Adventures in Ubuntu (strictly for geeks and geek wannabes) – Part 1

One of my long-time goals has been to acquire some proficiency in Linux. How could I credibly call myself a geek without being conversant in Linux!  Over the years, whenever I’d get stuck on a technical computer issue, my friend Ray would come to the rescue with a Linux based solution. He told me about Knoppix, and I tried it (that is I started from a live CD) but though it was nifty, I did not install it.

A year ago, I replaced my 10 year old S4300NX COMPAQ desktop running Windows XP with a brand new Dell XPS 8300 with Windows 7, and the Compaq was set aside, thinking I would eventually install a Linux flavored operating system.  That time has come.

First question: Would it be Ubuntu or Knoppix. Years ago, I had downloaded images of both. I decided on Ubuntu for no reason other than it seemed (based on the number of titles of books of Ubuntu, exceeding the number those for Knoppix) better supported. I did not consider other flavors.

So I had that old (?) Ubuntu CD; it was unlabeled. I inserted it in the CD drive and it loaded the operating system. The version was 8.04 (dating back to 2009). The choice was to run Ubuntu from the CD or to install it on the drive. I was ready to install it. My initial plan was to install it with dual booting, keeping XP and adding Linux.  The install dialog seemed to indicate that this was not possible because there was not enough free contiguous disk space to install ubuntu. I let it go ahead and reformat the partitions holding Windows XP. I didn’t really need it. And install it did.

In the meantime, I was downloading the latest version of Ubuntu (“12.04 LTS”, where LTS stands for ‘long-term support’), and burned it on a CD. I thought it would come in handy, and I would over-write version 8.04 on the Compaq with 12.04 LTS.  I’ll come back to that.

By now I had Ubuntu 8.04 on the Compaq. The first problem was that the computer was off the grid! No internet.  The system would not recognize the Asus (WL-138g v2) wifi card. Ok, probably no driver.  My first thought was to try installing the Ubuntu from the new 12.04 LTS disk, it should,  I thought,  have better built-in drivers,. But, oops during installation, the system crashed producing code dump that included the ominous words “kernel bug”. It seemed unrecoverable. I tried using the 12.04 CD twice: The first time booting from it, and the second time starting with the 8.04 loaded on the system and reading the 12.04 LTS from it. The unrecoverable code dump crash happened both times.

With no ubuntu based solution, I searched for and got the driver for the Asus card from:

I copied it from the download computer to the Compaq on a USB stick, but once there I didn’t know what to do with it. The included README file was written for linux geeks, and I don’t yet belong to that elite tribe. So, back to google for a more accessible solution. This is what I found: Two solutions were proposed in that forum:

In message #3, chili555 proposed a fix. He attached a driver at . That didn’t work for me, just as it failed for Green Moon, who first asked the question and started that thread. In message #8, chili555 proposed using instead. I followed the instructions (again), rebooted the computer, and WOOHOO, I was prompted for my userid and password to connect to my network.

Now connected, and with ubuntu installed, the next challenge was to update and/or upgrade ubuntu as much as possible. Keep using 8.04 did not make any sense. Released April 24, 2008, it had reached its End-of-Life (EOL) just over 3 years later on May 11, 2011.  After a release passes EOL, security and critical fixes are no longer released.  In short order I was able to update 8.04 to 8.10, then 9.04, then 9.10, all by downloading and installing fresh (but expired EOL’d) .iso images.  Next 9.10 updated to 10.04 LTS using Update Manager which is included in Ubuntu. The difference (as I understand it) is that it is not possible to use the update manager to go to another (newer) EOL release, but since 10.04 LTS is still considered a Stable release, (see, the auto upgrade path was still available.

Getting beyond 10.04 LTS is the current challenge. First, there is a lack of clarity as to the status of the that release. According to, the desktop version of 10.04 LTS has in fact, expired on May 9, 2013, and it is the server version that remains supported for two more years.  Practically, here are the choices that I must explore. Whether that choice is available determines the options that I have:

1. Auto Upgrade from 10.04 LTS to 12.04 LTS
2. Upgrade from 10.04 LTS to 10.10
3. Stay with 10.04 LTS and manually update the packages/applications
4. Learn to live 10.04 LTS, and cope with the underlying issues.

Clearly the first path would be the best, and the last, the worst. The relative advantages of 2 and 3 are not yet clear to me, especially as I don’t know if they are available as options. In fact, all of 1, 2 and 3, present challenges. Whether these challenges constitute insurmountable obstacles remains to be determined.

Going through these options:

1. Auto upgrade from 10.04 LTS to 12.04 LTS:

By Auto upgrade, I mean to use the ‘Update Manager’ application included in the Ubuntu distribution and found on the Menu under System|Administration|Update Manager. To upgrade to 12.04 LTS, one must go to System|Administration|Software Sources and select ‘Long Term support releases’ under the ‘Release Upgrade’ section of the Updates tab. Then run Update Manager. [An alternative to going through ‘Software Sources’ is to press the ‘Settings’ button at the bottom left of the Update Manager dialog. That button calls up the Updates tab under ‘Software Sources’] Anyhow, the Update Manager shows ‘Your system is up-to-date’, but then advises New Ubuntu release 12.04.03 is available. Well then, I click on the ‘Upgrade button’, I am presented with the new release note, and then this warning:

Your graphics hardware may not be fully supported in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.

The support in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS for your Intel graphics hardware is limited and you may encounter problems after the upgrade. For more information see Do you want to continue with the upgrade?

Notice the warning says ‘may’! What does the information in that link say? It pertains to upgrades of systems with ‘i8xx graphics hardware’. It also says: “The current -intel driver should still operate on the i830 and i855 families (i810 is considered a lost cause now). “

But do I have any of these chips? Well how do I find out? From,  I use the lspci command from the terminal console. This is the output (pertaining to graphics)

00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation 82865G Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 02)

   Subsystem: ASUSTeK Computer Inc. Device 80a5
Flags: bus master, fast devsel, latency 0, IRQ 16
Memory at f0000000 (32-bit, prefetchable) [size=128M]
Memory at fe780000 (32-bit, non-prefetchable) [size=512K]
I/O ports at ec00 [size=8]
Capabilities: <access denied>
Kernel driver in use: i915
Kernel modules: i915

 So I have i915 chips. Does that mean that I am safe since it belongs to the i9xx family of chips rather than the i8xx family. Maybe, but I still have cause to worry for three reasons.

1. The Update Manager detected a suspect chip to give me that warning about the upgrade. Maybe the i9xx and the i8xx chips are very similar and be similarly vulnerable?

2. The initial attempts at installing the 12.04 LTS distributions had failed with the code dump from which the system could not recover.

3. If I were to proceed with installing the 12.04 LTS distribution and ended with an unstable setup, I would have to restart with an older distribution and start again, since I assume there is no elegant downgrade path from a newer unstable setup to an older more stable one.

For these reasons, I decide (for now) not to upgrade to 12.04 LTS

2. Upgrade from 10.04 LTS to 10.10

I tried two approaches for that upgrade:

a. The first approach was to download the .iso image of that version and to apply it from the terminal console with the following commands:

     sudo mount -o loop ~/Desktop/ubuntu-10.10-alternate-i386.iso /media/cdrom0
gksu “sh /cdrom/cdromupgrade”

 This is the same approach I took to apply the updates from 8.10 to 9.04 to 9.10.

 I encountered the following obstacle:

Could not calculate the upgrade
An unresolvable problem occurred while calculating the upgrade:
Can not mark ‘ubuntu-desktop’ for upgrade

 This can be caused by:
* Upgrading to a pre-release version of Ubuntu
* Running the current pre-release version of Ubuntu
* Unofficial software packages not provided by Ubuntu

If none of this applies, then please report this bug against the ‘update-manager’ package and include the files in /var/log/dist-upgrade/ in the bug report.

b. Upgrade through ‘Update Manager.
This doesn’t work because 10.10 is no longer supported

3. Stay with 10.04 LTS and manually update the packages/applications

Well, lets start with Firefox!. The version of Firefox in 10.04 LTS is 20.
I downloaded a version 23 package from the mozilla website. However, I found no instructions as to how to install it. The advice is to use the installed package manager to upgrade Firefox. But the package manager does not work since 10.04 LTS is no longer supported.

4. Just live with 10.04 and deal with issues as they arise.

Maybe this is the only option until I figure a way to upgrade to 12.04 LTS.  These are the issues I need to look into:

1. Mouse is over-sensitive, or not sensitive enough
2. Install printer driver for Epson Workforce 845
3. See Windows PCs from Ubuntu
4. See Macs from Ubuntu

To be continued………

Ninety-nine years ago, why did a world war start? A book review

July 1914, by Sean McMeekin,

I am not a historian, and the 1914-1918 World War is, to me, remote, both culturally and in time. I never had a particular interest in, or knowledge of that that war, save for historical documentaries depicting the carnage of trench warfare, or being in Canada, Vimy Ridge, which commemorates  a battle where Canada is said to have come of age.  Yet, unlike the Second World War, whose causes and origins are generally known to most well educated or historically aware North Americans, the origins of the earlier world war are mystifying, and shrouded in a historical fog.  Why would Germany and Britain and France and Russia and Austria-Hungary have gotten into this mess?

What intrigued me to read this book was a joint book review in the New York Times of July 1914, and The Sleepwalkers. The review by Harold Evans, former editor of the Sunday Times, sparked my curiosity by focusing on the origins of that war that turned the world upside down. How could a world at peace in June 1914 turn into a catastrophic war by August 1914?

In July 1914, McMeekin gives a day to day account of the chief actors of the participating countries from the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian heir to the throne on June 28, to the beginning hostilities on August 4. From that incredibly detailed reconstruction of the events,  it would seem the parties were not merely sleepwalkers (as the title of the other book reviewed by Evans implies) but cogs in an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine with no off switch.  Each of these countries had a war party pushing for brinkmanship (or worst), but none willed a world war.  All these countries had parties that wanted to pull from the brink, but were unable to. Why unable? Not because their respective war parties prevailed upon them, but merely because they were instrumental in setting in motion processes that they would not, or could not reverse.  There are moving depictions in the book of diplomatic envoys breaking into tears after presenting their host countries declarations of war.

Two things about that epoch strike the contemporary mindset as particularly distant. The first of these is the importance of something called the “monarchical principle”. Germany’s envoy to St. Petersburg, Russia’s capital at the time, appealed to the Tsar to back down from pursuing policies that would lead to the war, on the basis of that it would undermine this “monarchical principle”. But what exactly was the monarchical principle? Save for the French Republic (whose alliance Romanov Russia counted on, in spite of France being viewed by the Tsar as an “atheist republic”), all other countries of Europe were monarchies including Serbia which provided Hapsburg Austria with its casus belli. So, what exactly was the “monarchical principle”? As far as I understand it, it went beyond the protection of the ruling monarchies and was a belief that Europe’s monarchs, their kings and emperors, Germany’s kaiser and Russia’s tsar, were entrusted with the stability and peace of the continent of Europe, or maybe even ordained as custodians of European civilization.

The second thing that grates on the modern sensibility is the importance of “mobilization”, as in “war preparation”, to strategic thinking at the time. Basically, “mobilization” was tantamount to war. Once Russia’s mobilization had commenced, it was just not feasible for the powers that be to reverse course, even if chances for peace presented themselves.

A discussion of “mobilization” segues easily into a discussion of technology, and in particular communication technology. Arguably, the countdown to war in July 1914, could not repeat themselves in today’s world. Why? Because then, communication technology was so primitive that essential communications between the leaderships of the countries that would eventually fight each other took hours, if not days, to reach their destinations. Slow communications contributed to opaqueness about what adversaries were up to, and therefore to distrust of the other.

Readers may object to my stating that the events of July 1914 would be unthinkable today. Of course, war is not a thing of the past. But today, communication technology is pervasive, and if, or when, countries fight, it is in spite of instant communication, not because of communication failure.

One more point to note: the author, Sean McMeekin, an American professor at a Turkish University, anticipates some readers comparing the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, with the 2001 US ultimatum to Taliban ruled Afghanistan: hand us Bin Laden, or bear the consequence.  But the difference is critical: Serbia responded positively to Austria  and seemed to be open to allaying its concerns, to the Talibans hospitality for, and loyalty to Bin Laden was paramount.

It may seem disconcerting to finish a review of a book describing events that are nearly a century old by bringing up Afghanistan and its Taliban parasites. It shouldn’t be. History at its most interesting and riveting, is when it clarifies, and maybe explain the present.