Archive for December, 2009

Setting up an LVM for Storage

December 30th, 2009 5 comments

Recently, I installed Kubuntu on my PC. Under Windows, I had used RAID1 array to create a storage volume out of two extra 500GB hard drives that I have in my system. Under Linux, I’ve decided to try creating a 1TB LVM out of the drives instead. This should be visible as a single drive, and allow me to store non-essential media files and home partition backups on a separate physical drive, the better to recover from catastrophic failures with. The only problem with this plan: documentation detailing the process of creating an LVM is sparse at best.

The Drive Situation
My machine contains the following drives, which are visible in the /dev directory:

  • sdc: root drive that contains three partitions; 1, 2, and 5, which are my boot, root, and swap partitions respectively
  • sda: 500GB SATA candidate drive that I’d like to add to the LVM
  • sdb: 500GB SATA candidate drive that I’d like to add to the LVM

First Try
Coming from a Windows background, I began by searching out a graphical tool for the job. I found one in my repositories called system-config-lvm 1.1.4.

The graphical tool that I found to create LVMs

I followed the buttons in this tool and created a 1TB LVM spanning sda and sdb, then formatted it with ext3. The result of these steps was an uninitialised LVM that refused to mount at boot. In response, I wrote the following script to activate, mount, and assign permissions to the drive at boot:

sudo whoami
sudo lvchange -a y /dev/Storage/Storage
sudo mount /dev/Storage/Storage /home/jon/Storage
sudo chown jon /home/jon/Storage
sudo chmod 777 /home/jon/Storage

It worked about 50% of the time. Frustrated, I headed over to the #kubuntu IRC channel to find a better solution.

Second Try
On the #kubuntu channel, I got help from a fellow who walked me through the correct creation process from the command line. The steps are as follows:

  1. Create identical partitions on sda and sdb:
    1. sudo fdisk /dev/sda
    2. n to create a new partition on the disk
    3. p to make this the primary partition
    4. 1 to give the partition the number 1 as an identifier. It will then appear as sda1 under /dev
    5. Assign first and last cylinders – I simply used the default values for these options, as I want the partition to span the entire drive
    6. t toggle the type of partition to create
    7. 8e is the hex code for a Linux LVM
    8. w to write your changes to the disk. This will (obviously) overwrite any data on the disk
    9. Repeat steps 1 through 8 for /dev/sdb
    10. Both disks now have partition tables that span their entirety, but neither has been formatted (that step comes later).
  2. Make the partitions available to the LVM:
    1. sudo pvcreate /dev/sda1
    2. sudo pvcreate /dev/sdb1
    3. Notice that the two previous steps addressed the partitions sda1 and sdb1 that we created earlier
  3. Create the Volume Group that will contain our disks:
    1. sudo vgcreate storage /dev/sda1 /dev/sdb1 will create the volume group that spans the two partitions sda1 and sdb1
    2. sudo vgdisplay /dev/storage queries the newly created volume group. In particular, we want the VG Size property. In my case, it is 931.52 GB
  4. Create a Logical Volume from the Volume Group:
    1. sudo lvcreate -L $size(M or G) -n $name $path where $size is the value of the VG Size property from above (G for gigabytes, M for megabytes), $name is the name you’d like to give the new Logical Volume, and $path is the path to the Volume Group that we made in the previous step. My finished command looked like sudo lvcreate -L 931G -n storage dev/storage
    2. sudo lvdisplay /dev/storage queries our new Logical Volume. Taking a look at the LV Size property shows that the ‘storage’ is a 931GB volume.
  5. Put a file system on the Logical Volume ‘storage’:
    1. sudo mkfs.ext4 -L $name -j /dev/storage/storage will put an ext4 file system onto the Logical Volume ‘storage’ with the label $name. I used the label ‘storage’ for mine, just to keep things simple, but you can use whatever you like. Note that this process takes a minute or two, as it has to write all of the inode tables for the new file system. You can use mkfs.ext2 or mkfs.ext3 instead of this command if you want to use a different file system.
  6. Add an fstab entry for ‘storage’ so that it gets mounted on boot:
    1. sudo nano /etc/fstab to open the fstab file in nano with root permissions
    2. Add the line /dev/storage/storage    /home/jon/Storage       ext4    defaults        0       0 at the end of the file, where all of the spaces are tabs. This will cause the system to mount the Logical Volume ‘storage’ to the folder /home/jon/Storage on boot. Check out the wikipedia article on fstab for more information about specific mounting options.
    3. ctrl+x to exit nano
    4. y to write changes to disk
  7. Change the owner of ‘storage’ so that you have read/write access to the LVM
    1. sudo chown -R jon:jon /home/jon/Storage will give ownership to the disk mounted at /home/jon/Storage to the user ‘jon’

Time for a Beer
Whew, that was a lot of work! If all went well, we have managed to create a Logical Volume called storage that spans both sda and sdb, and is formatted with the ext4 file system. This volume will be mounted at boot to the folder Storage in my home directory, allowing me to dump non-essential media files like my music collection and system backups to a large disk that is physically separate from my system partitions.

The final step is to reboot the system, navigate to /home/jon/Storage (or wherever you set the boot point for the LVM in step 6), right-click, and hit properties. At the bottom of the properties dialog, beside ‘Device Usage,’ I can see that the folder in question has 869GB free of a total size of 916GB, which means that the system correctly mounted the LVM on boot. Congratulations to me!

Much thanks to the user ikonia on the #kubuntu IRC channel for all the help.

This piece has been mirrored at Index out of Bounds

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

XBMC Camelot

December 28th, 2009 3 comments

In my daily RSS feeds I read about the release of the newest version of XBMC, formally the Xbox Media Center, so I decided to check it out.

While the maintainers do not specifically support Fedora with pre-built RPMs, they do offer instructions on how to build it from source here. Even so, I did run into a couple of little problems along the way. For example on the step that says to enter

*sudo ln -s /usr/lib/mysql/ /usr/lib/
*sudo ln -s /usr/lib64/mysql/ /usr/lib64/

depending on if you are running the x86 or x64 version of Fedora, I needed to change this to say

sudo ln -s /usr/lib64/mysql/ /usr/lib64/

because that is the current version of my library. In addition running


failed due to an error with OpenSSL, specifically its lack of something called “openssl/ecdsa.h”. I managed to fix this by altering the source code according to the patch found here. Then before re-running ./configure I had to run

autoreconf –force –install

(that’s two dashes in front of force and install!) from within xbmc/cores/dvdplayer/Codecs/libbnav. Once that was done the ./configure ran smoothly. From then on I simply followed the rest of the instructions and I was in business!

There really is only one word to describe this version of XBMC: AWESOME!

It picked up my pictures, videos and music from all of my network shares and local drives without issue. The user interface is absolutely stunning as well. At one point I had Star Wars playing in the background (still in view) while navigating beautifully rendered and slightly transparent menus to adjust other system settings. It can even be configured to pull down information about the movies from the Internet, including who stars in it and what the plot is. The music playback is similar and offers a variety of visualizers for your viewing pleasure. The picture options allows for very neat slideshows, accompanied by your own music playing in the background, which would be great for atmosphere at a party.

From Wikipedia here are just some of the features supported by this release:

  • Physical media: CDs, DVDs, DVD-Video, Video CDs (including VCD/SVCD/XVCD), Audio-CD (CDDA), USB Flash Drives, and Hard Disk Drives
  • Container formats: AVI, MPEG, WMV, ASF, FLV, Matroska, QuickTime, MP4, M4A, AAC, NUT, Ogg, OGM, RealMedia RAM/RM/RV/RA/RMVB, 3gp, VIVO, PVA, NUV, NSV, NSA, FLI, FLC, and DVR-MS (beta support)
  • Video formats: MPEG-1, MPEG-2, H.263, MPEG-4 SP and ASP, MPEG-4 AVC (H.264), HuffYUV, Indeo, MJPEG, RealVideo, RMVB, Sorenson, WMV, Cinepak
  • Audio formats: MIDI, AIFF, WAV/WAVE, MP2, MP3, AAC, AACplus, AC3, DTS, ALAC, AMR, FLAC, Monkey’s Audio (APE), RealAudio, SHN, WavPack, MPC/Musepack/Mpeg+, Speex, Vorbis and WMA
  • Digital picture/image formats: RAW image formats, BMP, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, MNG, ICO, PCX and Targa/TGA
  • Subtitle formats: AQTitle, ASS/SSA, CC, JACOsub, MicroDVD, MPsub, OGM, PJS, RT, SMI, SRT, SUB, VOBsub, VPlayer
  • Metadata tags: APEv1, APEv2, ID3 (ID3v1 and ID3v2), ID666 and Vorbis comments for audio file formats, Exif and IPTC (including GeoTagging) for image file formats

For a sampling of the beautiful new interface check out their official wiki here. I apologize for this sounding a lot like an advertisement but in all honesty I am floored by how impressive this application is and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet home theater setup. Try it out now!

AQTitle, ASS/SSA, CC, JACOsub, MicroDVD, MPsub, OGM, PJS, RT, SMI, SRT, SUB, VOBsub, VPlayer

I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).

Happy Holidays!

December 25th, 2009 2 comments

Check out that quality hat

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Jon F Tags: ,

Linux Saves the Day

December 23rd, 2009 5 comments

Earlier this week I had an experience where using Linux got me out of trouble in a relatively quick and easy manner. The catch? It was kind of Linux’s fault that I was in trouble in the first place.

Around halfway through November my Linux install on my laptop crapped out, and really fucked things up hard. However, my Windows install wasn’t affected, so I started using Windows on my laptop primarily, while switching to an openSUSE VM on my desktop for my home computing needs.

About a week back I decided it was time to reinstall Linux on my laptop, since exams and my 600 hojillion final projects were out of the way. I booted into Win7, nuked the partitions being used by Linux and… went and got some pizza and forgot to finish my install. Turns out I hadn’t restarted my PC anywhere between that day and when shit hit the fan. When I did restart, I was informed to the merry tune of a PC Speaker screech that my computer had no bootable media.

… Well shit.

My first reaction was to try again, my second was to check to make sure the hard drive was plugged in firmly. After doing this a few times, I was so enraged about my lost data that I was about ready to repave the whole drive when I had the good sense to throw in a BartPE live CD and check to see if there was any data left on the drive. To my elation, all of my data was still in tact! It was at this precise moment I thought to myself “Oh drat, I bet I uninstalled that darned GRUB bootloader. Fiddlesticks!”

However, all was not lost. I know that Linux is great and is capable of finding other OS installs during its install and setting them up in GRUB without me having to look around for a windows boot point and do it myself. 20 minutes and an openSUSE install later, everything was back to normal on my laptop, Win7 and openSUSE 11.1 included!

As we speak I’m attempting an in-place upgrade to openSUSE 11.2 so hopefully I get lucky and everything goes smoothly!

Going Linux, Once and for All

December 23rd, 2009 7 comments

With the linux experiment coming to an end, and my Vista PC requiring a reinstall, I decided to take the leap and go all linux all the time. To that end, I’ve installed Kubuntu on my desktop PC.

I would like to be able to report that the Kubuntu install experience was better than the Debian one, or even on par with a Windows install. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.

My machine contains three 500GB hard drives. One is used as the system drive, while an integrated hardware RAID controller binds the other two together as a RAID1 array. Under Windows, this setup worked perfectly. Under Kubuntu, it crashed the graphical installer, and threw the text-based installer into fits of rage.

With plenty of help from the #kubuntu IRC channel on freenode, I managed to complete the Kubuntu install by running it with the two RAID drives disconnected from the motherboard. After finishing the install, I shut down, reconnected the RAID drives, and booted back up. At this point, the RAID drives were visible from Dolphin, but appeared as two discrete drives.

It was explained to me via this article that the hardware RAID support that I had always enjoyed under windows was in fact a ‘fake RAID,’ and is not supported on Linux. Instead, I need to reformat the two drives, and then link them together with a software RAID. More on that process in a later post, once I figure out how to actually do it.

At this point, I have my desktop back up and running, reasonably customized, and looking good. After trying KDE’s default Amarok media player and failing to figure out how to properly import an m3u playlist, I opted to use Gnome’s Banshee player for the time being instead. It is a predictable yet stable iTunes clone that has proved more than capable of handling my library for the time being. I will probably look into Amarok and a few other media players in the future. On that note, if you’re having trouble playing your MP3 files on Linux, check out this post on the ubuntu forums for information about a few of the necessary GStreamer plugins.

For now, my main tasks include setting up my RAID array, getting my ergonomic bluetooth wireless mouse working, and working out folder and printer sharing on our local Windows network. In addition, I would like to set up a Windows XP image inside of Sun’s Virtual Box so that I can continue to use Microsoft Visual Studio, the only Windows application that I’ve yet to find a Linux replacement for.

This is just the beginning of the next chapter of my own personal Linux experiment; stay tuned for more excitement.

This post first appeared at Index out of Bounds.

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Over one month later and I STILL cannot install Fedora 12

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

Thanks to incompatibilities with ATI’s catalyst drivers and the newest version of Xorg used in Fedora I am still unable to install Fedora 12 on my machine. Yes, I know there are open source alternatives but frankly they don’t work well and actually caused my system to be unstable during the brief period I did use them.

I had really hoped that I would be able to try out Fedora 12 in a meaningful way before the end of this experiment but I just don’t see that happening…

I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).

Linux: 12 Weeks of School Later

December 20th, 2009 No comments

Finished Exams

Rather than just copy Sasha’s previous post, I will do my best to try and tell the story through the eyes of a Computer Science undergrad. Now that I have finally finished my exams for this term I can safely say that Linux has not impeded my coursework and in fact has given me quite a seamless user experience.

Web Development

Designing websites and creating server side programs has been an absolute delight in Linux. Unlike within Windows, I can easily mount a remote SSH server as a browsable folder in my file system in Linux, making additional file transfer programs unnecessary. This lets me edit the files in my favourite editor, which more often than not was just KWrite, and then watch as they updated on the remote server with a simple click of the save button.

Graphics Programming

For a different course I was required to program 3D graphics in OpenGL. On Windows my professor had recommended Dev-C++, a program I am familiar with but not exactly a fan of. Thankfully we weren’t doing anything platform specific and thus I was able to make use of the exact same OpenGL and GLUT libraries to get the job done on Linux. As a replacement for Dev-C++ I started with Eclipse but eventually settled on MonoDevelop as my IDE of choice. Even better I was able to share the exact same code with a fellow classmate for our group project, which he was in turn able to compile on Windows in Dev-C++ with no modification whatsoever!

Pretty Standard Stuff

The rest of my time spent at University was of pretty standard fare: note taking, web browsing, e-mailing, instant messaging, assignments, etc. Linux performed superbly at these tasks as well and handled everything I could think to throw at it – even our school’s insane Wi-Fi network configuration.

Three Months of School Later

And there you have it. My experience with Linux during my term at school has been, like Sasha’s, excellent. For those of you out there worried that trying out Linux will impact your school or work or have concerns that you won’t be able to find replacements for your generally Windows or Mac centric worlds, I can attest to the exact opposite being true. Give Linux a shot, it might even make you more productive! Hell, you just might even like it 😉

I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).

Debian Device Driver Check

December 19th, 2009 No comments

Just wanted to bring this website that I found today to everybody’s attention. It’s an online tool that checks if your hardware is supported by Debian. All you need to do is boot the target system from a live CD, type lspci -n at the command line, and paste the output into the text field on the site.

The system then checks a database to see if each of your devices is supported, and gives you a handy readout that shows which drivers you should use for each device. Because Debian is so strict about free software (as in speech, not as in beer), if your hardware passes this test, you should be able to find open sourced drivers that will allow any distribution to run on it.

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Wait, that can’t be right

December 17th, 2009 1 comment

I found an interesting bug in Mint today. It happened after I changed my monitor setup without restarting X. It looks like my panel froze with whatever programs were open earlier. What makes this interesting is that the system continue to add items to the panel without refreshing the graphics.

I like Firefox's old logo

I like Firefox’s old logo

This doesn't look like Kate to me!

This doesn’t look like Kate to me!

Categories: Sasha D Tags:

Linux Mint Helena: C’est fantastique!

December 16th, 2009 No comments

Last night I upgraded to Linux Mint 8 (Helena), x64 edition. Based on Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), Helena has so far proven to be absolutely great and the panacea to my Linux problems. By far most of my issues with Gloria seemed to come from hardware incompatibility. Well, those are all in the past now.


There was a minor issue in Gloria with regards to my computer’s sound. Basically, although my laptop’s volume had something like 15 increments, Gloria shoehorned those into four categories: Really Goddamn Loud, Loud, Barely Audible, and Mute. That is no longer the case – I finally have the full spectrum of sound available on my laptop. At last, I can stream terrible YouTube videos and listen to them in the coffee lounge without being worried what the people ten tables down from me think!


First off, I have to compliment the appearance of Helena. The default theme is slick and very easy on the eyes, and the default background is excellent. I have approximately 50 wallpapers on my computer, and the fact that I haven’t changed it out of an ADD fit really speaks for the choice.

Now, onto more interesting matters: my media players work, my monitor works, and everything works damn well. In an earlier post, I documented Mint’s inability to take advantage of my brand new 1080p monitor. Unlike my previous experience, changing resolutions was a breeze and – most importantly – my monitor finally worked in full 1080p glory. At last, everything looks absolutely gorgeous. Watching videos has also been a much smoother experience in Helena. I’m not having any difficulty jumping to random spots in video files – previously, this would do anything between slowing down the video temporarily to crashing the media player. (As a note, I have no idea if Helena is actually responsible for “fixing” that last bit, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here).

Other bugs

The desktop shift that I occasionally complain about is nowhere to be seen… yet. I never could figure out how to recreate it, so I can’t definitively say whether it has disappeared.

Compliments to the Mint people

Having seen what the open source community can do to improve and support a product, I have to say I’m extremely impressed with the work they’ve done. Just last week I stated that I would probably run a dual boot with Windows 7 as my primary system and Mint or Ubuntu as my secondary system. Well, after installing and using Helena, I have to say I’m strongly considering sticking with Mint and possibly having Windows 7 as a secondary OS for compatibility issues. I can definitely say that I wasn’t expecting a free operating system to work as well as this one does. Bravo.

Categories: GNOME, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

How is it doing that?

December 15th, 2009 13 comments

Just about everything that I’ve ever read about media playback on Linux has been negative. As I understand the situation, the general consensus of the internet is that Linux should not be relied on to play media of any kind. Further, I know that the other guys have had troubles with video playback in the past.

All of which added up to me being extremely confused when I accidentally discovered that my system takes video playback like a champ. Now from the outset, you should know that my system is extremely underpowered where high definition video playback is concerned. I’m running Debian testing on a laptop with a 1.73 GHz single-core processor, 758MB shared video RAM, and a 128MB Intel GMA 900 integrated graphics card.

Incredibly enough, it turns out that this humble setup is capable of playing almost every video file that I can find, even with compiz effects fully enabled and just a base install of vlc media player.

Most impressively, the machine can flawlessly stream a 1280x528px 1536kb/s *.mkv file over my wireless network.

As a comparison, I have a Windows Vista machine with a 2.3GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 512MB video card upstairs that can’t play the same file without special codecs and the help of a program called CoreAVC. Even with these, it plays the file imperfectly.

I can’t explain how this is possible, but needless to say, I am astounded at the ability of Linux.

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Phoenix Rising

December 12th, 2009 3 comments

As we prepare to bring The Linux Experiment to a close over the coming weeks, I find that this has been a time of (mostly solemn) reflection for myself and others.  At the very least, it’s been an interesting experience with various flavours of Linux and what it has to offer.  At its peak, it’s been a roller-coaster of controversial posts (my bad), positive experiences, and the urge to shatter our screens into pieces.

Let me share with you some of the things I’ve personally taken away from this experiment over the last three-and-a-half months.

Fedora 12 is on the bleeding edge of Linux development

This has been a point of discussion on both of our podcasts at this point, and a particular sore spot with both myself and Tyler.  It’s come to a place wherein I’m sort of… afraid to perform updates to my system out of fear of just bricking it entirely.  While this is admittedly something that could happen under any operating system and any platform, it’s never been as bad for me as it has been under Fedora 12.

As an example, the last *six* kernel updates for me to both Fedora 11 and 12 combined have completely broken graphics capability with my adapter (a GeForce 8600 M GS).  Yes, I know that the Fedora development team is not responsible for ensuring that my graphics card works with their operating system – but this is not something the average user should have to worry about.  Tyler has also had this issue, and I think would tend to agree with me.

Linux is fun, too

Though there have been so many frustrating moments over the last four months that I have been tempted to just format everything and go back to my native Windows 7 (previously: release candidate, now RTM).  Through all of this though, Fedora – and Linux in general – has never stopped interesting me.

This could just be due to the fact that I’ve been learning so much – I can definitely do a lot more now than I ever could before under a Linux environment, and am reasonably pleased with this – but I’ve never sat down on my laptop and been bored to play around with getting stuff to work.  In addition, with some software (such as Wine or CrossOver) I’ve been able to get a number of Windows games working as well.  Linux can play, too!

Customizing my UI has also been a very nice experience.  It looks roughly like Sasha’s now – no bottom panel, GnomeDo with Docky, and Compiz effects… it’s quite pretty now.

There’s always another way

If there’s one thing I’ve chosen to take away from this experiment it’s that there is ALWAYS some kind of alternative to any of my problems, or anything I can do under another platform or operating system.  Cisco VPN client won’t install under Wine, nor will the Linux client version?  BAM, say hello to vpnc.

Need a comprehensive messaging platform with support for multiple services?  Welcome Pidgin into the ring.

No, I still can’t do everything I could do in Windows… but I’m sure, given enough time, I could make Fedora 12 an extremely viable alternative to Windows 7 for me.

The long and short of it

There’s a reason I’ve chosen my clever and rather cliche title for this post.  According to lore, a phoenix is a bird that would rise up from its own ashes in a rebirth cycle after igniting its nest at the end of a life cycle.  So is the case for Fedora 12 and my experience with Linux.

At this point, I could not see myself continuing my tenure with the Fedora operating system.  For a Linux user with my relatively low level of experience, it is too advanced and too likely to brick itself with a round of updates to be viable for me. Perhaps after quite a bit more experience with Linux on the whole, I could revisit it – but not for a good long while.  This is not to say it’s unstable – it’s been rock solid, never crashing once – but it’s just not for me.

To that end, Fedora 12 rests after a long and interest-filled tenure with me.  Rising from the ashes is a new user in the world of Linux – me.  I can say with confidence that I will be experimenting with Linux distributions in the future – maybe dipping my feet in the somewhat familiar waters of Ubuntu once more before wading into the deep-end.

Watch out, Linux community… here I come.

Categories: Dana H, Fedora, God Damnit Linux, Linux Tags:

A Tale of Two Fonts

December 10th, 2009 3 comments
Hey, where'd my text go?

Hey, where'd my text go?

I set my system font to Dingbat, which worked perfectly in every application except for Open Office. The strange part is that the font worked just fine in all of the other programs that I have installed. Silly OpenOffice.

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

This… looks… awesome!

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Looks being the key word there because I haven’t actually been able to successfully run either of  these seemingly awesome pieces of software.

Amahi is the name of an open source software collection, for lack of a better term, that resembles what Windows Home Server has to offer. I first came across this while listening to an episode of Going Linux (I think it was episode #85 but I can’t remember anymore!) and instantly looked it up. Here is a quick rundown of what Amahi offers for you:

  • Currently built on top of Fedora 10, but they are hoping to move it to the most recent version of Ubuntu
  • Audio streaming to various apps like iTunes and Rhythmbox over your home network
  • Media streaming to other networked appliances including the Xbox 360
  • Acts as a NAS and can even act as a professional grade DHCP server (taking over the job from your router) making things even easier
  • Built in VPN so that you can securely connect to your home network from remote locations
  • SMB and NFS file sharing for your whole network
  • Provides smart feedback of your drives and system, including things like disk space and temperature
  • Built-in Wiki so that you can easily organize yourself with your fellow co-workers, roommates or family members
  • Allows you to use the server as a place to automate backups to
  • Windows, Mac & Linux calendar integration, letting you share a single calendar with everyone on the network
  • Implements the OpenSearch protocol so that you can add the server as a search location in your favorite browser. This lets you search your server files from right within your web browser!
  • Includes an always-on BitTorrent client that lets you drop torrent files onto the server and have it download them for you
  • Supports all Linux file systems and can also read/write to FAT32 and read from NTFS.
  • Sports a plugin architecture that lets developers expand the platform in new and exciting ways
  • Inherits all of the features from Fedora 10
  • Finally Amahi offers a free DNS service so you only have to remember a web address, not your changing home IP address

FreeNAS is a similar product, although I use that term semi-loosely seeing as it is also open source, except instead of being based on Linux, FreeNAS is currently based on FreeBSD 7.2. Plans are currently in the works to fork the project and build a parallel Linux based version. Unlike Amahi, FreeNAS sticks closer to the true definition of a NAS and only includes a few additional features in the base install, letting the user truly customize it to their needs. Installed it can take up less than 64MB of disk space. It can (through extensions) include the following features:

  • SMB and NFS as well as TFTP, FTP, SSH, rsync, AFP, and UPnP
  • Media streaming support for iTunes and Xbox 360
  • BitTorrent support allowing you to centralize your torrenting
  • Built-in support for Dynamic DNS through major players like DynDNS, etc.
  • Includes full support for ZFS, UFS, ext2, ext3. Can also fully use FAT32 (just not install to), and can read from NTFS formatted drives.
  • Small enough footprint to boot from a USB drive
  • Many supported hardware and software RAID levels
  • Full disk encryption via geli

Both of these can be fully operated via a web browser interface and seem very powerful. Unfortunately I was unable to get either up and running inside of a VirtualBox environment. While I recognize that I could just install a regular Linux machine and then add most of these features myself, it is nice to see projects like that package them in for ease of use.

This is definitely something that I will be looking more closely at in the future; you know once these pesky exams are finished. In the mean time if anyone has any experience with either of these I would love to hear about it.


While publishing this, the folks over at Amahi sent out an e-mail detailing many new improvements. Turns out they released a new version now based on Fedora 12. Here are their notable improvements:

  • Amahi in the cloud! This release has support for VPS servers (Virtual Private Servers).
  • Major performance and memory improvements, providing a much faster web interface and a 30% smaller memory footprint.
  • Based on Fedora 12, with optimizations for Atom processors built-in, preliminary support in SAMBA for PDC (Primary Domain Controller) with Windows 7 clients and much more.
  • Completely revamped web-based installer.
  • Users are more easily and securely setup now, the with password-protected pages and admin users.
  • Brand new architecture, with future growth in mind, supporting more types of apps, and more importantly, bring us closer to supporting Ubuntu and other platforms. Over 100+ apps are working in this release out of the gates!

It all sounds great. I will be looking into this new version as soon as I have a moment to do so.

I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).

Coming to Grips with Reality

December 8th, 2009 No comments

The following is a cautionary tale about putting more trust in the software installed on your system than in your own knowledge.

Recently, while preparing for a big presentation that relied on me running a Java applet in Iceweasel, I discovered that I needed to install an additional package to make it work. This being nothing out of the ordinary, I opened up a terminal, and used apt-cache search to locate the package in question. Upon doing so, my system notified me that I had well over 50 ‘unnecessary’ packages installed. It recommended that I take care of the issue with the apt-get autoremove command.

Bad idea.

On restart, I found that my system was virtually destroyed. It seemed to start X11, but refused to give me either a terminal or a gdm login prompt. After booting into Debian’s rescue mode and messing about in the terminal for some time trying to fix a few circular dependencies and get my system back, I decided that it wasn’t worth my time, backed up my files with an Ubuntu live disk, and reinstalled from a netinst nightly build disk of the testing repositories. (Whew, that was a long sentence)

Unfortunately, just as soon as I rebooted from the install, I found that my system lacked a graphical display manager, and that I could only log in to my terminal, even though I had explicitly told the installer to add GNOME to my system. I headed over to #debian for some help, and found out that the testing repositories were broken, and that my system lacked gdm for some unknown reason. After following their instructions to work around the problem, I got my desktop back, and once more have a fully functioning system.

The moral of the story is a hard one for me to swallow. You see, I have come to the revelation that I don’t know what I’m doing. Over the course of the last 3 months, I have learned an awful lot about running and maintaining a Linux system, but I still lack the ability to fix even the simplest of problems without running for help. Sure, I can install and configure a Debian box like nobody’s business, having done it about 5 times since this experiment started; but I still lack the ability to diagnose a catastrophic failure and to recover from it without a good dose of help. I have also realized something that as a software developer, I know and should have been paying attention to when I used that fatal autoremove command – when something seems wrong, trust your instincts over your software, because they’re usually correct.

This entire experiment has been a huge learning experience for me. I installed an operating system that I had never used before, and eschewed the user-friendly Ubuntu for Debian, a distribution that adheres strictly to free software ideals and isn’t nearly as easy for beginners to use. That done, after a month of experience, I switched over from the stable version of Debian to the testing repositories, figuring that it would net me some newer software that occasionally worked better (especially in the case of Open Office and Gnome Network Manager), and some experience with running a somewhat less stable system. I certainly got what I wished for.

Overall, I don’t regret a thing, and I intend to keep the testing repositories installed on my laptop. I don’t usually use it for anything but note taking in class, so as long as I back it up regularly, I don’t mind if it breaks on occasion; I enjoy learning new things, and Debian keeps me on my toes. In addition, I think that I’ll install Kubuntu on my desktop machine when this whole thing is over.  I like Debian a lot, but I’ve heard good things about Ubuntu and its variants, and feel that I should give them a try now that I’ve had my taste of what a distribution that isn’t written with beginners in mind is like. I have been very impressed by Linux, and have no doubts that it will become a major part of my computing experience, if not replacing Windows entirely – but I recognize that I still have a long way to go before I’ve really accomplished my goals.

As an afterthought: If anybody is familiar with some good tutorials for somebody who has basic knowledge but needs to learn more about what’s going on below the surface of a Linux install, please recommend them to me.

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Successfully completing a school semester with Linux

December 5th, 2009 10 comments

For those of you who have read my profile, you know that I’m finishing up my math degree. More specifically, I’ve just finished lectures for my last term as an undergraduate student of statistics. One of my main fears about switching to a different operating system was that it would disrupt my studies. Fortunately, this fear was unfounded – in fact, I can confidently say that Linux actually made my school experience much easier and smoother than it would have been had I stuck with Windows Vista or XP.

As a statistics student, I obviously work with numbers. Some courses, such as those dealing with experimental design, have fairly simple mathematical procedures (Note: these usually follow not-so-simple justifications for the procedures). Normally I’m given a small data set and told to carry out an Analysis Of Variance (ANOVA). Since the mathematical work in these assignments is pretty straightforward, I like to carry it out in Excel, or some equivalent. Thankfully, OpenOffice.Org Calc works just as well as Excel and uses essentially the same syntax and commands, so I managed to switch between programs rather seamlessly.

Some of my other assignments require more complicated procedures (and occasionally more complicated ANOVAs), so I have to use R, which is basically a very powerful statistical tool. In Windows XP, I found that adding libraries and updating R could occasionally be a difficult process – my roommates can verify that as a consequence, I often go months without updating my programs. In Mint, there were no such troubles – installing and updating libraries is as easy as opening Synaptic and clicking a few times. Linux also provided some less important benefits, such as not having to alter every slash in a filepath to make sure that R can actually find the file. I’m guessing this has something to do with the difference between a backslash and a frontslash.

Other programs like Do, which I’ve reviewed, and Kate, my preferred text editor, make life so much easier. When I’m working, I usually have several data sets open, and I frequently have to jump between folders to access images, old code, old solutions for reference, etc. Kate simplifies things by letting me have several text files open in one window at once, so I can make better comparisons between data sets or summary tables. This is especially important for when I have data sets that are so large that viewing them in R in the terminal would be ill-advised (tip: don’t try to view anything longer than 1000 lines in terminal). Thanks to Do, I can quickly flip between several folders without ever having to move my hands off of the keyboard. In particular, this comes in handy when I need to reference some old solutions for an obscure-but-suddenly-desireable mathematical quality.

I haven’t done too much writing this term aside from updating my resume, so I won’t dwell on the various word processors. In my opinion, if the word processor can create a decent looking resume – it did, by the way – then it should suffice for any other purpose. I’ve also tried out a few other math programs (eg., gnuplot), but I haven’t used them enough to give a reasonably well-informed opinion. However, the fact that I could install them and try them out with absolutely no effort on my part really speaks well for Linux Mint.

After a long, gruelling term, I can confidently say that I benefitted academically from using Linux Mint. Along with everything I’ve mentioned, Linux has provided less direct benefits, such as faster load times and fewer restarts, which make getting started on an assignment or project easier. Despite having a few bugs ranging from annoying (I really wish Do would load on startup consistently) to catastrophic (oh my god why did my desktop shift what is going on), I will probably have some distribution of Linux running on my machine when I switch to Windows 7, if only to run R and some other math programs. If you like to do any sort of math on your computer, I recommend you give it a go too.

Categories: Free Software, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags: