Debian Wheezy backports

Well, here we are in another fine Tuesday morning in Sydney! Such was the volume of water pouring down the stairs in Town Hall station, I stacked. For those of you not from Australia (or New Zealand?), this referrs to face planting. Or tripping, or falling over, or smashing one's self on a ground in an unfortunate pose.

But enough of physical adventures. I've got a few Debian machines in production, having made the switch from CentOS to line up with what work is using. Interestingly, I've come fully around to the Debian/apt way of doing things, such that the Red Hat universe already feels a little foreign. Well, almost!

Somewhat in lieu of EPEL on my CentOS boxes, Debian has backports. According to the documentation, we can add this:

deb http://http.debian.net/debian wheezy-backports main

This points to a redirector, which sends you to a closer geo and network mirror. Now you can install backported software with:

# apt-get -t wheezy-backports install <SOMETHING> 

So now that we've done that, let's tread into troubleshooting territory. That's a nice, warm, fuzzy way of saying don't type the following lines. In fact, lets make this into a subheading.

Don't type the following

No, really. The number of times I've accidently entered a command I saw on a girl or guy's site late at night before realising its an example of what not to type, is rather embarrasing. Consider yourself warned.

Say for example, you have the following in your sources list, as I did:

deb http://http.debian.net/debian-backports wheezy-backports main

Looks good, right? Alas, it will give you this.

E: The value 'wheezy-backports' is invalid for APT::Default-Release as such a release is not available in the sources

I scratched my head for hours trying to figure this out. I could ping the server, view it in my browser, what's up? If you've arrived here via a web search, maybe you're asking the same question.

The issue is confused syntax. For squeeze-backports, the URL is:

deb http://http.debian.net/debian-backports squeeze-backports main

To repeat the first line in this post, wheezy-backports is:

deb http://http.debian.net/debian wheezy-backports main

That's right, don't include "-backports" going forward with wheezy, and you'll be fine. Cue a reference to Looking Glass. And speaking of pointless references, that image of Yui inexplicably with a Debian Gnome desktop background was by WilusIronforge on DebianART DeviantART. Oh Ruben, you so funny.


UTS Building 11 feedback

My rather impassioned post about UTS Building 11 garnered a few responses online and offline. Thanks everyone for the feedback.

The consensus was largely that the building was less than ideal, though expressed with slightly less frustration than my post was. @hanezawakirika appeared visibly shaken by the discussion, and @Asasifs sought to remind me that universities are money making enterprises, and that the true "target audience" of the building wasn't students. Touché!

From some of my lovely Twitterlings:

@wanopanog: all the levels are nearly identical, not 'mismatched'. What bugs me is the fact one can't take the stairs all the way up.

Exactly. If you can't access the floors in the same way, they don't have the same layout and fail for accessibility. And don't get me started on the entirely different basement levels, or that awkward entresol off the foyer, or the awkwardly sized open areas with tables in entirely different places for each floor.

@Dorry_kun: What about a university building, to replace and an older one the students couldn't fit in, being even smaller?

No kidding.

@Dorry_kun: To the point that half the class is sitting out in the hallway listening through an opened door?

I've noticed that in the one tutorial I have in that building as well; there are at least two people who have to steal chairs from other rooms and crowd around computer desks desgined for one.

This may be a symptom of class sizes still being calculated for building 10 rooms. If so, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt while this is all new. If this persists though, the building has failed in the second way a building can.

The foyer and odd basements are probably writeoffs, but I wonder if the odd staircase pattern is structural, or whether they could rip them all out and fix them? Interesting.


What is the point of a building? Without getting normative, its probably safe to say buildings are designed for those who will use it. New office buildings have large, column free spaces; art galleries are in many cases works of art themselves. How people will occupy and use buildings should inform everything about them.

The University of Technology, Sydney, my beloved alma mater, has been spending our student fees on a new set of buildings to inspire their next generation of students and staff. The appropriately binary building 11 was recently opened for the faculty of IT. Given how (relatively) well they renovated the former Fairfax building into Building 10, I had high hopes.

(Aside: I only learned what “alma mater” was after editing Wikipedia infoboxes. Also, what the difference between American fraternities and sororities are. Alpha cappa sandwich. Weird stuff).

UTS Building 11's interlocking binary steel plates, glowing lights and sharp angles sure present an imposing sight from the street. We're a technology university, take a look at our unapologetically modern new structure! It's a sight to behold, especially at night.

Unfortunately, in the architect's quest to leave an impression, its resulting internal design renders it utterly useless in its primary function as a university building. Namely, making it as easy as possible for students and staff to find the classrooms they're paying to attend, or being paid to teach in.

With escalators and stairs of differing lengths interlocking and sending wary, confused travellers different directions with each artistically mismatched floor, its neigh impossible to find anything. Staring up from the ground floor, the initial feeling of quirky fun gives way to the impression of cluttered, unorganised chaos.

There are still classrooms in the basement, harking back to those dark dungeon classrooms of the tower building. The sloping, bare concrete foyer is sterile, cold and slippery with even the lightest rain on one's feet; ditto the brown linoleum stairs that already look filthy.

In its quest to leave students inspired, our student fees have bought a building that fails in the primary way a university building can. I wouldn't call it a white elephant, but I can already hear the collective anguish and frustration of the thousands of students who will be subjected to this building's design for decades to come.


Robin Williams

Robin was one of those previous few who made us laugh and think, as children and adults.

I can't think how to put this unselfishly, but his breathless standup got me through so many of my own dark times. I don't care for celebrities or gossip, but Robin was one of the few I'd have loved to meet. What a wonderful human being.

Peace ♥


Saturday nights with a PSU

With a little spare time, my girlfriend Clara and I decided to see why my venerable Antec A300-encased Core 2 Duo Xen tower had trouble rebooting. In the process, we managed to clean her up, reorganise her internals, tie down cables and generally have a fun and terribly nerdy Saturday evening!

"Her" referring to the computer, not Clara.

When reboots involve unplugging things

Since our last move, my secondary tower has had trouble with rebooting. I could almost hear my Mac Pro chucking to herself each time I had to reach to the back of this DIY box to unplug her. In this case it wasn't a three finger salute, as much as it was a scraped knee and soft muttering.

Originally designed as an outlet for DIY fun since going to the Mac, this tower has gradually assumed more responsibilities once I started getting into KVM and, more recently, Xen. Like all good open source projects, this tower had no plan whatsoever, but evolved organically as I sourced cheap parts to fit exactly what I needed.

In keeping with my anime girl naming scheme, she became Yuki. An understated machine with more power than her outward appearance would suggest. 2008 Ruben thought that was clever.

Until last night, she would shut down just fine, but soft or hard reboots would result in a blank screen, no reassuring whirring of her hard drives and misleading LED indicators. The only viable remediation was flicking the physical switch on the PSU, waiting ten seconds, then booting her again.

That should have sounded warning bells that the PSU was shot, but like any good self diagnosing gentleman who assumes they have some horrible condition when they're manfluing, I assumed I had a shot motherboard or worse. I reseated the soft power switch cable in its pins, tested the RAM in other machines, even went out and bought a replacement graphics card.

(To be fair, the old one was noisy, and I was able to source a fanless one. For a server I'd even just serial console into if I could, this is fine).

The advantage of being an electronic archivist

So over the course of the evening, Clara and I decided to pull apart some other half working, accumulated desktops into one fully functioning unit. Turns out our mothball collecting, CD ripping tower had a far newer PSU, so on a hunch we decided to try it out.

One transplant later, and Yuki is completely back in business. She can shutdown, soft reboot, hard reboot and sleep like the best of them. I was also able to show Clara some of the finer points of DIY computer hardware, gleaned from years of introverted teenage tinkering that often resulted in serious damage and wasted money.

Moral of the story, if your machine has power troubles, shock of horrors, it may be the power supply. And if so, use the opportunity to upgrade the machine and generally have some nerdy fun :).