Is there a place for (not so) Open Source?

October 1, 2009 at 17:41 | Posted in Free (as in Freedom) Software, thoughts | Comments Off on Is there a place for (not so) Open Source?
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With my recent move to a totally free, as in freedom, operating system I find myself wondering about the dominance of Ubuntu. I would gladly see gNewSense jump to the top of the DistroWatch list. But I think this is probably unrealistic.

There is still far too much proprietary hardware (particularly wifi cards) that require binary blob drivers. Certainly people are not going to be happy if they have to have a half crippled computer and loose access to proprietary codecs and applications.

So, What if we think of (not so) “Open Source” software like Ubuntu and many other modern GNU/Linux Distros out there as a middle ground. As a stepping stone on the way to total freedom.

Creating this atmosphere would require a couple of things. A more declarative stance on the part of distros that include binary blobs in their kernel. “Now with an 80% free kernel” and a much stronger declaration every time a user of such a distro installs a non free application.

I personally would like to see a set up in which every non free application throws up a large red warning stating that the application in question violates X,X and X of your essential rights, and goes on to list the possible or in some cases known threats that the closed source software poses (“This application is used to tracks your browsing habits” (Flash-nonfree), “May disclose private information to unknown parties. (we don’t know. We can’t look at the code)” (Skype, etal).

I think in this way that people would begin to understand better what they are doing, what the risks are, and why they might not want to do that. I would also like to see such warnings offer free software alternatives, such as offering Gnash when someone tries to install flash-nonfree with a explanation that Gnash respects your rights and freedoms.

Of course we would also need something to prevent people from just clicking through without reading the important information so perhaps requiring the user to type in “I agree to have my rights violated and my freedoms taken away” in order to proceed.. (well o.k. maybe a check box beside the same phrase.. But really I think having people actually type it would be more thought provoking.)

With steps like those listed above the Murky Source distros could truly claim their place. Not Free (as in freedom). But not as bad as the oppressive tyranny you’ve been living with to date.

A sort of first step out of the dungeon to let people adjust to sunshine, fresh air, and wide open spaces again. These things can be shocking and confusing to people that have been stuck in dark cell for years.


Jaunty, Remote Desktop, and Advanced settings

May 20, 2009 at 22:42 | Posted in Tutorials/Howtos | 1 Comment
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If you are like myself you were quite surprised to see that the preferences dialogue for the remote desktop server in Jaunty had gone all retrograde and lost all of the advanced settings it gained in Intrepid. This is a serious and un-necessary reversal. But there is hope. All the settings are still actually supported. They just aren’t easily visible. To get to the settings you’ll need to  install gconf-editor. Open a terminal window or Press ALT-F2 and type in:

sudo apt-get install gconf-editor

and press enter

Then you can launch it by either typing gconf-editor in a terminal or using the main menu go Applications -> System Tools -> Configuration Editor

You’ll get a window that looks like this:

The Gconf-Editor

The Gconf-Editor

Now click the triangle beside Desktop to expand that folder, then click the triangle beside gnome, then click on the remote-access folder.  You should end up with something like this:

Gconf-Editor on Remote Desktop Settings

Gconf-Editor on Remote Desktop Settings

As you can see all the setting are still there, Encryption, Alternate port, etc. When you select a setting the “Key Documentation” will change and give you information to help set it. The settings take place as soon as you set then (no need to save..). Once you have made the desired changed just close the Gconf-Editor and you should be good to go.

Hope this helps,


Jumping Into Jaunty

April 19, 2009 at 15:24 | Posted in Life, Tech | Comments Off on Jumping Into Jaunty
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With the release of the Release Candidate for Jaunty Jackalope (The next version of the Ubuntu O/S). I decided it would probably be o.k. to take the plunge and upgrade my main laptop. The upgrade went very smoothly. The only annoyance with it was that the Ubuntu servers were quite busy so it took longer then expected.

Once in Jaunty I was struck by how little had changed. The new notification system doesn’t seem vastly different from the previous one. The faster boot times unfortunately got eaten by a disk check so I can’t comment on those yet as I only restart occasionally.

I was also struck by what seem to me to be several downgrades. I had been anxiously awaiting the release of Jaunty so I could try out Ekiga 3.0.x as I am a heavy VoIP user. I was very saddened to see that many of the features I depend on in Ekiga had been stripped out most notably the message waiting indication. There was also a large lag when using the new version of Ekiga. Due to this I’ve had to switch to Twinkle (which I’m greatly liking)

I was also saddened to see the preferences for Vino (desktop sharing) had taken a harsh hit. In Intrepid several new options had been added allowing fine grained tuning of the remote desktop. These have disappeared in Jaunty. As it is early days yet, I’m not sure if they are just hidden (needing to use gconf editor to set them) or completely stripped out.

I also was one of the unlucky few that took a performance hit because the current Intel video drivers are a work in progress. Luckily due to the excellent release notes I was prepared for this eventuality (although not the severity of it) and was able to use one of their work arounds to fix it up and get back to decent performance.

One plus is that Bluetooth seems to be fixed with will make it easier to load things onto my palm. That alone might be worth the upgrade as Bluetooth was completely broken in Intrepid for me.

Things I still need to check.. Suspend/Resume (Broken in Intrepid to much consternation. But my usage patterns have changed with me having a smaller laptop for service calls so it is no longer a big consideration). I’ll need to reboot a few more times before i can comment on the speed improvement but I can already tell that we are not talking Moblin type boot times.

On the whole I’m happy with Jaunty. I’m taking it as a stability release as it fixed a couple of thing that were broken in Intrepid. I am however saddened by the stripping out of features and setting in what seems to be a desire not to scare away the “average user”. Just a thought guys.. if the average user need his VNC remote desktop to be encrypted and on a special port They are going to be none too happy about having to go through the esoterica of gconf editor just to set a few things that should have stayed on the “advanced” tab. If you absolutely must hide it at least have a “vino-preferences –advanced” option which will bring back the options to the standard configuration interface (or maybe a “show advanced options” checkbox).

Sorry for the delay..

November 6, 2008 at 19:37 | Posted in Life | Comments Off on Sorry for the delay..
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Sorry that I haven’t posted here recently. I’ve upgraded to Intrepid (Ubuntu 8.10) and am giving it a thorough going through. So far I’m mostly happy but there are a few Glitches..

Glitches so far:

Sleep/suspend/Hibernate is tanked on my laptop

Bluetooth wont talk to my palm (might be palm weirdness)

Odd crashes coming back from screensaver (may be a compiz problem)

Mild problem with my built in wifi (rtl8187). reports link quality incorrectly (always low even if sitting on the AP). this seems to be a reporting glitch more then a connection glitch as my range and connection is actually good.

Things I like:

The upgrade went smoothly.

The new dynamic kernel module management is cool (no more manually compiling kqemu after kernel updates)

The new NetworkManager can remember static IP’s for wireless AP’s (great for keeping me on the open ports in my router)

Many updated apps!!

Fast user switcher integration with pidgin is great!

Guest account is great! (no permenant home directory.. Very nicely done)

Private directories. I already had those going.. and they aren’t quite home user point and click ready yet. Also having a “private” directory in a default location with 2 click access.. doesn’t strike me as the best idea privacy wise. (I’ll definitely go in to that more)

The auto dimming of the laptop display (if inactive) is good.. but a control on how long to wait before doing it would be good.

still to test:


media related things (encoding/transcoding)

Overall I like it.. But if you are going to upgrade be aware it’s not as solid as Hardy. So if you need, need, need a solid system be sure you have a fallback path (partimage, etc) in case it has some deal breaking glitches when you upgrade (well, that is just plain sensible advice for any upgrade)

More to come….

Ubuntu 8.04.1

July 3, 2008 at 22:49 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off on Ubuntu 8.04.1
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Woohoo Ubuntu 8.04.1 is out. I’m currently downloading the DVD .ISO’s from here. You can get the usual CD images from here

I’m already in 8.04.1 and must say that the Ubuntu team has been busy the last while squashing bugs at a fast pace. and doing a good job at focusing on the little annoying bugs that would be vexatious to new or less experienced users.

Congrats to the Ubuntu Team for producing a product that is definitely ready for the home desktop (yes even the proverbial “grandmother” that gets brought up all the time)

Site of the Week #11

June 21, 2008 at 11:16 | Posted in site of the week | Comments Off on Site of the Week #11
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This weeks site of the week is:

Although this link will be of little interest to my Windows based readers it is a great link for those of you using Ubuntu as it is a quick and easy place to get programs not in the Ubuntu repositories or newer versions of applications under heavy development. definitely scores high on my handy links to have around list.


Tor And Firefox 3.0b5 in Hardy

May 20, 2008 at 18:06 | Posted in Tech | 3 Comments
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I have recently noticed several hits on my blog looking for TOR and Firefox 3.0b5. So Since I use both and Since I know that TorButton does not yet (at least the last time I checked) work with Firefox 3.0b5. I figured I’d write a quick howto on setting up a Safe Tor/Firefox in Hardy Heron.

The instructions below assume that you have already installed TOR and Privoxy and set them up correctly.

The first thing you will need to do is to create a separate profile for Tor browsing. The more paranoid may wish to set up a separate user account for TOR browsing thus further preventing the chance of data leakage.

To set up a separate profile, make sure there are no instances of Firefox running, then open a terminal and enter the command:

firefox -ProfileManager

A window that looks like this should show up:

Profile Manager

Create a new profile that you will use for tor only, I called mine TorFox to avoid confusion.

Now we need to create a new launcher to use the TorFox profile.

right click on the desktop and choose Create Launcher

that will bring up this Dialog

Launcher Dialogue

Fill it in like this

Type:          Leave set to Application

Name:        A name you like (I used TorFox)

Command: firefox -P TorFox -no-remote

(The value after the -P should be the name you called you TOR Profile)

Comment:  Whatever you want to show up as the tooltip

now click the icon button and if you want the Firefox icon you can find it in:


then click OK and we are ready to start setting up your TorFox.

Click the launcher (or double click if you system is set to use double clicks)

a Firefox will open up. Just double check that it is not your normal (default) profile firefox. It shouldn’t have any of your favourites, add-ons, or other setting.. It should be a fresh firefox.

once you have that, Click Edit -> Preferences

on the Main Tab

click Manage Add-ons and disable or uninstall all Add-ons (there should only be the Ubuntu firefox modifications as this should be a fresh profile)

Then at the top of the Add-ons window you will see an option for Plugins

Click it and then disable all plugins.

Once that is done exit the add-ons window and click Content on the Preferences window.

on the Content tab uncheck Enable JavaScript and Enable Java

now click Applications at the top of the Preferences window

Set all the action so that they do not use external applications. So either set them to Preview in Firefox or Always Ask or Save File Of these Save File is probably the safest bit some things don’t have that option (Podcast, Video Podcast, Web Feed) so those you will need to set to Preview in Firefox. It should look something like this:

Application Preferences

Now click the Privacy tab at the top of the Preferences window

uncheck all the history items.

The more paranoid can uncheck all the cookie options but that will greatly limit the sites you can go to so I personally accept both types of cookies but have the Keep Until option set to clear the cookies when I close firefox.

Check the Always Clear Private Data. Click the Settings button beside it and make sure all options are checked. Uncheck Ask me before clearing private data.

Now we move on to the Security Tab

I uncheck both of the Tell me if the site… options because these most likely leak information by looking up the site you are going to against a on a remote site.

Also uncheck the Remember passwords options. (If you don’t store them they cant leak)

and finally on to the Advanced tab:

under Advanced there are several tabs

we’ll start on the Network Tab, Click the Settings button beside Connections

set it up like this:

Connection settings for TOR

Also Check the Tell me when a website asks to store data offline and use the Exceptions button to be sure that are no pre-set exceptions.

On the Update Tab under Advanced

uncheck all the Update options.

Your  Tor/Firefox should now be ready for a test drive. If you find you cannot connect to anything you probably need to edit the /etc/privoxy/config file and be sure it has:

forward-socks4a   /      .

in it. The . at the end of that line is necessary.

I hope this help get people going. If anyone sees something I missed (yes I know that changing user agents might be a good idea but that is a little more advanced then I wanted to get into in this howto) Please let me know.


P.S. If you want to use both firefoxes tor and non TOR you will need to edit the launchers for the regular Firefox and add the options -P default -no-remote to their command lines so that it launches the correct profile and does not open a tab in the other browser. This will create the minor annoyance of needing to close out the browser before clicking a link in another program (like evolution) but I feel the assurance that I’m not opening a TOR browser when I meant to open a Regular one worth that minor hassle.

Also you may want to set different Themes for each browser so you can quickly spot which one you are woring in (prevents “ooopses” of accidentaly usinf a TOR browser for something that you’d rather not have going over the TOR network.)

Si3054 and Hardy Heron… The Saga Continues

May 16, 2008 at 14:46 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off on Si3054 and Hardy Heron… The Saga Continues
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Well it seems I may have been a little overly optimistic when I wrote this Blog entry. Although sending faxes was indeed working fine it seems receiving a fax was not so hot.. after more reading a tweaking I now can do both sending and receiving. It seems that in order to receive a fax properly you need to slow the modem down to 4800 baud (eeesh). So if you are only interested in sending faxes from you laptop you might want to ignore these settings and keep the nice 14.4 baud that you can send at.

Basically it boils down to needing to add to parameters to your faxing software.

the “capabilities” parameters passed to efax should look like:


your’s may vary.. the important number in that string is the second 1 which sets the baud to 4800

you will also need to add the parameter

+MS=32,0,4800,4800 to your modem init string. Again yours may vary the important part here is the 4800,4800 which forces the modem to only use 4800 baud.

Receiving is still not perfect but at least you get a lot more then just the top 8th of the first page.

hope this helps… again this is ONLY needed for receiving.

Getting a Si3054 modem working on Hardy Heron

May 7, 2008 at 10:00 | Posted in Tech | 2 Comments
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Over the last 2 days or so I’ve been enjoying the challenge of getting the Si3054 modem in my laptop to work with Hardy Heron (Ubuntu 8.04). Early on I was quite pleased when the scanmodem script from recognized my modem and said all I needed was to install the slmodemd daemon for it. I was even more pleased to see that slmodemd was in the repositories as sl-modem-daemon.

I installed the package and started testing … and that is where I hit a snag.. Everything seemed o.k. but I kept getting “NO DIALTONE” when trying to talk to the modem.. and it was coming back way too fast so I could tell it wasn’t even really checking. After much googling and reading of documentation I found a post that recommended downloading SLMODEMD.gcc4.1.tar.gz and trying the slmodemd out of it. I did.. it worked. I could fax and everything… cool

so here is a brief rundown for others having the same problem.

First do install the package from the repository and test it with the appropriate settings which will look something like:

sudo slmodemd -c CANADA --alsa hw:0,6

Obviously you will need to change the settings to match your location and hardware

— update —

O.k. realized I forgot to tell people how to determine the “right” hardware”. There is a script from the people that make the drivers here. Download it.. then:

gunzip scanModem.gz

chmod u+x scanModem


This will create a directory called “Modem

In that Directory you’ll find lots of info. You’ll primarily be interested in a file called ModemData.txt. In that file look for a like that reads like:

"The modem cards detected by "aplay -l"  are:
card 2: Intel [HDA Intel], device 6: Si3054 Modem [Si3054 Modem]"

This line tells me my setting (things have changed since I first wrote this) should be hw:2,6

—- end update —-

Then test the modem. I used minicom as I have been around modems since the days of 300 baud and am just plain used to talking to them with “AT” commands. You may wish to try the recommended wvdial test recommended on the linmodem homepage, or what ever other test you are comfortable with that will return good information from the modem.

If, like me, you find that you aren’t able to get anywhere try downloading SLMODEMD.gcc4.1.tar.gz. Extract it to a folder and then open that folder in a terminal.

make sure no copies of slmodem are running:

ps -A | grep slmodemd

should return nothing if you see a one running just

sudo killall slmodemd

now run the new slmodemd from the package you downloaded with

sudo ./slmodemd -g dialout -c CANADA --alsa hw:0,6

the -g dialout is added because the downloaded package is set to have a default group of UUCP that doesn’t fit well with Ubuntu (non root users won’t be able to access the modem because they aren’t part of the uucp group). Again you will need to set the country and Hardware up to match your location and hardware.

go and do your testing again. (minicom, wvdial, etc). If it works ctrl-c out of the slmodemd process. you can now either choose to just run the new one manually all the time (rather a pain) or just:

sudo cp ./slmodemd /usr/sbin/slmodemd

To replace the not working one with the one we just downloaded

Then you will want to edit /etc/default/sl-modem-daemon and set the following

Set the SLMODEMD_DEVICE= to your hardware (in my case SLMODEMD_DEVICE=hw:0,6)

Set the SLMODEMD_COUNTRY= to the correct country (slmodemd --countrylist will pop out a list of supported countries)

you’ll also need to edit the OPTS= line so it looks like OPTS=”-g dialout” or you’ll have the uucp group/permissions problem mentioned above.

now save the file

and you should be able to do a

sudo /etc/init.d/sl-modem-daemon restart


ps -A | grep slmodemd

to see that it started o.k.

and then run your tests again and (hopefully) you now have a working modem

——- Update ——–

If you are trying to receive faxes and still having problems check this post.

Hardy Heron Applications – Firefox 3.0B5

April 22, 2008 at 17:41 | Posted in Cool, Tech | Comments Off on Hardy Heron Applications – Firefox 3.0B5
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Today I am going to write a bit about some of the great new features in Firefox 3.0B5. There are many wonderful advances in both security and in the general User Interface.

On the security front there is the new EV (Extended Verification) system for secure pages. This is a great idea and will really come into it’s own when more site start having EV SSL certificates. Some important sites already do. and you can see how it make it much easier to tell a real site from a phishing one.

Extended Verification

The warnings for SSL certificate errors have also been re-worked and are much friendlier to the average user. I think with this new approach there will be a lot less people just clicking “OK” to by-pass the warning

Sitting squarely in the middle between a UI improvement and a security improvement is the new add-on management

With it it is very simple to turn add-ons on or off which is fantastic for working with troubling sites and for things like having a TOR profile. (I was able to disable all add-ons in my TOR profile with just a few clicks


Also on the UI/Usability front is the new “applications” panel in the preferences.

It makes managing what application or add-on opens what media a matter of a few clicks. and very friendly to the average user

There are numerous other improvements like the new bookmark and tagging system. Those interested in a more complete review can read more here.

My next post will be on some of the wonderful new features in the latest version of Avidemux.

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