Archive for the 'PC Work' Category

Switched to Clark Connect as Gateway and Router

Monday, December 15th, 2008

For the past several years I had been running IP Cop as my home gateway and router. It was great. I never had an issue with it as it was totally reliable and stable. After roughly 5 years or so and doing some research, I decided to look into what a home router / gateway could do for me above what IP Cop offered by default. This would involve using a newer machine as my old P166 with 48mb of EDO ram and 1 GB hard drive probably wouldn’t be able to handle additional services. I had no doubt that IP Cop would have the capability to handle more services, however; when I did research and noticed that Clark Connect had these features built in and had been running well for years, I decided it was worth a look.

The web interface is professional in appearance (along with the Community edition, there is an Enterprise version as well) and had many features built right in that were convenient to install. I decided to try it out. As part of this upgrade, I decided to use a gigabit (10/100/1000) network card for my LAN so what I could get better internal speed for copying files within my network. Along with that, I bought a gigabit switch as well. I chose the intel GT nic (many other gigabit cards were not compatible including a Dlink one I tried and a Linksys one that I researched and noticed would not work) and I bought a green friendly Dlink gigabit switch.

The install went fine however, I would have liked to see better instructions along the way. For someone who may not be familiar with setting up a home gateway/router, it could be very confusing. At times, I was unsure what the prompts were asking me and yet I was quite familiar with what I wanted to do. I could imagine some people giving up after not knowing what information to enter. Once done, I removed my previous box which had served me well and replaced it with something a bit more powerful but still not a powerhouse: P3 450 mhz, 256mb ram and a 12 gb HD. I could have used more ram but the motherboard was picky and would accept certain types. I tried several banks but was only successful getting 256 to work. I decided to give it a shot anyway although the recommended amount was 512 for a network of under 5 users. Instantly after plugging everything in and power cycling my cable modem, I was able to visit the Clark Connect internal web interface.

Some of the added features that I can now use are intrusion detection (snort) which IP Cop did have built in but my previous box could not realistically run as well as Windows File Sharing (samba), Web Proxy Filter, Content Filter, Web Server, Mail Server, FTP Server as well as a DHCP server and Name Server. I may not use all of these services, but it would be easy to try them as the built in software retrieval method will download the appropriate packages after simply checking off a corresponding box.

I am still in a testing phase with Clark Connect but so far it has been reliable, fast and easy to use. I like the web interface and the ability to configure things further should I desire. If you have a reasonably decent older box at home that you want to make use of, I would highly recommend trying out Clark Connect and if you want something that can run on older hardware like my P166, then IP Cop could be for you. On older machines, several services may not run well or be practical such as snort intrusion detection. Research the sites and consider replacing that standard big name hardware router if you are having issues with it. You may never use one again as in my case.

Introducing My New LCD Monitor / TV

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I bought a Sceptre 22″ LCD monitor about a year ago. To my dismay, it had a stuck pixel. Of course, yes I tried every method to get rid of it. It was only 1 stuck pixel (green), but was still annoying considering it was brand new. I had ordered it online from Tigerdirect.ca who defer to the manufacturer when any problems arise. Sceptre had an 8 pixel policy which meant that I could only return it if it had more than 8 pixels that were dead or stuck – and even then it depended on where they were! Over time, the pixel didn’t get any worse, but I did accidentally spill some water on one of the corners and this worsened over time.

A coworker had mentioned wanting to get an LCD tv but was on a tight budget so I had found some great deals several months back but he didn’t have the cash to pick one up. I subsequently stopped looking around. Eventually my own LCD monitor’s condition worsened to the point where I thought about replacing it. I opted for the idea of getting an LCD TV. This is to be used in my room and I could get cable working there as well as a bonus. I was flipping through a flyer for the source and first noticed a Sony Bravia 32″ on sale for $599 which was $200 off the original price. I decided to go online and look at it in more detail. I searched for the TV and sorted by price and ended up finding an LG 32″ which was originally $849 on for $599 also. Having just recently upgraded my main TV to an LG 47″, I decided that the 32″ LG would be best for me so I bought it.

Now, onto the geek stuff… My main concern was the limited resolution compared to my previous 22″. The new LG, even though it was 32″, was limited to a resolution of 1360×768. I was concerned that this might be too large compared to the 1920×1200 resolution I was getting from my 22″. It ended up being fine and I am writing this entry on the new LCD. The color is fantastic and it’s great to have such a nice big screen. It doesn’t look ridiculous on my desk as it only a 32″. It also helps with playing games like Fofix (Frets on Fire fork). All 4 operating systems look great on the screen as well.

I would definitely recommend going with an LCD TV with a larger screen size for a computer, if you can afford a few exra dollars.  It is definitely worthwhile. Now, what do I do with that damaged 22″ inch LCD?

Ubuntu – Time for a New Install

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

I have been doing alpha and beta testing with Ubuntu since around version 6.06 – Dapper Drake. I have taken this install through every alpha and beta stage and everything in between. In the end, it is still up and running very well with version 8.10 Intrepid Ibex. Although there have been some issues over the transition periods (havoc with network manager and Nvidia drivers mostly), overall, things have gone very well. I would say the upgrade process is about as painless as possible for a distro that does not use the rolling release method.

Finally, after all of these releases, I encountered a problem that I could not seem to fix entirely. Not surprisingly, it was with Nvidia. The issue that I noticed was that I was not able to play any 3D accelerated games in full screen. I am not talking about high level graphically demanding games but rather Frets on Fire. I even installed a derivative of Tuxracer from the Ubuntu repos to test and it would not work either.

Normally I would have continued attacking the issue, but I really wanted to get Frets on Fire but mainly the fork called Fofix working. So, instead, I installed a fresh copy of Ubuntu 8.10 on a different partition for testing. I had testing the same software on a couple of different machines running the same version of Ubuntu and one even contained an Nvidia graphics card. Both worked fine. In fact, the full screen mode had been working fine on my own install until a recent upgrade.

The main issue was with the /usr/lib/libGL.so.1 file which apparently was owned by both the Ubuntu Nvidia package and one called libgl1-mesa-glx. The issue was reported as a bug. My system was actually a 32 bit install but no matter what I tried, I could not fix this issue. I tried using aptitude, dpkg and apt-get along with synaptic to force and overwrite just about anything that I thought would fix the issue. In the end, I figured that after numerous alpha and beta transitions it might be time to try a new install. So, I installed Ubuntu 8.10 final release on a different partition and everything seemed to work as planned. I did uninstall network manager and manually edit the /etc/network/interfaces file in order to achieve using a fixed IP address. Network manager seemed to allow me to edit the settings, but didn’t seem to change them properly. For example, there is no much thing as a Netmask value known as “24″, yet every time I entered 255.255.255.0, that’s what it returned. Network manager is fairly advanced in some respects, but in other ways, it needs a lot of work.

With my fresh install, I have Frets on Fire working and Fofix fires right up in full screen. I had no trouble installing the Nvidia driver provided by the Ubuntu repositories as well. My old install must contain some old files or rules that interfere. Yes, I did use the “Cruft Remover” which is a handy new tool but that didn’t solve this particular problem.

I am fairly confident that had I not taken my install through all of the alpha and beta releases that I would not have encountered this issue. It also makes it nearly impossible to get help on it as not many people would be so masochistic. I am not sure what I will do with my current previous Ubuntu install. I may just keep it around for non-production use and to see the new features only and leave my new install for official releases only.

One of the bonuses with the new install is a faster boot time, nicer and more modern boot screen. In the meantime, I can try a really thorough clean up on my previous install and see what happens from there.

Operating System Boredom

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

It seems that once again I’m going through one of my phases where I am getting antsy with operating systems lately. Here are the two main culprits:

Ubuntu  – I’ve done several installs for people lately on newer systems and they just work. Even webcams are working instantly right after installing ‘Cheese’.

Arch Linux – I’ve had Arch installed on several boxes at home for about 5 years. It runs solidly. I use custom kernels (2.6.26) and use 32 bit and 64 bit. I don’t need nor want to make any drastic changes to them.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact it is quite good, but it does take away the challenge I used to enjoy.

So, when I get into the mood to break something and then try to fix it, I think of using Ubuntu Alpha releases but as mentioned in an earlier post, even those don’t cause me any issues anymore.Moreso than fixing things I’d like to try something that offers some unique value in doing things differently.

I do try out some different distros here and there but I am not really finding anything unique enough to pique my interest. Recently I’ve tried OpenSolaris (just because) and it was a disaster and pretty much unusable (very slow package manager, missing common packages I wanted). I did an upgrade and it wouldn’t boot afterwards.  I also tried OpenSuSE 11, Mandriva Spring and Mint. That’s the story with Linux lately. At one time I did set up a box in only command line and I currently use a custom built Linux router as well. What else is there? ;)

OK, so there is OSX. I’ve used OSX86 and it is a decent OS. I really don’t have anything negative to say about it. I do miss a lot of things that I have in Linux when I use OSX but I understand that it is a designed in a specific manner so I can’t criticize the product but perhaps the concept but I’m not even going to do that. The truth is that it’s decent enough, but doesn’t provide me with anything really interesting and innovative in terms of configuration and such. Also, I am of the belief to truly get the full OSX experience, one needs to switch over to it fully which I am not prepared to do right now and likely never.

In terms of Windows, I’ve made my comments on Vista already and I’m pretty tired of XP. In fact, I would be all over using Vista at work if the opportunity presented itself (assuming Linux was not an option either).

So, where does that leave things now? If anyone has any suggestions, I’m open to trying something out, but I’d like to try something that is unique somehow and offers some kind of benefit or optimization. I’ve tried just about every desktop environment and window manager as well.

The Death of the Swap Partition?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

The Death of Swap?

Firstly, my initial disclaimer is that while there will be technical information in this article, it is also based on opinion and personal experience and therefore if anything, it is a personal account of the usefulness or lack thereof of a swap partition and thoughts, ideas and assertions are welcome.

When I first started using Linux many years ago (maybe 6 now), one its distinct unique qualities was the use of a Swap partition. Initially, I didn’t ask too many questions as I was eager to leave behind the OS that had caused me frustration over the past years. As time went on and I gained more experiences with Linux, I continually would use a swap partition on any new installs and would be asked by anyone for whom I created a set up about the reason for creating this swap partition.

In basic terms I was always told that the purpose of the swap partition was mainly to allow the system access to more memory if your RAM was used up. Therefore, this was useful on systems with low amounts of memory or on machines where there would be a lot of RAM usage thus causing it to be fully used and therefore require additional memory which swap would provide.

Even with older machines or ones lacking RAM, I observed that swap was barely used. Typically on systems with at least 1GB of RAM, I never see any swap used. I suppose this could happen if there was a great deal of memory usage due to intense audio, video, compiling or some other kind of processing.

Newer machines will often have 2 CPU cores and at least 1GB of ram and usually I recommend that at least 2GB of RAM is a decent amount for a newer machine. Considering the processing power and inexpensive nature of adding more RAM, what happens to swap? Swap once had a purpose on older machines but now it seems that it is not only becoming unnecessary but also a burden perhaps?

Swap can have some negative affects as well. With the size of new hard drives these days using up 512mb or 1GB or swap space is certainly not an issue but if you like to use all Primary Partitions like me, then all of a sudden out of the gate you are down 1 of 4 Primary Partitions used on a hard drive (I’ve heard there are ways around this but I am not including using third party software to create more Primary Partitions). So, for example, you are building a custom machine where you want several Primary partitions for a particular reason such as:

swap

/boot (to store your kernel and boot settings)

/ (your root filesystem)

/home (a separate home partition to keep your personal files on their own or even to share it with another distro installed on the same machine)

/var (separate log files or perhaps used for package building)

/usr (holds the majority of your application executables and global application settings in /usr/share)

/opt (could be used for applications you compile youself placed in a different directory other than /usr/ to keep them separated)

Clearly, partitioning is a personal choice and the decision is based upon your specific usage. However; if you use a swap partition, all of a sudden you are losing 1 primary partition. So, unless you create logical or extended partitions, it could be that one of your planned partitions is negated.

Swap Partition Pros:

May help speed up older machines lacking memory

May help speed up machines that require an industrial amount of processing (high tech audio, video or compiling) while performing other tasks

Makes your install ‘feel’ more like nix :)

Swap Partition Cons:

Uses up space and a primary partition

Disk Thrashing over time can damage your hard drive

Accessing the hard drive to use virtual memory is slower than RAM

Alternatives:

If you don’t want or need to use a swap partition, you can instead use a swap file. I am not going to post any links on how to do this right now, but if you do a web search for it, you can find lots of examples.

Although I do not plan on changing any of my current long running configurations as my swap partitions are typically the first partition in my table, I do not plan on using them anymore on any new systems – especially any that I plan on which I have multiboot configurations. I have one now where I can share the swap partition, but more than once I have wished that I did not create the swap partition in the first place. To me, there does not seem to be a need to use such a thing on a dual core machine with 4GB of RAM, better yet, it seems like a waste of a primary partition.