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Fix no screen brightness on boot problem

October 14th, 2013 No comments

I recently upgraded my laptop to a brand new Lenovo Y410P and promptly replaced Windows 8 with a Linux install. Unfortunately I immediately ran into a very strange driver(?) issue where, on boot, the computer would default to the absolute lowest screen brightness level. This meant that I would need to manually adjust the screen brightness up just to see the login screen. Thankfully after some help from the excellent people over on the Ubuntu Forums I managed to find a very easy work around.

1) As root open up /etc/default/grub

I did this by simply issuing the following command:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

2) Find the line that says GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX= and add “acpi_backlight=vendor” to the list of options.

3) From a terminal run this command to update GRUB

sudo update-grub

4) Reboot!

That’s pretty much it. My computer now boots with the correct screen brightness as one would expect.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Ubuntu 14.04.
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).
Check out my profile for more information.

And I thought this would be easy…

September 22nd, 2013 1 comment

Some of you may remember my earlier post about contemplating an upgrade from Windows Home Server (Version 1) to a Linux alternative. Since then, I have decided the following:

Amahi isn’t worth my time

 

This conclusion was reached after a fruitless install of the latest Amahi 7 installation on the 500 GB ‘system’ drive, included with the EX470. After backing up the Windows Home Server to a single external 2 TB drive (talk about nerve-wracking!), I popped the drive into a spare PC and installed Amahi with the default options.

ffuu

No, I’m not 13. Yes, this image accurately reflects my frustrations.

Moving the drive back into the EX470 yielded precisely zero results, no matter what I tried – the machine would not respond to a ‘ping’ command, and since I’ve opted to try and do this without a debug board, I don’t even have VGA to tell me what the hell is going on. So, that’s it for Amahi.

When all else fails, Ubuntu

 

After deciding that I really didn’t feel like a repeat of my earlier Fedora experiment, I decided to try out the Linux ‘Old Faithful’ as it were – Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. I opted for the LTS version due to – well, you know – the ‘long-term support’ deal.

Oh, and I upgraded my storage (new 1 TB system drive not shown, and I apologize for the potato-quality image):

IMG_20130921_234311

The only kind of ‘TB’ I like. Not tuberculosis.

 

Following from the earlier Amahi instructions, I popped the primary 1 TB drive into a spare machine and allowed the Ubuntu installer to do its thing. Easy enough! From there, I installed the following two additional items (having to add an additional repository for the latter):

  • Openssh-Server

This allows me to easily control the machine through SSH, and – as I understand it – is pretty much a must for someone wanting to control a headless box. Setup was easy-breezy, in that it required nothing at all.

  • Greyhole

For those unfamiliar, Greyhole is – in their own words – an ‘Easily expandable and redundant storage pool for home servers’. One of my favourite things about WHS v1 was its ‘disk pooling’ capability – essentially a JBOD with software-managed share duplication, ensuring that each selected share was copied over to one other disk in the array.

After those were done with, I popped the drive into the EX470, and – lo and behold! – I was able to SSH in.

sshsuccess

This? This is what relatively minor success looks like.

So at this point, I’m feeling relatively confident. I shut down the server (don’t forget -h!) over SSH, popped in the first of the three 3 TB drives, and…

…nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The server happily blinks away like a small puppy wags its tail, excited to see its owner but clearly bereft of purpose when left to its owner. I can’t ping it, I can’t… well, that’s really it. I can’t ping it, so there’s nothing I can do. Looking to see if GRUB was stuck at the menu, I stuck in a USB keyboard and hit ‘Enter’ to no effect. Yes, my troubleshooting skills are that good.

My next step was to pop both the 1 TB and 3 TB drives into the ‘spare’ machine; this ran fine. Running lshw -short -c disk shows a 1 TB and 3 TB drive without issue. I also ran these parted commands:

mklabel gpt

mkpart primary -1 1

 

(I think that last command is right.) So, all set, right? Cool. Pop the drive back in to the EX470, and…

STILL NOTHING. At this point, I’m ready to go pick up a new four-bay NAS, but I feel like that may be overkill. If anyone has any recommendations on how to get the stupid thing to boot with a 3 TB drive, I’m open to suggestions.

 

WTF Ubuntu

September 7th, 2013 2 comments

I’m not even sure what to say about this one… it looks like I might have an angry video card.

I sat down at my machine after it had been sitting for three or four days to find this... wtf?

I sat down at my machine after it had been sitting for three or four days to find this… wtf?




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: God Damnit Linux, Jon F, Ubuntu Tags:

The real lesson to take from Elementary OS

August 18th, 2013 No comments

Elementary OS is the latest darling for the Linux community at large and with some good reason. It isn’t that Elementary OS is The. Best. Distro. Ever. In fact being only version 0.2 I doubt its own authors would try to make that claim. It does however bring something poorly needed to the Linux desktop – application focus.

Focus?

Most distributions are put together in such a way as to make sure it works well enough for everyone that will end up using it. This is an admirable goal but one that often ends up falling short of greatness. Elementary OS seems to take a different approach, one that focuses on selecting applications that do the basics extremely well even if they don’t support all of those extra features. Take the aptly named (Maya) Calendar application. You know what it does? That’s right, calendar things.

Yeah, a calendar. What else were you expecting?

Yeah, a calendar. What else were you expecting?

Or the Geary e-mail client, another example of a beautiful application that just does the basics. So what if it doesn’t have all of the plugins that an application like Thunderbird does? It still lets you read and send e-mail in style.

It does e-mail

It does e-mail

Probably the best example of how far this refinement goes is in the music application Noise. Noise looks a lot like your standard iTunes-ish media player but that familiarity betrays the simplicity that Noise brings. As you may have guessed by now, it simply plays music and plays it well.

The best thing about Noise is that it plays music well

The best thing about Noise is that it plays music well

But what about feature X?

OK I understand that this approach to application development isn’t for everyone. In fact it is something that larger players, such as Apple, get called out over all the time over. Personally though I think there is a fine balance between streamlined simplicity and refinement. The Linux desktop has come a long way in the past few years but one thing that is still missing from a large portion of it is that refined user experience that you do get with something like an Apple product, or the applications selected for inclusion in Elementary OS. Too often open source projects happily jump ahead with new feature development long before the existing feature set is refined. To be clear I don’t blame them, programming new exciting features is always more fun than fixing the old broken or cumbersome ones, although this is definitely one area where improvements could be made.

Perhaps other projects can (or will) take the approach that Elementary has and dedicate one release, every so often, to making these refinements reality. I’m thinking something like Ubuntu’s One Hundred Paper Cuts but on a smaller scale. In the meantime I will continue to enjoy the simplicity that Elementary OS is currently bringing my desktop Linux computing life.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Ubuntu 14.04.
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).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Linux, Tyler B Tags: , , ,

Listen up, Kubuntu: the enraging tale of sound over HDMI

August 4th, 2013 2 comments

Full disclosure: I live with Kayla, and had to jump in to help resolve an enraging problem we ran into on the Kubuntu installation with KDE, PulseAudio and the undesirable experience of not having sound in applications. It involved a fair bit of terminal work and investigation, plus a minimal understanding of how sound works on Linux. TuxRadar has a good article that tries to explain things. When there are problems, though, the diagram looks much more like the (admittedly outdated) 2007 version:

The traditional spiderweb of complexity involved in Linux audio.

The traditional spiderweb of complexity involved in Linux audio.

To give you some background, the sound solution for the projection system is more complicated than “audio out from PC, into amplifier”. I’ve had a large amount of success in the past with optical out (S/PDIF) from Linux, with only a single trip to alsamixer required to unmute the relevant output. No, of course the audio path from this environment has to be more complicated, and looks something like:

Approximate diagram of display and audio output involved from Kubuntu machine

As a result, the video card actually acts as the sound output device, and the amplifier takes care of both passing the video signal to the projector and decoding/outputting the audio signal to the speakers and subwoofer. Under Windows, this works very well: in Control Panel > Sound, you right-click on the nVidia HDMI audio output and set it as the default device, then restart whatever application plays audio.

In the KDE environment, sound is managed by a utility called Phonon in the System Settings > Multimedia panel, which has multiple backends for ALSA and PulseAudio. It will essentially communicate with the highest-level sound output system installed that it has support for. When you make a change in a default Kubuntu install in Phonon it appears to be talking to PulseAudio, which in turn changes necessary ALSA settings. Sort of complicated, but I guess it handles the idea that multiple applications can play audio and not tie up the sound card at the same time – which has not always been the case with Linux.

In my traditional experience with the GNOME and Unity interfaces, it always seems like KDE took its own path with audio that wasn’t exactly standard. Here’s the problem I ran into: KDE listed the two audio devices (Intel HDA and nVidia HDA), with the nVidia interface containing four possible outputs – two stereo and two listed as 5.1. In the Phonon control panel, only one of these four was selectable at a time, and not necessarily corresponding to multiple channel output. Testing the output did not play audio, and it was apparent that none of it was making it to the amplifier to be decoded or output to the speakers.

Using some documentation from the ArchLinux wiki on ALSA, I was able to use the aplay -l command to find out the list of detected devices – there were four provided by the video card:

**** List of PLAYBACK Hardware Devices ****
card 0: PCH [HDA Intel PCH], device 0: ALC892 Analog [ALC892 Analog]
Subdevices: 1/1
Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 0: PCH [HDA Intel PCH], device 1: ALC892 Digital [ALC892 Digital]
Subdevices: 1/1
Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 3: HDMI 0 [HDMI 0]
Subdevices: 1/1
Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 7: HDMI 0 [HDMI 0]
Subdevices: 1/1
Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 8: HDMI 0 [HDMI 0]
Subdevices: 1/1
Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: NVidia [HDA NVidia], device 9: HDMI 0 [HDMI 0]
Subdevices: 1/1
Subdevice #0: subdevice #0

and then use aplay -D plughw:1,N /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav repeatedly where N is the number of one of the nVidia detected devices. Trial and error let me discover that card 1, device 7 was the desired output – but there was still no sound from the speakers in any KDE applications or the Netflix Desktop client. Using the ALSA output directly in VLC, I was able to get an MP3 file to play properly when selecting the second nVidia HDMI output in the list. This corresponds to the position in the aplay output, but VLC is opaque about the exact card/device that is selected.

At this point my patience was wearing pretty thin. Examining the audio listing further – and I don’t exactly remember how I got to this point – the “active” HDMI output presented in Phonon was actually presented as card 1, device 3. PulseAudio essentially grabbed the first available output and wouldn’t let me select any others. There were some additional PulseAudio tools provided that showed the only possible “sink” was card 1,3.

The brute-force, ham-handed solution was to remove PulseAudio from a terminal (sudo apt-get remove pulseaudio) and restart KDE, presenting me with the following list of possible devices read directly from ALSA. I bumped the “hw:1,7″ card to the top and also quit the system tray version of Amarok.

A list of all the raw ALSA devices detected by KDE/Phonon after removing PulseAudio.

A list of all the raw ALSA devices detected by KDE/Phonon after removing PulseAudio.

Result: Bliss! By forcing KDE to output to the correct device through ALSA, all applications started playing sounds and harmony was restored to the household.

At some point after the experiment I will see if I can get PulseAudio to work properly with this configuration, but both Kayla and I are OK with the limitations of this setup. And hey – audio works wonderfully now.




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

Finding a replacement for Windows Home Server

July 29th, 2013 6 comments

Hello, everyone! It’s great to be back in the hot seat for this, our third installment of The Linux Experiment. I know that last time I caused a bit of a stir with my KDE-bashing post, so will try to keep it relatively PG this time around.

Not many people know about it or have used it, but – through an employee purchase program about five years ago – I was able to get my hands on the HP EX470 MediaSmart Home Server. What manner of witchcraft is this particular device, you may ask? Here’s a photo preview:

Server

It really is about as simple as it looks. The EX470 (stock) came equipped with a 500 GB drive, pre-loaded with Windows Home Server – which in turn was built on Windows Server 2003. 512 MB of RAM and an AMD Sempron 3400+ rounded it off; the device is completely headless, meaning that no monitor hookup is possible without a debug cable. The server also comes with four(?) USB ports, eSATA, and gigabit ethernet.

My current configuration is 3 x 1 TB drives, plus the original 500 GB, and an upgraded 2 GB DIMM. One of the things I’ve always loved about Windows Home Server is its ‘folder duplication’. Not merely content to RAID the drives together, Microsoft cooked up an idea to have each folder able to duplicate itself over to another drive in case of failure. It’s sort of like RAID 1, but without entirely-mirrored disks. Still, pretty solid redundancy.

Unfortunately for me, this feature was removed in the latest update to Windows Home Server 2011 – and support for that is even waning now, leading me to believe that patches for this OS may stop coming entirely within the next year or two. So, where does that leave me? I’m not keen to run a non-supported OS on this thing (it is internet-connected), so I’m definitely looking into alternatives.

Over the next few days, I plan to write about my upcoming ‘adventures’ in finding a suitable Linux-based alternative to Windows Home Server. Will I find one that sticks, or will I end up going with a Windows 8 Pro install? Only time will tell. Stay tuned!

Categories: Dana H, Hardware, Linux Tags:

My Initial Thoughts/Experiences with ArchLinux

July 29th, 2013 2 comments

Hello again everyone! By this point, I have successfully installed ArchLinux, as well as KDE, and various other everyday applications necessary for my desktop.

Aside from the issues with the bootloader I experienced, the installation was relatively straight forward. Since I have never used ArchLinux before, I decided to follow the Beginner’s Guide in order to make sure I wasn’t screwing anything up. The really nice thing about this guide is that it only gives you the information that you need to get up and running. From here, you can add any packages you want, and do any necessary customization.

Overall, the install was fairly uneventful. I also managed to install KDE, Firefox, Flash, and Netflix (more below) without any issues.

Some time ago, there was a package created for Ubuntu that allows you to watch Netflix on Linux. Since then, someone has created a package for ArchLinux called netflix-desktop. What this does, is creates an instance of Firefox in WINE that runs Silverlight so that the Netflix video can be loaded. The only issue that I’m running into with this package is that when I full-screen the Netflix video, my taskbar in KDE still appears. For the time being, I’ve just set the taskbar to allow windows to go over top. If anyone has any suggestions on how to resolve this, please let me know.

netflix

This isn’t my screenshot. I found it on the interweb. I just wanted to give you a good idea of how netflix-desktop looked. I’d like to thank Richard in advance for the screenshot.

Back to a little more about ArchLinux specifically. I’ve really been enjoying their package management system. From my understanding so far, there are two main ways to obtain packages. The official repositories are backed by “pacman” which is the main package manager. Therefore, if you wanted to install kde, you would do “pacman -S kde”. This is similar to the package managers on other distributions such as apt-get. The Arch User Repository is a repository of build scripts created by ArchLinux users that allow you to compile and configure other packages not contained within the official repositories. The really neat thing about this is that it can also download and install and dependencies contained in the official repositories using pacman automatically.

As I go forward, I am also thinking of ways I can contribute to the ArchLinux community, but for now, I will continue to explore and experiment.


I am currently running ArchLinux (x86_64).
Check out my profile for more information.

Installing Netflix on Kubuntu

July 27th, 2013 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is this, text for ants? Part II

July 27th, 2013 No comments

Back to my shit-tastic eyesight for a moment.

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

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

Computer Tab

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

System Settings Fonts

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

Fonts

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

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

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

Fonts

Installing Bluetooth devices on Kubuntu

July 27th, 2013 No comments

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

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

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

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

Computer Tab

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

Bluetooth Menu

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

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

Add Device

More awesome Photoshop.

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