Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Thu, 16 Mar 2006

Wide Open Spaces

I just splashed out on a 250GB drive for my main PC. I was thinking back about previous drives I've had. The first computer I had with a hard drive was my Amiga 1200. I think it had a 2.5" 130MB. I upgraded that to a 3.5" 1.3GB that had to sit outside the computer case and I powered everything from a salvaged PC power supply. Then I got my first PC with an 8GB that got swapped for a 46GB IBMS 'Deathstar'. These had a reputation for problems, but mine has worked for a good few years now before starting to get some errors.

The new drive got a fresh install of Kubuntu Linux. I've ended up with one huge partition that uses Logical Volume Management (LVM). This should allow me to change my partitions without breaking the system. I want to break this down to separate data from the OS, but that's for when I get everything else working.

Installing Kubuntu should get me back to what I achieved before by a more roundabout route, but I'm having a few issues. I added some essentials with EasyKubuntu, but that didn't seem to do all it should. I have sound working generally, but Amarok is not playing anything yet.

I also bought myself an external hard drive case so that I could retrieve data from the old drive over USB, but the system is not seeing that drive at all. Maybe I'll have to connect the drive to the IDE and read it that way, but I would like to be able to use the external drive for backup.

Setting everything up from scratch is a bit of a pain. I'm trying to log all I do for next time. If I got the other drive connected I could copy settings across, but as some of those may be a mess I may not bother with all of them.

I was tempted to install the beta of the next Ubuntu/Kubuntu (Dapper Drake), but I'm a bit wary of trusting my system to it, especially as the release is likely to postponed for more 'polishing' (the cleaning up sort, not translation to that language).

Other people in the LUG have been pushing Arch, but I'm not sure I want a complete change just now. Maybe I'll try it as a dual boot or in a virtual machine.

[13:10] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 09 Mar 2006

Herts LUG March 2006

I missed the last meeting due to illness, but I got there this time. Only five of us there, but we had a good chat about various Linux topics including:

We almost had another person from near me come along, but he was ill. I found his site using GeoURL that locates sites using coordinates in the page header. If more people in the LUG used it then we could use it as an alternative to Frappr. Good though that service is, I would prefer to use something that is more in the spirit of the Semantic Web.
[08:36] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 18 Feb 2006

The value of backups

Following my writings on the subject of backups I had been having a few issues with my Linux system crashing. I suspected a disk problem so I ran fsck. That seemed to find lots of things that needed fixing. Unfortunately it also seemed to make one of my partitions unusable, namely /home. Luckily this was one of those I had backed up. I was able to copy all the files back from the remote server and, after a couple of false starts, now have a working system again.

My drive is one of the infamous Deathstar models from many years ago. I didn't know of that issue when I bought it. At 47GB it was a big step up from my 8GB drive. Now I can buy something five times the size for well under UKP100, so it may be time for an upgrade. I was in need of more space if I'm ever to do any video editing. Now that I have added a speedy USB2.0 card I could get an external housing for the old drive and use it for quick backups. If it actually dies then it will not be too expensive to get a new one.

My backup article prompted a post in my guestbook from the owner of Jumpstation. This fellow Linux user found me via the GeoURL system that tags web sites according to their physical location in the world.

[14:36] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 14 Feb 2006

Backing up my Computer

Backing up your computer data is a waste of time, until something goes wrong. I've been pretty lucky so far and managed not to lose anything really important. I've never had a hard disk suddenly die. Backing up is one of those things that I keep thinking I should do. I have burnt data to CDs in the past. To be even safer I keep them somewhere other than at home, so even if there was a fire I would not lose it.

What I really wanted was a way to create a safe, off-site backup that would keep track of my latest files. I have access to a remote Linux server that has plenty of disk space so that looked like a good place to put it. I tried various tools:

Konserve is a friendly little program, but I found it too limiting in specifying which files I wanted to back up. I want to be able to exclude certain files and directories within the structure I was backing up.

Sbackup looked more promising. It's GUI lets you select files to include and exclude. by location and size. The problem was that I just couldn't get it to connect to my remote server. This has to use an encrypted connection, which is what I would want anyway.

The real geek choice is rsync. It's a pure command line tool that can do incremental backups to anywhere you like. I just didn't get as far as reading all the necessary documentation.

Then I read this article about rdiff-backup. It sounded like a friendlier version of rsync. It's even written in Python, but I'm not sure I'll be hacking it just yet. It requires the program to be available at both ends of the connection, so I had to get it installed on the server. Then I found that the version available to Ubuntu was too old. It was very easy to install the up to date one.

Running it is pretty simple. You specify the source and destination and away you go. Either end can be remote, so you can also use it to back up a web site. It automatically uses ssh, so communication is as secure as you are likely to need. I worked out how to use public keys to remove the need for passwords. To exclude files I just create a text file with a list in it.

So far I have backed up several gigabytes. Actually this was more than I intened as I accidentally included some big directories. This can take a very long time as my NTL broadband is a lot slower to upload than it is to download (256kb vs 2Mb). I think the longest one took 41 hours! As it is incremental it should be much quicker in future as only changed files will be sent. When I want to restore anything it's just a matter of copying it back as everything is stored in it's original form.

My next step is to automate the process so that I don't even have to think about it. That requires a little planning.

[20:27] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 12 Jan 2006

Herts LUG January 2006

A much better meeting than last time. There were nine of us with a selection of laptops running various distros including Slackware and Gentoo (I think). Tony even had his new Nokia 770 that looks interesting and also runs Linux.

Ian did a little demo of his attempts to get a Google Map onto his site. Although I set up a Frappr site for the LUG it would be cooler to have our own one. I have some ideas about doing it with GeoURL technology.

I had a good chat with Dave who shares some interests with me. Maybe he can help me to push GPG in the LUG.

[21:03] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 23 Nov 2005

Half a Life

After my various experiments with Doom I thought I might try something slightly more up to date. As I mentioned before I spent a lot time playing Half-Life back around 1998. I still had the CD in my rack, so I thought I'd see if it could run somehow on Linux. I found a site that details how to do it. I'm obviously well behind the times as the site has not been updated for a couple of years. Basically the game can be run using the wonderful Wine system. It's not exactly an emulator, but it allows Windows programs to run on Linux.

I had a few issues running Half-Life. After installing it I could get into the menus, with sound, but the game itself failed due to problems accessing the CD drive. A bit of tweaking and installing a later game patch (hl1110.exe) sorted this. So now I can relive those days wandering around the Black Mesa Research Facility. In the brief time I've spent playing I have yet to get past the long introduction to the point where everything goes wrong and the aliens appear. The graphics are a big step up from Doom that came five years before, but I expect the current crop are even better. The surfaces in Half-Life are very smooth and there are no curves. If I really wanted to play games I could just get something like the new XBox, but I really ought to do things other than playing games.

My main remaining annoyance with Half-Life on Linux is that when I quit the game my desktop resolution always changes. There's probably some option to prevent this.

In other news I was drumming at Secret Bass on Sunday. I think there were about eleven there this time. There may only be one more session this year. I'm on the search for my own Djembe, but there do not seem to be many places to buy them.

The UK weather has taken a turn to the cold and misty this week. This makes driving slightly more dangerous, but a slight mist is not an excuse for drivers to use their fog lights all the time! Those lights are only for use when others would not be able to see you otherwise. I keep having my retinas burnt by the rear fogs of these inconsiderate people.

[08:53] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 09 Nov 2005

Doom kaboom!

I found another Doom port to try. PrBoom has the main advantage of actually giving me sound! For those without the original data files it comes with it's own one so you can play it straight away. It's fun in a retro way. There are lots of options that I need to explore. I blasted through the first couple of maps last night, but couldn't remember where all of the secret areas were.

Back in the Amiga days I felt left out of the Doom-type games scene. Then Team 17 released Alien Breed 3D. I spent many hours playing that. The graphics were very basic, but the action was pretty good. Unlike Doom there was no option to save during a level. Instead you got a very long code at the end. I think I did most of the levels. Later I played Doom on the Amiga, but by then it had been souped up to a mighty 33MHz 68040 and 32MB.

Meanwhile, the kids have been playing PlanetPenguin Racer. It's basically just a penguin sliding down an icy hill, but the graphics are pretty good and there are loads of courses to play. This is based on Tux Racer which I tried on previous Linux systems, but I don't think I ever got it fully working. On Ubuntu it was a matter of installing the NVidia driver to make better use of my hardware. Just about everything I have installed on Ubuntu has been a matter of selecting packages from their repositories and most things have just worked. For things like the Doom ports I've had to locate the program files myself to run them as they do not appear in the menu.

[09:04] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 30 Oct 2005


I don't generally play computer games these days. It eats time that I could be wasting in other ways. In the past I played loads of games on my BBC Micro and assorted Amigas. I used to work at a place where we could get away with playing network games at lunch time. We got through a few, including Doom and Duke Nukem. I actually played some Doom on my Amiga after they released the source code and it was ported. The last game I played extensively was Half-Life on my old PC. I enjoy the ability to explore a world that this sort of game offers.

For some reason I decided this week that I wanted to play one of these games again. I've tried a couple of Linux Doom ports. Legacy looks the best so far, but I have yet to get any sound working. I have a set of game CDs I bought to use with the Amiga that include Doom I and II. I may have to get into it again.

I know games have moved on a lot from Doom and even Half-Life, but my PC does not have a great graphics card, so I'm limited in what I can play. I've not even tried any of the many on-line virtual worlds. I'm not sure I want to commit myself to that sort of thing. I just want to blast things now and again.

[17:33] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 22 Oct 2005

Upgrading Ubuntu

I've been using Ubuntu Linux for a few months now. Generally it just does what I need after a few little tweaks. This month the latest release (5.10 aka Breezy Badger) was released and I decided to try an upgrade. This is supposed to be a matter of running a couple of commands, but all did not go smoothly.

After letting it download a few hundred megabytes and install everything I re-booted and ended up with a command line rather than the usual graphical log-in screen. It proved impossible to get either KDE or Gnome to run.

Luckily I could use another PC (running Windows 98) to access the web and search for solutions. Eventually I managed to fix it with a combination of apt-get -f install (to fix dependencies) and installing xfonts-base. So now I had my GUI back, but still had a few issues with size of fonts and complaints from the update process about a few packages. Running apt-get -f install again fixed the latter.

So after the upgrade what has changed? Actually not a whole lot. I'm still using KDE, so maybe Gnome has changed more. At least I can get straight to the address book in Kmail. It took a further update to get GPG working on mail.

My next areas to explore are video editing (still not done any) and audio recording. I want to record myself playing the guitar for my own amusement. Audacity looks like a possible tool for this.

[17:00] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 18 Jul 2005

Save the Planet with AMD

My first PC was a 350MHz Pentium II. When I felt the need for more speed I went for the AMD Duron 650 as it seemed to offer the best price/performance on my budget. That was later upgraded to a Duron 1200 that remains my fastest home CPU. Some people still prefer Intel over AMD due to AMDs issues in the past with compatability and lack of performance, but they have come a long way and now seem to be neck and neck with Intel. I aspire to one of their 64 bit chips. Dual-core would be even nicer and would handle my prospective video processing with ease. It will have to wait until I get budget approval.

Modern high-end PCs use a lot of power, so the energy efficiency may be important to those who leave their PC on all day. Tom's Hardware have done some testing on this and it seems that the AMD PCs are much more efficient that the Intel ones. Under full load this can be around 150W as opposed to 250W. Over a year that amounts to a lot of money.

Of course, if you really want to save energy then go for something like the Mini-ITX that will draw a fraction of that power, but is probably not aimed at the power user. I would go for one of these as a 24/7 media PC or file server.

[08:56] | [] | Comments | G

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