[Freedombox-discuss] Suitability of Globalscale as partner?

Philip Hands phil at hands.com
Wed Apr 6 17:10:44 UTC 2011

On Wed, 06 Apr 2011 10:49:05 -0500, Charles N Wyble <charles at knownelement.com> wrote:
> On 04/06/2011 08:16 AM, Philip Hands wrote:
> > On Tue, 05 Apr 2011 18:11:41 -0700, John Gilmore<gnu at toad.com>  wrote:
> > ...
> >> This company doesn't look like the sort we want to base our software
> >> on.
> > They also have a history of producing things that I would be nervous
> > about leaving plugged in my home (I'd probably be OK with one in my
> > garage, in a sand filled box, with a fire suppressant system overhead
> > ;-)
> Citation needed? Can you provide some specific confirmed examples of 
> shoddy production
> that lead to a fire or other ... ahem negative user experience? :)

I've only got a late version sheevaplug from NewIT in the UK -- before I
bought it, I had a chat with them about the PSU issues, and they assured
me that the models they were selling now were using new power supplies,
but also admitted that the old ones had had a fairly high failure rate.

One rumour I've heard about the problem is that it may be to do with the
fact that UK voltages at least have a +/- 10% allowed, whereas the
components in the PSU were not able to take the upper limits of that, so
were being blown up by those times where the UK grid were compensating
for unexpectedly low demand by putting the voltage up, or somesuch.

Anyway, given that what I have is supposedly the fixed version (and not
even the guruplug, which is the one that gets too hot if you run both
Gbit ports at Gbit) I would have thought it should be relatively cool.
It still generates more heat than makes me comfortable to run it
unattended, but then I'm probably paranoid -- I get the impression that
rather more than half the power is being lost as heat in the PSU, rather
than getting anywhere near the CPU.

The OpenRD on the other hand, which is pretty much the same thing, in a
non-plug form, runs barely warm, as does it's external PSU.  Perhaps
that's entirely due to the fact that it's an aluminium box, and is
simply dissipating the heat better, but I get the impression that there's
significantly less heat to dissipate, and that's despite the fact that
I've fitted a SATA drive in mine.

> I'm just curious. I have no particular interest in the plug platform,
> and would love to be able to apt-get install freedombox on any debian
> system.
> > Initially I thought that the plug computer was a good idea, but if
> > you're skimping on the power supply components, it just wastes power,
> > and dumps the resulting heat into the CPU, which strikes me as suboptimal.
> Can you share a link to a write up / analysis you have performed on the
> power supply that leads you to believe they are skimping? Would love
> to have that material for when people ask me about plug computers as
> a viable platform.

This is gleaned from discussions with various people in person, and
perusing a few online articles about what people have done to make
theirs -- searching again I came across this pretty easily:


> > Given that Eben seems to be talking about wall-warts, and that these
> > sheva-plugs from globalscale seem to be what he's talking about, I think
> > we need to address this issue, since I think these particular
> > incarnations of wall-wart provide a rather shaky foundation for the
> > project.
> Would love to know more about why you think that. Specifics,
> take apart pictures etc. It's good to have details. We can avoid
> those mistakes and make a better one.

As said, my info is second hand, and perhaps relates to previous models,
but it is a fact that they shipped enough sheevas with dodgy PSUs for
them to get a reputation, they then shipped guruplugs that overheat if
you try to use both fitted Gbit interfaces, and apparently the latest
incarnation has a built in fan -- which strikes me as a continuation of
the same problem.

Is that something that's inherent in the plug computer concept, or
because they're fitting inefficient PSUs?  I don't know, but either way
I'm not buying any more thanks, and I'm not selling any to my clients

> > Given that we have ambitions to have these in every home, even if they
> > have only have very slightly dodgy power supplies we're going to be
> > causing house fires just due to sheer numbers.
> Again. Citations and analysis requested.

I have not heard of any actual fires, but one can find some pretty
worrying photos of burnt out PSU components in close proximity to what
would be live mains in situ -- My guess is that it would just be a
matter of time.

> >
> > Check out their (total lack of) response to queries about u-boot support
> > of alternative boot media for the OpenRD to see how much they care about
> > supporting small customers.
> Do you have a link to where you posted the query? Do they have an open 
> issue/bug system?
> Or was it in a private e-mail? If so what e-mail address was used? This 
> is a very important issue
> and we must be able to report bugs, suggest feedback etc.

They point you at the forum, and then nothing happens --  i.e.:



and a quick rummage on the other mentioned forum throws up this example
(which is actually for the OpenRD, which is another, although non-plug,
box that has been frustrating me --- I'm afraid that my OpenRD
frustration may have bled over to the plug stuff, but it's the same
people and pretty much the same hardware, so can probably be read
across when it comes to judging their support responsiveness):


> > Absolutely -- I think that a worthwhile expenditure of some of the FBF
> > funds would be developing a decent reference design, as Open Hardware,
> > where some bean counter has not decided to save 20 cents on the PSU
> > components, and where all the components are selected firstly on the
> > basis that it's provided by someone that's willing to support Free
> > Software drivers, and only then on performance, so we don't end up with
> > the Marvel wifi on openmoko situation, where there are bugs that will
> > never be fixed.
> I agree! I would like to see a detailed analysis of the PandaBoard
> for this project. I'm very tempted to buy one and need to do some
> extensive research on the product.

Yeah, looks cool (although perhaps too pricy for the mass-market thing
Eben seems to be promoting).

> > Given the wall wart problems mentioned, I've come to the conclusion that
> > the right thing to do is design something that is capable of running on a
> > mobile phone USB charger -- these are so cheap as to be almost free, and
> > many people are going to have spares laying around.  They ahd the
> > advantage of massive economy of scale, and would keep the heat away
> >  From the CPU -- the down side is the additional cable.
> Hmmmm. Additional cable being the USB to the wall wart you mean? I don't
> really see that being an issue. Most likely a mini or micro plug anyway, 
> and you
> would need a port for power on any device you make.

well, with wall-warts it's sort-of built in, although it's really in the
form of a moulded figure 8 mains plug that becomes part og the box.

> > What I'd actually like to see is something that's capable of being
> > powered by either of two USB chargers, so that (given that we're relying
> > n el-cheapo power supplies) if one of them blows up, we still have power
> > to send you a message saying that the PSU#1 just died, say.
> Interesting idea. Dual power supplies via USB chargers. That could work.
> > Similarly, if we're putting people's most vital data on these things, it
> > would probably be nice to have the option of 2 SD cards or perhaps 2 SATA
> > drives so that we can RAID the data.
> Yes that's an attractive option. I have been experimenting with 
> Tahoe-lafs for this. However
> that's not POSIX compliant, so would be most for backup type usage and 
> not day to day usage.
> Two e-sata or usb3.0 drives would do the trick nicely. Also cloud raid 
> is an interesting idea.

True -- but having something reliable for the crypto keys seems vital,
if nothing else.

An alternative might be to have N of M share files and perhaps print one
or two of them out in the form of 2D barcodes, and sticking them in a
safe, or giving one of them to your lawyer, say.  Anyway, details.

> Something like
> 1) A DHT infrastructure so that nodes can find each other
> 2) 1k purchases 3 nodes consisting of:
>      174.00 for the server (PandaBoard perhaps)
>      200.00 for 2 2TB drives which would be in a RAID configuration.
> 3) Nodes are running Tahoe-lafs and backups can be sent to friends in 
> equal amounts
> to the storage that you share for your friends.
> Maybe use n2n vpn for community names or something. I'm open to 
> suggestions. :)
> > This of course makes one think that perhaps we should rather be settling
> > on a particular model of android phone's hardware, but then we don't get
> > ethernet, and we're paying for a screen we don't need.
> Hmmmm. Interesting idea. Run this all on an Android. As for not needing 
> the screen,
> perhaps that could be used for initial setup and ongoing diagnostic 
> information (temperature,
> network traffic, wifi air quality) . Perhaps some more artistic type 
> things.

Well, it would certainly be a use for androids with cracked screens that
will probably be on ebay in increasing numbers.

Trouble is the lack of real ethernet on such a device, but perhaps
that's not _so_ important for some people.

Cheers, Phil.
|)|  Philip Hands [+44 (0)20 8530 9560]    http://www.hands.com/
|-|  HANDS.COM Ltd.                    http://www.uk.debian.org/
|(|  10 Onslow Gardens, South Woodford, London  E18 1NE  ENGLAND
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