Shallow Thoughts : : Nov

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 25 Nov 2012

Keeping track of the deer

[DEER DB] I saw this sign on a fence around a debris dam.

It's good to see that LA County cares so much about keeping track of the local deer population that it maintains a special database for them.

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[ 11:20 Nov 25, 2012    More humor | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 19 Nov 2012

Wind-up car

[Real drivable wind-up car]

I saw this car on Bascom the other day. Very cute! Nicely done.

(Usually I GIMP out the license plates of cars in photos, but in this case I don't think it's needed.)

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[ 20:17 Nov 19, 2012    More humor | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 14 Nov 2012

How To Satisfy Debian Dependencies Without Installing The Stupid Package

(This is a guest post by David North.)

Debian developers tend to get overzealous in their dependency lists, probably to avoid constant headaches from fringe cases whose favorite programs fail because they also need some obscure library or package support (and yes, I'm talking to you, Ubuntu). But what if you don't want some goofy dependency (and the cascade of other crap it pulls in?)

As a small aside, aptitude/apt-get hold <pkg> is terrific if you just want to keep a package at a pre-horkage level, but for some obcure reason you can't "hold" a package that isn't installed. So that won't work as of 11/2012.

You can however generate an equivalent package with a higher version number and install it, which naturally blocks the offending package. Even better, the replacement package need do nothing at all other than satisfy the apt database. Even better, the whole thing is incredibly simple.

First install the "equivs" package. This will deliver two programs:

Officially you should start with 'equivs-control <:pkgname>' which will create a file 'pkgname' in the current directory. Inside are various fields but you only need eight and can simply delete the rest. Here's approximately what you should end up with for a fictional package "pkgname":

Section: misc
Priority: optional
Standards-Version: 3.9.2

Package: pkgname
Version: 1:42
Maintainer: Your Name <your@email.address>
Architecture: all
Description: fake pkgname to block a dumb dependency

The first three lines are just boilerplate, though you may have to increment the standards-version at some point if you reuse the file. No changes are needed now.

The pkgname does actually have to match the name of the package you want to block. The version must be higher than that of the target package. Maintainer need not be you, but it's a good idea to at least use a name you recognize as yourself. Architecture can be left as "all" unless you're doing something extra tricky. Description is not necessary but a good idea; put your notes here.

The only trick is the version. Note the 1:42 structure here. The first number is the "epoch" in debian-speak, and may or may not be used. In practice I've never seen an epoch greater than one, so I suggest using either 1 or 2 here rather than just leaving it blank. You can see the epoch number in a package when you use aptitude show <pkgname>. The version is the number immediately after the colon, and for safety's sake should be considerably larger than the version you're trying to block (to avoid future updates). I like to use "42" for obvious reasons unless the actual package version is too close. Factoid: if no "epoch" is indicated debian will assume epoch 0, which will not show up as a zero in a .deb (or in aptitude show) but rather as a blank. The version number will have no colon in this event.

Having done this, all you need do is issue the command 'equivs-build path-to-pkgname' (preferably from the same directory) and you get a fake deb to install with dpkg -i. Say goodbye to the dependency.

One more trick: once you have your file <pkgname> with the Eight Important Fields, you can pretty much skip using equivs-control. All it does is make the initial text file, and it will be easier to edit the one you already have with a new package name (and rename the file at the same time). Note, however, this handy file will not necessarily be useful on other debian-based systems or later installs, so running equivs-control after a big upgrade or moving to another distro is very good practice. If you compare the files and they have the same entries, great. If not, use the new ones.

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[ 11:50 Nov 14, 2012    More linux/install | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 09 Nov 2012

How to talk to your Rapsberry Pi over an ethernet crossover cable with IP masquerading

I've been using my Raspberry Pi mostly headless -- I'm interested in using it to control hardware. Most of my experimenting is at home, where I can plug the Pi's built-in ethernet directly into the wired net.

But what about when I venture away from home, perhaps to a group hacking session, or to give a talk? There's no wired net at most of these places, and although you can buy USB wi-fi dongles, wi-fi is so notoriously flaky that I'd never want to rely on it, especially as my only way of talking to the Pi.

Once or twice I've carried a router along, so I could set up my own subnet -- but that means an extra device, ten times as big as the Pi, and needing its own power supply in a place where power plugs may be scarce.

The real solution is a crossover ethernet cable. (My understanding is that you can't use a normal ethernet cable between two computers; the data send and receive lines will end up crossed. Though I may be wrong about that -- one person on #raspberrypi reported using a normal ethernet cable without trouble.)

Buying a crossover cable at Fry's was entertaining. After several minutes of staring at the dozens of bins of regular ethernet cables, I finally found the one marked crossover, and grabbed it. Immediately, a Fry's employee who had apparently been lurking in the wings rushed over to warn me that this wasn't a normal cable, this wasn't what I wanted, it was a weird special cable. I thanked him and assured him that was exactly what I'd come to buy.

Once home, with my laptop connected to wi-fi, I plugged one end into the Pi and the other end into my laptop ... and now what? How do I configure the network so I can talk to the Pi from the laptop, and the Pi can gateway through the laptop to the internet?

The answer is IP masquerading. Originally I'd hoped to give the Pi a network address on the same networking (192.168.1) as the laptop. When I use the Pi at home, it picks a network address on 192.168.1, and it would be nice not to have to change that when I travel elsewhere. But if that's possible, I couldn't find a way to do it.

Okay, plan B: the laptop is on 192.168.1 (or whatever network the wi-fi happens to assign), while the Pi is on a diffferent network, 192.168.0. That was relatively easy, with some help from the Masquerading Simple Howto.

Once I got it working, I wrote a script, since there are quite a few lines to type and I knew I wouldn't remember them all. Of course, the script has to be run as root. Here's the script, on github: masq.

I had to change one thing from the howto: at the end, when it sets up security, this line is supposed to enable incoming connections on all interfaces except wlan0:

iptables -A INPUT -m state --state NEW -i ! wlan0 -j ACCEPT

But that gave me an error, Bad argument `wlan0'. What worked instead was

iptables -A INPUT -m state --state NEW ! -i wlan0 -j ACCEPT
Only a tiny change: swap the order of -i and !. (I sent a correction to the howto authors but haven't heard back yet.)

All set! It's a nice compact way to talk to your Pi anywhere. Of course, don't forget to label your crossover cable, so you don't accidentally try to use it as a regular ethernet cable. Now please excuse me while I go label mine.

Update: Ed Davies has a great followup, Crossover Cables and Red Tape, that talks about how to set up a subnet if you don't need the full masquerading setup, why non-crossover cables might sometimes work, and a good convention for labeling crossover cables: use red tape. I'm going to adopt that convention too -- thanks, Ed!

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[ 16:57 Nov 09, 2012    More hardware | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 05 Nov 2012

High Schooler's for a Better Community

[High Schooler's for a Better Community (HSFBC)] It's great to see high school kids doing public-spirited community projects like trail maintenance!

But I have to wonder if this particular group might do better spending some of that time working on studying their punctuation rules ...

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[ 12:13 Nov 05, 2012    More humor | permalink to this entry | comments ]