Maybe a change is due…

I gotta say, I really like Mandriva. But lately, it has started to feel pretty safe, tame even. Don’t get me wrong, I am not dissatisfied, but I have been reading about other distros, and am thinking of trying my hand at Debian, Slackware, and even FreeBSD.

Slackware seems especially interesting, and I hear it is impressively fast. Lotta tweaking, too – so what’s not to like? ^_______^

I don’t have another PC to build on, so I’ll prolly break down one day and get the ISO’s, then install to a VM. I don’t mind – my machine loafs along anyway and could use the exercise.

This would certainly give me more to write about…..

What’s not to like?

The joy of video drivers

So, I use nVidia. I know its binary. But it works well. ATI seems to have come a long way with its installer, but I had lotsa bad experiences early on, and just got comfortable with nVidia.

One of the things I relish, that reminds me of the flexibility of Linux, is to upgrade my video driver. In place. No restart.

To start, I’ll CTRL-ALT-F1 to a terminal, su to root, type init 3 to stop the GUI, and then download the driver (lynx, I think). After moving it to my /home folder for various bolt-ons, I make it executable (chmod +x and run it.

It’s pretty clean – it removes old instances, offers to check for updates online, and installs the new driver. Very occaisionally, it will fail and I need to modprobe nvidia, but this always seems to happen after I have been mercilessly tweaking and breaking things. So it is not a surprising thing.

After its done, I’ll type X to test it (the splash lets me know right off thqat the driver is loaded, otherwise its off to /etc/X11/xorg.conf to have a look). CTRL-ALT-BACKSPACE to kill it and drop me back into console, init 5, exit from the root session, and CTL-ALT-F7 to hit the login manager (I like GDM over KDM). Once I log in, I’ll run glxgears from a shell to make sure glx and acceleration are really good to go.

With my XFX 6600GTX AGP card (128 MB), I get about 950 fps with some effects turned on (drop shadows). I stopped using transparency – it’s neat, but a little quirky, and a definite hog. Plus, after a while, it gets hard to see the text in one window for the text and graphics showing through from below. I get much, much faster results without any effects (composite) turned on, but I like drop shadows.

My biggest problem came when Cooker moved from xorg 6.9 to 7.x. Having busted ABI compatability between nvidia and xorg was a very unpleasant surprise, and it took me a while to get a workaround and even longer for nvidia to come out with updated drivers. But to their credit, they moved pretty quick after the recent security flaw with their driver was discovered.

I just love not having to restart after a patch, update, or driver upgrade. ^_________^

My choices with partitions

Over time, I have learned some hard lessons with thinking through your partition plan *before* partitioning. Plenty of “D’oh!” moments to be enjoyed by all. First and foremost, I learned not to partition the way Windows does (having just come off of Windows) – one big drive. After a reinstall, losing everything, I learned that it didn’t have to go so badly. As long as the drive is good, you may lose configs, you may lose track of what packages you had installed, you may be in for a long night of tweaking, but you don’t need to lose your stuff.

I now never accept default partitions – it is always worthwhile to look and see what the installer is deciding on your behalf. My typical non-RAID setup now is like this:

  • /boot = maybe 70 meg
  • /tmp = maybe a gig or two (instead of relying on what is created from RAM) – this provides good support for VMWare virtual machines, which need the space on tmp when making snapshots or suspending, so running out of space here sucks
  • /var = one to two gigs for logs, but mostly for urpmi, as it puts the packages in /var/cache/urpmi/rpm and partial – if you install large or lotsa packages (like some games) you can run out of space. Being broken out from the root partion keeps it from filling up root, which can hose things good.
  • / = usually set to around 8 to 10 gigs, to have room for packages in /usr and /opt – it really depends on what kinda system is being built, though
  • swap = maybe 400 to 600 meg – I know there are specific apps for which you want to follow the 1.5 x RAM rule, but I have never hit them, and observation has shown me that my swap almost never gets touched unless I am cramped for RAM (say, less than 512 meg). So why waste the space?
  • /home = everything else, including a folder for favorite apps and for backing up configs. For digital photos, I like to use camdump, then delete /var/spool/camdump and symlink a /home/photos directory back as /var/spool/camdump, to keep my photos and movies on /home and not fill up /var.

I prefer ReiserFS for home stuff, although I have seen good results with XFS too. Ext3 is good for stability, but too many benchmarks seem to show ReiserFS and XFS being faster. I would stick to ext3 for server and SAN environments, though.

I don’t break out /opt and /usr – I used to, but if you reload or upgrade, your probably just going to bust all your packages anyway. Better to go clean, and eliminate variables.

This setup gives me breathing room to play, to run VMs, and to reload if needed without losing /home. After the reload, I can copy configs back in place (I name them with the directory path, such as etc-X11-xorg.conf, so I know where they all go). Hardly any tweaking needed.

And sometimes, that is a good thing.

Squid and Dansguardian web filter – making my son’s PC kid-safe

Still very proud of this one. It took a while, but I managed to secure his web browsing sessions with a combination of iptables rules, squid, squidguard, and dansguardian. Oh, yeah, and postfix. I’ll post the documentation file on the Codes and Configs page later.

Anyway, since I am lazy and hate reinventing things, I naturally tried first with pre-built packages from various mandriva Cooker repositories. I love urpmi. Too bad the packages never worked right. So I found all references to the package files in /usr, /var, and /etc after I ran urpme to remove them, and nuked ’em.

I went with the old fallback of getting the source tarballs and doing the “./configure-make-make install” shuffle. I carefully went through the configure options, and went through several iterations with squid before finally getting the right combination of features that would compile.

I lucked out and found a site that documented how to use iptables for user-based transparent proxy functions. If I log into his computer, I do not use the proxy. Anyone else is. Being transparent, there is no browser-based setting to muck with or undo.

Once I was done and it tested clean (after downloading and running a blacklist script), I set up a postfix email server to relay all mail from the designated reporting user to my ISP mailbox, which would shoot it on out to my work address. I had trouble with this, since I didn’t start with postfix, but instead tried a variant of qmail (masqmail?). I forget what it was called, but it’s designed for offline email, connecting briefly when it senses the computer is online and blasting out stored up email, downloading inbound mail from the server.

I eventually gave up and went to postfix, which worked great after a little tinkering.

Another nice thing is this even works with text browsers, like lynx.

Now, I am quite confident that my monkeys won’t be inadvertently dredging up garbage from the internet.

Recursive Anagrams

PHP: PHP Hypertext Preprocessor


I know there are more, but more escapes me right now. Got any to add?

Firefox extensions I use…

I have a few I always install – the upgrade to Firefox 2.0 (worthwhile just for the Recently Closed Tabs feature) killed the throbber, which I missed, so I found the Throbber extension. Of course, the upgrade also killed off a few favorites (Plain Text Links being one), and I had to find a suitable replacement…

Absolutely required:

  • NoScript
  • AdBlock Plus
  • AdBlock FilterSet.G Updater
  • text/plain
  • Throbber Button
  • Smoothwheel
  • MR Tech About:About
  • TabBrowser Preferences
  • PDF Download
  • QuickJava

Good to have:

  • Download Statusbar
  • DownThemAll!
  • Tweak Network
  • Restart FireFox

Web devel stuff:

  • ColorZilla
  • EditCSS
  • FireBug
  • JavaScript Debugger
  • View Source Chart
  • Web Developer

I sometimes get Ook! Video Downloader as well (home systems), since my wife loves YouTube.


I am making this site to put out solutions to problems I have run across, and invite others to post the same. While I primarily use Mandriva, any flavor of Linux or BSD is a suitable subject. Not too interested in philisophical debates over what distro, OS, or desktop is better – they are all just tools to do a job, as far as I am concerned. I cannot help but add, however, that I have developed a pretty low tolerance for expensive proprietary software of questionable value and merit (sorry, M$). Still, Windows users are welcome here as well – all anyone needs is an open mind for alternative software.

I use Mandriva, have for a while (since 9.x). I started in 2000 with Red Hat 7.1 on a laptop. That was painful, since I only knew Windows up to that point. I moved after RH 8 changed so much stuff from 7.x that it felt like I had to relearn everything all over again – a friend then pointed out Mandrake. It has changed a lot since then, but I never felt lost in a new version like I did with Red Hat. Lotsa folks like Red Hat and Fedora, and I am glad it works for them. I like Mandriva.

I use KDE – I have played around with GNOME, XFCE, the ‘Box’s (Flux and Black), IceWM, and Enlightenment. I just always come back to KDE. It may be bloated and slow to some, but it feels nice and quick on my machine, and satisfies my thirst for eye-candy and tweaking.

I do not think I am any sort of expert, more of a hobbyist/enthusiast. Still, in trolling forums, I see many questions from others for which I have answers, so hopefully I can be of help to those good folks. With any luck, some of my questions can be answered by visitors to this site in the same spirit.