Category Archives: Ubuntu

Freesat channel scan fixed!

After weeks of pulling my hair out, I’ve finally sorted my channel scanning problem and got BBC HD! The breakthrough was that it all worked in Windows, which narrowed it down to software on the Linux side. I’d tried scans with 3 different applications, which meant that it was either the firmware or the Linux DVB drivers causing the issue.

Because I’m on Intrepid with a 2.6.27 kernel (it all works on 2.6.28) I’d previously compiled the latest DVB drivers as described here:

So, I went through the process again with the latest snapshot of the v4l-dvb tree and… all transponders scan OK, including transponder 50 which has BBC HD. Phew!

Someone must have broken the v4l-dvb driver at the point I downloaded and compiled it the first time. A lot of effort wasted due to a bit of bad luck :-(

A week with the Lenovo S10e

After a week of owning a netbook, I have to say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought. I’ve spent much of the time hacking at it to get it the way I want it. It works perfectly in both Ubuntu and XP. I’ve not had a single problem with the wireless network either at home or work (both use WPA encryption). The connection to my Belkin N1 router has worked flawlessly. I’m very glad about that because a netbook isn’t much use without the ‘net.

You can use it anywhere; the sofa, the kitchen, even sat on the bog if you’re so inclined! You can stick a few movies on the hard drive. I’ve got season 7 of The Shield on there for when my wife’s watching Holby City. Even better, it’s now running a MythTV Frontend, so I have access to live TV and all my recorded programmes from any room in the house. Or even the garden when the weather gets better! Myth works brilliantly in this configuration. A proper mini-me media centre on your lap.

Downsides? It’s maybe a little plain and functional looking in matte black, and it still picks up fingerprints. The keyboard takes a bit of getting used to. A couple of the keys are annoying, especially in the Linux command line, (it requires 3 keypresses to get a pipe, for example). The battery life could be better.

I guess the most disappointing thing is the bootup time. Bootchart says 48 seconds, but that includes connecting to a wireless network and obtaining a DHCP address, which can take 10 seconds. However, from power-on to Firefox it’s more like 80 seconds. Not bad, but hardly “instant on”. I’ve optimised it as much as I can without getting in really deep and compiling my own kernel etc. I still think the 160GB hard drive was the better choice over a smaller, faster solid-state. Bootup times may be worse, but improved write speed and having the space for 2 operating systems plus a few DVDs has to be worth it.

On the whole, though, I think the Lenovo was a good choice in a crowded market. XP comes in handy, even though I use Ubuntu most of the time. The hardware works flawlessly under Linux. The big disk is great. Bluetooth is an added bonus, giving the option of a headset for Skype and a mouse with no dongle. Something to play with in the future. Plus, at the moment, you’d be lucky to pick an S10e up for £30 more than I paid! Nice one, Dabs.

Lenovo S10e Netbook

After a weekend of anticipation, Christmas came late for me this year when the little Lenovo S10 arrived. Within a few minutes I was in XP and on the wireless network at work. The first surprise was the wonderful screen. Apparently mine’s the S10e model, which has a glossy, 10″, 1024×576 pixel screen. It also has a special BIOS containing an instant-on Linux OS. Cool.

I booted Ubuntu from a USB stick which was created from “System->Administration->Create a USB Startup Disk”. Unfortunately, I had problems trying to install it from here as the partition manager kept crashing. I could have persevered with this, but luckily I had an external USB DVD drive which I got with my work laptop. Booting and installing from CD went without a hitch and within an hour of the kids going to be I had Ubuntu Intrepid 8.10 installed. It was slightly but-clenching when it was shrinking the XP partition, but XP still worked fine afterwards.

The open source Broadcom driver worked out of the box with WPA2 encryption, but the ping stats looked slightly flaky. Enabling the restricted driver seemed to fix this. Most importantly, the wife was impressed; she spent the next hour on Facebook!


I’ve been watching the rise of the netbook with interest. In the past I’ve played with PDAs and smartphones, but in my opinion they just don’t cut it for browsing the web. A netbook is about as small as you can make it without compromising usablity. Plus, they have been doing a sterling job of bringing Linux into the mainstream. It’s just a pity the manufacturers insist on “dumbing down” the interface.

I managed to keep my trigger finger off my mouse button and didn’t jump onto the bandwagon too early. I knew that anything less than a 1024 pixel wide screen would be compromised. I told myself that once they reached about £200 I’d take the plunge…

So, last week I decided to go for an Acer Aspire One. I soon came to realise that they are like gold dust at the moment. You just can’t buy them. Unless you want a pink one, but I didn’t fancy a “gaybook”. A mate of mine bought one for his wife for Valentine’s Day. We joked that she’d be getting a pink, 10 inch, battery powered gadget… hope she wasn’t disappointed.

Eventually I found a blue Aspire One with a 120GB hard drive and Linpus Linux for £230 at Scan. I ordered it Q-collect to save the £10 delivery; I drive past the junction on the motorway on my way home anyway. Unfortunately, Scan’s idea of “in-stock” actually turned out to be more like “in stock in a few days’ time”. Unfortunately for them, Dabs had emailed a flyer that morning advertising a Lenovo S10e for £250. For £20 more than the Acer you got a 160GB hard drive, a 10″ screen and bluetooth. It was a no-brainer, so I cancelled my order at Scan and went for the Lenovo.

The S10e comes with XP installed. It’s weird that as a Linux fan I’ve bought an XP netbook, but I was gonna stick Ubuntu on it anyway, so what’s the difference? I’ll keep XP on a little partition because it could come in handy. There’s always the odd proprietary application or website.

The Sysadmin Underground

I have to say that having kicked off’s [un]limited servers was one of the best things which could have happened. It’s forced me to get off my arse, put my hand in my pocket and move the site onto a dedicated virtual server. The journey I’ve gone through in the last week has been an interesting one and has uncovered a surprising number of small projects run by enthusiasts providing cheap services for sysadmins who know what they’re doing. It’s taught me that if you ignore the first few pages of Google there are plenty of operators out there who give you a lot more for a lot less.

First up is I stumbled upon their link on the Xen WIKI. They’re pretty much a one man operation, offering nothing but Xen virtual servers running Linux. There’s a raft of distros to choose from, including Ubuntu Hardy beta. Even the big boys weren’t offering that at the time. The sysadmin is a very friendly and knowledgeable guy called Andy Smith who had my Hardy server up and running within a day. Apparently I was the first person to choose this option.

I had the box secured and a LAMP stack installed within a couple of hours and it was a lot of fun. I’ll post a tutorial on this shortly, but I was left with an extremely speedy and secure website, and one over which I have complete control.

The only thing missing was a DNS server. I could have set one up on the box, but the less services running and ports through the firewall the better, so I opted to let host my primary DNS – completely free. It was configured and working in ten minutes and all I had to do was point my domain registrar’s zone file to the new DNS servers.

Talking of domain registrars, here’s another area where you can save a packet if you avoid the big hitters. provides very cheap registration and seems to have a pretty large and dedicated following. I’ll definitely give them a look when my domains come up for renewal.

The only problem I have now is the sheer volume of downloads which Ubuntu SE is generating during the Hardy release period. I currently have a predicted monthly bandwidth usage of 223 GB for the month. As I now pay per GB its popularity is getting quite worrying…

It never rains but it pours

As if having my site hacked and dropped from the Google index wasn’t enough, I was notified yesterday by Streamline, the host of my site, that they are going to suspend my site in 5 days’ time! The reason they gave was:

“Whilst diagnosing performance issues with the server that hosted this site, it was noted that large downloads from this site were affecting the performance of the server.”

It seems that even though Hardy is still in beta and the Ubuntu SE changes aren’t even released yet, the downloads of Ubuntu SE have been enough to get me kicked off… and I pay for so-called “unlimited” downloads!

Streamline state in their terms and conditions that they will refund the entire subscription fee if they cannot host a site due to high bandwidth, so we’ll see about that.

Until then, I’ve signed up with BitFolk to provide a dedicated server running Ubuntu Hardy. It’s completely unmanaged and I’ve never run a server on the ‘net before, so I’ve got a lot to learn, but it should be a lot of fun.

Mythtv 0.21 in Gutsy Backports

(No, “Gutsy Backports” has nothing to do with what curry I had last night…)

Following on from my last post, if you can’t wait for Hardy to be released, MythTV 0.21 is now available for Ubuntu 7.10 in the Gutsy Backports repository. Just adding the following to your /etc/apt/sources.list and it should be installed automatically as an update:

deb gutsy-backports main restricted universe multiverse

Parcelforce Snub Linux Users

I sold a PC on eBay then other week and when it came to shipping Parcelforce 48 seemed like a good deal. They would pick up a 9KG parcel from my house and deliver it, all for £14. So I jumped on their website and started to book a shipment. All went well until I hit the following page:

Parcelforce Error

Basically, everything was present and correct: scriping was enabled, Firefox was compatible, a PDF plugin was available… the only thing wrong was the OS – Linux wasn’t in their list of Microsoft operating systems.
Nor was OS X for that matter.

I guess the reason this shocked me so much was that this kind of thing has been pretty much confined to the past. Gone are the days where Linux users were seconds class citizens on the web. I guess that we have Firefox to thank for that, and the Windows users of Firefox specifically. This is probably the single most important factor in the recent rise of the Linux desktop and Ubuntu in particular. If there were more sites lounging in the Dark Ages like Parcelforce then I simply wouldn’t be able to use Linux half as much as I do.

Thanks, Parcelforce, for reminding me how crap things used to be.

From Here to Eternity

I know I haven’t been posting much here recently… I tend not to blog when I’m very busy, which is ironically when I’ve usually got the most stuff to talk about. The thing that’s been taking up most of my time, apart from my lovely daughters of course, is my new screensaver project, Eternity Screensaver. I came up with the idea when thinking of a screensaver for Ubuntu SE. I’d already created a few raytraced wallpapers with POVRay and experimented with animating them. I thought it would be really cool if I could display them as screensavers. To my surprise, there wasn’t really anything out there which would play movie clips as a screensaver for Linux and loop them efficiently. Even mplayer and xine wouldn’t output properly to the virtual root window (used by screensavers) or quickly play a loop without interruption. The only thing close was electricsheep, which generates fractal images and saves them in MPEG2 format. It had a player called mpeg2dec_onroot which did pretty much what I wanted. I forked this player and hacked it so that it would read a list of clips from a config file and seamlessly loop them. I packaged it up with some animations and Eternity Screensaver was born.

Once the packages were ready, I added them to my APT repository. To be honest, maintaining my own packages and APT repo is becoming a bit of a pain. The new packages are very large and it take ages to shift them around and compile for different architectures, etc. So, my ears pricked when I saw the announcement for the new Personal Package Archive (PPA) functionality on Ubuntu’s open source collaboration site, launchpad. I’d been meaning to start using lauchpad properly for a while, so I took the opportunity to register all of my projects and upload the code to their Bazzar version control system.

Launchpad is a dream to use. It’s a great example of a modern web-based user interface and has a good community feel. It’s taken me a while to get to grips with Bazaar, as I’m used to using heavyweight Clearcase source control at work, but it’s a refreshingly simple and pwerful tool.

Launchpad PPA should be out of beta soon, so hopefully I should be able to move my repositories onto there soon.