Copyright (C) 2006 by Steve Litt. All rights
Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for
use to Linux Productivity Magazine. All rights reserved to the
holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free
source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User
all risk and responsibility for any outcome.
| Back Issues |Troubleshooting Professional Magazine
Who owns your data?
-- Question posed by Steve Litt in the April 2001 issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine.
By Steve Litt
A family situation in mid September caused a rapid departure to Chicago
with one day's notice. No time to pack my desktop computer, and also,
no room at my Chicago destination for the desktop computer and
accompanying IPCop box. I went computerless. During the nine days I was
gone, all Troubleshooters.Com activities ceased. If you ordered a book
or course in mid September, now you know the reason for the delay and
the total lack of communication.
Folks, that's no way to run a business. Immediately upon arriving back
in Orlando, my search for a laptop began. Because the contemplated laptop had to
completely replace my business desktop, these were the requirements:
Within a couple weeks, LEK computers in Winter Garden Florida provided
me with an Acer Aspire 5100 laptop, with a dual core Turion (32/64 bit
compatible), 120 GB disk, and a whopping 2GB memory, 10/100 wired
network, wireless network, soundcard, three USB ports (which can be
used for external mouse and keyboard), and a bootable DVD+RW drive. It also
had a useless Winmodem and pre-installed Windows XP Media Center
Edition (that program itself is a few hundred dollars).
- Linux compatible!!!
- At least 1Ghz clock speed
- At least 1GB RAM
- At least 80GB disk
- Hookup for external mouse, keyboard, and monitor
- Linux compatible network port
- DVD+RW (for backups, and Linux installation)
- Serial port (for dialup)
The price was excellent by local Orlando standards, and LEK made me a
deal that if it wasn't Linux compatible, as determined by a Knoppix
test, I didn't have to buy it (they had to order it). I know what
you're thinking -- I could have gotten a better price at Costco, Sams
Club, or an online store. That might be true, but if you want to
install Linux, you don't want to submit an RMA with the explanation
"won't run Linux". You just KNOW that RMA request will be declined. So
I went with the same local vendor I've dealt with for years, paying a
small premium for a vendor who consistantly watches my back.
OK, so it had all the bells and whistles, but was it Linux compatible?
Knoppix answered the question -- yes and no. Video worked. Built in
mouse and keyboard and video display worked. An external monitor worked
when the right function key was pressed, and an external USB keyboard
worked. LEK didn't have a USB mouse, so I couldn't try it. Anyway, when
used self contained, the basics worked.
The 10/100 network also worked great. Knoppix found LEK's DHCP server
and set up networking accordingly, bringing up all the websites I
Several things didn't work -- wireless, the Winmodem (obviously), and
the sound card. Sound didn't matter -- I can use a CD player for my
Artie Kegler CDs. Lack of a modem meant no dialup, at least
without a separate IPCop box, which I decided to bring. As far as
wireless -- I'd never used wireless in my life, didn't understand it,
didn't see the need for it, didn't like the security implications, and
hadn't even listed it among my requirements. If I'd only known then
what I know now!
I plunked down my money and walked out with the laptop. Did I mention
the family situation had gotten hot again, and I was required to leave
town in 2 days?
If you look up the word "pressure" in the dictionary, you'll probably
see something like this: "Having only 2 days to pack for a trip,
including enough book inventory for a week, and also load Linux on a
laptop, get it to work, and put all your data on the laptop such that
all your programs and your menu system and outline tree work
identically to your desktop system".
I got to work immediately.
The first casualty was Windows XP Media Edition. If there were more
time, a dual boot might have been possible, but the overwhelming
priority was getting the laptop identical to my desktop. I stuck in a
Mandriva 2006 installation DVD and overwrote the hard disk, formatting
it all as a single huge partition for the whole system. Did I mention
there wasn't much time?
When the installation completed, the first challenge arose -- no video!
Knoppix had worked at LEK, so one way or another Linux could run my
display. I booted Knoppix, copied the Knoppix detection created XF86config-4 to /etc/X11/xorg on the laptop, rebooted, an got video. Crude but effective. Video could be repaired correctly at a later date.
The next challenge was getting my desktop data on the laptop. Past
techniques for that task included NFS, tar, and even Samba. Not this
time -- I used rsync. With other methods, once you transfer the data, you must immediately cut over to the new system. With rsync, you can keep working on the old box, and from time to time use rsync to re-synchronize your data.
Next was the usual minor hassle of setting up what I call "the Litt
package": UMENU, EMDL and VimOutliner. No problem -- with the home
directory and other data directories transferred, those three
applications just worked. Kewl!
One reason for the large disk was to hold the entire Mandriva 2006 DVD
image, which can be loop mounted so that the Mandrake installers can
install off the hard disk instead of requiring insertion of a DVD.
Working off the hard disk is much faster and more convenient.
Last but not least, I went through my UMENU menu system, testing
several programs, and when they didn't work installing components off
the hard disk Mandriva image. By the afternoon before my departure, the
laptop appeared to work like my desktop. That left about 5 hours to pack everything
Is Linux Productivity Magazine Back for Good?
By Steve Litt
Linux Productivity Magazine ceased publication in the summer of 2004,
after hurricanes Charley and Frances wiped out our roof and temporarily
stopped all Troubleshooters.Com business activities. This is the first
Linux Productivity Magazine since then. From now on, Linux Productivity
Magazine will be an occasional publication.
For that reason the magazines will no longer have volume and issue
numbers. From now on, new Linux Productivity Magazines only when I have
suitable content and the time to write it.
So check back from time to time. It will be worth it.
Critique on My Laptop Selection and Installation
By Steve Litt
It's time to pat myself on the back, because my laptop selection and installation were darned near perfect.
First, my requirements were reasonable, and my prioritization of a
known and trusted vendor over a few dollars allowed me the confidence
to jump in head first. The temptation is always there to spend less,
but when you must be a Linux road warrior with a clone of your desktop,
you need big RAM, big disk, and a known Linux compatible laptop. I've
known folks whose video was so new they needed to wait until the next
distro version to get their video working. That works if you can use it
as a Windows box in the meantime, but otherwise your box is gathering
dust and obsoleting while Linux drivers catch up.
Then there's the matter of my blowing off several hundred dollars worth
of Windows XP Media Edition operating system. Mightn't it have been
better to dual boot? Of course it would have, and that's what I'd
recommend to you, but I didn't have the time.
The action that makes me the proudest is testing all functions with
Knoppix. The transaction was not complete until it was clear that all
major and needed functions worked with Knoppix. Of course, one could
make the point that it might not work with the distro you really
install, and in fact this happened with my video, but the fact that you
can get it to work with Knoppix means that if you try hard enough, you can get it to work with any modern distro, without writing a driver from source code.
The rsync data file
transfer made everything very easy. The tried, true and tested desktop
could be used until the very last moment, with frequent rsync transfers keeping the laptop completely in sync.
In summary, here's how you go on the road:
I'll refine this list later in this Linux Productivity Magazine issue.
- Define laptop requirements to clone your desktop
- Test the candidate computer(s) with Knoppix
- Purchase a computer whose major and important features run with Knoppix
- Install your favorite distro, the most modern version
- So it has drivers for modern hardware
- Transfer the data with rsync
- Test major functions
- Set to DHCP and test with local DHCP server
- Just before leaving, do a final rsync transfer and shut down the desktop
What I Could Have Done Better
One potential improvement already mentioned would have been to dual
boot, or even run both OSes under something like VMWare. If you spend
an extra $200 for a fancy Windows operating system, you might as well.
If nothing else, a Windows installation preinstalled on the machine
will run every part of the hardware and give you some good
It would have been nice if I'd known something about wireless
networking and high speed networking. I'm pretty good with hubs,
switches, and IPCop lines connected to modems connected to phone lines.
But when it comes to networking I'd see on the road, I was a babe in
the woods. Do what I say, not what I did. Have wireless networking
before you leave. If you don't know enough about wireless networking,
get a wireless system in your house and get it to work.
I could have devoted more time to the process. As you'll see in
following articles, although preliminary testing went well, when I
pulled out of my driveway, my laptop was nowhere near ready to run my
The Trip to Chicago
By Steve Litt
On the morning of October 6, 2006, I aimed the car north and drove,
making over 700 miles the first day. Comparison shopping all the motels
at an exit 50 miles south of the Kentucky/Tennessee border,
I picked the most expensive one because they had nobody drinking and
partying. When you drive 700 miles today, and have to drive 500
tomorrow, sleep is the priority -- you can party anytime.
Finalizing the check-in, the motel clerk asked me if I'd like to use
their "high speed Internet". Heck yeah came my reply, and she gave me
a password to type in when the browser asked for it, and told me to
"read the instructions on page 13 of the green covered book in
Well, page 13 gave instructions for Wifi, and wifi
wasn't working on my laptop, but wired networking worked just
fine, so I plugged my cat5 cable to the laptop and the RJ45 in the
wall, restarted my network, and boom, nothing. Page 13 had a tech
support number so I called it, left a message, and the guy called me
back a few minutes later. This is the kind of tech support last seen in
the early 90's -- you know, responsible and helpful tech support.
The guy told me right off hand he knew nothing about Linux and was only
certified to fix networking problems on Windows, but he gave me some
tips, suggested some tests, and my cat5 cable became more and more
suspicious. The tech support guy suggested getting a different cat5
from the front desk, which turned out to fix the problem. At that
point, Mozilla asked me for the password the front desk lady had given
me, and when the password was given, the Internet was all mine!
Kmail kept aborting, complaining about the lack of a tmp directory. You see, all maildir mailboxes contain three subdirectories, cur, new and tmp. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, rsync did not create the empty tmp
directories. After manually creating five or six, it was obvious a
broader and more complete solution was needed. It was midnight after a
700 mile drive with a 500 mile drive the next day, so writing a Ruby
program was out of the question. The solution was crude but effective.
A find command piped into grep produced a list of directories ending in "cur". A few Vim substitutions converted it to a shellscript to create a tmp directory for every directory containing a cur directory. Problem solved.
I got my email, sold a course, and went to bed. Kewl! If wired Internet
connections are available everywhere, everything will be wonderful.
Sorry Charley, No Dialup
By Steve Litt
At my destination the next day, I hooked up my IPCop box, modem and
laptop. No joy. The voicemail service in Chicago makes a bunch of beeps
before dialtone when you have messages waiting. The more messages, the
more beeps. There were so many beeps I could find no modem init string
able to wait long enough for the beeps to end and dialtone to begin. It
was obvious my only choice was to travel to a location with wired LAN
based Internet access.
Umm, perhaps "obvious" is the wrong word, as discussed later in this magazine.
A Day With My Cousin Mark
By Steve Litt
My cousin Mark is one cool character. He's intelligent, interesting,
talkative, and although he's not a geek, he's interested in technology
and certainly not scared of it. His wife and three kids are every bit
as interesting as he, and because the kids are almost the same age as
my triplets, I can relate to them. As a matter of fact when his kids
and mine get together, it's, well, it's like when Mark and his brothers
and I get together. It's interesting.
No trip to Chicago is complete without visiting Mark, so I visited on
the second day in Chicago. Hooking up to the RJ45 on the back of his
wireless router, my computer imported all its email. Then he had me
troubleshoot his son's desktop. Using his high speed Internet, I
downloaded the latest Knoppix (in about 10 minutes), burned it as a CD
on my laptop's DVD+R, and booted it on his son's computer. Knoppix
clearly showed the computer's hardware was good, his data on disk was
good, but Windows just wouldn't boot. My advice was to get a Windows
expert -- it's probably as simple as fdisk /mbr or something like that.
Then, after dinner, Mark and I tried to get my wireless working. He
knew no Linux, I knew no wireless, but we hacked and experimented and
installed wireless drivers, getting it to the point where the drakroam
program could see the radio signal from his wireless router. An hour of
trying to connect farther brough no success. We went on to other
things, and just before midnight I left, with a new respect for the
complexities of Wifi.
The next morning I booted the computer where I was staying in Highland Park IL, and tried to connect to Wifi. The drakroam list now showed several wireless networks. Mark and I may have failed, but we did something right.
Let's Try the Library
By Steve Litt
The next day I went to the library and tried to connect. The librarian
told me there were no RJ45 connections, but they had Wifi. Boy it
would be nice to get wifi working. I went to work.
After about 2 hours of experimentation, something went right (don't
know what) and wifi started working. Email send and receive, web
browser access, everything. Business was conducted, books were shipped. Awwwwriiiight!!!
Back where I was staying 2 blocks away, the computer couldn't connect to any of the wireless networks on the drakroam list. No problem, I'd go back to the library the next day.
But at the library the next day, it once again wouldn't connect.
Frustration city! Even though my todo list included tons of stuff
requiring the Internet, I vowed not to quit Wifi configuration until I
figured out exactly what factors make Wifi work and what factors make it fail.
This included a long and arduous journey through drakroam, which appeared not to always work, and drakconnect,
which appeared to simply ignore the security type (WEP vs Open vs
whatever). Lots of research of log files led to lots of experiments
with /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-ath0, with /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/wireless.d/*, and the ever mysterious /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf. I learned what the iwconfig and ifconfig commands look like, both when Wifi succeeds and when it fails.
The next Linux Productivity Magazine will thoroughly detail Linux Wifi, but let me give you the highights:
When you have Wifi, you can go anywhere. Most locations I've seen won't
let me send email (probably a port 25 ban or somesuch), but I can go
almost anywhere in downtown Highland Park, IL, and access the net.
Well, except for MacDonalds, where they have a fee based Wifi that
drowns out all others.
- If you must use the gui programs drakconnect and drakroam, use
them only for initial configuration. Finalize configration by hand.
- Configure your wireless with a text editor.
- Be sure to have USERCTL=yes in your ifcongig-ath0 so that any user can use the ifup and ifdown commands on ath0.
- Use the ifup and ifdown
commands to start and stop your laptop's wireless network port. Using
other commands, such as restarting the whole network, can fail
- Hardcode a hostname, do not set wireless networking DHCP to give your laptop a
hostname. On Mandriva 2006 and maybe other distros, asking DHCP for a hostname causes
ifup to terminate with an error and fail to get an IP address.
When you have Wifi, life is good. Always get wifi working before hitting the road.
Life After Windows: Is Linux Worth the Hassle?
Life After Windows is a regular Linux Productivity Magazine
by Steve Litt, bringing you observations and tips subsequent to
Windows to Linux conversion.
If you've read the articles in this issue of Linux Productivity, you've
seen the hassles I fought just to have a working Linux laptop version
of my office desktop. You also saw that I bought this computer with a
perfectly functioning copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition. I could
have Samba'ed my data to the laptop and gone on the road. My wifi would
have worked right away, and I'd have sound. Why in the world did I
expose myself to the trials and tribulations of setting up the laptop
as a Linux machine?
My initial answer is one Bill Gates could appreciate -- I know Linux
and don't want to change. I know Kmail -- I don't know Outlook. I know
Gnumeric -- I don't know Excel. Oh wait, the machine didn't come with
Excel -- I'd have had to buy and install it.
Let my explanation take another page out of Bill Gates' playbook --
Windows doesn't run some of my essential software. UMENU absolutely
doesn't run on Windows1.
VimOutliner, which I use over 100 times a day and is woven all through
my business processes, now runs on Windows but it doesn't provide
And then there's the filesystem's use of drives instead of top level
directories, a system that would wreck all my hand crafted scripts and
programs. As you can see, far from being less hassle, going on the road
with an XP box would have been more of a hassle, not less.
Stop the Hypocracy!
Enough already! All my explanations discussed the hassle of converting back
to Windows. Most people are native and current Windows users, so none
of those arguments hold water with the average user. As a matter of
fact, given my laughing at those using similar arguments to stay with
Windows, it's hypocritical of me to use them as arguments to stay with
I just wanted to give Uncle Billy and his Sidekick Stevie a dose of
their own medicine. Now let me introduce you to the true reason I
endured the hassle of overwriting Windows with Linux on my new laptop:
I don't want any data or program ownership hassles while on the road.
Let's say while installing Exuberant Ctags, I accidentally mess up
Windows so badly I need to reinstall. First, I have a recovery disk --
not a genuine install disk. Second, I'd need to phone home to Uncle
Billy on the USS Redmond to get permission to reinstall. That's bad
enough in the home office, but on the road it's the last thing you want.
Compare with my Linux situation. If I hose my OS, which is much harder to do in Linux, I just reinstall and lay down a
backup (I'm doing backups every couple days, thank you). It's perfectly
legal for me to carry a marker pen labeled DVD with Mandriva. Or five
of them. If I were to lose my one and only Windows install disk, do you
suppose Billy and Stevie would send me a replacement? With Linux, I can
make as many backups, whether for archival purposes or not, as I want.
Perhaps Windows will loosen up on their "piracy protection" that
prevents reinstalls. I don't think so. From what I've read on the
Internet today (link in URLs section of this mag),
Let's say I hose my OS in Windows. Where am I going to get drivers for my video,
network, and wifi? Do I carry every driver CD with me? Contrast that with
Linux, whose hardware drivers are right there on the install CD or DVD, and they autodetect.
What's life like after Windows? It's enduring a little Microsoft
manufactured hassle in order to have a machine you can trust, in
sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, wherever your business
may take you.
1 David Billsbrough once hacked the Perl
version of UMENU to run on Windows, but it was missing several features
including prompted argument substitution.
2 VimOutliner's interoutline linking can be
achieved in Windows by use of a product called "Exuberant Ctags", which
I understand is free software. You can also use the Citrix package on
Windows to give a Posix interface on Windows. I imagine both UMENU and
VimOutliner interoutline linking can be achieved using Citrix on
GNU/Linux, open source and free software
By Steve Litt
Linux is a kernel. The operating system often described as "Linux" is that
kernel combined with software from many different sources. One of the most
prominent, and oldest of those sources, is the GNU project.
"GNU/Linux" is probably the most accurate moniker one can give to this
operating system. Please be aware that in all of Troubleshooters.Com,
when I say "Linux" I really mean "GNU/Linux". I completely believe that without
the GNU project, without the GNU Manifesto and the GNU/GPL license it spawned,
the operating system the press calls "Linux" never would have happened.
I'm part of the press and there are times when it's easier to say "Linux"
than explain to certain audiences that "GNU/Linux" is the same as what the
press calls "Linux". So I abbreviate. Additionally, I abbreviate in the same
way one might abbreviate the name of a multi-partner law firm. But make no
mistake about it. In any article in Troubleshooting Professional Magazine,
in the whole of Troubleshooters.Com, and even in the technical books I write,
when I say "Linux", I mean "GNU/Linux".
There are those who think FSF is making too big a deal of this. Nothing
could be farther from the truth. The GNU General Public License, combined
with Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto and the resulting GNU-GPL License,
are the only reason we can enjoy this wonderful alternative to proprietary
operating systems, and the only reason proprietary operating systems aren't
even more flaky than they are now.
For practical purposes, the license requirements of "free software" and "open
source" are almost identical. Generally speaking, a license that complies
with one complies with the other. The difference between these two is a difference
in philosophy. The "free software" crowd believes the most important aspect
is freedom. The "open source" crowd believes the most important aspect is
the practical marketplace advantage that freedom produces.
I think they're both right. I wouldn't use the software without the freedom
guaranteeing me the right to improve the software, and the guarantee that
my improvements will not later be withheld from me. Freedom is essential.
And so are the practical benefits. Because tens of thousands of programmers
feel the way I do, huge amounts of free software/open source is available,
and its quality exceeds that of most proprietary software.
In summary, I use the terms "Linux" and "GNU/Linux" interchangably, with
the former being an abbreviation for the latter. I usually use the terms "free
software" and "open source" interchangably, as from a licensing perspective
they're very similar. Occasionally I'll prefer one or the other depending
if I'm writing about freedom, or business advantage.
Steve Litt has used GNU/Linux since 1998, and written about it since 1999. Steve can be reached at his email address.
Letters to the Editor
All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and
be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions,
corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in
magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in
taste (bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).
Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be
the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot
your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.
How to Submit an Article
We anticipate two to five articles per issue.
We look for articles that pertain to the GNU/Linux or open source. This
be done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other
device. A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a
product, but must be useful without the purchase of that product.
must greatly overpower advertising. Submissions should be between 250
2000 words long.
Any article submitted to Linux Productivity Magazine must be
with the Open Publication License, which you can view at
At your option you may elect the option to prohibit substantive
However, in order to publish your article in Linux Productivity
you must decline the option to prohibit commercial use, because Linux
Magazine is a commercial publication.
Obviously, you must be the copyright holder and must be legally able
so license the article. We do not currently pay for articles.
Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for
or brevity, within the scope of the Open Publication License. If you
to prohibit substantive modifications, we may elect to place editors
outside of your material, or reject the submission, or send it back for
Any published article will include a two sentence description of the
a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired.
request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine
to the author's website, providing that website meets the
criteria for links and that the
website first links to Troubleshooters.Com. Authors: please understand
can't place hyperlinks inside articles. If we did, only the first
would be read, and we can't place every article first.
Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with
line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should
as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):
Copyright (c) 2003 by <your name>. This
may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth
the Open Publication License, version Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999
at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04.txt/ (wordwrapped for
at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04_wrapped.txt). The latest
is presently available at http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/).
Open Publication License Option A [ is | is not]
so this document [may | may not] be modified. Option B is not elected,
this material may be published for commercial purposes.
After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a
sentence description of the author.
Why not Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 OR LATER
The Open Publication License recommends using the word "or later" to
the version of the license. That is unacceptable for Troubleshooting
Magazine because we do not know the provisions of that newer version,
it makes no sense to commit to it. We all hope later versions will be
but there's always a chance that leadership will change. We cannot take
chance that the disclaimer of warranty will be dropped in a later
All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
is a registered trademark of Steve Litt.
URLs Mentioned in this Issue