Archive for the 'Linux' Category

Playing catch-up

I decided that on my vacation I would do some catch-up work. I have many times mentioned that I am a consummate procrastinator, and if you combine that with me being just generally whooped tired after 12 hours away from home on any average day, you understand why my computers seem to go uncared for. I think it’s the same as the whole “the mechanics car is never fixed” thing.

I mentioned a couple days ago that I installed ESXi on one of my home servers (redundant servers) to fix a strange problem I had been having with VMware Server 2.x. That was the first job I needed to so, or at least the most important, and so far it has been doing beautifully.

Next on the list was Mint 8 on the old laptop. It has been running Mint 7 since the distro was released and it was time for an upgrade. Everything was working just fine on 7, I just wanted to catch up the latest/greatest. As expected, the upgrade was a no-brainer and it’s running gorgeously, as Mint does.

Today, so far, I decided to upgrade my desktop machine to Mint 8. This machine, a P4 3Ghz with 3Gb of ram runs like absolute crap. I don’t exactly know why, but it always has. Now I have replaced the cpu fan a couple times and also the power supply at least twice. The computer is noisy, whiny, but not physically broken that I can tell. It just seems to run slower than hell and always has. The installation of Mint 8 on it did make it prettier, but sure didn’t make it seem to run any faster. I think it just dogs over the dual display and craptasticly old Nvidia card. Perhaps if I bought it a new quiet power supply, a better working and quieter cpu fan, a new better video card and a new dvdrom drive (yeah that’s pretty broken too), I could resuscitate this thing so that I could stand using it again. But then again, I could probably buy a whole new desktop computer for what I would spend on repairs to this one. Dang.

So, what’s next? Well, I should install ESXi on my redundant server now that I am satisfied with how the other one is running. I should also upgrade to Mint 8 on my Acer Aspire All In One netbook (notice a pattern here). Other than that, I am not sure.. Maybe work on some code projects I have been stringing along for months and months.

So what kinds of great computery projects are you all up to? Or what SHOULD you be up to :-)

VMware ESXi – a sigh of relief!


A couple days ago I relayed the story about how my VMware Server 2 infrastructure was suffering some issues. Basically it would randomly just shut down my VMs. I don’t know why. I absolutely poured over the logs for days on end while simultaneously searching google for *any* inkling or hint of an idea on how to remedy the situation or even why it was happening. Nothing….

Frustrated, I was searching around for a different solution and after passing on Virtualbox, Parallels, KVM and others for various reasons, not the least of which was the learning curve on some, I settled on ESXi. I run a lot of ESX and some ESXi at work, so the familiarity is there and it’s been my experience that it’s a rock solid and stable platform, not to mention that it’s bare metal and wickedly fast.

There were some drawbacks. ESX(i) requires a Windows management interface (or Virtual Infrastructure Controller – VIC) and I wasn’t even sure my hardware would accomidate. You see, ESXi has only a certain set of hardware that it will work with.

Well, after a bit of research, I was mostly convinced that my hardware would work, albeit with a little tweak to get the IDE drive recognised. I registered for, and downloaded the free ESXi 4.x release from, burned it to a cd and I was off to the races.

The installation was completely a no-brainer. Just put the cd in, boot it up and go. It really is an almost no-touch install. I was also pleasantly surprised that it recognised my IDE drive automatically with no tweaking whatsoever. When the install was done, there were only a couple settings to adjust like configuring the IP address and root password, and they are all accessed and changed in a very plain and simple text interface. All in all, in less than a half an hour and with 1 reboot I had an ESXi server just begging me for some VMs.

Once it was up and running I decided I would try everything possible NOT to have to resort to running Windows at home for a management interface. Luckily, other people have decided the same and there is good information available on the web on using the built in command line tools to do what you need to. And they aren’t difficult at all.

First, I needed to be able to access the command line tools on ESXi, and that required turning on SSH access. I followed the instructions here:

After that, I needed to get my VMware Server 2.x VMs on the ESXi box. I turned to VMware Converter for that. Downloaded it (again free) from VMware and installed it on my VMware Server 2.x host machine so that the converter would have access to the local VM files.

I shut down the VMs and used vmware converter to convert them to the ESXi box. Each conversion of a 12GB VM took approximately 40 minutes (give or take). Since the converter is a GUI app, I did a “ssh -Y vmwareserver2host” to run the converter console on my local machine because my vmwareserver2 machine is a headless server.

When the VMs were converted to the ESXi box, I took a cue from this page:
to add vncserver to each VM, which allowed me to connect to the VMs and make 1 integral change to each virtual machine when they were running.

To get the machines running I used ESXi’s “vim-cmd vmsvc/getallvms” command on the ESXi box, which listed all the VMs I copied there with their assigned vm number. “Then, I ran vim-cmd vmsvc/power.on #” where number is the vm number listed from the getallvms command.
Once they were started, I used vncviewer to connect to the VMs, log in and fix their networking. You see when you move a vm to a different host machine, the mac address gets reassigned and hoses up your VMs network config. Once that was quickly fixed, I rebooted the VMs and they were good to go!

There are a couple other things that I need to get tweaked, like adding my registration number to ESXi, which I found directions for at I also noticed that vmware adds some filesystem into the VMs /etc/hosts file which errors out on boot. Just comment that out and it’s fine. Lastly, since I migrated the VMs from Server 2.x, they already had the vmware tools from that loaded in and I noticed a little barking about those tools while the VMs were booting, so I disabled them by doing a “service vmware-tools stop ; chkconfig vmware-tools off” on my VMs which are CentOS, so your method of disabling those tools may vary.

My impressions so far: Although this all sounded hard, long and technical, nothing could be farther from the truth. It was extremely easy – much more than I had initially hoped. And, if my VMs *stay running* now, it will be well worth it. I also believe that these VMs ABSOLUTELY SCREAM compared to how they ran before. They are much more responsive now in every way. The change was well worth it!


Todays desktop

Todays desktop

I don’t know why, but I have always been fascinated by what people have on their desktops and how they have them configured. Well, today I ran into a link to a site I hadn’t visited in a long time, and that is Unixporn. No, it’s not porn, it’s a bunch of people sharing how cool their desktop looks. Eye candy. Anyhow I thought I would post my desktop so far today. I’d put it on the Unixporn site, but hey, then what would I post here? :-) Show us all what your desktop looks like!

Addendum: I probably should mention what is actually running there. Gnome, Nautilus, xterms using vim for programming, transparent gnome-term running mocp for music, thunderbird email, pidgin instant messaging, and google chrome for browsing.

iPad Excitement!



Yes, the news is out. Apple is releasing the iPad, to start shipping in 60 days. There has been much discussion amongst the peanut gallery on this one, but I, for one, am exceedingly happy about the release, although maybe not for the reasons you may think.

The Apple iPad (I keep wanting to type POD) is basically a 10 inch version of their iPod Touch, with some really nice new features. The iPad does all the standard web browsing, games, iPod Touch / iPhone apps (minus the phone part of course), and games that you would expect but it also includes iBook, a really slick looking ebook reader program and iWork Spreadsheets/Presentation/Document software, etc.. What I was most impressed with was the 3G access. For $15 a month you can get 250meg of 3G access from AT&T with NO CONTRACT! That alone almost makes it worth buying for me as Verizon wants to soak me for a 2 year contract and an extra $30 a month…

Do I want one of these myself? Well, I probably wouldn’t turn it down as I think Apple makes some good lookin’ hardware that does what _they_ want it to do well. There are a few problems I see with it though. It does not multitask. That’s right, want to play music while you are editing that spreadsheet or reading that ebook? Nope. No camera on there either. Would have been a killer app for them to have a built in camera for an iChat, or Skype or what have you. It needs a fold out keyboard. I don’t care how slick the touch screen keyboard is, it’s fundamentally flawed as you suck up screen realestate by using it. Lastly, no real OS on there. For most people this isn’t really a problem, but I would like something a little more than an appliance….

So why am I happy about the release? Well, in a word, competition. Now that Apple has set a “standard”, other manufacturers have something to aim for and above for their own product releases. I see manufacturers turning to Linux for this because it’s developer friendly, easier to shoehorn into embedded or strange / smaller devices, and the price is right. I hope to see a multitouch tablet with a full functioning and/or upgradeable/replaceable Linux distribution on it. I want it to have a rollout/foldout keyboard. I want it to have 802.11n and 3G available, and I want to see the price point at or below what the iPad is. Think this sounds too goo to be true? I think we are all going to be surprised. At least I hope so. And just to get things going, check out the TouchBook, which by the way was available BEFORE the iPad. I think we are headed in the right direction and I, for one, am eager to see what happens!

Boxee FTW



Long ago, I believe it was, my buddy Joel turned me on to Boxee. Then, it was still in alpha – way alpha in fact. I thought it was a pretty neat idea, but it was rough, for sure, and I could only get it to work on my desktop at the time, and my desktop had dual monitors, so it looked like hell spread across them. I also recall it being slightly difficult to use.


Boxee Works!

Fast forward to last night. While on the TechShow, someone mentioned Boxee and I remembered that I had used it long ago and decided to check it out again. This time I tried to install it on my laptop (the same one I had tried it on originally) and it installed just fine on top of Mint 7 (even though the .deb was for Ubuntu 9.10).

WOW. It sure has come a log way baby. The interface is slick, smooth, quick and very attractive. The keyboard use, although it could be more intuitive, is very easy to figure out, and the same for mouse usage (or touchpad in my case). I pointed Boxee at my media folders on my NAS and within an hour (I have a LOT of media) it had scanned through all my stuff. But that’s not the best part…. To my amazement, it looked up all kinds of cover art and information on the files it found. I have to say it was pretty cool scrolling through my tv shows, movies and music with a nice graphical interface.

I haven’t had a great deal of time to play with it yet, just an hour or so last night, but my intention is to fire this sucker up over the weekend with a big old playlist and hook it to my new TV and see what happens. Perhaps between then and now I can get my wife to put the music portion through it’s paces too. I also still need to check out some other features on there as well, like RSS feeds and trying to play an actual dvd. From what I have see so far, I am sure it will perform admirably.


Prey is a lightweight application that will help you track and find your laptop if it ever gets stolen. It works in all operating systems and not only is it Open Source but also completely free.

That’s what their website says anyway.

You have to admit that it sounds quite intriguing. There are a lot of utilities around that you can *pay* for that offer some reasonable facsimile of helping you track your stolen laptop and get it back, but this is the first open source one I have come across.

Further inspection shows this to be “the real deal”. At least as far as I am concerned. I cannot yet comment on the mac/win versions of the software, but the Linux version is pretty slick.

Essentially, Prey runs through cron every 10 minutes by default, completely in the background, hidden from view. It checks for the existence of a specific website and if it doesn’t find this website (gets a 404 message), it starts grabbing information from your machine like ip addresses, screenshots, pics from your webcam, etc., and sends them either to Prey’s website for you to view, or directly to your email account. This is all information designed to help you track down where your laptop is, and identify who might have it.

I tried it on my Ubuntu work laptop and the client is literally a drop-in dmg package. It installed and asked me to run a control panel applet for configuration. This only really asked me for 2 pieces of identifying information, the API key and the device key, both of which were available to me after I registered (for free) on Prey’s website at

Once you are registered and get your device (laptop) listed on the website, you can tell Prey, via the website anytime, that your laptop is missing by going to (and after logging in) clicking on the appropriate device listing (they let you have 3 for free btw), changing the “Missing” slide switch to “on” and hitting the update button at the bottom of the page. There are other options in there you can change as well to suit your needs. The next time your laptop can find an internet connection and check in, Prey will have it sending reports out so you can find it. I was pretty happy and impressed with how well it worked actually.

The only con I can think of with this program is the fact that I run Linux. Not that people won’t steal laptops with Linux on them, but that I imagine that anyone who would steal one of my laptops would immediately install windows on it, thus rendering Prey useless. If I were to employ the use of that auto-login stuff, that could perhaps stave off a would be thief long enough for Prey to do it’s job, but I do like having to log in to my machines (just makes me feel more secure). It’s something to think about, and I will look into what other people have to say on the subject in Prey’s forums. That being said, however, I am still putting the software on my laptops. Hey, it can’t hurt right?

Fedora 12

It’s no secret that I have been pretty critical of the Fedora project in the past. I make no bones about my opinions that they have, in the past, released too soon, without doing the proper testing, and have sent out fundamentally broken distributions (albeit nice looking).

That was until now.

As a Linux enthusiast, I do try and keep up things and recently the Fedora project released Fedora 12. As I have this great new Thinkpad X31 test laptop now, I found it impossible to resist testing the new Fedora. I have heard from so many people who absolutely love Fedora, I felt that I , so far, have been cheated of being able to play with it because of the previous issues I have had with the distribution.

The very first thing I noticed was the download time to actually get an iso. This distribution is either wildly popular or they have amazingly crappy mirrors. It took several *HOURS* for me to get a copy of the dvd iso, and this is many days after the initial release and I am on a particularly speedy internet connection.

Once I actually did have a copy of the iso, I used unetbootin once again to get it on some media that I could install from on my Thinkpad X31 (no cd/dvd drive). No matter what I did, I could NOT get an install to work this way. It’ll boot and give you an error about not being able to find the root partition or some such thing. Anyhow, I tried several times and even re-downloaded the iso just to be sure. After checking some search engines it appears that this problem has been around for some time now. Undaunted, I decided I WAS going to get this installed and I downloaded the netboot iso, used unetbootin to put that on a flash drive and mounted up the dvd iso on a spare webserver so I could net-install from there (sounds harder than it is, really).

Once the install was actually working, it went right along at a good pace. The installer is all graphical and asks you the appropriate questions to get your system up and running. It’s nothing difficult and nothing that the average person wouldn’t know or couldn’t figure out. A few mouse clicks here and there and a password and you’re working.

Once the install is done, you give it a quick reboot and kerplowie, you’re running Fedora 12.

The first thing I noticed (other than this release actually boots up) is it’s FAST. I mean F A S T. I don’t know what these fellows are doing but it sure seems the right thing this time. My boot time in F-12 was noticeably faster than even Ubuntu 9.10 and I truly dig anything that gets me to my desktop quicker.

The desktop itself is quite strikingly beautiful. This is one of the things that I have always admired about the Fedora project, though. Their artwork has always been top notch. This is in striking contrast to what I usually feel about Ubuntu’s brown desktops. Underneath the pretty is the gnome desktop, which works quite well, is very integrated feeling, and has become the standard enterprise desktop.

Lastly, networking is flawless. I expected it to be, but then again, I expect it to be flawless on all distributions and many times it is not. This is worth note because both CentOS and RHEL workstation require a little jiggling to get wireless going on my laptop and Fedora comes off the same shelf, so to speak.

The only problem I have encountered so far is shortly after I boot up, on most occasions, I get a notification on the top task bar about kernel error/warning. When I click on the notification icon I am asked to send a bug report in and when I say yes, it fails. Unfortunately there really isn’t a lot of other information on the error – it’s not very descriptive or helpful for that matter. Nothing appears to be broken, everything works so this is really only a minor annoyance and, for all I know, something I inadvertently screwed up myself.

Of course, there are a few things I still want to check out, like multimedia playback and such, but overall I am quite impressed with Fedora 12 and would recommend it as a decent and quick general desktop.

While travelling abroad where it would be legal to do so, you could follow the directions here and also this one. Make sure to hit them both for everything you need (and you might want to add vlc to the yum install on the last one too).

‘Tis the season



What’s your tech wish list look like? I know mine is pretty impressive as they are always coming out with something I am sure I could make great use of.

That being said, there are a LOT of people out there who would love some tech themselves but just can’t afford it. I say, let’s compromise! Do yourself and others a favor by cleaning out your old computer inventory and putting it up on FreeLinuxBox. You can make some room (and a good excuse) for getting your new whizbang laptop while simultaneously giving the gift of a working Linux computer to someone who could really use it. Don’t wait or hesitate. Do it now and you’ll be glad you did.

You may be thinking that nobody wants your old junk, but let me assure you that is not the case. I just recently put up an old used laptop with a bad display and I had several people emailing me asking for it within mere hours. Unfortunately, I had to turn them all down but the one who got it. They are waiting for you to post yours now.

It’s really simple. Get your old computer out, the one that you were saving for your kids when they get old enough, or the one you were holding on to for that special project you will never do. Install Linux or BSD on it and make sure it works. Write down the specifications of the machine like make/model/ram/hdd etc. and post them on FreeLinuxBox. It only takes a few minutes and you can be making someone really happy with their new Linux/Unix toy within just a few hours.

Slackware 13

I decided to give Slackware 13 a try on the new Thinkpad X31. Since there is no cd/dvd drive, I had to resort to unetbootin to get things going. I downloaded the dvd iso image and, through unetbootin, stuffed it on my trusty 4bg usb thumb drive. For some reason, this took 4 tries to be bootable, but did eventually work…mostly.

Slackware’s installer hasn’t changed since I started using it years ago, that I can remember. That being said, it’s a fairly straight forward and simple text interface menu system that you go through step by step. Since I was using a USB drive to install from I picked the “install from a mounted directory” option, hit alt-f2, made a directory and mounted my usb there (mkdir /linc ; mount /dev/sda1 /linc) and used the /linc/slackware directory as my source directory. Sounds a lot more complicated that it really is. The problem with that was that I apparently had a corrupt package on my usb stick and halfway through the install everything stopped. This was remedied by starting the install again and picking “ftp or http install”. I stuffed a copy of the slackware directory of the iso I had downloaded onto a spare webserver for a few minutes and pointed the installer there. That worked like a top. I selected to do a full install of everything.

Booting to Slackware was a lot tougher. Still having learning curve issues with Grub 2, I turned to the web for some help and after a few searches and trials came up with this:

exec tail -n +3 $0
menuentry “Slackware 13″ {
set root=(hd0,6)
linux /boot/vmlinuz-huge-smp- ro root=/dev/hda6

Once everything was booted (Slackware seems to boot quite fast btw), I was dropped at the familiar login prompt (no fancy gui’s here folks - at least not by default). I logged in as root and set up my regular user account.

useradd -m linc
passwd linc
* add your user to wheel
* add your user to disk
* add your user to plugdev
* add your user to power

To be honest, I have no idea if I really needed to add myself to the disk and power groups but, hey, while I was there…

From there, I logged out of root and logged in as my user and then issued a “startx” which started my fancy KDE session. To be honest, I am not all that sure I like the KDE 4 series yet. It’s a little cartoonish to me and I definitely do not like the default menu system. I haven’t used it enough to really comment on it yet though - I may just end up liking it the more familiar I become with it. The familiarity will have to wait ’till I finally get wireless working though :-)

Gparted rocks

I just wanted to write a quick note about gparted. This has got to be one of the most handy pieces of software on the planet.
As you know, I have been doing a lot of different distribution testing on my test laptop lately. Well, one thing that didn’t occur to me until too late was that I can only have 4 primary partitions on a drive. Yes, on the 5th OS I had one of those “DOH!” moments :-)

livecd of Ubuntu because I cannot move around a partition I am actively using. I moved 2 primary partitions to the end of my hard drive’s free space. I then extended the size of my extended partition to encompass all the free space on my hard drive. With gparted, this was a simple drag and click procedure.

20 minutes later (hey, 30gb data to move around) and I was set with a pile of free space in my extended partition so I could continue doing installs :-)

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