I now have a Fedora Friend Finder!

In early 2011, I decided to go to a FudCon in Tempe, Arizona (here’s my archive). And here’s my blog summarizing my participation.

One of the things in the list of items to bring was a Fedora Friend Finder (archive, since the link disappeared), in other words an extension cord with multiple outlets / a power bar. This of course makes sense when you have a bunch of computer people gathering together, face to face: We still bring computers and as such we want to plug them in.

As you can see if you followed the link or checked my archive, the page featured a long power bar with 12 outlets, like the following:

12 outlet power strip

I of course had considered the power bar shown to be quite fanciful and even comical to the point of farce, and as such I assumed that someone had played around with The GIMP to produce the image.  However, the message was clear: I brought a four outlet power bar with a roll-up extension cord to FudCon Tempe, like the following:

cord caddy

During FudCon Tempe, I was mildly popular during the various “unconference” sessions and certainly made friends as a result of my power bar. In fact, during the “Lightning Talks” at the end of the “unconference” part, I was so popular that I had to turn people away who wanted to plug in, even after several other power bars had been plugged into mine.

Fast forward to this past week in 2014, and I’m shopping for supplies at a Canadian Tire for a job site I’m starting up, including electrical extension cords and power bars. What do I find? To my amazement, a 12 outlet power bar just like I’d seen on the Fedora Friend Finder web page. The person I was with was a bit bewildered by my fascination with it; to him, it was just a big power bar. It may have been odd, but it was just another power bar.

I wasn’t just fascinated; I was practically beside myself. Here I was in front of a real live example of the farcical prop I’d seen on a web page. Of course, I had to buy one.

Here’s a pic of it with eight personal pumps and one DryCal calibrator hooked up, charging the internal batteries:

my Fedora Friend Finder

I think it’s cool. It will probably eventually be used at home where I have my multiple computers and a big wide screen TV and PVR, where things are currently lit up like a Christmas tree, so to speak, with multiple power bars which are nonetheless underused given the multiple oversized adapters.

However, the temptation will be there to bring it out to any events at which not only would such a power bar be useful, but also to just brag on an “over the top” level and get incredulous looks along with a “may I plug in ?!?!?”

Installing Fedora 18

This past week I installed Fedora 18 on a Frankenputer for my brother, yes, *that* brother who is my linux expert, because, well, I’ve been exclusively using a linux desktop since 2006 at home and at the same time he had gravitated away from using a linux desktop back to “another” system.

After having swiftly changed my own Gnome 3 desktop to Mate this past week in order to work out the kinks, I was ready to install his system. I expected or at least hoped that this setup would be a bit easier than my experiences under Fedora 17 since at least under F18 Mate is an officially supported desktop, while under Fedora 17, Mate is merely fully available (and functional) from the Fedora repositories. Interestingly, it was an identical experience — besides the parts about doing a “yum groupinstall mate-desktop” on my system and installing it under anaconda under F18; I still had to add a bunch of packages, tweak here, adjust there, etc. in the same ways. A quick look at versions numbers between the two systems suggests that many of the packages are the same version number, just recompilations for each version of Fedora.

So after his having spent hours going through four junkers, interestingly all having come from me over time, including one on which we had installed Fedora 14 a couple of years ago, and not being able to get any of them to work, we managed at the last minute to secure two more junkers — essentially, stripped carcasses which were cast offs from a local guy who does a lot of business doing virus & spyware removals, “reinstalls”, selling good-quality used laptops, and dealing in spare parts both to locals (such as myself and my brother) and over the internet through the likes of eBay, we start working on the install. Spare parts from other junkers as well as a new 2T drive are inserted into “Door #1”.

“Door #1” appears to be an Intel Core 2 Duo or some such, so this is so far the most advanced processor with which I’ve ever knowing worked at least up close. To me it seems clear that it’s a 64bit machine; I’ve caught the 64-bit religion, which is pretty gratuitous under linux, since just about *everything* is available under 64 bit. A 64bit Fedora Net Install ISO is downloaded and burned.

Frustratingly, “door #1” proves to be a doorstop: it powers up, rather loudly, but being able to do little else beyond turn on and make a lot of noise in the process, and not even boot through the BIOS. At this first glance it seems to be little wonder that our local tinkerer had stripped out the parts he thought he could sell on eBay or otherwise use to build his own Frankenputers in a reverse “2 for 1” deal. Time is running out on closing time for the local stores, so we move on to “Door #2”.

“Door #2” again appears to be a dual core or some such, so this is so far the most advanced processor with which I’ve ever knowing worked at least up close. To me it seems clear that it’s a 64bit machine; I’ve caught the 64-bit religion, which is pretty gratuitous under linux, since just about *everything* is available under 64 bit. The aforementioned CD is thrown in and things boot up until it hangs a few times at the point that the graphical part of Anaconda is supposed to kick in. After a few stalled attempts, we download and burn the 32-bit version, and everything works. Phew, just under the wire.

The visual changes in Anaconda made things seem more direct. Setup goes through cleanly.

Then I go through my list of things to install and remove, some of which date back to my install of Fedora 12 — yes, I still have some notes from then (paper works!) — while others dating back to the past week or so when I installed Mate on my machine and learned about what I wanted, needed, didn’t want, and so on.

The whole process took about 6 to 7 hours.

And, apparently, my brother, the master surpassed by his student, tries things out and loves it, after a few years of not having a linux desktop. Maybe there’s a renewed hope for him.

Go figure.

Fedora Life Spans

As a quick post, I am presenting my table here of typical Fedora lifespans.

Surprise, surprise — or, if you prefer, surprisingly — over the years, on average Fedora has actually been doing a good job of keeping to what is colloquially described as a 13 month lifespan, despite fairly variable lifespans of almost +/- 20% compared to average as of Fedora 16, often being delayed by a week or two or more, and in the case of Fedora 18, by two months! In fact, it has been keeping to this average rather closely — as of Fedora 16, the cumulative averages have kept to less than 2% from the overall average since Fedora 5. Well we’ll see how that affects things, as it is right now I’ve estimated the lifespan of Fedora 16, which I’ll correct when the official number comes out. We’ll see how the two month delay has/will affect(ed) the scheduled release of Fedora 19, and as the case may be Fedora 20 and so on.

Each of Fedora’s End of Life (EOL) is scheduled at a month after the release of the second version of Fedora after, eg. Fedora 12’s end of life was one month after the release of Fedora 14, and so on.

So, while I’m making this up, if the lifespans of Fedora 1 and Fedora 2 are any indication, Fedora presumably only started with the “every six months or so release dates” and/or defining the EOL as one month after the release of the second version following a given release, somewhere around Fedora 3, or possibly Fedora 4. (Although apparently Red Hat Linux, as mentioned here, had a release schedule of about every 6 months, too — and an erratic lifespan of 18 months or 3 years or 5 years, depending on what appears to have been whim though what probably was more along the lines of support contracts tied to specific releases, public reception to a given release, or a given release’s perceived technical excellence and value, etc.)

So enjoy the Table.

How to put XFCE on CentOS 6

This post is following my having replaced the gnome desktop from my centos-6 home server with XFCE, due to:

– the machine is probably over 11 years old and only has 256megs of memory
– the machine is not really likely to be easily upgraded, nor replaced
– the change is worth it anyway given the light load I put on it
– because it was so slow, and even seemed to progressively grind to a halt in a short period of time (a week or less, it seemed)
– questions online about how to replace gnome to XFCE under centos were inconclusive regarding how to make XFCE the default desktop on CentOS.

No, I don’t know how to make them co-exist, I tried a bit and decided after a three or four commands that since I didn’t need Gnome anyway, that replacing it completely with XFCE was the best way to go in my case.

Required:

– an installed and working CentOS 6 setup on the “target machine”
– an internet connection
– an operating ssh server on the target machine — including, if you’re controlling things through the internet, appropriate settings to receive the connection through the internet (another topic)
– root priveleges on the target machine

Optional, but likely to be highly useful (as it was for me given the “cart-before the horse” approach I used):

– a second computer, “the head”, with an ssh client, able to connect to the target machine via ssh either locally on the same network, or through the internet.

This process can be dangerous, will probably require at least one reboot, and ideally should require having physical access to the machine in case of requiring a hard power-down and repowering of the machine. All critical processes should become less critical (ie. user announcement for downtime, transfer to another server, etc.) and a backup should be performed beforhand.

I am presuming that on the target machine, root login has been disabled and that you will be logging in via “mere mortal” accounts and then elevating to root. Should you be using sudo on the target machine, the account into which you will be logging should have appropriate sudo priveleges, and you should adjust the instructions accordingly (that much I won’t do for you, I don’t like sudo; “Don’t be afraid of root. Respect it, but don’t be afraid” as my brother says.) I am also presuming that you are controlling the target machine using the head.

– using the head, ssh into the target computer — make sure that you are logged into an account on the head which also exists on the target. If you are on the same network, on the target machine itself, determine the IP address using “ifconfig” at the command line, and look for the number with a “192.168.***.***” format in the second grouping after the “inet addr” tag.
– Elevate to root (“su” )
– Install the Fedora epel repository on the target computer.
– visit http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/EPEL/FAQ#How_can_I_install_the_packages_from_the_EPEL_software_repository.3F
– enter the following if you are running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 / CentOS 6 / Scientific Linux 6:
“rpm -Uvh http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/epel/6/i386/epel-release-6-5.noarch.rpm”
– enter the following if you are running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 / CentOS 5 / Scientific Linux 5:
“rpm -Uvh http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/epel/5/i386/epel-release-5-4.noarch.rpm”
– Uninstall the gnome desktop.
– “yum remove groupremove gnome-desktop”
– Install the xfce desktop.
– “yum –enablerepo=epel-testing groupinstall xfce-desktop”
– add a line about changing the desktop type
– “nano /etc/sysconfig/desktop”
– add the following lines:
” DESKTOP=XFCE”
” DISPLAYMANAGER=XDM”

– Reboot the target machine with “reboot now”. The head will lose its connection to the target machine. The machine should now reboot and the xfce desktop should appear on the target machine.

Problems:

In my case, I had installed the XFCE desktop environment first, and some dependencies were removed when I uninstalled the gnome environment; I figured this out after a reboot and the screen came up blank after a reboot. I therefore ssh’ed using the head into the target and reinstalled the xfce desktop as above, which installed the necessary missing dependencies. I also installed the evince reader (“yum install evince”) which has nautilus as a dependency (and as such installs it, although so far the only real difference between it and Thunar is that the latter doesn’t support dual panes.) Both seem to work nicely with XFCE because it uses the same libraries as Gnome.

My desktop is now a doorstop, and Fedora 15

Back in July, I thought it was time to upgrade my computers to F15. So, I took two computers over to my brother’s and we did backups, and proceeded to reformat my desktop.

First, there were a couple of problems, and we had to reinstall a few times.

Then, disaster struck: as we were trying to restore the backup, the hard drive with the backups died.

In the meantime, I ended up eventually updating my laptop using another backup medium. F15 is interesting with Gnome 3: To say the least, it’s different, and changes the paradigm. There are a bunch of things I haven’t gotten around to figuring out. However, the most curious thing about it is … in its differences to Gnome 2, it’s still intuitive and generally easy to get around. It’s a curious feeling that my only real “complaint” is that it’s different. Six of one, half a dozen of the other applies here.

So when I finally got my desktop back after about five reinstalls, of course the first thing I noticed from my beloved box was that it can only use Gnome 3’s Fallback Mode. Then I started noticing a funny thing: everything would freeze when the screen saver when on. I think it may be a video card issue, or a memory stick issue; as long as the screen is active, it’s the same old computer. However, when the screen saver is activated — not the screen lock, but rather when the signal to the screen stops, everything locks up; having to reboot it every time I wanted to use it made it useless.

After months of using my laptop only, and eventually reformatting my server since CentOS 6 finally came out, I decided to take my server box and switch out the 500 gig HD and switch in the desktop HD. Funny consequence is that the server box can handle Gnome 3. However the bells are tolling for the 80 Gig HD; the system monitors are saying that there are too many errors on it. I’ll eventually have to add it to my pile of hard drives with the word “evil” written on it, and have to either find another old hard drive to put in it, or buy another one. As it is, it appears that the 1TB drive I bought as a second backup medium is an external-only device, although I’ve been known to be wrong on many occasions. 🙂

The 500 gig HD is now in an even older Celeron 1.1GHz box I found on the street; the server has been renamed to reflect where I found it. And the old desktop … I guess I’ll either have to diagnose it or just get it recycled.

Gnome 3 in Fedora 15 Freezes up in Fallback Mode

I have been going through some reformats over the past month or so: About five times on my then F14 desktop — three times until I finally ditched the hard drive which was obviously dying, and the fourth time on the “new” hard drive, and the fifth to explore the following problem as well as remove a poor choice of keyboard selection. The French in France must really be confused when using computers in North America (I was in Paris back in 2005), their keyboard layout is so weird. You have to realize that a French Canadian keyboard is not so different from a standard US keyboard, certainly compared to the French from France keyboard.

I have what would be considered an older computer; I’ve seen a date of about 2003 on the mother board. As such, the video card on it is too old to use Gnome Shell in Fedora 15 and uses the Fallback Mode. So I figured that when the computer appeared to freeze after a couple of hourse — no response to the keyboard or mouse and the like — that I might have a memory card problem causing the freeze, something I’ve seen before. However, two things are nagging at me:

1) During the install process, the computer would be sitting around idle while I either slept or was at work all day, the computer wouldn’t freeze up, and I just picked up where I would have were I to have babysitting the computer during the install;
2) After it froze up yesterday evening at what appeared to be a normal screensaver cycle, I did a hard reboot using the power button, and on a whim I turned the “lock” (the desktop) option in the screensaver settings screen to OFF. This morning after the computer was on the whole night, all I did was turn on the screen, and what do you know, I can use the computer like normal, with no freeze up.

As a control, my laptop, sitting beside my desktop — the former of which is recent enough to take advantage of Gnome Shell — does not lock up with the “lock” option to “on”.

I wonder what the deal is? A bad video card? Bad code? An incompatibility with the code — presumably the screensaver code, but I suppose any other — and my particular hardware?

I was doing some looking around last night on the subject, before I saw the results of the little “off” switch. Now that I’ve done an experiment and have some results, I can perhaps do one or two more and determine whether a bug report is warranted.

My participation at FUDCon Tempe 2011

(I know, I’m a month late on this.)

I went to FUDCon for the first time this year; it was the first large gathering of Linux / Fedora /Computer people I’d attended, and I’m glad I went. I was also pleased to finally see so many Fedora desktops — over time I’ve become mildly frustrated being the only Fedora / Red Hat person in the room, often in a sea of Ubuntu.

One of the more difficult things was figuring out in advance how the nuances of how things would work: Not ever having been to a BarCamp style event, I had no clue how or whether a presentation I had prepared would be accepted, let alone inserted into the schedule.

My participation:

Friday

After a day of touristy stuff in downtown Phoenix, I showed up about 5:30pm ish to the courtesy room at the Courtyard in Tempe. After helping stuff nametags into plastic nametag holders on neckstraps, I actually managed to regale people with my stories about crossing the Canada/US border and get plenty of belly laughs. Harish and I managed to exchange a quip to the order of “Oooh, I get to meet the myth!” — first by my stating amazement at finally meeting someone who had once actually installed SLS Linux, and in turn being on the receiving end from Harish when I confirmed that I’m one of the Trekkie myths. In between, the two of us held court on the subject of rotary phones, much to the amazement of Ryan — a university student under 20 — at the anachronism. In the meantime, opensource.com was celebrating its first birthday and supplied pizza, beer and cake.

Saturday:

BarCamp pitches, voting, and State of Fedora Address

The pitches were an interesting experience — Of the 170 or so actual participants, it seemed as though at least a third if not half the room got up to pitch their presentation! During the voting process, near the end, I was quite pleased to note that approximately 30-40 people had voted for my presentation. Afterwards, Jared from Red Hat give his “State of Fedora” address, the audio of which can be found here (here’s my archive). His main messages dealt with growth and working together; Fedora is strong, not just because of the bits on the CD but because of the people. His ultimate message was that “Fedora will be stronger tomorrow because of the work today.”

Presentations:

Open Source Anthropology / Diana Harrelson

This was one of the more interesting presentations I attended. Diana did some research for her master’s degree on online communities, and chose the Fedora community as her test subjects. Some of the things that we as linux users — both Fedora and the greater Linux community — know about ourselves were confirmed. One such point that she underlined was the

Future Fedora and Reducing Bureaucracy / Max Spevack and the Fedora Board

This was an “interesting” session — perhaps not the best for me. What I found most interesting was how bureaucratic the meeting felt, and not just because of the subject being discussed. Of course it discussed how frustrated people are with how to get others involved in the Fedora project.

Fedora Security Lab and Securing Linux / Joerg Simon and Donald Buchan

Joerg’s presentation was interesting — he talked about one of Fedora’s spins, tailored to include a bunch of tools on how to test system security by measuring all sorts of parameters — open ports, security holes, and the like. I’ve downloaded it and plan on taking a look at how it operates.

My presentation worked out ok; people seemed (at least politely) receptive to my talk, the subject, and my suggestions. The most contentious issues? Root access, root passwords vs. keys, and su vs. sudo.

Juicy Software Repo Management with Pulp / Jason Connor and Jay Dobies

Even though it would have gone over my head as much as software repo management did, I wish I had have gone to Jeff Darcy’s Cloud Filesystem presentation since he’d been telling me about it on Friday evening. Unfortunately I don’t think I got anything out of this presentation, however well it was presented.

I Want to Keep on Hacking but my Hands Hurt / Mel Chua and Sebastian Dziallas

This was a fun presentation — Mel and Sebastien brought a bunch of ergonomic toys related to relieving and avoiding stresses related to using a computer. There were a lot of defacto visual gags as a result of people using the toys or assuming less harmful positions and ways to use your computer better.

FUDPub

Well as usual I showed off how horrible I am at games by agreeing to be beaten by, er play against Clint at ping pong. Food was great; burrito night! There also was plenty of liquid refreshment. I got to meet a computer science professor from Seneca College in Toronto, and thank him for the wiki he’d put up for his students’ participation in FUDCon, which can be found here (here’s my archive). Although I only found it the day before I left home, this was invaluable for framing and gelling all the little details about my participation.

Sunday

Designing UI mockups in Inkscape / Máirín Duffy

This presentation was a bit more amusing for me; at least it wasn’t over my head. 🙂 Máirín proved to be a true mistress when it comes to Inkscape, even though I suspect that for her and most Inkscape users what she was doing was basic stuff to be expected by anyone in graphic design. The coolest thing about her presentation? Her hot dog wallpaper! hotdog here too

IP Law for Hackers / Pam Chestek and Richard Fontana

This was an interesting, two hour session on how Red Hat lawyers have to deal with open licenses such as the GPL, and trademark issues related to the Fedora project. One of the main things I remember is to “keep the name of your project simple, memorable, and generic, ie. unrelated to your product.”

Lightning Talks!

Covered in another area, the lightning talks were apparently a new entry into the FUDCon format. I think that there should be a couple of such sessions, given a sufficient number of presentations. The most interesting talk? Mel talking about baking (here’s my archive). Seriously.

I did not attend the hackfests per se but I spoke with Simon about OLPC. I found his recounting of the successes of the OLPC in Bolivia (?) interestubg: The response to “we should be sending food and textbooks, not computers” criticisms is “Getting textbooks out is hard, but teachers can easily distribute educational resources with OLPC. And, the kids’ parents come back to the school in the evening to use the internet, and learn reading skills while also finding out the true price of their crops instead of being taken advantage of by unscrupulous purchasers hoping that uneducated, uninformed farmers won’t know any better.” As for having a static base (such as Fedora 7) creating a security risk, Simon reminded me that the likelier security risk is to the order of “Give me your computer, you little (censored)!”

I helped with clean up; after that I made an impromptu organization for a group of us to go to Gordon Biersch’s, a local brewpub. The whitbeer was good, and the chicken parmesan was good too. And a bunch of us organized a road trip for the next morning.

Monday

During the little road trip and on the topic of Fedora and Red Hat, I remember Brian (thank you for the driving!), a Red Hat employee, telling me about working at Red Hat and the RHEL sales model. It felt like tactics similar to a competing product.

After returning from the road trip, the hackfests on Monday were what I would consider “boring” — definitely not my thing.

The bright light for me was unfortunately at the expense of people who were stranded in Phoenix due to winter storms keeping their flights from leaving Phoenix — the Monday night party in the hotel lobby was quite a lot of fun, and even on Tuesday evening there were a few people still waiting around. I on the other hand had planned to stay sveral days later, so of course I was supposed to be there.

My thanks go to Jared, Robyn, Ryan, Southern Gentleman, Simon, Harish, Joerg, Ian, Clint, Chris, Máirín, Mel, and everyone else.

FUDCon 2011 — lightning talks

Today at the lightning talks at FUDCon 2011, the one that caught my attention was called “The Dreyfus Model: how do novices think differently from experts?” The subtitle was along the lines of “Why won’t anyone help me, I have documentation!”  Here is a pdf archive of her talk I made at the time since as of at least 2020 or earlier, it disappeared.  20210425 update:  I have found a new link to Mel’s lightning talk at https://melchua.com/blog/2011/02/02/ive-followed-your-instructions-and-i-still-cant-bake-croissants/

The gist of how Mel presented the subject was that someone is looking for a bread recipe on the internet and comes up with:

Croissants

flour
butter
other stuff
bake

She explained the various cryptic parts of this “recipe” and how obvious it may seem to an experienced baker, but to a newbie, even figuring out that Croissants is a type of bread, let alone what the “other stuff” is can be difficult to grasp, or the concepts of “oh you have to buy those ingredients first — how much? And what’s this? You need an oven? Now, when they say bake, how long? And how will I know it’s ready? Oh yeah, you need to let the bread rise first …

She went on to say how installing certain bits of software and using them may seem trivial to an experienced user, but knowing how to draw in a tarball, extract it, get all the dependencies, compile it, and all the various steps required was not easy for a newbie, especially in a culture that takes several things for granted and literally may skip steps between major milestones.

Ultimately her message lay in the importance of clear, concise, complete documentation.

When I started learning linux, I had to relearn things too, and found things challenging. I quickly learned that things were not as obvious to myself and that when someone said “oh just do this” what they were really saying was “do this 10-15 item list as root under the following circumstances using the proper switches” — not always an obvious task when you say “install package X” while omitting all the necessary parts before and after.

FUDCon Friend Finders

On the FUDCon 2011 Wiki page, suggested optional equipment is a Fedora Friend Finder (here’s my archive, since as of 2020 the link has long since been abandoned and bought by someone else), which is an extension cord with multiple sockets. I brought one, which has a 30′ extension cord, and it has typically had 2 to 3 plugs, including my own. Right now, I’m in the Lightning Talks, and I’m impressed: My FFF is plugged into another full FFF, and mine is full. Further, I’ve had two plug-in requests to which I’ve had to say, “sorry, I’m filled up”.

Now, I’m just looking for my profits. 🙂

On another note, today I went to get an extra-large pizza at Slice’s Pizzeria around the corner. I made friends quick. 🙂 One person who joined us after the pizza ran out was a local community college professor who saw my security presentation yesterday, and enjoyed it. So much so that he asked if I’d grant permission for him to use it in one of his classes, which I happily granted.

FUDCon 2011 — after my presentation

So I’ve just given my presentation at FUDCon on some basic security strategies to install on your system.

People seemed receptive. A couple of the ideas that came up was the use of denyhosts before I mentioned it, and a bit of controversy over the root user. People were suggesting the use of keys instead of passwords for the root user, and using sudo instead of allowing direct access to root.

The pairing with someone else worked ok for me — I started at 14:30 and got through all my slides in 20 minutes, including a few questions and comments; I did have to go a mile a minute though. The other person, who did an exposé on the Fedora Security Labs spin, however, had to skip a few of the things he wanted to do and talk about. His presentation was nonetheless interesting.

As I said people were generally receptive and respectful, and people generally recognized that my presentation covers basic security that anyone and everyone should do, and that it’s not necessarily intended to cover all cases or massive networks.