Linux and The Distribution of Choice

I’ve been using Linux for a long long long time. My first kernel was 0.9 something in 1992. During that time I’ve switched distributions based on eye candy, support, stability, etc. For the last few years I’ve settled on Gentoo. I like the control, I like (for the most part) the upgrade path. I like the ease of use in getting things running. True, it took about a week to finally get all the tools necessary to get my laptop running nicely, but when it ran, it was sweet.

When I finally screwed up my laptop install (trying to get Windows Mobile 5.0 to sync), I figured I’d look for something else. I ended up installing Sabayon, a Gentoo based install. I had a perfectly working laptop (very stable) with great eye candy in about 1/2 hour. Very Schweet.

In all, I have 4 boxes that run Gentoo or a Gentoo based distro. On that I have a Gentoo based VMWare session for my email/web/etc server. I also have a CarPC that I just converted to Windows XP, just because it was easier.

So, where is all this going? I guess right back to the distro of choice. There are so many people out there that bash an OS based on who makes it. They bash a distro because it’s not what they want. But really, who cares? My opinion is that the distro should be picked based on what you need it to do. For my car I needed a distro that had great GPS software and a good music program. For a long while, I used Gentoo with software I wrote myself, and a separate Garmin GPS. Now I use a new ‘distro’, Windows XP. The GPS is integrated with the music software, and it just works.

I’ve wanted a really good web based email/calendaring program for a long time. For the last year I’ve been using eGroupware, which worked very well. For a while I used Outlook and egwosync to sync my calendars/contacts/todo’s with the web based system. When I moved the laptop to Linux, I lost that. Interestingly enough, eGroupware syncs better with Outlook than with any Linux based app I’ve seen. Now for the main reason for this little rant. I’ve been looking at Zimbra and Scalix for my web based solution to replace eGroupware. Mainly because the eGroupware email reader does not handle filters on email. Filters move email from one folder to another based on who its from, or part of the title, or… whatever. eGroupware relied on some separate perl scripts to do it’s filter/moving. Ugh. And then there was spamassassin, which I used for spam catching. After training it on thousands (yes, that many, I still have emails from 2000), it still let spam through. It never took good email and marked it as spam, but I still had about 20-30 spam I had to handle manually every day. It caught about 80% of my spam. I just wasn’t happy with the overall solution.

After doing some research, I decided to try Zimbra. The problem was that it wouldn’t run under Gentoo. Damn. Oh well, it did run under RedHat, Debian, Ubuntu, and one other if I recall. I started a new VMWare session and installed Ubuntu Server. It installed clean and ran great. I gave it a 25 GB HDD and 320 MB of RAM. Once Ubuntu was installed, I downloaded the Zimbra Community Edition and installed that. Another clean install. Now, after two days of running Ubuntu and Zimbra, I’ve completely moved over to it for all my email and calendaring needs. I use to use Thunderbird to access my email, but honestly I haven’t fired it up in days. Zimbras WEB/AJAX based interface is so sweet, that I don’t miss it. It accepts all the standard keystrokes, does drag and drop, has great filtering. I just can’t say enough about it. It catches 95% of my spam with no false positives yet. It also does virus scanning. And Ubuntu Server is great. Will I switch to Ubuntu for my other systems? I don’t think so. I still like my Gentoo. Still, Ubuntu did the job it was supposed to, and did it well.

The summary of this is: Why the wars on distro’s or OS’s? Just use the one that does the job for you. It should do the job cleanly and efficiently with the least amount of hassle. I can honestly say that all my choices do exactly that.

Now if only I could get Windows Mobile 5 to sync.

Here’s a list of my current systems:
1. AMD 64 3400+ (1GB RAM, 1 TB HDD, Gentoo)
– main MythTV Back End
– VMware Server System
   – Blog and Web Server (256 MB RAM, 17 GB HDD, Gentoo)
   – Email (320 MB RAM, 25 GB HDD, Ubuntu)

2. Celeron 2GHz (512 MB RAM, 200 GB HDD, Gentoo)
– MythTV Slave Backend
– MythTV Frontend (living room)

3. Pentium 4 3GHz (2 GB RAM, 250 GB HDD, Gentoo)
– Temporary MythTV Frontend (bedroom)

4. Athlon XP 1800+ (256 MB RAM, 40 GB HDD, Gentoo)
– MythTV Frontend (basement)

5. Via 533 MHz miniITX (256 MB RAM, 250 GB HDD, Windows XP)
– RoadRunner CarPC Frontend

6. Pentium M 1.7 GHz (2 GB RAM, 100 GB HDD, Sabayon)
– my main machine/laptop

7. Athlon XP 1800+ (512 MB RAM, 250 HDD, NO OS)
– unassigned unused box. Used to be my CarPC.

More Computer Issues

Well, my laptop decided it didn’t want to be nice anymore. Truthfully, it is my fault. I tried to use some very experimental software to sync my PocketPC (with Windows Mobile 5.0) to Linux. It required various kernel modules and user space software, which eventually really hurt the system.

I ended up with a load average of over 4.5, and no tasks using the CPU. I removed all the kernel modules and software, and could not solve the problem. Boom crash.

So, I lost about a 1/2 weeks worth of time, but everything seems to be working again just fine.

I backed up /etc and /home, and installed Sabayon  on top of my stock Gentoo. Sabayon is Gentoo based, and so far, I love it. All the work I put into setting up my Gentoo laptop was done automatically. A nice distribution that I would recommend. True, it installs way more than I actually want, but really, hard drive space is cheap.

My only problem turned out to be VMware. I have Windows XP Pro installed on a partition, and I either dual boot, or use VMware to run Windows under Linux. Under Sabayon, the drives (yes, IDE drives) are ‘sda’ instead of ‘hda’. Whether that’s the problem or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that VMware crashes while loading GRUB. Great.
The good news is that Codeweavers Crossover Office 6.0 runs most of what I need. Microsoft Office 2003 and Quicken 2006. I can’t sync my Pocket PC, but oh well.

Conversion Complete? Nope!

Well, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? I guess the reason I haven’t been writing (here or on my WIP) is a mixture of Life is what happens while you’re making plans and Computers have the magical ability to suck me in and spit me out.

Whatever the reason, both the blog and the WIP have suffered for it. And I’m done with that mess! Time to get back on schedule and finish all of this work!

So, what have I been doing? Well, it may make me sound slow, but it took a couple of days to get SpamAssassin to do bayes filtering on my email. Truly, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It’s fixed now, and 99% of my incoming spam is now caught and put off to the side. I had that before, using a client side app. Now it’s all done on the server.

I also decided to convert my laptop to Linux instead of Windows XP. What caused the switch? Well, I recently re-installed XP, since my boot times were atrocious, and I can’t stand slow computers. Before you know it, Windows was slow again. Aaaargh. I absolutely hate that.

It took me a couple of days to get Gentoo working on the laptop (why is it never easy). But now it all seems to be running smooth. I still need Windows to sync with my Dell Axim x51v, and Outlook syncs better with eGroupware than some Linux programs I’ve found. I kept my original Windows XP install, and I use VMware Workstation to boot into XP from Linux. I don’t know what changed, but XP boots about 4 times faster under VMware than by itself, and it’s the exact same install.

The Linux install is still not 100%, but I like it. Linux never makes it easy, especially for laptop owners. I think next time I’ll get a Mac. So, whats missing so far?

  1. hibernate to ram (sleep) works, but when restarting, starts the shutdown processes (Whhhaaa?)
  2. hibernate doesn’t work.
  3. I have a fan that stays on all the time.

That’s about it, I think. Now, back to work!

Nostalgia Reigns Supreme

A couple of weeks back, my bro came in from Calgary. One evening we sat down, had some beer, and went through some really old photos (I had hair!). Since then, I’ve been on a semi-depressive nostalgia kick. I’ve been thinking of all the missed opportunities, the times when if I put in a bit more effort the result would have been awesome. You know, that kind of stuff. I think it’s time to get my head out of my *ss and get back to real life.

One of the things this nostalgia kick has done: it made me want to look at all the old computers I used to own or use. It’s quite a list. So, I downloaded programs like mess and vice which emulate old hardware. Watching a Commodore 128 boot into CP/M 3 is still cool to watch. The Kaypro II boots and runs. I can’t do anything with them, since I have no apps, but it’s cool to watch.

As an offshoot of mess/vice, I’ve also been playing with mame and uae. Once again, it’s fun (although time consuming) to look at all of these old games.

Still, as I said earlier, time to get back on track. Time to look forward instead of backward.

VMware switch over

The hard drive on my email and web server was beginning to fail. Once the system was running, the hard drive appeared to be fine, but sometimes it failed to boot and the drive wasn’t spinning up. So, what could I do.

The old system was running on a Celeron 450, 128 MB of RAM and a 17 GB HDD. In other words, a very small system. I used g4u to create an image of the hard drive, including partition tables and MBR. I then used g4u to restore the drive image under VMware Server running on an AMD64, 1 GB of RAM and a 1 TB RAID5 array (my primary mythtv backend). I told vmware to create a 20 GB HDD, and the transfer went smooothly. It did, however, take a VERY long time; g4u did it’s imaging and restoring via ftp. The 17 GB HDD took about 5.5 hours to image across a 100 mbit network.

I powered up the VMware Server with the newly created image, and voila. The system boot immediately and ran perfectly. So now, the email and web server believe they are running on an AMD64 3500, 128 MB of RAM and a 20 GB HDD. Speed has gone way up, and hopefully so has reliability.

One test I did when I switched the server was to make a copy of the hard drive image and boot another email and web server under a different IP address. I then upgraded the Gentoo 2005.0 based system to a 2006.1 based system using a script I found on the Gentoo forums. The upgrade went flawlessly. I would have simply changed the IP addresses to start running on the upgraded server, but I had received email on the old server. So, I upgraded the old server, as it was running and live. Gotta love Gentoo!

An interesting week

Wow, it feels like it’s been forever since I posted. My laptop slowed down to the point where it was pretty much useless. So, I figured I’d put my money where my mouth is, and install Linux on it. No problem, I’ve had Linux installed on my various systems for years, even on my daily use ones. The problems started when I couldn’t fullfill my two greatest needs.

  1. I had to be able to sync with my Dell Axim x51v (Windows Mobile 5)
  2. I had to sync my calendar software with my calendar server.

For my writing stuff, I didn’t much care. I knew I could install Microsoft Word using Codeweavers Crossover Office, or I could just bite the bullet and switch to OpenOffice.

Now back to my problems. I found that there was really nothing out there in Linux land to replace ActiveSync. There are some up-and-comers, and some that work with older version of the OS, but nothing that worked for me. I could probably live with that, but I didn’t really want to. I found that Kontact could sync with eGroupware, but it only worked while on-line. Totally unacceptable. There was no ability to keep the calendar on the laptop, and have it sync. As soon as I was away from my local network, no calendar. Seriously, whomever thought up that grand plan wasn’t much of a thinker.

I switched from Gnome to KDE a long time ago, but at this point I figured what the hell. I installed Evolution and it’s required libraries, and found that it ran just fine under KDE. A little bit of a different look and feel, but not bad. Then I did some Web searching (can’t use google as a verb). That’s when I discovered that syncing Evolution to eGroupware was just a PITA. It worked for some, and failed miserably for others. Even to the point of losing calendar entries. There was no way I was going to try this at all.

In the end, I re-installed Windows onto a 50 GB partition, and left Linux (Gentoo 2006.1) on the other 50 GB. I’ll keep plating with it on the desktop for awhile, but not too much me thinks. I’m using Outlook under Windows (Office XP ’cause I can’t find my Office 2003 install CD… damn), and eGWOSync to sync Outlook calendar with eGroupware. Outlook mail doesn’t play elegantly with IMAP mail servers, but I can work around that. Three wasted days… ugh.
Jared and Ryan both started school this week. Jared is in grade 1 full days, and Ryan is in pre-school 3 afternoons a week. Getting back into a routine for our rushed mornings and even more rushed lunches has been interesting. We’ve managed it pretty good so far, and I’m sure we’ll all get better at it as the school year progresses. Both boys are thrilled to be going, and literaly run from home to school, forcing this old man to keep up. Ryan, after his first day, did not want to leave class, and got quite grumpy. Life is good.

Reading
Soul of the Samurai (Thomas Cleary)
– yes, it is taking a long time.

Reference Classics: China (Edward L. Shaughnessy General Editor)

Eastern Standard Tribe (Cory Doctorow)

Writing
A lot more research this week. I should be done shortly, and then I’ll integrate the research into the outline.

Misc
I’m playing with the site some more, so there will be some changes coming up.  Of course, I should really be spending my time writing.  Sometimes it feels like I’ll do just about anything else.

WordPress is up

The WordPress blog is up and limping.  Most of the main pages look good, and display the infromation I want.

First, I tried to take a WordPress theme/template and convert it to look like the rest of my site.  Sadly, my CSS is not up to par, and I failed miserably.  I then attempted to take my CityDesk template and shoehorn it into WordPress.  It has worked, kind of.  I think I’ll still work on getting CSS working, since my nested tables are a bit of mess.

At any rate, I can get on with my life.  I’ll work on the remaining pages over the next few weeks.

The boys were wonderfull while I was doing all of this.  They played quietly and barely got into any fights.  I made sure to thank them personally throughout the day.  So often, we only give negative feedback.  I’m working on re-enforcing the positive as well.

Reading
Soul of the Samurai (Thomas Cleary)
– If anyone can point me to an authors web site, I’d appreciate it.

Gardens of the Moon (Steven Erickson) (link 2)

Moving to WordPress

This blog is being moved to WordPress. Please be patient as articles are transferred.

Comments work, but the formatting is way off. Working on it.

Actually, formatting on a lot of pages is messed up. Doh.

Birthday and School Prep

We had a fairly cloudy/cold day out here today, and I was not looking forward to having the kids in the house all the time again.  So, I did what any sane parent would do: get out of the house.  We spent about 2 1/2 hours at the mall during midday and did some shopping for birthday cards, Marnie’s gift, and school backpacks. 

Tomorrow, I’ll sit down with the boys and figure out a craft they can make for Marnie’s birthday.  I’ll see if I can get them to make her some birthday cards as well.  All I have to do is try to keep it a secret from Marnie (who doesn’t read this blog anyway).  More than likely, one of the boys will start telling her all about it! 🙂

I’m actually finding things a bit weird.  When summer holidays started for Jared, I was panicking about how to fill the days so they’ll be happy.  Now that Jared is going to Grade 1 full time, and Ryan is going to pre-school three afternoons a weeks, I’m worried about what to do with all my time.  Just weird.

Reading
Soul of the Samurai (Thomas Cleary)
   – If anyone can point me to an authors web site, I’d appreciate it.

Writing
I outlined scenes 40 and 41, which is pretty much all I have right now.  I should probably add at least 20 more scenes, but without an additional sub-plot, I may not be able to.  I’ll start fleshing out the outlines a bit more tomorrow, and see where it gets me.  Right now, the antagonist basically stays in the background.  He’s a plot motivator, but not a central character.  I think if I can bring him to the forefront a bit more, I’ll get a more solid story, and my extra scenes.I outlined scenes 40 and 41, which is pretty much all I have right now.

Here are a couple of things I found on the net today.  This is a cool speed test for your Internet connection.

Clarkesworld is a new (for me) online magazine that pays about 10 cents a word.

And finally, a piece of advice I found on the Asimov’s board.  There is a thread talking about the best thing any one has said to you, as you were leaving their employ, and this one just stuck with me:
“You must never be above telling a bold faced lie.  Now off with you!”
It was told by a boss to his employee on the employee’s last day.

Computers are Weird

Well, I’m not sure what happened to my systems.  People in the neighbourhood say there were no power failures, and my clocks verify that.  Damn weird stuff.

I also lost a drive on my RAID 5, which was no big deal.  I decided to put the new drive into the system on it’s IDE ATA controller, and, believe it or not, it is slower than when I had the drive on USB.  It looks like I need to have a special ATIIPX module to get DMA on my harddrives, which means a kernel compile that I can’t/shouldn’t do during a RAID rebuild.  Sigh.

We’re off on holidays for the next week (camping).  No internet access, nothing.  I’ll bring my laptop anyway (I can’t seem to write longhand in notebooks), so there may be some post-dated entries when we all get back.

Reading
The Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook (Peter Baylies)