Friday, December 30, 2005

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

Well, we went to Christmas Eve service, called Mom and lil'bro, opened presents under the tree, had friends over, oh, I see, this is supposed to be how I spent Christmas with my computer.

That's right, Dave. What have we been doing?

Well, since I've been home most of this week I've had plenty of chances to hack around on the computer. Most of this has been looking for new games I can play on a Linux box, like Penguin Planet Racer, né Tux Racer. I've also mined Tech Blogs for scripts, and even set up my own online software repository, which currently has one (count 'em - 1) script.

But mainly, I went looking for games and other add-ons.

So yesterday I did a Google™ search on "Linux Games" and was led to John Murray's Homepage. Not the John Murray from my hometown, this one's Aussie. His page has a collection of Linux links. One was a proprietary pinball game that I couldn't get to work. But another was a link to a bunch of fancy new screen savers, all of which run under xscreensaver.

If you don't know about xscreensaver, you haven't been running Linux very long. It's a screen saver program, as you might expect, which starts up when your keyboard and/or mouse have been idle for a preset amount of time. It then starts up, putting up weird images on your screen. Unlike most screen savers in the Windows world, however, xscreensaver can do different things at different times. Currently, my copy has 250 programs. When I'm off the computer for a bit, one of them, chosen randomly, starts up. I can, of course, edit the list of allowed programs (using what's called xscreensaver-demo for some reason). And, also of course, I can change the time xscreensaver waits before it starts, how long it displays a given screensaver, and when (or if) it locks up my keyboard so that outsiders can't see my account without my password.

But wait, there's more! Other people have added screensavers for xscreensaver. And that's what today's post is about.

Warning!! Long, geeky post follows!! You have been warned!!

As I said, I found a page of neat screensavers. Now this is a SourceForge project, so it's easy to go there and get the source, right? But then you have to download Source, Textures, and Sounds, either separately or all together, and then figure out how to put them together. Complicated. Better to let someone else do the work. So let's follow Murray's suggestion and search RPMfind for rss_glx packages. There aren't any for Fedora Core, but there are several for Mandriva. Let's try that, first downloading the latest binary RPM, rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586.rpm.

Try a standard install:

$ sudo rpm -ivh rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586.rpm
Password: xxxxxxxxxx
error: Failed dependencies: is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586 is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586

Not terribly unexpected, this is a Fedora machine, after all. It's a bit worrisome that my yum repositories don't seem to know about libMagick and libopenal, but maybe in Fedora they're given different package names.

So go back to RPMfind and download the equivalent source RPM, rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.src.rpm. Move it into the ~/rpmbuild/SRPMS directory, and try to install it there:

$ sudo rpmbuild --rebuild rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.src.rpm 
error: Failed build dependencies:
        libMesaGLU1-devel is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386
        libopenal-devel is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386
        libMesaglut-devel is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386
        libMagick-devel >= 5.5.7 is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386

OK, lots of stuff missing. And no good idea as to where to find it. The only reference I find to Mesa or GLU under Fedora is as part of the xorg-x11 distribution, which makes sense, actually. But it would appear that Mandriva and Fedora use different package names, and I don't want to deal with that right now.

What to do? I still don't want to go back to the source, if I can avoid it, as I might not get everything installed the right way. But wait! I have the source code right here, in the src.rpm package. Let's yank it out.

The easiest way to do this is to use fedora-extract, a little script which will pull apart any archive file:

$ fedora-extract rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.src.rpm 
$ cd rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk
$ ls -l
total 4892
-rw-r--r--  1 local local 4978215 Aug 29  2003 rss-glx_0.7.6.tar.bz2
-rw-r--r--  1 local local    6346 Aug 29  2003 rss_glx.spec

At this point we could, I suppose, look through the spec file and see what we're supposed to be doing. Mostly it just sets up some default directories, though. So let's just yank out the source and do it ourselves.

$ tar xjf rss-glx_0.7.6.tar.bz2
$ ls -l
total 4900
drwxr-xr-x  8 local local    4096 Aug 28  2003 rss-glx_0.7.6
-rw-r--r--  1 local local 4978215 Aug 29  2003 rss-glx_0.7.6.tar.bz2
-rw-r--r--  1 local local    6346 Aug 29  2003 rss_glx.spec
$ cd rss-glx_0.7.6
$ ls
aclocal.m4    other_src  
AUTHORS      COPYING    README               utils   depcomp       missing        README.xscreensaver
ChangeLog    include       mkinstalldirs  reallyslick  INSTALL       NEWS           src
configure    install-sh    oglc_src       stamp-h

Good, there's a configure file. Examining it says that it defaults to /usr/local for storage, and that's good enough.

$ ./configure
[Lots of lines deleted -- no errors on my system]

It does, however, give the messages

checking AL/al.h usability... no
checking AL/al.h presence... no
checking for AL/al.h... no
Hrm, maybe AL/al.h is in /usr/local/include
checking AL/al.h usability... no
checking AL/al.h presence... no
checking for AL/al.h... no

Which I'm guessing have something to do with the missing libopenal library. I see that Murray had the same problem. A quick search shows that OpenAL is a portable library for 3D spatialized audio. OK, I don't really want audio in my screensaver, thank you very much. Let's just leave this out.

OK, now compile the stuff:

$ make
[Takes a while, no error messages I can see.]

Then we use the handy checkinstall program to create an RPM file:

$ sudo /usr/local/sbin/checkinstall
Password:  xyzzyxyzzy2

checkinstall 1.6.0, Copyright 2002 Felipe Eduardo Sanchez Diaz Duran
           This software is released under the GNU GPL.

The package documentation directory ./doc-pak does not exist. 
Should I create a default set of package docs?  [y]: y

Preparing package documentation...OK

Please choose the packaging method you want to use.
Slackware [S], RPM [R] or Debian [D]? R

Please write a description for the package.
End your description with an empty line or EOF.
>> This is a collection of OpenGL screensavers for xscreensaver. They
require a hardware-accellerated GLX implementation.
You need to add them manually to your ~/.xscreensaver file as described
in README.xscreensaver

[I then edited to fields so that finally things look like this:]
This package will be built according to these values: 

1 -  Summary: [ This is a collection of OpenGL screensavers for xscreensaver. They ]
2 -  Name:    [ rss ]
3 -  Version: [ glx_0.7.6 ]
4 -  Release: [ 1 ]
5 -  License: [ GPL ]
6 -  Group:   [ Applications/System ]
7 -  Architecture: [ i386 ]
8 -  Source location: [ rss-glx_0.7.6 ]
9 -  Alternate source location: [ ]
10 - Requires: [ xscreensaver-base ]
11 - Provides: [ rss ]

Enter a number to change any of them or press ENTER to continue:
[Lots of output]

 Done. The new package has been saved to

 You can install it in your system anytime using: 

      rpm -i rss-glx_0.7.6-1.i386.rpm


$ cd /home/local/rpmbuild/RPMS/i386
$ sudo rpm -ivh rss-glx_0.7.6-1.i386.rpm
Preparing...                ########################################### [100%]
   1:rss                    ########################################### [100%]

Now, however, we need to look at the file /usr/doc/rss-glx_0.7.6/README.xscreensaver, which tells you to run /usr/local/bin/, which will update your personal xscreensaver installation. A properly constructed RPM file would do this automatically, but this isn't a properly constructed RPM, so there. Once the script is run, you can play around with xscreensaver-demo to see which of the new programs works on your computer. Like Murray, I couldn't get Skyrocket to work, but I'm not going to worry about that now. I can probably fix it by installing libopenal, but, as I said, I don't really need a noisy screen saver. I just unchecked the box that tells xscreensaver to run Skyrocket. The rest of the new screensavers work.

OK, that's a long, geeky post, but I wanted to document all of the steps in a software install, just this once. Next time I'll just refer you back here, OK?

Note added in proof: While I was posting all this, I'd left xscreensaver-demo running, positioned on the Skyrocket program. After I posted the original message, I remembered demo was still running. When I went to click it off, I saw that Skyrocket was, in fact, working. Without sound, of course. So I've put it back into the rotation for xscreensaver.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Homegrown Software

Techn0manc3r has a nice little fortuneteller script that pops up a fortune onto your X11 desktop. The script uses Tcl/Tk, in particular the wish program, which Fedora supplies in the Tk RPM package.

He also has a Wallpaper Setter for changing backgrounds. This inspired me to post one I've written, setbg, a small Perl script that allows you to randomly change the wallpaper at random times. I wrote up a general software page for this, hopefully I'll add some more stuff in the future.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

After All That Work

After installing Tux Racer from an old src.rpm, I ran yum update to check the status of my other RPMs. (In particular, I wanted to see if Firefox 1.5 had moved from the Fedora Core development tree. It hadn't.) I was then told that yum was going to replace Tux Racer with Penguin Planet Racer. This is a newer Open Source version of Tux. Apparently the original Tux went from Open Source to commercial, so this is what's left behind. It's pretty much the same game, of course.

For those playing along with yum, make sure you have the Fedora Extras repository enabled, then do

yum install ppracer

wish someone would have told me that.

Keep Your Feathers Oiled
    and Your Beak Down

Rather than work this Christmas Eve Morn, I decided to get Tux Racer running on the Windows machine. If you've never seen it, Tux is a penguin who loves to slide down slippery slopes collecting herring on the way. You get points for quick runs and the number of fish you grab. You can race down various slopes, compete for different "Cups," and download other courses, and design your own course. There's even a Windows version available, as well as one for the Mac, which I've yet to try. You can get them through links on the Tux Racer download page.

Tux used to be available on with the Fedora Core 3 distribution, but it was dropped from FC4 for reasons of space, I guess. The "recommended" way of getting Tux to run under Linux is to install from source. I tried that, using the usual tar -xvf; ./configure ; make ; make install procedure, but that failed at the ./configure stage with the message

configure: error: Your copy of glx.h is out of date. You can get a more recent copy from the latest Mesa distribution (

I tried to Google for a solution, but didn't find anything that would help much, except for digging out a copy of /usr/include/GL/glx.h from another Mesa distribution and trying that. That seemed rather too much work for a Saturday morning, especially on Christmas Eve.

Then I remembered that Tux Racer was in the Fedora Core 3 distribution. A quick search of found several locations for tuxracer-0.61-28.src.rpm, the Fedora Core 3 source RPM for Tux. Hopefully this would have whatever fixes were needed to get Tux to race under FC4.

From then on we follow the standard method for building RPM files from source RPMs.

  1. cp tuxracer-0.61-28.src.rpm $HOME/rpmbuild/SRPMS
  2. $ cd $HOME/rpmbuild/SRPMS
  3. $ sudo rpmbuild --rebuild tuxracer-0.61-28.src.rpm
  4. Wait a bit. There are lots of warning messages, but nothing stops. (You may have to install some other packages to get to this point, but they are all in the FC4 distribution, I think.)
  5. $ cd ../RPMS/i386/
  6. $ sudo rpm -ivh tuxracer-0.61-28.i386.rpm
  7. $ rehash
  8. $ tuxracer

And now you should be gliding down the mountain.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

It Happens Every Christmas

Your friends, real, virtual, and imaginary, fill your email with heartfelt thoughts, cute cards, and amazing animations, all celebrating the holiday.

This isn't one of those:

A BK Holiday

Sunday, December 18, 2005

      This Week's Sign That The
          Apocalypse Is Upon Us
(And I Really Mean It This Time)

"Festive" gold and silver garnish.

Yes, you eat it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Delete Windows?
(Yes/No/[HELL YES!])

I'm going to do something I've never done before, and probably never do again: recommend a book I have no intention of reading, much less buying.

The book is Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It's Not as Hard as You Think, by Tony Bove, "Writer, producer, market-messaging consultant, musician, and book author." (His words, and his link to Amazon. The man is nothing if not commercial.)

I'm recommending the book because of a Washington Post webchat, Bove's page Get Off Microsoft, and his Get Off Microsoft Blog, now listed in the sidebar. All have useful information on ways to do things with a computer that don't involve bowing in the general direction of Redmond. There's a lot on Linux alternatives, but just as much on Macs, and he's not adverse to recommending Open Source or other non-MS software on Windows machines.

So why won't I read it? Well, if it showed up under the Christmas tree (Kids: this is not a hint) I'd read it, but I know most of the stuff in the book, so I don't need to buy it for myself. My bosses are Mac-centric and Linux friendly, so I don't need to convince them.

I guess it would be a good stocking stuffer for friends using Windows, except the only friends that would appreciate it are fellow geeks, and geeks who use Windows aren't really geeks.

So I'll just recommend it to the 50+ per cent of you that read this blog and still, for whatever reason, use Windows.

There's an alternative!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Making FVWM an Option

A correspondent (we now have correspondents, aka people who write us) sent us a link to FVWM Crystal, a set of tweaks and addons to enhance the FVWM Window Manager.

I'm not going to be using it soon, it looks rather bulky, and one of the reasons for using FVWM was the fact that it is relatively lightweight when compared to Gnome and KDE. (The other reason was the large virtual desktop, mine is 9 times larger than the screen, and I can pan anywhere on it with the mouse.) However, Correspondent also mentioned that FVWM-Crystal contained a file which made FVWM show up on the GDM (and KDM, presumably) window manager login screen.

This has been an irritant. In a default Fedora Core 4 setup, when you turn on the computer there's a splash screen which has a box for your username and password. Down at the lower left there's an entry called, I think Session. The options inside Session are, by default, Gnome, KDE, Last Session, and Default.

If you install FVWM from source, as I've done (or use a home-rolled RPM file) it doesn't show up on the login screen. To get FVWM to launch when you log in you need to create a .xsession file in your home directory which contains the line


if that's the location of your FVWM executable. This is the "default" option on the Session menu.

That's not too hard for me to figure out, but suppose I want some other user of this machine to have a chance to learn the glories of FVWM? The easiest way to do that is to give them the ability to launch FVWM from the Session menu. That's where the hint from FVWM-Crystal comes in.

The Gnome (GDM) and KDE (KDM) window managers look in the directory /usr/share/xsessions to see what window managers are available. I found the files gnome.desktop and kde.desktop there. Obviously I need to install a fvwm.desktop file. But what goes in it?

FVWM-Crystal comes with a fvwm.desktop file. It's not totally appropriate for my setup, but it provided enough hints to let me construct a version for myself. Mine looks like this:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=F(eeble) Virtual Window Manager:  Lightweight, Fast

[Window Manager]

I'm not sure if all of that is necessary or not.

Save this file as /usr/share/xsessions/fvwm.desktop, make it executable ($ chmod 755 /usr/share/xsessions/fvwm.desktop), log out of your Xsession, and look at the Session option on the login screen. FVWM should be available as an option.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cleaning Up the File Installation Mess

Who knew Christmas shopping would be useful?

The other morning I played hooky from work to go Christmas shopping. Don't worry, I took annual leave.

I took a break from my arduous task by getting a coffee at the local Borders. Before I got that, though, I looked around for something to read and found the Jan/06 issue of Linux Journal. I intended to put it back when I left, but it was so useful that I decided to shell out the $5.25 to buy it.

Which brings us to the current topic, an article by Marcel Gangé on cleaning up your $HOME (or other) directory after you've installed a program from a tarball.

So what's the problem? If you're new to Linux, you may have only installed programs from RPM or Debian .deb files, then you might not have encountered a tarball. Heck, if you use yum or apt-get you might never have seen an .rpm or .deb file at all, even though they are there.

Simply put, a tarball is collection of files that will install a program for you on your system. Unfortunately, usually the files are the source code for the program, plus some "hints" (a file called configure and another called makefile, or maybe Imakefile) on how the files are to be compiled. The tarball is a compressed archive file, usually with a name like fineprogram.tar.gz or fineprogram.tgz, the "gz" indicating that everything is compressed with the gzip program.

Now installing from source is a chancy proposition — my current success rate is maybe 90%, but some programs just won't install on my system, probably because I'm missing some key libraries (that's why we have yum and apt-get, to handle these dependencies).

For now, though, let's assume that you've got the program compiled, and even installed (more about that later). You delete the source code directory as a bunch of junk you'll never need again, and run the program happily.

Until one day, you find that the program doesn't really do exactly what you want it to do, and you decide to delete it from your system and replace it by a newer program.

A small problem: The program may have left traces of itself in /usr/bin, /usr/lib, /etc, /usr/share, and maybe /opt, just out of a general sense of perversity. Where are all those files?

Well, if the program was nicely written, you could go back to your source directory and run "make uninstall". This looks for a set of commands in the makefile which remove all of the installed program components.

Unfortunately, you deleted the makefile along with the rest of the source, remember?


Now, this post won't tell you how to clean up that mess, but it will tell you one way of preventing the mess from happening.

The secret is a program which Gangé's article talks about extensively: CheckInstall. Basically, the program (available as a tarball, RPM, Slackware, or DEB file) keeps track of where all of the files a tarball installs are, and makes it easy to delete them if you want to. It does this by creating a RPM, DEB, or Slackware Binary file. You install this just like you would a binary file you get from your distributer, and you can delete it the same way.

How does it work? I'm just going to discuss how it works under Fedora, so I'll create an RPM file. I think it works pretty much the same way for Debian and Slackware files, but that's for you to test out.

For an explicit example, let's assume that I want to install the FVWM window manager from source.

That last link should get you a file called fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz, a tarball with the FVWM source code. Compiling this code is actually fairly easy. You just open up an terminal window, and execute the following commands:

$ tar tvzf fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz
$ cd fvwm-2.4.19
$ ./configure
$ make
$ sudo make install
$ cd ..
$ rm -fr fvwm-2.4.19

What's all that do? Let's go through it line by line:

  1. $ tar tvzf fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz uncompresses the tarball. This creates a directory named fvwm-2.4.19 and puts all the files you need into it.
  2. $ cd fvwm-2.4.19 goes into that directory.
  3. $ ./configure runs a program which searches your machine and decides if you have all the libraries you need to compile and run fvwm. If you do, it will create a makefile which has the locations of all the files you need to run the program, plus appropriate compiler flags.
  4. $ make executes the makefile. Typically this will take minutes to hours, as all the components of your system are compiled. If it's successful, then
  5. $ sudo make install will put all of the program bits where they belong. You need the sudo if you want to install the program in /usr or /usr/local, or someplace else that's owned by the superuser.
  6. $ cd .. returns you to the directory above fvwm-2.4.19.
  7. $ rm -fr fvwm-2.4.19 deletes the source code.

What does CheckInstall do? It gets rid of the "make install" step. Basically, you run the following commands:

$ tar tvzf fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz
$ cd fvwm-2.4.19
$ ./configure
$ make
$ sudo "/usr/local/sbin/checkinstall"
$ sudo rpm -i /usr/src/redhat/RPMS/i386/fvwm-2.4.19-1.i386.rpm
$ cd ..
$ rm -fr fvwm-2.4.19

The process is pretty self-explanatory. You can give the default answers to all of the questions, tell the code to create an RPM file, and it will tell you that it has created an RPM file in the location /usr/src/redhat/RPMS/i386/fvwm-2.4.19-1.i386.rpm or wherever. The exact name and location depends on the installation. (All these "su" and "sudo"s will require the appropriate passwords, by the way.)

So what's the big deal? The RPM file installation process knows where all the files belonging to fvwm-2.4.19 went on install. Thus, if you later decide you don't want to use FVWM as your window manager,

sudo rpm -e fvwm removes the program from your system, along with all of the auxiliary files it installed.

Now, a word of warning: this is not a real RPM file. "Real" RPM files have dependency information in them. What's that? Well, say that FVWM depends upon a library called "libfoo". If for some reason I remove the "libfoo" RPM from the system, a "real" RPM installation would tell me that this is going to break FVWM. However, here the RPM isn't connected to "libfoo" so far as your RPM system knows, so it won't warn you. Also, you probably can't pass this RPM off to a friend with any hope of him getting it to run on his system: he's better off trying to compile the code himself.

However, it does make file installation and cleanup a lot neater, and so is extremely usefull.

And well worth the $5.25 for the magazine.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In Case of My Untimely Demise

You've met our cats ( here, too).

The white one has it in for me. If I shuffle off of this mortal coil under suspicious circumstances, he did it.


We've had these cats since before we moved to the current house. In the old house, they were well behaved. That is, they never got in anyone's way as we walked around the house.

The old house was a large Levitt Cape Cod with a finished second floor. To go from upstairs to downstairs you went from a bedroom or the bathroom into a small alcove, and then proceeded down the stairs. The walls of the alcove were close-in, so you could always catch yourself if you tripped at the top of the steps. A cat in front of you had just better get out of the way.

Our new house is a "raised ranch," with the stairs out in the middle of the living room. If you trip, there's little to stop you except for a banister which is possibly made out of something resembling wood. The cat immediately saw his chance.

When I head down the steps, the white one likes to follow — well, not exactly follow. He starts from behind me, true, but he then runs in front of me. Very close in front of me, so that I have to stop. The more I'm carrying, the finer he cuts it — for laundry he gets within a foot, if I'm holding a computer he gets within six inches or so.

Today, I was heading down the stairs. As I came off the landing, I instinctively stopped, one foot in midair, waiting for the cat to come by.

He wasn't there. I almost lost my balance and crashed through the front door at the bottom of the stairs.

He's trying to kill me.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

An Explanation for the
Whole Frakin' Universe


Click on the picture to advance to the next frame.

Or click here for the full screen version.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Another Unpatched IE Flaw

If. for some reason, you are one of the 30% of the people reading this blog who still use Internet Explorer, you might want to look at this: Microsoft Issues Warning About Unpatched IE Flaw. No, it's not deja vu all over again, it's another bug:

The company said users browsing the Web with IE could infect their computers with a Trojan horse if they visit certain Web sites that are known to be exploiting the flaw, though it didn't specify what those sites are.

Why do I, a semi-known Linux user and closet Mac freak, keep telling you about Windows and IE bugs? Because they affect non-Windows users as well (read the comment by the weasel), and this, from The Register:

Consider an analogy on the size of modern malicious code: if Windows XP were the size of the Empire State Building, then the little barking Beagle virus - the size of a small dog - can come in through the front door, lift its leg, deliver its payload, and somehow cause the entire building to come crumbling down. Or, Beagle can simply hold the door open automatically, so that a large cement truck can drive in and deliver its mystery payload to the base of the operating system as required.

Oh, and if you are an IE user looking for an alternative, Firefox version 1.5 is out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The Novel, which now has a title, Points of Origin, is finished. At 50,346 words, it just barely made the NaNoWriMo target of 50,000, but it got that far.

Tomorrow or later in the week I'll fix up the page to show all the NaNoWriMo award icons, but for now, I'm going to turn off this computer and forget about it for a while.

Good Night, All.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Almost Middle Aged Writer ISO Title

With the beast that has taken over my life at over 40,000 words, the time as come to give it a title.

Just one problem, I have no idea what the title should be. Well, I did at one point, that's not the main focus of the story now.

So a little help, Gentle Readers. What should the title be? Leave your comments below.

If I use your suggestion, I'll be happy to Tuckerize you. Just give me a title and preferred mode of death. (Hey, I've tuckerized the I-95 bridge over the Potomac, so why not you?)


Words in my humble literary endeavor. With five days left, 2,000 words a day will make the NaNoWriMo goal. It looks like I just might get it done.

Those who are actually reading the thing (Z, TK?) will note that in Chapter 22 our team actually gets to go through a Stargate -- finally. In a chapter or two, they'll even get to meet a real, live -- no, that would be telling.

Goal for the weekend: get to 50,000 words by Sunday evening. I might make it, might not. Then wrap things up by Tuesday, and add a little padding on Wednesday.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

You Have the Right Not to
 Click on the Attachment

So you wake up in the morning and there's an email in your inbox. This one looks official, and it's from the FBI. It says, in part, that your Internet address has been implicated in illegal online activity.

Man, I hate when that happens.

The email then asks you to respond to a few questions. Just click on the little attachment there, and all will be well. (After all, Internet addresses are easily spoofed. I mean, I get emails from places like Little Susie's House of Pain all the time, and I've never visited that site.) (Well, OK, once.) (In a while.) (But still...)

Needless to say, this is just a little bit of social engineering to get you to open the attachment. If the FBI or CIA wants to ask you questions, they have more efficient means of doing it than sending you an email attachment. If you do open the attachment, your (Windows) computer will be infected with the Sober Worm, a nasty piece of work that starts by disabling your virus protection package and in some cases rewriting your hosts file (yes, your computer has one). That makes it impossible for you to contact your virus protection provider for information on how the remove the worm. If that happens, you may need these tips on removing the Sober Worm. Be warned. One of the tips says, essentially, "Go to a friends house. Say, 'I've been a complete idiot and opened an unsolicited attachment on my PC, and now I've got the Sober virus. Can I use your information to download the tools I need to remove it?'" If that doesn't stop you from clicking on attachments, nothing will.

Your friend will probably guess that one of his friends has been infected, because he'll be getting copies of the virus emailed from every infected computer that stored his email address. Including Little Susie's House of Pain. (I've told that woman that she needs a better computer system.)

Oh, did I mention that this virus only infects Windows machines? Not Macs, Linux, or Unix boxes? We've been trying to tell you, kiddies...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Star Trek: The Last Generation

Did you watch Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning? If so, you might want to look at Star Trek New Voyages: fanfic of what the last two years of the Five Year Mission might have looked like.

The sets, music, and special effects are great, and evoke the original series. The acting is not so good. (Maybe it doesn't matter. Can you say "Denny Crane"?) The scripts suffer from prequelitis: the belief that events in the future of the timeline must be foreshadowed, even if no mention of such foreshadowing is not remembered in said timeline. Case in point, a pyramid which will look very familiar. (No, it's not a Stargate Ha'tak.)

Still it's fun. Several episodes are available for download. Spring for the DVD version if you've got the bandwidth.

And what could be a better way to spend turkey day than watching somebody with a Vinnie Barbarino haircut trying to imitate Shatner?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


The count on the novel increases. I'm now up the Chapter 19, which is really way too many. These should really be called "fits" rather than "chapters," because each of them is a "fit" of writing, where I write a lot, and then stop for a bit.

18,000 words, 9 days to go, ==> 2,000 words per day. Well, I think I can average that, but I've got commitments for tomorrow night, so don't expect anything posted until Thanksgiving morning.

Defects in writing style: I'm planning on doing an entire post mortem on the whole thing in December, but one of the annoying things I've found is that I suffer from here-comes-a-commercialitis. You know, the idea that each commercial break should end with a dramatic development or an ironic comment. I hate that! And yet, I find myself doing it at the end of every chapter, including 19, published tonight.

By the way, earlier chapters have changed a bit. In particular, in Chapter 9 I added a few lines to drive home the fact that the SGC knows that "The Cylons Were Created By Man." Sorry, I'm not including a changelog, I don't have time. I'll try to warn you where changes have taken place, though.

Hope this isn't too incoherent. I'm half asleep now.

Good Night, All.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

26,485 Words

are written so far for NaNoWriMo. Seventeen chapters. If you've been reading along, note that Chapter 3 has had a significant sentence added to it. I was going to use this later, but I decided Daniel had to know about it before Chapter 17.

That's the great thing about writing books, you can always go back and change things.

Tomorrow we get over 30,000 words, or we don't go to sleep.

Still More Chapters

I have more of my NaNoWriMo novel online. Chapter 9 was rewritten a bit, and I've added 10-14. The index has placeholders for 15 and 16, but they aren't available yet. Last night I dug myself a major plot hole in ch. 15, and now I've got to delete (wah!).

23,036 words have been written. I hope to get over 30,000 by the end of the week, then I only need 5,000 words on each of my vacation days to finish up — well, to get over the limit. I may have more to say. I'm pretty sure I can get 5,000 words if I have a whole day available, I managed 5,000 on Wednesday evening, and another 3,000 on Thursday. Yesterday, of course, I got stuck early.

Will post more when I get written. Thanks to my reader(s) for taking a look.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

More Chapters Up

Chapters 8 and 9, to be precise. I now have something over 12,500 words, or ¼ of the way to the goal. Maybe I can reach it. If I can get over 20,000 words by next weekend I think I've got a pretty good shot.

I've corrected the spelling of Laura Roslin's name, which had somehow acquired a "y" in place of the "i". I'm not sure how that happened.

I'm getting somewhere with this, at least, Starbuck is talking to Daniel, maybe, and Adama's getting ready to visit the system.

If anyone out there is reading this and is a fan of the new Battlestar Galactica, can you answer a question for me? Wasn't there a ring-like structure in the ruins of Kobol? At least when Six was showing Baltar their future baby? It's not essential, but it would help the connections between the shows which I'm trying to build.

You will no doubt note that I haven't been proofreading all that much. There's just not enough time. So if you see anything that's a grave (or minor) insult to the English language, please leave a comment. Think of yourselves as my beta-testers.

And if you like the story so far, leave a comment about that, as well. I need all the encouragement I can get.

If you don't like the story, comment as well. I can take criticism. I'll also take names, but I can take criticism.

Answering William Allen White

Back in my pre-youth, William Allen White famously asked What's the Matter With Kansas? Alas, now we know.

In an effort to help people who must live or visit Kansas, the Annals of Improbable Research has published these useful stickers. I'm reasonably sure, given my status as a Jayhawk-in-exile, that they'd allow me to repeat the text here:


as per order of the Board of
Education, November 8,2005

Use of this device or substance
may require, imply, and/or endorse
the existence of one or more of the
following: chemistry; evolution;
electromagnetism; gravity;
mathematics; thermodynamics;

I should point out that this case shows a classic political fallacy: the belief that just because you win one election, it's all over. Recall that in 1999 the Kansas BoE passed something similar. Those who voted in favor were booted out at the next election. All over, right? Well, guess again. They're baaack. They may well be out after the next election, but guess what, they'll be back again. Even, I bet, in Dover, Pennsylvania.

Eternal vigilance, folks.

More Writing: Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7

Well, I got a bit more done this week. I've put Chapters 4-7 online. In these Chapters, Jack and Starbuck get hooked up. I even give Mitchell something to do, since he's not done much during the series.

The project is at about 9,500 words, or something less than 1/5 done in one third of the time. I think I've got it all plotted out now. Warning: I'm going to do violence to Greek and Roman mythology, and possibly change the outcome of the Trojan War. Aside from that, everything should be just like real history up until 1995 or so.

Instead of doing the LaTeX to HTML conversion by hand, I'm using a script called ltoh. It's not perfect, by any means, it uses HTML 3.2 instead of XHTML, and it require a stricter latex file than I'm used to, but it works well enough for now. I'll pretty up the HTML output with last, next, up links at a later date.

Friday, November 11, 2005

How To Set Up Fedora Core ™ has a list of instructions on how to set up Fedora Core as your personal computer system. Quite a few steps are similar to the ones I've discussed here and in Working With Fedora Core, but there are a few differences: disk partitioning scheme, where to get Java (he likes Sun, I like Blackdown), he likes VLC, I'm more into Xine and mplayer, etc. But it's a useful document.

Also useful are his references:

All of these are useful, especially if you are installing Fedora for the first time.

Oh, the novel? It's at about 7,600 words. I'll post the latest chapters sometime today. Something short of 1/6th done, with only 20 days to go. Fortunately I'm now past the introductory stuff, maybe I can get more written as we get into the action.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

How The Mighty Have Fallen

OK, the show was pre-web, and close to pre-Internet. But, did you know, that a Google ™ search on the phrase The Owls are Not What They Seem puts this blog in second place? And that is a post which only uses the Twin Peaks motif as a throwaway line to suggest that what you see isn't always what is there.

What's to be done? We need to upgrade the show's Page Rank. So quick, all ye bloggers, put up a link to David Lynch's Twin Peaks site.

Of course, it would help if they actually had the quote The Owls are Not What They Seem on the site.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Thirty-Seven Year Itch

Yesterday Kansas beat Nebraska in football, 40-15. While Nebraska is having a down millenium, it's still news. It's bigger than beating Kentucky in basketball. Thirty-seven years is a long time. I mean, in 1968,

  • I was still in high school.
  • John Riggins was still playing for KU.
  • Gale Sayers was considered a recent graduate (1965) of KU.
  • There was this war going on. You may have heard of it.
  • People still thought of Ronald Reagan as an actor — OK, someone who was in some movies.
  • The Watergate was just a hotel, because Richard Nixon was just running for President.
  • George W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton were doing whatever they didn't do during the Vietnam War.
  • Star Trek was on television — in its second season.
  • (I got tired of looking up Wikipedia entries, OK?)
  • Mohammed Ali was in jail.
  • No one had heard of Star Wars. Few had heard of Lord of the Rings.

Got it? This was a long, long run. Sorry, Nebraska. Maybe next year — we'll beat you in Lincoln.

Chapter 3 is online

I've posted Chapter 3. Wrote it yesterday at Barnes and Noble, fortified by Starbucks coffee. No, not Starbucks' coffee, she might shoot me.

It's an info dump, trying to give all the background I can think of for the Stargate side of the story. Hopefully it's consistent with series canon up to Fourth Horseman. However, series canon isn't totally consistent, so if I'm off a bit I won't care.

There is little proof-reading in the last chapter. If I get this thing finished before the end of the month I'll polish it up. However, there is little danger that I'm going to get it done too soon. I only have something on the order of 3,500 words, and the requirement is 50,000. It has been a busy week, and there are vacation days coming up, so I hope to get done around Thanksgiving. But we'll see.

Friday, November 04, 2005

You May Wonder

Why there are no more chapters.

That's because we've come to the part of the story where I have to do a massive infodump, and I hate massive infodumps.

I think it's going to be a lunchroom scene, with SG-1 and Burkemeirer.

Not much to explain. Just

  • Why PM-3527 has no Stargate
  • What the heck Saturn was doing there
  • Why he left
  • And took all the humans with him
  • Why Burkemeirer calls the place Massilia.
  • And what Mitchell and Teal'c are getting out of this visit.
  • And, less we forget, what O'Neill and Robbins find in Massilia's waterworks.

Then we have to get Starbuck into the game, but that will be for another chapter.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Chapter Two Ready

I've posted Chapter 2. This one is from the Galactica side, and serves to start the interaction between our characters. I hope.

Again, only 1,000 words or so. I hope I can get a few more words written tomorrow night. I'd hate getting to Thanksgiving time with only 20K words written. It would make the vacation rather hectic.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chapter One Up

We're off and running. Chapter 1 of my magnum opus is up. There is also a PDF version for those that are so inclined.

This ran a little short, 1072 words, instead of the projected 2,000. I hope that this doesn't mean that I'm going to write 50 chapters. I suspect not. This was just a set-piece introduction of the woman who will be our focus character from the SG-1 side of the story. A woman who obviously has some history with both Jack and Sam.

I probably spent too much time editing, as well. And then I'm sure I let some major blooper go through. Oh well, there's always time for editing in December.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Creative Juices to be Unleashed

At least, I hope so. In a fit of mindlessness, I've declared to family that I'm going to write a novel. Well, not a big novel, for sure. Fifty thousand words (175 pages), maybe a few more. In a month. It's all part of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo.

I do this to follow in the footsteps of Eldest Child, who last year started on about Nov. 20 and managed to finish by Nov. 30. Of course, most of the writing was done during Thanksgiving break.

However, I plan to start tomorrow, the first official day of the month. A simple calculation says I need to write about 2,000 words per day, given that I'll probably have some off days.

I'll place the chapters in HTML, and maybe PDF format at nanowrimo05 in my Comcast web space. I'll make a post here when each new chapter goes up. I'd really appreciate comments here after each chapter. And yes, "I had to stop reading or tear my eyes out" is an acceptable comment.

What's it about? Beats the heck out of me... No, actually, it's Stargate SG-1/Battlestar Galactica fanfic crossover, at least for now. No, not the original Galactica, the new one. With the humanoid Cylons.

The title's unknown, and although I have the first chapter pretty well planned out, it doesn't have a title, either. Suggestions are welcome, after you've read a bit.

NaNoWriMo doesn't encourage editing during November, so if you point out any mistakes in English, plot, or whatever, please don't expect me to change anything before the end of the month.

If any of you are participating in NaNoWriMo and want a link to your work, drop me a line here. If I get enough links, I'll make up a sidebar on this page.

Wish me (and all NaNoWriMo members) luck.

There. Now I have to do it.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Visitor MMMM

Actually, that should be M Vbar, where Vbar is a V with a bar across it, but I'm lazy, and I digress, as usual.

Last night at 10:23:27 pm (EDT) this blog had its 4,000th visitor since I started logging visits. Thanks to sitemeter, we know that our 4,000th guest was from the University of California at San Diego and, surprise, wanted to know about firefox and rtsp, and visited the famous Linux, Firefox, and rtsp:// page. Odd, because our visitor was using a Mac running OS X, which I didn't think had this problem.

I've only been keeping usage information for a few months, but I can tell you that since last August 15, 38% of those who visit here are running Linux (good show) and 56% are running Windows, with most of the remainder Macs. 62% of our visitors use the Firefox browser (great!), while only 27% use IE. Keep up the good work, people.

And thanks to all of you for stopping by. We don't get the hits of some blogs, but we get quite a few more than I ever thought we would.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

Back in school (way, way, back), we used to get weekly "Science Magazines" which had a few articles on modern science, which everyone ignored, and a few brainteaser problems, which was all anyone paid attention to. (Unless you were using the magazine to hide an issue of Playboy, but I digress.)

One of the popular things in the brainteaser category was along the lines of this:

Stare at the picture below for thirty seconds (that's two choruses of the Jeopardy theme) and then look at a blank wall:

Click here for a bigger version.

You'll see a green "Hello, Agent Cooper" right? Why? Because after images appear in complementary colors.

Here's a site that carries this behavior of your eye to an extreme:

I can see the effect, but every time I twitch just a bit the whole thing resets and I have to start over again.

Friday, October 21, 2005

She's Got Really Big — Speakers

From Anaova:

Musical Breast Implants

An MP3 player on one side, a storage system on the other.

Blame TK for telling me about this.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Icon Upload

All will eventually become obvious.

This Week's Sign That the
Apocalypse is Upon Us

These things are really too easy. No Wonder SI has been doing this for years:

Arkansas State basketball player Jerry Nichols can't practice with his team. Why? He wants to wear Nikes, but ASU has a contract with Adidas.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Aaack! You Win!

A while ago, I complained that I hadn't been getting enough Spam comments to this blog.

Well, the situation has changed. Today I got seven (all removed). Most are inane. I did save this one for posterity.

I'd go return the favor in the blogs that try to link here, pointing out that they are different from Oedipus: they know what they're doing. Unfortunately, most of these blogs (or outright advertisements) don't allow comments, and the ones that do are scary.

So I've given up and added Blogger's word verification feature. This means that you'll have one more step before you can add a comment to this blog. Sorry about that, but I've got better things to do than delete comments like:

Great blog on Linux. I have a blog on Linux and Viagra. Stop by.

Find Your Place on Serenity

OK, Firefly fans, which character is most like you? Don't know? Take the Quiz.

Here's my result:

You scored as Hoban 'Wash' Washburne. The Pilot. You are a leaf on the wind, see how you soar. You have a good job, and a stunning wife who loves you (and can kill people). Life is good, which is why you can't help smiling. Now if you can just get people to actually listen to your opinion things would be perfect.

Capt. Mal Reynolds


The Operative


Hoban 'Wash' Washburne


Kaylee Frye


Simon Tam


Zoe Alleyne Washburne


River Tam


Jayne Cobb


Inara Serra


Shepherd Derrial Book


Which Serenity character are you?
created with

Note that Wash, Mal, and "The Operative" all came out the same. I find this rather disturbing.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Meet the New Boss

Same as the old Boss. In one of the stranger baseball stories of the week (not as strange as a non-dropped third strike), the Oakland Athletics replaced fired manager Ken Macha –– with Ken Macha.

I might have expected this of Charlie Finley, but not Billy Beane.

Friday, October 14, 2005

This Week's Sign That the
Apocalypse is Upon Us

What the American people have seen is this incredible disparity in which those people who had cars and money got out, and those people who were impoverished drowned.

––Ted Kennedy on Hurricane Katrina


––Mary Jo Kopechne

Swiped from Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

And yes, he really said it: 3rd paragraph

Thursday, October 13, 2005

For the Hunter Who Has Everything

I heard about this on the radio as I was driving home today: The Buck Bomb –– It's aerosolized deer urine. Available in "five different scents: Doe Estrus, Dominant Buck, Young Buck, Doe P and Vanilla Curiosity Scent."

I don't hunt, but I've got nothing against hunters. I have friends, relatives, and neighbors who hunt. And I know the deer urine masks the human scent and makes the buck think that he's approaching the deer equivalent of Hooters. But Vanilla Curiosity? Did Daniel Boone use "Doe P?" Did Davy Crockett resort to "Doe Estrus?" (Eeew.) I think not.

In fact, I think I know why the stuff actually works:

Deer #1: What's that?

Deer #2: What?

#1: That smell.

#2: (sniffs) Hmm. Smells like Vanilla Curiosity.

#1: (Laughs) Vanilla Curiosity!!? That stuff? They think that's going to work?

#2: (Laughs harder) Check this next guy out. It, it, (more laughter) it's Doe Estrus!!

#1: (Doubles over with laughter) Ohmygod, you're right. Doe Estrus!! (Collapses completely.)


Hunter: Yup, I guess this stuff really works. He just waited for me to come up and shoot him.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bush Declared Liberal

Americans Against Change, Government, Taxes, and Democrats (AACGTD), an umbrella organization of right-wing political groups, today designated President George W. Bush as a Liberal.

The designation had been long expected, giving growing conservative distrust of growing deficits, the increase in spending promised for Katrina and Rita hurricane relief, and Laura Bush's reference to herself as a "Desperate Housewife."

The final straw was the appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, especially after the appointment of John Roberts as Chief Justice.

"The President completed ignored our directive –– uh, make that wish –– for the appointment of conservative judicial scholars who won't interfere with Congressional decisions unless we tell them to. For all we know, this woman could be another Souter. Or, God forbid, a Warren. You know, we can't just have Republican Presidents nominating Justices without our approval. Bad things happen," said an AACGTD spokesman.

Columnist George Will, who has been expressing doubts about Presidential policies for some time, said in a statement, "while I regret the necessity of this step, I am gratified that the AACGTD has taken this designation, as it gives me something to write about now that the Cubs and Red Sox are both deader than Ted Kennedy's Presidential aspirations."

Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said, "The Bush Administration is the best thing that has happened to this country in history –– wait, I mean, he's as bad as Clinton, and I bet we'll find a blue dress hanging around somewhere, if you know what I mean."

Under the rules governing AACGTD's Liberal designation, the President is now required to invite Al Sharpton to the White House, hold a fund raiser for Ralph Nader, read books, note that reasonable people might disagree with his policies, and generally behave like a wimp.

Conservative columnists and commentators are now required to oppose White House policies in general. In particular, White House spokesman Scott McClellan is to be referred to as a "Liberal Running Dog." For the specific cases where the President's policies match those on AACGTD's approved list, the White House position is to be referred to as "hypocritical."

Members of the Democratic National Committee answered phone calls, but responses to questions could not be heard over what was apparently loud laughter in the background.

This is not the AACGTD's first designation of a Republican as a Liberal. Previously, the organization as listed David Souter, Arlen Specter, John McCain, Sandra Day O'Connor, George H. W. Bush, Barry Goldwater, and Newt Gingrich as Liberals.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Note to feed4all Users

The words/string/phrase

" a  m  i  t  t  y  v  i  l  l  e    a c t u a l    a r t i c l e s "

does not appear in this blog. Believe me, I've checked.

Please, however, feel free to leave a comment as to why all of you are searching for that particular combination of alphabetical characters.

Weird search strings found by Site Meter.

Of More General Interest, Perhaps

This month's issue of Linux Gazette (.net) has, at the bottom, a link to a fortune collection from Terry Pratchett's new Discworld novel, Thud!.

They also have a link to the English – American Dictionary, so that we can speak to the people on the other side of the pond (whichever side you're on).

Well, OK, mostly it's from for USens:

This article is written in American, and is thus spelt wrong. The rest of the wourld desreves bettre.

But there is also the American – English Dictionary.

Oh. You want the Thud! file? Here it is.


Gee, sexy title. Anyway, this morning I was letting Fedora update itself (using the command yum update run as root), when I found that it was updating a package called fedora-rpmdevtools. This turns out to be a collection of scripts that perform some common operations that you need to do from time to time. For example, fedora-buildrpmtree sets up your account so that you can build RPM files.

Of more use, though, is the script fedora-extract, which extracts files from just about any kind of archive, including RPMs, ZIPS, tarred (and compressed), whatever.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Update Your Version of RealPlayer

Looking at the hits this blog takes, it's apparent that a lot of you, both Windows and Linux people, use RealPlayer, or, perhaps, its Open Source cousin, Helix Player. If so, you need to know that there is an update for both, as reported in Fedora Weekly News. Fedorans who use "yum update" regularly should have gotten the Helix Player update last week, but RealPlayer requires a download. Spheniscussionists who use RealPlayer, or didn't get Helix Player updated, should get the new version here.

Then test your work by viewing this one minute history of the universe.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I've Been Waiting All of My
(Internet) Life for This

I first saw the trailer for Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning many years ago. It's a parody (in Finnish, with subtitles) of Star Trek with a healthy dose of Babylon 5. Now, finally, the movie is completed and available for download. Or you can buy it, if you live outside of the United States. Downloading via BitTorrent went very quickly, it took less than 30 minutes to get the whole file. It's a 1 hour 43 minute movie, and it comes in at 541 MB, so it will fit on a CD. If you know how, you can also copy it to DVD and play it on your television.

The instructions say that you need a XviD Codec to play on a Mac or a PC. However, under Linux it plays using my installed versions and codecs for mplayer, Totem, and VLC movie players. Oddly, it didn't play under Xine, but that's probably just my Fedora setup not having the proper codecs. I like the way Totem plays the movie best, though I like mplayer better for playing DVDs from disk. I've yet to try it on a Windows machine, but if I do I'll let you know how it plays.

Anyway, it's a fun movie. I can't totally recommend it, yet, because I haven't watched all of it (baseball and football both today, people). But it's, uh, free, so you don't lose anything but time by trying it out.

And, it's distributed under a Creative Commons License, which allows you to distribute it freely so long as you give it proper attribution and you don't alter it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A Different View of the Web

I see from the Washington Post that the Opera Web Browser is now completely free to the user -- Google pays them for the clicks in the search bar.

There are versions for Windows, Macs, and Linux. The Linux version comes in the native format for just about any distribution you can think of.

I've played with it a little bit tonight, but only enough to verify that it is different than Firefox. Not better than, nor worse than, just different. If I play with it more, I'll write up a bit of a review, but at the moment it's probably only something to bring up when Firefox just doesn't want to work on a given web page.

Interestingly, the little box at the top of this page identifies Opera as "IE" by default. Which makes me wonder how many of the IE-identified browsers I get in the Site Meter Log are really Opera.

If you're a Windows user currently using IE, you might want to try Opera. If you're already using Firefox, try Opera if you want, but don't (please, oh, please, don't) go back to IE.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Sign Of the Times

I got the sign above from, though I made up the quotes or got them from various places. It's either cute or annoying. Let me know which.

And You Thought It Only Seemed
Like Your Money was Shrinking

Governments have traditionally inflated their currency, shrinking the buying power of each coin.

Here's a guy, though, who literally shrinks coins with a lot of electricity and a big magnetic field.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Aid for Rita's (and Other) Victims

According to the Washington Post, relief agencies will not be able to use donations earmarked for Katrina relief [Registration required, or use BugMeNot] to help those affected by Rita. So we need another relief effort.

It would be really nice if we'd all donate relief agencies on a regular basis, not just when we see people being pushed away from their homes, so that the next time we have a national or global tragedy, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Church relief agencies, etc., can say:

"Thanks, but just keep donating at your usual rate, and we'll have enough."

Where Old RPMs Go to Die

Here's a post from Fedorazine expanding on the XWindows problem that plagued those of us with integrated Intel Video this week. It tells you how to find the RPM files for the old, working version of Xorg-X11 and reinstall them. It also notes that the problem has been fixed.

What's not told is how a novice user will:

  • Figure out that the problem was in X,
  • Figure out how to get into a machine that won't boot and change the /etc/inittab file so that it will boot to console mode (Answer: Knoppix), and
  • Figure out that there are text browsers such as lynx which will let you access the information you need.

That seems to be a pretty tall order, I'm afraid.

Note that call L&T in the middle of the night is not an option.

Actually, the useful thing about this article for me is that it tells you where the update utility yum saves the RPM files it installs. They go in


Friday, September 23, 2005

We're Back (Part II)

Given what's happening on the Texas coast right now and what's still going on in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, it's kind of silly to gripe about a computer. So I'm just going to try to report how I got back on to the Linux box, and try not to be too snarky about it. In any case, it would have been more frustrating if I'd actually had live Internet connection. Since I didn't, I couldn't do much on this box anyway.

Our story begins last Sunday, when I found that the Linux box booted up to a nice, multi-colored screen with no information whatsoever. I reported that fact here (using a Mac), and then watched the greatest win in Redskins' history since the 1992 Super Bowl. (Hey, it's been a long, long, dry spell, folks, what do you want?) And then to bed.

Monday, you'll recall, was the day our Internet connection died. I couldn't do much with the computer until Comcast came on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but I did observe that

  • The problem started right at the moment that XWindows started up for the first time during the boot process. Fedora, as well as most other distributors, do this to give you a Windows-like feel to your computer. Myself, I'd rather see all the text until we're ready to got to the graphical log-in screen. I like logging in directly to X, but if I'm going to watch an information dump it might as well be on the console screen. Looking at the information in /var/log/messages seemed to indicate the same thing.
  • Querying the X11 RPMs with rpm -qi xorg-x11 showed that the XWindows system had be upgraded on Saturday. I didn't reboot or restart X until Sunday, which is why I didn't notice the problem immediately.
  • The system booted without problem from a Knoppix Live CD.

On Tuesday I had my laptop in a building with an open wireless network. I went on a search through Fedora Core Bugzilla and eventually found Bug 168752, euphemistically described as "a regression in video hardware support, in particular on Intel i8xx/i9xx systems." OK, that's what I have. I downloaded a proposed patch. When I got home I uploaded it to the Linux box and rebooted.

Now I had a box that crashed with a black screen, rather than a multi-colored screen.

Watched developments on Bugzilla. A new, official, patch came along, and I installed it. It still didn't boot properly, but I discovered that by changing /etc/inittab to boot with runlevel 3 (text mode), I could then run startx and get X11 working. Then, this morning, once the Internet connection was re-established, I was able to run yum update which among other things included a kernel upgrade. When I then reset /etc/inittab to boot to level 5 (directly to X) everything worked again.

So it took a week to get restarted. Reading the Bugzilla log shows that the official fix wasn't in the system until Thursday, so for 5 days many of us didn't have a working XWindows system. I'm guessing that wouldn't have happened in a commercial Linux system, where they have the budget to check a wider variety of systems before a patch is released. That's one reason why I don't recommend Fedora Core for the beginning Linux user. And, truth be known, I'm thinking about trying Ubuntu Linux before I upgrade to Fedora Core 5, whenever that comes out.

One recommendation for both Windows and Linux users: Always have a Knoppix Live CD on hand for emergency use. The first thing I did when the Internet was restored was to download version 3.9, the last CD-only version, and burn the image to a CD. If you don't have a Knoppix Live CD on your desk, get one now. It's free, if you're willing to wait for the download.

So a frustrating week was had by all in the Linux & Things household, but it's fixed. I wish we could say the same thing about the Gulf Coast, but that's in the hands of neither Comcast nor Fedora Core.

We're Back (Part I)

Well, we're back up and running here at Linux & Things. Yes, I found a fix for my computer problems. More on that later. You'll remember that on Sunday I found my Fedora Core Linux computer hung on boot-up. Well to top that, on Monday I found that we had no Internet service from Comcast. Analog cable? Yes. Digital cable? Yes. Internet? No.

  • Monday Night: Call Comcast. Inform them of the problem. Schedule a visit for Tuesday. Give them cellphone number to call if no one answers the door -- sometimes you can't hear people knock, and the doorbell doesn't always work. Interesting point: Comcast records show that the line to the house from the street was laid in 1991.
  • Tuesday: Find note on door from Comcast saying, "Sorry We Missed You!" Call them, express displeasure, reschedule for Wednesday.
  • Wednesday: Tech comes, looks inside house, decides problem is outside. Schedules visit by outside tech for
  • Thursday: Outside techs trim some excess cable on the side of the house. Still no signal. Call Comcast. They tell us there top tech will arrive on Friday, and make the enigmatic comment that "Five homes in your neighborhood have been fixed."
  • Friday: Top-tech arrives. He actually knows his stuff, and quickly determines that the problem is in the underground line from the street to the house. Remember, it was laid in 1991, before anyone thought of high-speed digital cable connections. Especially cable connections that require a significant amount of traffic upstream, from the house back to the cable companies servers. In fact, they still use that cable, but only for runs of less than 100 feet. In our case the run is 207 feet. (Hey, I live in East Bowie, what can I say?)
    Top-tech strings a temporary cable, much thicker than you're thinking, from the box on the street to the house. They'll come by and put in a new cable in a couple of weeks. The cable runs in the trees between houses, so I can mow the lawn without having to move things around.
    All the Comcast people were responded promptly (except on Tuesday) and were polite. Unfortunately, not all of them knew what they were doing. Remember those five houses in the neighborhood that were "fixed?" I don't know what was wrong with them, but I can hazard a guess.

In all this, I manfully resisted the urge to mutter the magic words: "Did you know Verizon is laying optical cable around here?"

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Maybe I Was a Bit Overwrought

Or something. Apparently the last post offended Om or someone.

Anyway, this morning I tried to boot up my computer to do a bit of work before church. You know the drill: turn on the computer, go take a shower, come back and sit down. Except when I went to sit down, I saw that the computer was displaying multi-colored lines instead of the Fedora Core 4 login-screen.

I didn't have time to deal with it then, and we had things to do this afternoon, so I didn't try it again until we got home tonight. Same thing happened again. And again. Using different kernels, even.

So the question is, is it the hardware or the software, and in either case are oh-my-God-all-the-files-I-changed-since-the-last-backup safe? So I dug up an old Knoppix Linux CD and booted it. Fortunately, the computer booted up, and it looks like everything is safe.

So if the hardware is OK and my data is OK, it looks like something in the OS got corrupted. I suppose I could try to see what's changed on the disk, but it seems like the easiest thing to do is backup the changes since my last backup, then re-install FC4, going through all of my notes to see which programs need to be re-installed or tweaked. (Which is, after all, the reason I started this blog.) Luckily, I did a full backup a few weeks ago. Also, since my data is in a separate partition, it's possible that I can reinstall FC4 without actually changing the /home directory, in which case I don't need to upload the backup.

Unfortunately, I can't do this until next weekend, at the earliest (something about a job). And I have to figure out how to get Knoppix to recognize a USB drive so that I can back up the data, since I can't burn a CD (only one drive, and Knoppix is using it, though I guess I could install a second CD-burner. I've got enough of them lying around). So posts here will be even more irregular than usual.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Windows: It Doesn't Just Work

Not long ago, I noted that the title to one of my posts wasn't altogether fair.

This title, OTOH, is completely fair.

One of the usual complaints about Linux is that things don't "just work." Well, friends, let me tell you, some times it isn't the Linux system that has the problem:

Several weeks ago, I added a DVD drive to my Linux computer. It performed flawlessly: it reads, plays, rips, burns and reads to CD, and does the same for DVDs. All with stuff that came straight out of Fedora Core, except for the addons that are needed to get around RedHat's nervousness about MP3s and DVD encoding. But that was simple: a little bit of jiggling here, a little more jiggling there, all from easily obtainable, free, open source projects. It just worked!

Emboldened, I went out and bought another identical DVD drive for the Windows machine. This one is from Monarch Computer, including the Nero OEM Suite 3, which, you'll note, is supposed to play DVD movies.

The drive came in the same condition as the one from, i.e., no box, no instructions, bubble-wrapped, and probably previously returned. Software came clearly marked OEM in a paper sleeve. About what I expected.

OK, installation was easy, now that I know how to get the front of the Dell case off. Do you know how dirty a computer can get? I'd removed the main panel of the Dell last month, so the main compartment wasn't dirty, but the front compartment? I've seen the insides of vacuum cleaners that looked better. A lot of dust gathered there since I last opened the case. More than in the Linux box. Probably the difference is a matter of location, though I can't imagine why it's the Windows box that draws in more dust.

(Because Windows sucks, Dave. Quiet, Hal.)

Anyway, installing was a breeze. Windows found the drive immediately, and I was able to play CDs and read DVD directories without installing the Nero software. So I tried to watch a movie.

I was given two choices: Windows Media Player (version 8), and RealPlayer, version 10.

Neither worked. WMP8, I understand, it doesn't play DVDs by default. RP10, on the other hand, should. However, it gives an error which suggests that it's not able to decode the copy protection. So maybe I need a driver for that.

So I installed the Nero software. Try to play a DVD. It just blinks. Look at the package. There is a very small asterisk. It says that this version, unlike the version described above, won't play video DVDs. Thanks, Monarch.

OK, go install Windows Media Player 10, widely advertised to play DVDs.

It probably does. On some machines. However, on this Windows machine, using exactly the same hardware that my Linux box uses to successfully play DVD movies, Windows won't play the movie.

Even when I go down to 16 bit color and 800x600 resolution.

It does suggest that I might purchase a third party video decoder from a company other than Microsoft.

OK, Windows users. Yeah, those of you who drift in from time to time looking for information about Firefox and rtsp: tell me how I can get my Windows machine, with exactly the same hardware as my Linux machine, to play DVD movies in the same, easy, fashion my Linux machine does.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Search that Blog, Seek that Quote

OK, suppose, for some reason that's locked up in the reptilian portion of your brain, you want to search for something in BlogSpace, rather than just on the web. Never mind that a regular search of Google™ for firefox rtsp will land you right in this blog, suppose you want to search for some of our other fine articles. Or maybe you want to search for humorous stabs at Dubya and company.

Well, friends, Google™ has just what you're looking for: Google™ Blog Search. Apparently, GBS searches and indexes RSS feeds from sites which ping places such as Weblogs to inform the world that something new is coming down the pike. Being Google™, you can then export the search results into your very own RSS feed, so you can constantly get news on topics of interested to you in the BlogVerse. (For topics of interest in the real world, you can always use Google™ News.)

I've played with it a bit, but I'm not convinced that it's the greatest thing since frosting-covered donuts. It's a bit weird at the moment. A search for George W Bush gives as its first link The Temple of George W. Bush in the "Related Blogs" header, and a link to Dubya's biography as the first post.

Perhaps we need a little more tweaking.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Easy to Use is Easy to Say

When I'm done, the title will probably seem, to most of you, to be a cheap shot. It is. Deal with it.

At work I need to create actual, honest, true blue, all American, PowerPoint files. Accept no substitutions, especially files produced by

Given that constraint, I need two computers -- a "real" Linux one, which will actually run complicated Fortran codes while reading my email, surfing the web, walking the dog and polishing my car, and either a PC or a Mac to run PowerPoint. Your tax dollars at work, folks.

OK, it's a no-brainer:

  • Mac OS X is BSD-Unix based. I can, and have, run the same codes I run on the Linux box on a Mac.
  • All of the people above me in the food chain use Macs. They're the ones that need my PowerPoint files, so that they can select parts of my presentations, mangle them together with others, and show those higher in the food chain all the neat stuff we're doing.
  • Though they are produced by the same Evil Empire, Mac and PC versions of PowerPoint don't quite get along -- in particular, fonts used in equations get screwed up when going from one platform to another.
  • A Mac PowerBook is infinitely cooler to carry through the airport. And, when it's on, the Apple on the back of the screen lights up, sort of like a Cylon's backbone during sex.

To go along with the notebook computer, this week I got a Mac mini for my desk. It runs Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

OK, it's easy to use. It's a joy, a breeze, except that FireFox won't recognize the middle button on my 3 button mouse, and I haven't figured out how to get FVWM running under X11.

But there are some (a very few, but some) things on the Mac that just aren't obvious. And so I list them here, so that the next time I get a new Mac I won't forget:

  • Making something other than Safari the default browser:
    1. Open Safari (well of course, what could be more obvious?)
    2. Under Preferences, click on "Default Web Browser" and put in FireFox or whatever
  • Make something other than "Mail" the default email reader:
    1. Open Mail (after the Safari thing, what did you expect)?
    2. Give it the information to open one of your POP email accounts (otherwise, it will just kick you out of the program. Who'd want to run a Mail program without an email account. Duh.)
    3. Under Preferences, select "Default Email Reader" and change it to the desired program.
  • Bring up something other than a single xterm window when you start X:
    1. Open a terminal window and run the command:
      $ cp /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc ~/.xinitrc
    2. Edit ~/.xinitrc to start the programs you desire
  • Change your default shell:
    1. Go to the Applications folder, find the Utilities folder, under it find the "NetInfo Manager" folder, and in it find a tab called "users"
    2. Catch your breath
    3. Under "users" click on your account name
    4. Click on the Lock icon in the lower left-hand corner of the box and enter your password, assuming your account has administrative privileges.
    5. If it doesn't, find an Administrator. Yell at him for awhile, until he gives you Administrative privileges.
    6. Find the line that says "shell", click on the /bin/bash part of the line, and replace it with /bin/tcsh or whatever.
    7. If your worst enemy shares this computer, change his login shell to /dev/null
    8. Click the lock closed
    9. Exit the whole mess

OK, that's only four things, which is why the title of this article is unfair. However, you'd think that Apple would have made these choices just a bit more transparent, don't you?