Fixing AMD (ati) radeon display issues on Fedora

Note (09/01/17): also worked on a recent upgrade from 23 to 25.

I had put off system upgrades for so long that I found myself having to go from Fedora 20 to 23. It took a while but everything was going smoothly until I hit Fedora 23 on. There, after the mandatory reboot, hooking up my secondary monitor would freeze the display and screen repainting on some programs (like Eclipse) had become problematically slow and CPU demanding. This being Linux, I scoured the web on a quest to find some clues on what was not configured correctly but nothing came up. I’m running an AMD A6-3420M APU and while AMD provides driver for that chip, they are according to reports very finicky and a pile of trouble to get running.

I resorted to simply downgrading the driver. It was working correctly in the past, so I could see no obvious reason an older version would not do it this time.

First find the version of the driver currently installed:

dnf info xorg-x11-drv-ati

Which should spit out something along the lines of:

Installed Packages
Name        : xorg-x11-drv-ati
Arch        : i686
Epoch       : 0
Version     : 7.6.0
Release     : 0.4.20150729git5510cd6.fc23
Size        : 151 k
Repo        : fedora
Summary     : Xorg X11 ati video driver
URL         : http://www.x.org
License     : MIT
Description : X.Org X11 ati video driver.

So the faulty driver is version 7.6.0. Now, run:

sudo dnf --showduplicates --allowerasing --releasever=24 downgrade xorg-x11-drv-ati

Here, we’re asking dnf to go look in a previous release of Fedora for an earlier version of the driver. If the problems you are experiencing appeared with a recent update, you could avoid the –releasever argument altogether to just revert back to the previous version.

If the downgrade does not work, you rerun the command to roll back the driver even further in the past, but if after a couple times you haven’t had success, the issue probably lies with another package so run a dnf update to and take your investigation elsewhere, maybe the kernel, wayland, X, the window composer or gnome-shell.

When you update your system in the future, you’ll have to run:

sudo dnf --exclude=xorg-x11-drv-ati update

Otherwise, dnf will reinstall the broken later version of the package. This command will also give you packages with broken dependencies. That’s normal, those are packages that share dependencies with the one you have downgraded and for all I know could actually have been the ones causing you trouble. Just let them be.

Make sure you check back from time to time if another version of the offending package has been released by issuing a simple dnf update and checking the version now available.

DIY leather wallet

After 15 years of use and abuse in my sweaty jeans, my wallet had finally reached the end of its run. Looking at a worthy replacement, I started shopping around the web and found several canditates. However, either slightly too bulky or just out of my means, I finally decided to build my own. A tedious search on the web turned up this one, a template for a simple bifold wallet with slots for two cards on each size. Careful analysis of the design indicated that there was much more to leather work than met the eye and instead of cooking up my own design only to risk the wallet not folding properly, I opted to simply follow the instructions (for once). It’s sturdy, maintainable and looks good; hopefully, it will outlast me.

Wanting to offer some as Christmas gifts as well, I ended up making three. Here is abbreviated list of the challenges I encountered during the building:

  • leather is difficult to find, be thorough in you search for sources, call every fabric shop and cobbler in your region and once you find some, get there and feel the material for yourself;
  • sewing leather is long and tedious if you want to do it properly (with saddle stitching in this case), get the right needles and be patient, I ended up going through David Attenborough’s entire series on plants and birds in the course of putting mines together;
  • burnishing the edges of the leather (ie: make them smooth and shiny) is hard and appears to not work on vegetables tanned types; you also need a burnisher, which I build by cutting a section of a branch, hooking it up to a Dremel and then sculpting it to make a groove.

Printable recreational dive log sheet template

Having filled up the last page of my store bought dive log, I decided it was time I started printing my own log sheets. I wanted a template that could fit in a small binder (half letter (5.5″ x 8.5″) or A5), where there was enough space on the page to log two dives and that gave me ample space for comments while providing the standard diving data fields. Unfortunately, I could not find anything that suited my needs so I decided to put together my own.

Click here to download

Dive log demo

Printable dive log sheets full page

It features the following built in fields:

  • dive number
  • dive start time
  • visibility
  • air and bottom temperature
  • site
  • location
  • depth
  • air or nitrox (EANx)
  • gas consumed
  • weight
  • time under
  • safety stop
  • boat or shore dive
  • fresh or salt water dive
  • notes
  • buddy or divemaster signature and number

The layout is compact and text has been kept to a minimum: you write the units yourself. Once it has been printed (on good paper stock and double side preferably), cut the sheets in half along the dotted line, punch holes if you want to store them in a binder and go log some dives.

For those interested in the source, here it is. Suggestions for improvements are welcome!

Georgia, part 2

Georgia is small and can be traversed from one end to the other in a couple of hours provided there are not too many trucks: on a single day of driving, we departed from Yerevan in Armenia and made it to Stepansmida (formerly known as Kazbegi) deep in northern Georgia. Lauded as one of the best destination for hiking, Stepansmida lies close to the Russian border high in the Caucasus mountains but only a 2h30 drive away from Tbilisi  using the famous “Georgian military highway”. Our original goal was to spend two days there but due to unforeseen delays we only had one. Nonetheless, this would have provided us with half a day of hiking around as the rental car was not due until the middle of the afternoon.

The scenery on the way to Stepansmida

With hitchikers

With hitchikers

The drive up was spectacular, even more so than earlier mountain scenery we had been exposed to. The weather was noticeably cooler, the peaks higher, the valleys deeper and the terrain more abrupt. On the way there, we picked up three Ukrainian hitchhikers which we managed to cram in the car along with their backpacks and a guitar. Our vehicle, already struggling, was taxed almost to its capacity but it was worth taking our time as the view was worth it. Having dropped our guests at their destination, we kept going until we encountered some weird Soviet era monument a bit before the Jvari pass. The structure was curious, but it was the scenery that caught our attention the most. I might be breaking graphic design rules here but I think it’s worth two large photos in a row.

Monument on the way to Stepansmida

Monument on the way to Stepansmida

Going down into the clouds

 

We resumed the climb, crossed the Jvari pass and dived through a thick layer of clouds under which layed a large valley. However, something strange was profiling itself on the horizon. Trucks, and lots of them, stopped by the side of the road, with their drivers out just killing time with one another. What was wrong? Was the road damaged? The car we were following just kept going as if it was nothing important so we continued. For several kilometers and until we hit our destination we passed countless freight trucks stopped in the same fashion. Weird.

Having not booked any accommodation, we were turned down at the guesthouse we were hoping to sleep in. It was high season after all and that small town was one of the most popular destination in Georgia. After almost an hour of driving around to find beds, we finally had to settle for an expensive hotel that was offering us a (still expensive) discounted room. While eating diner that night, we asked the waiter about all the trucks lining the road. Turns out it was the lineup for the Russian customs. With the border in South-Ossetia and Abkhazia being closed to traffic coming from Georgia, that border crossing was the only one linking not only Georgia to Russia, but also Armenia and eastern Turkey.

The next day, I woke up to find out that my girlfriend had been sick all night from the a sketchy kebab we had eaten for lunch in Armenia. Some medication I gave her managed to improve her condition slightly, but she was in no shape to go on a hike. Anyway, the weather was foggy so in all cases our morning was ruined. The drive down from the mountains back to Tbilisi was not as spectacular so we went as fast as possible and managed to return the car on time but not without me informing the rental agency about all the issues the vehicle had. Independent rental agency tend to offer lower prices than franchises, but their cars are often in a rougher shape.

The first time we had been in Tbilisi, we had opted for a dorm in an hostel but given my girlfriend’s condition, we had booked a proper hotel. However, they had an unpleasant surprise waiting for us on arrival: the prices advertised on the booking site were inaccurate so they wanted to charge us way more. Wanting to explore other options, we walked around for a while trying to find an alternative but soon realized rooms in the old town were pricier than expected. In the end we ended up taking the room we had booked. The owner, feeling very sorry, excused herself many times and explained that the price discrepancy was due to the booking site (hostelworld.com) not working properly. Feeling she was the problem rather than the site, I offered her my help so while my girlfriend was catching a nap, I painstakingly rebuilt her hotel’s page on the booking site.

It was easy and contrary to her belief, everything was working as expected. Her issue was a case of failing to RTFM (read the f*cking manual). It took two hours but I was enjoying the experience of guiding here through the interface and giving her marketing advice for her establishment. Immensely grateful for my aid, she offered me coffee and snacks while I was working, charged me the price we had originally expected to pay for the room, promised me free beers that night and a ride to the airport the next day. I had wanted to use that time for work, but instead I got to discover how to set up and hostel on hostelworld.com. For the remainder of the day, not much happened, she went to bed early while I caught up on blogging and work, sipping on my well deserved free drinks.

Inside Tbilisi Sameba cathedral

Inside Tbilisi Sameba Cathedral

Tbilisi Sameba cathedralThe following day, our last, she was doing much better so we checked out, left our bags at the hotel and proceeded to walk around Tbilisi. The Sameba Cathedral was our first objective. Built in 2004 to bolster faith and unity in a post-Soviet Georgia, nothing was spared in making it one of the most impressive structure in this corner of the world. It was immense, on many levels and took easily an hour to explore. The rest of the day was spent walking as far as we could and catching the metro back to the old town. We went through nice parts of town and some more popular ones, reminding us that Georgia is still a developing country and that our standard of living is the exception rather than the norm.

In the old town

In the old town

Our time in Georgia was almost over. We were leaving at 6h30 the next day and wanted to arrive at the airport around midnight to sleep there. There was however one more thing we needed to do: have a proper taste at Georgian wine and buy bottles to bring back home. That was what our last evening was devoted to. We visited a couple of shops which offered us cheap samples and poor service but settled on one that was a bit out of the way but about which I had a good feeling. I was right in my intuition, samples were plentiful, we got freebies and excellent service. Extremely satisfied with our experience and slightly inebriated, we decided we would give them the extra alcohol we had brought into the country but could not take back home. I had a bottle of Ouzo and some Quebec made Chic Choc spiced rum. I hope the gift was appreciated.

Tbilisi’s airport was small and crowded but we scored a pretty decent spot with an electrical outlet. She slept while I killed time on the computer until check-in started. After connections through Kiev and Amsterdam, we landed home at the end of the afternoon. It always takes a bit of time for the brain to switch out of traveling mode.  As we were gazing in amazement at cars and houses, It felt like Montreal, a city extremely familiar to us, was new and exotic. That was obviously not the case, but it was certainly much different that what we had been used to seeing over the last few weeks. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia had been feast for the eyes. Similar to each other in some aspects but very alike in others; it’s amazing how much diversity was packed in such a small area. The last weeks had been filled with amazing landscapes, amazing food and amazing encounters and our minds, not yet weened off the drug, was still craving for more even if a huge part of us, exhausted and in need of a rest, was happy to have arrived.

Our great disappointment was not having spent enough time in the region, but two weeks was all we could spare. In that time, we have barely brushed the surface of those three countries. We do not regret the ways we organized our time. It’s not like we can easily come back there; this may have been only chance to see that part of the world so doing a quick tour was in our opinion the best way to make the most of that trip. It’s hard for me to say what I enjoyed the most but I would most definitely put food and scenery at the top of the list so if I do come back, I’ll certainly orient my trip towards hiking expeditions, urban exploration of abandoned Soviet infrastructure and spend a bit of time in the wine making regions.

Oh yeah and if I do rent a vehicle, it’s going to be a 4×4.

 

Armenia

It was around 18h00 when we finally passed the border. The scenery around us was a large expanses of grassy hills with herds of cow pasturing here and there punctuated by small villages. We had been told that the roads in Armenia were of dismal quality but we were still on decent pavement. The sun was setting and light was transitioning towards orange.

Armenian scenery

Abandoned plant in Gyumri

Abandoned plant in Gyumri

The first large city we passed through was Gyumri. On both sides of the road were old socialist style apartment blocks, one after the other and nothing else except for some large trees. It was gloomy. Once we had passed Gyumri we started encountering large abandoned industrial complexes, relics of a bygone era of Soviet Armenia. I was aching to visit one but given the hour an my companion unwillingness, I had to let go of that project.

Some more barren scenery of earth, pastures and industrial left overs and we arrived in Yegenadzor, another large city which given the diminishing light, appeared as gloomier than is previous counterparts. Careful not to generalize that impression to the rest of Armenia, we had however came to the conclusion that the country was much much poorer than it’s neighbors. Given the hardships of passing the border and my companion having fell ill the night before, this certainly did not set an uplifting mood. Anyway, we arrived quite late in Dilijan, which even at night, looked a lot more inviting than other cities in the region. After a good meal provided by the guesthouse, she went to sleep while I did some catching up on the writing.

Visiting the Haghartsin monastery

Visiting the Haghartsin monastery

At breakfast, we met an Austrian couple traveling within the region. That morning, they wanted to check out the two nearby monasteries, Haghartsin and Goshavank. Thinking it was a great idea, we offered our car in exchange for their companionship. Monasteries are the thing in Georgia in Armenia, they’re on almost every iconic picture of the region and always numerous in whatever region you may be. Though Armenia’s monasteries are slightly different than Georgia’s, we were not exactly thrilled of visiting yet another one but we felt we had to make the effort. The first monastery was nothing really picturesque but to our pleasant surprise, there was a priest in the chapel who decided to gave us blessings during a quick ceremony where we were given grapes and an a printed icon of Jesus Christ. At the second monastery, which offered us a more interesting visit due to having been restored more recently, was a family which according to the most plausible theory we came up with, was baptizing a newcomer to their circle. They had a sheep on leash, which again according to our analysis, would be eaten later on in the day during the ensuing celebrations. We did not stuck around long enough to witness the fate of the animal.

The Haghartsin monastery

So we dropped off our Austrian friends at a nearby lake and hit the road towards Lake Sevan, Armenia’s only sizable body of water and a popular destination for Yerevan’s inhabitants during hot summer days. One mountain pass and a bit of highway later, we had reached it. Not much time was spent there: we drove around, stopped for a grossly overpriced meal at a crappy restaurant and got the hell out. The Lonely Planet guide had made the place sound like a perfect spot for taking an afternoon off, but it was filthy and overcrowded. Every inch of coast was monopolized by a restaurant or bar competing with one another for the loudest sound system. There was so little room that people were forced to bathe in the boat launch.

Scenery outside of lake Sevan. We stayed so little time on lake Sevan that we barely took any pictures.

Scenery outside of lake Sevan. We stayed so little time on lake Sevan that we barely took any pictures.

Again on the road, going around the lake, we were hoping for pretty views of the landscape around but it was just an endless stream of poverty. Having not eaten enough in Sevan, we attempted to get some food at a supermarket but only got out with two bottles of wine to take back home. What we did also get was a good laugh at all the kitschy merchandise the place was selling and the gross incompetency of the staff working there. Our next objective was the Yeghegis valley, seemingly a nice place with plenty of ruins to check out and we arrived in the middle of the afternoon after an amazing drive in spectacular plateaus, mountains and canyons. To our amazement, the roads in Armenia were much better than we had expected. Bumpy, certainly, but at least continuously paved, wide and travelable at a good speed. With less truck traffic than Georgia, we were actually eating kilometers at a greater rate than up north, we the road system was supposedly better. At least this was true for the major roads, which I think were being financed by international aid as every other piece of public infrastructure was crumbling.

Arates Vank monastery

Arates Vank monastery

Scenery in ArmeniaThe Yeghegis valley held many sights but not wanting to be off-roading again with a compact car, we could only reach two of them: a church and a mysterious Jewish cemetery. Having had enough time, it would have been worth settling there for a day of two and explore the place on foot of with bikes. Far from any large agglomeration, the people inhabiting the small villages we passed were quick to give us directions and some even offered us freshly picked fruits. A pleasant departure from the general rudeness we had been exposed to so far. This seems to a rule that is true everywhere: the smaller and more remote the place, the nicer the people are. The original plan had been to spend the night there but with enough daylight to drive for two more hours but not to visit more sights,  we pushed to Yerevan, the capital at which we arrived around 21h00 but not without passing the impressive mount Ararat, towering 5 kilometers over the city.

While having our morning Armenian coffee (a Turkish coffee really), we read the guide and came up with a list of things we each wanted to visit in the city. First a visit of the nearby mosque  (the only one remaining in Yerevan), then, we proceeded to a quick tour of the contemporary art museum and after, we walked across the river to the Ararat Brandy distillery, which I really wanted to check out. Visits were normally by appointment only, but we managed to insert ourselves in an afternoon English tour. I did not know what to expect, it would either be a stupid museum of an actual visit of the installations. Regrettably, it was the former, with no chance of witnessing the actual brandy making process. It sort of reminded me of the Heineken museum in Amsterdam, which my brother really insisted we visit, but which I was certain would be a waste of time and money. The Ararat distillery was not as bad, but I was hoping for a lot more: I really really don’t give a damn about the evolution of the design your bottle, I want to see rows of casks, pipes, fermenters and alembics.

Yerevan's cathedral

Yerevan’s cathedral

Next up was the cathedral and a metro ride (also build soviet style) through the city to check out the Cascade, but not before having coffee in one of the numerous parks in downtown Yerevan. With its circular layout, the core of the city is belted by a large longitudinal park and dotted with other smaller green spaces. It is clean and well maintained and is obviously the focus all the investments as other districts are depressingly poor and run down. For that reason, Yerevan feels very different than the rest of Armenia. High-end restaurants, luxury cars, fashion outlets even we could not afford, it is an island of wealth in a sea of poverty. The cascade, a gigantic staircase decorated with recessed fountains sort of exemplifies the Yerevan reality.

In front of the Cascade. I had no reason to be sad, I had a great time there

At the bottom of the Cascade, making a sad face for no reason

Started in the 90s under Soviet rule, the project was halted for several years and then brought to a state of semi-completion though a donation from a rich Armenian. It’s a spectacular piece of urban architecture and from the bottom, it looks finished. The top part however, still a tangle of rebar and concrete littered with soviet machinery, has not been touched since the 90s. At the top of the stairs sits a run down monument celebrating 50 years of Soviet Armenia which offers a nice view of the city with mount Ararat in the background.

 

View of Yerevan from the 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia monument

View of Yerevan from the 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia monument

The day after, we had to get back in Georgia so to celebrate the end of the Armenian portion of the road-trip, we had dinner at a upper-class French-Armenian fusion restaurant. Several glasses of wine, appetizers and entrées costed us no more than your average meal out in Canada. They had truffles on the menu so upon asking if I could try one at a decent price, they offered me a slice of the black and the white variety free of charge. Afterwards, we had a beer at the hostel and that was it, we had to leave early the next morning.

Out on the road around nine, we again passed through Lake Sevan and Dilijan and at noon we found ourselves near the border at a small roadside restaurant, having a meal of kebab, shashlik and salad. Afterwards, we visited the Sanahrin monastery  which was highly recommended in the guide and frankly worth the detour and then reached the border an hour later. There, we still had to go through the mysterious custom broker employees to get our paperwork in order, but overall it was a lot simpler than on the way in. In line with us numerous poor souls trying to navigate Armenia’s border control bureaucratic mess. The weather was hot and so were the tempers. Thankfully, we were in and out quite fast.  On the Georgian side : a quick glance at our passports, a stamp and the friendly border guard wished us « Welcome back to Georgia! »

Armenia was beautiful, intriguing ( I would have loved to explore all this abandoned infrastructure and delve deeper in the country’s Soviet past), but somewhat depressing so we had mixed feelings about our short time there. We found everyone we interacted with unpleasant and the food did nothing to compensate for that. Then again, Armenians are sort of excused. They have suffered many hardships in recent history, have very limited access to resources, an economy in ruins and a limited ability to grow things due to their country being very mountainous and dry. Evidently, we were grateful for having had the opportunity to visit, but we both felt like contrary to other countries in the region, there was not much there that would entice us to come back.

The good old days of Soviet Armenia...

The good old days of Soviet Armenia…