Big Changes Ahead!

Posted on July 24th, 2008 in News & Updates | No Comments »

Hello my old friends in the Blog-o-sphere! Been a while since I’ve posted as the wife and I where off in Europe on holiday, good stuff, maybe I’ll treat you with some pictures.

As the title indicates I have some very big news that I’ll be posting in the coming weeks, exciting changes and new opportunities! But for now I need to focus on getting back up to speed with everything from US politics, to the latest linux revs – three weeks without broadband can really mess with your head.

One Weekend – Many Distros

Posted on June 29th, 2008 in Linux/Unix | No Comments »

Ah the dog days of summer, kids out of school, family travel, and lots of recently released Linux Distributions! So taking advantage of all three, as my family is out of the house for the weekend, I poured on some serious geek-time and loaded pretty much every new(ish) build I could get my hands on.

The Old Standard: Ubuntu

No surprise here, I use Ubuntu daily on most of my desktops and servers. But, it’s worth a mention that this weekend I bid farewell to the goodness that has been my favorite release to date, Gutsy (7.10). It was actually not intentional, but after a few hours of wrestling to get the latest VMW Server 1.0.6 onto the box, I threw up the white flag and just rebuilt with Hardy, VMserver loaded just fine.

For anyone new to the Blog, you might not be aware of my disappointment with 8.04 LTS (see Ubuntu 8.04 – One Week in the Real World for more about this.) Despite its irritants, Hardy is working quite well on every system I’ve loaded / upgraded, and while server upgrades are always a bit more dicey than a desktop it was time for these two servers of mine to get overhauled.

BTW – 8.04.1 appears to be heading our way soon (Ubuntu 8.04.1 freeze of hardy-proposed.)  My guess is 8.04.1 is going to be the Hardy we all wanted to see from the get go.

A Venerable Veteran: Fedora

Red Hat / Fedora always will hold a soft spot in my heart as years ago it was the first distribution I used on a regular basis. Despite this affinity, I have not been a regular user of Fedora since version 6.0, this being the case it was high time to give 9.0 a try.

First, the positive – as always the Fedora artwork is beautiful! The legacy of wonderfully integrated and classy themes continues into Fedora 9, other distros take note. Also, the Live CD is a welcome new touch for Fedora (I think it was also in version 8.0, but it’s nice and new just the same.)

Sadly however, this was the shortest lived install of the weekend. After gawking at the gorgeous theme ended, I was left with a rather unimpressive desktop experience. Right off the bat I had problems connecting to Samba shares – not encouraging! A couple of lackluster hours and Fedora was off my test box and relegated back to infrequent use as a VM.

The Most Promise Yet?: OpenSUSE

Ok so maybe I’m just overly optimistic, but since I recently purchased an HP Mini-Note, which ships with SLED 10, I really want SUSE to be a great product – especially since getting Ubuntu loaded on my HP2133 is proving to be a challenge. Perhaps the new OpenSUSE 11 would have all the drivers I need?

But before I form impressions on new hardware, its only fair to give OpenSUSE a shake down on my tried and true desktop for a couple of days. Live CD, slick install, painless so far. Good (and very green) artwork, not nearly as sublime as LinuxMint, greets you – here however, the pleasantries end.

So the infernal “Slab” menu structure aside, navigation is still too difficult; finding key configuration and other applications was way to confusing. Then came the Yast updates. Slow and unresponsive as ever, and not nearly as clear about what is happening as Apt-Get. The final straw – shouldn’t installing the Nvidia driver improve monitor detection and performance? Not so much, after rebooting with the proprietary driver, my widescreen support (which had been working), failed; as did my desire to work any more with this distro.

Durable, Dependable: Debian

While I am a huge fan of the Debian package management system, I actually don’t have any production Debian systems at present. Since the last Debian box I installed was V4, I felt a little daring and gave Beta 2 of the forth coming Version 5 (Lenny) a try.

With no live CD/DVD, but a welcome GUI installer, getting started with this distro was no problem. At the point of this writing I am still working with Debian and will comment more in the coming days.

I will make this observation though, for a beta/development release I am actually surprised by how non ground breaking this major X.0 release appears to be. This is in striking contrast to the recent Ubuntu 8.04 release – chalked full of beta!

And now for Something Completely Different: GRML

So whenever you mix German engineering and Linux you are bound to get something like this Distro. A word of warning, if you think Knoppix is too geeky, read no further! While GRML has a similar pedigree with its better known sibling form the fatherland; Debian based, live cd with decompression of drivers and apps on the fly, GRML goes a step further by offering an array of UI options.

A textual menu greets you upon boot, cluttered with options for just about every light-weight GUI you have every heard of, and then some! If that is not nerdy enough for you, you can run command line applications from a circa 1983 text menu launcher with seemingly hundreds choose from. Don’t misunderstand me, I like GRML. And as a utility Linux / boot CD it’s handy in any arsenal, I just don’t plan on booting it on a daily basis.

Were did my weekend go? Guess I better pick one of these guys and get ready for Monday.

ABCs to a better Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron)

Posted on June 10th, 2008 in Linux/Unix | 1 Comment »

With Ubuntu’s latest Long Term Support version (LTS) – Hardy Heron 8.04 now deployed on many of my systems, I’ve come up with some handy how-to’s and scripts that you might find useful, here are resources I use most often:

10 Tips for After You Install or Upgrade Ubuntu
http://tombuntu.com/index.php/2008/04/25/10-tips-for-after-you-install-or-upgrade-ubuntu/

Get VMWare Server Going: Nice step by step to getting VM Server on Hardy – http://digitalbs.org/Site/Blog/Entries/2008/4/20_Installing_Vmware_server_1.0.5_on_ubuntu_8.04_lts.html

Create a consistent apt-get Script: Again and again I find myself loading the same apps on a new build. To simplify this I have come up with a uniform install script that you can run from a terminal window. Fast, uniform and beautiful. Click here for an example.

Mod out your fstab – I “Need” my servers and shared files often and accessible by both the GUI and CLI, so I like to mount them at boot and into virtual file system locations. You can do this with the a line similar to below:

//SERVERNAME/SHARE /YOURLOACALMOUNTPOINT smbfs dir_mode=0777,username=YOURUSERNAME,passwd=YOURPASSWORD,lfs 0 0

What are your Must have / Must perform steps on freshly built systems?

This Border Crossing brought to you by the RIAA

Posted on June 4th, 2008 in Apple, Linux/Unix, Windows | 2 Comments »

“Your Papers Please?”, says the homeland security officer with an accent reminiscent of something from a WWII Nazi Germany checkpoint. Corny, yes but this is how the inquisition is starting to feel upon your entry into the land of the Free.

Where once your greatest customs concern was staying under the limit of alcohol, tobacco and designer fragrances, now beware as your MP3s, ripped DVDs, Porn and illicit Warez are likely to land you and your computer in the pokey!

Now more then ever digital privacy is sounding like a good idea. Truecrypt, to the rescue! I’ve been playing with the free cross platform encryption now for a few weeks and I’m impressed!

Regardless whether you need to secure documents of a professional or personal nature, configuring a Truecrypt vault is the way to go. While the sensational nature of the RIAA and MPAA’s co-enforcement at US borders grabs headlines, striking a nerve with the tech savvy, the local security that Truecrypt offers is useful for many who have no plans of international travel anytime soon.

With over 50% of new system sales in the form of highly portable (easily stolen) notebooks, data encryption is not only desirable to keep out the prying eyes of governments and corporations, but thieves as well! Bear in mind that Truecrypt can be used on SD Cards, USB drives and other removable media.

Regards less your need for encryption, Truecrypt is a powerful, effective, easy to use and best of all Open Source solution – check it out at http://www.truecrypt.org/

French Fried BIOS!

Posted on May 26th, 2008 in Internet & Networking, Windows | No Comments »

Once in a while I pull a truly bone-headed move; last week I proved my own fallibility once again. It was a simple goal really; patch up my media center system. This included applying the new Vista SP1, updating my Nvidia and other system drivers, and hey, while I’m at it, might as well bump up to the latest motherboard BIOS.

How hard could this be, right? After all I’m an experienced IT professional. Over the years I have flashed literally hundreds of system BIOS, and up till a few days ago, without incident.

In retrospect there were some warning signs I should have headed. For starters, 1AM when you are about ready to turn in for the night – not the best time to flash your BIOS. Next, when looking up the new version of your BIOS on the manufacture’s web site, it’s helpful to know the exact model number of the motherboard rather then just “doing it by memory.” Finally, when you are at the command prompt and it warns you to be sure you have the right BIOS for your MoBo, get up off your butt and grab the manual or box for the motherboard and double check that you have downloaded the right one!

As you probably have guessed by now, I did not adhere to any of this great advice. And when the system rebooted after having flashed the wrong model BIOS, it became rather clear to me exactly what I had just done – Son-of-a-….

The Flashing Threat

While I managed to do this damage all on my own, some alarming news surfaced this past week indicating that malicious hackers are now contemplating the use of BIOS flashing attacks. These “Permanent Denial of Service” (PDOS) attacks would be used to infect routers and other such core network devices; and unlike other maliware and viruses, the goal of PDOS attacks is to cripple or completely destroy systems and networks.

Judging from my recent experience with an incorrectly flashed motherboard, I can attest to the lethality of such a scheme. A compromised system could not just be “re-formated” to factory defaults, as a messed up BIOS will leave the system totally inoperable.

BIOSMAN to the Rescue

After realizing my bush-league mistake I did what any technology professional would do – Cry. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but I did start whining on Twitter about the situation, to which I received many concerned and compassionate replies. One particularly thoughtful suggestion was that I should simply enjoy my new piece of attractive wall art! :)

Thanks, but after the initial desperation and panic subsisted, I was able to locate several physical BIOS (Eprom) recovery/replacement services. I quickly settled on http://www.biosman.com/. After entering the requested information in the easy to follow online forms (step, by step asking about the make, model and other motherboard info), I was charged a modest fee. Even without selecting an express shipping method, my replacement BIOS chip arrived in the standard mail in under a week. Popping the new chip in was easy on my socketed motherboard, and presto! My media center was back up and at them.

While BIOSMAN is a wonderful service and deserves to be on your tech “oh shhhiiittt” goto list, I can’t stress enough how important it is to take care when patching your firmware. That, and the old axiom applies, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Podcast Picks Part II

Posted on May 14th, 2008 in Apple, Business & Industry, Gadgets, Internet & Networking, Linux/Unix, Tech & Science, Windows | No Comments »

As promised, I’m back with part two of my personal podcast selections.

Grammar Girl – http://grammar.qdnow.beta.libsynpro.com/rss

If your reading this blog post there is a good chance you are a blogger yourself, in which case this cast is a must for you. But regardless how you use the English language, Grammar Girl has helpful tips for you. Each installment of GG is quick and to the point, focusing on all kinds of grammar usage issues.

Linux Action Show – http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheLinuxActionShow

Begin tired old Cliché: “If you only listen to one Linux Podcast, this should be it!” Chris and Bryan are not only incredibly insightful and up on all the latest happenings surrounding the Open Source community, they put on one darn entertaining Podcast.

And if you want all the casts put on by this resourceful duo (like the afore mentioned CastaBlasta) you can subscribe to the unified Jupiter Broadcasting Feed at – http://www.jupiterbroadcasting.com/?feed=rss2

Linux Basement – http://feeds.feedburner.com/linuxbasement

Great Tutorials, Fantastic close-nit community and as if that is not enough, you get and Open Source Song every episode! Yes, you heard right an OSS “Song” performed by the ever talented Chad Wollenberg, host of the the Linux Basement.

Slashdot Review – http://slashdotreview.com/wp-rss2.php

Don’t have time to sift through all the great content on Reddit, Digg, Slashdot or a myriad of others, no worries, Andrew McCaskey does an amazing job editing and reading them to you. Under 15 minutes and you are up to date with the day’s tech/geek news.

Super Average Podcast – http://feeds.feedburner.com/SuperAveragePodcast

Looking for a great down to earth spiritual talk show? The interestingly named “Super Average Podcast” is a weekly round table of four everyday guys from different walks of life, talking about what faith means to them.

This WEEK in TECH – http://leoville.tv/podcasts/twit.xml

Leo Laporte, nuff said! Ok seriously if you have not ever heard of the “Twit Army” this is the Leo’s flagship podcast – part punditry, part news, part interview show, and plenty of random thoughts, This Week in Tech features a weekly round table (guests change from show to show) discussing the state of all things tech.

This will have to do for now, but you have gobs of stuff to listen to now, so find some new podcasts already.

Ubuntu 8.04 – One Week in the Real World

Posted on May 1st, 2008 in Linux/Unix | No Comments »

Just as many other Ubuntu users, I could hardly wait with un-bridled enthusiasm for last week’s April 24th release of the final version of Ubuntu 8.04 “Hardy Heron.” My anticipation was heightened as this was to be a LTS (Long Term Support) release, and I have several projects pending, especially server builds that I want to install fresh on Hardy.

Before I launch into my one week review/opinion of Hardy, a little perspective is in order. I’m a daily user of Ubuntu (Gutsy and Dapper) and had been working with Pre-releases of 8.04 since about January. During this Alpha/Beta period, I encountered quite a few annoyances, but easily dismissed them due to the pre-release nature of the product. Those expectations changed however on April 24th.

Having been an Ubuntu user since Dapper (6.06) I have come to appreciate so many things about this Distro, from it’s Debian package management and repos to its fantastic user community and support, there is a lot to like. But perhaps more important then these, has been it’s rock solid nature and commercial grade releases. And as much as it pains me, after one week I have to question if Hardy was ready to go golden.

A Few Areas of Concern

Firefox 3 BETA? You put Beta software in a Long Term Support Distro? I know that FF3 is looking good (at this writing Beta 5), but I have already had to go and install Firefox 2 for some web sites to function properly. While this is not Canonical/Ubuntu’s fault – dictating production on Firefox – they should have realized this and favored the side of caution. Heck, when I’m on my Dapper boxes, I still use 1.5 and its no big deal. Yes, I get it, you want to be a bit visionary and cutting edge when working with a release that will be out for 3 – 5 years, but a core piece of software, as critical as the web browser should never go out “final” with a beta offering.

Samba Problems. I bugged a couple of SMB (client and server) problems to Ubuntu back in the A6 code, the final product still has critical bugs. I can’t even launch the Gnome Samba GUI tool without a fatal error. Daily I receive 10 or more bug reports on the system-config-samba system from bug tracker – What the heck? Aagin, Samba is way to critical a part of peoples infrastructure to ship an LTS version with fundimental problems.

Significant FSTAB syntax changes. Just yesterday, I discovered that my NAS units were not mapping (SMB/CIFS again) due too changed usage of the dmask clause. Ok call it petty, as this is not a full on Bug, but Good Lord, FSTAB fields have been a part of *nix systems for what 40+ years? And file masking – 777 has been the universally understood convention for full read/write/access in *nix since Bell Labs developed it – why did we feel the need to change the usage of a script I have personally been using for a couple of years now?

Don’t Fret Hardy Heron will be Uber!

My general feeling on this release is that it is just not fully cooked. In a few months, maybe only weeks, Hardy will be patched and ready for broad adoption. But why do this with your Flagship LTS offering? Unfortunately, Canonical/Ubuntu felt the need to hold the April 24th date, and shipped a product just a bit not as polished as previous builds. For now I will be holding off upgrading my production Gutsy boxes, but will build new systems with Hardy.

Podcast Picks Part I

Posted on April 17th, 2008 in Apple, Internet & Networking, Linux/Unix, Tech & Science, Windows | No Comments »

Last week I blogged about the state of the Satellite radio landscape and the many great alternatives to fee based subscription radio. But let’s face it no matter how many MP3s you have at some point you may want to listen to some talk radio style programming.

To that end I have found an assortment of audio podcasts that inform, educate and challenge me on a regular basis. Hopefully you will find something new in this list that sounds interesting (sorry no pun intended.) Note: these are all audio programs, there are some wonderful video casts that warrant consideration – perhaps I’ll save those another post.

CastaBlasta Show – http://www.castablasta.com/?feed=rss2&cat=1

Newer show I’ve started to enjoy that centers around geek/nerd/sci-fi and entertainment culture. Three regular hosts, the same creative team that developed the Linux Action Show, put out this weekly review/recap of the stories ranging from movies to video games, book reviews to toys for the not so grown-up.

CNET’s Buzz Out Loud – http://www.cnet.com/i/pod/cnet_buzz.xml

“Welcome to CNET’s podcast of indeterminate length episode number 5,294,387!” Ok well maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but Molly Wood and Tom Merit, should be awarded some kind of medal for consistency and longevity! BOL is a daily, yes DAILY, 30 – 40 minute tech news and commentary show, summarizing the happenings of Silicon Valley, Redmond, and the greater tech world. High production values, methodic consistency and great hosts make this a must listen for every techy.

Cranky Geeks – http://feeds.ziffdavis.com/ziffdavis/crankygeekspodcast

“Arg – visit my blog @ www.dvorak.org/blog/” Love him or hate him Dvorak is a fixture in the computer journalism world, if you look up tech pundit in the dictionary, you’ll the host of the Cranky Geeks there. If there was any doubt in your mind, the show name it truth in advertising, each week John assembles a panel of feisty technology specialists for thirty minutes of banter (ala his old Tech TV show – Silicon Spin.)

Daily Audio Bible – http://feeds.feedburner.com/dailyaudiobible

Less is more, and in the case of bible study Brian Hardin provides daily readings from the scriptures with heart felt passion, high production values and minimal commentary. Refreshing and simple Brian has been reading various translations every day for three years now. Regardless of your spiritual position, incorporating 15 minutes of the Bible into your day is always positive.

FLOSS Weekly – http://leoville.tv/podcasts/floss.xml

Open Source Software is changing the way we use technology in our everyday life; whether you know it or not you are most likely already working with OSS. To this end Randal Schwartz and Leo Laporte host this weekly show that focuses each episode on an Open Source technology, usually via an interview with the inventor or author.

Fresh Ubuntu Podcast – http://feeds.feedburner.com/freshubuntu

If you “Heart” Ubuntu – this is the show for you! Don’t me wrong, other Linux Distros are welcome, but Harlem and Peter’s first love is for Ubuntu. This weekly Linux round-up features news and helpful tips along with a health dose of whatever is irking the hosts all in fast passing hour long show.

Next post I’ll continue this list with six more great podcasts, till then – happy listening!

XM + Sirius together at last, too Little, too Late

Posted on April 9th, 2008 in Business & Industry, Gadgets | 1 Comment »

After years of lobbing and backroom shenanigans it appears that there is yet another mega-wedding in the near future for the two (and only) satellite radio providers – so much for that antitrust stuff hu? It’s ok, while many are busy crying fowl about the monopolistic implications of the merger or how bad for the consumer this deal will be, I’m still left with the question, when, if ever will I subscribe to satellite radio?

My skepticism has little to do with the low level of satisfaction most have with terrestrial radio offerings, but rather how many people have already abandoned listening to the radio all together, favoring instead off-line content on iPods or streams directly to their portable devices (I.e. Cell phones or notebooks.) It’s this plethora of great digital content that can be played back regardless whether you are in front of your computer at the office on the go in the car, or out for a jog, Digital Music, Podcasts and even Video are all just a click away. Comparing this content delivery methodology to the aging passive radio model leaves me scratching my head as to whether I care if it comes from terrestrial or satellite!

If the competition from alternative media was not threatening enough, satellite radio has to overcome marketing and financial problems. Considering that neither XM or Sirius had a thriving successful (profitable) business on their own before the merger; it is rather foolish to believe that now manacled together they will be a drastically different creature. Besides, redundancies and the sheer volume of technical and logistical challenges to be worked out internally make communicating a unified, consistent and easy to understand model to customers and potential new users next to impossible. This will be a tall order, especially as employee moral is certain to be tepid at best, and layoff or consolidation fears ripple through the company.

And what of hardware incompatibilities? Programming and channel changes? And of course there is the cost – both for new devices and recurring monthly. No thank you, I think I’ll stick with my podcasts 😉

The Un-SXSW Report

Posted on March 12th, 2008 in Apple, Gadgets | No Comments »

So is it just me, or is it normal to feel like the only blogger not in Austin this week? Yea, yea, perhaps its just some snarky jealousy showing through here, but since everyone in the tech media universe is covering South by Southwest this week I figured it would be refreshing to blog about something else!

The iPhone Strikes Back!

Hell might not have froze over, but there was a refreshing fall like breeze reported wafting throughout the nether regions as Apple announced last week that its Version 2.0 iPhone software will support Microsoft Active Sync.

While third party apps and the availability of the SDK garnered much of the blog-o-sphere’s attention this week, the inclusion of native Microsoft Exchange support is the big take-away from this announcement. This opens the door for the iPhone into most business – an arena whose stance toward the device has been somewhere between indifferent to hostile.

Chalk it up as a “win” for both Apple and Microsoft, who are both trying desperately to increase market share in the high-end smart phone niche before Google weighs in later this year with Android.