Archive for the ‘God Damnit Linux’ Category

SELinux and printing: Chock full of FAIL.

September 8th, 2009 1 comment

I might be a little frustrated at this point, but please – let me explain myself before you start with the ‘Haha, Linux noobie.’ comments.

After 45 minutes of tinkering, I finally got network printing working on my laptop.  To elaborate, I have a Samsung ML-2510 monochrome laser printer hooked up to my Windows Home Server machine (which I am now able to access no problem), shared across the workgroup. ‘No problem!’ I thought to myself.  ‘Samba loves me.’  Right?

WRONG.  My trials and tribulations first started when adding the printer driver itself.  ‘Input a model here’ taunted me with its ease of use, and sure enough typing in ‘ML-2510’ brought up my printer.  After clicking ‘Forward’ and waiting a moment, there was… nothing.  No driver available for download.

My next roadblock came in the form of the beautiful SELinux feature built into Fedora 11.  For those of you not in the know, SELinux stands for ‘Security-Enhanced Linux’ and basically provides a crap ton of enhanced security policies not otherwise available.  While not a Linux distribution unto itself, many new distributions are starting to include it for added security.  At any rate, SELinux did not at all like my Samsung Unified Printer Driver, available for download from the Samsung site.

30 minutes of frustration later, after test pages failed to print and SELinux reports were being generated en masse, I just turned it onto ‘Permissive’ mode.  Voila!  I could now print.

The only question I can think of from this is ‘Why did they make this so hard?’  It should have, realistically, worked after I installed the Samsung driver and chose my printer.

Day Five, Still Alive

September 8th, 2009 No comments

Just checking in to say so far so good!

Actually I have quite a bit more to say than that. As you all know, I’ve installed Linux Mint, which is basically Linux for Morons. The install was extremely easy and the operating system often works well. Why only “often”? Well, let me put it this way: when Linux works, goddamn does it work well; when it doesn’t, prepare to spend several hours trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

Major issues

Linux Mint seems to have a big problem with going into Stanby or Hibernate mode. Basically, reloading the computer to its previous state crashes everything. I believe Tyler told me that it crashes the kernel, and that this is most likely related to my ATI drivers. Hopefully the next kernel patch fixes this. Additionally, my system has locked up several times once booted. I’m not sure what causes this, but it’s happened in Firefox several times, once in Thunderbird, and once in Pidgin. Basically, clicking on a program would crash it. I have since uninstalled several Firefox add-ons – I suspect that FoxyTunes may have been the culprit, but I’m not sure. If I were a decent computer user, I would have removed them one at a time to see what was wrong. That being said, I was in a rush to identify a car part, so I had other priorities at the time.

Minor issues

I’m still having a problem with parts of the screen going black. It doesn’t appear in screenshots, so I’m guessing this is also a driver issue. The video players available really leave a lot to be desired. The main problems are noticeably poorer video when in fullscreen with an interface visible, and that switching between full screen and windowed mode is clumsy and looks like the computer just vomited. I’ve also noticed that the sound on this laptop is significantly quieter than on any of my other machines. When Tyler upgraded his kernel, his sound came back in full force.

Hopefully these issues will be resolved with the new kernel.

Current software

I’ve given up on aMSN and tried out Pidgin, which is a pretty fantastic piece of software. My only complaint is that it doesn’t support webcam, although I’ve been told that that will be coming soon. It also gives me the stupid little plug-ins I so desperately crave, such as virtual dice, 8-balls, and a test-to-speech reader that indulges my juvenile sense of humour. I’ve successfully installed R for statistical analysis, and it was really rather painless once I realized that it’s a terminal program even in Windows (durrr oops). Installing packages and libraries is much easier through Linux than it was on Windows too, but I guess this makes sense since it’s a GNU project. I’ve also started using SongBird instead of RhythmBox, but so far I’ve found that it doesn’t support my keyboard commands. It does, however, support FoxyTunes, which is as frustrating as it is promising because this might be crashing Firefox.

I’ve found that CRON-o-Meter is a suitable calorie counter, although it took a stupid amount of work and a clever script to get going. Creating desktop icons is also extremely easy, if a bit counter-intuitive- just right click the shortcut, click properties, and left-click the icon in the new window.

It also turns out that I’m only running Firefox 3.0, and I can only use Firefox 3.5 as Shiretoko (the development name), which is pretty damn annoying. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much the same thing as Firefox, just with a different logo.

To-do list

My next two projects are to get my computer to read the network (this is probably Jon’s fault) and to get a rotating wallpaper. Look, I just got a 900p monitor, and it’s about damn time that I had some pretty pictures to look at!

I’m also trying to set up some programs (Thunderbird and SongBird primarily) to always minimize to the tray through AllTray.


The blackening issue

The blackening issue

Categories: God Damnit Linux, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

The trouble with patching your kernel to fix a problem…

September 7th, 2009 No comments

If you remember a while back I was having a world of trouble trying to get my ATi drivers to play nicely with my desktop effects. The end result was me having to patch and rebuild my kernel to make things work the way I wanted them to. Well today I applied some system updates and hidden among them was a kernel update. It turns out that applying this update really messed with my system. Thankfully I was able to fix it by running through the original processes again. Unfortunately I think this means that every time a kernel update come down the pipe I will have to repatch and rebuild my kernel again to get things to work…

Ah well. On the plus side this kernel update fixed a lot of my sound issues!

The Fedora Megapost

September 3rd, 2009 2 comments

As I sit here writing this I am enjoying the more simple things in life. A fully functional laptop, graphical desktop effects, a strong network connection, decent battery life, and a touchpad that works completely. Ah, but things were never always this easy. No, in fact the last 3 days have taken me through a roller coaster ride of the high peaks and endless lows of my Fedora experience thus far. Allow me to take you through the story of how I got here, and hopefully this will help out people who aren’t quite here yet.

Painless Install

If there’s one thing I can say in Fedora’s favour its that the install went just perfectly. In fact the one part that I thought might be difficult, the partitioning, turned out to be the easiest. Fedora prompted me to select if I wanted the system encrypted via a checkbox or not and then if I wanted to review the default partition choices. Upon review the default partitions nearly matched the ones I thought I was going to create anyway. This includes an ext3 boot partition and an encrypted partition holding a LVM with the rest of my system partitions; an ext4 root and swap partitions.

On the next page I was able to select which software categories I wanted to install, and then customize exactly what that means. I chose to deselect GNOME and select KDE as my desktop environment. I also installed some software development tools, a web server (for fun), and SAMBA support to play nicely on the Windows network.

After entering a countless number of passwords, for the bootloader, the encrypted partition, the root account, and my user account, the system was finished installing and I was presented with my desktop! All told it too about 20 minutes to install – very quick and very impressive.

First Impressions

The K Desktop Environment (KDE) is something that I am very unfamiliar with. It took me about an hour to find my way around it and to be honest I hated it at first. I found it very clunky and some dialogue boxes were too small to show the text that they were trying to show me. Since then though it is starting to grow on me, though I am not sure if I would go with KDE over GNOME again in the future.

Now to Enable Those Fancy Desktop Effects I’ve Been Hearing So Much About

A simple check in the Desktop tab of the System Settings menu and Desktop Effects are enabled!…. COULD NOT ENABLE DESKTOP EFFECTS? If only I had known that this would be the start of all of my problems…

OK So Maybe I Need A Graphics Driver?

After poking around online for a while I finally gave up and just went to the ATi website and grabbed the driver from there. This graphical install was straightforward enough and when it finished everything seemed great! That is until I restarted and tried to turn effects on again. It turns out that there is a bug somewhere that freezes the system if hardware cursor is enabled, which it is by default. Disabling hardware cursor and enabling software rendering makes the system stable again, even with desktop effects, but causes graphics abnormalities around the cursor on the screen.

To enable the software cursor I first dropped down to the terminal from the login splash screen. To do this I used

Ctrl + Alt + F2

Next I logged in as root and changed /etc/X11/xorg.conf and added Option “SWCursor” “true” to the “Device” section as shown below,

Section “Device”
Identifier  “Videocard0”
Driver      “fglrx”
Option      “OpenGLOverlay” “off”
Option      “VideoOverlay” “on”
Option      “SWCursor” “true”
Option      “AccelMethod” “xaa”

I also tried switching from OpenGL to XRender which seemed to fix things but its performance was all over the map, causing the system to slow to a crawl at times. -sigh- Guess I’ll just reinstall…

Round Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, etc!

I will skip through most of the 2 days worth of cursing that I went through to get everything set up correctly. Needless to say I tried everything from patching the kernel, to using open source drivers, to sacrificing a goat and nothing seemed to work. In the end it was a series of small steps that eventually led to my graphics card working. Here are some of the high points:

RPM Fusion

Following the advice of this FAQ over at, I used their community wrapped version of the ATi drivers that I had tried initially. Well at least I tried to, you see when I ran the following line it told me the package didn’t exist.

yum install kmod-fglrx

After more time spent googling I found out that the new name for it was ‘kmod-catalyst’, just like how ATi names it. It would have been nice for the authors at FedoraFAQ to update this in their old article but alas.

I patched and rebuilt the kernel and then rebooted. To my amazement my resolution was no longer very small. In fact I had my full 900p resolution! If that worked surely Desktop Desktop effects will as well! A quick jump to the Desktop settings tab and a check of the checkbox and I had effects up and running! Well… for about 20 seconds until my entire system locked up. Like, we’re talking a hard lock here. I couldn’t even kill X or drop down to the terminal to try and turn software cursor on. -sign- reboot and see if it worked? Nope, no luck there either. Well guess I will just reinstall then…

RPM Fusion Take Two!

After finishing the reinstall I found this new forum post with updated instructions. Great! I thought and followed them to the letter. Too bad this worked even less than before. Again I was forced to reinstall.

Skip All That Crap, Tell Us What Finally Worked!

Here is the process I took to get this to work, hopefully it will help some of you as much as it did me! I didn’t follow any particular instructions but rather mixed and matched ones that seemed to work. As such I don’t really know what each piece does but I have a general idea.

Step 1

Update the system, especially the kernel, to the most recent release.

Step 2

Bringing up a terminal I typed


To become the root user. Next I typed

yum install kmod-catalyst-

This downloaded and installed the ATi driver catalyst kernel module for Fedora 11 x64. Next I shut down X using

init 3

Logging back into root I enabled the catalyst driver

catalyst-config-display enable

Finally I rebuilt the kernel so that it loaded the drivers correct.

new-kernel-pkg –mkinitrd –update $(rpm -q –queryformat=”%{version}-%{release}.%{arch}\n” kernel | tail -n 1)

Remember that’s two dashes before mkinitrd, update and queryformat! At this point you may have noticed that so far I am following the exact same process as I did during my first attempt with RPM Fusion. That is because this series of steps is the only one that gave me working hardware and good resolution.

OK So How Come It Worked This Time?

If you’ll remember it was at this point that when I enabled Desktop Effects my system would freeze up. setting Software Cursor in X seemed to fix this but caused other graphical issues. I managed to find this awesome post much later on in the giant Fedora Forum post that showed much promise. By opening a root terminal and typing,

aticonfig –set-pcs-str=”DDX,EnableRandR12,FALSE”

all of my problems were suddenly gone. Again that’s two dashes in front of set-pcs-str, not one! Now I’m not a rocket scientist but I think I just enabled random to make this work? 😛 This little line is a godsend. I was now able to enable full OpenGL graphical effects, including my desktop ones, without software cursor screwing everything up! Finally all of my countless hours of frustration paid off in spades!

Up Next: Full Touchpad Support

I honestly don’t even remember the whole process I went through to try and get my touchpad to support tap-clicking. My time spent on this task was intertwined between my time spent trying to fix my graphics issues. Needless to say all I had to do was verify that the synaptics driver was installed, it was, and then add this to /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier  “Synaptics Touchpad”
Driver      “synaptics”
Option      “SendCoreEvents” “true”
Option      “Device” “/dev/psaux”
Option      “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option      “HorizScrollDelta” “0”
Option      “SHMConfig” “true”
Option      “TapButton1” “1”

And then set up a terminal command to run on startup that executes the following line:

synclient TapButton1=1

So What’s Next?

Amazingly I think I am almost completely set-up and ready to start actually using my system in a normal way. My networking works, my graphics work, my audio works, it all seems to just work.

Are You Sure?

Well… there are two little annoying things.

Network Manager and KWallet

The first time I installed Fedora, a program called KWallet, the KDE password manager, stored my Wifi password perfectly. Now however for some reason it is not storing the password at all which forces me to enter it every time I want to connect to the network. This is incredibly annoying and should be an easy fix but I just cannot seem to find a way to make it start remembering my password! If anyone knows how to make it suddenly smarten up please let me know!

Kopete and Webcam

I never had any reason to use a webcam in an instant messenger however while poking around inside of Kopete I did notice that it seemed to support it. So I hopped on MSN and attempted to test this capability. Only… I can’t find the button to send or receiver webcam invites anywhere. Does Kopete just not support MSN webcam? A quick google search seems to claim it does… Again if anyone knows the answer to this or how to make it work please post a comment. 🙂


Sorry for the long post but I figured I might as well catch up on everything I had missed writing in the past couple of days. Here is a picture of my desktop just to prove it actually works as promised 😛

My Desktop

My Desktop

Graphical Woes and a Bricked System

September 2nd, 2009 1 comment

Today’s big task was to get rid of the Windows 3.1 look of the default GNOME theme by installing the Compiz Fusion window manager. First, however, I needed to add 3D hardware acceleration and OpenGL support to my existing graphics system. Unfortunately, after an evening of searching for how to accomplish these seemingly simple tasks in Google’s proverbial haystack of information, I found myself no wiser, and in the mood to chew through my power cable and just end it all.

Bleary-eyed and pissed off, I turned to the community in the #debian IRC channel for help, and found a room full of knowledgeable folks who were very willing to help me out. Sometime during the ensuing discussion, I followed this guy’s advice and installed a package called mesa-utils that added OpenGL support to my system, and was good to go. The only problem is that I don’t know if I could do it again, because I can’t recall the steps that got me to where I am. Damn.

In any case, with hardware acceleration now supported, I moved on to enabling the Compiz Fusion window manager with this tutorial on the Debian Wiki. Unfortunately, upon activating my newly installed eye candy, my entire system froze up. I restarted X, but the service refused to come back online, and was disabled by the system.

Now, whenever I attempt to boot my laptop, I get a big error message claiming that X failed to start, and can’t get into my desktop. It seems that the changes that I made to the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file while setting up Compiz have caused an error that occurs while parsing the file on startup.

So, I guess my install is bricked until I can remove my changes to that config file… Anybody got a live CD?

Getting Up and Running with Debian

September 1st, 2009 3 comments

Considering that it was my first experience with Linux, the installation of Debian actually went rather smoothly. I popped in the Debian live disc, rebooted my machine, and said goodbye to Windows XP.

The Basics:

I chose the graphical installer, because I’m a big wimp, and because it makes screenshots. You might ask how the installer saves screenshots to a hard drive that is as of yet unpartitioned, and will be wiped/encrypted during the coming hours… I don’t know either, but I guess that’s a part of the Linux magic. (You don’t get any of these pictures, because I lost them when I reinstalled, and forgot to take more the second time around).

The first few settings were fairly straightforward. Debian asked me to choose my default language, geographical location, and keyboard layout. Debian appears to support some 44 different keyboard layouts on install, including Dvorak, and Canadian Multilingual, which is perhaps the most awful layout ever conceived by man. Is it as bad for the Quebecois as it is for us Ontarians?

Next, the installer attempted to detect my hardware settings, and scanned the live disc for required drivers. At this point, the installer notified me that my system would require non-free firmware files to get my wireless card working. In Linux-speak, non-free simply means that the firmware is distributed as a compiled binary, and that the source code is not available. It is, however, free in the sense that I don’t have to pay a dime to use it, although I have to agree to a license to do so. Given the option to load the firmware files from a disc, or to wait and deal with the problem once the desktop was up and running, I chose the latter.

The next step was for the Debian installer to attempt to auto-configure my DHCP settings, and to use my ethernet card to connect to the internet. Since the laptop wasn’t plugged in to an ethernet cable, it didn’t really surprise me that this step failed. I chose to configure the network later, and moved on to giving my machine a name and choosing my timezone instead.

Partitions and Full-Disc Encryption:

When it came time to partition my disks, I chose to take a shot at full-disc encryption. The most basic Linux drive has two partitions – one called /boot that is generally formatted with ext2 and takes the place of Window’s boot sector, and another called / that contains the rest of your data, including the OS. Once the BIOS has finished all of it’s startup checks and initializations, it hands off to GRUB, which is stored on the /boot partition. GRUB does some other stuff, and then boots the operating system, which is stored on the secondary partition, usually formatted with one of the many available file systems that Tyler covered in detail in a previous post. There is a great explanation of the entire boot process available here.

To allow for multiple partitions, Linux utilizes some fancy software called the LVM (logical volume manager), which virtualizes any partitions that you create within the big main one. When enabling full-disc encryption, everything inside of the LVM (all of the partitions except for /boot, because the machine needs to be able to start) is encrypted as it is written to disc, and decrypted as it is read from disc. This method of protecting your data is extremely secure, as the encryption is transparent to the user and operating system, while every file on the system remains encrypted until the correct password is provided by the user.

Debian allows me to put each of the important parts of my root directory on separate drive partitions. For example, I can separate the /home partition from the /usr, /var, and /tmp partitions within the LVM. This would be extremely handy if my machine were running multiple physical discs, and I wanted to put my install on a separate disk from my data so that backups and reinstalls are less painful. Because I’m new at this and have only one disc, I chose to put all of my files in a single partition.

Before proceeding with installation, Debian tried to zero all existing data on my drive. Since that data wasn’t at all sensitive, my hard drive is small, and I don’t care to wait years for the wiping process to finish, I hit the cancel button in the bottom-right hand corner of the screen, which allowed me to skip to the next step. I actually found this out by accident, fully expecting the cancel button to boot me right out of the install process. Silly UI design, that.

The last step in partitioning my drives was to provide a password for the full-disc encryption, and to choose the file system for each of my newly created partitions. As previously noted, my /boot partition is formatted with ext2, and the LVM is using a filesystem called crypto, which I assume is just the name of the encrypted partition container. Linux also creates a root partition for me (located at /), which I’ve chosen to format with the ext3 filesystem, since ext4 does not appear to be supported by my installer. Finally, a partition called /swap is created (the equivalent of the Window’s swap file), that is formatted with the (what else?) swap file system.

It should be noted that the partition manager screen also had a strange UI bug in it – the continue button that had been my friend and companion thus far throughout the install process ceased to have any meaningful functionality. I had to choose to ‘finish partitioning and write changes to disc’ from the partition manager menu before I could continue with the installation.

Just About There:

With all of the setup options behind me, the Debian installer helpfully finished the install all on it’s own, pausing only to demand that I enter a root password, a default user account name and user account password. It should be noted that if you intend to become a l337 system administrator, your root password should be hard to guess but easy to type, as you’ll be forced to enter it whenever you do an action that is outside of the user account security privileges (or in other words, essentially anything of consequence).

Lastly, the installer asked if I wanted to enable the Debian package popularity contest (popcon), and which default software I wanted to install. I chose to add a web server, file server, and SQL database to the default install. That done, the installer went on it’s merry way and actually got down to the business of installing my distribution.

Adding the Tubes (Or Not):

Remember how the Debian installer failed to auto-detect my DHCP settings because my laptop wasn’t plugged into an ethernet cable? Well it also “forgot” to install my ethernet card driver at the same time. Since the machine doesn’t have a network connection, I have no access to the Debian repositories from which I can get the required drivers, but I can’t seem to get them without access to those repositories. I found the driver in question here, but have no idea what to do with the driver once I get it, because it is distributed as a *.rpm package, which is the Fedora package format, and unsupported by Debian. I’ve found various discussions on the Debian website that reveal that tg3, the driver for my network card, was removed from the Debian package, because it is not “free” in the sense that it is distributed as a compiled binary, and not as source.

After spending a half hour scouring the GOOG for instructions on how to install this driver, only to come up empty handed, I’ve decided to simply reinstall, but to plug the ethernet cable in this time, and hope that it works better than it did last time. If anybody knows what the hell happened, I’d love to hear an explanation, and perhaps a method by which I can fix the problem.

Back from the Reinstall:

So after waiting for Debian to reinstall, I got back up and running, and just needed my wireless card active so that I could put my ethernet cable back in my other computer. Luckily, the steps to get it working are very straightforward:

  1. Open the synaptic package manager
  2. Under the settings menu, select repositories, and select the DFSG and Non-DFSG checkboxes. This will allow synaptic to install packages that are non-free.
  3. Search for a package called firmware-ipw2x00, and install it
  4. Agree to the firmware license
  5. Open a root terminal
  6. Type “modprobe ipw2200” to load the firmware kernel module
  7. Navigate to the etc/ directory, and open the file “modules” in the nano editor
  8. add the line “ipw2200” to the end of the file
  9. Hit ctrl-x to close the file, and Y to save the changes.
  10. Restart your machine

Once your machine restarts, the wireless firmware will be loaded, and you should be able to click on the network icon in the taskbar and select an available wireless network to connect to.

So Everything is Cool, Right?

Well, not quite. My system is up and running, supports full-disc encryption, wired and wireless networking; but the GNOME desktop bugs the hell out of me, and so far as I can tell, I don’t have a working sound card yet… More on that one tomorrow. The moral of this story is as follows: NEVER install Debian without a network connection present. It’s just not worth your time.

From rage to less rage

September 1st, 2009 2 comments

Today was installation day – that is, get my Gentoo system up and running to begin its full-time use. I have several pictures of the installation process, but will try avoid cheating by posting them once I get my digital camera working natively. So far, I have encountered the following enraging or annoying glitches:

  • Outdated official documentation – use the Gentoo Wiki instead. The setup guide for mentions “keyboard mouse” as an acceptable string for INPUT_DEVICES. For anyone with a USB keyboard and mouse – which should be the majority of users at this point – this string should be “evdev” to allow HAL to manage these peripherals.
  • Where’s my mouse? I spent three hours trying to get any semblance of life out of my MX1100 under, which shouldn’t require anything special other than the default USB human interface device drivers. Turns out, the suggested /dev/input/mice and /dev/mouse settings are both not functional for this scenario. Running:
    cat /proc/bus/input/devices

    gave a better understanding of where to map these peripherals – my keyboard’s Option “Device” is set to /dev/input/event3, and my mouse is /dev/input/event5. Drivers for both sections should be “evdev”.

  • Get your USE flags flying. For multiple monitor support, you’ll want to make sure to have support for xinerama in /etc/make.conf. Other notable flags I’ve used are:
    • branding, which enables official Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird product branding (logos and product names mostly.) You can’t legally redistribute your compiled binaries to anyone else if you use this option.
    • svg, which is required to display scalable vector graphics in most applications.
    • dbus and hal, which enforce Desktop Bus and Hardware Abstraction Layer support. These are very good things.

The Gentoo project seems like it could definitely use some additional documentation maintainers – some of the desktop files mention 2006 releases of the distribution. The KDE installation guide mentions nothing about versions beyond 3.4 (I believe there’s a working draft for version 4, but it involves ‘unmasking’ some packages; I’m not quite ready to do that yet.) The tutorials are well-written and fairly easy to follow, but this is not a distribution I’d recommend to someone unfamiliar with Linux.

If I continue using Gentoo as my main operating system, I’ll certainly try to update the wiki with my best efforts. For now, I seem to be doing better than Tyler – I’m sure he’ll tell you all about his graphics driver fiasco with Fedora shortly.

Categories: Gentoo, God Damnit Linux, Jake B Tags: