Sunday, 16 December 2012

Desktop of the Month

This has just made it onto my 8400

The scene is of Castell Y Gwynt (Castle of Winds) on Glyder Fach looking toward Glyder Fawr. The picture (taken by yours truly) was snapped earlier in the week and shows how staggeringly beautiful the Glyders are in full winter conditions.

Castell Y Gwynt in Winter © John Dexter (all rights reserved)

Sources & References:

  • None

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Roundabout Resource

If you subscribe to the Ubuntu weekly newsletter, you'll know that it is a superb resource for all things Ubuntu: if you don't, shame on you!

I don't normally mine the newsletter just for material to blog about, but every now and again there's something in the newsletter that deserves a special mention and I like to increase its exposure in whatever limited way I am able via Karmic Odyssey. Issue 274 (July 19 - 15) is just such an edition and my attention was drawn to an excellent resource for newcomers to Unity. Daniel States has produced a guide to lenses and scopes and, if you want to get the best out of Ubuntu's latest offering, it's well worth downloading.

The links to the download are circuitous so I've included a direct link to the download below. However, it's also worth stopping in at the French Fortune Cookie blog on your way.

Sources & References:

Monday, 30 July 2012

A Blogger @ the Opera

It seems that Blogger no longer supports the Opera browser. For a while I've been getting warning notices that my favourite browser is no longer supported, but I've been able to log in to my dashboard nonetheless.

However, tonight I got an error message in Opera when I tried to post but had no difficulty using Firefox or Chrome (no surprise there!). As a matter of principle I won't switch to Chrome and will use Firefox to access my Blogger dash, but I am irritated that I have to use a different browser at all!

Sources & References:

  • None

A Second Opinion on the Veho VSS-002W Speaker

It's possible that I was a little hasty in my evaluation of the Veho VSS-002W speaker: it turns out that (if you know what you're doing) the sound quality is better than I might have led you to believe!

Whilst my advice to position the speaker on the floor and add the equalizer to Rhythmbox are both sound (no pun intended) tips, something that seems to improve the reproduction quality is to select the Analogue option when setting the sound preferences.

Sources & References:

  • None

Friday, 13 July 2012

Turn Off, Switch On!

It matters not how good No-IP's service might be (and it is good) if you don't think before you act. This week I had to attentd to an urgent matter that required access to files on my server: no problem I thought, I can access them from work (during my lunch break, of course!) using NoMachine.

Except I couldn't!

It took several hours of racking my brain to figure out why my IP address hadn't been updated by the No-IP client before I realized that it wasn't updating the DDNS server because it wasn't running! I'd rebooted my server after a software update and had never restarted the client. Clearly, if you are as absent minded (read, stupid) as I, it's better to start the client automatically every time the pc boots and, fortunately, this is easy to achieve.

Open a terminal and login as root:

sudo -i

Then add the client to the startup file (/etc/rc.local):

echo '/usr/local/bin/noip2' >> /etc/rc.local

Remember to exit from root & the terminal by typing exit twice:



In my defence, I had implemented a fail-safe using email and file copies, so all was not lost. More to the point, I was actually pretty chuffed that I'd figured out the problem without resorting to Google, so all-in-all the episode was far from a disaster.

Sources & References:

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Tail Wagging the Dog

When technology serves its owners, it is liberating. When it is designed to serve others, over the owner's objection, it is oppressive. There's a battle raging on your computer right now -- one that pits you against worms and viruses, Trojans, spyware, automatic update features and digital rights management technologies. It's the battle to determine who owns your computer. Bruce Schneier May 04, 2006

Bruce Schneier has long argued that proprietary code is a bad thing for end-users: fixing broken code doesn't generate much revenue and most of the big software houses only patch vulnerabilities when they can no longer be ignored. Now, Microsoft has introduced a new wheeze; make someone else responsible for its shoddy code.

With the forthcoming release of Windows 8, manufacturers will be required to install something called Secure Boot if they want their equipment to be certified as Windows compatible. This is a potential problem for anyone who wants to install a different operating system (like Linux) on their computer: if the software isn't approved by the UEFI interface, it won't load and you'll be locked out of your system. In essence, Microsoft has found a way to shackle your hardware to its software and all in the name of security.

Let's not pretend, Windows is ubiquitous and most (probably all) OEMs will comply with Redmond's fiat. So it's not surprising that Mark Shuttleworth has discussed the possibility of Canonical generating its own encryption key to pass the Secure Boot test. This is probably just pragmatism at work, but the reality is that you will no longer own your pc, you'll effectively lease it from those software providers that can get their keys incorporated in the UEFI. I can't help wondering if the tail is still wagging the dog.

Sources & References:

NoMachine - Installation & Configuration

I use NoMachine's NX Client to connect to my FreeNX server: it's fast and accurate and gives the user an almost local desktop experience. As I'm just loading it onto my 1501 (running Kubuntu), I thought it would be useful to record the installation & setup process.

First, head over to NoMachine's Download page and select the NX Client for Linux. You can download this either as a .tar or a .deb package - I'm going with the DEB!

Click on the download icon and you'll be taken to the download page (yes, it is a bit clumsy) and there select the Download Package option. Once the package is downloaded, navigate to the download location and click on the file: the packager installer should open automatically.

Click the Install Package option.

Use your file browser to navigate to /usr/NX/bin and click on the nxclient application: this should start the NX Connection Wizard.

  1. Your Session name can be anything you like. For instance, if you want to set up two sessions, one behind your router (LAN) and one for when you're outside your router (WAN), you could call them Local and Remote respectively.
  2. Your Host name will depend on how you intend to connect to your server:
    • From inside your LAN, you'll probably connect using your LAN IP address - something like 192.168.x.x (where x is a number).
    • If you are outside your LAN and have a static IP address, you can connect using the ISP issued address - you'll find this from your router/modem interface.
    • If you don't have a static IP address and use a DDNS service like No-IP, you'll use the human friendly name that you allocated to your server when you signed up for the service. It'll be something like; or whatever subdomain you chose.
  3. NoMachine uses SSH as its connection agent so the default port is 22. You can change this port number by amending the /etc/ssh/sshd_config and (perhaps) the /etc/nxserver/node.conf files: you'll find instructions on how to make these amendments here
  4. Unless you have a specific reason, leave the Internet Connection Type as ADSL.
  5. Click Next
  6. In the Desktop dialog, leave the OS type as Unix but change the desktop type to Custom and then click the Settings... button
  7. Select the Run the following command radio button and enter the following command in the dialog box below:

    gnome-session --session=ubuntu-2d

    Now select the New virtual desktop radio button in the Options dialog and click OK. Don't change the Disable encryption option!
  8. Choose the display sizes as appropriate and click Next.
  9. Now click Finish

Finding the client depends on what version of Ubuntu you're running: in 12.04 just use the dashboard and type nxclient; in 11.04, you'll find it lurking in the Internet menu (as you will with Kubuntu).

When the client starts you'll be prompted to authenticate yourself by providing your username and password. Use the Session drop-down to select the session type and enter your details. Then simply click the Login button.

Sources & References:

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Rhythmbox Extras

Now that Rhythmbox is the default music player in Ubuntu 12.04, it's probably worth getting the best out of it. One notable absentee from the shipped application is an equalizer. You can install this plugin individually or you can install a range of working plugins from a ppa mainatined by fossfreedom.

To install the complete collection of plugins, add fossfreedom's ppa. Open a terminal and type:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:fossfreedom/rhythmbox-plugins

Then update:

sudo apt-get update

Then install the plugins with:

sudo apt-get install rhythmbox-plugin-complete

Once installed, open Rhythmbox and click Edit and then Plugins: check the Equalizer checkbox and you're done.

Sources & References:

WiFi Not HiFi

When I first started my journey into open source software I resolved that the experiment would cost me nothing (unless you count the sunk cost of an old DELL Dimension 8400 and a replacement hard drive): those days are long gone! Now it seems that I'm happy to spend money on new hardware and gadgets just to see if I can make them work with Ubuntu!

One of the nice things about being single again is that I can indulge my technophile tendencies without embarrassment. Moreover, having my own home means that I no longer have to share my office with my bedroom or my lounge with my kitchen (alright, I do share my lounge with my kitchen, but that's how the apartment is designed!). However, recently I've been thinking that it would be nice to stream music from my server in the office to my lounge without having to fire up my thirty year old Technics! I looked at Bluetooth speakers, but the intervening walls made connectivity a problem, so I started wondering if I could find some WiFi speakers.

Well, I did find some and today they turned up in the post!

Veho VSS-002W Mimi Qube speakers work using a wireless dongle operating at the 2.4GHz range. In Ubuntu 12.04 it's a Plug 'n' (almost) Play device. Just plug the dongle into a spare USB port and then open the Sound settings dialog (System Settings > Sound). If all's gone well, you should see two options (Digital & Analogue) both labelled SYNIC Wireless Audio. Select your preference and you're good to go.

To be honest, the sound quality isn't the greatest but it can be tweaked using the Rhythmbox equalizer and placing the speaker on the floor. That said, its sound reproduction is perfectly adequate for all but the most pedantic audiophile and it saves a lot of hassle as well as a lot of wiring.

Sources & References:

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Static IP with No-IP

One minor problem that I've experienced with my new server set-up is random changes in my IP address. Ordinarily, I would expect my IP address to stay fixed for as long as my router remained up and connected to the WAN, but short interruptions at the exchange have renewed my IP address on several occasions meaning that I couldn't connect to my network using NoMachine. My new ISP doesn't offer static IP addresses to domestic customers (no surprise there), but I have found a way to achieve the same result using a dynamic IP address.

No-IP is a service that uses a client to update and redirect service to map a static (DNS) or dynamic (DDNS) IP address to an easy to remember subdomain. The good news is that, when my exchange renews my IP address, I don't need to worry any more, I just point No-Machine to my server's new subdomain. Even better, the entry level service is free! The bad news is that the installation instructions for Ubuntu 12.04 out there on the Internet are not as accurate as they could be and I found installation a little tricky. So, here's how I did it!

Firstly you have to sign up for your No-IP account and set-up your host in the Account section - you'll need to know your current IP address for this. The process for setting up your host is pretty straightforward, so I won't replicate it here.

Next is to install the client on your server: don't bother with the sudo apt-get install option to download the No-IP client (suggested on the No-IP site), it doesn't work! Go to the downloads page, click on the penguin and save the file to the location of choice (mine was home/jogga/Downloads/). When the client has downloaded, use Nautilus to navigate to the download directory, right-click the noip-duc-linux.tar.gz file, and select the Open With Archive Manager option. Click Extract.

Now open a terminal and change directory to your extracted file:

cd /home/jogga/Downloads/noip-2.1.9-1

Tip: keep an eye on your folder/version number - mine is 2.1.9-1; yours could be different.

Now issue the make command.

sudo make

Now issue the make install command.

sudo make install

You'll be prompted for your login details and password. Leave the update interval to 30 (unless you have a good reason to change it) and check that the correct nic is selected (probably eth0).

To check that the client is running:

/usr/local/bin/noip2 -S

If not:


That's it!

Sources & References:

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

No More Network Nightmare!

It seems that my recent server problem was caused by my router: installing my old D-Link DSL-2740r was all that was needed to get my NoMachine client to connect to freeNX over the WAN.

What's more, I've even managed to change the ssh port for a bit of added security - although key management is still problematic. Once I've got it all fixed, I'll post the setup (promise).

Sources & References:

Monday, 25 June 2012

Advancing in Full Retreat

One of the problems that I've been having with my server setup is accessing my network from the WAN-side of my new router. My original (default) setup worked superbly, but once I started to tweak the settings to improve security, the wheels came off quickly! My early investigation pointed toward a port forwarding issue, so I made the appropriate adjustments - no joy! Even restoring the default settings have had no effect. It seems that the router supplied by my new ISP is not immune from problems and port forwarding doesn't work.

Having spent several more hours on the problem again today, I finally decided to install my old router to see what, if any, effect it would have on my problem. Of course, I can't test the connection until I can get on a different network (and that will be tomorrow); but one unexpected and very welcome consequence is that I managed to connect my iPAQ to the network for the first time since moving house!

I know; the iPAQ is a relic, a legacy device that surely can't have much useful life left in it - but I'm still very fond of it, nonetheless!

Sources & References:

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Site Update

Apropos nothing at all, I've updated the Karmic Kit Page to reflect my recent acquisition.

Sources & References:

Skype 4.0

Skype has released a new version of its software for the Linux platform - Skype 4.0

There are a few changes worth noting:

  1. A new Conversations View where you can track all of your chats in a unified window.
  2. A new Call View.
  3. Improved call quality (about time!)
  4. Improved video call support

You should remove previous versions of Skype before installing the latest release:

sudo apt-get remove skype

The last kernel update nuked my preferences and I couldn't get Skype to use my webcam as the default sound input device. This latest version won't allow me to change my sound device from Pulse Audio either, but changing the input device in the sound menu seems to pick up the webcam automatically. This problem is widely discussed on the Internet and there is a fix, but it didn't work for me: implementing the steps killed all of my sound output and I had to reverse them to regain my system sounds!

To download the latest version of Skype, go to the Skype Downloads page or click on the link in the Sources & References section, below.

Sources & References:

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Linus In the News

Linux creator Linus Torvalds has won the Millennium Technology Prize and an accompanying cheque for 600,000 euros ($756,000; £486,000) from the Technology Academy of Finland. Source: BBC News - Technology

A nice write up on Linus' recent escapades!

Nearly Headless Nick

Headless system: a computer system or device that has been configured to operate without a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Source: Wikipedia - Headless System

After some initial problems, my new Aleutia D2 Pro is up and running!

It's sporting a stock install of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise) and I'm using smb for sharing files across the network. So far, so good - but I could have used any old box as a file server; so why spend £500 on a new PC?

Well, the D2 is frugal in its power consumption which means that it can be left running without destroying the planet (or my bank balance). In fact, in sleep mode it consumes just 2.6 watts and under load, a paltry 18.0 watts! Moreover, this thing isn't just quiet - it's absolutely silent. Of course, these performance figures don't include a monitor which leaves one with the problem of managing the system blind.

Ubuntu does come with a default VNC client (Vinagre) which is fine for helping a friend over the Internet, but if you don't have a monitor or don't have physical access to the machine, typing in passwords and accepting the connection can be problematic. However, I did try Vinagre for a while and connected a keyboard and mouse (hence the cryptic title for this post) to access the machine, but the lag was excruciatingly slow; slow enough to make the solution unworkable. Fortunately (and, as you would expect) there is an opensource solution: FreeNX. I'm still trying to figure out some WAN issues since changing my port number, but over the next few days, I'll post details of how to connect from both sides of your network.

Sources & References:

Monday, 11 June 2012


So, I've moved into the bachelor pad and finally got my network up and running. I've also learned a few hard lessons in the process:

  • UK-based ISPs are universally awful and none of them grasp the concept of customer service.
  • Always be wary when things seem to be going too well!

After several abortive attempts to move my old ISP to my new address, I simply gave up and went back to BT (British Telecom, for my American friends). BT and I have a bit of history - none of it good! It is, without doubt, one of the most arrogant companies in the UK, but it has the distinct advantage of owning most of the infrastructure through its subsidiary company, Openreach. All other ISP simply rent space and sell it on to schmucks like me. I'll spare you the details, but BT are prone to randomly cancelling orders or changing appointments without warning: the short version - it took twenty-five days to get a telephone line installed!

On the other hand, I finally treated myself to my Aleutia D2 Pro!

Aleutia D2 Pro Mini-Atom

Aleutia quote a fourteen day lead time for their PCs, so I was pretty psyched when mine turned up in seven! I could hardly contain myself as I plugged in a keyboard, mouse and monitor. However, it was only when I came to add power, that I found that the DC jack didn't fit! Again, I'll keep it short: several phone calls and emails later and Aleutia sent me a replacement power pack and I finally managed to get my new file server up-and-running seven days later.

I suppose that I can't complain too much: it was only fourteen days from the order date.

Sources & Resources:

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Quick Tip - USB Mouse Freezes on Boot (12.04)

If you find that your Logitech usb mouse doesn't work when you boot into Precise Pangolin, try:

sudo modprobe -r hid_logitech_dj

Followed by:

sudo modprobe hid_logitech_dj

Sources & References:

Friday, 4 May 2012

Quick Tip - Heads Up Display in 12.04

Want to activate Ubuntu's HUD in Precise?

Just hit the Alt button on your keyboard

Sources & References:

  • None

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Some Publicity - At last

It's nice to see Auntie taking an interest in open source - even better when the piece is about Ubuntu!

There's nothing in the article that will surprise die-hard Ubuntu fans (I can't wait for an Ubuntu phone), but let's hope that it generates a little interest in the Microsoft community.

Sources & References:

Monday, 30 April 2012

Wallpaper of the Month

Now that I'm playing with Ubuntu 12.04 (Precise Pangolin), I've been playing with some new desktop wallpapers. Trouble is, I can't decide which I like best...

This is one of the wallpapers that ship with 12.04 and I kind of like it! However, every now and again, the National Geographic Photo of the Day page delivers one of those wow moments.

A quick change of theme (to Radiance) and I ended up with this stunning desktop for May.

Sources & References:

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Wifi on 6400

12.04 has been successfully installed on the DELL Inspiron 6400!

For the Broadcom card, I had to install the firmware installer. No real problem, just open a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-installer

First impressions are that 12.04 is a little quicker but that's about the only difference I've noticed.

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow!

With the release of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, it's time to test Canonical's brand new superfast OS!

However, the Ubuntu servers must be getting hammered because the download is taking forever. Let's hope 12.04 really is quicker than it's predecessor!

Sources & References:

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Ta Ta 10.10

Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat) end-of-life reached on April 10, 2012

"This note is just to confirm that the support period for Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat) formally ends on April 10, 2012 and Ubuntu Security Notices no longer includes information or updated packages for Ubuntu 10.10."

The good news is that I can defer making a decision on Unity (or it's replacement) until next year as 10.04 continues to be supported.

Sources & References:

Monday, 9 April 2012

Desktop of the Month - 8400 The Glyderau

It's been a while since I've posted my current desktop (actually, it's been a while since I posted anything!)

I'm in the process of organizing two teams in this year's Oggie 8 Challenge and this picture was taken on one of our training runs. In the foreground is yours truly (on the left) and one of the team members and, in the background is Llyn Ogwen, Tryfan (to the top left) and the Glyderau (top centre).

Feel free to sponsor us for this serious mountain challenge, but, if you can't spare the coin, your best wishes for the day would be just as good!

The Grifters' Handbook

Kevin Mitnick, it seems, has a tenuous grasp of morality: he argues (p.xii & p.83) that it's OK to steal someone else's property if you're motivated by curiosity and your intentions are benign. I confess that I'm less comfortable with the idea of breaking in to someone's computer system and "snaring copies of files" or "searching emails for passwords" and, I suppose, that's why I think Mitnick's claim to be "a changed person" lacks credibility.

That's not to say that there's nothing to learn from The Art of Deception - far from it - only that the reality is that the book is almost certainly of more use to grifters and conmen rather than "governments, businesses, and individuals" (p.xiii). Throughout, Mitnick provides society's dishonest with templates for deceiving the unwary and his advice for preventing, detecting, and responding to information-security threats never really exceeds a, remain vigilant at all times message. Of course, security awareness among employees and individuals is a good thing, but it hardly needs 352 pages to convey such a message. Given Mitnick's rather childish style, endlessly recycled scenarios, unworkable procedures, and simplistic message, The Art of Deception is probably two-hundred pages too long!

If you really must revel in the gullibility of the masses, I suppose that you might enjoy this book. However, if you're serious about security, try Bruce Schneier's, Schneier On Security or Secrets and Lies.

Home Networking - Again

I'll be moving home shortly and my attention has turned to planning my (new) home network. Over recent years I've been relying on a Weston Digital network attached storage device - it runs on Windows-based software and that makes file sharing on a (predominantly) Linux network problematic at times: file permissions are constantly screwed up and, even a minor glitch can make access to directories impossible. It's time to create a Linux based server, that will allow me to access files from all of my machines without loosing ownership or permissions.

For my new network, I want a file server that is always available: i.e. always on. This means that I'd prefer a low-power option and I've been looking at Aleutia's D2 Pro Fanless Mini Atom PC. At a rating of just 18 watts, it should cost less than £50/year to run and be virtually silent in operation. I won't bother hooking up a monitor (that will also help to keep running costs to a minimum), but access the desktop (for maintenance purposes) using Gnome's Remote Desktop Viewer, Vinagre. That only leaves the selection of the server software and, as I happen to have an old (and not particularly energy-friendly) desktop hanging around, I've been playing around with a couple of options over the Easter weekend.

My first choice was FreeNAS: it's file sharing software that you access via a web browser. It took me a while to figure out that the operating software is designed to run from a USB stick or memory card as the files can't reside on the same disk as the OS. Partitioning the hdd didn't seem to help, so I installed the OS on a 4GB USB and got the system running without any real difficulty. However, creating and accessing storage proved impossible for my meagre skills and, after a few hours of toying with the system, I gave up!

Next stop, Ubuntu Server. Once again, I had no difficulty in installing the software and I opted for the Samba Server option during the initial configuration. However, despite having a reasonable grasp of smb, I still had difficulty creating, accessing, and using shares on the server. A couple of hours later I realised that I had another requirement - ease of use! I abandoned the server software and went to plan C.

A quick install of Ubuntu 11.10, updated with Samba, smbfs, and winbind and I had a perfectly usable solution. Creating shared directories can be achieved easily using the file manager (no need for the terminal) and you only have to remember to create a user to access Samba. When I'm ready to set up the new network on a more permanent basis, I'll mount the share at boot on each of the machines allowing me to dump all my files on one disk drive (with an appropriate backup protocol, of course!).

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

You [Don't] Have Mail

I'm rebuilding my desktop (don't ask) and, after re-installing Opera, I suffered the following error message when starting the application:

"Error While Initializing Mail There was a problem initializing Opera Mail. Not possible to run old Opera version with new Opera mail files."

A simple fix (if you don't use Opera mail!) is to delete the Opera Mail directory. Simply navigate to /home/[username]/.opera and delete the mail directory.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


I know that there are not a lot of people who read this blog (at least, not regular readers), but I feel that I should apologize to the few that do for the hiatus in posts!

The last four or five months have been an interesting time for me and blogging has been fairly low on my list of priorities. For a start, I find myself single for the first time in nearly quarter of a century: that's a fairly tough place to be, particularly when you aren't expecting it!

On a brighter note, I started a new job in November and it's turning into more than I could ever have hoped for: I actually enjoy getting up at 05:00 to go to work!

I don't suppose that I'm going to be posting as much as I did during the first part of last year, but I hope to get back to more regular updates about my exploits with open-source. So, all that remains for the moment is to wish everyone a happy New Year (yes, I know it's February) and promise to try harder.