Theme of DCoN

Some of you may remember the "Release Date: 2011" meme which we've been spreading for the past two years. We are proud to announce an actual piece of DCoN software, now available for your use.

Presenting DCoN, the Doubly-linked Comic ORM for Newrem. This is the new webcomic management system powering Newrem. It's young, but already it's powerful enough to fill the shoes it was designed to fill, and perhaps other people will find it useful as well.

We are releasing DCoN under the GPLv2, in accordance with obligations laid out by one of the component libraries. We hope it will be instructive for others looking to create or deploy webcomic management systems.

Please note that this software is, as people often say in the business, "brand-spankin'-new," so don't be surprised if there are still a few bugs left to hammer out.

~ C.

Last modified on 2011-09-04 13:26:24

Nobody Gonna Take My Car

Hi! Just a quick status update on that crazy Chromebook of mine.

To get VBA-M to work, use the GTK+ frontend by emerging with USE="gtk". Set it however you like; I highly advise against setting it globally, but if you have sgt-puzzles installed, you will already have GTK+. Afterwards, you will have a shiny new gvbam executable, ready to use.

While ZSNES might be very unhappy, Snes9x can correctly accept input. Well, to a point, at least; sound output and screen scaling appear to be broken. More research is needed.

~ C.

Last modified on 2011-08-13 15:22:29

Highway Star

I have a Chromebook. Specifically, a Samsung Series 5, courtesy of Google. It's pretty snazzy, but what's really great is that the "Chrome OS" which it comes with is actually a modified Gentoo Linux. Cool, right? Unfortunately, the Chromebook is a bit too hobbled for generic Gentoo usage, but I will outline the steps I have taken towards getting mine to a point where I'm happy with it.

When modding hardware, especially hardware over which one has limited control, it's good to set a goal, so I'll outline my goal in terms of what I usually do on traveling laptops: Games and music. Since there's usually a pretty heavy limit on disk space, but plenty of bandwidth, I want to be able to access some kind of music stream, and as far as games, I'll go with a selection of small puzzles as well as classic emulators. In particular, I want to have Pianobar (media-sound/pianobar), Simon Tatham's Puzzles (games-puzzle/sgt-puzzles), and either VBA-M (games-emulation/vbam) or ZSNES (games-emulation/zsnes).

First things first: Let's get access to the shell. Two keyboard commands to know (which have no mouse equivalents!) are the classic Alt+Tab, for switching between windows, as well as Alt+Shift+Tab for going through the window list backwards, and also the common Ctrl+Alt+T, which spawns a shell. On a Chromebook, the shell provided by default is "crosh", a remarkably useless shell mostly provided for diagnostics. Crosh has a secret command, "shell", which spawns a real shell, bash! However, we can't get to it until Developer Mode has been enabled. After Developer Mode is enabled, crosh will now permit us to get a real shell, and the real fun can begin.

As a user on the filesystem, we are always under the login "chronos". We can sudo freely and without limit; invocations like sudo -i to gain root shell access work as expected. Let's take a look at what's in the filesystem at the moment.

(Aside: If you just want to know how I got stuff working on my Chromebook, skip the next few paragraphs; I'm going to talk about my though processes and the current state of what I know about the machine. Interesting stuff, perhaps, but not really directly relevant to getting up and running.)

chronos@localhost ~ $ mount
rootfs on / type rootfs (rw)
/dev/root on / type ext2 (ro,relatime)
devtmpfs on /dev type devtmpfs (rw,size=970408k,nr_inodes=242602,mode=755)
none on /proc type proc (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
none on /sys type sysfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
/tmp on /tmp type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
udev on /dev type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,noexec,relatime,mode=755)
shmfs on /dev/shm type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
devpts on /dev/pts type devpts (rw,nosuid,noexec,relatime,gid=5,mode=620)
/dev/sda1 on /mnt/stateful_partition type ext3
/dev/sda1 on /var type ext3
/dev/sda1 on /home type ext3
varrun on /var/run type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,mode=755)
varlock on /var/lock type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
/media on /media type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
debugfs on /sys/kernel/debug type debugfs (rw,relatime)
cgroup on /tmp/cgroup/cpu type cgroup (rw,relatime,cpu)
/home/.shadow/d72e888592600e3025a778270172192458d0a039/vault on
/home/chronos/user type ecryptfs
chronos@localhost ~ $ df -h
Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
rootfs                837M  548M  290M  66% /
/dev/root             837M  548M  290M  66% /
devtmpfs              948M  472K  948M   1% /dev
/tmp                  948M   24M  925M   3% /tmp
udev                  948M  472K  948M   1% /dev
shmfs                 948M  256K  948M   1% /dev/shm
/dev/sda1              11G  3.4G  6.7G  34% /mnt/stateful_partition
/dev/sda1              11G  3.4G  6.7G  34% /var
/dev/sda1              11G  3.4G  6.7G  34% /home
varrun                948M   68K  948M   1% /var/run
varlock               948M     0  948M   0% /var/lock
/media                948M     0  948M   0% /media
                       11G  3.4G  6.7G  34% /home/chronos/user

What a list of mounts! I'll try to explain. The rootfs and kernel each live on partitions not mounted during normal operation, and are generally reasonably protected. Modifying them is beyond what I will discuss today, but rest assured that they are there and modifiable if developer-mode BIOS is enabled. (All the gory details are on the Chromium OS wiki, linked above.) If we want to avoid making changes which can be easily wiped out, then we will have to consider an alternative approach to modifying the rootfs. There is apparently a way to cook an entirely-new Chromium OS image, but I'm going to avoid that for a pair of reasons:

  • The build process takes a fair amount of space and time
  • The image has to be respun for every update

These two things wouldn't be that big of a deal, if I knew exactly what I wanted ahead of time and didn't plan to update more than every three months or so. However, knowing the speed of Gentoo, this isn't going to be reasonable. Moreover, there are a few things missing from the Chrome OS rootfs: Portage and a compiler, to say nothing of Python. There aren't even the tools for bootstrapping a stage3. Also, look at how much space is allocated to the default rootfs: 840MiB, nowhere near enough to get anywhere when it's already two-thirds full. An alternate approach sounds better.

Can't we just wipe the entire SSD and put a standard Gentoo install on it? Well, no. There's a couple obstacles. First, how does one get into a live Gentoo environment? We can't boot from USB or MMC/SD into a non-Chrome OS environment, thanks to a verified bootloader. We can't access the deepest bootloaders easily; while an EFI loader is shipped onboard, it appears to be unused, and documentation points to a signed kernel loader being used instead. This is frustrating, because it means that we have to use the same kind of partitioning as the current system, and we have to sign our kernels. While the tools are all there in the Chromium OS repositories, I didn't feel like going through the ardour of figuring out how to put it all together and flashing my device multiple times to get it all going. (I'm lazy like that; if some enterprising developer wants to do it, please, go ahead!) So, we'll stick to userspace modifications.

The next thing I noticed: chroot is available in the rootfs! This could get us into a Gentoo environment! But what would we do in there? We can't install things directly onto the rootfs or stateful partition, and we can't change the partition table. Either one would wreck the Chrome OS boot pretty thoroughly. But, we could always go the brutish, lazy route, and simply have a chroot in our home directory. Getting at our Portage and compiler would be as easy as invoking chroot, and we could still have the rest of the system (Chrome, WiFi manager, battery monitor, terminal emulator, window manager) at our disposal. Excellent.

How much disk space would this take? It sounds wasteful. As you may have noticed from the above filesystem readout, though, it only adds about 2.8GiB for an entire chroot with everything I like to have in my minimal Gentoo systems. I'm a bit of a pig, but even so, it's possible to have a very slimmed-down chroot.

So, let's get started. First, create your chroot directory in your home, calling it "chroot" or something like that. You can go ahead and be root for this. In fact, get comfortable being root; you will always be root in your chroot. I mean, seriously, why not? There's all the traditional reasons to not be root, but the Chrome OS is a brand-new world, a world where people can be root inside a chroot inside a cryptfs inside a single-user system inside the cloud.

You should have the Gentoo Handbook's Chroot Guide open while you do this, as what we are doing is quite similar. The one catch is that you must be root in order to create all the device nodes. Once your chroot is in place, the following script will enter the chroot: Just put it in your home directory, chmod +x it, and we're almost ready to go!

Oops, wait, what's with this cryptic "bad interpreter" error? For security reasons, most filesystems are mounted noexec. Sadly, there's no good place to put a shell script to turn it off, so I instead encourage you to memorize mount -i -o remount,exec ~. It rolls right off the tongue! You only have to do this once, at boot, but you can't put it in the rootfs without alerting Chrome OS to our shenanigans. If Chrome OS gets ticked enough at our meddling, it will destroy the entire stateful partition, including the chroot. (If you want to keep your chroot on a USB drive or SD card, I would totally understand!)

There are a few more things required to get all of the things in the chroot working. Presumably you will eventually want to run applications which talk to the local X11 server; for that, you will need to add a single line to your .bashrc inside the chroot:

export XAUTHORITY="/root/.Xauthority"

So, now that we're inside our chroot, and have everything wired up, it's time to start experimenting. I've gone ahead and selected the following USE flags:

USE="X alsa ao mmx opengl sse sse2 sse3 -cups -xscreensaver"

And here's the package list in my world file (/var/lib/portage/world):


You may notice that I emerged things I don't technically need. This is because I am a creature of habit, and several things nearly always make their way into my list, like vim, eix, genlop, gentoolkit, and ufed. I emerged all of the X and GL programs to help debug X issues; they are not necessary at all for you as long as you have set up .Xauthority as I have.

You may also notice that I grabbed localepurge. I highly recommend trimming the fat from your chroot with localepurge; that and trimming the categories from your Portage tree (do you really need sci-*?) are going to save around 500MiB if done zealously.

With the current setup, pianobar Just Works. sgt-puzzles installs its binaries as games, so you will have to make sure that, when chrooted, your user has the games group set. This is the purpose of that mystical --groups=35 on the chroot invocation -- 35 is the GID of the games group! This is definitely the cleanest solution. With that added, sgt-puzzles works. Two of four.

~ C.

Last modified on 2011-08-09 02:03:29

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