Category Archives: Ubuntu Forums

Forcing dpkg through configuration errors

I have been struggling with disk errors for the past few days in Ubuntu, on the 560e that I brought home exactly a week ago. This is unusual for me, unusual for the drive and (generally speaking, in my experience) unusual for Ubuntu … but opinions will vary on that last point, of course.

These were particularly disappointing though, because they damaged some of dpkg’s configuration files. Attempting to install anything spat out an error like this one. …

E: Internal Error, Could not perform immediate configuration (1) on libattr1

Google told me the package could be different between cases, but the source of the error was usually the same — some part of dpkg’s support files had been damaged. In my case it was probably /var/lib/dpkg/status or one of its brethren. Replacing it with status-old was one option, but that didn’t seem to fix anything.

What did work was forcing the obstinate packages to install in spite of dependency issues, and then recovering the faulted packages with apt-get. In other words:

dpkg -i --force-depends libattr1_1%3a2.4.43-3_i386.deb
apt-get -f -y install

A bit brutish, but it got the job done. Eventually I was able to install enough packages and cover enough dependencies to continue installing … whatever it was I was installing. I had forgotten by this point. ;)

I’m hypothesizing here, but I suspect that the errors come about in part because of the hardware arrangement of the 560e. No OS I have put on it yet has been able to shut it down completely. The power button is a sliding switch that presses against a spring, which either activates or kills the machine. My only guess is that for some reason, when the shutdown message appears, the drive still hasn’t properly synced, which is triggering errors. Of course I’m not an expert, so it’s only a guess.

One other small point of editorializing — aptitude has fallen in my favor, in the year or so since I drifted away from it. I used to be rather enamored with the Debian-slash-Ubuntu packaging system and how well it handles the tens of thousands of dependencies and interrelationships so well. But coming back to it after a year or so and having spent most of that time with tools like pacman and yaourt, ports and prt-get, or even tazpkg, aptitude is a sluggish toad. I will curb my sharpest criticism and just say it’s not nearly as wieldy and fast as the others I mentioned, and venerable as it is, it needs a tune-up.

And that’s enough for now. :|

P.S.: Ordinarily you should put sudo in front of those commands. Unless you’re like me, and you assign a root password and su to do system maintenance. Ooh, I’m going to get in trouble for that one. … :mrgreen:

Buying a name

I dropped a hint the other day, when I mentioned that “none of my Pentium machines” would boot from a 120Gb hard drive. I wasn’t just speaking metaphorically; I did actually pick up another Pentium machine at the recycling store: This time, a Thinkpad 560e, again for the price of roughly US$10.

I know, I need another Pentium laptop like I need a hole in my head. But I promised myself a long time ago, if I ever saw another workable Thinkpad for cheap, that I would make a point of buying it. Based on my experiences over the past few years with Thinkpads, I could only expect a positive experience by buying the name.

Buying the name is what I did, and a positive experience is what I’ve gotten so far. This is an Intel 430MX-based system with a 166Mhz Pentium MMX in it. Video is a Trident 9660-series VGA card and audio is an old ES1688 ISA sound card. PCMCIA bridge is a Cirrus Logic 6729, which is important, since beyond that, there’s almost nothing to report. No ethernet. No USB. No CDROM.

It does have an AC adapter, which is critical, and a battery, which has a life of around three minutes. It also has a floppy drive which connects via proprietary cable, but I’m a little worried that it might not be working at 100 percent. I put a couple of floppies in it that I thought had something on them, and got nothing.

But best of all, it has a massive, enormous, gargantuan, more-space-than-I-will-ever-need 64Mb stick of PC66 in it. Okay, I admit it, that was why I bought it. Quite obviously I was searching for a 64Mb stick of memory, and got one with a free computer wrapped around it. I am not ashamed.

Beyond that, everything is else is functional, and that’s a bonus. I swapped out the noisy 2Gb drive for a spare 40Gb one, and used the 600m to install a couple of different things, including command-line Ubuntu systems (which is what you see in the picture), Slitaz CLI and X-based systems, and a couple of Crux installations which proved unbootable. (It takes me a little while to get things working just right.)

Unfortunately the drive has to be swapped out each time, and that’s about the only thing I don’t like about this machine: The hard drive is cased under the left palmrest, and you have to take out no less than 14 screws from the underside before you can get to it. Apparently, the Thinkpad reputation for being technician-friendly took hold after this model was designed.

But my 40Gb drive works fine and boots plenty quick. This is not a night-and-day difference from the 100 and 120Mhz machines I’ve used in recent history, but it does feel a little more “perky.” Ubuntu booted fast at 1.4Ghz, and is relatively fast at a tenth of that speed. Start time from the Grub menu to the login prompt is around 40 seconds, which is a considerable improvement over the old days of three-minute boots with Dapper Drake.

Slitaz is likewise speedy, but hasn’t proven to be the golden child on this particular machine as it was with the Fujitsu Pentium. For whatever reason, I couldn’t find some of the framebuffer support in the Slitaz kernel (or its supporting packages), so the magical 800×600 display that I saw with the Fujitsu is not happening here.

And occasionally, because I don’t have as much experience with Slitaz as I do with Ubuntu or Crux, I find it a little obscure or difficult to pin down. For example, I needed the usermod command (I’ve forgotten why), but apparently it’s in an outside package, maybe a coreutils derivative.

Ubuntu is not without its eccentricities, when it comes to this particular model. I assume the tridentfb module is for Trident video cards, but that one just spews forth scrambled screen garbage. uvesafb says it won’t bother itself with pre-VESA 2.0 hardware, and both vesafb and vga16fb can only force a 640×480 area. So once again, I’m trapped in a porthole effect screen.

But that’s not a terrible thing. I use the Fixed font at 13 points (as configured in /etc/defaults/console-setup and triggered by setupcon) and I have enough space to do some work at least. All the same software I like (with the exceptions of the stuff I have added personally to my Crux systems) is available in the Karmic repos, so I’m not lacking for my fave-rave programs.

On the other hand, the Linksys WPC11 wireless card — which is only the most valuable network connection I have, because it’s so flexible and easy to configure — spits out bizarre errors and drops signals if I don’t install wireless-tools (which I can sometimes run without. That’s how great that card is — I don’t even need wireless-tools to connect to an open network. Run out there and buy yourself one or two because they’re great ;) ).

I haven’t tried a graphical system in Ubuntu and I probably won’t. I did it in Slitaz and got it working nicely with both Awesome and dvm, but ran into issues with fonts — namely, it was taking so much processor heft to draw the text on screen that it could do very little else.

And while the audio worked fine in Slitaz (or as fine as could be expected for a 166Mhz machine churning through ogg files encoded at an upper level of quality), Ubuntu is still spitting weird errors at me about ALSA. This may require research.

Ultimately my goal with this machine is to bring it into line with the old X-driven terminal-based system I used on my Fujitsu during late summer last year. Physically this 560e is not in nearly as good a condition as the Fujitsu, and so I plan on taking it to work to use as a note-taking and scheduling machine, but not much else beyond that. It’s very lightweight and sufficiently portable to warrant traveling with, even if it lacks the connections to make it usable alongside the office computers.

But there’s one small thing about this computer that makes it a keeper, even if “keeper” isn’t practical over the long run. There’s something this computer doesn’t have that makes it special. Look closer … closer … closer. … What’s missing?

Aha! No Windows key! Excellent! A machine that is physically free from Microsoft’s stain. Now you’re jealous, aren’t you? :mrgreen:

A perceived sense of inferiority

I have to break stride here for a little bit — considering that my last two posts were about console applications, I don’t want this blog to turn into some kind of “console app-a-day” site.

Not that that would be a bad thing, it’s just a little gimmicky for me, there are lots of sites like that out there already, and I don’t have the resources (read: time) to pursue that sort of project. And really, this is where I stash my notes and thoughts about Linux, not introduce software or distributions. Usually.

What has my brain turning today is a simple thread in the Ubuntu Forums that sparks the age-old discussion about the usefulness of the CLI over GUIs. Without getting too far into that debate, I can tell you that when I was a moderator and a forum regular, I would usually resort to helping troubleshoot with console commands over GUI instructions. The logic should be fairly obvious — I was unfamiliar with most non-Gnome desktops, my own desktop was rather esoteric, and I couldn’t predict what the other person was using.

So like most other moderators at the time (and probably still now; they can confirm that if they like), I usually offered solutions at the command line, over point-and-click. End of story.

Or is it? The quote that grabbed me out of the aforementioned thread, was this one.

It also ascertains a distinction among “classes” of ubuntu (or linux) users – if you know the shell, you’re in. If you are afraid of the shell (like meself, not because I now feel more comfortable with a graphic environment, but because I feel less comfortable with typing in commands i dont know what they mean) – well, dunno, you’re afraid of the shell.

I know, and I have experienced, a sort of “inferiority” that occasionally swirls around Linux in general. I have been told to RTFM, and also been told that if I didn’t understand something, I shouldn’t be pursuing it. It’s unfortunate. I make no apologies, but I accept that snotty tone as the nature of the beast. After all, this entire movement started out (as a loose explanation) as a challenge, burgeoned into a hobby, became the domain of the geek, and is only now becoming mainstream and accessible to the ordinary, non-technophiliac John Q. Public. Maybe soon that snotty tone will be gone altogether.

But if there is an upper “class” of Linux users that is somehow determined by whether or not a person uses the terminal … well, I have my doubts. Speaking for myself only, I could care less if you spend your entire life at the GUI, if you play halfsies with a terminal emulator on a graphical desktop, or if you drilled holes in your skull so you could wire your brain to your CPU. I make no distinctions as to whether you’re hip or square, cool or a tool just because you type in your commands, instead of moving around a mouse.

So if you’re getting some sort of sense of inferiority by reading this site, a feeling that you’re somehow a lesser being than me because I prefer the text-based interface that is easily 40 or 50 years out of date … that’s something on your end. PEBKAC.

Moving back to the larger scale, I have to wonder how many people who mention this same sense of inferiority — because the OP’s assertions are reinforced later, so there must be more — are also guilty of this, when the person offering the advice is doing little more than taking the quick, efficient route to a solution. I’m guessing for Ubuntu in particular, that feeling is inferred, not implied.

(And as a side note, I can attest that occasionally, when I mention Linux to some Windows users, there is a similar bristling effect, which suggests to me that perhaps that same sense of inferiority is perceived on their part.)

So where’s it come from? I don’t know. But the OP’s post — to me, at least — suggests a hesitance to learn, and from that, my own belief is that the sense of inferiority stems somehow from that. (Everything goes back to transactional analysis, but that’s just my own philosophy. :roll: )

The moral of the story, if you ask me, is ask what the command does. Make an effort to learn. You’ll be sidestepping the sense of inferiority that seems to come about from ignorance or fear, and at the same time will somehow permit you to “enter” that “upper echelon” of Linux users that otherwise seems to exist. And once you’ve done that, you’ll realize that there was no class system, just one big happy family. :roll:

Windows 7, start to finish

The Windows 7 fooferah is in full swing, both here and elsewhere, and I for one have little or no contact with it. That’s partly because I have little or no interest in it, and one follows the other, so to speak.

Since I am not a Windows user and probably never will be, I won’t bother denigrating the latest Microsoft effort to stay in business. Although after a while, it becomes obvious to anyone — Linux users or Windows users — that people have to keep buying Windows, or Microsoft would go bankrupt. And from that, it becomes equally obvious why there is so much fooferah, and why Windows’ reputation for performance suffers so many critics. Myself included. :|

To put the lid on the fooferah, I’ll just post the photo that’s been reposted so many times elsewhere. …

Sent to me by one of my detractors, who prefers the expensive corporate swirl of electronic gobbledygook in order to use a computer, as opposed to the free and easily understandable gobbledygook that I use. Questions that might arise from looking at that picture — What does that mean? Are they for real? Who in the world would buy that? — would be better directed toward Microsoft, with regard to their product: What do you mean? Are you for real? Who in the world would buy that?

Next stop, a brief interlude to mention the BBC and a blog post by Rory Clellan-Jones, regarding Ubuntu and its viability when compared to Windows 7 and Mac OS 10.x.x (I can’t keep up with the versions there). I don’t know RCJ from Adam, and to be honest, it’s neither here nor there to me what the BBC has to say about Linux.

If there was ever a shill for Microsoft, it is the tech news department of the BBC. I respect them as an international news-gathering organization and I would crawl through a pit of red-hot razor wire and broken glass to get news from them over anything pumped out of America these days … but let’s face it: Their IT reviewers and tech pundits don’t impress me as much more than press release rewriters, latched firmly to their fax machines awaiting the next truckload of nonsense from Redmond. Or Apple. Or Twitter. Or Twittering about Apple. :roll:

So whether or not Rory Clellan-Jones knows a mouse from a hole in the ground is moot point to me; I stopped listening to their IT news not long after I started using Linux … because changing your perspective in that way makes them look foolish. On the other hand, aysiu has a much more effective rebuttal to RCJ’s review. :twisted:

Lastly, before anyone replies in any way to the pro or to the con about Microsoft’s latest release, it might be worthwhile to note that a good test of any product is to see what the people who sell the product use. Who cuts the barber’s hair, so to speak.

And in this case, the issue is up for debate. Ask Netcraft.com what bing.com uses as an OS and it will tell you Linux, but as is discussed, that’s more than likely a rerouting through another server system that is being reported, and not actually the inner sanctum of the Microsoft cathedral itself.

Personally I still find that ironic. Either side of the software freedom debate can rationalize that fact as they like, but to me, it speaks volumes that the world’s most powerful company and entrenched software producer relies on something other than their own product to relay information to their own service. Full stop.

So there it is. For me, for all practical purposes, Windows 7 is come and gone. Like it, hate it — decide for yourself. My own opinion was formed when the aforementioned BBC fawned over it with this quote, from only a few days ago.

It needs less computing power so older PCs run it quite happily. “Our PCs have gained another two years lifetime,” says Chris Page, who deployed Windows 7 on nearly 700 computers in schools run by Warwickshire County Council. Just one five-year-old laptop refused to run the new operating system, he reports.

Wow, a 5-year-old laptop can’t run Windows 7? Well, I guess that closes the door on me.

Until tomorrow. …

Everything in threes

Ubuntu LinuxUp front, of course, a quick apology for the lack of communication over the last few days. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were holidays here, and I took a small but well-earned vacation.

So for that same reason I have little tell on the Linux front. Most of my time was spent sightseeing and very little time — in fact, no time at all — was spent in front of a computer. Very pleasant, in one way.

I can tell you though that the Sotec desktop I took in a few months ago has found a new home. The new owner is a young married couple starting out on The Road of Life, and looking for something to check e-mails and polish resumes while they get accustomed to a new home. No doubt in the future it will be replaced by a newer, flashier machine, but for now it should find some use.

I split the installation on that machine before I sent it out the door. If you recall, it relied on Windows 98 as a “legal” operating system, but I did little other than set up the screen resolution and get the network card going.

The other half is pure Ubuntu 9.04, which would be impossible to use on a 600Mhz machine except that I installed the LXDE desktop and triggered it on bootup. It at least links the person behind the keyboard to the applications available, without bogging down the system in the process. Is that so little to ask?

If Lubuntu had matured only a little more, I would have definitely used that instead.

In other, similar news, I made a deal with the coworker who owned the Pavilion, and agreed to swap if for the 600m. The Inspiron is lighter and needs less space, even if it’s nowhere near as fast, has less screen real estate and weaker speakers. The new owner says portability was something the Pavilion lacked, which I would definitely agree with now that it’s back and on my desk … weighing it down considerably.

The bad news in this development is that the Pavilion’s screen hinges have cracked, making the panel flop around like a dying fish. I already popped the bezel open and the plastic braces for the hinge are completely snapped. If I planned on keeping it I would probably buy new hinges and replace them; as it is, I doubt it will be around long enough to make a difference.

The good news — great news, really — is that the 600m’s new owner asked for an Ubuntu-only machine: no dual boot. That came about from knowing that the machine had some flaky behavior when the latest updates to XP were applied, but also because the new owner just wasn’t using Windows … with the only exception being the need to connect to a music player by way of special software (I don’t know what kind of player it is). And a new music player is supposedly on the agenda.

Personally I think that’s great. It’s one more nail in the coffin for Microsoft, and one more example for the Windows muckrakers who still insist, years after Ubuntu stormed the OS landscape, that casual desktop users can’t find a home with Linux. That argument is so tired, it doesn’t even bear refuting.

Otherwise, that’s the situation on the home front. I have the Pavilion on my desk again, the 600m is out of the house and so is the Sotec desktop. And apart from the ever-growing piles of technophiliac crud everywhere, there’s not much else to report. Stay tuned though. :D

20 percent is a nice surprise

I wouldn’t have thought running X-less would be quite so popular, but if you watch a poll on the Ubuntu forums, it seems around 20 percent of people replying lump themselves into the “I use Linux without X” category.

That number is likely to fluctuate, of course. And it may not be a fair indicator, since Ubuntu users tend to be more desktop users than “Linux geeks” … although the population in the cafe sometimes leans heavily in the Arch Linux direction. And that crowd can be considerably more “geeky” than others.

But still, 20 percent is a nice surprise. I was expecting something in the range of 5 to 10 percent, but it’s an encouraging result. Perhaps if more people give life without X a try, the number will spike a little bit. … :D

If this is the revolution, I’m out

Ubuntu LinuxI don’t know if I should call this a trend or just an occurrence, but for some reason I find it distressing that some people are forcing others to use Linux, as a means of converting them. And on top of that, are suggesting other Linux fans do the same.

Here’s one example; I can think of others but they date back a while into the past and it’s harder to find them. One from a month or two ago mentioned a similar effort: Surreptitiously replacing XP with Ubuntu styled to look the same, in an effort to force people out of Windows. (I can remember one from a year or so ago where someone actually hijacked an entire series of computers in a public library, installing Ubuntu over top and eradicating whatever system was originally in place. What a nightmare.)

Now I’ll admit, I occasionally chase an IceWM theme that looks remarkably like the Windows Classic theme out of XP. And there are some quick and painless ways to make Ubuntu look identical to XP. That’s different. That’s changing the look to suit the user.

And I give away dual-boot machines quite often. I have in the past given away machines with only Linux installed, knowing full well that the recipient will erase the drive within minutes of getting it home, and put whatever pirated version of Windows on it. But I don’t consider it prosletysing, I consider it demonstrating that the machine is fully functional.

Tricking the user into using Linux (in some cases after they expressly turned it down). … What can I say? I know with absolute certainty that of course it happens, and it may well even work successfully, for all I know.

But how do you preach freedom and sharing to someone whose first experience with Linux was a complete opposite of that? How can you enjoy a sense of community with someone who was forced to join it? Where’s the logic in saying, “It’s free, it’s open, it’s faster, it’s more secure. … Now use it, because I said so.”

I suppose it’s none of my business. But if the tide of public opinion is turned, and Ubuntu users are shifting from passive to aggressive, then I would like to step out of the revolution now. I don’t agree with any effort to force someone into our community; those aren’t the terms I came to learn when I started using Ubuntu and Linux. Nobody tricked me into getting here, and I wouldn’t trick someone else into it either.

Respect, community, sharing, freedom — including the freedom to say, “No.”