Tag Archives: the move

On the other side…

Or at least: a foot through the door. Or maybe both feet, with a hand resting on the door frame.

I’m getting moved in at 1776 Freedom Lane. Just a few boxes unpacked so far. I have backups set up going to the slug, and am getting mail in Thunderbird. I knew the house came furnished with some nice accessories, but was pleasantly surprised to see how easy it was to use one of the features.

One thing that really stands out is I can waste time wandering around the web in GNU/Linux just as effectively as I could in Windows. (This post should have come out on Monday.)

I wiped out Windows on Zodiac Thursday night and installed Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) GNU/Linux. It felt very liberating, although a bit reckless, like I might be overlooking something in my rush to move past Windows. Hurling (well, not really) myself in to the void. My main goal was to get data backups and email in place over the weekend. I enjoyed getting settled in. You really do start learning faster if you’re actually using a system as your primary machine.


First, I had to have my backups. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months on this so there wasn’t much to figure out, but I spent more time streamlining my previous setup from Prometheus (the system76 AMD64 system I had been working on).


Very easy to get both TrueCrypt and EncFS installed and working. I’d need Truecrypt to read from my encrypted Windows stuff, and EncFS for that stuff in its new home. Mostly needed for financial stuff, mail, and my personal writing. (That is: it’s not just for pr0n.)

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I’m Going In. (Freedom, Yeah!)

Penguin Pete had a thoughtful post recently about struggling with technology, and it reminded me of things I know but often forget.

One of my problems in moving to free software has been a stubborn resistance to letting go of my old Windows ways and jumping in to the deeper end of the freedom pool. I’ve often indulged in despair when I’ve struggled with getting something working. It’s normal to feel some frustration when confronted with road blocks and wrong turns, but you have to just keep at it. Pete wrote, “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.”

I’ve been getting over my self-directed FUD campaign and am enjoying the learning process these days. I really like the Unix way of doing things as opposed to Windows. (Although I’m probably going to miss some of my Windows creature comforts for a while.) I’m slowly gaining experience and confidence as I manage to figure out a few things. I can picture myself gradually learning GNU/Linux the way that I’ve learned Windows over the past twelve years.

And I still get lost and run in to dead ends that make me doubt my ability to do this “moving to freedom” thing.

!@#$%^&* Firewire!

A recent example of frustration that threatened to turn into despair has been my experience getting video capture to work in Ubuntu. Why video capture now, before the many other basic things I need to get working in GNU/Linux? Because I have a 16-month-old daughter and about 10 mini-DV tapes I want to transcribe to DVD and get a backup copy to my safe deposit box.

I had quite a time of it, and spent a lot of time searching and experimenting. I couldn’t get video capture to work in Kino with my firewire/ieee1394 card on the system76 system I’ve been setting up (Ubuntu 6.10/Edgy Eft). The card and cable had previously worked in Windows on my main workstation.

I try to hold off on asking questions on forums until I’m really stuck, and by that time I think I’ve exhausted many of the easy answers I might have received. After finally posting my questions and not receiving an answer right away, I impatiently decided to try a different tack. I took the card out of “Prometheus” and put it back in “Zodiac,” which is my Windows XP machine. Worst case I figured would be to make my DVDs in Windows (although I hadn’t previously had great luck there, either), but first I tried booting with the 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) Live CD.

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GNU/Linux Graphics Programs in Ubuntu

My graphics/image manipulation needs are relatively simple. I’ve gotten by pretty well with MS Paint and IrfanView in Windows.

In the past several months I’ve started using the GNU Image Manipulation Program (the GIMP!) for Windows and have learned how to fix red eye and make downgraded transparent PNG files that display properly in Internet Explorer 6, but that’s mainly all that I’ve used it for. I’ve never used Adobe Photoshop so I can’t compare them from personal experience, but the GIMP is apparently loaded with comparable features. For those Photoshoppers who are confused by the GIMP interface, or for people who want to use Photoshop tutorials in GIMP, there is GIMPshop which emulates the interface of Photoshop.

I’m looking forward to learning the GIMP and performing its magic incantations, but more often than not I have simple jobs where I just want to get in and out with a lighter-weight program. If the high end in free software graphics is covered by the flagship GIMP, what about the economy class?

While writing the previous entry about password programs, I wanted to edit the logo for Password Gorilla and was curious to see what options I had in Ubuntu other than the GIMP, really hoping for something comparable to MS Paint, which I think is easy to use and has a good set of features.

Ubuntu Synaptic

I was very happy with what I found, and also pleased to experience again how well the Ubuntu program installer works. (I’m not sure what the difference is between Applications » Add/Remove… and System » Administration » Synaptic Package Manager. Is the “Add/Remove” applet just another face of Synaptic, only prettified and more accessible?)

Ubuntu Add/Remove Applications Applet

I’ve already seen both of these installers in action and appreciated them, but using it the other day for installing these graphics programs just reinforced the convenience and power of the way that Ubuntu handles things. There are a lot of applications available “out of the box,” and in my experience so far it just takes a few clicks to add and remove them along with their dependencies. The whole process is seamless and quite satisfying.*

(Same goes for the software updater, although here I wish there was a way to suppress notice of an update until the next version is available, for example with vnc4server I don’t want to download the current update being offered because I think it will break my VNC setup. In the meantime I have that orange star-box sitting up there all the time and I’m in danger of becoming indifferent to its beckoning.)

A little searching for an MS Paint alternative in Ubuntu/GNU/Linux brought up several leads, including GNU Paint and KolourPaint. (I keep comparing and referring to MS Paint, not because I think it is the be-all-end-all of graphics programs, but because it’s what I’ve used for a long time. And I do think it’s a nice simple and functional editor, effective for many jobs.)

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Password Safe / Password Gorilla

Updated 20 April 2007: Password Gorilla’s author, Frank Pilhofer, contacted me to clarify how permissions work and to investigate the problem I was seeing. Talk about great customer service! See update notes below…

I’ve been using Password Safe in Windows for many years to manage my passwords. It seemed credible to me because it was originally designed by Bruce Schneier and made by his company, Counterpane Systems. It uses either the twofish or blowfish block cipher, depending on the version. I respect Bruce’s knowledge and opinions on security and figured it would be a robust application, free from obvious security flaws.

And it was free for use. As in free beer. At some point it was released under the free and open source Artistic License* and a thriving development community has developed around it, regularly releasing new versions with scads of new features and user interface improvements.

I liked the simple interface of the original program and also the improvements made for version two which allowed for better categorization of logons. It has some nice features like locking on minimize or after some number of minutes idle. (In the process of writing about this, I finally got around to updating to version three and it has several new features also.)

In the past few months I had checked for GNU/Linux versions of the software and saw that while there were none at the time, there were other projects that used the same file format so that I was hoping I’d find a suitable program and it would be easy to switch. And now’s the time, I guess.

Password Gorilla

I looked at Password Gorilla first. It is based on Password Safe and runs on GNU/Linux, Windows, and Mac. It uses the GPL v2 license. Since it still feels easier/more comfortable for me to install things on Windows, and since my Password Safe file is on my Windows machine, I tried that version first. It’s simple — a 1.5MB single file. No installation, really.

It worked just fine. It opened my 39KB v2 file that has over 200 entries with no problem, although it was slower about opening the file. It looked a lot like Password Safe without a toolbar. Just what I was looking for.

Password Gorilla looked pretty good, but how healthy and robust is the user community around it? It’s hard to tell from the home page how many people are involved. I typically want to adopt free programs that are well-established and have a large group of users and preferably more than one developer working on them. This is so that if a key developer is unable or unwilling to keep maintaining it, there is a better chance that someone else will step up. And in the case of security/crypto applications, I think it’s even more important to have enough people poking around in a program to uncover possible weaknesses.

In this case, the project home page looks well done and the program was updated as recently as summer 2006 to support the new v3 file format, so I’d be inclined to use the program. I also like the help page that goes in to some of the risks involved. These are things I’m already aware of, but I think it’s refreshing that a page has been provided to help educate people on these things. So I had a warm fuzzy feeling about the program, but as I was evaluating my options, I noticed from the Password Safe SourceForge project page:

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Doing the Samba with the Slug

This post cost me $20.

But only because I wanted to write it after donating to the NSLU2-Linux project so I could put my money where my keyboard is. It’s a token amount for the great work they’re doing and all the great resources they provide for free. But let’s back up for a moment…

I’ve written about my trouble getting network drives to work in GNU/Linux, and now I’m happy to report I’ve made some progress in that area. (I’m not sure how best to refer to this topic–in the Windows world we usually talk about “mapping a network drive”, but I suspect if it’s more common in Unix to refer to “mounting a remote drive.”)

As mentioned, I have this nifty little Linksys Network Storage Link for USB 2.0 Disk Drives, aka the NSLU2, aka the “slug.” It’s a small low-cost NAS device that runs an embedded version of GNU/Linux. (Is it GNU? It runs BusyBox utilities, which the BusyBox project “about” page says are “cousins” of GNU tools.) (Update: Argh. I got this garbled, thinking about what I’ll write about later. I pointed at NSLU2-Linux because I’m planning to write about the cool stuff you can do by hacking the the device. I’m guessing that BusyBox is part of the updated firmware you get from NSLU2-Linux.)

The NSLU2 uses Samba to handle network shares, and I was getting hung up on file ownership issues when connecting from GNU/Linux, using Fedora (didn’t work at all on Ubuntu):

mount -t cifs -o username=admin "// 1" /home/scarpent/nslu_test

(Please read the original if you’re interested in the exciting back story and some helpful advice in the comments which I greatly appreciated although it didn’t quite get me there for the initial problem.)

The problem simmered for a while. I didn’t have the time and/or energy and/or ambition to get in to it again, until I happened to attend an MISRC Seminar on “Open Source” at the University of Minnesota. There I met Christopher Hertel, who is a member of the Samba team. That got me motivated to get back to the investigation and I struck up an email conversation with him, where he was very helpful in getting me pointed in the right direction. I search through a lot of forums and howto docs while trying this stuff, but it can be very nice to have some personal help. Someone to help you figure out the right questions to ask and areas to search in.

Now there is the tale to be told, so I can repeat all this if and when necessary, and maybe help someone else along the way. Documentation is always a struggle, and the way I keep notes seems to be in flux. There is the question of private versus public notes. As I start writing more of this on the web, it takes additional effort to make it consumable by others. I need something more than cryptic reminders for myself. I think it’s worth the effort, though. I receive so much benefit from other people sharing their knowledge that I want to do the same in turn, if possible.

In addition to additional explanation needed for the web, there is a challenge in the way I acquire the knowledge and experience. It can be kind of chaotic (which I’m sure is not unusual). For example, I probably have Firefox open and accumulate 20 or more tabs along the way. I have multiple terminal windows open. I make a lot of false starts and wrong turns. On the one hand, if I write/copy things down too soon, I have a lot of extraneous information to deal with. That, and it can hamper the creative, problem solving process. I like racing ahead even while I feel some anxiety over details that might slip away. Always the details. I probably try to capture too much minutia in life, which can detract from digging deeper in to a given area and really focusing my attention on some bigger challenges. (That’s one of the reasons I’m impatient to get going with using GNU/Linux for useful work. I don’t want to get caught in the trap of endlessly tinkering with the system as a kind of mental masturbation. As good as it might feel, there are more satisfying forms of, er, um… I’ll let the analogy stop there.)

I want the knowledge to become embedded, also. Have my brain’s “muscle memory” play a part in the learning. But I need the notes, experience tells me. My brain is like a sieve, in many ways, and I share Homer Simpson’s lament: “Every time I learn something new, something old falls out of my brain.” So I need the notes, but when do I make them? If I wait until afterwards (this is the other hand), it all starts to recede and some information is lost in the shuffle. Like right now, it’s getting too late to do the recap, so hopefully I’ll get to it tomorrow and still remember the important details…

Please stay tuned for more exciting adventures of the dancing slug!

Inertia prevents Bruce Schneier from moving to GNU/Linux

When you don’t see new posts here, it probably means one of three things:

  1. I’m busy with other things in my life, such as:
    • Family
    • Work
  2. I’ve lost interest in the blog.
  3. I’m actually doing the free software thing! I’m learning about free software or getting things set up in support of the move.

While #1 is almost always true, the past week has also seen some of #3, and I’ve been enjoying it. And as always, I’m trying to think about how to write about it. I do want to write about it, hopefully in a way that is useful and possibly entertaining for others. But it takes so much time. So maybe I should learn to just post some hasty blurbs here.

And I’m still wondering how much technical detail to go in to. I’m putting some notes in my Google Notebook, but even then I don’t keep up when trying a lot of things. It would be good to write it up here in a slightly more coherent way, to help settle the knowledge more firmly in my mind, and as a future reference.

I’ve written before about how I’m very comfortable using Windows and even enjoy using it, but that I want to switch to GNU/Linux for ideological reasons. I believe in free software. However, it’s so much work. I’m spending a lot of time learning how to do things I already know how to do in Windows, and it’s slowing me down in doing the things that I want to use my computer to accomplish. But I think it’s worth it. And I do enjoy the learning process. So I’ll keep plugging along.

Related to the idea of ideology and convenience in operating system use, I came across an interesting interview with Bruce Schneier yesterday, from rebecca’s pocket. It was mostly about blogging, but then there was this near the end:

Mac or PC?

PC. Windows. I catch a lot of hell over this from readers, but it’s just easier for me. I would very much like to be a Linux user, if for no other reason than the political statement. But I don’t do my own tech support, and I don’t want to learn, so I use what my company uses.

–Bruce Schneier

I can sympathize with that attitude. Bruce’s blog is one of my favorites, and it consistently has great discussions in the comments. From his writing I had gotten the idea that he was sympathetic to free software and culture, but I was happy to see such a clear statement of support.

While it’s tempting for me to take that same approach (or the similar approach of saying I’ll just use and support what I already know), I really don’t want to. I want to make that statement.

And I want to enjoy using GNU/Linux. In my recent adventures, I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction out of getting some things working. The satisfaction is countered somewhat by frustration at having to spend so much time on laying the groundwork for the move, but there is time, I try to remember:

You can do a lot in a lifetime, if you don’t burn out too fast. You can make the most of the distance… first you need endurance; first you’ve got to last!

–Neil Peart (Rush), “Marathon”

Windows Baggage: Failing to comprehend ‘network drives’ in GNU/Linux

Update! I figured some things out. See related posts below.

A big challenge for me in moving to GNU/Linux from Windows is not only migrating all the data that I rely on and finding free software replacements, but figuring out how to do the equivalent of all the administrative things I need to do.

When I started using Windows PCs back in 1994, I didn’t have anything. No data, no maintenance requirements. My computing world was a blank slate. I started using my cousin’s Gateway 486 to play Doom (in DOS), and then started going in to Windows to see what games were in there.

Gradually over time I started doing more, and in twelve years I’ve accumulated a lot of habits and routines. It would have been so much better to have started fresh using GNU. Now, I have a hard time starting because there’s so much up front work I feel like I have to do before I can really get going, and it tends to prevent me from doing anything.

One of these hang-ups is backing up data. I gradually developed this habit until it’s reached the level of compulsion where I now get the shakes if I go more than a couple of days without backing up to another machine on my home network and more than a couple of weeks without backing up to DVD. I do incremental backups every day to a networked USB drive, which stem from weekly DVD backups, which have all the changes since the most recent trip to my safe deposit box, which I visit every two to three months.

Recently I’ve been anxious to really get going with the move, but I don’t want to start moving everything over and use GNU for more day-to-day work until I have a backup plan in place. To do that, I want to use this cool little Linksys Network Storage Link (NSLU2) device. I have one sitting in my basement attached to a 200GB drive in a USB enclosure. It wasn’t much trouble to map remote drives on it from Windows, but so far I have been defeated in my efforts to use it remotely from a GNU system, of which maybe some blow-by-blow technical minutiae later, but here’s the short version:

mount -t cifs -o username=admin "// 1" /home/scarpent/nslu_test

Works in Fedora Core 5. The NSLU2 drive is mounted and I can see its data, but I have permissions problems. I run the command as root and it makes the owner of nslu_test and all sub-directories be “502″. I get permission denied when I try:

chown scarpent:scarpent

Tried the same command (well, with sudo) from Ubuntu and get:

mount: block device // 1 is write-protected, mounting read-only
mount: cannot mount block device // 1 read-only

Had also tried smbfs on Fedora but ran in to a big tangled mess of trying to install stuff.

And so it goes. I’m sure I’ll get there, eventually, but it takes a lot of time. Each thing I try to do sends me running around in confusion trying to understand things that are far beyond my current skills. Again, I don’t think it would be so bad to be a brand new computer user with GNU. You can do a lot before needing to know about what goes on under the covers. But there are several things in particular I want to do that force me in to the guts right away, where I stand in awe and trepidation at all the alien plumbing.

(6 Feb 2007) Woo hoo! I got some stuff working –>

Related Posts:

Microsoft Money to GnuCash

Update, 10 January 2008: I ended up going with KMyMoney. See “Moving from MS Money to KMyMoney”. I had to give up classifications as described below, but still, KMyMoney is an excellent replacement for Money.

One of my bigger challenges with moving to GNU/Linux from Windows will be to migrate eleven years worth of MS Money data to GnuCash. (Apparently, GnuCash is the financial application to use, but please let me know if there are good alternatives to evaluate.)

With .QIF exports and imports, it may not be too excruciating to move the data, but I think getting the reports I want will be a challenge. I haven’t fully explored GnuCash reports yet, but so far I don’t see what I want.

I’m using classifications with MS Money and hope I’ll be able to find something similar with GnuCash. For example, in the automobile category, I have gas, maintenance, and repair subcategories. Two classifications would be “1998 Saturn” and “2001 Honda.” Then I can see what total spending is for a sub-category and also break it down by vehicle.

I think I can manage this with GnuCash because it looks like you can have any number of category levels, so maybe I’ll have this:

automobile:gas:1998 Saturn
automobile:gas:2001 Honda
automobile:maintenance:1998 Saturn
automobile:maintenance:2001 Honda
automobile:repairs:1998 Saturn
automobile:repairs:2001 Honda

And then I need to figure out if I can get reports that let me mix and match the numbers. I don’t use graphs so much as tables. I might want to see consolidated numbers:

                  2004     2005     2006    Total
  gas             $900    $1100    $1400    $3400
  maintenance     $500     $378     $670    $1548
  repairs         $576     $279     $987    $1842
Total            $1976    $1757    $3057    $6790

Or by “classification”:

2006             Saturn    Honda      Total
  gas              $800      $600     $1400
  maintenance      $370      $300      $670
  repairs          $750      $237      $987
Total             $1920     $1137     $3057