About two years ago, I decided to try mountain biking again. It's not as if I was new to it. My current mountain bike at the time was a 2001 Trek 4900 (mine does not have the hideous pedal clips), which I bought new. I rode off and on at a few trails but never really put much thought or effort into actually learning about mountain biking. As a result, I lost interest but kept the bike until I picked it back up to try again in late 2011.
The first order of business was to get fit. It's difficult to really enjoy the thrill of singletrack when you have to stop frequently to catch your breath. To remedy this, I worked on building up my strength and endurance by riding on a sidewalk near my house that goes around a 5 mile loop. It includes plenty of climbs and descents as well as quick changes in direction, so it made the perfect "training ground" without having to worry about rocks, roots, trees, or any other of the many obstacles normally encountered on a real mountain bike trail . After two months of building up my speed, endurance, and pedaling strength, I was ready to hit the trails.
I'm fortunate to have a great trail system a little over a mile from my house, so I just ride there instead of loading the bike and riding gear into a car and driving (plus it serves as more opportunity for exercise). Over several months I gained a lot of confidence and the ability to tackle many obstacles but realized I needed a way to stay attached to the bike for more bumpy terrain. A colleague at work was generous enough to give me two pairs of Shimano clipless pedals. I rushed out to buy shoes and SPD cleats and was quickly back on the trail. What a difference! If there is one investment worth making that can dramatically improve your riding, it has to be clipless pedals. Not only do they keep you attached to the bike, but they enforce a good foot position on the pedal (the ball of your foot is on the pedal instead of your arch as is the case with platform pedals) and give you the ability to "pedal up" by pulling up on pedal upstrokes as well as pushing down on down strokes. By itself, that gives you double the pedaling power since you can pull up on one side of the crank while simultaneously pushing down on the other. Steep climbs become a non-event.
With my increasing stamina, confidence, and pedal power came an increase in speed and riding skills. This increase meant I was starting to hit the limits of the bike so I began to look around for a natural upgrade. My two criteria were 29" wheels and disc brakes. Rim brakes just don't cut it when you need real stopping power. After some advice from a friend, I bought a 2013 Trek Cobia. In short, this bike rolls over anything in its path, fits like a glove, can go all day, and is easily as nimble as the 26" 4900 it replaced. If you've never tried a 29" mountain bike, it can be a real eye opener. The larger wheels give you much more rolling momentum than a 26" at the expense of needing more foot work to get up to speed. The trade off is well worth it. I'm able to coast down a trail and pass riders on 26" bikes while they're pedaling furiously to keep up.
After several months of increasing my abilities even further, I decided it was finally time to buy a full suspension bike. Having had such good experiences with my two Treks, I figured I'd put it at the top of my list but keep an open mind on brands. I looked at several Felt, Specialized, and Giant models, but nothing seemed to quite fit what I was after. I then turned to the Trek Superfly (the 100 AL) as it was the only reasonably priced 29" full suspension bike at the time. Another option was the Remedy 8, but at over $3,000, it was more like a pipe dream. On my next visit to my local bike shop, I got wind that the 2014 Fuel EX line was going 29", so I decided to hold off on a purchase. I checked back in a few weeks later with my eye on the Fuel EX 7, but was advised to pay the extra $300 for the better equipped Fuel EX 8. I usually don't care to get the upsell talk, but in this case, the recommendation was spot on. I took delivery of my new 2014 Fuel EX 8 (at the time, 1 of 7 remaining in the U.S. in my frame size!) on August 1st. When the weather finally cleared up a few days later I took it to the trail for a spin.
WOW! The test ride I did at the bike shop was nice but nothing comes close to riding on a real trail. The difference between the components in the Fuel and the Cobia was more than noticeable. You can really appreciate the engineering that went into this bike when you switch the CTD lever on the shock and fork and aim the bike down a hill. Coming from a hardtail that bumps and bounces all over to a full suspension bike that stays planted (thank you ABP!) frees you from worrying about keeping the bike under control so you can concentrate on the trail ahead. The Shimano SLX calipers stop on a dime without feeling too "rigid" like the Avid Elixers on the Cobia. I can go on, but the takeaway is this: combining 29" wheels with the impressive components and tech the Fuel line is known for makes for a bike that annihilates anything you can throw at it and dares you to go faster and ride harder. My average speed on my local trail is nearing 15 mph. That may not seem like much (it's basically standing still in road cycling), but consider that I'm going up and down hills, over rock gardens, over roots, up and down switchbacks and berms and on and on. In short, it's like I'm doing 120 on the freeway and getting away with it.
With that said, not everything is so rosy. In particular:
- You HAVE to get the EX 8 dialed in for maximum performance. Make sure the bike shop inflates the fork and shock according to your body weight. Experiment with the height of the saddle. Mine is set higher than I have it set on my hardtails (or at least it feels that way).
- Get comfortable switching the CTD levers based on the terrain you're riding. For the most part you can leave them both on the Trail setting, but I find myself frequently using the Descend setting on the fork and the Trail setting on the shock.
- Even though DRCV does feel like you have limitless travel, I've bottomed out my shock a few times with it set to Descend mode. I likely need to play with the settings and add some air, but using Trail mode keeps it in check at the expense of a slightly stiffer descent.
- The bike itself is actually quite attractive, but do realize it's gonna get scuffed up. I've had good luck with the frame, but for some reason, my shoes rubbed the Shimano logo off the cranks. The down tube guard helps to keep the frame from getting too scuffed.
- The stock Bontrager XR3 tires provide incredible grip but are a bear to get back on the rim when replacing a tube. Replacing tubes on the Cobia and 4900 is much easier.
- The Bontrager Race Lite grips are uncomfortable. I'll likely replace mine with the same Ergon GP1 grips I have on my Cobia.
Regardless, the good aspects of the EX 8 by far outweigh the negatives, with the negatives consisting mostly of complaints and not faults. If you're looking to purchase your first full suspension bike, I cannot recommend the Fuel EX 8 enough. The EX 7 is a great bike as well, but the brakes on the EX 8 are much better and worth the extra expense. What a journey it has been!
Some parting thoughts:
- I still have my 4900 and ride it occasionally. I have beaten this bike to death and it still goes. I've crashed on it too many times to count and yet nothing bends or breaks. Not bad for a $500 starter bike. It'll outlive me.
- I mostly use the Cobia when I can't make it to the trails these days. I intend to keep it and alternate between it and the EX 8. Riding a hardtail on tough technical terrain makes riding a full suspension bike on the same terrain a cinch. Hardtails build your mountain biking skills while a full suspension bike lets you get away with being more careless.
- The EX 8 performs surprisingly well on very muddy trails. Great handling, no fuss shifting, and easy to maintain crucial momentum. The second time I took mine out I returned with the entire bike and most of my legs covered in mud and a big smile on my face.
- I've yet to justify a carbon fiber frame. They eventually wear out and have to be replaced. I carry a water bladder, tools, food, and a cell phone so the weight reduction would be negligible for the extra expense. I'm happy to hear some cogent arguments for carbon fiber. Until then, aluminum frames are cheaper, longer lasting, and you can ride as aggressively as you want without fear of cracking the frame.
- Seat pouches are a waste of money. They never have enough room and when they do, they're an eyesore. I keep breaking mine. Buy a better CamelBak instead. I've got my eye on an Osprey Raptor 10. Tons of room for everything and will even carry an extra helmet!
- I'm not a Trek fan boy or even an advocate, but don't let anyone steer you from buying one. Do your research. Shop around and test ride several bikes. My purchase was based on copious research and shopping around, but also on the fact that I can ride my Treks as hard as I want without fear of breaking them. I had my eye on the Specialized Stumpjumper but the EX 8 won on the full floater suspension and components.
- Mountain biking is very addictive. Be sure to keep yourself in check or you might drain your bank account and/or alienate friends and family.
At long last, I've taken the GRE and received a score I can be proud of! In the interests of helping folks that may be contemplating graduate school, I'll provide a few pointers that may be useful.
First, it's probably useful to describe what the GRE is. The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is a test that measures your ability to reason within context. While that definition sounds innocuous enough, as usual, the devil is in the details. The GRE is broken up into three sections: a verbal reasoning section, a quantitative section, and an analytical writing section. The GRE is used by many (but not all) graduate schools to basically weed out applicants. A good rule of thumb is this: if the program you're interested in posts the minimum GRE scores they want, it's a good bet that if you fall short of these scores, your application will get tossed in the trash without them even looking at your resume or undergraduate transcript. Improve your GRE score or look to another school. On the other hand, if the program you're interested in says that they just want "GRE scores" or "GRE General test scores" then it's a safe bet that they want at least an 1100 (old scale) or a 300 (new scale). The GRE was changed in August of 2011 and has a new scoring scale that ranges from 130 to 170 on the verbal and quantitative sections instead of 200 to 800 on the old scale. The analytical writing section has not changed.
The verbal section tests your ability to comprehend reading passages and sentence completions within context. By this, I mean that you should be able to read a passage that may be a few paragraphs in length and understand what the author is writing about and his or her tone, among other things. Sentence completions require you to read a sentence and fill in one or more blanks, or even fill in one blank with two words that mean the same thing. If these sound easy, they are not. You may think that because you're a native English speaker that this section will be a breeze, but you would do well to practice, and practice a lot. Reading periodicals like Us Weekly or People Magazine isn't gonna cut it. You need to read such material as the Wall Street Journal and be able to understand exactly what you're reading. I suggest finding an article of around one hundred lines, reading it, and seeing if you understand what the author wrote. In my studies, I've found that the GRE has moved their reading comprehension passages somewhat away from the hard sciences to arts, literature, and other such material. There is an occasional scientific passage, but it is far more approachable than on the old GRE, which tended to be stale and dry.
If you haven't touched math in a while, you may be in for a shock. The quantitative section of the GRE tests your ability to reason mathematically. The good news is that it uses 9th through 11th grade high school math, so it is learnable. No advanced math such as Calculus is tested at all. The bad news is that the math it uses is disguised in such a way that you need to be able to reason out the problem before applying any math techniques. More on this later.
The analytical writing section is pretty straightforward: you have two essays you must write, each within a 30 minute window. The first essay will be an issue essay where you analyze an issue and present your perspective on it (you either agree or disagree with the prompt and explain why), and the second will be an argument essay where you analyze an argument and pick it apart, finding any holes in the logic and explaining them. The biggest challenge of these two essays is time management. Since you have 30 minutes per essay, you need to come up with a cogent response to each and support your response thoroughly in a timely fashion. The good news for both is this: you can look at all the prompts and practice answering them on your own time! That's right, ETS has a list of all the possible essay prompts you may see on test day. The issue essay prompts are here, and the argument essay prompts are here.
In my experience as a native English speaker, the verbal section was much more learnable than was the quantitative section. The biggest impediment to success, by far, is vocabulary. You must expand your vocabulary if you want to do well on the GRE. Having a large vocabulary is by far the easiest way to improve your GRE verbal score. Here are a few tips:
- Read material such as the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and any other publications you can find. If you're looking to get into a Ph.D. program, read a few doctoral dissertations since you may write one some day. If you don't know a word, write it down and look it up. Keep a journal of such words and go over them every day.
- If you own an Android-based tablet or mobile phone, go to the Google Play store and install the following apps: Painless GRE, GRE Tutor, and Painless Roots. Painless GRE is an application that features well over 4,000 words and uses repetition and fill in the blank sentences to help you learn new words. The sentence completions are invaluable since you'll be doing just that on test day. GRE Tutor is another vocabulary application, but instead of presenting words to you in a repetitive fashion, you see a word (it will speak the word too), choose the definition, then see the next word, and so on. This application tries to reinforce your learning by periodically popping words up that you got wrong in order for you to learn them. Painless Roots is valuable for another reason: you should learn the meanings of word roots so you can guess the meanings of words you don't know. Nobody can cram 4,000 new words in their head in time for a test, so this is an excellent back up strategy.
- Do at least 100 words in GRE Tutor in a sitting. Any more and your brain may not want to remember anything.
- Do at least 20 minutes of practice a day with Painless GRE. Doing this helps you to not only understand new words, but to use them in context.
- Do at least 20 minutes of practice a day with Painless Roots. There aren't nearly as many word roots as words, so this is doable.
- You should practice vocabulary at least an hour a day. Not only should you learn new words, but you should use them. Try using them in correspondence and in any other documents you write.
- Practice vocabulary whenever you have down time. If you have an Android device, practice with the above apps when on your lunch break, on the bus, at the airport, etc...
- I do not recommend using flash cards. There is little to no interactivity with them, so you won't learn nearly as much as you would with the Android apps. I don't own an Apple device, so I have no idea whether similar apps exist within the Apple universe. If you can't afford a tablet or smartphone, flash cards may be your only option. If this is the case, make your own flash cards instead of buying a set. This way, you actually write the word and definition instead of just reading them. It's called motor memory and can be helpful. Most GRE study guides have a list of a few thousand words, so use those to write your flash cards.
- For the words that are particularly vexing you, buy a pad of sticky notes, write the word and definition on a note, then stick it somewhere around your house where you frequently pass by (I suggest door frames, bathroom mirrors, etc...). Yes, it sounds crazy, but that word will always be there in your face and eventually it'll sink in. Just don't forget to take them down when you have a date come over...
With a decent amount of effort and time spent, your vocabulary will increase dramatically, and test day will be a bit less stressful. The key is to never stop learning new words. I even learned a few on my way to the test center!
I'd like to offer some wisdom on the topic of GRE study guides: they all suck. No, I'm not kidding. They're all lousy, but each in their own unique way. My initial journey in taking the GRE began in 2010 (I took a break in 2011 and picked it back up in June of this year), and after accumulating nearly every study guide, I came to the conclusion that they just aren't worth it. Instead, let me offer you some acquired wisdom:
If you struggle with the quantitative section as I did, pick up a copy of Cliff's Math Review for Standardized Tests. This book costs between about $9 and about $13 if you're unlucky and will dramatically boost your understanding of math problems on standardized tests. This book will literally take you from square one and give you a working knowledge and tools with which to tackle math problems.
Once you have completed that book, I suggest you pick up a copy of Barron's New GRE. Yes, I did say that all GRE study books suck, and I stand by that assertion. However, the Cliff's book will only give you easy problems, which may give you a false sense of confidence about real GRE problems. The Barron's book has a pretty good diagnostic test in the front. Take this test, noting which problems you didn't get right. I suggest timing yourself too in order to get used to solving problems under time pressure. This is another key to success. The Barron's book has two mock GREs in the back and a few more on a CD it comes with. Use these once you've completed the math and verbal review sections. One additional note about the math sections: write down and understand ALL facts and formulas from each section in your journal. The key to doing well on the quantitative section is to have all the math formulas and tidbits of knowledge at your disposal on test day.
The verbal review section in the Barron's book isn't that great. If you don't mind buying another book, the Kaplan's verbal is great, and the sections on strategies for analytical writing are just about the only reason to buy this book. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is lousy. The math review is a joke since all the problems are too easy and don't reflect the real GRE. Use your discretion.
Once you have finished these, let me introduce you to Magoosh. Magoosh is a test prep company like no other: all their material is online, including quizzes, practice tests, and well over 100 tutorial videos. They also offer apps for Android and Apple devices so you can study on the go. On top of that, you can ask them a question about anything GRE related and get an answer in around 24 hours. While they do cost more than your average GRE study book, if you're serious about getting a competitive (read: high) GRE score, look no further. Magoosh will actually challenge you in ways that no GRE study guide will. Be sure to take notes from all the video tutorials in your journal. All practice problems and tests are timed, so you develop an ability to answer questions under timed conditions. I can't say enough good things about them, so once you've completed the Barron's book, sign up with Magoosh. You can do a one week trial for free and they offer 30 day and one year plans, depending on where you're at in your studies.
For the particularly disorganized, Magoosh offers a number of study schedules, ranging from a week (!) to 6 months. I started my studies using the one month study schedule and quickly got sidetracked when I realized I needed the math prep that Cliff's and Barron's offer. Once I completed those, I was back on track.
Magoosh also offers math formula books, book ratings, and vocabulary Wednesdays. In their book rating section, they rate the ETS Official Guide to the Revised GRE with an A+. You might consider buying this book (it's made by the testing company) but it is devoid of any problem solving strategies and consists of only factual information. If you really want some hand-holding, look no further than Manhatten GRE. This guide is a series of books on everything, and I mean EVERYTHING you'll encounter. If you have the money and time, by all means, buy them. I think your time would be better spent doing practice problems on Magoosh.
On the topic of time, one question frequently arises when studying for the GRE: how long should I study for it? My old answer was that you should take as much time as you need, but my new answer is that if you can devote the time, take no longer than three months. It may seem short, but 90 days should be plenty of time if you devote an hour or two a day. Better still, if you can devote a few hours over the weekend, you'll be that much more prepared. Any longer and you risk falling into a "I'm still not prepared" trap and second guessing yourself.
Like all tests, the GRE can indeed be conquered. With enough effort and elbow grease, and with the above prep materials, when test day comes, you'll get a score you can be proud of too!
Those of us that type a lot will eventually begin to feel the effects of such an activity manifest as some sort of pain, most likely carpal tunnel syndrome. As somebody who has touch typed for the better part of 15 years, I definitely feel the effects every now and then. Several years ago I heard of an alternate keyboard layout called "Dvorak" that allegedly helped reduce the stress on your hands, but could potentially give you a free speed boost. I won't go into the nitty-gritty details, but encourage you to take a look at the Wikipedia article.
There are two ways to use the Dvorak layout: in the console and in Xorg. They're both quite easy to switch to as well.
To switch over your console, you can either run the sysinstall program as root or just manually specify the keymap using kbdcontrol -l "us.dvorak". Using sysinstall ensures that the Dvorak layout is retained after a reboot, whereas the kbdcontrol command does not. Switching back is as simple as using kbdcontrol -l "us" and removing the entry from rc.conf if you used sysinstall.
For Xorg users, simply open a terminal and run the following to toggle back and forth:
setxkbmap dvorak setxkbmap us
If you are using a desktop environment such as Gnome or KDE, you should be able to change the layout using the appropriate control panel.
I hope to work my way up to my QWERTY speed fairly quickly and be proficient in both layouts, but I'll certainly need to practice. For the record, this post took about 40 minutes to compose with my layout switched to Dvorak...
So I'm neck deep in my GRE studies. I've already gone through two GRE books and an ebook. I'm close to finishing my third book (this test is NOT easy). I'm learning some interesting properties of numbers such as the following:
- Integers are whole numbers (whether positive or negative)
- Fractions are not integers
- Zero is an integer!
- Positive integers get larger as they move farther from zero
- Negative integers get smaller as they move farther from zero
- Listed in order of increasing value without any numbers missing between them
- Fractions and decimals cannot be consecutive numbers; only integers can!
- You can even have consecutive even integers: 2, 4, 6, 8...
Properties of Zero:
- 0 is even
- 0 plus any other number is equal to that number
- 0 multiplied by any other number is equal to 0.
Positives and Negatives:
- pos x pos = pos
- neg x neg = pos ("two wrongs make a right" is my memorization tool)
- pos x neg = neg
Even or odd?
- Any number that can be cleanly divided by 2 is even (i.e. no remainder)
- Any number that cannot be cleanly divided by 2 is odd (i.e. has a remainder)
- Zero is even
- Fractions are neither even nor odd
- Any integer is even if its units digit is even, and odd if its units digit is odd
- Multiplying and adding odd and even integers
- even x even = even
- odd x odd = odd
- even x odd = even
- even + even = even
- odd + odd = even
- even + odd = odd
- Absolute value is how far away a number is from zero
- Absolute value is always a positive integer whether or not the number in question is positive or not
- A number is prime when it is only divisible by itself and the number 1
- Here's all the prime numbers less than 30: 2,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29
- Zero is not a prime number
- 1 is not a prime number
- 2 is the only even prime number
- Prime numbers are always positive integers. There's no such thing as a negative prime number
Rules of Divisibility:
- An integer is divisible by 2 if its units digit is divisible by 2. For example, 598,447,896 is divisible by 2 because the units digit (6) is divisible by 2.
- An integer is divisible by 3 if the sum of its digits is divisible by 3. For example, 2,145 is divisible by 3 because (2+1+4+5 = 12) is divisible by 3.
- An integer is divisible by 4 if its last 2 digits form a number that's divisible by 4. For example, 712 is divisible by 4 because 12 is divisible by 4.
- An integer is divisible by 5 if its units digit is either 0 or 5
- An integer is divisible by 6 if it's divisible by both 2 and 3
- An integer is divisible by 9 if the sum of its digits is divisible by 9
- An integer is divisible by 10 if its units digit is 0
- When one integer cannot be divided evenly by another, the remainder is what is left over after the division
- When one integer divides evenly by another the remainder is zero (no remainder)
- A number is a factor of another number if the second number can be divided by the first with no remainder
- Factors of 12: 1,2,3,4,6,12
- Best to write factors in pairs to make sure you get them all:
- 1 and 12
- 2 and 6
- 3 and 4
- A multiple of a number is that number multiplied by an integer
- Multiples of 10: -20 (10 x -2), -10 (10 x -1), 10 (10 x 1), 20 (10 x 2), etc...
There's obviously far more to the GRE than these simple concepts but some are quite handy and will make short work of doing calculations for the GRE. Yea, you can't use a calculator at all. Fire up those neurons!
Finishing out my Cisco studies (for now), I've finally passed the Cisco MPLS (642-611) exam. I have to say, this exam is probably the hardest Cisco exam I've taken to date. It even made the QOS exam seem easy. As usual, the easiest way to pass is to know the topics cold. In addition to the test topics, here's what I recommend knowing:
- MPLS Fundamentals
- Intricacies of MPLS VPNs
- Differences between different types of Internet access
- Configuration of all MPLS topics
By fundamentals, I don't mean just knowing that LDP runs on TCP port 646. You'll want to know the nitty gritty details about cell mode and frame mode differences, exactly how labels work, and how labels are distributed throughout the network, among other things.
MPLS VPNs are pretty complicated topic, with such topics as VPN label stacks, route targets, and address families. Knowing those topics, as well as knowing redistribution and how the various routing protocols are configured will help you get past the finish line.
For some reason, Cisco documentation on MPLS Internet access is a bit sparse. I can't really recommend anything other than picking up a good book on MPLS. Ignore the recommended Cisco Press books; they're horribly out of date and are priced like they just came out. I recommend both the MPLS Fundamentals book and the MPLS Configuration on Cisco IOS books.
Lastly, you need to know the configuration topics like the back of your hand. To learn them, you'll either want access to a rack of routers (and ATM switches if you're lucky) or you can use something like GNS3 and dynamips. This is where the MPLS Configuration book really shines. Aside from teaching you all the basic topics, it also shows you how to configure all the advanced stuff. When you can configure advanced MPLS VPNs such as central service MPLS VPNs without referring to any material, you're probably good to go. Don't forget about managed MPLS VPN services like ODAP and NAT.
Overall, the test isn't impossible but it's no walk in the park. With plenty of book study and hands on time on some routers, test day should turn out successfully.
I have to admit, I'm a bit of a glutten for punishment. For some reason, I actually enjoy the challenge of lesser-known distributions. While I've been taking a good hard look at FreeBSD and how it might meet my needs, it is still lacking several key applications I rely on: VirtualBox (yes, it's in ports, but have you actually gotten it to work? I haven't) and the Adobe Flash player (tried gnash, didn't work. Adobe won't cough up an amd64 FreeBSD player). Granted, these are minor hiccups but other things are also keeping me from using FreeBSD on my main desktop.
To that end, I've been happily using Debian Lenny. It's nice because it generally works on anything you throw at it and the apt utility can't be beat for software management. Apt can also be a royal pain in the ass. I tried for hours to get it to play nicely and install mplayer with the codecs I wanted but there seemed to be a "stuck" package on my system that wouldn't upgrade. My other annoyance with apt is that applications aren't always updated as fast as they should be. The main one that comes to mind is Pidgin, the IM client that connects to all the different messenging networks. Again, I wrestled with apt for weeks, trying to get the latest greatest version of Pidgin without having to move over to Sid. I even tried using the backports repository. Still no dice.
That's when I started thinking about FreeBSD again. I've been using it successfully on a new laptop I've got (article on that to follow at some point) but there my requirements are much less. So then I thought about Gentoo. Gentoo has all the Linux goodness and a system called portage that isn't unlike the FreeBSD ports tree. In fact, portage was inspired by FreeBSD's ports system! So I set out to install Gentoo on my main desktop box.
I've got fairly vanilla hardware so I was sure that it was all supported. (specs: Intel Core2 Quad Q6600, 6 GB PC-8500 RAM, 2x 1 TB hard drives (one for backup), EVGA Geforce 9500 GT, Intel Pro/1000 NIC, Gigabyte EP45-3DSL motherboard, Logitech USB mouse and keyboard) I was happy to see that I was right. I simply burned a CD of the weekly minimal installer CD and booted up. Gentoo is interesting because unlike most other distributions of Linux, you aren't confronted with a happy graphical installer. Nope, you get dropped to a root prompt and have to go from there. Fortunately, the documentation is impeccable and very easy to follow. To take full advantage of my hardware, I followed the AMD64 guide, located here. I was lazy when I installed and opted to use Gentoo's "genkernel" package to build my kernel for me. I may trim down my kernel at a later point and remove all the junk that's not needed. After about 45 minutes, I had a bare system up and running.
The fun part is deciding where to take it from there. Since I'm using this machine as a desktop box, I installed Xorg and my current favorite window manager, XFCE. Like FreeBSD, Gentoo compiles all software from source code so you can really take advantage of your hardware. Unlike FreeBSD, however, Gentoo's portage system is a lot easier to use. Instead of drilling down the ports tree to find what you want, then issuing a "make install clean", you simply use the 'emerge' utility. This is as simple as "emerge --search <someapp>" to search for something and then "emerge <someapp>" to install it. emerge is definitely more powerful than that (I'm using it to update my entire system as I'm writing) so it's well worth either looking at the man page or the online documentation.
I did run into a few kinks along the way. After having a base system installed along with XFCE, I wanted sound so I can listen to some tunes while working. Since genkernel pretty much gives you a kitchen sink kernel, ALSA support was already in the kernel (which by the way, is how it's supposed to be moving forward I'm told). The only thing I had to do was to emerge the alsa-utils port so I'd get the mixer app and startup scripts. Documentation for that is located here.
The other kink I ran into was the need to dual boot that other OS. Yes, I still play the occasional game here and there but by and large, my days are spent in Linux doing stuff. The grub section under the installation guide is helpful, but not in a case where you've got Windows installed on a different drive. The problem is that Windows wants to be on the first drive and can't fathom why you'd want to boot into any other OS. To remedy this, I added the following information to my grub.conf file:
title Windows XP rootnoverify (hd2,0) map (hd0) (hd2) map (hd2) (hd0) chainloader +1
In my case, my Windows drive is the third physical hard disk installed (the first being the Linux installation and the second being the backup drive). Remember, in Grub-land, hard disks start at zero. Since Windows doesn't like not being the first drive, you have to trick its boot loader into thinking it is. This is where the map commands shown above come in handy. The last line just tells grub to seek 1 sector from the start of the partition (usually the boot sector).
So far I'm really impressed with Gentoo. I no longer have to worry about conflicts (emerge takes care of it for you) or outdated packages (emerge builds the latest/greatest depending on your system profile). My system is clean, has only what I actually use, and I have a far more thorough understanding of what's going on. What's not to like??
No, I didn't fall off a cliff. Been busy with lots of stuff:
- Passed the CCDP ARCH test and became a CCDP on April 25th!
- Lots of house remodeling projects
- Working on my final Cisco test (for now : ), the MPLS exam
- Various other sundries
On the FreeBSD front, I found an old 250GB SATA drive and installed it in my current rig as the only drive (just to be sure I don't screw something up). Not surprisingly, rebuilding the kernel and world with the latest 7.2 Release is quite snappy as compared to the Thinkpad T40. I was pleased that the Nvidia driver in ports worked without a hitch though it has no 3D acceleration whatsoever. For that you need Nouveau. I went my usual install route: install the minimal FreeBSD distribution, build world and build kernel, build Xorg from ports (including mouse, keyboard, Nvidia driver, and vesa driver for backup) with HAL support, build some sort of window manager (Fluxbox is my current favorite), install a shell (I'm torn between bash and zsh), and install Firefox 3. The entire process took about an hour and a half.
All of my hardware either worked out of the box or worked after a few tweaks but I used the i386 version of FreeBSD, not the AMD64 version. Before I built HAL, I had to use a PS/2 keyboard in order to actually install. Either I missed something or USB hotplug support isn't there out of the box and needs to be added to rc.conf. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my Blackberry was recognized when I plugged it in. It didn't automount or anything but it was neat to see it get recognized. I've yet to get it to work, but there is a ports version of barry available. Barry is a little rough around the edges but I was able to back up my Blackberry Curve 8320 to my Linux box with it.
It seems like FreeBSD is maturing and quite rapidly. Now that VirtualBox is coming for FreeBSD, the only barrier left is either getting a native 64-bit Flash plugin/player or for Gnash to mature rapidly. I tried Gnash on i386 FreeBSD and it works, but only part of the time.
I still watch with a bit of wonder and amazement at the effort that goes into an Open Source operating system and applications. That the developers can get their projects working with little or no support from hardware vendors is nothing short of amazing.
Not too long ago I wrote a how-to article on how to get FreeBSD 7.0 working on my IBM Thinkpad T40. Among other things, I omitted a section on getting proper video drivers working. The graphics chip is an ATI RV250 (Mobility 9000). This means the driver you should use is the 'radeon' driver. Use 'pciconf -lv |grep ATI' to see which chip you've got. After toiling a bit with it, I figured out how to get the Open Source ATI drivers working.
Because I want to generally keep my systems pretty current, I recently installed FreeBSD 7.1 on my T40. It's important to know that the FreeBSD project generally breaks up development into three separate releases, namely CURRENT, STABLE, and RELEASE, in order of most bleeding edge to most stable. After building Xorg 1.6.0, I tried to start an X session just to see if I would get the ugly TWM desktop. To my surprise I got just a black screen but that was it. Even more surprising was that the usual "three finger salute" (ctrl + alt + backspace) didn't kill my X session. I then hit 'alt + F2' to log into another vty and manually kill off X. Here's where the fun began. It killed more than X; it locked my entire machine up. I continued futzing with my xorg.conf, kernel modules, and locking my system up for a good hour. I then threw in the towel and wound up asking a friend who's a FreeBSD developer WTF was going on. I learned a few interesting facts:
- The DRM code in 7.1 was more than 2 years old
- It is not necessary to manually load or pre-load any kernel modules for video
- X.org should work well with ATI graphics cards (but the amd64 release may not work) since the ATI driver model has had substantial structural changes to it.
On the first point, there's two ways around the old code: Either download/burn/install the FreeBSD 7.2 release candidate or rebuild world. Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I decided to rebuild world. It's not actually that hard, just time consuming. Use the 'csup' utility to grab the entire CVS source tree from your nearest csup server and follow the directions listed here to rebuild your system using the RELENG_7 tree.
The second point is easy enough. There's no need to add anything to your /boot/loader.conf file in order to get X working. X.org will load any necessary kernel modules when you type 'startx'. As an interesting aside, I actually locked my system up when attempting the unload the radeon.ko kernel module when I had learned that preloading isn't necessary. Doh!
Once you've rebuilt your system and are running 7.2-STABLE, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to rebuild your installed ports. This isn't necessary per se since X.org should work without even building a config file, but it is a good step, just to make sure everything is up to date. I use the portupgrade utility located in /usr/ports/ports-mgmt/ with the following: portupgrade -aRr. That should upgrade all outdated ports recursively as well as recursively rebuilding dependencies.
I'll expand on the last point a bit. ATI has been much more generous with contributing documentation to the Open Source community than Nvidia. In fact, Nvidia hasn't contributed anything other than a proprietary driver for Linux and FreeBSD, though there's a project called Nouveau which aims to build an Open Source Nvidia driver. Because of this, FreeBSD has an Open Source ATI driver (/usr/ports/x11-drivers/xf86-video-radeonhd and usr/ports/x11-drivers/xf86-video-ati) and using the old proprietary fglrx driver is no longer necessary. There's one hiccup to this though. The driver has to be re-worked every time a new ATI chip comes out. To solve this, ATI is moving towards the same unified driver model Nvidia has used for years and taking it a step further. They now have an Open Source BIOS abstraction layer called ATOMBios. The idea is to make it easier to more rapidly deploy drivers for new graphics cards. Read all about that in this article. Bravo ATI!
By the time you finish reading this, your ports should be up to date and you should be able to use hardware accelerated ATI drivers on your Thinkpad. I'm running XFCE4 on my Thinkpad and it's causing me to reevaluate the old "FreeBSD vs. Linux" question. Maybe I'll spend a little more time working on the other parts that I overlooked in my article.
I've been experimenting with various operating systems on my Thinkpad and have been trying to get a Unix-like system on there. I've played with Ubuntu but the battery life is abysmal. I can get around 3 hours with Windows XP installed and barely half that with Ubuntu 8.10 installed.
Just for grins, I decided to see how difficult it would be to get FreeBSD 7.0 working on this machine. After I was done, I decided I'd share the knowledge:
Finally, after 6 long months of studying for this thing! It was tough and I thought that I had bombed it halfway through. I'll keep it short: know all the objectives and you'll pass.
Next up is the CCDP ARCH exam. I've passed the CCNP routing and switching exams which are prerequisites for the CCDP so I figured why not just take one more exam and add another certification to my belt? After that's done I'll take the MPLS exam and have the CCIP certification. I think I'll take a break after that...