Archive for the 'Linux' Category

Best Buy?

More like goodbye…

Friday night I go to Best Buy to check out their 17″ Gateway laptop. I bring my trusty Mint Live cd so I can check things out real quick like before I buy the thing.

When I get into the store, I am, greeted by one of the blueshirts who asks if he can help. I explain I am there for a laptop, I brought my Live cd there to do a hardware compatability check before I buy it. He says just don’t install anything on the demo machines and I say no problem, it should only take me a coupe mins to check things out.

A few minutes later (still booting the live cd) the “supervisor” whiteshirt guy comes storming over to me saying “you can’t do that!”. Do what? Install “stuff” on computers… (Mind you I already have permission) I am not installing anything, just checking hardware compat for Linux – I need to buy a laptop. Supervisor says “Linux will run fine on it”. I look at the screen and I X is trying to start so I say it’s almost done. Supervisor steps in between me and laptop, rips out cd, pushes it at me and says “you can’t do this and if you don’t like it I can get someone to escort you out of the store”.

Needless to say I didn’t buy a laptop from Best Buy that night – or any other. What I *DID* do, when I got back home was to send nastymails to everyone at Best Buy I could find an email address for. I simply cannot deal with mean and nasty customer service people anymore and I do not have a problem writing emails to complain about it. Honestly, if this guy would have pulled his attitude with my wife while I was watching, someone would have had to bail me out of jail. You all know the type – I have even had the misfortune to have to work with the Joe Powertrip people like this before. Further, I did a little research on the Laptop I was unable to complete looking at in the store and found that there are some Linux issues with the i3 procs and perhaps even the Atheros wlan and Intel HD video too. This means that the “supervisor” guy was not only a butthead but was giving bad technical advice too. As a technical guy myself, that is not cool. If you don’t know the answer and do not understand the technology, at least be man enough to cop to it and go find the correct answer.

It’s unfortunate that this all went down like it did because I have a best buy store credit card and have previously been quite happy with my purchase experience there. It is, however, difficult to want to go shopping at a store that the manager threatened to throw you out of though.

Update: I was called on monday evening by the store manager who apologized profusely. He asked if I felt my experience had negatively impacted my decision to shop there in the future. No kidding, he really asked that.. DUH. Anyhow, I told the store manager there that I thought this guy should be, at least, retrained, that he was intentionally mean and that the technical people there should indeed be technical people. He asked if there was anything he could do to make my experience better. There isn’t, just make sure this crap doesn’t happen again. This morning I started getting emails from Best Buy Corporate. Who says the pen is not mightier than the sword?

I will probably not shop there, at least for a while, but maybe this whole debacle can turn out to be a win for Linux users who want to check hardware compatibility? Maybe…

You know you’ve had a bad day when…

You know you’ve had a bad day when you have to use a DRILL to try and fix your wife’s laptop. Oh yeah.

My wife’s laptop has been having troubles with crappy wireless for the longest time. Well, I decided I was going to replace her card with a better one. It’s a Compaq Presario f730us laptop that has a mini pci-e wireless card in it. I searched around and found a nice intel card on Amazon and bought it. Well, when I put it in it wasn’t even detected. So, I tell the seller, thinking that it may just be a bad card, and he says it may need an HP branded card and sends me one of those to replace it with (nice seller btw). I get that card and get ready to try that and find one of the dang screws on the card is now striped and apparently welded in place. Nothing I have will get the friggin thing out so I had to resort to drilling off the screw cap just to remove the card. Then, you guessed it, the new card doesn’t get detected either. Friggin ComHPaq. So, the old card which drops packets like nobody’s business is back in place and the other 2 cards are on their way back for a refund.

My only alternative now, other than keeping her hard wired, is to find a USB wireless dongle. So, does anyone have any recommendations for a USB wireless card that’s Linux and wpa/wpa2 friendly and readily available somewhere (and inexpensive)?? Please shoot me an email and let me know!

Book Review

Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, A (5th Edition)

Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, A (5th Edition)


A Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (5th Ed)

Wow. Mark Sobell hits another one out of the park.

Comprehensive can hardly describe this book, although I am hard pressed to come up with a more appropriate word. This massive volume covers all things Fedora and Redhat, from the common to the esoteric, but do not be daunt about the amount of information there. In true Sobell fashion, each topic is explained thoroughly in a manner that could easily be used to teach a novice with. In fact, in the review quote on the front cover, Eric Hartwell says the same. This book is a keeper and its pages will surely be well thumbed, at least until the next revision comes out!

Laptop or Desktop?

Here in the USA it is tax time once again, and once again, the federal government owes me money. It’s funny how they don’t have to pay me interest on monies they owe me, but the reverse is not true, but I digress.

I have, on occasion, mentioned that my current desktop machine is a piece of junk. I have been using it for about 5 years now and I believe it is in dire need of a replacement. Since I am due a little scratch soon, I have given a little thought to replacing it. The real question, though, is whether to buy another desktop machine, or get a laptop that I can use as a desktop replacement. I am just not sure where to go on this one.

Generally speaking, desktop machines are or were faster and better equipped. They had better processors, more ram and bigger hard drives. Recently, though, I have been noticing that this is no longer the case except maybe in the case of multiple processors. I have seen some very reasonably priced multi-core laptops with 4gb of ram and very large hard drives for the same price as their comparably equipped desktop counterparts.

So, what are the pros and cons? Laptops as a desktop replacement can still be mobile if need be. Laptops as a desktop replacement really need a dock or stand and a separate kb/mouse imho and this is already the standard for desktops. Desktops can be not only multi-core, but multi-processor as well, so you can get access to more computing power. Desktops have separate components that are more easily replaceable/urgradable should the need arise, however, these days laptops are a rock-solid technology. Laptops do not need a separate display although they benefit as a desktop replacement from a secondary display as much as a regular desktop system does.

What is the answer? I really don’t know and would love to hear your opinions on this one. I am actually leaning towards a laptop as I spend most of my time on one already. My work desktop is actually a laptop in a dock with dual 22″ lcd screens. It’s a fantastic machine and has no problems even though I have left it running for well over a year now :-) Do I really need another laptop though? I have 4 already, but none of them are beefy enough to really be my desktop machine, with the exception of my macbook, which does not like Linux so that doesn’t count.

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!

WHEW!

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 http://www.vmware.com/products/esxi/, 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:
http://www.vm-help.com/esx/esx3i/ESXi_enable_SSH.php

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 vmware-converter.pl” 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:
http://episteme.arstechnica.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/833003030931/m/150009304931
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 http://www.vm-help.com/esx40i/manage_without_VI_client_2.php. 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!

UnixPorn

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!

iPad

iPad


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

Boxee

Boxee

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

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

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 http://preyproject.com.

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 http://control.preyproject.com (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?

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