HP Mini-Note 110: Installing Ubuntu Karmic & Wireless Issues Tuesday, Dec 29 2009 

I have been monitoring the traffic on my blog and noticed an increase in interest in my post about helping my student install Ubuntu Karmic on her HP Mini-Note 110.  Apparently there are quite a few people who are experiencing problems installing Karmic on their Mini-Notes.  One issue that seems to be common is the Broadcom wireless card not working properly.  (Actually, the problem is getting the right driver installed.)  I don’t own a Mini-Note and have worked on only one, so my experience is limited.  Regardless, I have decided to share my sole experience in hopes that it can help any of you who are experiencing problems.

I want to be clear.  I am not a Linux/Ubuntu expert, and what I share here is based on my acquired knowledge (which isn’t a lot) and experience.  I do own a Dell Mini-9 which uses the same Broadcom card as the HP Mini-Note (as far as I know) and so have had to troubleshoot similar issues.  I don’t want to sound ominous; however, please use my suggestions at your own risk.

First of all, let me give you a list of hardware and software I used for the install.

  1. A 2 GB Kingston DataTraveler USB thumb drive,
  2. An ISO image of the Ubuntu Karmic (9.10)–I used the RC version of Karmic which may be the cause of the wireless issues,
  3. Unetbootin installed on a box–you will need this to make the bootable thumb drive,
  4. An active LAN connection,
  5. and the A/C adapter for the Mini-Note.

Step 1: Make a bootable thumb drive using Unetbootin.

  1. First, download the latest ISO image of Ubuntu onto your computer.  (You can copy it anywhere you want; I usually copy directly to my desktop.)
  2. Second, install Unetbootin.  If you’re using Ubuntu, you can find the package in the repos.  (Sytem > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager.  Search for Unetbootin, mark it for installation, and then install).  From the terminal, type: sudo apt-get install unetbootin.  If you happen to be using Windows, shame on you.  Nah, just kidding.  Install the package from this website.  I haven’t done this for a while, but I believe you install it by either running the program when you download it, or you can launch the .exe file after you download it.
  3. Once you install Unetbootin, place your thumbdrive into an available USB slot.  Launch the program.  In Ubuntu, from terminal, type: sudo unetbootin, or via the GUI by going to Applications >  System Tools > Unetbootin.  The app should launch and you will see the following below.

    Unetbootin

    Choose the second option: Diskimage.  In the dropdown box, choose ISO image since that is what you have.  Then, click on the browse button (the square box at the end with the ellipsis inside of it.).  Find your ISO image.  Insure that the Type at the bottom is set to USB Drive.  Also, insure that the correct drive is selected (it should say something like /dev/sdb1).  If you have more than one thumbdrive installed, make sure that you choose the correct one.  To make things simpler, I would suggest unmounting and removing all other unnecessary thumbdrives.  Click OK and wait.  The install shouldn’t take too long.  Once it is done, follow any instructions and remove the thumb drive.

Step 2: Installing Ubuntu onto HP Mini-Note

  1. Plug your newly created Live thumb drive into a USB slot on your Mini-Note 110.  Power it on.  As soon as the BIOS screen appears, press f10 to change the boot order.  Using the arrow keys, choose to boot from your USB drive.  Choose the default image and Ubuntu should load.  If you want to play around before you install Ubuntu permanently, you can run a live session.  (I did have some problems with the Broadcom card, so I wasn’t able to get very far during the live session.  As soon as I launched Firefox, the system froze and/or crashed the X session.)
  2. From here you can double-click the install icon on the Dekstop.  Make sure you have plenty of battery left or plug in your A/C adapter; the install can take a long time.  You will be prompted to answer some questions.  All are pretty self-explanatory.  However, when you are asked how you want to partition your hard drive, you should spend some time determining how you will be using your netbook.  You can install Ubuntu on the entire drive, or you can install it side-by-side with your original OS.  In many cases, the pre-installed OS will be Win XP.  If you need XP for any reason, you may want to choose the side-by-side install.  This  will partition your hard drive evenly between XP and Ubuntu.  You can actually manually partition your hard drive and give one partition more or less space.  It takes a little more work, but you can customize as you see fit.  Since I don’t need XP, I would just install Ubuntu on the entire drive.  (Although, I would consider setting up a Home partition.  See this helpful blog for more information on the best method for partitioning your drive.)

Step 3: Installing the Broadcom STA Proprietary Driver

  1. After you have successfully installed Ubuntu.  You will be prompted to restart your computer.  Make sure to remove the thumb drive when prompted.
  2. Next, once your system has rebooted, connect you live wired connection to the Ethernet port on the Mini-Note.  All I did to get the Broadcom driver to install properly was run an update (System > Administration > Update Manager).  There will quite a few updates to install, so this step may take awhile.
  3. After you run the update, you will undoubtedly be prompted to perform a restart.  Do so.
  4. Once the system restarts, log in, and then choose System > Administration > Hardware Drivers.  You should see a something similar to the following.  Yours should show the Broadcom STA driver however.  In my the following example, you see the NVIDIA driver listed because it is the one I use on my trusty Thinkpad.

    Proprietary Hardware Drivers

    If you don’t see the driver listed, follow the suggestions from the above mentioned blog.  Although the author’s blog deals with Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 9, the steps for installing the Broadcom driver should work on the Mini-Note too.

  5. You should be home free from here.  Disconnect your wired LAN connection and test your wireless card.  You should be able to connect to all open and encrypted networks.  (My Dell Mini can connect to WEP, WPA and WPA2 encrypted networks.)

Good luck!  I hope this helped…

*By the way, have you ever wondered what the numbering convention is for Ubuntu?  The first number tells you the year, and the second the month it was released.  Since Canonical has promised to release new versions every 6 months, you will usually see version numbers ending with .04 and .10…since the official cycle began on October 2004 (although, there has been at least one version that went beyond the 6 month cycle–6.06).  So Lucid Lynx, which will be released in April of 2010, will be numbered 10.04 (or 2010.April).  It will also be designated LTS…more on that another time…

Saints Lose (Part II) Tuesday, Dec 29 2009 

When I saw the Saints/Bucs score Sunday morning, I was relieved–Saints 17, Tampa 0.  My first thought was that the loss to the Cowboys paid off.  The Saints have been struggling at the beginning of the last few games, and consequently, have fallen considerably behind.  With Drew Bress commanding that potent offense they have been able to surmount comebacks in most of those games.

But this week, they were able to put up 17 first half points, and I felt very confident about the outcome.  What did I need to be worried about?

But lo and behold, when I went to ESPN.com to see the carnage the Saints unleashed on the Bucs, I saw this headline instead: “Bucs Stun Saints in OT.”  They lost.  Again.  To another mediocre team.

I don’t like to disparage other teams–tends to come back to haunt me–but the Bucs are not a very good team this year.  How could the Saints lose?  That’s a rhetorical question of course, and I know the answer…

I don’t feel as devastated as I did last week.  I kind of accepted that despite what all the NFL experts were saying for the last few weeks, the Saints’ opponents had exposed some of their weaknesses.  I think the game against the Dolphins was the first that indicated there were some issues on defense.  Had it not been for a quick-strike offense, I think the Saints would have had a couple more losses this year (the Redskins’ game for sure).

Sean Peyton may want to consider shoring up the D a little before the playoffs.  I’m not too sure who is available, but they need to get more pressure up the middle.  The secondary has been getting a lot of blame for the Saints porous D, but I think the problem is deeper than poor secondary play.  QBs seem to be able to roam the pocket against the Saints’ D, and running backs have been having career games.  The D did get a few sacks this week, but in general the pressure isn’t consistent enough.

But it’s not just the defense that needs to make adjustments.  There are a couple of key areas where the Saints’ offense needs to improve: first, the running game, and two, 3rd. down conversions.

The lack of a running game has definitely hurt the overall offense.  Drew Bress had been looking godlike all year long, but since the first Falcons game, has been pressing a bit.  He hasn’t looked as efficient, and I believe he’s trying to make up for the struggling running game.  I’m not taking anything away from the running backs; I think Heath Evans, Pierre Thomas, and Mike Bell have done a particularly good job this year.  (And it is unfortunate that they have all gotten hurt at some point.)  However, in recent games, they haven’t been able to assert themselves quite as well as in the beginning of the season.  I think opposing D-lines are hedging a bit.  Have you noticed how many batted balls Bress has thrown recently?  Have you noticed that he’s given up more INTs?  Although the NFL has become a pass-happy league, you still need a running threat to keep defenses honest.

And these issues lead into my next point: 3rd. down conversions.  Because opposing Ds have been able to play the pass, the Saints have begun to struggle with 3rd. down conversions.  In fact, I have noticed an increase in 3-and-outs.  Again, a running game that would keep defenses home would help them considerably.

Now, I’ll admit; I’m not working from any kind of careful statistical analysis, and basing my opinions on what I personally witnessed.  I haven’t studied statistics and quite frankly, hope I’m completely wrong.  I hope that without a whole lot of tinkering, the Saints will march right into South Florida and take the Superbowl with a dominating performance.

The only thing I do know is that I’m nervous.  I’d feel much better if the Saints handily beat the Panthers this week.  And not in a shootout where both teams put up 300+ yards passing and score over 20 points.  But a game in which the Saints dominate on offense, both on the ground and through the air, and on D by holding the Panthers under 10 points.

The Saints really need to get going and regain some momentum going into the playoffs.  I know they are capable!  Go Saints….

How Ubuntu (Linux) Changed My Life Thursday, Dec 24 2009 

Ubuntu changed my life!  I’m smarter, cooler, and more ethical.

Sound too good to be true?  Well, it isn’t.

I began using Linux about 2 years ago.  Before that, I was a long time Windows user.  (And before that, an Apple user.)  Until my Linux days, I was a pretty typical PC user.  I would word-process documents, play a few games, and later, check email and surf the net.  I really didn’t care about how things worked; I just wanted them to work.  And hence, my Windows days were nothing pioneering or interesting.

In general, I would consider myself to be a pretty inquisitive person. I have always been interested in how things worked, but for some reason, probably because I saw them as too complex, I did not take an interest in knowing how computers worked.  The movie War Games probably had something to do with this too.  I didn’t need or want the FBI knocking down my door.

But I did take a few computing classes growing up, so I knew some of the basics.  But by the time I was in high school, I was more interested in getting my essays word-processed than understanding computer programming.  I figured the computer geeks could worry about that stuff.  Anyway, by that time, my dreams of being a computer scientist were already dashed by complicated math.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized how important technology, specifically the personal computer, had become. Aside from the obvious advantages of having a word-processor and other applications that made the production and editing of documents much easier, technology was linking disciplines and essentially changing them. The expectations of what people could produce quickly grew as documents became more sophisticated in appearance.

But even though I realized this importance, I accepted that technology had passed me by, and I would be destined to be a casual end user.  So I did the safe thing: I used Windows.  I knew the interface, it did the job most of the time, and it was available in all of the computer labs on campus.  There were a few times when I considered going back to Apple, but once I figured out what it would cost, I decided to stick with the PC platform.  Besides, I had already begun to dabble in open source applications, so I knew there was plenty of free software out there for Windows users.

It wasn’t until that fateful day I came across a Laptop magazine reference to Ubuntu Linux and its growing popularity.  I began to do some research on Linux and Ubuntu.  I talked with the head of our IT department on campus and asked him what he thought about Linux.  Of course, many of his servers were already running Red Hat, so he suggested I give it a try, but warned me to expect some hitches.

So I did.  My first distro was Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04) and Gutsy soon after that.  I then tried Open SUSE (10.3, I think) and eventually SUSE SLED 10, which was preinstalled on a new Thinkpad I bought.  After some testing and trial in the classroom and work environment, I decided to go with Ubuntu.  I really liked SUSE; however, didn’t feel comfortable with the Novell and Microsoft “agreement.” I figured if I was going open source, I would go with a cleaner and unencumbered distro.  (See, I told you I became more ethical!)

So how did Linux, Ubuntu in my case, make me smarter?  I began to tinker with my computer again.  I had to figure out what I needed it to do, and how to get it to do it.  The one nice thing about Ubuntu is that its default install is very usable “out of the box.”  I think most casual users would need to change very little.

For me, I was pretty apprehensive to change anything at first.  But as time went on, I gained more confidence, and soon was making some small ones. In fact, some of them weren’t voluntary.  I’ll admit; what my campus IT guru told me came to fruition.  There were some hitches along the way.  I had to edit configuration files and learn how to use the command line to effectively solve some problems.  But all of these hitches and changes forced me to get more intimate with my computer.  When I used Windows, everything was veiled behind a GUI (and I suppose in many ways Ubuntu is guilty of this too), and so I didn’t need to understand what I was doing when I made changes; rather, I just needed to know how to execute them. Easier, right? Quicker, right? Well, not always. How do you fix something you don’t understand? And believe me, there was plenty that vexed me about Windows.

But if we take James Taylor’s advice and “[enjoy] the passage of time,” I think we could and would learn so much more.  I understand why many would find what I’m suggesting abhorrent.  Why bother trying to understand your computer when you have better things to do?

But I’m not talking about major time commitments here. I don’t think it’s necessary to understand every intricacy of the OS. And as a matter of fact, I want to suggest quite the opposite.  I think we should invest just enough time so we can understand the larger concepts of computing. These concepts will help us better understand how to solve problems that arise.  And I’m not talking about Linux problems, Windows problems, or Mac problems exclusively.  But in general.  If you understand how WebDav works, then the chances of you setting it up properly increases immensely, regardless of the OS that you’re using.  It’s like cooking.  If you understand the basic concept of stewing, you can probably produce a pretty good beef stew no matter whose kitchen you’re cooking in as long as the basic supplies and comparable ingredients are available.

How has Linux made me cooler.  Simple.  It is not the same old expected stuff.  The interface is different and in many ways more intuitive.  People are amazed with Compiz and the 3-D effects that I use.  And besides, when everybody is panicking about the latest major security hole in Internet Explorer, I can smugly smile and say, “I use Linux.”

Why am I more ethical?  Easy.  I don’t support they guys who are trying to control the way we interact with technology.  I stay away from products that are platform restricted. Also, I really embrace the FOSS philosophy because it levels the playing field.  I remember in the past, you had to buy a commercial word processing program to produce decent documents.  Today, thanks to a slew of community supported office apps, this in no longer the case.

It’s not that I’m necessarily against people getting compensated for their work, and, in fact, think every FOSS end user has some responsibility to “pay” for what they use.  The payment doesn’t necessarily need to be in monetary form though.  One could pay by donating time to test updates or new versions of apps. Or by being a part of a community. Maybe report bugs or issues that come up in daily usage. Or they could take an active role in promoting what they use. I’m sure there are numerous ways that end users could help open source developers. (Developers, if you’re reading this, go ahead and suggest some.)

So how has Ubuntu changed my life?  I’m taller, skinnier, and better looking.  Okay, maybe not.  I do feel that I have become closer to my PC though.  I understand it and the concepts that make my computing experience better and more successful.  And I know not to blame technology, but instead, the ones who wield it. Am I cooler? I don’t know, but using Linux has a sort of geek chic that suits me.  And in terms of ethics, I can sleep a little better at night knowing I haven’t made Bill and Steve any richer.  So has Linux changed me? Yes, I think so. And to the distro that figures out a way to make me taller, skinnier, and better looking, I promise to be your biggest fanboy ever!

Happy Holidays!

Saints Lose–Hula & Children Help Monday, Dec 21 2009 

I purposely waited to write this.  I needed to give myself space, an opportunity to let the pain from the venomous sting subside.

I haven’t watched ESPN since Saturday, nor a single game on Sunday.  I didn’t want any reminders or opportunities to ruminate about the Saints loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys.  The team that almost every NFL expert wrote off before the game.  The ESPN Sunday Night Football prognosticators unanimously picked the Saints over the Boys.  (Yes, even Ditka.)

I was initially peeved that the NFL Network picked the game up.  Apparently, you need DirecTV or Dish Network in order to watch NFL Network games in Hawaii.  (I wonder how long it takes before we’ll be watching the Super Bowl on a pay-per-view basis.  More on that rant another time….)  But in actuality, it was godsend.  I had other things to do, and considering how things turned out, I would’ve been more wound-up had I actually witnessed what transpired.

At the beginning of the game, I was monitoring the score on TV and couldn’t believe me eyes when it was 14-0 in favor of the Cowboys.  How could that be? It only got worse as I watched the live ticker on ESPN; it was 17-3 at the half.  I had to stop watching.  By the time I saw the score again (at the end of the 3rd. quarter), the Saints were losing 24-3.  I fired up my laptop and went to ESPN.com to get live coverage of the game.  By the time I logged on, the score had changed to 24-10, and then 24-17.  Was it going to happen again? The Saints were coming back.

The Cowboys were pinned deep on their side of the field; it was 3rd. down and they needed 17 yards for a first down.  The magic was beginning to work.  The Cowboys would have to punt, and Drew Brees would march down the field, score a touchdown, and send the game into overtime.

But the unthinkable happened; the Cowboys not only got a first down, but marched the ball to midfield on one play.  It didn’t get any better, and the Boys soon had the ball knocking on the Saints end-zone–well within any decent NFL kicker’s range.  So with just about 2 minutes left, the Cowboys sent place-kicker, Nick Folk, out to kick a 24 yard field goal (almost the equivalent of a PAT) to lock the game up.  The magic did happen; Folk shanked his kick and it bounced off of the right upright.

By this time, my wife and children were waiting for me to get off of the computer so we could all head down to the swimming pool.  We were staying at the local Marriot because my daughters had their holiday hula ho’ike (hula recital) on Sunday night.  But because there was a final rehearsal, picture-taking, and preparation to happen Sunday morning and afternoon, my wife and I decided to stay at the hotel instead of commuting with all of the kids back and forth from all of the different activities.

So I asked them to wait.  Drew Brees was able to overcome two 4th. downs and drive the Saints into Dallas territory.  My wife and kids were getting agitated waiting for me, and I was getting agitated because the game was too close–again! But, was the mojo there?  Was it going to happen again? And then the inevitable…Brees got sacked by DeMarcus Ware and lost the ball….

I haven’t felt that kind of pain I felt at that moment for a long, long, long time.  I remember being so consumed by a loss in the past that my entire day would be ruined.  Pretty sad when you think about it.  As I got older–say when I was in my mid-twenties–I was able to put the losses on the side and go on with the rest of my day.  Aside from some special ones (like the Saints loss to the Jags in 2003), I’ve been very good at accepting and moving on.  After all, I have a wife and children that need my attention, and other responsibilities to focus my time and energy on.

I was a little nervous about this one.  I thought I was going to get derailed.  Those old feelings were bubbling up from the depths of my youth….

But I realized something.  Here I was, at a nice hotel with my wife and children, which never happens.  My children, who are all very young, were so excited about being there, and I was feeling like moping around.  What the heck was I thinking?

I am happy to say that I was able to go to the pool with the family without being an ornery grouch.  Once we got back upstairs, had dinner, and watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which my children really enjoyed, I kind of forgot about the loss.  I told myself to let it go and enjoy the time with my family.  That’s why I decided I didn’t want to see, hear, or think about sports for the rest of the weekend.

By the next morning, we were all clamoring about to get to the dress-rehearsal and picture-taking on time.  The game was the furthest thing in my mind.  By the time evening rolled around, all I could think about was getting some nice pictures of my daughters dancing on stage.  When my sons and I went into the ballroom to sit down, we met my in-laws who were already there.  When we joined them, I noticed a guy who was sitting a couple of rows in front of us.  He had a Dallas Cowboys hat on.  I rolled my eyes.  What’s the chances of that? I thought.

By then, the show was to begin.  My oldest daughter was invited to perform a special dance that evening, so I had to rush to the front to get some pictures.  I felt so proud when she came out on stage and performed.  I was caught up in the moment.  I waited near the side and rushed to the front to get pictures of my youngest daughter when she came out to dance.  And then again, when my oldest girl came out again.  After my daughters’ last dance, I went back to sit down in my seat.  I saw the Dallas Cowboy guy again.  I looked at the “Cowboys” embroidered on the back of his hat and smiled.  So the Saints lost…my family won….

So here I am, Monday evening at home with my kids.  There’s a nice crispness in the air tonight–a nice sense of calm.  The children aren’t fighting with each other and they’re quietly watching Phineas and Ferb while I type away.

I think I will watch the late news tonight…maybe even the sports.  I don’t think there is much that can derail me tonight.

Vimperator: Cool Firefox Add-on Saturday, Dec 19 2009 

I received my latest copy of Linux Journal late last week.  I usually open it up and start reading as soon as I get.  Unfortunately, I’ve been tied up with end of the semester responsibilities the last couple of weeks and hadn’t gotten around to it.  Anyway, I finally did today.  The featured cover story was about amateur radio–not really an interest of mine.  Whenever the features don’t appeal to me, I still make sure to read the regular contributors’ articles.  I have found some really interesting and useful information in many of them.

The one that caught my eye this month was Kyle Rankin’s “Dr. hjkl Meets the Vimperator.” I’m not a programmer and rarely use Vi or Vim because I am not accustomed to the interface. (When I need a text editor, I use Gedit.  I do see the value of Vi, and if I had a lot of editing to do, I would probably spend more time learning the keybindings.)  The only real experience I have with the Vi/Vim keybinding is through Mutt.  I had it installed on my Thinkpad in the past and used it for a short time to manage my email.  I actually liked Mutt a lot; however, I abandoned it because I didn’t want to give up the calendaring features in Thunderbird via the Lightning and GCal plug-ins.

Vimperator (and Muttator–a Vi-like plug-in for Thunderbird) may make me a convert.  For those of you who don’t know, Vimperator is a Firefox plug-in that allows you to control the browser using Vi/Vim keybinding.  You can open links, scroll up and down, open and close tabs, and do just about everything you can do with your mouse and the GUI without using your mouse.  Pretty cool, huh?

I already installed it on a Dell Mini from the Mozilla Add-on website, but actually found a version in the Karmic repos afterwards (it looks like the latest version too).   It was kind of serendipitous that I used the Mozilla website.  I found Muttator, which wasn’t mentioned in LJ, listed as a related plug-in on the Vimperator page.  I’ll try that one later; it is still Alpha software according to its website.

After restarting Firefox, I played around for a little while.  Luckily, I read Rankin’s article and knew to expect some changes in the Firefox interface.  One that could be problematic for those who don’t know Vi/Vim keybinding is that Vimperator automatically disables the menu bar.  One of the first things that Rankin explains how to do is to re-enable it; it is very easy to do.  Type :set guioptions+=mTVoila, the menu bar is back.

Also included in the article was a listing of some of the main/basic keybindings.  Very handy for a person like me who has little experience with Vi/Vim.  After about 10 minutes of use, I was getting the hang of it and liking the navigation.  It was very quick.

I could see myself using my browser like this.  I already use many of the built-in keyboard shortcuts in Firefox.  The advantage to Vimperator is that the keystrokes require less drastic movement of your hands and fewer combo strokes (well, sort of, there are some that require multiple strokes).  The Hinting mode is also too cool.  Press f and you see that Vimperator highlights all (well almost all) of the different links and other navigable areas (text entry boxes and the like) on the page and numbers them.  Find the corresponding number for the link or text box you want, type it and hit Enter.  And just like that, the link opens or the cursor moves to the input area.

I couldn’t find a Vimperator man page and haven’t found a comprehensive list of keybindings, but according to Rankin, there is a list on the Vimperator help page.  I’ll check that out later.

I’m going to play with Vimperator a little more and decide whether to put it on my other boxes.  The beauty of Firefox plug-ins are that they are easy to disable and uninstall.  I’ll let you know how goes.

Karmic on a HP Mini-110: Murphy’s Law at Work Thursday, Dec 17 2009 

So my former student who was interested in Ubuntu came to see me Tuesday morning.  In her hands was a small, pink neoprene sleeve.  “I’m ready.  Can you install Linux on this?” she said as she passed me what she was carrying.

I unzipped the sleeve and found a pink HP Mini-Note 110 inside.  It still had all the static-charged plastic coverings on it.  I quickly searched the hardware support site on Ubuntu.com to see if there were any known problems with the Mini-Note.  I was happy to find the following entry: “The Karmic version “just work” with almost everything supported without tweaking. Wired nic works nicely. Sound works nicely. The “windows” key however does not work anymore, and the built-in SD card reader has no available driver.”  I asked my student if she needed her SD card reader.  “What’s that?” she said…so we continued.

“This will take about an hour and half or so,” I said to her confidently.  After all, I have successfully installed all the different Ubuntu variants, Geubuntu, Elive, Puppy, Damn Small, SuSe SLED 10, OpenSuSe 10, Moblin, and gOs on various boxes without a hitch numerous times (well, DSL and Puppy did give me a little trouble).

“Why so long?” she responded.  I went on to explain that I had everything set to install Ubuntu; however, that I wanted her to try a live version first.  I also wanted to test for any problems and run an update before I sent her home.

All things considered, I expected the install to be fairly quick and easy.  I should’ve known better….

When the live session finished loading, everything looked okay.  I clicked on the Network Manager applet to test the wireless capabilities.  Although the hardware switch showed that the wireless radio was on, the system didn’t recognize it.  I immediately suspected a Broadcom driver issue–call it intuition.  Before I went any further, a system window opened.  It automatically recognized that there were propriety drivers available.  Of course, the only one listed was the Broadcom STA driver.  I happily enabled it and within a few seconds, was able to get on to the campus’ wireless network.  Great, I thought, smooth sailing from here.  I launched Firefox, and as soon as I did the system froze.

I shut everything down and started a new live session, enabled the Broadcom driver, and launched Firefox again.  And guess what?  The system froze.  “Why is it doing that?” my student asked with a hint of agitation in her voice.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll figure it out.”  After three more failed attempts, I began to get a little nervous.  I suspected that I could probably get further if I did an install instead of trying to troubleshoot the wireless card in a live session  But since it wasn’t my netbook, I didn’t wan to render it unusable for any prolonged amount of time, so I decided to do something I had never done before, a dual-boot install.  I figured if anything went wrong enabling the Broadcom driver, my student would still be able to use her computer until I figured out how to fix the problem.

So I began.  After going through the install wizard, I sent my student off to study for her exam.  I hit “Install,” and I went to a meeting.  When I got back to my office about 45 minutes later, I was happy to see that everything went seemingly okay.  I began the shutdown process.  I pulled my Unetbootin thumbdrive from the USB slot when I was instructed to and waited for the system to shut down.  When it restarted, Grub came up fine.  I decided to test XP, so I launched it first.  Everything looked as expected, so I logged off and rebooted again.  Grub came up fine, but this time I launched Karmic.

I was relieved to hear the familiar sounds of drums and the sight of the Karmic splash screen.  As soon as the desktop came up, I went to work on the Broadcom driver.  I waited a minute to see if the system would recognize the Broadcom card; it didn’t.  I ran the Hardware Driver utility and was disappointed to find no available proprietary drivers.  My student, who had returned to my office, looked concerned.  “Is everything okay?  Is it done?  Why is it taking so long?”  After some explanation, she calmed a little.  I pulled my wired connection from my Thinkpad and plugged it into the Ethernet port.  Immediately, the system recognized the connection and established an IP address.  I looked for the driver again.  This time, it was there.  I enabled it, pulled my wired connection, restarted the wireless radio (it was smart enough to shut down when it realized there was a hardwire connection), and connected to the campus wireless network.  I ran ifconfig from a terminal, and saw an IP address.  Relief.  I crossed my fingers and launched Firefox.  It opened fine.  Just to be sure, I navigated to a couple of webpages; I felt more relief when it did without issue.

“Almost there,” I said to my student.  I launched the Update Manager.  Since the image I was using was the Karmic RC (which was probably the culprit for the aforementioned problems) there were over 200 updates.  I ran them and restarted the system.  I crossed my fingers again and hoped that the wireless card would automatically connect…it did.

Before my student left my office, I installed the Compiz Config Manger and the simple version (CCSM), so I could configure Compiz.  After all, she wanted the cube.  After some quick instructions on how to use the managers, I set her virtual desktops and the cube.  She thanked me and promised to go home and test everything out.

When she left, she was smiling.  She told me she would let me know if there were any problems.  It’s been a couple of days and so far, I haven’t heard from her.  I guess things are going well.  I’m glad.  For a minute, I thought I was going to lose a convert.

It really wasn’t a bad install.  Only a few minor problems.  I just wished things went a little smoother for my student’s sake.  You should’ve seen her face when I opened a terminal session.  Just goes to show that you can never get too cocky.  I’m glad I was able to figure things out, but the experience was a nice reminder to always expect the unexpected.  Good old Murphy is always lurking around a corner…waiting to strike.

*For a how-to on this install, please go here.

The Children are the Future…for Linux Wednesday, Dec 16 2009 

Whenever I read articles or hear discussions about Linux’s ability to take over the desktop market, Whitney Houston’s song “The Greatest Love of All” comes to mind (actually, I think of Arsenio Hall’s–aka The Sexual Chocolates–rendition in the movie Coming to America).  “Why?” You may ask. Because the children are the future in so many ways, but especially for Linux.

I’m certain you’re all familiar with that old cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  Although this is not the case for every old dog (OD) (after all, I get my technology butt handed to me on a regular basis by some pretty old dogs), it is true for many who don’t have interests in technology.  ODs like this yearn for familiarity.  They don’t like change–not even from one version of MS Office to another.  “Why did they move that thingy from here to over there?”  “I don’t understand why they changed that.  Everything was working fine until now.”  “Why would I want to give up this big, shiny tower that takes up almost half of my desk for that tiny little laptop.  Bigger is better, right?”  All right,  you get the idea.  Enough geriatric bashing; I’m not getting any younger and will probably be just as stubborn and more cantankerous in my golden years.

Back to my point.  To truly understand where I’m going with this, I need to redefine what I mean when I say old dog.  An old dog isn’t someone who is merely old, in fact, many of them are fairly young; rather, they are people who are stuck in their ways–the ones who will sacrifice faster, more efficient,  and secure technology for what is familiar because it simply works for their needs.  After all, no one wants to relearn how to do the everyday typical task. I know, I know.  I said in a former post that intuitiveness and qualitative measures of what is good or better is intrinsically linked to familiarity, and what is most intuitive, a lot of the time, is the one that is most familiar.  This is true; however, the true measure of intuitiveness is the ability to make changes while staying familiar.  How users adapt to the changes is a good measure–the quicker they adapt, the more intuitive the technology is.

Again, I digress.  Back to old dogs.  The problem with old dogs is that you can’t force them to change.  You have to let them think that they are dictating change.  That’s why it’s better to roll out changes slowly, so that the learning curve is flatter.  The less painful it is, the more welcoming ODs become.  But yanking the entire OS from under their feet is not a good idea.  Too much change.  Too steep a learning curve.  But why bother?  Why force ODs to change?  If Deepak Chopra’s Fourth Spiritual Law, “the Law of Least Effort,” is accurate, it makes little sense to force ODs to do so.  Too much effort.  Besides, it goes against nature’s flow.  Introduce new technology to them, show them how it works, and then, let them decide if they want to take the leap.

But the kids!  Ah yes, the kids.  They are the answer.  Today’s children have grown up with technology all around them.  Nintendos, X-Boxes, Playstations, iPods, iPhones, and so on and so forth.  At their age, they aren’t frightened of change.  They are just beginning life’s journey and are eager to learn new things.  These two factors combine to create the perfect storm for learning new technology. Today, children figure out new technology quickly without much trial and tribulation.  I’ll give you a personal example.  It took me three boot cycles to teach my 5-year-old son how to load Puppy Linux from the Grub menu, launch Firefox, find the bookmark for his favorite Spongebob game, launch the game, and how to shut everything down when he was done.  Three boot cycles…that’s it.  I know some adults who can’t even check their voicemail on their cell phones, or how to program the favorites button on their TV remotes after numerous attempts.

If the Linux community wants to see their market share increase, they need to go after the children.  I know that sounds insidious, but believe me, exposure to Linux is safer and more beneficial than McDonald’s, Barbie, and GI Joe.  Steve Jobs and his marketing team figured this out a while ago.  They don’t necessarily target young children; however, they have used a concentrated marketing strategy, and have gone after young adults and teenagers with great success.  Look around.  How many young people do you see carrying iThings?  iPods?  iTouches? and iPhones?  And now, rumor says that Apple will be releasing their first iTablet next spring.  (Sounds suspiciously like a bigger iTouch to me.)  I’m guessing it will be very intuitive and will be all the rage if the price is right.  Why has Apple become so ubiquitous?  Because they figured out which market required the least effort on their part.

Canonical has at least made an effort to reach the children with their Edubuntu spin.  It’s a good idea, and a nice starting point; however, it needs much more development.  Development in two ways.  One that creates apps that are more exciting, appealing, and educational for children.  And the other that creates apps for educators–e.g. gradebooks (like GradeL) and class management software.  A concentrated effort like this will help get Edubuntu in more classrooms, and hence, more exposure.

There are other distros and interface tweaks that seem to be targeting a younger and more mobile crowd.  Android, seems to be making some headway.  And although I’m skeptical of Google’s motives, I think their influence and marketing savvy will bring Android to more and more devices.  If the multi-touch tablet takes off, I’m sure the heavyweight distros will begin developing for this platform.

I once read a comment on some blog that stated that Linux needn’t worry about Windows, but instead, should set their sights on Apple.  I didn’t think too much about the statement at the time; however, in retrospect, that person was right.  Why worry about Windows?  Linux has overtaken Windows in so many ways, that the point of which is better between the two is moot.  But Apple on the other hand, is leading a revolution.  They have flooded the market with sophisticated and innovative peripheral devices that aren’t in direct competition with the desktop computer.  Slowly but surely, many of these device holders are more and more interested in Mac computing.  The iTablet will be another stepping stone to the promise land.

Do I think Apple is on the brink of world domination?  No, I don’t.  But I have to say, they are surely working towards it.  What does Linux have to do?  Focus on the children.  The more young people who are raised on Linux and Linux devices the better it will be in the long run.  Build it fast, beautiful, and easy to use…and they will come.

I believe the children are our future.  Teach them well and let them lead the way…

My Favorite FOSS Apps Monday, Dec 14 2009 

I don’t want to start any flame wars here, but I thought I’d share my list of favorite open source apps.

For web browsing, I choose Mozilla Firefox hands down for the bulk of my browsing.  I have Dillo installed on an older machine of mine and use it from time to time when I’m doing research and don’t need all the superfluous stuff.  I have also tried Opera and find it to be a beautiful and full featured browser.  I especially like the visual tabs feature.  Very, very pretty.  I stick with Firefox because it’s something that I’m used to.  After all, I have been using Firefox since my Windows days.  It can be a bit of a system hog, but the overall computing experience doesn’t seem to suffer too much.

For email clients, I use Thunderbird.  I like T-Bird because it’s good at what it does–collects and organizes my email.  I also like that I can use the GCal and Lightning plugins to organize and synchronize my calendars.  When I first made the switch to Ubuntu, I tried Evolution and liked it a lot.  However, I had issues with it because it was a Novell product–more on that some other day.

When it comes to office productivity, I use Open Office 3.1.  It’s full featured and powerful.  I like that Impress allows for some pretty cool transitions using the OpenGL 3-D packages.  Beats the boring predictable PowerPoint stuff.  As for the word processor and spreadsheet, they are both very capable.  There are a couple issues I do have with OpenOffice though.  First, for some reason, you cannot open, edit, and save directly to a WebDaved server.  From what I gather from my research, the file locking mechanism (actually it is the naming convention) is the culprit, and causes an “Input/Output Error.”  So far, I haven’t figured out a work around, and am forced to pull documents on to my local drive to edit them.  I then have to push them back up on to the server separately.  It’s a little clunky, but it works.  The other issue is that you can’t print any marginal comments you make when you review a document.  It will print the comments at the end of the document and embed footnotes that allow for cross referencing; however, it isn’t very slick.  I’d rather they figure a method of scaling the page so that the notes print in the margin where they belong.

To maintain my webpages, I use Kompozer.  It is a WYSIWYG page editor and is very easy to use.  I don’t know html code very well, so I like that I can create the bulk of my pages in Kompozer using the WSIWYG interface and then can go back to tweak the code if need be.  The new version that works with Karmic is still in beta-testing, so there are some bugs from time to time; however, it is very usable.

For multimedia needs, I use a slew of different apps.  I use VLC, Movie Player, and Rhythmbox to play music and movies.  I also use Streamtuner and Dorame (an Adobe AIR app)  to play interent radio.  To make backups of my videos, I use Handbrake.  If I need to create ISO files, I use Brasero.  I use F-Spot to manage my photos, and the Gimp to edit photos and gifs.

That’s my short list of favorite apps.  Let me know what you think.

Why I Use Ubuntu Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

A former student of mine noticed that my laptop looked different.  Well, maybe not the laptop itself, but the user interface.  She immediately inquired how I “did that” while she pointed at the screen of my Thinkpad.  “Did what?” I replied.  After some back and forth and a seemingly adequate explanation, she asked me, “So why do you use that (Ubuntu)?”  I had to think a while before I could answer.  I had been using Ubuntu exclusively for almost two years at that point and really hadn’t thought about that for a long time.  “Because it’s better,” I replied.  She nodded her head and said okay.  She turned to walk away, but stopped.  “If I want to do that, can you help me?” she asked.  I said okay.  She thanked me and walked away.

I started to think about my totally inadequate answer to her question, “Because it’s better.”  Had she given me an answer like that in class, I would have asked, “How is it better?”  So after a few minutes of thinking, I came up with the following reasons why I use Ubuntu.

First and foremost, Ubuntu (and Linux in general) is customizable.  Not customizable like in Windows terms: changing colors, themes, wallpapers, and screen savers (although you can do all of this in Ubuntu too), but in terms of interface, applications, and working environments.  I like the fact that I can find apps to do my regular work and special projects.  If I need a WSIWYG editor to work on a webpage, I can easily find and install one.  I don’t need to go shopping, and more importantly, I don’t need to shell out cash.

I also like virtual desktops.  I have become accustomed to having certain apps running on certain desktops.  I know where everything is and can easily navigate my workspaces.

I also like the fact that I can choose between eye candy and efficiency.  I use Gnome predominantly and use the Compiz Fusion special effects, so I can dazzle people with spinning cubes and 3-D effects.  I have enabled the 3-D effects in Open Office Impress, and believe me, people are impressed.  One student thought I was running Apple software on my Thinkpad.  I have used KDE a little but am not used to the interface.  KDE 4 is beautiful though, and one day when I have time, I’ll play with it a little more.

The second reason, the command line.  Yes, that’s right, I said it.  The command line is very useful.  I grew up with GUIs my entire computing life, so the idea of using the command line was something I would have never thought to be advantageous.  But in actuality, it really is.  Get to know some basic commands, and you can do a lot without leaving your keyboard.  I have even fell in love with keyboard shortcuts in all my favorite apps too.  Speed and efficiency is something beautiful when you need it.

The third reason, I believe in the philosophy of Linux and FOSS in general.  It’s open source and free for anyone to use.  You don’t have to have a lot of money to buy software and upgrades to ensure currency.

And the last reason, because it is simply better.  I remember the first time I decided to give Linux a try.  I was a little apprehensive and didn’t know what to expect.  So when I installed Ubuntu on my first machine, I expected the worst.  But what I found was that installing and running Linux was easy and painless.  I even tried a couple of other distros (OpenSuse, SuseSLED, and Puppy) just to compare.  My confidence quickly grew and in a months time, I had cut all of my machines over to Ubuntu.  (Well, I kept one running Windows, just in case I had compatibility issues for about 6 months.  It has run Ubuntu exclusively since.)

The experience hasn’t been perfect, and I have had my share of troubleshooting and tweaking.  But quite frankly, nothing that has shaken my faith in Linux.  I’m sold and will never go back to Windows (or Apple).  Not because of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but because I like what I have.  I’m familiar with it and don’t see a good reason to use anything else.

The other day I had to help my wife with her work laptop.  It was really weird working in a Windows environment.  It felt very foreign, and I had to think really hard to find the right menus.  It felt clunky and slow.  I guess intuitiveness is somewhat based on familiarity.  If I can’t find a menu where I expect it to be, then it isn’t very intuitive.

So why do I use Ubuntu, because it’s better, and that’s that!

Whew! Another Squeaker… Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

Whew, another close one…

The Saints aren’t going to make this easy, huh?  Maybe I shouldn’t have announced my desires for a blowout over the Falcons the other day.  I’d like to think my thoughts aren’t that powerful, but who knows.

I don’t mean to complain, nor am I blaming the team for lack of effort.  I’m sure they care about winning even more than I.  They also can’t help that their secondary is beat up and can’t play.  I know they want it, and I know they will try their hardest to get it.  However, they really have to shore up their primary defense and cut down on the penalties.

Let’s get to my first point.  Although it is easy to say the secondary is the weakness in the defense right now (because it probably is), I’d like to suggest that the problem is deeper than that.  I think defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, knows it too; why else would he run a double corner blitz with a banged up secondary?

It’s because the problem is also pressure from the primary defense.  Or, more specifically, the lack thereof.  The Saints D-line and ends, although solid, aren’t getting enough pressure on their opponents’ quarterbacks.  Jason Campbell and Chris Redman are decent QBs, otherwise, they wouldn’t be playing in the NFL, but they aren’t as good as they looked the last two weeks.  (No offense to Campbell and Redman, both are young and will get better with experience.)  If the defense could get more pressure up the middle and/or on the ends, they would take a lot of pressure off of the corners and safeties. Given time, any decent pro quarterback can be successful.  Compound that with a weakened secondary, and you have the makings of a career night.

The Saints also have to get tougher on the run.  Michael Turner made the D look silly the last time the Falcons played them.  (Thank goodness he wasn’t available this week.)  Jason Snelling was threatening to do it again this week.  He made running up the middle look easy for a while.  Granted, the Saints don’t have Scott Fujita in the lineup and the secondary issues have put more pressure on Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle to make plays.  Regardless, someone will need to step up and start plugging the running lanes.

And for my second point, penalties.  I’d be interested in how many personal fouls the Saints have been hit with in the last four games.  Charles Grant got called for one right at the end of the half.  Fifteen free yards that allowed the Falcons to get into field goal range without running a play.  Whether Grant is feeling the pressure to come up with more pressure, I don’t know.  Regardless, giving up fifteen yards with less than two minutes to go in the half is generally not a good thing…especially when the defense isn’t able to stop their opponents from moving the ball.  (I was happy to see Sean Peyton reminding Grant of this point.)

Saints fans are lucky that the current offense can put up points quickly.  These last few games remind me of the old WAC (Western Athletic Conference): a lot of passing and scoring without a lot of defense.  I hope Drew Brees and the boys can keep it up.  The O-line has been pretty good at protecting Brees in the pocket, and Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, and today, Reggie Bush have helped to take some of the pressure off of Brees and the receiving corps from doing all of the work.

Mike McKenizie and Malcolm Jenkins looked good against the Patriots, so the secondary has the potential to be good.  If the D-line and OLBs can generate more pressure, the Saints D will be fine.  Hopefully, they can do it.  I don’t know how many more close games I can take.

My wife is a Cowboys fan, so I have a lot riding on next week’s game….  Go Saints!

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