Posts Tagged ‘Linux’

(Finally) Installing Bluezync for Thunderbird

November 5th, 2009 1 comment

After some constructive comments from Henrik, the developer of the BlueZync plugin for Thunderbird, I decided to take another shot at getting Blackberry sync working on Linux. This time, instead of making up my own instructions, I actually followed his (which have been updated somewhat since my last visit).

Surprisingly, when I followed the instructions to the letter, the plugin built correctly the first time without any problems. When I launched Icedove (the Debian rebranding of Mozilla Thunderbird), the plugin even loaded correctly! If you’ve read my past posts detailing this process, you’ll feel as incredulous as I did.

The only trouble that I ran into along the way was actually with version 0.9 of the Lightning plugin for Icedove (Thunderbird). Upon installation of the plugin, I was not able to create a calendar, an event, or a task. Turns out that this Ubuntu bug applies to Debian as well, and that the problem can be easily fixed by uninstalling Lightning, downloading and installing the libstdc++5 package, and reinstalling the Lightning plugin. For whatever reason, I could not find this package in the Debian Testing repositories, and instead downloaded and installed it from the Lenny repositories.

With that issue solved, I tried running the ./ script, and was met yet again with a slew of failed tests:

21% tests passed, 15 tests failed out of 19

The following tests FAILED:
5 – thunderbird (Failed)
6 – tbird_empty (Failed)
7 – tbird_slow (Failed)
8 – tbird_slow_3 (Failed)
9 – tbird_fast (Failed)
10 – tbird_add (Failed)
11 – tbird_delete (Failed)
12 – tbird_modify (Failed)
13 – light_empty (Failed)
14 – light_slow (Failed)
15 – light_slow_3 (Failed)
16 – light_fast (Failed)
17 – light_add (Failed)
18 – light_delete (Failed)
19 – light_modify (Failed)

However, unlike in past attempts at this install, this time the Bluezync plugin is visible from within Thunderbird… Now all I have to figure out is how to use it. More on that later.

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.

Happy Ubuntu Day

October 29th, 2009 No comments

Oh come on, everyone else is doing it.

You can even visit us on Karmic Koala. What doesn't it do?

You can even visit us on Karmic Koala. What doesn't it do?

Love it or hate it Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution to date. While we at The Linux Experiment have not included it amongst our chosen distributions, many of us have had experience with it in the past and look forward to seeing the new features that have been lovingly baked into this release.

Congrats to Canonical et al. for delivering Karmic Koala, hopefully another great version of their staple distribution.

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: Linux, Tyler B Tags: ,

Interesting Linux article

October 26th, 2009 4 comments

I stumbled across a very interesting post linked off of Digg, which I browse on a fairly regular basis.  In it, the author attempts to put to rest some of the more common (and, for the most part, completely inaccurate) stories that revolve around various Linux distributions.

Though I think Jake B might have something to say about the first point on the list, it made for interesting reading at the very least – and for the most part, I agree with the author wholeheartedly.  Link after the jump!

Debunking Some Linux Myths

Categories: Dana H, Free Software, Hardware, Linux Tags:

Flash problems in Firefox

October 25th, 2009 5 comments

I mentioned in the podcast that I was having problems viewing Flash stuff in Firefox and I blamed it on KDE. I may have jumped the gun here, because the same issue started cropping up in GNOME. I went on the Linux Mint forums and other users were having similar issues. I’ve run the code that they suggested in the terminal, but I’m not sure if it worked because the problem doesn’t manifest instantly – sometimes it takes over half an hour before websites that run flash white themselves out.

Taking Wine for a spin

October 20th, 2009 3 comments

Wine, or W.I.N.E. Is Not an Emulator, is a set of compatibility libraries that allow some Windows applications to run pseudo naively on Linux by mapping Windows API calls to native Linux calls. In the past I have been sort of successful with using Wine but I have never really given it a good go. So I decided that I should put Wine through it’s paces!


Rather than approach this from an expert’s standpoint I am going to use Wine starting from a novice’s ability and then move up if needed.

  1. Try and run program from graphical shell
  2. Try and run program from terminal
  3. Try and adjust WINE settings to see if I can make it work
  4. Search the web for ideas and consult Wine’s App DB

The Programs

I have selected a number of different applications to test with Wine – some productive software and some games. I have done no research as to the compatibility of these programs under Wine, they just happen to be easy to use for testing, so it’s going to be a surprise for me no matter what happens. As I’m sure you can tell it’s been a while since I’ve played games on my PC…

First thing we need to do is make sure Wine is installed!

How to install Wine on Fedora 11

Technically all you need to do is:

sudo yum install wine

but you might want to install some of the additional packages as well, just in case!

Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Now that EA has released this game as free getting a copy of it was a simple download. Once downloaded and unzipped I mounted it and tried running the autorun script.

Red Alert autorun

Red Alert autorun



Sadly this resulted in the above error. Next I tried opening it using a simple double-click on the SETUP.EXE. This launched the program but gave me the following error message:

5.1 = Windows XP?

5.1 = Windows XP?

1. Try and run program from graphical shell: FAILURE

With that failure I decided to try and run it from the terminal so that I would at least be able to see errors in the print outs.


This however only resulted in the same error message.

2. Try and run program from terminal: FAILURE

If this problem is truly related to the fact that it thinks I’m running Windows XP maybe I can change that. So off to the Wine configuration menu I went and lo and behold I found an option to do just that!

You can even set different programs to think they are running on different versions of Windows!

You can even set different programs to think they are running on different versions of Windows!

This time I got a different error message about not being able to find all of the files. I decided to burn the ISO to a disc to eliminate any problems with the way I mounted it. Putting the newly burned disc into the drive and using the terminal to launch autorun.exe made everything work and the installation finished. A simple click of the menu icon and I was playing Red Alert!

3. Try and adjust Wine settings to see if I can make it work: SUCCESS

Command & Conquer: Red Alert Final Result: SUCCESS

Well that wasn’t so bad. Let’s try the others!

SimCity 3000 Unlimited

The first thing I did was pop the CD in the computer.

In goes SimCity 3000 Unlimited

In goes SimCity 3000 Unlimited



Which promptly gave me this:

Nothing could be that easy...

Nothing could be that easy...

I even tried browsing to the setup exe’s location and running it directly. Still no luck.

Stop teasing me!

Stop teasing me!

1. Try and run program from graphical shell: FAILED

Next I tried to run the game from the terminal. I navigated to the setup folder and ran the exe with wine.



To my amazement this resulted in the installer starting correctly! A couple of quick Next button clicks and some typing of my serial key and the game began to install. Exactly 3 minutes later the game was finished installing. I then navigated to the application through the GNOME menubar:

Applications > Wine > Programs > Maxis > SimCity 3000 Unlimited > SimCity 3000 Unlimited

Holding my breath I clicked the button and… nothing. Hmm. Turning back to the terminal I browsed to the location where Wine installed SimCity on my hard drive and ran the program from there.

cd /home/tyler/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Maxis/SimCity\ 3000\ Unlimited/Apps/

wine sc3U.exe

This presented me with the following error screen… about 30 times until I killed it from the terminal.

I just kept on getting this error message... over and over and over and over...

I just kept on getting this error message... over and over and over and over...

2. Try and run program from terminal: FAILED

I looked around in the Wine settings and couldn’t find anything that would be causing the game to fail so miserably so I gave up on this step.

3. Try and adjust Wine settings to see if I can make it work: FAILED

Turning to the web I quickly looked up “SimCity 3000” on Wine’s App DB. From the look of things SimCity 3000 works with Wine but SimCity 3000 Unlimited does not.

4. Search the web for ideas and consult Wine’s App DB: FAILED

SimCity 3000 Unlimited Final Result: FAILED

Try as I might SimCity 3000 Unlimited just does not work under Wine.


Once again I started by inserting the CD-ROM and tried to run the autorun that popped up.


Will this work better than SimCity?

Will this autorun work?

Will this autorun work?



Next I tried once again browsing to the CD-ROM in Nautilus.

Do I run autoplay.exe?

Do I run autoplay.exe?

Or maybe Setup.exe? Or even Stronghold.exe?

Or maybe Setup.exe? Or even Stronghold.exe?

Unfortunately once again no success using the graphical shell.

1. Try and run program from graphical shell: FAILURE

After that, and recognizing the limited success I had with SimCity, I repeated the steps but this time using the terminal. To my surprise the installer appeared!

cd /media/030819_1208/

wine autoplay.exe

A little over 4 minutes later the game finished installing and I was presented with the launch screen. Again I held my breath and clicked on Play. It launched! Holy crap it’s actually working… well… sort of. Something wasn’t quite right so I closed the application and opened up Wine configuration. In that window I checked the box next to “emulate a virtual desktop” and set the resolution to 800×600. Once again I restarted Stronghold… GREAT SUCCESS! It worked flawlessly!

2. Try and run program from terminal: SUCCESS

Stronghold Final Result: SUCCESS

Stronghold proves that Wine is capable of providing a seemingly fully compatible Windows experience.


After a quick download from the SourceForge website I began, again, by trying to run the installer from the graphical shell.

Can you guess what happened next?

Can you guess what happened next?

1. Try and run program from graphical shell: FAILURE

Back to the command line I went and after entering the typical commands I was once again presented with the installer.

cd ~/Desktop/

wine npp.5.5.1.Installer.exe

By this point I honestly don’t know why Wine has a graphical launch option or why it fails so badly. Less than a minute later, using the terminal, Notepad++ was up and running perfectly, albeit with some odd graphical issues.

Notice how the text doesn't look quite right?

Notice how the text doesn't look quite right?

2. Try and run program from terminal: SUCCESS

Notepad++ Final Result: SUCCESS

While not without its odd graphical problems, Notepad++ seems completely stable and quite usable on the Linux desktop.


After three successes I was on a roll and jumped over to the µTorrent website in anticipation of another success.

I’ll save you the details,

1. Try and run program from graphical shell: FAILURE

Turning to the trusty terminal (wow that was a lot of t-words) I started up utorrent.exe with Wine.

wine utorrent.exe

The install went fine and even placed a desktop launcher on my desktop when I clicked the ‘Create Desktop Icon’ box. Running the application proved to be a bit more challenging and when I tried to run it from Wine’s Program Files using the following command,

wine ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/uTorrent/uTorrent.exe

I was presented with some rather odd behaviour in the form of another installation. In fact no matter what I did I couldn’t get it to work.

2. Try and run program from terminal: FAILURE

Again I poked around in the Wine settings but there just didn’t seem to be anything in there that would help.

3. Try and adjust Wine settings to see if I can make it work: FAILURE

Getting frustrated I turned to the internet, specifically Wine’s App DB, for help. I tried following a number of suggestions but nothing seemed to work. I even ended up on µTorrent’s Wikipedia page but still nothing. On a funny note, Wikipedia lists µTorrent’s platforms as “Wine officially supported”.

4. Search the web for ideas and consult WINE’s App DB: FAILURE

µTorrent Final Result: FAILURE

Try as I might I just can’t get this BitTorrent client to work properly.

Internet Explorer 8

Once again I started by using the graphical shell – although I honestly didn’t believe it would work. And guess what?

1. Try and run program from graphical shell: FAILURE

Following the pattern I tried the terminal next. This started up the application but ended abruptly when IE prompted me saying that “This installation does not support your system architecture (32/64 bits)”. That doesn’t make sense though because the Internet Explorer I downloaded was for x86…

2. Try and run program from terminal: FAILURE

Poking around again in Wine’s configuration proved to be fruitless. There just didn’t seem to be any way to tell it to run the application as x86.

3. Try and adjust Wine settings to see if I can make it work: FAILURE

Finally I turned to the web and searched the App DB for Internet Explorer 8. This made it pretty clear that I wasn’t going to get IE 8 to work under Wine as every version listed, aside from 1.0 and 1.5, had a rating of Garbage – Wine’s worst compatibility rating.

4. Search the web for ideas and consult Wine’s App DB: FAILURE

Internet Explorer 8 Final Result: FAILURE

I guess Microsoft’s iconic browser was just not meant to play nicely with Tux.

Well there you have it

I have put Wine through its paces and while there were quite a bit of failures I am very impressed. Wine might just spark a trip down memory lane with my favorite Windows game classics!

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).

KDE: [insert poorly worded and derogatory comment here]

October 20th, 2009 28 comments

Editor’s note: This, as everything we write on The Linux Experiment, is an opinion piece.  I fully recognize that some people may be quite happy with having KDE, Harbinger of Doom, in their lives as an every day desktop environment.  Who knows?  Maybe if KDE had been my first user experience with Linux – back in my early days with Ubuntu – I would have enjoyed it a little more.  For now, I love Gnome.  I will continue using Gnome until such a time that KDE decides to stop sucking the fattest of donkey penises.

Why [I Personally Dislike KDE] (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gnome)

My absolute first experience with KDE – about a week and a half ago, for this experience – did not start well.  Upon initial boot, I discovered that I had absolutely no sound.  Great, I thought!  Let’s just un-mute this [particular distribution] and get started.

KDE [random alternative acronym] dealt its first lethal [hit] across my face at this point.  Nowhere in the Multimedia settings did I have the ability to switch my default sound device, and no manner of muting / un-muting my audio device could get anything to work.  Thanks to Tyler’s initial problems with audio though, I was able to – after twenty minutes of tinkering – get some audio all up in this piece.

That amounts to about all of the success I’ve had with KDE so far.  Thanks to another one of Tyler’s posts I was just able to get touchpad clicking working, but check out this full list of things that don’t work in KDE that definitely work (now) in my Gnome desktop environment:

  • My volume dial on the side of my laptop
  • Screen brightness keys on the keyboard
  • Fn+F9 key functionality (mute on my laptop)
  • Suspend to Disk
  • Touchpad scrolling
  • The majority of my font changes (why are menu bars still so huge?  They’re not in Gnome for me!)
  • My happiness

Among other things, reduced battery life (even with the – and yes I will admit this – awesome application that is PowerDevil) and a ridiculously elongated boot time are not subtracting from my ever-burgeoning list of frustrations.

I know that some of you were maybe hoping for something a little longer than this (that’s what she said!) but I can’t honestly vent all of my frustrations here –  I clearly have to save some of it for the podcast on Sunday.  Listen closely as you hear me completely nerdgasm over my ability to use Gnome again.

Categories: Dana H Tags: , , ,


October 16th, 2009 2 comments

Well, again, it’s been a little while since my last post. I hope you all enjoyed the podcast that we put out the week before last. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, make sure to do so by going here. We had a lot of interesting discussions regarding the experiment. If you have any comments about the podcast, or there is anything you want to see, you can either leave a comment, or shoot me an email.


After approximately 46.3 attempts at installing openSUSE on my Asus eeePC, it is finally installed. With the help of Jake B. and Windows, we finally managed to get it working. It took only several hours of both of us cursing, and nearly an entire 24 of Stella, but it is working.


I hate KDE more than I hate Differential Equations, and as Jon F. can probably confirm, I really hate Differential Equations. That being said, besides Sasha D, who doesn’t hate Differential Equations?

KDE just makes everything so difficult. With Gnome, most of the applications mesh well with the interface. However, with KDE, I have a hard time even getting some applications to mesh with it at all. Pidgin looks absolutely terrible. The message font doesn’t match up with what my system font is set to, and I did not have this issue with GNOME.

I don’t want any damn widgets… this isn’t a Mac!


Screen-shots to follow… that is if KDE will let me do that.

Getting KDE on openSUSE is like playing Jenga

October 16th, 2009 2 comments

As part of our experiment, everyone is required to try a different desktop manager for two weeks. I chose KDE, since I’ve been using GNOME since I installed openSUSE. However, I’ve found that while trying to get a desktop manager set up one wrong move can cause everything to fall apart.

Switching from GNOME:

This was fairly simple. I started up YaST Software Management, changed my filter from “Search” to “Patterns”, and found the Graphical Environments section. Here I right clicked “KDE Base System”, and selected install. Clicking accept installed the kdebase and kdm packages, with a slew of other KDE default programs. Once this was done, I logged out of my GNOME session, and selected KDE4 as my new login session. My system was slightly confused and booted into GNOME again, so I restarted. This time, I was met with KDE 4.1.

My Thoughts on KDE 4.1:

As much as I had hated the qt look [which I erronously call the ‘quicktime’ look, due to its uncanny similarity to the quicktime app], the desktop was beautiful. The default panel was a very slick, glossy black, which looked quite nice. The “lines” in each window title made the windowing system very ugly, so I set out to turn them off. Its a fairly easy process:

KDE Application Launcher > Configure Desktop > Appearance > Windows > Uncheck the “Show stripes next to the title” box.

Once completed, my windows were simple and effective, and slightly less chunky than the default GNOME theme, so I was content.

Getting rid of the openSUSE Branding:

openSUSE usually draws much ire from me – so its not hard to imagine that I’d prefer not to have openSUSE branding on every god damn application I run, least of all my Desktop Manager. From YaST Software Management I searched for openSUSE and uninstalled every package that had the words “openSUSE” and “branding”. YaST automatically replaces these packages with alternate “upstream” packages, which seem to be the non-openSUSE themes/appearances. Once these were gone, things looked a lot less gray-and-green, and I was happy.

Oh god what happened to my login screen:

A side effect of removing all those openSUSE packages my login screen took a trip back in time, to the Windows 3.1 era. It was a white window on a  blue background with Times New Roman-esque font. After a bit of researching on the GOOG, I found out that this was KDE3 stepping up to take over for my openSUSE branding. Uninstalling the package kde3base or whatever the shit it’s called forced KDE4 to take over, and everything was peachy again.

Installing my Broadcom Wirless Driver

In order to install my driver, I followed this guide TO THE LETTER. Not following this guide actually gave YaST a heart attack and created code conflicts.

KMix Being Weird

KMix magically made my media buttons on my laptop work, however it occasionally decided to change what “audio device” the default slider was controlling. Still, having the media buttons working was a HUGE plus.

Getting Compositing to Work

I did not have a good experience with this. Infact, by fucking around with settings, I ended up bricking my openSUSE install entirely. So alas, I ended up completely re-installing openSUSE. Regardless, to install ATI drivers, follow the guide here using the one-click install method worked perfectly. After finally getting my drivers, turning on compositing was simple:

KDE Application Launcher > Configure Desktop > Appearance > Desktop > Check the “Enable Desktop Effects” box.

From KDE4.1 to KDE4.3

While KDE was really working for me, the notifications system was seriously annoying. Every time my system had an update, or a received a message in Kopete  an ugly, plain, slightly off center, gray box would appear at the top of my screen to inform me. Tyler informed me that this was caused by the fact that I wasn’t running the most recent version of KDE4. A quick check showed me that openSUSE isn’t going to use KDE4.3 until openSUSE 11.2 launches, however you can manually add the KDE 4.3 repositories to YaST, as shown on the openSUSE KDE Repository page.

After adding these repositories, I learned a painful lesson in upgrading your display manager. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt a Display Manager upgrade/switch untill you have an hour to spare,  and enough battery life to last the whole time. I did not, and even though I cancelled the install about 60 seconds in, I found that YaST had already uninstalled my display manager. Upon restart, I was met with a terminal.

From the terminal, I used the command line version of YaST to completely remove kdebase4 and kdm from my system. After that, re-installing the KDE4.3 verison of  kdm from YaST in the terminal installed all the other required applications. However, there are a shitload of dependency issues you gotta sort through and unfortunately the required action is not the same for each application.


KDE4.3 is absolutely gorgeous, I’ve had no complaints with it. KMix seems to have reassigned itself again, but it assigned itself correctly. Removing the openSUSE branding was the same, but by default the desktop theme used is Air. I prefer the darker look of Oxygen, so I headed over to my desktop to fix it by following these steps:

Desktop > Right Click > Plain Desktop Settings > Change the Desktop Theme from Air to Oxygen.

Concluding Thoughts

Now that all these things are sorted out, I’m surprisingly impressed with KDE, and I might even keep it at the end of this test period for our podcast.

Let me know if you’ve ever had to change desktop managers and your woes in the comments!

get rid of that openSUSE shit:

uninstall openSUSE branding, except the KDM one maybe?

uninstall kde3base or whatever the shit it’s called. this makes stuff wicked.

This might have all been unessecary. since installing KDE4.3, I did it all again to no avail. Rightclick desktop, plain desktop settings, theme: oxygen. Then hooray its fine?

Update: I can have my cake and eat it too!

October 1st, 2009 No comments

If you have been following my posts on here you’ll know that I have a very… fragile setup. I am doing everything in my power to ensure that Linux and my ATi graphics card play together nicely. The other day when a new kernel update was pushed out my graphics card update was not ready and I was forced to make a decision: keep the old kernel or lose my graphics. I chose to keep the old kernel.

I just wanted to let everyone know that the code wizards have seen fit to push an update to my card and I know get to use both the newest kernel and to keep my 3D graphics and desktop effects too!

For reference the kernel was and the graphics module was kmod-catalyst with matching version number.

Setting up some Synergy

October 1st, 2009 3 comments

Last night I was able to set up a neat little program that I think you should all know about! Synergy allows you to set up two or more computers so that they all share one keyboard and one mouse. Even better it works cross platform (i.e. Windows and Linux can both share the same mouse and keyboard).


You need to install synergy on all machines involved. I will only go over the Fedora instructions here. The first thing I did was do a quick yum search for synergy.

yum search synergy

This spit back the following results:

== Matched: synergy ==
quicksynergy.x86_64 : Share keyboard and mouse between computers
synergy.x86_64 : Mouse and keyboard sharing utility
synergy-plus.x86_64 : Mouse and keyboard sharing utility

As you can see in the list above it appears as though the package synergy.x86_64 is the only one I really need so I went and installed it.

sudo yum install synergy

This quickly finished but left me scratching my head. There was no application entry for synergy and not even a man page in the terminal. Looking back at the original search terms I figured synergy-plus must be additional features for the base synergy application and that maybe quicksynergy was some sort of automated or easier to use version of synergy. So I installed that.

sudo yum install quicksynergy

I then set up my synergy server, the computer that would be sharing it’s mouse and keyboard to the others, and defined where the monitors would go.

As you can see I have set up my Fedora computer (XPS) to extend the monitor to the left of my Windows machine

As you can see I have set up my Fedora computer (XPS) to extend the monitor to the left of my Windows machine

Next I jumped back over to my Fedora laptop and launched QuickSynergy. After a bit of tinkering I found out that the Share tab is if this computer is going to be the server and the Use tab is for a client. I tried entering the hostname in the text field but that wouldn’t work for whatever reason. It wasn’t until I entered the IP address of the server that things started working.

QuickSynergy on Fedora

QuickSynergy on Fedora

And now for the pièce de résistance. Here is my desktop computing experience!

3 monitors, 2 machines, 1 keyboard & mouse

3 monitors, 2 machines, 1 keyboard & mouse. Sorry for the poor picture quality.


It’s not cheating to use a Windows machine. I needed it to do work. As far as I can tell the linux doesn’t have Visual Studio 2008 with VB.NET support… yet 😉

Barry: Round Two with the Blogosphere riding Shotgun

September 30th, 2009 2 comments

Given the problems that I’ve been having lately with getting my Blackberry calendar and contacts to synchronize with anything in Linux, I was quite surprised when I almost got it working tonight. Forgetting everything that I’ve learned about the process, I started over, following these helpful tutorials and working through the entire install from the beginning. Unfortunately, aside from some excellent documentation of the install process (finally), the only new idea that those blogs provided me with was to try syncing the phone with different pieces of software. Specifically, Chip recommended KDEPIM, although I opted to  jump through a few more hoops before giving in and dropping the Thunderbird/Lightning combination entirely.

After a bit more mucking about, I decided to give up Lightning and installed Iceowl, Debian’s rebranding of Mozilla Sunbird, instead. Iceowl is the standalone calendar application that Lightning is based on, and is a very lightweight solution that is supposed to cooperate with the opensync-plugin-iceowl package. In theory, this allows calendar data to be shared between my device and the Iceowl calendar after configuring the plugin to read my Iceowl calendar from the /home/username/.mozilla/iceowl/crazyfoldername/storage.sdb file. In practice, the sync process gets locked up every time:

Screenshot-PIM Synchronization - KitchenSync-1

Why must you tease me?

Well, I’ve tried everything that I can think of to get my phone to synchronize with any Mozilla product. I’m very close to giving up, which is a shame, because they really are superior products. The ridiculousness of the entire thing is that I can easily dump my PIM data to a folder, and Thunderbird stores it’s data in an SQLite database. If this were Windows, I’d have written a VB app to fix my problems hours ago… Anybody know any python?

Update: I’ve also managed to successfully synchronize my phone with the Evolution mail client. Unfortunately, Evolution looks rather pale next to Thunderbird. In fact, the entire reason that I switched to Thunderbird about a week ago is that Evolution mysteriously stopped receiving my IMAP email with no explanation. No new email comes in, and the Send/Receive button is grayed out. Until now, I was happy with my decision, as Thunderbird is a superior application.

How I solved my audio problems

September 27th, 2009 No comments

Short answer: IRC and #fedora

Long answer:

As you may recall I have been without sound for quite some time now. Finally getting sick and tired of it I ventured into the official Fedora IRC channel to try and get some help. Thankfully the people over there are very helpful. After about an hour of trying this, that and the other thing I finally found success by doing the following:

yum install pavucontrol padevchooser

This installed some very easy to use tools for PulseAudio, the component that I long thought was the cause of my problems.

PulseAudio made easy!

PulseAudio made easy!

After pulling this up I noticed that it was sending the master audio stream to my ATi HDMI port for some reason. A quick switch of this to the “Internal Audio” and everything seemed to work fine! Not sure what caused my default audio stream to be switched to the HDMI port that I’m not even using but I’m just glad that after all of this time I have finally solved the problem!

Gaaaaaaaaaaaay(mes) for Linux

September 26th, 2009 5 comments

Ever the Windows enthusiast, I’ve always been deeply involved in the world of PC gaming.  It’s something I’ve always loved to do, and I’ve been through it all – from the early days of Minesweeper and Solitaire, to the casual gaming market of Elastomania and Peggle, to the full-on phase of Bioshock, Halo, Civilization (all of them), and – sadly, yes – World of Warcraft.

Needless to say, I love gaming on computers.  Always have, always will.  I’ve never been a hardcore console man, but I’ve been known to dabble in Nintendo’s awesome selection (SUPER MARIO GALAXY WHAT) every once in a while.  So to say that gaming on Linux would be important to me is just about the understatement of the century.

I had heard a while back that Unreal Tournament III (UT3) was going to be ported to Linux, after being released to the rest of the world about two years ago.  This game has always interested me, mostly because I get to fire ludicrous weapons and blow up aliens again and again and again.  No such luck in Linux, it would seem – the ‘port’ is still under development.

A quick search of ‘gaming in linux’ on Google spits back a modest fifty million results, so you KNOW I’m not the only person interested in doing something like this.  Several of my former WoW buddies (I kicked the habit) played in Linux with impressive results, and it’s been something I’ve wanted to emulate ever since we all started this experiment.  While I have yet to sit down and attempt the installation of a legitimate Windows-only game into Fedora, I have made a selection of a few free (and some open-source!) games I’ve been keeping occupied with in the meantime.  Hope you enjoy!

  • Nexuiz – a free, open-source first-person cross-platform shooter (runs on Windows, Linux and OS/X)
  • Scorched3D – a 3D update of one of my favourite games of all time, Scorched Earth
  • Armacycles-AD – all ready covered by Tyler, this game is addictive as hell

Any other suggestions you might have would be fantastic!  Next up is trying to get some Steam games running…

DNS Not Satisfactory

September 25th, 2009 No comments

While trying to connect to a remote webserver via SSH last night, I found that my machine refused to resolve the hostname to an IP address. I couldn’t ping the server either, but could view a webpage hosted on it. Now this was a new one on me – I figured that my machine was caching a bad DNS record for the webserver, and couldn’t connect because the server’s IP had since changed. That didn’t really explain why I was able to access the server from a webbrowser, but I ran with it. So how do you refresh your DNS cache in Linux? It’s easy to do in Windows, but the Goog and the Bing let me down spectacularly on this issue.

This morning, I tried to connect via SSH from my school network, and couldn’t get a connection there either. This reinforced the idea that a local DNS cache might have an outdated record in it, because at school, I was using a different nameserver than at home, and a whole 12 hours had elapsed. Out of theories, and lacking a method to refresh my local DNS cache, I hit the #debian channel on IRC for some guidance. Unlike my last two trips to this channel, I got help from a number of people within minutes (must be a timezone thing), and found out that unless I manually installed one, Debian does not maintain a DNS cache. Well, there goes that idea.

So where was I getting my DNS lookup service? A quick look at my /etc/resolv.conf file showed that the only entry in it was, which is the IP of my home router. The file also has a huge warning banner that claims that any changes will be overwritten by the operating system. Makes sense, as when I connect to a new network, I presumably get DNS resolution from their router, which may have a different IP address than mine. The guys on IRC instructed me to try to connect to the server with it’s IP address instead of it’s hostname, thereby taking the DNS resolution at the router out of the picture. This worked just fine.

They then instructed me to add a line to the file with the IP address of the nameserver that the router is using. In the case of our home network, we use OpenDNS, a local company with static servers. I did so, and could immediately resolve the IP of my remote server, and obtain an SSH connection to it.

Well fine, my problem is solved by bypassing DNS resolution at the router, but it still doesn’t explain what’s going on here. Why, if DNS resolution was failing at the router level (presumably because the router maintains some kind of DNS cache), did it work for my webbrowser, but not the for ssh, scp, or ping commands? Don’t they all resolve nameservers in the same way? Further, if it was the router cache that had a bad record in it, why did the problem also manifest itself at school, where the router is taken entirely out of the picture?

Further, will the file actually be overwritten by the OS the next time I connect to a different wireless network? If so, will my manual entry be erased, and will the problem return? Time will tell. Something smells fishy here, and it all points to the fact that my machine is in fact retaining a local DNS cache. How else can I explain away the problem manifesting itself on the school network? Further, even if I do have a local cache that is corrupted or contains a bad record, why did Iceweasel bypass it and resolve the address of the webserver at the router level (thereby allowing it to connect, even though the ssh, scp, and ping commands could not)?


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!

Disabling the PC Speaker Beep

September 2nd, 2009 5 comments

If you’re like me, you’re still working on your certification as a Linux God. Until graduation day comes around, and you throw your penguin-festooned mortar board into the air, you may find yourself seriously annoyed by that damned PC speaker beep. Apparently leftover from the pre-speaker world of ancient PC computing, this distinctly plaintive and accusatory beep sounds whenever you do something that you aren’t supposed to, including (but not limited to):

  • Trying to scroll down in a window that can’t scroll any further
  • Backspacing into text that doesn’t exist
  • Viewing the login screen
  • Pressing the up arrow too many times while in the terminal
  • Getting any password wrong, anywhere on the system
  • Attempting to do anything of value with your new Linux installation.
  • Looking at the machine the wrong way

Luckily, has an excellent little tutorial on how to disable the PC speaker by editing the /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist file. Check it out here, and lose that awful beep until the next time that you’re forced to use the Unix lab at school.

Note: If you attempt to edit the blacklist file and cannot save it, it is because you are not in root mode. At the terminal prompt, type “su”, enter your root password, and then follow the instructions to edit the blacklist file.

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.


September 1st, 2009 1 comment

Hi, everyone!  Dana here posting from a successful installation of Fedora 11.  I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get the option to install KDE out of the box, but that’ll be something else to tinker with another day.

For now, just figured I would give a status update.  Wireless works out of the box, as do vertical and horizontal touchpad scrolling.  Screen brightness is set somewhere near the bottom and can’t be adjusted, but I can live with that until tomorrow when I get home from work.

Fun fact: in Russia, Fedora at one time may have been a more popular name with women (for older women now).  These are the things you learn when you have a Russian exchange student living with you.  Thank you, Masha!

More to come tomorrow.

Get the most out of your battery

August 25th, 2009 No comments

After reading this article on Slashdot I did some digging and found a website designed to help you get the most out of your battery. Just thought I’d take a moment to point it out.

Categories: Tyler B Tags: , , ,

The Distributions of Debian

August 21st, 2009 No comments

Like many of the other varieties of Linux, Debian gives the end user a number of different installation choices. In addition to the choice of installer that Tyler B has already mentioned, the Debian community maintains three different distributions, which means that even though I’ve picked a distribution, I still haven’t picked a distribution! In the case of Debian, these distributions are as follows:

  1. Stable: Last updated on July 27th, 2009, this was the last major Debian release, codenamed “Lenny.” This is the currently supported version of Debian, and receives security patches from the community as they are developed, but no new features. The upside of this feature freeze is that the code is stable and almost bug free, with the downside that the software it contains is somewhat dated.
  2. Testing: Codenamed “Squeeze,” this distribution contains code that is destined for the next major release of Debian. Code is kept in the Testing distribution as long as it doesn’t contain any major bugs that might prevent a proper release (This system is explained here). The upside of running this distribution is that your system always has all of the newest (and mostly) bug free code available to users. The downside is that if a major bug is found, the fix for that bug may be obliged to spend a good deal of time in the Unstable distribution before it is considered stable enough to move over to Testing. As a result, your computer could be left with broken code for weeks on end. Further, this distribution doesn’t get security patches as fast as Stable, which poses a potential danger to the inexperienced user.
  3. Unstable: Nicknamed Sid after the psychotic next door neighbour in Toy Story who destroys toys as a hobby, this is where all of Debian’s newest and potentially buggy code lives. According to what I’ve read, Sid is like a developer’s build – new users who don’t know their way around the system don’t generally use this distribution because the build could break at any time, and there is absolutely no security support.

I’m currently leaning towards running the Testing distribution, mostly because I like new shiny toys, and (I think) want the challenge of becoming a part of the Debian community. Since we’ve been getting a lot of support from the various development communities lately, perhaps some of our readers could set me straight on any information that I might have missed, and perhaps set me straight on which distribution I should run.