Sunday, 31 July 2011

Installing Ubuntu 11.04 on Packard Bell Imedia S1800

I have recently installed Ubuntu 11.04 onto a Packard Bell Imedia S1800 with a Pentium Dual-Core E5800 (@3.20 GHz), 3GB Ram, 1TB HDD and an AOC e2043Fs Series 20" LED monitor. For the most part everything is running as expected with only one bug cropping up, which I will get to below, but for now I will briefly go through the steps I took to get my desktop up and running as I like it.
I always follow the same procedure for every fresh/new install when it comes to partitioning the HDD (all in ext4 format):
  • 10-15 GB for / (root)
  • x2 the installed RAM for swap (so 3GB x 2 = 6GB swap)
  • The remaining is left for the /home

Other users may not bother with this, others might install several partitions, but the main advantage of having a /home partition is that your personal data is separate from the operating system. In the future should you perform a fresh install of Ubuntu, which I usually do instead of an upgrade when each new release comes out, you just keep the above partitions but DO NOT format the /home. Once the install is complete all your files and folders are sitting there, as well as all your preferences. In cases were something has gone horribly wrong with your install, maybe due to an unintended terminal command, your personal data is often left perfectly safe as you use a Live CD to recover. Of course this is no excuse for not having a safe backup, which I also highly recommend.

The above is the most complex stage of any Ubuntu install should you decide to partition. The rest now is adding personal settings. First things first, turn on your repos for updates. The easiest way to do this is press the 'super' (windows) key and then start typing 'synaptic', then click 'synaptic package manager' when it appears. In synaptic select 'setting - repositories', here I usually select all except the 'source code' option. In the next tab, 'other software' I make sure the repos are all selected, in the 'updates' tab I select all the options and set the auto updates to daily, then in the final 'statistics' tab I always choose to submit information. Once all that is done I reload the repo's, mark all upgrades and apply!


Turning on the software sources in Synaptic Package Manager

The next step is to download the latest version of Ubuntu Tweak. There does seem to be a love/hate divide when it comes to this software, but I just find that it makes life with Ubuntu that bit more convenient, it is also a really useful tool for adding popular software and adding further personal tweaks. Anything that Ubuntu Tweak does can be done via synaptic, or a few terminal commands, but this is nicely packaged in an user-friendly GUI. Personally I find that Ubuntu Tweak bridges the divide between synaptic (function before form) and the Ubuntu Software Center (form before function). Here you can go through picking all your favourite software and adding any repo's you would like to try out. Do not dismiss the warning about enabling repo's lightly!

Tweaking with Ubuntu Tweak

The next step can potenttially get you into bother so I just mention it to make you aware! You may notice that if you try to watch a DVD that it probably will not work, in the Ubuntu Software Center you will find the option to purchase the Fluendo Complete Playback Pack, which is what you are supposed to do.

Ubuntu Software Center and the Fluendo media pack

Others use Medibuntu as an alternative to this option, after following the instructions to add the Medibuntu repo on their website the following two terminal commands would be required to fulfil all your multimedia needs:
  • sudo apt-get install non-free-codecs 
  • sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2


    DVD playing as normal, and one of my favorite detectives too!

    By this stage almost everything I need is up and running but some really useful applications are (via synaptic):
    • compizconfig-settings-manager (for adjusting your various desktop effects)
    • gufw (for managing your firewall settings)
    • banshee-community-extensions (loads of useful extras for Banshee media player)
    • boinc-manager (if you like helping with world community grid or SETI)
    • calibre (manage your ebook collection and ereader, like my Kindle)
    • deja-dup (backup tool, encrypts and can store in the cloud or locally)
    • gimp (powerful image manipulation program, think Photoshop!)
    • postr (or Flickr Uploader, shotwell is good, but this is better at some things)
    • skype (very useful voip service)

      Lots of option in the Compiz settings manager

      Via Ubuntu Tweak you can add PPA's for:
      • Google Chrome (web browser)
      • Shutter (a great screen capture tool, lots of options)
      • Faenza Icons/Theme (they are just plain cool!)
      • Weather Indicator (if you want some useful info in the top panel)

        The Weather Indicator in use

        But all those are just little things I do, there are just too many to mention and you can tweak to your hearts content. Really helps that they are all free, but donations are always welcome of course! You can also find Google Earth out there and for those that like to converse via Chrome you will need the Google Voice and Chat Plugin. Another useful tweak is to add a quicklist, for more on those you can check this blog post for more information.

        The only bug that I have to mention with the Packard Bell Imedia S1800 is to do with the headphone jack, normally the speakers should auto-mute when you plug in the headphone jack, but this does not happen here. The sound continues to be played from both the headphones and speakers! You can follow the bug report here.

        Hopefully you found something up there useful and most will apply to any Ubuntu install, though 11.10 is supposed to do away with synaptic, which is probably another Empathy-esque mistake as they implement stylish replacements for solid applications with the promise of future feature implementation.

        Peace
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        Thursday, 28 July 2011

        Ubuntu 11.04 Quicklists

        Ubuntu's new Unity interface has been a cause of some debate, but overall the majority seem to be growing to love it, especially as more ways of tweaking it become more easily accessible. Most application indicators have been removed in favour of cleaning up the top panel, with the respective applications grouped under their specific groups. This idea has generally worked, though obvious examples such as the Skype indicator stand out as items that still need work. The coming 11.10 release will see further refinements with items like the 'MeMenu' being redesigned and moved, but for now lets have a look at one method of making the Unity 'not-a-dock' a little more useful.

         Which one of these things do not belong?

        One quick tweak to make life a bit easier is using Quicklists to make common application tasks that bit easier to access, currently I am using a quicklist on my Home Folder

        Home Folder Quicklist

        To create your own quicklist just like this, then just follow these few quick steps;
        • We begin by copying the Home Folder launcher file to the home directory, do this by opening a Terminal then copy and paste the following:
        cp /usr/share/applications/nautilus-home.desktop ~/.local/share/applications
        • Now we have to open the text file for editing with:
        gedit ~/.local/share/applications/nautilus-home.desktop
        • Look for the following line:
        OnlyShowIn=GNOME; 
        • Then change it to the following:
        OnlyShowIn=GNOME;Unity;
        • Then below the last line of text copy and paste the following:
        X-Ayatana-Desktop-Shortcuts=Documents;Downloads;Pictures;Music;Videos
        [Documents Shortcut Group]
        Name=Documents
        Exec=nautilus Documents
        TargetEnvironment=Unity
        [Downloads Shortcut Group]
        Name=Downloads
        Exec=nautilus Downloads
        TargetEnvironment=Unity
        [Pictures Shortcut Group]
        Name=Pictures
        Exec=nautilus Pictures
        TargetEnvironment=Unity
        [Music Shortcut Group]
        Name=Music
        Exec=nautilus Music
        TargetEnvironment=Unity
        [Videos Shortcut Group]
        Name=Videos
        Exec=nautilus Videos
        TargetEnvironment=Unity

        • Now save the file before closing, log out and log back in. Right-clicking the Home Folder launcher will now give you your new quicklist


        It should go something like this

        If this impress's you then you are in for a treat as there is no end to what you can create quicklists for, to give yourself an idea have a look at the ever increasing list of examples on the Ask Ubuntu thread 'List of custom Launchers & Quicklists for Unity'. There is a good chance you will find one there for your favourite application and makes your Ubuntu experience that little bit more efficient.

        And for those wondering, the next bleeding edge release of Ubuntu, 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot, is due for release on the 24th October. Since it is the release before the 12.04 Long Term Release this will be the last chance for any big changes to land, and so far we are looking at the removal of Evolution in favour of Thunderbird, the MeMenu refinements mentioned above, no more 'classic' desktop and a raft of other refinement. But all this is subject to change of course ;-)

        Peace

        Tuesday, 12 July 2011

        Exploring Meath's Heritage - Battle of the Boyne

        The largest land battle ever to take place in Ireland occurred just outside of the coastal town of Drogheda when some 61,000 men faced off to decide who got to sit on the throne of England, the Battle of the Boyne website describes it as;

        Both kings commanded their armies in person. William had 36,000 men and James had 25,000 - the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. English, Scottish, Dutch, Danes and Huguenots (French Protestants) made up William’s army (Williamites), while Jame’s men (Jacobites) were mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were the British throne, French Dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland.
        William’s camp was on the north side of the river. James’s was on the south side with the two armies facing each other. William’s battle plan was to trap the Jacobite army in a pincer movement. He sent 10,000 men towards Slane which drew the bulk of the Jacobities upstream in response. With 1,300 Jacobites posted in Drogheda, only 6,000 were left at Oldbridge to confront 26,000 Williamites. All the fighting took place on the south side of the river as the vastly outnumbered Jacobite defended their position against the advancing Williamites. William himself crossed at Drybridge with 3,500 mounted troops.
        The princer movement failed. King James’s army retreated across the River Nanny at Duleek and regrouped west of the Shannon to carry on the war.
        Approximately 1,500 soldiers were killed at the Boyne.
        Battle of the Boyne
        The Battle of the Boyne visitor center

        Part of the site today is owned by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and there now stands the Battle of the Boyne visitor center which is opened all year round. The location is easy to find, just come off the M1 at Drogheda or just come from the direction of Slane, the roads are great fun especially if you are coming from Navan so a great day out. There is free car parking and if you decide not to enter the visitor center then everything else is free too, the walled gardens, several walks and the 'living history' displays throughout the day. If you pay a little extra then you get entry into the visitor center which lets you walk through full size mock-ups of the general's tents the night before battle. In the following room there are various weapons that would have been used and an interactive map of the battlefield that plays out the days events.

        Battle of the Boyne
        The artillery yard

        Following this you enter into a courtyard which has all the artillery pieces and their various support equipment out in the open with an information point providing full descriptions. There is also an audio visual room with a 13 min film that gives a very good account of what happened on that day in 1690. All this is what you pay the entry fee for, but there is plenty of other things to do too.

        Part of the living history display with the infantry soldier

        The 'living history' shows are hourly, which are essentially mini-reenactments, the people involved are dressed in the attire and I got to see one who played the role of an infantry man and a second who played the  part of a cavalry soldier. Each person gave a full account of what life for each was like, the infantry man brought along and fired two types of muskets and each session ended in a Q&A session. Each lasted about 30mins and they had microphones so that could always be heard, not bad for free!

        Here comes the cavalry

        There are also several walks which are well marked on various maps and sign-posted. Nothing too rigorous as most of the walking just involves crossing fields. There is also a very nice 'tea pavilion' which looks out over the walled gardens, which do not seem to be completely finished but they still are nice to walk around and get a feel for what more is to come.

        Battle of the Boyne
        View from the bottom of the walled garden towards the tea pavilion and visitor center

        There are picnic tables dotted around and plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the well maintained grounds,  overall I had a really good day there and recommend. Go along, enjoy some Irish history, together with some muskets and gun-powder. For some more picture you can go to my Flickr album here.

        Battle of the Boyne
        View of the bothy, dog kennels, sculpture and peach house

        Peace and keep the rubber side down.
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        Saturday, 9 July 2011

        A Brief Step Into The West

        Just back from an overnight trip to County Clare and some of its best known attractions, though for me the Cliffs of Moher was the main reason for going. Thanks to the M4 you can travel from one side of Ireland to the other relatively swiftly, though at the cost of 2 tolls (90c x 2 for a motorcycle), but any decent GPS can be set to avoid them. The weather was not going to be the best, but here in Ireland if you don't ride in the rain then you don't ride! Though motorcyclists are usually the best prepared for visiting Ireland's outdoor attractions since we are usually well prepared for the worst of the weather while other huddle indoors and for the first time do not stop to ask "but don't you get hot in all that?".


        The first destination was Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey center, though I had often heard of the cave the Birds of Prey I knew little of and it turned out to be the real highlight of the trip and well worth the journey. Let me just mention now that for anyone visiting any of the following attractions to go to their websites and book online beforehand, you will save a nice bit of change by doing this and in some cases you have 12 months to use the ticket. All the grounds and aviaries were in excellent condition and you could get close enough to get some really good pictures. During the day, and depending on the weather, there are displays with the birds and the audience get multiple chances to participate. The staff are very friendly and overall I can highly recommend.

        Aillwee Cave - Birds of Prey
        This is 'Owly' in action, he is a bit dim but lovable

        Following the Birds of Prey center the next destination was the actual Aillwee Cave, which is a 5 minute walk up a hill, but you can also drive up or take a bus that goes back and forth all day long. Here you get a guided tour through the 400m long cave which lasts approx 30-40mins, the tour guide was very friendly and was very comfortable dealing with the children on the tour. The story behind how the cave was found is almost as interesting as anything you see in there, also you only really get to see a fraction of the entire cave with much of it (and three underground lakes) not easily accessible. Overall an interesting experience.

        Aillwee Cave
        The waterfall inside Aillwee Cave

        Following Aillwee Cave the next destination on the trip was the Poulnabrone Dolmen, just 6km's south of Aillwee. The site is of a portal tomb, some 4000+ years old, it has good parking and information points along the path to the dolmen explaining the rich history of the site. This is well worth visiting, especially since it is free, and also you get your first real sample of the burren's bleak landscape which has been described as "a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him" (Edmund Ludlow, 1651-52).

        Poulnabrone Dolmen
        At 4000+ years it is not looking too bad

        After the dolmen the final destination for the first day was Logues Hotel in the coastal town of Liscannor. Upon arrival we were immediately greeted by a cat who seemed to be a resident of the hotel, we would see it again the following morning as we left curled up in the sun room. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful, WiFi is available throughout, the food in the restaurant was good quality, rooms were clean and warm, so overall can happily recommend. There was not too much to see in the town, but we did go for an evening stroll to visit Liscannor castle at the rear of the the local school. The next morning we had full breakfast to kick off the day and a pot of coffee, with the poor weather that had arrived this was a necessity.

        Liscannor
        Liscannor Castle

        The final destination of the trip was the Cliffs of Moher, just a few km's north of Liscannor along the coast. Despite the wind and rain we were determined to make the most of the visit, but thanks to the bike gear we were much better prepared then some people coming off the tour buses in shorts and sandals! If you have booked online for the visitor center then you will have saved some money but as it turns it this is not a must, especially if you have a motorcycle. If is more than possible for you to find a location outside the car-park and then just walk to the cliffs, thus bypassing any entry fee's. Even on a bad day the cliff's looked impressive and easily accessible thanks to the paths along the cliff, though avoid using the telescope's, most seemed to be broken.

        Cliffs of Moher
        The Cliffs of Moher

        After the cliffs it was back on the road home in the pouring rain, but even in these conditions the R478 is great fun to ride, but have liked to have tried it on a dry day to get a real feel for it. I have posted photo albums on Flickr for Aillwee Cave (and birds of prey), Ballyallaban, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Liscannor and the Cliffs of Moher. Looking forward to exploring the roads around the Burren again, but hopefully with better weather next time.

        Peace and keep the rubber side down.