Update 20110221

February 21, 2011

Okay, it’s been a long time since I was able to update this blog. My trial period of running SL/CentOS 5.5 on my other laptops was brief. I reinstalled Debian and updated to Squeeze. I continue to use SL 5.5 on my Aspire One. And XP but I use it so seldom that updating often takes over an hour.

I’ve acquired more hardware the past six months, including a freaking iPod. Yes, I know, but I inherited it. I still hate Apple because their products are overpriced and mediocre-performing (or worse). The good news is it’s better supported under Linux than my dodgy MTP-based Samsung S3 (which I still prefer). I use it mainly for spoken word podcasts since the sound quality — ahem — doesn’t need to be so good for those.

I grabbed the live image for Scientific Linux 6rc1 last week when it was released. I ran some preliminary tests on my Aspire One to test its wireless card with a more modern kernel. I was surprised Saturday afternoon to go over 12 hours uptime. The card finally did crash and I was unable to scan again, but that was after 25 hours and under circumstances I figured would result in loss of wireless. How did I know? Because that’s happened occasionally while using 5.5. The problem seems to happen when moving large volumes of data through SSH or running extremely long SSH sessions. This has been off-putting to say the least. I’m not inclined to change for the sake of change — 5.x will continue receiving support for quite some time so there’s no rush. I may install SL6rc1 on my main laptop, though, and aid in testing (at least its card has never crashed like that Atheros card continues to do on occasion).

I’ll post a separate entry about this test later to give impressions of the changes between 5.5/6 as well note other problems I encountered.

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Banned from DW Again

February 21, 2011

I dared to respond this morning to yet another asinine “review” (using that word loosely) at a certain website. The comments I left were removed in quick order. Yes, Laddy, that was I who made the original #34 and one BTW comment. The comments were removed and my IP blocked. I’ve revisited the site several times since via proxy. Heh.

Here’s what was censored.

First, I took issue with the whole focus on aesthetics in reviewing a stable-oriented distro like Debian (the unfortunate subject of the misguided review). I pointed out that such distros like Debian-stable, RHEL, even Tiny Core, and so on, won’t measure up on the basis of aesthetics because that’s not their goal. They focus instead on providing a secure, stable environment that a user can install once and rest assured that he or she won’t have tons of crap breaking in an insane pursuit of having the latest version numbers of everything.

I pointed out that reviews might be more useful if they focused on other issues, like security and stability: How easy is it to keep patched? How easy is it to upgrade? Will future major, or even minor, upgrades require completely reinstalling? My follow up noted that my update from Debian Lenny to Squeeze required only changing one word in my sources.list. Does that simplicity count for anything when reviewing a distro? I also noted that the reviewer’s comparison of Debian to its prodigal offspring ignores the fact that many of them still piggyback on Debian for security and other patches. That counts, too.

The crappy little review was more about aesthetics than anything. AS USUAL. The reviewer dissed Debian for having a graphical installer that looked a bit old — like RHEL’s from ten years ago. I wanted to know how many times a user interacts with a freaking graphical INSTALLER anyway. OMFG. How dare they set up their system via a series of pages instead of a one-click installer without any options.

I closed by asking what specific hardware problems, other than lack of an available wireless driver, the reviewer had issues with. She also mentioned problems booting, though not with this particular release. What problem(s) did she have and how did she resolve them? I pointed out that it’s not fair to blame the distro if the reviewer manually edited her computer’s existing GRUB/LILO and screwed up. Those were just BS things mentioned as a reason for not recommending Debian.

Seriously, why the thin skin over there? My critique of the review was civil and fair. It was also spot on.

That’s something you people could learn from me. Your loss.

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 20100807: dwm on SL55 and Aspire One

August 7, 2010

I’ve narrowed my three favorite window managers down to ratpoison, ion{2,3}, and dwm. Maybe not always in that order but pretty close. And jwm is a steady fourth; it would rate higher if it didn’t have a crappy static menu (which requires restarting the whole window manager to take advantage of menu changes).

I got pissed at jwm while trying to watch videos in fullscreen. It started to open fullscreen and then it went back to normal (in-browser) size. I made sure it wasn’t related to settings I had for firefox (so that it runs maximized without any window decorations) but that wasn’t it. So I decided to compile dwm.

Just a few tweaks to compile it with a sane color scheme and to run in monocle mode by default (netbook split screen? no thanks), along wih a few other things.

I don’t remember if I added that I removed gdm the other day. It’s just as fast and easy to change .xinitrc (or set up alternates) to launch a different window manager as needed, or if needed. Speaking of which, I added a line in my .Xdefaults to adjust dpi because gdm was apparently setting it.

Xft.dpi:        96

Now all is well with certain applications that were giving me disturbingly large fonts. Everything is just like before I got rid of gnome and gdm and everything else.

I hope to finish my next update by Monday. It will explain what I’m using in place of OpenOffice.org.

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.

Update 20100801: Back to Some Old Habits

August 1, 2010

I got fed up with NetworkManager in Scientific Linux. Around the house and around town it’s been okay — it’s been a pain in the ass with a gnome-keyring password after login via gdm if I log out and back in — but there have been a couple other encrypted networks it balked at associating with altogether (visiting family, etc.). Anyway, it’s no longer installed. I’m just using wpa_supplicant, which is a bit convoluted to set up in RHEL clones.

The first thing to do is generate a wpa_supplicant.conf, which is easy enough. After that, chkconfig needs to be run to add wpa_supplicant to whichever runlevels it’s desired. Then files in /etc/sysconfig need to be edited. First, wpa_supplicant needs to be set with the appropriate driver and interface in the appropriate form for wpa_supplicant. That means no space between “-Dwext” and “-iwlan0” or whatever driver and interface you need. Next is the ifcfg-device file so it knows to use WPA (WPA=yes). I set mine to start on boot (ONBOOT=yes).

I got everything working by the second try. Scientific Linux has a lengthy boot time compared to Debian and especially compared to Tiny Core, and waiting for the network to come up only adds to the anticipation.

Next was a more difficult decision because I’ve grown a bit more fond of Gnome than I used to be. It’s still a lot more overhead than I need, especially considering how I use my netbook. I decided to compile jwm since I couldn’t find it in the SL repositories or in the dag repo. I copied over .jwmrc and other files. Once I had it set up to my satisfaction, I had some fun.

It took a few minutes to get rid of all that stuff.

Notice the difference in the screenshots? The first was taken with gnome-screenshot, which wasn’t around to take the second (imagemagick import does the trick).

Next to go will probably be OpenOffice.org, which was updated to 3.x with the release of SL 5.5. I’m doing mostly LaTeX lately and doing that — and seemingly everything else — in emacs. I have a draft I started the other day about all that which I hope to finish soon.

Cost of Freedom: New Ubuntu Font

July 26, 2010

I think a picture is worth a thousand words. The company Canonical has contracted to develop its own “Ubuntu font” apparently eats another brand of dog food, as it were. I realize the font designer, not Canonical, is the source of the PDF of the slides but it’s still amusing that Canonical makes a competing operating system in which the PDF creation software doesn’t run (except when using WINE).

I’m not against mixing open source and closed source systems to get the best results. After all, it worked pretty well for the Linux kernel for a while. But Canonical has made a big deal about taking on Microsoft — so much so that I’d expect their contracts to require use of their own Linux distribution as much as possible.

I’m curious how much development and/or advocacy of of Liberation fonts occurred on non-free software. Red Hat contracted with a company called Ascender.

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.