Category Archives: Ubuntu

It works, but it’s not what I use

I have spent a little time with Ubuntu 10.10 over the past few days. I never bother “reviewing” Ubuntu any more, mostly because it’s veered far wide of what I want from a distro.

Nonetheless it’s interesting to see the directions it has taken. I’ve been through the installer a couple of times now and made a point of avoiding certain default options (like ext4), but otherwise all looks the same.

And I’ve poked around the default desktop a bit, making a point of immediately — no, not just immediately but immediately ditching that desktop theme. (Shudder. 😯 )

There will always be little things that irritate, like sand in your mouth. I always thought Add-Remove Programs was superior to the Ubuntu Software Center, if only because you could add more than one thing at a time.

And the long list of social doodads integrated into the desktop only suggests to me that this isn’t so much an operating system as an interface to Facebookendsterwitterspace, which are things I avoid like the plague.

On the other hand, whatever memory issue was tormenting Lucid seems to be curtailed in Maverick: My system no longer requires 300Mb just to get started. It’s coasting along at a comfortable 150Mb, plus or minus.

Overall, I can only describe my reaction as … nonplussed. I feel a little guilty because I can’t rouse any more enthusiasm than that, when even as recently as three years ago, I was more than just a little bit of a fan.

If it works for you and you like it, then by all means please enjoy. I count myself as a supporter of the Ubuntu machine in general, even if the flagship isn’t to my liking.

But like I said, Ubuntu’s directions and my own diverted long ago. I make no demands of it, but make no apologies for it. It works for me, but it’s not what I use … and that’s about it.

Fortunately it does give you enough playing pieces to come up with something much more useful. And I suppose, like I said a long time ago, the beauty of it is in its potential to do something — anything — vastly different. Have fun experimenting. 😈


Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop i386 USB image

Good old Ubuntu. Five years on, and still not offering an image that can be written to a USB stick and booted from.

I really thought this time the Ubuntu overlords would have seen that tiny crack in the armor, and done something about it. But looking over the download page, it seems like it’s still something nobody has mentioned.

I guess it’s still a new idea — I mean, 2.7 is the first time Crux has offered it. Arch Linux just got a nifty hybrid version in its last release. Clonezilla will load the whole system into memory from a USB stick, although a little acrobatics might be involved. But the concept has been around for a while.

And yeah, I know, the netbook version supposedly will boot from USB. Netbook users have all the fun, don’t they?

Ah well. I suppose Ubuntu’s oversight is my charity work. Here is a bootable 1Gb image that should work almost exactly like the installation disc, if everything goes right.

Note that this is i386 only. I know I mentioned about a week ago that I’d try to push through a version for AMD64 and I still might. We’ll see how that goes; I want a little time to experiment. And I can’t test it, so we might have to do some sort of “beta” release.

In case you miss the boat on how to use it, basically download the file and use dd to write it to the disk of choice. For example,

dd if=ubuntu-10.10-desktop-i386.img of=/dev/sdXY

Where X and Y are the drive assignment labels you can find with fdisk -l. Cross your fingers, cycle the power, and if the gods are willing and the stars are aligned, it should boot to the installation greeting.

In the mean time, I will be filing a bug report. Or tracking down the half-dozen or so that have probably already suggested it, and adding my +1 to them. Delays, delays. …

A console goodie grab bag

I have a few applications that I have tinkered with, but didn’t make a big enough impression to warrant a full post. Just in the interest of safekeeping the notes I made about them, I’m going to leave a list here, for the future.


I found ecasound a long time ago, when I was troubleshooting sound on one Pentium or another. I had hoped that it would help give me some insight in how to set up the ISA sound card, but it wasn’t until much later that I found the answer to that.

Regardless, ecasound has an interactive interface for sound processing, including playback and mixing and quite a few other goodies. I am not enough of a sound geek to want to experiment much with it; if it appeals to you, give it a try.

P.S.: It was last updated in August, so it’s definitely not stale.


If you are one of those programmer types who is looking for a project, I have a suggestion: An id3 renaming and tagging application for the console.

Technically speaking, I suppose id3lib by itself can do those things, but like most libraries it’s a bit unwieldy for large collections or heavy-duty editing and fine-tuning. Finding and searching and replacing, for example.

It’s not impossible to use this strictly as a command line tool, or even a la the hacky ogg editor I clumped together a while ago. But something with a bit more panache would be nice.


ised is another command-line calculator, but intended to work in a way that resembles sed. It does have an interface of sorts, so it can function in a way similar to bc or wcalc.

I suppose as a background tool to a script or program that needed heavy calculations, ised would be great. I tried it once a while back and while it does what it promises, that’s about all I remember.


look was mentioned as an alternative when I mentioned aspell about six months ago. It relies on the /usr/share/dict/words or /usr/share/dict/web2 files though, and neither of those files appears in any of my systems, even if look does.

It does apparently have uses beyond just checking your spelling, so if it has a use for you that I seem to have skimmed over, let me know.


Similarly, mdocml was offered to me via email as a substitute to the man utility, mostly on the grounds that it’s a faster and lighter tool than man.

If I understand it correctly, man relies on groff, which is rather heavy and at times unreliable. If there’s some sort of man vs. mdocml war going on though, it’s news to me.

I usually keep a machine online to check command options or look for example syntax. I rarely use man and have actually run systems that didn’t use it, but I won’t argue if a lighter, faster document interface is helpful to you.


This one is a bit dusty from sitting in my list for so long. I made a note of it about a year and a half ago, when I was looking for a command-line blogging client, and found charm.

For a few moments I thought nanoblogger was what I was looking for, but it’s actually the opposite, if I understand it right. nanoblogger is the engine, not so much a client.

So if you want something incredibly light to serve as the basis for a web log, something that you host on your own and don’t use an external service for, it might be just right. And it’s actively updated, which is always a good thing.


nn is a newsreader with a long history, if I understand it right. I don’t have much to tell about this one, mostly because I don’t know much about newsreading services. Sorry.

I do know things like alpine and slrn and so forth, and that they too can read news services, but I somehow missed over that intermediary step in life. I have no experience here. 😐


orpie is another calculator, and one I would probably like a lot, except for two things: First, it needs not only ocaml to build, but ocaml-gsl, and those two together are rather hefty for most of the machines I own.

The other thing is that it’s a reverse polish notation calculator, which is something slightly alien to me. I was required to use an RPN calculator in high school, but it’s not something I’m terrifically comfortable with. I don’t think I’ve used one since then.

On the other hand, it does have a really slick interface and quite a few advanced options. Don’t miss out on this one.


This is a newer project by the look of it, and basically stores passwords in an encrypted text file. The owner can edit the text file and feel reasonably comfortable that their passwords are secure.

I tried it briefly a few months ago and it did what it promised, but again, beyond that I don’t have much to say. I can see where this might be useful though, for example in combination with ssh.


As a terminal emulator I suppose this has a practical side. I have almost no experience to report with anything that is claims to support though, so I am very much uninitiated on this one.

I would recommend checking it though, since it seems to be receiving updates — some within the last few weeks — so it may be that my ignorance is unknowingly embarrassing. 😳


rdiffdir is part of the duplicity package, which is in and of itself a rather nifty set of tools. I could show you rdiffdir and post a couple of screenshots, but I wouldn’t be doing a better job that what is already done here.

This is a great tool for someone who needs to synchronize between folders at home and at work, or on non-networked machines. I used it once a long time ago when I was diligent and dedicated and wanted to keep a mirror of my work directory on my home machine. Not so much these days … 😦


This I couldn’t find much documentation on, and the few places where it is mentioned (like on Freshmeat, above), it is already a decade out of use and probably not really what I need.

If anyone can vouch for it, please leave a note. I turned up my nose because I doubted it would run on newer software, but that comes with the admission that it’s running on older hardware. 😉

That’s all for now. I can clear some of these off my to-do list. And as always, if you know about something that I don’t, please share. 🙂

Tale of two Ubuntus

Two of the systems I planned on trying out with the Mebius were Ubuntu versions, one four years older than the other. Results were what I anticipated, although there was a small surprise attached.

The console version of Ubuntu 10.04, as I expected, wouldn’t even start. My experiences earlier this year foretold that a machine with a meager 32Mb of memory wouldn’t get past the grub menu.

And that was the case this time too. Ten-point-oh-four left me with a few nifty error messages (“error: cannot allocate real mode pages,” and “error: you need to load the kernel first” were common) and a feeling of inferiority.

Dropping back four years, just out of curiosity, worked fine. The installed system booted to a console prompt and needed something less than 11Mb to run. The wireless network was up with a little prodding, and all was well with the world.

Adding a graphical environment was a fruitless exercise though: The Trident driver that far back gave nothing but scrambled eggs for video output. TinyFlux had its artifacts, but a minimal X in Ubuntu Dapper was pointless.

Oddly enough though, a full-blown Ubuntu 6.06.1 desktop could handle a graphical environment neatly, with no obvious defects or artifacts, showing the deep brown background from ages gone by.

Unfortunately that’s all it showed. Anybody can tell you that a full Gnome desktop on 32Mb is nothing but a pipe dream. The machine was swapping before it ever snapped out of the console.

Eventually it just spun to a crawl, freezing with the drive light fully on. As expected.

Not much was gained here in this little experiment, and I acknowledge that. It does however reinforce a few experiments from a long time ago, when I started out with minimal systems and built them up.

Next up, a few systems that might actually have a chance of working. 🙄

Ubuntu 10.10 default wallpaper is here!

Here it is! 😯

Yeah, you probably figured that one out really quick. That’s not the default wallpaper for Ubuntu 10.10. I lied.

I lied because for weeks now people have been wringing their hands over a particularly awful image that was supposedly on deck as the default. Cue the sad cowboy music.

I’m going to say it again, because no matter how many times I repeat myself, there’s this pitiful whining revolt that takes place, like clockwork, every six months:

The default desktop doesn’t matter. You’re going to change it only minutes after you install it. Get past it.

Don’t try to tell me that Linux newcomers will be put off by crappy wallpaper. If someone is considering using Linux but can’t be bothered to look past the wallpaper, then they don’t deserve to use Linux. We don’t want them on our team.

And the fact remains: No matter what you pick as “the most beautiful desktop in the world,” there is somebody else on the planet who hates it, viscerally, with every part of their soul, as if they were staring into the Abyss itself. …

So here’s my advice: Download Ubuntu, then install it, then change the squeaking wallpaper. And move on to something more important in your life. 👿

FOX Desktop and some graphical apps

Not everything in the house is console-based, as you might have guessed from some of the screenshots around this site. And I do occasionally tinker with new graphical applications too.

Or even entire desktops, like the little-known ROX desktop from a while back. Before I show you another one like that, here are a few applications that are — and some that aren’t — inter-related.

This is qutim.

qutim looks, for most intents and purposes, to be a straightforward IM client with access to a goodly number of networks. Check the home page for the full list; of course the usefulness of any particular client lies with the networks it can access.

But if you’re after something that doesn’t stain your desktop theme with arbitrary icons and bizarre color schemes, you might like this QT-based one.

I haven’t exactly used it; I don’t IM with my blog address, but as you can see, it hooked up nicely to Jabber with my GMail account. Beyond that though, I haven’t really tested it. Give it a spin and see if it suits you.

Another independent project, and an image viewer this time: Viewnior.

I think I found Viewnior in the latest Slitaz, if I remember right. Considering that’s been out for quite a while, I’ve been sitting on this one for too long without mentioning it.

Nice and light (it wouldn’t be in Slitaz if it wasn’t 😐 ), speedy and clean, not too many flashy parts and a clean focus on image viewing. I sometimes still mispronounce it as if it was a film genre though — view-noir. 🙄

Moving on from that poor attempt at a joke, here’s barpanel.

barpanel reminds me slightly of my early days with fbpanel. I have a feeling it’s about as challenging to manage, since the only config I could find was an XML file.

But if you’re an Openbox fan, or just have no fear of the keyboard, that shouldn’t stop you. I adjusted the one in the photo slightly to fit the desktop better, but didn’t go beyond that.

If you want a lightweight panel to take over from some other, heavier applications, that might do the trick for you.

The next three are interlaced, and form the desktop I hinted at earlier. Take a peek at fxdesktop.

Most people know the Fox toolkit from Xfe, which is a great little file manager and something I use daily in my phony Windows XP Classic setups.

You get a lot more than just that when you install the Fox subsystem though. In that photo alone you can see a panel, a calculator, an editor and a control panel, and that wasn’t all that was available.

(Getting it started might be a tiny bit tricky: Try installing Openbox as well, starting the X environment with exec openbox in your .xinitrc file, then opening a terminal and entering export FOX_DESKTOP_WM="openbox" and then entering fxdesktop. That’s what did it for me.)

To highlight one or two, here’s adie, the editor, running solo as a downloaded binary from the Fox website.

It’s reminiscent of Beaver to me, but it’s obvious that this does quite a bit more and is meant to handle heavier coding chores. Likewise, here’s Shutterbug, a screen capture tool, performing independently of fxdesktop but included when Xfe was installed (I think … 🙄 ).

No, the bug doesn’t show up in your captured images, and actually it’s a nice touch since you can push that around the screen to wherever is convenient, and snap screenshots with a single click.

There’s more there and it all runs very light and relatively speedy. Any one of these things alone might be worthwhile on an underpowered, decade-old machine that doesn’t deserve retirement.

And you don’t have to feel trapped and powerless at the command line to use them. 🙄 As if that were even the case. … 😈

An Ubuntu social network

My free time is exceptionally scarce this week, so I don’t have much to write about today. I will, however, leave you with a link that you might find interesting or useful: My Ubuntu Network, which is a social networking site with Ubuntu as its locus.

I can’t vouch for it personally, but I know that it is managed by Ms_Angel_D, who is also a moderator on the Ubuntu Forums. So I am confident you are in good hands.

In the mean time I have a few real-life projects that are monopolizing my free time, so if you will excuse me. … 😐