Tag Archives: Instructional

Backporting with apt-src

So often with Linux distributions, the choice is between running a bleeding-edge system, or sticking with stable (and sometimes stale) software.  Most of us settle in to a distro that balances both to our liking, but there are times when you just have to have a little newer version of a package than the default repositories offer.  While it’s great to find a backport repo or PPA that offers newer stuff, sometimes that’s not possible.

So for times like that, I’m going to describe a method by which Debian or Ubuntu users can backport their own software using handy little tool called “apt-src”.

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Debian for Ubuntu people

It’s no secret that many people’s first Linux experience these days is on Ubuntu; yet as they — for one reason or another — find themselves needing to branch out into the wider Free OS world, Debian is often the next stop along the road.  Having introduced a few Ubuntu users (in real life or online) to Debian, I’ve noticed a few common stumbling blocks, and thought it might be nice to offer a little guide for those making the transition (or expansion) to Ubuntu’s parent distro.

It’s also no secret that there tends to be a bit of friction between the Debian and Ubuntu communities, both users and developers, for a variety of reasons.  For the record, I appreciate and use both distributions quite a bit, so I hope that this article will help users from both camps have a healthy appreciation for the other.

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Launching URLs with awesome’s Run command

Following on the heels of my google search hotkey in awesome, I decided to tackle expanding the functionality of the run prompt.  Awesome’s run prompt, by default, is basically a command-launcher; it chokes on any input that doesn’t represent an executable file.

I wanted it to behave more like the run prompt in other desktops, so that typing in a URL would open the URL in an appropriate application.

With help from Alexander Yakushev on the awesome mailing list, I managed to figure it out….

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Recovering data from a PC: a guide for “not computer people”

It’s a little unfortunate how much we rely on something as unreliable as a computer.  There you are, working along, happily doing your thing, and suddenly Windows (or OSX, or Linux, or BEOS, or whatever it is that sits between your hardware and your web browser) pukes up some error and refuses to boot, work, or be otherwise useful.

Fixing the computer itself is just a matter of time and money; getting back those pictures, documents, emails, and other files that you always meant to back-up is another issue.   So in this article I’m going to show you a simple way to recover documents from a system that won’t boot.

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Reviving my home studio, this time the free software way

Long ago, before I ever knew a lick of BASH or even what an OS kernel was, my passion was not technology but music, music, and more music.  Roughly the first half of my adult life was devoted to the writing, playing, and recording of music, and by around 2002 I’d built for myself a tidy little home recording & mixing setup centered on Cakewalk Sonar, Jeskola Buzz, and Windows XP.  Alas, the years were not kind to my career or gear, and up until recently my music computer was busy being a game & education machine for the kids.

Thanks to a hard drive crash and the purchase of new machines for the kids, I got my old music machine back, albeit lacking a functioning operating system and software.  So, I decided now was a good time to rebuild it.  This time, though, I decided the time was right to kick XP and Cakewalk to the curb and go it Free Software style.

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How to install Debian offline

When tinkering with old computers, there is little about an operating system quite as endearing as flexibility at install time.  The “Universal Operating System” is no slouch in this regard; the Debian installer will work quite happily from CD, DVD, USB drive,  PXE boot (my personal fav), and even a Windows executable.

But what if none of those is an option?  Suppose you’re stuck with a system with no optical media, no USB boot, no PXE boot, and no OS?  Can we get Debian on such a machine?

You bet we can!   (more…)

Creating a kiosk with Linux and X11: 2011 edition

Back around 2006 our public library was in need of a cheap way for patrons to browse its web-based INNOPAC catalog. Thin clients running Windows CE had been purchased for this purpose, but they turned out to be buggy and limited. I was tasked with finding a solution to the problem “on the cheap”, and being a fairly new Linux fanatic at the time, I figured I’d see what I could do using free software. This led to my first kiosk project.

Since then, I’ve refined my approach time and again, deploying kiosks throughout my organization just about anywhere a web-browser kiosk can be put to use. The original library system has been completely rebuilt with newer hardware and software, but is fundamentally the same system I set up five years ago.

I often see people asking about how to set up a kiosk system with Linux, and like me they usually start out going about it the wrong way; so I thought I’d write this tutorial based on my years of experience to help those getting started.

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Reviving your old PC with Linux, Part V: the Remixes

In part III of this series, I told you that lightweight Linux distributions can be classified as either “fully lightweight” or “remixes”; and in part IV, we took a look at several “fully lightweight” distributions. Naturally, in this article, we’re going to talk about remixes.

Unlike the last article, however, I’m not just going to go through a bunch of remix distros and blather on with my half-formed impressions of them; not only would that would be unbearably dull for both you and for me, but selecting a three or four remix distros from the zillion-and-a-half out there in the world is an impossible choice. Instead, we’re going to understand what really distinguishes one remix from another with the aim of helping you select one that fits your needs; after which I’ll go through a few example distributions and talk about what makes them different.

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Lighttpd to the rescue!

Our home server — we call him Rupert — is a real trooper.  Beneath his yellowing beige exterior, a first-gen Pentium 4 works its 224 MB of RAM night and day delivering a variety of services to our home network.  On top of storing our files, caching our DNS requests, filtering the Web for little eyes, and providing me a handy back-door into the network via SSH, rupert’s most important job is delivering a selection of web applications to our home network.

One of the most important — and unfortunately the bulkiest — is Moodle.  Moodle is a CMS designed for schools that deliver online classes and content, and it’s proven quite valuable over the last couple years as an aid in our homeschooling.  Sadly, though, poor Rupert has a tough time dishing out the Moodles. (more…)

Reviving your old PC with Linux, Part IV: Fully Lightweight Distros

By now, we have established a vocabulary with which we can discuss distributions and their strengths and weaknesses, and thus understand the best uses for them given our needs and resources. So in this article, I’ll talk about some actual “fully lightweight” distributions (for those who didn’t read the last article, “fully lightweight” refers to distros that are built from the ground-up to be small and fast. It doesn’t include lightweight remixes or spinoffs of other distros).

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