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bye bye Ubuntu

I think I am going to scrub my Ubuntu 10.04 system (the one I am typing on is Linux Mint Debian), and do another Arch Linux install.   At that point Ubuntu will have been totally jettisoned.  For an Ubuntu done better than Ubuntu, I have Linux Mint.   LM is great for an easy productive installed Linux.  However, it is so easy that it does not do much for my need for a Linux “geek” fix.  So, that is what Arch is for.  Not an easy install.  I have to actually think, read, and learn to do stuff properly on it which is why I fell in love with Linux in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not an Ubuntu hater.  The Ubuntu team did some really great things and set some really high bars that I think had a great influence on the entire Linux world.  However, I think they have taken a wrong turn with their emphasis on the Unity desktop and have dumbed down the system far too much.  I do appreciate their reasoning for doing this in that they want to get as many newbies and hopeless end users onto Linux and expand the user base.  I really do applaud that and wish them all the best.  However, it is just not for me.  I am a hardcore geek.  I write code.  I do geek for a living and for pleasure.  I just need something more chanenging and interesting.  Fot me comptuing is not just a means to and end, it an end unto itself.   So, of to greener pastures.  I have done Arch before, and really like it.  Even when I got stumped a few times on how to do something, I really liked it.  Linux Mint for my everyday utilitarian computing and Arch for my geek needs.  That’s where I am at now, but given time all this too will change.  I love the ever changing Linux landscape.

–Bill

Linux Mint, 2 thumbs up!

After facing so many frustrations with Ubuntu 11.04 and uncertainties as to where Ubuntu is going in the future, I finally decided to bite the bullet and try different distributions.  The latest two that I have tried I can give 2 big thumbs up.   These were Linux Mint 11 and Linux Mint Xfce.

Linux Mint 11 is based on Ubuntu 11.04, but the Linux Mint team chose to not include the Unity desktop.   This distribution is everything that I would have hoped Ubuntu 11.04 could have been.   In fact, the level of polish and completness in Linux Mint 11 exceeds that typical of most Ubuntu releases.   This is saying a lot, because most Ubuntu releases are quite good.   However, one thing still worries me – GNOME.   Linux Mint kept the GNOME 2.3x desktop, which I prefer, but I must wonder if they will it be forced into GNOME3 in the next release?  I like GNOME2 and am not looking for wholesale changes of my desktop.   This type of uncertainty about the future of the desktop has given me enough pause to cause me to explore other desktops, which leads me to my next big thumbs up.

Linux Mint Xfce is NOT based on the Ubuntu upstream package sources.   Instead, it is based on the upstream Debian Testing packages.   This is also a “rolling” distribution as it is continuously taking updates from Debian Testing rather than being locked in until the next big release.   In essence, there will not be a next big release, or need for a reinstall, or a major “upgrade”.   It will simply update right along with the Debian updates.    I like this!   Also, it is not a GNOME based distribution, it is Xfce.   I have long been a fan of Xfce as an alternative to GNOME.   Like GNOME, it is based on the GTK+ libraries, but is lighterweight in its resource usage.   This is turning out to be what I would consider to be an ideal Debian based distro and may be where I call home for a while.  Were there any issues?  Yes, but only a minor one.   Linux Mint Xfce does not include the jockey-gtk package that the GNOME based distribution does.   This package makes for easier installation of restricted hardware packages, such as the Broadcom STA wireless driver.   I would strongly urge the Linux Mint team to consider its inclusion in the future or provide their own alternative.   However, this was easily overcome once I found the instruction on the Debian site for installation and configuration of the WL package.  This was straightforward and simple.   Here is the link. Debian WL driver install. Also, this distribution came configured with the Linux 2.6.32 kernel.   This is understandable since it was the kernel used in Linux Mint 10, which this is essentially a continuous update of.   I chose to update the Linux 2.6.38 kernel and did so via the Synaptic Package Manager.   This upgraded flawlessly.  I do not know if the update system would have eventually provided the kernel update to me, but it was reported my system as up to date so I am guessing it was not going to do so.

I would recommend either of these offerings from Linux Mint as an alternative to Ubuntu.   For those simply wanting a good GNOME desktop experience with no hickups, go for Linux Mint 11.   For those wanting to try a different desktop altogether, but one similar to GNOME2, give Linux Mint Xfce a try.   I think you will enjoy either of these.   Remember, Linux is all about CHOICE.   You are not locked into any distribution or desktop system.   Don’t be afraid to try out new things.   If enough folks decide not to adopt Ubuntu 11.04 or its Unity desktop, they will get the message.

Ubuntu 11.04, another annoying “feature”

Yes, I am going to harsh on Ubuntu 11.04 some more.  Even once you have turned off Unity and returned to a classic Gnome desktop, all is not back to “normal”.  Ubuntu 11.04 introduces a really stupid feature know as the “overlay” scrollbar.   Basically, it is a scrollbar tab that replaces the traditional scrollbar found on a windowed item.   It hides when not in use and pops back up into view when the mouse is moved into its area at the edge of the window.   HOW STUPID!  Who really wants to be playing hide and seek with windowing elements on their screen?  Even worse, this “feature” is found by default in all the Ubuntu derivatives also based on 11.04 such as Xubuntu and Linux Mint.   I would encourage the providers of derivatives to NOT accept every new feature that might be foisted upon us by the Ubuntu developers.   Fortunately, there is a way to turn the overlay scrollbar off and return to a normal scrollbar.

  1. Go to a terminal.
  2. sudo to get administrative privs
  3. paste the following into the command line and hit enter (then reboot for the change to take effect)
  • echo "export LIBOVERLAY_SCROLLBAR=0" > /etc/X11/Xsession.d/80overlayscrollbars

I found this great tip here: http://www.webupd8.org/2011/04/how-to-disable-overlay-scrollbars-in.html

Another good article that addresses this issue and others in Ubuntu Unity.

http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2011/05/03/ubuntu-unity-the-great-divider/

 

 

Ubuntu 11.04 Alternatives

The Ubuntu 11.04 Unity desktop is horrible. Thank goodness that Gnome classic is still a desktop choice at log in. While I love Ubuntu generally, I do not like Unity at all. If a reasonable gnome desktop is eliminated from Ubuntu, then I will simply move to one of the derivatives such as Xubuntu or Lubuntu. I have tried out both of these for 11.04 and both are perfectly acceptable and feature what I consider a more standard type of desktop. I did try Kubuntu 11.04, but it was a failure as the Kubuntu build of KDE crashes my system system with a panic when it tries to load the desktop. However loading the kde-standard package for a desktop choice under Ubuntu or one of the derivatives works. So, the Kubuntu issue must be a tweak that was made to that derivative only.

A good article about the problems with Unity.

Ubuntu 11.04 – disapointing

Ubuntu 11.04 is out and, while I am glad to get a updated version of my favorite Linux distribution, I am disappointed in one of the new changes.  Ubuntu now ships with Unity as its default desktop.   I HATE Unity.  It is Linux for complete morons.  I use Ubuntu because I love that it is a nice, polished, Debian based distro.  For me that also means that it uses a mature desktop, such as GNOME or KDE or Xfce.  I am definitely not in the mood to have a newcomer, immature, idiot desktop like Unity thrust upon me.  I have been using Linux since 1996 and am way, Way, WAY beyond such a dumbed down desktop as Unity.  I would have been happy to give GNOME3 a try, but they did not even present that as an install option – WHY NOT???   So, on Ubuntu 11.04 I chose the GNOME Classic desktop (GNOME 2.32) and pretend the other does not even exist.  I am very disappointed in this and hope it is not the beginning of Canonical and Ubuntu moving away from me as a user.   I will be taking some time now to test out the current build of some of the other Ubuntu derivatives such as Xubuntu and Kubuntu.   I really do like good Debian based Linux distributions and Ubuntu has always been the best for me, but if they continue down this road and do not make sure they provide good options for the experienced power user class of folks, then I am not beyond changing to another Linux distribution and saying goodbye to Ubuntu.  I believe that Unity will prove to be a fundamentally bad move for Ubuntu as its main choice of desktop.

Ubuntu+XAMPP+Python part 1

Do you have Ubuntu running on a system at home or work?  Have you ever wanted to run your own local web server or at least have one available for development work?   Have you ever wanted to craft your own web CGI scripts?  If you answer yes to these, then here is a serials of tutorials on how to get an Apache web server running quickly and easily on your Ubuntu system and how use Python to craft CGI scripts to run on it.

First, let’s get an Apache web server up and running.   Since this is targeted at people running Ubuntu desktop, rather than Ubuntu server, the very simplest way to install Apache is to do it via XAMPP.   XAMPP is a bundled, self-contained Apache web server distribution provided by Apache Friends that is complete and robust.  It includes  features here as listed from the website:

The distribution for Linux systems (tested for SuSE, RedHat, Mandrake and Debian) contains: Apache, MySQL, PHP & PEAR, Perl, ProFTPD, phpMyAdmin, OpenSSL, GD, Freetype2, libjpeg, libpng, gdbm, zlib, expat, Sablotron, libxml, Ming, Webalizer, pdf class, ncurses, mod_perl, FreeTDS, gettext, mcrypt, mhash, eAccelerator, SQLite and IMAP C-Client.

The XAMPP distribution is designed simply to be downloaded, unpacked, and run from a self-contained directory.   It does not modify your Ubuntu system at all and can be removed simply by deleting the folder that contains the installation.    Now, follow this link to the Apache Friends website and follow the directions for downloading and installing the XAMPP distribution, after reading the notes I provide here.  You will notice there are also instructions on securing the installation.  This is particularly important if you are using this for anything other than development purposes running on your personal system.  If this will be exposed to others, or the world, be sure to follow the instructions on making XAMPP secure.  Note:  Since this is being targeted for Ubuntu do not use the su command as stated in the XAMPP installations instructions.  Instead, you should install using this single line.

sudo  tar xvfz xampp-linux-1.7.3a.tar.gz -C /opt

XAMPP will be installed in the /opt/lampp folder.   To start it up, go to a shell prompt and type the following.  Again, sudo is required.

sudo /opt/lampp/lampp

Now, open you browser and give http://localhost as the address.  You will be presented with the default XAMPP webpage that is being served out by your local Apache web server.  I encourage you to play around with XAMPP for a while and explore your installation via the default page, then return here for the next installment of this series where we will look further at developing CGI scripts in Python.

Linux games! (didn’t you know?)

Yes, Virginia, there are Linux games and good ones too!
You might not be much into gaming, but hey, you might get bored one evening. Here are some good Linux games of various sorts. All for FREE.

Cool list of 5 great Linux games in 2010 (various). BTW, Dedoimedo is a great blog!
http://www.dedoimedo.com/games/linux-games-best.html

For those who LOVE WWII and the battles! Computer version of the classic boardgame Axis & Allies.
http://triplea.sourceforge.net. For all platforms, extract zip into a folder and run the OS appropriate OS triplea file.

Battle for Wesnoth. Turn based fantasy strategy game. Play the computer or others online.
Install version wesnoth-1.8 from the Ubuntu repostiory. http://www.wesnoth.org

Ubuntu comes with some solitare type games already loaded, but if you want many more then install PySol from the repository.
Includes many, many types of games including Majong and others, really worth installing.
http://pysolfc.sourceforge.net/

The opensource version of one of the best games of all time, Civilization, as FreeCiv.
Install freeciv from the Ubuntu repository.
http://freeciv.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

Science Day at TSU

Today was the annual Science Day at TSU (Tarleton State UniversityStephenville, TX). The amateur radio club, Tarleton Area ARC, takes the opportunity to set up our emergency power solar array and operate a ham radio station outside as a demonstration of both solar energy and radio technology. This same day is the day that new students and parents tour the campus, so we have lots of foot traffic passing by us. It is a good opportunity to educate the public about the solar energy and stir up some interest in amateur radio. We had quite a few people stop by to visit and it was a very successful event I felt. We operated from my Elecraft K2 QRP radio to a half-wave dipole for the 20 meter band. Very good contacts were made to Indiana and Iowa via SSB and PSK31. The only difficulty for the day was with a laptop running Ubuntu 10.10, which I have blogged about here. Many thanks to Larry Barr, K5WLF, for providing the solar energy setup and being my operating partner on the air.

bye bye Ubuntu 10.10

It is with a sad heart that I have backed up my files off of my laptop running Ubuntu 10.10, aka Maverick Meerkat, and reloaded from scratch with the previous version, 10.04, or 10.04.1 specifically. I have typically liked to keep up with the latest, greatest version of Ubuntu with the 6 month releases. In that vain, I upgraded my 10.04 system to 10.10 when it was released. I was not cetain there were any new features that I really needed, and 10.04 was working flawlessly for me, but I just went ahead and dove in headfirst and upgraded. That was a mistake. I immediately noticed some glitches in the screen savers and then discovered that there had been radical changes in the Bluetooth management. I often use Bluetooth to tether my 3G phone and surf the web. Under 10.04, the default Bluetooth manager would not handle this type of arrangement in a convenient way. So, all one had to do is install the Gnome default Bluetooth manager, blueman. It paired with the phone effortlessly this way and then the network manager was used to create a DUN dialup connection for the particular cellular provider. It worked perfectly. Ubuntu 10.10 broke blueman. The default network manager was redesigned to basically combine the functionality of blueman and also streamline the creation of the DUN connection for Mobile Broadband. Looked nice, but unfortunately did not work well at all. It absolutely refused to easily pair to the phone without repeated pairing attempts and then when I finally got it to pair and created the Mobile Broadband connection and get on the web, it would not seem to hold its settings requiring a complete recreation of the connection settings every time I wanted to use it. I needed this to work for me out in the field today and it failed me, causing me much lost time and effort. This upgrade was a REGRESSION! Yes, the dreaded “R” word. I should have know that this release was not going to be a good thing when both I and a friend experienced strange behavior post upgrade to 10.10 on very different systems. Then within days, Ubuntu was pushing down over 400 megabytes of sudden critical updates. Seemed strange at the time, but now I know why – 10.10 was broken, still is in some ways as I have described. I learned a serious lesson this time. Never upgrade and good, stable LTS edition of Ubuntu for the latest greatest 6 month release without thoroughly testing the new release on a separate system. So, I post this blog from a nice freshly installed 10.04.1 build of Ubuntu. Goodbye Maverick Meerkat, it was not nice getting to know you. May you be eaten by a Jackal.

FOSS Encryption Software

I have been using EncryptionPlus Hard Disk encryption software at work now for encrypting laptops (per corporate security policies) for over six years now.   The product has work reasonably well.  Aside from personal file and email encryption products such as GPG, I was unaware of any FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) full disk encryption systems similar to what I had been using at work, until a coworker brought TrueCrypt to my attention.   I have read the documentation and it seems perfectly capable for what I need so I am going to give it a try.  My laptop is unencrypting right now and EncryptionPlus will be uninstalled.   What makes me want to try this out is not just that TrueCrypt is FOSS, but also that I could not previously have a Wubi install of Ubuntu on this laptop while it was encrypted with the EPHD product – the Wubi Ubuntu would not boot.   Once this finishes unencrypting and EPHD is gone, I will once again do a Wubi install of Ubuntu and then try TrueCrypt and see if every thing works.   I will let the blogosphere know how this progresses!

Update — did the operation as described above. Wubi still did not work, but that now makes sense to me and I don’t think that could have worked. However, TrueCrypt itself is working wonderfully! I really like this product. I did a full disk encryption on a 75GB disk and it took much less than two hours. Also, the documentation for the software if very thorough. It is amazing that such a good system is FOSS!

Final Update — I could not be more pleased with TrueCrypt. I will highly recommend it to all my geek friends! :-)

HOWTO – Ububtu, a customizable Compose Key System

In my previous blog entry, I introduced both Unicode character entry and Compose Key entry of special characters.  One thing that becomes apparent is that there might be some characters or symbols missing from the default GTK+ code in Gnome.   Unfortunately, this is in compiled code and cannot be changed.  One option is to use Compose Key sequences for most special character entries and Unicode character entry for the occasional odd symbol.  However, if that “odd symbol” is one you intend to use often, you might wish you had a Compose Key sequence for it.   This can be accomplished, at a small price.

Situation, say you are an electronics enthusiast and have a need to type the Ohms symbol, Ω, quite often.  This symbol is not in the default GTK+ Compose Key sequences, and there is no way to add them easily into that source.   An option is to use the <Shft><Ctrl><u>03A9 Unicode method entry to get the Ohms symbol.  Sure, this works fine, but could be tedious if done on a regular basis.  What we need is a way to get this into a nice, intuitive, Compose Key sequence.  The solution is to take advantage of the fact that there is an alternate source for the Compose Key definition table and that this can be modified to add in missing symbols that you may need to use often.   This is the .XCompose file, which I will show here how to create and edit.

The method we will use is to override the default Gnome method with the orignal Xwindow method, which is also available on your system, but must be configured and activated.  It is called the Xwindow Input Method (XIM).  The system must be told to use this method instead by setting the GTK_IM_MODULE environment variable.   This is done with the following command from the shell prompt:

export GTK_IM_MODULE="xim"

For this environment variable setting to be automatically set every time you log into the system, add this line to the .gnomerc or .Xsession file in your home directory.  If these files do not exist, then create one (.gnomerc) by entering the following text in any text editor and saving the file as .gnomerc (do not neglect to include the leading dot!):

#!/bin/bash
export GTK_IM_MODULE=”xim”

Next, you want your own copy of the XIM Compose Key file to have and modify to your own liking.   We do this by copying a system copy of the file to our home directory and giving it the name .XCompose (this file name is CASE SENSITIVE!):

cp /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose ~/.XCompose

Finally, you will want to edit your .XCompose file to add in the symbols and keybindings  you are interested in.   For instance, here are the lines I added to bind the Unicode 03A9 for the Ohms symbol to <Multi_key> (AltGR in my case, whatever you have set as your Compose Key in your case) <o><m> (get it?) and <m><o>, also some other symbols I find handy.

<Multi_key> <o> <m>                   : “Ω”   U03A9 # OHM SYMBOL
<Multi_key> <p> <i>                    : “π”   U03C0 # PI SYMBOL
<Multi_key> <d> <t>                    : “Δ”   U0394 # DELTA SYMBOL

Is there a downside to overriding the default Gnome GTK+ Compose Key tables?  Yes, there is.  You loose the <Shft><Ctrl><u> keybinding to be able to do Unicode entry anywhere in the Gnome interface.  However, if your aim is to exclusively use Compose Key sequences and to update your data table to include any missing ones you might need, then it is not a bad trade off.

Finally, a tip on editing the .XCompose file.  Just how do you enter a represenation of the missing symbol into the file if you have already activated XIM which disables the <Shft><Ctrl><u> Unicode entry method?  Edit the file in an editor such as Vi that has its own Unicode entry method or use the Gnome “Character Map” utility to get a copy of the symbol into an editor that does not have a method of its own.   In Vi (or Vim), go into text insert mode and type <Ctrl><v><u>+unicode to enter Unicode symbols.

Once you have set the environment variable and created your file, log out and then back in to activate everything and you are all set to have a Compose Key system that you can customize to suit your own needs.

Much of this information was extracted from the following source and should be referred to for further information on the subject:
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/ComposeKey

HOWTO – Ubuntu special characters

In Ubuntu, if you want to type any Unicode character, do so my holding down Shift+Ctrl+U then the unicode for the needed character.  Shift+Ctrl+U gives you an underlined u and you type the code and hit <enter>.  Works in every application I have tried.

example:

Shift+Ctrl+U 00f4 results in ô
Shift+Ctrl+U 00e1 results in á

Of course, you have to know the Unicodes.  This chart will help  http://www.alanwood.net/demos/ansi.html

Also, you can use the COMPOSE KEY!

Addition information on configuring a compose key sequence and its use can be found here:  https://help.ubuntu.com/community/ComposeKey

I defined my compose key to be the Right-Alt key on Ubuntu 10.04 like this:

System>Preferences>Keyboard>Layouts>Options>Compose key position>Right Alt

Good list of compose key combinations to get all the weird, odd and desperately needed characters you want:  http://www.seedwiki.com/wiki/takomapark/compose2

Wikipedia entry on Compose key:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compose_key

Another blogger’s nice short write up on using compose keys:  http://sivers.org/compose-key

Finally, for Windows users who would like to have Unix/Linux style compose key functionality this program works well and is free:  AllChars

Ubuntu, when things go badly – Synaptic HOWTO

This is good information for anyone who is going to be managing an Ubuntu system.

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SynapticHowto

also good documentation on using the shell interface for Apt

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/AptGet/Howto

I had a 9.10 to 10.04 upgrade break due to an internet failure during the process.   The following is from the SynapticHowto.  The upgrade was so broken that it was leaving me at a shell prompt to login, the Gnome desktop was not loading automatically and the Update Manager would not finish the upgrade.  I did the following and it saved my upgrade and got everything working properly.

Broken Upgrade or Installation

  • What to do if an installation process fails and you find it is no longer possible to install or remove packages:
  • Open a Terminal and type the following commands, pressing the Return or Enter key after each (you may have to type in your password):
     sudo dpkg --configure -a
     sudo apt-get install -f