Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Your Good Health

I've spent quite a lot of time over the last few weeks reacquainting myself with Windows Vista and it occurs to me that, while Microsoft definitely does some things really well (in my opinion, Windows Media Player is superior to anything I've yet found in the open-source world), I've not found anything that Windows can do that Ubuntu can't. For instance, a week or so ago I was blogging about i-nex, an open-source alternative to CPU-Z and this week I set myself the challenge of finding an alternative to CrystalDiskInfo - almost too easy!

If you don't already know, CrystalDiskInfo is a utility for Windows that supports S.M.A.R.T1 and reports on the health of a system's disk drives. For obvious reasons, being forewarned about a disk drive failure is quite handy and, as my hard drive in the DELL Dimension is five years old or so (this is my second hdd in this system!), disaster is likely to come sooner rather than later. In Linux, you can access S.M.A.R.T via the terminal using a utility called smartmontools2: the two programs in the package are smartctl (on-demand disk scanning) and smartd (continuous monitoring): both come with multiple switches and it's worth spending some time reviewing the manpages in order to get to the information you want.

Whilst smartmontools is an excellent suite of utilities, I don't find the output particularly user-friendly despite it being concise. That said, it's easy to pipe the output of multiple commands to a text file and read it at your leisure3 but it's so much better if you can view all this information in one place without having to type multiple commands into a terminal.

Enter GSmartControl.

GSmartControl is Ubuntu's equivalent of CrystalDiskInfo without the colourful display icons. It's easy to install from the Software Centre, just search for GSmartControl and click the install button. The information available from S.M.A.R.T is fascinating: for instance, you can see how many times your disk has been started (mine is 2,607) and how long the disk has been running (mine is 7,675 hours or nearly 320 days!). Intrestingly, my Windows Vista machine (purchased when my first hdd died) has only been powered on 889 times and been running for 4,958 hours; demonstrating succinctly how my experiment with Ubuntu eventually (and quickly) became my OS of choice.

A word of warning though, installing GSmartControl will slow your boot times unless you un-check the Scan system for drives on startup option in the preferences/General dialog.

Sources & References:


  • 1 Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology
  • 2 In Ubuntu, install smartmontools by opening a terminal and then sudo apt-get install smartmontools
  • 3 For instance, if you wanted to view the disk information and the disk health output, you could do:

    sudo smartctl -d sat -i /dev/sda >> /home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

    Followed by:

    sudo smarctl -H /dev/sda >> home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

    The output of the second command will be appended to the end of the text file in /home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

Friday, 22 February 2013

More News From the Front

Last month I mentioned that my old DELL Inspiron 1501 had found a new home. Well today it's back....

...for an upgrade!

The new owner has over 600 music cd and wanted to get them onto his drive: the original 60GB drive was never going to cope with that lot (and the OS, files, pictures, etc) so we decided to plug in a new 250GB drive. Astonishingly, a replacement drive cost less than £40 with delivery! On the 1501, it's just five screws that secure the hard disk drive and swapping out the drive takes seconds. The hardware element went like clockwork and I'm sitting here reinstalling Ubuntu 12.04 and the latest patches before restoring the files and settings.

The only problem has been the usual tussle with the WiFi drivers, but that's now resolved so all is good. Tomorrow, the little Inspiron will go back to its new owner and he can rip his music collection!

Sources & References:

Friday, 8 February 2013

It's Coming!

So, the much anticipated Ubuntu phone is due to land in October.

"Ubuntu main man Mark Shuttleworth says plans are on track to produce smartphones running a mobile variant of the Ubuntu Linux OS by October 2013, but developers should be able to start working with the platform even sooner."
Source: The Register

I don't think that the UK will be high on the list of target markets, but here's hoping!

Sources & Resources:

System Information

If, like me, you've come from a Windows background, you may be missing some of those great utilities that do the work for you. I was reminded of one in particular while browsing Scott Mueller's (excellent) Upgrading and Repairing PCs this morning: CPU-Z. This is a peerless resource if you want to review system information in a Windows environment.

So, is there an equivalent for Linux?

Most experienced Linux users will get this information from the terminal and save themselves the bother of installing a new package. After all, it's a simple command and how often do you really need this information? Just open a terminal and type:

sudo lshw |more

If you prefer, you can pipe the output to a text file to make it easier to read and search:

sudo lshw |more >> /home/username/directory_name/document_name.txt

Just change the file path (the red text in the code example) to suit your particular location.
However, if you really are determined to have a utility that does all the heavy lifting and simply presents the data in a similar format to CPU-Z, give i-nex a look.

It's not, perhaps, as polished as CPU-Z but all the relevant data is there and it is easier to find than searching through the output from the lshw command. To install the package you also need to install the gambas3 package.

Open a terminal and type:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nemh/gambas3
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:i-nex-development-team/stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install i-nex

Sources & References:
  • i-nex.sourceforge.net: Home
  • Mueller S: Upgrading and Repairing PCs, 20th Edition (p.72) (Amazon UK)

Monday, 4 February 2013

Anonymizing YouTube

A friend of mine asked me if it is possible to anonymize his YouTube account. Nowadays, it seems that Google (or Facebook) owns everything on the web and if you want a YouTube account, you have to have a Google+ account. However, after a lot of fannying around, I discovered that you don't have to link your Google+ account to YouTube and you can login to YouTube under a pseudonym.
  • Sign into YouTube and click the arrow next to your profile name and picture (top right hand side of the webpage.

  • Select the YouTube Settings option from the left hand menu

  • Click the Disconnect Channel from Google+ option
  • You'll be directed to a Rename channel dialog where you will either revert to your original YouTube name or be forced to choose a new one.
Sources & References:

  • None

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Desktop of the Month

This wallpaper has just made it onto my 8400 - it's another picture from the Ogwen Valley in North Wales taken last year.

The view, taken from Bwlch Cyfryw-drum on the Carneddau, is to the south west looking toward Carnedd Dafydd. It was taken in March on a beautiful day with stunning cloud inversions all day. As I look out of my window on the Ceiriog Valley, today is another such day.

How I miss the mountains.

Sources & References:

  • Wikipedia