viernes, 29 de marzo de 2013

The World IS Changing...Ask Robots

Today, I read how the United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor, started a migration from Windows to Linux here.  The article includes this interesting comment by Keith Chuvala:

"We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable – one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could.”

This makes one wonder why they did not opt by the "great" security of Windows 8.

But more than that, I wonder why it is easier for space specialists to migrate key operations to Linux than it is for my colleagues at the university to type documents in an office suite other than Microsoft Office.  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  You know, the United Space Alliance is migrating key operations as in "if this crashes, the space station crashes" or, better yet, "if this fails, the shuttle goes to the Sun instead of Mars".

However, I realized that not all is lost.  If professors aren't flexible to change, ironically, robots are: there will be a conference on robotics and several robotics workshops at my university (this sounds like science fiction in my country).  Remarkably, I read this:

"Para los talleres es importante llevar su computadora, preferiblemente con Ubuntu o Debian instalado." (It is important to bring your own computer to the workshops, preferably with Ubuntu or Debian installed).

What? Are they implying something there?

Well, R2, the first robonaut, runs on Linux according to the article on the United Space Alliance...  Maybe we are on the right track down here at the university where I work after all.

This reminds me of a comic strip I saw in 2009, when I migrated to Linux.  It's Tira ECOL #393: "Robotito con Windows (tm)".  You can see the original (in Spanish) here.

Translated from Tira ECOL #393
Note: Colgarse (lit. "to hang oneself up")= to crash :P

miércoles, 27 de marzo de 2013

The GRUB Battle Again: Getting Mageia to Coexist with AntiX

Regardless of what people say about netbooks, their portable factor is very convenient for teaching.  However, I wanted to change some of the distros on the HD of my Dell Inspiron Mini 10. It formerly sported
  1. Mandriva 2010.2 (main production distro)
  2. Pardus 2011
  3. Mepis 11
  4. Mageia 2
  5. Mandriva 2011
The problem was that Mandriva 2010 was way too old and Mandriva 2011 way too heavy for the little thing.  Plus, I wanted a distro that could boot the small machine fast in case something popped up and all of the above distros booted in more than 1 minute and 15 seconds (well, except Mandriva 2011, which took a good 2 minutes on the modest specs of the computer).

So, I decided to clean up the partition table, which was a mess because all of  my grub learning has taken place in the netbook, basically.  Thus, I wiped out all the distros and created a new partition table to start afresh.

I decided to start by putting Mageia 2.  The installation was OK as usual.  Then, I installed AntiX because it picked up the Wifi of the machine and it includes LibreOffice (I tested Slitaz, but it would not pick up the wifi and Vector Light took 50 seconds to start).  The installation went perfect and I placed the GRUB on its corresponding root partition.

The problem was that AntiX boots with GRUB2 and Mageia's GRUB, sitting comfortably on the MBR, simply refused to see AntiX.  To make things worse, I have very little experience dealing with GRUB2, so I could not find the way to collect the information that I needed to edit GRUB manually.

Therefore, after trying everything I could think of and failing, I put the issue aside and installed Mepis 11 to see if its GRUB could pick up AntiX.  Although I did not have any installation problems, Mepis installed a GRUB that saw Mageia, but AntiX continued on the hiding.

However, I had an idea: given than AntiX and Mepis share several points, why not trying with the information on Mepis' GRUB using the AntiX kernel?

It was sort of crazy but I gave it a try.  So, once on Mepis, I went to /boot/grub and opened the file menu.lst with Kwrite and copied the entry for Mepis:

title Mepis at sda 8 newest kernel
root (hd0,7)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/sda8 nomce quiet splash
initrd /boot/initrd.img

Then, I booted up Mageia and went to the same location (/boot/grub).  I opened Konsole and entered su, followed by my root password.
After that, I typed :

export $(dbus-launch)

and pasted the entry twice (one for Mepis and the other for AntiX).

Then I changed one to read:

title AntiX at sda 7
root (hd0,6)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-3.6.11-antix.1-486-smp root=/dev/sda7 ro splash
initrd /boot/vmlinuz-3.6.11-antix.1-486-smp

and saved the file.  I rebooted and the new entries where shown by Mageia's GRUB.  I tried the one for Antix and voilà!  AntiX booted the netbook.
Table contrasting the distros on the HD
Yes, Mageia 2 can coexist with AntiX after all and the Dell netbook is now a triple boot.  However, I am saving partitions for Pisi Linux, the new Mandriva release, and Elive.

I guess I need to start learning how to work with GRUB2, by the way...

viernes, 15 de marzo de 2013

Connecting PCLinuxOS and Mageia to a WPA2 Enterprise Network

The University where I work has proudly put up a new network for remote access. Among its advantages, one can count that there are more access points, its has a more robust security, and that the user only needs to register once. 

One additional point for Linux users is that, as opposed to Windows, you do not need to download any software, install it and run it to be able to log in. It is a WPA2 Enterprise network that uses PAP for authentication. 

However, there was a problem: although the University provides a Linux guide for configuring the network, this document only describes the process for Ubuntu and network manager. 

When I tried to follow the instructions in PCLinuxOS 2013.2 and Mageia 2, regardless of my attempts, the connection would fail. Both Linux distributions use drakenet instead of networkmanager and the former simply refused to cooperate. 

Yesterday, I found the way to make the elusive WPA2 Enterprise network talk to PCLinuxOS and Mageia. All that is needed is to go to /etc and open Konsole to modify a file. So, you have to type su, followed by your root password. Then, as you need to open Kwrite to edit a file, you must type the following command to circumvent a problem that prevents Kwrite from launching: 

export $ (dbus-launch) 

Then, to open Kwrite, type:


After some warnings, the GUI of Kwrite pops up, so use the menu to locate the file called wpa_supplicant.conf. Go to the end of the file and append these lines there:

    key_mgmt=WPA-EAP IEEE8021X NONE
    proto=RSN WPA
    pairwise=CCMP TKIP
    group=CCMP TKIP

Then, save the file and close everything. Reboot your machine and that makes PCLinuxOS and Mageia work with this new University network. 

The more I use Linux, the more I learn :)

domingo, 10 de marzo de 2013

Mageia 3 Beta 3, A Quick Test Drive

I tested the Beta 3 of Mageia 3 today.  To summarize my experience, I can say that it looks solid, reliable, and promising.

First, I tried the Live version in my laptop.  After booting, the distro let me use KDE 4.10.  The first thing I noticed was the smoothness of the effects.  Even the cylinder and the sphere work now: 


I had absolutely no problem with sound, USB drives, or, more importantly, the wi-fi.  Mageia 3 B3 picked up everything out of the box in Live mode.

Then I installed the distro to a Virtual Machine.  I saw nothing new in the installation process, but after the install, I saw some new artwork in the Mageia Control Center.

Once the repositories were updated, I gave Mageia 3 B3 my Japanese IME test: I installed iBus, Anthy, and Japanese fonts.  To my relief, the IME worked flawlessly with LibreOffice 4:

Finally, I opened some YouTube videos and MP3s and there was nothing to report there, either.

I really liked the progress that the Mageia team has made. Kudos to them!

jueves, 7 de marzo de 2013

There are days in which we should avoid computers

Yes, there are days in which we should avoid computers.

You know, during those days, in an ideal world, we would get an alert message urging us to get a professional diagnosis.  Then, a doctor would run some quick tests on us and would advise us not to touch a computer in two-to-five days or so.  Even the horoscope should say something like: "Taurus:  Because of the influence that Mars exerts on hard drives, keep away from any computer not to ignite trouble".

The user: sometimes the worst danger a computer faces
I am not only talking about older folks that cannot tell a CD and a DVD apart or about technology-blind people who stare at you blankly and go "Huh?" when you ask them "What format did you use to save that document?".   I am talking about each and every individual who uses a computer, be it a Facebook junkie or an IT manager, a Linux guru, or BSD/Haiku developer.  Anyone should keep distant from computers sometimes.

Call it a layer 8 reading fail, the PICNIC result or the well-known ID-ten-T error, the fact is that we sometimes cause havoc on a perfectly sane and healthy OS because of our own interaction with it... even if we cannot explain why. 

Take, for instance, what happened to me last week.  I started browsing the Web with my prefectly functional Mageia 2 Linux box.  Meanwhile, a small voice coming from the back of my head was urging me to shut down the system and go do something safer, like locking myself out of the office not to have easy access to the computer.  Yet, I chose to ignore the call of Wisdom and, after reading about the latest Java manace, I decided to run a test for rootkits on my system.  That was when I lost my grip on reality and went down the rabbit hole.

I must say that I use Firefox and have NoScript, AdBlock Plus, and other add-ons for security.  On top of that, I had disabled iced-tea.  However, I ran the tests with rkhunter and found a worrying message: A rootkit called Gaskit was installed on my system!

Panic invaded my brain and the Windows mentality took over; in a second, I was trasported to a day four years ago, when virus infections were as dreadful as expected, and all my neurons went in zombie mode to format and reinstall the system.

Even so, I visited some forums and read that, after a Mageia update, rkhunter flashed false positives.  I was familiar with false positives since my Windows days, but the zombie neurons had already multiplied and ate up my remaining sane-thinking ability.  I began formatting.

Luckily, the format-reinstall process is accomplished with greater ease and speed in Linux than it takes in Windows: in about an hour and a half, the system was up and running as it was before my sanity collapsed.

Without the fear, I began reading more about how to actually test if Gaskit was installed or not.  I tried the verifications and guess what: it had been a false positive all along!

I could almost sense the resentment coming from the computer.

From that experience, I learned that one should monitor oneself for stupidity before using a computer.  We all know when we are being stupid, don't we?
And then, if the stupidity level is exaggeratedly high, we should simply walk away from the machine until we regain some sense.

The computer will be grateful.