Archive: ‘Your Choice’

Linux Saves Older Computer

01.29.12

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  1 Comment »

I have an old computer. I say old although I don’t really know what “Old” means. It’s an E-machines T-5048 computer with a P4 Processor running at 3.06GHz with 2 Gig of Ram (the system’s maximum).

When I got the machine, it had Windows XP Media Center, and I got rid of that in favor of Linux. The machine’s sticker read “Vista Ready”. So the machine had hardware that can run Vista. Whoopee. The next question is, “Should I run Vista?”, and based on poor experiences with it on other machines. The answer is a short and quick “No. No Way. Not Now. Not Ever”.

With Linux, the machine ran just fine for years with several different flavors, notably Linux Mint, Crunchbang, and at the end of the summer 2011, Ubuntu. Ubuntu 11.04 ran fine on it, worked right out of the box, no hassles. Eventually, it was time to upgrade to Ubuntu 11.10.

Or was it?

I wanted to do a fresh install from CD. While using the GUI “Update your OS now with this click of a button and when it’s all done you’ll have the latest and greatest” button is nice and convenient, but I wanted a fresh start for better performance. Remember, it’s an old machine. So I downloaded and burned the .iso image for 11.10, installed it, and then…. on restart … no boot. At all. Machine hang on “Waiting for /dev to fully populate“.

Nice. Lovely. Exciting, boring, and scary all at once. I am so happy that I backed up of all my files before attempting the upgrade. Yes, do back up your stuff. Unexpected Boot failures are one of the reasons “why” a backup is so important.

So, being a Linux geek for several years, you learn to keep a toolbox full of rescue CDs, alternate OS downloads, and partitioning software as well.

Being a computer nerd, you learn to troubleshoot things in a way that hopefully make sense. You try to repeat the issue and where possible, isolate the cause of it. Anything “/dev” is usually a tell that somethings wrong with a “device” which is typically hardware-related.

So I checked to see if the CD-burner was bad. I donwloaded a USB version of the Ubuntu Live CD, and got same result, machine would not boot up. Ruled out the CD-rom at that point. Next, on to the hard drive. Bad hard drives don’t always let you know that they are going to fail. I swapped out the current drive with an older drive of the same architecture (ATA). Although it had less storage space, (20 Gig as opposed to 160) it was just perfect for troubleshooting. If I could repeat the same error with a different Hard Drive, then the problem isn’t the hard drive (that is unless both drives were bad for exactly the same reasons).

I then tried other modern Linux Distributions, installing their latest OS. Same problem, so at least that lets Ubuntu off the hook.

At that point, I kind of figured that another piece of hardware, that was probably not worth fixing, was broken or damaged to the point of “no boot up for you” status. If it’s not worth fixing well, the computer has got to go, right? I started shopping around for a good deal on a modern, fast PC with NO Operating System. Makes no sense to pay for the OS when you’re only going to wipe it out anyway in order to put Linux on it. Not interested in dual-booting for my main workstation. It’s Linux. Period. The best price I could find was an HP Machine (with Windows 7 Home Premium) for $300.00 –not a bad price mind you for a new system.

However, instead of immediately breaking out the credit card, I felt there was one last thing I thought I should test. That’s right. Since Linux gives you so many choices of Operating Systems, it was time to experiment in that domain.
Since I tried swapping out current hardware for old hardware to test, it was time to swap out current “software” for older software and then test again.

Knowing that Ubuntu’s normal release cycle is every 6 months, it did not make sense to reload 11.04 as it will (at some point via upgrade) request that I upgrade to the 3.0 kernel. I don’t think this machine can run that kernel. Something to do with ACPI. I’ve written on a few support forums asking why the machine won’t boot up with latest Linux kernels. There has been no “direct” answer, but after a lot of googling it seems that on machines that were able to run Ubuntu 11.04 with no issue, but can’t boot 11.10 claim it’s some sort of issue with ACPI, I figured perhaps that’s my problem as well.

So I would need an older Linux version, but one with longer term support. Enter Ubuntu 10.04.3 LTS. Installed and booted this machine (yes, the one that I’m typing this post on right now) with no problems. Got the machine running quite fast as well, and it boots up in a reasonable amount of time too.
Until I find an easy way to make modern Linux run on this machine (and by that I mean the ability to boot up) I’m going to stick with 10.04 LTS until its support lifecycle concludes (April of 2013). By that time, I’d be running that software for more than a full year beyond the day when I thought I’d have to replace this machine. Nice. Linux saves the day, and saved me the cost of buying a new computer.

Cheers,
Adam

Love me some jQuery

06.05.11

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

I’ve been a Web Developer for quite some time, but within the last few months I’ve been using jQuery and it’s so cool that it will most likely find its way into any and every website I work on.

If you’ve visited a website and observed “Wow, that’s a slick-looking info window” (as opposed to those boring and obnoxious framed popup windows that we immediately dismiss coz they are product ads/spam, or other crap) –

the window was quite possibly coded using some jQuery magic.

Want cool Navigation menuing? jQuery got it.  Want to add Client-Side validation to your HTML Forms with far, far less lines of javascript code? jQuery can do it.  A Tabbed interface, transitions, fades, AJAX-Based form posts? jQuery, jQuery,jQuery, and oh… jQuery.

What is jQuery?

jQuery's website is titled "jQuery: The Write Less, Do More, JavaScript Library"

And you can believe it when they say you will be doing more with less (code).  The part about being cross-browser is true, after a fashion.  I say that because, as a Web Developer, it is still incumbent upon you to check your site/application in as many browsers as possible (just like regular javascript).  Now, since I am a recent convert (and definitely a fan of jQuery), it does take the headache out of doing client-side programming.

For close to a year now, I’ve been either modifying existing jQuery UI elements (such as accordions) or have been adding tabbed interfaces or wonderful modal dialogs to my applications.  If you’re not using jQuery (or another library) to help with your code development, I suggest you do so, it will make your life easier.

Are there tools that can help me learn jQuery?

Yes, there are quite a few, and to list all of them would be for another post (or another blog site) for another day.  For now, I’ll share with you two tools that have helped me.

One of them you probably know about, the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) you can join the jquery channel, there are lots of active users there, willing to help.  Like any IRC channel, be prepared to explain what you’re doing, how you’re trying to do it, and of course, don’t be a fool.  These people are there to help you help yourself.  They are not your personal tech/coding support, so don’t foster any expectations of the people there.  In other words, follow the usual IRC etiquette of asking your question to the entire room/channel/group, and not in I-M style to a single individual who has helped you before.  As I have experienced (yes, I’m sharing a lesson learned the “not-so-easy-way” that just because someone helps you out once or twice in the channel, that they are NOT your go-to resource when something else on a project has you stumped.

The other tool that I have found invaluable when testing out jQuery code for functionality and cross-browser support is jsfiddle.  Imagine you’re working on a Web-based project for a Client.  The Client is paying for (among other things) a level of confidentiality that you would not want to violate at any time for any reason.  When asking for help at the jQuery channel, it is highly likely that someone will ask to see your “fiddle” (sounds kinda personal and creepy LOL) and why would they want to see it??  I’ll tell you why.  It’s a way for other developers to see your code and approach, laid out in an easy-to-see (and update) format.  A few times that I’ve gotten help came from someone pointing out (either by comment or by direct edit) a mistake in either my syntax or approach.  jsfiddle also separates your code sample from the rest of your application and that usually lends itself to a faster solution than sharing an entire script file with someone you really don’t know.

Fix Wifi: Mint Debian on Macbook

02.25.11

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  4 Comments »

Hi all, welcome to my first (I think) post for the year 2011.

I have been planning to replace my Linux OS (Crunchbang 9.04) with a more “modern” OS for my Macbook 13.3 which dual-boots Snow Leopard 10.6 and Linux.  Of course the choices of distros are nearly limitless, but since my “free time to tinker” is not what it used to be, I chose to install the Linux Mint “Debian” Edition (as of this writing, it’s a few months old).

Why Debian from Mint?  That was easy.  Mint is a relatively stable product in general.  I have used it over the last few years with very little problems.  The “Debian” choice from Mint is a “rolling” distro.  The theory is, you install it, and the updates come to you.  Neat eh?

While there are advantages to refreshing your Linux OS once per yer (or so), as I mentioned, I like having a somewhat stable environment for those hours/days that I do have available to tinker.  Also, Crunchbang 9.04 is out of date, although I used it with much success.  They also do not plan to make it a rolling distribution.  A rolling distro would cement my vote.

If you’re reading this, you made it past the intro, (thank you) your patience will now pay off.

After installing Mint Debian 201012, wifi was not working.

Yep, this is a real headache.  Since a Macbook is a LAPTOP, you would think wireless connectivity would work out-of-the-box after installing the distro. HA!. Not so my friends…not so.  This happened to me when I tried out Mint 8 about a year ago, and since I didn’t have time to troubleshoot it back then, I immediately re-installed Crunchbang, who had support for the onboard Broadcom wireless hardware in my Macbook.

I was determined to make my rolling distro get wireless (wifi) connectivity.  I googled. Not much helpful info, other than to preload drivers to a USB.  I suppose this is helpful if you are not able to physically connect a cable to a router.

Get WIFI working on Mint Debian on a Macbook:

  1. Get an Ethernet cable after you have done the install.  Sorry to admit this, but nothing else seemed to work.  More on this in a bit.
  2. Once connected to the internet, use Synaptic and search for any applicable (or all) items matching the search “Broadcom” and either select them for upgrade (if they are marked) or select them for install.
  3. Use Synaptic to “apply” the changes to the system, thus installing (or updating) any Broadcom firmware for your Macbook under Linux.

Ok, I realize that the solution to this problem kinda defeats the purpose of WiFi in the first place.  Many of the blog posts from users experiencing a similar issue (no wifi after installing Linux on a Macbook) described the scenario and there seemed little in the way of resolution. It’s somewhat difficult (if not impossible) to update software if you cannot connect to the internet.  One blogger mentioned that he tethered his iPhone to get “an outside line”.

Since I had access to the router, and an ethernet cable, I figured “why not”.  I know it’s not the most “clever” solution, but I’m sure I’m not alone in deciding to just “GET R DONE” and use the cable to connect to internet and let Synaptic do what it needs to do.

The version I installed is ‘201012’, and there is an earlier version is available if you want to try it out and see if wifi works out of the box.  I don’t recommend it though, because (in general) a later version is better than an earlier version (bug fixes, security patches, etc.)

Best of luck out there. Linux Mint Debian is proving to be a great distro so far.  Openbox is a bit buggy, (wearing “crashy-pants” to coin a phrase) but I can live with that for now.

Linux and MS Word Documents

04.18.10

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  2 Comments »

I’m going to discuss something that’s a tad awkward.

It’s a call to improve on the Office Suite software available for Linux.  Is this really something worth writing about? It is, and I’ll tell you why.  After nearly 3 years at the same job, I find myself in a position shared by many—seeking work in a struggling economy.

The first thing I did was find a recent electronic copy of my resume.  Good news!  The most recent version just needed a little touching up.  Since I don’t own Microsoft Office software, updating an MS Word doc should be simple using Open Office dot org, yes?? Supposedly Open Office does the job for Word Documents.  Well, in my case…No.  Abysmally, failingly, No. Broke almost all formatting of the original document.  Caused me two to three times the work just to get it back to a ‘normal-looking’ state.  Mind you my resume was not heavily formatted to begin with.

But what about the FONTS?

Yes, fonts are a big deal when saving the document.  For resumes, it’s important to use a highly-readable font and keep the font size nice as well.  Chances are the resume will be scanned (for keywords) and also printed, faxed, and emailed to users of various Operating Systems.  Keeping the font as generic as possible will help.  Using exotic fonts that only come with Mac will not.  To make my text documents play nice, I installed the msttcorefonts (Microsoft TrueType Core Fonts) package.  This package will let you use fonts commonly found on the MS Windows Platform.

Ok, so is Open Office a total waste?

No, it is not.  I happen to like the Spreadsheet implementation.  For basic spreadsheets, it works great.  I have not tried to edit any MS Excel sheets with embedded macros (yet).  This is (from what I’ve heard) is the tricky part where Open Office has to do a lot of extra work to try and match all the macro languages and formulas—and on that—I’ll give them some leeway.

Your resume broke in OO.org; Can’t you use another app?

Usually, the answer to this question (when put to a Linux user) is yes.  With open source linux there are usually a plethora of substitutes available to try out.  However, when it comes to professional documents, it “just has to work” as the cliche goes.  I tried some text document office-suite alternatives.  First I tried Abiword.  Abiword also broke the formatting and made it’s own arbitrary decisions on font rendering, even though I had the correct MSTTCOREFONT installed (in this case, “Times New Roman”).  So, with the correct Font installed, it didn’t matter.  Document got very messed up.  Other alternatives include purchasing a licensed CD of MS Office and to make it work in Linux, Crossover Office (by Codeweavers), which I would consider purchasing.  MS Office (however) is not high on my list of things to buy.

Abiword is not a bad program.  I’ve written college term papers with it.  This was a start-to-finish document saved as *.doc as opposed to a document created in MS Windows.  I would just like to see Linux have the ability to inter-operate with .doc files that have a table as part of their layout.  I’ve used and recommended Open Office both on the Linux and the MS Windows platform and it usually works great.  Maybe I expected too much out of it?  Maybe tables in an MS Word Doc are not consistently imported into Open Office.

Although I like the idea of the Open Document Format, it’s not something I can count on for across-the-board compatibility with the business world.  This is critical.  If an employer can’t open your resume because it’s in .odt format and their version of MS Word is earlier than 2007, they will simply discard your resume.  They will not bother to read a file they can’t open.  It’s also possible that the .odt file format will make someone (not in the know) uneasy.  They are expecting a .doc file, so to keep yourself “in the game” it’s probably best to send them a .doc file for a resume.

Summary: how can we overcome these limitations?

Use whichever word processor program you want to (as long as it can save as MS Word format *doc).  Send your document to a friend or family member that has the “real” Microsoft Word on their computer and let them open, view, and print your document.  If it looks good, and prints as you expect, then you’re all set.  If not, then try another program or possibly take some time to reformat your document.

What did I wind up doing?

My final solution was to create the resume in iWorks for MAC (as I now use a macbook dual-booted with Linux).  Even if you’re writing your resume on MAC, remember fonts.  The Times New Roman font is recommended as the “generic” font most widely used for this purpose.  Do you have to use it?  No, you don’t.  Just remember the person receiving your resume will need to have the font on his/her computer or else your resume runs the risk of breaking while they see it or print it.  Not a good idea.  Resumes are typically given very little attention to start with as they are quickly scanned.  If a resumeI know Linux users typically do not lean towards conformity, but this is one time when it will work to your advantage.

For the Linux side of the computer, I rebuilt the resume, not relying on tables for formatting in cases where you want to “right-align” dates on the job.  This I felt was a safer “universal approach” and this version became my “default” resume version for better performance on as many platforms as possible.

I put the dates on their own line and right-aligned that line. But again, I was trying to get this done in short time to aid in job-hunting.  What works for you may be something altogether different.  Good Luck

Favorite CLI Linux Apps: Intro

02.19.10

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

We’re talking about the Linux command line…again.  Don’t worry, I won’t bore you (hopefully). If you’re still on this page, I commend you.

Remember, a Linux user should never feel forced to use the terminal or “console”, but knowing how to use it will help you get the most out of Linux.  The speed, simplicity, and the consistency are what drive me to use it nearly every time I’m at a Linux Desktop.

Ok, here’s a list of programs that are typically not in a distro by default.  These programs are intentionally run from a terminal prompt.

Favorite Linux CLI Apps: Emacs

02.19.10

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Emacs text editor (also known as emacs21-nox*)

[*The GNU Emacs editor without X support] is not usually part of a distro install—but it should be.  When you need to quickly edit a text or config file, a shell command can open the file, let you save changes, and then return you to the shell prompt.  Default console-based text editors (pre installed) are vi or nano.  I’ve tried them both.  I like emacs better.  At the time of writing, Synaptic in Crunchbang Linux 9.04 shows the console emacs as “emacs21-nox”

There are split camps and heavy debates as to which is better.  Just google  “vi vs emacs”.  It is useless for me to jump on the debate bandwagon.  Just know that they are similar, but operate differently.  Both edit and save text in a console/terminal.  Both offer no formatting or styling like a GUI word processor.  However, vi is a “modal editor” meaning that you switch back and forth between “insert mode” (for typing) and “command mode” (to issue file, search, or text-related commands.  Emacs is all one mode, where keystroke combos invoke commands.

Forget the evangelism or the “he said/she said bull$h1t”.  Try them both and see what you like.  You can always uninstall an unwanted application program with Synaptic.

Favorite CLI Apps: Imagemagick

02.19.10

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Imagemagick

Imagemagick is an awesome command-line based image manipulation tool.

[Paraphrased from the imagemagick manual:]

ImageMagick®, is a software suite to create, edit, and compose bitmap images. It can  read,  convert  and  write  images in a variety of formats. Use ImageMagick to translate, flip, mirror, rotate, scale, shear and transform  images, adjust image colors, apply various special effects, or draw text, lines, polygons, ellipses and Bezier curves.  ImageMagick  includes a number of command-line utilities for manipulating images. Most of you are probably accustom to editing images one at a time with a graphical user interface (GUI) with such programs  as gimp or Photoshop. However, a GUI is not always convenient. Suppose you want to process an image dynamically or you want to apply  the  same  operations  to  many images  or  repeat  a  specific  operation at different times to the same or different image. For these types of operations, the command-line image processing utility is appropriate.

To install imagemagick, use Synaptic, or issue the following command in a terminal

sudo aptitude install imagemagick

Visit my post on using Imagemagick to perform the same process on multiple images.

There are many examples on the imagemagick website.

Favorite CLI Linux Apps: Guake

02.19.10

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Guake and Yakuake are drop-down terminal shells

Guake, or (if it’s a K Desktop Environment) Yakuake are “drop-down terminal shells” that appear when you press a button (usually F12).

If you usually open a terminal with every log in to your Linux desktop, there’s a more convenient (not to mention laaazy) way.  Simply tell the OS to run Guake after your user’s successful login. In Openbox, you’d add it to your autostart.sh file

The Guake terminal will notify you that it has started, and then auto-hides itself until you “un-hide it” by pressing the F12 key.  When you’re done with your current command-line stuff, simply press F12 again and Guake gets out of your way.

Favorite CLI Linux Apps: Lynx

02.19.10

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  1 Comment »

Lynx is a text-only web browser that runs in the shell.

Lynx is useful tool for those times when you want to extract only the web links from a web page.  Install lynx using the Synaptic (or other) package manager.

To view the hyperlinks of a given web page (google.com in this example), issue the command

lynx -dump http://www.google.com

It can also behave in a similar way to wget when you want to view the HTML source code of a web page.  The command to view the HTML source code is

lynx -source http://www.example.com

Click the following link to view a post where we collected links to mp3 files to build an unattended download list for the wget command.  Another feature of Lynx is that it allows you to view your pages as a web crawler/robot such as googlebot might see them.

Favorite Linux Apps: Intro

02.12.10

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

So far, we’ve been talking about using the command line to download files or make some repetitive work simpler.  We’ve also seen how to upgrade a Firefox Web browser in Ubuntu.

Today we’ll discuss general “tools” that a Linux user might need on a daily basis.  Most of these tools are (believe it/not) GUI applications.  You can lose time by slogging through a CLI solution only to learn you could have gotten the job done quicker with a GUI app.  But when the GUI app is clumsy or lacks a reliable batch process—I consider command line solutions.

So, with that, here are some tools/apps that I install to my Linux desktops.  Since I prefer Debian-based package management, GUI installs will reference “Synaptic” while command line install instructions will be “aptitude”.