I recently purchased a ZoomFloppy board, which allows old Commodore IEC serial devices – most importantly, floppy drives – to be connected to a USB port on a modern computer. It’s a great little device, but the instructions aren’t up to scratch: binary software is provided for Windows, manual installation instructions for OS X, but Linux users are left to their own devices.

Here, if for no other reason than I’ll need these if I have to reinstall it, is how I got the ZoomFloppy working on Ubuntu 14.04. You’ll need an up-to-date compilation environment installed, so start by making sure you’ve got the basics:

sudo apt-get install libusb-dev build-essential linux-headers-generic git

Next, you’ll want to download, compile and install the CC65 compiler. No, you really will. Trust me on this one.

cd ~
git clone https://github.com/cc65/cc65.git
cd cc65
sudo prefix=/usr make install
Assuming all went well, download, compile and install OpenCBM:
cd ~
git clone  git://git.code.sf.net/p/opencbm/code opencbm
cd opencbm/opencbm
make -f LINUX/Makefile
sudo make -f LINUX/Makefile install install-all install-plugin-xum1541
sudo ln -s /usr/local/lib/libopencbm.so.0 /usr/lib/libopencbm.so.0
That last line fixes a problem where OpenCBM ends up looking in the wrong place for its library.  Finally, you’ll need to add udev rules for the ZoomFloppy hardware itself:
sudo vim /etc/udev/rules.d/45-opencbm-parallel.rules
Add the following lines to the bottom of the file, then save and quit:
SUBSYSTEM!="usb_device", ACTION!="add", MODE="0666", GOTO="opencbm_rules_end"
# zoom floppy
ATTRS{idVendor}=="16d0", ATTRS{idProduct}=="0504", GROUP="users", MODE="0666"
Restart udev:
sudo service udev restart
Connect your ZoomFloppy and IEC device and check all is well:
cbmctrl detect
That’s it. Enjoy!
I’ll probably need to refer to these instructions for enabling the VICE C64/128 emulator to talk to a physical drive via the ZoomFloppy at some point, too. You need to check two options off. The first is Settings -> Peripheral Settings -> Device #8 -> Enable IEC Device. The second Settings -> Peripheral Settings -> Device #8 -> Device Type -> Real Device Access. With both ticked and the ZoomFloppy connected, you can talk to the physical floppy drive as though it were Device 8 (i.e. load”*”,8,1). Huzzah!

I recently became the owner of an HP ProLiant MicroServer N54L, a small box with a bunch of hard drive bays and a low-power AMD Turion dual-core processor. I’ve also been tweaking it quite heavily, resulting in a dramatic improvement in network performance and a significant drop in power draw – and this is how I did it. If you’re not running Linux, mind, everything past Step 1 is likely of no use to you.

Warning: The advice here worked for me, but some of it – in particular turning off journalling and using an aggressive spin-down profile on the drives – is hardly best-practice. It can even shorten the lifespan of certain components. Where something can have a deleterious effect, I’ll highlight it – but go into this warned that not everything I’ve done here is for everyone.

Step 1: Unlock the BIOS
The MicroServer is HP’s entry-level server, and as a result is missing several features of higher-end models – in particular hot-swap drive bays. This isn’t a physical restriction, but a fake restriction put in place by HP – and it can be removed by installing a modified BIOS. Doing so also allows all the SATA ports to run at 3Gb/s – two are limited to 1.5Gb/s by default – and fixes a flaw in the original BIOS that prevents the NIC from operating under certain operating systems.

HP has recently taken the decision to lock its BIOS updates behind a warranty wall: if you don’t have a warranty, you can’t get BIOS updates. That’s not very nice, so it’s a good job that someone has uploaded a pre-modified BIOS. The naughty person. Just download the file, write the image to a USB stick with dd (or ImageWriter if you’re on Windows) and power the server on with the stick in a port. Wait for the DOS prompt to appear and power off – you’re done.

Step 2: Network Tuning
Out of the box, I found the MicroServer’s network performance to be poor indeed under Ubuntu 13.10. Some of the blame has to go to the cheap Broadcom NIC, but I figured I could do better.

First, edit /etc/rc.local and stick the following lines into it, just above ‘exit 0’:

ethtool -G em1 rx 511
ifconfig em1 txqueuelen 1000
defaultroute=`ip route | grep "^default" | head -1`
ip route change $defaultroute initcwnd 10

This forces the NIC to use its entire ring buffer for RX packets – by default only 200 bytes of the 511 bytes available get used – and increases the transmit queue length to a figure better suited to gigabit network traffic. The default route is also tweaked.

Next, edit /etc/sysctl.conf and add the following:

fs.file-max = 100000
net.core.netdev_max_backlog = 50000
net.core.optmem_max = 40960
net.core.rmem_default = 16777216
net.core.rmem_max = 16777216
net.core.wmem_default = 16777216
net.core.wmem_max = 16777216
net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_redirects = 0
net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_source_route = 0
net.ipv4.conf.all.log_martians = 1
net.ipv4.conf.all.send_redirects = 0
net.ipv4.ip_local_port_range = 10000 65000
net.ipv4.tcp_fin_timeout = 10
net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog = 30000
net.ipv4.tcp_max_tw_buckets = 2000000
net.ipv4.tcp_rfc1337 = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_rmem = 4096 87380 16777216
net.ipv4.tcp_slow_start_after_idle = 0
net.ipv4.tcp_tw_reuse = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_wmem = 4096 65536 16777216
net.ipv4.udp_rmem_min = 8192
net.ipv4.udp_wmem_min = 8192
vm.swappiness = 10

A reboot will bring the box up with your new settings, or you can force a reload with sysctl -p (or sudo sysctl -p if you’re not root.) Combined, these two tweaks resulted in the throughout of the system going from about 40MB/s to 120MB/s, so it’s definitely worth doing.

Step 3: Power Tuning
The idle power of the MicroServer wasn’t great when I was finished tuning the network, pulling around 40W from the wall. A little careful tuning of the system, though, and that dropped to 21W – a significant saving.

First, we’ll discuss the fixes that won’t cause you any problems. Open /etc/rc.local again and add the following lines:

echo 'min_power' > '/sys/class/scsi_host/host2/link_power_management_policy'
echo 'min_power' > '/sys/class/scsi_host/host3/link_power_management_policy'
echo 'min_power' > '/sys/class/scsi_host/host4/link_power_management_policy'
echo 'min_power' > '/sys/class/scsi_host/host5/link_power_management_policy'
echo '0' > '/proc/sys/kernel/nmi_watchdog'
echo '1500' > '/proc/sys/vm/dirty_writeback_centisecs'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:18.3/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:00.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:01.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:06.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:01:05.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:11.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:12.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:13.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:13.2/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:18.4/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:12.2/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:18.2/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:14.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:14.1/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:14.3/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:14.4/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:16.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:16.2/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:18.0/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:00:18.1/power/control'
echo 'auto' > '/sys/bus/pci/devices/0000:02:00.0/power/control'

That’ll have a small but noticeable impact on power draw at idle, enabling a bunch of typically-off power management features. If you’ve got additional USB or PCIe devices in your MicroServer, you may find that this doesn’t catch all of ’em; install PowerTOP and go to the ‘Tunables’ tab to see if there’s anything labelled ‘Bad,’ then toggle it to ‘Good.’

That’s a start, but for real savings we need to spin the drives down. This may or may not be possible in your usage scenario: mechanical drives have a limited number of load/unload cycles before they break, and the last thing you want to be doing is having it constantly spinning down and spinning back up again. Because I’m not always accessing the MicroServer – I back up to it once a day, stream media from it during the evening, and otherwise mostly leave it alone – I can get away with a reasonably aggressive power-saving plan; you may well need to adjust the numbers below to suit your own needs.

If you want to continue, start with adding the following to /etc/rc.local:

hdparm -S 60 /dev/sda /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd
hdparm -B 1 /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd
hdparm -M 128 /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd

That tells the system to spin all four hard drives down after 300 seconds of inactivity. If you ain’t got four hard drives, edit the line accordingly. Some drives may not sleep on their own; if that’s the case, have a look at the Powernap tool and use it in conjunction with ‘hdparm -y’ to force a drive to spin down. I use it on my system because one drive of a mirror sleeps while the other stays awake; Powernap watches for this, and when the first drive sleeps it forces the second into the low-power state.

The second command puts the drives in the most aggressive power management level possible, while the third puts it into the quietest possible acoustic management mode. Note that I haven’t included the boot drive sda there: the drive that came with my MicroServer doesn’t support either of those settings. Try running the command yourself, and if your drives do support it then add them to the above list.

One drive that won’t spin down is your boot drive – in my case, the 250GB drive the MicroServer came with. If that’s a problem, consider switching to a solid-state drive (SSD) instead. If you’re truly desperate to save as much power as possible but have no cash left, however, there are options. First, move /var – the bit of the disk that sees the most activity, in particular due to the log files held in /var/log, to a spare USB flash drive you’ve got lying around. You’ll need at least 1GB, preferably 2GB or more to allow for sudden growth.

The procedure for moving /var isn’t straightforward, and is rife with danger – it’s perfectly possible to end up with a non-booting system. If you’re still reading, here’s how I did it (as root) with the USB stick inserted as /dev/sde. First, edit /etc/fstab and insert a line to mount the USB stick as /var, and while you’re at it edit the root mount point to disable access time writing.

/dev/sde1       /var    ext4    defaults,noatime,nodiratime     0       1
/dev/sda1       /       ext4    noatime,nodiratime,errors=remount-ro 0       1

I’d recommend using the drive’s UUID (visible with the blkid command) instead of the device node, ‘cos you don’t want the system to get confused and mount the wrong drive. Next, populate the drive:

mkfs.ext4 /dev/sde1
mkdir /tempvar
mount -t ext4 /dev/sde1 /tempvar
cp -rfp /var -T /tempvar
umount /tempvar
mount /dev/sde1 /var

When the server comes up – assuming nothing went wrong – /var is now running from the USB drive, saving writes to the mechanical drive. However, you may find the mechanical drive still doesn’t spin down. In my case, this was ‘cos I was running a journalling file system – ext4 – which was always writing data to the disk. Simple fix: turn journalling off.

Another warning: turning journalling off is a really bad idea. Journalling is there to ensure that the file system doesn’t get corrupted. Turn it off, and there’s a non-zero chance that a sudden reboot – a power-cut, say – will result in a corrupt root file system and a non-booting server. I’ve got a UPS and a backup of the file system, so it’s a chance I’m willing to take – but consider the implications long and hard before continuing.

If you’re still convinced you want to do this, you can turn ext4’s journalling option off by remounting the root filesystem read-only and issuing the following command:

tune2fs -O "^has_journal" /dev/sda1

With that, the root drive is now free to spin down – resulting in the aforementioned 21W idle power draw. But seriously, don’t do this. Just buy a cheap SSD instead.

I had cause to need to mount a hard drive – actually, a Compact Flash card, but that’s beside the point – from an Amiga on my PC the other day. In theory, not a problem: Linux includes in-built support for Amiga FastFileSystem (AFFS) devices, so it should just be a case of identifying which of the three partitions I’m after and giving the mount command.

So, let’s fire up fdisk:

$ sudo fdisk -l
 Disk /dev/sdc: 4009 MB, 4009549824 bytes
 124 heads, 62 sectors/track, 1018 cylinders, total 7831152 sectors
 Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 Disk identifier: 0x00000000
Disk /dev/sdc doesn't contain a valid partition table

Huh. That’s odd – it certainly should. Other partitioning tools say the same thing – and the reason becomes clear: apparently, while Linux technically understands AFFS partitions, it doesn’t actually understand Amiga partition tables. At least, most packages don’t: thankfully, one package does. So, to the wonderful parted:

$ parted /dev/sdc
 WARNING: You are not superuser. Watch out for permissions.
 GNU Parted 2.3
 Using /dev/sdc
 Welcome to GNU Parted! Type 'help' to view a list of commands.
 (parted) u
 Unit? [compact]? b
 (parted) p
 Pralloc = 0, Reserved = 2, blocksize = 1, root block at 62832
 Pralloc = 0, Reserved = 2, blocksize = 1, root block at 2112896
 Pralloc = 0, Reserved = 2, blocksize = 1, root block at 5965912
 Model: Generic STORAGE DEVICE (scsi)
 Disk /dev/sdc: 4009549824B
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
 Partition Table: amiga
Number Start End Size File system Name Flags
 1 278528B 64061439B 63782912B affs1 DH0 boot
 2 64061440B 2099544063B 2035482624B affs1 DH1
 3 2099544064B 4009549823B 1910005760B affs1 DH2
(parted) quit

You may notice I told parted to switch unit type from the default – Compact – to Bytes. There’s a reason for that: because the kernel can’t see the partition table, it hasn’t created the usual sdc1, sdc2 and sdc3 devices under /dev – meaning I can’t tell mount where to look for the third partition, which is the one I’m after. A problem – but one that can be resolved by giving mount an offset option, taken from the ‘Start’ column of parted’s output:

$ sudo mkdir /media/AmigaMount
$ sudo mount -t affs -o offset=2099544064 /dev/sdc /media/AmigaMount
 mount: wrong fs type, bad option, bad superblock on /dev/sdc,
 missing codepage or helper program, or other error
 In some cases useful info is found in syslog - try
 dmesg | tail or so

Huh? What does dmesg have to say about this?

$ dmesg | tail -1
 [83740.730900] AFFS: No valid root block on device /dev/sdc

Okay, so that didn’t work. Now it’s time for the brute-force option: if mount’s offset command won’t work, let’s try setting up a loop device on the partition’s offset:

$ sudo losetup -o 2099544064 /dev/loop1 /dev/sdc
$ sudo mount -t affs /dev/loop1 /media/AmigaMount
$ ls /media/AmigaMount
 A500_A600_EtoZGames Disk.info Favorite Games.info
 A500_A600_EtoZGames.info Favorite Games

Bingo! At this point, you can read or write any file you like to the partition. To mount a different partition on the disk, simply give losetup the offset of that partition as reported by parted – remembering to tell parted to switch to bytes as its unit.

Having finished sticking my files on the drive, it’s time to tidy up and unmount:

$ sync
$ sudo umount /media/AmigaMount

Eject the drive, stick it back in the Amiga and lo: my files are there.

An alternative method to the above is to use an Amiga emulator on your PC: UAE, for example, can mount a real Amiga drive. This way’s easier, though – at least, if you don’t have to go through the troubleshooting steps that brought me to my understanding of the flaw.

To recap: insert Amiga drive, use parted in bytes mode to get partition offset, setup loop device at that offset, mount loop device. Not as simple as it should be, but hey: it works. This also works, interestingly enough, on disk images: create a backup of your Amiga drive with dd and you can then mount partitions directly from the backup rather than the real drive.

I appear to have broken my netbook.

Well, ‘broken’ might be a bit steep – it no longer responds to a lid close event with the nice, neat standby mode it once treated me to.  Instead, it triggers the standby script and gets itself into a half-on, half-off state.

In this state, the power light is flashing to indicate that it’s in standby.  Unfortunately, it isn’t – everything’s still working fine.  The only indication that it even tried to standby is that my SD card unmount/remount script is triggered and the default keyring is locked.

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miniDNLA configSince my PC blew up – and took Windows with it – I’ve been gradually making the switch to using Linux as my everyday desktop operating system.  Although I’ve been using it on my laptops and netbooks for years, I’ve usually kept Windows on the desktop for one simple reason: TVersity.

TVersity is an excellent UPnP media server which works perfectly with my media playback devices – the PS3, the Xbox 360, and the Roku SoundBridge in the bedroom.  Sadly, it’s Windows only – and most of the Linux equivalents have left me cold.

I stumbled across a small daemon called miniDLNA, written by a Netgear engineer for the company’s ReadyNAS range of network attached storage devices, which works like a charm as a TVersity replacement, with one exception – the damn thing refuses to be seen by the Xbox 360.  Thankfully, I’ve figured out why.

In the configuration file – /etc/minidlna.conf – the software makes reference to a “presentation URL,” which by default is commented out.  This results in an invalid default of, which everything except the Xbox 360 happily ignores.  The 360, however, decides to go visit this URL – and falls over.

To fix the issue, simply change the line to the IP address of your server and the port you’ve got miniDLNA working on – 8200 by default.  The entire line should end up reading:

# default presentation url is http address on port 80

Once that’s done, restart miniDLNA and everything should spring into life.

It seems that Microsoft is scoring a bit win in the netbook sector, with claims doing the rounds that Windows XP has gone from a mere 10% of the market in February last year to 96% now.

As someone who uses – and likes – Ubuntu on most of his hardware, this is a surprise.  Sadly, it’s not that surprising – most people will always vote for the status quo.

I did write an article for Bit-Tech on the matter, but a real journalist did the same.  Accordingly, here’s the article that never made it:

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Powered by Ubuntu stickerMy laptop is now officially Powered by Ubuntu, thanks to System 76 and the Linux Emporium.

To snag yourself some free Ubuntu stickers, simply pop a self addressed envelope across to:

The Linux Emporium
Bridge House
17a Maybrook Road
Sutton Coldfield
B76 1AL UK

They’ll drop a pack of four by return of post.  I think you’ll agree that it looks much nicer than the old “Designed for Windows Vista” sticker it replaces.

Being a huge fan of Ubuntu, I’ve been using the OS on most of my hardware for quite some time – including my first release spec Eee PC 701. Originally running Ubuntu 7.04 and then upgraded to 7.10, it’s always been a bit ‘finicky’ – mainly as a result of the non-standard hacks I’ve had to implement to get things like the shortcut keys working.

I decided the time had come to move to something a bit newer, however, and have just finished installing Ubuntu 8.04.  Using the ISO from the Ubuntu Eee website, it was a fairly painless install.  I was disappointed to see that the installer didn’t set up fstab in the manner I prefer – with a limited number of writes on the internal SSD available, I like to put /tmp, /var, and others on a tmpfs mount – but that was easily sorted.

What wasn’t quite so easy was the wireless.  Unfortunately, Asus have opted to use one of Atheros’s less supported wireless chipsets in the Eee – with no official Linux driver available.  The madwifi-ng driver included as part of the Ubuntu-Eee package sort of worked, but tended to drop out rather frequently – oddly, when the signal was at its strongest rather than its weakest.

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