Dell XPS 13 2015 Developer Edition – Ubuntu 15.04

The Dell XPS 2013 2015 (9343) is a much anticipated computer for Ubuntu and Linux enthusiasts. Today I tested a Windows variant of the laptop and was pleasant surprised by how well it worked out of the box with Ubuntu 15.04 beta 2. I was unable to install Ubuntu to the hard drive because the unit is a demo unit that must be returned so I ran off a USB drive. The wireless driver was easily enabled by going to additional drivers. The function controls such as screen brightness, volume and keyboard back light, wireless toggle all worked out of the box with no tweaks. The one hang up is that the audio did not work. There are some ways to work around this problem on the web, but I would like to see the solution Dell decides to use. I did not experience any issues with the trackpad locking up or key repeats that earlier reviews of the Windows model discussed.

With my anticipation high I spoke with a Dell sales rep on-line and found the URL to purchasing the Dell Developer Edition and was told that the units would be shipping in 11 to 14 days. The representative also offered to provide overnight shipping for free.

Dell XPS 13 2015 Ubuntu Developer Edition

Dell XPS 13 2015 Ubuntu Developer Edition

My current computer is a Lenovo T530 with 1920×1080 screen. When I purchased the unit I was impressed by the screen, but after looking at it next to the Dell XPS 13 I am left with an impression that it is just not good enough anymore. The Dell XPS 13 2015 model had much sharper text and a better contrast ratio. The picture below does not do the difference justice. When I purchased the T530 I did so primarily because I wanted a minimum resolution of 1920×1080 and most ultrabooks were being shipped with 1366×768 screens. As you can see from the image below It is amazing how much screen Dell managed to fit in to this chassis.

IMG_20150407_163638

I just wish I had been able to get an actual Developer Edition to ensure that the one problem item was resolved, but for now I will wait to see if some reviews get posted and what the results are with regards to the audio issues.

UPDATE 4/8/2015: I tested a suggestion made in the comments to reboot Ubuntu twice to get audio working. That worked. Based on that it would appear that Ubuntu 15.04 will run out of the box on the Dell XPS 13 2015 model.

Secure Erase in Linux

Recently I was tasked with wiping a computer hard drive. The drive was a 128GB Samsung SSD. My normal tool of choice is DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke), but to my surprise it did not support erasing SSD drives. As always Google came to my rescue and I found an easy way to wipe the drive called ‘secure erase’.

Not Frozen
The first thing you have to do is ensure that the drive is not ‘frozen’.

sudo hdparm -I /dev/sdb

[…]
Security:
Master password revision code = 65534
supported
not    enabled
not    locked
not    frozen
not    expired: security count
supported: enhanced erase
106min for SECURITY ERASE UNIT. 106min for ENHANCED SECURITY ERASE UNIT.
[…]

Frozen

sudo hdparm -I /dev/sda

[…]
Security:
Master password revision code = 65534
supported
not    enabled
not    locked
frozen
not    expired: security count
supported: enhanced erase
2min for SECURITY ERASE UNIT. 2min for ENHANCED SECURITY ERASE UNIT.

[…]

If the drive is frozen it might be possible to ‘un-freeze’ the drive by suspending the computer and then waking it up. This works in the cases where the bios issues a lock command on boot up. A power cycle of the drive clears that states.

Set The Password
Once the drive is not in a ‘frozen’ state you can move on the next step. In order to issue the erase command the drive needs have a password set.

sudo hdparm –user-master u –security-set-pass password /dev/sda
security_password=”password”

/dev/sda:
Issuing SECURITY_SET_PASS command, password=”password”, user=user, mode=high

Check the drive again should indicate that the password is now enabled.

sudo hdparm -I /dev/sdb

[…]
Security:
Master password revision code = 65534
supported
enabled
not    enabled
not    locked
not    frozen
not    expired: security count
supported: enhanced erase
106min for SECURITY ERASE UNIT. 106min for ENHANCED SECURITY ERASE UNIT.
[…]

Erase The Disk
Now, you can execute the secure erase command:

sudo hdparm –user-master u –security-erase password /dev/sdb
security_password=”password”

/dev/sdb:
Issuing SECURITY_ERASE command, password=”password”, user=user

Check The Results
After the command executes the password should automatically be cleared.

sudo hdparm -I /dev/sdb

[…]
Security:
Master password revision code = 65534
supported
not    enabled
not    locked
not    frozen
not    expired: security count
supported: enhanced erase
106min for SECURITY ERASE UNIT. 106min for ENHANCED SECURITY ERASE UNIT.
[…]

Your drive should be securely erased now. I found the process to be easy and quick.

Fast USB 3.0 Flash Drive

As the amount of files we store has increased over time it has become painful to use old slow USB flash drives. I decided to replace the myriad of slow USB drives totaling 49GB with a single USB flash drive with 64GB or greater.

Collection of USB flash drives

Collection of USB flash drives

The largest drive I had previously was 16GB which was painfully slow when moving large files or large quantities of small files. The problem with having so many small drives is that it was difficult to remember what files were on which drive. The alternative to the traditional flash drive was a ‘pocket SSD drive’. Most of these were in the $150+ range and came in larger packages that required a USB 3.0 cable.

size comparison

Size comparison – SanDisk Extreme in the middle

I wanted a smaller package than that though and settled on the SanDisk Extreme CZ80 64GB. As you can see above the drive is a little smaller than the older Cruizer Mini and larger than the Cruzer Micro, but it is still quite portable.

Performance Chart

Performance Chart

The drive claims that it gets up to 245MB/s read and 190MB/s write. While I did not reach that level of performance I found the speed to be extremely fast and far better than the older drives I owned. I have had great luck with my SanDisk drives being durable in the past so I have high hopes that I will enjoy the extreme speed of this drive for a long time to come.

Custom Wallpaper

I recently upgraded to Ubuntu 14.10 and wanted to adorn my desktop with some new wallpapers. Usually, I find several suitable wallpapers on the web, but this time I did not. I then decided to make my own and wanted to share the results. All the following wallpapers were put together using GIMP.

plain hex template

Plain Hex Template

Hex Template Two

Hex Template Two

hex with dwarf

Hex With Dwarf

Hex Dragon

Hex Dragon

Community Appreciation Day: Humanity at its Finest!

Today is Ubuntu Community Appreciation Day and I wanted to recognize several people who have helped me along my journey within the Ubuntu Community.

Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph
Lyz has been a friend for years. We met when I was just transitioning from using Windows to using Linux. The Ubuntu New York LoCo was holding its bi-annual release part at the Holiday Inn located in Waterloo, NY on November, 8th 2009. Lyz gave a presentation “Who Uses and Contributes to Open Source Projects (And how you can too!)” that day and helped serve as a guide for the New York LoCo team as it sought to become an approved LoCo team. Lyz is an amazing person who has given me advice over the last five years. She contributes her energies to the Ubuntu project with a commitment and passion that has both my respect and admiration.

Thank you for all you have done Lyz!

Jorge Castro at FOSSCON in Rochester, NY

Jorge Castro at FOSSCON in Rochester, NY

Jorge Castro
Jorge is the first ‘Ubuntu celebrity’ that I interacted with. When I was helping to organize FOSSCON at RIT in Rochester, NY I contacted Jorge to ask if he would attend and present at the conference. I think Jorge’s participation helped us attract attendees the first year and I was grateful that he was willing to attend. FOSSCON has become a successful conference under the guidance of my friend Jonathan Simpson. Jorge also encouraged me to apply for sponsorship to an Ubuntu Developer Summit which culminated in my being sponsored and attending my first UDS. Jorge is a person that is always willing to help others with great energy and a smile. He is an awesome contributor to the Ubuntu Community and I am thankful that I have met him in person.

Jorge you inspire us with your advice to Just Do It!

Jono Bacon
At my first UDS I was in awe of the people around me. They were brilliant high energy people committed to Ubuntu and open source. There was a fantastic energy and passion in every session I attended. While I had offered what thoughts I had and signed up to undertake work items in many sessions I felt like a small fish in a sea of very big fish. It was Jono who took the time to let me know that he was impressed with my willingness to speak up, volunteer to undertake work and get things done. He made me feel as though my contributions were appreciated. It is an awesome feeling I will remember for the rest of my life. He inspired me that day to continue to contribute and to help others do the same.

Jono, you have my utmost respect for your ability to inspire people to take on important work and make the world a better place.

Mark poses with a student from Poland

Mark with a student from Poland

Mark Shuttleworth
While many would thank Mark for his unique vision for Ubuntu or his massive contribution of money to fund the project, I would like to thank him for the personal touch he exhibits to members of the community. Mark took the time to autograph a picture for my young son who was impressed that I knew a person who had been in space. To this day my son tells his peers at school about the picture and keeps it on his night stand. I also remember a young man at his first UDS that had a great idea and wanted to present it to Mark. I mentioned this to Mark and he immediately made time to meet the young man and listened intently to his idea. The young man felt he had a limited ability to impact the project as a college student from Poland, but after speaking with Mark he was inspired and felt that he could make a difference in his local community and in the Ubuntu Project. To this day I am amazed at the passion to do good that I have seen Mark exhibit.

Thanks for creating the project Mark; you are truly amazing.

Laura Czajkowski
I have worked with Laura on the LoCo Council and on the Community Council and she is a fantastically dedicated hard working person who is very passionate about Ubuntu LoCo Teams. She is an advocate for women in technology and open source. Laura has helped move many projects along and one of the hardest working people I have ever met. It is amazing how much work she does behind the scenes without ever seeking recognition or thanks.

Thank your Laura for all your hard work and dedication to the Ubuntu Community.

Brian Neil
Brian is one of the first New York Ubuntu LoCo members I met. We met at Wegman’s in Rochester, NY on November 6th, 2008 with the intention of reviving the NY LoCo team. Over the next several years Brian played a key role in helping me expand the activities of the team. He helped organize the launch parties, presentations, irc meetings and other activities. Brian helped man many booths at local technology events and was instrumental in getting the team copies of CDs before we were eligible to receive them from Canonical.

Thank you Brian!

Daniel Holbach
What a truly amazing person! Daniel is very thoughtful and understanding when dealing with important issues in the Ubuntu community. He takes on multiple tasks with ease and is always cheerful and energetic. He helps to keep the Community Council organized and on task. When Daniel contributes his thoughts they are always well thought out and of high value.

Daniel you are awesome my friend!

The Ubuntu Community is filled with unique, intelligent and amazing people. There is not enough space to mention everyone, but I truly feel enriched for having met many of you either in-person or online. Each and every one of you help make the Ubuntu Community amazing!

Kali Linux Network Scanning Cookbook Review

kaliChapter 1: Getting Started
Good detailed coverage of setting up VMWare Player (Windows) or VMWare Fusion (Mac OS X). I would have seen the author at least cover VirtualBox as it works on Windows, OS X and Linux.

The discussion on having vulnerable targets to work with covers Metasploitable which is an excellent choise. I am glad the point was stressed to not expose a Metasploitable system to any untrusted network. While I appreciate learning on Windows XP I would have expected a cook book to focus on either the latest Windows OS (8.1) or the most used Windows OS (Windows 7).

Chapter 2: Discovery
For some IT professionals the review of the OSI model is potentially redundant, but for many it is essential to truly understand the process of scanning a network. The discussion on layer 2 vs layer 3 vs layer 4 discovery was very clear and effective.

I like the depth given for each of the chosen tools (Scapy, ARPing, Nmap, NetDiscover, Metasploit, ICMP ping, fping, and hping3). I have not made much use of Scapy, but I think I will be adding it to my tool bag due to the excellent python examples given making use of it.

Chapter 3: Port Scanning
This chapter was well done with coverage of Scapy, Nmap, Metasploit, Hping3, Dmitry and Netcat. Nmap is always a favorite of mine, but I was particularly impressed by the coverage of Scapy scripts used for scanning for zombies.

Chapter 4: Fingerprinting
The tools covered in this chapter are Netcat, Python sockets, Dmitry, Nmap NSE, Amap, xProbe2, pOf, Onesixtyone and SNMPwalk. I think the best part about this chapter is the explanation of how the various programs identify (fingerprint) the target. In particular explaining how xProbe2 can claim that several identifications are 100% when there can obviously really be only one that is accurate.

Chapter 5: Vulnerability Scanning
This chapter covered Nmap scripting Engine, MSF auxillary modules, Nessus, HTTP interaction and ICMP interaction. I liked the python scripts and use of wget in the sections of HTTP interaction. I would have liked to see the chapter deal with openVAS in addition to Nessus.

Chapter 6: Denial of Service and Chapter 7: Web Application Scanning
These chapters are both covering areas I do not have much opportunity to play with. I did like the covereage of the Burp Suite. For people interested in looking at these areas there is a wealth of knowledge here.

Chapter 8: Automating Kali Tools
This is the chapter that reveals the pay off of using a Linux based security tool. The ease of scripting each process. I particularly liked the discussion on how to analyze Nmap output with grep.

Overall, I feel the book is a solid addition to the libraries of Systems Administrator and Penetration testers from novie to intermediate.

Ubuntu Community Health

Recently Jono Bacon, Senior Director of Community at the XPRIZE Foundation, talked about an Ubuntu Governance reboot. In his blog post he questioned the “purpose and effectiveness” of the governance structure; specifically the Community Council and Technical Board.

Ubuntu governance has, as a general rule, been fairly reactive. In other words, items are added to a governance meeting by members of the community and the boards sit, review the topic, discuss it, and in some cases vote. In this regard I consider this method of governance not really leadership, but instead idea, policy, and conflict arbitration.

Let us look at the word governance:

Governance:
noun
1. government; exercise of authority; control.
2. a method or system of government or management.

What Jono described fits the definition. The Ubuntu Governance structure are exercising authority, control and trying to manage a community. Jono notices that ‘leadership’ is missing, but by definition that is not part of governance.

What saddens me is that when I see some of these meetings, much of the discussion seems to focus on paperwork and administrivia, and many of the same topics pop up over and over again. With no offense meant at the members of these boards, these meetings are neither inspirational and rarely challenge the status quo of the community. In fact, from my experience, challenging the status quo with some of these boards has invariably been met with reluctance to explore, experiment, and try new ideas, and to instead continue to enforce and protect existing procedures. Sadly, the result of this is more bureaucracy than I feel comfortable with.

I can understand what Jono is saying in this quote as I have experienced putting forth ideas that I thought were great ideas that would provide transformational change leading to a better community. Oddly, Jono was one of the people who resisted the idea and showed a reluctance to ‘explore, experiment and try new ideas’. My purpose here is not to challenge Jono’s observations, but to point out that with the presentation of any ‘great idea’ there are two perspectives. If you believe the idea is a poor one and will not help the community you are not being reluctant, but prudent. As a person who has both challenged the Ubuntu Governance structure and been a member of two councils I can tell you that my perspective changed once I was sitting on a council. The vast majority of ‘disputes’ I was part of resolving involved two parties that had not come to a fundamental agreement that there was a problem to be fixed. Every potential change was painfully examined to ensure that the change had a high chance of improving the community and low chance to causing damage. Often there are multiple effect paths that were explored that were not envisioned by anyone when the change was first proposed. As a member of the Community Council I am much more cautious, because I know the decisions that I help to make can have unintended consequences. I feel it is my duty to consider things carefully and not ‘leap to conclusions’. I appreciate the impact of cultural differences such as: the fact that many people from Europe do not truly appreciate how large Texas is or how spread out Alaska is. On the flip side, not many Americans understand some of the regional issues in Europe. They are unaware of the independence votes in Catalonia or Scotland. These differences, and others, make it challenging for the people who sit on Ubuntu Governance boards. Suggested changes that solve a problem for one problem may create more problems.

I believe we need to transform and empower these governance boards to be inspirational vessels that our wider community look to for guidance and leadership, not for paper-shuffling and administrivia.

I agree with Jono that there is a need for leadership and inspiration. I felt a malaise slip over a large portion of the existing Ubuntu community when Canonical’s focus adverted to the Ubuntu phone. I think a significant portion of the community feels at odds with Canonical’s direction as evidenced by some of the recent tension with Kubuntu, and discussions about copyright and trademark.

I think part of the issue is that the Community has primarily looked to Canonical employees (Jono and Mark) for inspiration and leadership. Another issue is that the current Ubuntu Governance depends on Canonical to provide answers to a great many questions. For example Mark promised that Canonical was going to publish clarifications on trademark, copyright and patent agreements. In June the Community Council was asked for an update and sent a quick message to Canonical asking for an update. They received confirmation that Canonical was currently working on an update. Each month the Community Council reached out to the same contact and the only information we have is that they are working on it and do not have an estimate as to completion. It is difficult to provide leadership or inspire when there is no ability to get better information than ‘trust us we are working on it’. This particular issue has great importance to the community and while I understand that the current Community Council does not have the legal background to craft an official statement I do think that it is reasonable that we should be able to see the work in progress and be involved in crafting the clarifications.

We need to change that charter though, staff appropriately, and build an inspirational network of leaders that sets everyone in this great community up for success.

This statement raises a few questions for me:

  • Do the community council and technical board require change or should their be a different structure for leadership and inspiration?
  • Is the current environment, produced by the relationship between Canonical and the community, conducive to fostering inspirational leaders?
  • Are there issues with the way Ubuntu events are taking place that inhibit or discourage the community?
  • Does the press cover the community or just Canonical?

Change in Structure:
Governance is not leadership. I do not think the need for governance and arbitration will go away so I think one should consider if one group should both lead, inspire and judge. As an example think of government structures where there is separation of powers (executive, judiciary, legislative). I do not have an answer, but I think it should be considered and discussed.

Inspirational Leadership:
Do Ubuntu community members have the ability to make inspirational statements that exert leadership? When Mark announces something ‘big and exciting’ it has often been planned and worked on over an extended period of time. The current community leadership is often finding out about these announcement at the same time the rest of the community is. The community is also focused on items that are less glamorous, but no less important like documentation and end user support. (Let us not get hung up on the use of the word user; OK Randall?)

Ubuntu Events:
UDS used to take a great deal of planning and effort when it was both physical and virtual. Now that it is virtual it seems to be less organized and people have less time to plan for the event. Most members of the community would benefit from having more time to plan for involvement with vUDS. Events like the Ubuntu Global Jam need to be designed to be more beneficial and more accessible to local teams. LoCo teams that are comprised of people with school work, jobs and families need time to secure a venue, advertise the event and ensure they have the necessary support to hold a quality event.

Examples of Press Coverage:

Headline: Canonical Drops Ubuntu 14.10 Dedicated Images for Apple Hardware
Body: The Ubuntu devs marked this interesting evolution in the official announcement for Ubuntu 14.10, but it went largely unnoticed.

Was the community involved in this decision? Was there technical leadership from the community involved? I do not know the answer to that question, but this does illustrate how press coverage can impact how people perceive things.

Moving Forward:
The first step is to agree there is an issue and then once there is an agreement on that work towards a solution. You can not jump to a solution without agreeing on the issue first. If you would like to help lead change in the Ubuntu Community please add your thoughts to the ongoing discussion in the Ubuntu Community Team email list. Let us all focus on positive outcomes and actions over words without action.

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