10. June 2017 · Comments Off on How to upgrade your system BIOS using FreeDOS · Categories: Articles, Open Source Software, Tips and Tricks

I recently upgraded a couple older computers with new processors that were faster and had more CPUs than the previous ones. I discovered that it was necessary to upgrade the motherboard BIOS before the new Intel processors would work. I don’t use or even have Windows so any upgrade procedures using that was a no-go from the start. Nor do I have an old version of DOS. I also wanted to perform this BIOS upgrade using open source software.

Google helped me find my answer. I used FreeDOS to upgrade my system BIOS. Read about it here on Opensource.com.


27. May 2017 · Comments Off on Introduction to the Linux EXT4 Filesystem · Categories: Articles, EXT Filesystem, Linux

The EXT filesystem has been the default filesystem for many Linux distributions for many years. EXT2 was the first filesystem I encountered when I first started with Linux 20 years ago. It is robust and works well in almost every mainstream application environment. The EXT4 filesystem is the latest incarnation of this line of filesystems and brings even more speed and reliability to the table.

My latest article at Opensource.com is an Introduction to the Linux EXT4 filesystem. It covers the history of Minix, the EXT predecessor, as well as the evolution of EXT to where it is today.


28. April 2017 · Comments Off on Testing hardware for Linux compatibility using a Live USB stick · Categories: Articles, Linux, Tips and Tricks

Ever go into a store that sells computers and try to pick out a computer that will work with Linux? Short of reading a review that mentions Linux compatibility or finding a compatibility list – most of which are completely out of date – there is little real information out there on hardware compatibility with Linux.

That is not to say that compatibility is a major problem these days because it certainly is not. Most computers will work just fine with Linux, but there are some bits of hardware that may still cause problems. Laptops tend to be more proprietary than desktop workstations, so testing them before you purchase is more of a necessity because they tend to use less compatible devices.

My latest article on Opensource.com is about Testing Linux hardware compatibility with USB sticks. It shows you one method for creating a bootable Live USB stick that you can use to test computers in a retail store. My article gives you my experiences along with those of another intrepid tester here in Raleigh, NC, and some tips for in-store testing.

 


07. April 2017 · Comments Off on My second article in the DNS series on Opensource.com – Build your own DNS name server on Linux · Categories: Articles, Linux

My latest article Build your own DNS name server on Linux, has been posted on Opensource.com. This is the second article in my series on DNS name services.

Published yesterday, April 6, Introduction to the Domain Name System (DNS), talks about how name services work on both the client and server side, and lists some of the more common DNS records and their uses.

You may also be interested in some of my other articles about networking. The following list of articles are posted here, and may also be posted on Opensource.com.

The following articles are currently posted only on Opensource.com as of April 7, 2017.


06. April 2017 · Comments Off on My latest article on Opensource.com – Introduction to the Domain Name System (DNS) · Categories: Information

My latest article, Introduction to the Domain Name System (DNS), has been posted on Opensource.com. This article talks about how name services work on both the client and server side, and lists some of the more common DNS records and their uses.

You may also be interested in some of my other articles about networking. The following list of articles are posted here, and may also be posted on Opensource.com.

The following articles are currently posted only on Opensource.com as of April 6, 2017.


05. April 2017 · Comments Off on Problems with JetPack 4.8 · Categories: News, Notifications, WordPress

If you are using WordPress and have JetPack installed, do not under any circumstances install JetPack 4.8 at this time. JetPack 4.8 causes significant problems. It apparently prevents loading of all plugins and prevents the site from working.

I reverted back to JetPack 4.7.1 which resolved the problem.

I will post an update to this story when there is a fix available.

 


01. April 2017 · Comments Off on New Look · Categories: News

In the previous few days I have transferred the DNS registration of this site to Google Domains and changed the name and URL for the site. So I think it only fitting that I also change the look of the site with a new WordPress theme.

I also wanted to ensure that some of the wider code, system listings, tables, and graphics on various pages of this web site have enough page width to show up completely; that had been a problem and now seems to be resolved with this new theme.

Please contact me if there are still issues with some listings – or if you just want to comment on the new theme.


28. March 2017 · Comments Off on Name and URL change · Categories: News

Please note that the address of the DataBook web site has changed to:

www.linux-databook.info

There are a couple reasons for this, but the primary one is that I like the name better. The old databook.bz name does not reflect the true character of this web site.

The old databook.bz URL will get you here for a while longer, but once you are here and click on any DataBook link the new URL will be used. Be sure to change your bookmarks.


09. February 2017 · Comments Off on I contributed to the 2016 Open Source Yearbook · Categories: Information

I contributed to the 2016 Open Source Yearbook. Download a copy at https://opensource.com/yearbook

There are a lot of really great articles this year. Enjoy!

Opensource.com Yearbook contributor

 


20. August 2016 · Comments Off on Unixmen: Five lesser known tools · Categories: Information, Linux, Open Source Software

I just read an interesting article on Unixmen.com about some useful tools that are not widely known. All are interesting, and some are CLI while others are for a GUI environment.

I particularly like two of the CLI tools, iptraf to monitor TCP/IP traffic on your computer, and lsblk to list information about all block devices attached to a computer; that would usually be disk drives of all types. I particularly like the tree view that lsblk displays of not just the drives, but also the partitions on the drives.

Note that iptraf is now iptraf-ng in some distributions.

The following output displays the list of disk drives, including DVD-ROM and USB drives, as well as the hard drives and their partitions.

Typical output from the lsblk command.

Typical output from the lsblk -a command. In this case several different disk types are shown.

The information provided by the lsblk -a command as shown above contains data about hard drives and removable USB hard drives.  It also shows removable CD-DVD/ROM drives, sr0 and sr1. Disks sda, sdb, and sdc are all three regular hard drives. The sdd and sde devices are attached USB removable drives.

The man page contains detailed assistance for getting the most out of this command.

See the article for more information about the other tools.

 


17. April 2016 · Comments Off on My PiWall · Categories: Linux, Raspberry Pi, Technical

If you have not heard of the Raspberry Pi yet – or just Pi or rPi for short – you really should learn about it. Soon!

Kids learning computers

The Raspberry Pi is a very small computer that was designed to help children learn about computers and how they work. Although it can be used as a platform for kids to learn programming skills, it can also be used to learn about robotics, remote sensing, and almost anything a computer can be used for. Because of its low price and small form factor, the Pi is also extending the ways in which computers are being used.

Raspberry Pi Model 3B

Raspberry Pi Model 3B

One of the amazing things about the Pi is its $35US price tag. Of course by the time you add a small case,, keyboard, mouse, and display, the cost is a bit more, but $35 is very low for just the computer itself. This provides access to computers for low-income students and the schools they attend in a way never before possible.

Grown-up uses

But the Raspberry Pi can be used for much more than that. Many of us hackers have found important real-world uses for our Pi computers.

I personally have two Raspberry Pi’s performing firewall duties for my network. These Pi’s replace two much larger and more expensive computers that used to perform the same functions. They do this easily and quietly, running day after day to protect my network. And sometimes I have hundreds of individual attacks on my network in a single day so it is an important function.

You can read the details of how I set up my Raspberry Pi firewall at Opensource.com.


17. April 2016 · Comments Off on Cluster Failures · Categories: Information, Ruminations

No, “cluster failures” is not a euphemism for a problem encountered in the military service and widely known to be caused by officers with clusters on their shoulders. Nor does this page relate to failures of computing clusters.

This is about failures of independent computer systems and other devices that occur very close together in time. In some cases, the failures may also be of similar type such as a series hard drive or motherboard failures.

And recently I really have had a cluster of problems, some with computers and some not. Actually a cluster of clusters.

I have been repairing things for about sixty years. I started with TV’s, ours and our friends’ and neighbors’. Then I worked at a couple now defunct audio stores. I went on to fixing unit record equipment and computers for IBM. And when personal computers started hitting the streets, I started fixing those as well, both hardware and software.

Cluster failures are a real thing. When working at the audio stores, there would be days or weeks when the most common things people brought in for repair were receivers. And they were frequently similar failures such as the power output stage, or the IF stage. Other days it would be turntables with broken belts or component tuners that would not tune.

When I worked for IBM, there was one week when I fixed three punched card readers with nearly identical feed failures. And later, when working at the IBM PC National Support Center, there were days when most of the calls I fielded were memory (RAM) problems.

Sure, randomness abounds in the universe, including the failures of electronic and electromechanical devices. But sometimes that randomness expresses itself in clusters of failures.

The Church Cluster

It all began on Wednesday, September 9, when the server at my church began failing; really crashing hard. The computer we use as a firewall was also failing with intermittent crashes. In addition, one of the office computers froze up and the telephone system began failing.

It took a couple days for this to this play out and repair the computers. I don’t do the phone system, someone else does that.

The server, a donated Dell, was clearly having hard drive problems. There were specific errors on the console pointing to one of the hard drives. Murphy rules and there were no errors recorded in the logs, because the failing hard drive was where the logs were kept. So because I was not on site and the errors were displayed on the console, the person who rebooted for me could not read the errors as the display had timed out into power saving mode and pressing keys on the keyboard did not wake it.

In addition, the computer we use for a firewall was locked up so I rebooted it.

I took the server home to rebuild and by the next day had mostly completed that task, but not without discovering serious hardware issues. One of the hard drives had failed catastrophically. That was easy enough to fix. But in attempting to install a new operating system on the replacement hard drive, it became obvious that there were other problems as well. The motherboard was failing as well and it was impossible to boot or even to get through the BIOS POST. So I installed the spare Dell motherboard we kept on hand for just this event, and was able to proceed.

I was able to restore the data for our web site and email servers from the good and well-tested backups I designed. I was also able to restore the data for  the DHCP and name service (BIND) servers.

However, soon after I returned home with the server that I needed to rebuild, a different computer, the firewall began locking up more frequently. The office staff were still able to get out to the Internet so long as that firewall was working, but our web site and email was down because that is all housed on our server. Without the firewall, all external access was gone.

The next day, Thursday, I returned to the church and installed the rebuilt server, which worked fine.

However, after installing the server, the firewall started failing so frequently that I could not leave the premises before it would do so again. I made a quick trip back home to obtain a spare computer that had been given to me and had been used as a firewall itself. I installed it at the church, made a couple simple configuration changes, and the replacement firewall was up and running.

The Home Cluster

While all of that was going on at the church, my home network was also embroiled in a cluster of problems.

First, my own server started failing. One of the four 1GB memory DIMMs had failed. One of my workstations had a motherboard failure, and another system developed a defective power supply. A fan then failed on my server, and a video adapter failed on a different workstation. And, oh yes, a hard drive failed on my own workstation. And then a hard drive failed on my server.

And don’t get me started on my refrigerator and car.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

All of this took place within the space of a week, both at church and home. So it was a very trying week.

But what does it mean?

Well, as much as we like to assign meaning to things, there really is none. Things fail. Most of the time they work for years without a problem. Sometimes the failures are spread out evenly over time, or suddenly many things seem to fail at once.

So, sometimes when you get something fixed one day and it fails with another problem the next, that is just the randomness of the universe in which we live.

And now, weeks after the events described, all is well with the computers at church, at home, with my computers, car and fridge — until the next time.


11. January 2016 · Comments Off on Server migration complete · Categories: Information

I have completed the migration to the new server and have retired the old one. Everything seems to be working fine as of now, but please contact me if you notice any problems.

Thanks for your patience.


06. January 2016 · Comments Off on Disk errors – server migration in progress · Categories: Notifications, Site Outage

Due to an accumulation of hard drive errors on this web and email server I am preparing a new server to take over from this one.

Over the past couple weeks, the SMART function of the hard drive installed on the server has been reporting steadily larger numbers of permanently unreadable disk sectors. So far this has caused a couple minor software crashes that did not take down the whole server, just one or two of the running server functions.

So in the interest of a smooth transition, I have started work on a new server by installing CentOS 6 on a computer I had doing some minor functions that were fun but not necessary. I will be migrating server functions from the old server to the new over the next couple weeks. I do expect there to be some very short periods of down time, but none should last more than a few minutes.

If you encounter difficulty with accessing my web sites or sending me email. please be patient and try again in a few minutes.

Thanks for your patience.


04. November 2015 · Comments Off on A Quick Look at Fedora 23 · Categories: KDE, Linux, Opinion

This is only the second day of the general availability of Fedora 23, so this is not a full-on review. It is just a quick look at what I have experienced so far.

I was so excited to try Fedora 23 that I broke my own rules and installed it directly on my primary workstation without so much as a test in a VM.

Upgrade

Yes, I was able to upgrade from Fedora 21 to Fedora 23. I have not had a successful upgrade in years and have had to resort to complete reinstallations — while saving home directory data, of course. The old fedup program never worked for me.

The network-based dnf system upgrade procedures worked very well with only one minor glitch.

I installed the dnf upgrade plugin, used the dnf system-upgrade download command to download the packages required to perform the upgrade on my system, and then rebooted to perform the upgrade.

The only problem I had was that the download procedure did not download or install the Fedora 23 public signing key. I installed that manually and the rest of the procedure worked just fine.

All in all, it took a little under 3 hours to perform the upgrade, in large part because I have a lot of things installed for testing purposes.

Plasma 5

In my look at Fedora 22, I was very critical of the state of the Plasma 5 desktop environment because it was far from complete and there were many issues that prevented me from doing the daily work that I required.

Plasma 5 in Fedora 23 is far more complete and well polished. It still has a few minor rough edges, but everything works as I expect it to. I still do not care much for the default Breeze icon set, but at least now I can change to a different set using the System Settings. Despite that, I am using the default set so I can spend enough time to give them a fair test.

Too Early For Conclusions

It is way too early for any final conclusions about Fedora 23. However my brief experience so far leads me to predict that this will be an excellent release of this staple desktop OS. And so far I have only installed the desktop version and not the server version.

I will try to post a more complete review in the News and Reviews section of this web site when I have more experience with it and some time available to do so.


17. October 2015 · Comments Off on SystemV startup vs systemd: My presentation at All Things Open · Categories: Linux, News, Open Source Software

I will be presenting the talk, SystemV startup vs systemd at All Things Open on Monday, October 19th at 3:25pm in room 305B

systemd is a controversial replacement for the init daemon and SystemV start scripts that is now used by many important distributions. My presentation will cover some of the differences between these two startup systems as well as some basic usage information needed by anyone getting started with systemd.

I hope to see you there.


05. September 2015 · Comments Off on My “All Things Open” Talk · Categories: Information, News, Open Source Software

I will be presenting the talk, SystemV startup vs systemd at All Things Open on Monday, October 19th at 3:25pm. I do not yet know which room I will be in, but that should be available on the schedule when you get to the conference.

systemd is a controversial replacement for the init daemon and SystemV start scripts that is now used by many important distributions. My presentation will cover some of the differences between these two startup systems as well as some basic usage information needed by anyone getting started with systemd.

I hope to see you there.


21. June 2015 · Comments Off on David Both to present at All Things Open · Categories: Information, News

I will be presenting at least one talk at All Things Open this October 19th and 20th.

The one talk that has been accepted so far isSystemV startup vs systemd”. systemd is a controversial replacement for the init daemon and SystemV start scripts that is now used by many important distributions. My presentation will cover some of the differences between these two startup systems as well as some basic usage information needed by anyone getting started with systemd.

I will post more details about the specific date and time when I am notified of that information.

I hope to see you there.


19. June 2015 · Comments Off on KDE Plasma 5 Disappoints in Fedora 22 · Categories: KDE, Opinion, Reviews

Although Fedora is still my distro of choice, KDE Plasma 5 (KP5) is a real disappointment and makes Fedora 22 unusable for me. It is reminiscent of the switch from KDE 3.5 to KDE 4, where many things did not work and others were simply missing.

Understand that I am a KDE fanboy; it is my favorite desktop. But KP5 is unusable for me. Even after spending days trying to make it work to meet my needs I was unable to feel even marginally comfortable with it.

Many of the widgets that were present in KDE Plasma 4 are now missing, including a few that I really find useful such as the Konqueror profiles which enable me to use four default profiles for Konqueror and to create my own. In fact, Konqueror seems to ignore profiles now, even when I try to launch them from the command line. Perhaps the profile location has moved and the KDE 4 location no longer works; but that begs the question of why make that change. Konqueror is my favorite file manager and being unable to use my own profiles with it is nearly a deal breaker all by itself.

The multimedia configuration page in System Settings was unable to detect any of the multiple soundcards I have installed in my workstation. This failure, along with the inability to deal with my preconfigured Konqueror profiles, makes it impossible for me to work effectively in KP5.

The KP5 desktop itself is usable but flat, boring and uninspiring. Perhaps simplicity and clean looks is the watchword for this release but I don’t like it.

The real problem with this are the issues I had when trying to make the desktop look good for me. There are only two options for the default desktop look and no way to download more. There are also few icon options and again, no available downloads. KP5 does not recognize my existing wallpapers and was forcing me to import each individually.  Making changes to the desktop such as pointer schemes and various modifications to application appearance cause the desktop to crash repeatedly.

Underneath there are no major changes to Fedora 22 itself. The major changes like systemd, the new anaconda installer, and firewalld are well past. But the new Anaconda installer still sucks!

I did try to use various forms of GNOME, including Cinnamon and MATE, but I find those desktops too restrictive for me. So I went back to Fedora 21 with KDE Plasma 4 and I am now happy again. I will wait until KP5 is fixed before I upgrade to a newer version of Fedora – just as I did when KP4 made its appearance.

Ironically, this decision to revert to Fedora 21 is a reflection of my own somewhat inflexible approach to my desire for a flexible desktop experience. I like KDE Plasma 4 and the extreme flexibility it gives me. I find myself hampered and seriously annoyed by the lack of the features and flexibility in KP5 that I have grown used to in KP4 and I am unwilling to deal with those shortcomings for any length of time.

My main question is why would one release a desktop so seriously full of holes and annoyances?


11. June 2015 · Comments Off on Millennium Technology Consulting LLC Dissolved · Categories: Information

For a number of reasons, I am closing down the business entity known as Millennium Technology Consulting LLC effective immediately.

I will continue to maintain this DataBook® web site, where I post technical information for Linux system administrators and end users. If you are looking for help with Linux and other Free Open Source Software (FOSS), I post information here that – for me at least – was difficult to find or that took me a lot of time to discover through experimentation.

Because that business subsidised the operation of this web site, that source of financial support is no longer available. So, if you find this web site useful, I ask you to consider supporting it by donating so that it may continue to exist.

Thank you.