Lent starting

This year’s Lent starts. We may approach it as a period of inconvenient restriction or as a good chance to gain something.

I’ve been thinking about absurdities of our society.

We kill innocent and defenseless people. This has always happened but what I am additionally worried about is that we seriously talk about the “right” to kill the defenseless and present the “right” as “progress”. Our society apparently prefers murdering as a good way of solving problems instead of implementing better solutions.

We try to invent new forms of marriage and family and call it “equal rights”. Not everything works as it should, we all need respect to many of our handicaps, health and personal problems and we should be empathic and helpful when dealing with such things. But trying to make inherently different things “equal” is not the way, it’s simply insane. Our society embraces that insanity, calls it “progress” and those who don’t accept it are labeled as reactionaries.

Western civilization is so rich that we could work much less and get more time and energy for utilizing our creativity and making noble things. Instead, we work more and more and often waste our best in work of dubious purpose at our jobs. Our society embraces that as “economic growth”.

Many people are overloaded while many others can’t find any job. If you think about skills, workaholics and laziness, you’ve got some point. But it’s only part of the problem, look around you and you’ll probably find different examples. Isn’t there something odd in our society?

Rich people are getting richer while other people lose. Nothing surprising considering the power imbalance but where’s the power of democracy? Look at some election results and try to understand it. Still no feeling of living in absurdity?

I’m not talking about grass which used to be greener in the past. The society has been experiencing serious problems all the time. Modern society has its own problems demonstrating that progress produces not only improvements but also severe absurdities. This is going to have consequences similar to the ones in the past. We can’t assume our lives will be easier or happier in the future just because we may apply some sorts of engineering.

The fast time is a good opportunity to think about what each one of us can change, in himself, around him, in the society. To discard the barriers of evil that prevent us from doing good. To ask for help where it can really come from. Let it be a great time and a step forward.

FreedomBox

There is an interesting article The Tangled Web We Have Woven by Eben Moglen in the current issue of Communications of the ACM. Eben Moglen makes some good and serious points about our privacy and about future of democracy in the era of internet services. I also suggest watching the talk of Eben Moglen and Bdale Garbee about FreedomBox at this year’s FOSDEM.

We’ve got free software but we still miss something. Look around you. How about miscellaneous devices you use? My routers, phones, TV, video player, e-book reader and printer all run on proprietary software. If you work with computers at your job, can you say you’ve got a free software job? I can’t. There is clearly a problem.

The first part of the problem is hardware. Many of the proprietary devices are perfectly capable of running custom free software and they even run on Linux kernel. But the vendors prevent us from running our own software on the devices. And we have to fight with secret device specifications and proprietary device drivers all the time. It seems we can’t go on without free hardware.

Don’t presume things can’t change. Major hardware and software vendors got sufficiently scared by the One Laptop per Child project and they started to produce and sell previously unavailable cheap netbooks. So we can persuade them to start doing something else. And if they don’t listen to us, maybe there are ways to help us ourselves despite some previous efforts were not exceptionally successful.

The second part of the problem is publicity. People are typically completely unaware of consequences of using popular services such as web search, web mail, shared storage, social networking or internet telephony when they run on centrally controlled proprietary platforms. If people don’t know and don’t care then they can’t resist and little can get better.

So people at The Free Software Foundation do probably the right thing when they focus on free hardware certification and common publicity now. We all should try to participate in our ways and focus on explaining all the things to the general public. Again, it’s not impossible and I can confirm (some) people listen to serious arguments.

The aforementioned article pointed me to the FreedomBox project. After thinking about it a bit I like it. If it succeeds it may help a lot. I think we’ll appreciate it under all circumstances (not only here if the next elections in our country will be the last free ones). It may help bringing things like software freedom, private data storage, communication and device operation, or emergency networking to every home and pocket.

ZFS user

I decided that it is a good idea to replace my complicated hard drive setup utilizing parted + mdadm + vg* + lv* + mkfs + fsck + fstab + whatever else with just zpool + zfs. Let’s run zpool once and then create and manage file systems without artificial constraints, without unnecessary administration overhead and with added benefits such as check sums, snapshots or file system sharing across different operating systems.

I run ZFS on Linux for more than a month now and I appreciate its end user simplicity a lot. It’s not without problems though.

The first problem is licensing set by a proprietary software company and making the ZFS free license incompatible with GPL. So ZFS can’t be integrated into Linux and has to be installed separately as additional modules. It’s not that much problem for the end user except that it complicates using ZFS as a root file system. For simplicity and safety I use small separate non-ZFS drives for booting and running the root file systems. Otherwise ZFS on Linux releases build Debian packages smoothly and they can be installed without any problems.

The second problem is operating system stability. I run ZFS on two quite different GNU/Linux machines seriously. zfs send reliably crashes both of them. While this is the only problem on one of the machines, the other machine suffers from occasional freezes since I started to use ZFS on it. I can’t say the problem is in ZFS as I can’t get any information from a frozen machine, but ZFS is the primary suspect.

EDIT: Well, the computer has just frozen on the BIOS boot screen after manual reboot. So ZFS can’t be the direct cause of the freezes. Perhaps my hardware doesn’t like my new hard drive configuration.

System reinstallation

Linux Containers became unable to start after host system boot on one of my machines. They started fine on boot but any later attempts to start any of them failed with a weird message Invalid argument - pivot_root syscall failed. I couldn’t get help on that and obvious actions like trying to stop some daemons or reading Linux sources didn’t help.

I had no interest to debug the boot process on the machine so when I was changing my hard drive configuration (for a completely different reason) I simply reinstalled the host system. And the problem was gone. This was for the first time during my 19 years use of GNU/Linux systems when I had to reinstall the system because something stopped working.

I’m disappointed with Linux Containers. Although they basically work they still lack some basic features like finer permissions, direct execution of commands in a running container or file deduplication. And I can see little progress since I started using them. There are new problems instead. Why is such a basic virtualization feature so poorly supported in Linux? Is my system reinstallation another sign of deeper problems in free software development?