really slow at identifying the changes once I was done with the partition editor. I’m not going to ding it too harshly on the speed issue. I had forgotten to turn off a 1G USB drive in a Simple enclosure. I copy stuff there to have a second copy when doing stuff like installs. Any time anything tries to get drive information from it the thing takes forever to respond. Problem is the enclosure because the drive which is in the thing came out of this very machine two years ago. It was fast enough for a primary drive, just had a few years of use on it and was “small” compared to what I have now. My “solution” has been simple, I don’t use the Simple enclosure drive unless I have to. It is powered off otherwise.

At any rate, the installation got to where it said it was installing Grub then it just kind of hung. After some time I rebooted the live disk and went to the Chakra forum. The instructions I found in a forum post on how to manually repair Grub from the live disk didn’t work. (Despite everything I don’t like about YAU distros, having access to that grub-repair package in a PPA is a big bonus.)

So, I ran the installation again. This time I had the external drives turned off and I had the SSD partitioned the way I wanted it. The really nice part about most KDE installers is they give you a screen to choose all of your mount points for existing partitions. I cannot begin to condone the way Gnome does it. Installation proceeded without a hitch.

I cannot tell you how beautiful this distro looks. Whatever they wrote for a default graphics driver really ups the game of cheap display hardware. I don’t think I even minded using reKonq or whatever the browser was.

Sadly, pure KDE means it installs Calligra for word processing. My personal opinion of Calligra is the thing is a train wreck which was hit by a plane crash. If you are reading this blog, you can see the books on the side. If you have ever followed the links you will realize I’ve put out quite a few books. I do all of the layout, not just the writing. All but one of those books has been written with either OpenOffice (before it was consumed by Oracle) or, more recently LibreOffice. I cannot write a simple business letter with Calligra. There is no way in Hell I would consider trying to use it for a book.

Thankfully LibreOffice is in the repositories. I was even more thankful no email client was installed by default. KMail used to be the standard, now it is mostly dysfunctional. Yes, Evolution used to be the gold standard, but it has become so tightly coupled with certain flavors/features of Gnome that most have abandoned it.

After jumping through a lot of hoops and building from scratch what was in the CCR, it became obvious only the BOINC server was available on the platform. The BOINC manager which lets you subscribe to projects, etc. has not been ported.

I was really disappointed. This is a recent fork though. It is a complete fork from Arch. They have their own repos. This isn’t like the YAU crowd where you keep getting directed back to the Ubuntu repos. For those of you who don’t want to run BOINC, it has enough and looks beautiful. It will be very interesting to see how far they’ve gotten in a year.

March 25, 2015

The Locals Only Scam

If you work in IT, even if you aren’t currently looking for a new gig, you get email spam about openings (both contract and FTE.) Many of them will even be for work using products you’ve never touched. You’ve probably noticed the new scam. Most of this spam has either in the subject or the first paragraph of the message “Locals Only.” Do you know why it is there?

They want to pay dramatically below market rate.

It’s true.

I have had many posts on this over the years. At first a good many companies tried to take issue with the formula I use to calculate a minimum billing rate. Now it seems to be the formula traveling consultants are using. The bottom line is your first 40 hours has to cover an entire month in corporate housing. Now that corporate housing is at or well above $4K/month in most major locations that means bill rates must be north of $100/hr no matter what skill.

We aren’t talking about staying at a Hilton or higher. We aren’t talking about a penthouse suite. We are talking about month by month or 3 months then month by month regular old apartments and condos in decent establishments. You show up with your clothes and netbook. Everything else is there. Unpack and go get groceries.

The Great Recession with its associated massive foreclosure rate put a major squeeze on apartments. Builders weren’t building new apartment complexes or condos during the bottom, or even right now. Complexes in many markets have learned they can charge whatever they want, and, sadly, so have the corporate housing companies.

We contractors aren’t looking to “live like a king” while on the road, but we also will not stay in a crack house. You cannot survive at a hotel for projects longer than one month. Yes, when you are twenty-something you can push it to a bit over a month, but, some time after 30 it will begin to destroy you. The long hours and strange location really require being able to come back to the same place where you can cook your own meals in a real oven and do your own laundry while stretched out on the couch watching television. In short, a tiny bit of “normalcy.”

Over the past couple of years a great many consultants and consulting firms, possibly even some government agencies, have woken up and smelled the tea brewing. Those firms claiming to pay “market rate” have been getting taken to task over the fact their “market rate” won’t cover corporate housing. The new scam for companies looking to pay illegal alien wages is to put “locals only” in the posting.

Free advice. Learn how to set up kill filters with whatever email client you prefer. To avoid a lot of pain route messages containing any of the following phrases straight to the bit bucket.

locals only

local candidate only

local candidates only

only locals

only local candidates

need locals

Your life will improve dramatically.