Archive for the ‘Gentoo’ Category

Oh Gentoo

December 22nd, 2011 6 comments

Well it’s been a couple of months now since the start of Experiment 2.0 and I’ve had plenty of time to learn about Gentoo, see its strengths and… sit waiting through its weaknesses. I don’t think Gentoo is as bad as everyone makes it out to be, in fact, compared to some other distributions out there, Gentoo doesn’t look bad at all.

Now that the experiment is approaching its end I figured it would be a good time to do a quick post about my experiences running Gentoo as a day-to-day desktop machine.


Gentoo is exactly what you want it to be, nothing more. Sure there are special meta-packages that make it easy to install things such as the KDE desktop, but the real key is that you don’t need to install anything that you don’t want to. As a result Gentoo is fast. My startup time is about 10-20 seconds and, if I had the inclination to do so, could be trimmed down even further through optimization.

Packages are also compiled with your own set of custom options and flags so you get exactly what you need, optimized for your exact hardware. Being a more advanced (see expert) oriented distribution it will also teach you quite a bit about Linux and software configuration as a whole.


Sadly Gentoo is not without its faults. As mentioned above Gentoo can be whatever you want it to be. The major problem with this strength in practice is that the average desktop user just wants a desktop that works. When it takes days of configuration and compilation just to get the most basic of programs installed it can be a major deterrent to the vast majority of users.

Speaking of compiling programs, I find this aspect of Gentoo interesting from a theoretical perspective but I honestly have a hard time believing that it makes enough of a difference to make it worth sitting through the hours days of compiling it takes just to get some things installed. Its so bad that I actually haven’t bothered to re-sync and update my whole system in over 50 days for fear that it would take forever to re-compile and re-install all of the updated programs and libraries.

Worse yet even when I do have programs installed they don’t always play nicely with one another. Gentoo offers a package manager, portage, but it still fails at some dependency resolution – often times making you choose between uninstalling previous programs just to install the new one or to not install the new one at all. Another example of things being more complicated than they should be is my system sound. Even though I have pulseaudio installed and configured my system refuses to play audio from more than one program at a time. These are just a few examples of problems I wouldn’t have to deal with on another distribution.


Well, it’s been interesting but I will not be sticking with Gentoo once this experiment is over. There are just too many little things that make this more of an educational experience than a real day-to-day desktop. While I certainly have learned a lot during this version of the experiment, at the end of the day I’d rather things just work right the first time.

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

Wireless Networking: Using a Cisco/Linksys WUSB54GC on Gentoo

November 13th, 2011 1 comment

We live in an old house, which has the unfortunate side-effect of lacking a wired network of any kind. All of our machines connect to a wireless network, and my desktop is no exception. I’ve got an old WUSB54GC wireless stick that was manufactured some time in 2007. In computer years, this is way old hardware. But with a bit of work, I managed to get it working with my Gentoo install.

This bitch is old... but it works

I started out by installing the NetworkManager applet with a tutorial on the Gentoo Wiki. This was a straightforward process, and after a restart, the applet icon appeared in the top right corner of my screen. If you left-click on the icon, it drops down a menu that lists your wireless interfaces. Under the Wireless Networks heading, it said that it was missing the firmware necessary to talk to my hardware.

The next step was to look around the net and figure out the firmware/kernel module combination that supports this stick. I found my answer over at the SerialMonkey project, which is run by a group that took on maintenance of older Ralink firmware after the company of the same name dropped support. According to the SerialMonkey hardware guide, my stick (or at least a very similar stick called the WUSB54GR) works with the rt73usb kernel module and related firmware.

This known, there are two methods of proceeding. Those running older kernels may need to manually compile the necessary packages using instructions similar to these, from the Arch Linux project. For more modern kernels, the Gentoo project provides a Wiki entry detailing the necessary steps.

After following the steps in the Gentoo Wiki entry, I restarted my system, and now have full wireless support. Genius!

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

Can you install Gnome3 on Gentoo?

November 13th, 2011 1 comment

So my base Gentoo installation came with Gnome 2.3, which while solid, lacks a lot of the prettiness of Gnome’s latest 3.2 release. I thought that I might like to enjoy some of that beauty, so I attempted to upgrade. Because Gnome 3.2 isn’t in the main portage tree yet, I found a tutorial that purported to walk me through the upgrade process using an overlay, which is kind of like a testing branch that you can merge into the main portage tree in order to get unsupported software.

Since the tutorial that I linked above is pretty self-explanatory, I won’t repeat the steps here. There’s also the little fact that the tutorial didn’t work worth a damn…

Problem 1: Masked Packages

#required by dev-libs/folks-9999, 
required by gnome-base/gnome-shell-3.2.1-r1, 
required by gnome-base/gdm-[gnome-shell], 
required by gnome-base/gnome-2.32.1-r1, 
required by @selected, 
required by @world (argument)
>=dev-libs/libgee- introspection
#required by gnome-extra/sushi-0.2.1, 
required by gnome-base/nautilus-3.2.1[previewer], 
required by app-cdr/brasero-3.2.0-r1[nautilus], 
required by media-sound/sound-juicer-2.99.0_pre20111001, 
required by gnome-base/gnome-2.32.1-r1, 
required by @selected, 
required by @world (argument)
>=media-libs/clutter-gtk-1.0.4 introspection

This one is pretty simple to fix: you can add the lines >=dev-libs/libgee- introspection and >=media-libs/clutter-gtk-1.0.4 introspection to the file /etc/portage/package.accept_keywords, or you can run emerge -avuDN world –autounmask-write to get around these autounmask behaviour issues

Problem 2: Permissions

--------------------------- ACCESS VIOLATION SUMMARY ---------------------------
LOG FILE "/var/log/sandbox/sandbox-3222.log"

FORMAT: F - Function called
FORMAT: S - Access Status
FORMAT: P - Path as passed to function
FORMAT: A - Absolute Path (not canonical)
FORMAT: R - Canonical Path
FORMAT: C - Command Line

F: mkdir
S: deny
P: /root/.local/share/webkit
A: /root/.local/share/webkit
R: /root/.local/share/webkit
C: ./epiphany --introspect-dump=

This one totally confused me. If I’m reading it correctly, the install script lacks the permissions necessary to write to the path /root.local/share/webkit/. The odd part of this is that the script is running as the root user, so this simple shouldn’t happen. I was able to give it the permissions that it needed by running chmod 777 /root/.local/share/webkit/, but I had to start the install process all over again, and it just failed with a similar error the first time that it attempted to write a file to that directory. What the fuck?

At 10pm at night, I couldn’t be bothered to find a fix for this… I used the tutorial’s instructions to roll back the changes, and I’ll try again later if I’m feeling motivated. In the mean time, if you know how to fix this process, I’d love to hear about it.

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

Dropbox Meets Gentoo

November 6th, 2011 No comments

So I’m a big Dropbox user. I primarily use it to keep my personal info synchronized between my machines (don’t worry, I encrypt my stuff before dumping it into Dropbox, I’m not dumb), but it’s also handy for quickly sharing files with others.

Unfortunately, Dropbox doesn’t exist in the Gentoo portage tree.

To get started, head over to the Dropbox website and download the source tar.bzip file for your platform. Unzip it to your desktop, open a root terminal and cd into the resulting directory. Before you can actually install Dropbox, you’ll need to satisfy a few dependencies.

First, make sure that you’ve got python by typing emerge python into the aforementioned root terminal. Next, install docutils by typing emerge docutils in that same terminal. Now you should be able to install the dropbox stub by typing ./configure && make && make install.

At this point, Dropbox will have installed a stub of an application on your machine. You should be able to find it under Applications > Internet > Dropbox. When you launch this application, Dropbox will attempt to automatically download and install the binary portion of the application.

Optional: Verifying Binary Signatures

When dropbox downloads binary files, it verifies their legitimacy by calculating a digital signature and comparing it to a known value. In order for it to perform this task, you’ll need to have the pygpgme library installed on your system. Note that this is not the same as the python-gpgme library. They are different, and Dropbox requires the former. Like most Python libraries, pygpgme is a wrapper around a c-based library, in this case, GPGME. As such, the installation takes two steps. First, run emerge gpgme in your root terminal.

Second, you’ll need to install the pygpgme wrapper. It can be found on the project’s homepage at Launchpad. Unpack the tar.bzip, cd into the resulting directory, and run python build && python install from a root terminal. If the installation fails with an error message like

fatal error: gpgme.h: No such file or directory

then check the location of your gpgme.h file. It should have been included with the emerge gpgme command, but pygpgme expects it to live in /usr/include/. On my system, it was living in  /usr/include/gpgme/. I solved this problem by running cp /usr/include/gpgme/gpgme.h /user/include/. The only catch is that if you upgrade GPGME, you’ll need to remember that you copied the header file in order to make the python wrapper work. Once the file is copied, you should be able to run the setup script above.

Finally, run Dropbox and check to ensure that the warning message about binary signatures has gone away. You should now be good to go!


Edit: After I had figured all of this crap out, I realized that Dropbox actually is available in the Gentoo tree, but it’s called gnome-extra/nautilus-dropbox. You should be able to skip all of these steps and install Dropbox with the command emerge nautilus-dropbox, although I haven’t tried it myself.

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

How to update your (whole) Gentoo system

November 5th, 2011 No comments

I wrote a simple script that you can download here that makes it easy to update your Gentoo system. It first re-syncs your portage tree so that you are pointing to the newest source files. Then it performs a deep update including build dependencies on all packages that have new versions or could be rebuilt because you have modified your USE flags. It also upgrades any build dependencies and tools. Finally it removes unused dependencies and attempts to fix any broken packages that now have new dependencies.

emerge –sync
emerge –update –deep –with-bdeps=y –newuse –ask world
emerge –depclean

I also found this excellent website that makes it very easy to search for Gentoo packages and see what use flags you can apply to them.

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


November 3rd, 2011 No comments

Tonight, I finally got X11 working on my Gentoo machine. For those who are following along, on Tuesday night I managed to get my machine up to a command line. The next logical step is a graphical window manager.

I’ve chosen to give Gnome3 a spin, but before I can dive into all of it’s shiny UI-goodness, I need an X11 server installed on my machine. Because I have an nVidia graphics card in my machine, and I’ve had great luck with Ubuntu’s proprietary nVidia drivers in the past, I decided to skip over the open-source Nouveau drivers this time around. I started out the installation by following Gentoo’s nVidia guide, supplementing with info pulled from the nVidia entry on the Gentoo Wiki.

Although X is supposed to configure your system automagically, it couldn’t find my screens or devices on my first run of startx. I looked about the internet for a bit, and found out that you can force X to automatically configure itself. Simply run Xorg -configure and copy the file that it creates into your Xorg config directory (you can find it in the log file, mine is at /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/).

In my case, these automagical settings still needed a bit of tweaking. I noticed in the log file (again, mine is at /var/log/Xorg.0.log, your mileage may vary) that X was failing to load GLX, which is essentially for 3D acceleration. In my case, GLX was installed, but it NVIDIA’s version wasn’t being loaded. Once again, the Gentoo Wiki came through for me, instructing me to run eselect opengl set nvidia. This worked like a charm.

Finally, I had to install twm and xterm so that I could see X working. That was a quick and painless process. Now on to Gnome!

On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Gentoo, Jon F, Xorg/X11 Tags:

Closed source AMD/ATI drivers, wireless networking and Flash in Gentoo

November 3rd, 2011 No comments

Graphics Drivers

Continuing where I left off in my previous posts I now had a somewhat working desktop but a few things still had to be done. For one I am running this on my laptop and while the open source radeon drivers are actually pretty decent they’re just not quite good enough when it comes to power management. Thankfully the Linux closed source drivers are up to the job.

After reading through these two sites I was able to install the closed source drivers and get full control over my graphics card. To be perfectly honest I’m not exactly sure what steps got me to this point but I do know it was a mixture of the two sites.

Wireless Networking

After careful consideration I had come to the conclusion thought I had bricked my wireless. Worse yet after following the guide here (even the parts specific to KDE) I just couldn’t seem to get it to work. Thankfully I stumbled upon this guide which instructed me to install networking components for KDE. Apparently once I had installed this package all was good.


Flash was actually incredibly easy to install. All I had to do was enter the following command in a root terminal and then restart Firefox.

emerge adobe-flash


Another big install was the official Oracle Java JRE and JDK. To install just the JRE run the command dev-java/sun-jre-bin. If you want the JDK as well then run the command dev-java/sun-jdk. The only weird part about this was that this package is now considered restricted. To work around it simply download the bin file from Oracle and place it in /usr/portage/distfiles before running the command.

More to Come

There is still plenty more to do, like install LibreOffice and figure out why my computer currently can’t play audio CDs. I am however thankful that at this point I am at least a bit better off than some other fellow Linux Experiment participants.

My Desktop So Far

The high CPU load was because I had just finished compiling a bunch of stuff 😛

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

Great Success!

November 1st, 2011 No comments

Just a quick note tonight – I finally managed to get a bootable Gentoo system installed!

After my last post, things were looking pretty grim. Instead of continuing to perpetuate the recompile/reboot cycle, I decided to start fresh, in hopes that I had simply missed a step the first time around. With this in mind, I started back at page one of the Gentoo Handbook and worked my way through the entire thing.

When it came time to compile my kernel, I opted for a slightly less error-prone method, and started off by installing Genkernel, a tool that automates some of the kernel creation steps. When running it however, I was sure to pass the –menuconfig parameter, which gave me full control over what modules were included in the final product.

Next, I followed the kernel tutorials in the Gentoo Handbook and on the Gentoo Wiki Asus P5Q-E page. This ensured that I included every component that was necessary for my system.

Once I rebooted the machine, a login prompt came up the first time. Great success indeed!

One little gotcha that’s important to note at this step. On my first login, I didn’t have any network access. Two things that might help:

  1. Open up /etc/conf.d/net in nano and add a line like config_eth0=”dhcp” for each network interface in your machine, where eth0 is the name of the interface. This tells the machine to use DHCP when initializing the device. On most home networks, this will get you an IP address.
  2. Make sure that any required modules are loaded. I have two network interfaces. One uses the sky2 module, and the other uses skge. You can check to ensure that these are loaded with the command lsmod | grep sky2 where sky2 is the name of the module that you’re looking for. If it isn’t loaded, run modprobe sky2 to get it up and running. Note that you may need to recompile your kernel with support for the module in question if you missed it first time ’round.

Tomorrow, I’ll compile an X11 server, and hopefully get started on the GNOME desktop environment. Christ there’s still a lot to do…

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

Kernel Panic!

November 1st, 2011 2 comments

So like Tyler, I’ve decided to run Gentoo. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

My experience thus far can be summed up with a single word: frustrating. I spent my first day working through the (excellent) Gentoo Handbook. Like Jake, I found it handy to have run lshw on my system prior to installing Gentoo. This provided me with a list of my hardware that I could refer back to during the installation process, and saved me a few headaches.

At first, my live-cd environment lacked a network connection. My machine has two network interfaces in it. One uses the sky2 kernel module, while the other uses skge. I ran:

modprobe skge
net-setup eth1
[follow on-screen instructions]

and was successful.

On that first day of dicking about, I managed to get all the way to Chapter 10: Configuring the Bootloader. It was at this point, in subchapter 10.d, that I was instructed to reboot the system, as though it would be a relaxing, daisy-scented walk in the park. Not so.

Apparently, the kernel that I’ve managed to compile does not recognize the SATA interface on my motherboard. When I attempt to boot, GRUB hands control off to the kernel, which goes looking for my root partition on /dev/sda3. It then dies with a message like

Kernel panic – not syncing: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on unknown-block(8,3)

This error message is the bane of my existence.

After a great deal of head-vs-desk action, approximately 37 kernel compilations, and a great deal of googling, I managed to find a Gentoo wiki entry that instructs users of my chipset on how to compile their very own working kernel. Tonight, I intend to follow it, in hopes that I can get the system to boot some time soon.

At this rate, I’ll be lucky to have a working desktop by the end of the experiment.

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

How to enable reboot/shutdown in KDE on Gentoo

October 30th, 2011 No comments

Yeah… apparently the ability to restart or shutdown your system using a normal user account from within KDE SC is not something that is installed by default. In order to accomplish this you need to compile and install the kde-misc/kshutdown package using the following command from a root terminal:

emerge kde-misc/kshutdown

I also had to create a new file called /etc/portage/package.accept_keywords in order for this to work. Inside that file just put the following text


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

Gentoo (A.K.A. “Compiling!”)

October 30th, 2011 No comments

For this version of the experiment I have chosen to try my hand at installing Gentoo. Gentoo, for those who don’t know, or who weren’t following Jake’s posts during the original experiment, is a fully customizable distribution where you have to compile and install all of your applications from source code downloads. Thankfully they do offer some excellent package management tools, Portage in particular, that help automate this process.


I suppose a bit of background is the best place to start. During the original experiment I ran Fedora which, while having a whole host of issues of its own, was more or less a straight forward experience. Since that time I’ve dabbled here and there with other distributions, Ubuntu, openSUSE, Linux Mint, among others. For this experiment I wanted a bit of a challenge. I now know the basics, and then some, about running a day-to-day desktop Linux system but I still don’t fully understand all of the inner workings that are going on under the hood. That’s where my choice of Gentoo comes in.

Getting Started

I began by following the rather excellent Gentoo Handbook which thankfully got me to the point where I was able to boot my machine, without the installation media, into a kernel that I had personally configured and compiled. To say that this was smooth sailing probably isn’t accurate, but considering what was actually involved in getting to this point, and how quickly I managed to do it, is a testament to how easy the guide actually is to follow along with.

One thing I would stress to Linux users who may want to try Gentoo and are coming from a more user friendly distribution like Ubuntu is to make sure to get a list of hardware before you start. Run lshw in your Ubuntu (or whatever) install and save the output somewhere. This will show you the list of hardware devices and more importantly the drivers required to run them correctly. I ran into a snag early on where my network card wasn’t working even though Gentoo claimed to be loading the drivers correctly. A quick modprobe later of the driver that was shown to be in use from my earlier install, tg3, and I was back and Internet enabled. Sadly even the lshw output didn’t provide a whole lot of direction when it came to picking and choosing some of the more obscure configuration options for my kernel.

The Challenge

So what do you do when you can finally turn your computer on and boot into your kernel? Well install X I suppose. Unfortunately it was this step that caused me more grief than any of the others. You see apparently you’re supposed to remember what graphics card is in your machine before you try and build a kernel that supports it…

Following along with the X Server Configuration Guide I made it all the way up until the point when I had to specify which “in-kernel firmware blobs” I wanted to compile into my kernel. After, literally, hours of compiling X and then a series of trial and error attempts I finally found a combination that seemed to work. For my own reference the only firmware blob I seem to require is


The Wait

I finally had a system that could start X and present me with multiple(!) graphical terminals. By this point I had sunk about ~5 hours into this project. Now it was time to try setting up a desktop environment. My two main choices were GNOME 3.x or KDE SC. I opted for KDE for two reasons:

  1. I hadn’t used KDE 4.x in a couple of releases and didn’t mind it last time I had tried it
  2. I have yet to try GNOME 3.x but since it is quite the departure from the 2.x series I figured I would go with what I know for now and maybe try GNOME 3.x later

Pulling up the Gentoo KDE guide I began my compilation of KDE SC.

emerge -av kde-meta

More than 400 packages needed to be compiled and installed. My system, a Core2Duo at 2.4Ghz and 4GB of RAM, took approximately 24 hours to finish this single process. Gentoo is certainly not a system that you can expect to have up and running in an afternoon if you’re expecting to have a fully working desktop environment.


USE Flags are ridiculous. I understand the concept for them but the fact that you have to continuously add to this list in order to compile programs you explicitly told it to install is a bit much. If you don’t know what a USE Flag is consider yourself lucky. For those thinking about installing Gentoo, don’t worry you’ll know soon enough.

Be sure to change the root password and add any user accounts after you chroot into your new installation. Otherwise you’ll end up like me and boot into a system that you can’t log into!

Next Steps

Well I’d like to finish setting up my desktop. I now have KDE installed but there seems to be some missing components that I hope won’t require a re-compilation… I’ll let you know how that turns out. I also need to sort out my wireless card and get that working. But hey at least for now I can browse the web in my new installation!

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

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 Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
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 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 Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

Distribution Upgrades

November 1st, 2009 No comments

As with the release of Karmic Koala, the majority of the other distributions we here at The Linux Experiment have decided to run will also be getting an upgrade. Here is a quick breakdown of what’s to come (in chronological order) to give you a heads up of what you can expect us to be blogging about shortly.

Gentoo – Release Set For: Tonight

OK fine, so technically Gentoo isn’t getting a “major new release” or anything like that but considering the nature of the distribution one could claim that it’s nightly builds are basically the same thing.

openSUSE 11.2 – Release Set For: November 12, 2009

The next step forward for openSUSE is version 11.2. Included in this release of openSUSE are major changes to YaST and zypper as well as a new release strategy whereby all releases are bootable by USB and CD-ROM. Some other incremental improvements in software are:

  • GNOME 2.28/KDE 4.3
  • Firefox 3.5
  • 3.1
  • Ext4 is the new default filesystem
  • Support for whole-disk encryption

Fedora 12 “Constantine” – Release Set For: November 17, 2009

Always the cutting edge distribution, Fedora has a massive list of changes for it’s next release. For starters all software packages have been recompiled for i686 which should allow for improved performance, especially on the Intel Atom processor. In addition, all software packages are now compressed with LZMA instead of GZIP which, along with yum presto integration (delta versus full downloads), should offer much faster downloads. Thanks to the newest version of Xorg, spanning desktops (1 desktop on 2+ monitors) is now possible. Other software improvements include:

  • GNOME 2.28/KDE 4.3
  • Firefox 3.5.2
  • PHP 5.3.0
  • Ogg Theora has been updated to the most recent version
  • GRUB now supports Ext4
  • Dynamically rotating wallpapers is now a feature under GNOME
  • NetworkManager has been enhanced to take advantage of Mobile Broadband technologies
  • Bluetooth services are now on-demand meaning they only use system resources when necessary
  • Tons of PulseAudio improvements
  • PackageKit has been improved and can now install software from more places (i.e. right within the web browser)

Linux Mint 8 “Helena” – Release Set For: November 2009

Linux Mint 8 continues the trend by incorporating all of the most recent Ubuntu improvements found in Karmic Koala as well as improving on the Mint specific programs. Specifically Mint improves the boot sequence as well as the Mint tools suite of applications that differentiate this distribution from Ubuntu. The end result should make for one of the most user friendly Linux distributions ever.

Debian 6.0 “Squeeze” – Release Set For: TBD 2010

If you are familiar with Debian’s release cycle then you know that what will become of “Squeeze” is simply what passes muster in the current testing repository. Although this distribution is still quite a ways off, it is promising quite a few interesting improvements including better architecture support and boot performance thanks to parallel processing. kFreeBSD is also now included which makes this the first officially supported non-Linux architecture for a Debian release. While many obsolete libraries are being removed for security reasons many new libraries are also making their first appearance including full IPv6 support. Finally there is preparation going into the packaging formats which will allow for future improvements, including better compression algorithms for smaller download sizes.

It’s going to be a busy month!

Check back soon as we begin our upgrades and blog about our experiences doing so.

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

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 Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

KDE on Gentoo: slightly less inflammatory but still difficult

October 24th, 2009 1 comment

After the shitstorm that was Dana’s post about KDE, I figured I’d go into more details about how my day to day use is going.

Multiple Libraries Make Baby Jesus Cry
All the base system software in the Gentoo kdebase-meta package compiles against the QT4 libraries, but many of the optional packages still depend on QT3. Popular programs like KTorrent and AmaroK either still haven’t been updated or tagged in the Portage repository, so at any given time a desktop user will have programs running that use two separate graphical widget libraries. My level of use is such that I have programs running with GTK+, QT3 and QT4 on the same monitor – not to mention apps like Songbird that draw their own custom interface.

From an efficiency and system resource standpoint, this is really poor utilization. I have 4GB of RAM for intensive tasks such as music library organization, not to show slightly different scrollbars and window controls in every third application. Under GNOME 2.26, there was nowhere near this level of display potpourri with the default system utilities. (It also helps that Firefox is GTK+, which is close to the top-used app on my machine.)

Some Applications Just Suck
I’ve attempted to use all of the built-in KDE applications to combat the mismatched desktop effect, and often I’ll find them wanting compared to the GNOME or GTK+ equivalents. Dolphin seems like a very capable file manager, but it will lock up when hovering over some video thumbnails or seemingly randomly when in my home directory. (The rest of the system remains responsive, so it looks like Dolphin’s the culprit.) Konqueror is fast, but the configuration and settings are confusing to say the least – and without proper add-on/AdBlock Plus support, I can’t consider making it my primary browser.

Another example of application suck is ksnapshot, which is supposed to do what you think it would – take screen captures of active windows or the entire desktop. I made the unfortunate selection of selecting to capture a region, specifically the “Settings” menu in Konqueror. After selecting a nice 300×300 pixel area, pressing Enter to confirm the region did nothing. Escape did nothing, nor did any combination of mouse buttons. Since ksnapshot takes focus away from the entire desktop, it wasn’t possible to exit the application. I had to SSH in from another machine and manually kill the process to regain control.

Desktop Effects Are Nice
Once I’d mangled xorg.conf and set up my nVidia drivers in TwinView mode, I still ran into issues enabling the built-in KDE compositing effects. The command in Gentoo to learn is “eselect”, which when combined with “eselect opengl list” allows a display of all the possible OpenGL rendering engines. Apparently even when the nVidia drivers are enabled, one must specifically tell X to use the correct renderer.

The problem I’ve encountered is that while some effects are smooth as butter, such as moving Wobbly Windows, resizing them is delayed and causes display tearing. I have no idea what’s causing this, and the behaviour shouldn’t exist.

Going back to GNOME
As of tomorrow, I have no doubts that I’ll be returning to GNOME for regular desktop use. KDE has some compelling features but my experience with it has been less than ideal. I can’t afford to have my file browser lock up during regular use – and GNOME’s environment seems much more predictable.

I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

Portage drops the canoe, crushing my Gentoo installation

October 13th, 2009 No comments

In the process of migrating to KDE as my desktop environment (selected as I have no experience with the newest versions, and I want an entire desktop environment as opposed to just a window manager) I decided to use the fateful eselect profile utility.

Gentoo has a system profile selector, where you can choose the Portage profile that best suits your environment and needs for the computer. My existing profile was default/linux/amd64/2008.0, and I decided to switch to default/linux/amd64/10.0/desktop. I then ran emerge –update –deep –newuse world to completely rebuild and update packages accordingly.

Bad idea.

Portage indicated that I had hundreds of dependency conflicts and refused to update or install additional packages, no doubt aggravated by my use of “autounmask” and Portato’s dependency resolver. The most visible problem was Ekiga depending on GTK+ 2.6, which depends on GNOME 2.26, which itself depends on Ekiga. It was a giant circular mess that left me unable to resolve dependencies. I tried all the traditional fixes, including depclean and trying to reset my package.keywords file.

Faced with an intermittently working desktop, I flattened and reinstalled the system last night and am continuing to get things back up in working order, this time with the QT libraries enabled. (KDE is currently compiling – I’m using twm, the default X window manager, to run a web browser.) A few things I noticed this time around:

  • Don’t necessarily put a whole ton of USE flags in your /etc/make.conf file at first. Portage is pretty good at telling you if a flag is required for a package, and you can always recompile something if you need to.
  • In the latest amd64/10.0/desktop profile, comes with version 1.6. I had no end of difficulty getting an xorg.conf file created with X -configure – it would start and load with only a black screen. I ended up running using startx, then using nvidia-config to generate a base file.
  • evdev (for input device support) works great, provided you have hal and dbus USE flags and the appropriate daemons are started. I didn’t even have to touch the input device section of xorg.conf.
  • Select your system profile first, before changing it will cause grief!

I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

The problem with Gentoo: my reactions

October 9th, 2009 1 comment

One of the articles Tyler passed me this morning was a brief post on three problems with Gentoo by Dion Moult. There are a few things he’s mentioned that I definitely agree with. Having used the distribution for a little over a month, some minor changes would go a long way to making the experience less painful and more usable.

Updated Documentation
This is the biggest factor that I think impacts Gentoo uptake, adoption and continued use. While the installation guide is very detailed, it’s beginning to show its age: there’s no mention of the ext4 filesystem, and it only details XFS briefly. Since choosing a filesystem and partitioning scheme is one of the first things that needs to be done during the installation process, it’s important to give the most amount of information possible to prevent users from having to change things down the line.

Likewise, the configuration guide discusses the difference between using /dev/input/mice and /dev/mouse as a pointer input device, but both configurations neglect the more recent evdev and HAL. To their credit, the wiki maintainers indicate that the information is out of date, but getting up and running is absolutely essential for a desktop or workstation configuration.

Dion mentions that things should just work out of the box. As far as hardware goes, my only difficulty so far has been getting my mouse to work (due to the evdev/HAL issue mentioned above.) I run an nVidia card and by following the nVidia guide, I had no issues with getting accelerated graphics working. Likewise, after installing GNOME and setting USE flags, my external hard drives and USB devices are now working consistently.

Since my main machine is a desktop, I haven’t really investigated the usual problem points of hibernate and standby. One thing that might improve compatibility would be an installer or set of meta-packages that takes care of the hardware usually present for desktops or laptops. For example, a set of common wireless modules, power management tools and ACPI/DSDT fixes would provide a convenient way to get a netbook or laptop user up and running.

Better communication between developers and users
I also agree that when developers maintain a dialog with their users, it’s much easier to understand the rationale behind program design decisions or why a package isn’t included in the distribution. As of this point, I have no idea why the default KDE version in Gentoo is 3.5 – and searching through bug reporting databases isn’t an easy way to figure this out. I expect it’s due to stability concerns, but at least make the reasons behind that known. Providing easy instructions for adding overlays or unmasking packages to achieve a user’s goals also helps foster good relationships.

The Songbird ebuild is another case in which I don’t know what to do. Is there a way to install the package or not? I’m satisfied with the stability of Songbird on my own system, but there’s no clear and easy way to get it loaded into Portato.

Perhaps the only way to really understand the Gentoo installation process is to install Gentoo itself, then try again and use what you’ve learned. :)

I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

TrueCrypt, kernel compilation and where’d /boot go?

October 5th, 2009 1 comment

Since I’ve installed Gentoo, I haven’t had access to my other drives. One of them is an NTFS-formatted WD Raptor, and the other is a generic Seagate 300GB drive that contains my documents, pictures and Communist propaganda inside a TrueCrypt partition. Getting the Raptor to work was fairly simple (as far as Gentoo goes) – I added the entry to my /etc/fstab file and then manually mounted the partition:

/dev/sdb1               /mnt/raptor     ntfs-3g         noatime         0 0

The TrueCrypt drive proved to be more of an issue. After installing the software and attempting to mount the partition, I encountered an error:

device-mapper: reload ioctl failed: Invalid argument 
Command failed

A quick Bing and the Gentoo Wiki described this problem exactly, with the caveat that I had to recompile my kernel to add support for LRW and XTS support. Into the kernel configuration I went – the only difference I noticed is that LRW and XTS are considered “EXPERIMENTAL” but aren’t noted as such on the requirements page:

Kernel configuration options

(This may come down to an x64 vs. x86 issue, but I haven’t run into any issues with these options enabled (yet!))

Of course, then came the make && make modules_install commands, which didn’t take too long to complete. The question then became, how do I install the new kernel? Looking in my /boot partition, I only had a few template files – and not the kernel itself or any grub settings. Essentially, /boot had nothing in it but the system still launches properly!

I then tried mounting /dev/sda1 manually, and the kernel and grub.conf showed up properly in the mountpoint. Something is obviously wrong with the way my system remounts /boot during the startup process, but at least now I’m able to install the new kernel. After copying /arch/x86_64/boot/bzImage to the newly available directory, I rebooted and the new kernel was picked up properly. TrueCrypt now lets me open, create and delete files from /media/truecrypt1, and automatically uses ntfs-3g support to accomplish this.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased at how easily I can recompile a kernel, and installation was seamless once I figured out that /boot wasn’t pointing to the right location. I expect I’ll try and manually remove the directory from /dev/sda3 and see if that makes a difference.

I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.