Shipit now accepting orders for Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 LTS!

This might be old news to some folks, but for those of you who want to get a “real” pressed CD, Shipit has been offering to ship CDs of the still unreleased Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 when it is available. Highly recommended for the Ubuntu fan.

Sign up for one now before the rush — I did!


I’m Now Writing for Ars Technica Open Ended

Big news… really really big breaking news…

Starting today, I’m writing daily news blurbs for the Ars Technica Open Ended news-oriented journal about Linux and open source in general. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for quite some time, since the Ars name brings along with it some credibility and respect from the community.

I’m not stopping the presses, they’re just rolling somewhere else a little bit faster. I’m not going to stop posting articles here, and trust me – there are some things I’ve written about that Ars wouldn’t ever think of publishing in a million years… a quick search concludes that I’m not always the most politically correct blogger around – I don’t try to be someone I’m not, but just for Ars, I’ll try to clean up my act a little bit. 🙂

That said, there are a limited amount of hours for me to write, and I’ve wanted to be a part of something bigger – and I have achieved that goal. I hope you’ll congratulate me and follow to the new digs.

I kinda think they have a better web designer than myself.. right?

iPhone Linux

Ubuntu Human Theme for the iPhone

A member of several Ubuntu collaboration teams, including Ubuntu-Artwork has recreated the ubiquitous Human Theme for the iPhone. He plans on updating it for a simultaneous release with Hardy Heron. I was able to catch up with the creator and ask him a few questions.

1. Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m just a computer science major and open source fan.

2. Why did you make it?
For integration with my desktop experience (even though I don’t use stock Ubuntu wallpapers)

3. How long have you been using ubuntu on the desktop?
Exclusively, since 6.06. And happily 🙂

There you have it… my quick “Ubuntu tagged” post for the week.

Also, as a side note, the 8.04 Release Candidate has been… released. Get it while it’s hot. Oh, and by the way… I can now offer a free full year of PC Magazine for qualified professionals – check it out, it’s been a real hit so far.

Linux Video

Fun With xwinwrap in Compiz Fusion

I’ve been occasionally looking for something in Linux that would spruce up the place. Right now, my desktop is an minimalistic and functional solid black background. I’d like to do more with the space. Not just put up an image as a background – that’s straight from the late 80s.

The Mario desktop I would like to install on my Desktop is a perfect example of things that “just work” in Windows don’t seem to be possible in Linux. Until today, I didn’t know if there was a way to set my Ubuntu desktop with a HTML file with animation and graphics. In Windows, it’s a really simple operation… add the HTML location to your “Active Desktop,” place in on your desk where you’d like then lock down the widget.

For Linux there’s something far, far more powerful called xwinwrap. It allows you to run (most) any application as a desktop background. Really sweet, just check out some video:

Installation Instructions (on Hardy Heron Beta) – mind the possible wordwrap:
sudo apt-get install build-essential libx11-dev x11proto-xext-dev libxrender-dev libxext-dev cvs

cvs -d co xwinwrap

cd xwinwrap


sudo cp xwinwrap /usr/bin
This last line is optional, but puts the command in your path for easy access.

Now you can do some really funky stuff… like run the glmatrix screensaver as your desktop background:
nice -n 15 ./xwinwrap -ni -o 0.20 -fs -s -sp -st -b -nf -- /usr/lib/xscreensaver/glmatrix -root -window-id WID

This is really cool, but what if you need to change settings for something else? Here’s the lowdown on what each command switch does – and there are a LOT of them. One wrong or missing switch will completely change the behavior of the program.

xwinwrap [-g] [-ni] [-argb] [-fs] [-s] [-st] [-sp] [-a] [-b] [-nf]
[-fl] [-o OPACITY] -- COMMAND ARG1...

-g geometry
-ni no input
-argb argb ?? Alpha, Red, Green, Blue ??
-fs fullscreen
-s sticky
-st skip taskbar
-sp skip pager
-a above
-b below
-nf noFocus
-o opacity=# Between 0 and 1

Want to help me write articles and receive credit where it’s due? (Thanks Oli for the heads up on xwinwrap! – Check out his blog, while you’re at it.) Anyways, the point I was trying to make is to follow me on Twitter, answer my occasional random questions, and get kudos. Oh, and njpatel also pointed it out to me. Check out his blog too. 🙂

Please don’t drink and use xwinwrap. With great power, comes great responsibility. fsckin w/ linux is not liable for damages caused by shopping carts. this message was approved by justf**kinggoogleit.

Linux Video

My Cat Bubba Posts Videos and Twitters using an EeePC and Ubuntu

MAKE blogged about plants that notify the owner via text message or Twitter status update that they need water, and even thank their owners when they’re watered.

This got me thinking – why not a cat who sends a tweet when he’s eating? While I’m at it, why not toss in a video stream? After all, everyone loves videos of their cat. My ASUS eeePC runs eeexubuntu and has a webcam – all I would need to do to get my cat twittering is setup some motion sensing software that detects movement from the webcam, records a video, and upload to my server and then notifies me.

First, a proper “cat studio” is required. I picked up a laundry basket, some thin anti-slip mat and a couple of new food bowls for under $15 total. The laundry basked got a side removed by my trusty Dremel tool, and the anti-slip mat was cut to fit and hot-glued in place. After that was done, I had a spare light fixture with a clamp lying around to add to the mix for better lighting.

Motion is a great webcam application that fits my needs exactly. More specifically, when it detects motion, it records a video – think like a security camera, but way, way smarter. When Motion no longer senses any movement after a defined period of time, it encodes the captured video, and then it can run a script or set of commands afterwards. Bingo!

Here’s how I did it, after hours of trial and error:
1. Installed Motion 3.2.9
2. Configured and tweaked /etc/motion/motion.conf (probably still some changes needed)
3. Setup SSH to allow logins to my web server without a password.
4. Added the following to execute when a recording is finished:
Upload the file (using cat, of course!):

cat /tmp/motion/video.swf | ssh cat ">" /home/fsckin/

Update Twitter Status:

curl --basic --user "junglecrawler:password" --data-ascii "status=Done eating, humans were nice to me today." ""

Remove the video off the local machine:

rm /tmp/motion/video.swf

Here’s the end result:
First Video:

Latest Video (15MBish)

This videos loop over and over. Also – if a video is uploading at the same time that someone is loading the page, it might break. If you don’t see video, just count to 10 and refresh the page. If you still get nothing, bookmark this on and come back later.

Note: Audio is not yet supported by Motion, however, an experimental patch enables this already and should be be in the next version. This is a proof of concept, and it will probably be running for at least the next week – after that, who knows. All I know is after I’m long forgotten, Bubba will live in perpetuity as truly the first cat who uploaded videos of himself eating and sending tweets to his human slaves.

Follow Bubba on Twitter. Or, follow his slave, Wayne.

Linux Video

gOS Space and myMiniPC: Bling-Enabled Desktop for Myspace

The 100+ million “average joe” Myspace users are about to get mind blowing eye-gasm with the brand new myMiniPC with gOS Space 2.9 – and I’m not talking about some spicy profile pictures. Combining the Avant Window Navigator dock and Compiz Fusion 3D effects is going to provide a desktop experience generations beyond what Redmond’s latest offering in a slim form factor 1.5 inches tall and a mere two pounds.

When I spoke with David Liu about the product, he said, “I enjoy tackling these giant companies that I feel symbolize a huge population of average joes.” Six months after launching the gPC in Wal*Mart in front of 140+ million shoppers for a price the couldn’t refuse, now he’s leveraging freely available content on sites like YouTube, Flickr, Pandora and many others with the myMiniPC.

The icons on the left side of the dock are Myspace, News, Photos, Videos, Music, TV, Tools, and Fun. On the right side, four brand new Myspace Apps are featured: Mood, Clock, Graffiti, and Quotes – one app for each face of the desktop cube.

Myspace icons range from Blogs to Music and everything in between, for users to quickly navigate around the site or launch new instances of Firefox. Stuffy news agencies like BBC or CNN have been replaced with links to popular blogs such as Perez Hilton, TMZ and Valleywag.

Flickr and Photobucket populate the Photos icon along with three others. The videos icon has a whopping nine options: Daily Motion, Google Video, Meta Cafe, MyspaceTV, Revver, Veoh, Vimeo, and YouTube. I could go on all day about how much is a single click away – if you’re interested in more information, feel free to browse the screenshot gallery below, or simply watch my video about gOS on YouTube with a short demo.

The logic behind building an operating system out of web applications quickly becomes obvious as you go down the dock viewing each category. These companies have banked billions of dollars by using content created by their users. Making that content easily accessible is the key to providing a channel surfing experience for the web.

With tax refunds just around the corner, the $499 price on the myMiniPC is perfect. gOS Spaces 2.9 should be available soon, I urge you to test it out and tell your friends who are on Myspace about it. Got a suggestion, question or comment? Go ahead and Ask Dave yourself – I’m sure he’ll be happy to oblige your request. Here are some specs, screen shots and video of gOS Space 2.9 for your viewing pleasure.

myMiniPC specs:
• Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core Mobile Processor T2130 (1MB L2 Cache, 1.86GHz, 533MHz)
• 512MB DDR2 667 SDRAM
• 120GB Hard Disk Drive
• DVD+/-RW
• Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator GMA950
• Realtek ALC268 High-Definition Audio
• (4) USB 2.0 ports
• (1) IEEE 1394
• (1) 10/100/1000 Ethernet Port
• (1) DVI-I Port
• (1) S-Video Port
• (1) 4-in1 Media Card Reader
• (1) Headphone/Line-Out Port and (2) Microphone/Line-In Port




Review: Four GPS Software Packages for Linux

I picked up a new Pharos iGPS-500 GPS Receiver from earlier this week for under 60 bones. When I opened it up, found out exactly how absolutely TINY it is. The “Actual Size” denotation on the box is slightly misleading fraudulent. Although the GPS portion of the device is small, the USB to serial adapter that plugs into the GPS unit doubles the “Actual Size in Real Life,” that the marketing droids happily ignored.

That minor quibble aside, I don’t really care how big it is. It could be the size of a banana phone and I would still use it – as long as it was able to find my current location and do it quickly. This USB GPS unit claims to be one of the fastest GPS units out there, sporting the new Sirf III (or SiRFstar III) chipset.
Pharos PB010 USB iGPS-500 GPS Receiver
According to Wikipedia the Sirf III chipset inside this Pharos iGPS-500 is capable of acquiring and maintaining a signal lock in urban or densely covered forest environments. This is great news for me personally, since I’m always lugging around a laptop when I go hiking in the forest.

It is pretty quick to lock onto a location when I’m inside. In fact, I have yet to do any driving tests with it yet (too busy compiling this article) although I’m sure it’ll work just fine. With this particular model, you can even purchase a Bluetooth adapter for it after the fact and use it with something other than a computer – some smartphones have GPS software available and will work just fine with a Bluetooth connection. Pretty rad, if I do say so myself.

Getting it working in Ubuntu Hardy required a bit of research. The information I found assumes a pretty high level of knowledge, and there’s not any centralized location for getting GPS units working that I could find.

Hardware Installation:
I plugged in the unit, and ran dmesg | grep tty to make sure it was detected:

usb 2-2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

This means the device is available at /dev/ttyUSB0 – pretty simple.

Installing software:
I’m testing four different GPS software suites for Linux: GPS Drive, Roadnav, Navit and VIking. GPS Drive and Viking are right in the Ubuntu repository. Roadnav has a debian package available on their website that worked quite well. Last but not least there’s Navit, which requires installing from source. I’m assuming that the person reading this wants to test out all four software suites. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s best to test out each platform before settling on a choice.

# apt-get install gpsd python-gps gpsdrive viking gpsd-clients libgps-dev libgtk2.0-dev glutg3-dev libcegui-mk2-dev libxmu-dev libsdl-dev libpcre3-dev libspeechd-dev libtiff-dev libdevil-dev build-essential subversion automake


Now that we’ve got all the software we need to get any of the four programs working, making sure the device works with gpsd is a good starting point. gpsd is an abstraction layer between a compatible device and the mapping software. If your device works with gpsd, you’ll be all set. The reason we need gpsd is because there’s no standard for communication for GPS units. Each company has their own way of doing things. Magellan, DeLorme and Garmin never got together to create an open standard for communication and gpsd is the savior that converts each different GPS protocol into something each piece of mapping software can understand easily.

$ gpsd -N -n -D 2 /dev/ttyUSB0
gpsd: launching (Version 2.36)
gpsd: listening on port gpsd
gpsd: successfully connected to the DBUS system bus
gpsd: running with effective group ID 0
gpsd: running with effective user ID 0
gpsd: opening GPS data source at ‘/dev/ttyUSB1’
gpsd: speed 9600, 8N1
gpsd: garmin_gps not active.
gpsd: gpsd_activate(1): opened GPS (5)
gpsd: client (0) connect on fd 6
gpsd: client(0) turned on raw mode
gpsd: speed 4800, 8N1

Looking good. Let’s make sure that gpsprof can access it.

$ gpsprof -f cycle
gpsprof: looking for fix…first fix in 0.42sec, gathering samples……(27.42 sec) done.
Cycle report Fri Apr 4 04:07:49 2008, Generic NMEA, 4800N1, cycle 1s
The sentence set emitted by this GPS is: GSA RMC GGA GSV
GSA: is emitted once a second.
RMC: is probably emitted once a second.
GGA: is emitted once a second.
GSV: is emitted once every 5 seconds.
Send cycle is once per second.

If all is well with gpsd and gpsprof, we’re all set and ready to rock and roll.

I tested out GPS Drive first – it’s right in the Ubuntu repositories. GPS Drive works fine right out of the box. The maps it uses are fairly good, but could be higher resolution. For an application that’s got “Drive” in the name, it’s got a not-so-driver-friendly interface, and the routing portion is klunky. Otherwise, it’s a nice basic application that has a cool indicator in the status bar for how many GPS signals it’s caught onto.

Next, I downloaded Roadnav‘s debian installer for Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon 7.10 from their website and installed it, had no problems running in 8.04. Roadnav has a really slick looking 3D view. It’s got a pleasing interface, and is suitable for a lower resolution screen. Directions and route finding are dismal at best. I would say that it’s pretty average in most ways – nothing sticks out as great except the 3D viewport.

Next, we’re taking a look at Navit. If you’re a new Linux user or otherwise technophobic, Avert your eyes and skip on down to the next software package, or just go down to the nearest 7-11 and pickup a hardcopy map. It’ll be easier and definitely faster. Navit doesn’t come with any maps by default, nor does it allow downloading maps from the web automatically, which is a huge disadvantage. Here’s the compile instructions for Navit on Ubuntu – should work in both 7.10 and 8.04… watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy!

svn co libgarmin
tar -xzvf navit-0.0.4.tar.gz
tar -xzvf quesoglc-0.7.1.tar.gz
cd quesoglc-0.7.1 && ./configure –prefix=/usr
sudo make && sudo make install
cd../libgarmin && ./
sudo make && sudo make install
sudo make && sudo make install

I added libgarmin support in those instructions – just in case you’ve got a Garmin GPS you’re working with – can’t hurt to have extra support just in case. 🙂 Navit doesn’t come with maps, other than the developers’ hometown of Munich that gets downloaded during the compile process. We probably don’t need a map of Munich, so I went and downloaded a free online US state map of Utah. Navit does a pretty nifty thing here – it can use three different types of maps: OpenStreetMaps, Grosser Reiseplaner (Eurpean), and Garmin. OpenStreetMaps is a free offering for the USA, so that’s what I’ll be using. So now that we’ve got it Navit compiled, there’s one step left – configuration. Probably harder than copy and pasting stuff in, but if you want to get it working, have at it:
Create a folder to store Navit configuration settings:
mkdir ~/.navit
The Utah Map I downloaded from the above link was bzipped, used this command to extract:
bunzip2 Utah.bz2
To parse the map into a format usable by Navit, use the osm2navit tool and copy the resulting file into our configuration directory:
cat Utah.osm | osm2navit ~/.navit/Utah.bin && cp Utah.bin ~/.navit
Configure Navit properly for our location:
mkdir ~/.navit && cp ~/navit-0.0.4/src/navit.xml ~/.navit
The Navit webiste suggests visiting an online mapping application to get your current latitude and longitude so that Navit will startup centered on your general location. I find it’s a little bit easier to Google for “latitude longitude cityname”
Open up navit.xml in the editor of your choice.
Around line 16 you’ll see this:

<navit center=”4808 N 1134 E” zoom=”256″ tracking=”1″ cursor=”1″ orientation=”0″>

I changed the center part to this to point it at Salt Lake City, Utah

center=”4071 N -111 W”

Around line 66 you’ll see the following:

<map type=”binfile” enabled=”yes” data=”$NAVIT_SHAREDIR/maps/osm_bbox_11.3,47.9,11.7,48.2.bin”/>

I changed that line to reflect the map file location:

<map type=”binfile” enabled=”yes” data=”~/.navit/Utah.bin” />

And…. Done! launch navit and you should have maps for your location (assuming you downloaded something other than Utah maps) and it should be centered on your location (assuming you properly wrote in your latitude and longitude). Hot damn. Navit is great and all, but I’m not quite sure it’s ready. It needs some spit shine and polish before I would recommend using it.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a brilliant peice of software aptly named Viking. Historically speaking, Vikings are considered an extinct society of explorers and conquerors hailing from Minnesota who wear purple and yellow uniforms.

Viking – the software – is fantastic. It’s the only program tested today that will download Google Map tiles automagically to render a map. This solves the problem of having bad maps. You can even go as far as downloading maps and saving them to your hard drive. This shatters the Terms of Service for Google Maps in at least two ways:

The Service may not be used for or with real time route guidance (including without limitation, turn-by-turn route guidance and other routing that is enabled through the use of a sensor)
You may not use Google Maps in a manner which gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of numerical latitude and longitude coordinates.

Sorry Google! However, this violation doesn’t quite stop me from recommending Viking. It’s got some neat features such as multiple map layers, all three types of maps from Google (Street, Hybrid, and Satellite) as well as the ability to import data from GPS units that have built-in tracking functions. Also it has a routing function that pulls waypoint data from Google. I didn’t find myself wishing for any features from another GPS package – I think it’s the best free offering available for the general purpose of tracking where you are and easily getting good directions – as long as you have an internet connection.

I’ve read many opinions from varying biases that say GPS software for Linux is not up to par with software developed for Windows or Mac.  I would have to disagree – Viking does what I need and does it well. Did I miss any free GPS software for Linux that should have been included here? Please let me know via email, comments, or twitter.

Humor Off-Topic

I Was Rickrolled by a TTY Relay Operator

There is a first time for everything. Like calling Microsoft on April Fools’ Day to help uninstall Linux.

I’d like to share what happened earlier today: I received a TTY Relay call. Relay calls happen all the time, but this one is special… I was RickRolled by someone who is deaf or mute. Perhaps they just called via relay as a joke. Anyway, it was seriously the highlight of my week, and I think it’s the first time someone has been RickRolled by TTY relay.

Here’s a rough transcript of how it happened, enjoy:

Cellphone rings… [weird 5-digit number calling]…I answer.

Me: Hello, this is Wayne.

Operator: This is relay operator 7852, I have a relay call for you. Have you ever received a relay call before?

Me: Yes I have, hello, go ahead.

Operator: Hello… I just watched your video about the Linux and the Rickroll, don’t ever make a stupid video like that again, I just wasted 10 minutes.  Go ahead.

Me: [Sigh] [Laughing really hard] ah ga oh man, you’ve made my day (happy tone) Go ahead.

Operator: Seriously, what a loser! Go ahead.

Me: [Laughing] Ohhhh man, you’ve made my day! Go ahead.

Operator: Ok but I just wanna tell you one more thing that I’m never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you, never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye, never gonna tell a lie and hurt you. Go ahead.

Me: [Laughing] Ah that was really good, thank you.  Have a good day.  Go ahead. *hangs up*

Go ahead indeed! Well played, sir!  Edit:  The guy who did it was kind enough to contact me, and “SirGeek” sent along an email with the transcript as proof:

Hi. That were me. I attached an image for proof. Note that I really did love the video, I just wanted to see how far the operator would read off some insults before I got my ‘roll on 😛 So no harm intended.

I would have used my cellphone, but I couldn’t find the damn thing.

F**king brilliant.

Linux Microsoft Video

What Happens When You Call Microsoft Support To Remove Linux?

This April Fools’ Day it needs to be special. And by special, I mean truly EPIC.

I’ve been brainstorming for weeks about what I would do, and I’ve had some real killer ideas that would unfortunately fall flat on their face during execution. One idea I had was to bridge the #emacs and #vim internet chat rooms with clones that relayed messages from one room into another, one clone per person. When I saw there was 250+ people in each room, I figured it would be nearly impossible to pull off without a lot of help – someone would notice all the clones and it would be over.

Then a stroke of genius struck me:  For this April Fools’ day, I’ll call Microsoft to help me uninstall Linux. Yes, that’s right. Microsoft would willingly help me uninstall Linux, they even have a Knowledgebase article on it, and all I would need to do is tell them I’m having some problems following the KB article, and they would helpfully guide me through it.

This prank would need PROOF that it happened, not just my word – and nothing is better to prove that something happened than video. But first there were some legalities to figure out… can I record the phone call?

I did some research, and sure enough, Utah is a one-party consent state. If at least one party (aka me) consents to recording, I’m in the clear. However, I’m calling a company based out of Washington – and they’re a two-party consent state (for the most part).

What happens when you’re calling across state lines? Federal law takes precedence as far as I can tell, and that my friends is where I get carte blanche – federal law states that at least one party needs to consent.

Wayne – 1, Microsoft – 0.

I got the camera ready, found my copy of Windows XP Professional Edition, printed out the KB article in case I needed it while my machine was down, and called their support number and drilled down through the voice menus to get to someone who would transfer me to the right person.

Silly youtube disabled embedding. My appologies! Can view the video at the below link.
I don’t want to spoil the fun, just watch the video and see what unfolded.