Archive for the ‘CentOS’ Category

Dear Lifehacker…

August 2, 2011

Dear Lifehacker,

I’ve noticed your new feature showing different desktops. Some of them are quite pretty, including the one you posted last night.

Not everyone, though, treats computers as an extension of darkly secret and unfulfilled ambitions to be an interior decorator. Some of us actually use our computers to accomplish tasks — to work and get stuff done. And, ultimately, it’s that utilitarian philosophy that leads us from playing with widgets and decorations to a more functional environment.

I’m submitting my own desktop for your consideration — so your readers will see how people can use computers to actually do stuff beyond add to the ambiance of their living rooms, offices, or (in some cases in which your readers haven’t left the nest yet) their parents’ basements. To further leverage bizarre bazaar, which I installed yesterday to get one thing in particular (see my previous post about that), I decided to see what else I could install. Among a few trivial things, I decided last night to follow emacs development (separate post forthcoming on setting up emacs-development on CentOS/SL 6).

This is my current desktop. I’m running Gnome 2.28.2 in CentOS 6. I usually run emacs maximized or fullscreen, sans menu-bar or tool-bar (I need to fix the bleeping scroll-bar while I’m thinking of it). Can’t tell it’s Gnome? Cool, because I often can’t tell that your featured desktops are running XP because they have so much stuff hiding that fact.

I usually run emacs in a GNU screen pseudo-terminal, but to appeal to your fancier tastes here’s the GTK2 bells and whistles. Neat, huh. I can browse (w3m), e-mail (various mail clients), edit, chat (erc), and even view images right inside emacs. I also enabled the widgetry to show clock, CPU temperature, and battery charge. For what it’s worth (if it helps a desktop like mine make your feature), I have three emacsen on this laptop: the version from CentOS base, this one, and sxemacs (not counting mg among emacsen, but it’s also installed on this).

I can try a different internal theme (currently wombat) if it still doesn’t reach your aesthetic threshold. If this isn’t fancy enough, I can post a picture of the version I compiled for my older laptop last night (Sabayon, ratpoison, compiled without-x and running inside screen).

Very sarcastically yours,
lucky :-P

Fun with Precompiled Binaries (Or, Why I Recompile So Many Things)

July 27, 2011

I often note that I find things in binary packages that irritate me. Sometimes it’s too much nonsense compiled in so that installation of a small utility requires massive dependencies to install. This means not just a lot of extra stuff taking up hard drive space, it means more packages that get updated and other inconveniences.

Sometimes I also notice little things that make me go hmmm. Today I was playing around with mocp, a curses-based server-client music program. There’s not yet a package for *el6 so I compiled it myself. I thought I’d hit up all the right things so that it would stream and play all common music codecs. Everything seemed fine with mp3, ogg-vorbis, and even an ASX stream. Then I tried an AAC stream and found I had more work to do.

No big deal. I searched to find out what I was missing. I found a suggestion that I should build it –without-aac (overriding the internal AAC decoder) so that AAC would be handled by the ffmpeg plugin. I tried that and it didn’t work.

So I decided to double check my ffmpeg version, which was installed from rpmforge. While it had faad and faac support enabled, I found something else that seemed a bit weird.

I know, I know. It’ll still work on other CPUs but it’s optimized for Intel Atom. Why? I’m not using this on my dual thread netbook, it’s on a dual core laptop. It could’ve (should’ve?) been compiled with -mtune=generic.

It’s stuff like this that drives me nuts and makes me start recompiling things or install something that I can optimize for my own use if the packaging (indiscriminately!) includes optimizations that suit particular hardware rather than generic. I thought that was the idea of pre-packaging binaries: so they could be used by a wide variety of common users.

For what it’s worth, the spec says:

Description: FFmpeg is a very fast video and audio converter. It can also grab
           : from a live audio/video source.
           : The command line interface is designed to be intuitive, in the
           : sense that ffmpeg tries to figure out all the parameters, when
           : possible. You have usually to give only the target bitrate you
           : want. FFmpeg can also convert from any sample rate to any other,
           : and resize video on the fly with a high quality polyphase filter.
           :
           : Available rpmbuild rebuild options :
           : --without : lame vorbis theora faad faac gsm xvid x264 a52dec
           : altivec

So it has faad/faac enabled. Should’ve worked, no?

I checked version information against what I have on my older laptop running Sabayon (with dwm). No extra c flags noted in the ffmpeg -version output but I’ll double-check that tomorrow:

ffmpeg version 0.7.1, Copyright (c) 2000-2011 the FFmpeg developers
  built on Jun 30 2011 12:51:22 with gcc 4.5.2
  configuration: --prefix=/usr --libdir=/usr/lib --shlibdir=/usr/lib \
  --mandir=/usr/share/man --enable-shared --cc=i686-pc-linux-gnu-gcc

I still didn’t get AAC working on m *el6 laptop with the ffmpeg-devel package from rpmforge, or even when disabling it and building against the -devel packages for faad/faac. I’ll mess with it again tomorrow.

By the way, with all the -devel packages installed and all the compiling I end up doing, I wonder why I don’t just install something that has the relevant headers (Slackware) or that I can optimize and set up the right way — my way — from the start (Gentoo). Days like this, I wonder if the multi-year support of the EL clones is really all it’s cracked up to be. In fairness, though, we’re talking about a third-party repository and not stuff in the base which seems to be put together with more care and diligence. Maybe my lesson is to build my own packages for things not provided in the CentOS/SL repositories; that would solve not only this kind of issue but conflicts when a third-party repository has a more recent version number of something provided in the base.

Update 20110723 – CentOS 6, Sabayon, Slackware, NetBSD, Etc.

July 23, 2011

Long time no see, haters. Since my last update earlier this year, I’ve been pretty busy. Usual stuff: family, work, and sports injuries.

I have a shiny new Lenovo laptop. One of the reasons I chose this one is because I was able to get a list of the hardware and checked it against lists of supported devices. It’s all supported very well under Linux and the BSDs (Net, Open) I looked at.

First thing I did was reduce the very large NTFS partition someone formatted it with (I never have booted this into Windows 7) so that it’s actually quite small. Then I installed a release candidate for Scientific Linux 6 on it, as that was the first available RHEL6 clone. I’ve since changed that over to CentOS 6 using a net install. And since I have no interest in booting the pre-installed OS, I changed my grub menu.lst to no wait, no options, just load that one in a freaking hurry.

As usual, I found some nits to pick about how certain other things were configured and I had to make some changes to get simple things to work. This goes for software as well as hardware.

First the hardware side of it. I thought the inkjet printer I keep in my room was supported out of the box despite noticing the printer would “eat” up paper upon finishing the job — not fully ejecting it before pulling it back in to the printer. It was only the past few days, though, I realized there was more wrong than met the eye. I needed to make some quick scans and xsane reported back I had no scanner. Hmmm. I checked it via scanimage and it was detected. I also double-checked the drivers and saw that the sane backends for hp and usb were there. I decided to see if the hplip site had a newer RPM than is available in any of the repositories I’ve enabled. I entered the relevant information and downloaded an up-to-date RPM with new drivers. Installing it required removing old RPMs. Then I had to set some permissions so I could use the scanner without escalating my privileges to root. The new hplip RPM also resulted in better printing and no more “eating” paper.

There was a variety of software I installed from the normal as well as third-party repositories. Most of it has been without any trouble — only a couple things from a more bleeding edge repository (EPEL) have conflicted with packages from others. Some of the configuration issues have been simple and straightforward. I’m coming around to accepting pulseaudio, especially as it makes some things easier. My Bluetooth headphones work fine and are able to remotely control playlists in totem. Haven’t tried yet in rhythmbox but mplayer (from rpmforge) needs remuco to work.

Even though I’d be exaggerating to call RHEL6 or its clones bleeding edge, it’s still new enough that repositories lack certain packages that I wanted to install. One solution (other than “wait”):

sudo yum groupinstall 'Development Tools'

I’ve recompiled things that bugged me as well as things that were either unavailable or that I wanted to update. I wanted liferea so I had to compile it myself. Dittos sylpheed (NOT claws) and mew (emacs e-mail client). I also wanted an update of org-mode for emacs, but I’ve also played around with compiling other emacsen. This morning, I decided to try sxemacs.

I wasn’t impressed with the clunky xaw widgetry, let alone the faces available on my laptop (trust me, terminus looked only a little better), and I decided against installing GTK1 headers just to see if that would look any better. Not even some minor color changes helped. I usually run emacs from console anyway because it’s easier to run it in screen and then shell in and out, locally or remotely, as needed. The faces (fonts) bother  me a lot more than the widgets — it’s not about the aesthetics as much as if I can clearly see what the hell I’m doing.

I’m going to try this for a while and see how much work it’ll take to get it working the way I use GNU emacs. Just remembered I forgot to change EDITOR=emacsclient to EDITOR=gnuclient. Also, this (last line!) has to go in the init.el to keep from opening a new sxemacs GUI instance:

(require 'gnuserv)
(gnuserv-start)
(setq gnuserv-frame (selected-frame))

Sheesh! Recompiled –without-x. Much better, too, after removing background color (transparent terminal over black wallpaper).

Now the fun of getting my other emacs stuff to work correctly with this.

I also converted my previous laptop over to CentOS 6. I did a minimal net installation, installed xfce from EPEL, and then added some of my own packages (including dwm and jwm because I decided I don’t care for xfce). My ridiculous Acer Aspire One is still running SL6 and still having issues with the fucking Atheros wireless card. When it starts to flake out on me, I pop in a zyd-based USB wireless adapter. Voila. I should blacklist the module for the Atheros card but, honestly, the AA1 has been such a pain in the ass that I seldom use it. I recently updated XP (30-something packages!) after not even booting it for like half a year and suffered some USB-related issues as a result. The good news is under the RHEL6 clones, all the other AA1’s hardware — including both internal card readers — work properly, without having to boot one side with a card inserted.

Okay. The headline mentions other distros and NetBSD. I’m considering some changes on the other laptop because a lot of stuff I’ve compiled for it would be just as easy from scratch instead of using source RPMs or new source. I tried to get a measure of how many packages are installed by default on a minimal install of various distros. I figure RHEL clones will have the most, followed by Debian, and on the other side of the scale will be Slackware and Gentoo (I haven’t used Sabayon before but I like the option of using a binary or portage depending on my tastes — this is why I’m also considering a BSD and pkgsrc).

There are certain distros I’ve taken off my radar list despite having a fondness for them. As I now use laptops, netbooks, and other portable devices — including portable USB storage — about 90% of the time, encryption is very important to me; one of my parents’ was a victim of identity theft in the past couple years and I was already a bit paranoid about what kind of information could be found in plaintext on my computers. On all my computers, I like the option of installing to, or easily setting up, one encrypted LVM which includes at the very least my /home, /var, /etc, and swap. I used to think it was adequate to encrypt just /home and swap but I’ve changed my mind after auditing “identifying” information available elsewhere on an unencrypted system. For example, plaintext wifi passwords in /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf (or elsewhere on a “non-standard” system) or stuff stored in /tmp. I also think it’s not enough that the “core” of the operating system be protected from threats, such as over the Internet; the biggest vulnerabilities usually stem from applications and user choices, and you can’t reboot those problems away — they’ll still be there if (or because) /home and /usr/local are RW, not read-only. When storage is measured in GB and TB and speedy multi-core processors, it’s harder for me to choose to run my OS in some “embedded” style.

Still on my TODO list is my post about what I use instead of OpenOffice.org. Also, I’ll try to write a post about the minimal install I did with more specifics (need to edit my gnote version of it — wish I could import that into this without reformatting) in the near future. As usual, no promises on time lines.

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.

This Week in Enterprise Linux

May 16, 2010

CentOS hit 5.5-release. The full release notes are here.

Scientific Linux is now on a second release candidate for 5.5.