Smarter, greener hardware

I have to say sorry before all, because most likely you’ll find typos and grammar mistakes in this post. Unfortunately I have yet to receive my new glasses so I’m typing basically blind.

I hear lots of complains about the power management in Linux and in Free Software in general, and most of the times, this is related to complains about the time laptops can work on battery. While these complaints are usually well founded, I’d like to add to that the fact that both Linux, and a lot of modern hardware, fail at saving power for the sake of environment and, somewhat important as well, of my bank account.

Indeed, I’m afraid to say a lot of modern hardware fails at being smart to be green; and that does not limit to Linux-based systems (although I’d sill be happy to know what causes my LCD monitor to turn off and then on again when DPMS should start!). I can find quite a few examples that nothing have to do with Linux:

  • keeping in the field of operating systems, while Apple did a lot of good work with Mac OS X and power saving (indeed their laptops last a lot on battery), some things aren’t exactly terrific: my iMac sometimes does not stop when I’m not using it, rather the monitor shuts off but the rest of the system keeps running… and because the monitor is off, it happened more than once that I went away, or to bed, without turning the system off. Not really nice; for now I solved by not turning the monitor off, and just make sure I explicitly turn the system off when I’m not using it.
  • on the field of consoles, I got a Wii last week (I need to do some exercise to make sure my blood sugar level falls in place, and the best way to get a geek to do some physical activity is graphing it! – and the Wii Fit seems to work for my sugar); nice thing, the C64-style transformer in the power supply unit is a bit of a nuisance, but more importantly, the WiiConnect24 idea seems to me like a stupid thing: it keeps the console connected to the Internet even when it’s turned off, and what for? As far as I can see this is only useful to make sure you can have weather forecast immediately upon turning it on… I can get the marketing idea, but wouldn’t be more or less the same if it checked the forecast as it’s turned on, even though I’m not asking for it just yet? It takes time to load the games as well, it could take a little more time to load the weather.

  • on the same field, Sony has one absurd thing: there is no auto-off setting for the playstation 3, at all! Of course you can set it to run folding@home as soon as it’s unused for a period of time, but this also has some limitations; for once, it will not start if a DVD is kept in pause (which happened to me once); it will also not start if a dialog is opened (like a “Delete Completed” or such); at the same time, the “auto-turn off on download complete” option does not turn off the controller which means you can forget about it and have your controller still going for a period of time (until its use-based auto-turn off triggers);
  • more interestingly, Sony’s Bravia TV seems to be both smart and green: contrary to my previous Samsung TV, it has a “power off” button that shuts it down; it’s not a hard button, it’s still soft, but the TV doesn’t respond to anything else (included the remote and the other buttons on the chassis) when it’s powered off that way; it also includes a special “auto turn-off” option, ot like the usual timer, but rather similar in concept to screensavers on computers: if you don’t press any button for a period of time, it’ll auto-turn off, assuming you’re not in front of it; even better: it has a special option to turn off the video and keep the audio going, perfect when using it as a sound system, with either the PS3 or the Apple TV, or when listening to news channels;

  • speaking about Sony, PS3 and Bravia, the BraviaLink function also look like a very smart and green technology: it allows for the TV to turn on and off additional peripherals, included the new PS3 Slim — at least this is what I can see; this is pretty nice since you don’t risk to forget the DVD on when you turn the TV off (my father always did that); too bad I have the older model of PS3… the time I can finally get a reason to install Gentoo on my PS3, I’ll replace it for a new model (which cannot run Linux) and get a new one for my TV.

I know there are devices that are supposed to turn on and off a whole home theatre system with the TV, but I’m still uncertain on how they are supposed to be used; the obvious thing would be to put stuff like the DVD player, DVB receiver and consoles under the TV’s control… but this does not work too well with the PS3 for instance, since I often leave it on, with the TV off, when downloading demos, trailers, or simply leaving folding@home in execution (usually this is done while downloading); similarly the AppleTV is supposed to be auto-synced (but admittedly, I only use XBMC lately so it’s not really important). Certainly, the Skybox and the Wii will make sense to shut down always with the TV.

I wish PC hardware would also work similarly to this or even better to BraviaLink; for instance the HP all-in-one I’m using needs an explicit power on (a soft power on, and this is important) before I can use it with my computer; having a simple way to turn it on and off via software would work much better (since turning it always on and off is not really a nice option, having it turn on when asking for a scan or a print, and having an option to turn it off, and an auto turn-off feature, even if implemented PC-side).

But even smaller things could be done, for instance I have a bluetooth dongle on Yamato; I put it on when I need to send data to the cellphone and take it out when I don’t need it any more… it would be much easier if I could just click on the bluetooth icon in the system tray and ask the bluetooth software to turn it off for me (I know it’s likely feasible already given that OS X does it with the integrated bluetooth on Macs, but as far as I can see it does not work on Linux yet, or at least not with the gnome software I’m using).

Add all these small things together, and you can see that hardware is not really very smart yet nowadays…

New network topology

During the work of my router project, I’ve re-done most of my logical network topology, changing the way subnets are assigned, and so on. This has actually helped me to have dual-homed computers (the iMac and the laptops) with different routing between Internet and local requests, as well as allowing me to have ACLs that work depending on whether a client is listed as known or not.

Topology preview

Together with that, I also decided to draw again my network’s topology , this time using Cisco’s icon library . A few notes on that icon library: while it’s available for free use, they provide the icons only in EPS format; which is fine for Adobe Illustrator users, but not for Inkscape users. Most of the eps-to-svg conversions that you can find around on the net make use of pstoedit with plotutils… for some reason the result of that conversion with the Cisco’s icons is tremendously bad so I went with an alternative approach: I converted them to xfig files, with pstodev (but no plotutils); in turn, inkscape can load xfig files just fine, so I just had to drag and drop the xfig file from Nautilus.

As you can see the physical topology in itself is not really simple: I got at least three fixed rooms, and a handful of handheld devices (sorry for the pun). In my office I got Yamato (that routes all the wired traffic), the iMac, the good old Enterprise, and usually at least one laptop; in my bedroom I got the AppleTV, the PlayStation 3, the Bravia LCD TV (yeah that one connects to the net as well… it also supports DLNA but until I package Rygel it’s unlikely I’m going to have it working), and since yesterday, the Wii (more on this in a moment). The laser printer is, out of convenience, in the living room, connected with an Airport Express AP (I am considering moving this to the hall where the router is, then I can just set up CUPS on the router and be done with it).

Speaking about the Wii, it turns out that, while out of the box it connected to my unprotected network fine, it failed to work after the system update. It worked fine, though, with the neighbour’s protected network. Luckily, the Zyxel AP I’m using is high end enough to support MESSID mode (Multiple-ESSID), with different security configurations, so I simply created a new (hidden) wlan with WPA2-PSK to get it to work.

I’ll write more about the logical topology (subnets and so on) in the next few days, showing how I actually configured the stuff for the router; unfortunately I’m not really completely set myself so I don’t want to write about half-setups just yet.