Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “September, 2006”

MacDebian

It looks like Debian is here to stay on the iMac. On the Gnome-Look website I found a complete theme pack to turn the desktop into an Ubuntu style desktop. I also found some other interesting looks as well, so it might alter from time to time. With synaptic and some additions to the sources.list (non-US, main, stable, non-free and contrib) there is plenty to install. There is already a big difference between Debian and Ubuntu: Ubuntu made some good choices for the default desktop. The default Debian desktop has far more software by default, but why Mozilla and Epiphany and not Firefox? The Debian menu seems less organized, but Debian is not for first time Linux users. I installed Sarge 3.1R3, released on September 1, so quite recent. Debian is stable, solid and -with some visual tweaks- good to look at.

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Yellowdog out, Debian in

Yellowdog, day 2
And it could well be the last day. When you are used to the well-stocked and easy accessible Debian repositories, the Yellowdog repositories seem pretty bare. Adding a new repository in yum.conf was a series of trial and errors, before I could finally connect to FreshRPMs. Abiword was not in there, but Bluefish was. But yum install bluefish, brought me to the heart of dependency hell. The Abiword RPM gave an even longer list of dependencies. Only then can you appreciate the strength of apt-get and synaptic.
Yellowbird is an overall disappointment. For a distro that targets the Mac users it is unpolished and illogical. The iMac has a single button mouse. Who came with the idea to use F10 and F11 as alternate mouse buttons? It doesn’t follow the Mac oOSX experience. Why add Gnumeric, but leave out Abiword? And to use version 1.1.8 of OpenOffice is also a blast from the past. Yellowbird is definitely not keeping up with Fedora Core, where FC 5 met with wide acclaim as a strong progressive distro. I wonder if Debian is available for the PPC? I need to check that out.

[update]
The answer is yes. The net-based install is running. l might have the same problem with x, but I know where to look and how to fix it.

[update2]
Well, that went smooth enough. It was simply a matter of selecting the default desktop install and on it went. As expected, X did not work, but dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xf86config along with the information from the Yellowdog experiment was sufficient to have it up in five minutes. Strange enough, synaptic did not work from the menu, but starting it from the terminal went fine. I want to change the sources list in order to add the unstable and testing repositories. And I want to install the Ubuntu theme ;-), because the default Debian gnome theme is a bit ugly, too dark for my taste. But it works and that was the whole purpose of this endeavor.

MacLinux… at last

Linux on the iMac at last! Finally, because I was about to give it up. Both Ubuitu and Xubuntu did install, but booted up extremely slow and when I clicked on a menu item the system froze. Yellowdog Linux would be my last attempt in these series.
The install wouldn’t use the graphical mode, so that was not promising. I don’t mind the text-based mode, so on I went. The process went smoothly, though a few options did raise my eyebrows a few years ago. I realized again how much Linux made me learn about computing. If only for that reason it is a bit of a shame that most distro’s have simple install nowadays.
The really big glitch came after the reboot: no screen, no X. What followed were two hours of digging into the X configuration file, the error logs and checking the internet. I had to dig into Vi again in order to edit XF86config and yaboot.conf. That was fun. Time consuming, but fun. As the install procedure had shown, the system did not recognize the graphics card properly. It had to be added manually to XF86config and the Yellowdog forums showed the exact information for the iMac Indigo. After that a reboot ended up in the default KDE desktop.
It worked but not thanks to Yellowdog. The iMac is listed as a supported system, with only the infrared option mentioned as a problem. It is a prebuild system with well described components, so all drivers should have been there with all hardware recognized. Still the Yellowdog forum was filled with people having similar problems. I cannot understand why it has not been fixed yet. This way, only a geek can make it work. But then again. only a geek would want to install Linux on a Mac. 😉
Anyway, the experiment succeeded. I wanted to have Linux on the iMac, because I like to write on that box. It’s an inspiring piece of hardware and now I have all the programs on hand I am writing about. Only ten days to go. But first I have to fix the fact that it won’t mount cd’s automatically, nor configure the single button mouse properly, things that would run fine with Ubuntu.

Ubuntufying the iMac

I have an old iMac Indigo with a decent 768 Mb ram. Today I tried to install Ubuntu on it. First, I wanted to install it on my external usb drive, but that just stuck, twice. After that I deciced to forego Mac OSX and replace it with Dapper.
Well, the install worked. But that was about it. It was freezing slow. Nope, this did not work. Next experiment: Xubuntu or Yellow Dog. I am slightly more inclined to go for Yellow Dog as it is a company that is fully focused on Linux on Mac. Plus my G3 is mentioned as being supported. Xubuntu will have it’s shot first. Xfce is supposed to be less resource heavy. That said, I did not expect Ubuntu to be that slow either on the old box. I even used the alternate cd, just in case.
Yellow Dog comes with four CD’s. Thank ADSL for overnight downloading.

To the defense of Vista

Microsoft and the EU are at each other’s throat again. This time over Vista and it’s enhanced security and added security applications. ‘Community heroes’ Adobe and Symantec are supporting the EU with complaints against the ‘evil monopolist’. I can imagine Microsoft being annoyed or surprised at all this.
For years people have complained about the security holes in Windows. The Microsoft started to take it seriously, starting with Service Pack 2. And you have to be impressed with what has been done. Besides plugging holes, which were a cash maker for the likes of Symantec, the company started to educate endusers about secure computing and bought companies to add the needed security knowledge. Windows XP is still under constant siege, but with some good user practices it can be secure. Vista is taking this one step further, adding security features well-known to Mac OSX and Linux users.
And adding XPS and PDF export capabilities to Office 2007 is not really ground breaking either. I am using this feature in OpenOffice.org for years now, since it makes for great portability. So, Microsoft is actually listening to the complaints, is fixing them and they get slammed as a result. Yes. I am ‘really’ looking forward to Vista Unplugged, completely stripped of all security features so that you, as a free agent can spend some extra money on the lackluster and buggy McAfee Suite, or the hodgepodge Norton Suite, or try the latest ZoneAlarm Suite that breaks your internet connection by default.
Vista will not create a new and monopolistic ecosystem. It will have to compete with XP for years to come. Halting a secure Vista will not help a migration to Linux on the desktop. A huge economic crisis would be better suited to stimulate that. Vista requires new hardware, and Linux can deliver the same on older hardware.
ln essence, I don’t think this is about creating or keeping a level playing field, protecting European companies against unfair competition. As before, it is the US companies, that fail to convince their own courts and use the European arena to push their own bottom line up and their expensive and/or buggy software through European throats.

Gyroscope

Do you ever have the feeling that you crammed too much in one day? I do, today. The planning was fine, but in the end too many urgent appointments krept in to ruin it all. Well, just two more weeks before my personal writing month. 😉

Whenever times appear to overwhelm me, I turn inside and upward. Even if only for a moment it is good to refocus, stabilize and see what are the more important things. Almost like a gyroscope, my faith is always pointing in the right direction, no matter how unstable the environs. I prefer the analogy of the gyroscope over that of the anchor. The anchor holds fast, where the gyroscope move freely around in relation to what is around, but is in fact the only stable element. Stability not by being static, but by dynamically adjusting itself at all times.

Time to go public

The website for the open source elearning project is nearing the moment to go public. Most of the components are in place. It’s a matter of some final tweaks, adding some categories to the forum and the eWriting module and to iron out the small bugs in the blog section. The production package to create rich content is on line and ready for download.  I am already contemplating another release which can run the Joomla/eWriting module locally.

But, first things first. The project is in need of writers, editors. content developers, graphical designers, people who combine interest in IT , open source with creative and educational skills. Most of my time is tied in the Ubuntu book project and the articles that are planned. The coming weeks I will leave messages in various forums for writers, content developers and it afficionados to invite collaborators. The intention is to fill the site with more content before the next stage, focusing on the users, the actual target audience. I look forward to finding new collaborators and bringing the project to a stable next level.

To update or not to update

That’s the question for today. The Ubuntu update notified me of a list of updates which included a kernel update and a nvidia-glx update. With two major upgrade running foul in one month I am reluctant to accept these. Personally I did not have any problems with the previous update as some have reported , but I do consider it wisdom to wait for a week to see the dust settle. Is this a good thing?
No, I don’t think so. I like my Ubuntu setup. I had never worked with linux for weeks in a row, but the Ubuntu experience is great. Yes, it is for free, so I can’t complain that much if the free ‘use at your own risk’ service is lacking in some respect. And, yes, also Microsoft had it’s share of foul ups. But when people start to distrust provided updates that either fix bugs or plug security holes, the long term effects could be negative.
Fortunately, there are tons of available resources like mailing lists and Ubuntu related IRC channels. Especially IRC is useful. If something is wrong, the tech crowd will report it there. Hmmm, maybe I should find myself a commandline IRC program, just in case. It won’t solve the problem for the average user. The barrage of information in IRC or the forums do require both perseverance and the ability to know the problem you are facing. And after lurking in IRC for one day I have seen my share of unfriendly and impatient responses. Less than in the past, fortunately, but still there. And I could help someone solve a problem with EasyUbuntu. 😉

A Month of Writing

A few weeks from now I will spend about 25 days to write the bulk of my book. My part of it, at least. I look forward to it. 25 days of complete focus on writing, editing and simply enjoying myself.

It’s not the NaNoWriMo of which I heard a year ago. That happens in november and the participants focus on writing the first draft of a book in that month, about 50.000 words. My planning won’t allow me to participate, but that doesn’t prevent me from borrowing the principle. I already understand the benefits of getting into a flow, a creative drive that is not disturbed by other activities. It’s a technique I use at work to prepare and write policy papers and project proposals. The feeling you get when your fingers flash over the keyboard and transform thoughts into lines, paragraphs and chapters. Fantastic. The official NaNoWriMo will have to wait for another year, but I look forward to it.

The routine of writing smaller pieces for the blog is also reaping dividend. There are various blogposts that could serve as building blocks for the book, I have a small beginning for the fiction novel and it stimulates a fresh and new way of looking at thing, events and people. Which immediately influences the way I look at myself and my thoughts, feelings and emotions. The path of the writer is giving access to a new ‘reality’. As a reader I have enjoyed many journeys of the mind, as a writer I enjoy the journey into the unknown, the undescribed and the yet unseen.

Milestone

How do you measure progress? Or the level of your skills? In the last five years I spend quite some time learning all kinds of IT related skills. I consider myself an autodidact, someone who wants to learn on his own without certifying that knowledge and those skills. I learn for the fun of it, well knowing I will never measure up to the real specialists.
For example, I can not code in PHP, but I understand enough of it to read PHP-based pages and modify some of the code. I just pick up the skills I need and move forward when a new challenge presents itself. Like this week.
The organization I work for introduced a new client registration system this year and it is unbearably slow. The CRS is based on MySQL which is accessed through a client program. The hardware is okay, the network speed is fine, the server load is minimal and yet it takes 20 seconds for a form to load.
The support call to the company who installed the CRS only returned some bogus arguments like a weekly restart of the MySQL server to clear the cache and the suggestion to migrate to a Citrix based solution. At the same time they didn’t do anything with the suggestion to check whether the MySQL install was optimized for our server (a well-documented issue). Oh, they were willing to send a team to upgrade MySQL onsite and check the optimization… for a price. It couldn’t be the problem, but they were willing to cheque.. sorry, to check it out.
Fortunately we have an external team for our sysadmin tasks and we decided to setup a linux based MySQL server with a copy of the database. Yesterday a copy of the database was made and what did we find out? It was empty. The forms were there, the tables were there, but the tables were empty. No data. Or, to be more exact: the data is not stored in the database. We still have to find out where the data is, but it does explain the abysmal speed.
For me it was a small milestone. Apparently I learned enough to cut through the crap and set up a digging process. And it made me wonder: how many more small organizations with hardly any IT knowledge are screwed in this way?

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