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Linux is Easy!

A much snappier little laptop and a turd for a Governor

How I spent the recall election

You guys know what? I spent election night here installing CrunchBang Linux on an old Thinkpad.

And while Wisconsin fell victim yet again to a sadly unbalanced political process broken by corporate personhood, out-of-state money, and about a million classist and rasicst one-off voters, I sat quietly watching the little progress bar float from the left to the right an make the percentage go up. It was just like watching the election returns come in, really.

And when it was all done I had a much snappier little laptop and a turd for a Governor-- which ultimately is what I would have had regardless of the outcome of the election.

Look on the bright side: I have a pretty snappy laptop here. And it runs Google Chrome and comes pre-installed with a markdown savvy text editor.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

A Rhythmbox rant.

I had a very unsatisfactory experience with Rhythmbox recently.
This is an example of why they say Open Source's biggest competitor is itself. I want to use my Ubuntu 8.04 machine as the main machine where the music in my office comes from, because my Ubuntu machine has power to spare and it's just kind of sitting there as a testing server for five people or so.
I see it as a great chance to get back into thinking and practicing FOSS-focused computing. Which is to say: I want to use Open Source tools when they're as functional as the closed/proprietary tools I have sitting on the other machines on my desktop, but not if it means I have to spend two weeks troubleshooting why something isn't working the way it was advertised-- or, in this case, why something isn't working now that was working 10 minutes ago.
I have very low tolerance for that kind of silliness. Which brings me to my point. I had a very unsatisfactory experience with Rhythmbox recently.
brokeshot

  1. Rhythmbox could play the few MP3s that were in my library, but most of my files were not in the library.
  2. I like whatever player I'm using to scrobble, so...
  3. I enabled the Last.FM plugin in Rhythmbox.
  4. Then, I added my main music directory to Rhythmbox.
  5. Rhythmbox asked me if I wanted to find a codec to play the music I was adding. That's strange, I thought. It can already play Mp3s. What codec could it want? But I clicked the option to go ahead and enable MP3 playback. And the machine merrily rolled along and enabled some kind of codec, as there probably are some acc's or something in there causing some trouble.
  6. Now I get a "Can't Open Stream" error when I try to play MP3s.
  7. I can, however, play mp3s in VLC and the standalone Last.FM application works just fine.
  8. The error message is neither helpful nor intuative.
  9. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.

I have neither the time nor the interest to troubleshoot what's wrong here. Mayhaps I'm the wrong type of user for Linux? Maybe. If the wrong type of user is the type that just wants to get some work done. But I also think that if Linux genuinely has the goal of addressing Bug #1, this kind of piddling failure has got to go away.

Ubuntu in the workplace.

Welcome back.
That was a strange hiatus.
One of the new features here at Writelarge.com is going to be a concerted effort to get back to our roots, as it were. We're coming home to the Ubuntu (Users) Planet. We missed you.

My latest work box

This is a photo of my latest project at the Behavioral Health Hospital I work for. We are (in Healthcare terms) a small, not-for-profit organization. We need to make better use of open source software. I am going to lead by demonstrating.
With administration approval, I bought the organizations first Linux box. Mostly because I needed a rock solid LAMP server. And I wanted a desktop machine because-- Frankly, I don't grok command line as a primary interface. Folders need to be visualized, I think.

A lot of people come to Ubuntu (Users) Planet and tell and talk about their first Ubuntu experiences. I'm here to take you on our organization's. It’s not going to be pretty-- but lets accentuate the positive for a moment.

The Dell is sharp looking. The glossy case is sweet. It has an extra cd/dvd bay, but since I'm not using it, I like to open the panel and say "You can put your weed in there" and smirk.
But I digress. The Dell... It smells good. It starts up with nary a whisper. It comes with a shrink-wrapped Ubuntu 8.04 CD, and and the standard “how to unpack your PC and make it go” posters. Why do those instruction sheets need to be posters?

Anyway, since I didn’t have a lot of time when it first arrived, so I just unpacked it and set it up on my desk. My boss and some of my co-workers have come and poked at it, but none of them really understand what it’s for or why I needed _another_ computer at my desk.

I’ll show them. I’ll show all of them.

A quick follow up on andLinux.

A quick follow up on my experience with andLinux

Because of the wacky way that my employer manages its network, andLinux cannot function on my work PC. Sadness. I'll keep plugging away at it, but there appears to be some complicated networking juju going on under the hood that is _far_ beyond my comprehension.

A VNC Client that works.

It's no secret that I'm not a command line guy. I can make my way through the ocassional cut and paste set of command line instructions, and can even ocassionally come up with a very basic command for doing simple things like sending an email or pulling just the *.png files out of a directory and putting them in a new one. But the facts is this: I'd rather GUI than CLI.

So, I'm a big fan of Putty and VNC. Sorry. That's just life. I use Putty becuase it's the easiet way to set up a Secure Tunnel to the machine I want to VNC with, and I use VNC because it's the the most cross platformy of the remote desktop protocols.

But, so far, I don't really prefer any of the clients. Until today.

Chicken of the VNC

Cheers to Chicken of the VNC, the OSX VNC client with the best name ever. Also, it works.

Unlike the Tight-VNC client, which I use on my Linux and Windows computers, Chicken of the VNC acutally allows me to log out of my remote session and doesn't break.

Linux is Easy!

Warning! This post is long and doesn't have any pictures. It's not even really all that helpful to the Ubuntistas who are looking for help configuring Postfix. But I feel better. That's what counts, right?

Last night I sat down in the wee hours of the early evening to spend some quality time doing some editing on my long ignored novel, "Someone Liche You." I went through a period where I was editing a chapter a night pretty regularly last May and then I had some major tech failures (broken computers started acting broken, imagine that!) and so I ended up spending a lot of my free time trying to cobble a few of my busted computers into on that might work sometimes.
The long and the short of it, is that I sat down at my Dell Dimension 3100 Laptop which I use exclusively as a VNC terminal (remote X won't work-- it's a long story) to connect to my Desktop computer in the office so that I can access my file and do some work.
In addition, it occurred to me that back in May, I had a nice cron job that would email myself a copy of the novel at 3 a.m. every night so that I always had a daily backup. And I remembered that I thought enabling that cron job was pretty easy, so I thought I'd have a quick whack at it and _then_ get to editing my novel.
I am a fool.
So, trying to remember how to mail myself something from a command line, I start poking around on my system and realize that Mutt isn't present! Apt-get won't install it, saying that it's missing from the Ubuntu repositories. Strange. So I pursue other options. I install mail-utilities. I install some other junk that won't work without downloading and installing credentials from some dude's website.
So I start rooting around on gnu-mail and poking around in some of the Ubuntu forums. And I remember vaguely that, for some reason, this computer didn't have the main gusty repository enabled. So I fired up Synaptic and away we went. Of course! I had turned off the main Gutsy Repo. I have no idea why I would have done that, but I'm sure it was very important at the time. See? Linux is easy!
So, with the quick execution of "apt-get install mutt" I was happily churning out emails from the Command Line.
Or was it?
Of course not.
The next thing you have to do is install a Mail Transfer Agent. (We'll get to that in a minute.) Obviously, anyone who wants to mail knows that the MTA is a separate and distinct procedure from installing the mail client. Of course!
Fortunately, Mutt has a little error message when it is running in absence of a Mail Transfer Agent, so I knew that there was a problem. After some fairly unconstructive Googling, I came up with Postfix.

Why doesn’t postfix configure itself? Postfix should configure itself, given that there is no personal information that needs to be configured in the config file. It should also be a dependency for a command line mailer. Are you telling me most people who use Mutt know that they want to use it without an MTA?
I'm getting ahead of myself. Lets take a step back.
What is Postfix?
Postfix is a free software / open source mail transfer agent (MTA), a computer program for the routing and delivery of email. It is intended as a fast, easy-to-administer, and secure alternative to the widely-used Sendmail MTA. [So Spake Wikipedia]

See, here's the thing, in order for your Ubuntu installation to send mail, it needs to have a mail transfer agent (MTA). You don't need an MTA if you're using someone else’s, which is what you do when you use your ISP or Google to send your email. If you want to send email from your little linux box, you can simply open up a can of SMTP Daemon on your system and you are good to go.
Why?
Good question. I am not sure why you would not just want there to be an easy and intuitive way to use your ISP's SMTP service from the command line. However, that does not seem to be how Linux works. This post is getting pretty tedious, huh? Wait, it gets far duller in a moment.
Simply installing postfix (apt-get install postfix) is not enough. You also need to configure Postfix. How do you configure postfix? You have to copy a file out of a seekrit directory into another seekrit directory. Which file? That depends on your distro. SINCE I GOT THIS FROM the UBUNTU REPOS, isn't it Fair to ASSUME that I want the postfix config file for DEBIAN!??
Fortunately, the postfix install warns you that it's not configured and gives you pretty explicit directions on what file you need to copy.
After only a three-hour trek through Googleland, I was able to send myself email from Mutt. Since all I want to do is send, I'm happy.
Of course, I didn't get any work done on my Novel.

Then, I wrote a nice little bash script that tacks a time and date stamp on my novel so that I know what version it is when it shows up in my Google mail.

See! Linux is easy.