Crosstopher Tech Enthusiast, Aspiring Linux Jedi, Gamer, Father of Twins.


Make the switch to Linux

Just wanted to put up the post I just threw up on Facebook.

Okay people, this is a long one. I was absolutely serious about you Windows XP users, If you have not upgraded or can't go out and get the new shiny... Try Linux! You can download a "Live CD", burn it to a blank CD or DVD, and reboot your computer. This will allow you to try it out first and see if you like it. To get you started here are some links:

Ubuntu (one of the most popular distributions)

Xubuntu (Ubuntu with light weight desktop, great for aging hardware)

Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu with some awesome mixed, a personal favorite)

Manjaro (I've heard really great stuff about this one and am downloading it right now)

Here's a nice list of pros and cons I lifted from link at the bottom:

"Let's run through the pros and cons of switching to Linux. First the good parts:

Immune to Windows malware, and you don't need anti-malware software
Offers both free of cost and supported options
Runs great on older, less-powerful hardware
No insane license restrictions
No artificially crippled versions to justify multiple price points
No phoning home to the mothership for permission to use your own computer the way you want to
Flexible and configurable
Easy one-click software installation and removal, from secure sources
Great hardware support, without having to hunt down drivers
A giant world of great software for free, and lots of great commercial software
Maintained by an open, global community of first-rate developers and contributors
All Linux software is available on the Internet, so you never lose it."

Need to replace MS Office, sure I got you covered...

But Chris, I need to edit photos!
Once again, Boom!

What if I play with recording audio?

Like to play games?

What if I absolutely, positively need this particular Windows program?

Total cost = $0

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Updates All Over

Hello all, and by all I mean whoever (or is it whomever?) reads this. Today, since the family is out and about, I have been running through a bunch of updates. Not only has it been a really long time since I wrote a post for the blog, WordPress was out of date as well. Now that I have updated WordPress I figured I would also mention the other things that are getting cleaned up today as well.

I am rebuilding the VPS that runs since I had no real users and haven't done anything with it, I decided to tear it down and rebuild. I also wanted a good clean image so I can have things set up in a way that didn't feel to disorganized. This time I have a little more experience with Mumble so I should be able to set that up properly.

After that, I am going to re-flash both the Raspberry Pi machines. I want to start running that VPN again on the 256M board, not sure why it stopped working in the first place. Not really sure what I am going to do with the second yet, I might just update the PiBang distro it's running and see where that's at.


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Raspberry Pi

A few months ago I had ordered and received my Raspberry Pi from Element14 and I haven't truly been able to put any time into tinkering about with it. Recently there has been a nagging in my thoughts about it and have spent the past few days getting re-acquainted with the little machine.

I originally started with the Raspbian distribution. I found that the LXDE desktop was incredibly slow especially with two or more windows open. That is where I left it after receiving the device, sitting there not doing much at all. I kept it out, always within eye sight or in my backpack that I take to work so I would have a reminder that I have this cool little thing and I need to do something with it. With the constant reminder there I would think about what to do with it, media player, tiny web server, home automation, there are a lot of possibilities there.

I set out to get the device running raspbmc, a media center distribution based on XBMC. That install was fairly simple and I had the device up and running on my HDTV in relatively short order. I was able to get to grab content from the NAS I have on our home network and stream some movies. There was an occasional stutter in both audio and video but watchable. I had an issue with the device "locking up", I am not really sure it was a true lockup, but I would lose mouse and keyboard input (bluetooth and wired). That was annoying and instead of trying to fix it I moved on to another distro, Arch Linux for ARM. In hindsight, this being my first taste of Arch was probably a mistake. I couldn't get a desktop running at all and the package manager was foreign to me so my adventure into Arch Linux was short lived. I do intend to get Arch running on one of the PCs I have around the house because all the good things I hear about it definitely have me interested.

Currently, I have gone back to Raspbian and installed a fresh image from their site. One of the things that I took notice of right away is that the ability to overclock the device is built in and is actually a function of the raspi-config tool. I didn't do this right away because I am starting to think about the Raspberry Pi in a different way and thinking more about what I want it to do. In doing so, I am sticking to the command line and working that way. This is a good thing, you learn a lot more about Linux by using the command line and I am always looking to learn more. I am about to jump into nginx for the first time and I think this device will be perfect for learning how to get that all set up. I intend to use nginx to serve up pages designed to operate the home automation stuff I have brewing in my head but are a little way off.

I did experiment with overclocking the Raspberry Pi, I only took it to 900 MHz, up from the 700 it runs at stock. I found that doing that greatly improved the performance the LXDE environment, making it moderately usable. This is an improvement over the frustration that it induced when I first started out.

This device still hold a lot of promise for me and now that I have spent some time with it I am further encouraged to continue working with it.


All according to plan.

I am astonished at how fast time appears to be going. There seems to be less "free" time than ever. I think that one of the things that really needs to change is the hours I am set to work. I am not due into the office until noon with a 9PM end which is very rarely the time I actually leave. Couple that with two hours of commute time and there goes all that time. That's my terrible attempt at forming an excuse for not hitting the keys and posting up here.

Excuses aside, there are some things that I want to get into words. Starting with the re-launch of Nervous Reflex, after the site was slammed with malicious code throughout the comments in the WordPress system I had been using and Google was flagging the site as dangerous. I completely dumped everything out of the web host and started fresh and am keeping on top of the updates that WordPress releases. Cool thing about the updates now is that when they release an update they have a button in the dashboard for updating the install. This button had never worked for me up until the most recent 3.x releases of WP. Eric and I have been busy getting some things together and we still don't have the site design down yet (we have used  a free theme off the WP site). We have a few posts up and are looking to recruit another guy to write for the site.

The "day" job still keeps me very busy and there are so many things going on that I feel like the little group I belong to is being pulled apart in regard to our responsibilities. I have found myself moving in a direction that deals more with infrastructure systems, so much that I am lacking in my knowledge of the end product. I am not looking forward to the inevitable day that I will be require to support one of those thing and I won't have any experience with it. Other than that, I was able to convince the powers that be that one of our server builds should be Linux instead of their go-to Window Server. This is of course a server that I would be responsible for that made it easy to get the go ahead. I really wanted to use CentOS but ended up installing Ubuntu Server 12.04 as we have other servers that run Ubuntu and there aren't many Linux savvy folks around so keeping the environment similar will be best for that reason. Though I have the server all set up there is this thing that happens that has me concerned and I don't know what is causing it. Something happens where the servers RAM usage jumps to 2.8 GB of use out of 4GB. I see that when I run top but when I had Landscape running on it the RAM graphs never showed that jump in usage. I will have to figure that out soon.

On top of all that my twins are now three years old and are incredibly active, inquisitive, and forceful. I don't like to go into family stuff so I will just leave it at that.


First post of the New Year

2012 is upon us and looking back at my blog I have only one solitary post up here. I have a  couple drafts in there but it is far too late to finish them now.

This year I plan to write at least a couple entries a month, ideally once a week. I have tried put some thought into what it is I really want to publish here on the blog and I think I have a good idea about what I want to include. I am going to focus on writing up my adventures in Linux or rather misadventures. I have a couple articles in mind from solutions to a couple issues that I had faced witghin the past two weeks. One was the installation of network drivers in a Dell R410 using Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS. The other is the good times had trying to get sendmail to work and use gmail's smtp. I am hoping that writing about this will help me remember more of it and provide a place I can refer back to.

I will also write about gaming as I am finding a little more time to get back in to playing now that my twins are older and more cooperative. The twins may also get some time up on the site as they are a large part of my life and I am going to have things to say about being a father as well.

I am writing this post from my new Acer Iconia tablet, the 7 inch model, which is working really nicely. Since this is going well I hope that keeping up with the blog becomes more of a reality than empty words that I have said in the past.


The Synergy Project

The Synergy Project

The Synergy Project

I recently had to work from home and while I have much of the software I would normally use loaded up on my desktop I found that I needed files or software that was on my work-provided laptop. I also have some custom tools that I wrote running on another laptop running Linux. While I was unpacking the work laptop I recalled having to go troubleshoot a Synergy install for a friend some time ago. I remember thinking it was pretty cool back then. At that time I didn't have a reason to use it so it slipped to the dusty, cob-web filled recesses of my memory.

The software is cross-platform, running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X which makes it incredibly versatile. The software is released under the GNU Public License (GPL) which makes this software two of my favorite things, Free and Open Source. Synergy allows you to use one of your systems as the controller for the rest. According to their overview, "Synergy lets you share a mouse and keyboard between several computers over a network."

It works by installing on each of the systems and setting up one instance as the "server", this is the system where the keyboard and mouse that you intend to use are located. In the configuration of the server you get to set up the position of the other displays, similar to the fashion you PC sets up multiple monitors, you just add displays as necessary. The other systems are configured as "clients". I found that I have more success pointing the client to the IP address of the server instead of using the computer's name.

Once you have it installed and configured you can free up all that desk space that you would use otherwise. You can position laptops where ever you want to because now all you need to do is see the screen... I had three of them running all over the place connected to my desktop as the server, that was fun.

I love the fact that it is cross-platform and can run this on the Linux machines I prefer. Another thing that this software does is allow for the systems to share the clipboard, a happy little feature I discovered by accident.

You can find more information and the downloads at their website


Ampache – my server, my music

For a while I have been looking for a way to get my own content to where I wanted it no matter where I was. I had tried other methods in the past and they were either temporary licenses to proprietary software or they just didn't work. With Ampache things have worked out pretty well so far.

I found Ampache a while ago and thought, “That would be cool” and promptly paid it no mind. That is until I got this urge to be able to stream my collection while being away from home. My first installation attempt were not so good. I have an older PC that I was looking to make into a media box. I had install Peppermint ICE (PeppermintOS) on my netbook to take it for a test drive and liked it so much that I installed it on the machine that would become the Ampache server. I severely bothched an install of phpmyadmin somehow and then I deleted the MySQL root user. My incredibly bumbling install had even caused removal and re-installation of phpmyadmin and MySQL to fail. I tried a number of thing to attempt to restore the root password. I finally gave up and completely and wiped the disk and started over with a fresh installation of Peppermint ICE.

While I was installing Ampache I was googling around and came across an app for webOS that allowed Palm Pre/Pixi devices to easily interface with Ampache. I stored that little nugget for later as my wife uses a Pixi but I shifted focus to the N900, my phone. This is where I came across MaAmp, nice little app, easily installed and configured.

I have to say, now that I have some music loaded up in Ampache, I am loving it. I will stream while I am at work on the phone or via the web interface. I can have the streams running on my phone where ever I may be. Now there will be those who ask, "Why don't you just use Pandora or". To which I will respond, because this is much more fun and I get exactly what I want when I want.


Finally the FlipSwap makes good.

A couple weeks ago now I finally received a check from FlipSwap. I was fully expecting there to be further issue with this process. I feared that their estimate they gave me and the actual amount they sent would be drastically different.

I am pleased to say that what I received was in the neighborhood of what I was expecting.

That being said, I don't think that I will ever use the service again. The wait time is far too long and honestly their returns are far under the "street value" of the devices. I know that I could have made out better, monetarily, if I had just attempted to sell the devices via craigslist or ebay. I went the FlipSwap route due to the massive discount that was being offered with the purchase of the N900 ($290 off) and I wanted in on that action. I wouldn't have been able afford the device without it and, now that I have the N900, do not regret going through this one bit. The N900 is an amazing gadget, even if it is slower that most of it's contemporaries, and has proven incredibly valuable to me.

So, when all is said and done, the price I paid for the N900 was just about $100. That's a great deal in any book.

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Waiting for Flipswap

I have been monitoring the Flipswap account to see when I will receive the check they owe me for my devices. I see that the devices that I sent have been inspected, however the status of the one I decided to keep is marked as reminded. In the FAQ they say that you can expect payment within 3 weeks of their receipt of the items. My account shows that the trade was made 4 weeks ago.

Now, before I sent all those device in to Flipswap, I had contacted their support via their on-site support form, and I was told that I could keep "any items [I] do not wish to trade". With that little tidbit of information I included a note with the shipment that said I was keeping one of the devices.
Tonight, I sent another message through the support form explaining that I was told that I could keep any of the items and I asked when the check will be sent. Below you will find the body of that message. I look forward to their response.


I have noticed that the items I sent in have been inspected though the one device I decided to keep is still showing a status of "Reminded".

Before I sent the devices in to Flipswap, I contacted your support via e-mail and asked if I could keep one of the devices. The following is the response I received;

Nick, Sep 07 11:26 am (PDT):
Yes, you can keep any items you do not wish to trade-in.

If you have any further questions or concerns please contact us anytime, we will gladly assist you with any issues.

Kind regards,

Nick K.
Customer Support
Flipswap, Inc.

In the FAQ Flipswap states that I could expect payment within 3 weeks of their receipt of the items. My account shows that the trade was made 4 weeks ago. That said, I would like to know when the check will be mailed as all the devices that were received have been inspected.

Thank you for your time,

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Buying the Nokia N900

I have been watching the N900 prices recently and have been really eager to get my hands on it. I have owned every one of Nokia's "Internet Tablets" to date; Nokia 770, N800 and the N810. I have enjoyed each one of them immensely and they have done more to move me into the Linux direction than anything else.

That said, I had been watching the maemo forums and saw that Nokia was selling the N900 for $199 after rebate. The rebate is for $280 and only applicable if you use their partner Flipswap to recycle your old phone. So I gathered up four old devices and readied them for shipment. Here's the thing, I have started to read negative reviews about flipswap and their propensity to claim that phones are inoperable or most often water damaged.

After reading this I flipped out a bit and made a video that showed all the devices powering up to a working display and OS as well as all the water damage stickers being clear of any exposure. I have yet to post the video because I need to make a minor edit, and find a proper codec to install on my CrunchBang desktop.

That will be forth coming as well as my report about how this "flipswap" turns out.