Tag Archives: Ubuntu

Sometimes it’s the simple things

Have you ever wrestled with a problem for far too long, before realizing that the solution was actually really simple?  I love to point and laugh when this happens to other people, but yesterday it happened to me.

A long time ago (on a server far, far away), I installed Lighttpd, and set up a very simple site.  The config file was only a few lines long – it pointed at the index page, and had the required mime-types for PHP and HTML.  For what I wanted at the time, that was fine.

I left the server for a long time, and completely forgot about how it was set up.

I decided to change the page that was on the server to a more useful wiki.  I installed MediaWiki, and everything looked OK until the installer completed, and I was greeted with an un-styled front page.

My first thought was that the paths were wrong.  I checked to make sure that there were no .htaccess rules that would affect how the page looked.  Lighttpd stores URL rewriting rules in config files (lighttpd.conf, or a mysite.conf file for each site), rather than in .htaccess, so checking that you’ve converted all the rules over to Lighttpd’s syntax is a good first step.

As far as I could see, everything was correct.  So, to me, the next obvious issue was folder permissions.  Everything in the /www folder should, in theory be owned by the wwwdata group and www user.  However, in this case I had used wget to download MediaWiki while logged in as an unrelated user, and I had chgrp / chown-ed the folders afterwards.  I thought that I may have made a mistake with the file permissions.

That turned out not to be the case.  After that, my troubleshooting skills failed me.  I tried re-installing Media Wiki, I even re-set up the site in Lighttpd – basically anything but checking that one darn config file.

Of course, after wasting far too much time on the problem, I went back to basics, and guess what – adding the mime information for .css files fixed the problem.  Yes, you can point and laugh now!

So, the moral of today’s story is – sometimes the most obvious things are worth looking at.


2009 Wrap Up

This is my first post as part of an Absolute Write blog chain.  The site runs blog chains every month, and this month, the topic is “Wrap Up List 2009” – a chance to reflect on the previous year. At the bottom of this post you will find a list of the other people participating in the chain. I encourage you to take a look at their blogs – there’s some good writers taking part.

I’m pleased to say that 2009 was a decent year for me.  I’m looking forward to 2010, and plan to build on the foundations set this year.


I had some health issues this year, but my doctors have been great.  I think this is worth mentioning because I moved relatively recently, and the doctors at my former place of residence were terrible.  At one point I had to get so sick I was hospitalized – for something that turned out to need a course of antibiotics – because my old doctor insisted all my symptoms were in my head. If you have a good doctor, be thankful!

I took up weight lifting this year, and I’m working towards a weight goal in bench / deadlift.  I’m planning to buy a squat rack next summer so that I can start squatting more regularly – at the moment it’s awkward  and a little dangerous to try to squat heavy weights, so I’m only doing weights I know I can manage easily to get the form down.

Next year I hope to compete in a powerlifting competition.  I’m not expecting to do well, but at least I’ll be able to say I’ve competed.


In 2008, I started working on my first book, the WordPress-MU Beginner’s Guide. It was published by Packt Publishing in October 2009, and next month I’ll find out how the early sales went.  Initial reviews have been positive, and I learned a lot about the publishing process while working on the title.  I’m looking forward to writing more books with Packt in the future.

I also started working as a proof reader (and I’m sure that mentioning that will mean this post is riddled with typos and other errors).  It’s a job that I enjoy because I get to read interesting books – before they’re published, and get paid to do it!

I’m currently working on a technical review of a book about Ubuntu for tech publishing company O’Reilly, and I’m really enjoying that title too.  My publisher has cleared me to work on a short ebook for O’Reilly, something that I’m very grateful for.  I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about option clauses, so having a publisher that’s willing to work with their authors to maintain a good relationship makes me feel blessed.

Ubuntu Membership

Writing about, and reviewing a book on Ubuntu has made me get more involved with the community.  I’ve already posted about Ubuntu Membership, and that’s something I plan to pursue next year.  This year I started to learn packaging, and I got involved with the bug triaging project, and I hope to continue both of those things long term.


Myth Games – the site I run which offers game reviews and news, moved to a new server this year.  I’m working on ironing out some bugs and adding some new site features which should make it easier to update and to add new content.  The site move and the associated downtime killed our traffic in the short term,but it’s going back up, and I hope it will exceed it’s former traffic levels by the time E3 (the biggest trade show in the industry) comes around again.

We missed E3 last year because of my health issues.  Hopefully that won’t happen again in 2010.


I have a lot of respect for people who can write fiction. I’m working on a couple of short stories, but I have a lot to learn in that regard.  I didn’t take part in NANOWRIMO this year, and that’s something I regret.  Rather than delay the whole thing until next November, I think I’ll have an unofficial NANO sometime in the spring – anything to get me writing, and get over this fear of fiction.

Legends Reborn is still in progress.  It’s a mammoth project, though, so I’m not expecting to have much to show for it until this time next year. I have a couple of betas lined up, but I don’t want to pull them in until I know what *I* want to do, because I fear too many changes will burn them out.


I got my provisional driving license recently, and I plan on learning to drive in the spring.  The weather is far too bad (icy / dark / wet) to learn at the moment.  I will be taking an advanced course, assuming I pass, so that I have an idea how to handle such weather.  I just don’t want my first experience of handling a vehicle to be skidding off the road!

That concludes my wrap-up. The other participants in the blog chain are listed below. Please do take a look at them, and wish them all well for next year!

Lost Wanderer – http://www.lostwanderer5.blogspot.com
Claire Crossdale – http://theromanticqueryletter.blogspot.com/
coryleslie – http://corrinejackson.wordpress.com/
bsolah – http://benjaminsolah.com/blog
DavidZahir – http://zahirblue.blogspot.com/
RavenCorinnCarluk – http://ravencorinncarluk.blogspot.com
Ralph Pines – http://ralfast.wordpress.com/
shethinkstoomuch – http://shethinkstoomuch.wordpress.com
Lady Cat – http://www.randomwriterlythoughts.blogspot.com
truelyana – http://expressiveworld.com
misaditas – http://misaditas-novels.blogspot.co

collectonian – http://collectonian.livejournal.com/632314.html (PREVIOUS)
razibahmed – http://www.blogging37.com

beawhiz – http://beawrites.wordpress.com
FreshHell – http://freshhell.wordpress.com
AlissaC – http://alissacarleton.blogspot.com
Aimee – http://writing.aimeelaine.com
Forbidden Snowflake – http://www.alleslinks.com

Working Towards Ubuntu Membership

I’ve been using Ubuntu off and on for quite a while now.  My first distro was Gutsy (before then I was mostly using Debian).  Over the last year or so, I’ve become increasingly involved with the community, and I’ve learned about Ubuntu Membership.

Ubuntu Members are people who are actively involved in the community, and have made a “significant and sustained” contribution to the community.  The wiki suggests that you should have been active for a couple of months before applying, but I’ve noticed that most people wait a lot longer than that.

One person recently welcomed as a member, Alan Bell, made an interesting post to the Ubuntu-UK mailing list about his involvement in the community, and the path to membership.  You can read this on Amber’s blog, along with her thoughts about membership.

Alan makes a good point that membership is a way of you fellow members recognizing that you are contributing to the community.  Membership can be earned in a number of ways; by helping your fellow users, promoting Ubuntu and other F/LOSS projects, bug triaging, translation, art and design.  If you use Ubuntu and want to help the project grow, there’s probably something that will suit your skills.   In my opinion, the hardest part of earning membership is documenting the things that you’re doing on the wiki page, and plucking up the courage to ask your friends in the Ubuntu community for sponsorship!

I’m considering applying to become an Ubuntu Member at some point next year, although I may follow the developer’s MOTU process instead.  Becoming a MOTU automatically means that you’re a member, so if I can get a handle on packaging and the Ubuntu process for that sort of thing, it’s an appealing route.

I’ve seen a lot of people coming in to #ubuntu-bugs and #ubuntu-motu on Freenode and asking how they can get given membership.   My question to people who are so desperate to become a member is “why?”.   There are very few privileges attached to becoming a member, so it’s not as if you need the status to be able to contribute to the Ubuntu project.

If you’re a new developer, then your initial uploads will need checked and sponsored, and once you’ve proven that you’re reliable, your sponsor will probably suggest that you apply for MOTU status.  Bug triagers have a similar route with BugSquad (that doesn’t grant membership, AFAIK, but showing that you’ve worked on bug triaging for a sustained period will probably help).  For other work, you can do it all without having a fancy name tag. After all, you’re doing it because you love the OS, right?

Testing Citadel server

I’ve had a VPS for a couple of months now, and I hate to admit it, but I’ve only moved over three of my domains.  My main business domain is still on a shared hosting account, because I want to make sure that the VPS is running smoothly, and can cope with the bandwidth and load demands that the business domain will create.

One of the last things I wanted to set up was a good groupware server.  After a little research, I decided to try out Citadel.

The VPS was originally running Ubuntu 6.06, which is LTS, so is still getting security updates, but is otherwise pretty out of date, and I ended up in dependency hell trying to install Citadel.  I upgraded to Intrepid.   To Ubuntu’s credit, the upgrade was fast and easy.  Citadel installed, but wouldn’t start as a service.

After a few support requests on the Citadel and Ubuntu community boards – which recieved some helpful suggestions, but in the end didn’t resolve the problem, I ended up trying Citadel in a CentOS VM.  It proved to be exactly what I was looking for.  So, I asked my host to re-image the VPS to CentOS.  That’s not a reflection on Ubuntu as a sever, just that there was something about the VPS’s configuration that Citadel didn’t like, and at such an early stage, with a deadline looming, it was easier to start from scratch with something that was known to work.

So far, CentOS is running well.  It’s taking a while to get used to where it puts all the config files, but Apache and PHP are up and running, as is an FTP server.  I still need to sort out phpMyAdmin though.

Citadel is up and running, accepting mail for two domains.  I’m liking the Jabber feature, and looking in to setting up Funambol for push email.  The only thing I need now is to find a good email client for Windows that can understand GroupDAV.

The race to installation – From Kubuntu to Xubuntu.

This is part two of the XP vs Ubuntu setup time test.

The test turned out to be less scientific than I had first thought.  The machine that was due to get Kubuntu installed on it was a former Windows 2000 machine.  I hadn’t checked the specs with the friend that I ‘rescued’ the machine from, and hadn’t even booted the machine up – I’d just assumed that it would be powerful enough to run Kubuntu with all its eye candy.

The machine turned out to be a 900Mhz Intel with 256MB RAM, a very slow, small hard drive, and a Riva TNT 16MB AGP graphics card.

Interestingly enough, the actual install of Kubuntu was 12 minutes faster than the XP installation on a faster, newer machine.  After installation, the machine booted to an 800×600 desktop, but it did have internet access.

Unfortunately, the NVidia Legacy drivers didn’t want to work with Kubuntu 8.10.  The machine also ran appallingly slowly.

I have plenty of spare bits lying around so put some more memory in the machine, and upgraded the graphics card to a Geforce 3.  I decided that Xubuntu would be a better choice performance wise, since the KDE desktop eye candy wasn’t really needed anyway.

Xubuntu installed nice and quickly, but the desktop was still in 800×600.  Installing the NVidia 86 drivers didn’t help – in fact after enabling the restricted drivers the desktop shrank to 640×480!  It took a couple of hours of messing around with Xorg.conf (and the X recovery tool) to persuade it to boot in 1024×768.  Once that was set up, however, everything else worked perfectly.  Installing the available updates and restricted packages required to be able to watch videos, etc, was a semi-unattended task which took about 3 hours – mostly because our net connection has been crawling for the past few days.

Getting Xubuntu up and running was fast and easy, except for the issue with the desktop resolution.  I did try using EnvyNG, but in the end dropping down to the command line turned out to be the solution. It’s impressive that Xubuntu installs so quickly, but I could imagine many ‘normal users’ giving up if faced with similar graphics problems.

Now that the Xubuntu box is up and running, I plan to use it for C++ and Python work (freeing up my Windows setup for gaming!), but I must admit, I’m falling in love with Kontact and K-Mail.

Ubuntu vs XP Home – Race to Setup

The VPS which hosts  The SlayerCafe and will soon host Myth Games, as well as a bunch of other sites, runs Ubuntu.  I’ve been very impressed with the speed and stability of the server, so I’ve decided to try a desktop setup with Kubuntu.

There’s a discussion on UbuntuForums about the readiness of Ubuntu for the desktop, and one recurring theme is how long different OSes take to set up, so I decided to do a little test.

My niece got a laptop for Christmas.  It’s a good machine, way more powerful than what she needs – Dual Core, 2Gig RAM, big hard drive.  The only thing ‘weak’ about it is the graphics card (shared graphics memory and outdated shaders), but since she isn’t really a gamer it’s fine.

Her desktop machine is slightly older, but has a Shader Model 3.0 capable Geforce 7600.  She stopped using the desktop as soon as she got the laptop.  We all assumed it was because she liked having a webcam built in to the laptop, plus she could use the laptop to IM friends while watching TV.

It turns out, though, that the desktop has been broken for quite a few months.  It kept blue screening on bootup.  We arranged to take the machine back to ‘the lab’, and check it out properly.  We tried all the usual stuff – check drivers, change out graphics card, change out memory, virus and spyware scan, but nothing obvious worked.  The machine wasn’t used for anything important, so we decided that rather than spend ages trying to salvage a Windows XP Home install that could have been abused in any number of ways, a reinstall was the best bet.

So I’ve decided to do a test.  XP Home install time vs Kubuntu.  For the purposes of the test, ‘Installed’ is classed as booting to desktop, drivers installed, and internet access working, with the ability to watch YouTube videos and play Runescape.  No customization, no office apps, just a working base PC and the bare basics needed for web browsing.

It took 53 minutes to get XP Home booting, but then another two hours to get the Wireless card to see the network (most of that was spent on Windows Updates + some annoying driver issues), plus 30 minutes to download and install Java and Flash.  After all that, my niece decided she didn’t want the desktop machine back because she prefers her laptop.  That machine has had the graphics card replaced with an older one, and will now be used to run a webcam to watch over the back yard.

The Kubuntu desktop is installing right now.  I’ll keep track of the time and post once it reaches ‘ready’ stage.

The test isn’t all that scientific – the Kubuntu machine is a lot slower than the Windows one – it’s even installing from a slower CD drive, but I’m still curious which one is ‘faster’ to set up.

Speed of setup doesn’t mean much long term – in theory you should only be installing an OS when you do a major hardware upgrade or there’s a new release.  I know I don’t rebuild very often, even on Windows, but the discussion intrigues me, so here goes.