Archive for the ‘Software’ category

R Billy!

13 April 2013

R Logo R! No, it’s not Talk Like a Pirate Day. I just wanted to install R on my Ubuntu laptop to see if it can read some SPSS files that PSPP failed to open. (No fault of PSPP, I believe. Seems the trouble is the source of my SPSS files.)

I Googled “ubuntu 12.04 R” and found my self at a web page that suggested that I import keys and edit sources and add a repository. It just seemed unnecessarily complicated.

I tried “apt-get install r-base r-recommended” and that did it.

So there you have it. How do you install R on Ubuntu 12.04? Pretty much like you install anything else. R! 🙂

Goodbye Mandriva

2 February 2013

sad tux(From Wikipedia “A dateline is a brief piece of text included in news articles that describes where and when the story occurred, or was written or filed, though the date is often omitted.” Oh! That’s why I often hear on the radio “Dateline such-n-such place” and think “That’s not a date, that’s a place!” Anyway…)

Dateline: Saturday, 2 February 2013 (My dateline really is a date. Probably the only time I’ve successfully used a dateline to get a date in my life)

It’s a sad day in my Linux world. I am saying goodbye to Mandriva. I started using Linux with the U.S. distribution Red Hat. I think it was version 7.1? There were a few 7.x releases, then 8.0 , then 9. Then in 2003, or there about, Red Hat seemed to drop the desktop user. Maybe the switch to Fedora was more seamless than I remember, but whatever the case I switched at that time to Mandrake Linux from France. Mandrake 9.1 I think it was. I’ve been with Mandrake, which in 2005 changed their name to Mandriva following a merger with Conectiva of Brazil, ever since.

I also use Ubuntu on one desktop machine because I wanted to have some familiarity with it since Ubuntu is said to be the most popular Linux distribution. I use Ubuntu on my laptop as well because it seemed to work best with the touch screen and screen rotation on the Lenovo X61.

I have been running Mandriva 2010, which is a bit out of date. Today I put a new drive into the Mandriva machine. None of my drives are very large and I’ve been playing around with video lately, which uses up hard drive space in a hurry. I thought I would put a big drive in the Mandriva machine and do a fresh install of Mandriva 2011. The install has not gone well. Despite the DVD checking out fine after burning the ISO to disk, the install process has had repeated read failures. I tried paring it back to a bare bones install, but it still would not complete successfully.

So I went online to see if I could download an image suitable for doing a net install. Went to and everything looked different. Mandriva Powerpack was found under a list of products no longer supported! It seems Mandriva is no longer doing desktop Linux.

There is a community version, but at this time the website is showing the default Drupal logo and looks pretty feeble.

So, now what? Do I switch my last machine over to Ubuntu? The long term support version is pretty tempting. Or do I go, as it seems most Mandriva developers did, to Mageia and still have an rpm based distro on hand? This was not supposed to take all day!

Dateline: Sunday, 3 Feb 2013

Decided to go with Ubuntu. The Long Term Support version means less messing around and having Ubuntu on all of my machines means more consistency in choice of applications. May be advantageous. I can always run other OS in a virtual machine.

Now, however, it seems that neither Ubuntu nor Mageia live CDs like my network card. They see it. They load a driver for it. It just doesn’t work. It’s a PCI card. I’ll try enabling on-board LAN in the BIOS and using that instead. Doesn’t look like it helped. This wasn’t supposed to take all day again!

OK, turns out that if I set up the network manually it does work. Must be something not working with the dhcp client. Not a big deal.

Lenovo X61 Ubuntu 12.04

6 November 2012

One day recently my Aspire One wouldn’t boot. A few tries gave errors, then it quit trying entirely. Black screen, nothing more. Miraculously it booted fine the next day, like nothing had happened! What it didn’t seem to realize was that I never liked it that much anyway so it’s little tantrum was enough to start me looking for a new laptop.

I found my new laptop in a Lenovo X61 tablet from Vancouver Laptops for $257! The cool thing about the X61 is that the screen can rotate and lay flat. At last I have a device with a decent sized (12.1″) screen that I can take hand written notes on using Xournal!

X61 Ubuntu 12.04

The first thing to settle was what distro to install.

(I should probably mention for any non-Linuxy people who wander by here that the machine came with Windows Vista Business on it. They also had some with Windows 7 for a few dollars more.)

It’s wonderful how easy it is to try Gnu/Linux distributions by putting them on a USB stick. I use dd. There are more complicated ways for people who don’t have Linux or aren’t comfortable with the command-line.

First I tried Mandriva, which is what I use on my desktop machine. Mandriva didn’t enable the touch screen on the default install and I wasn’t in a mood to monkey around with things.

Next I tried Fedora, which did enable the touch screen and seemed quite nice. Getting the display to autorotate when I put the laptop into tablet mode seemed problematic though.

Finally I tried Ubuntu and with installation of Magick Rotation things seemed to be shaping up.

So I settled on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin). I like the Long Term Support releases because they give me more flexibility in choosing when to upgrade. Precise Pangolin was released in April 2012 and is supported until April 2017. Compare to 12.10 which was released October 2012 and is only supported until April 2014.

pangolinA Pangolin, in case you’re wondering, is a mammal with sharp scaley armour and long claws that can emit a noxious-smelling acid and can extend its tongue up to 40 cm. They can climb trees, burrow in the ground and swim. Tough and versatile, like Linux.

During the Ubuntu install on the X61 I chose to encrypt the /home directory to protect data in the event of theft. A good idea made simple by the installation process.

Unity has great keyboard shortcuts and Ubuntu 12.04 supports the IBM TrackPoint beautifully so the system is very efficient however it’s used moment to moment in laptop mode.

One small glitch with Ubuntu’s Unity interface is that if you choose to hide the launcher it does not appear using the tablet stylus. To make the Launcher appear, the cursor has to go just past the edge of the screen and that doesn’t happen with the pen. So in ~/.magick-rotation.xml I added under the run_normal_before option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 1
and under the run_tablet option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 0

Installed Xournal, Gimp, qpdfview (because it allowed me to move its controls to where I want them in tablet mode), Hamster Time Tracker, Getting Things Gnome, Lightning (calendar and tasks for Thunderbird), ImageMagick.

One small annoyance that took me a while to solve was that bluetooth was on with every boot. I doubt I’ll use bluetooth on this machine so I want it off. I might use it sometime though, so I don’t want it gone. I finally found the answer on Michael Hirsch’s blog. Add the line ” rfkill block bluetooth” to /etc/rc.local above the line (on my file) “exit 0” Thank you Mr Hirsch!

I think the only hardware on the X61 that is not supported by Ubuntu is the fingerprint reader. Fine by me, really. Battery life is better than four hours according to the power monitor applet. I haven’t timed it, but that sounds right based on the use I’ve had.

Loving this machine so far.

Next trick will be to figure out how to put a DVD onto a USB stick. Either that or get an external DVD drive for the X61.

Shadowy Business!

11 October 2012

shadowy business!I had an odd dream last night. Something like a very G rated, kid friendly version of Mission Impossible. The dream left me musing about cyber-espionage and China. So I sat down to write this post and my made-in-China netbook wouldn’t boot. How’s that for coincidence!?

There was news recently about Canada needing to replace a super secure federal network that was irreparably compromised by cyber-attacks out of China in 2010. A US intelligence committee head warned that we should not use the Chinese company Huawei for this work. Harper is not saying whether the national security exemption will exclude Huawei from this government work. Huawei currently provides high-speed networks for Bell Canada, Telus, SaskTel and Wind Mobile. The US committee head suggested that Huawei might embed back doors and bugs into networks and even consumer hardware.

What if, eh? I have a Huawei tablet with front and rear cameras. Does it watch me while I use it? How about our modems and routers? People probably don’t often think of modems and routers as computers, but they are. They have an operating system and data storage capacity and obvious networking capability. If some kind of malware was built in at the factory, as has happened with PCs, attempts to make good use of a router’s security features could be for naught! Could surveillance on the scale of consumer electronics be done?

There would be a massive amount of data to mine for the relatively few crumbs of industrially or politically useful stuff that might be found. It would take something on the scale of the NSA’s new surveillance centre to handle all the data. I suppose if the NSA can build such a thing, so could China.

All that data going to Beijing would be sure to raise some eyebrows though. How would you hide it? Maybe buy the US’s second largest theatre chain. Might that holding’s online traffic be big enough to obscure traffic from a very large and secret botnet?

Maybe add some energy company purchases, such as the CNOOC/Nexen deal. Surely that would give China plenty of capacity to handle network traffic within North America and plenty of reason for traffic back to Beijing. They’d also be that much more embedded in Canada’s energy infrastructure, an infrastructure already threatened and perhaps compromised by cyber-attacks.

Meanwhile our federal government is cozying up to China with a trade deal that some describe as a sell-out. CSIS has warned that China holds influence over Canadian politicians of all levels. If this deal is as bad as some suggest, one can’t help wondering whether that influence might include our PM.

If the digital systems our society runs on were compromised at the level of their BIOSes, how would we know? After all, Nortel was compromised for years and apparently no one knew till after the company fell apart. If a tech company like Nortel didn’t know, how are most PC and cell phone users to know? If it was happening and we did find out, what would we do? Faced with such questions, what is the line between caution and tin-hat paranoia?

I have few answers to these questions, but it’s certain that trying to get a handle on it could be an interesting game of cat and mouse!

Good Ebook News!

9 October 2012

A friend’s email lead me to be looking at the Food Matters Chilliwack website, which lead me to the FarmFolk CityFolk website, where I started reading their latest magazine, which lead me to look for a book by John Restakis titled “Humanizing the Economy”. (None of which had anything to do with why I sat down at the computer in the first place!)

Of course I looked for an ‘e’ version since I don’t want to kill a tree to read a book. I found the ebook version at New Society Publishers. On their website I found that New Society Publishers is on Gabriola Island, so fairly local. Even for an online purchase I like to support local businesses.

I went ahead and made my purchase and found to my delight that New Society Publishers sells their ebooks in epub or pdf version with no DRM! You just click an agreement during the purchase process where you promise not to abuse their trust and you get a book you can read on whatever computer or device you want. No hassles, no particular software required (other than an epub or pdf viewer of course, but you can use whatever one you want), no having to register your computers with them, no BS! The thing you click doesn’t actually say you ‘promise not to abuse their trust’, but that’s the gist of it. Don’t do the things anyone knows you shouldn’t do with copyrighted material.

How refreshing! How “This Is The Way It Was Meant To Be!”

New Society Publishers, I just want to go over there and give them a big hug!


10 July 2012

Just a quick happy post.

I have an old program I really, really need that was running on an ancient Compaq laptop. I know I need to get a newer version of the program running, but setup is a long process with a gazillion details and I just haven’t got it done. Transferring the old version database to a new version of the program hasn’t worked.

So of course the ancient laptop, which was kind of running on life support already, died.

I put the hard drive in a USB case and had read errors. Scary! So I tried an internal 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter in my desktop machine and it worked!

Next, to preserve the original data and get a copy running in a virtual machine.

Made a disk image with
dd if=/dev/sdb of=compaq_28apr12.img
(yeah that was a while ago. Haven’t had much time to mess around with this.)

Converted the disk image with
VBoxManage convertfromraw compaq_28apr12.img compaq_13may12.vdi

After that, I could boot the disk image as a guest OS in Virtualbox, but X failed with “no devices”. Xorg.conf examples I found online all seemed to point to installing Virtualbox Guest Additions in the guest OS, so following instructions I booted my image and in the Virtualbox “Devices” menu clicked “Install Guest Additions” then confirmed in “Devices -> CD/DVD Devices” that VboxGuestAdditions_x.xx.iso was enabled.

That makes the Guest Additions ISO available to the guest OS as a CD. Next step was to mount the CD with
mount /dev/cdrom /media/cdrom
go there
cd /media/cdrom
and run the appropriate script, in my case
since my guest OS is 32-bit. The alternative would have been if my guest OS had been 64 bit.

After that completed I rebooted the guest OS with
shutdown -r now
and when it came back up I had X running, better mouse integration, a larger Virtualbox window and probably more benefits that I haven’t noticed yet.

Old program lives on! I am so grateful to the good and smart people who make these tools available to people like me.

(One of these days I’ll switch to the newer version of the program…just need some time to work on it….)

Ebooks Revisited

1 March 2012

digital bookBack in August 2010 I wrote a rant about ebooks and DRM, “Canadian DMCA (Bill C-32) and ‘my life of crime; part 2′“.

Today I was dragged back into the ebook swamp by Rafe Mair, damn him. I saw his post about his new book “The Home Stretch” being published on-line. The book sounded interesting and Rafe fights the good fights, the Charlottetown Accord and Northern Gateway being the two that stand out for me. So I thought I should buy Rafe’s book.

I couldn’t find a PDF version anywhere, but did discover that there is a Kobo app for Android. I have an Android tablet. A fairly useless toy of a computer, but a handy size to read on. So I installed the Kobo app, rediscovered my old password and purchased the book through the Kobo app.

It was an easy process and didn’t force me to buy a new device to read a book, so I guess the ebook scene has improved a wee bit since 2010.

I didn’t read the licence agreement though.