December 2008


Translation template updated

Posted on Monday, 22 December 2008

Something that I've consistently failed at previously is uploading new translation templates in a timely fashion before a release. The translation community is absolutely fantastic and I want to make the best use of them that we possibly can, so beginning now I'm making more of a focus on regularly uploading templates to allow these multi-lingual rockstars enough time to make sure that the next release of Terminator has as much coverage as possible in your favourite language.


New Terminator feature: Directional terminal navigation

Posted on Saturday, 20 December 2008

One of the nice side effects of being at an Ubuntu Developer Summit is the interesting conversations you have with people outside of the sessions themselves (which, as a sysadmin present to support the event itself, I was not particularly involved in).

One such conversation was over lunch in a busy Google canteen with Kees Cook, one of our rocking security engineers and a thoroughly decent chap. After a while we came to the subject of Terminator and some of the features we'd like to implement, the ones that have been requested and we're not particularly motivated to work on, and the odd ones.

I was trying to remember the things people have asked us to add, that for one reason or another we probably aren't going to and mentioned one about the ability to navigate between terminals in a directional way: That is, rather than doing Ctrl-Tab to cycle through the terminals in the order they were created, you could press something to move to the terminal to the left, or above, right or below the currently focussed one.

On the surface it sounds like a good idea and probably not too tricky, but only if you think from the point of view of a grid. That really would be easy, but our UI is produced by way of a tree structure, not a grid. This means you need to do some proper thinking to figure it out. Kees' face lit up and he said something like "that sounds like a graph theory problem!" and expressed an interest in working on it.

I'm very glad to say that in just under a week after we all went home from UDS, I've just merged his results into trunk.

Thanks very much to Kees for his code and helpful suggestions (such as resurrecting Marcus Korn's simultaneous-typing branch, which I did one evening at UDS - rewriting it and then merging it into trunk). Also thanks to the other Terminator users I met there :)

So that's two new features, although not really the big ticket ones that are holding back 1.0 ;)


My new project: juicyD (maybe)

Posted on Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Being a sysadmin I tend to install operating systems quite often on various bits of hardware. This means a lot of CDs. I carry at least 4 CDs in my laptop sleeve and that's not really enough, plus I sometimes burn CDs to update firmwares in laptops, etc.

It doesn't sound like the end of the world, because it's not, but that doesn't mean the status quo is worth keeping. I've been thinking for a while now that it would be great to have a solid-state device I could use as a USB CDROM. I could load it up with a bunch of ISOs and boot from them without having to carry round a load of CDs or waste blank CDs for BIOS/firmware upgrades that are only a few MB.
A little research showed that, as ever, Linux was the perfect candidate because of its USB Gadget subsystem, which lets it act as USB Mass Storage, USB Ethernet, USB Serial, USB MIDI and other things.

While the Mass Storage support currently in the kernel doesn't include CDROM support, there is a patch kicking around which adds it as an option when loading the g_file_storage kernel module.

Next up - selecting some suitable hardware to test this on.

Atmel's NGW100 ticks all of the boxes for a test rig, it's got a serial port, a USB port, a power port and an MMC card slot. It's much bigger than a gumstix, and not powered by USB (although there is a dubious sounding hardware hack for this), but this is a low cost board to prove the project is possible.

The board comes with linux pre-installed, but the kernel isn't super-new, and since the CD-ROM patch isn't in mainline yet, I needed to get the board up to date.

Fortunately there is a great community of people around embedded linux. With a bunch of googling and help from HcE on #elinux, last night I got stuck in and built a toolchain, kernel, root image and upgraded the bootloader. This morning I uploaded a new image with a slightly old version of the CD-ROM patch (because I only just found the newer version while writing this post).

There's also plenty of information around about this, but it can be a challenge to wade into a brand new system and immediately know the right places to look (the wiki turns out to be supremely useful, as was HcE).

So the question is, does it work? The simple anwer is yes, a Linux machine sees it as a CD-ROM drive and can mount it as such. The more complex, and slightly worse answer is not yet, because a test against a BIOS didn't work. It's possible this is a hardware issue, but it could be a software issue too, so I'm casting around for ideas :)
(the name "juicyD" is probably temporary, and I noticed about 6 hours after I chose it that someone commented on an earlier post with that nick a while ago. Weird)