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March 26, 2001

Getting Advanced Power Management Working under RedHat 6.2 on a Dell Inspiron 7500

Dave Aiello wrote, "Tonight, I finally configured Advanced Power Management (APM) on my Dell Inspiron 7500 running RedHat Linux 6.2 to permit the system to suspend and restore itself without hanging or crashing. The process of doing this was one of those cryptic experiences that people often hear about in connection with Linux system configuration. Read on for the whole story...."

Dave Aiello continued:

Successfully suspending and restoring my laptop was one of the operations that I was certain could be done somehow. The question in my mind was, how many times would I have to restart the machine without properly shutting it down?

For the record, the configuration is a Dell Inspiron 7500 with a 650mHz Pentium III, VA Linux 6.23 (derived from RedHat 6.2), 512M RAM, 20G hard disk.

Prior to this effort, any attempt to suspend the laptop resulted in a lockup condition with the display remaining on and the system apparently unresponsive.

The first breakthrough was finding the page called Linux on a Dell Inspiron 7500 Laptop on Coralys.com. The Advanced Power Management section of that page provided some information that I had not seen elsewhere:

If you want to put your laptop in suspend mode by closing the lid without having to shutdown Linux you have to follow these steps:

  1. Press <Ctrl><Alt><F1> to switch to the text console, once there...
  2. Close the lid of your laptop, the screen will go blank and you will here {sic} it powering down.

The next passage helps to explain the number of consoles in RedHat. This is critically important because the instructions on the Coralys Web Page turns out to be correct for Red Hat 6.0, not 6.2:

To resume your Linux fun perform the reverse operation:

  1. Open the lid and put the LCD screen in the viewing position
  2. Now you are looking at the text console, to switch back to your X session press {<Ctrl><Alt><F7>, not printed on the page for some reason}. At least Red Hat comes with 'only' 6 text consoles configured, and X always uses the first non-used {sic} console, this being console 7 on Red Hat.
  3. Woa! there is your X session, just as you left it when you went into suspend mode!

The process described thus far on this Web Page actually worked. This was the first time that I had ever successfully suspended and resumed this laptop.

The page goes on to discuss the modifications to the default Red Hat configuration that is necessary to install a post resume action. Trying to follow the instructions given at this stage made me realize that they were for a different version of Red Hat than I had running on the laptop I was using.

The Coralys page talks about the file called /etc/sysconfig/apmd. This file exists in Red Hat 6.2, but its structure is different from the same file in Red Hat 6.0. The only change I had to make to get suspend and restore to work properly was to uncomment the following line in the script:


This explicitly tells the script called /etc/sysconfig/apm-scripts/apmscript to execute the command chvt 1 to switch to the first virtual terminal during the suspend operation, and to execute the command chvt "$CHANGEVT" upon resume. This automates the process that is discussed on the Coralys page.

The only remaining issue is keyboard repeat rates. This is solved in the Red Hat 6.2 configuration by adding a file called /etc/sysconfig/apm-scripts/apmcontinue that contains the following text:

# can put your stuff into apmcontinue for every link you create to apmscript;
# for a start and definitely enough for most laptops we have two links and
# according subroutines defined here: suspend and resume; all other links
# will be redirected directly to apmcontinue which you can create; also
# suspend and resume call apmscript, so you can also do other things (like
# reinitialising some PCMCIA-Card) there; apmcontinue will get the name
# as which it was called as $1; for debugging see the logfiles
# This script can be controlled by editing /etc/sysconfig/apmd.

PROG=`basename "$0"`

case "$PROG" in
# # Don't do anything by default
# Restore the keyboard rate. This fix was suggested
# on Coralsys' Linux on Dell Inspiron 7500 Page
# under "Advanced Power Management":
# http://www.coralsys.com/linux/dell7500.shtml
# -- Dave Aiello, 03/26/2001
/usr/bin/kbdrate -r 30 -d 250

This solved the only other known issue with suspend and restore.

So, now it is possible for me to use this laptop as I would a PC running Windows. When I need to move it from one place to another, I now have the option of suspending it instead of shutting it down. This is likely to be a huge personal productivity improvement.

I will need to look at the implications of suspending the laptop when VMware Workstation is running. It is not clear at all that the child operating system will survive the roundtrip as well as the parent Linux operating systems apparently has.

Further information about this issue will be posted to ctdata.com as we uncover it.

Comic Strip on Yahoo! Leads to Research on Greeting Card Purchases

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last week, I added a couple of comip strips to my MyYahoo! page. One of the strips I added was NonSequitur. The strip published for today featured a card store manager who said to a customer, 'They used to be called sympathy cards, but since women buy 90% of all greeting cards, we decided to be more market specific....'"

"This made me wonder if the statistic that was the basis for this comic strip was, in fact, true. Since I am convinced that I can find much of the information that I seek on a daily basis for little or no cost on the Internet, I decided to use this situation as a test. Read on for more details...."

Dave Aiello continued:

Here is how I performed my test:

  1. Using Google, I searched for the phrase greeting card demographics.

  2. Looking through the results, I found the following useful tidbits:

When I hear a statistic as definitive as the one in the comic strip, I often wonder if there is any possibility that it is true. (In this case, one could argue that it is.) This also illustrates the incredible amount of useful knowledge distilled in the Internet. The key to unlocking it is, can you find it when you need it?

I hope to use this article as a teaching aid with CTDATA's clients, because it demonstrates an effective Web search technique for finding answers to every day questions.

March 25, 2001

Managing DHCP Addresses in VMware Client Operating Systems

Dave Aiello wrote, "I'm not sure anyone else will consider this a revelation, but, I figured out how to acquire a new IP address via DHCP when I cable up to a new network. This is important for me because I often run Windows NT and 2000 as client operating systems under VMware for Linux. Rather than shut these client operating systems down, I often suspend them (explained here in the VMware for Linux Quick Start Guide)."

"Many times, I will suspend my Windows in one place and restore it in another. When both places have TCP/IP networks and DHCP, the IP machine is restored with an incorrect IP address and Windows doesn't seem to notice right away. So, read on if you are interested in the solution."

Dave Aiello continued:

Like I said earlier, this solution might be obvious to others, but, I found that I could issue an ipconfig command to force this to happen immediately under Windows NT Workstation 4.0:

C> ipconfig /renew

Windows NT IP Configuration

Ethernet adapter AMDPCN1:

IP Address. . . . . . . . . : 63.77.xxx.xxx
Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . : 255.255.255.xxx
Default Gateway . . . . . . : 63.77.xxx.xxx

I have not yet tried this in Windows 2000 Professional, but, it seems like this ought to work in that Operating System as well.

March 22, 2001

Does CTDATA Provide Consulting Services to Help Implement Slashcode?

A couple of people interested in implementing Slashcode have approached CTDATA recently because they have heard that we do some consulting in this area. This is true, but we carefully investigate potential projects before offering to undertake them.

If you are interested in how we evaluate potential new Slashcode projects, read on.

  • Viability and Project Funding

    Unfortunately, many personal friends of ours have been left in difficult positions because they agreed to perform work on projects that were not properly funded. Therefore, we look carefully at the nature of the entity developing the Slash site, its management, and its revenue model before offering our services.

    CTDATA is not saying that it will not perform work for start-up companies or non-profit organizations. But, we are not likely to be able to commit resources to new sites that are being operated on extremely limited budgets.

  • On-Going Relationships

    CTDATA places a priority on projects that are part of a long-term commitment between us and a client. We do not generally accept projects that initially require less than 40 hours of professional services. Furthermore, projects where the total number of billable hours expected in the life of the project are less than 150 will probably not be accepted.

    Exceptions to this policy are generally made only for those clients who have engaged us for several projects in the past.

    The reason CTDATA approaches short-term work in this manner is simply that the amount of work necessary to schedule such projects often exceeds its contribution to our bottom line.

  • Acceptable Billing Rates

    We must be able to charge hourly rates that cover our costs, provide a reasonable profit to the firm, and are commesurate with the value that our clients have historically received from us. CTDATA sets its rates on a project-by-project basis, based on the level of skill required to do the work, the availability of our people and their other commitments, the duration of the contract, and the location at which the work takes place. Other factors often come into play in rates, such as special intellectual property agreements and contract provisions that place additional restrictions or administrative burdens on our employees while work is being done.

  • Previous Experience with the Technology

    Finally, CTDATA looks carefully at the technology choices that have been made in preparation for the project. We hesitate to offer our services when we do not already have experience implementing the software and related technology in question.

    With respect to Slashcode, this means that we would be hesitant to offer to perform work on an implementation of the "Bender" version, because we have yet to migrate our existing Slash-based Web Sites to that version.

We are sincerely sorry if you feel that these considerations are a sign of inflexibility on our part. However, our view is that clients engage CTDATA because they expect us to build a system that works correctly, the first time it is put into production.

We do not use our paying customers as subjects for our research and development efforts. CTDATA's R&D takes place on our own Web Sites, in our own facilities. It is through this process that many of the innovations we have brought to the Slashcode environment have taken place. We like to think that this is one of the reason that clients continue to choose CTDATA as a partner in database-driven Web Site implementation.

March 21, 2001

Network Monitoring Service Upgraded

Authorized Users of the CTDATA Network Monitoring Service please note that the underlying software has been upgraded to reflect the vendor's latest release. Contact Dave Aiello if you have any problems or questions.

March 20, 2001

Upgrading an Application Using RPM is a Hit and Miss Process

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last night I decided that I was going to bite the bullet and upgrade my copy of Netscape Communicator to a version that supports strong encryption. The machine I wanted to do this to is my Dell Inspiron 7500 that runs VA Linux 6.2.3, a distribution derived from RedHat 6.2."

"Because the version of Linux I am running is derived from RedHat, you would think that it would be easy to upgrade Netscape Communicator using RPM, the RedHat Package Manager. Not so. I ran into some truly nebulous issues and the solution to these was not apparent from looking at my favorite Linux books and Web Sites where quick solutions to these problems are normally found."

Dave Aiello continued:

In case you've never done a Netscape Communicator upgrade on Linux, it's actually divided among two different RPMs:

  • netscape-common-4.76-0.62
  • netscape-communicator-4.76-0.62

The information about the netscape-common package says, "This package contains the files that are shared between the Netscape Navigator Web Browser and the Netscape Communicator suite of tools.... Install the netscape-common package if you're installing either the netscape-navigator or the netscape-communicator program.

Seemed straight forward enough. However, the gnorpm application kept complaining that this package was in conflict with the previous version of Netscape Communicator (I think it was 4.73) and the conflict covered dozens of files.

So, I began looking at my books for help understanding the messages that I was seeing. None of the books I had under my desk got far enough into practical use of RPM to tell me how to resolve the conflicts in question. Then I started searching the Internet using Google with a query of upgrade Netscape Communicator 4.73 Linux. It returned a useful page from UserFriendly.net, but all that page said about the upgrade problem was "don't worry about fixing the 4.73 upgrade problem; it's unfixable", attributed to Bill Nottingham at RedHat.

I finally decided, as I do from time to time with RPM, that I should ignore the warnings and install the updated software anyway. So far, there have been no problems.

My reaction to this process is that there has to be a better way. How can the upgrade process for an application like Netscape Communicator be so uncertain? I'm sure RPM is a big improvement over a unique shell script installer for each application, but, RPM has to do a better job of telling the user what the implications of proceeding are. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine how anyone less technical than me (and that takes in a fairly large chunk of the computer-using community) will feel comfortable using Linux as their primary operating system.

As always, I welcome advice from people who know more about Linux than I do.

March 15, 2001

Web Informant Offers Practical Advice on Outsourcing a Mailing List

Dave Aiello wrote, "David Strom produced an excellent piece about his latest search for a third-party mailing list management service. His newsletter has gone through no fewer than six different distribution methods, enroute to his current solution, Ezmlm and qmail provided by his friends at O'Reilly."

"Although O'Reilly and Associates has not exactly hung out their shingle as a mailing list management company, David Strom's analysis is still quite useful. For instance, he explains why he would and would not use Yahoo! Groups, including a discussion of how the customer service on that site has deteriorated since Yahoo! bought eGroups."

Dave Aiello continued:

David Strom's experience with Yahoo! Groups confirms some complaints that I had heard from Philip Mariconda about support for administrators being almost non-existant. I'm glad because I wasn't sure whether Phil's expectations about the service were realistic in the first place, since Phil had just created a group on eGroups immediately prior to the final cut-over to Yahoo! Groups.

The issue of mailing list management also came up at a recent meeting of the Rensselaer Club of New Jersey Leadership Committee. So, I'm sure that Howard Deutsch will be interested to read this article, if only for a little perspective on what is involved in maintaining a mailing list that has hundreds of subscribers.

March 12, 2001

CTDATA FTP and WebMail Services Receive Minor Adjustments

On the first business day since the big server move, our customers found a couple of configuration issues which were not identified during testing. They were that the FTP service was not responding, and that the Web Mail service would not allow messages to be sent. Both of these problems were fixed this evening. Read on for more details....

Nick Martini from GCF, Inc. reported that he was unable to access ftp.ctdata.com. We later determined that the FTP server configuration had never been changed, so it was still trying to listen to the old IP address. The solution was to change the FTP Server configuration, and the service is now running properly.

We also discovered that mail that was created and sent using the CTDATA WebMail Service was not being delivered to its intended recipient(s). The problem in this case was that the mail server's IP address was not changed in the Unsolicited Bulk Email Filter. Therefore, all mail sent through WebMail had been considered an unauthorized attempt to relay through mail.ctdata.com. The solution was to edit the UBE filter, and the WebMail service is now working properly.

Thank you to our customers who discovered these problems. We hope that you were not too inconvenienced by these mistakes. Please notify us if you experience any other server-related problems such as these.

March 10, 2001

CTDATA Internet Services Successfully Relocated

CTDATA's Internet Services were relocated on March 10, 2001. The equipment has been physically relocated, and the IP addresses of all services have been changed.

We have tested the Web Servers and Mail Servers by hand from two locations in different parts of the United States, and they all appear to be working. CTDATA's Network Monitoring Tools have been updated with the new IP address for each server, and the network monitor reports that all CTDATA services are responding. These tests give us a high level of confidence that the move has been successful.

FYI, the Web Servers and Mail Servers were down for most of the period between 2:00 and 4:00am, Eastern Standard Time.

Thanks very much to Martin O'Donnell for his help in making this cut-over a smooth one.

March 6, 2001

Planned Outage of CTDATA Internet Services: March 7, 2001

Due to a planned physical relocation of our server equipment, CTDATA expects that its Internet services will be disrupted between 1:00am and 3:00am, Eastern Standard Time, on Wednesday, March 7. A notice was sent by email to the technical contact people at CTDATA's customers yesterday.

The domains affected by this disruption are ctdata.com, rcnj.org, gcf-inc.com, aaharefs.org, and mvp-consult.com.

We hope that this does not cause too much hardship for our customers. If we find it necessary to change the time window for this disruption, we will update this article as soon as possible.

Update: Due to a bit of confusion between CTDATA and Network Solutions, we were unable to perform the move on March 7. We have rescheduled for Friday, March 9 at approximately the same time.

March 4, 2001

Photo Shows Damage to Washington State Capitol

A couple of days ago, we mentioned that the Metropolitan Seattle Area had experienced a major earthquake. At the time, we were told that the Washington State Capitol in Olympia had been severely damaged, that the dome had cracked, and that one of the pillars on the front of the building had been severely damaged. However, we had not seen many photos that documented the extent of the damage and put it in some perspective.

Today, we found a picture of the capitol which makes the extent of the damage pretty clear. It is in an article in Sunday's Seattle Times.

March 2, 2001

Learning What it Takes to Edit Digital Photos on Linux

Dave Aiello wrote, "I have spoken a number of times of CTDATA's commitment to the Linux platform. However, our actual use often trails that commitment."

"A case in point is digital photo editing. For a couple of years, I have successfully used a Compaq Armada 6500 running Windows NT 4.0 and PaintShop Pro from JASC Software. This solution has served us well in the past, but now I use a Dell Inspiron 7500 with RedHat Linux 6.2 as my personal machine. What now?"

"Anyone who is paying attention to the Linux market knows that GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a good alternative for image manipulation. But, actually using it productively is not that simple. In order to do 'round-trip editing,' I need to be able to mount the media that my digital camera uses to record images, manipulate those images, transfer them to our Web Publishing platform, and then write the Web Page content. The only really difficult part, for an inexperienced Linux user, is mounting the file system."

"I figured out many of the technical issues associated with doing this last night, in the process of producing RCNJ Spring Dinner Meeting Features Bud Peterson for our Web Site RCNJ.org. Read on for more details about the things I learned...."

Dave Aiello continued:

What I wanted to do from the outset was to eject the Psion DACOM 56k Gold Card which has occupied the top PC card slot since I received the Inspiron, and to replace it with my 64M Compact Flash Card in a PC card adapter. I got a lot of good ideas of how to do this by referring to Linux for Your Laptop by Bill Ball.

I found the section "PCMCIA and Card Services", beginning on page 137, particularly helpful. The "cardinfo" X Windows application, which was explained in the book, turned out to be very useful. The biggest issue I had with the way this section of the book is written, it does not clearly state that cardinfo must be run with root privledges if you want to eject the modem.

Once I did this, I was able to insert the Compact Flash card. This gave me a device called /dev/hde1. From there, I attempted to use this mount command:

mount -t vfat /dev/hde1 /mnt/flash

(This is documented in Linux for Your Laptop, Chapter 12, "Data Synchronization", on page 278.) The problem was that I did not have a mount point called /mnt/flash, and I did not know how to create one. I ended up changing directories using "cd /mnt" and trying "mkdir flash". This worked when I was logged in as root.

From there, I was able to issue the mount command described above. Again, I had to be root. Once I was done with the Compact Flash Card, I had to issue the following commands:

umount /mnt/flash
cardctl eject 1

Since I do not do most of my work as the root user, I could not mount, umount, and eject the Compact Flash Card through Gnome. When I tried to do it, it told me that the device was busy, or it was not found in /etc/fstab. I vaguely remembered hearing about fstab, but I could not find any reference to it in the "Linux for Your Laptop".

I found some useful documentation on /etc/fstab in Chapter 6 of Running Linux (3rd Edition) from O'Reilly. The relevant material is on page 166, including a brief explanation on how to create a mount point.

To make it clear, I am interested in making /dev/hde1 user mountable. I have not done and tested this, but when I do it, I will update this story.

Looking back on the entire process, I always avoided dealing with the more obscure aspects of UNIX / Linux file systems, including mount points. However, when I found I really needed to do something practical with them, I found that the concepts were weird, but they were consistant. The only truly inexplicable aspect of the processes, in my opinion was the fact that the unmount command is called "umount".

March 1, 2001

Seattle Earthquake May Affect Access to CTDATA Services

An earthquake of magnitude 6.8 on the Richter scale occurred in the Seattle Metropolitan Area yesterday. CTDATA's internet service infrastructure is co-located in a building in downtown Seattle. Reports from our associates in the area indicate that most buildings and other physical facilities that had been built in the last 10 to 20 years survived the earthquake intact.

The facility where our Internet servers are located survived the earthquake. We also did not experience any immediate loss of connectivity as a result. However, there have been sporadic, brief interruptions overnight.

CTDATA customers should be prepared for this sort of disruption over the next few days.

If we receive any advance notice of impending service disruption due to repairs of carrier facilities in the region, we will attempt to make contact with our customers' technical contacts by any means necessary. Status information will be posted to the Customer Service section of this Web Site.