Brandon's Notepad

June 28, 2010

Funkyputers, R.I.P.

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Linux — Brandon @ 7:11 am
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When I finally committed to using Linux exclusively for my personal computing, I had just bought a new laptop and installed Ubuntu over the existing Windows partition. I removed the Windows badge from its place near the keyboard, but felt like something was missing. I looked online for Linux badges and found several listings on eBay. The best were from a shop called Funkyputers. I bought a lot of ten, including some bearing the logos of other distributions, just in case I decided not to stick with Ubuntu. The quality wasn’t quite as good as the labels stamped for manufacturers, but they’ve lasted surprising long without much fading. After running across a half-page ad that was shipped with my order, I thought I might order some new badges for the family’s new netbooks, only to find that Funkyputers is no more.

Contact info for Funkyputers included:

I believe this was a sole proprietorship owned by one Tausif “Puck” Rahman. He’s the fellow that handled my order, and after looking up the company’s mailing address on Google Maps, it looks like it was probably run out of someone’s flat in Cardiff, in southern Wales. Puck seemed like a very nice fellow and I hope all is well with him.

August 30, 2010. I was recently contacted by one of Puck’s business associates as a result of this post. It seems that his decision to close shop was sudden and may have been motivated, at least in part, by personal circumstances. Whereas my correspondance with Puck was very brief, this particular customer had an ongoing business relationship with Puck and was able to determine that Puck was ok. He also recommended ScotGold Products in Aberdeenshire, Scotland for similar products. I’ve not had a need to shop there myself yet, but I’ll certainly give them a try when such a need arises.

December 31, 2009

Beowulf Clusters

Home > My Lists > Technology > Hardware > Parallel Computing > Beowulf Clusters

The Beowulf Cluster is one of the reasons I jumped onto the Linux bandwagon in the late 1990s. The idea of making good use of old computers to solve real world problems fascinated me. As computers continue to shrink in size, price, and power consumption, the reuse aspect is less appealing than before, but the concept still draws me in from time to time. I only wish I could justify the cost of building one.

General Information

A Beowulf Cluster generally refers to a collection of consumer-grade computers connected by a local network that run parallel-processing applications. The typical Beowulf Cluster runs on the Linux OS and distributes processing tasks using either Message Passing Interface (MPI) or Parallel Virtual Machine (PVM) libraries.


How To Build A Cluster

Building the cluster is half the battle (the other half is writing programs for it). Thankfully, there are a lot of how-to pages out there. Some cover just the basic steps while others provide more explanation and background information. It’s been interesting to watch them evolve over time to, in length, complexity, and style. Here is a sample:

Finally, this isn’t a how-to article, but it’s worth the read. Cluster Urban Legends: Build Your Cluster With Facts Not Fiction, written by Dr. Douglas Eadline in 2007, debunks some of the major myths and misunderstandings surround Beowulf Clusters. In short, it helps you determine if you are really building one for the right reasons.

Cluster Programming

So, you’ve built a Beowulf Cluster. Now what? Well, now You have to write programs for your cluster to solve all of the world’s complex problems. Beowulf Clusters are built for crunching numbers, not serving up web pages. That means they are used primarily in the sciences, though I can think of a few business applications that could benefit from the extra processing power (think derivatives pricing).

I have a lot more research to do in this area. Currently, I have only a link to some information about an old text book to offer. I need to add more tutorials to this list, especially in the use of MPI and PVM, and how to determine when it’s appropriate to use one over the other. Check back later or watch my Twitter feed for updates.

Real World Beowulf Clusters

Years ago, I started compiling a list of real Beowulf Clusters that had been built for various purposes. I still have the list, though some of the links are now gone or only available on the Wayback Machine Internet Archive. I was hoping to do a little write-up on each cluster on the list, but if that doesn’t pan out, then will just add the list in this section.


And of course, most scientists, engineers, and computer geeks are gifted with a great sense of humor (even if we are the only ones that understand our own jokes).

July 29, 2009

Rsync Resources

Filed under: Linux — Brandon @ 9:00 pm

Here is a list of resources for rsync, the Unix remote file syncronization utility:

General Reference


Applications of Rsync


May 28, 2009

Linux & Mobile Phones

Filed under: How-To,Linux — Brandon @ 7:22 am
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At the time of this writing, I use a Motorola KRZR K1m for my personal mobile phone. Needless to say, the phone comes with software that runs on Windows, not Linux, so I have a 1GB Micro SD card for transferring pictures to my PC. I’ve done a little research on how to make the phone interact with Linux and my findings are as follows.

A program called moto4lin is available on Sourceforge and is based on the P2K platform. It allows you to view the phone’s file system and edit files. While the app isn’t ancient, there doesn’t appear to be any active development at the time of this writing. I first made note of this app in July 2007, the site was last updated in mid-September 2008 and the last comment on the Main Page was added in May 2006.

This page by Stephen Evanchik details adding ringtones to a RAZR V3, and I suspect the same method can be used with the K1m. The basic steps are:

  1. Convert a sound/music file to a 20 second MP3 file (44.1kHz, 64kbps, <200kb).
  2. Copy the MP3 file to /a/mobile/audio on the phone.
  3. Set phone to silent mode.
  4. Delete the MyToneDB.db & TempToneDB.db files.
  5. Reboot the phone, remove from silent mode and browse for the new ringtone.

Finally, here are a few links on setting up Bluetooth on Ubuntu:

April 24, 2009

Linux Boot Process

Filed under: Linux — Brandon @ 7:24 am
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Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > Linux Boot Process

This note began as a summary of this already-concise overview of the Linux startup process.

  1. BIOS Power On Self Test (POST)
  2. Boot Loader (GRUB, LILO, etc.)
  3. Kernel loads
  4. Init loads (configured by /etc/inittab)
  5. Runlevel selected (default set in inittab)
  6. Init scripts executed (/etc/rc#.d, #=runlevel)

July 2, 2008

Linux Gaming

Filed under: Computer Software,Linux — Brandon @ 4:27 pm
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I’m not a big gamer, but here are some resources that have caught my eye:

June 29, 2008

Headless Linux Web Client

Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > Headless Linux Web Client

Here’s my thoughts on a Linux-based headless web client:

  • MiniKnoppix would be a good platform, but the following packages would have to be readded: anacron, expect, html2text, m4, ndiswrapper.
  • Knoppix has a “persistent home” option.
  • The JFFS filesystem will distribute wear on a Compact Flash drive.
  • Fetchmail & procmail could be used to retreive simple text info by cell phone or IM.
  • “Web Client Programming with Perl” & “Spidering Hacks” by O’Reilly publishing would provide much help in scripting scrapes and other tools/toys.

March 20, 2008

Backing Up Online E-mail

Filed under: Computer Software,Linux — Brandon @ 8:18 am
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Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > Backing Up Online E-mail

This article from Wired provided some good suggestions for backing up GMail:

  1. Mozilla Thunderbird – set up POP or IMAP and open the app once in a while.
  2. Getmail – available in the Ubuntu repositories, easy to configure, and can be run via cron.
  3. Fetchmail – reportedly ‘arcane’ and more difficult to set up, but also run on the command line.

February 27, 2008

Graphics Automation

Filed under: Computer Software,Linux — Brandon @ 9:07 pm
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Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > Graphics Automation

I read an interesting article on running OpenOffice as a headless service. (Look here for more info on actually making it work.) It focuses on using OO as an online document converter, but I’m sure there are other uses.

Reading that made me think of other useful things that could be done from the command line, such as editing & converting photos. I know that the Gimp (i.e. OpenSource equivalent to Photoshop) includes a scripting language and a Perl interface exists if you want to use its capabilities in a script; however, I don’t think it can run headless out of the box. Instead, I use ImageMagick for such tasks. Here’s an article explaining how to do some simple things in that tool. It’s really useful if you manage a lot of graphics files, be it your personal photo album or the graphics for the websites you author.

Finally, Inkscape is a vector graphics program similar to Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand. It will allow you to save vector-based drawings (i.e. lines & shapes) as XML files that can be directly manipulated with a text editor (or a script, if you want to automate the creation of forms or whatever). It also has a command-line interface that could allow you to export your drawings as PDF files!

For Non-Linux Users: All three of these applications are available for Windows (i.e. you need not install Linux to use them)! OO and Inkscape are available for Mac OS X, but it appears that ImageMagick must be compiled from source. Since Windows has a command prompt (even Vista) and BSD-based OS X has a command-line shell as well, these tricks should work on any of these platforms.

February 18, 2008

Linux, Broadcom & NDISwrapper

Filed under: Computer Hardware,How-To,Linux — Brandon @ 10:02 am
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Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > Linux, Broadcom & NDISwrapper

At the time of this writing, many laptops, including Dell and HP/Compaq, contain Wifi cards made by Broadcom. In the past, there has been no ‘official’ driver written by Broadcom for these devices for Linux. A tried and true way of using these cards with Linux is through the use of the NDISwrapper utility.

General Procedure

  1. Install NDISwrapper package if not already installed.
  2. Download the Wifi drivers from Dell, Compaq, etc.
  3. Extract the necessary files (e.g. bcmwl5.inf & bcmwl.sys). This may require running a “self-extracting” file under Wine.
  4. Install the driver: sudo ndiswrapper -i /dir_path/bcmwl5.inf
  5. Verify the hardware is present: sudo ndiswrapper -l
  6. Load the driver: sudo modprobe ndiswrapper
  7. Update the configuration: sudo ndiswrapper -m

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