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Upgraded to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin)

My testing sandbox server is running on an ancient Dell Optiplex 280 minitower, which has a P4 processor and 2gb of ram.  Its been chugging along placidly on Ubuntu 10.04LTS.  The 12.04LTS version has been popping up for a bit, and it seemed like it was being reported as a very solid release.

The install running in my VirtualBox partition went smoothly enough, but that was only a leap from 11.x to 12.04.  Upgrading from 10.04 is a couple of levels to jump, so the possibility for problems increases.

So with some amount of trepidation I decided to run the upgrade process on the 10.04 sandbox. If the upgrade should barf completely, its not a tremendous loss.  If it works, the 12.04LTS version is supposed to be good through 2017(if I recall the upgrade notes correctly).

The upgrade seems to have been completely successful, with zero impact on the test bed.  Sweeeeeet….. The 10.04LTS was mostly a plain vanilla install, but its nice that it made the leap with so little intervention.

This upgrade went far more easily than a prior upgrade(from 8.10 to 9.04).  Very happy to see the Ubuntu developers have made the upgrade process so user friendly.

Very.  Nice.  Work.

So now the file server is good to go and can remain stable for the foreseeable future.  Time to get back to hacking up some web apps for graphing the Reverse Beacon network data extracts.

Not so happy with the UNITY desktop, but at least it is easy to revert back to Gnome.  Unity is kinda like the new Windows 8 – ButtHole Ugly.  The very last thing I want is an interface that looks like a tablet.  Bleh.

Never have understood why OS developers seem to think that 30 years of accumulated OS familiarity is so readily cast aside for their own vision of ease-of-use.  Too little customer contact….  Most customers want their interfaces to function the same way they functioned yesterday(providing they actually worked yesterday), and changed only if they were broken.  AKA, “New Coke Syndrome”.

Coke Classic pleeze…..add gold rum and lime….


When I upgraded the dead computer a couple of years back, I stuffed the current machine(Dell Inspiron 545S w/Pentium Dual-core E5300 @ 2.6ghz) with 8GB of RAM, expecting to do some experimentation with running VMware or some such to tinker with PC based VM’s.  After looking around a bit, other shiny objects attracted more attention.  So, being easily distractable…..VM’s slipped down the memory hole.

Fast forward to present.  Looking over at the Oracle VirtualBox website, a bit of light reading showed that a lot of work has been done on their VM software in the last 18months.  More robust USB support, and a lot of bug fixes.  Its free for personal use, so give it a shot.

The VirtualBox software itself installed on Windows 7  easily.  Within a few minutes after that, A VM for an Ubuntu Linux partition was ready for the OS install.  Virtualbox is able to install an OS from an ISO disk image.  So after a few minutes waiting for the latest Ubuntu 11.10 version to download, the VM was ready to install.  It took longer to download the ISO than it took VirtualBox to install the OS(unusually slow day for the internet connection to blame there).

The quick summary is that Ubuntu runs well inside the VM sitting on a Windows7 host.  I expect that the opposite is likely to be a more desirable arrangement, but living in the real world, there it is.  I expect to use the Ubuntu partition to allow tunneling over to the Linux server box using VNC to control the desktop on the remote server.  Its possible to set that up using something like TightVNC under windows, but the whole thing is a lot simpler to configure in a Linux to Linux environment.  The VM runs on the windows desktop just like another windows application.  Nice and simple.

More complicated hardware interfaces are probably a lot more difficult to configure(if they are possible at all), but outside of some radio control software, I don’t expect to need to delve that deeply.  I suppose there will be latency issues based on some comments from N4AF, but curiosity may eventually point me in that direction anyway.

Unrelated sidenote, but after installing the 11.10 version of Ubuntu, I immediately ditched the “unity” desktop and reverted to “gnome”.  Another “Unity = new coke” example? ? ?  [Comments appreciated on this topic]

A second VM is now set up with a small Windows XP partition using the Windows XP license from the dead desktop.  It turns out that XP was a bit more difficult to install.  The problems were probably due to hardware conflict issues between VirtualBox and the host over the CD-DVD drive.  After ripping  XP to an on-disk ISO, installation made much better progress.

It turns out the XP partition will be handy for running the version of EZNec I have.  Later versions of EZNec have a 32 bit installer, but the last edition I have is using a 16 bit installer which will not work with 64 bit Windows 7.  So now EZNec has a home on the desktop again, even if its inside a shell running on top of the shell.  In fact, the EZNec install on an XP VM runs quite a lot better than I expected – much faster than on a P4 with 1 GB of ram.

So for some select older applications, an XP VM in the VirtualBox world is a viable option.  It’s a kludge, but potentially a very useful kludge.  Another very useful aspect is that the VM’s can be very easily copied.  Useful for backups and migration.  And always having a pristine version saved could be handy.  I’m tempted to start saving pennies for a multicore processor machine with the latest/greatest fast CPU’s and memory, and use a VM for everyday usages.   Also curious if running the VM’s over a Linux host OS ultimately makes more sense.

Latest-n-greatest is wonderful, but I just hate leaving behind programs that work perfectly well.  CT anyone?  OK, maybe not….

O’course the bleeding edge crowd will still descend into hysterics over the concept of “continuing to drive the 1984 Honda Civic”, but I figure they have enough cash in their pocket to not be concerned with the trivial expenses involved in their upgrades to all new replacement software.  If it were not just for a  hobby tinkering project, maybe I’d agree.

“Better” is such a subjective concept, aina?


Linux Progress In the KazShack

Given the plethora of P4 boxes showing up in recycle bins as companies migrate off of WinXP, a recent reclamation opportunity made it seem like a good time to save some landfill space and cobble together a Linux file server.  So with a scrap Dell GX280 in hand, the file server/testbed project saw some attention.  Stuffing an extra couple of memory sticks into the obsolescent GX280 brought it up to 2GB.  The GX280 should be a very usable Ubuntu or WinXP platform with 2gb, so its a great shack backup too.  The limitation was the hard drive.  A spare 80gb drive is set up with WinXP, and an el-cheapo 500gb drive went in for the Ubuntu install.  Not phenomenal, but not bad for under $75USD.  Hell, it would have been useful without the upgrades.

The Dell GX280 seems to be well supported by Ubuntu – all of the peripherals are up and running after the install, no hardware/driver hacking required.  Installed Ubuntu 10.04(lts).  The GX280 is widely available as scrap.  Kind of like throwing away a good pre-1974VW Beetle was back in the 1980’s.  Not too sexy, but still serviceable enough for generic mundane uses.  Wish I had grabbed more of them[VW’s and GX280’s].  [Aside: Both my 1968 Beetle and my wife’s 1984 Honda Civic hatchback got better mileage(48mpg and 42mpg respectively) than today’s EcoWeenie “hybrids” get in real life usage.  Ain’t “progress” something to behold?]

Networking the boxes turned out to be the biggest roadblock, and it is still an incompletely resolved situation.  That’s not related directly to the hardware, but to the mix-match of OS’s in the network.  The home experimentation network consists of Win7, WinXP, and Ubuntu 10.04 boxes.  All of the boxes can see the others.  The symbolic names are mostly useless, as only the XP and win7 boxes can access each other using the symbolic names[sometimes].  The linux boxes can share files, but only by using their IP addresses, even with the XP boxes.  Obviously user error setting up Samba shares.  Not a major issue when the router assigns the internal IP’s, providing an alternate route, but far from perfect.  Windows 7 isn’t playing nice with any of the others, probably related to the user security.

So for the present, IP address’ are the ticket.  Kludgy at best, but mapping the drives by IP address works across the platforms.  Not really any more difficult to use the IP’s.  Since they are mapped at the router, its probably easier to remember the box numbers anyway.   “x.x.x.157 is what????”

The good news is that setting up SSH on the Ubuntu platforms was simple enough that even a linux noob can figure it out.   SSH security tips are widely available. With an X-window client and PuTTY installed on the windows side, any of the windows boxes can be used as remote desktops for the linux machines. That more or less eliminates the need for monitor/keyboards or the use of a KVM with the X boxes. Nice to have, but not required.  So the file server can be stuffed into some nook or cranny down in the dungeon/KazShack.  So far I’ve set up only two boxes as control consoles, one an Ubuntu desktop(using SSH), and the other the Win7 box I use most often(using PuTTY and an X-server).

Having the Win7 box able to remote into the server gives the best of both worlds.  I can now tinker with the programming stuff on the Linux side directly from the windows desktop.  Geek Heaven.  Since ARRL finally added the CSV option back to the contest results, I can continue collecting the band breakdown data for the Sweepstakes contests.

The next area of experimentation is to try out some VM’s.  I’m curious as to how much access a contest logging program might have to the required hardware interfaces[USB, serial, LPT] when it sits in a winXP VM being run on top of linux.  Since linux has good control of those hardware interfaces, in theory it should be possible.  Don’t know if the VM’s available are yet up to the task, but loggers are not really doing anything too exotic.  Might be possible, and it seems like a better overall approach than using WINE if the hardware has the extra horsepower needed.

Given the dearth of Linux contest specific loggers, it might be the most practical approach. Since the major contest loggers are written in Visual Basic, it may be the only way to run those particular apps under Unix.

Or maybe not….

Useful Stuff:

Updated, 2011/1/6: The Notepad++ portable app seems to work perfectly well using WINE in Ubuntu 10.04.  Notepad++ has a easy end-of-line conversion for text files, making it easy to switch from CRLF to LF, or vise versa.

Linux Tinkering

The latest version of Ubuntu(v10.4) came up as an option in the updates.  Went ahead and let it install and the upgrade was very smooth.  One moment of head scratching due to a query window regarding options for the upgrade to the “Grub” boot loader, but everything seems to have worked.  The transition was mostly seamless.

The upgrade process did not seem to make any changes to the LAMPP install, which was a good thing.  Shoulda backed up the config files in there, but didn’t – so its good that the install went so smoothly.

Been tinkering with bash scripting, which for the most part is easy to pick up. I’m still a Linux mega-noob, but I can see why programmers like it.  I wish Linux had been at this level 12 years ago.  The folk working on the Ubuntu distro have done a lot of good things to improve the ease of use and ease of install issues – a commendable acheivement. Still having issues with networking to the windows boxes, which is certainly due to the dumb user.[Linux can access the WinXP shares, but not Win7, and no Win flavor can access Linux.]

I can see becoming accustomed to Linux for daily tasks, except for the few pesky windows apps which have no serious alternatives on the Linux platform.  Like a fully functioned contest logging program – at least that I have found.

N4AF has been tinkering with the port of TR to windows, TR4W.  Not sure that’s the first choice for me.  I know that SD is supposed to work in Linux under WINE, but SD may be a bit too bare bones for the things I like in a contest logger.  Time to start experimenting more seriously with Linux.

TurnKey Linux Appliances

This is worth exploring, and here is the direct link.  One day….

New BlogBox

Surfing over to the Dell Outlet last week resulted in a moment of weakness.  There were several bargain buys on Inspiron 537’s, 545’s, and 546’s.  I settled on a nice Inspiron 545s, boasting 4gig of ram, 64 bit install of Windows 7, and a Dual Core Intel CPU.  No extra “flufware” was installed on the system by the folks in Austin.  The 545s is a low profile slimline system, so there not much room to add junk into it later, but at the Outlet price it solved an itch that has been begging to be scratched for a couple of years.

New Hotness.

After almost 10 years, the old Dimension 4300 is really dragging on normal day-to-day usages.  So it is well past time where it should be put to pasture.  It runs Ubuntu Linux well enough, but I have a lot of windows applications I use frequently, so XP has been king.  The 4300 has a 1.6Ghz P4, but it is memory constrained at 512Mb max.  PC133 memory(its that old).  XP runs a lot of things well enough despite the system constraints, but is hard pressed to run the modern antivirus/firewall packages and be able to run a modern internet browser with all of todays’ superfluous and gratuitous  visual content.  Bloated OS, bloated security, bloated browsers, bloated web content.  Itty bitty memory.  Not conducive to a good user experience.

Old-n Busted.

So the Dimension 4300 is going to be a great file server, Linux experimentation platform, and all around backup contest logging box. Just in case the really old and busted CPU in the shack croaks…

It is hardly a shock to find that the New Hotness is pretty damn nice.  Everything is relative.  Windows 7 is taking some mental adjustments.  Ten years of XP have worn big habitual ruts in the gray matter.  But there are a few nice surprises under the hood of Win7. Anybody using/administrating Windows 7 should goog up “GodMode”, a nifty but undocumented control panel quick-list.  The MS-geeks should have made it a documented feature.  Also, the whole system is just blazing fast in comparison to the old.  The on-board graphics are quite sharp, and seem fast enough for daily use.  Probably not a video gamer’s box, but certainly fine for general usage.  Ten years from now – who knows?

One quirk that took a moment to adjust to was finding the directory being used for storing program data.  Many XP applications defaulted to storing program data in the program’s directory.  Under Win7, the application’s program directory is protected.  To get around that, data files used by an older application are shunted into a directory under the current user. A bit of head scratching and cussing later, the location of that directory was found to be defined by the environment variable “appdata”.  After a bit more head scratching it became clear the “appdata” folder was indeed under the user account, but it is a hidden directory.  To get to it directly you can hit ‘Start’ and type %appdata% into the run/search box.  Or you can just enable the file explorer to see hidden files.

Grrrr.  Not sure why it ever made sense to RedmondGeeks to hide the application data……

So far I’ve only run into a couple of minor problems installing software on the 64 bit OS.  I decided to define a separate admin account, and set up user accounts for everybody as users without admin privileges.  General applications can be installed by running the install as an administrator.  This worked well for most applications.  Two glaring exceptions to that generalization: Security software, and Google’s browser.  The security software is understandable – that is best installed by the administrator directly.  But there’s no legit reason Google’s browser should be such a pain in the ass.

And pain in the ass it is.  Running the install of Goggle’s browser as a user with “run as administrator” resulted in no visible installation.  The install program runs, then ends without any messages/ warnings/ errors.  Backing off on that, the install was run directly from the admin account.  In that instance the install succeeds – almost.  After that installation, the browser was available under the administrators log-in, but not to any users.  The install did not offer an option to choose users.  Somewhat less than satisfactory.

So for the moment, Google has been kicked from the New Hotness.  Banished.  Shunned. Deposed. Rejected.

What with IE/Firefox/Opera/Safari all working properly, its not like there are no options.  On the browser front, it has been nice to be able to get back to using Firefox regularly.  Firefox had become really bloated since  I first used it – it is a real performance pig on the old-n-busted 4300.  Having adopted Firefox early on, it was really disappointing to see it become fatter and slower than IE. Over the last 18 months Opera has been the preferred browser.  Opera has been an off-and-on affair over the years, since it has in many cases been the most innovative of the browsers.  In previous incarnations rendering of web pages was not always as reliable as the others, but it has always been the fastest of the group. Since the more recent editions of v9.xx and now v10, it is both fast and consistent.

The Firefox performance issues on a low resource system seem to be a script related problem, although the sites with a ton of images are always slow too.  All of that probably relates to the memory constraints, system paging, thrashing, and the intrusive nature of modern antivirus applications.  Running without the AV software speeds it up in some cases, but the hardware limitation is a bigger problem.  The 4300 box at idle uses almost half the available memory in that system.  The New Hotness zips right along.  Sweet.

The New Hotness can support up to 8gig of ram.  I expect to stuff it to the limit to allow room for tinkering with virtualization(VirtualPC, Sun’s VirtualBox, etc.), and maybe a bit of low end graphics card upgrade, if a decent low profile card is available at a bargain price.

Set for another decade – maybe.