Ubuntu Forums down! Security breach! Don’t panic, carry on…


Ubuntuforums.org, the bestest user forum for Ubuntu users that I know of, is offline due to a security breach whereby usernames, passwords and email addresses were compromised. This happened on 20 July, apparently, I only just noticed (come here for the latest news, eh).

Canonical, the company behind the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system, and whose servers host the Forums site, have put up an announcement page, to which you get redirected if you try to browse to the forums. From what Canonical have said, it appears:

1. Usernames, passwords and email addresses have been compromised. The passwords were stored hashed, ie not in plain text, but users who use their Ubuntuforums.org password on other sites should change them, just to be sure;

2.Ubuntu One, Launchpad and other Ubuntu/Canonical services are not affected by this.

I’m wondering: the forums site was being hosted on Canonical servers, and it was compromised. But other Canonical services are unaffected… So, is Canonical giving Ubuntuforums.org second-class service? Or are all Canonical servers this badly managed, meaning users should forget about using Ubuntu One, Launchpad, etc?

I don’t want to be an asshole about this – but Canonical, WTF??!

EDIT: I’m a bit behind the times with this, but Ubuntuforums.org is up and about again.  They’ve changed the logging-in mechanism, now you need a Launchpad account too, but it’s easy to do.  Just go to Ubuntuforums.org as usual and you’ll be walked through the new process.  If you’re into Ubuntu it’s a wonderful resource, I’ve managed to keep an account there since 2007, I’ve had a shit load of infractions (official warnings), one admin said he didn’t know of anyone worse, but the community there is really good.


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Ubuntu 10.04.1 “Lucid Lynx”: First impressions


Wednesday, 18 September 2010

Well, yesterday I finally got round to downloading a Lucid .iso. It was 10.04.1 actually, so the .iso has been updates. That means I won’t have to download too many updates if/when I get round to actually installing Lucid on my home desktop (currently running Hardy – I love LTS!). I hate it when I install an OS and then have to download shitloads of updates.

Anyway, I used UNetBootin to put the .iso on a usb stick, and my desktop is currently running a live session of Lucid. I haven’t been using it on there for very long at all. Later, when I’ve used the live usb for a few days, I’ll post a review. But for now, here are my first impression.

Start-up time wasn’t too bad; i didn’t time it, but it seemed quick enough. And it seems to be pretty quick even when running from RAM. I opened a file in the OOo word-processor, and it came up a lot quicker than an older version may have done.

I’ve seen a lot of users’ comments about the colour scheme. Let me add to the pot. I think it looks okay. It’s the kind of scheme I might have used in the past to replace that dreaded “human” theme. I tend to prefer blue to purple, but in no way do I dislike purple. Let’s see how I feel in a couple of days.

The Window buttons moved to the upper left corner: I don’t know about this at all. I may get used to it, but at the moment I feel it very counter-intuitive. We’ll have to wait and see.

It detected my screen resolution automatically; but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be okay when the OS has been installed. It’s happened to me in the past, where a live cd has given the correct display resolution, but once the OS has been installed the resolution drops to some ridiculous level like 640 x 480 and I’ve had to fix it. Not that fixing stuff is always a problem. But the less fixing needed the better, I think.

I have a lot of audio files in .ogg format so it was easy to see that it sounded okay. But I don’t have any .ogv video files, and the sole .ogv file in the Examples directory didn’t really show what output might be like.

I think that’s about all I can say right now. Over the next few days I’m going to use the Lucid live usb as much as possible, on my EeePC netbook as well as the home machine. So keep an eye out for the follow-up to this post, if you’re interested in the latest Ubuntu Long Term Support version.

I <3 Dropbox!


Well, maybe it’s a bit overboard saying that I “heart” Dropbox. I mean it’s just an online storage solution, it hasn’t got breasts or a dazzling personality! But I think it’s pretty cool nevertheless, and today I’m gonna tell you why.

For quite some time now, barely a day has gone by without me seeing or hearing something about “cloud computing”. And although I hate these buzz words that don’t actually mean very much, I finally figured that “the cloud” was something I could use.

I need to access some files an awful lot, wherever I may be. And sometimes that means accessing the files from a library computer, or a computer at a client’s office – in other words, computers that do not belong to me. And even if I do have my netbook on me, I want any alterations made to my files to be synchronized to all my machines automatically.

For reasons too boring to go into here, I can’t access my home machine from the internet. And I am remarkably ill-equipped when it comes to online resources – I use a wordpress.com-hosted blog for crying out loud, I ain’t got a web server of my own kicking around somewhere. And carrying a fistful of USB sticks is not an ideal solution – sticks can easily be misplaced or even stolen. So I decided I needed to sign up for one of those “cloud computing” services, where I put a bunch of files on a third party’s server somewhere out there on the interwebs which I can then access no matter where I am (within reason – if I’m on a camel in the middle of the Sahara and forgot to pack my satellite phone I’d be screwed. But as I own neither a camel or a satellite phone, I think we can rule out that possibility).

Because of my innate stingeyness, I needed a solution that was free. So I fired up my good friend Google, plugged in the search terms “free cloud computing storage” and let ‘er rip. And it turned up a few free solutions, such as G.ho.st, Google’s various products, box.net, oosah.com… There’s a lot out there – if you want a quick list of freebies check out this guide at readwriteweb.com.

But of course, I’m utterly clueless when it comes to all this cloudy Web 2.0 stuff. So I went to my favourite forum and had a look at what folk there were saying on the subject.

Unsurprisingly for an Ubuntu site, a lot of people seemed to rate Ubuntu One. But there were also a bunch who liked DropBox. And I kinda liked what they were saying. So I chose to go with DropBox.

Like a lot of these cloud storage services, DropBox gives you 2GB of space for free. You install this program on the computers you want to be synced (and yes it comes in a linux flavour), create a DropBox folder on each computer, then link those computers to your account. Once that’s done, all you have to do is put files into the DropBox folder on one of the computers, and before you know it those files are accessible from all your synced computers. And you can even access them if you’re on a different computer, as there’s a web interface you can sign into from anywhere!

Another cool feature is the “Public” sub-folder. If you put a file into the Public sub-folder, then right-click on it, you get a link to that file that you can post in a blog, forum, whatever. So you can make chosen files accessible for absolutely anyone you want, without having to tell them your username or password. For instance, here’s a link that will enable you to download a pdf of the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson. If you’ve never read it, I strongly urge you to give it a go. Extremely cool cyberpunk science fiction. And I’ll let you have have it for the very reasonable price of fuck-all.

Cloud computing isn’t for everyone, despite what some characters will try and tell you. A lot of people will have no need for it whatsoever. But if you think it might be useful, go grab yourself a free account and give it a whirl. I’ve certainly been seduced by the sultry maiden called DropBox, as you may have guessed from this gushing love letter. Did I say love letter? That should have said “porn”. Cos DropBox makes me horny as only a sad geek can be!!

Note: Unfortunately, some of the info here is out of date. For instance, g.ho.st no longer provides a free service (though they’ll happily take your money) and for some reason the oosah.com site seems to be unavailable. But there definitely are free services available out there. Go check it out!
I just thought I’d add a footnote to point out there’s another free (as in beer) online storage solution out there: Gspace. This Firefox add-on enables you to use the inbox of a Gmail account as an online disk. Google gives its Gmail users an awful lot of storage – more than 2GB at the moment, and rising all the time – plus you can use any number of Gmail accounts with Gspace. This solution is especially useful if, like me, you own a netbook with limited onboard storage. It works with Windows, OSX and Linux. I use Gspace, and can thoroughly recommend it.

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How to speed up dpkg on Ubuntu


I found this wonderful little tutorial at Ubuntuforums.org. Some members have reported significant speed increase for dpkg -i. Thanks to forum member Peter Cordes who wrote it up. Please send all kudos to him, he’s the one who deserves it. Brickbats too.

dpkg -i and dpkg -S are slow when the FS cache is cold. Most of the time is spent reading ~2400 .list files from /var/lib/dpkg/info. It reads them in the order they’re listed in the status file, I suppose. Anyway, _not_ in alphabetical (info/*) or readdir (ls -f info) order.

Most filesystems allocate space in the same area of the disk for a set of files all written at the same time. So cp -a info info.new would generate a defragged copy of the directory. (not that any individual files in it were fragmented, they’re tiny, many smaller than the FS block size. ls -lhrS *.list | less, and type 50% for example, to see the median file size (~600B), or 90% to see the 90th percentile size (7kB).

But this doesn’t actually help, because the disk ends up having to seek back and forth because the files aren’t read in the same order they’re stored on disk. It doesn’t help much that the files are closer together. Maybe 18sec vs. 24sec, IIRC.

Here’s what I did:

strace -efile -o dpkg.tr dpkg -S /bin/ls
cd /var/lib/dpkg
mkdir info.new
grep ‘^open’ ~/dpkg.tr | sed -r ‘/dpkg\/info/sX.*”(.*)”.*X\1Xp’ -n | xargs sudo cp -a -t info.new
# cmd line length limits prevent info/*. I could have used rsync -au info/ info.new
sudo cp -iau info/[a-k]* info.new/
sudo cp -iau info/[l]* info.new/
sudo cp -iau info/[m-z]* info.new/
diff -ur info info.new/
sudo rm -rf info
sudo mv info.new info

echo 3 | sudo tee /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches
time dpkg -S /bin/ls


peter@tesla:~$ time dpkg -S /bin/ls
coreutils: /bin/ls

real 0m2.877s
user 0m0.264s
sys 0m0.168s

peter@tesla:~$ ll -d /var/lib/dpkg/info
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 76K 2008-12-07 06:36 /var/lib/dpkg/info

Now dpkg -S (and presumably dpkg -i, too) takes
2.8s elapsed time. (Root FS = 1.5GB JFS, on a degraded RAID1 (md), at the beginning of a WD5000YS (RE2) supporting NCQ with depth 31, AMD64 Linux 2.6.28-2-generic (Intrepid user-space, Jaunty kernel), Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4GHz), 4GB DDR2-800. But mainly it’s the HD and the FS that matter here)

I wonder how long this performance will last, as packages are upgraded. At least it doesn’t matter if readdir order changes as files are removed and added (since the file’s reading order doesn’t depend on that), but it does matter if the status file’s order changes. Since the files won’t reposition on disk, it’s only fast as long as they’re read in (mostly) the order they were written.

The directory itself can start to fragment, since it’s 76k = many filesystem blocks. XFS gets directory fragmentation fairly easily. (I use XFS for everything else, and it’s fast with a couple tweaks. e.g. -o logbsize=256k, and enabling lazy-count=1 with xfs_admin or at mkfs time.)

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No wvdial in Ubuntu!


If you are an Ubuntero and use dial-up to connect to the internet or use a cellphone as a modem, you may have noticed that the “intelligent dialer” utility wvdial is no longer included on the Ubuntu live CD. This has been the case since 9.04 (Jaunty) and is still true with Karmic (9.10) – and I’ve been told it won’t be on the 10.04 (Lucid) CD either!

Well, us wvdial-using Ubunteros need to stick together! It can be very difficult to configure ppp; in comparison wvdial is a cake-walk. Lots of dial-up users like to use Gnome-PPP to manage their internet connection, but the absence of wvdial just makes it hellish to get hold of any such tools. We need wvdial! Right?

Well there is something we can do about it. There is a bug report on Launchpad which asks the developers to include wvdial in future versions of Ubuntu. I am asking everyone to create an account on Launchpad then go add their name to that bug report – ie click on this link and add a comment echoing the request for wvdial. I’m not sure, but I think the developers must have decided that dial-up doesn’t exist anymore… or that dial-up users don’t matter. We need to tell them they’re wrong. Really I can’t see any good reason for excluding wvdial: it’s a pretty small binary, so I don’t think the devs needed the disk space for something else! And the fact it’s such a small program means there is no reason not to put it back in. The devs just need to be told there is a demand for it. That’s where you come in.

Please please add your name to the Launchpad bug report. Even if you don’t use wvdial yourself, please help the rest of us. A lot of us can connect to the internet only by using dial-up; I’ve seen posts on Ubuntuforums.org where users have said they will actually have to switch to another Linux distro if this isn’t put right! So please… tell the Ubuntu developers to give us wvdial!!

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Ubuntu 9.10 “Karmic Koala” released yesterday


The latest release of Ubuntu (9.10, aka “Karmic Koala” came out yesterday, Thursday 29 October 2009. I’m a big Ubuntu fan, and although I haven’t tried Karmic yet, I can still predict it’s great, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who longs to be free of Microsoft shackles and is thinking of migrating to Linux. Take the plunge! You can find links to download Karmic here. I suggest that you get the .iso over bittorrent, to avoid the inevitable congestion at the Ubuntu servers (they’re always very busy just after a new release) – click here to find links to the torrents.

Once you’ve installed Karmic, there are a few more things you need to do if you want to play mp3s, movie DVDs etc. There’s an excellent guide on this kind of stuff here. It’s all pretty easy and guide describes it all very clearly.

Ubuntu is a great alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OSX. You really ought to try it out; and the live CD image let’s you run it in RAM without needing to install to your hard drive, which means it’s easy to check it all out before installing. So go on! What have you got to lose*?

[*] Nothing.

Mobile Broadband on Linux


Note: There’s more info on this subject here. So take a look if this post doesn’t do it for you.

Be aware that all my experience of this subject is based on Ubuntu. If you use another Linux distro, YMMV. If you’re using Windows or OSX… you’ll probably be better off looking elsewhere.

Some time ago I bought a new phone – Sony Ericsson K800i. It’s a 3G phone, so I was pretty stoked: at last I’d be able to get a decent connection speed when linking my PC to the internet through this baby. And I was right: I get between 40 and 100 Kps (320-800 Kbps). Maybe those of you with wired broadband connections think this is dead slow. It probably is, to you. But to someone who’s previously had to depend on a sluggish GPRS connection, my new phone is like amphetamine on crack.

And it is so much easier to connect via this phone than it was through my previous handsets. All I need to do with my K800i is:

1. Press Menu > Settings > Connectivity > USB > USB Internet;

2. Select USB Internet On;

3. Connect phone to PC with USB datacable (the K800i also has bluetooth and infrared, but my computer is not equipped for such things);

4. Select Phone Mode;

and that’s it! The Ubuntu network manager detects the phone and automagically sets up the connection. Sweet or what! (Remember, this is with the Sony Ericsson K800i. Other phones will be different.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always like that. I don’t know if it’s just my phone or what, but connection is very unreliable. It cuts out erratically, and I haven’t found a fix yet. So on bad days I find I have to use wvdial to connect. I’ve described this in detail before – I’m not going to go into it again. Click here to go to the wvdial tutorial.

Thing is, mobile phone service providers have got something against their customers using their cellphones this way. It’s called “tethering”, and it is generally banned in the Terms and Conditions they make you agree to when you get your phone. And some providers actively block tethering. My provider obviously doesn’t block it. But that might change any day.

Why do they dislike tethering? Because they want you to buy a Mobile Broadband USB modem, and pay an inflated rate for mobile internet connection. Rip-off merchants!

Because I wanted another way to connect to the internet other than my phone, I bought one of these USB modems – a Vodafone K3565, aka the Huawei E160X. To connect via this device, Vodafone (UK) charge me £15 per GB of data transferred. This is shockingly expensive compared to what I pay for connection through my cellphone (£2.50 for 5 days’ “unlimited” browsing). But it is a better connection much of the time, when I get Vodafone’s HSDPA signal. Transfer speeds over HSDPA can get as highh as 160 Kps (1280 Kbps). But if I’m in an area with no HSDPA or 3G signal, I get snail’s rate GPRS. Which hurts when you’re paying the con men so much.

It’s also extremely easy to connect an Ubuntu PC to the internet via a Huawei dongle. Similar to the phone: plug it in, wait a short while, and the network manager detects the device and connects. The first time you connect the dongle to the computer, network manager throws up a mobile broadband wizard, which asks you a few questions about your service provider etc. And that’s it. Well, usually that’s it. Sometimes you have to manually edit the settings before it’ll work. But that will depend on whose service you’re using.

Also, I understand that although Huawei devices play nice with Ubuntu, some other manufacturers’ models don’t. If that’s the case for you, wvdial is probably the answer. Again, click here to find out how to use wvdial.

There’s another solution, if you’re having problems: an app called Vodafone Mobile Connect. Don’t let the word “Vodafone” in the name put you off – it actually works with devices on any provider’s networks. I used it for a while very successfully. I can’t give you any real advice about it, as it’s in constant “beta” development. But the only reason I stopped using it was the fact that Ubuntu’s network manager does the job just fine. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re having problems. There are binaries available for many Linux distros.

Well, I think that’s about it. So, let me just wish you the best of luck in connecting to the internet with your device. And I’ll bid you farewell!

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