Monday, May 3, 2010

acpitool as an Alternative Suspend Method for Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx)

I've noticed that people still seem to be having difficulties suspending their laptops after upgrading to Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx). I had mentioned previously that there is a command-line tool called powersaved that allowed me to put my Toshiba Satellite A200 laptop in suspend mode when the main suspend function in Ubuntu 9.10 could not. The good news, after upgrading to Lucid Lynx, is that the main suspend function (accessed through the session management menu in Gnome-Panel) actually suspends my laptop! The bad news is that, for those of you who are still having suspend issues after upgrading to Lucid, powersaved is no longer available.

To help, I set my mind to searching Synaptic Package Manager for a command-line program that works like powersaved but is actually available to Lucid Lynx users. I have thus far found a very helpful little command-line program called acpitool. It's so simple to use! Once you install it, just type sudo acpitool -s and your computer will go into suspend! If you follow my directions on how to make a launcher script from my previous post regarding powersaved then you'll also have a button to make it even easier to use this command-line tool.

Hope this helps people!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Experience Upgrading to Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx)

I recently upgraded my Ubuntu 9.10 installation to Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. At the outset of the process I was really hoping that I could just start the upgrade, leave my computer running over night, and come back to find that the upgrade all finished. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Throughout the upgrade process there were several points where I needed to decide whether I wanted to keep some old configuration file or overwrite it with something completely new. Seeing as how I kept leaving my computer as it was upgrading (in the hope that it would finish automatically) only to come back and find that it wanted me to tell it what to do at these decision points, the whole process took about a day!

While it was certainly annoying to get through the upgrade, I'm very happy to report that absolutely nothing cataclysmic or annoying happened to the programs I had installed in my 9.10 installation or the data that I had accumulated. Everything's running very smoothly: My OpenSSH server, Alpine, PostgreSQL, R, Python, Firefox and Thunderbird, and so forth.

The one thing that kind of annoyed me was the messaging menu. It's a little envelope icon that sits next to the volume icon in the Indicator Applet. I'm not really that into microblogging, so I don't have a use for a panel applet that facilitates such functionality. Thankfully, I learned a way of getting rid of it. Just go into your terminal and type in sudo apt-get remove indicator-messages. Once the process completes, you right click on the indicator applet (the volume icon and the envelope icon together), click on "Remove From Panel", then right click where the two icons previously were, click on "Add to Panel...", highlight the Indicator Applet and then click on "Add". Voila! The messaging menu is gone :)

I've read numerous times of people having problems upgrading Ubuntu, versus doing a fresh install of a new version. Thankfully in the case of upgrading to Lucid Lynx from Karmic Koala, I have seen no issues! So, I heartily reccomend upgrading to the latest and greatest version of Ubuntu.

----------------- Addendum:

I mentioned previously that Ubuntu 9.10 tended to have problems trying to suspend my Toshiba Satellite A200 laptop.  I'm happy to report that Ubuntu 10.04 does not have such problems.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Review of SimplyMEPIS 8.5 and Xubuntu 10.04 RC

I am soon going to be getting a perfectly functional laptop from my older brother that has a broken screen. I want to use this laptop strictly as an easy-to-use home server computer, and so I will mostly be using it by logging into it from other computers (hence why I don't care that the screen is broken). After the laptop was promised to me, I began looking for a debian-based distribution that would perhaps be a bit lighter on resources (and still easy to use) than Ubuntu. I've so far tried out SimplyMEPIS 8.5 and Xubuntu 10.04 RC. In both cases I downloaded the ISO archive containing the setup files and mounted each on my USB stick as a live usb using the wonderful UNetbootin.

SimplyMEPIS was pretty easy/harmless to install. Once installed, I set about the task of learning the basics of getting around in its KDE 4.3.4 interface. Having used Ubuntu for almost a year now, I am very familiar with where things are when GNOME is the main graphical interface. Needless to say, KDE was very different for me. One thing that really impressed me was how very easy it was to set up samba network shares between my computer and my wife's computer. This was a difficult issue for me to get around in the past using Ubuntu, which I wrote about earlier.

A few things that bothered me about SimplyMEPIS: 1) I don't know why but try as I might I could not get my HP Laserjet P1505 printer to work properly!! Whenever I tried to print something from any application, my printer would feed the paper through and not print anything on it. It was very weird; almost like my computer had established a connection to the printer but was not sending any print data to it. 2) The distro repositories that I was using weren't so fast. I looked for faster repos to use, but didn't find anything that impressed me like what I get in Ubuntu. In Ubuntu you always have the option in the Software Sources menu applet to select the best repository so that you get maximum download speed. Couple with the fact that there are many repositories that offer Ubuntu updates and you get a powerful combination. 3) Okay this is a very superficial reason, but KDE makes linux too Windows-y! No more comments on this point, hehe.

Like SimplyMEPIS, Xubuntu was pretty easy/harmless to install. Once installed, I noticed that the Xfce interface is laid out very similarly to the GNOME interface. It's definitely a biasing factor, as it means there is less to learn. Once I set up my /etc/fstab and my /etc/samba/smb.conf files to be the equivalent of the same file on my Ubuntu installation, I learned that all I had to do to set up shares from my wife's computer on my own is a quick terminal command, smbmount //servername/sharename /mountdirectory. When using Ubuntu, this would normally be done through GNOME's Nautilus file browser.

In Xfce, there doesn't seem to be native network share browsing, necessitating a move to the command line for setting up your desired network share mounts. According to a post in Ubuntu Forums, you can modify your /etc/fstab file so that the network share you want access to is automatically initialized when your computer starts up. Just type in the following line (making the appropriate replacements for your situation): //servername/sharename /mountdirectory smbfs username=windowsuserename,password=windowspassword 0 0.

Finding out that Xubuntu doesn't allow easy GUI driven network browsing was a bit of a disappointment, but there are still a few things that make me believe it's the best choice of the two: 1) The Xfce interface is really nice, clean, and simple looking. Navigating through GUI elements was remarkably simple. 2) It comes with the ease of updating using the fast, expansive Ubuntu repositories. 3) Functionality in general using Xubuntu was indeed pretty fast and lightweight.

So, it looks like I'll be installing Xubuntu on my brother's laptop with the broken screen. It will be a good use of his laptop, which will as a consequence see more years than my brother ever thought.

If you think I should try out any other (light-weight and easy-to-use) operating system before I get this new-old laptop, tell me your opinion!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Get your Android Phone and Thunderbird in Ubuntu to work with MS Exchange

I recently got full time employment in an organization that depends on Microsoft Exchange for all of its email and scheduling needs. So, something that I investigated as soon as I could was how I could get my Rogers HTC Dream (a.k.a. the T-Mobile G1) and my Ubuntu Linux Laptop to connect to my new employer's MS Exchange server to receive and send emails, and to do my scheduling.

I was delightfully impressed with how incredibly easy it was to set up my new MS Exchange-based email account on my HTC dream. I just navigated to the Data Synchronization submenu in my phone's settings menu, clicked on "Microsoft Exchange", entered in my new email address and my password, waited while it communicated with the server, and then voila it finished!

Unfortunately it was not that easy on Ubuntu! It took me a week before I found any answers on the internet, but I finally got my MS Exchange email and calendar account set-up in Thunderbird. I first tried to use Ubuntu's pre-installed Evolution Mail to connect to MS Exchange, but alas it didn't work.

The solution came in the form of a Gateway program called DavMail. The principle of this program is that it mediates a (POP3/IMAP/Caldav) connection between your email client and the MS Exchange server in a way that makes both parties happy. Although I haven't tried this with a program other than Thunderbird, it should in theory work alright.

Once you've downloaded and installed DavMail using the link above, make sure that you have Sun Java version 6 installed. To do so, type in sudo apt-get install sun-java6-bin. After you're finished, start up DavMail by navigating through the following Gnome menu items: Applications > Internet > Davmail. A yellow circular icon will appear in the Gnome system tray indicating that DavMail has started up. Right-click on that icon, then click on settings, and then input your organizations Outlook Web Access (OWA) address. It may be something like Take note of the local ports that it's opening up for various services (e.g. POP3/IMAP/Caldav) to see what ports your programs will need to use to access those services.

The next step for me was enabling IMAP access to my MS Exchange email. You can choose POP3 if you like, but IMAP will ensure that you have access to all the email folders that you regularly access at work. The DavMail folks already set up a nice tutorial on how to set-up Thunderbird with IMAP, so go through the steps they've already posted (warning, their screenshots are in French. This shouldn't be a problem though, as their instructions are in English!). Once you've completed those steps, go into your Thunderbird Account Settings for your new account and make sure that the port number it uses for accessing your email through IMAP is the same as the DavMail setting (the default is 1143).

Next item of business is to set up your MS Exchange calendar through Thunderbird's Lightning extension. Again, the DavMail folks have covered the steps to do these so do read what they've posted. Now you should have access to your email and calendar from Thunderbird at home!

The caveat to all of this is that, as a Gateway program, DavMail has to be running for you to communicate with your employer's MS Exchange server. So, be sure to start up DavMail if you want to check your MS Exchange email/calendar. It would be nice if this functionality was native in Thunderbird, but oh well. At least these steps allow you to use Thunderbird at all!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Workaround for broken Ubuntu Suspend functionality in your Toshiba Satellite

Lately I've been noticing that my Toshiba Satellite A200 Laptop, on which I'm running Ubuntu 9.10, simply won't go into Suspend-mode properly. I did some googling and found out that there's an alternative program you can download to put your computer in suspend mode called Powersave. Its use is remarkably easy and I'm happy to report that it is managing to put my laptop in suspend when the regular suspend in Ubuntu can not manage.


Go into your terminal and type in: powersave -u. That's it!! It is also technically supposed to be able to put your computer in hibernate by typing in powersave -U, but it simply doesn't work on my computer for some reason.


If you are having similar problems as I am and want to install this program, either go to Synaptic Package Manager and look for and install powersaved, or go to your terminal and type in sudo apt-get install powersaved. You can make it even easier on yourself by creating a shell script containing the powersave command with the suspend argument. Simply navigate in Nautilus to the directory where you want to create your shell script, right click on the background of that directory's window, click on Create Document > Empty File, and then add the following into the empty document:

#! /bin/bash

powersave -u

When you're done, save it with a filename such as, and then create a launcher that activates your script. I right-clicked on my upper Gnome-Panel and clicked on Add To Panel... > Custom Application Launcher, entered in "Suspend" in the name field, sh /home/inkhorn/Scripts/ in the command field, and chose a custom icon to represent the launcher on my panel.

Now all I have to do is click on my newly created launcher button on my Gnome-Panel and my computer goes into Suspend mode like it should! You of course don't need to go through the trouble to make a button for this on your Gnome-Panel like I have, but it certainly saves typing in the long run.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Block image and flash-based advertisements in Firefox

One of my biggest pet peeves about browsing through my daily regimen of websites is the advertisements that I come across. Usually they are something about "getting ripped" in 3 weeks or whitening your teeth. I'm not the kind of person who can just ignore things like that so easily, so anything that takes away those annoying advertisements is like candy to me. Enter in Firefox's native image-blocking abilities, and Flashblock. Behold the following screenshot of a web-site and look at all the wonderful, advertisement-free white-space:

The lack of stuff to fill in the white-space may scream out at you, but it's a huge relief to me. With Firefox and Flashblock, locking image-based or flash-based advertisements is a cinch! For image-based advertisements, all you have to do is right click on the image, and then click on Block images from ... and you're set. For flash-based advertisements, Flashblock basically turns all instances of Flash on websites into buttons that you can click on if the Flash is a functional part of the website. If you want to get rid of the button altogether, all you have to do is right click on it and then click on Remove Flash.

That's all! Enjoy surfing with no advertisements :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wireless just works better with WICD than Gnome Network Manager

As I mentioned in my post about getting Ubuntu to start your wireless connection before login, Gnome Network Manager has to be uninstalled so that Ubuntu will rely on your /etc/network/interfaces file to start up your wireless connection. This worked great for me and my Ubuntu laptop until I started having to take my laptop away from home and use other wireless networks. In order to connect to other wireless networks, I would have to set my /etc/network/interfaces file so that my wlan0 interface relied on dhcp instead of static settings. I would then have to re-initialize my networking settings and then use the command-line to scan for dhcp requests on my wireless interface. This was no good!

To remedy the situation, I discovered another graphical network manager called WICD. The version in the Ubuntu repositories was actually a bit buggy, so I went directly to the WICD launchpad website and downloaded the latest release (version 1.7.0). I've tested it out at home and away and I can now say that it works quite nicely. WICD allows Ubuntu to start up my wireless connection before the Login screen. It also allows me to connect to other wireless networks despite the settings in my /etc/network/interfaces file.

As you can see above, WICD puts an icon in your system tray with a green indicator bar that tells you how good your signal is. If you hover your mouse over the icon it tells you what network you're connected to, what percentage signal strength you have, and what your IP address is.

Above is the window that pops up when you left click on the WICD icon in the system tray. As you can see, the window contains information about all available wireless network SSIDs in your vicinity, how strong the signal is to those networks, and what type of encryption (if any) protects each network. You can click on the properties button for any network that you want to connect to if you have to put in a wireless encryption key. The screen that pops up follows

Once you're ready, you can click on the Connect button and you're on your way!

Setting Up WICD

As I mentioned above, I first installed WICD from the Ubuntu Repositories. I think this forced my computer to install all the appropriate dependencies so that the newer version could work. When you download the newer version, extract it to whatever directory you want. Then, open up your terminal, navigate to the directory with the WICD setup files that you just extracted, and type in sudo python install. Now, when you restart your computer, you should see WICD in your system tray ready to do your bidding.