Category: Life with Ubuntu

Saucy, a US keyboard and the £ sign

Well, time´s gone by, and I did eventually get my desktop up onto Raring. For the most part it has been stable and well-behaved, and a good daily driver. Of course, along came Saucy. I tried that on my desktop and had issues with the App Centre (of all things) so I had to roll back.

On the other hand Saucy has taken to my laptop without any issues what so ever, and I would even go as far to say it is the best Ubuntu experience I´ve had yet. It is fast and responsive, looks good and works perfectly with the hardware of my laptop. It´s an Intel Core i7, Nvidia GeForce 610M-powered ASUS. And it flies.

There is one peculiarity with it, it has an American keyboard and I want to get UK characters out of it, such as the UK pound sign £. You can do this by setting the keyboard to English (US, Alternative International).

I can then type a £ by holding the menu key (alongside the right Alt key) and pressing the = key, releasing both and then quickly pressing the l key. Bit of a faff, but it works.

I´m going to give it a few more weeks and then try Saucy on my desktop again.

GTK+ 3 and SQLite Installation Commands

Having recently re-installed my Ubuntu system with Raring Ringtail, I needed to install the development tools I use most frquently. The first time I did this I struggled to get everything installed and working. It was one of those situations where you try so many things you can’t remember exactly which combination of events took place in which order, and you end up staring at your history file trying trying to work out which particular invocations were the ones that worked.

I usually program in C, using the GTK+ 3.0 libraries and SQLite. I also sometimes use the Geany IDE, Nemiver debugger front-end, Glade UI designer and Git. For Git I either use the Git CLI commands or gitg or Smartgit/Hg. These are all easy to locate and install, with Geany, Glade and Nemiver both readily accessible through the Ubuntu Software Centre.

I’ve managed to backtrace through my previous flounderings and have got two single CLI commands that install the GTK and SQLite libraries for me. I’m recording them here so that I know where to find them next time.

To install the GTK libraries enter this in a terminal window:

sudo apt-get install libgtk-3-dev

To install the SQLite libraries enter this in a terminal window:

sudo apt-get install sqlite3 libsqlite3-dev

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Raring to go? Nope, Raring to stay.

A lot of people have been reporting their success with Saucy Salamander, the latest version (13.10, October 2013 release) of Ubuntu.

I tried to move to Saucy Salamander. This was the first release that Canonical recommend the 64bit version if you have 64bit hardware. Up to this point they’d always recommended the 32bit version unless you had a specific reason to go 64bit. I’ve got 64bit hardware so I was excited to think that at last I’d have a 64bit OS running on it.

Sadly, in my case, the 64bit version was a disaster. It crashed repeatedly, and with the least provocation. Never having had much success with upgrades I’d gone straight to the full install option too, which should have given Saucy the best possible chance of stability.

Undeterred, I thought I’d try again with the 32bit version. Perhaps the 64bit wasn’t as robust on all hardware as Canonical believed. Again I went for the full installation but, alas, it was just like the 64bit version: flaky in the extreme.

I have to have a stable machine. I don’t mind some minor gripes here and there, and if it helps Canonical for me to be an early adopter and to submit error reports then fine, I’ll do that, and I have done so in the past. But only if for the most part I can have clean running. I’ve got a desktop and two laptops all on Ubuntu, they have to be stable and dependable.

I had no option but to roll back to Raring Ringtail, 12.10.

Saucy looks great and was fast, and sooner or later it will be ready for me to move to, but right now I’m back on Raring.

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Skype and a cheap Tesco Webcam

My niece is going to be working over seas for a while. I was asked to set up Skype on her Mum’s Kindle HD, and I put it on my wife’s and my own Android handsets. Being in the mood for global coverage, I also installed and configured it on my wife’s Nexus 7 tablet and her Windows 7 PC.

I then turned to my Ubuntu box (and put the bad thoughts of installing anything to do with Microsoft on my Linux box out of my head). Not having any real need for a webcam apart from this purpose, and a low-specced device being sufficient for my purposes, I bought a Tesco own-brand model. The store was handy and it was cheap. At £7.00 you can’t expect the Earth, and I didn’t hope for any more than a functional, cheap and cheerful camera. Which is lucky, because that’s exactly what it was. We’re talking no frills whatsoever.

To install Skype you must add the following repository, and then install Skype. In a terminal window, do the following:

sudo add-apt-repository “deb $(lsb_release -sc) partner”
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install skype

With Skype installed I was able to enter my credentials and get on-line, but the webcam wasn’t being recognised. I Googled a bit and found some advice on the subject. Again at the command line, I had to perform the following steps to make sure I had the correct Video4Linux drivers installed:

sudo apt-get install libv4l-0

Once the drivers were installed, I installed a little application called Cheese, as a test. Skype doesn’t need Cheese, but I thought if I could get the camera working in another application it would let me know if the issue was related to the webcam or to the settings in Skype. I did this to install Cheese:

sudo apt-get install cheese

Cheese worked with the webcam without issue, so it was something to do with Skype. More Googling turned up more help. There are drivers that need to be pre-loaded before Skype is fired up. Specifically, these Video4Linux drivers need to be loaded:

At the command line I did the following to see where the drivers were located on my hard disk:


I made a note of the path that was returned, which in my case was: /usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu/libv4l/

I needed to make a script to load these libraries, and then to load Skype. Back at the command line, I did the following:

sudo gedit /usr/local/bin/skype

and then entered the following two lines into the file:

LD_PRELOAD=/usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu/libv4l/ /usr/bin/skype

Once that was saved I added the following line to my .bash_aliases file (which is where I keep all my aliases; you could add it to your .bashrc file if you hold your aliases in there):

alias sk=’/usr/local/bin/skype &’

Now I can type sk and hit enter and Skype loads and runs and the camera works just fine.

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Raring Ringtail Development Schedule

The development schedule for the April 2013 release of Raring Ringtail is shown here.

Third Time is the Charm

I’ve never had the best of luck with Ubuntu on laptops. Several years ago I loaded a version onto an old Compaq laptop I had lying around, but no matter what I did I couldn’t get the wireless networking to behave. Or, in fact, to work at all. I gave up with that particular struggle and left it for a while, thinking I would come back to it when a few more versions of Ubuntu had come and gone. A little more recently I thought it was time to try again with a recent version of Ubuntu. But age had not been kind to the Compaq, there are bad sectors on the hard disk and so Ubuntu won’t install. It detects the bad sectors, complains and drops out of the install. So I abandoned that idea and decided to wait until I can get my hands on a donor (read: free) hard disk for it.

Then I remembered that my wife has a new desktop PC, a Nexus 7 tablet and a new work laptop into the bargain. Her personal laptop was lying around gathering dust. One quick period of negotiation later and I had permission to throw Ubuntu 12.04 onto it.

This went on like a dream and to my surprise, joy and (let’s be honest) relief Ubuntu found and worked with all of the hitherto tricky bits that sometimes blight the Ubuntu and laptops experience.

Ubuntu 12.04 found and correctly configured the networking, both the wired and the wireless. It correctly set up the touchpad, the roller-wheel volume control and the scroll up/down swipe pad at the edge of the touchpad. It also works with the inbuilt graphics card just fine. Unity works in a fast and slick fashion and all of the compiz eye-candy like wobbly windows works, first time, with no no manual intervention required.

As laptops go it is fairly modest (in all things apart from weight and size). It is a Toshiba something of a certain age (it originally came with Vista). It has a 1280×800 screen, and is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7250 @ 2.00GHz. It boasts a meagre 1 GB of RAM and an 85 GB hard disk. Nevertheless it runs just fine. It isn’t blazingly fast but it works fast enough that you don’t feel limited by it. But for me the best part of this whole experiment is that everything worked, right off the bat. If I close the lid it goes into hibernation. If I press the menu key beside the Alt Gr key I get a right-click context menu. Small things all of them, when counted on their own, but it does show just how far Ubuntu has come.

Forgive me Ubuntu for my lack of faith. I should have known better – it was just a matter of time.

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Going back to Natty

On the 13th October 2011 the latest version of Ubuntu became generally available. It is called Oneiric Ocelot, and some of the enhancements contained in this release are listed in this lifehacker article: Ubuntu Linux 11.10 “Oneiric Ocelot” Released; Here’s What’s New

Because of my strict habit of backing up my computer to two separate external devices on each and every day on which I have used it, I decided it would be easier to blow it away and install Oneiric from scratch. I have my backups to get my data and program settings back from, so why not? The alternative was to do an over the top upgrade but I thought i’d take the opportunity to have a clean and fresh install.

I installed Oneiric and then pulled back my data and added my small list of must-have applications from the Ubuntu Software Centre. Within 2 hours I was all done. Happy days? Not quite. After a few days working with 11.10 I have reversed the process and gone back to using Natty Narwhal, 11.04.


Well, there are a lot of small nice touches in Oneiric. Many of the new items that were introduced in Natty, especially to do with the Unity interface, have been refined and improved. You can see where the developers and designers are trying to get to, and they’re showing great promise in getting there. But there are a few niggling glitches that I can’t put up with.

Quite often an application will open with its menu bar hidden, tucked underneath the status bar of the desktop. Applications periodically need to be forcibly shut because they have frozen. Programs that worked fine in Natty have a stubborn streak in Oneiric. Sometimes things need two clicks when one should have been enough. Cumulatively there were too many small annoyances, so I reverted to Natty.

I will wait until Ubuntu 12.04 comes out, and see what the experience with Precise Pangolin is like. The 12.04 release is going to be a LTS release, which means it is a Long Term Support release. Between now and then the Ubuntu developers and designers will be doing much more work in refining and polishing the Unity interface and, importantly, the developers of the applications will be able to make the small tweaks and changes to their software to make it integrate and perform in Unity cohesively.

I’m not discouraged by my experience of Oneiric, instead I am excited about the potential for Precise Pangolin.

Here, Canonical talk about their Long Term Support being extended from 3 to 5 years: Ubuntu 12.04 to feature extended support period for desktop users

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Wubi – Windows Ubuntu Installer

I have an old Compaq laptop that I thought I’d put Ubuntu on. Unfortunately the hard disk is damaged and there must be bad sectors on it. Ubuntu therefore refuses to install.

I know – I should get a new hard disk and be done with it, but all I wanted to do was have a spare machine for testing and messing about. I also wanted to do some tests with Ubuntu and WiFi, and my desktop PC is hardwired and doesn’t use WiFi. If I was doing anything serious with the laptop I’d get a new hard disk for it – but I’m not, so I won’t.

As I say, Ubuntu checks the integrity of the disk before commencing the main part of the installation and refuses to install. Windows XP of course was either oblivious or uncaring – it installed without a murmur.

Wubi is an installer for Ubuntu that runs within Windows. It makes it easy to set up a dual-boot system. It also allows you to uninstall Ubuntu and revert to a single-boot Windows machine by going to the Add/Remove Programs settings within Windows and removing the Ubuntu entry.

I wondered. If Windows had gone over-written the bad sectors with Windows files, the Wubi installer wouldn’t have to check those areas of the hard disk. Perhaps I could get Ubuntu on to that disk through Windows, even though the naked Ubuntu install refused to co-operate.

Wubi is a small program (1.45 Mbyte), it doesn’t include the installation files themselves. I downloaded it and dropped it into a folder with the Ubuntu 11.04 ISO image file and started the Wubi.exe. it located the Ubuntu ISO image, and offered me a few settings I could provide values for, such as user name, password and how much of the hard disk to set aside as the Ubuntu partition.

It churned away to itself for a little while and then rebooted the laptop and the normal Ubuntu installation took place. When that was finished I had a dual boot laptop with Ubuntu 11.04 and Windows XP.

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Oneiric Ocelot Development and Release Cycle

I found this release cycle and development time line. It shows the release schedule and development phases of the next version of Ubuntu, which is code-named Oneiric Ocelot. It will be numbered 11.10.

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Easy Disaster Recovery

I recently had a broadband outage. While I was waiting to be re-connected to the world, I started thinking about outages in general, and disaster recovery in specific. As I posted elsewhere I backup my computer on each and every day I use it, to two external devices. But what I hadn’t done so far was a test restore from the backup to prove that the system worked.

I know you can do an entire snapshot of your Linux box using Clonezilla, which is a free and open source equivalent to Ghost. But the time taken to generate a snapshot and, more to the point, to restore one versus the time taken to do a fresh install of Ubuntu on my PC seemed too great. My theory was I could do a completely new install of Ubuntu, restore my data and do the small amount of customisation I do to my system in less time than it would take to do a restore of an image and then do a data restore on top of that.

Back in the Windows world it was different. The time taken to install all of my applications added greatly to the restore process, and the customisations and preference settings for each one added further delay to the restore time. it was also a manually-intensive and therefore error prone process. Given those circumstance I did use to image my PC using Acronis True Image.  But with Ubuntu because most of the applications I use are installed by default anyway there is no further time lost in getting those back on the PC. And as for the customisation or preference settings it should just be a case of copying the appropriate hidden folders from my backup into my home drive. Shouldn’t it?

I concluded that if there was a flaw with my back up process it would be better to find out now rather than when I’ve had a real-world disaster and need to get things back up and running fast. Time to bite the bullet. I re-installed Ubuntu and did a format during the process. Bullet well and truly bitten.

40 minutes later Ubuntu was up and running on my machine again. I’d given it the same name, gave myself the same user name, and used the same user password.

Obviously I had access straightaway to the stuff I have in the cloud, such as in Evernote. I copied my data back to my home folder: Documents, Music, Videos and so on. I fired up Firefox and logged into Firefox Synch, and retrieved all of my bookmarks and shortcut settings. I closed Firefox and copied the .mozilla folder from the backup drive to my home folder. Any file or folder whose name starts with a . is hidden. you need to hit Ctrl-H to toggle their visibility. I fired up Firefox again and it found all of my add-ons and their settings in the .mozilla folder.

I installed and started Thunderbird and then closed it down straight away. I copied the .thunderbird folder from my backup to my new home folder, restarted Thunderbird and all of my email accounts were there, with their settings and all of my email archives. Also the plug-ins I use in Thunderbird were all present and correct.

I was on a roll. Next: the same  thing for FileZilla. Copied the backup .filezilla folder to my home folder, started FileZilla and it had all of my FTP accounts in it with their connection settings, passwords etc.

And so it went on. Application after application had their settings and data dragged back and that was that – they were restored and set up in just the way I’d left them. Once my applications were back on the PC I then set up things like RecollIndex in Cron, and sSMTP and I did some of the visual customisations to the desktop that I like, and that was that. Obviously things would have been a bit more complicated if I had multiple users installed on the system, but as far as single user system restores go, that was a doddle. It was the easiest system restore I’ve ever been involved in.

And believe me, I’ve done my share of them.

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