What I’ve been up to recently?

20 10 2009

Well, the true answer – not much.

I’m fairly happy with my linux setup right now – atleast, I haven’t felt the burning urge to distro-hop away from Arch Linux. However, hardware-wise, I’m extremely unhappy. Infact, it’s more than that. I’m angry. This laptop is a load of bum. However, I’m at a time where buying a new laptop, although economically sound, would just be silly. Reasoning here: Well, I’ll be going off to university next year (yeap, to study Computer Science), for which I’ll need a decent laptop for research and what-not. Buying one now will just cost me about £500, where as holding off till next year will cost me £500, but for a better-equiped laptop. So for now, I’ll hold up with this heap of black-plastic’d Dell rubbish.

I have also recently taken down my linux file server. I found it to be too much hassle. It wasn’t going to plan in it’s last few weeks – None of the automated scripts ran properl, I ran into some FileSystem integrity problems which meant that it could crash at anytime, taking out all the media held on it. Also, it has some serious hardware problems – It kept rebooting. However, this shouldn’t come as such a surprise – It was ancient. 667MHz Celeron isn’t something to mourn over. However, a fully functioning SSH, file and music server is.

So my plan is to save up some spare dosh, and buy a cheap barebones kit. I’ll then install Linux (maybe Debian or CentOS this time) onto a fast USB flash drive, and use that as root. I can then buy a 1TB drive, or maybe just a 500GB hard drive, and use that purely for file storage. Might even buy two identical drives, and set them up in a RAID configuration, to safe-guard my precious media.

Do you have any tech ideas? Whats your next move? Let me know in the comment section 🙂

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Essential Software for Linux

20 10 2009

I’m always interested in finding out what software everyone is using on their Linux machines. It’s great finding alternatives to the software you’re using now, because what is the point in open source if you dont have choice?

I’m going to run through some of the software I use on my machine. Hopefully some of you will comment and let me know what programs you guys use.

Browsers

You can’t list web browsers without mentioning Firefox.
http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/firefox.html

I’ve been a Firefox user for many years now. It has a whole host of great features, such as:

  • an amazing add-on system

To me, this is one of the best features of Firefox. Add-ons give Firefox the features you have been longing for with other browsers. For example, there are many add-ons which handle website login information much better than Firefox, some even generating complicated passphrases made of random alphanumeric characters. Others increase functionality for certain groups of people, for example Firebug, which allow you to view the source code of a website in a much more advanced way than how Firefox handles viewing a sites source code.

  • an extremely useful bookmark toolbar

I know this isnt exactly a unique feature, but I feel that Firefox’s bookmark toolbar is so much more than what the other browsers offer. It allows you to add bookmarks in a place that is extremely easy to access, but also allows you to add RSS feeds to the toolbar, allowing you to keep up-to-date with site changes from the comfort of a static toolbar.

Midori

Very lightweight (resource-wise, and feature-wise) browser driven by the Gecko engine (which is made famous by Mozilla). I found it useful for basic tasks, like checking my emails – most due to it’s start-up time being much faster than Firefox’s. However, it does seem to lack features. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it tried to market the way Chromium has – as “Lightweight, straight-to-the-point browsing”. Instead, it’s in limbo between being useful for more than browsing (like firefox), and being lightweight and strictly browsing like Chromium.

Chromium (and related projects)

Although Google Chrome hasn’t come out of beta (not even sure if it’s out of alpha yet) for Linux, you can still get your hands on Chromium – the open-source browser that Google Chrome is built upon. This is my default browser right now, since it’s fast, and it looks clean while maximising screen real estate. However, right now I’m having a problem with Javascript – sometimes, I can’t interact with Javascript object like video in the way I should be able to. However, this is most likely either the build I am using, or a bug in the WebKit engine Chromium uses.

Audio Players

This is a toughie. Since there are a few choice here, I’ll just list a briefly describe.

MPD

My favourite. Why? Because it’s just so damn lightweight. MPD is a music daemon – it runs in the background, playing your tunes. To interact with it, you must use a front-end. Check out ncmpc for a console client, and sonata for a graphical client.

http://mpd.wikia.com/wiki/Music_Player_Daemon_Wiki

SongBird

SongBird is different. How? It does everything. Well, tries to, and in my oppinion, fails. It combines a music player, clawing at the UI of iTunes, with a gecko-driven web browser. In my oppinion, this seems like a load of bloat, but I have heard of many people who were more than happy with it, so I say that it’s worth a shot.

http://getsongbird.com/

AmaroK

If you haven’t guessed, this is a KDE application. And quite a nice one at that. It seems, at first glance, so be a bit too glossy, setting you up to expect a load of fail when it comes to features. This is where you’re pleasantly surprised. It works with many formats, lets you scrobble and listen to LastFM streams, and is fairly customisable with user-created scripts. However, some may find it a little on the heavy side, and those who don’t use KDE as a DE (Desktop Environment) might find that it just doesn’t sit right on their screen.

http://amarok.kde.org/

Video Players

VLC

I loved VLC. Even why I was on Windows, VLC was my main program for any video, or audio that I wanted to listen to or watch. It has a nice, clean layout, with thousands of options to boot. I even managed to set it up with PulseAudio, allowing me to take advantage of the superior speak attached to my server, while watching the film itself on my laptop. However, I moved away from VLC when I decided that it was getting a bit too heavy for the small jobs I was asking of it. It also started to crash – the point at which I gave up trying to diagnose this crash, happened to be the same time that I met my next example of a great, linux Video Player.

http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

MPlayer

This is by far my favourite Video Player for linux. It’s extremely light, even when playing large ISO files off my hard drive. It supports a larger format spectrum than VLC (in my experience), which is always useful. In my experience, it also helped some sync issues I had when streaming video from my file server using VLC – they totally disappeared when I started using MPlayer. However, it is command-line driven – to me, this isn’t a problem, but to others, it might be a bit scary. However, for the most part, it’s as simple as:

mplayer ~/<path to video>

You can also use MPlayer for playing audio files. Being console-based, the start-up time for MPlayer is tiny, making it useful for quickly listening to a song that you suddenly fancy listening to, or making using it in a script to playing an audio file once the script is finished.

http://www.mplayerhq.hu/design7/news.html

Office Apps

Whether, we like it or not, we all need them. Here is a quick round-up of the ones I have come across.

Open Office

This tends to be the favourite amongst many who have either migrated from Windows, or have to use Windows machines often – mainy because it’s quite similar to Microsoft Office 2003 or there-abouts. This is my favourite – although he quite heavyweight in comparison to the rest of my software preferences, it gets the job done well.

http://www.openoffice.org/

Abiword

Touted as a lighter-weight Office-write (the “word” applicant from the Open Office suite, I was sure to give this a go. It started well – faster start-up speeds, clean-ish layout. However, it crashed repeatedly on me. This meant I lost a lot of my coursework due to this. Needless to say, I was pissed, and uninstalled, reinstalling Open Office. However, this may have not been Abiword’s fault, so it is worth a go to see for yourself. You may have been luck than me.

http://www.abisource.com/


There we have it. You might be asking, “Where are the games, the x, y, z?”. Well, if the category isn’t here, than I haven’t tried any, so it wouldn’t be right of me to recommend any. As you can see, this REALLY isn’t an exhaustive list, and it was never meant to be. I just wanted to show my setup, program-wise. Feel free to comment, and share your setup software-wise.






Backing up is easy with Rsync

21 08 2009

“Always backup regularly!” is a bit of a mantra in the online linux community. You can see where they are coming from though. How many problems have you read about or posted on forums which could have been solved or avoided had there been a recent backup made? Lots.

Although they always bash you for not making regular backups, they rarely tell you how to make the backups.

As daunting as backing up sounds, it really isn’t hard when you have the tools. One of these tools is Rsync. Rsync is an amazing backup utility. Its flexible, open source, and is really reliable. It can be used for local backup – backing up a local file or directory, to another local directory or mounted filesystem, or it can be used for remote backup – backing up a local file to a remote server, or a remote file to a local directory.

In this article, I’ll be focusing on remote backups, using rsync to backup important files and directories to a remote server over SSH. However, with a little tinkering, you can easily mold this into local backups, if that takes your fancy.

0. Install rsync

You’ll want to install this on both client machine and server. This allows you to take advantage of rsync’s two backup methods – “push” and “pull“. “Push” sends a local file or directory to a remote server, whereas “pull” grabs a remote file or directory, and stores it locally, all of which is done over SSH.

1. Configure

While rsync itself needs no form of configuration, we need to be able to SSH into our remote machine, preferably without a password. If you haven’t already set up SSH, you should check out OpenSSH. There are many guide around the vast stretches of the interwebs. I may even publish a guide myself on here some day.

It’s fairly simple to set up passwordless login of SSH. Simply generate a set of SSH keys on the client-side, then give them a blank password. From here, you send the id_rsa.pub or id_dsa.pub file over SSH to your server, using the scp tool, or even ftp if your old school. After this, SSH into your remote machine, add the contents of the .pub file to your “authorized_keys” file in the ~/.ssh directory (if it doesn’t exist, create it using “mkdir ~/.ssh/” and “touch authorized_keys”). (To add the contents of the .pub file, simply “cat id_rsa >> authorized_keys“. Then we simply configure the SSHd confuration file to allow SSH access via key authentication.

2. Backing up

Now that everything is in place, we can start backing up important documents and directories!

NOTE: Rsync won’t create a destination directory if one doesn’t exist. You must mkdir your destination directory before using rsync.

If you are using the “push” method (my preference), all you need to do is run this command. As always, I’ll show you the command, and then break it down, making it easier to understand.

rsync –progress -avz -e ‘ssh -p[port]’ /directory/or/file/to/backup user@serverIP:/directory/to/backup/to/

Rsyncis rather obvious. “–progressgive you a progress report along the way. -avzis a mixture of option for how the data is to be handled. astands for archive – this means that permissions and ownerships and whatnot is all preserved. This also means that the directory is sent recursively, ie all the files in all the subdirectories are also sent, with the directory tree preserved. -vstands for verbose – this just increases the output of the command, depending on how many v’s are present (useful for debugging a problem). ztells rsync to compress the data before sending. This speeds up the backup. [port] should be replace with your SSH port. User should be replaced to your main SSH user on the remote host, ie the user you want to use to backup the files. ServerIP should obviously be replaced with the IP address of your server.

For the “pull” method, simply insert your source directory/file as you would with SSH access. ie

rsync –progress -avz -e ‘ssh -p[port]’ user@IP:/file/to/backup /local/directory/to/backup/to/

NOTE: The existence of a slash at the end of the source directory (the first specified directory or file) is significant to what rsync does. It a / exists, then rsync backs up the CONTENTS of that directory. However if the slash does not exist, then the folder itself is sent.

There we have it. A little guide on how to back up remotely. I hope this helped somewhat.





WPA + Linux = Not as much bother as expected

17 08 2009

So we’ve all heard about the weaknesses of WEP. If not, a quick google search should bring up thousands of sites describing WEP’s weaknesses. There are even videos on youtube describing how to compromise WEP security, many using the popular pen-testing tool Backtrack 3, or Backtrack 4 Beta.

With WPA, the problem of a static key is fixed, by WPA changing the key at a packet transmitted/received frequency. If you want to find out more, you can check this wiki article on WPA.

After messing a little with Backtrack 3, I realised how easy it was to crack WEP keys – from booting Backtrack 3 for the first time to finding my WEP key, it took about half an hour, much shorter if I hadn’t had to follow a  guide.

So WPA, or WPA2 is the way forward. Here is a quick description of what I had to do to get my Arch Linux laptop and server connected to my BTHomeHub2.

NOTE: Remember that I’m using Arch Linux, an independent distribution. This means that it uses its own package management system, “pacman”, as well as handling daemons in a different folder. If you’re not using Arch, remember to swap out the distro-dependent commands for commands suited to your distro.

0. Install wireless drivers.

1. Install wpa_supplicant

For Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -Sy wpa_supplicant

After the initial install, running “wpa_supplicant” (without the quotes) will give you a list of supported drivers, including the generic wireless driver WEXT, NDISWRAPPER support and MadWifi, amongst others.

2. Configuring WPA supplicant

I like to backup the default configuration file. However, for this, we’re going to create our own configuration file, so “mv” is used, instead of “cp”. To do this, open your terminal of choice and type:

mv /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf.orig

Now we create the configuration file

touch /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

Wpa supplicant requires that your SSID and passphrase be encoded into a hexadecimal string. This might sound daunting, but it’s simple if you use a tool bundled with wpa supplicant. Again, in your terminal of choice, run:

wpa_passphrase ssid passphrase

This will output a configuration file that should work from the off with your setup. To save you from typing this out in a text editor and saving it in /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf, we can simply retype that command, but pipe the output to the configuration file.

wpa_passphrase ssid passphrase > /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

Remember to replace “ssid” with your wireless access point’s name, eg “BTHomeHub2-GKJP”, and to replace “passphrase” with your passphrase.

If your amongst the security conscience of us, you should think about changing the permission of the configuration file, since your passphrase will be stored in plain text. To do this so that only root can read from and write to the file:

chmod 0600 /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

There we have it, the configuration file for wpa supplicant. Now for connecting to the your access point (AP).

3. Connecting

Before discovering tools such as wicd, I had to connect using wpa supplicant from the command line. Ill detail this way instead of the wicd method, in case your having to connect wireless before you have X installed, as I had to do.

With everything in place, connecting is quite easy. For this, I’m going to use “wlan0” as my wireless device name. However, this name may be something different for you. To find out your device name, run the command “iwconfig”.

First, you must bring your wireless device up. To do this, run:

ifconfig wlan0 up

Now we need to associate with your access point. To do this, simply run:

iwconfig wlan0 essid ssidname

NOTE: Here, you need to replace ssidname with the name of your AP, but leave essid as essid.

Now to connect:

wpa_supplicant -B -Dwext -i wlan0 -c /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

Since it’s quite a long command, I’ll break it down a bit. The “-B” tell wpa supplicant to run in the background. The “-D” selects the driver to use. The “-i” tell wpa supplicant that your going to be specifying your interface. “wlan0” is the name of your interface (remember to change to your interfaces name). “-c” tells wpa supplicant that next you will be specifying the configuration file’s name.

Nearly done now. All thats left is to ask for an internal IP address. I use dynamic addresses, so to request a dynamic IP, run:

dhcpcd wlan0

And there you have it. You should now be connected to the internet.

One last note for those of us who like to automate long processes like this. You should think about using the “sleep” command between connecting and requesting an IP. I used “sleep 3”, meaning that it waits 3 seconds before requesting an IP address. Some may think this is overkill, but I like to be on the safe side. If you dont “sleep”, then you may run into problems when connecting.






First post!

17 08 2009

Best thing about a blog: you’re guaranteed first post 🙂

So this is Knee Deep In Nix. A humble blog, depicting someones experiences with Linux. It’s nothing special. It’s really just because,

1) I’ve never done a blog before.

2) I might forget the stuff I learn. This is a way to archive it. And,

3) Hopefully it will help other people. Hopefully..

I have this problem you see; I’m never really comfortable with my setup, computer-wise. I’m always googling for ways to make it faster, more efficient, easier, less resource-intensive. Always. I’m sure some of you readers are the same.

I started using Windows XP. I loved it. It was nippy, especially when I saw how sluggish my friends’ computers were due to Vista on pre-vista hardware. I kept the laptop spotless; defragging every few nights, virus-scanning every other night. Not a single problem with it. Except, it always felt kind of wrong – it felt too glossy, asthough a thin plastic film was between me and the software, blocking me a little. As much as I stripped XP back, I could never get passed this feeling. Thats when I found Linux.

I started with Ubuntu. Made a small partition, installed it, along with GRUB – allowing me to dual boot XP and Ubuntu. It was amazing. Until I ran into driver problems with the BCM43xx wireless card. After getting past those, I ran into wireless problems – Ubuntu 9.04 couldn’t connect to my WPA-secure access point (AP).

Then I found Arch Linux. It was a damn big jump, going from the user-friendly Ubuntu to the gritty Arch. But it was great. I got to build a setup, for me. Not for the general consumer, but for me. After again getting past driver support problems, I could install what I wanted, when I wanted, and configure it to exactly how I wanted it.

I started dabbling in Ubuntu around June. I had a full Arch Linux system up and running by the end of July.

Since then, I’ve installed Arch onto a friends old old old PC, and turned it into a fully functional headless file and media server. It’s surprisingly useful.

Anyways, that’s the first post done. Not very exciting, but I thought you deserved some background information :).

What I’m currently listening to:

Jose Gonzalez – Veneer. Entire album on repeat 🙂