Archive for July 27th, 2013

Installing Linux to an external hard drive (+ driver issues)

July 27th, 2013 No comments

While I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to be doing for this round of The Linux Experiment, I have decided that now is a good time to try something I’ve been meaning to try for a while: get Linux to boot off of an external hard drive. This was actually such a straight forward process, simply install like normal but choose the external drive for the location of all files, that I won’t bother you with the details. The only special thing I did was decide to install GRUB on the external drive making the whole install essentially a completely isolated thing – that way if I turn off the external drive then the computer boots up off of the internal drive like normal, if I boot with the external drive on then GRUB asks me what to do.

The only downside to a setup like this is that I am using USB 2.0 as my connection to the hard drive which means the disk I/O and throughput will be theoretically lower than normal. Arguably I could get around this by using something like USB 3.0 or eSATA but so far in my experience this hasn’t really been an issue. Besides once the OS boots up almost everything is running and/or cached within RAM anyway. In fact that only problems I have run into with running Linux on this desktop were, ironically, driver issues.

First up is the wireless drivers. Yes, it is 2013 and I am still having Linux WiFi driver issues… This issue was unlike any I had seen before – the wireless card was automatically detected, the Broadcom proprietary driver was automatically selected and enabled, it even appeared to work but no matter what I tried it simply would not make a lasting connection to the wireless network. On a whim I decided to just turn off the device driver and, even though the dialog window told me that I would no longer be using the device, things suddenly started working like magic. I have to assume that buried deep within the Linux kernel is already an open source implementation for my wireless driver and that is what is actually working right now. Whatever the actual cause, the device is now working flawlessly.

For future reference: Do not use the device = magically make everything work perfectly

For future reference: Do not use the device = magically make everything work perfectly

The other driver issue I had was again related to a proprietary driver, this time for my graphics card. By default the install used the open source driver and this worked fine. However I have had a long battle with AMD/ATI cards working on Linux without using the proprietary driver and so I decided to enable it in order to avoid any future problems.


One reboot later and not only was my colour and resolution completed screwed up but I also got this “awesome” overlay on my desktop that said “Hardware not supported”. I tried to take a screenshot of it but apparently it is drawn onto the screen post-display or something (the screenshot did not show the overlay). So for now I am back to using strictly open source drivers for everything and amazingly it is all just working. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever been able to say that about Linux before.

404 Oh No!

July 27th, 2013 No comments

Some of you may have noticed some previously working links going to 404 (page not found) pages. This is due to a change we’ve made in order to make permalinks more consistent among different authors and topics. Sorry for any inconvinence this may cause. On the plus side the website has a search bar that you can use to find what you were looking for ūüôā

Categories: Tyler B Tags:

Getting FreeBSD up and running with and nVidia drivers

July 27th, 2013 No comments

The Experiment has officially begun, and with that I’ve gone through the FreeBSD installation process. The actual install was fairly uneventful: apart from the fact that FreeBSD defaults to a different base filesystem and has partitioning identifiers, sysinstall did the trick without the same bootloader issues that Dave experienced.

The first major difference, coming from something like Ubuntu or Debian, is that FreeBSD uses a combination of both source packages and already-prepared binary packages. Ostensibly the binary packages are for the most popular software and source packages are provided for convenience when there is no dedicated package build/maintainer team. In practice, depending on what you need to install, there are several possible locations and methods:

  • As a package, which is the binary compiled version. Available with the pkg_add -r option that acts like apt-get install on Ubuntu. The next version of this is pkgng, but I haven’t had much luck with it so far.
  • As a port, the source version of the program with FreeBSD hints to make the software compile. There are stubs in /usr/ports for a wide variety of software, and the “make install clean” process performs what seems to be a level of dependency injection as well.
  • From source directly, where you download and compile the package directly from its creator’s website; I’m avoiding this unless absolutely necessary.

As a result, I just end up using Google to find the package and then installing using the suggested command line. Hilariously enough, when looking for “take screenshot FreeBSD”, the suggested package was called scrot. Here’s that result:

My FreeBSD/xfce4 desktop taken with 'scrot'.

In order to get the desktop working, I had to fight a bit with Reading the documentation was incredibly helpful in getting my mouse and keyboard to work – I needed to add hald and dbus to the /etc/rc.conf file:


Once that was set up, I then embarked on the process of getting my monitor to display at native 2560×1600 resolution. First, I was stymied by the Xorg -configure process, which provided a number of created screens does not match number of detected devices error but still generated a configuration file. Copying that file into /etc/X11/xorg.conf and running startx subsequently gave a no screens detected¬†message.

A number of suggestions online related to adding a preferred resolution as a “Modes” line to the Screen section in this file, but there was no change. What eventually worked was changing the Driver line from nv to vesa – clearly my GeForce 660 isn’t supported by the default open-source nVidia driver.

As a result, it was necessary to look at installing the closed-source binary nVidia driver. The first stumbling block in this process was during the make install clean command, where I was first told I’d have to install the FreeBSD kernel source. Using this forum article and adjusting the URL to reference 9.1-RELEASE, I successfully obtained and decompressed the code to /usr/src.

The next problem was with my choice of setup options. Initially during the make install process, I selected the default options, and was now blocked at:

===> Installing for nvidia-driver-304.60
===> nvidia-driver-304.60 depends on file: /compat/linux/etc/fedora-release - not found
===> Verifying install for /compat/linux/etc/fedora-release in /usr/ports/emulators/linux_base-f10
===> linux_base-f10-10_5 linuxulator is not (kld)loaded.
*** [install] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/emulators/linux_base-f10.
*** [run-depends] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/x11/nvidia-driver.
*** [install] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/x11/nvidia-driver.

There didn’t seem to be a good way to get back to the options screen to deselect the Linux compatibility mode and make clean didn’t help the situation. Poking around, I was able to reselect the correct options (remove Linux, and also ensure not to select the FreeBSD AGP option) by running make config. A make install clean command after that, and I could continue to follow the rest of the instructions – creating /boot/loader.conf and adding nvidia_load="YES", editing xorg.conf to set the Driver to nvidia, and then it was time for a reboot.

As a side note, unlike other Linux distributions, the idea of installing proprietary drivers wasn’t portrayed as shameful and against Free Software ideals. The attitude and design of FreeBSD seems to be that you should be able to do what you want with it.

So after this work, what was the result when I ran startx again? Nearly flawless detection of multiple monitors, a readable desktop and non-balls graphics performance. A quick trip to sudo /usr/local/bin/nvidia-settings fixed the monitor alignment and was quite easy to use. Now to work on the rest of the desktop components to make this a more usable system, and I’ll be well on the way to future moments of rage.

Categories: FreeBSD, Jake B, XFCE, Xorg/X11 Tags:

Installing Netflix on Kubuntu

July 27th, 2013 4 comments

The machine I am running Kubuntu on is primarily used for streaming media like Netflix and Youtube, watching files off of a shared server and downloading media.

I decided to try to install Netflix first since it is something I use quite often. I am engrossed in watching the first season of Orange is the New Black and the last season of The West Wing.

Again, I resorted to Googling exactly what I am looking for and came across this fantastic post.

I opened a Terminal instance in Kubuntu and literally copied and pasted the text from the link above.

After going through these motions, I had a functioning instance of Netflix! Woo hoo.

So I decided to throw on an episode of Orange is the new Black, it loaded perfectly…. without sound.

Well shit! I never even thought to see if my audio driver had been picked up… so I guess I should probably go ahead and fix that.

What is this, text for ants? Part II

July 27th, 2013 No comments

Back to my shit-tastic eyesight for a moment.

Now that we have our Bluetooth devices installed, I can now sit in front of my projector, instead of in the closet, to fiddle with the font scaling.

We will want to go through the process of pulling up the System Settings again. Why don’t we refer to this image… again.

Computer Tab

The next step to to select Application Appearance, it looks like this.

System Settings Fonts

This will bring you into this menu where you will select Fonts from the toolbar on the left hand side.


In the next screen you can change the font settings. There is a nice option in here that you can select to change all the fonts at once… spoiler, it is called “Adjust all fonts”. This is what I used to change the fonts to a size that my blind ass could see from the couch without squinting too much.

You can also force font DPI and select anti-aliasing, as you can see below. For the most part, this has made it possible for me to see what the hell is going on on my screen.

For my next adventure, I will be trying to get Netflix to work. Which I have heard is actually pretty simple.


Installing Bluetooth devices on Kubuntu

July 27th, 2013 No comments

This is actually a much easier process than I imagined it would be.

First: Ensure your devices (mouse, headphones, keyboard, etc…) are charged and turned on.

Next click on the “Start” menu icon in the bottom left of the desktop screen.

Then click on the “Computer” icon along the bottom, followed by System Settings.

Computer Tab

This will take you into the System Settings folder where you can change many things. Here we will select Bluetooth, since that is the type of device you want to install.

Bluetooth Menu

I took these pictures after I successfully installed my wireless USB keyboard and mouse. So you know I am not bullshitting about this process actually working.

Like most Bluetooth devices, mine have a red “Connect” button on the bottom. Ignore the sweet, sweet compulsion to press that button. I’m convinced it is nearly useless. Instead, use the “Add devices” method, as seen here.

Add Device

More awesome Photoshop.

Now, if you followed my first instruction (charge and turn on your Bluetooth Device) you should see them appear in this menu. Select the item you would like to add and click next. This will prompt you to enter a PIN on the device you wish to insyall (if installing a keyboard), or it will just add your device. If you have done this process successfully, your device will show up in the device menu. If it does not, you fucked up.


Linux: does it work for workers who work in the workplace?

July 27th, 2013 No comments

In the ramp-up to the 2013 Linux Experiment, I got ambitious and decided to try not only FreeBSD as my official entry, but to install one or more versions of Linux at the office (so take that, anyone who says “Well FreeBSD isn’t Linux!” I’m aware.)

There are a number of reasons I wanted to check out Linux in an office environment, and was able to consider this secondary experiment:

  • Most of my work is Linux-based already. We have moved away from Windows-based systems fairly drastically since 2011, and there is minimal Windows administration effort. The much more common presence of professionally managed Windows virtual machines means that I can use tools like rdesktop if a Windows UI is absolutely required. Having a built-in SSH client is one of the reasons I picked a MacBook Pro for a corporate laptop, and Linux distributions offer the same ssh packages.
  • I have the good fortune to have multiple corporate-issued systems available on short notice. If the experiment goes poorly, I’m only down for ten minutes to reconnect a Windows or OSX-based system. I can then resume my remote tasks through the diligent use of screen and multiple SSH tunnels.
  • Another point in favour is that most IT support is now self-directed for software issues; there is a large (and growing) Linux user community internally and corporate documentation now tends to indicate proper server names and connection information rather than “just use Outlook”.
  • Finally, there’s an easy way to back out if something goes wrong – it’s possible to reimage a laptop and rejoin it to the corporate domain without engaging technical support. I don’t keep files locally and my key configuration files are all backed up on a remote Git server, so getting back to Windows 7 wouldn’t be too hard at all.

Hopefully with this adventure I’ll be able to better able to contribute internally to the Linux user community, and appropriately redacted, share the trials and tribulations of running Linux (mostly) full time in the workplace. Wish me luck!

Dual Booting Ubuntu 13.04 and Windows 8 on a Lenovo Y400 IdeaPad

July 27th, 2013 1 comment

With the third edition of The Linux Experiment already underway, I decided to get my new laptop set up with an Ubuntu partition to work with over the next few months. A little while back, I purchased this laptop with intent to use it as a gaming rig. It shipped with Windows 8, which was a serious pain in the ass to get used to. Now that I’ve dealt with that and have Steam and Origin set up on the Windows partition, it’s time to make this my primary machine and start taking advantage of the power under its hood by dual-booting an Ubuntu partition for development and experiment work.

I started my adventure by downloading an ISO of the latest release of Ubuntu – at the time of this writing, that’s 13.04. Because my new laptop has UEFI instead of BIOS, I made sure to grab the x64 version of the distribution.

Aside: If you’re using NoScript while browsing Ubuntu’s website, you’ll want to keep an eye on the address bar while navigating through the download steps. In my case, the screen that asks you to donate to the project redirected me to a different version of the ISO until I enabled JavaScript.

After using Ubuntu’s Startup Disk Creator to create a bootable USB stick, I started my first adventure – figuring out how to get the IdeaPad to boot from USB. A bit of quick googling told me that the trick was to alternately tap F10 and F12 during the boot sequence. This brought up a boot menu that allowed me to select the USB stick.

Once Ubuntu had booted off of the USB stick, I opened up GParted and went about making some space for my new operating system. The process was straightforward – I selected the largest existing partition (it also helped that it was labelled WINDOWS_OS), and split it in half. My only mistake in this process was to choose to put the new partition in front of the existing partition on the drive. Because of this, GParted had to copy all of the data on the Windows partition to a new physical location on the hard drive, a process that took about three hours.

The final partitioning scheme with my new Linux partition highlighted

The final partitioning scheme with my new Linux partition highlighted

With my hard drive appropriately partitioned, it was time to install the operating system. The modern Ubuntu installer pretty much takes care of everything, even going so far as selecting an appropriate space to use on the hard drive. I simply told it to install alongside the existing Windows partition, and let it take care of the details.

The installer finished its business in short order, and I restarted the machine. Ubuntu booted with no issues, but my Windows 8 partition refused to cooperate. It would seem as though something that the installer did wasn’t getting along well with UEFI/SecureBoot. Upon attempting to boot Windows, I got the following message:

error: Secure Boot forbids loading module from (hd0,gpt8)/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/ntfs.mod.
error: failure reading sector 0x0 from ‘cd0’
error: no such device: 0030DA4030DA3C7A
error: can’t find command ‘drivemap’
error: invalid EFI file path

Press any key to continue…

Uh oh.

Like I said, I could boot Ubuntu, so I headed on over to their website and read their page on UEFI. At first glance, it seemed as though I had done everything correctly. The only place that I deviated from these instructions was in manually resizing my Windows partition to create space for my new Ubuntu partition.

Thinking that I might be experiencing troubles with¬† my boot partition, I took a shot at running Ubuntu’s Boot-Repair utility. It seemed to do something, but upon restarting the machine, I found that I had even more problems – now a Master Boot Record wasn’t found at all:

It would appear as though I may have made things worse...

It would appear as though I may have made things worse…

After dismissing the boot device error, I was prompted to choose which device to boot from. I chose to boot Windows’ UEFI Repair partition, and was (luckily) able to get to a desktop. Unfortunately, none of the other partitions on the device seem to work, so I’m back where I started at the beginning, except that now in addition to having to put up with Windows 8, I also have a broken master boot record.

Lenovo: 1 / Jon: 0.