No Fences Thursday, Apr 22 2010 

I don’t believe in
fences or fiends.
I don’t own a
iPad or iPod.
I don’t
tweet or text.
I don’t use
Microsoft or MacOs.
***
I believe in
freedom and friends.
I own a
computer and Creative-Micro-Zen.
I
call and converse.
I use
Lucid Lynx.
I do because it’s
better.

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…

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!

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!