Thursday, August 27, 2009

gtk-gnutella - A great gnutella P2P server/client

Available for free for a variety of Linux platfoms as well as being easily compiled from source, gtk-gnutella is a great application if you are in need of a powerful, easy to use Gnutella server/client.

gtk-gnutella has features that make finding what you are looking for fast and easy, with an automatic filter that filters out a high number of the usual malware and spyware matches that always seen to come along with a file search on the Gnutella network.

I have been using gtk-gnutella off and and on for about two years now, having originally discovered it in the Ubuntu respostories when I first started using Linux.

I highly recommend you take a look at gtk-gnutella if you have been looking for a stable, easy to use Gnutella client for the Linux platform.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scratch, the programming language for kids

If you have a young child you would like to introduce to programming, consider looking into Scratch. Scratch was developed by MIT at the MIT Media Lab as a way to teach kids (or anyone, for that matter) the basic skills they need to become successful programmers.

Scratch is a fun and easy way for
kids to learn the basics of programming using snap-together code blocks to build working programs. A simple program can be constructed with just a few simple drag and drop operations. More complex programs can also easily be constructed using a variety of available programming constructs like variables, mathematical operators, conditional statements, image manipulation functions, and setting and using flags.

My 11 year old son (who has no pro
gramming experience at all) took to Scratch immediately. Within 24 hours of installing Scratch, he has already written a "Frog Simulator", building all the code to feed his frog flies when it gets hungry, exercise his frog to increase its fitness, and earn money to buy his frog flies at the store by walking his frog in the park.

Scratch 1.4 is available for both the Windows and Mac platforms, with an alpha release available as a .deb package for Ubuntu.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Free Geek Columbus to distribute 25 Ubuntu PC's

At the Ohio LinuxFest 2009 Conference, Free Geek Columbus will be offering a $250 eight hour Linux Basics class. At the end of the class, the students get to take the computer home!

The class will teach everything from installing Linux itself (Ubuntu 9.04) to basic system administration, installing printers, and connecting to the internet.

The computers being provided will have at least a 1.5GHz processor, 512MB RAM, and 15GB HDD, and a 17" monitor is included as well.

What a great opportunity for beginners to be able to not only get a firm introduction to Linux but also get the computer that they installed the Operating System on themselves.

Click here for all the details!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ohio LinuxFest 2009

The seventh annual Ohio LinuxFest will be held on September 25-27, 2009 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Hosting authoritative speakers and a large expo, the Ohio LinuxFest welcomes Free and Open Source Software professionals, enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to take part in the event.

I have attended for the last two years, and have thoroughly enjoyed myself! Whether you are an experienced Linux user, new to Linux, or are just interested in finding out more about Linux, I highly recommend making the trip. Click the image above, or visit to register or for more information.

The Ohio LinuxFest is a free, grassroots conference for the GNU/Linux/Open Source Software/Free Software community that started in 2003 as a large inter-LUG meeting and has grown steadily since.

It is a place for the community to gather and share information about Linux and Open Source Software. A large expo area adjacent to the conference rooms will feature exhibits from sponsors as well as a large .org section from non-profit Open Source/Free Software projects.


Take a virtual tour of Saturn with NASA's Cassie

While wandering through the internet here recently, I came across a NASA/JPL website devoted to the extended Cassini mission to Saturn. The site is really well put together, and is a great example of what the web should be all about.

In addition to providing all the information you would ever want to know about Saturn, the website includes a virtual tour of Saturn, courtesy of the data being returned by Cassini. After downloading the software (which is only available for Windows and Mac.. Arg!) you can show Cassini's position now or at any time in the past or future, as well as interact with the spacecraft itself by draging it around with the mouse.

I highly recommend taking the time to visit the website and play with the software. It is truly awesome! Check it out! Cassini Equinox Mission: Cassini Virtual Tour


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Using Wolvix GNU/Linux to solve my problem

I recently had a physical hard drive failure on one of my primary computers, an AMD Athlon XP 2400 based system, and found myself without a spare HDD to put in the system.

Can't use a computer with no hard drive, right? At first I thought so too, but here's how I used Wolvix, a live CD based GNU/Linux distribution to solve the problem!

I maintain my computers on a shoestring budget, and I didn't have the $40 to replace the hard drive. In fact, the HDD that failed was a spare, replaced just a month ago, after the HDD that was in the system when it was given to me developed bad sectors.

I shelved the computer, and pulled out one of my spares, an ancient Dell GX-1 with a 550 Mhz P-III processor. My computers get a lot of their use online and the GX-1 just wasn't up to the task.

After suffering for a week or so with the GX-1, it struck me one night that I could probably resume using the faster computer with the crashed HDD if I used a Live CD based GNU/Linux distro.

Off I went to DistroWatch a great source of information for anyone curious about Linux or looking for a distribution to fill a specific need.

I was looking for something that would boot live from a CD and not require that the OS be permanently installed. (In other words, it wouldn't require that the computer have a hard drive)

The distro chosen had to be compact enough that it would boot quickly, and be able to operate in 512MB of RAM on an AMD Athlon XP 2400 processor, and had to have a nice library of included packages and an easy to use package manager.

I have played with lightweight distributions in the past, like Feather Linux, Puppy Linux, and Damn Small Linux (DSL), but I felt they were too lightweight. For my purposes, all three of these lacked the apps that I use on a day-to-day basis, like Flash enabled Firefox, GIMP, GParted, Gftp, etc...

The computer is kind of light on RAM with only 512MB, so a distro like Ubuntu really wasn't practical, especially considering my requirement that the computer be HDD-less.

Yes, you CAN boot Ubuntu live from the CD, but it's barely usable that way on a PC with only 512MB, and yes, there is Xubuntu, but in my experience, Xubuntu is far from being lightweight and seems almost as bloated as regular old Gnome based Ubuntu.

-flashback to the summer of 2007....
I had requested a copy of Ubuntu 7.04, and after installing it in a dual boot configuration with Windows 2000, I became quickly hooked on GNU/Linux. Within a month I had three computers connected in a small home network, each running a different "flavor" of Linux.

While playing with Linux distributions, I briefly installed a small distribution called Wolvix. I really liked it and used it on a day-to-day basis for about six weeks until one day the install went whacky. It refused to boot even to the command line after that, and I lacked the technical skills at the time to be able to fix it. So I pushed it aside and moved on to other things.

-fast-forward to my search for a Live CD based distro...
While perusing the fine selection of options available, I stumbled across Wolvix again. I visited the website and discovered that there was a Beta release available of Wolvix 2.0.0.

Having enjoyed my previous experience with the distro, I downloaded and burned the .iso to see if it would meet my needs for my HDD-less computer project.

I opened up the computer, unplugged the HDD power and IDE cables, set the BIOS to boot from CD, popped in my freshly burned Wolvix CD, and rebooted. After about four minutes of load time during which it correctly recognized all of my hardware and properly configured X for my video card, I was up and running!

I soon discovered I could even save any changes I made to the system after booting, by saving a "persistent save" file to a USB thumbdrive. So not only could I use the computer without a hard drive, but it would remember my setup too!

Its been two weeks now and I have been using my Wolvix powered, HDD-less computer daily since then with only a few minor issues.

In my next post, I will detail the steps I followed to get the system up and running, along with the problems I had along the way. Perhaps someone else who has a need similar to mine can benefit from my experience.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Setting up Wolvix GNU/Linux with no hard drive

In this post I will outline the basic steps necessary to create a HDD-less computer that can be used to do all the basic things you need a computer to do on a daily basis.

By storing your changes to a "persistent save" file on a USB thumb drive, you can create a system that can be booted entirely from the CD, yet allow you to install packages, customize your desktop, and remember everything that has been added or updated, even if the computer is shut down and restarted.

You can even take the CD and the thumb drive with you, and boot your Wolvix "installation" on any computer that will allow booting from the CD ROM.

By following these instructions, you should be able to set up a similar system for your own use. I have tried to go into enough detail to allow someone without a whole lot of experience with Linux to be able to successfully set up a system following my instructions, but if I were to include every little detail, this blog post would be way too long, and its already much longer than I would have liked it to have been.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that all the instructions provided here utilize a beta version of Wolvix (Version 2.0.0 Beta 2). Beta software is by nature a "work in progress", and isn't perfect.
I am basing this basic tutorial on my experience with the beta version because thats the version I chose to use for my setup. I wanted the newest packages and the most functionality.
I chose to use the beta release because I wanted all the latest versions of all the included packages, but I am sure that if you were to download and burn the current stable Wolvix release (version 1.1.0) you would get a system that will be less prone to odd behavior or lockups, and still provide a system with all the functionality you need.

Get and burn a Wolvix ISO
Download Wolvix 2.0.0 Beta 2 here or visit the Wolvix website at, and click on "Get Wolvix!". Under the heading "Download the ISO", choose one of the sources for the ISO and download the file. Depending on the speed of your internet connection and the download source you chose, be prepared to wait. Remember it's an entire 650MB CD.

After the download completes, calculate an MD5Sum and compare it to the one published on the Wolvix site. For caculating an MD5Sum in Windows, I recommend winMD5Sum , a free Windows application that will calculate MD5Sums from source .iso files.

Burn the ISO to a CD. I believe in keeping things simple, so I use
CDR Tools Front End to quickly burn ISO image files in Windows. Its free software, and runs quickly and efficiently. Make sure you burn the disk at no more than 4X, or you are will find yourself with a nice coaster instead of a bootable CD.

Now that you have a successfully burned CD, all that is left to do is reboot the computer with the CD. Make sure that you have configured the BIOS to boot from the CD-ROM first.

Boot from the Wolvix live CD
Reboot the computer with the CD, and wait patiently through the boot sequence. Remember this is a complete operating system on CD, and it's being read from a CD-ROM (generally pretty slow) and being loaded entirely into memory. It might take as long as 10 minutes on anything with less than a 1Ghz processor. My computer is an AMD Athlon XP 2400 with 512MB RAM and it takes about five minutes to boot to the login prompt.

At some point during the boot process, the loader will begin to load X (the graphic environment), and your screen may go black for 30 seconds or so, but don't panic. The system is just determining your graphics card and preparing what it needs to be able to run under X.

When the boot is complete, you will be presented with a login screen. Remember that the whole system is running in memory, so the only user the system has is the root account. Log in with the username "root" and the password "toor".

After about a minute or so you should be presented with a complete desktop, with a menu bar chock full of icons and a complete library of installed and ready to run applications. Congratulations! You have successfully booted your CD based Wolvix operating system!

If you are connected to the internet via a wired network connection, you should be able to open Firefox and freely surf the internet. If you are connecting via wireless, you may have to use the Network Manager (in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen) to configure your wireless connection.

I am going to assume that you were able to establish a working internet connection at this point.
I am keeping this tutorial basic and simple, and resolving connection issues is beyond its scope. If you are having problems getting a connection to the internet, I would recommend looking for help on the Wolvix forum if you need assistance.

Setting up a persistent save file
Booting Wolvix into memory from a live CD creates a wonderful system that can be used to do all the normal things you need a computer to do, but it has limitations as well. For one, if you reboot the computer or turn it off, none of the changes you made will be there next time you reboot. Not always terribly convenient.

This issue is easily resolved through through the use of a "persistent save" file, a file stored on a USB thumb drive or other USB device that contains all the changes made to the system after the system is booted from the CD. But before Wolvix can store these changes, you need to create the file itself, named wolvixsave.xfs .

The Wolvix documentation seems a little fuzzy on whether or not the WolvixSave file has to be stored in a partition formatted for Linux (ext2, ext3, etc..) but I was unable to successfully create the save file without first creating a linux partition on my existing USB thumb drive.

Wolvix conveniently includes GParted, a disk partitioning tool that makes repartitioning and formatting storage devices a snap. The USB thumb drive I own is only 1MB, so I repartitioned the 1MB FAT16 partition into a 400MB FAT16 partition and a 600MB ext3 partition that I could use to store my persistent save file.

Wolvix includes a really nifty control panel (WCP for short) that makes creating the persistent save file easy. Open the WCP from the menu at the bottom of the window, and click the Storage tab. Click on Create WolvixSave. Choose the ext3 partition on the USB thumb drive you created in the last step from the drop-down menu, decide how big you want the save file to be, (mine was 512MB, but I would suggest at least 1024MB, if not larger) and click create.

USB thumb drives are not generally the fastest devices around, so be prepared to wait a while for the file to be created. After it finishes creating and formatting the WolvixSave file, you are ready to reboot! Chick on the quit icon on the menu at the bottom of the screen, and choose Restart.

During the boot process, Wolvix will automatically locate the persistent save file you created in the last step and from now on, any changes you make to the system will be saved and remembered each time you boot the computer, assuming you have the USB thumb drive plugged in.

Final Setup
All that is left to do now is install Flash, create a user or users, install any additional packages you may use on a daily basis, and customize the desktop to your liking!

After the computer has finished rebooting and you are again at the login screen, log in as root again. Since any changes made to the system will now be saved, you can install Flash and it will stay installed, even if you reboot the computer. Double click the Install Flash icon on the desktop and follow the prompts. It's a painless install and should be complete in less than a minute. If you want to test your Flash install, you can point your browser at

At this point, the system still only has one user, the root account. Wolvix was designed to be used logged in as root, but that's generally a big no-no in the Linux world. I felt a lot more comfortable creating a user for myself using the WCP. One extra step that was necessary was modifying the /etc/sudoers file so my newly created user had sufficient rights to run apps like the WCP.

All that is left to do now is log out of the root account and log in as the new user you created. Non you can set your home page in Firefox, change your desktop wallpaper, screen resolution, et cetera to your personal preferences, and they will all be saved and used when you reboot the computer.

Final Notes/Thoughts

I have had the system up and running for about three weeks at this point, and there are a few problems I have had to contend with.
  • A 512MB persistent save file really isn't large enough. I can only install a few choice packages without filling it up. I made the mistake of updating ALL the installed packages to current, which overflowed my save file and corrupted it, forcing me to erase it and start from scratch. When I get some extra money, I am going to invest in a 4MB USB thumb drive so the system has a little more "elbow room".
  • For whatever reason, sometimes the simple act of logging out corrupts the save file as well. After the THIRD time I had to build the save file from scratch, I started making a backup of the save file to my server so I could restore the file if it got corrupted.
  • Applications don't always open from the menu bar on the first click. Clicking on an application doesn't change the cursor to a "wait" icon in Xfce while the app is loading, and because the system runs entirely from the CD, apps like Firefox take 10-15 seconds to open after you click on the icon. When the app doesn't open on the first click, I end up sitting and waiting for an app that never opens. I have learned to watch conky's CPU monitor to see if the CPU is busy as a sign the app is really opening.
Overall, I am quite pleased with the way it has turned out, and may continue to use the system even after I can afford a hard drive!