Fedora 17 and Gladstone

Somewhat scolded into action by the ever-so-slightly shrill demands of a well-meaning correspondent, I have given Gladstone a little love and attention.

It now supports doing 64-bit Oracle 11g installs onto Fedora 17 (provided you’re sticking to a default OSinstall… I haven’t a clue if it works with a KDE desktop and don’t intend finding out).

There are known issues, as follows:

  • There is a lengthy pause whilst we install redhat-lsb in order to be able to correctly identify the particular flavour of Fedora in use. If you have a slow Internet connection, the script can sit there for a minute or two appearing to do nothing. Trust it and be patient!
  • You will be told that settings for two kernel parameters (shmmni and shmall) can’t be determined and that the public domain korn shell is not installed. You can safely click ‘Ignore All’, since none of these warnings are of any significance whatever. (The relevant parameters will have been set correctly, and pdksh hasn’t really been required for years) .
  • At the 70% installed stage, you’ll get an error message about a failure to link the EM Agents makefile properly. At this point, switch away from the Oracle installer and go find a file called fedora-linking-error-fix.sh sitting in the Desktop directory in the oracle user’s home. Run the script with the command: ./fedora-linking-error-fix.sh and then you can click the ‘Retry’ button back in the Oracle installer. Everything will then proceed without issue.
  • A feature of Gnome 3 is that the Desktop directory is a bit redundant (you can’t see its contents on the visible ‘desktop’, in other words). Worse, if you create a new user, a Desktop directory isn’t created for them by default in their home directory. Gladstone now, therefore, tests for the existence of this directory and creates it if it can’t find it.
  • There is zero support for installing Oracle 10g on Fedora 17. If you specify that particular combination, the script will simply warn you of your error and then stop. (Oracle 10g is no longer a supported RDBMS, even by Oracle Corporation themselves, after all!)
  • Fedora 17 thoughtfully(!) decided to alter the output of the ifconfig command, so the bit where it’s supposed to write the IP address and hostname to the /etc/hosts file couldn’t work with the original code. A modified version now deals with Fedora 17′s unique ifconfig output correctly. (For the record, in every other distro I can think of, ifconfig outputs results with the string inet address:w.x.y.z, which allowed me to use the colon as a delimiter to extract just the IP address components. Fedora 17 instead outputs inet w.x.y.z …no colon, and meaning I now have to use the ‘t’ of ‘inet’ as the delimiter. Let’s hope “inet” is “inet” in languages other than English: and apologies if not).
  • I’ve tested Gladstone with both the full DVD installation media and a hard-disk installation from the Live CD version of Fedora 17. Both work fine.

I’ve also taken the opportunity to add in support for CentOS 5.8, Scientific Linux 6.2 and one or two other mainline versions that appeared to have slipped through the cracks. If I’ve still managed to miss any, let me know.

I see Red Hat has recently released 6.3… I am guessing CentOS and SL won’t be far behind, so a further update will be required then!

The modified Gladstone shell script is available from the usual place!

Storage Solutions

Long-time readers may recall that I bought at least one of these:

It’s a Drobo and it’s been a disaster. First, because it’s temperamental: move it, or power it off then on, or basically breathe anywhere in its general direction, and it will dramatically start flashing red lights, indicating total failure (and lost data).

When you have suppressed the sick feeling in your stomach at that thought, you can power it off and on a few more times and, probably, it will decide to reboot in ‘green light’ mode. At which point your data is safe for as long as you don’t breathe again.

Secondly, it’s incredibly slow to re-protect your data. One of the advertised joys of the Drobo was that you could eject one of the four existing hard disks, pop in a new one of greater size and then just sit back and wait for the thing to re-distribute your data over the whole array so that it was all protected once more. Which is, indeed, what happens… except that you wait a long, long, very long time. And throughout the duration of that wait, your data isn’t protected against another hardware failure at all. When I last tried to do this with 4 2TB drives, the box spent 6.5 days thinking about it.You run with unprotected data for a week and see how you get on sleeping!

And third: the Drobo was and remains relatively noisy. Easily audible above the noise of a loud action movie it’s providing the data for, that’s for sure.

We had a council clean-up this week, so my Drobos finally met their destiny as land-fill, as should have been the case many years ago. I hated them, and I’d never buy another. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say!

Let me instead introduce you to this beauty:

It’s an HP Proliant N40L Micro Tower Server. It shipped with a single 250GB hard disk, but with space for three others of any capacity. It also shipped with 2GB of ECC RAM and an AMD Turion II running at 1.5GHz.

For that lot, I paid the princely sum of AU$264, from these guys, who were the cheapest I could find. I notice that today, they’re quoting an extra $25 for the same config, so obviously I got lucky!

I added 8GB of ECC RAM -and fitting it was not fun. It requires pulling the entire motherboard out, and that can only be done by unplugging all power, SATA and other cables. Those cables fit tightly in the confined space available -and the SATA connector, in particular, seems to have been welded into place by cruel people with exceptionally fine welding skills. My previous experience of detaching soldered SATA connectors from motherboards came back to haunt me… but we got there in the end. I’ve also added a USB-3.0 expansion card to fill the available PCIx slot, but I didn’t bother adding a graphics card, so it’s strictly on-board graphics for me.

All up, including postage, I think one of these things cost me AU$370. So naturally, I got two. And that still means I’ve bought two brand new, quality servers for hardly much more than I paid for one of my original Drobos!

Of course, you only get 250GB of storage for that price: you have to fill the other three slots (non-hot-swappable) yourself. Fortunately, I had quite a few 2TB drives knocking about the place, thanks in part to me having recently destroyed Drobos en masse. So, pop those in (very easily!), and I now have 6.2TB in each server.

Time then to install a server OS… and it could have been Scientific Linux, of course. But since I have my Technet subscription, and I wouldn’t mind learning more about Windows 2008 R2 administration, on that goes instead. Turn the three 2TB drives into a single 4TB, RAID-5 array… and I now have 8TB of protected storage, humming very quietly in the background. I think each server consumes about 50W, which seems economical enough. Plus, the big bonus: I can barely hear them, even though they sit just behind my triple-monitor setup, precisely at ear-height.

A 1.5GHz CPU doesn’t sound like much: I’ve seen people slagging the Turion IIs off as though they were barely in the Intel Atom class. But Windows 2008 is certainly responsive when I remote desktop to it, and both boxes are running virtual machines (one each) without seeming to struggle. I’ve no complaints about them, anyway: fast enough for this old-timer.

Essentially, all I’ve ever wanted is for near-silent, RAID-protected storage for my music and other multimedia collections. The Drobos failed to provide that on so many levels, it wasn’t funny. These new HP boxes, in contrast, do the job just fine… and give me a capable, stable platform to run permanently two large-ish (6GB RAM and 200GB HDD) virtual machines at the same time, which is a nice bonus. At AU$264, I’d recommend them to anyone, though at AU$289, I find even my enthusiasm waning a bit.

But I still like them a lot, and they have cheered me up no end, allowing me to dump the damn Drobos. That’s worth almost any price, come to think of it.

Windows Tools

I thought I’d take a quick audit of the freeware (i.e., zero cost software) I use on Windows… and was surprised by how much there is of it and how good it all is! Here’s the latest list:

  • 7-Zip – all your file compression requirements met in one, genuinely 64-bit, package.
  • UltraDefrag – I don’t defrag often (Windows 7 has a pretty good self-defragging tool), but this does a good job when I really feel the need for it.
  • Cobian Backup 11 – Invaluable for fully backing up 6+ TB of video, music etc to hard disks for off-site backup. Subsequent differential backups get all post-backup changes onto more 2TB USB hard disks stored on-site. Every 6 months, the off-site disks get a full backup refresh, and the cycle starts once more. Cobian is at the core of my data recovery setup, so I wouldn’t be without it.
  • SyncBack Free – There are several ‘satellite’ PCs around the house whose contents need to be sync’d back to the servers, from where Cobian Backup will take care of them. But for that satellite-to-server synchronisation, SyncBack Free does the job nicely. (It’s a bit like Microsoft’s SyncToy, but without the bugs which cause files to duplicate or be lost entirely!) It doesn’t copy open files, but that’s not an issue here. If it were, SyncBackSE would cope with them for $35 or so. There are loads of free file synchronisers out there: I’ve pretty much tested them all and SyncBack is the pick of the crop as far as I’m concerned!
  • Keepass – Cross-platform password manager. Protect its database with one very long, very strong password and you’ll never even have to know what your passwords to anything else are, ever again. Just get the program to auto-generate them, then paste the obscured password into a web page as it asks for it. Has trasnformed the way I interact with the Web, providing a peace of mind I’d never had before.
  • TreeSize Free – When you need to know what’s occupying all your disk space, this works nicely. I’ve never felt the need to upgrade to the personal or pro versions.
  • MP3Tag – Best tagger for FLAC, MP3, WMA, OGG and other music files out there, IMHO.
  • ISOBuster – This invaluable tool can, slowly and laboriously, recover data from otherwise unreadable audio, video or data CDs and DVDs. It’s not actually freeware (US$40 gets you the full product), but the non-Pro version (which is free) has always done whatever I’ve needed it to do.
  • Sumatra PDF Reader – Time was when Foxit was the freebie PDF reader of choice, but it got a bit too bloated and tricksy for my tastes. Sumatra does the job nicely, without fuss or funny business.
  • Bullzip PDF Printer – Reading PDFs is one thing, but creating them is another. Bullzip works perfectly for that sort of thing. They also have some nice tools that come in handy for working with databases (an SMTP command-line mailing agent, for example).
  • RD Tabs – Remote Desktop Connections in a tabbed document interface. When you have lots of Windows PCs or servers to connect to remotely, this saves having to launch the Windows built-in RDP client multiple times, and keeps things nice and tidy.
  • Explorer++ – Windows Explorer replacement, complete with tabs… and fully 64-bit, if you need it to be. Doesn’t need to be installed, either (i.e., one of those “portable” apps).
  • LockHunter – When you want to delete a file, but Windows declares it’s in use by some process or other… and you can’t think what process that might be! Only a beta, but fully 64-bit and I’ve not had issues with it.
  • Foobar2000 – Windows Media Player is not actually too bad these days… except for the fact that it can’t play most codecs without a lot of fuss, bother and third-party codec packs of variable quality and dubiousness. Foobar2000, on the other hand, is pretty minimalist to look at, but plays everything from the get-go. It does all I need it to do, without much ‘glamour’, but cleanly and effectively. Its music organisation abilities are also excellent and suits my needs nicely.
  • Calibre – E-book management made simple (and very effective). Keeps my Kindle organised, at least!
  • Stellarium – For those cold, dark Winter nights when you’re wondering what heavenly body you’re looking at (and realising, sadly, that it’s not your own)
  • Handbrake – Converts Blu-Ray and DVDs to Mastroska/MP4 files in a (relative) jiffy. Does a nice line in converting films to be watched on my smartphone, too.
  • Greenshot – An always-on, flexible and low-resource-consumption screenshot-taking utility. Great for putting illustrated documentation together.
  • Quake-Style Console – Brilliant! A DOS Window that runs permanently in the background, but drops down for use at the press of [WinKey]+[~]. Another press of that key combination, and the window ‘folds’ back up, leaving everything running. Extremely convenient, very productive.
  • Programmer’s Notepad – A small, highly-productive replacement for Notepad. Excellent code-writing assistance -and a nice line in being able to convert between Unix and DOS line endings!
  • ImgBurn – Most effective DVD/CD writer I know of -and does Bluray, too, if pushed. Nasty habit of trying to sneak in the Ask toolbar on first installation, but that’s avoidable with just one mouse click, so nothing too evil.
  • Irfanview – I’ve actually got Photoshop 5.5, but if I just want to do quick, lightweight edits to an image -perhaps a crop here, an auto-adjust there- Irfanview does the job so much more simply! Genuine tough-nut photographers will never be able to part with Photoshop (there’s nothing that runs it even close), but I’m happy most of the time with the capabilities Irfanview can provide.
  • Media Player Classic : Home Cinema – MPC is great for playing just about any video file, no matter the format. It’s lightweight but highly functional, though it appears to have an annoying dependency on DirectX9 libraries: it will complain vociferously if they’re not installed, but seems to work fine without them, anyway. (The libraries can easily be downloaded and installed, just the same). That old standby, VLC, just doesn’t seem quite up to MPC’s standards these days, especially as far as integrating nicely with the rest of Windows 7. Besides which, MPC is fully 64-bit and VLC isn’t (or, at least, the 64-bit version of VLC is only marked “experimental”).
  • Stardock Fences – Some people insist on a completely clean desktop; others allow the icons to pile up as they will. Me… I like the middle ground, where I can store things on the desktop -but in an organised way. Fences allows you to ‘corral’ your icons, shortcuts, files and folders into grouped and categorised areas on the desktop. I’ve never felt the need to pay for the Pro version.
  • Putty and Filezilla – In a world where ssh’ing and ftp’ing are frequently necessary, these are the tools for the job as far as I’m concerned.
  • Musescore – Perhaps just a tad specialist, but if I’m jotting down bars from my sixth string quartet, this will be the tool I use to do it with, the best free music composition/notation tool I know of. Does a good job with playing back what you’ve written, too, which is important. Cross-platform, too, which is comforting.
  • Exact Audio Copy – It is not the most intuitive piece of software, but it’s free and capable and does perfect rips. If you don’t mind paying money, I think dbPoweramp is easier to use, though even its interface is a bit clunky at times. But given that CDs seem a quaint and antiquated technology these days, I think EAC is probably all you really need! If you need to switch between FLAC/WMA/MP3 or other formats after the initial rip, LameXP is pretty good. It comes with some seriously stupid sound effects, and it doesn’t output to WMA (it can read them but not output them). But it does do multi-threaded encodes.
  • When it comes to virtualisation, I haven’t mentioned VirtualBox, because I prefer to pay for my VMware Workstation. However, VMware Player is completely zero-cost and lets you create virtual machines, as well as run them. So either way, it’s nice you have choice in the virtualisation world.

In that vein, indeed, let me just briefly list the Windows software I’ve paid for -and which I’d readily pay for again:

  • VMware Workstation – polished, functional, vital for the work I do. ‘Nuff said. I wish 3D Graphics acceleration would work better, but that’s never the main focus of what I’m trying to do with virtualisation anyway, so I can live with it. I’ve found it consistently more robust (and faster) than VirtualBox over the years, too. US$199.
  • Microsoft Technet Subscription – Giving me access to SQL Server, Office, Windows Server and Windows client software …and more. At US$199 for the standard technet subscription (and US$149 per year thereafter as a renewal fee), it’s an excellent, cost-effective way of getting the latest MS servers, clients and tools.
  • Photoshop – As mentioned above, I don’t do a lot of photography work that justifies the outrageous price for this particular piece of software, but The Other Half does, so I have no choice. Apparently, it’s a great program… but I have no artistic ability whatsoever, so I couldn’t possibly comment. Pricing is so complicated, with a bazillion different options, but let’s just quote the AU$1,168 it costs for an outright purchase of Photoshop CS6 for starters!! Ouch. Thank God the upgrades are priced slightly more reasonably.

Finally, it is probably evident that I’m not a great one for playing games on the PC. I couldn’t, however, go without recommending:

  • Angry Birds in Space – will cost you $6 for the full product, but the demo version is plenty of fun for free

And, to keep things strictly in your browser window, The Wiki Game is addictive!