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Ubuntu 14.04LTS

Posted: April 23, 2014 in Tech | Add Comment

As I've no doubt mentioned at least a hundred times by now, I've been using Ubuntu Linux as my primary OS since sometime in 2006.  I've gone through some ups and some downs with it, and have tried a few other distros (Mint for one) but somehow I keep coming back to the good old "U".

One hurdle that many Ubuntu users have is dealing with a desktop manager.  Ubuntu jumped on the Unity train a few years back, and it's pretty much gone over like the Netflix streaming/DVD split.  I've bounced around between desktops (Gnome3, Cinnamon, Mate) but Unity seems to be where all the development effort is focused, so I decided to give it a shot back in 12.10.

And 12.10 is where I've been stuck until now.  The geniuses at Canonical decided to depricate the systray while hundreds of apps still used it.  The result?  No tray icons for anything (chat, IM, music players, etc) rendering them all pretty much useless.  In 12.01 you could sort of bring back the tray, so my feet stayed firmly planted there.

Until now.

The beta of 14.04 started getting really good reviews.  Lots of bugs are fixed, and the look and feel has improved.  Most of the apps that used the tray now have indicators (most, not all) so that was good news.  It's also a LTS release, so I figured it would be a good one to try.  So far I was right.

"Trusty Tahr" as it's called has been pretty smooth since my install last weekend.  Indeed I have indicators, and a lot of annoyances were fixed.  I still have a few niggling problems (a shadow on my conky system monitor) and some designed-in bugs (window controls stuck on the left in a mac-like stupor) that are being rammed down our throats (I thought this was Linux?) but hopefully the former will be solved and if the latter isn't, I suppose I'll have to get used to it.

It seems more stable than my 12.10 install (I was always getting "Ubuntu has encountered an error" popup) and so far everything works.  The look and feel of the desktop is noticably slicker (I'm running the Numix theme with Moka icons), and the Nvidia video drivers installed without a hitch for the first time ever.  Ok, there was a hitch with the plymouth boot screen, but it took 3 minutes to fix.

So far so good.

Installing ColdFusion 9/10 on Apache 2.2+

Posted: May 12, 2013 in Tech | Add Comment

I recently upgraded my Ubuntu installation from 12.10 to 13.04, then "upgraded" it back to 12.10 again.  I have no end to problems with legacy apps on 13.04, not to mention some system stability issues.  Anyway, during the upgrade, I used tasksel to install the LAMP server, then subsequently tried to install ColdFusion 9 (9 and not 10, because I like my development and production environments to match).

One of the first things I noticed during the CF install attempt was that Apache no longer uses httpd.conf, and instead uses apache2.conf.  This seemed to present a problem during installation, because the installation script really wants httpd.conf.

As it turns out, there was a simple solution to this problem, and that was to create a symlink to apache2.conf called httpd.conf.

cd /etc/apache2
sudo ln -s apache2,conf httpd.conf

And that's it!  Of course, you have to specify the new executable during the install, but that's basically just using apache2 wherever you used to use httpd.

Ubuntu's curioius direction

Posted: April 27, 2013 in Tech | Add Comment

I've been an Ubuntu user for some time now.  I think my first release was 6.06 (June of 2006), and it's been my primary home OS ever since.

Probably the thing I like best about using Ubuntu (or Linux in general for that matter) is having the ability to customize it to work the way you work.  You can make a Linux machine exactly the way you want it, and no two are completely the same.  There are few limitations to what you can do with it.  In a word, Linux is freedom.

So you can probably imagine my dismay when that freedom starts being taken away.  Rather than a blank canvas on which to paint your masterpiece, you're now being given more of a coloring book, where you must color inside the lines.  And those lines are getting more and more narrow.  Gone is the "you can make this any way you want it" philosophy that I loved about Ubuntu, and in its place is a "this is how it's going to be", Microsoft-like mentality.

The rationale is that the folks at Canonical want Ubuntu to have a cross-platform common UI (because after all, a cell phone, a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop PC are all the exact same thing, right?).  I mean, why would you want to use your mouse to draw precise lines using your CAD program when you can use your big, fat finger on the screen and make it look like a bowl of pasta?

A few days ago I upgraded to the latest Ubuntu release, which is 13.04.  Immediately I noticed that the tray support was gone.  I noticed this of course because all my apps that need the tray were now hosed, including my HP printer software.  Ubuntu says that any apps using tray icons should have been using "indicators" by now, but in reality, there is a lot of software out there that exists because of the good graces of the vendors, or at least a few dedicated individuals, so requiring them to change it is most likely going to lead them to just drop support altogether.

So now I'm back into "find a decent window manager" mode.  I tried cinnamon (too many bugs) and am now playing around with gnome 3  (quirky).  I might bite the bullet and try KDE next.  I mean, it can't be any worse than Unity, right?

Smartphone tinkering

Posted: December 04, 2011 in Tech | Add Comment

A while back, I picked up a smartphone. Namely a Motorola Droid 2. It's been a decent phone so far, despite a few issues, but now that the warranty is basically up, I've decided to do a bit of hacking.

The first thing I did was root the phone (grant myself admin privileges) using a program called SuperOneClick. And it really is an easy, one-click affair. Once that was done, I installed ROM Toolbox which let me do a whole bunch of customizing, and more importantly, it let me freeze (and uninstall) a bunch of bloatware that was slowing the phone down.

With me being Mr. Tinker, I went ahead and installed a new launcher, called Launcher Pro which, after some tweaking, let me really customize the look of the screen.

So far everything is going pretty well on the phone, although I might try a different launcher. The Facebook widget with LP has tiny, tiny text, and there's no way to enlarge it. But all in all, I'm pretty happy with the results.

Here's a screenshot:

Droid 2 Screenshot

I've taken the smartphone plunge

Posted: November 07, 2010 in Tech | Add Comment

I've been resisting the temptation to get a smartphone for some time now. After all, I don't really use my cellphone much at all. Apart from around 45 minutes per month of talking, a bit of texting, and the calculator, the only thing I really use it for is to play Scrabble (on a postage stamp sized screen). Our current phones were pretty old, and they had a pretty nice plan that considered calls to Canada (to Jess's family) to be normal air time. One of the reasons I resisted changing phones is because the new phones won't work with this plan, so we were somewhat stuck with our old phones.

As time has worn on, I've sort of changed my mind about what I should, or could be using my phone for. I see people at the train station in the morning checking the status of the train. Sometimes I get to the station and find no one there, because since they get updates to their phones, they know the trains are running late (or canceled) and I don't. For Jessica, she is constantly needing to text, and doing so on the standard phone keypad is... challenging. Also, she's going to be starting her own business soon, and she'll want to be able to check and send email from her phone.

Fortunately, I have a friend who's a Verizon guy, and he's always figuring out ways to get us decent deals. So we went and paid him a visit this weekend. We came away with a pair of Motorola Droid 2 phones, and an unlimited data plan for each. To sweeten the deal, he found out that I get a discount through my agency (15% on all service, 25% on accessories), so the bottom line in the end won't be too horribly much more than we were paying with the old phones (once you consider Jess's texting overages).

I think once we get used to the phones, we'll be able to do a lot with them. I've already signed up for train updates, and I've ordered a 16GB micro SD card so I can load up some tunes. Now I can get busy writing that app I've been thinking about.

Our home office finally enters the 21st century

Posted: May 05, 2009 in Tech | Add Comment

A few weeks ago, a foul smell appeared in our home office. It was a bit of a stench of burning electronics, or plastic, or both. I finally traced it to the root cause, which was the power supply on Jessica's PC. It seems that the PSU died and dumped a good bit of voltage into the rest of the system. The machine had been acting a bit flaky, losing USB devices and things like that, so it was probably time to retire it anyway.

Both of our computers were getting a bit long in the tooth anyway. Hers was a P4 2.4 with a gig of ram and onboard video, and mine was an Athlon XP 3200+, also with a gig of ram, and an NVidia 6200 LE video card. The drives on both machines were ancient IDE dinosaurs, and moved about as fast as one. I used the blown PSU excuse to get new machines for both of us.

I decided that Jess would be better off with a nice Laptop that she could take with her on business trips. We looked at a bunch of really speedy (and pricey) laptops before settling on an HP G60-230 which has 3GB of ram and a 2GHz dual core processor. It also has a nice 16" display, and it came in below $600, not counting the $60 rebate. I also picked up a copy of MS Office 2007 Professional for her, so that she would have the same software at home and at work. Unfortunately, the laptop came with Vista (yuck) which has yet to officially break. It's proving to be a bit of a pain with wireless networking though. Maybe once Windows 7 is mainstream, we can upgrade the laptop and be rid of Vista.

As for my machine, I kept my excellent Cooler Master case, and only replaced what I wanted to upgrade. This consisted of an Asus P5Q Pro motherboard, an Intel (first Intel chip in around 12 years!) E8400 Core2 Duo (3GHz per core), 4MB of G.Skill DDR2 1066 ram, an NVidia GeForce 9500 GT video card (512mb), and a Corsair 650TX power supply. For storage I picked a Western Digital Caviar Black 640gb SATA hard drive. The drive has dual processors and a beefed up platter arrangement. Very nice piece of hardware!

For my OS, I stuck with Ubuntu Linux, moving to the latest release (9.04) in the 64-bit version. I also went with the EXT4 file system, which is supposed to provide a slight performance improvement over EXT3. They're really getting good at the Ubuntu setup program, as I was able to install the OS in no time at all, with no major tweaks. Not even any minor tweaks. The only things I had to tweak in fact were optional programs that I run, like conky and my desktop manager.

This new release of Ubuntu was supposed to focus on quick boot times, and I have to say, they really hit the mark. I can boot from dead cold to the desktop in around 12 seconds. This is especially amazing considering that 3 seconds are lost in the grub menu (a short countdown to give you a chance to change boot options) and another short delay before my desktop manager launches. It's unbelievably fast. I can boot my Linux machine up, shut it down, and boot it up again before my old Win2k machine would be booted the first time.

The speed of the new machine is quite impressive too. I realize that moving from what I had before to what I have now will exaggerate the experience, but it really, really is quite speedy. Firefox opens faster than it used to maximize, and the machine is not phased at all by running multiple instances of pretty much anything and everything.

This machine should last me for another 4-5 years, which was sort of the point of me building it. My needs are pretty simple, so I'd rather pick some decent parts and forget about it for a while than buy cheap stuff and have to constantly upgrade.

Pretty packed in, but runs pretty cool nonetheless (34 deg C).

My Favorite Firefox Extensions

Posted: December 09, 2008 in Tech | Add Comment

Like many people, I prefer the Firefox web browser to the other options offered. It's fast, customizable, free, and comes standard with Linux, my operating system of choice.

One of the things I love about Firefox is the ability to add extensions. Extensions are like plug-ins that let Firefox do different things. Like block ads, play music, help save files, or even tell you the weather.

I've decided to compile a list of my favorite Firefox extensions, along with the reasons I like them.

1-Click Weather
1-Click Weather puts the weather on your status bar. You tell it your zip code and how many days in advance you want to see. It does the rest. You have options for weather radar, satellite maps, and severe weather alerts. It pulls the weather from, which I find to be a bit better than accuguess.

Add Block Plus
Add Block Plus does just what it says. It blocks ads on websites. This not only makes sites less annoying, it also saves a lot of bandwidth and speeds up browsing. No more hideous flashing banners. If something you don't want to see does manage to show up, you can add it to your block list. It really makes web browsing much, much nicer.

Customize Google
This little gem removes ads from Google searches. It also has options to link straight to images on Google Image search. Very handy.

Download Statusbar
Normally Firefox opens a window for downloads. This moves them to the status bar. Much cleaner. Lots of options too.

Web Developer Toolbar
This is my #1 extension, and you don't have to be a web developer to find it useful. It's very good for showing you direct links to images on a page where someone is trying to prevent you from finding the direct link. For web developers, it's indispensable. There are tons of tools that I use every day, and even more that I haven't gotten around to using. It even has links to validate your HTML and CSS code.

There are tons of other extensions, and everyone has their favorites. The NoScript extension is another one that I use, but it's not for everyone, as it blocks Javascript, sometimes causing unexpected results. But the ones I listed above are extensions that most people would find useful, especially the first four.

It's official! Someone has been leeching off my wireless service

Posted: January 03, 2008 in Tech | Add Comment

A couple of months ago, I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom (a common occurrence for me) and while doing so noticed something fishing out in front of the house. The master bathroom has a window that looks out front, and you can kind of see out of it while sitting on the "throne". Well, something odd caught my eye, so I parted the blinds and took a peek. What I saw was a dark colored VW Golf, maybe late 90's, sitting on the side of the road next to our driveway. The windows seemed darkly tinted, so I couldn't see inside, but I could make out the dull, rectangular glow of what looked to be a laptop screen.

I dismissed the sighting as belonging to the teenagers that lived across the street - that house is a rental, and people were always in and out of there. But it was still odd, and I wondered what they might be up to, other than waiting for a girlfriend to sneak out of a bedroom window.

A few weeks later, I see the car again. This time it's daytime, and it's just parked. I can't see inside it, so I just dismiss it. But it does pull off as soon as I pull into the driveway. Yeah, weird.

Another late night trip to the bathroom, and I see it again, laptop aglow. I start to wonder if they're out scouting for unsecured wireless home networks, but I don't worry much, since our wireless router has 128-bit WEP encryption. However, a few days later, while yakking to a friend on AIM, I learn that WEP encryption can be hacked in around 5 minutes. Great. "Those little sons of bitches," I think. "They've been leeching off my wireless!"

So I check my router's logs (what little there is of them, since my shitty D-Link only keeps logs back for around a day), and sure enough, there's a mac address that doesn't belong to anything I own. Needless to say, off went the wireless portion of the router, at least until I can figure out if WPA is safe.

By the way, just to check, I walked out to that spot with the laptop, and from the exact spot they were parking, I can see three wireless networks. But mine is (of course) the strongest signal, since they're practically sitting in my garage at that point.

So now I'm irked, and a bit spooked. I know that they could at least surf the web using my IP address. But could they access files on my PC? Not that I have anything of importance, unless they fancy a copy of my resume. I don't really have anything of value, and neither does Jessica's PC. But still, surfing the web as me makes me worry a bit. What if they were running some sort of botnet? What if they were downloading something questionable? If two men in suits with white, coil-corded earphones and dark sunglesses show up at my door, what am I going to say?

I think I'm going to call the police and file a report or something, just for the record. But half of me wants to sit out in front of the house and wait for the leeches, so I can at least get a tag number. But if I don't have an open wireless network, will they stick around? If I leave the network open so they do stick around, what sort of things will they be able to do before I can catch them? Who knows, maybe I'm just being paranoid and they were just sitting around surfing Youtube and getting stoned, but why would you be sitting in front of a stranger's house at 3am unless you were doing something fishy? It just doesn't make sense.

The whole situation sucks, and I'm not sure what to do, other than keeping them off my network.

I got my first MP3 player!

Posted: May 25, 2006 in Tech | Add Comment

Well my second, really. My mom gave me one a few weeks ago. It was a freebie from her office (a 128mb Kawasaki) and it only worked for a day before going belly-up.

I finally bought a Sandisk 512mb unit ($39.99 @ Circuit City) and it arrived today. It has an FM radio tuner as well, and included a clear plastic case, arm band, ear buds, software, and a battery.

I've already got it loaded up and ready to go for tomorrow. It has a place to secure a lanyard, so I swiped the Kawasaki's layard. At least it was good for something.

Now I have to decide what to do

Posted: March 20, 2006 in Tech | Add Comment

I currently have a copy of IPB (this forum software) on my website. I use it to run my blog. There aren't many entries there - maybe a half-dozen - but I don't really want to lose them.

Now I have this blog, which is much easier to maintain, and people don't have to register seperately on my forum to leave comments. My idea is to export this blog to my website so I only have one place to post, but I also don't want to lose my old entries.

So what do I do? Do I stick those entries in here and have them all out-of-order? Do I just forget they existed? Hmmmm...

AHA! I just found out you can add categories to your blog here! So I'll add all those old entries as "archives" and see how that works. 

EDIT: Not so well, as they still show up mixed in with the newer entries.

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First you forget names, then you forget faces. Next you forget to pull your zipper up and finally, you forget to pull it down.

- George Burns

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