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VOIP with Linode, Ubuntu, Asterisk and FreePBX

October 29th, 2010 1 comment

Overview and Introduction

I’ve been dabbling with managing a VOIP server for the past year or so, using CentOS, Asterisk and FreePBX on a co-located server. Recently Dave and I needed to move to our own machine, and decided to use TEH CLOUD to reduce management and get a fresh start. There are hundreds of hosts out there offering virtual private servers (VPS’s). We’ve standardized on Linode for our small business for a few reasons. While I don’t want to sound like a complete advertisement, I’ve been incredibly impressed with them:

  • Performance. The host systems at Linode run at least 4-way 2GHz Xeon dual-core CPUs (I’ve seen higher as well) and you’re guaranteed the RAM you pay for. Pricing is generally based on how much memory you need.
  • Pricing. For a 512MB Linode, you pay $19.95 US per month. Slicehost (a part of Rackspace, and a Linode competitor) charges the same amount for a 256MB slice. Generally you want at least 512MB RAM for a Linux machine that’s not a test/development box.
  • Features. If you have multiple VMs in the same datacenter, you can assign them private IPs and internal traffic doesn’t count toward your bandwidth allowance. Likewise, bandwidth is pooled among all your VMs; so buying two VMs with 200GB bandwidth each gives 400GB for all your systems.

With full root access and the Linux distribution of your choice, it’s very easy to set up and tear down VMs.

Why VOIP?
When people hear VOIP, they generally assume either a flaky enterprise system with echoing calls or something like Skype. Properly configured, a VOIP system offers a number of really interesting features:

  • Low-cost long distance and international calling. The provider we use, voip.ms, offers outgoing calls for $0.0052 per minute to Canada and $0.0105/minute to the US on their value route.
  • Cheap phone numbers – direct inward dialing – are available for $0.99 per month in your region. These phone numbers are virtual and can be configured to do nearly anything you want. Incoming calls are $0.01/minute, and calls between voip.ms numbers are free.
  • Want to take advantage of cheap long distance from your cell phone? Set up a Direct Inward System Access path, which gives you a dial tone for making outgoing calls when you call a local number. Put your DID number on your My5 list, and you’re set to reduce bill overages.
  • Voicemail becomes much more useful when the VOIP server sends you an email with a WAV attachment and caller ID information.
  • Want to set up an interactive voice response menu, time conditions, blacklist telemarketers, manage group conferences or have witty hold music? All available with FreePBX and Asterisk.

Continue reading for server setup details and security best practices…

Read more…




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Asterisk, FreePBX, Jake B, Ubuntu Tags:

10 reasons why Mint might not fail in India

July 7th, 2010 14 comments

Last evening while reading the SA forums, I encountered a thread about Linux and what was required to bring it to the general public. One of the goons mentioned a post that indicated ten reasons why Ubuntu wasn’t ready for the desktop in India. I kid you not – the most ridiculous reason was because users couldn’t perform the important ritual of right click/Refreshing on the desktop five or more times before getting down to work.

Here are Bharat’s reasons why Ubuntu fails, followed by why I think Mint might succeed instead in its place (while still employing his dubious logic.) When I refer to Indian users, of course, I’m taking his word for it – he’s obviously the authority here.

GRUB Boot Loader does not have an Aesthetic Appeal.

Bharat complains about the visual appearance of Grub – how it does not create a good first impression. This is, of course, in spite of Windows’ horrible boot menu when there’s more than one operating system or boot option to select. Apparently Indian users all have full-color splash screens with aesthetic appeal for BIOS, video card and PCI add-in initialization as well; this is just the icing on the cake that makes them go “eurrrgh” and completely discount Ubuntu.

To improve relations with India and eliminate this eyesore, Mint has added a background image during this phase of boot. My good friend Tyler also informs me that there’s a simple option in the Mint Control Center called “Start-Up Manager” that alllows easy configuration of grub to match a system’s native resolution and color depth.

Login Screen-Users are required to type in their username.

Again, another seemingly impenetrable barrier. Has nobody in India worked in an environment where typing in usernames AND passwords is required – like, for example, posting a blog entry on WordPress or signing into Gmail? In any event, Mint’s GNOME installation definitely gives a clickable list for this awfully onerous task.

Desktop-The Refresh option is missing!

I’m just going to directly lift this description as to the burning need for right click / Refresh:

What does an average Indian user do when the desktop loads in Windows?He rights clicks on the desktop and refreshes the desktop about 5-6 times or until he is satisfied.This is a ritual performed by most Indian Users after switching on the computer and just before shutting down the computer.
When this average user tries to perform his ‘Refresh’ ritual in Ubuntu,he is in for a rude shock.The Ubuntu Desktop does not have a Refresh Option or any other simliar option like Reload in the Right Click Menu.
So I advice Ubuntu Developers to include to a Refresh or a Reload option in the right click menu on the Desktop and in the Nautilus File Manager.The option should be equivalent of pressing Ctrl+R.As of now ,pressing Ctrl+R refreshes the Desktop in Ubuntu.

Mint’s developers have unfortunately not come around to this clearly superior way of thinking by default yet.

Read more…




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.

Setting up a RocketRaid 2320 controller on Linux Mint 9

July 4th, 2010 7 comments

After the most recently recorded podcast, I decided to take a stab at running Linux on my primary media server. The machine sports a Highpoint RocketRaid 2320 storage controller, which has support for running up to eight SATA drives. Over the course of last evening, I found out that the solution wasn’t quite as plug-and-play as running the same card under Windows. Here’s what I found out and how you can avoid the same mistakes.

Remove the RocketRaid card when installing Mint.

Make sure you have decent physical access to the machine, as the Mint installer apparently does not play nicely with this card. I replicated a complete system freeze (no keyboard or mouse input) after progressing past the keyboard layout section during the installer. Temporarily removing the 2320 from its PCI-Express slot avoided this problem; I was then able to re-insert the card after installation was complete.

Compile the Open Source driver for best results.

Highpoint has a download page for their 2300-series cards, which points to Debian and Ubuntu (x86 and x64) compatible versions of the rr232x driver. Unfortunately, the Ubuntu 64-bit version did not seem to successfully initialize – the device just wasn’t present.

A post on the Ubuntu forums (for version 9.04) was quite helpful in pointing out the required steps, but had a broken link that wasn’t easy to find. To obtain the Open Source driver, click through to the “Archive Driver Downloads for Linux and FreeBSD” page, then scroll to the bottom and grab the 32/64-bit .tar.gz file with a penguin icon. I’ve mirrored version 1.10 here in case the URLs on the HighPoint site change again: rr232x-linux-src-v1.10-090716-0928.tar.gz

The process for building the driver is as in the original post:

  • Extract the .tar.gz file to a reasonably permanent location. I say this because you will likely need to rebuild the module for any kernel upgrades. I’m going to assume you’ve created something under /opt, such as /opt/rr232x.
  • Change to the extraction directory and run:cd product/rr232x/linux
    sudo make
    sudo make install
  • Reboot your system after the installation process and the kernel will load the rr232x driver as a module.

Install gnome-disk-utility to verify and mount your filesystem.

I’m not sure why this utility disappeared as a default between Mint 8 and 9, but gnome-disk-utility will display all connected devices and allow you to directly mount partitions. It will also let you know if it “sees” the RR2320 controller. In my case, after installing the driver and rebooting, I was able to click on the 3.5TB NTFS-formatted storage and assign it a mount point of /media/Raid5 in two clicks.

What’s next?

Most of the remaining complaints online revolve around booting to the RR2320 itself, which seems like more of a pain than it’s worth (even under Windows this would seem to be the case.) I personally run a separate system drive; the actual Ubuntu installation manual from Highpoint may have additional details on actually booting to your RAID volume.

I’ve yet to install the Web or CLI management interface for Linux, which should happen in the next few days. One of the really neat items about this controller is that it can email you if a disk falls out of the array, but I’ll need to get the Web interface running in order to change some outgoing mail servers.

I also haven’t done any performance testing or benchmarking with the controller versus Windows, or if there would be an improvement migrating the filesystem to ext4 as opposed to NTFS. I do plan to stick with NTFS as I’d like portability across all major platforms with this array. From initial observations, I can play back HD content from the array without stuttering while large files are being decompressed and checksummed, which is my main goal.

Restore the default Linux Mint 8 theme and colours

January 18th, 2010 3 comments

After playing with the GNOME Appearance preferences on my new Mint 8 installation, I managed to completely lose the color scheme, window decorators and other options for the default Helena theme – which I actually liked.

Due to an unrelated incident that I will blame on an abuse of Compiz (which really doesn’t play nice with the Xinerama extension), I recreated my GNOME profile this morning and saved out the default theme. For my own future reference (and anyone else who doesn’t want to nuke their profile), I’ve uploaded the default Mint 8 theme. Extract it to your ~/.themes/ directory and it will appear in Control Center > Appearance as “Default Mint Theme”.

This theme should theoretically work on any Linux distribution with GNOME, as well, but you’ll need the “Shiki-Wise” control set, “Shiki-Colors-Metacity” window border, and the “GNOME-Wise” icon set for more than just the gray and green hues.




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.

Eclipse in Ubuntu-based distributions missing update site list

January 17th, 2010 2 comments

If any of you are using a Ubuntu-based distribution (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint) and do any sort of Eclipse development, the current 3.5.1 package available with the distribution (3.5.1+repack~1-0ubuntu3) is missing the standard Galileo and 3.5 update sites in the Available Software Sites list:

This bug has already been reported to Launchpad, but here are the relevant sites you can add to enable Galileo updates and install new plugins:

Name: The Eclipse Project Updates
Location: http://download.eclipse.org/eclipse/updates/3.5

Name: Galileo
Location: http://download.eclipse.org/releases/galileo

(This has also been cross-posted to my personal site, “Bus error”.)




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.

Trying Mint – I likes what I sees.

January 16th, 2010 8 comments

While my initial plan for January was to stick with Windows 7 and perhaps try out Fedora 12, a bad DVD interrupted the Fedora install progress. Out of sheer convenience, I’d planned on running Linux Mint in a VM and had pulled the ISO earlier in the week. “Aha!” I thought. “I’ll install this instead of Fedora and see what’s what.”

My initial impressions are that Mint is perhaps the first Linux distribution that I’d enjoy using on a day-to-day basis. With only a few minor tweaks (activating multiple monitors and using optical out for sound), I have a completely functional desktop environment. Compiz is totally integrated into the experience, degrades gracefully if needed, and is used to enhance the UI rather than provide unneeded eye candy.

Taking a page out of Jon’s book, I also installed Banshee for media playback. What a difference from previous media player experiences – my BlackBerry was automatically detected, synced with my library and folders were built properly in the MediaCard/BlackBerry/music directory. Now, all I need is some better music and I’ll be set!




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.

End of the road with Gentoo – new year, new experiences

January 2nd, 2010 2 comments

Since my admittedly outdated last post, I’ve been keeping busy in real life – most recently, I was out of the country for seven days, braving airport security and experiencing relatively nice temperatures in Colorado.

I’ve also been apartment-seeking and dealing with my Logitech Z-5300 speaker system that one day mysteriously refused to power on. This was unfortunate as it left me without a convenient way to blast the latest 30 Seconds to Mars album at high volume. (OK… maybe I’ve also been overplaying the Glee soundtrack too.)

My taste in music aside, here are my conclusions from the experiment and what I plan to do for my computing environment in 2010:

My initial ambitions

To gain additional experience with Linux and figure out which open source applications make viable alternatives to commercial software. Being platform-agnostic, while maintaining as much data out of the privacy-reducing “cloud” as possible, is one of my top priorities.

Gentoo is certainly the distribution to pick for the additional experience goal. I have a much better understanding of the Linux filesystem and how package management works than I did in September, and I could probably maintain a Web or file server environment with Gentoo – even AFP worked nicely and more reliably than SMB once it was set up. I also gained additional experience with Songbird, KeePassX, Synergy and OpenOffice. These desktop applications are excellent examples of enabling a more positive user experience.

What didn’t go as expected?
My initial conceptions about Gentoo included a cutting-edge environment, with a difficult-to-master package management system and customization abilities that allowed for drastically improved performance. I learned that the stock version of Gentoo is very stable, but not necessarily cutting edge – many GNOME packages are still marked as ‘unstable’ for x64 architectures past 2.20, which was originally released in September 2007.

Unlike a Debian environment, where the ‘testing’ branch is reasonably usable for a non-project developer, the ‘unstable’ environment packages in Gentoo can completely break Portage, leaving you without a good way to manage software.

While desktop performance was quite in line with my idea of improved performance, certain elements are not quite at the level of more desktop-oriented distributions like Ubuntu. The bootup sequence happens in series by default and waits on a DHCP response before even thinking about GDM/KDM or other services; turning on parallel-boot options for reduced startup time caused my network adapter to need several mashings of “ifdown eth0; ifup eth0″ in a terminal before it would consider acquiring an IP address.

Cloud computing and privacy
Through the experiment I also did not succeed with my goal to keep data out of the ‘cloud’ as much as possible. Through numerous reinstalls, filesystem changes and hardware swaps, I found that the most reliable and convenient way to save and access data was to store it with Google – either in Gmail, Documents or another service. It’s the little things, like how Thunderbird will not save a SMTP password until you first send a message with that account… and then you have to fire up KeePass, and by that time you may be dealing with another message and forget about the original email.

I will be working on reducing my dependence on Google in the new year by migrating documents, keychains and other important files to a server in a local datacenter, which is not subject to the USA PATRIOT act. I expect this will be a long and slow process of learning and breaking old habits.

What’s next for me?

  • My main machine now boots Windows 7 Professional. This is due to the recent Steam holiday sale – one of my favourite games right now is Torchlight, which is heavily influenced by Diablo/Diablo II. I also enjoy having a Windows machine around for Visual Studio development.
  • During January, I will be installing Fedora 12 and trying to make some additional games work using some of these instructions.
  • I also now have a second machine running Xubuntu 9.10. I chose XFCE as the computer has a limited amount of memory and disk space, and makes a perfect test environment for Linux applications.
  • In the future, I might try managing an Asterisk installation from the Xubuntu system for more experience with telephony server administration.
Categories: Gentoo, Jake B Tags:

Back to relative stability with Funtoo

November 21st, 2009 No comments

In my last post, I’d mentioned that I planned on reinstalling Gentoo to fix several dependency issues that had made upgrading packages an impossibility. I chose to use the Funtoo variant and have since become an expert with the install process.

My first attempt was an installation of Funtoo unstable, which included packages that are normally masked out for stability reasons. This particular installation went fine and worked properly, until the hard drive I’d installed it on decided that it had better things to do than spin up when booting the computer. The end result was a kernel panic on boot and inability to mount the drive. One thing that I did notice under GNOME 2.28 is that “alacarte”, the menu editor, is not installed as a default package or chained as a dependency. As a result, the “Edit Menus” option in GNOME merely displayed a list of installed applications, with no way to add new ones or edit the properties of existing ones.

The latest and most current version I’m running now is Funtoo stable. It’s a very snappy and responsive environment, and I haven’t yet run into package conflicts or dependency problems. Unfortunately, two of my most-used apps (Songbird and VLC) have problems running – VLC refuses to display a user interface (but runs in a terminal seemingly properly), and Songbird insists that my request to play a song should be met with a core media error. I may end up trying the mailing list or IRC channel to see what the level of support is for VLC at least, or the appropriate process for migrating a “stable” release to the “unstable” one.

Update: I’m apparently plagued with the “didn’t read the documentation” curse. Here’s what VLC says when I try to reinstall it:

 * Messages for package media-video/vlc-1.0.3:

 * You have disabled the qt4 useflag, vlc will not have any
 * graphical interface. Maybe that is not what you want...

I’m not sure if I really want to build it with QT support… but in the meantime, I’ve added “media-video/vlc qt4″ to the /etc/portage/package.use file and it seems to work fine.




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.

Once again, portage perplexes and enrages me

November 3rd, 2009 No comments

I haven’t needed to reinstall my system nearly as many times as Jon or Tyler, which is a good thing – Linux is supposed to be reasonably stable once it’s up and running, right? My first reinstall of Gentoo was based on a circular dependency with portage, but left me with a stable system that was running GNOME until I tried emerging world. (This is the Gentoo equivalent of “apt-get update && apt-get upgrade”.)

This morning’s fiasco involved the system still thinking that QT3 was installed, even though I’d specifically removed the “kde” flag from my make.conf file. After repeatedly trying to unmerge and purge the unwanted KDE packages from my system, I ran “revdep-rebuild” (suggested on bugs.gentoo.org for the particular OGG library that was refusing to compile) which threw all the KDE packages back in place – and worse, suggested a dependency on GNOME!

There are too many issues that can occur when your system won’t update. I have a client’s Windows machine rebuilding because FakeXPA and “Windows Antivirus Pro” snuck past Symantec AntiVirus – and with new remote exploits coming out all the time, I don’t need my SSH server compromised by a script kiddie.

As a result, I’m currently installing a variant of Gentoo called Funtoo Linux, which uses the same portage package management system but differs in its use of source control, initialization scripts and core overlays. It uses the Gentoo LiveCD to install, and appears to have a more liberal approach as to which packages are available at any point in time. I also agree with Daniel Robbins’ approach to blockers and blocked packages, which has been hashed out on the Gentoo bug tracker in great detail. Wish me luck!




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.

Quick fix: Compiz on Gentoo, resolving text corruption in terminal

October 26th, 2009 2 comments

This will be a brief reference post mostly for my own benefit, but a good fix for an issue where Compiz shows black boxes or invisible characters in the GNOME terminal when typing:

As for the text corruption issue… Is the “Force X and GLX synchronization” option enabled in the workarounds plugin in ccsm?

In my case, the option was enabled in CompizConfig Settings Manager, but the Workarounds plugin wasn’t:

Enable the Workarounds plugin under the Utilities category

Select the "Force synchronization between X and GLX" checkbox

Hopefully this is useful for those of you using the terminal on a regular basis! I’ll likely have a full update on switching back to GNOME and installing Compiz shortly.




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.