Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back to Xandros

I've gone full circle, back to using the factory installed "Xandros" distro on my Asus Eee 900.
I had some hurdles to jump on the way. First of all, I had misplaced the Eee packaging including the support and recovery discs. Then, as some sort of bizarre irony, you need to run a Windows program from the support CD to create the reinstallation USB stick from the recovery DVD (it is of course possible to do it manually in Linux, but I wanted to do it the legit way). The only Windows installation I have is the one on my quadruple-boot Dell Inspiron, which cannot read DVD-R. Back to my main computer, where I made ISO images of the support and recovery discs and set up Samba to transfer the files to the Inspiron. On the Inspiron, I used Deamon tools to mount the isos, and was finally able to make the reinstallation USB stick.
As a pleasant surprise, the factory Linux has had quite a lot of updates since I last tried it in June last year. Actually, this distro is perfect for my needs right now. All the programs I would typically use on a trip (which is what I bought the Eee for in the first place) are there, mainly a web browser and instant messengers (Skype without the audio cracking up like in Easy Peasy and EeeBuntu, at last!). One addition since June is a large directory of programs available through the so called "Eee download". Better still, even if the developers have tried to hide as much as possible behind the main interface, you can access a terminal with Ctrl-T in the file manager. Now things get interesting. Updates are available through apt-get, ssh turns out to be installed by default, etc. There is actually a decent catalogue of programs available through apt-get from, to which /etc/apt/sources.list points. This, and the fact that the OS boots in a matter of seconds (as opposed to other distros for the Eee) makes me forget about transgressions like the XP-like theme or that USB sticks are auto-mounted as D:. This machine has risen from the ashes, and now I'm ready for my upcoming trips to Spain and Italy!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Asus Eee PC 900 Recovery Blues

I have tried quite some distros on my Asus Eee PC 900, but I have finally done full circle, and decided to reinstall the "Xandros" OS that was installed on delivery. With the Ubuntu-based distros for the Eee that I have tried (Easy Peasy, eeebuntu, and Ubuntu itself) the sound in Skype cracks up. This is a common issue, but I have not been able to get it to work, despite all the tips and tricks I have found and tried. The closest I have come to a working setup on the Eee is with FluxFlux-Eee, where I get perfect sound in Skype. One major drawback of all these compared to the factory distro is the looong boot time, and that is one of the main reasons I have decided to revert. An alternative would be Moblin, but it is still only in alpha, and only works on SSE3-capable processors (read: Atom - the Celeron in the 900 does not have SSE3).

Unfortunately, I have no idea where I have put the recovery CD that came with the Eee PC, or if I even have it. The recovery CD is of course not downloadable from Asus (but the source code is, wonder how many people have actually tried to compile it). For some odd reason, there is a recovery image available on SourceForge, but only for the 701. Using that image actually works on my 900, but I don't get any sound (another confirmed issue without solution). As a last resort I could buy a replacement for the recovery cd from ASUSparts, but to shell out another €15 on the 900 is grim, since I am aldready beating myself up for not waiting for the Atom-based netbooks.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Finally... Clean URLs in Drupal with Debian Lenny

I managed to find out how to enable clean URLs in Drupal (I did a manual installation of Drupal 6.10) on Debian 5.0 (Lenny). What bliss. The correct advice was found among the comments to the "clean URLs with Debian" page that I referred to before. In order to save some potential readers the trouble, and as a reminder to myself, here is the recipe (everything must be run with root privileges):

  1. Execute a2enmod rewrite to enable mod_rewrite. You can run apache2ctl -M to verify that the module is loaded (shows up as rewrite_module in the list) after performing step 3 below.
  2. Change the file /etc/apache2/sites-available/default so that the section Directory /var/www/ includes the statement AllowOverride All instead of AllowOverride None.
  3. Reload apache modules by issuing /etc/init.d/apache2 force-reload.
After this you can enable clean URLs through the administration menu in Drupal.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

QNAP TS-209 II Research

My research about the QNAP TS-209 II continues. It turns out that people are very satisfied with all aspects of this device, except the 70mm fan, that one person described as being louder than his first full tower PC from 1984. Fortunately, I found some creative advice on how to modify the TS-209 to make it quieter. The way to do it seems to be to use an 80mm fan (there are some quiet ones from Noctua for example) together with a 70mm to 80mm adapter. These adapters are not too common, but I found some at Kustom (UK, no chance of getting them here in Sweden it seems).

At the same time, I'm studying up on Drupal to be able to set up a website if and when I get the TS-209. The LAMP stack and Drupal are installed on the Dell Inspiron now, which gives me a nice base to experiment on.

I promised some ranting, and I didn't have to wait long to find something to get frustrated about. In Drupal, there is a possibility to get "clean URLs" for your website, even a page with instructions for Debian. Sounds easy? Well, the line "Note: This article needs to be updated for Debian "Etch" and "Lenny" releases. (as of March 2009)" should have given me a hint that it was bound not to work. There is just too much outdated information out there. Mental note: write down how I did it if I do get it to work, so that someone is spared from the same insane forum hunt.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

DI-624 not the culprit?

Last week I was struggling with my SSH server on my Dell Inspiron running Gentoo. The connection was reset randomly, and so frequently that it was practically unusable. I thought my DI-624 router was to blame, since various posts accused that router model for being plagued with problems. As I often do, I grew tired of Gentoo and switched to experimenting on the Debian installation on the same computer (I switched Ubuntu Intrepid for Debian Lenny last week). Strangely enough, with Debian I don't experience any connection resets. As usual with Linux, I can't help but wonder what was wrong with the OpenSSH setup on Gentoo.

I often wonder if there is no better way to organize Linux support than forums. It's not often that you find something usable browsing forum posts. All too often the posts are outdated, or everyone is as confused as you are. Try finding information about whether a specific wireless network card is supported under Linux for example. I think that rant will be the topic of the next post.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Connection Reset by Peer

I got the Laptop-based Gentoo server replacement for a future QNAP TS-209 up and running. The only problem is that SSH connections to the server are extremely unreliable and I keep getting disconnected, which of course is very annoying. How do you track down an error like this? My main suspect is my router, though. I have understood from posts on other sites that the DI-624 is notorious for dropping connections, locking up, being sluggish, you name it. Thinking about it, I have experienced quite a lot of problems downloading larger package updates over the years. Some days have been worse than others, and I've actually believed it was my ISP. Apparently Linksys are renowned for making good routers, so maybe it is time to upgrade to something more stable. If so, I will have to ask myself if it is time to upgrade to Gigabit ethernet as well...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hardware Recycling

As I wrote yesterday, I would really like to get my hands on a QNAP TS-209 II. It seems like an ideal home server; it has extremely low power consumption, and you can install Linux on it to tailor it to your own needs. With other NAS devices, it seems what you get is a (buggy) proprietary firmware with a limited array of services.

Waiting for the TS-209 to make it to the top of my gadget shopping list, I decided to make do with what I have. The revamped Dell Inspiron 2650 that was the subject of my very first post is a quadruple-boot machine these days (Windows XP, Ubuntu, Linux From Scratch and Gentoo). I decided to tailor the Gentoo installation to act as a test home server, since it's very customizable, and fun to tweak.

Gentoo is what I started out with when I was getting to know Linux. In Gentoo, you compile all of the software on your machine. It might take you a couple of days to compile all the packages needed to get a Gnome desktop, but once you do, it is compiled specifically for your processor type, and exactly with the features that you have selected. Gentoo is a lot of fun if you don't mind having all-night compile sessions on your computer once in a while, or pulling your hair over some bizarre error that you solve ten days later realizing it was due to some version inconsistency deep down in the dependency tree. After a while, the hair pulling was too much for me. Since I switched to Ubuntu on the machines I use routinely, the amount of time spent on maintenance has decreased dramatically. But for a project like this, when you want to learn how all the bits and pieces fit together, Gentoo is perfect.

I have come so far as to administer the system remotely via SSH, and it is very satisfying to be able to log in on my lunch break and see 'emerge -e world' chew away on the packages, optimizing the system for my old Celeron.

Before I sign off, I have to make a note that GNU Screen is probably one of the most overlooked packages there is. I had never heard of it until a few days ago, but it is that package that makes it possible to do what I just described - to detatch from a terminal session and attach to it at a later time. Be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Quest for a Media Server

I have been on the lookout for a "Media Server" for quite some time now - a computer with very low power consumption that could run Linux and had accelerated video decoding with HDMI output. Media players similar to the TViX are finally being launched by other companies (Western Digital, QNAP). Hopefully we will see the segment grow into the main stream user community, which will put more pressure on manufacturers to come up with firmwares that are less buggy.

Another interesting range of products is the NAS segment. Network Attached Storage like the QNAP Turbo Station units have grown beyond acting as simple storage units and offer services such as BitTorrent clients, FTP and HTTP servers, in fact complete Linux systems. In the case of the QNAP Turbo Station, you can in fact install Debian on it, as it seems without too much hassle.

With their ~20W footprints, these products are great replacements for a HTPC in the case of the TViX-like media players, and for a regular ATX-based home server in the case of the NAS. But what if you could have both? Would it be impossible to equip an ARM-based device like the Turbo Station with a graphics processor like the Sigma Designs chip in the TViX?

As an alternative, it seems that Asus are releasing the second generation of eee Boxes, and while the "low-end" models are not powerful enough to play HD material, maybe the "high-end" b208 is, with its dual-core Atom processor. Since they are equipped with ATI Radeon chips, one would think that video decoding offloading to the graphics processor should be no problem, at least in Windows, which still seems to be the main focus of graphics card manufacturers when it comes to driver development. On Linux, only nVidia seem to have a working framework for video decoding (VDPAU, still too fresh to have made its way into most Linux distibutions it seems). AMD/ATI have a great open source initiative going on (as opposed to nVidia), but so far there seems to be no way of offloading video decoding in Linux with the proprietary Catalyst driver or the open source Radeon and RadeonHD drivers for ATI cards. The Quest continues...