Ubuntu upgrades

Well, as much as we hate to take down a production system, maintenance has to be done.  Earlier this week, it became obvious that some of our applications, like OpenOffice and others, could stand a bit of upgrading to get new features, so we undertook the always scary and sometimes painful steps to upgrade our Ubuntu workstations from 8.10 to 9.10.  Of course, this involves two upgrades for each machine, first to 9.04 and then to 9.10.

The first phase is complete, and both machines are now at 9.04, with few consequences:  My development machine needed to have the Apache configuration file tweaked, as I keep the webs in a slightly different place.  And, Judy’s machine somehow announced it wasn’t going to start the HP printer management tool for her new multi-function printer.  But, it still prints and faxes and scans, so I’m not sure if it is all that important, but I suppose we’ll have to find it and reconfigure after the whole upgrade is done.  The only scary part was a brief glitch in the power while the desktop machine was downloading packages, but the UPS held…  Good idea to test those before a major upgrade, as dumping power in the middle of an upgrade can ruin your whole day.  Yes, we do keep backups.  I do the laptop manually, since it isn’t always connected, but the desktop machine does hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly snapshots to the external drive we use for backups.

Update:  OK, spent all day Friday downloading the 9.10 update on my Compaq C714NR laptop, finally rebooted at 8:00pm and, of course, the wireless is broken again, which happens about every other Ubuntu update with the built-in Broadcom 4318 chip.  Part of the problem seems to be the crutches applied last time, but always something new.

Not only does the wireless not work, but the machine emits a loud clicking noise every few seconds.  I did get that to go away after I switched to wired connection, but after fiddling with the ndiswrapper and drivers for the wireless, it is back.  Now, I am a great fan of Linux, and have used it for 14 years, but some days it is a bit too on the edge.  Oh, the distros are plenty stable enough, but there are still problems with certain hardware peripherals that are not well supported.  Broadcom products fall into this category.  I’m not faulting HP/Compaq or Linux on this one–I’ve been a professional sysadmin for those 14 years, managing Solaris, Tru64, and other commercial Unices as well as Linux.  A few years ago, I had an IBM x-series server with a Broadcom Ethernet card in it that I had to build the driver from source for RedHat, and then it broke on a kernel upgrade and wouldn’t recompile.  I had to upgrade the entire system from RHEL3 to RHEL4 and port the 3rd-party application running on the server to get the system back up.   The market is full of otherwise good hardware with brittle firmware and drivers written by folks who don’t really understand how Unix works and couple their code tightly to specific library versions rather than the basic interfaces and system calls.

So, here we are, Saturday morning, trying to get wireless back up on our main development and road machine, for a road trip coming up the middle of next week.  The Ubuntu forums are great, but always just one person’s experience, which doesn’t always work for the next guy, depending on exact hardware, whether the system is a fresh install or upgrade, etc.  In my case, some of the problem appears to be left-over hacks from an earlier upgrade.

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum

A little over a year ago, I got a letter from Carl Rohr, a well-known quilter in western Montana, inviting all Montana men who quilt to participate in a group quilt and traveling exhibit.  The only requirement was to provide a 12-inch (finished size) block “in cotton or batik.”  OK…  Well, as expected, Carl got almost a dozen very different blocks., in all different colors and styles, from traditional to unique to “arty.”  What he did with them is nothing short of astounding.  I could describe it, but you have to see it.  String piecing skillfully transitioned from one color theme to another; a center medallion section surrounded by blocks randomly set in a nine-patch background, and “Montana Men Quilt” spelled in fussy-cut letters down the right side.

The quilt debuted at the Mission Mountain Quilt Guild show in Ronan, where Carl lives, and, with a collection of individual quilts made by each of us,  made the rounds of quilt shops in Missoula and Great Falls, a display at the Bitterroot Quilters Guild, and finished up at the Flathead Quilt Show in Kalispell in September 2009.  Then, Carl entered the group quilt for consideration in the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum’s biennial Men’s quilting exhibit, and it was accepted.  The exhibit runs from Februrary 2 through April 30, 2010 in RMQM’s new facility in downtown Golden, Colorado.

Now, this is, for us guys anyway, a Big Deal.  You would think that quilts by men would be rare and they would take all they could get, but not so–there are a lot of very talented and skilled quilt artists out there who just happen to be men.  I entered the quilt I made for the traveling show, and it didn’t make the cut.  But, I’m glad to be part of the group effort.

The 2009 Montana Men Quilt group quilt
The 2009 Montana Men Quilt group challenge

My contribution is the airplane block in the lower right center. The block above it was made by John Flynn, nationally-known quilter from Billings, MT.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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