@ /home with btrfs

One inevitably learns that NTFS-3G, great though it is for exchanging data with Windows users, is not *quite* well-suited to heavy workloads such as serving Bittorrent files. And when one is particularly unlucky, the result is the kind of disk corruption of the kind that results in a lot of recovered directories and files with generic names. And bogus directory entries-turned-files that point nowhere.

It’s particularly bitter-sweet when that happens when one — ok, I — was in the middle of moving the files to what I figured, as it turns out correctly, is a more stable solution: Btrfs. I might not want to have it on my root partition just yet — from past experience, running an RPM transaction on it can be rather tediously slow — but for a relatively small number of large files, it should do OK. And it did — though during one of the move operations, NTFS-3G gave up the ghost. Ah well.

Sufficiently impressed by Btrfs — seems to be holding well so far, while I’m catching up on some of the lost torrents — the next step is, of course, to run a home directory under it. Not crazy enough to put my main laptop to the test, I volunteered my netbook. Some recent Rawhide update means compositing on it is currently rather buggy — unusably flickering display with KMS, very slow without — so while I’m back on a plain GNOME desktop after having fun with the new GNOME Shell, I figured the netbook will serve as a Btrfs testbed. btrfs-convert happily converted 7G-worth of files from an ext4 partition in a couple of minutes. The conversion is even reversible, though after making sure everything is still there, I nuked the old image file. The important files are synced to the main laptop anyway (thanks, Unison!)

One small niggle — at the beginning, logging in through the console yields a bizarre error

No directory /home/michel!
Logging in with home = "/".

ls --lcontext shows that /home/michel is properly labeled — nice conversion job –  so this was at first puzzling. As it turns out, though, /home was not. Restoring it to the proper context fixes matters.

Will update if there are any further issues, but so far, Btrfs looks like it’s going to stay. Back to tinkering with GNUstep and Étoile…

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OLPC is a failure in one aspect, but…

Chris Blattman linked to an Alanna Shaikh post that buries the One Laptop per Child project:

It’s time to call a spade a spade. OLPC was a failure. Businessweek called it two years ago. Now, Timothy Ogden, editor-in-chief of Philanthropy Action has made a compelling argument to give up on OLPC. He points out that supporting de-worming programs has more impact on child learning than the OLPC laptops.  The laptops were designed without end-user input, they cost too much both to produce and to run, and they’re now being outcompeted by commercial laptops. Only about a million OLPCs have shipped so far.

Meanwhile, a commenter, Gansler, notes Shaikh’s rhetorical tendency:

Alanna Shaikh and I worked together. I found then, as I do now, that her rhetoric is a bit thick, a bit black and white – all is doom and gloom (though sometimes it’s awesome and bright). I find her “Dream is Over” comment very much in line with that.

While I do consider the OLPC laptop project itself rather a failure — its relentless pursuit of volume, its alienation of the teaching profession (the two are related, in a chicken-and-egg way: OLPC has to sell in spades to achieve low per-unit price; third-world educational budgets are limited; ergo some money has to be diverted from traditional, human-resource-heavy teaching approaches. Rather unethical at the very least, using thirld world students and teachers as human lab rats.

Whether it would have worked better had it targeted educational niches in the developed world — home-schooled kids, isolated rural kids wanting to collaborate with others across geographical distances, or as a supplement in general for public school education, since after all, studies /do/ show that a high proportion of US teachers are not qualified to teach their subject — is an exercise is uchronia. We’d simply never know. We do know certain things, though:

  • OLPC single-handedly removes the linkage between ultra-portability and ruggedness on one hand, and price on the other. Remember the pre-netbook days of super-expensive ultra-portables? Intel responded by introducing the Classmate, which begat the netbook, and the rest is history.
  • The OLPC user interface, Sugar, lives on in Sugar on a Stick. It’s bootable from a USB stick, can be installed, and runs on commodity hardware which are aplenty even in underdeveloped countries.
  • The amazing LCD from OLPC is being commercialized by Pixel Qi, and is coming to a laptop near you within months. Obligatory plug: I maintain a Facebook group that (attempts to) keep track of Pixel Qi announcements. Some of the videos are just simply delicious.

So I guess this is turning into a eulogy. OLPC has failures in abundance, but it is a radical, category-creating product. Negroponte could have managed it better, but he should still be able to take pride of what the project managed to accomplish. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, after all.

For those of you steeped in Judeo-Christian history, think of OLPC as the John the Baptist to netbooks’ Christ: loud, insistent, un-PC, and martyred, but a success nonetheless.

More on disturbing cultural biases

As it turns out, my earlier conversation is degenerating into a case of full-blown conspiracy theory. One fears for the future of humanity when some people appear to be doing their damndest to prove Samuel Huntington correct.


Well I am talking about crypto-jews such as Sarkozy, Merkel, a lot of the Bush administration’s politicians and some nationalist leaders in Turkey. I know some cases from latin-america too. I’m seeing a pattern here and I think that’s so obvious.


Another strange point for Turkey is that some of the extremist “muslim” (!) terror groups have relations with masons and “Dönme”s. Hizbullah in Turkey had (now dead) a Dönme (secret Jewish) leader.

Another point is that in Islam, it is forbidden to kill people (if they are not trying to kill you at that moment). An Islamic leader says “A Muslim can’t be a terrorist and a terrorist can’t be Muslim”. So there can’t be a jihadism (in western means) at all. It is theoretically impossible. You can’t make war with noone if they are not attacking you. Jihad is about making war with your flesh and about spreading the word. So jihadism can’t stem from inside the muslim tradition..

I am trying to stay objective in response, but it is getting near to the point where I’d have to give up on any pretense of carrying out a dialogue, because it’s getting rather clear that what I’m saying is not getting through:

I’m sorry, but that’s being in denial. Most religions’ mainstream followers are moderate, but it is the case that the stray extremists of all creed (be it ultra-Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Christians, or Islamists) claim to be strict adherents of their respective faith.

Disavowing them is convenient, but does not really help matter. You can call these people apostates, sure, but denying that they come from the same root as the rest of you is really a sophistic argument, it sounds really glib and disingenuous to outsiders.

The fact of the matter is, to a non-Muslim it does look like both Christians and Jews are actually more vocal in their criticism of their own fundamentalist branches, than moderate Muslims are of the jihadists. Your case in point — you deny that they are even Muslims (strictly speaking, they are not, but they come from the Muslim tradition, and Muslims have to try and understand how that happens, because outsiders certainly can’t help there).

When even countries like Egypt air “documentaries” about the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” pretending it is historical fact, something is really wrong here. Spreading rumours about others is certainly easier than engaging in self-criticism.