Monday, March 24, 2008

If the candidates were operating systems....

I usually don't get political, here or anywhere else for that matter. Having been prior service military, American and abroad is usually a good reason to keep ones opinions to oneself. I was thinking the other day that none of the current candidates from either side inspire me much.

Let's touch on that word for a moment, inspire. I mean really, since Regan (for good or bad depending on your opinion) I've not seen in my lifetime people elect the highest seat in the land to a person who sparked passion, motivation or leadership since then. I know, when being beaten down with propaganda from all sides, it's difficult to be either objective or impartial. But in my honest opinion, NONE of the candidates make me jump off my couch and shout "Yes!" at the top of my lungs.

Now, probably because I'm one of the largest geeks on the planet, I thought about it compared to operating systems. I work with the big 3 (Windows, Mac and Linux) and have a lot of in-depth knowledge of all of them. And of the 3, the only one that gives me that kind of inspiration, is Linux. With Linux, I know that anything is possible, maybe done poorly at first, but version 2 just around the corner with the community making it better constantly.

As for the politics, I would ask all Americans to ignore platforms, campaign speeches and these guys saying the words you want to hear just to get your vote today, only to not deliver on any promise once they are in the white house. Look at them as people, and ask yourself, which one would you wake up in 2009 and think, ", I am SOOO glad that I voted for this one!". Because if even in your wildest dreams you can't envision that, you ARE voting for the wrong person for the wrong reasons. Leadership doesn't come in a speach prepared by a harvard comes from the person. And NONE of the candidates from either side today, have earned my respect AND inspired my passion.

As for the geek, I've used all kinds of software for all of the big 3 and I always keep running back to Linux...usually screaming. So, I'll be the first one to vote for Linux when he runs for president, and he should choose Ficus as his vice-president...that's a win/win ticket.

Linux/Ficus 2012!!!!!


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Command Line Life

Command line is where I prefer to interact and really get things done. It didn't happen overnight and was encouraged by two things. First was when I introduced linux to my home and it got the old machine (under powered) and the second was my work, as I moved into working with routing equipment, the ONLY way to interact with those machines is via command line.

As I was using my home linux machine as a router for a dial-up connection, I couldn't put too much load on the box, so I needed to learn the command line interface to most of the programs I used in the graphical interface. Net sum game is that I built up a nice collection of text (CLI) programs. I'd like to list a few of my favorites here. Most if not all are still available from most distro repositories. I should say that "man command" will almost always help. The man pages are only available if the program is installed.

For local activity on the machine you should of course master most of the CLI commands for navigating the file system. Commands such as cat, cd, cp, rm, mv and ls. Then to see what's going on use top or ps(recommend switches or grep to limit output). For calculator there is bc. Calender is brought to you by cal. The clock everyone needs in their systray is sponsored by date. And for the old windows folks, you can get a norton commander interface view of the filesystem with vifm.

Text rules in all of this, so for docs, notes, config files, etc..I use vim as my favorite text editor. Yes, it has a high learning curve, but once over it, there is a lot more you can do with that than nano...but if just starting nano is a good choice to get things done. I use antiword to convert word 2k3 or older into text.

Games, games, games. With the meta-package on Ubuntu "bsd-games" you get a slew of them. I'm honestly hooked on boggle. There is a tetris clone(tetris-bsd), hangman and a monopoly clone. Who said command line isn't fun.

For the internet, here comes the good stuff. For a browser we have lynx, links and w3m. For email there is pine and mutt. For irc we have bitchx, irrsi and the text version of xchat. For ftp we have ncftp.

Then we get to my favorite, screen. This is like having multiple desktops in linux but for the command line. Be carefull when you use this the first few times, it can make your eyes cross.

I have to stress something that tends to get overlooked for most "remote desktop" solutions. That is that you can use ssh (my favorite cli command) to connect to a remote machine. If you use it with the export X11 switch (ssh -X host) then you can launch a program from the remote machine. This is really easy when you are connecting a linux machine to a linux machine, but there are programs like X-Win32 that are lightweight and allow for the same possibility.

I really hope this encourages some of you to try the command line and be less nervous about it, there is plenty to do there, so go have some fun. And remember this is just the tip of the iceberg.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Eee Pc practical use

Since I was taking a few days off leading up to Easter this year, my Wednesday served as my Friday. While banging away to get some things done in the office for my long weekend, I got a Skype call.

A Skype call in and of itself is quite unremarkable since most of my family and work associates use it. And, I could see from the notification area of my external monitor attached to my Eee Pc in the office, that this one was from my wife. Mentally I prepared myself for a short shopping list or something else of the kind.

Imagine my surprise when behind my wife I could see trees....trees!!! What's wrong with this picture? Well, since my wife's PC, from which she does most of her Skype calls is in my living room, I didn't see the normal surroundings of my home. In fact, she had stopped by a cafe in order to get a hot chocolate for herself and our two boys after an afternoon visit to the park.

This pleasant surprise was sponsored by Asus and the 8Gig Eee Pc I purchased for my wife. Being that it was small and light enough to put in her purse, when she arrived at the table with the kids, she was able to find a hot-spot. Then as if in our living room, fired up Skype and rang me. With the newest version installed, she was able to show and see video from me on my Eee Pc in the office about 30 km away.

I have to say, that if this doesn't even happen again, this one time has made the perfect point that this device is for all persons who have a computer involved in their lives and truly put a smile on my face for such a small thing. I'm sure there will be more surprises like this in our future.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gutsy + 8Gig EEE Pc Howto

I thought I would explain my experience of how to install and tweak Gutsy Gibbon onto the Asus Eee Pc. First I'll tell my story and then I'll give the simple steps that I would recommend.

I'm using a standard Gutsy 7.10 cd install using an external CD/DVD. That install went quite normal and I chose to partition the drive with 5G for the root partition and 3G for the /home partition. As per a guide I found I made no /swap and I chose ext2 for the file system.

For working/non-working hardware post install, let me mention the non-working that I noticed right away:

Special Fn+(X) keys
wifi (ethernet did work)
sound (not really broken, just some complex setting changes)

After first boot I installed the build-essentials package from CD.

In my story, I fixed the wifi with the patch process from:
The Ubuntu Community EeePc page (had to move it over from another machine because I was too lazy to connect the cable). This got the wireless card working and I was able to de-select the CD as the source for software updates and run the normal updates online.

The updated included also kernel header updates so that broke the madwifi driver I had compiled from I re-compiled it again. That got the wifi working again after a quick reboot.

I found the page that points you to a script package which fixes most of the EeePc issues all at once. The script only gave a failure on the wifi (because I had already fixed it by hand).

Everything this script claims to fix, was fixed with the single exception of overclocking the processor. I didn't think it needed and the two times I tried it, it failed (locked up the box).

If someone were trying to to this today, I would recommend building a
usb stick of the live CD
, then with an additional usb or external drive have the script package as well as the madwifi source+patch (as a "just in case"). Armed with these two USB sticks I would:

  1. Live CD USB stick install using no swap partition.
  2. Connect ethernet port and run all updates, then install build-essentials
  3. use the 2nd USB key and run the script collection.
  4. *optional* only if step 3 didn't fix the wireless, use the source+patch to fix that.
Today I've got the EeePc running as a standard Ubuntu install. Skype (with
new version) supporting voice and video. Except for screen size, you wouldn't know it to be anything short of a standard install. I keep the compiz off to conserve resources...but for show, I can turn them on :)

I did some digging and also found a sample xorg.conf that responds properly to xrandr commands which allow for the "extend desktop left/right" which was something I never got to work correctly on my desktop. There is a plus side to standardized hardware (as apple already knows) in that "just any" xorg.conf you find on the net, usually doesn't this case, it's good for everyone :)

On my own 8G I will NOT go back to the native Xandros and it is, in fact, gone forever already. I admire what they did with it for a highly specialized hardware kit, but I'm completely lost without full software repositories and a single user machine. The Xadros made the system really usable and they had really tweaked things like the battery meter, etc.....I just needed software without fear of boinking the system by installing an app for the wrong distro.

I hope to try and use either my 4G SDHC card or my 8G usb key to run an install of Hardy Heron after release. We'll have to see how much is just working after Hardy is installed and if the script package will fix what isn't.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Printing Coolness

I'd like to share an application from the Ubuntu/Debian repositories that is "old-school" and usually overlooked. The command line application a2ps has saved at least 3 trees in my office. Without the need to adjust for printing settings for the one-off printing. It also can create a postscript file that I can preview or even use ps2pdf (part of the Ghostscript family) to create a pdf for anyone on a different operating system.

To get these applications on Ubuntu just use:

sudo apt-get install a2ps ps2pdf

These are command line applications and they both have exentive options. Please read the man page for all the details.

a2ps todo.wkYY.txt <- prints straight
a2ps todo.wkYY.txt <- creates .ps
ps2pdf todo.wkYY.pdf <- converts ps into pdf

I use this method for my text file that I use for my todo list. It's a personalized version of So, think before you a tree. And if you do print, double down and kill only half of one.


The Standard Questions

Not that YOU have asked me yet...but plenty of folks have. So let's get the standard questions out of the way so there is no confusion:

vi vs. emacs <- vi
pine vs. mutt <-mutt
firefox vs. w3m <- depends on where I'm going
exchange vs. qmail <- qmail
dot net framework vs. anything <- anything
original vs. copy <- original
coke vs. pepsi <- coke
digital vs. broadcast (entertainment) <- digital. My way!
linux vs. mac vs. windows
<- in order would be mac then linux. Windows is dead to me.

Well, that sounds like it merits a posting. I should qualify that with the fact that I enjoy working on a mac, it offers the "pretty" with the unix under the hood I can still get my geek on. I consider it the best of both worlds. I have a high comfort level with linux, there for I consider them a very close tie.

Windows hasn't impressed me in so long, I don't really even worry about keeping current. I mean I don't mind to help out friends with something, but more than 3 problems and it's easier to format. I really just got tired of adding resource intensive applications to make windows behave like linux. Multiple desktops, highlight copy + middle-click paste, etc.

Sorry if I made this start out looking like I was going to turn it into a poll, but this blog is not a's mine.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Great looking agenda's for meetings

I have used Evolution to manage my professional email and calendar and was made fun of more than once because my printed agenda had no todo list and my todo list had no calendar. Well, I fixed that and here's how.

First I would print to file the two pages that I needed as PostScript (.ps file extension) naming them and Then I issued the command " >>". This simply adds the 2nd page into the 1st page file. Then I used ps2pdf to make my new page1 a pdf. That I could open and print with perfection even using the print duplex mode that the windows guys didn't have a driver for and that is how my agenda printing became the envy of all.

This process could be done for combining any pages together and then printing them. I find that the ps2pdf step allows me to be able to send it to anyone for printing purposes and to ensure the layout before printing it. Clearly you could use this for even more individual pages if you wanted to tack together research information in a type of cheat sheet. There are a million uses, go find yours and leave a comment about it.


2x 8Gig goodness

Well, It's true. There are now two new US keyboard 8Gig Eee Pc's in the house. Freshly smuggl...I mean imported boxes. And I have to say it is just as good as the 4Gig model with twice the soft center goodness and still has only 1 calorie :)

Already, the wife has taken to it. At the moment is only the complaint that the default Xandros linux install doesn't include her normal Ubuntu software repositories. I have insisted to let me tweak mine out so if things go wrong, I can flash mine and she won't loose any data.

I'm still a little sad that bluetooth isn't included but that is not a show stopper and gives me hope for the Eee 900 model shown at CeBit. I'm glad that there will also be a price premium for anyone who wants the M$ Windoze installed on it. I completely agree with the decision to make it available, since that will bring corporate sales onboard.

I'm truly overfilled with joy to have not one but two of these in the house that are truly my property (not from work) and I will continue to support Asus as much as I can in this market as long as the native linux remains available. We need more companies making OEM Linux devices and I applaud Dell, but they don't offer those products here in Europe (everywhere) yet.

I'm sure to be blogging and updating more frequently with this always in my hip pocket.

More Power to the Penguin!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Entertainment of Ex-Pat Geek

Living abroad limits entertainment slightly. I mean to say that for example, I live in Italy and I can speak and read Italian but it is not they way I prefer to consume mass quantities of entertainment. When native speakers are trying to copy the format of popular American TV shows like CSI they have to get a lot of dialouge in a very short time and start talking fast, which I have a hard time keeping up with.

The first solution that my family and I came up with was subscription satellite service that feeds also the UK. So we can see some of the most popular TV shows that trickle down via the BBC, etc. This provides what would equate to having cable with HBO in the states about 8 years ago. Which is enough programming, but not the most current or with massive selection.

Last year I purchased a Apple Mac Mini while in the States. I have started using the Mac for my entertainment and video/photo editing. iTunes has provided me with an amazing world of podcasting in diverse media for consumption. I use audio podcasts for the car, iPod formated video for the wife's new iPod and Apple TV formatted for consumption on the 21" monitor that I attached to the Mini.

Recently, I purchased a new Full HD 37" TV which supports PC connectivity. And now, I've added to my repertoire the HD Video Podcasts from iTunes which are, in fact truly amazing. It was during the writers strike and the lack of new TV programming that the family and I realized that the digital consumption of entertainment satisfied our needs and was very, very convienent. Using it in this way made it feel like the Video-on-demand or TiVo experience that most people have to pay extra for via a TVR or pay-per-view model. Where in my case it was a cost of nothing in addition to the infrastructure of the home which already existed.

So, being the geek that I am (as stated in title) I strapped that poor Mac Mini to the new 37" LCD TV and now the family enjoys the shows they want, when they want and in the language they want it in. The only thing that I haven't done yet is to add the USB TV Tuner to the Mac Mini and piped my satellite feed over it to have a very real TVR. By the way, if you haven't seen the HubbleCast produced by the ESA and NASA in REAL (I mean x1080 real) HD, then you haven't lived.

Point is, over the last view months, my family and I would have been more put out by the loss of internet connectivity for entertainment than satellite service. Even though I do have both, I think I will try to keep up the trend. Since that also means that our entertainment is always available over the internet whether we are in Germany, Belgium, France or Italy.