Older blog entries for etbe (starting at number 74)

Bonnie++ and Postal shirts

Dear lazyweb, I want to design T-Shirts for my Bonnie++ and Postal projects. But representing those projects in a picture seems more difficult than SE Linux (see one of my SE Linux T-Shirt designs below). If you have any conceptual design ideas then please let me know.

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Syndicated 2007-07-28 21:00:39 from etbe


It’s interesting to see an eWeek article about outsourcing to Canada, apparently the US immigration laws are restrictive enough that US companies (such as Microsoft) are establishing offices there. It really makes sense, Canada seems like a much nicer place to live. It’s also interesting to see an eWeek blog post about reductions in outsourcing to India that claims that Indian salaries have increased so much that there are few benefits in outsourcing the work.

I have previously blogged about my approval of outsourcing as a form of charity to developing countries which received this response in Spanish. An English translation of a section of that post is “Conclusion, outsourcing hurts and the damage to many individuals is permanent. In countries in the third world like the one where I live, the damage affects the majority of the population (80% of the population is very poor). It’s ridiculous that less than 10% of the Mexican population earn 8 to 10 thousand pesos per month which only allows them to survive and save a little to buy a car or a house“.

I agree that the inequality in Mexico is a bad thing, but I think that outsourcing is more of a cure than a cause for such inequality. The competition for employees who are capable of doing such work will increase salaries for workers and create a middle-class. Also the net access which is needed for outsourced work will drive some political changes. When discussing these issues with Indians I never hear any complaints about outsourcing!

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Syndicated 2007-07-28 09:00:05 from etbe

Red Hat virt-install and Partitions

I have recently been using virt-install on CentOS 5 to install some virtual machines (I previously posted a summary of the experience). One problem I had is the inability to do an install of Fedora to /dev/hda - it insisted on partitioning the disk and installing it on a partition. I have filed Red Hat Bugzilla #249837 about this problem.

# n=1
# while true ; do dd if=/dev/vg0/orig of=/dev/vg0/dest bs=512 skip=$n count=1000 ; echo $n ; file -sL /dev/vg0/dest ; n=$(($n+1)) ; done

After doing a CentOS or Fedora install I then have to fix things so that my desired option (of using a single unpartitioned virtual disk) is used. To do this I first needed to determine how many sectors at the start of the filesystem were used for the partition table. I used the above shell commands to test skipping different numbers of sectors and using file -sL to determine whether the result was recognised as an Ext2/3 filesystem. Below is part of the output:

/dev/vg0/dest: data
1000+0 records in
1000+0 records out
512000 bytes (512 kB) copied, 0.018812 seconds, 27.2 MB/s
/dev/vg0/dest: Linux rev 1.0 ext3 filesystem data (large files)
1000+0 records in
1000+0 records out
512000 bytes (512 kB) copied, 0.115528 seconds, 4.4 MB/s
/dev/vg0/dest: data
1000+0 records in
1000+0 records out
512000 bytes (512 kB) copied, 0.018623 seconds, 27.5 MB/s

As you can see 63 sectors are used for the partition table and other boot blocks at the start of the disk. So I used the below command to fix it:
dd if=/dev/vg0/orig of=/dev/vg0/dest bs=512 skip=63

The next problem after this was booting. The pygrub program that is used by the CentOS Xen installation to boot DomU’s only works with partitioned block devices. This however is quite easy to solve, I merely had to copy the kernel and initrd from the Xen image to the Dom0 filesystem and use the files for booting. Of course every time I upgrade the kernel I will need to copy the files, but that’s not such a great inconvenience. I usually end up running multiple DomU’s with the same distribution so I can copy the kernel and initrd once and use it for all instances.

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Syndicated 2007-07-27 21:00:52 from etbe


Recently there has been some discussion and controversy about a 15yo boy being allowed to perform a Caesarian operation on a woman (without her consent). Don Marti seems to think it’s OK and gives some examples of what 15 year old people used to do in past times. However he misses a couple of significant points, one is that the knowledge of surgery was much lower a few hundred years ago and the expectations of the patient were a lot lower, the other is that the patient in this case did not consent to being operated on by a 15yo. If the boy’s mother thought that he was capable of doing the job correctly then she could have allowed him to deliver a younger sibling…

Given a choice I would rather have someone like Doogie Howser operate on me than a random surgeon - but I would be extremely unhappy to discover after an operation that it had been performed by a different surgeon than planned who didn’t have a medical license and who’s motivation was to invade my privacy by making a movie of the event!

Don cites the interesting essay Against School by John Taylor Gatto which makes some really good points about the state of the education system in most first-world countries. An interesting point that John Gatto doesn’t mention is that in Japan school-boys wear uniforms that are based on Prussian military uniforms. From all the evidence that I have seen the Japanese school system is more Prussian (IE worse by many objective measures) than most countries.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting article comparing education systems which claims that a major cause in lack of academic performance is unjustified praise. I first became aware of the extent of this problem when discussing education with a misguided university lecturer. He told me that he felt that his purpose was to make the students believe that they had achieved something and that this was much more important than actually teaching them. My response was to point out that heroin and cocaine are both good options for people who would rather feel successful than succeed and to enquire as to whether he thought that they should be advocated for children. The conversation ended soon after that and he requested that I not name him or his university when blogging about it. I take this as an admission of guilt, if you act decently in public then you should not be afraid of appearing on a blog - decent actions will either be too boring for a blog entry or things that you are proud of.

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Syndicated 2007-07-27 09:00:44 from etbe

A Support Guide for Xen

Here’s a guide to supporting Xen servers for people who are not Linux experts. If your job means that you have root access to a Xen server that someone else installed for the purpose of fixing problems when they are not available then this will help you solve some common problems.

Xen is a virtualization system that is primarily used for running Linux virtual machines under a Linux host. It is mostly used as a Paravirtualization system in that the virtual machine knows that it is running in a virtual environment - this allows some performance benefits.

The host environment is known as Dom0 and root in that domain has the ability to control the other domains (which are known as DomU domains). If you perform an orderly shutdown of the Dom0 (via the shutdown or reboot commands or notification from the UPS of an impending power failure) then when the machine is booted again the DomU’s will be automatically restarted (if the on_reboot setting has the value restart - a common configuration). If you run the command shutdown in a DomU then the domain will be destroyed, and the command reboot will restart the DomU with the same settings - if you want to change the settings for a DomU you need to shut it down and create a new instance.

The main sys-admin command related to Xen is xm. Here are the main xm options that are useful in support:

  1. xm list provides a list of running domains. For each domain it gives the name of the domain, the ID number, the memory allocated to it, the number of virtual CPUs allocated to it, the state, and the amount of CPU time used in execution. The ID numbers are allocated sequentially, if you reboot a DomU by running the command “reboot” inside it then it will get a new ID number when it re-starts. Many xm operations that may take the name of a domain will also take a Domain ID number. Generally you never use an ID number and ignore it - the only relevant thing about an ID is whether it is 0.

    Here is a sample of the output of xm list:
    # xm list
    Name        ID Mem(MiB) VCPUs State  Time(s)
    Domain-0    0    1236    4 r---–  14116.3
    wind        13    2999    3 -b----  60114.1
    wind-f7    52      519    1 -b----  3329.9

    You can see from this output that the domain named wind has 2999M of RAM, 3 virtual CPUs (out of 4 physical CPUs in the machine) and has 60,114 seconds of CPU time used (that is 114 minutes of CPU use - the equivalent of almost two hours for a single CPU). Here are the values you might see in the state field (from the man page xm(1)):

    • r - running
      The domain is currently running on a CPU - note that Dom0 will always appear to be running because you are running the xm utility!
    • b - blocked
      The domain is blocked, and not running or runnable. This can be caused because the domain is waiting on IO (a traditional wait state) or has gone to sleep because there was nothing else for it to do.

    • p - paused
      The domain has been paused, usually occurring through the administrator running xm pause. When in a paused state the domain will still consume allocated resources like memory, but will not be eligible for scheduling by the Xen hypervisor.

    • c - crashed
      The domain has crashed, which is always a violent ending. Usu‐ ally this state can only occur if the domain has been config‐ ured not to restart on crash. See xmdomain.cfg for more info.

    • d - dying
      The domain is in process of dying, but hasn’t completely shut‐ down or crashed.

    If you see domains that are running which normally aren’t busy then make a note of this. If you see domains that are paused, crashed, or dying then contact the sys-admin.

    Also know which domains are expected to be running so that if a domain is missing then you will recognise it as a problem!

  2. xm top is similar to the top command in Unix but displays Xen data, by default it displays the same information as xm list but also includes the amount of data read and written from network devices and disks. If your terminal is less than about 145 columns wide the lines will wrap and it will be confusing - stretch the width of your xterm before running it.

    If you have multiple network interfaces then you can see the transfer counts for each of them separately by pressing the N key. If you have multiple network interfaces in DomU’s then this can help diagnose some network problems (although you may find that tcpdump is more useful).

    If you have multiple disk devices in a DomU then you can see their transfer counts separately by pressing the B key. One problem that can be partially diagnosed through this is excessively poor performance. If a DomU is running extremely slowly then it may be impossible to login to diagnose and/or fix the problem (it could take tens of minutes to login), in that case seeing where the disk access is going from outside the DomU can shed some light on the problem.

    VBD  768 [ 3: 0]
    VBD  832 [ 3:40]
    VBD 5632 [16: 0]
    VBD 5696 [16:40]

    Above is the identification of the virtual devices /dev/hda and /dev/hdb in a DomU. The numbers inside the brackets are the device node numbers in hexadecimal, so 16:40 means the device 22,64 as a pair of decimal numbers (22*256+64=5696).

    # ls -l /dev/hd?
    brw-r---– 1 root disk  3,  0 Jul 23 17:24 /dev/hda
    brw-r---– 1 root disk  3, 64 Jul 23 17:24 /dev/hdb
    brw-r---– 1 root disk 22,  0 Jul 23 17:24 /dev/hdc
    brw-r---– 1 root disk 22, 64 Jul 23 17:24 /dev/hdd

    Above is the result of a ls -l on the devices in question from inside the DomU.

    When I set up a Xen DomU I generally use /dev/hda for the root filesystem and /dev/hdb for swap. So if the machine is performing poorly and /dev/hdb ([3:40]) is being accessed excessively then it indicates that the machine has some memory hungry programs running and is paging heavily.

  3. xm list –long [domain] gives detailed information on all domains, or it can be run with the name of a domain such as xm list –long wind to give the detailed information on only one domain. Generally this is something that you will log to a disk file before restarting domains, in the short-term there is little use for this.

  4. xm console <domain> gives you the console of a domain. If a domain is not working correctly and it is impossible to login via ssh (either due to a network problem or a problem with ssh) then you can access the console (equivalent to a serial-port login on physical hardware) to diagnose the problem. Often the kernel will log messages to the console, such messages will be stored by the Xen system until they are read. If you suspect that there may be many such messages then use script(1) to log the output to disk, if you are unsure then use script to make sure that you don’t miss any data. Even if you don’t understand it the sys-admin probably will!

    If the system is half-working then you can login as root to investigate problems. You can escape from the console by pressing CTRL-].

  5. xm dmesg gives Xen logging data comparable to the dmesg command in Linux. If you ever have to reboot the machine (run reboot from Dom0) due to a problem with Xen then you MUST save the output of xm dmesg to a file for later review by the sys-admin.

  6. xm destroy <domain> will kill a specified domain. It’s a last resort for stopping a domain that is not working correctly - it is greatly preferrable to login to the domain via ssh or xm console and give an orderly shutdown.

  7. xm create [-c] <domain> creates a new domain. The configuration for the domain will be taken from a file of the same name in the current directory or in the /etc/xen directory - if /etc/xen is not the current directory when you run xm create then make sure that there is no file-name conflict. You can use this command after destroying a domain or to start a domain that was not previously run.

    If you want to change a configuration option of a domain (such as the amount of RAM used) then the usual procedure is to edit the configuration file, run halt or shutdown from within the domain, and then create the domain again with xm create. Note that the -c option is used to attach to the console after starting the domain (you usually want to do this).

I will probably update this post when I get some feedback. I may write more posts of a similar nature if there are requests.

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Syndicated 2007-07-26 21:00:46 from etbe

Train Routing

Last year I spent several months living on one side of Melbourne and working on the other and travelling by train to work. Every day I had to catch two trains each way with an average wait of 5 to 10 minutes for each train to arrive giving a total of at least half an hour a day spent waiting for trains.

The obvious solution to this problem is to have trains not go back and forth on one line but instead go from one side of the city to the other. This map shows that there are 14 train lines out of the city with about 5 major lines. The smart thing to do would be to have every major line have one train every 5 minutes during peak hours and to have every train go back out on a different line. Then if you are on one of the major lines and want to travel out on one of the other major lines then every 20 minutes there would have a train that would take you straight there without changing trains!

Currently we don’t even have such frequent trains, during peak hour the trains on most lines run no more often than 5 per hour, the Sydenham line has trains 4 times per hour during peak hours and the trains are crammed full before they get half-way to the city.

If the trains ran more frequently and were routed through the city then commuters who travel through the city would save 20+ minutes per day without going to any effort and 30+ minutes a day if they chose to start their journey at a time to avoid changing trains. This would be a significant incentive for catching the train instead of driving!

For the commuters who travel to work via a single journey then having trains run every 5 minutes at peak times would mean that an average of 2.5 minutes was spent waiting for a train each way (an average of 5 minutes per day) instead of the current situation of 15 minutes per day or more. This would mean triple the number of trains on the Sydenham line which may sound excessive. However the trains are currently so crowded that there could be twice as many trains and all seats would still be full. If there were three times as many trains then I expect that more people would catch the train (surely some people would be convinced to drive to work by the idea of spending 20 minutes with barely room to stand), it’s not inconceivable that there could be three times as many trains and all seats could still be full!

The next issue I have been considering is the time taken for a tram ride to/from the central city areas in peak hours. Peak hour trams stop at every stop because there are always people getting on and off. If a tram could stop less frequently then it could make a slightly higher average speed. One way of achieving this would be for the peak hour trams to stop at every second stop outside the center of the city. On the way in half the trams would accept passengers at each stop (each tram would be designated as either odd or even and labelled as such - the tram stops are already numbered). But if you have twice as many trams then the average wait would be the same while the duration of the trip would be reduced. On the way out of the city the tram driver would announce that after stop 10 (to pick a random number that might work) the tram would only allow passengers to get on or off at even/odd stops. If you knew that your stop was on an even number and the tram was an odd-numbered tram then you would change trams to an even tram. The small delay in changing trams would be made up by a faster trip overall.

Politicians are always talking about ways to alleviate the water shortage caused by climate change and to improve the economy. Having people spend an extra 10 minutes a day working because of saved time on the trains would help the economy. Encouraging people to catch the trains via more frequent and efficient service as well as less overcrowding would help reduce climate change - which is the best way of improving our water supply and the only way of helping the farmers long-term!

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Syndicated 2007-07-26 09:00:18 from etbe

Blogging Frequency

You may have noticed that my frequency of posting has increased significantly recently, and that my posts are generally at 7AM and 7PM. I am using the scheduled posting feature of Wordpress and writing my posts in advance (currently I have 8 posts in the queue including this one). Generally readers of my blog (particularly those who read Planet syndication pages) don’t want to read 5+ posts in one go. In the past I would write one post at a time and sometimes a couple of days would pass between feeling inspired to write. I had been writing text files and uploading them, but having a text file that’s 95% done is not the same as having a complete post scheduled to be released while I’m doing something else.

This technique works for me, I encourage other people who have things to say but don’t seem to get around to blogging on some days to give it a go.

Incidentally I chose the times 7AM and 7PM because the traffic to my site seems to peak between 7PM and 11PM local time (I haven’t analysed the logs in enough detail to determine whether this is Australians reading blogs after work or people in other countries doing it at work). To release two posts per day it seems most appropriate to space them 12 hours apart (and means that people in the same time zone as me can read a post before going to work).

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Syndicated 2007-07-25 21:00:40 from etbe

If You Don’t Know How to Fix It, Please Stop Breaking It

In 1992 Severn Cullis-Suzuki (David Suzuki’s daughter) who was 12 years old gave a talk to the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio on behalf of . She gave a really good talk, see the below Youtube video. The best quote is “If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!”. Unfortunately they haven’t stopped breaking things yet.


Here is some background information on Several Cullis-Suzuki.

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Syndicated 2007-07-25 09:00:08 from etbe

An Ideal Linux Install Process for Xen

I believe that an ideal installation process for Linux would have the option of performing a Xen install.

The basic functionality of installing the Xen versions of the required packages (the kernel and libc), the Xen hypervisor, and the Xen tools is already done well in Fedora and it’s an option to install them in Debian. But more than that is required.

Xen has two options for networking, bridging and routing. The bridging option can be confusing to set up and changing a system from routed to bridged networking once it’s running is a risky process. I have documented the basic requirements for running bridging in a previous post, but it would be better if there was an option to have Xenbr0 as the primary device from the initial install - and there are non-Xen reasons for doing this so it would be a more generally useful feature.

Another common requirement for a Xen server is to have a DVD image on the local hard drive for creating new DomU’s. If we are going to need a copy of the DVD on the local hard drive for Xen installation and we need data from the DVD for the Dom0 installation then it makes sense to have one of the early installation tasks (immediately after running mkfs) be to copy the contents of the DVD to the hard drive. Hard drives are significantly faster than DVDs - especially for random access. It would also avoid the not uncommon annoyance of getting part way through an install only to encounter a DVD or CD read error…

Here are some reasons for running Xen (or an equivalent technology) when not running more than one DomU:

  1. Avoid problems booting. Everyone who has spent any significant amount of time running servers has had problems where machines don’t boot. Even with a capable out of band management option such as the HP ILO it can be unreasonably inconvenient to fix such problems. Separating the base hardware management tasks of the OS from the user process management tasks makes recovery much easier. If a DomU stops booting then it’s easy to mount it on the Dom0 and chroot into it to discovere the problem.

  2. Easier upgrades. Often you have users demand that you install software that only works with a newer version of the OS. You can install the new version under a different DomU, test it, and then replace the old DomU when you think it’ll work - this gives a matter of minutes of down-time instead of hours for the upgrade. If the upgrade doesn’t work then you destroy the DomU and create one for the old version. Running two versions of the OS at the same time with NFS shares for the data files is also possible.

  3. Security. If a DomU gets cracked the Dom0 will not necessarily be compromised, this puts you in a good position to track down what the attackers have done. You can get a dump of the DomU’s memory to enable experts to examine what the attackers were doing. Reinstalling a DomU to replace data potentially corrupted by an attacker is much easier than reinstalling an entire machine.

Even in situations when reason #2 was the motivation for installing Xen I believe that most systems will want to have a Xen DomU running the same version as the Dom0 for the initial install. Therefore integrating the installation process would make things easier. Among other benefits if you have a server with multiple CPUs (the minimum number seems to be two CPUs on all recent machines) and hardware RAID then doing two installations at the same time is likely to give better performance overall. Also I believe that it will often be the case that the Dom0 will exist purely to support DomU’s, therefore if you only install the Dom0 then you have done less than half the installation!

For a manual installation there are some reasons for not doing this all at the same time. Having the sys-admin enter configuration data for some DomU’s at the same time as the Dom0 can get confusing. However for an automated install this would be desirable. I would like to boot from a CD and have the installation process take all configuration from the network (either via NFS or HTTP) and then perform the complete installation of the Dom0 and the DomU’s automatically.

Let me know what you think of these ideas, it’s just at the conceptual stage at the moment.

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Syndicated 2007-07-24 21:00:12 from etbe

Xen and Bridging

In a default configuration of Xen there will be a virtual Ethernet device created for each interface which will be associated with a bridge. A previous post documented how to configure a bridge named xenbr0.

The basic configuration of Xen that most people use is to have a single virtual Ethernet port for each Xen instance and have them all connected to the one bridge, and then the Dom0 will have an IP address on the bridge interface that is used for routing packets to the outside world. This works really well if you have a subnet that you are using for all Xen DomU IP addresses, if you are using NAT for communication, or if the DomU needs no communication outside the Dom0 and other DomU’s on the same machine (a common case for testing).

But if you have a collection of servers that you want to consolidate on a single piece of hardware then you end up using a single sub-net that spans some physical machines, some Xen Dom0’s, and some DomU’s. The solution to this is to use bridged networking.

Unfortunately most documentation of bridged networking is really confusing, and non of my google searches turned up the most relevant fact:

When setting up a bridge on the local Ethernet you must make your physical ethernet device (eth0 or whatever) be strictly a slave to the bridge and then assign the IP address used for the physical network to the bridge.

ifconfig eth0 up
brctl addif xenbr0 eth0

For example if you have being the IP address used by the Dom0 on the local Ethernet via device eth0 and you want to use bridging for DomU’s then you simply make eth0 owned by xenbr0 (the typical name for the Xen bridge) with the above commands in your script to configure the xenbr0 device. Then treat xenbr0 in the same way that you treated eth0 before enabling bridging.

Also there’s nothing stopping you from having one bridge for DomU’s that can talk directly to the physical Ethernet and another for DomU’s that are only to use routed networking, see my previous post about using multiple ethernet devices in Xen for more background information.

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Syndicated 2007-07-24 09:00:32 from etbe

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