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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sun, 30 Sep 2012

Better-late-than-never review: The ZaReason Limbo 6000A desktop computer running Linux Mint 12

I get offered products for review here and there. Usually those products are hard for me to get excited about.

But a computer built for Linux, assembled in Berkeley, California, by the well-respected ZaReason?

That was exciting.

Cathy Malmrose of ZaReason contacted me through Larry Cafiero, Linux advocate and my Digital First Media / MediaNews Group colleague. Soon enough, the ZaReason Limbo 6000A was on its way to the L.A. Daily News office.

The lowest-priced Limbo 6000A runs a very reasonable . The box sent to me included a few key improvements that brought the price up to .

I know what you're thinking. I could put together my own box from Newegg/TigerDirect parts, or buy a cheaper computer from Dell, HP, Acer, etc. ...

But if you buy from ZaReason (or System 76, or the other Linux- and BSD-loading builder-dealers out there), you are getting systems on which all the hardware is guaranteed to work with free, open-source operating systems. You get actual support. And you don't run the risk of putting together a box from scratch that might not even POST when you turn the power on, not to mention fail to work with the Linux distribution of your choice.

(Rear of the ZaReason Limbo 6000A)


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Fri, 28 Sep 2012

The $99 supercomputer: Adapteva turns to Kickstarter for funding to get its massively parallel, fully open Raspberry Pi killer off the ground

Above: Adapteva's video of the prototype Parallella board running Ubuntu.


First netbooks died, killing off their Linux origins before that. Then big OEMs flirting with desktop Linux went from bang to whimper with nary a marketing push.

But the bright, shining light in open source hardware -- software-wise anyway, as the hardware ain't all that open -- has been the Raspberry Pi single-board computer that runs Linux, sips power and has a great deal of the world busy crafting enclosures, fine-tuning OS images and basically geeking out.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But there will be competitors. Others that want to take the throne.

Chief among complaints about Raspberry Pi is the presence of closed-source chips on the board.

Well along comes Adapteva with an idea for a massively parallel collection of CPUs on a chip (either 16 or 64), also (electrical) power sipping but this time funded by Kickstarter and promising way more processing power, plus a fully open hardware design, all for (for 16 cores) or (for 64 cores).

That's if they get that Kickstarter money and get the project off the ground.

People are thirsting big time for these "supercomputing" ARM platforms, something cheap enough to play a niche role yet powerful enough to actually do some things.

The Parallella Project is looking for ,000 out of Kickstarter to produce the 16-core chip. If things blow up and they get million, they'll produce the 64-core version.

According to the Ubuntu Vibes write-up linked to above, the 16-core version will deliver 13 GHz of CPU performance, and the 64-core version will push 45 GHz. All that in 5 watts of power.

And they're pledging to open-source the hardware if this Kickstarter thing works out.

Lots of updates today in Debian Wheezy, plus when I think it will go Stable and why I stick with Debian as my distro of choice

Quite a few updates moved for Debian's Wheezy testing branch today. I got a lot of GNOME bits and, for some reason, qemu-kvm.

The Debian Project is pushing Wheezy ever closer to release. The way things are going, counting the number of release-critical bugs and comparing it to roughly the same period before the release of Squeeze (the current Stable release), there are now 243 release-critical bugs remaining to be solved before Wheezy's release can happen. In September 2010, there were 126 RC bugs remaining to be solved.

Squeeze was released in February 2011, and if the RC-bug count is any indication, we won't see Wheezy go Stable this year, even though that was an early goal of the project.

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I still need Xfce's Gigolo, even in GNOME

I get why they called it Gigolo. It's the Xfce utility that "mounts anything without complaining."

The things it mounts include ftp and sftp over the network, WebDAV and Windows shares. I'd rather not use it at all, but in Xfce's Thunar file manager, you still need Gigolo to access these remote filesystems.

But since I'm using GNOME and the Nautilus file manager, which is advertised as having baked-in ability to access sftp/ftp and various other networked filesystems, you'd think I'd have no need for Gigolo.

Unfortunately this isn't true.

As often as I create bookmarks in Nautilus to my often-used sftp/ftp sites, they disappear. I don't know why. I've blogged about it recently but find no bug reports.

And though it may be due to the ftp sites I'm using, after a certain period of neglect, during which I don't access a given ftp site after doing so earlier in the session, Nautilus either disconnects or is disconnected from a given ftp server and won't reconnect. Thunar seems to do a better job or reinitiating the connection, but Gigolo is a quick way to "respawn" said ftp connection and get it working again with my file manager, be it Thunar or Nautilus.

But what's really annoying is continually losing my ftp bookmarks in Nautilus. This never happens in Gigolo. It may be awkward, poorly designed and cringe-inducingly named, but it does what it says.

Sun, 23 Sep 2012

Repartitioning my Debian Wheezy system to make more room

I bit the bullet and did some repartitioning of my Debian Wheezy-running laptop to give myself more space on the Linux side by taking it from the seldom-used Windows side of my dual-boot system.

I had wanted to make my existing Debian partitions bigger, but due to the fact that modifying LVM -- especially with some partitions encrypted -- is a bit too mysterious and difficult, I decided to work with the Windows 7 partitions on the drive instead. Once I shrunk Windows, I planned to use the freed-up space for a new Linux partition. After that I would configure my Debian system to use it.

When I set up this laptop back in 2010, I did a fresh, crapware-free Windows 7 Home Premium installation at the very end of the drive. Windows dumped its main partition and small boot partition right there. At the time I gave something like 100 GB (out of the 320 GB drive) to Windows.

That's where I got my "extra" space for Linux.

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Sun, 16 Sep 2012

Advantage of Ubuntu's per-account /home encryption

I write a lot about encryption. I'm not trying so much to keep the government out of my business but to give myself peace of mind in the event my machine is lost or stolen.

I want to know that it would be way too much trouble for anybody to try to get any data out of the machine so I can confidently carry around a laptop and know that nobody else can get to that data if it leaves my possession.

But there's one problem with the kind of encryption provided by the installers for Debian and Fedora: The global (or individual) passphrase(s).

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Sat, 15 Sep 2012

Evgeni Golov: Why I hope Twitter will die with the new API

An interesting post from Evgeni Golov: Why I hope Twitter will die with the new API.

Twitter built its following on a great deal more openness and flexibility than it wants to provide now. And thus Twitter is closing things up in such a way as to make sure more users access the service through Twitter-controlled sources and see more Twitter-controlled marketing.

Evgeni hopes it'll backfire. I'm with him.

Andrea Veri: Managing your website with git

We're in the middle of the git-isation of all things digital. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm somewhat on board. I have a Gitorius account. That's about as far as I've gotten.

Here's an interesting article: Manage your website through git by Debian Developer and GNOME contributor Andrea Veri.

Fri, 14 Sep 2012

The professional-level Lightworks video editor is coming to Linux

It's been in the works for a while, promised but not yet delivered, now promised again for Oct. 30, 2012: The Lightworks video-editing software is coming to Linux, specifically to Ubuntu 12.04 (and perhaps others after that).

Having really never heard of Lightworks, which the OMG!Ubuntu post above says was used to edit such professional films as "The King's Speech" and "Hugo." The project was open-sourced in 2010, and there is already a Windows build available. I'm somewhat excited by that prospect in itself, as I haven't yet come up with a Windows video-editing workflow/application that I can both use myself and recommend to others.

You can bet I'll be trying this out asap and waiting for the Linux version. If it only runs on Ubuntu, a video-editing app that can really get the job done is enough for me to choose my OS accordingly. That's a big "if." I'll have to get some actual time in front of Lightworks before I can make any judgments.

Thu, 13 Sep 2012

Getting rid of doubled Applications icons in GNOME 3 in Debian Wheezy

Remember my recent problem with doubled icons in the Applications view in GNOME 3 on my Debian Wheezy system?

Running the command update-menus every time you boot takes care of the problem, but that's no solution.

It turns out that getting rid of the menus package fixes the problem permanently:

$ sudo apt-get remove --purge menu

This will most likely accomplish the same thing (though I didn't try it):

$ sudo aptitude purge menu

I know that on my system the menu package came along with the fluxbox window manager. Since I was losing the menu package, I opted to get rid of fluxbox at the same time.

Note on Xfce: Removal of the menu package did not affect Xfce, which I also have installed on this Debian Wheezy system.

Note on menu and Debian: I suppose this should be classfied as a bug, because menu and GNOME Shell should be able to co-exist, but I don't see a bug that addresses this issue filed against menu. Maybe the bug should be filed against GNOME Shell. This is one of those (many) situations where I'm at a loss.

Note on menu: If you reinstall menu, will the problem with GNOME 3 return? Yes, it will.