Monday, December 29, 2003

Our next question

Is from a Mr. S. Spurrier, "currently of Washington, D.C.", who writes: shucks, I hear that Wannstedt is probably going to stay in Miami. Is that Nebraska job still open?

I was thankful, grateful, happy, and ecstatic when Dan Snyder purchased the Redskins five years ago. He even managed to encourage Norv Turner to get his team into the playoffs. But now Norv, Terry (we hardly knew ye), Marty, and, I suspect, the Ball Coach are all history, and the Redskins have been in one playoff game since Joe Gibbs left in 1992.

There is a certain class of professional sports club owner, one who knows how things should be done, and, more often than not, screws up everything. In that class we can put, just off the top of my head

  • George Steinbrenner
  • Ted Turner
  • Peter Angelos
  • Dan Snyder
Another possible addition to this list is Jerry Jones, but he hired Jimmy Johnson right out of the box and kept him till the 'boys got good. After that things got a little crazy for awhile in Big D.

Anyway the funny thing about Steinbrenner and Turner was that they learned on the job. Eventually they realized the big bucks alone weren't going to win anything, and found real baseball men to run their teams. OK, George is showing signs of wobbling. He and Jones seem to be a lot alike -- they want to win badly enough that they'll hire good talent, but then they want credit for the good job, so they force out the talent and try to do things themselves. Dallas is coming back up in this cycle (boo), and the Yankees are going down, down, down into the black bit of perdition ah ha ha ha!!!!

OK, back to reality. The really interesting person on this list is Ted Turner, who was so involved that he once tried to manage his own baseball team on the field. After that start, he found real baseball talent, and Atlanta has what is certainly the most consistent team of the last decade and a half. I'd say the best team, but they only won one World Series during that stretch.

Baltimore, on the other hand, shows no sign of getting better. Yes, we've got a new set of free agents. But I don't see that talent coming together, at least not this year. I could be wrong, of course, but I'm not planning on attending any playoff games in Camden Yards next year.

So where does that put Dan Snyder and the Redskins? I don't know. Snyder is younger than me, and a good businessman, so he's got time to learn. I suspect that eventually he'll find a good football coach who will win some games for him, maybe even a Superbowl. If he keeps cycling through coaches, it's bound to happen sooner or later. But then what happens? Will Snyder, like Turner, be able to bury his ego and enjoy the ride (with or without Jane Fonda)? Or will he be line Steinbrenner and Jones, and just have to get back into the think of things. It will be an interesting next 20 years for Redskins fans.

USB Camera!!!

For Christmas, Santa got us an Olympus C-5000 digital camera, 5MP, 3X optical, ~4X digital. It works fine under Windows, so how does it do under Linux?

Fortunately, the good people at had already posted what to do. I'll just summarize what comes up in the Fedora Core distribution. I did this under FVWM, working under GNOME or KDE may make things a little more automatic:

  • Plug the USB cable into the camera and the computer
  • Turn on the camera (uh, duh)
  • With no other SCSI device connected to the system, the camera shows up as /dev/sda1. So, as root,
  • mkdir /mnt/camera (if you haven't done it already)
  • mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 /mnt/camera
  • Your pictures will now be in a subdirectory of /mnt/camera (which one depends on the camera)
  • Copy the pictures to a convenient location. Until you do this, the pictures are only in the camera's memory
  • as root, do a umount /mnt/camera. If you've got a window open to a subdirectory of /mnt/camera you may have to close it before this works.

Questions to be answered:

  • Can you edit /etc/fstab may make this a little more automatic? If so, then all you have to do is plug in the camera and mount /mnt/camera. Possibly you don't even have to be root.
  • If you have a disk mounted in the cd, does the camera still show up under /dev/sda1?

I'll have some photos up in a few days, and post a link to them.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Weathering the Storm

One of the first uses of the Internet was to get the weather forecast, rather than waiting ten minutes for it to pop up on the radio. If you had telnet, you could do $ telnet 3000 and get a text weather report from Weather Underground.

That ability still exists, of course, but it's easier now. Bundled with the expect package is usually a script called weather. Running, e.g., $ weather bwi gives you the forecast for Baltimore. You can even manipulate this Perl text widget example to pop up the widget on your desktop without bringing up an xterm.

Fedora Core didn't install the expect RPM package by default, but it is included in the distribution. The text widget requires the Gtk-Perl RPM, also available in Fedora Core, but not included in my initial install.

Saturday, December 27, 2003


I quote from the Mozilla Firebird 0.7 Release Notes, in the big yellow box:

PLEASE NOTE: You should create a new profile for Mozilla Firebird 0.7. To create a new profile, start Mozilla Firebird by running MozillaFirebird.exe -p and click on the "Create Profile" button.

You must also delete your old Mozilla Firebird directory rather than just overwriting the files there. Not doing so WILL result in problems and you should not file any bugs on Mozilla Firebird unless you've first done a clean install and tested on a new profile. As Mozilla Firebird stabilizes more this will not be necessary but until then these steps are absolutely necessary.

Yes indeed, when I delete my ~/.phoenix directory, after saving the bookmarks, and restart Firebird, it runs Flash animations. Jeez, you'd think after all this time I'd learn to read.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring of Fire

Burning CDs is essential for backups, and maybe other things (ahem). When I was running Mandrake 9.1, my favorite CD burning tool was K3b. It's not included in the Fedora Core (perhaps because it's at version 0.10.3), but the download section on the K3b site has instructions on updating /etc/yum.conf to check for K3b upgrades. With that in place installation was easy.

One quirk: when you first install K3b, permissions aren't set for a user to create CDs. The solution is to run K3b in GNOME or KDE, and click on Settings ==> K3b Setup. This will prompt you for the root password, and then (hit return) change the permissions on several programs to allow the user to write CDs. IIRC, the Mandrake version was already set up with user permissions enabled.

I tested K3b by doing a backup of my home directory. Under version 0.10(.3), you just click on the "Create Data CD Project" button, then drag the files or directories you want onto the CD image that says "K3b data project". I ran the burn at 24X, which seems to be a little fast for this machine, as the buffer would sometimes go down to 10-20% full. Zero, of course, means that you've created a new coaster. Next time I'll try 16X.

To read data CDs from FVWM, you need to issue an explicit

$ mount /mnt/cdrom

from a shell prompt to be able to read the disk, and then

$ umount /mnt/cdrom

to free the disk. If you don't do the later you can press the eject button or

$ eject

as much as you want and the CD will remain locked in the drive. GNOME and KDE don't have this limitation, they automatically mount and unmount the CD. Point for them.

I tested the CD by reading different files off of it from this computer and from an XP box. Works fine.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


FVWM ("FVWM" Virtual Window Manager) is rather old, but quite useful. It's a lot lighter weight than GNOME (actually sawtooth) or KDE. It is realtively easy to setup and manage by editing the ~/.fvwm/.fvwm2rc file.

You can set up a virtual desktop. I use one that's 3x3, meaning that the desktop is 9 times the size of my screen. I can move open applications between the screens by dragging them with a mouse.

There is a fully configurable button bar. Mine includes a load meter, a map of the virtual desktop, a clock, and quick launch buttons for the fortune program, an xterm, MozillaFirebird, and a kill button.

There is also a configurable Win95-like TaskBar, which shows all open windows and allows quick navigation between them. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get it working here, though it works out of the box in older RedHat versions and in SUSE Linux.

Unfortunately, fvwm is not included in the Fedora distribution. To get it, you must:

  1. Download the program from the Offiicial FVWM Home Page or from another source. The official FVWM page includes RPMs, Deb packages and tarballs. You can also download various themes and icons.
  2. Install in the usual way
  3. Create a file ~/.xsession in your home directory. In it put the full path to your copy of fvwm. If you install from an RPM, it's in /usr/bin/fvwm2.
  4. Run this command from a terminal window: $ chmod 555 ~/.xsession This makes ~/.xsession executable, and insures that it won't be overwritten. (See man chmod for more details.)
  5. Log out of whatever WindowManager you are using.
  6. Before logging in again, click on the Session button on the login screen and set it to default.
  7. Log in. You should be running FVWM. There is a default menu, which will have an option which saves the configuration information into the file ~.fvwm/.fvwm2rc. You can edit this to get the behavior you want. When I get my file satisfactorily adjusted I'll post a link to it.

That should be all you need to use FVWM. Look at the FVWM pages and man fvwm for more details.

Back to making things work

Tried again to install the Macromedia Flash Player for Linux, which has Fedora specific RPMs. To make sure all of the links were correct I reinstalled the compat-libstdc++ and compat-libstdc++-devel RPMs. The Flash RPM found my copy of MozillaFirebird and put a link to the plugin in /usr/local/MozillaFirebird/plugins. Doing about:plugins in Firebird shows the plugin exists. Yet Flash pages don't play, and don't even show up. A continuing puzzlement.

If you're wondering

where the title Quicksilver comes from, apparently John Wilkins (1614-1672) a founder of The Royal Society of London, wrote a book on codes and cyphers called Mercury, or the Secret and Swift Messenger (1641). In Quicksilver this work is known as the Cryptonomicon.

Mercury ascending

I just finished Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, which is a sort of prequel to Cryptonomicon and the first of the Baroque Cycle, which apparently follows the adventures of one (fictional) Daniel Waterhouse from the time of the English Restoration, through his activity in bringing about the Glorious Revolution through what looks to be his role in assigning the proper credit for the invention of calculus and universal gravitation to Isaac Newton. He might also have to give some testimony concerning the legitimacy of Prince Jamie the Pretender.

I didn't really get interested in this book until about page 600, which left me some 300 pages to go, but looking back on it, it is worth the read.

Stephenson has set up a ``Metaweb'' page which includes annotations, biographies, etc. It's at Enjoy.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Installing src.rpms

It's easy. It's fun. I'd never done it before, so this is as good a time as any.

I'm a big fan of the old fortune program. You know, the one that does

$ fortune
Didn't I buy a 1951 Packard from you last March in Cairo?

and similar things. But it's not in the Fedora Core distribution. OK, I found a variety of RPMS for fortune-mod at Rpmfind.Net. I actually played with several, but decided on the on labeled

A program which will display a fortune. RedHat-8.0 Sources fortune-mod-1.0-24.src.rpm as the one I wanted. I chose the src.rpm version because I didn't want to run into any dependency problems that might occur when switching from RedHat 8 to Fedora.

OK, how to install the thing? After reading some web posts and the man pages for rpm and rpmbuild, I found it works like this:

  1. su - to get all the path information correct
  2. cd to directory containing fortune-mod-1.0-24.src.rpm
  3. run rpmbuild --rebuild fortune-mod-1.0-24.src.rpm
  4. Look at the log file. It will say something like Wrote: /usr/src/redhat/RPMS/i386/fortune-mod-1.0-24.rpm
  5. cd /usr/src/redhat/RPMS/i386. Yup, the RPM is there
  6. rpm -i fortune-mod-1.0-24.rpm
  7. Log out of root and test it: $ fortune Two can Live as Cheaply as One for Half as Long. -- Howard Kandel
  8. Save the RPM file for posterity

And that's all I know about installing src.rpms.

Unplugging parts of Plugger

OK, I loaded up plugger, as I mentioned before. Then I saw that it insisted on loading PDF documents in the browser window, something I don't like at all. No problem, right? Just edit the /etc/pluggerrc-5.0 file, commenting out the application/pdf and text/pdf lines.

Except that didn't work with MozillaFirebird. No matter how many times I restarted it, cleared the cache, etc., when I did about:plugins I saw that plugger still wanted to handle PDF files.

After some scratching my head, I looked in the .phoenix directory, where I found a file pluginreg.dat with yesterday's date on it. That file said the plugger would handle the PDF files. You think this file would be rewritten every time Firebird starts up, but that's apparently not the case. So I deleted the file, restarted Firebird, and, lo and behold, plugger no longer worries about PDF files.

Does this happen in Mozilla? Netscape? Is it a bug, or a feature? Have to do some looking around to find out.

Sunday, December 21, 2003


From the little I've played with it, I find I like Xine for a general CD/MP3/AVI/etc. player. Especially since it plays CDs without an audio cable installed (cheap computer, I said).

Installation was simple via yum:

yum install xine xine-lib xine-lib-deel xine-skins
Now to get it to do things. From the GNOME menu, go to Preferences => CD Properties Where is says "Run command when CD is inserted" putting in
brings up Xine when an audio CD is inserted in the drive, but I have to manually click the CD button to get it to play. Should be an auto mount option. From the man page you'd think "cdda://1" would do it, but that just gives you error messages.

Plugging Along

The standard way to make Linux browsers accept Windows-style pluggins is with Plugger. I downloaded the source for version 5.0, and compiled it to its default directory which is in /usr/local . The plugin itself exists at /usr/local/lib/mozilla/plugins/, so I followed the java example and did

# cd /usr/local/MozillaFirebird/plugins
# ln -s /usr/local/lib/mozilla/plugins/ .
Then went to the Plugger Testing Ground.

Oops, need a video player plugger recognizes. Do

# yum install mplayer mplayer-fonts mplayer-skins
to get one.

Back to the test page. So far, plugger works properly on the Quicktime, AVI and FLI videos, put not MPEG. Some sounds work, some don't. I suppose we'll have to play with /etc/pluggerrc-5.0, the plugger configuration file, to find out what can be made to work and what requires another program.

Juust a little bit off

That is, though Firebird now says the plugin is available, it still won't play the Flash animation of the New Doctor Who adventure. It certainly worked under Mandrake 9.1.

Flashing just a bit

OK, I'm willing to try this tip from on how to get the Macromedia Flash plugin to work with Fedora.

Basically, after installing the compat-libstdc++-7.3-2.96.118 RPM, we have the following soft links in /usr/lib:

# su
# ls -l /usr/lib/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root  18 Dec 19 22:48 /usr/lib/ ->
# ls -l /usr/lib/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root  31 Dec 20 19:17 /usr/lib/ ->

The suggestion is to do

# ln -s /usr/lib/ /usr/lib/
which will put in the link that the plugin expects. Note that at the moment we have
# rpm -qf /usr/lib/
# rpm -qf /usr/lib/
# rpm -qf
# rpm -qf

so is seems to me that we're mixing libstdc++ and compat-libstdc++ in strange and mysterious ways. Anyway, one can hope, let's do it.

Hmm. No luck yet, so I have to restart this browser. Back in a few.

How bad are the Redskins?

Pretty bad ... well, let's see. Today they lose to the Bears when the Bears kicker, who'd missed from 30 and 33 yards, kicks a 45 yard field goal into the Chicago wind with five seconds left.

If we asked really, really, nicely do you think Joe Gibbs would come back?

Percolating right along

It's useful to have an implementation of java installed for two reasons:

(1) To view java based applications in a web browser using a plugin

(2) To run native applications such as the molecule viewer jmol

In the past I've used Blackdown Java for Linux, and I see no reason to change now. The current version is, so go to one of the download sites and find the JDK-1.4.2/i386/rc11.4.2, and then download the appropriate software development or runtime environment file. This time I downloaded j2sdk-1.4.2-rc1-linux-i586-gcc3.2.bin (SDK includes the runtime environment). Make the downloaded file executable.

To install:

cd to the directory where java is to be installed, and execute the bin file:

$ cd /home/local/share
$ ./j2sdk-1.4.2-rc1-linux-i586-gcc3.2.bin
This creates a directory /home/local/share/j2sdk1.4.2, and puts all the executables into /home/local/share/j2sdk1.4.2/bin. Add the later directory to the path. Test the installation by seeing if jmol runs.

For the plugin, follow the notes in j2sdk1.4.2/INSTALL. For MozillaFirebird use the Mozilla directions, which amount to:

# cd /usr/local/MozillaFirebird/plugins/
# ln -s /home/local/share/j2sdk1.4.2/jre/plugin/i386/mozilla/ .
Test this by going to, say this page describing the cubic Laves crystal structure, and click on the visualize the structure link. If a window pops up and you can move the atoms around, things work. (Note: need javascript and java enabled in MozillaFirebird.)

Our very first letter

is from a Mr. R. Williams, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who writes:

Lost in triple overtime??? Carolina doesn't loose in triple overtime! Kansas looses games in triple overtime!.

Nevertheless, we wish Mr. Williams exactly as much success in his current job as he had in his last one.

Denial ain't just a river

No other machine needs to acess the "services" we provide, so edit /etc/hosts.deny to read:

$ cat /etc/hosts.deny

Saturday, December 20, 2003

The Best Thing about the BBC

is that they recognize that not everyone lives in a Microsoft world, so they make their audio content available in RealPlayer format. Hm. Should really look into the Helix Community. Apparently they are only in the development stage, I see where you can download the source code, but don't see binaries.

Flash, we hardly knew ye

I'm having great difficulty getting the Macromedia Flash Plugin to work, either in Mozilla or my favorite browser, Mozilla Firebird (which I installed with no problem to /usr/local/MozillaFirebird, with a link to /usr/local/firebird).

There is a discussion of this on The solution seems to be resetting some of the soft library links that the fedora libstdc++ and compat-libstdc++ rpms set up. I'm not sure that I'm ready to do that, yet.

BTW, the main reason to have Flash installed is so that you can watch the new animated Doctor Who adventure from the BBC.

The Heart of the Thing

The Heart of a Linux OS is the kernel. up2date and yum have been prodding me to upgrade, so I loaded in the new (2.4.22-1.2129) kernel and kernel source RPMS. I've had bad experiences with RedHat kernels before, like the updates not having PPP support. Didn't happen this time, of course I don't need PPP support at the moment.

Grub let's you boot from either kernel. That's a good thing.

One day I'll have to learn how to recompile the kernel. Not today, I want to get everything else running first.

Private Eyes are Watching You

One of the things not included in Fedora, or in the yum repository, is the the graphic file viewer ee, aka "Electric Eyes". This is much quicker than the display viewer in the ImageMagick package, so I like to use it.

Found the RPM at There are a variety of distributions, but I couldn't find Fedora, so I used the generic one from SourceForge.


yum (Yellow dog Updater, Modified) is designed to update RPM files more or less easily, like Debian's apt-get. It seems to work OK, as long as you do

# yum list

as root to get things started. I used it to load up the ttfonts (Asian True Type Fonts) packages. It would have been better doing this from the CDs, as the download was painfully slow.

For what it's worth, here's my /etc/yum.conf file:

name=Fedora Core $releasever - $basearch - Base
name=Fedora Core $releasever - $basearch - Released Updates
name=Fedora Linux $releasever - $basearch - freshrpms
#name=Fedora Core $releasever - $basearch - Unreleased Updates

I Came, I Saw, I Blogged

OK, you're probably wondering why I called you here today. This is my Linux Blog, an online version of the notebook I've been updating for a few years. It's here because I recently trashed my installation of Mandrake Linux 9.1. (An unfortunate set of events involving rpmdrake deleted.)

I looked through the documentation for several of the usual suspects: Debian, Gentoo, Slackware, and finally settled on Fedora, the brand-spanking-new descendant of Redhat. Three reasons: (1) In the years I've been using Linux, I've mostly used one version of RedHat or another; (2) I'm cheap, and using Fedora leaves no nagging I really should pay them feeling; and (3) Have you looked at the installation instructions for Debian, Gentoo, and Slackware? Fedora comes with the Anaconda Installer, which I'd used before and was comforable with.

When I started using Linux on my home machine (about 1998, it says here), I bought one of those blue-marbled composition notebooks to write down what I had done to the machine (an old 486DX2, as it happens) and what I was going to do with it. You know, programs installed, why the %!$&!ing thing didn't work, how I fixed it (if I did), and where the documentation landed when I threw it across the room. That worked well, but it isn't exactly searchable. This becomes a problem when installing a new distribution, because you always forget how something was installed.

So this blog is supposed to be an extension of that notebook, where I record all of the torture I put this machine through and the tweaks that were needed to get a program to work. Hopefully it will be useful to others, as well, and, even more hopefully, someone will have intellegent suggestions on how I can get things to work the way I want them to.

The Hardware

OK, the (cheap, of course) machine is a Dell Dimension 2350, 2.2 GHz Celeron Processor, 256MB DDR SDRAM (actually paid for the upgrade from 128MB), CD-RW drive, Intel "Integrated" Graphics and Audio, and a 60GB disk (free upgrade). We're connected to the net courtesy of Comcast, which also provides the SciFi channel so that I can watch Stargate SG-1 for me to watch while we're working here.

Half the disk still has XP on it. The partitioning done during the Mandrake 9.1 install was as follows:

/dev/hda1   ~ 31MB: vfat (for Grub?)
/dev/hda2   ~ 30 GB NTFS for XP
/dev/hda3  Extended partition which holds:
         /dev/hda5   ~ 6 GB ext3 root (/) partition
         /dev/hda6   ~ 0.5 GB  swap partition
         /dev/hda7   (remainder) ext3 /home partition

Installing Fedora

Downloaded the Fedora Core I ISO images from Who decided that a Linux distribution should take 3 CDs? Seems to be a marketing thing.

OK, it's about 10 p.m. Power up the Dell, tell it to boot from the CD, and put in Fedora #1.

Asks if I want to do a graphical install. OK, why not.

Offers to determine the integrity of my CDs. Seems like a good idea, because if I have crappy media I won't be able to burn new CDs in the middle of the install. (Cheapbytes is the default option in that case, but it will take a few days.) I assume we're doing checksums here. After about 20 minutes it tells me that the CDs are OK. Insert CD #1 again and hit continue.

Running Anaconda. Sounds good. Correctly fingers my monitor, video and audio card, and mouse capabilities. It tells me I should set up my two-button plus scroll wheel mouse as a Microsoft PS/2 Intellimouse, so I go with that.

Workstation Install This option is supposed to install a graphical desktop, plus "tools for software development".

Disk partitions You still have to tell anaconda where things are going to go. I decide to keep my current partitions, including the NTFS one for XP, at least for now. Tell the installer to format hda5, format it, and mount it at "/". Didn't do anything with hda7, which will come up later.

Boot options Use Grub to boot either Fedora or XP.

Network DHCP connection. Setup the firewall. Nothing gets in.

Packages The workstation install option selects some packages, but there are many more which can be chosen. I add in the entire KDE setup (default desktop is GNOME), delete the DVD stuff, install teTeX (I'm a LaTeX junkie) and docbook, and all of the "development tools", i.e., the header files you need to compile things.

About to Install abandon all hope, ye who enter in. OK, what the heck. It's 10:45 pm

Note that install information will be kept in /root/install.log and /root/anacond-ks.config

The "/" partition is formatted. Bye, Mandrake.

Kernel installed is 2.4.22-1.2115.nptl.i386 (I think, can't entirely read my writing).

Create a boot diskette (strongly recommended)

Load in CD #1, #2, and #3 in turn. It's finished at 11:19pm.

Let's use this thing

Reboot. Don't get the "you passed an undefined Node Number" on boot. This was an annoying feature in Mandrake and in KNOPPIX having something to do with the VGA graphics. RIP.

Fedora has a graphical boot sequence after the first screen. It knows this is a first-time boot, so it asks for

Clock settings It's EST, OK? I also set up NTP (Network Time Protocol) to keep the clock on time. RedHat has its own NTP servers. Nice. Under Mandrake I had to go out into the world to find a server.

Create my user account

Log into the user account. It boots up into Gnome. Where are my files? OK, doing a "df" I see that the is no separate "/home" partition. Realized my mistake during the installation. The fix is relatively easy:

"su" to root edit /etc/fstab to mount /dev/hda7 at /home (see the /dev/hda5 entry)


Try to log onto my user account. Crash in "less than 0.1 seconds". Remember that under Mandrake I ran IceWM as my boot manager. Fix this by doing a "Ctrl-Alt-F1" and logging into my account from the console. All my old /home directory is there, as it should be. Delete the .xsession file. Ctrl-Alt-F7 and try again.

Still crashes. Tell Fedora to log in under Gnome. This works.

su to root, run up2date to get software upgrades. Don't upgrade the kernel just yet, but do upgrade everything else. This takes a while, so go upstairs and continue reading Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, which is really good for times like these. Come back down at about 1:30 am and see that everything is done.

and so to bed.