Friday Distro: Redo Backup & Recovery

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in linux on 2014-10-24 10:53 (#2TNW)

Too many Linux distros out there seem to be pet projects, focused on minor choices of theme and desktop environment. Redo Backup & Recovery is much more focused and is worth a look as a useful and important sysadmin tool. For starters, note they don't even bother to call it a distro: the fact that there's Linux underneath is not the point. But take a closer look and it's obvious that it's the power of Linux that makes this thing possible.

RB&R is simple: you download it and burn it to a disk or USB stick you then use to backup your machines. Boot the machine from your B&R disk, and let it work its magic. RB&R will mount the machine's partitions, and create a backup you can store elsewhere, say on a network share. If that machine ever gets misconfigured, virus infected, or anything else, you can simply restore one of the backups as though it were a bare-metal restore. It's essentially OS-agnostic, permitting sysadmins to backup and restore Windows or Linux machines with equal ease (it's not clear how good its Mac support is though!). It's graphical, auto-configs network shares, and because you make the backup by booting the machine from your disk/USB stick, you don't even have to have login rights on that machine.

The whole thing is a simple 250MB disk image, that gets you a graphical interface based on Openbox. Under the hood, it's simply a clever GPLv3 Perl script that leverages GTK2+ and Glade, plus partclone, which does the block-level disk backup or re-imaging. Partclone supports ext2/3/4, HFS+, reiserfs, reiser4, btrfs, vmfs3/5, xfs, jfs, ufs, ntfs, fat(12/16/32), and exfat.

I like this approach: they don't make much noise about Linux; they just present a useful tool any sysadmin would be grateful to be able to use. It is tightly focused on providing a single service and doesn't get wrapped up in troubles related to inevitable "feature creep". It does one thing, and does it well. I know my openSUSE box has recovery tools built into its YaST management system, but my brief test shows B&R is way easier, user-friendly, and hassle-free. I will be continuing to use it as recovering from an image is way easier and undoes the inevitable trouble I get into by downloading and experimenting with software packages that eventually combine to hose my system. Give it a look for yourself, and sleep a bit easier.

Tablets vs Chromebooks: an unexpected year

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-10-24 10:28 (#2TNS)

So much for the Post-PC Revolution! Despite all the hype of tablets and their obvious benefits and use scenarios, the demise of traditional computing form factors seems to have been exaggerated. Never mind that 2014 will probably see over 250 million tablets shipped and sold, tablet sales are actually slowing. Analysts predict that Apple will probably face a year-long ipad sales dip, though it's hard to say what the effect of the most newly-released models will have.

But just as surprising, sales of Chromebooks have actually surged over the last two quarters. Gavin Clarke at the Register points out recent research that projects a doubling of the Chromebook market year on year, with HP, Samsung and Acer taking the lion's share of the market. They still represent a small share of the market, with only 4 million units shipped (of 300m convential PCs in total), so it's too soon to say the Chromebook revolution is here.

But it does show surprising potential in the traditional laptop form factor, and give some reason to wonder if, despite all the hype about tablets, phablets, and smart phones, consumers still find themselves reaching for a portable device with a great keyboard.

Can ICANN agree to oversight of its decisions?

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in internet on 2014-10-24 10:00 (#2TNQ)

Central to the functioning of the Internet as we know it is the Domain Name System (DNS), and currently at least, central to DNS is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). And now, in the context of expanding mandate of DNS names (the new global top-level domain names), the Snowden revelations that showed how the US government has abused its role in overseeing ICANN, and a few bungle-headed decisions by ICANN itself, that may be up for revision and change. The Register writes: The future health of the internet comes down to ONE simple question: can ICANN be forced to agree to oversight of its decisions?
Such is the importance of the core that ICANN has been purposefully lumbered with an organisational design that tests the limits of sanity: three supporting organisations (one of which is broken up into another four components and then sub-divided again); four advisory committees; a 20-person board; and a permanent staff. Just like the internet, however, this global and decentralised organisation has a potential flaw: a central core of staff and board, without which the rest of it would start to erode and break apart.

And that’s where the US government comes in. Since the creation of ICANN in 1999, the US government has overseen the organisation. Uncle Sam was supposed to step away within just a few years but for various complicated reasons, in every one of the 15 intervening years, ICANN’s core – its staff and board - have made at least one fundamentally stupid decision, usually against the explicit wishes of the majority of the organisation.

And then refused to change its mind.

Each time it has done so, the United States administration has done the equivalent of walking into the room, smacking ICANN over the head and leaving again.
An interesting and important subject, and a well-written article (slightly longer that usual, at 4 pages).

Nexus 9 Tablet to be powered by Nvidia Tegra K1 64-bit chips

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-10-23 17:32 (#2TMT)

story imageWho's happy about Google's newly-announced Nexus 9 Tablet? Well, lots of folks, but no one is happier than the guys at Nvidia. The Nexus 9 will be the first device to run new Android Lollipop, and powering it will be the 64-bit version of NVIDIA's Tegra K1.
[The Tegra K1 is] an ARM Holdings v8-based beast with dual 2.3 GHz Denver CPUs, and 192 Kepler GPU cores. That's a huge relief for NVIDIA shareholders, who still remember last year's painful Tegra 4 delays, which enabled Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 to win a coveted spot in Google's second-gen Nexus 7 tablet.
It's a fast chip, and reportedly smokes both the Nexus 6 Adreno 420 and Galaxy Note 4 Mali T-760 in GPU tests. Furthermore, Using the superscalar micro-architecture, these chipsets support Dynamic Code Optimization and use Kepler GPU architecture, which powers some of the world's few fastest gaming PCs and supercomputers.

The pundits claim this new chip, with its kepler architecture will allow Google to bring state-of-the art graphics to Android for PC and console-class games. At a minimum, it will allow your Angry Birds to fly a hell of a lot faster.

[2014-10-22 19:43 edit: Typo: Nexus, not Nekus]

Future manned Mars exploration at risk due to lowered solar activity

by tanuki64@pipedot.org in space on 2014-10-23 10:02 (#2TMA)

Does the worsening galactic cosmic radiation environment observed by CRaTER preclude future manned deep-space exploration? That is the conclusion of of a recently published paper that posits the recent decrease in solar activity has led to increased incidence of cosmic rays, which are dangerously radioactive. That may just put a damper on anyone interested in organizing manned exploration of the Red Planet.
The Sun and its solar wind are currently exhibiting extremely low densities and magnetic field strengths, representing states that have never been observed during the space age. The highly abnormal solar activity between cycles 23 and 24 has caused the longest solar minimum in over 80 years and continues into the unusually small solar maximum of cycle 24. As a result of the remarkably weak solar activity, we have also observed the highest fluxes of galactic cosmic rays in the space age, and relatively small solar energetic particle events. We use observations from the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to examine the implications of these highly unusual solar conditions for human space exploration. We show that while these conditions are not a show-stopper for long duration missions (e.g., to the Moon, an asteroid, or Mars), galactic cosmic ray radiation remains a significant and worsening factor that limits mission durations.
Very interesting and at least for me counter intuitive. I would have thought: Less solar activity means less radiation. But it seems that the solar wind normally has the effect of reducing the amount of dangerous cosmic radiation that can reach the inner solar system. But to that, point, the article points out: While particles and radiation from the Sun are dangerous to astronauts, cosmic rays are even worse, so the effect of a solar calm is to make space even more radioactive than it already is.

Escape from Microsoft Word

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in microsoft on 2014-10-22 21:01 (#2TKJ)

Edward Mendelson over at the NYT writes:
Auden’s contrast between mediocrity that gets things right and genius that is always wrong is useful in thinking about many fields other than politics. Take, for example, the instruments used for writing. The word processor that most of the world uses every day, Microsoft Word, is a work of genius that’s almost always wrong as an instrument for writing prose. Almost-forgotten WordPerfect—once the most popular word-processing program, still used in a few law offices and government agencies, and here and there by some writers who remain loyal to it—is a mediocrity that’s almost always right.
Good look at the quirks of the modern office's favorite bit of software from a more philosophical point of view. It starts with a quote from Plato, for starters.

Google's new "Inbox" hopes to simplify email

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in internet on 2014-10-22 19:04 (#2TKC)

story imageGmail is the email solution of choice for a huge number of Netizens, and that provides a rich playing field for developers hoping to be useful to you by providing tools that simplify email overflow. Enter Google with its latest endeavor, "Inbox." From Engadget:
If you're anything like us, Google's Gmail has an iron grip on your life. Google's looking to create a whole new iron grip with a new app from its Gmail team, and it's called "Inbox." What is it? That's a good question -- Google's made a demo slash advertisement video that we've dropped below. As far as we can tell, Inbox is a combination of Google Now and your Gmail inbox -- a "smart" inbox, if you will. It combines alike pieces of email (bank invoices, for example), highlights related information (like Google Now alerting you to flight changes, traffic, etc.) and keeps track of your life (it'll give you reminders, among other heads ups). Is this the end of Gmail? We seriously doubt it, but it is Google's latest foray into simplifying email.

Earth's Magnetic Field Could Reverse Within a Lifetime

by evilviper@pipedot.org in science on 2014-10-22 14:58 (#2TK3)

story imageAround 800,000 years ago, magnetic north hovered over Antarctica and the geographic north pole was magnetic south. The poles have flipped several times throughout Earth's history. Scientists have estimated that a flip cycle starts with the magnetic field weakening over the span of a few thousand years, then the poles flip and the field springs back up to full strength again. However, a new study shows that the last time the Earth's poles flipped, it only took 100 years for the reversal to happen.

The Earth's magnetic field is in a weakening stage right now. Data collected this summer by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite suggests the field is weakening 10 times faster than scientists originally thought. They predicted a flip could come within the next couple thousand years. It turns out that might be a very liberal estimate, scientists now say.

A weakening magnetic field could interrupt power grids and radio communication, and douse the planet in unusually high levels of radiation. While a pole flip could cause a few technical issues, there's no need to panic. Scientists have combed the geological timeline for any evidence of catastrophes that might be related to a magnetic flip; they haven't found any. No direct evidence of past catastrophes triggered by a magnetic flip.

Embryos Receive Parent-Specific Layers of Information

by tanuki64@pipedot.org in science on 2014-10-21 09:39 (#2THX)

story imageFollowing up on last week's article about offspring and mothers' previous sexual partners (in insects, anyway), new research now sheds some additional light on the multi-layered process of how a sperm and egg pass along information needed for successful reproduction.

As described in an article published in the journal PLOS Genetics:
Though one layer is the DNA code that is transferred, the new study identifies information not encoded by DNA, a so-called “epigenetic” layer of information that helps the cell interpret the genetic code.
In insects this additional “epigenetic” layer of information apparently can come from a previous mate. The question if such or similar mechanisms can also exist in higher organisms, e.g. also in humans, might be far fetched, but not that far, that it precludes a more thorough research. Clearly, there are still plenty of unknown factors in human and non-human reproduction: an area ripe for further research.

Saturn's tiny moon Mimas may have sub-surface liquid ocean

by evilviper@pipedot.org in space on 2014-10-21 02:39 (#2THM)

story imageMimas, one of Saturn's smaller satellites, may seem a little dull... An icy moon that’s just 246 miles wide and whose most distinctive feature is the 88-mile-wide Herschel crater – a giant Cyclops-like indentation that makes the moon resemble the planet-obliterating superweapon from "Star Wars" that's known as the Death Star. But the moon may hold a special secret of its own. A stronger than expected rotational wobble points to one of two intriguing scenarios: Mimas either has an irregularly shaped core or has an ocean buried underneath its icy surface. “Something else has to be going on inside.” The findings, described in the journal Science, shed new light on a mysterious but often-overlooked moon that could hold clues to its early formation.

Other scientists say it’s unlikely Mimas has such an interesting interior and think the wobble can be explained more simply. One problem is that Mimas’s ancient, heavily cratered surface shows no signs that water has ever touched it—unlike, say, the freshly Zamboni-ed ice skating rink of Europa. That same result could be achieved with irregular gradations in the density of rock, ice, and pore space. The detected wobble could also have been knocked into existence by something that has nothing to do with the moon’s interior: a comet impact.
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