Archive for the ‘debian’ Category

Debian Squeeze – Not All Perfect But Close

March 15, 2011

Not everything has gone well under Debian Squeeze. I’ve been running jwm and ratpoison, my preferred window managers (even though I’ve grown more tolerant of Gnome; it’s just a bit much for my laptop). In jwm, one of the things I do first is set up various apps to run maximized without borders. This has proven stable in most cases.

Here’s a shot of how emacs should start and look. Unfortunately, something in my .emacs has resulted in a problem where it doesn’t open full screen (even though I commented out fullscreen mode) — but that’s easily fixed by alt-f2 and selecting maximize. The above shot is what I should have, right?

Okay, so let’s switch desktops and then come back. This is what happens.

I first noticed this on my Aspire One. The icon and menu bars are fine so long as:

  • I don’t start w3m-el, or
  • switch desktops

Either of those happens, then bad stuff happens. I thought at first it might be GTK-related but this happens in jwm, not in other window managers (no fail in ratpoison or evilwm) — in the other window managers, the w3m icons are displayed while in w3m-mode and the default ones when in standard emacs modes. I think it’s something with jwm (whether it’s with jwm or the way it’s configured in Debian who knows), not emacs, since it’s not occurring in other window managers — I can switch between applications and/or desktops in evilwm, for example, and the icons don’t change or disappear.

This really is no big deal since my .emacs has lines turning off both the menu bar and icon bar (currently commented out), which is why I may not have caught this before. Another reason I may not have caught it is because I usually run emacs in console instead of using the GTK instance. Once I uncomment those lines in my .emacs, it’s going to be no big deal again in jwm.

One more nit to pick about the default jwmrc from Debian (again, no big deal because I edit/customize the hell out of it anyway). It has a lot of extraneous tags, including a section in the keybindings.

<!-- Key bindings -->
 <Key key="Up">up</Key>
 <Key key="Down">down</Key>
 <Key key="Right">right</Key>
 <Key key="Left">left</Key>
 <Key key="h">left</Key>
 <Key key="j">down</Key>
 <Key key="k">up</Key>
 <Key key="l">right</Key>
 <Key key="Return">select</Key>
 <Key key="Escape">escape</Key>

 <!-- #DEBIAN unused -->
 <Key mask="A" key="Tab">nextstacked</Key>
 -->
 <!-- #DEBIAN add -->
 <Key mask="A" key="Tab">next</Key>

 <Key mask="A" key="F4">close</Key>
 <Key mask="A" key="#">desktop#</Key>
 <Key mask="A" key="F1">root:1</Key>
 <Key mask="A" key="F2">window</Key>

In particular, that "unused" line is preceded and trailed by --->, and that first one shouldn't be there if the goal was to comment out "nextstacked" in favor of next. I really hate that "nextstacked" setting in jwm, which renders meta (alt) unusable by anything but jwm -- I consider it a bug. I've written to the author about this but for some reason that's the default. If you use jwm and you have issues with using your meta/alt key, edit "nextstacked" to just "next" and then restart jwm. We fixed that in the default jwmrc in DSL. Looks like that was the intention here, too, but the result of not properly commenting out the whole nextstacked part is that the alt-meta remains locked up jwm. Guess I should report that. As well as the other issues.

An update, too, on the Aspire One. I ran into some problems with SL6rc1 on my Aspire One and needed something "ready to roll." I haven't decided if I'm going to run it again because I run Debian on just about everything else I own -- which is why I decided to install it again on the AA1 despite past wifi-related issues. I did a very minimal net install of Squeeze despite concerns about wifi issues I've had under Linux with that netbook. The good news thus far is that it's running without hassles and I haven't had the problems even under the heaviest loads that used to cause the time outs -- extensive uptimes and sftp'ing large and/or multiple files.

What did I install on the Aspire One? I'm using jwm almost exclusively with emacs, firefox (from mozilla rather than iceweasel), gtkpod, livetex, OpenOffice.org, skype, shotwell, gtkam, wicd-curses, and vlc. A few other things that don't come to mind. It's pretty lean and it rocks.

The emacs icon/menu bar issue doesn't really put me off using jwm. It's resulted in a noticeable performance boost over Gnome, and there are many things I like being able to customize (especially apps opening maximized sans decorations). Next trimming will come at the expense of network manager (though probably avoiding wicd because it's not an improvement over using other more basic tools; wicd can't scan for hidden SSIDs, but plain old wpa_supplicant does).

[Note/rant on wicd and hidden SSIDs: The documentation and lists for wicd suggest the inability to scan or find hidden SSIDs is exclusively a driver issue. BULLSHIT. I can find my SSID's MAC address just fine via iwlist but wicd has failed on all three of my current laptops -- that's three unique drivers (Broadcom 43xx, Realtek something or another, Atheros ath5k), all capable of finding the SSID's MAC address via iwlist and connecting straight-up via wpa_supplicant, and no such problem with network manager. I also ran into an issue with wicd-gtk that caused me to try the -curses version. When I would try connecting to my hidden SSID, the rescan would find no wireless connections -- none! I'd have to restart wicd and try again, sometimes three or four times, to get a list of SSIDs again and then repeat the process trying to connect to the hidden SSID. The -curses version won't connect to a hidden SSID but hasn't required running '/etc/init.d/wicd restart' at all -- it just requires me to enter the hidden SSID name, rescan, connect. So I'm most likely ditching wicd altogether and probably running networking via my own shell scripts or the available networking scripts in /etc. I don't hide my SSID for security reasons and I'm not going to unhide it just to use wicd.]

As you can see in the shots above, I'm running Bluetooth and the green dot on the bluez-manager applet signifies I'm connected at the moment to my headphones. I'm running mplayer streaming audio via pulseaudio (-ao pulse). Audio switches seamlessly between headphones and speakers, etc., when I turn the headphones on and off; the pulseaudio sink also switches between my stream and Skype during calls without interaction. No hassles at all. Just works. I had a lot of bad things to say about my initial experiences with pulseaudio but my recent experiences have been superb regardless of desktop environment/window manager.

Over all, I remain very happy with Debian Squeeze. It's just a package here and there that may cause some minimal grief. Beyond anomalies, it's rock solid, flexible, and has enough software options to keep most reasonable users happy.

Update: No tool bar, no menu, no problem:

More Debian Squeeze Love: remuco

February 22, 2011

One of my favorite applications is remuco. It allows you to use Bluetooth headphones or similar devices to remotely control multimedia. For example, I can stop, pause, and change tracks with the controls on my headset. Volume control was already possible via pulseaudio (a2dp).

Debian packages are available to control various multimedia applications. I’ve installed it for all the multimedia applications I have installed with the exception of mpd.


p remuco-amarok - duplex remote control for media players -
p remuco-audacious - duplex remote control for media players -
p remuco-banshee - duplex remote control for media players -
i A remuco-base - duplex remote control for media players -
p remuco-mpd - duplex remote control for media players -
i remuco-mplayer - duplex remote control for media players -
i remuco-rhythmbox - duplex remote control for media players -
i remuco-totem - duplex remote control for media players -
p remuco-tvtime - duplex remote control for media players -
p remuco-vlc - duplex remote control for media players -
p remuco-xmms2 - duplex remote control for media players -

Configuration is pretty easy, as remuco functions as a plugin under totem and rhythmbox (which I rarely use). It requires a little more effort under mplayer but is straightforward. In totem/rhythmbox, go to edit-plugins and then click on.

Here's the rhythmbox plugin dialog:

And for totem:

To reiterate, unlike DW reviewers, I've had no trouble getting things working in Debian out of the box or even with the most minimal effort. Audio on the Bluetooth headphones starts when I turn them on and direct the audio to it and stops when I either manually redirect audio or when I turn off the headphones.

Squeeze Hardware Love and SL6rc1 Tease

February 21, 2011

More fun with laptops this evening.

Squeeze Hardware Love

This follows up on what I wrote earlier about a DW drama queen’s reviewer’s complaints about Debian hardware support. Since that person didn’t elaborate much beyond a wireless card on what hardware was problematic, I wanted to give an indication of how easy it’s been to configure my own hardware.

Aspire One

First, I think everything except one of the card readers on my Aspire One worked perfectly out of the box (net install) when I ran Lenny on it. The only issue I had — which has occurred regardless of distro (but not in XP, except when rebooting from a Linux crash to XP) — was with the Atheros wireless card. It’s flaky. The camera, microphone, audio jacks, etc., all worked fine. If not for the wireless problem, whether it’s hardware or software, I would run Linux on that little netbook and be a lot happier with it.

Primary Laptop

My new-old laptop got a new wireless card that doesn’t require some kind of blob or quirky driver to work. It’s worked fine with every distro I tried. I used ethernet to set up Debian via net install. Everything on it’s worked flawlessly. That includes the peripherals and devices I plug into it.

Peripherals and Devices

I’ve used a couple different Bluetooth headsets with my laptops as well as phones. They’ve been easy to configure by editing .asoundrc to include a setting (e. g., for btaudio) to direct alsa to redirect audio to the headphones — pretty much the same as any other distro using alsa would require.

Debian has pulseaudio available, but it’s not default like in certain other distros. I’m not a big fan of it but it’s probably the easiest way to get a2dp working in Debian.

Speaking of Bluetooth, all my phones are able to send files (mostly pics) to the laptop via Bluetooth. Set up was easy using the default Bluetooth tools installed in a basic net install (Gnome is the Debian default). My USB Bluetooth dongle was detected from first boot and has had zero trouble.

My printer, a nifty all-in-one HP inkjet model released in the past 18 months, wasn’t supported by the CUPS and HPLIP versions in the SL5.{4,5} ecosystem. The printer worked when I updated certain packages, but I suffered breakage on the scanner side. I lived with that until I had to use that scanner. That’s a game-changer when it’s down to one choice. That’s when I reinstalled Lenny and then upgraded the system to Squeeze (which was still in testing) because a colleague had given me a thumbs-up on it.

My other printers are all supported. No issues.

My USB hubs, powered and unpowered, function properly. Someday someone will build a laptop with enough USB ports to plug all my stuff in at once, and I will buy it. Until then, my desk looks like a freaking spaceship with blinking green and red lights everywhere.

All the rest of my USB plug-in stuff has worked flawlessly or with what I consider minimal configuration. That includes cameras, ZIP drives, external hard drives, and so on.

SL6rc1 Tease

I decided to install SL6rc1 on my Aspire One tonight. I know I wrote earlier that I’ll have more on my testing, and hopefully I’ll get around to that by the weekend. I’ll also have a few words (and a screenshot!) to say about the installation — which would probably upset that little weenie over at DW because the graphical installer didn’t launch from the icon so I did it text-style.

It went fairly smoothly, I updated the system, added some software, and had to add a few seconds to GRUB so I can choose between SL6 and Windows XP (didn’t have to but wanted to).

Anyway, this is just a tease. I’ll write a proper review shortly and load a few screenshots.

Update 20101006: Hardware and Software Changes

October 6, 2010

The past couple months or so have been much more hectic than anticipated due to family health issues. I’ve also experienced a bit of hardware and software trouble and that’s led to some experimentation.

My primary laptop began experiencing issues where my wireless (Broadcom 43xx) would drop off without warning. The first time it happened, I thought the problem was with my router because I was able to scan SSIDs by the time I was aware there was a problem. When the problem next occurred, I checked dmesg and had all kinds of messages which indicated the wifi card was crapping out. The fact that it also happened in a hospital connected through their wifi also indicated the problem wasn’t with my router at home.

Fortunately, I had a backup card from a destroyed laptop I’d found a couple years ago (somoene apparently left a laptop on top of a car or tossed it out of a car; the only parts that were salvageable were the spare memory stick and wireless card). I installed the card and set it up when I rebooted Debian Lenny. Things worked okay for a while but I ran into some glitches with network manager (not sure why) and I was considering various options like reinstalling Debian or trying other distros.

I was going to install Scientific Linux but opted instead for CentOS. There really shouldn’t be much difference since both are RHEL clones and aim for 100% upstream binary compatibility. I’ve been running CentOS 5.5 (standard Gnome desktop) on this laptop for a little over a month now. Nutshell: love it.

The only real issue I’ve had with the “mature” software is getting a newer HP inkjet all-in-one to work — just not possible without updating over what’s available via the repositories. I’ve already done that for my netbook, so I just need to install on my laptop when/if I need to use that printer (I have a couple other printers networked so it hasn’t been a hassle).

Gnome really isn’t my thing even though I’ve come to accept using it. I wish it didn’t require so many resources to do relatively simple things. I’m finally paring some things down.

I installed icewm yesterday. I “borrowed” the Scientific Linux icewm theme — much nicer and cleaner than most I’ve encountered — and switched icons for the menu button (I also did a CentOS one but this is the one I had enabled when I took the screenshot) in that theme. I need to find something lighter than nautilus to manage the desktop. Or just install ratpoison and emacs and be done with it.

With 5.5 (SL and CentOS) comes OpenOffice.org 3.x, which I’m using somewhat reluctantly. I intend to write more about this whole area of software but I just can’t find time. I also want to write an article about shortcomings of OOo and show where and how it’s not a 1:1 replacement for Microsoft Office.

I continue using SL55 on my netbook. I may eventually replace that with CentOS but right now there’s no hurry to change anything. I’m still running Debian (Lenny) on my main home server; I also have CentOS installed on another one but it’s been unplugged since my last trip to care for parents. I have my old ThinkPad set up as a MicroCore media streamer connected to my stereo.

I’m also considering trying other distros on my primary laptop, including TinyCore, again if I can find time. The only time I run TinyCore anymore is from USB and rarely for more than a couple hours. Unfortunately, someone gets sick or needs surgery or dies every time I think I’m going to get finally time to set up something “just right.” Maybe I’ll bite the bullet and take care of it during the next hospital stay (planned later this month) to help kill time and avoid some of the anxiety.

Speaking of which, it could be a while before I get around to more substantive content on here again. It’s not a lack of desire or ideas, it’s just a lack of time.

Update 20100808 – More dwm, Search Engine Hits

August 8, 2010

Just a quick post before I go running. I decided I wanted dwm on my primary laptop as well as the Aspire One. Actually, I already had it installed (Debian Lenny). I ran into a couple issues that made me decide I had to compile it. First, the default package is labeled as something of a “trial” for users — something I agree with since it seems to use a mostly default configuration (with nine desktops and keybindings). Second, some of the default keybindings get in the way of using the meta/alt key. In my case, the worst conflict in keybindings came while using emacs: the status bar is toggled in the default configuration with M-b, which is the default emacs binding for backing up one word (IOW, something I’d rather not give up).

Since I can narrow my desktops down to a handful and want to use a key that won’t get in my way while using oft-used programs, I decided to compile it myself. My tweaks so far are to use the Windows-logo key as the MODKEY (#define MODKEY Mod4Mask), monocle view (no splitting) as my default view, and to arrange my desktops in a more sensible arrangement for my needs: emacs on one desktop, terminals on another, browser on another, and one where I can open retarded applications which require multiple windows — GIMP, Skype, xsane — on another. I’ll probably mess with colors and other settings later. I also need to recompile for the improved keybindings in SL on the Aspire One (update: done — screenshot is from Aspire One instead of primary laptop).

I also got around to looking at some search engine hit terms this morning (and it’s not even 5am here…).

That first one deserves some attention. If you’re logging in to a shell at a specific runlevel (e. g., 3) where it’s set up for a console login or if you haven’t installed a display manager like gdm or xdm with a login, you’ll usually start your window manager with the startx command. This command reads from a file called either .xinitrc or .xession in your home directory. That file is basically a shell script in which each command (such as “xsetroot -solid black”) needs to be set apart with an ampersand (&) until the last line which is typically the exec command for your window manager.

For example, here’s a basic .xsession (or .xinitrc) for starting dwm:

xset b 100 100 20 &
xsetroot -solid black &
xrdb -merge ~/.Xdefaults &
exec dwm

You probably don't need all of these commands and will need others. The first is where I usually set my default system beep. The second sets the background with solid black (if you're using jwm and it was compiled with image libraries, you can set the background via your .jwmrc -- you can also execute the commands above via jwm's StartupCommand tags in .jwmrc). The third reads my own Xdefaults with settings for things like terminal colors, dpi (e. g., font size rendering), and other behaviors of X-related applications. Finally, the window manager is executed (no ampersand on this line). You'd use the start-up command for whatever you're running (e. g., jwm, startxfce4, etc.) -- read the docs if you're not sure.

I realize whomever hit here looking for that information has probably moved on to another site, but I often see return traffic with identical search engine hits so maybe this will help that person. Or someone else.

Update 20100802: More Old Habits

August 2, 2010

Today’s biggest victim is OpenOffice 3.x, which was the biggest disappointment I had when updating Scientific Linux from 5.4 to 5.5 on my Aspire One. I even  remembered to use imagemagick import for the full screen (import -screen root) today.

I’ve run into backwards compatibility issues with 3.x when working with files and macros from earlier iterations. As SL54 used 2.x and my main laptop running Debian Lenny was also 2.x, I had no problems working on the same documents between computers. In Windows, I’d been using IBM Lotus Symphony which is based on mature OOo 1.x code but even that’s now in beta using OOo 3 and with the same issues I’ve encountered. Boo.

I couldn’t resist. I mean, I’ve run OOo once since I upgraded to SL55. It’s wasting space.

And with that, I suddenly didn’t need to re-configure and add partitions to this. While I was at it, I removed some gnome-audio and evolution-server packages. It’ll never be used so it won’t be missed.

I don’t know if I’ll remove much more for a while. Sure feels good, though. Hope to finish (soon) a draft I started last week with more about my current set up.

New Content Coming, Brief Update

July 26, 2010

I know it’s been a while since I posted anything, let alone more than stuff about Debian updates. I’ve been extremely busy this summer.

My systems remain basically the same: I’ve updated to SL 5.5 on my netbook, I’m still running Debian Lenny elsewhere.

After trying to compile org-mode for emacs 21.x in SL on my Aspire One, I decided it would be so much easier to compile emacs 23.2 since it already has org-mode. Seems I was having to track down a bunch of little elisp files to get org-mode to compile and as soon as I thought I was past one hurdle (f’ing sha1?) I’d hit another. I quickly tired of that game and fetched the source for emacs 23.2, compiled it (without X), and all is well with my world again. I’m now going to remove OpenOffice.org from SL (I’m mostly using LaTeX via org-mode to generate PDFs these days, and reading MS-Word files via antiword). SL55 updates to OOo 3.x and I was hoping to avoid all that.

Hopefully I’ll have some time here in coming days to add more new content.

Even More Debian Updates, Flash Security

June 27, 2010

I have 42 updates this morning between the two computers on which I run Debian. These include a new kernel and updates for things ranging from cpio and tar to texlive to apt to openssl to gtk2. And that’s just scratching the surface. As has been the case the last few times I’ve updated, the patches precede their announcements. I’ll try to remember to look later and update for a summary of their severity. My hunch is that some of these are probably pretty serious (openssl, gtk2, tar/cpio).

One thing I noticed has not updated via Debian (non-free) even though I have it set up: Adobe Flash. I recommend manually updating that (if you use it) and using whatever tools or plugins your browser uses to allow Flash to work on a per-site basis (see my article explaining how to block Flash by default in IE8). This page at Adobe will show you what version of Flash you’re using to compare with the latest versions available. You can download the DEB or RPM and install per those respective tools, or you can get the tarball, extract, and copy over the existing libflashplayer.so (path for Debian: /usr/lib/flashplugin_nonfree/libflashplayer.so) or to your $HOME/.mozilla/plugins directory.

More Debian Updates

June 18, 2010

I just manually upgraded (via aptitude) my laptop and server. The Debian security list hasn’t posted announcements yet but there are several patched packages in the queue including bind, dns, samba, sudo, and pmount. I noticed some of these — bind, samba, and sudo as far as I remember — were also updated in SL5 recently.

The lack of new content reflects that I’ve been extremely busy lately.

Debian Updates – Kernel 2.6 and More

May 25, 2010

Debian has updates for the following packages:

Keep your system patched!


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