Back to college in an eventful week.

It’s been quite a while since I have had the time to update my blog. The past week has been a pretty interesting one for me.

College kicked off last Monday for the new semester, and we had some fairly decent subjects and staff. I’m taking a C# course as an elective, and it sucks big time. I guess C and Python would be my favorites while I might do some coding using C++ and Java.  The labs we have this semester (only 2) are fun, what we call Jolly Labs, where you do something useful for half an hour and talk away the remainder of the time.

I finally got my Ubuntu One account, and immediately chose the 2GB free plan. I would evaluate it, and then when it is mature enough and distro-independent I’ll upgrade to a paid plan. I’ve also joined up with Saravanan to do something about Linux, and I’m learning something from him.

A few(very few, seventeen) of my classmates have chosen Natural Language Processing as an elective this semester, and we hear that no one else has chosen it for the past few years. I guess they saw the large syllabus and backed off, but they missed a lot. It is a very interesting area, and I just love it.

Seshadri finally came to college this Monday after a week’s holiday and he looks awkward without his spectacles. Guess it’ll take some time to get used to the sight if him without spectacles, but I’d have to stop poking fun at his eyesight. He’s a fine fellow, and a good friend. It’s great to see him back again.

Mozilla Firefox 3.5 was launched and it hits the competition for a sixer with the revamped and new features. It renders almost every page flawlessly, and a page I designed using CSS 3 worked only on Firefox versions 2 and above. TraceMonkey is real good, considering the speed at which I could use Google Docs. Firefox matched Google Chrome while typing text real fast, and beat it while opening and saving files. The most important feature I’d have loved to be in the specifications for HTML 5 is built into this version – open video and audio using Ogg Vorbis and Theora codecs. For more on my experiences with Firefox, look here: http://bit.ly/shiretoko_week

I had some trouble setting up a Drupal site on my local PC, but upgrading from 6.12 to 6.13 fixed it. I could not go past the database configuration page in 6.12, but after downloading 6.13 last night I created a small site in no time. I also learnt to back up and transfer a Drupal site to another host using a module. I must learn to do it manually by this month-end.

I’m looking forward to the Ashes and hope for a series like 2005, which is the best Ashes series I’ve seen. The first Test starts today, and I’ve bunked a few hours to catch the action. And I’m going to report on a couple of days at World Cricket Watch, my first matchday reports. The first Sri Lanka – Pakistan test surprised me. I was in class talking with my friends when the match would end, and how much Yousuf would score, but when I saw an update on my phone, SL had won! Now that is test cricket! Given a Test like this, and who wants T20?

Meanwhile in the cyberspace, rumours about a Google OS have finally become reality, according to a post in the official Google blog by Sundar Pitchai. I don’t see the need for another OS, whatever Google says about it. I think they’d better adopt a community project like Fedora and optimize it for whatever purpose they see fit.

Tata DOCOMO have launched their GSM services in my city, and I got a card. The voice quality is very good, but I’ll wait till enough people choose the network to see the quality. The GPRS charges are on the higher side compared to CellOne, and anyway I won’t be using DOCOMO regularly. It has the same status as my Reliance GSM connection, which I use sparingly.

That’s it for now, I’ll write more on all these matters as the events unfold.

Debian rocks!

I tried Ubuntu 9.04 the other day and was pretty upset with it. I had planned to install it alongside Sabayon 4.0 so that I could play around a bit. But it fell short of perfection – Firefox wouldn’t run, nor would my internet connection operate at full throttle. This put me off so I thought, “Why not install Debian”. I’ve seen rave reviews about Debian 5. One magazine, Linux For You, said that “it is the best valentine’s day gift for a Linux user.” in its March issue.

I have a habit of downloading every distro I stumble upon in the top distros list at DistroWatch. So I already had the install DVD on Debian at hand, and set upon installing it. The installation went fairly smoothly. And after running it for a few hours I wondered why I had not used it before – it was as stable as the Podhigai hills.(Wonder what that is? Podhigai hills in southern Tamil Nadu are among the oldest and most stable ranges in the world. Older and more stable than the Himalayas!) I had a few quirks though.

Firefox was rebranded as IceWeasel due to licensing issues. I don’t like this legalese and skipped it. And I wanted Firefox with all the branding intact. There was a page that helped me do this. This is what I did.

1. Downloaded Firefox from Get Firefox.

2. Opened up a terminal. Alt+F2, then gnome-terminal. I prefer the keyboard to the mouse.

3. Switched over to super-user mode:

$ su –

<Enter the Root Password>

4. Removed IceWeasel:

# apt-get remove iceweasel

5. Move Firefox setup archive to installation location, and move to that location:

# mv firefox-3.0.5.tar.bz2 /usr/lib/

# cd /usr/lib

6. Extract the contents of the archive:

# tar -jxvf firefox-3.0.5.tar.bz2

7. Add a link to the Firefox binary executable:

# ln -s /usr/lib/firefox/firefox /usr/bin/firefox

That’s it! I had Firefox, with all the branding intact. Then I installed all the add-ons I use, imported my profile by copying it into my /home/user/.mozilla/firefox/profiles directory.

The next stumbling block for me was that any command that needed the display wouldn’t run as root. So I couldn’t use gedit to edit my /etc/fstab file. This was a real worry, I had five partitions which contained data I use everyday and I could not add them to the file. NetBeans would not install due to the same problem. I found another get-around:

First, as a normal user enter this command:

$ xhost +
<Shell says> access control disabled, clients can connect from any host

$ su
<Enter root password>

Now as super-user enter this command:
# export DISPLAY=:0.0

Voila, everything worked as it should. The to the customary editing of configuration files, which was not a big deal. The first file I edit is the sudoers file:

1. Switch over to super-user mode:

$ su

<Enter root user password>

2. Enter this command to edit the sudoers file:

# visudo

3. Now goto the line that says:

root ALL= (ALL) ALL

4. Copy the line as such, substituting your username for root:

user_name ALL=(ALL)ALL

Now, you can do any operation using sudo. You have the same privileges as the root user, that’s how I like it, but be forewarned that you need to be really cautious if you want to do this. Running some commands (sudo rm is a major cause of worries to new users.) might render your system unusable.

There is also an option in the sudoers file, which is commented by default:

# %sudo ALL=NOPASSWD: ALL

If you want to use sudo option without needing to enter your password, you can uncomment the line:

%sudo ALL=NOPASSWD: ALL

This is a good option for single-user systems such as mine, but beware if your system is used in a multi-user environment. In that case, this won’t be necessary, in fact it’ll be a security loophole!

My debian system has never crashed so far, so it is among the most stable systems around, I suggest you give it a try too!