Category Archives: ubuntu

I’m a Qt Convert!

Once upon a time, I used to do a lot of GUI app development. My professional career started back in 1993 writing Windows 3.1 apps in C, and continued for several years, switching to C++ and using the MFC framework. But from about 1998 I found myself steadily doing less native GUI application development, and more and more web server based work.

While I enjoy all the work I do, I do miss being closer to the machine. The average PC is ridiculously powerful these days, but your average web application can’t do much with that power.

I’ve switched my home desktop to Ubuntu recently, and loving it. But, there’s a few Windows apps I miss. What’s a developer to do? What is a developer, skilled in C++ GUI development, to do, eh? Answer me that.

The recent release of Qt4.5 and it’s accompanying licence change couldn’t have come at a better time. I had an itch to scratch, and it looked gooood. One simple install, and you have a great IDE, a GUI designer, and a stack of great classes and widgets. I was sold on the ease of integrating a WebKit browser and the fact I could build a ECMAScript based scripting engine for my app. But there’s so much more! I was a little skeptical of the smoke and mirrors behind the signals and slots paradigm, but having used it for a weekend, I’m sold.

Bottom line is that I spent more time writing my app than figuring out the framework. There’s hardly any “boilerplate” crap in each class. Once you’ve written your first signal and slot handler, you’re away. It’s all thriller, and no filler :)

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, recompiling for Windows and Mac is easy too. Qt doesn’t just get you closer to your machine, it gets you closer to *all* machines. Hallelujah, Flying Spaghetti Monster be praised, I’ve rediscovered a love of programming I didn’t know I’d lost.


I don’t want to say too much about the app I’m writing, aside from the fact that it’s aimed at geocachers. It’s called Ammotin, and will probably get released much later in the year. I think it will be spectacular, because Qt has got me so fired up and focussing on the app, that I don’t need to worry too much about the framework.

Am I over excited?

Using Qt Creator with Ubuntu 8.10

The recent change of licencing model for the Qt toolkit got it a lot of press recently. My GUI-based development experience is all Windows based, using MFC and wxWidgets. As I’ve found myself using Ubuntu and OSX a lot more recently, the idea of using Qt to write software to run on Windows, Linux or OSX has some appeal. Of particular interest was the ease with which you can integrate WebKit, allowing you to embed web capabilities into a cross-platform app with ease.

Installation under Ubuntu 8.10 is straightforward, but I’m writing this post just to note the install steps I took. Hope it helps someone!

  • Download and install the SDK, which includes an IDE
  • Once installed, there’s a few packages you’ll need to ensure your first build completes:
  • sudo apt-get install libfreetype6-dev libfontconfig-dev libxrender-dev libsm-dev libglib2.0-dev

Now you’re good to go!

Edit: Edvaldo in the comments noted he needed to install some additional packages as follows:

  • sudo apt-get install libxext-dev libxext6-dbg x11proto-xext-dev

Geograph brought down by sky2 network driver failure

Yesterday’s outage of the Geograph website was brought about by all three webservers rendering their network interfaces unusable due to a failed network driver. Although there are many references to similar failures, I thought it would be useful to write about it if only to give a little more Google-juice to the problem.

Geograph’s three webservers are running Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, regularly updated. The eth0 NIC is a Marvell Technology Group Ltd. 88E8050 Gigabit Ethernet Controller (rev 17), driven by the sky2 driver.

Each of those NICs failed at some point on Sunday, but the servers themselves kept on trucking, eventually writing entries like this to syslog

Feb 24 16:30:30 scone kernel: [35337220.416000] NETDEV WATCHDOG: eth0: transmit timed out
Feb 24 16:30:30 scone kernel: [35337220.416000] sky2 eth0: tx timeout
Feb 24 16:30:30 scone kernel: [35337220.420000] sky2 eth0: transmit ring 112 .. 89 report=112 done=112
Feb 24 16:30:30 scone kernel: [35337220.420000] sky2 hardware hung? flushing

There are many reports of similar failures. One suggested fix is replacement of the sky2 driver with sk98lin, but as our remote KVM is also down, we’re limited to actions we can reliably take over a network connection (in the short term at least).

So, for some short term protection against reoccurence, I’ve written a simple watchdog script called by cron every 5 minutes. It performs some network connectivity tests, and if they all fail, increments a counter. If the script is called and has failed for the 4th successive time, it will attempt to reload the sky2 module, and if that doesn’t work, trigger an immediate reboot. This should mean that a server will enter “radio silence” for around 15 minutes and recover. That’s a tolerable delay for a cluster of three servers.

Fortunately, we’ve found the second NIC on the machine uses an Intel Corporation 82541GI/PI Gigabit Ethernet, driven by the e1000 driver. By all accounts, this should be much more stable. So longer term we’ll be switching the cabling over to the second NIC.

So, the moral of the story is, don’t build a server which uses the sky2 driver!