Saturday, January 21, 2006

Money can't buy happiness; money buys things that make you happy.

I made two major purchases this past week. Well, one was actually purchased earlier this month but didn't arrive until this week; if you have followed the saga of my Tiger Direct purchase you're familiar with the beginning of the story. The other purchase was a new bike. I think this is the first time I have made a major purchase for myself since the video card I got for Civ IV; before that, the last one would have been the LCD monitor for my main PC, almost a year ago.

I bought the drive so I could continue holding on to all the TV shows I download. I had looked up a few tutorials online and had a good handle on what I needed to do. The Asus Pundit that serves as my media PC is a limited device that, for example, only has one IDE channel, so I had to disconnect my DVD drive to put in the drive. The partitioning and everything went fine; my plan was to do a simple direct copy from one drive to another so I wouldn't need to much around with setup or configuration issues. It would all be exactly the same as before, just with extra space at the end. It would all be so SIMPLE!

It turns out that copying 120GB of data takes quite a while, so I let it run overnight. The next day after work I came back and made an unfortunate discovery. In an egregrious error, I had left off the destination directory for the non-media files I was copying. As a result, I had dumped a whole bunch of extra stuff in the /var directory. I groaned; with the extra space in there, I probably wouldn't be able to fit everything into my root partition. I jumped into /var and looked around. Well, /var/bin was obviously not supposed to be there. Same with /var/sbin, /var/usr, /var/root... I did a simple rm-rf with a list of directories and let it rip.

Here's a hint: a story that contains the phrase "rm -rf" will never turn out well.

Well, it turns out that there IS such a thing as /var/lib, and by getting rid of it I had totally reamed my Myth setup. The new disk booted perfectly but couldn't do anything at all with Myth; the issue I saw was with the database, but there were probably more problems even if I'd gotten past that. I spent some time with my Mandrake 10.0 install disks trying to resurrect it, but everything was just too fragmented.

So, after stewing for a while, I decided to try and look on this as a GOOD thing. That OS had been out for a while, and it was an earlier version of MythTV. I hadn't dared to upgrade previously, just because I vividly remembered the entire week it had taken me to get the whole contraption working in the first place; removing or updating a single component was liable to make the whole system fall down around my ears. But since I had to reinstall anyways, I'd take advantage of the change to try out some more modern setups.

After some poking around I settled on Ubuntu. I've been hearing good things about it for a while, it's another user-friendly distribution with a strong focus on accessibility and usefulness. To be specific, I got Kubuntu, a variation of Ubuntu which comes bundled with KDE, my desktop of choice.

So, why didn't I just grab the latest Mandrake/Mandriva? In all honesty, it was a hard choice to make. I've been a loyal Mandrake user for nearly six years and have even joined the Club as a financial supporter. I view them as pioneers in bringing Linux to the masses and having the philosophy that sometimes it's OK if something takes 30 seconds to do instead of half an hour. Yet, at heart Mandriva is a Red Hat derivative distribution, and as a result they're hamstrung by their reliance on RPMs (Redhat Package Manager files). For years I've envied Debian users their ability to just type "apt-get mplayer" where I would need to spend an hour tracking down the package, its dependencies, the codecs, compile tools, and more. Since (K)Ubuntu is a Debian derivative, this was my chance to finally jump over.

And, really, simplicity is good. When I was first fiddling around with this stuff in college it was kind of fun to spend an afternoon trying to make a particular piece of software compile. I even learned a thing or two that were applicable to my major and career. But whether it's my diminished free time or advancing age, these days I just want my software to work. Now, I'm not switching my allegience to Windows, because I'm still a firm believer in the principles of free software. So, if I have the chance to grab something easy, full-featured and free, I'll take it.

Ubuntu has largely lived up to that promise. It installed smoothly on my new drive, auto-detected all my hardware, and even downloaded updated packages over the network while installing, instead of running updates after I was done. What's even better than the software, though, is the user community. It was ridiculously easy to find pages on the Web describing exactly the tasks I needed to do: installing Myth, setting up a homebrew IR receiver, setting up Samba. There was no brain power involved, I just copy-pasted a series of commands from the browser into the console. Truth be told I even felt a little guilty.

Not to say that it was all flawless, of course. I had a couple of issues getting my videos to play properly; I tried a while to make mplayer do what it should before giving up and switching to xine, which is what the author of my HOWTO had suggested all along anyways. And somewhere along the line I messed up the system for accessing privileged settings in the GUI; I got around that by just using "gksudo konqueror" from the console and navigating to the right place. And setting up the remote is always the hardest part, but I'd thought to save my configuration files from before so it just took a little trial and error before even that was working properly.

Now everything's pretty much set up. It's even better than my previous configuration because autologin finally works; I can just power on the box and it goes right to Myth without me needing to type anything. I should be able to do more with DVDs this time around, too, since xine supports DVD menus. There are just a few things left to do; I need to set up NFS file sharing for communication with my other Linux box, and I need to figure out how to install MythGame (for some reason, only this package appears unavailable on apt-get). And I still can't get digital audio out to work, but I never could before either, and I think this is more a shortcoming with ALSA (the new Linux sound system) than anything I'm doing.

So earlier this evening I finally quashed the remaining bugs and set everything back together. It feels nice to have my system back. The first thing I watched was last Thursday's Colbert Report, a good episode as usual. Probably the highlight of this show was during The Word (I think): "It's true because it rhymes." I don't remember what the words were, but that just made my day; I think that Justin used to say that back in middle school. He also had one of his best "Better Know a District" interviews yet; the congressman was neither combatative nor trying to be funny, just played a perfect straight man to Colbert (who ate an entire breadstick in one long take and ended the interview by combing the man's moustache). Oh, and the regular interview was pretty good, too: it was Nina Totenberg from NPR, and they had a great wide-ranging chat. There are a few interview patterns that work on the show, and they tend to involve people being relaxed and open to bizarre experiences. Nina was great at both. One last thing: Another piece of great dialog: "I accept your apology." "I didn't apologize." "Too late!" * Click *

Now that that's all done, the new drive frees up the old drive. Previously my main Linux box (Aule; all of my PCs are named after Valar) booted Linux on a 40GB drive and Windows on an 8GB drive. When I'm done it'll do everything off the 120GB drive. I've already installed and set up Windows; I was briefly concerned that I would have trouble with authorization, since the install CD is an OEM one and I wasn't sure if it would transfer to a new installation, but they accepted it and everything seems fine now. Anyways, I set up Windows and have all my core software on there. In case you're curious, here's how it breaks down:
  • Security: Latest Windows Update patches, Spybot S&D, Ad Aware, and AVG Free (Antivirus)
  • Utility: Firefox and Cygwin
  • Firefox extensions: Adblock, All-In-One Gestures, BugMeNot
  • Entertainment: ITunes, WinAmp and VLC (VideoLan Client)
  • Hardware: Latest NVidia Forceware, updated Creative drivers for my Audigy
I'll definitely add more as time goes on, but that's enough to make me feel that I have a stable base to work with. Other than the items under Security, the single most important thing on the list is Firefox. If you prefer Opera or something else more power to you, but it's terribly important to use something other than IE for browsing.

Because I could I went ahead and installed the games I'm thinking of playing sometime soon: Pirates!, Civ IV, and Elder Scrolls (still need to beat Bloodmoon). Oh, and I'd hooked up my two old drives on the secondary IDE channel, so I went through my old Windows drive and copied over my saved games, ITunes music, and other items I wanted to hold onto. I'll follow a similar process once I put Linux on the drive.

Speaking of which, as I type this now I'm installing Kubuntu on there. I've been very pleased with it while I've been setting up my media box (that one's Nessa, in case you're curious), so I decided to just go ahead and put the same on both boxes. The setup for Aule is a little different, obviously, since that one dual-boots and will just have a lot more software on there... I'll be putting on databases and editors and compile tools for my personal programming. But the actual space requirements will be far lower; I'm now moving all my media files, both video and music, on to Nessa, so all that will be on this drive is games (Windows) and applications/pictures/email/archives (Linux). That's a lot of files, but comparatively far less space, and I doubt I'll ever fill this up.

Hm... I'd planned on hitting both the new drive and the bike in this post, but it's getting late and the install's still running. I think I'll go to bed now and do the bike post sometime tomorrow. So, uh, stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Wow... I'm half impressed and half confused! LOL I've never had any experience whatsoever with anything you're talking about--I do know Firefox and I've been exposed to Linux--but somehow I'm pretty sure your system is about a million times better than my laptop. So let me congratulate you on what sounds like fruition of a lot of hard work!

    As for not quite getting it, I myself am totally psyched every time I hear "~nda" and "~njanai" used as a command form--which I discovered completely on my own BTW--so I know what it's like to have expertise that not all your friends can appreciate. :)

    Peace and fireworks!