Laptop decision fatigue

I admit defeat. I have made some effort into researching recent laptop models (see first and second post). Last week I asked myself what the biggest problem with my current 4+ year old X201 is. I couldn’t articulate any significant concern. So I have bought another second-hand X201 for semi-permanent use at my second office. At ~225 USD/EUR, including another docking station, it is an amazing value. I considered the X220-X240 but they have a different docking station, and were roughly twice the price — the latter allowed for a Samsung 850 PRO SSD purchase. Thanks everyone for your advice, anyway!

Laptop indecision

I wrote last month about buying a new laptop and I still haven’t made a decision. One reason for this is because Dell doesn’t seem to be shipping the E7250. Some online shops claim to be able to deliver it, but aren’t clear on what configuration it has – and I really don’t want to end up with Dell Wifi.

Another issue has been the graphic issues with the Broadwell GPU (see the comment section of my last post). It seems unlikely that this will be fixed in time for Debian Jessie. I really want a stable OS on this machine, as it will be a work-horse and not a toy machine. I haven’t made up my mind whether the graphics issue is a deal-breaker for me.

Meanwhile, a couple of more sub-1.5kg (sub-3.3lbs) Broadwell i7’s have hit the market. Some of these models were suggested in comments to my last post. I have decided that the 5500U CPU would also be acceptable to me, because some newer laptops doesn’t come with the 5600U. The difference is that the 5500U is a bit slower (say 5-10%) and lacks vPro, which I have no need for and mostly consider a security risk. I’m not aware of any other feature differences.

Since the last round, I have tightened my weight requirement to be sub-1.4kg (sub-3lbs), which excludes some recently introduced models, and actually excludes most of the models I looked at before (X250, X1 Carbon, HP 1040/810). Since I’m leaning towards the E7250, with the X250 as a “reliable” fallback option, I wanted to cut down on the number of further models to consider. Weigth is a simple distinguisher. The 1.4-1.5kg (3-3.3lbs) models I am aware that of that is excluded are the Asus Zenbook UX303LN, the HP Spectre X360, and the Acer TravelMate P645.

The Acer Aspire S7-393 (1.3kg) and Toshiba Kira-107 (1.26kg) would have been options if they had RJ45 ports. They may be interesting to consider for others.

The new models I am aware of are below. I’m including the E7250 and X250 for comparison, since they are my preferred choices from the first round. A column for maximum RAM is added too, since this may be a deciding factor for me. Higher weigth is with touch screens.

Toshiba Z30-B 1.2-1.34kg 16GB 13.3″ 1920×1080
Fujitsu Lifebook S935 1.24-1.36kg 12GB 13.3″ 1920×1080
HP EliteBook 820 G2 1.34-1.52kg 16GB 12.5″ 1920×1080
Dell Latitude E7250 1.25kg 8/16GB? 12.5″ 1366×768
Lenovo X250 1.42kg 8GB 12.5″ 1366×768

It appears unclear whether the E7250 is memory upgradeable, some sites say max 8GB some say max 16GB. The X250 and 820 has DisplayPort, the S935 and Z30-B has HDMI, and the E7250 has both DisplayPort/HDMI. The E7250 does not have VGA which the rest has. All of them have 3 USB 3.0 ports except for X250 that only has 2 ports. The E7250 and 820 claims NFC support, but Debian support is not given. Interestingly, all of them have a smartcard reader. All support SDXC memory cards.

The S935 has an interesting modular bay which can actually fit a CD reader or an additional battery. There is a detailed QuickSpec PDF for the HP 820 G2, haven’t found similar detailed information for the other models. It mentions support for Ubuntu, which is nice.

Comparing these laptops is really just academic until I have decided what to think about the Broadwell GPU issues. It may be that I’ll go back to a fourth-gen i7 laptop, and then I’ll probably pick a cheap reliable machine such as the X240.

Laptop Buying Advice?

My current Lenovo X201 laptop has been with me for over four years. I’ve been looking at new laptop models over the years thinking that I should upgrade. Every time, after checking performance numbers, I’ve always reached the conclusion that it is not worth it. The most performant Intel Broadwell processor is the the Core i7 5600U and it is only about 1.5 times the performance of my current Intel Core i7 620M. Meanwhile disk performance has increased more rapidly, but changing the disk on a laptop is usually simple. Two years ago I upgraded to the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB disk, and this year I swapped that for the Samsung 850 Pro 1TB, and both have been good investments.

Recently my laptop usage patterns have changed slightly, and instead of carrying one laptop around, I have decided to aim for multiple semi-permanent laptops at different locations, coupled with a mobile device that right now is just my phone. The X201 will remain one of my normal work machines.

What remains is to decide on a new laptop, and there begins the fun. My requirements are relatively easy to summarize. The laptop will run a GNU/Linux distribution like Debian, so it has to work well with it. I’ve decided that my preferred CPU is the Intel Core i7 5600U. The screen size, keyboard and mouse is mostly irrelevant as I never work longer periods of time directly on the laptop. Even though the laptop will be semi-permanent, I know there will be times when I take it with me. Thus it has to be as lightweight as possible. If there would be significant advantages in going with a heavier laptop, I might reconsider this, but as far as I can see the only advantage with a heavier machine is bigger/better screen, keyboard (all of which I find irrelevant) and maximum memory capacity (which I would find useful, but not enough of an argument for me). The sub-1.5kg laptops with the 5600U CPU on the market that I have found are:

Lenovo X250 1.42kg 12.5″ 1366×768
Lenovo X1 Carbon (3rd gen) 1.34kg 14″ 2560×1440
Dell Latitude E7250 1.25kg 12.5″ 1366×768
Dell XPS 13 1.26kg 13.3″ 3200×1800
HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G2 1.49kg 14″ 1920×1080
HP EliteBook Revolve 810 G3 1.4kg 11.6″ 1366×768

I find it interesting that Lenovo, Dell and HP each have two models that meets my 5600U/sub-1.5kg criteria. Regarding screen, possibly there exists models with other screen resolutions. The XPS 13, HP 810 and X1 models I looked had touch screens, the others did not. As screen is not important to me, I didn’t evaluate this further.

I think all of them would suffice, and there are only subtle differences. All except the XPS 13 can be connected to peripherals using one cable, which I find convenient to avoid a cable mess. All of them have DisplayPort, but HP uses DisplayPort Standard and the rest uses miniDP. The E7250 and X1 have HDMI output. The X250 boosts a 15-pin VGA connector, none of the others have it — I’m not sure if that is a advantage or disadvantage these days. All of them have 2 USB v3.0 ports except the E7250 which has 3 ports. The HP 1040, XPS 13 and X1 Carbon do not have RJ45 Ethernet connectors, which is a significant disadvantage to me. Ironically, only the smallest one of these, the HP 810, can be memory upgraded to 12GB with the others being stuck at 8GB. HP and the E7250 supports NFC, although Debian support is not certain. The E7250 and X250 have a smartcard reader, and again, Debian support is not certain. The X1, X250 and 810 have a 3G/4G card.

Right now, I’m leaning towards rejecting the XPS 13, X1 and HP 1040 because of lack of RJ45 ethernet port. That leaves me with the E7250, X250 and the 810. Of these, the E7250 seems like the winner: lightest, 1 extra USB port, HDMI, NFC, SmartCard-reader. However, it has no 3G/4G-card and no memory upgrade options. Looking for compatibility problems, it seems you have to be careful to not end up with the “Dell Wireless” card and the E7250 appears to come in a docking and non-docking variant but I’m not sure what that means.

Are there other models I should consider? Other thoughts?

Replicant 4.2 0003 on I9300

The Replicant project released version 4.2 0003 recently. I have been using Replicant on a Samsung SIII (I9300) for around 14 months now. Since I have blogged about issues with NFC and Wifi earlier, I wanted to give a status update after upgrading to 0003. I’m happy to report that my NFC issue has been resolved in 0003 (the way I suggested; reverting the patch). My issues with Wifi has been improved in 0003, with my merge request being accepted. What follows below is a standalone explanation of what works and what doesn’t, as a superset of similar things discussed in my earlier blog posts.

What works out of the box: Audio, Telephony, SMS, Data (GSM/3G), Back Camera, NFC. 2D Graphics is somewhat slow compared to stock ROM, but I’m using it daily and can live with that so it isn’t too onerus. Stability is fine, similar to other Android device I’m used to. Video playback does not work (due to non-free media decoders?), which is not a serious problem for me but still likely the biggest outstanding issue except for freedom concerns. 3D graphics apparently doesn’t work, and I believe it is what prevents Firefox from working properly (it crashes). I’m having one annoying but strange problem with telephony: when calling one person I get scrambled audio around 75% of the time. I can still hear what the other person is saying, but can barely make anything out of it. This only happens over 3G, so my workaround when calling that person is to switch to 2G before and switch back after. I talk with plenty other people, and have never had this problem with anyone else, and it has never happened when she talks with anyone else but me. If anyone has suggestion on how to debug this, I’m all ears.

Important apps to get through daily life for me includes K9Mail (email), DAVDroid (for ownCloud CalDav/CardDAV), CalDav Sync Adapter (for Google Calendars), Conversations (XMPP/Jabber chat), FDroid (for apps), ownCloud (auto-uploading my photos), SMS Backup+, Xabber (different XMPP/Jabber accounts), Yubico Authenticator, MuPDF and oandbackup. A couple of other apps I find useful are AdAway (remove web ads), AndStatus, Calendar Widget, NewsBlur and ownCloud News Reader (RSS readers), Tinfoil for Facebook, Twidere (I find its UI somewhat nicer than AndStatus’s), and c:geo.

A number of things requires non-free components. As I discussed in my initial writeup from when I started using Replicant I don’t like this, but I’m accepting it temporarily. The list of issues that can be fixed by adding non-free components include the front camera, Bluetooth, GPS, and Wifi. After flashing the Replicant ROM image that I built (using the fine build instructions), I’m using the following script to add the missing non-free files from Cyanogenmod.

# Download Cyanogenmod 10.1.3 (Android 4.2-based) binaries:
# wget http://download.cyanogenmod.org/get/jenkins/42508/cm-10.1.3-i9300.zip
# echo "073a464a9f5129c490502c77374495c38a25ba790c10e27f51b43845baeba6bf  cm-10.1.3-i9300.zip" | sha256sum -c 
# unzip cm-10.1.3-i9300.zip

adb root
adb remount
adb shell mkdir /system/vendor/firmware
adb shell chmod 755 /system/vendor/firmware

# Front Camera
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/vendor/firmware/fimc_is_fw.bin /system/vendor/firmware/fimc_is_fw.bin
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/vendor/firmware/setfile.bin /system/vendor/firmware/setfile.bin
adb shell chmod 644 /system/vendor/firmware/fimc_is_fw.bin /system/vendor/firmware/setfile.bin

# Bluetooth
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/bin/bcm4334.hcd /system/vendor/firmware/
adb shell chmod 644 /system/vendor/firmware/bcm4334*.hcd

# GPS
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/bin/gpsd /system/bin/gpsd
adb shell chmod 755 /system/bin/gpsd
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/lib/hw/gps.exynos4.so /system/lib/hw/gps.exynos4.so
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/lib/libsecril-client.so /system/lib/libsecril-client.so
adb shell chmod 644 /system/lib/hw/gps.exynos4.so /system/lib/libsecril-client.so

# Wifi
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_apsta.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_apsta.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_mfg.bin_b0 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_mfg.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_mfg.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_p2p.bin_b0 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_p2p.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_p2p.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_sta.bin_b0 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_sta.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_sta.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt_murata /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt_murata_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt_semcosh /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt_murata /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt_murata_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt_semcosh /system/vendor/firmware/

I hope this helps others switch to a better phone environment!

OpenPGP Smartcards and GNOME

The combination of GnuPG and a OpenPGP smartcard (such as the YubiKey NEO) has been implemented and working well for around a decade. I recall starting to use it when I received a FSFE Fellowship card long time ago. Sadly there has been some regressions when using them under GNOME recently. I reinstalled my laptop with Debian Jessie (beta2) recently, and now took the time to work through the issue and write down a workaround.

To work with GnuPG and smartcards you install GnuPG agent, scdaemon, pscsd and pcsc-tools. On Debian you can do it like this:

apt-get install gnupg-agent scdaemon pcscd pcsc-tools

Use the pcsc_scan command line tool to make sure pcscd recognize the smartcard before continuing, if that doesn’t recognize the smartcard nothing beyond this point will work. The next step is to make sure you have the following line in ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf:

use-agent

Logging out and into GNOME should start gpg-agent for you, through the /etc/X11/Xsession.d/90gpg-agent script. In theory, this should be all that is required. However, when you start a terminal and attempt to use the smartcard through GnuPG you would get an error like this:

jas@latte:~$ gpg --card-status
gpg: selecting openpgp failed: unknown command
gpg: OpenPGP card not available: general error
jas@latte:~$

The reason is that the GNOME Keyring hijacks the GnuPG agent’s environment variables and effectively replaces gpg-agent with gnome-keyring-daemon which does not support smartcard commands (Debian bug #773304). GnuPG uses the environment variable GPG_AGENT_INFO to find the location of the agent socket, and when the GNOME Keyring is active it will typically look like this:

jas@latte:~$ echo $GPG_AGENT_INFO 
/run/user/1000/keyring/gpg:0:1
jas@latte:~$ 

If you use GnuPG with a smartcard, I recommend to disable GNOME Keyring’s GnuPG and SSH agent emulation code. This used to be easy to achieve in older GNOME releases (e.g., the one included in Debian Wheezy), through the gnome-session-properties GUI. Sadly there is no longer any GUI for disabling this functionality (Debian bug #760102). The GNOME Keyring GnuPG/SSH agent replacement functionality is invoked through the XDG autostart mechanism, and the documented way to disable system-wide services for a normal user account is to invoke the following commands.

jas@latte:~$ mkdir ~/.config/autostart
jas@latte:~$ cp /etc/xdg/autostart/gnome-keyring-gpg.desktop ~/.config/autostart/
jas@latte:~$ echo 'Hidden=true' >> ~/.config/autostart/gnome-keyring-gpg.desktop 
jas@latte:~$ cp /etc/xdg/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop ~/.config/autostart/
jas@latte:~$ echo 'Hidden=true' >> ~/.config/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop 
jas@latte:~$ 

You now need to logout and login again. When you start a terminal, you can look at the GPG_AGENT_INFO environment variable again and everything should be working again.

jas@latte:~$ echo $GPG_AGENT_INFO 
/tmp/gpg-dqR4L7/S.gpg-agent:1890:1
jas@latte:~$ echo $SSH_AUTH_SOCK 
/tmp/gpg-54VfLs/S.gpg-agent.ssh
jas@latte:~$ gpg --card-status
Application ID ...: D2760001240102000060000000420000
...
jas@latte:~$ ssh-add -L
ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQABAAABAQDFP+UOTZJ+OXydpmbKmdGOVoJJz8se7lMs139T+TNLryk3EEWF+GqbB4VgzxzrGjwAMSjeQkAMb7Sbn+VpbJf1JDPFBHoYJQmg6CX4kFRaGZT6DHbYjgia59WkdkEYTtB7KPkbFWleo/RZT2u3f8eTedrP7dhSX0azN0lDuu/wBrwedzSV+AiPr10rQaCTp1V8sKbhz5ryOXHQW0Gcps6JraRzMW+ooKFX3lPq0pZa7qL9F6sE4sDFvtOdbRJoZS1b88aZrENGx8KSrcMzARq9UBn1plsEG4/3BRv/BgHHaF+d97by52R0VVyIXpLlkdp1Uk4D9cQptgaH4UAyI1vr cardno:006000000042
jas@latte:~$ 

That’s it. Resolving this properly involves 1) adding smartcard code to the GNOME Keyring, 2) disabling the GnuPG/SSH replacement code in GNOME Keyring completely, 3) reorder the startup so that gpg-agent supersedes gnome-keyring-daemon instead of vice versa, so that people who installed the gpg-agent really gets it instead of the GNOME default, or 4) something else. I don’t have a strong opinion on how to solve this, but 3) sounds like a simple way forward.

Wifi on S3 with Replicant

I’m using Replicant on my main phone. As I’ve written before, I didn’t get Wifi to work. The other day leth in #replicant pointed me towards a CyanogenMod discussion about a similar issue. The fix does indeed work, and allowed me to connect to wifi networks and to setup my phone for Internet sharing. You need to run the following commands after every boot, disable/enable Wifi, and then it should work.

echo murata > /data/.cid.info
chown system /data/.cid.info
chgrp wifi /data/.cid.info
chmod 0660 /data/.cid.info

Digging deeper, I found a CM Jira issue about it, and ultimately a code commit. It seems the issue is that more recent S3’s comes with a Murata Wifi chipset that uses MAC addresses not known back in the Android 4.2 (CM-10.1.3 and Replicant-4.2) days. Pulling in the latest fixes for macloader.cpp solves this problem for me, and there is no need for the workaround above. I still need to load the non-free firmware images that I get from CM-10.1.3. I’ve created a pull request fixing macloader.cpp for Replicant 4.2 if someone else is curious about the details. You have to rebuild your OS with the patch for things to work (if you don’t want to, the workaround using /data/.cid.info works fine), and install some firmware blobs as below.

adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_apsta.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_apsta.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_mfg.bin_b0 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_mfg.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_mfg.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_p2p.bin_b0 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_p2p.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_p2p.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_sta.bin_b0 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_sta.bin_b1 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/bcmdhd_sta.bin_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt_murata /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt_murata_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_mfg.txt_semcosh /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt_murata /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt_murata_b2 /system/vendor/firmware/
adb push cm-10.1.3-i9300/system/etc/wifi/nvram_net.txt_semcosh /system/vendor/firmware/

Replicant 4.2 0002 and NFC on I9300

I’m using Replicant on my Samsung SIII (i9300) phone (see my earlier posts). During my vacation the Replicant project released version 4.2-0002 as a minor update to their initial 4.2 release. I didn’t anticipate any significant differences, so I followed the installation instructions but instead of “wipe data/factory reset” I chose “wipe cache partition” and rebooted. Everything appeared to work fine, but I soon discovered that NFC was not working. Using adb logcat I could get some error messages:

E/NFC-HCI ( 7022): HCI Timeout - Exception raised - Force restart of NFC service
F/libc    ( 7022): Fatal signal 11 (SIGSEGV) at 0xdeadbaad (code=1), thread 7046 (message)
I/DEBUG   ( 1900): *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
I/DEBUG   ( 1900): Build fingerprint: 'samsung/m0xx/m0:4.1.1/JRO03C/I9300XXDLIB:user/release-keys'
I/DEBUG   ( 1900): Revision: '12'
I/DEBUG   ( 1900): pid: 7022, tid: 7046, name: message  >>> com.android.nfc <<<

The phone would loop trying to start NFC and having the NFC sub-system die over and over. Talking on #replicant channel, paulk quickly realized and fixed the bug. I had to rebuild the images to get things to work, so I took the time to create a new virtual machine based on Debian 7.5 for building Replicant on. As a side note, the only thing not covered by Replicant build dependency documentation was that I needed the Debian xmllint package to avoid a build failure and the Debian xsltproc package to avoid a error message being printed in the beginning of every build. Soon I had my own fresh images and installed them and NFC was working again, after installing the non-free libpn544_fw.so file.

During this, I noticed that there are multiple libpn544_fw.so files floating around. I have the following files:

version string source
libpn544_fw_C3_1_26_SP.so internet
libpn544_fw_C3_1_34_SP.so stock ROM on S3 bought in Sweden during 2013 and 2014 (two phones)
libpn544_fw_C3_1_39_SP.so internet

(For reference the md5sum's of these files are 682e50666effa919d557688c276edc48, b9364ba59de1947d4588f588229bae20 and 18b4e634d357849edbe139b04c939593 respectively.)

If you do not have any of these files available as /vendor/firmware/libpn544_fw.so you will get the following error message:

I/NfcService( 2488): Enabling NFC
D/NFCJNI  ( 2488): Start Initialization
E/NFC-HCI ( 2488): Could not open /system/vendor/firmware/libpn544_fw.so or /system/lib/libpn544_fw.so
E/NFCJNI  ( 2488): phLibNfc_Mgt_Initialize() returned 0x00ff[NFCSTATUS_FAILED]
E/NFC-HCI ( 2488): Could not open /system/vendor/firmware/libpn544_fw.so or /system/lib/libpn544_fw.so
W/NFCJNI  ( 2488): Firmware update FAILED
E/NFC-HCI ( 2488): Could not open /system/vendor/firmware/libpn544_fw.so or /system/lib/libpn544_fw.so
W/NFCJNI  ( 2488): Firmware update FAILED
E/NFC-HCI ( 2488): Could not open /system/vendor/firmware/libpn544_fw.so or /system/lib/libpn544_fw.so
W/NFCJNI  ( 2488): Firmware update FAILED
E/NFCJNI  ( 2488): Unable to update firmware, giving up
D/NFCJNI  ( 2488): phLibNfc_Mgt_UnConfigureDriver() returned 0x0000[NFCSTATUS_SUCCESS]
D/NFCJNI  ( 2488): Terminating client thread...
W/NfcService( 2488): Error enabling NFC

Using the first (26) file or the last (39) file does not appear to be working on my phone, I get the following error messages. Note that the line starting with 'NFC capabilities' has 'Rev = 34' in it, possibly indicating that I need the version 34 file.

I/NfcService( 5735): Enabling NFC
D/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Start Initialization
D/NFCJNI  ( 5735): NFC capabilities: HAL = 8150100, FW = b10122, HW = 620003, Model = 12, HCI = 1, Full_FW = 1, Rev = 34, FW Update Info = 8
D/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Download new Firmware
W/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Firmware update FAILED
D/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Download new Firmware
W/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Firmware update FAILED
D/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Download new Firmware
W/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Firmware update FAILED
E/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Unable to update firmware, giving up
D/NFCJNI  ( 5735): phLibNfc_Mgt_UnConfigureDriver() returned 0x0000[NFCSTATUS_SUCCESS]
D/NFCJNI  ( 5735): Terminating client thread...
W/NfcService( 5735): Error enabling NFC

Loading the 34 works fine.

I/NfcService( 2501): Enabling NFC
D/NFCJNI  ( 2501): Start Initialization
D/NFCJNI  ( 2501): NFC capabilities: HAL = 8150100, FW = b10122, HW = 620003, Model = 12, HCI = 1, Full_FW = 1, Rev = 34, FW Update Info = 0
D/NFCJNI  ( 2501): phLibNfc_SE_GetSecureElementList()
D/NFCJNI  ( 2501): 
D/NFCJNI  ( 2501): > Number of Secure Element(s) : 1
D/NFCJNI  ( 2501): phLibNfc_SE_GetSecureElementList(): SMX detected, handle=0xabcdef
D/NFCJNI  ( 2501): phLibNfc_SE_SetMode() returned 0x000d[NFCSTATUS_PENDING]
I/NFCJNI  ( 2501): NFC Initialized
D/NdefPushServer( 2501): start, thread = null
D/NdefPushServer( 2501): starting new server thread
D/NdefPushServer( 2501): about create LLCP service socket
D/NdefPushServer( 2501): created LLCP service socket
D/NdefPushServer( 2501): about to accept
D/NfcService( 2501): NFC-EE OFF
D/NfcService( 2501): NFC-C ON

What is interesting is, that my other S3 running CyanogenMod does not have the libpn544_fw.so file but still NFC works. The messages are:

I/NfcService( 2619): Enabling NFC
D/NFCJNI  ( 2619): Start Initialization
E/NFC-HCI ( 2619): Could not open /system/vendor/firmware/libpn544_fw.so or /system/lib/libpn544_fw.so
W/NFC     ( 2619): Firmware image not available: this device might be running old NFC firmware!
D/NFCJNI  ( 2619): NFC capabilities: HAL = 8150100, FW = b10122, HW = 620003, Model = 12, HCI = 1, Full_FW = 1, Rev = 34, FW Update Info = 0
D/NFCJNI  ( 2619): phLibNfc_SE_GetSecureElementList()
D/NFCJNI  ( 2619): 
D/NFCJNI  ( 2619): > Number of Secure Element(s) : 1
D/NFCJNI  ( 2619): phLibNfc_SE_GetSecureElementList(): SMX detected, handle=0xabcdef
D/NFCJNI  ( 2619): phLibNfc_SE_SetMode() returned 0x000d[NFCSTATUS_PENDING]
I/NFCJNI  ( 2619): NFC Initialized
D/NdefPushServer( 2619): start, thread = null
D/NdefPushServer( 2619): starting new server thread
D/NdefPushServer( 2619): about create LLCP service socket
D/NdefPushServer( 2619): created LLCP service socket
D/NdefPushServer( 2619): about to accept
D/NfcService( 2619): NFC-EE OFF
D/NfcService( 2619): NFC-C ON

Diffing the two NFC-relevant repositories between Replicant (external_libnfc-nxp and packages_apps_nfc) and CyanogenMod (android_external_libnfc-nxp and android_packages_apps_Nfc) I found a commit in Replicant that changes a soft-fail on missing firmware to a hard-fail. I manually reverted that patch in my build tree, and rebuilt and booted a new image. Enabling NFC now prints this on my Replicant phone:

I/NfcService( 2508): Enabling NFC
D/NFCJNI  ( 2508): Start Initialization
E/NFC-HCI ( 2508): Could not open /system/vendor/firmware/libpn544_fw.so or /system/lib/libpn544_fw.so
W/NFC     ( 2508): Firmware image not available: this device might be running old NFC firmware!
D/NFCJNI  ( 2508): NFC capabilities: HAL = 8150100, FW = b10122, HW = 620003, Model = 12, HCI = 1, Full_FW = 1, Rev = 34, FW Update Info = 0
D/NFCJNI  ( 2508): phLibNfc_SE_GetSecureElementList()
D/NFCJNI  ( 2508): 
D/NFCJNI  ( 2508): > Number of Secure Element(s) : 1
D/NFCJNI  ( 2508): phLibNfc_SE_GetSecureElementList(): SMX detected, handle=0xabcdef
D/NFCJNI  ( 2508): phLibNfc_SE_SetMode() returned 0x000d[NFCSTATUS_PENDING]
I/NFCJNI  ( 2508): NFC Initialized
D/NdefPushServer( 2508): start, thread = null
D/NdefPushServer( 2508): starting new server thread
D/NdefPushServer( 2508): about create LLCP service socket
D/NdefPushServer( 2508): created LLCP service socket
D/NdefPushServer( 2508): about to accept
D/NfcService( 2508): NFC-EE OFF
D/NfcService( 2508): NFC-C ON

And NFC works! At least YubiKey NEO with the Yubico Authenticator app. One less non-free blob on my phone.

I have double-checked that power-cycling the phone (even removing battery for a while) does not affect anything, so it seems the NFC chip has firmware loaded from the factory.

Question remains why that commit was added. Is it necessary on some other phone? I have no idea, other than if the patch is reverted, S3 owners will have NFC working with Replicant without non-free software added. Alternatively, make the patch apply only on the platform where it was needed, or even to all non-S3 builds.

Replicant 4.2 on Samsung S3

Since November 2013 I have been using Replicant on my Samsung S3 as an alternative OS. The experience has been good for everyday use. The limits (due to non-free software components) compared to a “normal” S3 (running vendor ROM or CyanogenMod) is lack of GPS/wifi/bluetooth/NFC/frontcamera functionality — although it is easy to get some of that working again, including GPS, which is nice for my geocaching hobby. The Replicant software is stable for being an Android platform; better than my Nexus 7 (2nd generation) tablet which I got around the same time that runs an unmodified version of Android. The S3 has crashed around ten times in these four months. I’ve lost track of the number of N7 crashes, especially after the upgrade to Android 4.4. I use the N7 significantly less than the S3, reinforcing my impression that Replicant is a stable Android. I have not had any other problem that I couldn’t explain, and have rarely had to reboot the device.

The Replicant project recently released version 4.2 and while I don’t expect the release to resolve any problem for me, I decided it was time to upgrade and learn something new. I initially tried the official ROM images, and later migrated to using my own build of the software (for no particular reason other than that I could).

Before the installation, I wanted to have a full backup of the phone to avoid losing data. I use SMS Backup+ to keep a backup of my call log, SMS and MMS on my own IMAP server. I use oandbackup to take a backup of all software and settings on the phone. I use DAVDroid for my contacts and calendar (using a Radicale server), and reluctantly still use aCal in order to access my Google Calendar (because Google does not implement RFC 5397 properly so it doesn’t work with DAVDroid). Alas all that software is not sufficient for backup purposes, for example photos are still not copied elsewhere. In order to have a complete backup of the phone, I’m using rsync over the android debug bridge (adb). More precisely, I connect the phone using a USB cable, push a rsyncd configuration file, start the rsync daemon on the phone, forward the TCP/IP port, and then launch rsync locally. The following commands are used:

jas@latte:~$ cat rsyncd.conf
address 127.0.0.1
uid = root
gid = root
[root]
path = /
jas@latte:~$ adb push rsyncd.conf /extSdCard/rsyncd.conf
* daemon not running. starting it now on port 5037 *
* daemon started successfully *
0 KB/s (57 bytes in 0.059s)
jas@latte:~$ adb root
jas@latte:~$ adb shell rsync --daemon --no-detach --config=/extSdCard/rsyncd.conf &
jas@latte:~$ adb forward tcp:6010 tcp:873
jas@latte:~$ sudo rsync -av --delete --exclude /dev --exclude /acct --exclude /sys --exclude /proc rsync://localhost:6010/root/ /root/s3-bup/
...

Now feeling safe that I would not lose any data, I remove the SIM card from my phone (to avoid having calls, SMS or cell data interrupt during the installation) and follow the Replicant Samsung S3 installation documentation. Installation was straightforward. I booted up the newly installed ROM and familiarized myself with it. My first reaction was that the graphics felt a bit slower compared to Replicant 4.0, but it is hard to tell for certain.

After installation, I took a quick rsync backup of the freshly installed phone, to have a starting point for future backups. Since my IMAP and CardDav/CalDav servers use certificates signed by CACert I first had to install the CACert trust anchors, to get SMS Backup+ and DAVDroid to connect. For some reason it was not sufficient to add only the root CACert certificate, so I had to add the intermediate CA cert as well. To load the certs, I invoke the following commands, selecting ‘Install from SD Card’ when the menu is invoked (twice).

adb push root.crt /sdcard/
adb shell am start -n "com.android.settings/.Settings\"\$\"SecuritySettingsActivity"
adb push class3.crt /sdcard/
adb shell am start -n "com.android.settings/.Settings\"\$\"SecuritySettingsActivity"

I restore apps with oandbackup, and I select a set of important apps that I want restored with settings preserved, including aCal, K9, Xabber, c:geo, OsmAnd~, NewsBlur, Google Authenticator. I install SMS Backup+ from FDroid separately and configure it, SMS Backup+ doesn’t seem to want to restore anything if the app was restored with settings using oandbackup. I install and configure the DAVdroid account with the server URL, and watch it populate my address book and calendar with information.

After organizing the icons on the launcher screen, and changing the wallpaper, I’m up and running with Replicant 4.2. This upgrade effort took me around two evenings to complete, with around half of the time consumed by exploring different ways to do the rsync backup before I settled on the rsync daemon approach. Compared to the last time, when I spent almost two weeks researching various options and preparing for the install, this felt like a swift process.

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Unattended SSH with Smartcard

I have several backup servers that run the excellent rsnapshot software, which uses Secure Shell (SSH) for remote access. The SSH private key of the backup server can be a weak link in the overall security. To see how it can be a problem, consider if someone breaks into your backup server and manages to copy your SSH private key, they will now have the ability to login to all machines that you take backups off (and that should be all of your machines, right?).

The traditional way to mitigate SSH private key theft is by password protecting the private key. This works poorly in an unattended server environment because either the decryption password needs to be stored in disk (where the attacker can read it) or the decrypted private key has to be available in decrypted form in memory (where attacker can read it).

A better way to deal with the problem is to move the SSH private key to a smartcard. The idea is that the private key cannot be copied by an attacker who roots your backup server. (Careful readers may have spotted a flaw here, and I need to explain one weakness with my solution: an attacker will still be able to login to all your systems by going through your backup server, however it will require an open inbound network connection to your backup server and the attacker will never know what your private key is. What this does is to allow you to more easily do damage control by removing the smartcard from the backup server.)

In this writeup, I’ll explain how to accomplish all this on a Debian/Ubuntu-system using a OpenPGP smartcard, a Gemalto USB Shell Token v2 with gpg-agent/scdaemon from GnuPG together with OpenSSH.

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Debian on Lenovo X201

I have acquired a new laptop/netbook, a Lenovo X201. My initial reactions are positive. It runs Debian better than my old Dell laptop does (see my Debian on Dell Precision M65 writeup). The rest of this article will be devoted to notes and information about running a GNU/Linux system on the Lenovo X201.

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