Archive for the ‘God Damnit Linux’ Category

These lockups are getting pretty annoying

September 20th, 2009 4 comments

This morning I was using Firefox with about a dozen tabs open when my computer locked up. It froze and was completely unresponsive – basically DOA. I decided to reboot the system, and everything was working fine until I reopened Firefox. It loaded my previous session, and the computer locked up again. After a second reboot, I opened Firefox and decided to start a new session and so far everything has been running smoothly.

I’m not sure why my system does this, but it’s getting pretty damn annoying. More importantly, the fact that these crashes are forcing me to reboot is really getting on my nerves. While I didn’t have anything important open, in the next few days I’m going to be using R through the terminal, and there’s a chance that a crash like this could lose me a significant amount of work, particularly since R doesn’t have a restore capability like my other programs.

I’m also hesitant to blame Firefox for what’s going on since this has also happened in Thunderbird and in Pidgin. Hopefully I can figure out what’s going on soon – Linux Mint has been pretty fantastic, and this has really put a damper on my experience. Is there any sort of error log I can look at? Ideally I want to be able to replicate the conditions before the crash to see if I can isolate any causes.

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

Mounting an NTFS-formatted External Drive

September 20th, 2009 7 comments

I have a Western Digital 250GB NTFS-formatted external hard drive that I use primarily to store backups of my Windows machine. Since I’m away from my house for a couple of days, I used the drive to bring along some entertainment, but encountered some troubles getting Debian Lenny to play nice with it:

mount-errorAfter searching around for a bit, I found a helpful thread on the Ubuntu forums that explained that this problem could be caused by a few different things. First, with the drive plugged in, I ran

sudo fdisk -l

from the terminal, which brought up a summary of all disks currently recognized by the machine:

jon@debtop:/$ sudo fdisk -l
Disk /dev/sda: 40.0 GB, 40007761920 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 4864 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0xcccdcccd
 Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1   *           1          31      248976   83  Linux
/dev/sda2              32        4864    38821072+  83  Linux

Disk /dev/dm-0: 39.7 GB, 39751725568 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 4832 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x00000000

Disk /dev/dm-0 doesn't contain a valid partition table
Disk /dev/dm-1: 38.0 GB, 38067503104 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 4628 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x00000000

Disk /dev/dm-1 doesn't contain a valid partition table
Disk /dev/dm-2: 1681 MB, 1681915904 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 204 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x00000000
Disk /dev/dm-2 doesn't contain a valid partition table
Disk /dev/sdb: 250.0 GB, 250059350016 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 30401 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x5b6ac646

Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sdb1               1       30401   244196001    7  HPFS/NTFS

Judging by the size of the drives, I figured out that the OS saw my drive at the location /dev/sdb, and the partition that I wanted to mount (the only partition on the drive) at the location /dev/sdb1.

Now, to determine why Linux wasn’t mounting the drive, I checked the fstab file at /etc/fstab to see if there was some other entry for sdb that was preventing it from mounting correctly:

# /etc/fstab: static file system information.
# <file system> <mount point>   <type>  <options>       <dump>  <pass>
proc            /proc           proc    defaults        0       0
/dev/mapper/debtop-root /               ext3    errors=remount-ro 0       1
/dev/sda1       /boot           ext2    defaults        0       2
/dev/mapper/debtop-swap_1 none            swap    sw              0       0
/dev/scd0       /media/cdrom0   udf,iso9660 user,noauto     0       0
/dev/fd0        /media/floppy0  auto    rw,user,noauto  0       0

Since there was no entry there that should have overwritten sdb, I gave up on that line of inquiry, and decided to try manually mounting the drive. I know that Debian can read ntfs drives using the -t ntfs argument for the mount command, so I navigated over to the /media/ directory and created a folder to mount the drive in:

jon@debtop:/$ cd /media/
jon@debtop:/media$ sudo mkdir WesternDigital
jon@debtop:/media$ ls
cdrom  cdrom0  floppy  floppy0  WesternDigital
jon@debtop:/media$ sudo mount -t ntfs /dev/sdb1 /media/WesternDigital/
jon@debtop:/media$ sudo -s
root@debtop:/media# cd WesternDigital
root@debtop:/media/WesternDigital# ls
KeePass.kdbx  nws  $RECYCLE.BIN  System Volume Information

As you can see, the contents of my external drive were now accessible in the location where they ought to have been if Debian had correctly mounted the drive when it was plugged in. The only caveat to the process is that the mount function is available only to root users, meaning that the mountpoint was created by root, and my user account lacks the necessary permissions to read or write to the external drive:


I figured that this issue could be solved by using chmod to grant all users read and write permissions to the mountpoint:

root@debtop:/media# chmod +rw WesternDigital
chmod: changing permissions of `WesternDigital': Read-only file system

Well what the hell does that mean? According to this post (again on the Ubuntu forums), the ntfs support in Linux is experimental, and as such, all ntfs drives are mounted as read only. Specifically, this drive is owned by the root user, and has only read and execute permisions, but lacks write permissions.

According to this thread on the forums, there is another ntfs driver for Linux called ntfs-3g that will allow me full access to my ntfs-formatted drive. After sucessfully adding the ntfs-3g drivers to my system, I dismounted the drive, and attempted to re-mount it with the following command:

mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sdb1 /media/WesternDigital

This time, the mount command appeared to almost work, but I got an error message along the way, indicating that the drive had not been properly dismounted the last time it was used on Windows, and giving me the option to force the mount:

Mount is denied because NTFS is marked to be in use. Choose one action:

Choice 1: If you have Windows then disconnect the external devices by
 clicking on the 'Safely Remove Hardware' icon in the Windows
 taskbar then shutdown Windows cleanly.

Choice 2: If you don't have Windows then you can use the 'force' option for
 your own responsibility. For example type on the command line:

 mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sdb1 /media/WesternDigital -o force

Well, since I didn”t have a Windows box lying about that I can use to dismount the drive properly, I’ll took a shot at using the force option. After warning me again that it was resetting the log file and forcing the mount, the machine finally mounted my drive with full permissions for the owner, group, and other users!

drwxrwxrwx 1 root root  4096 2009-09-18 15:40 WesternDigital

After a couple of manual tests, I confirmed that both my user account and the root user had full read/write/execute access to this drive, and that I could use it like any other drive that the system has access to. Further, thanks to the painful XBMC install process, I already had the codecs required to play all of the TV shows that I brought along.

Wireless Network Manager Woes

September 16th, 2009 No comments

Debian Lenny ships with the Network Manager package, version 0.6.6-4, which for all intents and purposes is a well written and very useful network management application. But of course, I wanted something more. At home, I have my music library (hosted on a Windows Vista machine) shared to the local network, and wanted to mount that drive using Samba so that I could share my music library between my two machines while on my home network.

On a Windows machine, one can just point an application to files on a networked drive, while Windows handles all of the dirty details related to allowing that application use those files as if they were on the local machine. On Linux, the application in question seems to have to be aware of how to handle a Windows share (usually via the Samba package), and handle that drive sharing on it’s own, unless the network drive has been mounted first. Further, when mounting a network share in Linux, one can choose any folder on their hard drive to put its contents into, ensuring that it always appears in the same location, and is easy to find.

Unfortunately, as far as I can divine, a networked drive can only be mounted by the root user, which seriously reduces the number of applications that can perform that mounting action. In my quest to get my home music share working, I looked into plenty of different methods for automatically mounting network drives, including startup scripts, modifying the fstab file, and manually connecting from a root terminal. None worked very well.

Eventually, I stumbled across a web post advertising the pros of the WICD network manager, which as I understand, will be used as an alternative to the network manager package by Debian Squeeze, and can currently be pulled into Lenny by adding the Debian-Lenny Backports repository to your sources list. I installed it, replacing the default network-manager-gnome package.

My first impression of WICD was extremely positive. Not only did it connect to my home network immediately, it also allowed me to define default networks to connect to (something that is conspiciously absent from the NetworkManager interface), and to set scripts that are run when my client connects to or disconnects from any of the networks in the list. This allowed me to write a simple one line script that mounted my network share on connection to my home wireless network. It worked every time, and mysteriously did so without asking me for my Sudo password, even though it used the sudo command internally to get rights to perform the mount.

Odd security peculiarities aside, I was happy with what I had accomplished – now I could tell my laptop to automatically connect to my home wireless network, and to mount my music share as soon as it did so! Then I went to school. Shit.

The wireless network at my University uses EAP-TTLS with PAP inner-authentication as a security protocol, something that WICD apparently had no idea how to handle. This protocol is extremely secure, as the host identifies itself to the client with a certificate that the client uses to tunnel into the host, allowing connection to take place without any user information being passed in the clear. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work, except that our school doesn’t have a certificate or certificate authority, so… Whatever.

In any case, WICD does not include a template for this type of network (which is fair I suppose, since Windows requires an add-on to access it as well), but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what to do to fix the problem. I trolled the internet from a wired machine and tried editing the WICD encryption templates, while Tyler (on Fedora) and Phil (on OpenSuse) connected on first try.

Eventually, after an hour or so of fruitless trial and error, I gave up, came home, and reinstalled the NetworkManager application, because that’s what Tyler and Phil were using on their systems, and it seemed to work fine. Sure enough, the next day I connected after just a minor tweaking of the network properties in the NetworkManager dialog.

Unfortunately, while I can now connect to my home and school networks, I once again have lost the ability to automatically connect to networks, and to execute scripts on connection, meaning that I’m back to square one with the mounted networked music share – for now, I just do the mounting manually from a root terminal. Balls.

New monitor woes

September 15th, 2009 No comments

So I’ve gone out and purchased myself a gorgeous LG Flatron W2243T. Unfortunately, getting it to work correctly has proven difficult so far. It’s connected to my computer through a DVI-to-HDMI cable. Now, adding a monitor to my Windows XP machine was fairly simple – all I had to do was plug it in, add it through display properties, and then I could futz around with it to my heart’s content. The task has proven more arduous on Mint.

Mint’s display manager really brought my system to its knees – as soon as I opened it, the computer slowed to a crawl and was basically unusable. Some of the information on the display manager was correct: there were two monitors (the laptop monitor and the new LG external monitor), and one was wider than the other; unfortunately, every other piece of information was “unknown”, and trying to change anything killed my system. After I rebooted, the monitor worked right from startup, which was a pleasant surprise, but that’s where the fun ended. I tried to get into my display manager again, but all it did was slow my system down and present me with a blank screen. I’ve tried going in through terminal and finding anything I could online, but I’m not sure what to do. Hopefully Jake can help me out when he gets home – otherwise I’m stuck with a mirrored dual monitor setup in a non-optimal resolution. Thankfully, my monitor and laptop share the same display ratio, so at least everything is in proportion.

Oh God How Did This Happen

Oh God How Did This Happen

Eclipse Fails It

September 14th, 2009 No comments

Man, Eclipse works great on Debian! It gives me this cool message on startup:

JVM terminated. Exit code=127
-jar /usr/lib/eclipse/startup.jar
-os linux
-ws gtk
-arch x86
-launcher /usr/lib/eclipse/eclipse
-name Eclipse
-showsplash 600
-exitdata 3a0015
-install /usr/lib/eclipse
-vm /usr/lib/jvm/java-gcj/bin/java
-jar /usr/lib/eclipse/startup.jar

After uninstalling, reinstalling, changing which JVM I was using, uninstalling, reinstalling, googling, yahooing, and binging, I finally found this post over at Debian Help that instructed me to first install XULRunner. With the addition of this simple step, everything suddenly worked great.

The strange part about the whole thing is that Eclipse doesn’t install XULRunner as a dependency, and the Wikipedia article about XULRunner doesn’t mention Eclipse anywhere. I don’t really understand their relationship, aside from the fact that Eclipse supports plugins that may or may not be written on top of XULRunner.

Regardless of their strange and undocumented relationship, the Eclipse/XULRunner combo seem to work perfectly, allowing me to create Java, C/C++, and Plugin projects out of the box. Next steps include adding plugins for Subversion, Python, and PHP.

Challenger Approaching: Phil tries to install openSUSE

September 13th, 2009 No comments

I’m the newest guinea pig in this experiment, and yes, I’m a few days late joining up. Since I’ve already become comfortable with Ubuntu, I decided to choose openSUSE for my distribution. However, because I do a lot of Windows development for both of my jobs, I’ll be the only participant of this experiment who’ll be dual booting.

Before you go and cry foul, I checked the rules very carefully. The rules state: “[you] must use the distribution on your primary computer and it must be your primary day-to-day computing environment”. That means that as long as I use it 50.1% of the time, I’ll be within the bounds of the experiment. Of course I plan to use it considerably more than 50.1% of the time.

While everyone else in the experiment has been starting to finally get their computers to a productive state, I’m just started installed openSUSE last Tuesday. I might have had some time to start getting my shit in order, however my first attempt to burn the openSUSE DVD was met with a burn error.

Wasted DVD Count: 1

Not wanting to risk installing from a faulty disc, I burnt it again. Same error. Out of boredom, I figured “what’s the worst that can happen?” and tried to install anyways. Needless to say, the installation failed about 3/4 through, but Windows booted anyways so I figured I’d be okay.

Wasted DVD Count: 2

My next step was to re-download the ISO, then try to burn the disc again from another computer. Shockingly, I encountered the same burn error. Since the last failed burn attempt didn’t completely ruin my system, I figured I’d try it again. Again I was met by disastrous failure, but this time, Windows would not boot.

Wasted DVD Count: 3

After using my Windows 7 RC disc to “repair Windows”, I finally got the system to boot. However, it took over 30 minutes from power on to functional desktop. Immediately I ran a disk defrag and scheduled a checkdisk, and went to bed.

The analysis alone for the defrag took around 4 hours [I know because I happened to wake up in the middle of the night and decided to go check it, and it was about 90% done]. Incase you’ve never run a disk defrag, that’s WAY above normal. In the morning I ran the actual defrag, and it took about 2 hours. Once it finished, I rebooted to start the checkdisk – which hadn’t finished before I left for work 2 hours later. When I got home, 5.5 hours after I started the checkdisk, it was just finishing. In total it took 6 hours. Windows now ran smoothly, but was lacking sound, and nothing I could do made it work. So I re-installed Windows 7 and everything was back to normal before I started trying to install openSUSE.

I decided to burn another copy of the openSUSE install disc, and ran the media check that’s installed on the disc. Around 3/4 of the way through the check it failed. Running it on another machine yielded the same result.

Wasted DVD Count: 4

I decided to get a MD5 program to verify the integrity of the ISO’s I downloaded. They both matched perfectly to the MD5 provided on the openSUSE download page, so with few options left, I asked Tyler to download a copy of the ISO and burn it. Although there was a burn error in that process as well, I decided to run the Media Check on that DVD as well. Surprisingly it succeeded and I proceeded to attempt to install openSUSE.

One of the nice things about openSUSE is that it proposes either a partition based or an LVM based method for installing the OS. Usually, this involved shrinking the Windows partition and using the available space for Boot, Swap, Home, and Root partitions. Because of all the screwing around with hard drive partitions and disk fragmentation, openSUSE was unable to shrink my Windows partition to roughly 40 GB. Instead, I had to boot back into Windows 7, shrink the partition there, and then manually assign partitions from within the openSUSE installer. I ended up choosing to set aside 4GB for my Swap partition [2 * the amount of RAM I have], and to group Home, Root, and Boot into one partition with the remaining 26 GB.

So on Friday night [or Saturday morning] openSUSE finally booted, taking up 5 DVD’s in the process. More to come on making openSUSE do my bidding.

Categories: God Damnit Linux, openSUSE, Phil D Tags:

How to not install XBMC on Debian Lenny

September 13th, 2009 4 comments

So tonight I got a terrible idea. I figured that I’d try to install XBMC, the awesome media centre app for modded Xbox consoles. Turns out that they do, in fact, have a Linux version… but that none of it’s dependencies can be resolved automatically, and that every developer remotely related to the project was on crack while packing the tarball.

Because the devs only package a release for Ubuntu (that doesn’t work worth a shit on Debian), I was forced to download a tarball from this site, which I extracted to my home/username/bin directory. Unfortunately, when attempting to./configure in this directory, I discovered that the package had roughly 337 thousand dependencies, namely:

subversion make g++ gcc gawk pmount libtool nasm automake cmake gperf unzip bison libsdl-dev libsdl-image1.2-dev libsdl-gfx1.2-dev libsdl-mixer1.2-dev libsdl-sound1.2-dev libsdl-stretch-dev libfribidi-dev liblzo-dev libfreetype6-dev libsqlite3-dev libogg-dev libasound-dev python-sqlite libglew-dev libcurl4-dev x11proto-xinerama-dev libxinerama-dev libxrandr-dev libxrender-dev libmad0-dev libogg-dev libvorbis-dev libmysqlclient-dev libpcre3-dev libdbus-1-dev libhal-dev libhal-storage-dev libjasper-dev libfontconfig-dev libbz2-dev libboost-dev libfaac-dev libenca-dev libxt-dev libxmu-dev libpng-dev libjpeg-dev libpulse-dev mesa-utils libcdio-dev

Yeah. That many. Further, the library liblzo-dev is no longer a part of Debian Lenny, although it is available from the Etch repositories. You can grab that tarball and manually install it from this page. Oh, and you’ll also need to add the debian-multimedia non-free repositories to your sources.list file in order to obtain libdvdcss… You can find instructions to do that here.

Assuming you’re still with me, and have managed to install all of the above dependencies (all 300+ MB of them), you’ll probably still fail, because the tarballs for the vast majority of them fail to set execute permissions on their configure files on extraction. As such, you’ll have to manually walk through each of the folders under xbmc and add those permissions…

After adding these permissions as deep as I could in the directory structure with the command chmod -R +x */configure (where you can add up to 6 instances of */), and running the XBMC config file a solid 50+ times, I’m stuck on the libdvdnav library, which doesn’t seem to contain a valid config file… Seeing as I have to work tomorrow, I offically give up for now. Christ this must be a small taste of what Gentoo is like all the time.

The Next Morning:

With a clear head and a fresh cup of coffee, I took another shot at installing XBMC.After spending 20 minutes manually installing the libdvdnav, libdvdread, and libdvdcss libraries, I finally managed to run the XBMC configure script with no errors.

After just over a half hour compiling, I finally got XBMC installed and gave it a test run.

Initially, I had troubles connecting to any network shares where my media is stored. After going into the network settings, changing my workgroup name, and telling the app to automatically mount SMB shares, everything seemed peachy.

More to come as I figure this out

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: