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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Tue, 27 Dec 2011

I replace sun-java6 with openjdk-6 in Debian Squeeze, everything still works

When I did my initial tests on this Debian Squeeze installation back in 2010, I had trouble with OpenJDK. I only use Java for two web-based things, and one of those -- GoToMyPC.com -- wouldn't successfully open up a Java client window.

So I replaced openjdk-6 with sun-java6, found everything working and left it at that.

Now that Oracle is changing the license for Java that restricts the ability of Linux distributions -- including Debian and Ubuntu -- to redistribute the Oracle-created binaries to users, distributions are removing Sun Java from their archives and only offering OpenJDK.

I was worried. It had been many months since my last tests. What if either OpenJDK itself, or the sites I'm dealing with that use Java, fixed things so the open-source IcedTea Java browser package suddenly worked?

I didn't want to delete Sun Java, install OpenJDK, run into trouble and not be able to re-install Sun Java.

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Fri, 23 Dec 2011

Just another day in Debian

I'm spending the day at work -- you envy me, I know it -- running two computers, one of which happens to be my Debian Squeeze laptop.

I decided to run the Epiphany web browser that comes along for the ride with GNOME.

I have a modern (as in up-to-date via the Mozilla Debian APT Archive) Iceweasel/Firefox browser and a Google-maintained Chrome browser, though I removed the other GNOME browser, Galeon, a while back.

I just thought it would be nice to give Epiphany a run. Haven't done that in awhile. It seems a bit sluggish even compared with Iceweasel, and I don't remember that being the case back when Epiphany used the Gecko rendering engine rather than the current Webkit that also powers Chrome and Chromium.

So what am I doing running Debian Stable on the desktop? I'm sure there are a few applications that might offer more features if I ran them using a newer Fedora or Ubuntu system, but for now everything works sufficiently well that I'm going to stay put.

The Liquorix kernels I've raved about over the past year don't seem to work now. I'm stuck on 2.6.38 from Liquorix, which runs great, but everything I try in the 3.x series of kernels from the repository now panics on boot. I guess I'm missing a dependency or something.

I'd like to try 2.6.38 or 2.6.39 from Debian Backports, but Synaptic insists on deleting all other kernels, including 2.6.32, as part of the installation operation.

Maybe I'll do a full backup of /home and then give that a try. I could either save the box with the rescue features of the Debian CD, or I could start all over again.

Thu, 15 Dec 2011

The flashplugin-nonfree package won't update itself in Debian Squeeze -- here's how to do it

I've never seen this kind of thing before: I noticed that the Flash plugin that Debian installs from the flashplugin-nonfree package hasn't updated in quite some time. I've been stuck at Adobe Flash 10.2 for a long while.

I wouldn't have noticed except that Google Chrome is complaining about out-of-date Flash (and Java, too -- but that's too complicated in my case to take care of so quickly).

(Note: This could have something to do with the vagaries of 64-bit Linux support for the Flash player from Adobe. For all I know, this isn't a problem in 32-bit Debian Squeeze. All I know is that I run 64-bit and it's a problem for me.)

I checked Debian's package repository, and my flashplugin-nonfree is indeed up to date. But my actual Flash binary from Adobe is not.

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PDF import for LibreOffice in Debian Backports is broken -- here's how to fix it

I give much credit to the developers who, early on, brought LibreOffice to Debian Backports. Once you add Backports to your sources.list, you can install LibreOffice, which just happens to remove OpenOffice from your system at the same time.

I've been using LibreOffice extensively in both Windows XP and Debian GNU/Linux, and for my work, the killer of killer apps in LO (and OO for that matter) is LibreOffice Draw. And I don't use it for drawing.

Instead I use Draw to import PDFs, JPGs and other kinds of content into a single document, re-arrange them, edit them, add to them, and then either print out a completed report, or export it as a PDF.

Think if it as an MS PowerPoint/LO Impress-style presentation, except optimized for paper or PDF. It's extremely powerful. And did I mention I use it all the time?

Anyhow, the secret weapon, of sorts, in LibreOffice Draw (and OpenOffice Draw) before it is the ability to open PDFs in LibreOffice Draw, then either copy/paste them into your main Draw document and edit the text and images in the PDFs to help you "tell your story" better. I gave up all my PDF-arranging apps for LO Draw, it's so good.

But ... the PDF import function for LibreOffice Draw in Debian Squeeze, if you're using the libreoffice-pdfimport package from Debian Backports, is broken. Doesn't work. LO wants to open PDFs as text files in LO Writer, not as editable PDFs in LO Draw.

So how do you fix this? For me, I needed the PDF importer function to work immediately (today, in fact).

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Sun, 11 Dec 2011

CentOS remains way behind in tracking RHEL, Scientific Linux does better, but Debian and Ubuntu deserve consideration, too

When you think "free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux," I bet CentOS comes to mind.

But a look at the CentOS project over the past few years shows a considerable lag between when RHEL releases and CentOS catches up.

That lag continues, and it's at 200+ days, according to this recent Phoronix article.

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Fri, 25 Nov 2011

Updating Debian Squeeze on a 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt

I decided to pull what I call The Laptop out of its bag and update the Debian Squeeze installation that has been running on this 233 MHz Pentium II machine since soon after the most recent Debian release went Stable in February 2011.

Prior to that, the now-12-year-old laptop -- which is as solid as a tank except for the weak joints where the screen pivots -- ran Debian Lenny for a long while.

I've written many dozen blog entries about Linux and BSD systems running on this machine, which I bought for (I probably overpaid) back in 2007 (or was it '08?) when I wanted a laptop but couldn't find anything I could afford.

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Tue, 22 Nov 2011

A salute to Vim from ArsTechnica's Ryan Paul

As much as I dislike his Gwibber social-networking application, I'm that much more of an unabashed fan of Ryan Paul's tech journalism for ArsTechnica, itself a bastion of high-quality reporting and writing.

While I think Paul's a little too close to Ubuntu to write about it objectively, he's just too good not to read.

A recent article, Two decades of productivity: Vim's 20th anniversary, shows Paul at his best:

Vim has been my editor of choice since 1998, about a year after I started using Linux as my main desktop operating system. I’ve used it to write several thousand articles and many, many lines of code. Although I’ve experimented with a lot of conventional modern text editors, I haven’t found any that match Vim’s efficiency. After using Vim nearly every day for so many years, I’m still discovering new features, capabilities, and useful behaviors that further improve my productivity.

Vim has aged well over the past 20 years. It’s not just a greybeard relic—the editor is still as compelling as ever and continues to attract new users. The learning curve is steep, but the productivity gains are well worth the effort.

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Steve Jobs would cry to get his way

One of the best Apple-covering journalists out there, ArsTechnica's Jacqui Cheng, looks at the Walter Isaacson-penned Steve Jobs biography to analyze Why Steve Jobs Cried.

A sentence for all (holiday) seasons

A Kohl's Black Friday parody ad inspired the following from Gizmodo's Mat Honan in reaction to the ad and Kohl's in particular, and the consumer culture in general. It is, as the title here states, a sentence for all holiday seasons:

It makes me want to get rid of all the crap I've already bought, to throw all my shit out into the street and set it on fire and shed my clothes and run naked through the neighborhood with a goddamn hammer smashing out all the lights and setting all the dogs free and upending all the mailboxes and cutting the power lines down and stuffing the HVAC systems with leaves and throwing dead fish in the vents and just going utterly feral as I let my hair grow out long and my teeth rot from my mouth because when I see cynical appeals to shop shop shop, done with a knowing wink to how utterly vapid and annoying the commercial itself is, without caring that it's like a steel toe boot to the teeth because it's got an earworm that will burrow itself into your head until you find yourself standing outside of a fucking Kohl's store at eleven thirty on a Thursday night when you should be at home in bed after spending a lovely day with your family, I worry that we are at the very end of America and I think that you, Kohl's, you are the Lt. John Pike of television advertising spraying me with your indifferent contempt and I wish you nothing but failure and a grim season of declining sales and the flu.

Read the original entry, where you can also see the "parody" video.

Mon, 21 Nov 2011

Unity and GNOME Shell are more alike than different

I've been spending time each day working in Ubuntu 11.10's GNOME 3/Unity and Fedora 16's GNOME 3/GNOME Shell desktops.

They're more alike than you think. Rather than do things the GNOME way, Ubuntu/Canonical decided to take its own direction with Unity, which is now, like GNOME Shell, built on top of GNOME 3.

They look and work more alike than you'd think.

I find it puzzling. But in a way it makes sense.

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