Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Loading Ubuntu 12.10 on a Macbook Air

To create a live USB for installation, I had to follow the instructions at the link below. The basic steps were to convert the .iso to a .img using diskutils, then dd that image onto a USB driver, which was formatted as FAT_32 in my case. I think other formatting schemes may work as well.

Update: Trying to do this from non-Mac platforms, one can try
mkfs.hfsplus to create a .dmg file. To do this, you will need to install the hfsplus hfsprogs and hfsutils packages. you can then install dmg2img to convert this to .img format by installing dmg2img.
The whole command is sudo apt-get install hfsplus hfsprogs hfsutils dmg2img 
See for more details

Create a blank file of the size needed
dd if=/dev/zero of=/path/to/output.dmg bs=1 count=0 seek=590M
mkfs.hfsplus -v 'Description of DMG file' output.dmg

mount it, copy all files from ISO to DMG, then unmount.

Once the live USB is created, simply reboot the Macbook Air while holding the alt (option) key, then select the yellow USB UEFI icon as the boot device. Make sure to install 3rd party sources when running the installer, as the Broadcom wireless device uses a 3rd party firmware blob.

After running the Ubuntu installer, everything should be running, but there are still a few usability issues to fix. I will cover these issues under separate headings below.

Installing XMonad is the next crucial step for me - I don't install a wireless manager, doing wifi management with wpa_supplicant instead.

sudo apt-get install xmonad xmobar suckless-tools

Suckless-tools is a package of helpful tools for xmonad, such as dmenu. I use dmenu for launching graphical programs like firefox or
I have two example configs for a MacBook Air running XUbuntu 12.04, located at .Simply put the ~.xmobarrc file at ~/.xmobarrc, and put the xmonad.hs file in ~/.xmonad/xmonad.hs

Wireless in XMonad is ...interesting. Here I will document some common wireless connectivity scenarios, and how get on the net.

Easiest - install trayer by doing sudo apt-get install trayer
Now simply do
trayer & 
to start the network manager applet in the bottom left hand corner. Simply click and connect as normal. When finished, kill trayer by doing pkill trayer

After installing Ubuntu 12.10 and configuring XMonad, things appeared pretty good. The only issue so far is that the "right click" of the mousepad is two finger click, instead of clicking in the bottom right hand corner of the touchpad.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Using the Symmetricom bc635PCIe card as an NTP timesource

NTP timeservers are a crucial part of any large-scale, distributed system, especially if the components of the system are spread across multiple sites. There are many commercial and homebrew options for setting up an NTP timesource. Some are fairly simple to set up, and others (like the Symmetricom bc635 PCIe card) require a little more work.

I have recently set up an NTP server using the aforementioned card, and after all my troubles to get it set up, I decided to document the procedures used in this blog post.

The default ntpd that comes with CentOS 6.2 does not have support for the BANCOMM/Symmetricom PCIe GPS card.

Download the latest ntp source from .For this tutorial, I used version 4.2.6p5

There is a PDF from Symmetricom support that outlines most of the steps necessary to fix the driver. This list is largely a copy of their "how-to". However, I have elaborated on a few of the steps where I had issues.
  1. Install the bc635/637 driver. To do this, either run make install OR cp the windrvr6.ko and windrvr6_usb.ko files into the /lib/modules/drivers/ area, then do a depmod -a. There is a script called wdreg that will load up the driver, wdreg windrvr6. I added a call to the wdreg script in /etc/rc.local in order to get the module loading on boot, one could also add a rule to /etc/modules.conf.
  2. To verify, run the bc63xPCIcfg file that comes with the driver, from the   sample/ folder.
  3. After rebooting the computer, the sample program should still work.
  4. Copy the file from the sample/ folder to /usr/lib/ (or another library directory of your choice).
  5. Make a link to the device driver, ln -s /dev/windrvr6 /dev/btfp0 (btfp0 is the   old /dev file that ntpd looks for)
  6. If you haven't already done so, download the ntpd source code from
  7. I used the ntp-4.6.2p5 source for this, but the 4.2.6p2 source has been used by others
  8. Extract the source, then modify the file in the ntpd/ folder. Find the segment that has ntpd_LDADD = $(LDADD) $(LIBOPTS_LDADD) ../libntp/libntp.a -lm @LCRYPTO@ @LSCF@, and add -lbcsdk  
  9. Run this command in the ntpd/ directory - ./configure --enable-BANCOMM --enable-linuxcaps
  10. Look at the Makefile (NOT There should be a line like  ntpd_LDADD = $(LDADD) $(LIBOPTS_LDADD) ../libntp/libntp.a -lm -lbcsdk If not, add the -lbcsdk here, but know that running ./configure again will overwrite this Makefile.
  11. Edit the refclock_bancomm.c file as follows
At line 182
extern uint32_t __attribute__ ((weak)) bcReadBinTimeEx(SYMMT_PCI_HANDLE, uint64_t *, uint64_t*, uint32_t*, uint8_t*);

At line 440
  case 2:                         /* Linux/Windows, PCI, 2 32bit time words */
                            struct tm temp;
                            uint64_t btm[2];
                            uint32_t nano;
                            uint8_t dmy;
                            if (bcReadBinTimeEx(stfp_handle, &btm[1], &btm[0], &nano, &dmy) == 0)
                                msyslog(LOG_ERR, "get_datumtime error: %m");
                            temp = *gmtime((time_t *)&btm[1]);
                            time_vme->year = (unsigned short)temp.tm_year+1900;
                            time_vme->day = (unsigned short)temp.tm_yday+1;
                            time_vme->hr = (unsigned short)temp.tm_hour;
                            time_vme->mn = (unsigned short)temp.tm_min;
                            time_vme->sec = (unsigned short)temp.tm_sec;
                            time_vme->frac = (btm[0] & 0x000FFFFF) * 1000;
                            time_vme->frac += (nano & 0x0000000F) * 100;

                            time_vme->status = (unsigned short)dmy;

                            #ifdef DEBUG
                                printf("Epoch time read from the BANCOMM card -> %ld\n", btm[1]);

                                printf("Decimal time read from the BANCOMM card -> Day:%d Year:%d H%02d:M%02d:S%02d.%06lu%d Status:%d\n",

                                printf("Decimal time read into time_vme -> Day:%hu Year:%hu H%hu:M%hu:S%hu.%lu Status:%hu\n",
                            //tvme_fill(time_vme, btm);

One can remove all the commented lines, as well as the lines surrounded by
#ifdef DEBUG, but I have left them here for completeness.

Now run make. This should build a ntpd executable that will work with the library in order to read time from the Symmetricom PCIe GPS. If anyone knows how to handle the nanoseconds field, please let me know and I will update this post!

I then had to modify ntp.conf to use the device

# No restrictions on loopback

#Allow systems to sync
restrict mask nomodify notrap
restrict mask nomodify notrap

#Setup GPS PCIe Clock
restrict mask
server prefer mode 2 iburst minpoll 4 maxpoll 4

#Local clock source
#fudge stratum 8

driftfile /var/lib/ntp/drift
authenticate no

Here the server 127.127.16.x is a special subnet which refers to the Symmetricom(or BANCOMM) hardware clock when ntpd is compiled to support this radio.

The mode keyword is specific to each hardware radio. For Symmetricom, I have been unable to find information on what this mode means, but for Meinberg

Assuming that Symmetricom has the same convention, this would mean it is using a time string to send the information.
iburst allows the computer to sync more quickly with GPS time.
minpoll and maxpoll specify a time in seconds to poll the timesource for

For CentOS 6.2, I had to replace the existing ntpd in /usr/sbin/ntpd with the custom built version.

I have also had problems with ntpd not starting on boot -
I had to manually add a call starting ntpd to /etc/rc.local even though chkconfig showed ntpd on. It seems that ntpd starts but crashes? To be continued as I explore the issue further.

Running ntpq -p should show the GPS clock, and you should see the reach column increase as the computer syncs with the card. If you see things working, but then an x appears in front of the entry for the card, that means there is another ntpd source that disagrees time-wise.

I have seen this in the past, which worries me a little, as I am supposedly pulling time straight from GPS. Maybe there is a bug in my code - or maybe the other server was wrong? In any case, using the GPS card as the only time source works great and has greatly decreased the footprint of my system.