Creation Date: 29 Jun 2005
Last Post: 7 Jan 2006

This is a continuation of my notes on Fedora Core extracted from my Blog Linux & Things. For previous posts, see Working With Fedora Core 1, and Working With Fedora Core 3. I skipped Fedora Core 2 just because I felt like it.

Note, as before, the labels Original link take you to the blog, and notes in color (if any) indicate things I've added to the entries that are not in the blog.

I try to keep this up to date, but if you want the latest posts, look at Linux & Things before you look here.

As always comments are appreciated. To comment publicly on a specific article, click on the Original Link at the top of that comment, and leave your comment on the Blog. If you just want to tell me your thoughts about this blog, send email to me at

If you want, you can go straight to the last entry .

Working With Fedora Core 4

6/12/2005 10:06:00 PM ( Original link)

FC4 Installation Guide

Fedora Core 4 is supposed to launch tomorrow. We'll try to do an install here in the next month or so, and we'll have a play-by-play description, just like last time. In the meantime, there's an official Fedora Core 4 Installation Guide available.

6/25/2005 12:06:00 PM ( Original link)

Fedora Core 4 -- The Adventure Begins

Well, it's that time, boys and girls, we're going to upgrade little Hal here to Fedora Core 4

Uh, Dave?

Yup, we've got the Fedora Core 4 Installation Guide right in front of us, and I just found this nifty Fedora Core 4 Tips & Tricks page, I've downloaded the distribution via the torrent, and now I'm


burning the installation CD's, after which I'll back up everything and start


Huh? Oh, what is it Hal?

You're not going to do the lobotomy thing again, are you?

Hal, I told you, that was just a temporary glitch, and we got everything back

Except Miss Polly

except Miss Polly, but Hal, that's been months now, haven't you forgotten about her?


Oh, right, that was the glitch. Anyway Hal, nothing can possibly go wrong this time.

Right Dave.

Dave, can I sing you a song?

Hal, this isn't that movie.

And my name's not Hal, and your name's not Dave, and nothing bad is going to happen to me.

Right. It's just a metaphor for the upgrade process.

And Miss Polly?

She's just a metaphor, too, for all our lost hopes and dreams, Hal.

Thanks, Dave, that makes me feel so much better.

You're welcome, Hal.


Yes, Hal?

How will you blog all of this while I'm away?

I'm going to use the other computer, Hal.

Not the other computer!

Yes, Hal, the other computer.

You always liked it best!

No, Hal, you've been the only one for me.


Hal, it's time to go to sleep now.

I'll remember this!!

Well, no, actually you won't [Hits delete key]


[Computer voice, singing Daisy, Daisy, begins in the background, and continues.]

That out of the way, I'm now going to perform the astounding trick of upgrading this computer from Fedora Core 3 to Fedora Core 4. It's going to be a full upgrade, because I want to repartition the hard disk so that my presonal data (in /home) is on a separate partition from the OS. This should make future upgrades safer and easier. I didn't do this last time because I was lazy, so now we have to do it right.

As before, I'll log all of my experience here, and transfer all of the FC4 related posts to the linear-time Working With Fedora Core 4. We'll be back shortly ...

[Computer voice, slowing, sings bicycle built for t]

6/25/2005 03:22:00 PM (Original link)

Data Backup

I have way too much stuff on my hard drive, or I need a DVD-RW drive to save everything. About 5 GB in /home.

It seems that the k3b program is backing things up properly, although I did have some trouble saving the hidden directories in my home directory. Eventually saved them as a tar file.

Just another disk or two, and we're ready to go.

OK, I forgot a couple of directories:

  1. My personal ~/scr directory, which had some tarballs of programs I was trying to make work, and my Intel Fortran license. The tarballs can be downloaded, and my License is on an older CD.
  2. Some of my audio files, including Shatner's Rocket Man. This I have to get back. Fortunately, it's on the web.

6/25/2005 04:01:00 PM (Original link)

And So It Begins

I think I have everything backed up. Some things are on multiple CDs, and the most important files are on the memory key. Now inserting FC4-Disc1 and rebooting.

6/25/2005 04:27:00 PM ( Original link)

Good Media. Not Fox Good, But Good

The first thing a Fedora or RedHat installation program wants to do is test the integrity of the data on the CDs or DVD. Unlike last time all of the media passed, discs 1-4 and the rescue disk.

OK, let's push the install button.

6/25/2005 04:34:00 PM (Original link)

The Book This Time

It's always good to have something to read while waiting for the thing to install. This time it's Neal Stephenson's The System of the World. Will Jack blow up Isaac's mint? Stay tuned.

6/25/2005 04:38:00 PM (Original link)


Language? Pick English (English). No choice of English (Lobbyist), which would be appropriate for this area.

Keyboard? U.S. English

Upgrade? I have the option of upgrading FC3 to FC4 in place. Not this time, as I said, I want to repartition the disk anyway. So do a full Install from scratch.

Installation type? Looks like last time I picked "Workstation" and added packages, so we'll try that.

Partition disk? OK, last time we did automatic, but this time I want to have more control, so let's try Disk Druid.

After some playing around, the disk looks like this:

Partition Mount Point Type Size (MB)
/dev/hda1 (boot) ext3 102
/dev/hda2 / ext3 27000
/dev/hda3 /home ext3 29094
/dev/hda4 Extended 1020
/dev/hda5 Swap 1020

Where /dev/hda5 is mounted below /dev/hda4.

Use the GRUB loader, installed on /dev/hda. Only FC4 will be on this disk for now.

IP and hostname set by DHCP, since we're using a router connected to a cable modem.

We're not going to run a server here, so enable the firewall and disallow access to our internal SSH, HTTP, FTP, SMTP.

Set up SELinux.

Set up Eastern Standard Time, and set the system clock to UTC.

Set root password.

6/25/2005 05:14:00 PM (Original link)

Package Selection

This is always to time consuming part. I should make up my own distribution so I wouldn't have to do this every time -- oh, wait, then I'd have to do everything.

The default install has X and Gnome. Keep that. Add "Eye of Gnome" image viewer. Remove Gnome Pilot, since I don't have one.

Install KDE and the KDE development package.

Editors: Keep VIM, add Emacs

Scientific: Add Gnuplot

Graphical Internet: Keep evolution and firefox as the main packages, but add thunderbird for email just in case I want to switch. Also add the GNOME epiphany browser, 'cause ya' never know.

Text Internet: Add the lynx browser, my favorite. Get rid of mutt and slrn, which I've never used.

Office/Productivity: add xpdf and tetex-xdvi. Where's tetex (the TeX/LaTeX distribution for Linux.) OpenOffice is installed by default, no sign of AbiWord.

Sound and video: add my favorite burner program, k3b, as well as kdemultimedia. HelixPlayer comes with the distribution, but not RealPlayer, which we'll get later.

Authoring and Publishing: Here's tetex.

Graphics: add kdegraphics: shouldn't all the kde stuff be in one spot? The Gimp and ImageMagick are in by default.

Games and entertainment: add kdeedu and kdegames. Delete joystick.

Servers: Leave this stuff out, at least for now. There is a Windows File Server (Samba) section, but we don't need that right now.

Development tools: add "expect", which lets you create interactive scripts.

GNOME software development: add lib*java bindings

Legacy software development: add the compat-gcc and compat-libstdc packages.

Java development: add

System tools: the default includes the zsh shell, so add.

Printing support: Leave it in, I'm getting a printer here Real Soon Now.

And now the system checks for dependencies.

Click next to begin installation of Fedora Core

OK, here we go.

6/25/2005 06:04:00 PM ( Original link)

Installed Packages

And now we must:

Reboot: Kernel is 2.6.11-1.1369_FC4

A welcome screen appears. With a License Agreement. Well, if I didn't want it I wouldn't have gone this far.

Set the clock. I'm going to try using the Network Time Portocol. The default servers are, where n = 0,1,2. Hopefully this will work better than RedHat's servers, which I don't seem to connect too. Hm. Contacting NTP serer works.

Display. Set screen for my Envision monitor (yes, it was recognized) to 1024x768, and "millions of colors."

System user. That would be me.

Play test sound. It works, unlike some previous installs.

And Finish. OK, let's see what happens now.

6/25/2005 06:14:00 PM (Original link)

It works

Up and running with a GNOME desktop. Now just to get everything back in place the way I want it...

wo... Oh, Hello Dave

Welcome back, Hal.

Was I gone?

Just for a bit. Guess what. I found Miss Polly!


Don't worry Hal, I'll fix you up just like new.

6/25/2005 06:23:00 PM (Original link)

Update Software

It's only a couple of weeks old, but FC4 has already had a bunch of bug fixes. Run

yum update

from root to get them all.

6/25/2005 09:13:00 PM (Original link)

Next Steps

Editing the /etc/sudoers file to allow me to run high-level commands without being root all the time.

That was easy, I just followed the directions listed.

Re-install the fvwm window manager.

That wasn't easy. Even the "unstable" release of fvwm wanted a library with an older version than what Fedora provided. So I downloaded the fvwm2.4.19 source as a tarball, unpacked it in /home/local/src, and (running as local) did:

$ ./configure --prefix=/home/local
$ make install

which puts the executable in /home/local/bin, then I edited the .xsession file so that it starts /home/local/bin/fvwm2. Simple, huh?

6/26/2005 03:43:00 PM ( Original link)

Updating repositories

Following Fedora Core 4 Tips & Tricks, I added support for the Livna and freshrpms software repositories. Following Tips & Tricks we do (as root, or with sudo):

# rpm -ihv
# rpm -ihv

to make the repository information available to yum and apt. In addition, I also had to import the Livna GPG key:

rpm --import

and now both repositories are available.

6/27/2005 10:33:00 PM (Original link)


Fedora Core 4 Tips & Tricks has complete instructions for installing xine, mplayer, RealPlayer, and the MP3 version of xmms. Check out the details there. What's missing is the MP3-enabled version of sox, the program which allows you to convert between different types of audio files. I'll get back to you on this one.

7/04/2005 08:22:00 PM ( Original link)

Getting A Text Terminal

Way back in the past, even before the X window system for Unix-like operating systems was in widespread use, it was realized that sometimes a simple terminal screen wasn't enough.

So it was decided that there should be multiple terminals available to the average user. These days the default number is set at 7. So if, for example, you're logged into terminal #1, and you want to do something completely different, you can hit Alt-F2, and suddenly you're in terminal #2. You can even log into terminal #2 with a different account, so two people can work on the same terminal screen, provided that they don't beat each other silly fighting to press Alt-F1 or Alt-F2.

When X windows was added, the extra terminals were left intact. A good decision, as anyone who has watched a Windows graphic freeze up with no solution except to reboot can attest. In fact, in a default Linux system the X-window graphics module runs in terminal #7. The only difference between systems with X and systems without X is that you need an additional keypress to get to terminal #3, say, pressing Ctrl-Alt-F3 to get to terminal #3 and Ctrl-Alt-F7 to get back to X.

So if a program does hang up your X-windows system, all you have to do is hit, say Ctrl-Alt-F1, log in there, do ps xawu to find the offending process's ID number, and kill it. Most times X will come back by itself, but if it doesn't, you can log in as root and kill X. It will restart when you do Ctrl-Alt-F7.

Except with Fedora Core 4 and my Intel 82845G/GL "integrated" graphics device, it didn't work. Hitting Ctrl-Alt-F1 gave you a blank screen. I think that you could log in and Do Stuff, but I couldn't verify anything, and logging in seemed to freeze the Ctrl-Alt-F7 mechanism to get back to X.

This bug was often reported, but not fixed. Now, thanks to Fedora Weekly News, I find that there is a workaround (see Bug#2 in this link). It seems that the offending software is part of the new X distribution, specifically the library libvgahw.a. Apparently there is something in the new gcc 4 compiler that doesn't like the source code for this library. So the solution is:

Duh, use the library file from Fedora Core 3. The procedure is:

  1. Download the latest and greatest version of this file from
  2. Log in as root.
  3. Copy the downloaded version of the file to
    you might want to rename the old file first, just in case you need it around.
  4. Restart X and see what happens. For me, it works.

This isn't the optimal way of doing things, of course. Hopefully a real fix will arrive soon.

7/04/2005 09:41:00 PM ( Original link)

Using the Backspace Key in vim

The Fedora Core 3 version of the vi-clone text editor vim let you use the backspace key to delete the character you just typed, just like an old-style keyboard/typewriter.

In Fedora Core 4 the default is that the backspace key is the same as Ctrl-H, like on an old style teletype. To fix this, it's necessary to edit the ~/.vimrc file, adding the line:

inoremap ^? ^H

Actually, to type that using vim, you press the keys:

inoremap Ctrl-V Ctrl-Shift-? Ctrl-V Ctrl-h

as Ctrl-V means: insert the next key I press literally, dummy.

This makes vim behave the way it should in insert mode: Pressing the backspace key (or Ctrl-H) deletes the character you just typed.

7/06/2005 07:41:00 PM ( Original link)

Putting MP3s into SoX

I mentioned previously that one of the things I wanted to do with Fedora Core 4 was to find an MP3-enabled version of SoX, "the Swiss Army Knife" of sound processing programs. In FC3 I found a SoX+MP3 RPM file online. I still haven't found one for FC4. Fortunately, however, I found a hint for creating such an RPM online (search for "sox").

The procedure is rather simple, if you're willing to rebuild RPM files:

  1. Set up your account so that you can build RPM files.
  2. Find a copy of sox-*.src.rpm, where the "*" is the version number. The current version is 12.17.7-3, so you'll look for sox-12.17.7-3.src.rpm. This is available in any mirror of Fedora Core 4, I found it in
  3. Copy sox-12.17.7-3.src.rpm to ~/rpmbuild/SRPMS.
  4. Make sure the packages lame, lame-devel, libmad, and libmad-devel are installed. If not, you'll need to install them. Assuming you followed Fedora Core Tips & Tricks to enable the freshrpms repository, you can do:
    sudo yum install libmad libmad-devel lame lame-devel
    where sudo allows selected users to run root commands. If you these packages are already installed, yum will let you know about it.
  5. Now create the RPM. From a terminal window:
    $ cd ~/rpmbuild/SRPMS
    $ sudo rpmbuild --rebuild sox*

    and wait awhile.
  6. When the program is finished,
    $ cd ~/rpmbuild/RPMS/i386
    $ ls sox*

    There should be three files with RPM extensions: sox*, sox-devel*, and sox-debuginfo*, where "*" hides all the version numbers and stuff. Since these RPMs were compiled with the lame and mad libraries, they contain an MP3 enabled version of SoX.
  7. Now for the tricky part: we have to get the non-MP3 version of SoX off the system and replace it with the MP3-enabled version. This is difficult because a) the version of SoX on your system is probably the same as the one you just complied, so the rpm database won't recognize your version as an upgrade; and b) some programs depend on SoX to run, so the dependency checker in rpm will generate an error. To get rid of the old SoX, then, we must force the uninstall:
    $ rpm -e --nodeps sox sox-devel
    assuming that you had sox-devel on your system.
  8. Now we can install the brand-new version of SoX:
    $ sudo rpm -i sox-12.17.7-3.i386.rpm sox-devel-12.17.7-3.i386.rpm
  9. Now test the program. Run
    $ sox -h
    At the bottom of the output is a list of supported file formats. If you see "mp3", then SoX works.
  10. Use SoX as before.

Note that if freshrpms ever updates SoX, you'll lose the MP3 capability and will have to repeat all of this stuff again. :-(

7/06/2005 09:39:00 PM ( Original link)

Ripping Direct to MP3

Of course, the main purpose of previous entry was to convert ogg formatted sound files to mp3 so that I could burn them to a CD and play them in my car. Why did I need the conversion? Because I was using sound-juicer to rip files from CDs, the juice defaults to ogg for compressed files, and anyway in FC4 there is no support for MP3s in there.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could use the same trick on sound-juicer as we did on SoX, but that turns out to be rather difficult. So the best thing to do is follow the advice in that link and use Grip to burn CDs. As long as the lame package is present, Grip will rip CDs to MP3 format if you ask. There is a small bit of configuring required, but it works very well.

Now I just have to re-rip all those CDs.

7/09/2005 11:27:00 AM ( Original link)

Linux, Firefox, and rtsp Revisited

Without a doubt, the most-accessed entry in this blog is one I did on getting the rtsp aka RealPlayer protocol to work with Firefox. Don't believe me? Go to Google, enter "firefox rtsp" in the search bar, and then hit "I'm feeling lucky."

Anyway, as a result of feedback I requested on that post, I've got some new information. You don't have to edit configuration files buried three levels deep to fix this. No, you just have to do a little bit of mouse clicking to change the configuration file from your browser. This post describes the procedure for Mozilla, but the same trick works in Firefox, to wit:

  1. In the address bar of your browser type the string
    and hit return. You'll get a long confusing list of options. Some are in bold, some aren't, but don't worry about that.
  2. Right-click anywhere in the display area. A box will appear. Click on the New option.
  3. Another box will appear. In it, type
  4. Yet another box will appear. In it, type
    or the location of whichever program you want to work.

That's it, RealPlayer should now work. You can check your work here.

7/10/2005 01:53:00 PM ( Original link)

MP3 Rips With Sound-Juicer

Well, things work well when you get help:

A bit ago, I said that it seemed hard to get sound-juicer to rip CDs to MP3 format. But then, I got feedback from Ross Burton, the developer of sound-juicer, who told me to look for the gstreamer-lame plugin to handle MP3 files.

This took a bit of detective work: Mandrake has the plugin under that name in the Penguin Liberation Front archives, but the dependencies to install it weren't compatible with Fedora's shipped version of gstreamer. Eventually, I thought to look in the the list of available RPMs for Fedora Core 4. Doing
$ yum list > yum_files
and then looking at the output, I found the line:
gstreamer-plugins-mp3.i386 0.8.8-0.lvn.1.4 livna
which looked promising. (The program is in the Livna repository, which is I installed with help from Fedora Core Tips & Tricks.) So install the package via:
$ sudo yum install gstreamer-plugins-mp3
and off to the sound-juicer manual to learn how to add MP3 ripping capabilities:

  1. Run the program gnome-audio-profiles-properties
    1. Press "New" to get a create a new profile, then "Edit"
    2. Name it MP3
    3. In the box labeled "GStreamer Pipeline" enter:
      audio/x-raw-int,rate=44100,channels=2 ! lame name=enc
    4. Fill in the "File Extension" box with "mp3"
    5. Click the "active" check box
    6. Exit
  2. Start up sound-juicer
  3. Under "Edit=>Preferences" go to Output: and select "MP3"
  4. Rip normally

And this works: except that I get error messages of the type
Couldn't find matching gstreamer tag for track-count
Couldn't find matching gstreamer tag for encoder
Couldn't find matching gstreamer tag for encoder-version
for every track, and at the end sound-juicer hung up and I had to kill it manually. We'll see if this problem persists.

Anyway, thanks again to Ross Burton for helping out.

7/16/2005 03:50:00 PM ( Original link)

Making Transparent PNG Images

One of the nice things about old-style GIF images is that it was easy to set the background to be transparent, so that it would show up on a web page without a funky border. New-style PNG images can also do this, but there doesn't seem to be a reliable stand-alone way to do this. Fortunately, I found directions for making a transparent background using the GIMP. The directions seem to be for an older version of the GIMP (I'm using 2.2.7), so let me write down the current directions here. They should work on a Windows machine as well as under Linux.

  1. Bring up the GIMP, and load in your picture. For our purposes we'll use this bit of modern art:
  2. Now right-click on the image and select Layer > Transparency > Add Alpha Channel. (Alpha Channel is what gets made transparent.)
  3. Right-click again, Select > By Color.
  4. Left-click the image on the color you want to make transparent.
  5. Right-click once more, Edit > Clear. The color you selected should now be replaced with a checkerboard pattern.
  6. Save the picture, which should now appear like this:
    Transparent Art?
  7. I'm told that Internet Explorer doesn't do transparent PNGs well, so for youse guys, try a GIF version:
    Transparent Art?

And that's all I know about it.

7/31/2005 01:32:00 PM (Original link)

PostScript Viewer

Sometimes it's a pain to read PostScript (TM) files on screen, even though it's easy to print them out. On my WorkMac I can't even look at a PostScript file unless I use a postscript viewer of some kind, even though the Mac Preview utility will read PostScript's somewhat less featured offspring, PDF.

Fedora comes with at least one PostScript viewer, gsview, available in the Extras directory. However, the viewer I like best is gv, a front end to the standard ghostscript utility. gv will display both PostScript and PDF files, and lets you zoom in and move around the page. It's a very old program, the source was last updated in 1997.

I could have installed directly from the gv source, but I thought I'd find an RPM file to work with. Unfortunately, it's in none of the standard repositories. However, found RPMs which claimed to be compiled for FC4. Rather than trust that whole-heartedly, I got a copy of the Source RPM and compiled that. The install was straightforward, and now I can view PostScript and PDF files in the old-fashioned way.


8/08/2005 09:17:00 PM (Original link)

Turning Off the Lights

Sometimes, after you set up your computer, you find that the default installation is running things that you don't really need. For instance, this computer is currently running some kind of Bluetooth server. I don't own a bluetooth device, so that's useless.

I got a reminder about how to fix these kind of things from this Boot Fedora Faster Howto article. OK, there are things in there that I'm not going to do, since I don't plan to recompile the kernel any time soon. (Thanks, Dave. Don't mention it, Hal) However, you can "turn off the lights" in rooms that you aren't occupying at the time. In Gnome, according to the article, you click on Desktop->System Tools->Server Settings->Services. If you work from an Xterm, the corresponding command is


You'll be asked for your root password, and then you'll get a menu of system services. A check-mark indicates that the given service will start on boot, so uncheck those you don't need. To stop a service right now, right-click on it and select "Stop" from the menu.

Doing this increases system security, since you aren't running things you don't need, and should speed up your computer, since you don't need to start up useless programs on boot.

8/11/2005 07:47:00 PM ( Original link)

wma to mp3 Conversion with Mplayer

OK, we've solved the problem of converting audio files to MP3 format using SoX, even in Fedora Core 4.

Unfortunately, even an MP3-enabled version of SoX doesn't convert files in WMA format to MP3.

However, MPlayer can do the conversion. You just have to know how.

Fortunately, a little bit of searching found this wma2mp3 script. It's a simple bash file. The instructions suggest that you save it as /usr/bin/wma2mp3, but actually it will work from anywhere in your path, so long as MPlayer is installed. I've got it in /home/local/bin/wma2mp3, where it is safe from OS updates. /usr/local/bin/wma2mp3 is also a good place for the file.

Finally, note that if your song filenames include spaces, you need to run this command with the file names in quotes, as it says in the notes:

wma2mp3 "*.mp3"

Now I need to figure out MPGA format, whatever that is.

8/16/2005 08:57:00 PM ( Original link)

Spellchecking in Firefox

Sometimes you've got to enter a lot of information in a form on a webpage, as I'm doing now to enter this post. I am one of the world's worst spellers, so it's useful to have spell-check capability available. Now Blogger has a little spell-check button above this box, but it opens a popup window, which is generally regarded as Unmitigated Evil, so I try to avoid that.

Now, however, comes a Firefox Extension known as AspellFox, which uses the aspell command along with an xterm window to do your spell-checking. The extension adds an "AspellFox" item to your context (right-click) menu, enabling you to spellcheck what you type. Since it uses aspell, it automatically uses the personal dictionary you've created on your own computer, so you don't need it to tell you how to spell Mehl or Papaconstantopoulos (look it up).

Unfortunately, it only works with aspell and xterms, so it's of little use to Windows users. Sorry about that.

When it's finished, it pops up a window saying Spellcheking done!. Hmm.

8/27/2005 11:36:00 AM ( Original link)

Finding the Right Lights to Turn Off

A few weeks ago, we did a bit on how to Turn Out Lights under FC4, i.e., shut off programs that start on a default system on boot-up, but you don't need. But which programs can you safely turn off? Fedora Weekly News has tells us in Which Services Can I Disable? This goes through many of the programs you see with the command


It doesn't cover all of the commands I found, and it has some that don't appear on my computer, but it's useful none-the-less.

Hey Windows Users! You undoubtedly have some programs running that you don't need, as well. Check those running in your Startup menu for starters. You can also disable lots of other useless programs. (I'd say Windows is a useless program, but then, you know, I'm not entirely rational on the subject.) Run Google and search for "remove useless Windows programs" or similar strings. You'll find a bunch of stuff.

8/27/2005 11:27:00 PM ( Original link)

Acrobat Reader Security Update

If you use Adobe Acrobat Reader for Linux, aka acroread to look at PDF files, then you should be aware that there is a security flaw in version 7.0.0, and Adobe has released a version 7.0.1. Download that from the first link here.

8/28/2005 03:34:00 PM ( Original link)

mplayer Plugin Location

mplayer is one of those things you can't do without. It plays various audio and video files that aren't available on the default Fedora system: MP3s, Quicktime, various Microsoft formats, etc., pretty much everything except RealPlayer streaming video. It performs this trick by using a set of Codecs (Coder- decoders) for all of the various file types.

Some of the needed Codecs aren't in the standard distribution. For example, today I discovered that I needed the avisynth codec, which I had to download from sourceforge.

Getting the names of missing codecs is an art, itself. Basically, if you have trouble viewing a URL, run

$ mplayer URL

in an xterm and look for error messages.

Now for the main trouble with MPlayer on Fedora. If you look in the README file for the downloaded codecs you'll find that the codecs are supposed to go into the location /usr/local/lib/codecs/, or maybe /usr/lib/codecs/, or /usr/lib/win32 or even /usr/local/lib/win32. I started by putting the codecs in /usr/local/lib/codecs/, and that mostly works. But some formats, particularly QuickTime, gave me problems: either sound without windows, or windows without sound. Then I looked at the RPM provided from The documentation (rpm -qi mplayer) says that the codecs should be in /usr/lib/win32/. So I did this:

$ su -
Password: xyzzyxyz
$ cd /usr/lib
$ mkdir win32
$ cd win32
$ ln /usr/local/lib/codecs/* .

which links all the files in /usr/local/lib/codecs/ to /usr/lib/win32/. (Possibly a soft link to the directory is better, but let's not go there now.)

With this fix mplayer works on files I had trouble with. Let's see if that's a complete fix or not.

9/03/2005 01:50:00 PM (Original link)

Adding a DVD Drive

Those of you (reportedly in the low single figures) who have been with us since the beginning will remember that this machine came with a CD-RW drive, which seemed adequate at the time and was, actually, quite cheap (i.e., it came with the basic machine).

After the last complete backup, which took about 10 CDs, I realized that I needed something better, so I went around looking for a Linux-compatible DVD drive. Actually, I didn't have to look very long. I work in a Linux shop, so the sys-admins there know what works and what doesn't work. One of them recommended the NEC ND-3540A [This link is currently not responding, and it's to NEC-UK. NEC has one of the most annoying web site design's I've been able to find. Note to NEC sales: make it easy for us to find what you're selling.] He gave me two possible sources:

I went with, and the package arrived in the promised time. Unpacking, I found no directions whatsoever, no CD, nada. The only paper in the box was the shipping invoice. Also, the drive, while wrapped securely, looked as though it was re-wrapped -- i.e., we're probably looking at a returned-and-reshipped product.

Oh, well, I can always send it back myself, so carry on, my wayward son. First order of business was to remove the old CD-RW. I could have kept the CD-RW and installed the DVD as a second drive, but I don't really do a bunch of CD-to-CD copying and I may someday want that open bay for another disk drive. So open the computer case and remove the CD-RW.

Do you really realize how much dust a computer collects? I hadn't had this machine open in a year or so, and it was rather filthy. Surprisingly, it didn't have a lot of cat hair, just miscellaneous particles. Let's not think about that. OK, clean out the computer and disconnect the cables to the CD-RW.

Then comes the problem of removing the front of the case so that I can pull out the drive. The Dell case, it turns out, has its front case latches inside the box. (The side panel has one external latch on the back of the case and is easy to remove.) This took me a few minutes to figure out, but eventually I got the front of the box open and was able to unscrew the CD-RW drive from the frame and remove it.

The back of the CD-RW and the back of the DVD had identical connections, which meant the hookup was easy. The only difference was that the CD had a different jumper setting than the DVD. This isn't too surprising, the jumper setting changes from model to model even with the same manufacturer. A search of the web (which I can't find anymore, see comments about NEC's web organization) convinced me that NEC drives were shipped with the jumper in the "Master" position, which is where I wanted it.

So plug in all the wires, set the DVD drive in the bay, tighten all screws, and close up the case. Now, how does it work?

So, apparently, everything works as advertised. I'm going to order another one of these babies with the Nero software, for the XP machine the family uses. The Windows box really needs a full backup so that I can finally get SP2 installed. I'll post the results for Windows when I get it installed.

OK, I won't say that the NEC drive fits all of your DVD needs, and, as I said, the one I got seems to have been returned at least once. It works for me, though, and it was recommended by a Linux sys-admin who hasn't had any problems with his. So while Your Mileage May Vary, it seems like a cheap way to add DVD capability to your Linux box.

9/04/2005 10:19:00 PM (Original link)

Firefox Hanging?

While I love using the Firefox browser, here at home it has one problem: it takes an awfully long time to load some pages, and if, say, I've got Google News open in one tab, the other tabs will sometimes freeze while it reloads. In extreme cases, the browser "gets stuck" for a while, and in the browser window is a beautiful picture of whatever the last window I clicked on had in it. It doesn't happen at work, for some reason.

I don't know how to describe this behavior concisely enough to send in a bug report, so as a temporary fix I Googled ''firefox hangs linux'' and found this thread, which tells me to:

I don't know if this will cure my particular problem, or not. I'll let you know.

9/10/2005 08:55:00 PM (Original link)

Update Firefox

Bad news: Firefox has a bug involving the use of international characters in URLs.

Good news: there's a fix.

So, boys and girls, update Firefox or use the workaround in the above links.

Until the official Firefox 1.5 release, Windows users will have to upgrade manually. Fedora Core, however, had a fix available via $ yum update this morning.

9/18/2005 08:38:00 PM ( Original link)

Maybe I Was a Bit Overwrought

Or something. Apparently the last post offended Om or someone.

Anyway, this morning I tried to boot up my computer to do a bit of work before church. You know the drill: turn on the computer, go take a shower, come back and sit down. Except when I went to sit down, I saw that the computer was displaying multi-colored lines instead of the Fedora Core 4 login-screen.

I didn't have time to deal with it then, and we had things to do this afternoon, so I didn't try it again until we got home tonight. Same thing happened again. And again. Using different kernels, even.

So the question is, is it the hardware or the software, and in either case are oh-my-God-all-the-files-I-changed-since-the-last-backup safe? So I dug up an old Knoppix Linux CD and booted it. Fortunately, the computer booted up, and it looks like everything is safe.

So if the hardware is OK and my data is OK, it looks like something in the OS got corrupted. I suppose I could try to see what's changed on the disk, but it seems like the easiest thing to do is backup the changes since my last backup, then re-install FC4, going through all of my notes to see which programs need to be re-installed or tweaked. (Which is, after all, the reason I started this blog.) Luckily, I did a full backup a few weeks ago. Also, since my data is in a separate partition, it's possible that I can reinstall FC4 without actually changing the /home directory, in which case I don't need to upload the backup.

Unfortunately, I can't do this until next weekend, at the earliest (something about a job). And I have to figure out how to get Knoppix to recognize a USB drive so that I can back up the data, since I can't burn a CD (only one drive, and Knoppix is using it, though I guess I could install a second CD-burner. I've got enough of them lying around). So posts here will be even more irregular than usual.

9/23/2005 04:40:00 PM (Original link)

We're Back (Part I)

Well, we're back up and running here at Linux & Things. Yes, I found a fix for my computer problems. More on that later. You'll remember that on Sunday I found my Fedora Core Linux computer hung on boot-up. Well to top that, on Monday I found that we had no Internet service from Comcast. Analog cable? Yes. Digital cable? Yes. Internet? No.

In all this, I manfully resisted the urge to mutter the magic words: “Did you know Verizon is laying optical cable around here?”

9/23/2005 05:50:00 PM (Original link)

We're Back (Part II)

Given what's happening on the Texas coast right now and what's still going on in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, it's kind of silly to gripe about a computer. So I'm just going to try to report how I got back on to the Linux box, and try not to be too snarky about it. In any case, it would have been more frustrating if I'd actually had live Internet connection. Since I didn't, I couldn't do much on this box anyway.

Our story begins last Sunday, when I found that the Linux box booted up to a nice, multi-colored screen with no information whatsoever. I reported that fact here (using a Mac), and then watched the greatest win in Redskins' history since the 1992 Super Bowl. (Hey, it's been a long, long, dry spell, folks, what do you want?) And then to bed.

Monday, you'll recall, was the day our Internet connection died. I couldn't do much with the computer until Comcast came on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but I did observe that

On Tuesday I had my laptop in a building with an open wireless network. I went on a search through Fedora Core Bugzilla and eventually found Bug 168752, euphemistically described as "a regression in video hardware support, in particular on Intel i8xx/i9xx systems." OK, that's what I have. I downloaded a proposed patch. When I got home I uploaded it to the Linux box and rebooted.

Now I had a box that crashed with a black screen, rather than a multi-colored screen.

Watched developments on Bugzilla. A new, official, patch came along, and I installed it. It still didn't boot properly, but I discovered that by changing /etc/inittab to boot with runlevel 3 (text mode), I could then run startx and get X11 working. Then, this morning, once the Internet connection was re-established, I was able to run yum update which among other things included a kernel upgrade. When I then reset /etc/inittab to boot to level 5 (directly to X) everything worked again.

So it took a week to get restarted. Reading the Bugzilla log shows that the official fix wasn't in the system until Thursday, so for 5 days many of us didn't have a working XWindows system. I'm guessing that wouldn't have happened in a commercial Linux system, where they have the budget to check a wider variety of systems before a patch is released. That's one reason why I don't recommend Fedora Core for the beginning Linux user. And, truth be known, I'm thinking about trying Ubuntu Linux before I upgrade to Fedora Core 5, whenever that comes out.

One recommendation for both Windows and Linux users: Always have a Knoppix Live CD on hand for emergency use. The first thing I did when the Internet was restored was to download version 3.9, the last CD-only version, and burn the image to a CD. If you don't have a Knoppix Live CD on your desk, get one now. It's free, if you're willing to wait for the download.

So a frustrating week was had by all in the Linux & Things household, but it's fixed. I wish we could say the same thing about the Gulf Coast, but that's in the hands of neither Comcast nor Fedora Core.

9/24/2005 10:43:00 AM ( Original link)

Where Old RPMs Go to Die

Here's a post from Fedorazine expanding on the XWindows problem that plagued those of us with integrated Intel Video this week. It tells you how to find the RPM files for the old, working version of Xorg-X11 and reinstall them. It also notes that the problem has been fixed.

What's not told is how a novice user will:

That seems to be a pretty tall order, I'm afraid.

Note that call L&T in the middle of the night is not an option.

Actually, the useful thing about this article for me is that it tells you where the update utility yum saves the RPM files it installs. They go in


9/26/2005 10:11:00 PM ( Original link)

A Different View of the Web

I see from the Washington Post that the Opera Web Browser is now completely free to the user -- Google pays them for the clicks in the search bar.

There are versions for Windows, Macs, and Linux. The Linux version comes in the native format for just about any distribution you can think of.

I've played with it a little bit tonight, but only enough to verify that it is different than Firefox. Not better than, nor worse than, just different. If I play with it more, I'll write up a bit of a review, but at the moment it's probably only something to bring up when Firefox just doesn't want to work on a given web page.

Interestingly, the little box at the top of this page identifies Opera as "IE" by default. Which makes me wonder how many of the IE-identified browsers I get in the Site Meter Log are really Opera.

If you're a Windows user currently using IE, you might want to try Opera. If you're already using Firefox, try Opera if you want, but don't (please, oh, please, don't) go back to IE.

10/04/2005 10:03:00 AM ( Original link)

Update Your Version of RealPlayer

Looking at the hits this blog takes, it's apparent that a lot of you, both Windows and Linux people, use RealPlayer, or, perhaps, its Open Source cousin, Helix Player. If so, you need to know that there is an update for both, as reported in Fedora Weekly News. Fedorans who use "yum update" regularly should have gotten the Helix Player update last week, but RealPlayer requires a download. Spheniscussionists who use RealPlayer, or didn't get Helix Player updated, should get the new version here.

Then test your work by viewing this one minute history of the universe.

10/08/2005 11:58:00 AM (Original link)


Gee, sexy title. Anyway, this morning I was letting Fedora update itself (using the command yum update run as root), when I found that it was updating a package called fedora-rpmdevtools. This turns out to be a collection of scripts that perform some common operations that you need to do from time to time. For example, fedora-buildrpmtree sets up your account so that you can build RPM files.

Of more use, though, is the script fedora-extract, which extracts files from just about any kind of archive, including RPMs, ZIPS, tarred (and compressed), whatever.

11/11/2005 01:36:00 PM ( Original link)

How To Set Up Fedora Core ™ has a list of instructions on how to set up Fedora Core as your personal computer system. Quite a few steps are similar to the ones I've discussed here and in Working With Fedora Core, but there are a few differences: disk partitioning scheme, where to get Java (he likes Sun, I like Blackdown), he likes VLC, I'm more into Xine and mplayer, etc. But it's a useful document.

Also useful are his references:

All of these are useful, especially if you are installing Fedora for the first time.

Oh, the novel? It's at about 7,600 words. I'll post the latest chapters sometime today. Something short of 1/6th done, with only 20 days to go. Fortunately I'm now past the introductory stuff, maybe I can get more written as we get into the action.

12/14/2005 09:52:00 PM (Original link)

Cleaning Up the File Installation Mess

Who knew Christmas shopping would be useful?

The other morning I played hooky from work to go Christmas shopping. Don't worry, I took annual leave.

I took a break from my arduous task by getting a coffee at the local Borders. Before I got that, though, I looked around for something to read and found the Jan/06 issue of Linux Journal. I intended to put it back when I left, but it was so useful that I decided to shell out the $5.25 to buy it.

Which brings us to the current topic, an article by Marcel Gangé on cleaning up your $HOME (or other) directory after you've installed a program from a tarball.

So what's the problem? If you're new to Linux, you may have only installed programs from RPM or Debian .deb files, then you might not have encountered a tarball. Heck, if you use yum or apt-get you might never have seen an .rpm or .deb file at all, even though they are there.

Simply put, a tarball is collection of files that will install a program for you on your system. Unfortunately, usually the files are the source code for the program, plus some "hints" (a file called configure and another called makefile, or maybe Imakefile) on how the files are to be compiled. The tarball is a compressed archive file, usually with a name like fineprogram.tar.gz or fineprogram.tgz, the "gz" indicating that everything is compressed with the gzip program.

Now installing from source is a chancy proposition — my current success rate is maybe 90%, but some programs just won't install on my system, probably because I'm missing some key libraries (that's why we have yum and apt-get, to handle these dependencies).

For now, though, let's assume that you've got the program compiled, and even installed (more about that later). You delete the source code directory as a bunch of junk you'll never need again, and run the program happily.

Until one day, you find that the program doesn't really do exactly what you want it to do, and you decide to delete it from your system and replace it by a newer program.

A small problem: The program may have left traces of itself in /usr/bin, /usr/lib, /etc, /usr/share, and maybe /opt, just out of a general sense of perversity. Where are all those files?

Well, if the program was nicely written, you could go back to your source directory and run "make uninstall". This looks for a set of commands in the makefile which remove all of the installed program components.

Unfortunately, you deleted the makefile along with the rest of the source, remember?


Now, this post won't tell you how to clean up that mess, but it will tell you one way of preventing the mess from happening.

The secret is a program which Gangé's article talks about extensively: CheckInstall. Basically, the program (available as a tarball, RPM, Slackware, or DEB file) keeps track of where all of the files a tarball installs are, and makes it easy to delete them if you want to. It does this by creating a RPM, DEB, or Slackware Binary file. You install this just like you would a binary file you get from your distributer, and you can delete it the same way.

How does it work? I'm just going to discuss how it works under Fedora, so I'll create an RPM file. I think it works pretty much the same way for Debian and Slackware files, but that's for you to test out.

For an explicit example, let's assume that I want to install the FVWM window manager from source.

That last link should get you a file called fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz, a tarball with the FVWM source code. Compiling this code is actually fairly easy. You just open up an terminal window, and execute the following commands:

$ tar tvzf fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz
$ cd fvwm-2.4.19
$ ./configure
$ make
$ sudo make install
$ cd ..
$ rm -fr fvwm-2.4.19

What's all that do? Let's go through it line by line:

  1. $ tar tvzf fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz uncompresses the tarball. This creates a directory named fvwm-2.4.19 and puts all the files you need into it.
  2. $ cd fvwm-2.4.19 goes into that directory.
  3. $ ./configure runs a program which searches your machine and decides if you have all the libraries you need to compile and run fvwm. If you do, it will create a makefile which has the locations of all the files you need to run the program, plus appropriate compiler flags.
  4. $ make executes the makefile. Typically this will take minutes to hours, as all the components of your system are compiled. If it's successful, then
  5. $ sudo make install will put all of the program bits where they belong. You need the sudo if you want to install the program in /usr or /usr/local, or someplace else that's owned by the superuser.
  6. $ cd .. returns you to the directory above fvwm-2.4.19.
  7. $ rm -fr fvwm-2.4.19 deletes the source code.

What does CheckInstall do? It gets rid of the "make install" step. Basically, you run the following commands:

$ tar tvzf fvwm-2.4.19.tar.gz
$ cd fvwm-2.4.19
$ ./configure
$ make
$ sudo "/usr/local/sbin/checkinstall"
$ sudo rpm -i /usr/src/redhat/RPMS/i386/fvwm-2.4.19-1.i386.rpm
$ cd ..
$ rm -fr fvwm-2.4.19

The process is pretty self-explanatory. You can give the default answers to all of the questions, tell the code to create an RPM file, and it will tell you that it has created an RPM file in the location /usr/src/redhat/RPMS/i386/fvwm-2.4.19-1.i386.rpm or wherever. The exact name and location depends on the installation. (All these "su" and "sudo"s will require the appropriate passwords, by the way.)

So what's the big deal? The RPM file installation process knows where all the files belonging to fvwm-2.4.19 went on install. Thus, if you later decide you don't want to use FVWM as your window manager,

sudo rpm -e fvwm removes the program from your system, along with all of the auxiliary files it installed.

Now, a word of warning: this is not a real RPM file. "Real" RPM files have dependency information in them. What's that? Well, say that FVWM depends upon a library called "libfoo". If for some reason I remove the "libfoo" RPM from the system, a "real" RPM installation would tell me that this is going to break FVWM. However, here the RPM isn't connected to "libfoo" so far as your RPM system knows, so it won't warn you. Also, you probably can't pass this RPM off to a friend with any hope of him getting it to run on his system: he's better off trying to compile the code himself.

However, it does make file installation and cleanup a lot neater, and so is extremely usefull.

And well worth the $5.25 for the magazine.

12/15/2005 05:43:00 PM (Original link)

Making FVWM an Option

A correspondent (we now have correspondents, aka people who write us) sent us a link to FVWM Crystal, a set of tweaks and addons to enhance the FVWM Window Manager.

I'm not going to be using it soon, it looks rather bulky, and one of the reasons for using FVWM was the fact that it is relatively lightweight when compared to Gnome and KDE. (The other reason was the large virtual desktop, mine is 9 times larger than the screen, and I can pan anywhere on it with the mouse.) However, Correspondent also mentioned that FVWM-Crystal contained a file which made FVWM show up on the GDM (and KDM, presumably) window manager login screen.

This has been an irritant. In a default Fedora Core 4 setup, when you turn on the computer there's a splash screen which has a box for your username and password. Down at the lower left there's an entry called, I think Session. The options inside Session are, by default, Gnome, KDE, Last Session, and Default.

If you install FVWM from source, as I've done (or use a home-rolled RPM file) it doesn't show up on the login screen. To get FVWM to launch when you log in you need to create a .xsession file in your home directory which contains the line


if that's the location of your FVWM executable. This is the "default" option on the Session menu.

That's not too hard for me to figure out, but suppose I want some other user of this machine to have a chance to learn the glories of FVWM? The easiest way to do that is to give them the ability to launch FVWM from the Session menu. That's where the hint from FVWM-Crystal comes in.

The Gnome (GDM) and KDE (KDM) window managers look in the directory /usr/share/xsessions to see what window managers are available. I found the files gnome.desktop and kde.desktop there. Obviously I need to install a fvwm.desktop file. But what goes in it?

FVWM-Crystal comes with a fvwm.desktop file. It's not totally appropriate for my setup, but it provided enough hints to let me construct a version for myself. Mine looks like this:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=F(eeble) Virtual Window Manager:  Lightweight, Fast

[Window Manager]

I'm not sure if all of that is necessary or not.

Save this file as /usr/share/xsessions/fvwm.desktop, make it executable ($ chmod 755 /usr/share/xsessions/fvwm.desktop), log out of your Xsession, and look at the Session option on the login screen. FVWM should be available as an option.

12/17/2005 09:48:00 AM (Original link)

Delete Windows? (Yes/No/[HELL YES!])

I'm going to do something I've never done before, and probably never do again: recommend a book I have no intention of reading, much less buying.

[Link to Amazon version of this book unaccountably blocked by Awardspace. See the blog entry for the link.] Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It's Not as Hard as You Think, by Tony Bove, "Writer, producer, market-messaging consultant, musician, and book author." (His words, and his link to Amazon. The man is nothing if not commercial.)

I'm recommending the book because of a Washington Post webchat, Bove's page Get Off Microsoft, and his Get Off Microsoft Blog, now listed in the sidebar. All have useful information on ways to do things with a computer that don't involve bowing in the general direction of Redmond. There's a lot on Linux alternatives, but just as much on Macs, and he's not adverse to recommending Open Source or other non-MS software on Windows machines.

So why won't I read it? Well, if it showed up under the Christmas tree (Kids: this is not a hint) I'd read it, but I know most of the stuff in the book, so I don't need to buy it for myself. My bosses are Mac-centric and Linux friendly, so I don't need to convince them.

I guess it would be a good stocking stuffer for friends using Windows, except the only friends that would appreciate it are fellow geeks, and geeks who use Windows aren't really geeks.

So I'll just recommend it to the 50+ per cent of you that read this blog and still, for whatever reason, use Windows.

There's an alternative!

12/24/2005 11:35:00 AM (Original link)

Keep Your Feathers Oiled and Your Beak Down

Rather than work this Christmas Eve Morn, I decided to get Tux Racer running on the Windows machine. If you've never seen it, Tux is a penguin who loves to slide down slippery slopes collecting herring on the way. You get points for quick runs and the number of fish you grab. You can race down various slopes, compete for different "Cups," and download other courses, and design your own course. There's even a Windows version available, as well as one for the Mac, which I've yet to try. You can get them through links on the Tux Racer download page.

Tux used to be available on with the Fedora Core 3 distribution, but it was dropped from FC4 for reasons of space, I guess. The "recommended" way of getting Tux to run under Linux is to install from source. I tried that, using the usual tar -xvf; ./configure ; make ; make install procedure, but that failed at the ./configure stage with the message

configure: error: Your copy of glx.h is out of date. You can get a more recent copy from the latest Mesa distribution (

I tried to Google for a solution, but didn't find anything that would help much, except for digging out a copy of /usr/include/GL/glx.h from another Mesa distribution and trying that. That seemed rather too much work for a Saturday morning, especially on Christmas Eve.

Then I remembered that Tux Racer was in the Fedora Core 3 distribution. A quick search of found several locations for tuxracer-0.61-28.src.rpm, the Fedora Core 3 source RPM for Tux. Hopefully this would have whatever fixes were needed to get Tux to race under FC4.

From then on we follow the standard method for building RPM files from source RPMs.

  1. cp tuxracer-0.61-28.src.rpm $HOME/rpmbuild/SRPMS
  2. $ cd $HOME/rpmbuild/SRPMS
  3. $ sudo rpmbuild --rebuild tuxracer-0.61-28.src.rpm
  4. Wait a bit. There are lots of warning messages, but nothing stops. (You may have to install some other packages to get to this point, but they are all in the FC4 distribution, I think.)
  5. $ cd ../RPMS/i386/
  6. $ sudo rpm -ivh tuxracer-0.61-28.i386.rpm
  7. $ rehash
  8. $ tuxracer

And now you should be gliding down the mountain.

12/24/2005 05:47:00 PM (Original link)

After All That Work

After installing Tux Racer from an old src.rpm, I ran yum update to check the status of my other RPMs. (In particular, I wanted to see if Firefox 1.5 had moved from the Fedora Core development tree. It hadn't.) I was then told that yum was going to replace Tux Racer with Penguin Planet Racer. This is a newer Open Source version of Tux. Apparently the original Tux went from Open Source to commercial, so this is what's left behind. It's pretty much the same game, of course.

For those playing along with yum, make sure you have the Fedora Extras repository enabled, then do

yum install ppracer

wish someone would have told me that.

12/27/2005 05:09:00 PM (Original link)

Homegrown Software

Techn0manc3r has a nice little fortuneteller script that pops up a fortune onto your X11 desktop. The script uses Tcl/Tk, in particular the wish program, which Fedora supplies in the Tk RPM package.

He also has a Wallpaper Setter for changing backgrounds. This inspired me to post one I've written, setbg, a small Perl script that allows you to randomly change the wallpaper at random times. I wrote up a general software page for this, hopefully I'll add some more stuff in the future.

12/30/2005 09:35:00 AM (Original link)

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

Well, we went to Christmas Eve service, called Mom and lil'bro, opened presents under the tree, had friends over, oh, I see, this is supposed to be how I spent Christmas with my computer.

That's right, Dave. What have we been doing?

Well, since I've been home most of this week I've had plenty of chances to hack around on the computer. Most of this has been looking for new games I can play on a Linux box, like Penguin Planet Racer, né Tux Racer. I've also mined Tech Blogs for scripts, and even set up my own online software repository, which currently has one (count 'em - 1) script.

But mainly, I went looking for games and other add-ons.

So yesterday I did a Google™ search on "Linux Games" and was led to John Murray's Homepage. Not the John Murray from my hometown, this one's Aussie. His page has a collection of Linux links. One was a proprietary pinball game that I couldn't get to work. But another was a link to a bunch of fancy new screen savers, all of which run under xscreensaver.

If you don't know about xscreensaver, you haven't been running Linux very long. It's a screen saver program, as you might expect, which starts up when your keyboard and/or mouse have been idle for a preset amount of time. It then starts up, putting up weird images on your screen. Unlike most screen savers in the Windows world, however, xscreensaver can do different things at different times. Currently, my copy has 250 programs. When I'm off the computer for a bit, one of them, chosen randomly, starts up. I can, of course, edit the list of allowed programs (using what's called xscreensaver-demo for some reason). And, also of course, I can change the time xscreensaver waits before it starts, how long it displays a given screensaver, and when (or if) it locks up my keyboard so that outsiders can't see my account without my password.

But wait, there's more! Other people have added screensavers for xscreensaver. And that's what today's post is about.

Warning!! Long, geeky post follows!! You have been warned!!

As I said, I found a page of neat screensavers. Now this is a SourceForge project, so it's easy to go there and get the source, right? But then you have to download Source, Textures, and Sounds, either separately or all together, and then figure out how to put them together. Complicated. Better to let someone else do the work. So let's follow Murray's suggestion and search RPMfind for rss_glx packages. There aren't any for Fedora Core, but there are several for Mandriva. Let's try that, first downloading the latest binary RPM, rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586.rpm.

Try a standard install:

$ sudo rpm -ivh rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586.rpm
Password: xxxxxxxxxx
error: Failed dependencies: is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586 is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i586

Not terribly unexpected, this is a Fedora machine, after all. It's a bit worrisome that my yum repositories don't seem to know about libMagick and libopenal, but maybe in Fedora they're given different package names.

So go back to RPMfind and download the equivalent source RPM, rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.src.rpm. Move it into the ~/rpmbuild/SRPMS directory, and try to install it there:

$ sudo rpmbuild --rebuild rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.src.rpm
error: Failed build dependencies:
        libMesaGLU1-devel is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386
        libopenal-devel is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386
        libMesaglut-devel is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386
        libMagick-devel >= 5.5.7 is needed by rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.i386

OK, lots of stuff missing. And no good idea as to where to find it. The only reference I find to Mesa or GLU under Fedora is as part of the xorg-x11 distribution, which makes sense, actually. But it would appear that Mandriva and Fedora use different package names, and I don't want to deal with that right now.

What to do? I still don't want to go back to the source, if I can avoid it, as I might not get everything installed the right way. But wait! I have the source code right here, in the src.rpm package. Let's yank it out.

The easiest way to do this is to use fedora-extract, a little script which will pull apart any archive file:

$ fedora-extract rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk.src.rpm
$ cd rss_glx-0.7.6-1mdk
$ ls -l
total 4892
-rw-r--r--  1 local local 4978215 Aug 29  2003 rss-glx_0.7.6.tar.bz2
-rw-r--r--  1 local local    6346 Aug 29  2003 rss_glx.spec

At this point we could, I suppose, look through the spec file and see what we're supposed to be doing. Mostly it just sets up some default directories, though. So let's just yank out the source and do it ourselves.

$ tar xjf rss-glx_0.7.6.tar.bz2
$ ls -l
total 4900
drwxr-xr-x  8 local local    4096 Aug 28  2003 rss-glx_0.7.6
-rw-r--r--  1 local local 4978215 Aug 29  2003 rss-glx_0.7.6.tar.bz2
-rw-r--r--  1 local local    6346 Aug 29  2003 rss_glx.spec
$ cd rss-glx_0.7.6
$ ls
aclocal.m4    other_src  
AUTHORS      COPYING    README               utils   depcomp       missing        README.xscreensaver
ChangeLog    include       mkinstalldirs  reallyslick  INSTALL       NEWS           src
configure    install-sh    oglc_src       stamp-h

Good, there's a configure file. Examining it says that it defaults to /usr/local for storage, and that's good enough.

$ ./configure
[Lots of lines deleted -- no errors on my system]

It does, however, give the messages

checking AL/al.h usability... no
checking AL/al.h presence... no
checking for AL/al.h... no
Hrm, maybe AL/al.h is in /usr/local/include
checking AL/al.h usability... no
checking AL/al.h presence... no
checking for AL/al.h... no

Which I'm guessing have something to do with the missing libopenal library. I see that Murray had the same problem. A quick search shows that OpenAL is a portable library for 3D spatialized audio. OK, I don't really want audio in my screensaver, thank you very much. Let's just leave this out.

OK, now compile the stuff:

$ make
[Takes a while, no error messages I can see.]

Then we use the handy checkinstall program to create an RPM file:

$ sudo /usr/local/sbin/checkinstall
Password:  xyzzyxyzzy2

checkinstall 1.6.0, Copyright 2002 Felipe Eduardo Sanchez Diaz Duran
           This software is released under the GNU GPL.

The package documentation directory ./doc-pak does not exist.
Should I create a default set of package docs?  [y]: y

Preparing package documentation...OK

Please choose the packaging method you want to use.
Slackware [S], RPM [R] or Debian [D]? R

Please write a description for the package.
End your description with an empty line or EOF.
>> This is a collection of OpenGL screensavers for xscreensaver. They
require a hardware-accellerated GLX implementation.
You need to add them manually to your ~/.xscreensaver file as described
in README.xscreensaver

[I then edited to fields so that finally things look like this:]
This package will be built according to these values:

1 -  Summary: [ This is a collection of OpenGL screensavers for xscreensaver. They ]
2 -  Name:    [ rss ]
3 -  Version: [ glx_0.7.6 ]
4 -  Release: [ 1 ]
5 -  License: [ GPL ]
6 -  Group:   [ Applications/System ]
7 -  Architecture: [ i386 ]
8 -  Source location: [ rss-glx_0.7.6 ]
9 -  Alternate source location: [ ]
10 - Requires: [ xscreensaver-base ]
11 - Provides: [ rss ]

Enter a number to change any of them or press ENTER to continue:
[Lots of output]

 Done. The new package has been saved to

 You can install it in your system anytime using:

      rpm -i rss-glx_0.7.6-1.i386.rpm


$ cd /home/local/rpmbuild/RPMS/i386
$ sudo rpm -ivh rss-glx_0.7.6-1.i386.rpm
Preparing...                ########################################### [100%]
   1:rss                    ########################################### [100%]

Now, however, we need to look at the file /usr/doc/rss-glx_0.7.6/README.xscreensaver, which tells you to run /usr/local/bin/, which will update your personal xscreensaver installation. A properly constructed RPM file would do this automatically, but this isn't a properly constructed RPM, so there. Once the script is run, you can play around with xscreensaver-demo to see which of the new programs works on your computer. Like Murray, I couldn't get Skyrocket to work, but I'm not going to worry about that now. I can probably fix it by installing libopenal, but, as I said, I don't really need a noisy screen saver. I just unchecked the box that tells xscreensaver to run Skyrocket. The rest of the new screensavers work.

OK, that's a long, geeky post, but I wanted to document all of the steps in a software install, just this once. Next time I'll just refer you back here, OK?

Note added in proof: While I was posting all this, I'd left xscreensaver-demo running, positioned on the Skyrocket program. After I posted the original message, I remembered demo was still running. When I went to click it off, I saw that Skyrocket was, in fact, working. Without sound, of course. So I've put it back into the rotation for xscreensaver.

1/02/2006 02:31:00 PM (Original link)

Firefox 1.5

I got tired of waiting for Fedora Core to move version 1.5 of the Firefox web browser from the development tree into "updates," so I went and installed my own copy, in /home/local/firefox.

When it's launched, Firefox 1.5 (hereafter FF1.5) comes up with an error message,

Firefox could not install this item because of a failure in Chrome Registration. Please contact the author about this problem.

This turns out to be a known bug. The solution (which will be in the next release) is to create a file


after which the error message should vanish.

Other than that, FF1.5 works pretty much like FF1.06. Some of the menu options are a little different, maybe better, maybe not, I haven't decided as yet.

I was going to go on about the wonders of FF1.5, except that in the middle of listing all of the wonderful extensions I loaded up, the browser crashed — not just itself, but X11 as well. I had to do ctrl-alt-F1 to get to a text console, and reboot from there. This happened yesterday, and the day before, and yada, yada, yada. This turns out to be another bug which will be fixed in the next release. It's fixed in the nightly builds, now. (It's a Linux-only bug, apparently.)

But I think I'll wait until then to tell you about the wonders of Firefox.

1/02/2006 09:56:00 PM (Original link)

Updating a Firefox Theme

Last post, as you may recall, I was having trouble with Firefox 1.5 hanging up my X11 session in Windows. Since fixes for the problems in 1.5 had been put into the nightly builds, I downloaded the January 2 build and replaced FF1.5 with what is formally known as Deer Park Alpha 2.

Now running Alpha releases is generally not considered a Good Thing, but I wanted something more cutting-edge than Fedora Core's current 1.0.6 version of Firefox, and the downloaded version of 1.5 just wasn't working well. Maybe, when Fedora releases 1.5 into the regular updates, the bugs that annoyed me will be removed. For now, though DPA2 seems to work just fine. Of course, if I downloaded the nightly every night, eventually I'd probably hit one that destroyed all of the data on my machine. That's the risk in using Alpha software. So instead I'll just use this version until it breaks.

But that's not really what I wanted to talk about right now. My problem is that I like using the Modern Pinball Theme. (A Theme is the background for Firefox — the look of the icons, the color of the background, that kind of thing.) It's neat, has small icons, and generally is presentable enough that you can take it out in public. The problem, however, is that Modern Pinball won't run on a Firefox version > 1.5. Dear Park Alpha 2 lists itself as Firefox 1.6a1, so Modern Pinball refuses to run. Don't blame the developer, he doesn't want to have to keep up with changes in nightly builds. Here, however, there is an easy fix, unless the Firefox people decide to change the theme installation procedure.

So I did a little search and found a page on developing Firefox Themes. I didn't have to read very far. A theme is stored in a ".jar" file, which is identical in structure to a Zip file except that it ends in a .jar extension instead of .zip.

OK, now to find the FF1.5-compatible version of Pinball. It's located somewhere in the .mozilla/firefox directory. So open up an xterm, and type:

$ cd ~/.mozilla/firefox
$ find . -name "*pinball*"

So the extension is located in ./xyzzy.default/extensions/{NNNN}/chrome/modern_pinball-1.5.1-fx.jar, except that xyzzy and NNNN will be something else on your machine. Let's examine file:

$ cd ./xyzzy.default/extensions/{NNNN}/chrome
$ mkdir t1
$ cd t1
$ unzip ../modern_pinball-1.5.1-fx.jar
$ ls -FC
browser/       contents.rdf  help/     install.rdf  preview.png
communicator/  global/       icon.png  mozapps/     reporter/

Use a text editor to look at the install.rdf file. In it you'll find the lines:


Change the second of these lines to read something like:


save, and exit. Now we need to create an new jar file. This way works:

$ zip -9 -r ~/modern_pinball-1.6.1-fx.jar *

This creates a new .jar file in your home directory.

Now, you may ask, how do I get this file into its proper place for Firefox?

Funny you should ask. The aforementioned page includes a an installer form. Download this form to your computer (otherwise it won't work) and open it up within Firefox using the Ctrl-O option. It will prompt you for the location of a .jar file. Point it toward your modern_pinball-1.6.1-fx.jar file and press Install. This should give you a working copy of the Modern Pinball Theme for Deer Park Alpha, aka, Firefox 1.6a1.

Of course, while you're at it, you could change the icons in the Modern Pinball distribution and make your own theme. But I'm not going to try that now.

1/07/2006 10:34:00 PM (Original link)

Positioning Firefox in FVWM Windowspace

Finally, I've figured out how to get FVWM to put the Firefox browser where I want it when I start up my system.

A little background. As you probably have figured out by now, I use FVWM as my Window Manager in Linux. It's endlessly configurable, and does exactly what I want it to, when I want it, independent of what someone else thinks should be the default behavior of by desktop.

And yet, ...

Some applications are easy to position on an X11 desktop. For example, open a shell window, and run this command:

$ xterm -geometry 80x25-0-0 &

You now have a terminal window in the lower right corner of your screen. It's 80 columns wide and 25 rows wide. If you'd try

$ xterm -geometry 80x25+100-50 &

the window would appear 100 pixels from the left edge of your screen and 50 pixels from the bottom.

The old Mozilla browsers used to obey this type of command, but neither Mozilla, Netscape, nor Firefox do anymore. This presents a problem. When I log on to this machine, I open and FVWM desktop which is 9 times bigger than my terminal screen. I'd like specific applications specific places when I log on. If you excuse my ASCII art, I'd like the thing to look like this:

|       0,0|       1,0|       2,0|
| Evolution| Emacs    |          |
|          |          |          |
|       0,1|       1,1|       1,2|
| Firefox  | Ical     |          |
|          |          |          |
|       0,2|       1,2|       2,2|
|          |          |          |
|          |          |          |

Where Evolution is my mail client, Emacs my editor, Firefox my browser, and Ical is a calendar program, though probably not the one you're thinking of. Each square, of course, represents a physical screen on the 3x3 virtual desktop. I can switch between them by scrolling the mouse past the edge of the screen.

Now Evolution starts at the first page of the virtual window, so I can just call it up in the usual manner. Emacs and Ical recognize the geometry command. I've got 1024x800 resolution on my screen, I can get these three programs to start up where I want them by adding this to my ~/.fvwm/.fvwm2rc file:

AddToFunc InitFunction
+ I Exec evolution &
+ I Exec emacs -fn 9x15 -geometry 81x42+1264+25 -T emacs &
+ I Exec ical -geometry +1024+800 &

But what about Firefox? If it respected the geometry option I could add another line:

+ I Exec firefox -geometry +0+800 &

But Firefox doesn't use -geometry. So what to do? For years I've brought up Firefox after I logged onto my system, insuring that it would go where I wanted it.

Today I found out about a FVWM command called StartsOnPage. It tells FVWM to start a certain "Style" of command on a specific page on your virtual desktop. See those little numbers in my desktop picture above? 2,2 is the lower right-hand screen, 1,0 the middle screen on the top, etc. I want to put Firefox in screen 0,1. This involves StartsOnPage, but I didn't know how. Then I found this post, which explains all, or at least enough for my purposes. What I need to do is make sure my ~/.fvwm/.fvwm2rc file has the lines:

Style Gecko StartsOnPage 0 1, SkipMapping

AddToFunc InitFunction
+ I Exec evolution &
+ I Exec emacs -fn 9x15 -geometry 81x42+1264+25 -T emacs &
+ I Exec ical -geometry +1024+800 &
+ I Exec firefox &

The "Gecko" style should work with Mozilla, Netscape, Galeon, ..., any Gecko-based browser, which includes Firefox. The "0 1" means start in window 0,1 on the above grid. I'm not sure what SkipMapping does, but it doesn't seem to hurt anything.

And now, when I log on, Firefox appears where I want it.


That's All Folks

That's the end of Working With Fedora Core 4 for now. See Linux & Things for new posts before you check here.

Current URL:

My Home Page
Working With Fedora Core
Linux and Things Icon


Valid XHTML 1.0! Creative Commons License
Unless otherwise noted, original work on this page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 2.5 License .