Fixing package download performance problems in Manjaro Linux

My adventures with Manjaro Linux continue and I’ve even moved my “craptop” – a somewhat ancient Lenovo X240 that I use as a semi-disposable travel laptop – from XUbuntu to Manjaro Linux. But that’s a subject for another blog post. Today, I wanted to write about package download performance issues I started encountering on my desktop recently and how I managed to fix them.

I was trying to install terminator this morning and kept getting errors from Pamac that the downloads timed out. Looking at the detailed output, I noticed it was trying to download the packages from a server in South Africa, which isn’t exactly in my neighbourhood. Pamac doesn’t appear to have an obvious way to update the mirror list like the Ubuntu flavours do, but a quick dive into the command line helped me fix the issue.

First, update and rank the mirror list:

sudo pacman-mirrors -g

Inspecting /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist after running the above commands showed that the top ranked mirrors now are listed in the US with very short response times.

After updating the mirrors, it’s time to re-sync the package databases:

sudo pacman -Syy

Now with the new, faster mirrors ranked accordingly, I suddenly get my Manjaro packages and package updates at the full speed of my Internet connection rather than having hit and miss updates that take forever to install.

Switching to Manjaro Linux and getting an AMD RX 470 to work

I’ve been a Xubuntu user for years after switching from OpenSuse. I liked its simplicity and the fact that it just worked out of the box, but I was getting more and more disappointed with Ubuntu packages being out of date, sorry, stable. Having to rebuild a bunch of packages on every install was getting a little old. Well, they did provide material for all those “build XXX on Ubuntu” posts. Recently I’ve been playing with Manjaro Linux in a VM as I had been looking for an Arch Linux based distribution that gave me the right balance between DIY and convenience. I ended up liking it so much that I did a proper bare metal install on my main desktop. The install was pretty smooth apart from a issue with getting my AMD RX 470 graphics card to work.

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The latest project – improving the home’s sprinkler system, part I of probably a lot

I normally don’t play much with hardware, mainly because there isn’t/wasn’t much I want to do that tends to require hardware that’s not a regular PC or maybe a phone or tablet. This one is different, because no self-respecting geek would want the usual rotary control “programmable” timer to run their sprinkler system, would they?

We do live at the edge of the desert and we have pretty strict watering restrictions here. I’m all for it – water being a finite resource and all that – and I want to improve our existing sprinkler system at the same time. It doesn’t help that the people who set up the sprinklers were probably among the lower bidders, to put it politely. OK, to be blunt they seem to have failed the “giving a shit” test when they put the system together. I’ve spent a lot of  last year’s “gardening hours” just trying to make it work somewhat. Not well, just “somewhat”. Time to fix that.

First step was researching hardware. I’m comfortable with Unix type OSs (obviously) and with seemingly the world and their dogs releasing small, low power consumption embedded Linux devices I figured one of them would be perfect. The original plan was to get a Raspberry Pi or a BeagleBone with relay shield/cape and drive the sprinkler valves that way. A bit more poking around the web led me to the various OpenSprinkler modules (standalone, Raspberry Pi shield and BeagleBone cape) and they look ideal for what I have in mind. I’m planning to order the Raspberry Pi version as one of the nice touches is that the Raspbian repository has packages for the Java JDK, which gives me bad ideas of hacking parts of the sprinkler system in Clojure or Armed Bear Common Lisp. I’m not sure that the system is powerful to run either, but one can dream.

The good thing about the various OpenSprinkler systems is that they have the 24V to 5V converter on board so the power supply isn’t a problem. There is already open source software for them that covers the normal requirements and either of them can control enough valves for our current needs without resorting to genius solutions like running two valves off the same controller output because someone installed a wiring loom that is one wire short of being able to control all valves individually. Apparently the fact that the water pressure wasn’t high enough to run two zones at the same time fell in the category of “not giving a shit”.

The next step after getting the hardware is to run convert the existing system to run off the new controller with some additional wiring to be able to control all zones individually. This will require fixing up some of the wiring issues and will also have to tie in with my project of running some Ethernet wiring around the house unless I decide to go wireless for the sprinkler controller. Haven’t figured that part out yet. Given that the controller is “headless” I’m tempted to hide it away out of sight and just run Ethernet and 24V power to it.

Once it’s all up and running I’ll look into adding some sensors for a bit more fine-grained control over the system. Rain sensors are not really helpful out here as it hardly ever rains during irrigation season. I’m thinking about adding at least a couple of moisture sensors for some of the more sensitive plants to ensure that they get the appropriate amount of water but not more than necessary. Not sure I’ll get around to that part this year, first the system needs to be up and running reliably before I go and break it again.

Stay tuned.